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5 Reasons for mid-season optimism

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Depressed that our much ballyhooed 2009 Cubs were .500 at the All-Star break? Here's 5 reasons to stoke your Cubbie-Optimism.

5. Milton Bradley is hitting .239 and slugging .369. For a guy with a .277 career average and a .451 slugging percentage, he's severely underperforming his career numbers... and there's a long history of ballplayers who have horrible halves of a season, but typically they come back to perform in line with their past achievements (the technical term is 'reversion to the mean'). So, even if Milton merely performs at his career numbers, we're looking at a 40 point bump to his average and 80 points to his slugging. Sure, Bradley might not turn it around, but with the return of Aramis Ramirez in the lineup, Bradley's likely to see better pitches as he'll often be batting with Ramirez on base. Or, better yet, with Ramirez protecting him from lower in the order. So, no matter how Lou fills out the lineup card, I foresee Milton as the biggest beneficiary of Ramirez' return.

4. Geovany Soto is injured - the extra rest should help. Geovany Soto has struggled this year, but he was just starting to turn it around when he strained his oblique muscle. He's likely to miss all of July and the first chunk of August. While no team wants to lose any starter, the Cubs are fortunate to have a solid backup in Koyie Hill. While Hill will shoulder most of the catching burden in July, Geovany Soto is getting a rare opportunity to heal from the first half of nagging injuries that notoriously destroy a catcher's production in late August, September, and October. Provided we can make it through July, the Cubs should have a well-rested healthy starting catcher down the stretch. That could end up being a huge factor in a tight NL Central race.

3. Rich Harden will be better in the second half. Harden's season so far has been a study in contrasts. He has a 7.59 home ERA, but is clocking a 2.17 ERA away from Wrigley. Some games he's unhittable, in others he struggles to throw strikes, and in some games he gets hit around like a rag doll. These home/away splits are an unusual combination for a pitcher who has started 15 games, but I don't think they will persist. For one, Harden has historically pitched better in the second half of the season than the first half (.321 second-half ERA vs. a .364 first-half ERA). Furthermore, Harden's had better results with Koyie Hill behind the plate than Geovany Soto. (With Hill catching, Harden's SO/BB ratio, batting average against, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all lower than when Soto is catching.) If these trends continue to play out over the next month, Lou will identify the pattern and Koyie Hill will be appointed Harden's personal catcher.

2. Derrek Lee is having a great year. At the bat, 2009 has been Derrek's best year since his monster 2005 season. The wrist is fully healed and Derrek's got his power stroke back. In the past two years, Derrek has finished the season with 22 and 20 home runs respectively. This year, he already has 18 round-trippers. Assuming similar production, Derrek could very easily finish the season with 30-35 home runs. And if Lee is a legitimate power bat, the Cubs could potentially play August and September with 6 power hitters hacking away in the lineup.

1. 2003. The Cubs have done this before. In '03, the Cubs were .500 at the break. They went 1-2 immediately after the all-star game and then started stringing together wins. They finished with 88 wins and an NL Central flag. This scenario is still in the cards for the Cubs. The NL Central isn't all that strong in 2009 and the Cubs find themselves only 2 games in back of St. Louis right now. We're not likely to run away with the division, but as long as the team stays focused and keeps winning the games they should, I'm optimistic we'll be in the mix at the end of September. The just-completed four game sweep of the Nationals certainly helps us on our way.

Posted by Byron at 4:26 PM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Cubs sold to Tom Ricketts

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Cubs have been sold... almost. According to a breaking news alert I received from the Chicago Tribune, the Ricketts family has closed the sale from the Tribune Company. The only remaining hurdle is the MLB owners approval, and that is all but a formality as Bud Selig has already paved the way.

For Cubs fans, this is a triumphant day. The Tribune Company ownership wasn't all bad, but the last few years of having the team on the sale bloc has been particularly painful. Here's hoping Ricketts has enough money left to splurge on a few mid-season trades and turn this season around. First up, Jake Peavy!

Posted by Byron at 11:02 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

All-Star voting 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Every year, I publish my all-star ballot. My criteria is to look at stats, but sometimes disregard the stats if I am a big fan of a particular player. So, for 2009, here's my ASG ballot.

Position American League National League
First Base Cabrera, M., DET Pujols, A., STL
Second Base Hill, A., TOR Utley, C., PHI
Third Base Rodriguez, A., NYY Wright, D., NYM
Shortstop Jeter, D., NYY Ramirez, H., FLA
Catcher Mauer, J., MIN Rodriguez, I., HOU
Outfielder Bay, J., BOS Beltran, C., NYM
Outfielder Crawford, C., TB Braun, R., MIL
Outfielder Hunter, T., LAA Ibañez, R., PHI

It's definitely interesting to see how my ballot has evolved over time

First Base: Pujols and Cabrera are both having good seasons. Last year, fueled by Cubbie Koolaid, I penciled in D-Lee, but the team isn't performing well enough for me to deny Albert this year.
Second Base: Chase Utley retains his perma-vote on my ballot. He still reminds me of Ryne Sandberg, and with a World Series championship, and solid stats, he's my pick for NL ASG MVP. In the AL Mark Grudzielanek's ex-Cub factor is trumped by Aaron Hill's tremendous 2009 season to date.
Third Base: Despite the steroids mess and the injury at the beginning of the season, I still like Alex Rodriguez, and he'll continue to get my vote for as long as he mans the hot-corner for the Yanks... and I don't have a better alternative. In the NL, Aramis Ramirez' injury bumps him off my ballot in favor of David Wright.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter. I still can't believe that play from the World Series where he covered the plate and flipped to Posada for the out. That mental replay is worth a career of All-Star votes. In other news, Jimmy Rollins has the even years, Hanley Ramirez the odd.
Outfield (AL): Interestingly, a clean sweep from last year. Gone are Vlad the impaler, Grady Sizemore, and Ichiro. For 2009, I bring back perennial fave Torii Hunter (who is also having a good year), Jason Bay (an NL'er at heart), and Carl Crawford (I love speed!). That said, I'm guessing this is the first time I've ever turned in an All-Star ballot without punching Ichiro's number. I already wish I could take it back.
Outfield (NL): The surprise of this ballot is that Alfonso Soriano didn't make it. I normally vote for at least one Cub outfielder, but Reed Johnson's not on the ballot. Seriously, Fonzi, Milton, or Kosuke? None are having close to all-star caliber seasons.

So, off the ballot are Kozuke and Ken Griffey Jr. (I had voted for Jason Bay last year when he was with Pittsburgh.) With "The Kid" on an AL squad, Kozuke's the only one that technically got the bump. Replacing that three-some with Carlos Beltran, Ryan Braun, and Raul Ibanez is more a nod to this year's performance than past nostalgia... although do I need to remind my readers that Alfonso Soriano is taking home what rightfully should have been Carlos Beltran's paycheck?

Now, to discuss the greatest shock: No Cubs. It's not illegal, it's not even risque like online sports gambling sites, it's merely unprecedented. I DON'T TURN IN CUB-LESS ALL STAR BALLOTS... EVER! And yet I just did. That's how disappointed I've been with the team and the individual players this year. The only player I would vote for, if I could, would be Carlos Zambrano... and that vote would be based on a long player-fan bond, not necessarily his '09 performance.

Posted by Byron at 2:02 PM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

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