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Lost Weekend

April 13, 2015

We’re a week (6 games) into the season and–as expected–I still have no idea what to think of this team. Votto and Frazier look great, but the other 6 hitters in the lineup have yet to do much of anything. While it’s too early to read into ANYTHING that’s happened so far, I’m comforted by the fact that Votto is hitting for power again. His early success will just make his mid-season knee flare-up all that more painful for the fans.

On Opening Day, Johnny Cueto hit the 1,000 strikeout mark. For his career, not the game. The rest of the starting rotation hasn’t been bad, either. They’re going to need to be good if the offense is going to continue being anemic. I mean, the hardest hit ball by Marlon Byrd this season hit a fan in the face.

Still, most of the experts picked the Cardinals and Pirates to finish 1-2 in the division respectively, so winning 4 out of 6 against those two teams to start the season is hardly something to dismiss.

Now, let’s talk about Kevin Gregg.

Okay, let’s not.

 

 

2015 Chicago Cubs Preview

April 4, 2015

Chicago is the place I’ve called home for the last 15 years. It’s also home to two baseball teams — one of which has even won a World Series in the last 107 years.

To find out what’s going on with the other team I spoke to Ivy Envy, who were kind enough to take a break from dusting off their “THIS IS THE YEAR” sign long enough to answer a few questions for me.

CSG: It’s hard to deny that the Cubbies have made a lot of moves that will make them a better team for years to come, but when you see what happened to Javier Báez after he got called up (.169, 95 Ks, 213 ABs), are you hesitant to get TOO excited about guys who have yet to prove themselves in the Majors?

IE: I think a lot of sports fans are familiar with “cautious optimism” and when you have a team and organization that is based on young talent, like the Cubs are, it’s where your mindset with the team tends to be. We have had plenty of failed prospects, just over the last decade, so it’s difficult for some fans to put that much hope in young players. However, this is a different organization than it was 5 years ago. The new front office has completely changed how the Cubs scout and develop young players.

In regards to Javier Baez specifically, he didn’t do much to comfort those that are convinced “prospects will never work out”, but it’s way too early to write him off. Baez has historically struggled at every level when he first arrives and then he figures things out. I think the hype on each of these prospects is a little higher than it should be just because the lot is so impressive. I like Baez. I think strikeouts will always be an issue with him, as it typically is with any power-hitter with a long swing like his. At this point, he obviously has a lot of work to do with pitch recognition and plate discipline.

While people want to bring up the failed prospects (Corey Patterson, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Hee-Sop Choi, Felix Pie, etc), it’s worth noting that most young players struggle after first being called up. In his first season in MLB, Anthony Rizzo hit .141/.281/.242. This idea of prospects panning out will be the conversation over the next few years. I’m sure the prospects will cause Cubs fans emotions to be all over the place these next few years.

CSG: Wrigley Field—and the surrounding area—will look significantly different in the next few years. What are your thoughts on all the changes?

IE: I love Wrigley Field, but at the same time feel that the ballpark and the neighborhood could be greatly improved. For Wrigley to last for generations to come (or even the next 10 years), something needed to be done. I don’t exactly feel comfortable taking my daughters to a ballpark where there is netting to protect fans from falling chunks of concrete.

I have no issue with the modernization of Wrigley, because I feel like it’s necessary. The renovations are self-funded and no support will come from taxpayers, so signage and other revenue generating aspects are necessary. These next 4 or 5 years are going to be rough in the area. The Cubs have stretched the renovations out to continue play a the ballpark.

As the world will see Sunday night in the Opening Night game against the Cardinals, Wrigley is a construction site right now. It’s not pretty and it probably won’t be for quite a while.

CSG: What do you see as the biggest challenge that could prevent the Cubbies from contending in 2015?

IE: I think it has to be that the team is so young and they will be relying so heavily on prospects. When Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo (age 25) are your leader veteran position players, it’s a really young team. The success of the 2015 Cubs will hinge a lot on the individual success of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.

CSG: Fill in the blank: Kris Bryant will _________________ in 2015.

IE: Sparkle. Right now, Kris Bryant is the poster-child for this rebuild. He’s billboard material. He’s as polished off the field as he is on. He’s got the smile. His eyes sparkle. We find him dreamy.

