The Obligatory Cubs On Memorial Day Post

There’s an old adage in baseball about Memorial Day being the first mile-market of significance of the baseball season. We’re here, and the Cubs aren’t great. In fact, they’ve played mediocre baseball for most of the first two months.

They are 25-24, but luckily only 1.5 games out of first place. The NL Central is kind of a middling mess right now, evidenced by the Pirates being in last place with a 23-28 record – and still just 4.5 games back of first-place Milwaukee. Hey! The Brewers are a thing. I made a comp to Harvey’s Wallbangers that went over a lot of people’s heads earlier in the year. Hit a wiki page or something, guys. I’m not sure if their starting pitching can hang, but they’ve got a handful of flamethrowers in the bullpen and could put up a puncher’s chance as long as Neftali Feliz isn’t handling the high leverage situations.

So, what’s the Cubs deal? Where do I start?

**They miss 2015-2016 Dexter Fowler, who slashed .261/.367/.427 with a .348 wOBA out of the top spot in the order. Fowler (.228/.319/.430) isn’t off to a great start with the Cardinals, but is riding a low .265 BABIP, so progression to the mean is probably on the horizon.

**Meanwhile, the Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment has been a disappointment. His .177/.297/.348 slash line is ugly, as is his .218 BABIP and .287 wOBA. The 13.5% walk rate is good, but the 29.2% strikeout rate isn’t. He’s already been dropped in the order AND made a platoon player. He’ll always be an October legend (.364/.451/.727 in 51 PA over 14 G) but until he goes on one of those tears again, he should be dropped in the order.

**I’ve been asked a dozen times if I’ve ever seen anything like Jake Arrieta’s rise and crater. And actually, I have. Kind of. I keep going back to three names when I think of the Jake Arrieta Cubs experience.

**The first is Clay Buchholz, a pitcher who had a superb four-year run with the Red Sox from 2010-13, before falling off. From 2010-13, Buchholz was 46-19 with a 3.15 ERA (3.92 FIP), 1.22 WHIP, and 135 ERA+ pitching in the AL East. Injuries have taken their toll on Buchholz, but when he was good, he was really good.

**I see some Rich Harden in Jake Arrieta. Yes, another case where injuries hindered a guy. But when Harden was good, he was stellar. Unfortunately, that stellar arm could only get you five (max: six) innings at a time. Harnessing great stuff is difficult.

**The third name is a little obtuse, but follow me for a moment. R.A. Dickey re-invented himself with the Mets with a dominant pitch (hey, that sounds familiar) during his age 35-37 seasons. He was 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA (3.55 FIP) and a 129 ERA+. At age 37, he went 20-6, struck out a league-leading 230 in 233 innings and stole the NL Cy Young from Clayton Kershaw. And then the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for, among other pieces, Noah Syndergaard. Whoops.

**So where do they go from here? The Cubs will need to get their offense up. It’ll start with improving on a .326 team OBP, which ranks 13th in baseball. That number needs to be in the top-10 to be a factor and in the top-5 to be a game-changer. The rotation needs a boost. Despite Sunday’s blowup, Jon Lester has been fine. And Kyle Hendricks – after allowing 11 ER in his first three starts – has allowed eight earned runs in the six starts that followed, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (3.43 FIP) … or basically what Mike Leake (1.91 ERA, 2.99 FIP) has pitched to all season. The bullpen needs to get settled. Hector Rondon has been streaky. Carl Edwards Jr. has been great despite a walk rate north of 10%. And Wade Davis has been as good as advertised. I’d be super curious to see what kind of deal would keep him around. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey represent $28 million that could come off the books at season’s end. I hate the idea of paying closers, save for the elites. Who says no to 3/$50M?

We’ll check back in on the date I always tell people to ask me hwo I feel about the Cubs/baseball – July 1, which will be my 31st birthday. WOOOOOOF.

The Bulls Made The Playoffs And I’m Not Sure Why

Wait. The Bulls made the playoffs?

Who authorized this?

Why?

How?

OK. I know how. Jimmy Butler was superb down the stretch. The Bulls were 33-38 after losing to the Raptors in overtime on March 21. After that, Butler averaged 26.3 points on 52.1% shooting, 7.3 assists, and 6.0 rebounds in the Bulls’ final 11 games. They went 8-3.

It makes you wonder why a handful of talking heads in town want to trade him. To get picks? Sure. Let’s trust high picks with a front office that loooooooved Kris Dunn? The Bulls considered trading Butler for Dunn, who shot 37.7% from the field, 28.8% from the 3-point line, and averaged 3.8 points in 17.1 minutes per game. I think you want a little more production out of someone drafted with a top-5 pick. Remember, this is the same front office that traded up to draft Doug McDermott, said it wanted to get younger and more athletic weeks before drafting the athletically limited Denzel Valentine, and thought Marquis Teague was a better fit than Draymond Green.

