Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/27


Just when they needed him, the reigning Cy Young Award winner showed up for the Cubs Wednesday night.

Jake Arrieta, who won the coveted award in 2015, has had a good season, but has not been as dominant as he was a year ago. On Wednesday though, Arrieta held the Indians hitless through the first five innings, long enough for the Cubs to heat up their bats and post a 5-1 win that sent the World Series back to Wrigley Field tied 1-1.

Arrieta had some control problems in the first inning, but then got into a groove. His no-hit effort of 5.1 innings was the longest in Series history since 1969,

While he was mowing down Cleveland batters, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo sparked a Cubs’ attack that, while not prolific, was adequate to get the win.

“I knew I hadn’t given up a hit going into the 6th inning,” Arrieta said. “That’s not what really counts in a game like this. I wanted to stay aggressive and allow these guys to put the ball in play on quality pitches.”

The Cubs had a much better approach at the plate than they did the night before when they were shut out by Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller. They worked the count, but were aggressive on pitches that were hittable.

Schwarber, who had only five at-bats before blowing out his knee very early in the season, looked to be full strength as he had two hits and drove in two runs.

“Baseball is a crazy game,” said Schwarber, who did not expect to play in the post-season until doctors gave him an OK to hit and run the bases. “You don’t know what it will throw at you. We took a small step tonight and now have to keep it going. We still have a long way to go.”

Zobrist has broken out of his post-season slump, and Rizzo had a key double and two walks.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona already has said he will start Kluber in Games 4 and 7 if necessary. Miller, who threw almost 50 pitches on Tuesday night, also will be available out of the bullpen for the Indians.

But, the Cubs can beat these guys too, if they keep the right approach at the plate. When they get overly aggressive, or try to work the count too much, they become vulnerable to good breaking stuff. That’s what has happened in every shutout they have suffered in the post-season.

They were dominated by Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS, but then came back to beat him. Kluber and Miller are good, but certainly not any better than Kershaw.

What’s Ahead

Schwarber was set to work out Thursday to see if he was medically ready to go beyond DH and play in the field. If so, he could start in left field Friday night with Zobrist moving to right.

Joe Maddon has started Chris Coghlin and Jorge Soler in right in the first two games of the Series, benching Jason Heyward, who has struggled mightily at the plate. Heyward came in Wednesday as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

Kyle Hendricks, who starred in the NLCS finale, will start Friday. Josh Tomlin will start for the Indians.

Kluber will return Saturday for Cleveland. John Lackey is scheduled for the Cubs.

Wrigley Field will be hosting its first World Series game since 1945. It should be a real carnival there.


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/23


In the 5th inning Saturday night, a Cubs’ fan held up a sign that read “Curse-Shaw Ends Tonight.”

It did indeed. Neither that damn Billy Goat Curse nor the great Clayton Kershaw could stop this team of destiny from going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

The 5-0 win over the Dodgers featured the combination that propelled the Cubs to 103 wins during the regular season. Dexter Fowler set the table. Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered off Kershaw.

But, the night really belonged to Kyle Hendricks, the quiet, 26-year-old Dartmouth righthander. Hendricks was masterful in holding the Dodgers to two hits in 7.1 innings. Aroldis Chapman mopped up the final 1.2.

Hendricks and Kershaw met in Game 2 of the NLCS, and both pitched well. Hendricks made one mistake in that one, giving up a home run to Adrian Gonzales. This time, he pitched virtually mistake-free baseball.

Kershaw was masterful in the 1-0 L.A. win in Game 2. On Saturday, he wasn’t, struggling with control of his breaking stuff and getting his fast ball into bad locations. An error by Andrew Toles on a fly ball in left field also hurt him.

The Cubs took a different approach at the plate too. They still were selective, but also more aggressive. It worked.

Javier Baez, who excelled in the field and at the plate, and Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP award.  Lester said the Cubs focused on winning the World Championship, from spring training on.

“We talked about it, but at the same time we knew not to take anything for granted,” Lester said. “We have a bunch of grinders. We have goals. Now the next goal is to win.”

Theo Epstein, who put the team together with talented young players and select veterans, said, “You just smile, soak it in and let it take your breath away. Then, get back to work to get four more wins.”

A Personal Note

I was raised in a family of Cubs’ fans. I switched to the Milwaukee Braves when we moved from the North Side of Chicago to Wisconsin. But, when the last out was recorded Saturday, I couldn’t help but think back.

