Series Preview

Cubs Preview: Five Games in Four Days

The Cincinnati Reds (45-42) continue their final first-half home stand with their 4th meeting of the season against the Chicago Cubs (38-48). In the three previous series, the Reds have taken five of the eight games played, outscoring the Cubs 36-31.

These teams will play five games over the next four days. Monday and Wednesday are night games, and Thursday is an afternoon game. Tuesday is a day-night doubleheader to make up a game that was rained out earlier in the year. All of the evening games will be on Fox Sports Ohio. The two afternoon games will be aired nationally on WGN.

We wrote about these two clubs meeting just two weeks ago. Since that series, both the Reds and Cubs have gone 6-4. The Cubs went 3-4 against the Washington Nationals and swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The biggest change for Chicago since that last Reds-Cubs series is a massive trade that they made with the Oakland A’s. We invited our good friend Joe Aiello from the Cubs blog the View from the Bleachers to discuss the trade and answer a few of our questions:

Redleg Nation: The biggest news since these two teams last met was the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. What are the short and long term benefits of this deal for the Cubs?

View from the Bleachers: For a team that is in the rebuild process, it’s hard to pick out a short term benefit to trading 40% of your starting rotation in one fell swoop, but if I had to pick something, it gives the Cubs a chance to evaluate a few names in the minors that are deserving of a look to see what they can do at the Major League level.

On the long term side, there is huge value in getting a guy like Addison Russell in return from Oakland. Russell is arguably the best shortstop in the minor leagues right now and could see the Majors as early as next year…as a 21 year old. He is highly coveted and teams are already blowing up the phone lines asking the Cubs what their long term plans are given the fact that Russell, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Arismendy Alcantara are all shortstops and all basically Major League ready. It’s a good problem to have as the Cubs will probably look to move one of them for a front line starting pitcher.

RN: As you noted, the trade involved 2/5th’s of the Cubs rotation, while this series features five games over four days. Who are the Cubs calling upon to replace the traded starters? And who is taking the temporary 6th starter’s spot needed in this series?

VFTB: There hasn’t been an official announcement on the Wednesday and Thursday games as of yet, but we know they will be recalling Tsuyoshi Wada to pitch the night game in Tuesday’s double header. Wada will be making his Major League debut on Tuesday and has pitched really well this season for AAA, Iowa. He’s by no means a long term prospect, given the fact that he’s 33 years old, but he deserves a chance to show what he can do here after nine really good seasons in Japan. His MLB debut has been a long time coming. He signed with the Orioles in 2012 to a two year deal but immediately needed Tommy John and never got the chance to pitch for them. He signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite this season with us and has been in Iowa all season, compiling a 9-5 record with a 2.66 ERA in 16 starts. He’s not going to blow you away. He relies on deception, which is what a lot of pitchers who come from Japan tend to do.

As for the last two games, I’d look for Chris Rusin to get one of the starts and probably Dallas Beeler to get the other.

RN: With Epstein trading a player under team control next season (Samardzija), is the front office signaling that they are looking to compete in 2016 instead of 2015?

VFTB: It depends on how you’re defining compete. I think it’s been the goal to be competing for the division in 2016, with 2015 being a year to gain respectability and introduce the kids to the Majors. That appears to be right on track. The deal to move Samardzija had a lot to do with the fact that the way the Cubs viewed him vs what Samardzija viewed himself as were on two different planes. Samardzija wanted a long term deal for # 1 starter money. The Cubs didn’t want to commit that long to a starting pitcher that age. It is what it is and as a result, he’s now on another team.

RN: How are the Cubs “core four” minor league prospects (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora) performing and what is their ETA to the majors?

VFTB: It’s been a little bit of a mixed bag so far this year for them, but I’d go out on a limb and actually say “core five” with Kyle Schwarber, who was selected 4th overall this June, tearing up the minor leagues so far. Baez started off spring training on a tear and had Cubs fans making the case that he should make the team out of camp. He didn’t, and struggled in AAA to start the regular season. He’s been playing better as of late, but this is really the first time he’s seen adversity in his minor league rise, and that’s a good thing.

Kris Bryant has been an absolute beast so far this year between AA and AAA, hitting 30 home runs on the season so far. He has not faced a level yet that he’s struggled at, and that is super exciting.

Jorge Soler just came back from the DL over the weekend and hit a home run the first game in the lineup. His biggest challenge in his development has been staying on the field. When he does, he hits the ball well. The problem has been that he’s missing so many games that it’s retarding is progression a little.