Pass.

The Bulls and Celtics couldn’t be more different. Boston is a good team led by a good coach, and proactive front office that executed a rebuild AND has high picks to deal in case it wants to go nuclear to land a star on the trading block. The Bulls are a mediocre team at best, led by a coach who is totally out of his element, and a front office that seemingly devalues everything that makes modern basketball entertaining, and ultimately, good.

Basketball’s best teams have athleticism and perimeter shooting. The Bulls don’t really have either. They are to basketball what the White Sox were to baseball in recent years before the Cubs won a World Series after a five-year teardown/rebuild effort that seemed to set the wheels of change in motion over at 35th and Shields. I’ll never understand why the Cubs (who don’t play in the same league as the White Sox) can seemingly impact things when the Cavaliers (who share the same division and conference as the Bulls) win a NBA title and the Bulls stay committed to the status quo. As far as I’m concerned, it pretty much says everything you need to know about how the two organizations are run.

The Bulls are now locked into the 16th draft pick, where NBADraft.net projects them to pick UCLA PF T.J. Leaf. Whatever. Just don’t draft Grayson Allen.

My dilemma: I got a good price on the Celtics winning the East. Do I root for my money or for my interest? Does it even matter? Because in the end, the Bulls got everything they wanted out of the 2016-17 season — two more home games worth of revenue.

Pictures From Chicago Cubs Ring Night

A collection of images I shot while at the Cubs-Dodgers game on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs players, staff, and front office received rings for their efforts in helping the franchise win its first World Series since 1908.

Fun times were had by all. Except probably certain members of the 2017 Cubs, who ended up losing Wednesday’s game 2-0 to the Dodgers.

Looking at “The Park At Wrigley.”

A new addition under the right field bleachers. All of the Cubs’ Hall of Famers have Cub-centric plaques at Wrigley. Greg Maddux was pretty good. Shame Larry Himes decided he wasn’t good enough. That guy…

I really like the design on the 2016 NL Pennant. Well done.

I take the worst selfies.

The 2016 Cubs Weren’t Supposed To Happen, But Did … What Does 2017 Have In Store?

I wanted to write something big and meaningful, but that will have to wait until Opening Night at Wrigley. (Tease.) Instead, here are various scattered thoughts I’ve pieced together that I’ve been wanting to share.

I’m having trouble deciding whether or not it’s easier to forget the amount of doubt that was cast from all angles throughout the Cubs’ tear down and rebuild or if it’s actually easier to remember the hurdles the team cleared to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.

In any case, the Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champions and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Kris Bryant completed his journey from being the best player in college, to being the best in the minors, to the best among NL rookies, to the best in the National League. If you blinked, you might’ve missed a dinger or two. Anthony Rizzo is a clubhouse leader and face of the franchise. He’s come a long way from the Padres prospect who struggled to hit a good fastball. Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist proved that big-money free agent acquisitions can pan out, while Jason Heyward’s deal reminds us that teams can overcome the sunk cost of a bad contract if the surrounding pieces are superb. And I suppose Gold Glove defense at the position helps, too.

So what’s next for the Cubs?

 

So much of being a Cubs fan was building toward winning a World Series, that you almost felt as if would all end when it did happen. It didn’t baseball goes on. And that’s great. The Cubs have a lot of winning to do to catch up to baseball’s other elite franchises, and I’m looking forward to it.

That is the beauty of baseball. It’s 162 games in 183 days. Its daily inclusion makes it a fabric of our lives for three of the four seasons. From early March through late October, baseball is there for you. And there is no wrong way to baseball. You can enjoy Javier Baez’s enthusiasm, Willson Contreras’ never-ending energy, and Pedro Strop’s hat as much as John Lackey’s old school, all-too-serious, us-against-the-world snarling mound presence. The regular season features 2,430 games, so there is plenty of time to enjoy it all.

Baseball doesn’t stop. There will be new mountains to conquer in 2017 — and beyond.

Albert Almora Jr. was the first draft pick of the new regime and his development is instrumental in replacing Dexter Fowler, a fan favorite who was one of baseball’s most productive lead-off hitters. Will he take full control of center field or will he enter a timeshare with veteran Jon Jay?

Kyle Schwarber became a postseason legend (.364/.451/.727/1.178 in 51 plate appearances) before he played his first full season. But where does he slot in as a lead-off man splitting time between the outfield and the team’s third catcher?

Who’s gonna pitch? Postseason included, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks have logged more than 1,750 innings since the start of 2015. The health of a pitching arm is the hardest thing to pin down in sports, so who knows how these guys hold up again. As for the relievers, we know that bullpens are fickle, even ones as deep with options as the Cubs.

I don’t know how things will unfold, but I’m very much here to watch and find out.

