Cubs & A's Fit to be Tied at Fitch Park

The Cubs and Athletics played to a 5-5 tie in a Cactus League Extended Spring Training game played this morning on Field #4 at the Lew Wolff Training Complex at Fitch Park in Mesa, AZ.

Frandy de la Rosa (two-run single) and Tyler Alamo (RBI single) drilled run-scoring hits to highlight a three-run third that gave the Cubs an early 3-0 lead. Then after the A's took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth on a Miguel Mercedes solo home run, the Cubs came back and tied the game in the top of the ninth as pinch-hitter Tyler Pearson belted a two-out triple to right-center and scored on a game-tying Bryant Flete RBI single. The A's loaded the bases on two walks and a Cub error in the bottom of the 9th, but were unable to push across the winning run.  

Robert Garcia singled, doubled, and scored two runs for the Cubs.   

Cub pitchers allowed only four hits in the game (none until the fourth, and only one through six), but they also walked eight, hit a batter, and threw three wild pitches. Collectively, Cub pitchers threw only 53% strikes today. The two Cub catchers (Tyler Alamo and Jhonny Pereda) took a physical beating behind the plate, with numerous balls short-hopping them before hitting a collar-bone or a groin.  

Two veteran ex-MLB pitchers recently signed by the Cubs to minor league contracts saw action in today's game, as RHP Felipe Paulino (released by the Red Sox at the end of SpringTraining) and LHRP Daniel Schlereth (released by the Tigers last month) each worked an inning.  

The 6'3 260+ 31-year old Paulino came out like a house afire, striking out the first two men he faced (both swinging) on seven pitches before walking the next two hitters on 3-2 pitches, finally retiring the side on a pop-out to the first-baseman in foul territory. He cuts a rather large figure on the mound, with a physique similar to that of Jumbo Diaz or Jonathan Broxton. 

Originally signed by the Houston Astros as an International free-agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, Paulino has pitched in the big leagues with Houston, Colorado, Kansas City, and the White Sox. He underwent an elbow UCL transplant (TJS) post-2012 when he was with the Royals, and then missed most of last season with a right shoulder injury while a member of the White Sox. 

The 28-year old Schlereth worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the 2nd (F-9, 4-3, P-4), but had command issues, going to a three-ball count on the first two hitters he faced and a two-ball count on the third hitter before retiring them. He needed 15 pitches to retire the side, but threw only seven strikes.

Schlereth was the 1st round pick (26th overall) of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 out of the University of Arizona, and was part of the Max Scherzer/Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson/Ian Kennedy/Austin Jackson/Phil Coke three-team mega-deal in December 2009, going to the Tigers with Scherzer, Coke and A. Jackson (Granderson went to the Yankees, and E. Jackson and Kennedy ended up in Arizona). 

Here is the abridged box score from today's game (Cubs players only): 

Cubs Use Their Bats & Their Heads to Sweep D'backs

Adonis Paula ripped a two-run double and Tyler Alamo belted a two-out RBI double to highlight a three-run 1st, Oscar de la Cruz tossed three innings of shutout ball, and Tim Saunders drove-in the winning run by getting hit on the top of the helmet with a two-strike pitch with the bases loaded, the score tied, and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, as the Cubs edged the Diamondbacks 4-3 on Field #5, and Eloy Jimenez thumped a solo home run and an RBI triple, Yohan Matos belted a three-run inside-the-park HR, and Bryant Flete singled twice, walked, stole a base, and scored two runs, helping the Cubs defeat the D'backs 8-4 on Field #6, as the Cubs swept a Cactus League Extended Spring Training split-squad doubleheader this morning at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.  

Trevor Mitsui bashed a double and a two-run HR, Sergio Alcantara laced a single and a double and scored a run, Luis Veras singled, doubled, and scored two runs, and Didimo Bracho collected three singles for the Diamondbacks in a losing cause.   

LHP Patrick Corbin (on the Arizona Diamondbacks MLB 60-day DL - 2014 TJS) got the start for the D'backs on Field #6 and hurled three innings of shutout ball, allowing two singles and no walks, while striking out five (four swinging), and a 2/1 GO/FO.    

The EXST Cubs returned to action today after a weekend of rain wiped out two games. 

Prior to the Cactus League EXST game, RHPs Dylan Cease (2014 TJS), Erling Moreno (2014 TJS), Jose Zapata (post-2013 cervical fracture), and Trey Masek (2014 shoulder surgery) pitched in a five-inning "sim" game on Field #3. Cease and Moreno worked three innings (45 pitches each), Zapata pitched two innings (30 pitches), and Masek threw one inning (15 pitches).    

In roster news, 21-year old switch-hitting Dominican OF Robert Garcia has been added to the Cubs Extended Spring Training roster. Garcia signed with the Cubs in July 2013 and spent two seasons with the DSL Cubs, hitting 301/394/369 with 33 stolen bases (8 CS) in 77 games combined 2013-14.     

Here are the abridged box scores from today's games (Cubs players only):

Grimm Day for Cubs at Riverview Park

Nick Jones (ex-LHP) belted a two-run home run and Jordan Johnson and four relievers combined to toss a four-hitter, helping the Giants defeat the Cubs 4-1 on Field #6, and Bryant Flete doubled, singled, and scored a run, and five Cub relievers combined to hurl five innings of perfect baseball, as the Cubs and Giants played to a 2-2 tie on Field #5, in Cactus League Extended Spring Training split squad doubleheader action this morning at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.

