Northside Mailbag

Northside Mailbag

  1. Who will have more home runs this season, Rizzo or Bryant?

That’s a tough one, and it wasn’t made any easier with Rizzo’s two homers on Sunday. I’m going with him and here’s why. I think both are going to hit 30+ this season, without question, but I think Rizzo’s pure production showed on Sunday. That’s what makes me think he’ll win that battle, even if by just a few homers. I’m not saying Bryant can’t rake (cue the homers against Cincy, especially the golf grand slam), but I think Rizzo is already hitting insane amounts of homers, and he hasn’t hit his stride yet. If he maintains the pace he’s on, picking up slowly and then tearing through pitchers, he could hit 40.

  1. Do you think we’ll see Wilson Contreras this year?

I like Wilson Contreras, a lot. This season thus far for him has been stellar, averaging .375 on the year and hitting safely in 11 of 13 games in AAA-Iowa. Contreras has been steadily getting better year by year and it’s not long before he cracks the major league lineup, but is it 2016? I don’t think so, barring a setback of either Montero or Ross. With Schwarber rehabilitating, there’s more of a shot, but with Montero and Ross carrying the load just fine thus far, unless something changes I think Contreras stays put to continue growth through the year.

  1. Why did Joe put T–Money La Stella in a leadoff spot? #3am

I could cop out and say it’s just a “Maddonism” (Cue Busch Stadium joke, ya know because they’ll try to ban it) but I think it’s more on the basis of playing with what he’s got. La Stella has been really good thus far this season in the time he’s gotten. Hitting .364 in 22 at-bats, La Stella is solid in every category. Is that saying he works in a leadoff role? I still don’t think so. I like the idea of it, however, and it seems like Sunday was a good inclination of what he can do in that role. La Stella hit for two doubles, a homer, totaling 8 bases in the 9-0 win. It’ll be interesting to see if Maddon tries that again as the season progresses.

  1. During spring training, Chris Bosio predicted the Cubs would have three no-hitters this season. Do you think they’ll achieve that with one already? If yes, will they all come from Arrieta or will another pitcher get his day?

I love Chris Bosio, and I think he’s been the best thing for this pen since I don’t even know. What’s great about Bosio is that confidence. He’s sure of his pitchers, and I think that benefits everyone, not just Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is confident enough, but that extra boost knowing that someone like Bosio is behind you has been key. Look back at this weekend, and the tweet that Cubs fans dug up back where Arrieta said he’d be a dominant starter one day. That makes it all the sweeter to see the success. I think Jason Hammel could be a no-hit kind of guy, if he’s pitching on the right day against the right team. He’s been insanely good, and if he’s on at the right moment I think it’s possible. I do think Arrieta could easily get another, I mean just look at some of the swings in last week’s no-hitter. If you said three no-hitters for any other group I’d say you’re crazy, but with this bunch I wouldn’t put it past them.

  1. The Cubs are off to a hot start, scoring 119 runs in 18 games, do you think they’ll be able to carry that into October?

It’s been amazing to see the production from this lineup through 18 games. It’s easy to overlook the fact that Schwarber is gone now, when you could find some who thought without him the lineup might struggle. Minus the few games where it seemed like bats weren’t there, you’ll find top to bottom production that’s just scary. When you’ve got LaStella hitting doubles and home runs and doing that at the top of the order, that’s dangerous. Can they keep it up? I thought I’d be afraid to say yes, but I’m not. I think they can, with maybe a few spells of games where production isn’t at the same level. The key is pace, being such a long season, it can really take its toll. It’s too evident to think that they can’t keep it up, especially when it’s an entire lineup that a pitcher has to avoid not just a few certain players.

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Connor Urey @ConnorUlrey

 

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Can Jake Arrieta out-do 2015?

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After easily one of the best second halves to a season in recent memory, a lot was to be said of Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and whether 2016 would be a slight decline, albeit still good season. First let’s look closer at Arrieta post All-Star game 2015, just to see how unbelievable he really was. After the break last season, Arrieta went 12-1, pitching 107 innings. That alone is impressive, but what else did Arrieta do?

Jake+Arrieta+Chicago+Cubs+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+D412leSv9tHlAfter the stop in Cincy, Arrieta posted a 0.75 ERA, only giving up nine runs and having an average of .148 of batters faced. The Missouri native also averaged more strikeouts (4.91) per nine innings compared to hits (4.61) per game. A season like that is why Arrieta means so much to the Northside, but after such a miracle season it was easy for doubters to call it a fluke or a one-time occurrence. Even I thought Arrieta might slow down a bit, though I still saw him as the ace the Cubs need.

