Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 1/1

MDRlogobanner

Before heading into 2017, let’s look at the Top 5 MDR stories from 2016:

1. Cubs Win – This might be the biggest no brainer selection in the history of MDR. For the first time since 1908, the Cubs won the World Series. They also gave every indication that they could be starting at least a mini-dynasty as the team to beat for the next couple seasons.

2. Bryant Wins MVP – Kris Bryant is off to a start that few in the history of baseball have shared. First, he won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015. Then in 2016, he won MVP. His first two seasons give him tough acts to follow.

3. Selig to Cooperstown – Bud Selig will always be known by Brewers fans as the man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee and headed the franchise for years. But, his tenure as commissioner of baseball changed the game in many ways and earned him election to the Hall of Fame.

4. White Sox start cleaning house – The White Sox looked to have built a club that could contend in 2016, but instead they bombed. They started what could be a house cleaning by trading ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton before he holidays. More are likely to go.

5. Twins sink – The Twins also had hopes of contending, but instead had their poorest season since 1995. It cost Terry Ryan his job as GM. Another bomb of a season could also send manager Paul Molitor packing.

Hot Stove Updates

Brewers

** Catcher Martin Maldonado and pitcher Drew Gagnon were traded to the Angels for
catcher Jeff Bandy.

** The Brewers have signed former Twins’ LHP Tommy Milone to a one-year contract.

** The Brewers have signed infielders Eric Sogard and Ivan DeJesus Jr. and pitchers Andy Oliver and Hiram Burgos to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.

Cubs

** Aroldis Chapman, who signed as a free agent with the Yankees, said Cubs manager Joe Maddon misused him during the post-season, especially in the World Series.

** Jorge Soler was traded to the Royals for closer Wade Davis, who will replace Chapman. That means Kyle Schwarber will likely see regular time in the outfield.
** Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara and former Brewer pitcher Caleb Smith have been added to the bullpen.

Twins

** 2B Brian Dozier continues to draw the most attention from other clubs, with the Dodgers part of the most rumors.

** Jeff Smith has been named first base coach, and former Dodgers exec Jeff Pickler was named coordinator of Major League development.

** Corner infielder Matt Hague and 1B/OF Reynaldo Rodriguez were signed to minor league deals with invitations to spring training.

White Sox

** The Sox reached a one-year deal with pitcher Derek Holland.

** The Yankees and White Sox continue to talk about a deal that would send LHP Jose Quintana to New York. RHP David Robertson also has been the subject of rumors with several teams.

** Righthander Jorge Rondon has been signed to a minor league deal. RHP Chris Volstad also was re-signed to a minor league contract.

What’s Ahead

Salary arbitration figures must be exchanged between players and clubs by Jan. 13. The Baseball Writers’ Hall of Fame voting will be announced on Jan. 18.

MDR teams will start holding their various winter festivals and ticker promotions later in January. The Cubs Convention is held Jan. 13-15. SoxFest and TwinsFest arescheduled for Jan. 27-29. The Brewers hold their On Deck on Jan. 29.

The Ken Keltner Chapter will celebrate SABR Day on Jan. 28 with a joint meeting with the Chicago Rothe Chapter at the Brat Stop in Kenosha County. Contact Rick Schabowski at rickiu76@aol.com for more info.

The MDR Blog will run again in early February, previewing spring training. It will continue to run monthly through spring training and the regular season.

##

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 12/2

MDRlogobanner

The annual MLB Winter Meetings start next week. The four MDR teams all have things they might want to discuss, or at least start discussions about, at the meeting.

Brewers – Of course, the biggest possibility for Milwaukee is the trade of Ryan Braun. The most prominent rumor about Braun during the last season was a deal to the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig and prospects. Such a deal makes sense since Braun is a Southern California native and would likely accept a trade to L.A.

Puig has under-performed since his rookie season, but has great natural ability. He also is a corner outfielder, who could replace Braun in the field. What prospects the Brewers could get in return might be the keys to the deal.

Junior Guerra and some other Brewers also have received some interest in the trade market. So, expect GM David Stearns to at least get started on some possible moves.

Cubs – You might expect the Cubs to stand pat after winning it all, but teams that do that usually go in reverse. Plus, the Cubs could lose Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel. While they do have enough depth to replace these players, they likely will want to upgrade over that backup talent.

