Starlin Castro

It’s been a long time since I last spoke to you.  So much has happened in Chicago sports.  Here’s a look at the busy and unpredictable Chicago sports landscape.

Blackhawks keep winning

Blackhawks keep winning

Blackhawks:  They just keep doing what they do best, see win.  They lost their goalie Corey Crawford after an accident at a concert, but didn’t skip a beat.  Patrick Sharp returned to the ice and their winning ways have continued.  Right now, this organization is a blue print for the other teams in the city.

Derrick Rose makes a statement

Derrick Rose makes a statement

Bulls:  So much was written about the man the team needs in order to win a championship-Derrick Rose.  As long as he is healthy for the playoff run I don’t care if he sits every other game.  He is back, but not completely healed so he takes what the defense gives him.  It seems others are following his lead of letting their bodies heal to be ready for the games that matter.  DRose also made headlines when he showed support for the Garner family by wearing the I Can’t Breathe shirt.  Some local sports media questioned his intelligence and motives.  He knows what he’s doing and the implications; please stop insulting the young man’s intelligence.  Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler are the team’s MVP and Niko Mirotic has been as good as advertised.  Biggest problem besides health is the defense; they’re giving up more points so far this year.

The newest member of the Sox.

The newest member of the Sox.

White Sox:  The south siders are making moves this off season.  They have signed reliever Zach Duke, closer David Robertson and first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche.  They completed a six player trade with the Oakland Athletics getting starter Jeff Samardzija.  Pitching coach Don Cooper was downright giddy after learning about the move.  So they have strengthened their bullpen, starting rotation and hitting; now the question is will they catch the ball or will they throw away games this season.

The first step in competing in 2015

The first step in competing in 2015

Cubs:  Theo and company made a huge splash getting the best free agent pitcher Jon Lester for 6 years for $155 million, $30 million signing bonus and no trade clause.  There are many who think now that the team signed Lester they will speed up their clock to compete and look to acquire a big bat.  They signed pitcher Jason Hammel and acquired catcher Miguel Montero, with that move some expect Wellington Castillo to be traded.  Theo said they aren’t looking to trade him and apparently he told other teams that shortstop Starlin Castro is not available.  Cubs need offense so keeping Starlin makes sense.

Bears leaders searching for answers

Bears leaders searching for answers

Bears:  I saved the worst for last.  The coaches and players are bad, the front office is bad and the field is bad.  It’s just an all-around bad team.  Mel Tucker may be the fall guy, but I don’t think fans will think that is enough.  After this year many faces will be gone, and I’m not sure any of the young players are any good.  Thankfully the misery of this season ends in 3 weeks.

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Chicago Cubs at Miami (source:huffingtonpost.com)

The Chicago Cubs head to sunny Miami, remedy Florida this week to battle it out against the Miami Marlins. They’ll be playing a four-game series starting Thursday. The Marlins might be the least recognizable team in the National League. After the team shelled out $634 million on a new ballpark and spent millions in free agency, cure the team still finds itself in the bottom of the NL East standings and having a hard time filling seats.

The Cubs also sit at the bottom of the standings in the NL Central, diagnosis making this an ugly vs. ugly matchup, but also one that the Cubs could actually win for some much needed momentum heading into May.

What You Need To Know:

  • There were rumors this week that Cubs manager Dale Sveum threatened to demote Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to the minors. After the teams poor performance against the Brewers, Sveum took it to the players. Considering Castro and Rizzo are the future players of them team there’s a low chance of that happening; Sveum just wanted to light the fire underneath the players to really have them show up to the plate.
  • The Marlins went 69-93 in 2012 and aren’t expected to do much better this season.  After a horrible 2012, owner Jeffrey Loria, decided to give the team a “new-look” by sending many of their players packing, in hopes for talent in their new players. The Marlins have struggled early this season posting the worst record in baseball at 4-15. They’re one of the weakest teams in the MLB and similar to the Cubs, 2013 is considered a rebuilding year.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (source: marlinsnation.com)

  • The Marlins added a few key players this season:  shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, right handed pitcher Henderson Alvarez and third basemen Placido Polanco. Although the team has new members there still not much buzz around the team doing well this season.

 

Players To Watch From Opposing Team:

Jacob Turner (source:miamihearld.com)

Jacob Turner:

This pitching stud has the most promise on the Marlins’ 25-man roster. After coming off the Tigers and being traded to Miami he showed the coaches some quality throws that leads people to believe this 21-year-old right hander could have what it takes to make the top of the Marlins rotation.

 

Giancarlo Stanton (source:sidelinepass.com)

Giancarlo Stanton:

This 23-year old slugger has been improving every year. From 2010 to 2012 his batting average went from .259 to .290.