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How’s Arrieta responded in 2016? He’s 3-0 with a whopping 1.23 ERA and has only given up 15 hits through 22 innings. The TCU grad also has only given up three runs, while also racking up 20 strikeouts. The Colorado series tested the Cubs rotation, but Arrieta has proved to be as solid as ever. Run support is the only thing the Cubs need to work on, and following the Arrieta model might prove most efficient moving forward. As much as you want to talk about the pure lineup power the Cubs have, it’s more important that Arrieta keeps pace. The rotation as a whole has been solid, albeit with hiccups every now and then. If the Cubs are going to finally capture that elusive crown this year, it comes down to pitching. Batting wins a team games, pitching wins a team a championship. In an era where batting reigns supreme, the old standard of pitching still remains. If Arrieta produces at the rate he is, it’s hard to believe that the Cubs don’t continue to top the power rankings. Whether the entire rotation can follow suit remains to be seen, but the ace is as solid as ever and that’s what matters in the Windy City.

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

 

 

Northside Mailbag

Northside Mailbag

 

  1. Will the absence of Kyle Schwarber affect the team and their chances of playoff contention?

Kyle Schwarber is one of the most dynamic players of the Cubs offense, hands down. His versatility and overall power make him one of the most difficult outs in the Cubs lineup, but he’s not the sole reason this team is primed for success. Don’t get me wrong, he’s going to be sorely missed, but depth wise the Cubs are fine.

They’re not going to replace him with pure power, unless it’s Jorge Soler power, but they’ve got a multitude of options. They’ve even talked about moving Bryant to LF some nights, and I definitely see them doing that. So will it affect the team? Yeah, it’s a tough pill to swallow but I see the team continuing strong even in his absence.

  1. Can Jorge Soler be the “next man up” in the outfield?

Hey, I just said that! Yes, I think he can. The only issue with Soler is his vision at the plate. Overall, his ability or lack thereof to hit a curve ball is going to take its toll eventually. Will it threaten the team? No it won’t, but having a player who hasn’t really improved overall when it comes to a certain pitch makes it an easier out.

His ability in left is better than Schwarber’s though, and that’s a boost. I look for Joe to mix it up in left on a series basis and find what really works. I do like Soler at this moment, and I expect him to keep getting the nod for the time being.

  1. When Javier Baez is healthy, will Joe Maddon still favor Tommy La Stella?

Baez is another player I’m perplexed by. The Cubs overall were a strikeout heavy team last season, though seem to be improving early in 2016. Baez has worked on his swing a lot and is showing signs of a breakthrough, though most would say he isn’t there yet.

The reason I like La Stella more is purely due to his contact abilities. With such a dominant power lineup, it’s great to have a guy like La Stella who consistently gets hits, whether it be singles or doubles or whatever. That kind of effectiveness is important and I’m sure Maddon likes having him in the lineup.

In Sunday’s game against Arizona, La Stella was big and I see him continuing to be a cog in the Cubs machine moving forward. Baez, when healthy is a great option, but I think he’ll have to show he can be continuously effective to jump over La Stella.

4. Where do you see the Cubs finishing their season, record wise, and why?

A lot of bold predictions have been made, and we’re already seeing how difficult the NL Central is going to be. Lowly Cincinnati sits atop the Central heading into their series at Wrigley, and the Pirates and Cardinals aren’t far behind the two. Out of the division, the Brewers are the only team that doesn’t worry me, because their pitching can’t carry them through an inning, let alone a stretch of games.

What makes Cincinnati so dangerous? That everyone pegs them to be awful. Even Reds fans thought they might finish with 100 losses. Low and behold they took 2-of-3 from the Pirates, who started red hot, and now not only sit at 5-1 but also have a pair of division wins under their belt.

The Cubs are still my pick to win the Central, but I don’t see them getting near 100 wins. The NL Central is the toughest division in baseball, and for good reason. With three teams sitting at the top of the standings heading into last years’ postseason, it’s too difficult to see them running away with it.

I’m saying the Cubs win 95 games this season, and even that’s a stretch in my eyes. It’s not because they aren’t extremely talented, which they are, it’s because of the difficulty overall in the schedule. Still, look for a top spot come playoff time on the Northside.