Start with the bullpen. Hector Rondon or Carl Edwards Jr. could take over the closer role from Chapman, but the Cubs also might want to go after a higher profile closer and keep Rondon and Edwards in the positions they now occupy.

Travis Wood, who ate up more innings than any other reliever, and also can play in the field, is a free agent. The Cubs could re-sign him or go after a replacement. They also might want to fill the relief role of Mike Montgomery, who likely will go to the starting rotation to replace Hammel.

The Cubs already added outfield depth in acquiring Jon Jay. Jorge Soler continues to be possible bait for other trades. So, expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to also be at least setting some ground work at the meetings.

Twins – The Twins have been downplaying how active they will be at the meetings. “Candidly, I don’t think the Winter Meetings is where we have to do everything,” CBO Derek Falvey recently said. “We’re not in the business of winning the winter meetings with a firestorm.”

At the same time, the club desperately needs starting pitching and some help in the bullpen. The Twins do have pieces that could be used in deals.

Brian Dozier has attracted a lot of attention. Kennys Vargas and Ervin Santana also could be potential trade bait. The Twins took care of catcher, another area that had been open for a possible deal, by signing Jason Castro for three years this week.

The Twins have some nice young players and prospects, but it seems more likely they will hang on to those players and try to move some veterans. Trevor Plouffe and Tommy Milone already have been cut loose.

No matter what Falvey says, the Twins need to make moves. Whether they do that at the meetings, or just start laying some groundwork, remains to be seen.

White Sox – The Sox brass has been rather open about the fact they want to make some changes. Tops on the rumor mill has been LHP ace Chris Sale. A number of teams are interested, but the price will be high.

Perhaps the hottest rumor has Sale going to the Cubs, but both teams have been downplaying that. Sale to the Tigers for Justin Verlander is another intriguing rumor.

Sale is not the only Sox apparently available. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, Avisail Garcia, Brett Lawrie, James Shields and David Robertson all have been mentioned in possible deals.

There also have been rumors that the Sox could steal the Brewers’ thunder by dealing with the Dodgers for Puig and others.

GM Rick Hahn has said the Sox are willing to trade any player who is under Sox control for four or fewer years. If he is aggressive in pursuing this approach, it could lead to a house cleaning, which could start next week.

Hot Stove Update

Brewers

** The Brewers signed 1B/OF Eric Thames to a three-year contract. Thames, who had been playing in Korea, once played for the La Crosse Loggers in the Northwoods League.

** 1B Chris Carter was designated for assignment and likely will be traded or go free agent, opening up first for Thames.

** The Brewers claimed RHP Steve Getz off waivers from the Rays and designated 1B/OF Adam Walker.

Cubs

** Contracts are expected to be worked out with arbitration-eligible pitchers Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm.

** The Cubs have not discussed moving Jason Heyward, who had a poor season in 2016.

** The Cubs claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from the Mariners.

Twins

** John Ryan Murphy likely will serve as a backup to Jason Castro, who signed a three-year deal to catch for the Twins.

** The Twins hired former players Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins as special assistants in baseball operations.

** Twinsfest will return to Target Field, Jan. 27-29.

White Sox

** The Sox added catcher Roberto Pena on a minor league deal.

** RHP Brandon Brennan was out righted to Triple A.

** LHP Jose Quintana will pitch for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic.

What’s Ahead

In addition to possible player moves, the final details of an agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association likely will be released during the Winter Meetings.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on a five-year collective bargaining deal on Wednesday. For proposed changes in several areas of the agreement, go to http://www.mlbtraderumors.com.

The MDR Blog will run again in early January. You can keep up with any breaking news, including any deals from the meetings, by going to the Midwest Diamond Report Facebook page.

##

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 11/2

MDRlogobanner

A rain storm might have saved Joe Maddon and the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series.

Maddon went to the Aroldis Chapman well once too often, asking the big closer to pitch multi-innings for the third straight game. Instead, Chapman was gassed and gave up a home run to Rajai Davis that pulled the Indians to a 6-6 tie.

Then, before the teams went out for the top of the 10th inning, the rain came and gave Maddon and the Cubs a chance to regroup. It also cooled down the Indians, who had momentum after Davis’ homer.

After the delay, the Cubs scored two runs in the 10th and held on for a X-X win. Veterans Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero had key RBI hits. Carl Edwards Jr. gave up one run in the bottom of the 10th, but Mike Montgomery got the last out.