Albert Almora is the one that worries me a little. I think he has the makings of the face of the franchise type guy with his charisma and character, but he’s got to hit the ball to do that. He’s not struggling horribly, but I expect more from him.

If I had to put a timetable on these guys, I’d have to guess we’ll see both Baez and Bryant in the Majors next year, perhaps as early as the opening day roster, with Soler right behind if he can stay healthy. Almora could push for a late season call up in 2015, but a more conservative timetable has him up in 2016.

RN: How many more years do you believe Epstein has with ownership before needing to field a winning team? With fans?

VFTB: I don’t put a lot of stock or energy into what the fans say. Most fans are morons. It’s harsh, but if you look at it honestly, it’s the truth. Take a look at Twitter and follow the hashtag for any team and you’ll see it’s riddled with morons. Just today, I watched Met fan after Met fan say they didn’t want to trade for Starlin Castro because he sucks. This is the same Starlin Castro who has almost 800 hits in his Major League career before his 25th birthday. I think ownership knows what it has with Theo and Jed Hoyer and trusts their plan. They really haven’t had anything happen that would say the plan is not working. The issues in Chicago is that we’ve never taken the time to tear it down and build it back up the right way, so people do not know what that looks like. Pirates fans know what that looks like. Rays fans know what that involves. Cubs fans are learning. They’ll see real soon that it was worth the wait.

RN: Will the Cubs and WGN work out a temporary solution to keep games on WGN until the organization forms its own network?

VFTB: I don’t think it’s going to happen. They ended their partnership with WGN radio after this season, ending a deal that was in place 90 years. Most likely scenario will be a Cubs network of some kind. Until then, I’d expect less and less games on WGN and more and more going to Comcast Sports Net Chicago. It’s sad because I grew up watching the Cubs on WGN in Chicago. When they put some of the games on cable I was heartbroken (we were poor and didn’t have cable). These days, though, does it really matter. There are so many ways to consume the product that it really doesn’t make a difference.

PROBABLE PITCHERS
The Reds will be sending every starting pitcher to the mound in this series with the exception of Mat Latos who pitched yesterday. The club has not yet announced who will start the second game of the Tuesday doubleheader. David Holmberg will likely get the nod, as he is already on the 40-man roster and was pulled 50 pitches into his July 4th start to keep him available as a Tuesday callup.

The Cubs will have Edwin Jackson going tonight, facing Cincinnati for the 4th time this year. Travis Wood will get the ball for the Tuesday afternoon game. It will be the first time he’s pitched against his former club this season. In his last 3 starts, Wood has allowed 9 runs, 19 hits and 12 walks over 15 innings while striking out just 11 batters.

As Joe noted above, Tsuyoshi Wada is expected to make his major league debut on Tuesday night. The Cubs starters for Wednesday and Thursday have not yet been announced.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS A huge thank you to Joe Aiello for spending time with us to discuss the Cubs and their recent trade. That organization is really stocking their system with a lot of talented players which will make this an even more challenging division in the next couple of years.

36 thoughts on “Cubs Preview: Five Games in Four Days

  1. This was always going to be a trap series for the Reds unless they got their butts kicked by the Brewers and were desperate just to try and hang in the races. To me, the big trade by the Cubs makes it even more of a trap series for the Reds.

    Hopefully the boys will come out hitting and running and pitching and not stop to think where they are until after the series has ended.

  2. It still saddens me that the cubs drafted ex-hoosier Schwarber… It will stink to have to root against him.

  3. 36-31 scoring margin speaks to the competitive bent of this rivalry this year (as opposed to last). That said, I am hopeful the Reds fight to take advantage of a team that just traded off a portion of it’s strongest asset (starting pitching) and take four if not an improbable five game sweep.

  4. I’m in the Chicago area and see/read about the Cubs all the time. No one I talk to buys what ownership is selling. They’re in like the 5th year of the rebuild and are still 2 seasons away. No rebuild should take that long. More to the point, the Cubs are a top 5 revenue team, and yet all your hear on the radio is how they can’t afford player X or Y. They should always reload, not rebuild, or at least do both concurrently because they have the dough.

    And guess what? Not all prospects pan out—Almora’s OBP is only 20 points higher than his average with no power, Baez is striking out 32% of his at-bats. OK, let’s assume Soler, Russell, Alcantara, Bryant all become regulars. That gives them a group that rivals the best in the division. Too bad there’s almost no pitching to go with it, and the only solution is to trade from that core to acquire pitching because the top tier free agent pitchers have already been locked up. It’s one giant hamster wheel, you know?