The Game You Do NOT Want To Miss:

If you’re going to tune into any of these games make it game 4 on Sunday. The probable pitchers will be Carlos Villanueva for the Cubs and Rocky Nolasco for the Marlins. Nolasco went 1-2 and has a 3.81 ERA. The main guy to watch is Villanueva not only because of his famous mustache but also his recent success shutting down the Reds by striking out six and allowing two runs on only three hits.

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wisch-with-losses-cubs-would-be-history-in-the-making

Cubs fans – congratulations. You’ve almost made it. Tonight, ampoule you can finally put this horrible season behind you. The Lovable Losers will finish a 3 game series against the last-place Houston Astros at home, check and will close out a painful year that most of us would rather forget.  As the 2012 season wraps it will be remembered as the first of the Epstein rebuilding years that began with few expectations and ended with 100+ losses.  Let’s review where we are, how we got here, and what’s next for the Cubs.

What brought us to this point?

Low Expectations:

Though much excitement was generated when Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was tapped to be the new club president, Cubs fans resigned themselves to the inevitability of a long, slow rebuilding process under his guidance. Theo and the rest of the management, including new faces Jed Hoyer (GM), Jason McLeod (VP of Scouting and Player Development) and Dale Sveum (manager), immediately went to work to end a decades-old team tradition called Not Making it to the World Series. In spite of long odds and two straight years of finishing 5th in the NL Central, Cubs fans, all-too-familiar with the bitter taste of disappointment, couldn’t help but hope for a new direction in 2012.

Theo Epstein

2012: Dramatic Deals and Strategic Trades

As the year began, Chicago watched closely as the leadership unveiled a new “Theo-ology” on how to manage the team’s (shockingly) high payroll. Management strategically traded away big names like Aramis Ramierz and Carlos Zambrano, avoided expensive free agent acquisitions in the offseason, and used the extra cash to stock Chicago’s farm team (the Iowa Cubs) with potential future stars like Anthony Rizzo.

By the time the MLB trade deadline rolled around in July, it was clear that once again, the Cubs didn’t have a prayer of making it into the postseason. This was good news in a way, as it freed management to offload more superstars and acquire younger, cheaper talent, who could be nurtured into a distant future’s winning Cub lineup.

Exiting rumors swirled about the Braves interest in acquiring Cubs veteran Ryan Dempster in exchange for up-and-coming pitcher Randall Delgado. Unfortunately, Dempster used his trade block powers to spoil the deal, ultimately ending up with the Texas Rangers in exchange for two relative unknowns, Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks. It will be interesting (and easy on the eyes) to watch their Cub careers develop over the next few years. Chicago also parted ways with outfielder Reed Johnson, pitcher Paul Maholm, and catcher Geovany Soto, albeit on better terms.

Ryan Dempster

Chicago’s Pitching Game: Hope and Heartbreak

Even though Chicago’s offense hasn’t given them much run support, the Cubs struggled with an inconsistent and frequently frustrating bullpen. One of the more notable cases is that of Carlos Marmol, who performed so poorly in the first two months of the season (including a particularly painful win he personally gift wrapped and delivered to the Reds in early May) that he was demoted from his role as closer. In June, Svuem gave Marmol a second chance, and he has been slowly redeeming himself ever since.

Marmol currently leads the pitching staff in saves (20) and boasts a 2.70 ERA for September. As the bullpen begins to whip itself into respectable shape, Svuem recently commented that “…it’s nice to see these guys coming back from a little bit of adversity and doing nice things”.

Want to know what’s not so nice? The bleak pitching stats: We currently lead the entire MLB in walks (551 so far), and we have the 3rd highest number of earned runs, the 3rd lowest number of quality starts, and the 3rd highest on-base percentage of any team in the National League. (Thank you, Rockies and Astros, keeping us out of rock bottom).

The one consistent bright spot in the Cubs pitching roster has been the delightful l (if weirdly coiffed) Jeff Samardzija. This was “The Sharks” first season as a starter after spending 2 seasons as a historically unreliable reliever.  Samrardzija had a solid season (despite July) and will leave as the #1 starter and a fan favorite, leading the team in strikeouts (180) and season ERA (3.81).

Jeff Samardzija

Fearful of their rising star sustaining an injury in the meaningless remaining games, management recently made the decision to pull him for the rest of the season (see http://sportsdivasinc.com/2012/09/cubs-pull-samardzija-for-the-remainder-of-the-season for more details).

Though Samardzija will no doubt be back in full force come 2013, the same cannot be said for Cubs pitching legend and Chicago icon, the injury-maligned Kerry Wood. Wood, perhaps most famous for throwing 20 strikeouts in a single game in his rookie year (1998), announced to fans that he recognized that it was “time to give someone else a chance”. Fortunately, Wood will likely stick around Wrigley to support the team in a different capacity, possibly as an on-field instructor.

