Chicago Cubs: 6-13 (4/27-4/30)
The Chicago Cubs find themselves in the basement of the NL Central coming into their series with the Phillies. This is not a shocker, as the Cubs and their new management have fully embraced rebuilding. The main architect of this overhaul is longtime Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. El Presidente now has the monumental task of shaking off another fabled baseball curse. But, if any man is up to the challenge it’s Epstein. He guided the Red Sox out of there 85 year World Series drought to win not once but twice under his reign. The Cubs however have the dark clouds of the Billy Goat and Steve Bartman lingering over Wrigley Field. Dark days are ahead for the Cubbies, but at least they are on the road to recovery.
Player to Watch: SS Starlin Castro
The young shortstop had his fair share of troubles this offseason, but was recently exonerated of any wrong doing (legally speaking) in his domestic abuse case. Whatever issues Castro had off the field, they haven’t carried over to his play. He is off to another smoldering start hitting .333, swiping 7 bases, while hitting in the 3 hole for the Cubs. His power has been late to arrive, but their is no arguing against the fact that he is the best hitter the Cubs have. On a team that will be ripe for the picking come July, Castro is likely the one player deemed to be “untouchable”. Anyone can be had for a price, but the cost for a 22 year old shortstop who can run, hit, and field at Castro’s level is prohibitively high. On top of all his baseball skills, the kid has one of the coolest first names in the game; Starlin.
Most Hated Cub: OF Alfonso Soriano
This one comes with a bit of a caveat. Soriano is most likely one of the most hated Cubs on the roster, but not by Phillies fans. It was not so long ago that Soriano his the free agent market as one of the best hitters in the game (pre-sabermetrics). That fateful winter of 2005 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Despite all the swirling rumors the Phillies would sign Soriano, he wound up with the Cubs with a whopping 8 year deal worth $136 million. Soriano has regressed every year since joining the Cubs, and has been a mess in the field as well as a financial albatross. Someone will ultimately take him off the team’s hands, but it will take a lot of time before Cubs fans forgive Soriano and the failure to live up to expectations.
Fansided Perspective: Jordan Campbell, editor of Cubbies Crib, enlightened me on what it means to be a Cubs fan.
It looks like Theo Epstein and the new management have fully embraced rebuilding the team from the ground up, are the fans on board with the overhaul?
The fans up to this point are embracing the overhaul. Though, I’m not sure how long that is going to last. Epstein is asking the Cubs’ fan base, who have been patient for he past 103 going on 104 years, to be patient for another three to five seasons. That is a lot to ask. But realistically speaking, it should not take the Cubs that long to rebuild. Look at teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, they went through a quick rebuild in 2011 and their efforts paid off. Patience is a virtue. However for Cubs’ fans, patience is a life-style.
Former Phillie Marlon Byrd just got shipped up to Boston, is everyone on the rostert besides Starlin Castro fair game?
That is fair to say. Though, Starlin Castro may not be as untouchable as some portray him to be. But the Cubs are going to look to trade a bulk of their playing rosters. Names like Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol, and Matt Garza will be popular names in the Cubs trade discussions come July. The goal is to turn short-term assets into long-term assets. The aforementioned players are all short-term assets, and likely will not have value to the Cubs when the team is ready to contend. Garza may be the only exception to that notion.
Does the MLB commercial with Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation (Cubs) arguing with Craig Robinson of The Office (White Sox) personify the the city rivalry perfectly?
Whenever my father and I talk, the Cubs and Sox always come up. My father grew up a stone’s throw away from the Cell, formerly known as Comiskey. Myself, I was born and raised in the suburbs outside of Chicago. My dad of course is a Sox fan, and I, of course, am a Cubs fan. That commercial closely reminds me of the discussions between my dad and I. Both teams may be bad, but no matter what the circumstances are, a Cubs’ fan will never concede that the White Sox are better and vice versa. That was a very symbolic and accurate commercial about the interactions of a Cubs fan and White Sox fan.