I hoped my sister, who has lived and died with the Cubs, saw it on TV. I wished my late grandmother, who watched the Cubs every day on WGN, and my late parents could have been alive to see it.

I also thought of Jack Brickhouse, who brought those games daily to my grandmother. And, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and dozens of other players who starred for the team but never saw a World Series in Chicago.

I truly hope they are somewhere smiling together. I also know that like Lester and Epstein, they are saying ‘four more wins.”

What’s Ahead

Those four more wins will not come easy. The Cleveland Indians are not as known a team as the Cubs have become, but they are a good, talented ball club.

They play somewhat like the Cubs — aggressive at the plate and on the bases, good pitching. Like the Cubs, they are a young team, managed by a veteran in Terry Francona. Like Joe Maddon with the Cubs, Francona was brought into the organization because he had proven before, with the Red Sox, that he could win.

Epstein and Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer know Francona well. Together, they broke the Red Sox’s drought of World Series championships.

Now, Epstein, Hoyer, Maddon and their players have broken a 71-year drought by getting the Cubs into the Series. But, that 108-year drought since the Cubs last won a Series is still out there, waiting to be broken.

The Series starts Tuesday in Cleveland. As of this writing, the teams had not yet announced their starting pitchers.

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/21


Luckily for Chicago sports fans, the Cubs played a lot better than the Bears.

Just when the Billy Goat was starting to romp through Cubs’ fans minds again, the team turned it around and won two straight from the Dodgers to take a 3-2 lead in games. That sends the NLCS back to Wrigley Field for Game 6 on Saturday night.

How did the Cubs turn it around after falling behind, 2 games to 1? They started to hit. Specifically, two players who had been horrible — Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo — started to hit.

Russell, who had been dropped to eighth in the order because of his slump, homered Wednesday and Thursday to spark the Cubs’ attack. He became the ninth Cub in history to homer in consecutive games in the post-season and the second youngest shortstop in MLB history to do so.

“My confidence is up,” Russell said. “Wednesday was a great night, pushing me to today, and now I have to carry it over to Saturday.”

Rizzo had only two hits in the post-season before Wednesday, but broke out with three, including a home run, in the Cubs’ 10-2 win.

Interestingly enough, the breakouts by Russell and Rizzo could partially be traced to Matt Szczur, who isn’t even on the NLCS roster. Russell used Szczur’s leggings and Rizzo his bat!

“They’ve picked me up quite a few times,” Szczur said. “They don’t owe me anything. We’re a team.”

It also didn’t hurt that Kris Bryant and Javier Baez continued to have good post-seasons, and veterans John Lackey and Jon Lester held the Dodgers down in the two wins.

The problem for Russell and Rizzo, and most of the Cubs, before the breakout is that they don’t hit breaking balls nearly as well as fast balls. Clayton Kershaw and journeyman Rich Hill kept bending their pitches around the Cubs bats in two wins that put the Dodgers up, 2-1.

Then, the Cubs faced two L.A. pitchers in Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda. Their breaking pitches weren’t as effective, and the Cubs also capitalized on some hangers and fast balls that weren’t in good locations.

Now, the Cubs will face Kershaw in Game 6 and Hill in Game 7, if necessary. They’ll have to hit the breaking balls. They also might have some other things:

** Don’t pick up any bad habits from the Bears (who were creamed by the Packers on Thursday).

** Maybe keep taking Matt Szczur’s clothing and equipment,

** Don’t think about the last time a Cubs team got to Game 6 in a NLCS. It was the infamous Steve Bartman game in 2003.

** Finally, make sure they keep that Billy Goat penned up.

What’s Ahead

Kyle Hendricks will match up with Kershaw on Saturday night. The Cubs had not named a starter for Sunday’s game if one is necessary. It normally would be Jake Arrieta’s turn in the rotation.

The MDR Blog will continue weekly until the Cubs are eliminated or win it all. It will then go monthly for the off-season and continue monthly during spring training and the regular season in 2017.


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/14


Through the first 8 innings on Tuesday night, I thought I might be writing the Cubs’ obit or about their defending their home turf at Wrigley today.

The Billy Goat curse. San Francisco’s success in surviving elimination games and their trend of winning championships in even-numbered years. All those themes were going through my head.

Then, the Cubs pulled off their miraculous comeback in the top of the 9th, and Aroldis Chapman blew away the Giants in the bottom of the inning. So, I’m writing a much more fun blog today.

Some reactions to the great four-run comeback. First, it showed the will power of a group of guys who know they have a chance to do something very special. They know how long Cubs fans have been waiting and want to deliver.

