(Cubbie) Blue Dominates Red Once Again
The Cubs won their third in a row and take the opener versus the Cincinnati Reds on a cold and windy night at Wrigley. Rich Harden and Aramis "Two-out RBI" Ramirez did the heavy lifting with some assistance from Micah Hoffpauir and Chris Dickerson's glove.
Why the Cubs Won: From what I was able to watch, Rich Harden rebounded quite nicely from his last start, needing just 92 pitches to get through six innings while fanning eight. If the Cubs weren't already up by five, you have to think he could have easily come out for the 7th inning. The mid 90's velocity still isn't there as he sat in the 89-92 range (topping out at 93 mph), but he dazzled the Reds with his lethal fastball/change combo. There was a bit of a scare in the fifth when Wily Taveras hit a sharp grounder up the middle off Harden's glove that ricocheted to his right. Harden scampered to try and make the play but his cleats failed him and he landed face down in the grass, groin and shoulder still in tact though.
Aramis came through with the big hits tonight, a two-out RBI single in the fifth - an opportunity that was only afforded to him thanks to Chris Dickerson dropping a Derrek Lee flyball two at-bats earlier. Then in the 6th, he picked up Reed Johnson who struck out with the bases loaded to drive in two more - once again with two outs - which pretty much put the game away. Hoffpauir kept up his torrid start with his first home run of the season in the second and then hit a sac fly to center before curiously being pinch-hit for in the sixth.
Fail: After Harden showed off his speed beating out a well-placed sac bunt attempt to load the bases in the 2nd, Alfonso Soriano struck out and then Kosuke Fukudome flied to center to end the threat. Neal Cotts faced three batters, giving up a hit, another walk and striking out one. Geovany Soto air-mailed a throw to second base that Ryan Theriot made a nice play on to keep from going to the outfield and almost got the swipe tag out on a stolen base attempt by Joey Votto. Replays made it look like he did get Votto on the hand, but the bad throw by Soto made it a tough call for the ump. After Jay Bruce fouled a ball to the Bartman seat where a fan made the catch, Bruce immediately singled in the Reds second run. The crowd, for no good reason, booed the fan who caught the ball although Soriano wasn't going to make the play, and the ball was farther in the stands than in Game 6. A rogue calico cat launched from the bleachers took a swipe at a grounds crew member before getting tossed by its tail. And the MLB.tv delay that is about 10 pitches behind this year.
Armchair Managing: In the 6th, with the bases loaded and Micah Hoffpauir due up, Lou pinch-hits with Reed Johnson when the Dustinator goes to lefty Daniel Herrera. A reasonable move with Johnson's .837 OPS vs. lefties in his career, plus with the Cubs up three at the time, a defensive upgrade. But Hoffpauir already hit a home run plus a deep sac fly to center and has been scorching hot since about 2007. Johnson unfortunately struck out, although Ramirez picked him up with a 2-out, 2-RBI single, but I'm not sure you want to take the bat out of a hot hitter's hands.
Death Pool: Neal Cotts leads the way but 0-for-2009 Joey Gathright is making a strong case for the first player to get dropped from the original 25-man roster.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
CHILDERS: RHSP Dylan Cease and LHSP Bryan Hudson are probably the top two SP prospects in the organization right now.
LHSP Jose Paulino has electric stuff (91-94 MPH fastball with sinking action and a mid-80's slider), but he also has trouble commanding it.
RHP Jose Albertos (2015 IFA - Mexico - $1.5M bonus) just turned 17 in November, and his fastball already sits at 95-96. He also throws a curve and a change-up, and is fairly advanced for a kid his age.
AZBOBBOP: Most of 2016 draft picks will get assigned to either Eugene or AZL Cubs, but the Opening Day Eugune roster will probably be almost 100% from the Extended Spring Training squad roster (pending the arrival of draft picks).
I think I can probably tell you which pitchers and players at EXST are in contention for roster slots at Eugene and which are in contention for slots with the AZL Cubs - AS THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW - (listed alphabetically):
* bats or throws left
# bats both
Eloy Jimenez atop the leader board for minor-league home runs in the Cub system, with seven. Tied with Balaguert and Vogelbach, two 24-year-olds. Jimenez won't be 20 until late November. Leads the Midwest League in SLG and OPS. Maybe he'll get promoted to the Myrtle Beach squad that visits Woodbridge, VA, in June or Frederick, MD, in August.
Watched two Pelican games at Frederick the other week. Was most impressed by Stinnett and Happ. Happ may swing harder than Javier Baez, though more compactly. (Also got to see Brockmeyer hit a bomb.)
E-MAN: Jose Paniagua isn't a string-bean, but I wouldn't say he necessarily bulked-up during the 2015-16 off-season either, He led the DSL Cubs in HR and doubles in 2014, and he showed XBH power when he arrived in Mesa last year, leading the AZL Cubs in HR, doubles, and RBI in 2015. It's just that he has taken his HR power to a new level this year.
Paniagua displayed plus-HR power in Cactus League Minor League Spring Training games in March, and that got him a slot on the South Bend Opening Day roster. But he was sent to EXST after only six MWL games.
More on the Cub Way.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.
For some reason