CSG: Your prediction for the 2015 Chicago Cubs

IE: I’m kind of all over the place with this team. My most realistic guess is 83 wins. I could easily see them being 5 games better than that, and I could just as easily see them 5 games worse than that. The important thing is the 2015 Cubs will be a lot more entertaining than fans have seen in a number of years. The division, as a whole, should be a lot of fun to watch over the next few years.

Thanks again to Ivy Envy. You can listen to their musings about the Chicago Cubs at ivyenvy.com.

Spoiler: The podcast is really just a front for the Official Clay Aiken Fan Club.

2015 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

April 3, 2015

St. Louis has the Best Fans in Baseball. Their former manager, Tony La Russa, invented the game of baseball while levitating above two dozen kittens that he rescued from a kill shelter 10 minutes earlier. The Cardinals, and the Best Fans in Baseball, never complain when things don’t go their way, are always rational, and are loved universally throughout this planet we call Earth. All hail the St. Louis Cardinals!

To find out what’s going on with the team that ISIS recently called “a solid ball club,” I spoke to C70 At the Bat, who were kind enough to briefly stop moderating the Pictures of Yadier Molina’s Neck Tattoos reddit thread to answer a few questions for me.

CSG: When the Atlanta Braves called up Jason Heyward he was touted as the Next Big Thing. But then he faced Major League pitchers and turned out to be a slightly above average player. Do you think a change of scenery will change him enough to justify giving up Shelby Miller?

C70: To be fair, Shelby Miller might have been less valuable to the Cardinals than to most teams given the glut of pitching they have right now. The organization has been big on Carlos Martinez getting into the rotation and Marco Gonzales is proving that he’s almost ready as well, and that doesn’t even factor in a at-the-moment-healthy Jaime Garcia. So while Miller was a young, cost-controlled, talented pitcher, he wasn’t the gold mine that some other teams might think he was.

That said, I do think Heyward is going to be worth the trade. I’ll talk about him more in question 4, but not only the change of scenery but the fact that the Cards are moving him out of the leadoff spot should help him get in a more aggressive and hopefully more powerful mindset.

CSG: 2014 was a relative down year for Yadier Molina, hitting almost 40 points lower with over 40 fewer RBI than 2013, and only 7 HRs. Injuries played a role in that, but do you see Matheny playing him in fewer than the 110 games he played in last season to help preserve the catcher?

C70: I don’t. If Molina is healthy, he’s going to be out there on a very regular basis for many reasons. One, he’s still probably the best defensive catcher in baseball and one of the best overall catchers. His knowledge and ability to call a game and manage pitchers is huge for this club and the fewer days that they have to go without it, the better.

Molina’s one that doesn’t want to be taken out or have a day off, though I do think the club is going to give him a little more rest. It’s hard to believe that he’s going to turn 33 this year, honestly, but age does take a toll. He may rest some more, but he’ll still get out there 120-130 games, I’d think. If nothing else, the less you have to rely on Tony Cruz, the better.

CSG: What do you see as the biggest challenge that could prevent the Cardinals from repeating as NL Central champs in 2015?

C70: Health. As you noted, Molina was hurt last year. If he goes down again, that’s a big hole in the offense. There are a lot of questions on the pitching staff–is Adam Wainwright going to be OK, will Michael Wacha’s stress reaction flare up again, when will Garcia go down–and while many of them are likely to be answered in a positive manner, if two or three of them start hitting at the same time, even the depth of this organization’s pitching, which is fairly deep, will be tested.

That’s not to say there aren’t other issues, most notably whether the offense can rebound after an off year last year, but health is the biggest concern.

CSG: Fill in the blank: Jason Heyward will _________________ in 2015.

C70: Sign an extension. Most Cardinal fans are really excited about the presence of Heyward. Even if he does what he did last year, which was a disappointing line for him and not what a highly-touted player would be happy with, he still upgrades right field by leaps and bounds. If he is able to settle into the second spot in the order (most likely) and be that more aggressive hitter that Matheny has said he wants to see, he could get back to the 20-HR level and be a huge addition to this club.

From all reports, he’s fitting into the clubhouse well and has said all the right things to a fan base that, I’ll admit, likes to be praised (then again, what fan base doesn’t?). I think he’ll have a strong year, he’ll be happy in St. Louis, and the Cards will lock him up to a significant deal before he hits free agency. St. Louis has the money, given the number of contributors that are fairly cheap, and the news came out this week that they are already working on a new deal with FOX Sports Midwest which will only increase the amount they are able to pay.

CSG: Your prediction for the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals.