After all, what you saw from the Cubs in 2016 wasn’t supposed to happen.

Theo Epstein wasn’t going to leave his hometown Red Sox in 2011. Joe Maddon wasn’t using his newfound escape clause to go to Chicago in 2014, either. The prospects the Cubs acquired weren’t going to pan out because, you know, they never do.

The Cubs weren’t overcoming a 2-1 deficit after back-to-back shutouts in the NLCS, which prompted a Los Angeles Times columnist to write the Cubs were choking. And when they proved not to be choking dogs, it wasn’t enough anyway because they didn’t have baseball’s of LeBron, so they definitely weren’t coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series — as James’ Cavaliers did approximately four months prior that June en route to winning the NBA title.

The 2016 season was a culmination of improbable things that came together to make the impossible dream happen. Now, let’s win two.

 

MLB 2017 Predictions Post

1144105Happy return to baseball, y’all!

Last time we checked in with one another, the Cubs won the World Series. Turns out it wasn’t a dream. Pretty cool if you ask me.

In addition to this season’s predictions, I’m sharing some of the futures investments I made while in Las Vegas.

As if I needed more things to root for this spring, summer, and fall.

 
AL EAST: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, Rays
AL CENTRAL: Indians, Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Twins
AL WEST: Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Athletics
AL WILD CARDS: Blue Jays, Rangers
AL BEST RECORD: Indians
AL WORST RECORD: Twins
 
AL MVP: Francisco Lindor, Indians (60/1)
AL Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (60/1), Yu Darvish (15/`1)
AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
AL Manager of the Year: John Gibbons, Blue Jays
 
NL EAST: Nationals, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Phillies
NL CENTRAL: Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Reds
NL WEST: Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres
NL WILD CARDS: Giants, Cardinals
NL BEST RECORD: Dodgers
NL WORST RECORD: Padres
 
NL MVP: Buster Posey, Giants (100/1)
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (12/1), Madison Bumgarner (8/1)
NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, Braves
NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Giants
 
OTHER WAGERS
Regular season wins: Yankees UNDER 83.5
Regular season wins: Kyle Hendricks OVER 13.5
Regular season home runs: Kris Bryant OVER 33.5
Home run totals: Josh Donaldson (+1.5; +120) over Giancarlo Stanton
 
POSTSEASON
ALCS: Red Sox d. Indians
NLCS: Dodgers d. Cubs
WORLD SERIES: Red Sox d. Dodgers

Aliette Nuñez: 1962-2017

If you’re reading this, odds are you likely checked in with me in one way or another — and I appreciate it. I wanted to briefly let you know I’m thankful for the thoughts/prayers/well-wishes/memories you have shared in recent days. I wish I could individually respond to you all. I might even try, but my early attempts at that have mostly ended up with me being in tears.

So know that I’ve read/seen everything and am appreciative of everything you have sent. Your friendship, no matter via which avenue we’ve used to connect, means a lot.

Moving on …

Metaphorically speaking, my mother wore a lot of hats. Because — realistically — the only hat she wore constantly was a Cubs hat that had “Javy #9” engraved on the side with the Puerto Rican flag for her favorite Cub. But I digress.

My mother was my adventure partner. She was someone who really embraced my baseball-related travels in recent years and her attendance on trips to Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and elsewhere were some of the best times we had. In that vein, she was the best baseball fan (as many of you are aware) you could ask for. She loved her Cubs, but she loved the game as a whole.

The White Sox-Astros World Series of 2005 might not have been a ratings success, but you can’t blame my mother who watched all the games — including the marathon in Game 3. She called me at some ungodly hour to tell me she was still watching, then again in the morning to confirm that I stayed up and watched what she watched. (And she’d be the first to remind anyone who would listen that it was she and not my dad (the Sox fan) who watched that — and all the World Series games.)

She was a foodie, who spent plenty of time in recent years searching for new places to try her favorite foods. Her disappointment in the changes at our local Mexican joint pushed her to find a hole-in-the-wall taco place on California near 90/94 that was so good, we went three times a week when upon discovery. She was also a master in the kitchen, who taught me how to cook a lot of my favorite foods. And judging by the fact she left me hundreds of pages of recipes on/near the printer, she planned on making sure I learned to make more, too.

She was an avid shopper. Online and in person, she could sniff out value or a deal anywhere at any time. This was something that was definitely passed on to me.

She was a music fiend who didn’t guide me to one genre over another. I can thank her for the variety in my music collection. And if you’ve ever been at a wedding/dance/house party I’ve deejayed, you can thank her, too.

On top of everything, she was a giver. And that’s the thing that has stuck out the most in the last few days. Whether it was hundreds of dollars in school supplies to needy children and teachers, mounds of clothes to Goodwill and other donation spots, toys, clothes, and other gifts during Christmastime, giving to JDRF and other charitable efforts, etc. … my mother was always one to be at the forefront of being a caring, giving person — whether it was time or money. It’s the one thing I really want to make sure I continue to do moving forward.

