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Position Breakdown: Infield

D065275027.jpgThe Cubs’ infield has been one of the stronger areas for the Chicago Cubs over the past few years.

Their corner-infielders have become stars in Chicago, and they have had lovable middle-infielders as well.

Here is a look at the expected starting line-up for the infield:

C: Geovany Soto
1B: Derek Lee
2B: Mike Fontenot
SS: Ryan Theriot
3B: Aramis Ramirez Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…Cubs Take 2 of 3 from Astros


Cubs manager Lou Piniella has a simple strategy for his players: just win each series.

While that may be a bit optimistic, his team followed their leader’s instructions to the letter by defeating the Houston Astros 11-6 on Wednesday night in the rubber match of the series.

After splitting the initial two games, the Cubs bats got off to a blistering start against Astros starter Brian Moehler. They batted around in each of the first two innings and built an early 8-0 lead.

Even on a night when Cubs starter Ted Lilly didn’t have much going for him, the offense was enough to stave off the Houston bats. Despite four Houston homers, including consecutive shots in the third inning, Lilly was able to get through five innings to qualify for the win.

Koyie Hill started at catcher for the Cubs, in place of Geo Soto, who was nursing a sore shoulder. Otherwise, they had their normal lineup against right-handed pitching.

And that lineup includes Mike Fontenot, who continued his fast start to the new season with two hits including a home run, and Aramis Ramirez added four hiits of his own. Both drove in four runs on the night.

Even Kosuke Fukudome got into the act—he got his first hits of the young season by going 4-for-5, with a home run.

Milton Bradley still has no hits in a Cubs uniform, though he did get on base four times.

Derrek Lee continued to demonstrate why he shouldn’t be hitting in the third slot as he went 1-for-6, stranding five runners.

The Cubs chased Moehler with two outs in the second inning. They scored four runs in the first inning, despite leaving the bases loaded, and four more again in the second.

They added three more runs against fifth starter Russ Ortiz in his three innings of work, including Fontenot’s homer.

Rule V pickup David Patton’s major league career didn’t get off to a good start, at least initially. He gave up a homer to his first batter, Hunter Pence, in the sixth inning.

Patton showed poise, however, as he came back to get the next three hitters, and then he threw a scoreless seventh inning.

After Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless 8th, Angel Guzman got in his first action of the new season. He closed out the game with a scoreless ninth, as the Cubs beat Houston.

So they won their first season series. If they keep up this pace, winning every series, they will win at least 113 games, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja

Come to Think of It…Cubs With Decisions to Make; Jeff Samardzija Going Down to Iowa

a1Today is “Earth Hour”, where people are encouraged to shut off their lights for one hour in a symbolic act to conserve energy. But in Arizona, there is nothing symbolic about the decisions Lou Piniella, Larry Rothschild and the gang have to make.

In the bullpen, only four spots are set. The closer will either be Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg, with the slight edge going to Marmol at this point. However, Gregg has pitched very well this spring. Either way, one will pitch in the eighth and one in the ninth.

So, with two spots belonging to Marmol and Gregg, that leaves Aaron Heilman as the sixth and seventh inning man. Next, there is the lone lefty in the pen, Neal Cotts. That makes a total of four.

If they go with 11 pitchers, that leaves two remaining spots. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Bruce Levine of said this morning that the Cubs have decided to send Jeff Samardzija to Iowa, where he can be stretched out in case another starter is needed.

Samardzija has an excellent fastball and a splitter that he doesn’t always command well. He needs to work on his command and another pitch if he wants to be a starter. He would be better in the bullpen, where two pitches are all you need.

I would have groomed him to be a closer from the start. He has the heater and the makeup, as a former Notre Dame football player, to do that job. Alas, no one from the Cubs asked me for my opinion.

Among other bullpen candidates, a couple are out of options and one, David Patton, is a rule 5 draft pick so he would have to be offered back to Colorado for $25,000 if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster.

And Patton has looked good this spring. Rothschild is impressed by his poise and has said he has the best curve ball he has seen all year. Since he has never pitched above Class A, however, it would be quite a story if he did go north with the team.

The two veterans who are out of options, Luis Vizcaino and Chad Gaudin, would likely be lost if they fail to make the team. Both have guaranteed major league contracts, too.

Vizcaino is set to make $3.5 million and Gaudin was signed for $2 million. You can expect Jim Hendry to be trying to trade one or both of these pitchers. Gaudin has looked better since struggling mightily early on, while Vizcaino’s control has improved somewhat.

Other candidates include Angel Guzman, who has the fastball pumping in at 95 MPH, but continues to struggle with his command.

41-year-old lefty Mike Stanton is in camp, but he’s certainly a dark horse candidate to make the team. Another old veteran, Chad Fox, is back in camp once again, and has pitched well. But with his history of injuries, it’s likely they could sneak him through waivers if they wanted to hang on to him.