While Maddon’s decisions on Chapman, and in other situations on Wednesday, will be debated for weeks, the win gave the Cubs a great comeback for their first World Championship since 1908.

After falling behind 3 games to 1 to the Indians, the Cubs salvaged one game in Wrigley Field on Sunday, but still went to Cleveland at a distinct disadvantage. They were set to face Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber, who had

spun their way to the Indians’ three wins.

But, the Cubs showed up and took over Progressive Field. Suddenly, they were not chasing curve balls into the dirt. They weren’t trying to pull everything.

Instead, the Cubs were selective yet aggressive when they got their pitches. They started going with the pitches.

Addison Russell, who had struggled earlier in the Series,  drove in six runs in Game 6. Willson Contreras and Javier

Baez hit a double and home run respectively to right center and right in Game 7.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo formed the Bryzzo combo again. Dexter Fowler led off Game 7 with a homer to dead center. Even 39-year-old David Ross, playing in the final game of his career, homered. Ross became the oldest player to ever homer in a Game 7.

In Game 7, the Cubs hit against Kluber and reliever Andrew Miller. They made the adjustments and took advantage of

a couple great pitchers who, like Chapman, might have been running low on fuel.

It wasn’t only the adjustments the Cubs made at the plate. Despite some very questionable handling of pitching by

Maddon, the Cubs got good performances on the mound. Jake Arrieta was solid in Game 6. Kyle Hendricks also pitched well in Game 7 and probably deserved to go deeper into contest. Then, there was Chapman, who was a beast before running out of gas.

The Cubs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit is a great story. The way the players, especially their young players, responded

to the pressure of being down shows just how great they could be over the next several years.

Finally, the annual Cubs fans’ chant of “wait ’til next year” can be changed to “can’t wait ’til next year.”

What’s Ahead

The MDR Blog will take a hiatus until early December and then run monthly through the off-season and next season.

Any big stories, such as trades or other moves, will be posted on the Midwest Diamond Report Facebook page.

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/27

MDRlogobanner

Just when they needed him, the reigning Cy Young Award winner showed up for the Cubs Wednesday night.

Jake Arrieta, who won the coveted award in 2015, has had a good season, but has not been as dominant as he was a year ago. On Wednesday though, Arrieta held the Indians hitless through the first five innings, long enough for the Cubs to heat up their bats and post a 5-1 win that sent the World Series back to Wrigley Field tied 1-1.

Arrieta had some control problems in the first inning, but then got into a groove. His no-hit effort of 5.1 innings was the longest in Series history since 1969,

While he was mowing down Cleveland batters, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo sparked a Cubs’ attack that, while not prolific, was adequate to get the win.

“I knew I hadn’t given up a hit going into the 6th inning,” Arrieta said. “That’s not what really counts in a game like this. I wanted to stay aggressive and allow these guys to put the ball in play on quality pitches.”

The Cubs had a much better approach at the plate than they did the night before when they were shut out by Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller. They worked the count, but were aggressive on pitches that were hittable.

Schwarber, who had only five at-bats before blowing out his knee very early in the season, looked to be full strength as he had two hits and drove in two runs.

“Baseball is a crazy game,” said Schwarber, who did not expect to play in the post-season until doctors gave him an OK to hit and run the bases. “You don’t know what it will throw at you. We took a small step tonight and now have to keep it going. We still have a long way to go.”

Zobrist has broken out of his post-season slump, and Rizzo had a key double and two walks.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona already has said he will start Kluber in Games 4 and 7 if necessary. Miller, who threw almost 50 pitches on Tuesday night, also will be available out of the bullpen for the Indians.

But, the Cubs can beat these guys too, if they keep the right approach at the plate. When they get overly aggressive, or try to work the count too much, they become vulnerable to good breaking stuff. That’s what has happened in every shutout they have suffered in the post-season.

They were dominated by Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS, but then came back to beat him. Kluber and Miller are good, but certainly not any better than Kershaw.

What’s Ahead

Schwarber was set to work out Thursday to see if he was medically ready to go beyond DH and play in the field. If so, he could start in left field Friday night with Zobrist moving to right.

Joe Maddon has started Chris Coghlin and Jorge Soler in right in the first two games of the Series, benching Jason Heyward, who has struggled mightily at the plate. Heyward came in Wednesday as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

Kyle Hendricks, who starred in the NLCS finale, will start Friday. Josh Tomlin will start for the Indians.

Kluber will return Saturday for Cleveland. John Lackey is scheduled for the Cubs.

