It’s Official

In a public release today, the Cubs have made it official:

Thanks to Mr. Ricketts for making this clear.

Theometer: Round 3

Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve made a post.  TCARS has been on the DL for graduations, “flu-like symptoms”, and car problems.  It’s been so long, that I forgot my password, WordPress locked me out, and I had to reset the login…whoops. (Kevin also apologizes for the poor posting as of late and can point to travel and new work duties).  Sorry for the delay, but I think it’s time for some Theometer updates.

Since we last moved the needle on the Theometer, the Cubs have gone 7-6, with a pretty pattern of win, lose, win , lose, win.  This team has looked a lot better overall than their 3-11 start, and they are playing like the team TCARS more or less expected.  They are certainly not the worst team in the National League, but they have been floating right around .500 over two weeks, the type of record we expected to see for most of the season.  On the plus side, the Cubs have won their past two series until dropping 2 in a row against Milwaukee, (taking 2 of 3 at home from both the Braves and the Dodgers) and they split two before that (1-1 against the Reds and 2-2 against the Phillies on the road).

What Could Cause the Meter to Increase

Bryan LaHair is a monster right now.

Bryan LaHair. This man is on a tear.  If LaHair keeps up, he just might be the starting first baseman in the All-Star game.  He’s hit 8 HRs, driven in 18 runs, hit .359, and has an OPS of 1.172.  LaHair has provided some consistent power and run production at the middle of the Cubs lineup (although it’d be nice to have more runners on base for him to drive in).  Although LaHair is 29 years old, his solid season thus far leaves the Cubs with plenty of options.  Theo and Jed can use LaHair for deadline trade bait, because when isn’t there a premium on run-production?  Or, the Cubs can hang onto LaHair and move him to the OF once Anthony Rizzo arrives.  After all, LaHair isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015, so he might be cheap to hold onto.  Check out this post on Fangraphs on why the advanced stats say LaHair’s success may be relatively sustainable.

The Starting Rotation.  With the exception of Chris Volstad and Randy Wells’ spot starts, The Cubs’ starting rotation is the largest reason the Cubs don’t have the worst record in baseball right now.  Despite the offensive struggles and lack of a bullpen, the Cubs’ starting pitching has kept them in just about every game this season.  Most importantly, two pitchers that the Cubs will look to in the future, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, have been especially impressive.  Over his last 3 starts, Samardzija has given up only 2 earned runs, and he’s struck out 23 while walking only 6.  On the season, he’s 4-1 (which means he’s won 25% of the Cubs’ games) with a 3.03 ERA.  Despite missing a start because of the flu and lasting only 5 innings in his last start, Matt Garza has a 1.42 ERA over 19 innings with 18 Ks in his last three starts.  And, even though Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster are older and might not be part of future Cubs teams, their performance could make them very good trade bait at the deadline.  Dempster actually leads all starting pitchers with a 1.02 ERA, but has received almost no run support, which explains his 0-1 record.  Still, that 1.02 ERA could be very attractive to a team in need of starting pitching.  (Red Sox, perhaps?)

What Could Cause the Meter to Decrease

Carlos Marmol: Halfway to first base by the time his pitch crosses home plate.

Carlos Marmol’s Woes.  While Carlos Marmol is no longer the Cubs’ closer of the future like we once thought back in 2008, he still can provide the team with some value.  If it were not for his recent performance (or lack thereof) and his injury, Marmol might’ve been a very tradable item at the deadline.  However, Marmol’s 16 walks (in just 11.1 innings), 6.35 ERA, and 2.21 WHIP are not going to yield anything of value, even if relievers are at a premium at the deadline.  Oh, and his recent injury (suspiciously timely injury at that) doesn’t help.  He has always been effectively  wild, but his control is so all over the place that no batter respects his once devastating slider.