I guess that’s a long way of writing my mother was my best friend, and I’ll miss her presence.

Attached is the obituary I wrote for her. And, as is stated in the obituary, in lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to JDRF and the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in her honor.

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal schedule, because that’s what Mom said she wanted. And I’m not one who wants to deal with her haunting me for not following orders. I’ve learned my lesson on what happens when you don’t listen to Mom from when I was a child.

Mom

The Cubs Enter Spring Training As Defending World Series Champs … And It Still Seems Weird

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

After a lifetime of being reminded about 1908, that lead sentence is worth repeating again. Yet, it still seems surreal – three months later – that the World Series champion Cubs is still a thing.

My mother recently asked me if at any point I thought the Cubs would never win the World Series in my lifetime. And my answer surprised her.

“Yep.”

Allow me to explain.

In 2008, I had a come to Jesus meeting with baseball as I watched a Cubs team that ran through the rest of the National League get swept in convincing fashion by the Los Angeles Dodgers, while surrounded by Cardinals fans. It was only then – between swigs (chugs?) from the Jack Daniels bottle purchased earlier that evening – when I realized how difficult it was to actually win the World Series … especially when compared to other sports.

For example, FiveThirtyEight gave the Cubs a 77% chance of making the playoffs before the 2016 season started, but only an 11% chance of winning the World Series. That’s quite a disparity. Compare that to the NBA, where the Warriors currently have a 99% chance of making the playoffs, but a 54% chance to win the NBA title. Minimal disparity, comparatively speaking.

Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cardinals fan reading this and laughing with your 38 combined World Series titles. But if you’re laughing, it probably means you haven’t had that moment. And when you do, it’s not going to be pretty.

Because here’s the thing about winning a World Series, as I explained to my mother. From 1909-1968, winning the World Series was relatively easy. It involved the simplest of plans: Win the most games in your league (thus, capturing the pennant) and win a best-of-seven series and take home the World Series title.

Simple enough. Be the best team in your league, beat the best team in the other league. The Yankees won 20 of their 27 World Series titles under that format, the Cardinals won eight. Be the best. Beat the best. It’s a formula as old as sport itself.

What made the Cubs drought so frustrating was that in those simplest of times, they only made seven World Series appearances in those 59 years, with the last being in 1945.

Things became a little more difficult in 1969 with the addition of divisions and the League Championship Series. Even still, we’re talking about a relatively simple formula. Be the best team in your division, win the pennant by beating the other division winner in a series, and win the World Series.

This was your format from 1969 until 1993 – a 24-year stretch in which the Cubs made the playoffs just twice.

The Cubs wasted 84 years of the the most straight forward path to a World Series, while their longest-standing rival thrived.

Can you see how a long championship drought manifested itself?

The Wild Card era added a new wrinkle and another team to the mix and the Cubs found their way into the playoffs four times from 1994 to 2011, but managed one playoff series win.

So there I am on a couch in Carbondale in 2008, drinking and thinking about how the best teams don’t always win the World Series.

The 1984 Cubs had the best shot of them all, but had to play three road games in San Diego despite having the NL’s best record. Nice league set up, gents.

The 90s had the dynasty Yankees, but also the Braves who won a bajillion division titles with three Hall of Fame pitchers in their prime – but only one World Series win and an Indians team that probably should have won a title or two, as well.

So, leave it to the Cubs to figure it all out when the odds are the longest. Check out this road map to a World Series:

  • Win your division with the best record in the league as to avoid playing in a one-game playoff and start your postseason on the road against the best team in baseball in a short series.
  • Win your LDS series, which is a tough enough challenge on the surface, made more difficult in that if you’re a Wild Card team, your best pitcher throws only once in a five-game set, twice if you’re lucky. But if you’re truly lucky, you win in four to leave your best starter to start LCS Game 1.
  • Win the LCS. Simple enough. But if you’re a Wild Card winner that happens to have more wins than a division winner, you get to start on the road again. Fun times.
  • Win the World Series, where prior to 2017, home-field advantage was decided by whichever team won the All-Star exhibition game.

I don’t have to squint to see a Cubs dynasty in the making. Two MVP candidates at the corner infield spots, a steady defensive shortstop with 20-homer pop, an All-Star caliber utility player, and a World Series/postseason legend with fewer than 300 plate appearances at the big league level — all under team control for at least the next five years.  Defenders who can back-up hurlers who pitch to contact and a catcher who can shut down the running game. And a front office with money to spend and intelligence to find and exploit the next trend and/or loophole before anyone else.

The Cubs should be among favorites to win the World Series for the next few years, but it’ll never be easy — statistically speaking.