Wrigley Field will be hosting its first World Series game since 1945. It should be a real carnival there.

##

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/23

MDRlogobanner

In the 5th inning Saturday night, a Cubs’ fan held up a sign that read “Curse-Shaw Ends Tonight.”

It did indeed. Neither that damn Billy Goat Curse nor the great Clayton Kershaw could stop this team of destiny from going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

The 5-0 win over the Dodgers featured the combination that propelled the Cubs to 103 wins during the regular season. Dexter Fowler set the table. Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered off Kershaw.

But, the night really belonged to Kyle Hendricks, the quiet, 26-year-old Dartmouth righthander. Hendricks was masterful in holding the Dodgers to two hits in 7.1 innings. Aroldis Chapman mopped up the final 1.2.

Hendricks and Kershaw met in Game 2 of the NLCS, and both pitched well. Hendricks made one mistake in that one, giving up a home run to Adrian Gonzales. This time, he pitched virtually mistake-free baseball.

Kershaw was masterful in the 1-0 L.A. win in Game 2. On Saturday, he wasn’t, struggling with control of his breaking stuff and getting his fast ball into bad locations. An error by Andrew Toles on a fly ball in left field also hurt him.

The Cubs took a different approach at the plate too. They still were selective, but also more aggressive. It worked.

Javier Baez, who excelled in the field and at the plate, and Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP award.  Lester said the Cubs focused on winning the World Championship, from spring training on.

“We talked about it, but at the same time we knew not to take anything for granted,” Lester said. “We have a bunch of grinders. We have goals. Now the next goal is to win.”

Theo Epstein, who put the team together with talented young players and select veterans, said, “You just smile, soak it in and let it take your breath away. Then, get back to work to get four more wins.”

A Personal Note

I was raised in a family of Cubs’ fans. I switched to the Milwaukee Braves when we moved from the North Side of Chicago to Wisconsin. But, when the last out was recorded Saturday, I couldn’t help but think back.

I hoped my sister, who has lived and died with the Cubs, saw it on TV. I wished my late grandmother, who watched the Cubs every day on WGN, and my late parents could have been alive to see it.

I also thought of Jack Brickhouse, who brought those games daily to my grandmother. And, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and dozens of other players who starred for the team but never saw a World Series in Chicago.

I truly hope they are somewhere smiling together. I also know that like Lester and Epstein, they are saying ‘four more wins.”

What’s Ahead

Those four more wins will not come easy. The Cleveland Indians are not as known a team as the Cubs have become, but they are a good, talented ball club.

They play somewhat like the Cubs — aggressive at the plate and on the bases, good pitching. Like the Cubs, they are a young team, managed by a veteran in Terry Francona. Like Joe Maddon with the Cubs, Francona was brought into the organization because he had proven before, with the Red Sox, that he could win.

Epstein and Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer know Francona well. Together, they broke the Red Sox’s drought of World Series championships.

Now, Epstein, Hoyer, Maddon and their players have broken a 71-year drought by getting the Cubs into the Series. But, that 108-year drought since the Cubs last won a Series is still out there, waiting to be broken.

The Series starts Tuesday in Cleveland. As of this writing, the teams had not yet announced their starting pitchers.

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/21

MDRlogobanner

Luckily for Chicago sports fans, the Cubs played a lot better than the Bears.

Just when the Billy Goat was starting to romp through Cubs’ fans minds again, the team turned it around and won two straight from the Dodgers to take a 3-2 lead in games. That sends the NLCS back to Wrigley Field for Game 6 on Saturday night.

How did the Cubs turn it around after falling behind, 2 games to 1? They started to hit. Specifically, two players who had been horrible — Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo — started to hit.

Russell, who had been dropped to eighth in the order because of his slump, homered Wednesday and Thursday to spark the Cubs’ attack. He became the ninth Cub in history to homer in consecutive games in the post-season and the second youngest shortstop in MLB history to do so.

“My confidence is up,” Russell said. “Wednesday was a great night, pushing me to today, and now I have to carry it over to Saturday.”

Rizzo had only two hits in the post-season before Wednesday, but broke out with three, including a home run, in the Cubs’ 10-2 win.

Interestingly enough, the breakouts by Russell and Rizzo could partially be traced to Matt Szczur, who isn’t even on the NLCS roster. Russell used Szczur’s leggings and Rizzo his bat!