Anthony Rizzo: Bright Spot in a Dark Season

One of the most exciting events of the season (and this should say something) was the call up of first baseman Anthony Rizzo from the minor leagues in June.  Though Rizzo’s one major league gig with the San Diego Padres in 2011 was a barely mediocre disappointment, his stellar offense in the first half of 2012 rocked the triple A scene, giving desperate Cubs fans something to hope for.

Anthony Rizzo

It would be hard to overstate the hype surrounding Rizzo’s debut against the New York Mets on June 27th, but the North Side breathed a sigh of relief as he effortlessly led the last-place Cubs to a 5-3 win.

Rizzo has continued to impress with such memorable moments as July’s walk-off home run in the 10th inning to beat the 2011 World Series champions and world class jerks, the St. Louis Cardinals. In a mere 80 games, he’s hit 14 home runs, clinched 45 RBIs, and maintained a .289 batting average.  As a young (and hot! http://sportsdivasinc.com/2012/08/anthony-rizzo-chicago-cubs/) player with an enormous amount of talent and potential, Rizzo embodies the best of what’s to come with the new Theo-ology.

Looking Ahead

Lately the Cubs have been doing everything they can to spoil postseason contention for rivals like the Cards but still managed to clock 102 losses this season for only the 3rd time in franchise history and the first time since 1966.   So what can we expect this off-season and for next year?

  • The management’s commitment to building around the considerable talent of Starlin Castro was solidified with a 7 year, $60 million contract extension for the shortstop in late August. Already a three year veteran at the ripe old age of 22, he’s worked hard this season to overcome his faults (remember that time in June when he forgot how many outs there are in an inning and won the game for the Giants? Me neither), and if he continues on this trajectory, he’ll be a dependable star, and perhaps the face of the franchise, for years to come.

    Starlin Castro

  • It remains to be seen whether or not the front office will look to sign any of the other up-and-comers (I’m looking at you, Samardzjia and Garza), or whether they’ll wait to see if their 2012 successes have staying power before risking millions on a contract.
  • The Cubs will be active in the free agent market this winter, looking to add depth to a roster with some significant left from the sell-off at the Trade Deadline (i.e. Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm-shaped). It’s likely that management will continue to trade away their older and more expensive talent, which could include Marmol, whose improved performance in the second half of the season has significantly increased his trade value, or Alfonso Soriano, who currently has two years left on a $136 million, 8-year contract.

So far, these kinds of trades have played into the management’s strategy well. As Jed Hoyer recently stated: “We’ve been diligent to make sure we do have [financial] flexibility and we’re efficient going forward…We have some money to spend and we’ll focus on it heavily”.

As the Cub’s 2012 season demonstrated, there’s no quick fix to a century-old ailment. We can be fairly certain that next year will look a lot like this one. But this time, the infinitely patient North Side fans have a reason to stay positive. Theo and company are taking us in a different direction than we’ve been going for decades. In our case, different can only mean better. But is it too much to ask that we not let the White Sox sweep us at home next time?

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paul maholm2

The Cubs won their second game against the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 on Tuesday night thanks to strong pitching by Paul Maholm who ironically, clinic used to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Maholm’s stellar outing against his former team could be redemption for being traded. Whatever it was that inspired him, Cubs fans are digging it as Maholm has now won 5 in a row.

What You Need to Know:

  • Maholm spent 7 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates when they were an incredibly lousy team, before being traded to the Cubs this off-season as a free agent.  Ironically, the Pirates are a strong team this year, sitting in 2nd place of the NL Central and are in a position to make a run for the Playoffs, as the Cubs continue their painful and long rebuilding process.  However, none of that seems to bother Maholm who is having his best season ever as a Cub.

Paul Maholm as a Pirate

  • Maholm is now one of the Cubs strongest pitchers with a 9-6 win/loss record and 3.88 ERA.  The lefty has only given up 4 earned runs in his last 38 innings.  All the buzz seems to be around Cubs pitchers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster as they are on the top of the trading block, but Maholm seems to be the sleeper of the group and could potentially be traded as well.
  • Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano both homered to lift the Cubs.  Cubs pitcher Matt Garza left the game to be with his wife who is expecting their 3rd child.

Your Take Away Piece:  “All eyes are on Dempster and Garza as the MLB Trade Deadline draws nearer, but after Maholm’s solid game last night and his current hot streak, Maholm might actually be on the hot seat as well.”