    The Cubs organization has sold this rebuild to the fans as an either/or proposition, like they’re the Little Sisters of the Poor or something. It’s bogus. Consider Kris Bryant. He’s lighting up the minors, and yet he’ll likely rot in AAA until the middle of 2015. It’s a money driven con, plain and simple. The proof that they’re serious won’t come until they outbid the competition for guys like Tanaka/Abreu and start overpaying on the free agent market. The Cubs should be the 800 pound gorilla in the division. Thankfully for the Reds, they haven’t figured it out yet.

      • Yes, there is a lot of talk that the owners are in poor shape financially and can’t restructure their debt properly, or that there’s more debt than they let on. Either way, the project is taking forever. Maybe it wouldn’t have had the brother of the owner not started a political PAC to defeat Obama. He lost a lot of friends in City Hall after that smooth move.

        Even the stadium rebuild start date has been pushed back a couple years now…………all to appease the rooftop owners who are stealing their product. The Cubs should’ve taken them to court a long time ago, and yet nothing.

    • Why would he? It’s a dumb move. One of the best RF’s on baseball is now at 1st base. It’s an absolute waste of a defensive asset.

      • I like Price, but I really do not understand his logic for constantly playing guys out of position and weakening the defense. I could see playing Bruce at 1st if the Reds had a couple of hot shot young outfielders chomping at the bit for playing time, but they don’t even have one hot shot young outfielder for LF.

    • So there has to be something cooking up that’s going to make JBruz the long term 1B and install some unknown person in RF while Votto sits on the DL, right? Otherwise it makes less than no sense to to displace Bruce from RF when an infielder like Schumaker could be put at first without weakening the rest of the defense. Unless of course Bruce’s surgically repaired leg is significantly barking about running around in the OF

      • Interesting theory about the leg, though he has looked fine and has said every time he’s asked that he feels great. I guess it would make sense – IU’d rather have Schumaker playing every day and playing RF than Santiago every day at 3B while Todd mans first. Though I sincerely hope that’s not a plan for the rest of the season or we’re screwed. At the very least I would imagine it’s a stop gap until Jack “The Savior” Hannahan comes down from Mount Olympus and single handily rescues the season with his golden bat.

  5. What a strange lineup…According to CBS Bruce has never played 1B at any professional level. Have to wonder if something’s wrong with Cozart that requires Santiago filling in at SS. Can’t imagine he needs a day off since he just had one 3 days ago and the break is coming up. He sure looked healthy in the 9th inning yesterday. Can’t catch a break. At least it’s just the stupid Cubs.

  6. I love this move, it shows a manager willing to think outside of the box. Lets see what Bruce can do. I mean it’s not like Price is making up his lineup card based off of a rock song like a certain Rays manager did last week…

  7. Also doesn’t make a great deal of sense to take out your every day SS the day you have a guy making his professional debut at 1B.

  8. On a positive note, this eliminates the log jam of mediocre choices in LF. Now every mediocre option plays at the same time. This move confuses the mess out of me. Is Bruce’s arm going to do us any good at first? I’m back to my soapbox issue from the beginning of the season. No backup first baseman? Really? It’s hard to believe that we are at the “Coach, I played there once in high school” at this level. The only way I see this move happening is if there is something physically wrong with Jay as well and management is trying to limit some wear and tear on him.

  9. A lot of this is attributable to not giving Mesoraco time there when he’s not catching, like he Giants do with Posey and the Twins with Mauer. Rather, Mez has had to ride the bench on days he’s perfectly healthy and rested.

  10. Bruce at first is just so dumb on so many levels. You lose his GG defense in right, only to be replaced by a defender who is worse than Ludwick (hey, at least he can throw). More to the point, a 1B has to be able to throw at different arm angles. Jay has never had to do that……….he’s never had to dig balls out of the dirt……or hold runners………or underhand a ball to the pitcher………or, God forbid, go near the dugout on a popup.

    This better portend some big trade, because as a short term fix, it’s utterly stupid.

  11. Can someone explain to me how the Braves who have a overall worse scoring offense then the Reds do are a better team record wise? Reds have 41 games so far this season scoring 3 runs or less, mean while the Braves have like 46, yet they are like 5 games better and in first place.

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