“They’ve picked me up quite a few times,” Szczur said. “They don’t owe me anything. We’re a team.”

It also didn’t hurt that Kris Bryant and Javier Baez continued to have good post-seasons, and veterans John Lackey and Jon Lester held the Dodgers down in the two wins.

The problem for Russell and Rizzo, and most of the Cubs, before the breakout is that they don’t hit breaking balls nearly as well as fast balls. Clayton Kershaw and journeyman Rich Hill kept bending their pitches around the Cubs bats in two wins that put the Dodgers up, 2-1.

Then, the Cubs faced two L.A. pitchers in Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda. Their breaking pitches weren’t as effective, and the Cubs also capitalized on some hangers and fast balls that weren’t in good locations.

Now, the Cubs will face Kershaw in Game 6 and Hill in Game 7, if necessary. They’ll have to hit the breaking balls. They also might have some other things:

** Don’t pick up any bad habits from the Bears (who were creamed by the Packers on Thursday).

** Maybe keep taking Matt Szczur’s clothing and equipment,

** Don’t think about the last time a Cubs team got to Game 6 in a NLCS. It was the infamous Steve Bartman game in 2003.

** Finally, make sure they keep that Billy Goat penned up.

What’s Ahead

Kyle Hendricks will match up with Kershaw on Saturday night. The Cubs had not named a starter for Sunday’s game if one is necessary. It normally would be Jake Arrieta’s turn in the rotation.

The MDR Blog will continue weekly until the Cubs are eliminated or win it all. It will then go monthly for the off-season and continue monthly during spring training and the regular season in 2017.

##

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/14

MDRlogobanner

Through the first 8 innings on Tuesday night, I thought I might be writing the Cubs’ obit or about their defending their home turf at Wrigley today.

The Billy Goat curse. San Francisco’s success in surviving elimination games and their trend of winning championships in even-numbered years. All those themes were going through my head.

Then, the Cubs pulled off their miraculous comeback in the top of the 9th, and Aroldis Chapman blew away the Giants in the bottom of the inning. So, I’m writing a much more fun blog today.

Some reactions to the great four-run comeback. First, it showed the will power of a group of guys who know they have a chance to do something very special. They know how long Cubs fans have been waiting and want to deliver.

Second, it showed just how versatile and deep the Cubs have been all season. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras delivered a clutch hit and then can move to left field in the bottom of the 9th. Javier Baez delivered what turned out to be the game winner and then moved from second to short. Ben Zobrist had a key double and in the bottom of the inning moved from the outfield to second base. Joe Maddon didn’t have to worry about making any moves because his players are so versatile.

Third, Maddon made moves that were bold and tactical. He didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for Addison Russell, This is the young player who hit more home runs as a shortstop than any Cub since Ernie Banks.

But, Russell has slumped in the playoffs, and the last couple weeks of the regular season. So, Maddon made the move, and he made a couple associated moves on pinch-hitters that in some ways outmaneuvered Bruce Bochy and the Giants

Maddon first had lefty Chris Coghlan go to the on deck circle. Once Bochy switched his pitcher to a lefty, Maddon switched to Contreras, who delivered.

Finally, the big inning demonstrated how well Theo Epstein and his staff have mixed veterans with youngsters. Kris Bryant, Contreras and Baez could be considered kids. Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist are veterans. All came through.

Some will note that the Cubs managed only two hits off Giants starter Matt Moore and argue that Bochy should have stuck with him in the 9th. Instead, five San Francisco relievers pitched in the inning and failed to stop the Cubs.

But, that is how good teams win. When an opportunity comes up, they capitalize, and getting to the Giants’ bullpen — a weakness most of the season — offered an opportunity.

It should be noted that the Billy Goat curse is still out there, raising its horned head. The Cubs still have two rounds to go before they can really claim success with a World Series Championship. For a look at their next round, the NLCS, move to the next section.

What’s Ahead

The first game of the NLCS is scheduled for Wrigley Field at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both the Cubs and Dodgers came into the season with high expectations. Only one will be able to continue to pursue those in the World Series.

Chicago won the regular season matchups, 4 games to 3. The two clubs last met in the 2008 NLDS, which the Dodgers swept.

The Cubs have 7/5 odds to win the World Series, according to Vegasinsider.com. The Dodgers are at 12/1.

Jon Lester has been named the starter for the Cubs in the first game of the series. As of Friday morning, no other starting pitchers has been named by either team.