Chris Volstad’s Start. At the start of the year, Volstad was my pick to click for the Cubs this season.  What do I think 6 weeks into the season?  That the Dobbins pick is akin to the Sports Illustrated cover curse.  Case in point: in his first 7 starts, Volstad is 0-5, with a 6.92 ERA and a WHIP approaching 1.50.  While many of us were hoping that a younger guy with some talent might pan out as a future #2 or #3 starter, it appears that Volstad will just be lost by the wayside.  Winless in his last 18 starts (18!!!!), I don’t really expect Volstad to be pitching at the big league level for much longer this season.  Volstad’s issue is giving up the big inning, which is basically like a time bomb-you know it’s going to go off, but no one is quite sure when.  His most recent start against the Brew Crew saw him give up 5 of his 6 ER’s in the sixth inning.  Some suggest swapping him with Travis Wood in AAA, though Volstad would have to clear waivers for that to happen.  Another option is the bullpen, but the time bomb aspect of his game makes that a scary proposition, especially with the Cubs’ pen struggles.

Current Theometer Rating: 25%

So, why did we bump the Theometer up to 25 over the past few weeks?  Because LaHair, Garza, and Samardzija just are too promising as things stand right now.  While Marmol and Volstad are disappointments, the Cubs are still moving in the right direction.  The majority of production has come from the young guns on the Cubs, as well as Theo’s sabermetrics guys, like David DeJesus.  Plus, it’s kinda nice that the Cubs are playing .500 baseball right now.  While it’s nothing spectacular, it’s not as embarrassing as that 3-11 start.  Though this .500 stretch didn’t really have an effect on the needle movement, the reasons behind the good record did (plus, it gives us a warm fuzzy feeling we’ve been missing since the season started) .  Overall, the Cubs are continuing to move in the right direction, even if that isn’t evident in the on-the-field play.

Do you disagree with the Theometer this time around?  Leave your comments or suggestions on how you think the Theometer needle should be moved.

Flight of the Baseball: Mailbag #2

It’s time for our second TCARS mailbag.  Thanks for those of you that submitted questions this week.  Another apology for the downturn in the number of posts lately.  We have a number of drafts and ideas in the hopper.  It’s just finding time around jobs that are actually rocket science.  I hope that while you are reading this the Cubs are shelling the Phillies.  They actually have success vs. Roy Halladay (1-4, 3.72 ERA against the Cubs).  The last game I was in the bleachers was actually with Doc pitching, and the Cubs won, which of course has a huge influence on how the Cubs play this weekend (EDIT: Obviously, I can be credited with the Cubs continued ownage of Halladay Friday night).  Onto the questions…

From the father of the blogger:

Who is your favorite Cub from your lifetime?

I really want to say Sammy Sosa.  I loved watching him launch bombs onto Waveland Ave. and being the only thing to Derrek Lee Derrek Lee #25 of the Chicago Cubs hits his second home run of the season, a solo shot in the 4th inning, against the Florida Marlins on May 2, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Marlins 6-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Derrek Leewatch on the Cubs during my childhood baseball years.  However, his steroid use and the way he left Chicago almost completely tarnished his reputation.  I also want to say Mark Prior, but he brings back too many torturous memories of what could have been (DAMN YOU DUSTY BAKER). I followed Prior from the draft and was just heartbroken when he went down in 2006.   After much thought, I think I’m going to go with Derrick Lee.  Lee was a great player and was the center of the lineup during the great 2007 and 2008 offenses.  He had a great glove and was just a smart player.  On top of that, he was just a really likeable guy, one of those strong, silent types who just seems to ooze leadership by his actions.  Writing this makes me really wish I grew up with a Cub who wasn’t just a complete tool.

Who is your least favorite Cub from your lifetime? 

This one is far easier-Jacque Jones.  I’ve never seen a major league baseball player with a lower baseball IQ than Jones.  He was brought in to provide some power, but he made the most perplexing decisions while he was with the Cubs.  My most endearing memory of Jacque Jones was a game that I went to at Wrigley.  I can’t remember who they were playing or who was pitching, but whoever it was had just walked 3 straight Cubs, the last on 4 straight balls.  Jones is up with the bases loaded and less than 2 outs.  And what does he do? He SWINGS AT THE FIRST PITCH.  He deservingly ended up striking out.  He was lost in right field, he was lost at the plate, and he was hated in Chicago.

From an Orioles fan who knows what it’s like to suffer from bad baseball:

In a season that is admittedly about rebuilding, what individual struggles can we chalk up to “the process” and which should we be legitimately concerned about for the future?