Guys like Jeff Stevens and Kevin Hart haven’t pitched well this spring, but they still have minor league options remaining. I haven’t heard much regarding the chances of Jose Ascanio, though he also has options remaining.

On the position battle front, in an ideal world, center field would be split between Reed Johnson and the speedy Joey Gathright. But economics dictate that Kosuke Fukudome will likely get the lion’s share of the at-bats early on, since he will start against right-handed pitchers.

The backup catcher will likely be Paul Bako, though Koyie Hill has looked good, making a remarkable recovery from a gruesome injury. Former White Sox catcher Mark Johnson is also in camp.

April 6 can’t happen soon enough, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja

Just Two More Weeks Until Opening Day…How Are the Cubs Looking?

4105_featureThrough 27 Spring Training games, the Chicago Cubs have been motoring as they try to get themselves ready for the season.

When the Cubs are on, they are one of the better teams in the majors, and that has been shown throughout the spring, even though the players aren’t playing full games.

They have won two of their last three games by over 10 runs (13-2 over the White Sox and 20-5 over the Athletics) which is quite a staggering number, and with players playing longer and longer each game, each of these games become more and more of a prediction of how the season will go.

Carlos Zambrano pitched just two games ago for six innings, striking out six and not allowing a walk in a 5-3 win over the Mariners.

The Cubs are, at the time of this article, 13 days and 20 hours away from their first game in Houston against the Astros, and they are starting to get their players accustomed to playing full games, which is exactly what they are doing.

Cubs players, however, are ready to get to Houston and start playing games that count.  Derek Lee has said that he wants to shorten the current Spring Training schedule, which consists of 39 games.

“I don’t think anybody needs that long to get ready. So it’s nice that soon there’s some games that are going to count,” said Lee of the current Spring Training system.

Sweet Lou Piniella has said that he is getting ready to start shortening his roster, as he plans to have the team down to 30 players by Tuesday, which is when he will start playing his starters with much more frequency.

Piniella has also said that he wants Ted Lilly back to the team as soon as the World Baseball Classic is over, and has him slated to pitch a simulated game the day after the WBC finale.

The Cubs fear that he is falling behind on his workouts and would be better off with the team, Lilly hasn’t pitched since March 17th.

The closer position, which seemed to be suited better for Carlos Marmol, is now looking more wide open, as former Marlin Kevin Gregg hasn’t allowed a run this spring, but the fact that he led the majors in blown saves last year leaves the Cubs weary of handing him the reigns.

A much more slept-upon position battle is for the second catcher spot on the team.  Paul Bako, a former Cub, is back with the team and has plenty of experience, but Koyie Hill is batting over .400 this spring and has looked fantastic.

Piniella has said that he doesn’t feel that the decision on that spot needs to be made anytime soon, however, and he might wait a while before choosing who gets to stay in the majors.

The Cubs are playing well, and they look like they could have a great season.  Are they World Series ready?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

-Joe Willett

Come to Think of It…Chicago Cubs Possible September Call-Ups

Funny, as the old saying goes, “there’s always room for Jell-O.” But with the Cubs, there apparently is no room for Pie.

While the Cubs still-young center fielder of the future(?) is likely to get the call sometime in September, the righty-lefty duo of Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds leaves little to no room for Pie in CF.

In fact, with the starters performing so well, there is no great need for a lot of September help. And with the Brewers and Cardinals applying pressure, there likely is little room to allow rookies to get their feet wet during a pennant drive.

There is generally little that the call-ups can do other than gain major-league experience and fill in here and there to occasionally rest our weary troops as they head down the stretch run into the playoffs.

Another thing impacting the number of call-ups this year is that the Iowa Cubs are headed to the playoffs for the first time in years. So the front office is likely to allow players to stick around to finish what they started in many cases.

Still, other than Pie, there will be some that do get the call that invariably opens some eyes. Micah Hoffpauir continues to rake at Iowa, following up on his strong offensive showing in his earlier call-up with the parent team. At .361/.391/.740 and an OPS of 1.131, he is sure to be added when the rosters expand next month.

Others who will likely get a look will be veteran catcher Koyie Hill, who is having a strong season at Iowa with 16 home runs. He will give Lou more flexibility by having three catchers on the roster. Also, pitchers Michael Wuertz, Angel Guzman, and Kevin Hart all figure to get a chance.

Call-ups from Tennessee, the club’s AA affiliate, may include big right-hander Jose Ceda. The hard throwing 21-year-old pitcher has dominated at three levels this year and overall has struck out 95 hitters in approx. 84 innings of work.

Also, infielder Jake Fox may get another look. Though he struggled mightily at Iowa, Fox has rebounded with a strong season with the Smokies.

Come to think of it, having gone through the dog days of August, the team could probably use some reinforcements.

-Bob Warja