The _____ Are A Playoff Nightmare For The Cubs; Bears Are Just A Nightmare (And Other Random Thoughts)

I was putting together box scores last night at work and it hit me hard.

The starting left side of the A’s infield this season could have conceivably been Josh Donaldson at third base and Addison Russell at shortstop.

In case you ever needed a reason to send Billy Beane a fruit basket and thank you card, there you have it.

Sometimes, tweets and headlines are simply there to grab your attention.

I had no issue with the basis of Patrick Mooney’s CSN Chicago piece on a potential Cubs/Dodgers postseason match-up.

Lost in the Twitter silliness from the wake of the Cubs’ 1-0 loss (in which the game’s lone tally scored via hit-by-pitch, a throwing error and a mental error) was the fact the Dodgers remain a damn good team and World Series contender.

The Dodgers have dealt with a slew of injuries, multiple Yasiel Puig distractions and other bits of randomness to overcome what at one point was an 8-game lead for the Giants in their division. Some left them for dead when Clayton Kershaw went on the DL. They shouldn’t have.

Dave Roberts’ team could be a playoff problem for the Cubs — especially if they get  Kershaw with a clean bill of health and a fresh arm that hasn’t been overworked during the dog days of summer. His return would be a welcome addition to a team with an elite closer (Kenley Jansen), starting rotation depth (Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias), an NL MVP candidate (Corey Seager) and steady veteran leadership (Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Justin Turner).

But here’s the thing, any one team can be a playoff nightmare for another playoff team.

Baseball’s postseason is unique in the sense that it is more exclusive than the NBA or NHL, which have 16-team tournaments. There is no .500 team scraping to get that final spot to be the postseason sacrificial lamb for baseball’s best teams. Not having scrub teams truly adds to the high drama of baseball’s postseason and makes the Cubs’ goal of winning the organization’s first World Series since 1908 that much more daunting of a task.

As for the other headline…

I pride myself on being a consumer of sports media. Online, in print or over-the-air, I want to read the best of the best and every angle possible. Even the ones I disagree with.

Yet, I haven’t read any columns/stories/blog posts/thinkpieces on the Cubs being a playoff nightmare for other teams.

Which seems strange considering the Cubs have baseball’s best record, two MVP candidates, the reigning NL Cy Young (leading a rotation with four top-30 pitchers in WAR) and a top-10 player at five everyday positions.

The Cubs have played so well this season, it’s almost easy to forget that they’re actually living up to the offseason hype and attention that was given to them this winter. And that is rare to see. The postseason is a different animal and there is minimal correlation between regular season success and winning in the playoffs. But you can’t make the tournament if you don’t make it through the grueling 162-game schedule.

It appears as if the Cubs have put themselves in a position to do just that, and their reward will be another roll of the dice come October. And that’s all you can ask for at this point.

The Bears are a mess and no one captured that more than Tribune columnist David Haugh, who wrote a strong column in the wake of the team’s third preseason loss on Saturday.

It’s rare when I see eye-to-eye with the Trib’s lead columnist, but he hits every important point. The highlight for me?

“Most of it has been fixable,” Fox said.

Maybe to Fox’s trained eye but, to casual observers, the Bears have shown little evidence of improvement, no signs of coaching no matter how much management trusted Fox to hire an elite staff. At some point, a staff living off Fox’s reputation must start producing noticeable results. In Year 2 under Fox, the Bears still can’t imagine seeing the playoffs without a periscope.


The Bears’ offseason hype train never comes to a stop and it reminds me a bit of the Cubs of my childhood. Get a little good fortune here, some unexpected production there and something good might happen. Of course, that could come to fruition, but the Bears’ talent deficit is apparent to casual observers and experts.

The lack of depth is concerning and the fact that they have let go of three dynamic offensive playmakers (Marshall, Bennett, Forte) in the last two offseasons isn’t likely to make things easier for quarterback Jay Cutler.

The offensive line is a mess and their best player (right guard Kyle Long) has an injured shoulder. The defense still leaves much to be desired, especially if their best pass rusher (Pernell McPhee) is going on a second year of fighting injuries.

The top-10 pick (Leonard Floyd, pass rusher from Georgia) is a project and so is their 2015 first-round pick (WR Kevin White). With the Bears not blowing down the doors in free agency during their rebuild, hitting on draft picks is essential to the team’s future success.

And only time will tell if we’ll see it from players selected in the last two years.



This Week In Weird Baseball: Russell, Heyward, White Sox stadium name change and more

It has been a while since I last wrote something of substance with regard to baseball here. With my energy focused at Bleacher Nation and the Cubs’ rousing regular season success in 2016, there really hasn’t been much to say here that hasn’t been said there.

Until today, when I felt a writing itch that needed to be scratched…

The stadium where the White Sox play will no longer be known as U.S. Cellular Field as of November. Guaranteed Rate Field will be a full-time thing starting in 2017 with a deal that goes through 2030. Corporate sponsorship of stadiums/arenas/ball parks that house professional sports teams is old hat, and six years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the name change. A quick chuckle and a joke, perhaps. But it never would have topped a blog post for me.

But in my six years at the Tribune, part of my responsibilities have included clearing out an e-mail folder generally filled with everything from complaints from longtime readers about broadcasters, videoboards, in-game advertisements, having too many/not enough day games, the price of concessions, etc. People will complain about anything and this just adds fuel to that particular fire. And to think, it will come despite what is expected to be an increase in revenue for the White Sox organization.