Great question.  This is probably at the center of what drives the Theometer. The first thing we can look to is age and/or major league experience.  Do I expect Bryan LaHair or Anthony Rizzo to hit for consistent power without high strikeout numbers this year or next? No.  Do I expect Starlin Castro to have a huge jump in power or fix a his defensive woes overnight? Again, no.  The good thing for the Cubs is that the players who are struggling this season, the ones who I would be concerned about, aren’t a part of the Cubs plans.  Soriano, Baker, Maholm? We don’t really have to be concerned about their struggles.  They are here to guide the team onto the next level.

I’d be concerned with any lack of effort from any player on the team.  There is no room for that on the team, and Sveum has made it clear that’s no part of the process (definitely isn’t a players’ manager).  Even though I chalk most of it up to age, Castro’s occasional inattentiveness in the field is discouraging.   It does seem like the team is buying into Sveum’s philosophies, especially on the basepaths.   Another thing I would be concerned about is a guy making the same mistakes repeatedly.  For example, is he always swinging at breaking pitches early in the count?   Is he constantly making bad reads on the basepaths?  These are adjustable things that come with playing in the majors.  Strikeouts and slumps happen, but those things come and go.

This question deserves more than just a mailbag answer and more time that I can give right now.  Chris and I will be researching this and will provide a more thorough answer in a later post.

From a Mets fan who takes offense to the 1962 team reference:

 What is the best food at Wrigley?

I am a traditionalist when it comes to ballpark food-hot dogs, brats, peanuts, and beer.  I save the brats for when I’m up at Wrigley North (Miller Park), so I go for the hot dog at Wrigley.  Wrigley really doesn’t have a lot of exotic food choices, which works for me because, I mean, sushi at a baseball game? Might as well spit on the Constitution.  My most common choice is a grilled dog with grilled/sauteed onions.  I never get it from a vendor in the stands, because the buns are always smushed, and usually find myself at the stand right behind the scoreboard. I always get 2.  They look like this:

Onion Dog

Sometimes I’ll throw some hot peppers on there.  I pair this with a bag of peanuts that I’ll finish by the end of the game and an Old Style, because it’s Wrigley Field, dammit.  I have yet to have a ballpark dog that matches what I can get at Wrigley.

Ron Santo or Aramis Ramirez?

Well, I’m not really sure what I’m rating them on, so I guess I’ll answer by saying who I’d rather have.  As a Cubs fan, I’d rather have Ron Santo. From a statistical standpoint, both guys had pretty similar offensive numbers, with Santo getting the slight edge (I know it’s hard to compare guys from different era’s, but oh well) .  Santo was a much better defender and much more consistent healthwise (even though he had Type-1 diabetes). He also had more than twice the WAR as ARam.  Of course, Ronny never got to a postseason, while Aramis got to 3.   What really sets Santo apart is that he would have literally died for the Cubs organization.  His number 10 is retired by the team, and you’ll never see Ramirez’s 16  hanging from the Wrigley foul pole.  His love for the Cubbies was infectious and always seemed to love being a part of the game.   Ronny would just be the perfect guy to be in the Cubs’ rebuilding clubhouse.

Is Matt Szczur the best prospect no one’s heard of? 

With all the talk of Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, he’s probably the best prospect Cubs fans haven’t heard of.  Even if they had, they couldn’t pronounce his last name (it’s like ‘Caesar’). He is definitely still raw, but he’s only 22, and guys like Starlin Castro are the exception, not the rule.  He played both baseball and football at Villanova, and appropriately, speed is his best tool.  He can hit for a little power, but it’s not something that Cubs fans should look for.   I’m anxious to see what  happens now that he is playing baseball full time.  He started this year in high A Daytona, and although he is average is down, his OBP is .351 and he has 11 steals and 17 runs in 20 games.  He is looking to get on base any way he can and use his skill to get into scoring position.  The Cubs have never really had an elite base stealing threat in my lifetime, and while it’s too early to label his speed as elite, the prospect of him leading off for the 3-4 of Jackson and Rizzo is very promising.   I haven’t actually seen him play, so all my word is through the scouts, but he seems to have the tools to fit in CF for the 2014 or 2015 Cubs.  My guess is we don’t see him on in the bigs until late 2013.  The Cubs actually have some speedy centerfielders in the system now, but Szcuzur looks to be the most promising.