  1. Should we be worried about John Lackey’s rough first start?

It’s easy to say yes, with Lackey’s track record of being somewhat iffy. I don’t see it being an issue though, moving forward I think he’s going to find his groove. He put up one of his better seasons last year, and the Cubs were right to add him, albeit maybe for more than he’s worth.

What the Cubs needed was a solid rotation starter, and I think Lackey is that, though I’m not sure where at yet. The past few games have been good for Maddon to see which pitchers in the rotation are really feeling it early, where they might fit best, and how he wants to play that.

I think Lackey figures it out in his next two starts, but I still see him being a bit rocky throughout the season. He’s not Arrieta, he’s not going to pound the strike zone and get win after win. He’s built to be a solid rotation guy that is effective, the key is just getting runs to support him.

The Cubs are a team built for run support, I mean look at the first game against Arizona. That’s great for Lackey, who tends to give up a few runs in every few starts, to have a lineup behind him that can keep them in it is huge as the season progresses.

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

 

3 storylines heading into Opening Day

1. Can Jake produce the same as his 2015 CY Young season?

Jake Arrieta has become everyone’s favorite bearded Cub on the North Side, apart from Grandpa David Ross, and after such a dominant season in 2015, the real question is can he produce at the same level? The consensus from outside Cubs fans is that last season was a magical season, but nonetheless unrepeatable in 2016. Anything hidden in those arguments? I’d say fear. After one of the most prolific second halves in a season, it’s easy for other teams to not want Jake to recreate that. Dive deeper into Arrieta’s numbers from last season and it’s hard to distIMG_4097inguish what’s the most impressive. The former TCU hurler pitched 229 innings in 2015, a number that scares every doctor from Chicago to LA. After such a long and grueling campaign, and putting up his largest innings total, can Arrieta do that again? It’s hard to say no, but it’s hard to say yes. Arrieta is 30 years old now, not a young pitcher by any means, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have another fantastic season. What helps Arrieta the most are the improvements to the pitching staff. Some could say John Lackey is the best thing to happen to the Cubs (sorry Cardinals fans), and gives Arrieta the option to rest more later in the season. Heading into the opener, Arrieta looks as sharp as ever, with just a minor hiccup of a thumb injury. Expect Arrieta to stay on pace as the Cubs ace in 2016.

2. How much does Heyward improve this team?

 

Fans have been really excited for Heyward to make his “debut” since the Cubs signed the outfielder away from the rival Cardinals and the win-hungry Nationals, in the off-season. The real question is what does the former star rookie bring to the table in 2016? First of all, Heyward brings a defensive prowess that’s unprecedentedIMG_4098, and it’s something to be excited about if you’re a Cubs fan. Besides Fowler, the Cubs outfield has been more of an offensive than a defensive outfield and Heyward adds a solid dimension to a power stacked outfield. In spring training, Heyward only averaged a .164 batting average, but that’s nothing to worry about, especially not before the start of the season. Heyward did however hit three home runs, and also bagged a pair of triples over the past two weeks. Never really known as a power hitter, Heyward only hit 13 home runs in 2015, but is projected to have an upswing in 2016. I think the most exciting aspect of Heyward’s game isn’t his offense, but he’s another hitter in the lineup that can’t be overlooked heading into the season.

3. Who’s the most promising player from Spring Training?

 

I know what you’re thinking. Who’s the most promising? It’s gotta be Bryant or Rizzo right? No, and here’s why. The question is promising, and who’s been the most improved in spring training and looks to be on track for an amazing 2016 season? IMG_4099Addison Russell. What a trade that’s looking like for the Cubs. Back when he was acquired from the Athletics, some feared though he was talented, he wasn’t worth what the Cubs were giving up. That’s been proven to be false, and it’s another reason why Theo Epstein might be the best thing that’s happened to the Cubs in at least a few decades. Russell’s spring training numbers are insane, and here’s why: He’s batting .259, which is all well and good, but also has a .611 slugging percentage to go with his six crushing homers. The shortstop also has 12 runs on his 14 hits, and has 13 RBI’s in his 54 at-bats. He tops in home runs, but sits near the top in nearly every category. In just his second full season, and his first full season as the Cubs shortstop, look for Russell to really shine.

 

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By: Connor Ulrey     @ConnerUlrey