What’s Next:  The Cubs will be looking to sweep the Pirates today when Ryan Dempster, who has been the beacon of trade rumors all week, will get the start at 11:30AM on WGN against veteran pitcher, Kevin Correia of the Pirates.   This will most likely be Dempster’s last start in a Cubs uniform as his trade is inevitable in the upcoming days.  Until then, the Dempster Trade Watch continues!  Follow us on Twitter for the most up-to-date news.  @chisportsdivas

 

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2012-mlb-all-star-game

The 2012 MLB All-Star roster was announced on Sunday afternoon for the upcoming All-Star Game on July 10th in Kansas City.  A total of 5 Chicago players made the roster – with one player, pharm White Sox starting pitcher, Jake Peavy, still waiting in the shadows – as part of the “MLB Final Vote”.

What You Need To Know:

  • The All-Star Game, an annual event in the second week of July, serves as the mid-point of the 162-game MLB season and pits the best players in the American League versus the best players in the National League.  The eight starting position players in the game for each team are chosen by fan balloting through the internet and manual voting at the ballparks.   Because the starting 8 players are based on fan-votes, it’s essentially a popularity contest – one of the valid reasons why many purists of the sport do not like the All-Star game.
  • The pitchers and the two backup players for each position of each team are selected by the manager of the game, who is the manager of the previous year’s league champion – so this year it would be Tony LaRussa, the old manager of the St. Louis Cardinals – who won the 2011 World Series.
  • In addition, there is always the exhausting “Final Vote” where fans have the chance to vote AGAIN for the final 5 players of the team.  Sponsored by Firestone, fans have until July 5th to text in their final votes to finalize the roster.  For more on how the voting is conducted and a complete roster for both teams check out MLB.com’s offical announcement.

So who made the cut?

  • For the Cubs, short-stop Starlin Castro (his 2nd All-Star appearance – he made the roster last year) and outfielder/former 1st basemen until Anthony Rizzo came to town last week, Bryan LaHair – are both reserves, meaning they won’t start the game, but will see some playing time.
  • For the Sox:  1st basemen Paul Konerko, designated hitter Adam Dunn and pitcher, Chris Sale all made the roster – all reserves as well.  The biggest snub for the Sox?  Catcher AJ Pierzynski.  With 14 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .285 batting average, Pierzynski totally got snubbed by the fan vote – but no one is surprised.  Pierzynski was just named “most hated player” by other baseball players in a highly publicized Men’s Journal survey.  Fans obviously must share the same sentiment.

    AJ Pierzynski

What’s Next:  After the Final Vote on July 5th, the remaining 5 players will be announced to the teams.  The All-Star game is next Tuesday night, July 10th in Kansas City and airs on FOX.

 

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Starlin Castro

The Cubs inability to win on the road continues as they are swept by the San Francisco Giants in a 4-game series that started on Friday.  The Cubs lost Monday, healing 3-2 and have now lost 11 consecutive games on the road.  But the biggest story coming out of Monday’s loss was Cub’s star short-stop, advice Starlin Castro’s costly mental error that has everyone buzzing this morning.  Here’s why:

What You Need to Know:

  • Cub’s short stop, salve Starlin Castro had a chance to turn a double-play in the 5th inning with bases loaded but according to Cub’s manager, Dale Svewum (pronounced SWAYUM) he ‘brain-farted’.  He sure did.  When the ball was flipped to Castro he tagged 2nd base and began to run off the field thinking the inning was over and that there were two outs, when there was only one.  The game-winning run scored at home plate for the Giants due to Castro’s error.
  • This isn’t the first time Castro has had errors due to lack of concentration and not paying attention.  When you hear Cubs fans talk about Castro, his lack of focus and defensive issues are always a topic of discussion.  Last year, Castro was caught on camera on national TV during ESPN Sunday Night Baseball with his back to the pitcher during a pitch, spitting sunflower seeds.   The gaffe drew national attention and criticism from many.
  • Castro is one of the biggest rising stars of the Cubs, which is why this error is such a big story.  The 22-year old from Dominican Republic is one of the best sluggers on the team and has amazing natural talent, but his lack of focus has been a topic of conversation of late.  Trade rumors are also surrounding Castro as the Cubs continue to struggle.  Castro would be one of the most valuable players to another team and could serve as a strong negotiation tool.

Your Take Away Piece:  “There’s no guarantee that Castro would’ve made the play at 1st if he hadn’t brain farted like he did, but this is just another distraction that the Cubs don’t need.

What’s Next:  The Cubs road trip continues as they head to Milwaukee next for a 3-game series against the Brewers starting tonight at 7PM on CSN.  Ryan Dempster gets the start against a very talented Yovani Gollardo who has limited the Cubs to one run or less in the last 6 times he has pitched against them, leaving many to believe that the Cub’s worst road streak in franchise history will be set this week.

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