Theometer: Week 2

We’re back again with your Theometer update for the week!  Since we last updated the Theometer, the Cubs have gone 3-6.  Throughout that stretch, our North Siders were swept by the Marlins in Miami (and have yet to secure a win in baseball’s newest park), dropped 2 of 3 to the Reds at home, and won two games against St. Louis in walkoff fashion.  Additionally, the Cubs moved Marlon Byrd (and cash) to the Red Sox in return for relief pitching prospect Michael Bowden.  So, what does the past week do for the Theometer?  Well, let’s see…

What Could Cause the Meter to Increase

  • The Marlon Byrd Trade.  Ever since Theo & Co. arrived in Chicago, they’ve made it clear that the status quo under Jim Hendry is no longer the way things are run in Chicago.  Moving the 34 year old Byrd for a young prospect (even if they did have to fork over some cash) is just another one of those culture-changing moves.  We here at TCARS liked Byrd’s attitude and his effort in every game, but it was clear his days were numbered at Wrigley.  This trade continues to prove that Theo will not be overpaying for mediocre veteran talent, just to “win now”.  Moving Byrd for a prospect continues to prove that the Cubs under Theo will continue his efforts to replenish the farm system.  And who knows, maybe this Bowden character will turn out to be something.  This move also opens up the path for Brett Jackson, but he is still working a few things out in AAA.  Expect to see him in June, and enjoy the blazing speed and .230 batting average of Tony Campana in the meantime.
  • Anthony Rizzo in AAA.  This kid is tearing it up.  In 19 games at AAA Iowa, Rizzo is hitting .373 with 7 HRs and 19 RBIs.  His 7 HRs are more than the entire Cubs roster (6 HR) has combined.  For a team lacking serious firepower right now, Rizzo could be just the bat the Cubs need.  However, don’t hold your breath about Rizzo’s callup in the near future.  Theo & Co. has made it clear that the Cubs will not be rushing anyone to the majors.  Expect his callup later in May, at the earliest.   However, we just might have a power bat for the future.
  • Bryan LaHair’s Recent Power. LaHair has provided HRs in each of the past two games for the Cubs.  His HR Tuesday night couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Cubs trailing by one to start the 9th.  LaHair’s mini power burst has been promising, as the Cubs have been lacking any power whatsoever.  Hopefully, LaHair will continue to provide a solid bat in the middle of the lineup.  Who knows, but a LaHair/Rizzo three/four punch sounds pretty good with the way these two guys are swinging the bat at the moment.  It’s a tad killer that both Rizzo and LaHair primarily play the same position, but the Cubs can always stick Bryan in LF.  It’s not like the defense there can get any worse.

What Could Cause the Meter to Decrease
  • The Offense.  It appears that currently, the Cubs think they are playing baseball circa 1910.  The Cubs are trying to single other teams to death, lacking any sort of power.  Maybe this is a conscientious move by the coaching staff to get the Cubs back to the way they played when they were successful… in 1908.  The current offensive attack just looks pitiful, and the Cubs are leaving FAR too many players on base to be productive.  Over their past 9 games, the Cubbies have left 9 runners on base in five of those games and have averaged around 8 LOB over that stretch.  Plus, over that 9 game stretch, the Cubs have scored 3 runs or less in 7 or more of those games.  Unfortunately, 3 runs just won’t get it done consistently no matter how good your pitching is (reference: Philadelphia Phillies).
What Has No Effect on the Theometer

  • Two Walkoff Wins in a Row.  Yes, the Cubs did win 2 in a row!  And yes, they were exciting walkoff wins.  Heck, they were even against the Cardinals, making the wins all the sweeter.  However, this means nothing.  Sure, the games were exciting,  but don’t think for a second that this is some sort of momentum springboard that will propel the Cubs to a monumental 18/20 run or something like that.  It’s not.  The Cubs just don’t have the talent to do it.

So, without further ado, we reveal the current State of the Theometer:

Current State of the Theometer: 20%

Overall, the Cubs made some very positive moves in the past week.  The Byrd trade alone was enough to boost the Theometer rating in the range above “Hendry’s Cubs”.  As the team continues to evolve and move away from the Hendry model, expect the Theometer rating to increase.  Yes, the on-the-field product is currently a little scary, but the front office moves are showing some signs of hope.

Welcome to the Theometer!