C70: This is a talented team, more talented than last year’s NLCS squad with the addition of Heyward. While they still may battle to take the Central title, I think they’ll win it again with between 90-93 wins. While you can’t predict the postseason, even when you know the teams and matchups, a fifth straight NLCS appearance is well within the realm of possibility.

Thanks again to C70 At the Bat. You can read their musings about the St. Louis Cardinals at cardsconclave.com/c70.

Spoiler: Yadier Molina’s neck tattoos

2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

April 2, 2015

Pittsburgh is probably best known for their Neanderthal NFL quarterback. After that, they’re best known for their historic NHL franchise. After that, they’re best known for having three (count ’em, three) rivers. After that, they’re best known as “that city with the really nice baseball stadium.” But after that, they’re known as the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

To find out what’s going on with the team that used to wear painter’s caps, I reached out to Raise the Jolly Roger, who were kind enough to take time away from separating their black and yellow attire into three piles — football season, hockey season, and baseball season — to answer a few questions for me.

CSG: The Pirates have finished in 2nd place the last two seasons, with two Wild Card appearances to show for their efforts (going 1-1 in those games). What do the Pirates need to do to get over the hump?

RtJR: Overcome the Cardinal Devil Magic. The division race between the Pirates and Cards came down to the final week in both of the last two years, but whatever combination of luck/experience/evil they have going on in St Louis was able to allow the Cards to hang on in very tight races (plus the ’13 NLDS) that could have been changed drastically by a play or two. The Pirates have been very close but haven’t quite broken through. Hopefully the experience of being there the last two years will help, and they also just need to be a little luckier (injuries and poorly timed bullpen disasters hurt them a lot last year, and they managed to finish behind St Louis last year despite a much better run differential).

CSG: As a Reds fan, I’m quite envious that your star player (McCutchen) is under control through 2018 for a mere $51 million. What do you think is more likely—the Pirates extending him while under contract, or trading him and reaping the benefits?

RtJR: I don’t think either one is very likely, at least any time soon. There was some talk of the Pirates looking to extend him this spring but it’s far too early for that given the money and number of years left on his current deal. They did a great job locking him up before he truly evolved into elite superstar and are reaping the benefits of that now. I can’t see the Pirates giving him one of these Monopoly money contracts you see around the league for stars going into their declining years, and that’s probably what it would take to keep him beyond ’18. That said, I certainly don’t see them looking to trade him, either… unless we get to a point a few years down the road where the team is no longer competitive and his free agency is looming.

CSG: What do you see as the biggest challenge that could prevent the Pirates from contending in 2015?

RtJR: Overcoming the loss of Russell Martin. Cutch was/is the best player but Martin was arguably the heart and soul of the team the last two years. He had an unexpectedly great offensive year in ’14 but was also consistently excellent behind the plate and as a leader. I think the Pirates did a decent job (given the circumstances) of finding a replacement in Francisco Cervelli, but he needs to stay healthy and even then would still be a pretty big downgrade from Martin. The hope is that the Pirates can recover in some other ways, such as better/more consistent pitching from both the starters and bullpen.

CSG: Fill in the blank: Andrew McCutchen will _________________ in 2015.

RtJR: “Continue to be totally awesome in every way.” I am sure some Reds fans don’t like Cutch, but, even doing my best to remove the black and gold glasses, he is everything MLB could want in a superstar and possible future face of the league. Power, speed, on-base skills, defense, there is a reason he was Top-3 in MVP voting for three years in a row. Then throw in the fact that he led the resurgence of the franchise and is an absolutely tremendous person off the field, and there’s nothing you can’t love about the guy. Don’t take my comments about him probably not getting an extension as a slight… that’s just me discussing the way the Pirates do business. Cutch is the best.

CSG: Your prediction for the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates

RtJR: I see them back in the Wild Card game for the third straight year, even though that’s a lame prediction. This is a team that hasn’t changed a lot from last year — lost Martin, but improved marginally in some other areas (bench and pitching depth). With some better luck (fewer key injuries and better performance in close/division games), they could win it, but the pitching staff doesn’t quite scream “division champ” to me just yet.

Thanks again to Raise the Jolly Roger. You can read their musings about the Pittsburgh Pirates at raisethejollyroger.com.

Spoiler: Every post just says “CUETO! CUETO! CUETO!”

