Ian Happ Should Stay in Chicago

Happy and you Know It

See? Rizzo agrees. 

It’s a small sample size, but the former University of Cincinnati Bearcat has made a fine case for the Cubs to keep him in the majors.  

The Cubs look like they are starting to get things together. After a rough couple of weeks, they’re beginning to faintly resemble the championship club from 2016. A big part of the Cubs’ recent success is their number two prospect, Ian Happ.

Originally drafted as a second baseman, Happ has been cross-trained to become the second coming of Ben Zobrist. The switch-hitting infielder by trade has not once started a game at his natural position since being called up (thanks to the Wizard of Puerto Rico Javy Baez). He debuted in right field and then proceeded to clobber his first MLB hit for a two-run homer off of up-and-coming Cub-killer Carlos Martinez. In his first game at Wrigley Field, Happ homered again, this time sending an outside pitch into the bleachers for an impressive opposite-field dinger. In the same game, he drew a crucial bases-loaded walk and has made a fine defensive play as well.

In just five games, Happ is hitting a solid .353 with two homers, and 4 RBI with an on-base percentage of .500. On top of those numbers, Happ has struck out as many times as he’s walked with five of each. For a 22-year-old, he’s shown tremendous poise at the plate and in the outfield. More importantly, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of where he was just one year ago.

At this time last year, Happ was the everyday second baseman for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs’ Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Carolina League. The young prospect was hitting a mere .266 with the Pelicans before his club came to Lynchburg, Virginia. I had the chance to witness Happ in person, and he didn’t disappoint. He had a .333 batting average with a triple and 3 RBI in the four-game series against the Hillcats. He started one game in left field and the rest at second base. From the moment I personally watched him, it was apparent to me that the Cubs never planned on letting Happ get too comfortable in the infield. He shagged flies from his coaches in the outfield and practiced defending against runners tagging up on fly balls.

So far in Chicago, Happ has been parlaying those skills he learned in the minors quite nicely. His versatility, coupled with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Happ’s switch-hittting ability, makes it clear in my mind that Happ should stay put. Tommy La Stella is a solid backup infielder, but he can’t match the Pittsburgh native Happ in terms of power and defensive skills.

No one other than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knows for sure whether Happ will remain with the big club or go back to Iowa. But if it were my choice, I’d keep him right where he is. He’s certainly earned it.

Broadcaster Selfie

Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

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These Are Not Your World Champion Cubs Anymore, But That’s Okay

Bryant K'sAfter an uninspired start to the new season, it’s time for us all to admit that the party is over. But that doesn’t mean these 2017 Cubs can’t win it all again. 

In 2016, the Chicago Cubs looked unstoppable. On May 12th, they held a 25-8 record, seven games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates atop of the NL Central, and were 12-5 at Wrigley Field.  

Aside from playing one more game a year later, the 2017 Cubs have not dominated the league in the same way. So far, the defending champs are 17-17, hold fourth place in the NL Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, and first-place St. Louis Cardinals, and are a lowly 7-9 at the Friendly Confines.

So, what’s changed so much in 365 days?

Well for starters, the starting pitching is lacking. After holding the league’s best ERA a year ago, the 2017 Cubs starters carry a 4.56 ERA. That’s the ninth-highest in all of baseball, a ranking made more clear by the Cubs rotation’s dubious stat of leading the majors with the most runs surrendered in the first inning.

Brett Anderson has been the weakest link in the rotation so far. Signed in the offseason to a one-year deal, Anderson is 2-2 with a team-worst 8.18 ERA and a whopping 13.9 hits per nine innings. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey haven’t fared much better. While both Arrieta and Lackey sport solid strikeout numbers (10.2 and 9.9 per nine respectively), they are giving up too many runs. Both with seven starts each, Arrieta is 4-2 with a 5.35 ERA, and Lackey is 3-3 with a 4.29 ERA. Those numbers must change if the Cubs expect to make a serious run for at least the division title.

Surprisingly, this is somewhat unfamiliar territory for this group of Cubs. Since the arrival of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber in 2015, Chicago has rarely fallen below .500. They were at .500 in one instance during 2015 after Bryant become a Major Leaguer on April 17th, 2015. But until 2017, they were never below .500. The last time the Cubs were a .500 team in 2015 was May 10th. Since then, they are a combined 202-125-1 (not including the postseason). Since Bryant’s debut, in particular, the Cubs have been at .500 merely six times (five of those instances in 2017) and below .500 twice (April 3rd and 17th of this season). We are living in the Golden Age of Cubs Baseball. The Cubs have never been this dominant during the regular season after the introduction of divisions in 1969. You have to go all the way back early in the pre-division era of Major League Baseball to find such a dominant group of Cubs.