Today, we unveil TCARS’ newest feature: the Theometer.  What is a Theometer, you might ask…

In short, the Theometer (pronounced The-aam-eter, much like “speedometer”) is device used to measure the progress of the Cubs under new President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein.  The Theometer will track the Cubs’ progress throughout this season and future seasons, as Theo attempts to take his ball club to the World Series.  Since both Kevin and I began this blog because of our in-depth discussions about the future of the Cubs under Theo, we only thought it was appropriate to track the Cubs’ progress.  Since both Kevin and I are Aerospace Engineers, we don’t understand anything that’s not in the form of numbers, binary code, Matlab plots, or schematics.  So, what we’ve done is combine our two favorite things: engineering and the Cubs.  We’ve created an engineering-like gauge by which we plan to measure the Cubs.

While it is called the “Theometer”, it is not only a judgement of front office moves (it could just as well be called the Cubometer, but that just doesn’t roll of the tongue as well).  It combines both front office moves and on-the-field performances to come up with an overall “status” on how close the Cubs are to achieving the World Series goal.  For example, Jeff Samardzija’s emergence as a starter in spring training coupled with his strong performances in his first two outings would give the Theometer a boost, as would a midseason trade for top, big league ready prospects.  On the other hand, a horrible front office move (a 5 year contract extension for Alfonso Soriano, for example) or a Starlin Castro month-long slump would give the Theometer a downward path.

How do the Rocket Scientists at TCARS calculate the Theometer?  Well, first off, we’ve been using NASA supercomputers to crunch the numbers.  On a very basic level, these computers are first taking the square root of Cubs win totals over the past five years, adding that to the integral of each player’s RBIs, dividing that by the root mean square speed of Jeff Samardzija’s fastball, combining that with the vorticity of Carlos Marmol’s slider and the vector field of the wind circulating above Wrigley….

Kidding, there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to how we plan to move the needle on the Theometer.  How Kevin and I move the Theometer will be completely based on our opinions on the Cubs’ play and front office moves.  These will be opinions of how good we think the Cubs are, and as such, if we think the Cubs are a .500 club, that doesn’t mean that they’ll actually win 81 games.  More or less, this is mine and Kevin’s way of evaluating the Theo and the Cubs for all of our readers.

So, without further ado, here is the first iteration of the Theometer:

Current Theometer Rating: 18%

As you’ll see, we currently rate the Cubs at 18%, right around the “Hendry’s Cubs” description.  When we say “Hendry’s Cubs” what we mean is that the Cubs are a team lacking a direction.  With only just over a week into the new front office’s first season with the team, we’re not really sure in what direction the Cubs are headed.  We know that they’re getting younger and that there will be more emphasis on developing talent from the inside, but we’re just not sure of what a Cubs team that contends will look like in 3 or 4 years.  Realistically, by the end of the year we’d like to see the Cubs around the 50% mark.  The Cubs will be an extremely successful organization if they can get all the way to having a team with the pieces to win 81 games in just one season.

That’s the Theometer.  Look for updates to it in the coming weeks, and hopefully we won’t see the Cubs slip too far into the red…

Flight of the Baseball: Mailbag #1

Here it is: our first mailbag!  Sorry for the delay, as I know that this was promised yesterday.  Sometimes real life gets in the way.  I recently moved my temporary work duty from Seattle to San Francisco and am working on getting settled, while Chris is working hard at NASA to make sure the ISS doesn’t fall out of the sky.  Enough about us, here are the responses you’ve been craving.

From a true Chicago Sports Fan in the CL:

Does Wrigley need to be renovated? Or Do the Cubs need a whole new stadium?

I think about this every time I am in a newer stadium.  Just last week, I took in a game at Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners, which opened in 1999.  It’s a great stadium, huge, open, tons of food choices, and unobstructed views.  It is missing one thing-atmosphere.  I don’t know if that can be blamed on the stadium, the fans or the mediocre product on the field, but it just didn’t have that feel you get when you are sitting in the sunlit bleachers of the Friendly Confines.  I know it sounds cliche, but there is a magic to baseball, a purity.  There are a few places where you get that in the MLB – Fenway, Dodger Stadium, and Wrigley.  You can’t invent or buy atmosphere, it’s just something that’s unique to a place or a team and Wrigley has that.  For me, it starts with the famed scoreboard.  I love that it puts the focus on baseball and not silly in-between inning games or fan cams.  Instead the focus is just on baseball, which it should be.  There is another place I love that has that same magic-Michigan Stadium.  It’s a place, like history, where you can feel the history and can focus on what’s happening on the field.