2015 Milwaukee Brewers Preview

April 1, 2015

Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers were going there as early as the late 1600s to trade with the Native Americans. In fact, Milwaukee is pronounced mill-e-wah-que, which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

To find out what’s going on with the team that celebrates a beer-swigging, mustachioed man who spends his free time going down slides, I spoke to The Brewers Bar, who were kind enough to but down the bratwurst to answer a few questions for me.

CSG: The Brewers were the hottest team in baseball for much of the first half of the season. Unfortunately, the season is made up of two halves. What happened after the All-Star Break?

BB: The Brewers got off to one of the hottest starts in their history in 2014, but unfortunately they fell to earth as many outsiders (and even fans) expected. The pitching remained pretty good throughout, although closer K-Rod burned out a bit and lefty Will Smith was overused and became somewhat ineffective.

Overall, the blame for the collapse has been heaped upon the offense. If you ask manager Ron Roenicke (whose 2016 contract option was just picked up…ugh), he would say it was just one bad month. But it was more than that and they couldn’t stop the spiral going down the toilet.

Many players stopped hitting well, but toward the end of the season they could not buy a victory in any way imaginable. They lost eight of 10 to end August and then lost 15 GAMES to NL Central foes in September. That is just unreal. Of those 15 games they were very democratic, losing five each to the Cards and Cubs but also managing to drop three to Cincy and lose a series against the Pirates too. Classic Brewers!

All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy slowed down. Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez disappeared from a production standpoint. It was clear they wouldn’t be able to keep up their unbelievably good first half, but what we ended up with was a team with a middling record (82-80) that was left wondering “what if.” Sadly this disappointing result was in line with Brewers history. They just can’t seem to get over the hump, for whatever reason.

CSG: After a disappointing 2013 season, and a rough second-half of the 2014 season, do you think the Brewers have done enough to address their needs?

BB: It’s really hard to say, but the realist in me says no. I like the pickup of Adam Lind from the Blue Jays to play some first base. He’s got some power, hits lefty and can at least pass as a major league first baseman defensively, but he has an injury history and has already missed time in spring training. It’s unclear how many games he’ll play in 2015, and regardless they’ll have to get production from a right-handed-hitting platoon mate to get solid production at first base this year.

First base continues to be a hodgepodge for Milwaukee. It could work, but there are pitfalls. The rest of the offense or position players form a core that returns this season, save for a few newbies on the bench. On the pitching side, GM Doug Melvin has fortified some holes in the bullpen with the re-signing of K-Rod along with guys like Chris Perez (minor league deal), Neal Cotts and the return of Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg. They should have enough depth in the pen.

However, they’ve lost significant depth in the rotation after longtime starter Yovani Gallardo was traded to the Rangers. The Brewers say they are covered with youngster Jimmy Nelson in the No. 5 spot, but if it were up to me they would’ve picked up another starter cheaply to provide coverage should Nelson or Mike Fiers falter. The team doesn’t have a lot of backup starters ready to go in the minors, so they are thin with starting pitching. That could be a major concern going forward.

CSG: What do you see as the biggest challenge that could prevent the Brewers from contending in 2015?

BB: Obviously injuries are always a major challenge, but I think the starting pitching depth could be a big issue. Unless the whole team goes cold for long stretches, they should be a decent club offensively. Their bullpen is all right. The defense and base-running are problematic; they play unfocused and sloppy baseball a lot of the time.

But I think their biggest challenge will be starting pitching because if one or more starters miss time they will have a lot of trouble finding replacements for those innings. They could find depth from other organizations toward the end of the spring, perhaps, but I’m not holding my breath. Hopefully it won’t be an issue but it seems unwise to not pad the starting options more thoroughly.

CSG: Fill in the blank: Ryan Braun will _________________ in 2015.

BB: “Rise like a phoenix.” At least that’s what we’re hoping. He’s such a good player deep down. I know most people outside of Milwaukee hate the guy but I think most Brewers fans believe he can still put up the big numbers. His cryo-surgically repaired thumb will evidently be less of a concern this year. The ball club has a lot of money tied up in Braun for years to come (although his contract looks reasonable compared to Joey Votto’s), so it’s imperative for Braun to come back strong. For the team, Braun himself and the fans it’s crucial he not flop this year. So it will be interesting to say the least.

CSG: Your prediction for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers.

BB: I’m going with 80-82 and third place in the NL Central. Clearly I favor the Brew Crew, but I don’t think the Cubs or Reds are going to be better in 2015. Predictions are impossible this time of year, though.