If you’re like me and you find yourself surprised by the Cubs’ recent struggles, now you know why. It’s been more than two years since the Cubs have been a pedestrian club. But right now, that’s exactly what the Cubs are: pedestrian. As a team, they aren’t hitting nearly as well as they did a year ago. The bullpen outside of newcomer Wade Davis has been questionable. And as previously noted, the starters have not lived up to their very high expectations. Jason Heyward and Brett Anderson went on the DL after the conclusion of the previous homestand, paving the way for highly touted third base prospect Jeimer Candelario’s recent call-up. He impressed Joe Maddon in his first two games of 2017, so much so that he may have earned himself a starting job. This may well be a temporary arrangement, but then again Kyle Schwarber’s call to the show wasn’t expected to last more than a week in 2015.

Speaking of Schwarber, his .195 batting average hasn’t helped out a team with a combined .241 average, the 11th-lowest among all offenses in Major League Baseball. The lead-off experiment has failed, and hopefully, that means Schwarbs will return to a more natural place lower in the lineup. The loss of Dexter Fowler has certainly impacted the top of the order, but the offense still draws plenty of walks. Kris Bryant is the only everyday Cub hitting close to .300 (he currently has a .299 batting average entering Friday night).

Long story short, the Cubs are no longer the Murderer’s Row from 2016. They’re a .500 team hitting below .250 as a club and hemorrhaging runs in the first inning more than any other team in the league. These aren’t the World Champions. But it’s okay, folks. We’re only in May.

While they haven’t been the same club from last year’s World Series run, the Cubs have made more comeback wins than anyone else in the young season. That’s one positive to take away from this disappointing start to 2017. At the very least, the Cubs have shown that they can steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Such a skill helps win championships. You know, like what they did in Game 7 last November.

After a frustrating series against the New York Yankees and a lackluster showing against the Colorado Rockies, the North Siders find themselves back in the lion’s den when they return to St. Louis for a three-game series against the Cardinals beginning on Friday night. They fared well against St. Louis following a dramatic Opening Night loss in extra innings, winning the next two games by a combined score of 8-5. Starting pitcher Eddie Butler will make his Cubs debut and his first start since June 28th of last season as a member of the Rockies when he suffered a 14-9 loss to the Blue Jays at Coors Field. If Butler’s career 6-16 record and 6.50 ERA are any indications of his skill as a starter, he likely won’t be a long-term solution for that fifth spot in the rotation. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Cubs make a move for a starting pitcher at this year’s trade deadline. Will Thed likely make the leap for a top-line ace? One must think that they’ll make some phone calls, but they ideally wouldn’t unload a Baez or a Schwarber for such talent.

With prospects like Candelario and Ian Happ in the fold, it’s not crazy to think that the Cubs are pretty content with their situation. All that’s left is addressing the back-end of the rotation, figuring out who should lead off, and adding more reliable options in the bullpen to compliment Wade Davis. Unfortunately, we may never see another season like 2016.

But maybe we’ll be saying the same thing about 2017 next year.

Broadcaster Selfie

Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

 

Human Decency Prevails in Boston…At Least for One Night

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Adam Jones receives a standing ovation from Red Sox fans at Fenway Park after facing racial heckling the night before.

Old wounds never truly heal. They scab over, leave behind scars, but they never go away. Such is the case with racism and the United States, specifically in sports.

Race plays an unfortunately big role in baseball. It’s been that way since the earliest days of the game. Some of the greatest players to ever play never got to do so in the majors thanks to Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ infamous Gentleman’s Agreement with MLB owners to keep non-white ballplayers out of the game. Eventually, progress would forever banish the old ways to the history books.

Color barriers were broken. Baseball opened its borders and eventually became an international phenomenon, forever changing the face of the sport. From Jackie Robinson to Luis Aparicio, Sandy Koufax to Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks to Roberto Clemente, Henry Aaron to Ichiro, Ken Griffey, Jr. to Andrew McCutcheon, Manny Ramirez to Manny Machado, baseball is now a game for more than just white men.

That sadly doesn’t prevent people from reminding us of the “good ol’ days.”