That being said, Wrigley does need some updating for the future.  The Red Sox put in quite a bit of money a few years ago to update the interior of Fenway, and I think they did that without sacrificing the integrity of the ballpark’s atmosphere.  The Cubs should look to do the same by adding as many modern amenities to the concourse levels as possible.  Plus, I’m sure many of us Cubs fans can remember the falling concrete incidents a few years ago, so everything must be done to Wrigley to preserve the structure of the park so that we can keep it for years to come.  However, under no circumstance should a baseball landmark be torn down (even if the Cubs have never won a World Series at Wrigley) in favor of a modern stadium, no matter how appealing a retractable roof in April sounds to Chicagoans.

When, if at all, should we expect to see Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo in the big leagues?

Neither guy will be up with the Cubs until they can be guaranteed playing time everyday.  Both are expected to be the future core, along with Starlin Castro.  Under Hendry, the Cubs top prospects were fast-tracked, which led to disappointing careers in Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, and Mark Prior.   However, it looks like both players are ready to be called up.  They performed well in spring training, and have continued that in AAA Iowa (Rizzo has a 1.156 OPS).  There are 2 things keeping them in Iowa.  One is service time and delaying the contract clock.  For a full explanation, visit Bleacher Nation or MLB Trade Rumors.   Basically, the Cubs want to keep Jackson and Rizzo (and any young player for that matter) under club control for as long as possible before they need to pay them extravagant amounts of money to keep them around.  Yes, the Cubs shouldn’t have to worry about paying to keep their own players since they are a big market team.  However, the less money the Cubs are paying their young core players, the more Theo can spend on key big name acquisitions, namely pitchers.   As you can see from the links, Jackson’s earliest call up time is late April, while Rizzo’s is late June.

The second thing keeping them down is that they each have players blocking them in the bigs-Marlon Byrd and Bryan LaHair.  Neither guy is part of the grand plan, but both should be getting everyday playing time for know.  Why? Because it’s really hard to work a trade for a guy who is riding the bench.  Yes, Byrd has started the season in the worst way possible, but he is a veteran who can play solid defense.  The Cubs are actively trying to shop Byrd, and as soon as they can get a respectable return for him (a mid- to low-level prospect), they’ll bring Jackson up, which I expect in mid- to late-May.  Rizzo is more interesting.  Barring an injury to LaHair, Rizzo probably won’t be up until August.  LaHair is still young himself and has shown some nice power, which the Cubs don’t have.  Provided that LaHair can continue hitting for power, some team may come calling at the trade deadline. The only thing the Cubs need to be careful of is a Jesus Montero situation, where a guy gets frustrated by being stuck in AAA and lets that affect his game.

Favorite memory of the Cubs?

Kevin: I want to say something in the 2003 season, but the ending was too painful to make it my favorite.  I think mine is a single game that I went to in 1998 with my parents and my brother.  I was 10, which is the magical age for baseball.  We got some really great seats at the ticket window (I’m convinced it was fate that they were available), which turned out to be in the 2nd row right by the opposing bullpen.  It was a sunny day versus the Giants.  In the middle of the game, the Blue Angels started buzzing the stadium, practicing for the Chicago Air and Water show.  One pass came so close that Mark Grace hit the deck at first base.  There it was, my 2 favorite things, airplanes and Cubs baseball.  Sitting behind us were two aerospace engineers who explained to me all I wanted to know about how the Blue Angels worked.  I also got my first foul ball at this game (off the bat of JT Snow) and saw my first Grand Slam (off the bat of Glenallen Hill).  It was a Cubs win and a great day,  and was probably a major influence on my current career choice.