Well actually last year in this space I predicted 85-77 if things went right and that wasn’t far off. Things did go right (for much of the season) and they finished three under that mark. I think the NL Central is a toss-up right now. The Pirates lost Russell Martin but gained back AJ Burnett and picked up Corey Hart, who could help them. The Cards got Jason Heyward and still have lots of pitching depth. The Cubs got better with manager Joe Maddon and starter Jon Lester, and have plenty of young guys rising. The Reds… traded important starting pitchers and picked up Marlon Byrd. Hard to say where that will put them but clearly Joey Votto is the rudder on that ship, right?

It’s anyone’s guess, really. Personally I hope any team but the Cards wins the division. Screw them. It’ll be important for NL Central teams to win division games as usual. The Brewers didn’t really do that too well last year except against Pittsburgh. In other words, let’s all make sure we play well against St. Louis, OK?

Really I think it will be hard for the Reds, Cubs or Brewers to shake the Cards and Pirates off the top perches of the NL Central. The former three clubs will probably duke it out for third, fourth and fifth place. That said, no one is guaranteed anything, and the Pirates could falter. They were having a crisis last season before they turned it around. And who knows, maybe the Cardinals’ deal with the devil runs out in 2015.

In any case it will be fun, and that’s what matters, as long as the Cards don’t win the World Series. For real, how spoiled are their fans, going to four straight NLCS including two World Series appearances and one win? Just ain’t right.

Good luck to the Reds in 2015. Hopefully they are a factor because this division is way more exciting when all teams are relatively good. Good luck to the fans. The Reds were a pain for the Brewers last year and I expect no different this season. The Reds played well at home but had a terrible road record (32-49), so if they can rebound away from Great American Ballpark, they have a chance.

Thanks again to The Brewers Bar. You can read their musings about the Milwaukee Brewers at thebrewersbar.com.

Spoiler: Every post just says “The urine-specimen delivery guy did it.”

Sinner’s Swing!

March 31, 2015

It’s been a long time since I last lived in Cincinnati, but I still spend quite a bit of time keeping track of what’s going on in the Queen City. The redevelopment of the Banks and Over the Rhine, the streetcar, A&E reality shows about a neighborhood of swingers.

Wait, what?

Yup, apparently Neighbors with Benefits is a thing. I typically avoid all reality shows like the plague, and this show will be no different, but an interesting thing happened on Twitter on Monday.

It all started with this innocuous update…

1

I don’t normally click on my new followers to see who they are, but how could I not investigate what the “with Benefits” meant?

2

Oh. Those benefits.

And then the following conversation kicked off…

3

For those of you keeping track at home, @DineyDress (Diana) is apparently Tony with Benefits’ wife (and the rest of their neighbors’ best friend, I bet). Tony with Benefits declares that his wife’s favorite Cincinnati Red is Pete Rose (probably because of all that hustlin’ he does), while Diana says that Tony with Benefits’ favorite player is Chris Sabo. Or, in this case, Chris Sabo’s Goggles. I’m flattered.

Note: Consider this your annual reminder that I am NOT Chris Sabo.

Amused by my inclusion in the conversation, I retweet the response that includes my Twitter handle. Tony with Benefits is VERY excited about this development.

4

At this point, @BenNWB joins in. Please try to keep up.

6

So, who’s @BenNWB?

5

I see. I guess this means I’m officially a swinger now. Cool.

It’s going to be a weird season.

UPDATE: MARCH 31, 2015 — 1:13 PM

My new friend Tony with Benefits responded.

CSG

The Month in Review (May): We Are Nowhere and It’s Now

June 3, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been paying the absolute least amount of attention possible to the Cincinnati Reds. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Either be a really bad team so I can make fun of you, or be a really good team so I can make grand, unfounded predictions. This in between stuff isn’t giving me a whole lot to work with.

Yet, I’m still keeping an eye on the score every night, but more often than not I’m relying on my game-end notifications to tell me what happened. There are only so many times you can watch those little yellow icons on base as someone strikeouts to end the inning — leaving those little yellow icons on base.

Let’s just get this over with, okay?:

1 cheese coney = This isn’t even a snack, let alone a meal. Try harder.

2 cheese coneys = You could do better, but you could also do worse.

3 cheese coneys = Now we’re getting somewhere. Not perfect, but pretty darn close.

4 cheese coneys = How can you complain about four cheese coneys? Simple–you can’t.

Read more…

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