On Monday night, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was heckled by unruly Boston fans at Fenway Park with some racial epithets. One fan, in particular, hurled racist remarks and a bag of peanuts at Jones while he was in the dugout. Rightfully upset at the events that transpired, Jones told the press that this night stood out for all of the wrong reasons:

“Tonight was one of the worst,’’ Jones said, slowly exhaling, “it’s different. Very unfortunate. It is what it is, right. I just go out and play baseball.

“But it’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I’m out there trying to make a living for myself and for my family.

“The best thing about myself is that I know how to continue to move on, and still play the game hard. Let people be who they are. Let them show their true colors.’’

He continued by stating that stadiums should enact harsher penalties on fans caught heckling players with racist taunts, including thousand-dollar fines and lifetime bans.

Should we still be surprised when drunk fans pop off “n-words” and other disgusting comments towards opposing black players anymore? No, but we should ideally strive to be something greater. Luckily on Tuesday night, the fans at Fenway rose to the occasion.

After the Red Sox and the mayor of Boston themselves issued public apologies to Adam Jones, fans at Fenway took it all one step further in the right direction.

Does this ovation undo the events from the night before? Hardly, but consider this. Adam Jones has spent his entire career as an opponent in Fenway. He has not once worn a Red Sox uniform, nor is he from the Boston area. Typically when an opposing player gets a standing ovation, they’re playing their first game against their former team or on their way to ending an outstanding career.

This is a classy move from a group of fans known for their rabid loyalty to their teams for better and for worse. Of course, racist insults aren’t exclusive to just Bostonians.

Far too many fans across the spectrum of professional sports throw racial slurs at opposing players. This has been a problem since day one of American sports and continues to plague leagues across the world. Just ask American soccer player Jozy Altidore or Canadian hockey forward Wayne Simmonds. This isn’t news to anyone paying attention.

Perhaps the Adam Jones Incident stands out more than it usually would thanks to the current political climate. We live in a time where the President of the United States signs executive orders to ban refugees from Muslim countries, pledges to build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border, hires known anti-Semites and racists to influential positions within his administration, and whose very election elicted celebratory hate crimes around the nation. Racism is not some marginal issue that happens in the backdrop of our daily lives.

It’s alive, well, and spreading.

The ovation for Jones at Fenway shines a glimmer of hope for the future. Even though the Red Sox and Orioles continue a crazy feud that has boiled between both clubs since Opening Week, we as baseball fans can look proudly at the moment Red Sox fans decided to embrace Adam Jones the human being despite the color of his jersey.

But we can’t forget about the event that sparked Tuesday’s nice moment in the first place.

Earlier that day, a few Cubs were asked to provide their thoughts on the Adam Jones Incident. Jason Heyward, Carl Edwards, Jr., and Kyle Schwarber all provided good takes. But the best statement came from the skipper himself, Joe Maddon. After recalling an incident from the ’80s that disturbed him during his days in minor league baseball, Joe offered a simple solution:

“At some point, you have to do something about it,” Maddon said. “You can’t just listen to it.”

One round of applause can’t erase decades of ignorance. It can, however, begin to cover that old wound with some sort of protective dressing. It may feel like using a bandaid to cover the Grand Canyon, but it’s better than enlarging that gap with an earthquake.

So for one night, let’s salute the Fenway faithful for showing some measure of decorum and humanity. Everyone can take away an iota of knowledge with them to help combat the next racist outburst, no matter where it is or whomever throws that stone.

Friends don’t let friends degrade society with ignorant prejudice and malice. We don’t have time for any of that anymore.

Broadcaster Selfie

Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

Jason Heyward Is Back

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Heyward (center) is greeted at home plate by his teammates following his first inning three-run home run Monday night in Pittsburgh.

After being labeled a free agent bust by pundits and fans alike one year ago, the J-Hey Kid is showing us all just what $184 million can buy. 

Let’s face it, Jason Heyward had a pretty bad season in 2016. After signing the biggest contract of his young career, the Cubs right fielder struggled to find success in his new home. Coming off of the 2015 season in which he had a career-high .293 batting average for the St. Louis Cardinals, armchair GM’s everywhere declared Jason Heyward to be the biggest bust of 2016.

In spite of his personal struggles, Heyward still won a Gold Glove and, more importantly, a World Series. But aside from his now legendary speech to his teammates during the rain delay of Game 7, Heyward failed to make a significant contribution to the Cubs’ stat line.

After the champagne showers and parades concluded, Heyward immediately got to work fixing his swing. Fans waited with bated breath for any signs of improvement for the once highly touted Braves rising star. Videos surfaced of Heyward taking batting practice, inspiring many think pieces from observers and insiders from ESPN to MLB Network alike. Then spring came and went, and Heyward still looked as though he would suffer similar issues at the plate going into 2017.