I was genuinely surprised the deal didn’t come from somewhere with stronger Chicago ties. Yes, I understand things like this go to the highest bidder. But with the state’s controlling interest, one can never rule out a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of deal in this (or any) situation.

This just adds another layer to the wackiness that has been the White Sox season. If you need a refresher:

  • DH Adam LaRoche walked away from the second year of his deal during spring training after Executive VP Ken Williams told him to scale back on his son’s clubhouse appearances. That led to Chris Sale MF-ing his boss and nearly a team boycott of a spring training game.
  • Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Sale, who was sent home after cuting up throwback jerseys that coincided with a team giveaway in some sort of protest. That move led the White Sox to hand him a five-game suspension.
  • The White Sox started 23-10 and attempted to bolster their rotation by acquiring James Shields, who has pitched to a 7.49 ERA and 7.34 FIP in 15 starts since his acquisition. The White Sox are 5-10 in those games, if you’re keeping track at home. He seemed to be turning things around with a seven start stretch from June 23-July 26 in which he owned a 2.11 ERA, but pitched to a 4.81 FIP and 5.33 xFIP. The 12.6 K% and 8.4 BB% should have tipped folks off that something wasn’t right, but he ended that run with 7.2 innings of shutout ball against the Cubs. He was fixed. Except he wasn’t, as Shields has pitched to an 13.95 ERA/11.00 FIP/7.21 xFIP while owning a 1.4 K/BB ratio.

All things considered, at least the name change isn’t the worst thing to happen to the White Sox this year.

But with a disappointing product on the field (despite some star power) because a lack of internal development of everyday players and an extreme focus on off-the-field silliness, I can’t shake the feeling that the 2016 White Sox have a 1990’s Cubs vibe going on.

IMG_1303Despite proving to be an elite defender with a serviceable bat since being called up to The Show in April 2015, Addison Russell has been somewhat of a low-key polarizing figure in Chicago baseball circles. Though, maybe it’s just my circle.

Some chided the Cubs for the primary piece in a trade for their two best starting pitchers was a highly-ranked shortstop and a top-10 organizational outfield prospect who was a 2014 first-round pick. But that has since been shelved to shift focus onto whether or not Russell is worthy of receiving the hype of a potential star/MVP candidate.

At age 22, Russell is on a 25-homer, 112-RBI pace per 162 games (or 657 plate appearances). Those are monster numbers for a shortstop, especially one who is in a three-way tie for the second most Defensive Runs Saved at his position with top-10 rankings in dWAR, UZR and Defensive Runs Above Average.

I’m not a fancy big city baseball expert, but the combination of elite defense at the most important position on the infield with an average bat highlighted by big power numbers will likely put you in the All-Star conversation. And if you make enough All-Star teams with those kinds of numbers, you are likely to end up in a MVP race.

It appears as if we’re on the brink of another Golden Era of shortstops with Russell being joined by Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and others. Russell might not hit as well as Seager, pick it like Lindor or be as well-rounded as Correa. But there is a ton of value in what Russell does, so perhaps people asking to pump the brakes on Russell might be pumping the brakes themselves.

IMG_1343There isn’t a bigger disappointment in baseball than Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year deal worth $184 million, reportedly turning down more money/years from the Cardinals and Nationals to join the Cubs.

Heyward’s first season at the dish has been a massive failure with a .225/.302/.320 slash line, .278 wOBA and a not-so-nice 69 wRC+. And yet, he still grades out as a net positive player because of Gold Glove caliber defense and strong base running skills.

Since being benched for the weekend (at the hitters paradise known as Coors Field, of all places) Heyward has 3 hits in 13 at-bats. But at this point, many would accept a .231 average if it came with a .538 slugging percentage and 95 wRC+ that would put him closer to league average than he has been this year.

Manager Joe Maddon will have a decision to make come October on whether or not he should bench Heyward in the postseason because of the lacking offensive production.

It should be an easy decision.

Heyward should start and it has nothing to do with justifying the $184 million dollar expenditure. Not only has Heyward’s defense been elite, it is head-and-shoulders above what Cubs right fielders did in 2015. He gets to more balls than anyone the Cubs threw out in right last year and is more likely to turn balls in play into outs than anyone on this year’s roster. Good pitching will (more often than not) shut down good hitting.

We were reminded of that in October as the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS. However, we were also given a refresher on how valuable solid defense can be with the gaffes made by Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler.

Defense doesn’t slump (or so I’ve been told). And since the Cardinals, Dodgers and Nationals — who are potential playoff opponents come October — rank in the top 10 in both hard-hit rate and contact rate, the Cubs might be wise to put their best defensive team on the field. Even if it is at the risk of some sub-par plate appearances from a guy who has a better track record than what he has shown in 2016.

MLB announced its postseason schedule, which put Cubs fans in a tizzy.

Some people have referred to it as “counting chickens before they hatch” but I’ll be in the minority and call it preemptive planning. In fact, because of some guesstimation based on the 2015 playoff schedule, I won’t miss NLDS Game 1 because of a Kanye West concert that will be happening simultaneously on Oct. 7.

Good planning based on the postseason schedule means I’ll get to see NLDS Game 1 and Kanye because I will be en route to Indianapolis to see the Saint Pablo Tour open up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse or whatever it’s called.

After I press “publish” on this post.