Chris: The 2003 Divisional Crown was magical.  I can remember the day perfectly.  The Cubs played a double header on Saturday against the Pirates and the Cubs had a magic number of 3 going into the day.  Since I was only 12 years old, I got dragged along to my sister’s soccer games for the day, but my parents did let me sit in the car and listen to the games on the radio.  The first game was a Cubs blowout, and I can remember that Sammy Sosa hit a big homerun early in the game (remember when we didn’t hate him totally?).  In between the first and second games, the 2nd place Astros lost, moving the Cubs’ magic number to 1 going into the nightcap.  The Cubs could win and they’d clinch the Central Division.  I remember watching the final outs at home, with the TV on and the radio turned on.  (Pat and Ron’s call still brings a tear to my eye: Cubs Win Division 2003).  The only word to describe it was magical.  And the next day, Ron Santo’s number is retired (his speech can be heard on the second half of the linked audio).  I really thought the Cubs were going to win the World Series…

From a Reds fan in Ann Arbor:

Just wondering if you guys have an opinion on the recent deals made by the Cincinnati Reds with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. They obviously make a big impact on the team. Do you think the size of their new contracts will keep the Reds from signing necessary players down the road?

For those unaware, the Reds signed 1B Joey Votto to a 10 year, $225 million deal, and 2B Brandon Phillips to a 6 year, $72.5 million deal.  To answer the question, nor necessarily.   The Reds have indicated that they are in win now mode.  They traded a top prospect in Yonder Alonso to get Mat Latos, and dealt Travis Wood to get Sean Marshall.  I actually like the deal for Votto.  He’s just entering his prime (age 28) and already has an MVP under his belt.  As we exit the steroid era, the price for power is going to rise, so locking up your star power hitters is important.  The Phillips deal I’m not sure of.   He had a great 2011, but he is 30, so if he plays closer to his career averages, the Reds will regret the deal.  But since the Reds are looking to win now, they have 2 key pieces in place. Jay Bruce is set through 2016, and Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco are just reaching the big leagues.  These contracts may cause a guy like Drew Stubbs to fall by the wayside, or prevent Cincy from chasing a top pitcher on the open market. If the Reds can find an ace (or #2 if Latos proves to be a stud), the Reds will be perennial favorites in the NL.

Also, do you know anything about Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman? I’m wondering if the Reds might bring him up as a starter soon, and whether you think he might have a positive impact.

Aroldis Chapman is a special talent.  Both his 100+ MPH fastball and 90+ MPH slider (SICK) are devastating pitches.  However, I don’t think he nor his skill set are built to be a starter.  I don’t care who you are, throwing that kind of stuff with his violent motion is not good for your arm.  There is no reason to ruin such a great arm by putting a ton of innings on it, especially with the rising importance of shutdown relievers in the 8th and 9th inning.  Another problem is Dusty Baker, who treats his pitchers with the tenderness of Albert Pujols facing Brad Lidge.  I’ve watched him destroy great power arms first-hand, and would hate to see Chapman succcumb to that fate.  Two power pitches like that have closer written all over them, as long as he can develop the mindset to pitch in the 9th inning.

If the Reds decide to move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation shortly, it will be a relatively easy transition. Chapman was stretched out in the spring training.

Thanks for your questions. We’ll do this again on Friday in the hopes of making it a regular piece.  A new feature is being debuted tomorrow, so check in to see what it is!

Flight of the Baseball: TCARS Mailbag

We are now a week into the season, and about a month into posting on this blog.  We hope you have enjoyed our insight, analysis, and opinions.  On the field, the Cubs have shown a new mentality, but have also shown that there is a long way to go to reach the promised land.

We’d like to thank all of our visitors so far.  If you can mention us to your baseball and/or Cubs loving friends and family, we would greatly appreciate it.  We also want to hear from you, the loyal reader.  So, we will be starting a new piece-a mailbag.

Send in your questions on anything.  Do you have specific questions on the Cubs? The MLB in general? Maybe you want to know what Kevin thinks is the greatest book of all-time (Harry Potter), or ask Chris what it’s like meeting an aerospace legend (Gene Kranz).  This is your chance to get the direct feedback we know you crave.

You can send in your questions in a variety of ways.  We have a Facebook page.  Kevin has a Twitter account (@kmgregus), so you can send in your questions 140 characters at a time.   You can also email us at  Send in your questions by Monday.

Come back Monday as a distraction from work, school, homework, your kids, or whatever is less important that baseball.  We will post our answers to your questions, as well as launching a new feature on TCARS, the Theo-Meter.