Well, it’s still early, but if his recent play is any indication, the kid’s alright.

That’s a nice sight, isn’t it?

If the one highlight doesn’t convince you, just look at the stats. The Cubs have played 18 games in this young season, and the difference is pretty obvious.

Here are Heyward’s numbers through his first 18 games in 2016:

.221/.338/.265, 0 HR’s, 9 RBI, 17 SO’s, 11 BB’s, 3 doubles.

And here’s Heyward’s stats through the same amount of games in 2017:

.294/.342/.456, 3 HR’s, 16 RBI, 11 SO’s, 4 BB’s, 0 doubles, 1 triple.

The strikeouts are a little high for comfort, but the drop in walks won’t matter if Heyward continues hitting. He currently leads the Cubs in batting average and RBI. Perhaps he won’t end the season as the team’s best hitter. But if Jason Heyward hits half as well the rest of this season, it’ll be more than enough for a Cubs lineup loaded with power.

The Cubs continue their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET/6:05 CT. Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 6.19 ERA) looks to get some revenge against Gerrit Cole (1-2, 4.70 ERA) in a rematch of their previous matchup two weeks ago at Wrigley Field. Hopefully, Jason Heyward continues his hot hitting and sends a ball or two into the Allegheny.

 

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Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

 

Wrigleyville North

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The Chicago Cubs take on the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend at Miller Park. There should be plenty of Cubbie blue in the stands, as fans of the defending World Series champions always make the trip up north. The Brew Crew limp into this series losing three out of four games against the Colorado Rockies to start the season.The Brewers have  a .248 batting average with five home runs and 17 runs scored through the first four games. Compare that to the Cubs they have a .223 batting average with two home runs and 11 runs batted in through three games.

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New comer Brett Anderson who the Cubs signed in the off season will get the ball in game one of the series. He didn’t have a particular good spring training with one win and one loss through four starts. His earn run average ended at 5.31 but he remained healthy which was a positive sign. Edging out Mike Montgomery for the final spot in the starting rotation Anderson looks to prove his worth. The Cubs were very cautious only signing him to a one year deal because of his past heath issues. He has made one career start verse the Brewers going seven innings giving up three runs in that outing.

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The Brewers counter with Jimmy Nelson in game one, his career numbers verse the Cubs are bleak. In 10 starts he has one win and six losses also he served up nine home runs in those starts. Game two starter for the brew crew is Tommie Milone , this will be his first career start against the Cubs. For the Cubs in game two Kyle Hendricks takes the mound, he’s made 10 career starts with a five and three win loss record. Hendricks had a 2.11 era last season which was the best in the majors. Game three will feature both teams aces Jake Arrieta for the Cubs and Zach Davies for the Brewers. Arrieta has made 12 career starts verse Milwaukee winning six of those starts and losing four. In his first start of the season against St. Louis he went six innings giving up one unearned run. Davies against the Cubs has made five career starts winning three games and losing two. In his first start verse the Colorado Rockies he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning giving up six earned runs in the process.

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Jayson Heyward is leading the cubs with four hits, both Wilson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber lead the Cubs with one home run and three rbi’s. 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant is scuffling at the plate to start the season with six strike outs and zero hits. The Cubs bullpen has thrown 9.2 thus far and has been locked in, the only blemishes are Pedro strop and Mike Montgomery both gave up runs in the opener. The Brewers pen has been taxed throwing 15.2 innings, Craig Counsell their coach will hope for the starters to go deeper into the games.

Friday and Saturday’s games will be on Comcast Sports Net plus and 670 The Score first pitch at 7:10. The series finale will be on WGN and 670 The Score first pitch at 1:10.

 

 

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Cubs Win Series In St. Louis

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Can you believe three games are already in the books for the 2017 season. The first series of the year didn’t disappoint. Javier Baez didn’t see a ball because he lost it in the white of the Mlb sign behind home plate. For the first time in Major League Baseball history a free pass to first base was issued with out a four pitch sequence. Late inning heroics from both teams, the first rain out of the season, Poor  Stephen Piscotty was hit three times rounding the bases one time. Yadier Molina had a ball stuck to his chest protector, and most important the Cubs won the series two games to one on the road.