Atlanta Braves: 12-7 (5/1-5/3)
The Braves are hot hot hot. The forgotten team of the NL East this offseason has started the first month of the season smoldering at the plate. The team was supposed to be lead by their pitching depth, but they lead the league in runs scored and show no signs of slowing down. These aren’t your father’s Braves who won 14 straight division titles. The team is now lead by youngsters Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and veteran catcher Brian McCann. The team is on a mission to put their disappointing collapse of 2011 behind them. The Braves are seeking vengeance, as it was the Phillies who sealed their fate on the final day of the season beating them in extra innings. Now its the Phillies who are staring up at the Braves in the division, and will need to bring their A-game.
Player to Watch: LHP Jonny Venters
There are a lot of young stars on this Braves team, but the most unheralded has to be Venters. He made the all-star team last season as a set-up man, which is no small feat. Set-up men never seem to get the respect they deserve, partly because they don’t accumulate any saves. Sadly, the hold just isn’t as sexy a statistical as the save. What Venters does bring is a wicked heater, and tight slider that makes him equally tough on righties and lefties. His 17.6 SO/9 so far this year shows he has no hangover from pitching 88 innings a year ago. The Phils will have to face Venters at some point in the series, let’s just hope it’s in a tie game.
Most Hated Brave: 3B Chipper Jones
Chipper is the last remaining holdover from the dominant Braves teams of the 90’s. Prior to the start of the season Jones announced this would be his swan song, as he just turned 40 this past week. Jones is still a savvy hitter from both sides of the plate, but can’t seem to stay in one piece. Jones hasn’t played a full season in close to a decade, which is why the Braves finally acquired some insurance in young infielder Juan Francisco. Even though he is well beyond his prime we fans have too many memories of him dominating Phillies pitching. I say good riddance once Jones finally hangs up his cleats, but not with out a tip of the cap to a sure fire hall-of-famer.
Fansided Perspective: Carlos Collazo of Tomahawk Take shared a cup of virtual coffee with me while answering all the questions you need answers to about the Braves.
The Braves were supposed to be a team lead by their pitching depth, but its been the lineup that’s been carrying them so far. Is the hot hitting for real or will they come back down to earth?
The hot hitting will definitely slow down but it depends what you mean by ‘come down to Earth’. The offense has probably been over performing a bit so far (they have a .294 team BABIP which is just above league average) but if you think we are going to go back to 2011 form and hit .243/.308/.387 you are kidding yourself. I mentioned before the season on Tomahawk Take that the offense would be better this year, and so far the guys have made me look pretty smart. The bottom line is that last year we had injuries (Prado, Heyward, McCann) to key players in the lineup, a horribly unlucky start for Dan Uggla, and Larry Parrish. All of those things seem to be fixed this year and Braves fans should continue to enjoy one of the league’s better offenses.
Will Chipper Jones get a John Elway-esque send off in his final season?
I have no idea but I would love for him to leave with a second World Series ring. Baseball is the most difficult sport when it comes to predicting championships and this year is no different. The big key for the Braves this season is health and the starting rotation. Chipper is going to get injured (and we have Juan Francisco to step in when that happens) but if the rest of the team can avoid anything serious the Braves do have a legit chance to win a World Series. The starting rotation is extremely young and will have to find a way to pitch deeper into the games than we have so far this season. If both of these things happen you would be crazy to count Atlanta out come October.
Do fans feel as awkward doing the tomahawk chop as i do watching it?
Well it depends on the situation. If you are sitting on your couch with your girlfriend watching a Braves game in the bottom of the ninth down by one, you probably have a 50-50 chance of feeling awkward, depending on your girlfriend. If you are sitting on your couch by yourself watching a Braves game in the bottom of the ninth down by one, you probably feel awkward all the time anyways. If you are on the toilet looking at MLB At Bat while doing the chop you probably don’t have any friends. But if you’re at the game Tomahawk Choppin’ with all the Braves fans then you probably feel right at home… unless of course you don’t have any rhythm and are out of unison. Then, I feel awkward for you.