The game on Field #5 was called after seven innings with the score tied, and the game on Field #6 was called after 7-1/2 innings.   

Kevonte Mitchell tripled, singled, stole a base, and scored the lone Cub run on Field #6.

18-year old 6'6 RHP Austyn Willis (Cubs 2014 18th round draft pick - Barstow HS - Barstow, CA) got the start on Field #6 and threw three innings of one-hit shutout ball with four strikeouts, retiring Travis Ishikawa (on the Giants MLB 15-day DL with a lower back strain) three times (4-3 GO, K-swinging, and F-8 fly out). Willis has started three Cactus League EXST games, allowing one run on four hits (including a solo HR) and a walk with nine strikeouts in seven innings of work. He will very likely be in the Eugene starting rotation when the Northwest League season commences next month.  

RHRP Justin Grimm (on the Cubs MLB 15-day DL with a forearm strain retroactive to April 2nd) worked the top of the 4th inning on Field #6 and was dominating, striking out the side on 12 pitches. He looks to be in mid-season form. 

The Giants are unusual because they have two ex-LHP at Extended Spring Training being converted to position players (usually it's the other way around). Besides 6'6 first-baseman Nick Jones (who belted a tape measure two-run HR over the RF fence that provided the winning margin for the Giants on Field #6 this morning), outfielder Steven Neff drilled three hits (a single, a double, and a triple) in a game against the Cubs earlier this week in Scottsdale. 

Here is the abridged box score from today's games (Cubs players only): 

The Cubs' Hot Start in Perspective

Records after just 20 games should be taken with a grain of salt. The standard small sample size caveats apply, and particular matchups or hot/cold streaks can skew a team's win-loss record considerably. Still, it's better to be off to a good start than a bad one, and good teams tend to play at least decently across most 20-game stretches throughout the season. The Cubs are off to a hot 12-8 start that places them 4th in the NL and 7th in the majors by winning percentage. How does this compare to recent Cub teams? The table below shows the record for the first 20 games for all Cubs teams since 1980 and their corresponding final season records. As you can see, prior to this year, the Cubs have only been above .500 through their first 20 games in 10 of the past 35 seasons. Doing so is no guarantee of end-of-season success, but the team finished above .500 in 7 of those 10 seasons, making the playoffs in 4 of them. The other three seasons can seemingly be explained away. The 1985 Cubs were very much the same team that won the division title in 1984, but injuries to the pitching staff (Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Scott Sanderson, and Dennis Eckersley all spent time on the DL) hamstrung the squad. Similarly, the 2006 team started off well, but a Derrek Lee injury in late April started the team on a slide it couldn’t recover from, especially with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior out for most of the year. I can’t explain away 1980 as well, but the 11-9 start was probably a function of going 5-2 against the lowly Mets, who would finish 67-95 on the year. So, while there are no guarantees, there is a lot to like about the Cubs’ early season success in 2015 and a hot start certainly bodes well for the season as a whole.

Javy Baez Bats Eight Times in Cactus League Extended Spring Training Doubleheader

Justin Steele tossed three innings of one-hit shutout ball and Eloy Jimenez drove-in all three Cub runs with a two-run single and a sacrfice fly, as the Cubs and Giants played to a 3-3 tie on Field #1, and Dylan Davis belted a solo home run, a double, and an RBI single, and scored three runs, Steven Neff (ex-LHP) collected a single, a double, and a two-run triple, and Julio Pena slugged a solo home run, helping the Giants to an 8-4 victory over the Cubs on Field #2, in Cactus League Extended Spring Training split squad doubleheader action this morning at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, AZ.. 

The game on Field #1 was called in the 8th inning with the score tied, and the game on Field #2 was called after six innings of play. 

Danny Gutierrez drilled three hits (two singles and a double) in the game on Field #2, but he also committed two errors in LF, one by having a line-drive clank off his glove for a two-base error, and the other when he allowed a bouncing single to hop past him for a three-base error (the batter was able to circle the bases and score)  

Javy Baez played in the game on Field #1, batting eight times (once in each inning), and playing second-base for four innings before moving over to shortstop. He went 1-7 for the day... #1) roped a line drive single to left on a 1-0 pitch in the top of the first inning before scoring the Cubs first run of the day on a sacrifice fly; #2) grounded out sharply 5-3 on an 0-1 pitch in the top of the second inning; #3) struck out swinging on a 1-2 breaking ball in the third; #4) reached base after being hit by a pitch (upper left arm) on an 0-1 count and then scored a run in the fourth; #5) struck out swinging on a 2-2 breaking ball in the fifth; #6) lined out to right on a 1-1 pitch in the top of the sixth; #7) reached base on a throwing error by the Giants shortstop on a 2-2 pitch in the seventh, and #8) struck out looking on a 2-2 breaking ball in the top of the eighth. He handled four chances in the field flawlessly. 

In three Cactus League Extended Spring Training games (15 Plate Appearances) since returning from Bereavement Leave, Baez is 3-14 with two singles and a double, six strikeouts (five swinging), no walks, and one HBP. 

Here are the abridged box scores from today's games (Cubs players only): 

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