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At the plate as a team the Cubs went four for twenty with runners in scoring position, and also left 24 runs on the base pads and managed 11 runs in the three games. They compiled  23 hits two of them left the yard. Something they should work on is their patience with 23 strike outs and only seven walks, the Cubs will need more men on base for the big hitter’s to score more runs. Defensively it’s been a little shaky with four errors in three games, Joe Maddon will surly have the team taking grounders to correct this problem.

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The starter’s Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey have combined for four earned runs in the first three games of the season. Getting to the sixth inning hasn’t been a problem so far for the starters, but the free passes have to come down all three have walked two batters in their starts. The strike out numbers have been about equal between the three, with 20 total The Cubs are getting about seven per starter. Last year proved how important starting pitching is, and all three starters did a good job mixing and matching in their first starts.

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The pen has given up three earned runs in the three games however all those runs came in the first game of the season. Since the first game the pen has thrown six shut out innings. New closer Wade Davis has given up one walk and one hit with zero earned runs in two innings and has notched two saves in a row. He is still in search of that clean one two three inning but the results are positive for the time being.  Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio should be pleased with his pitching staff’s production thus far.

Today’s game was just what the Cubs needed after falling behind early three to nothing in the first. Schwarber’s home run came at the perfect time and he knew it was gone after the ball left his bat, the only question was will it stay fair which it did. Grabbing the last two games of the series is a big momentum builder headed to Miller Stadium to play the Milwaukee Brewers. They play this weekend series then it’s onto Wrigley Field for opening night. For the first time the Cubs will play at Wrigley as defending World Series champions.

Cubs Cardinals Rundown

April 2, 2017  St Louis 4 – Cubs 3 (WP) Seung Hwan Oh (1-0)   (LP) Mike Montgomery (0-1)

April 4, 2017  Cubs 2- St Louis 1  (WP) Arrieta (1-0)  (LP) Wainwright (0-1) Save Wade Davis (1)

April 6, 2017 Cubs 6- St Louis 4 (WP) Lackey (1-0) (LP) Brett Cecil (0-1)  Save Wade Davis

 

 

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Cubs Come Up Short 4/2/2017

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Nearly 48,000 fans packed into Busch Stadium opening night to watch The Chicago Cubs and ST. Louis Cardinals renew there rivalry. It was a typical game between the two teams which didn’t disappoint fans watching from the stands, couch, or their local watering hole. Both teams combined for 19 hits and 7 runs with zero errors and some late inning magic, which eventually sent the home crowd out of the park pleased with the outcome.

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Carlos Martinez making his first opening day start dazzled with 7.1 innings of shut out baseball. He struck out 10, gave up six hits, walked none before being pulled from the game in the eighth inning.  Jon Lester made the opening day start for the Cubs his sixth opening day nod of his career. He allowed one run on seven hits, walking two, and striking out seven.

On the offensive side of the ball both clubs squandered scoring chances. The Cubs went one for five with runners in scoring position and for a total left six men on base. Most notable Kris Bryant going 0-4 with three strike out’s and five runners left on base. The bright spot on the night offensively for the Cubs was catcher Wilson Contreras.

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Contreras pictured above is celebrating his three run home run in ninth inning off St. Louis closer Seung Hwan Oh. The Cubs catcher had two hits in four at bats with three rbi’s. Newly named lead-off man Kyle Schwarber had two hits in three at bats with a double. The pen for the Cubs saw Carl Edwards Jr work out of a jam and throw a scoreless frame along with Koji Uehara getting the same results. Pedro Strop had a rough outing walking two batters and giving up a two run home run to Randal Grichuk in the eighth inning.

The Cardinals went one for 12 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base. Newly acquired free agent and former Chicago Cub Dexter Fowler went one for four with a walk on the night. He had the lone run for the Cardinals which he score as a result of what will be deemed as sign gate. Javier Baez miss played a ball ball hit right to him, he immediately pointed to the Cubs dugout saying he couldn’t see the ball. Next inning Joe Maddon went to home plate umpire Paul Emmel to have the white Mlb sign in Busch Stadium changed. The sign made it hard for players to pick up the ball and make a play.

After the top of the ninth inning seeing the Cubs tie the game the Cardinals offense went to work on Mike Montgomery, They managed to load the bases on two walks and a hit. Game Hero Randal Grichuk came up with the bases juiced and deposited a Montgomery pitch, past Kyle Schwarber and Jose Martinez easily trotted home scoring the winning run.

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  • Winning Pitcher   Seung Hwan Oh  (1-0)
  • Blown Save            Seung Hwan Oh
  • Losing Pitcher       Mike Montgomery (0-1)

 

 

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