Second, it showed just how versatile and deep the Cubs have been all season. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras delivered a clutch hit and then can move to left field in the bottom of the 9th. Javier Baez delivered what turned out to be the game winner and then moved from second to short. Ben Zobrist had a key double and in the bottom of the inning moved from the outfield to second base. Joe Maddon didn’t have to worry about making any moves because his players are so versatile.

Third, Maddon made moves that were bold and tactical. He didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for Addison Russell, This is the young player who hit more home runs as a shortstop than any Cub since Ernie Banks.

But, Russell has slumped in the playoffs, and the last couple weeks of the regular season. So, Maddon made the move, and he made a couple associated moves on pinch-hitters that in some ways outmaneuvered Bruce Bochy and the Giants

Maddon first had lefty Chris Coghlan go to the on deck circle. Once Bochy switched his pitcher to a lefty, Maddon switched to Contreras, who delivered.

Finally, the big inning demonstrated how well Theo Epstein and his staff have mixed veterans with youngsters. Kris Bryant, Contreras and Baez could be considered kids. Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist are veterans. All came through.

Some will note that the Cubs managed only two hits off Giants starter Matt Moore and argue that Bochy should have stuck with him in the 9th. Instead, five San Francisco relievers pitched in the inning and failed to stop the Cubs.

But, that is how good teams win. When an opportunity comes up, they capitalize, and getting to the Giants’ bullpen — a weakness most of the season — offered an opportunity.

It should be noted that the Billy Goat curse is still out there, raising its horned head. The Cubs still have two rounds to go before they can really claim success with a World Series Championship. For a look at their next round, the NLCS, move to the next section.

What’s Ahead

The first game of the NLCS is scheduled for Wrigley Field at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both the Cubs and Dodgers came into the season with high expectations. Only one will be able to continue to pursue those in the World Series.

Chicago won the regular season matchups, 4 games to 3. The two clubs last met in the 2008 NLDS, which the Dodgers swept.

The Cubs have 7/5 odds to win the World Series, according to Vegasinsider.com. The Dodgers are at 12/1.

Jon Lester has been named the starter for the Cubs in the first game of the series. As of Friday morning, no other starting pitchers has been named by either team.

Midwest Diamond Report Blog -10/8


Javier Baez has cut down on his swing and strikeouts almost by half. But, the Cubs versatile, young player took a might hack that beat the wind and the Giants in the first game of the NLDS Friday night.

Baez’s 8th inning homer was the only run of a 1-0 game that featured a great pitching duel between Chicago’s Jon Lester and the Giants’ Johnny Cueto.

“Obviously, I was just trying to get on base,” Baez said. “Cueto was pitching me inside all night. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake and he finally did.”

Baez’s homer was a towering shot into a stiff wind. It looked at first like it might go deep into the bleachers or beyond. The ball then seemed to hit a wall and stop, but it settled into the basket on the left field wall for a homer.

Both pitchers had pinpoint command for most of the night. Lester had more runners on base, but wiggled out of every situation. Both teams helped their pitchers with good defense.

“It was a classic, kind of old school baseball game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “Obviously, you like to win those, but give both teams credit. That was a really well-played baseball game.”

For the Cubs, who had a potent offense most of the season, the low-scoring game showed they might have suffered some from a “post-clinch” period of a few weeks and a wait to start the post-season. Then again, they might have suffered more from the pitching of Cueto. Luckily for Cubs’ fans, Lester matched Cueto almost pitch-by-pitch.

The outcome showed the Cubs can beat you with pitching and defense, in addition to big hits by MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and others. Veteran catcher David Ross made a key pickoff throw early in the contest, and the Cubs had several other good defensive plays.

They very well might have to play this style throughout the series against a Giants team that has been built around pitching and defense. The Cubs also have to overcome what has been the trend of the Giants winning the championship in even-numbers years.

“It’s going a grind,” Lester said after Friday’s win. “This is what you play for. This is one step right now that we got past. We have to worry about step two tomorrow.”

Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the Cubs in “step two” Saturday night. He will face former Cubs and White Sox Jeff Samardzija.

Jake Arrieta will pitch in step three on Monday in San Francisco. He will face post-season hero of other Giants’ winning years, Madison Bumgarner.

Updated Notes

Here are a few update notes from other MDR teams:

** The Brewers announced they will make $18 million in improvements to the concession areas of Miller Park.

** The Twins have hired Indians assistant GM Derek Falvey as their executive vice president and chief baseball officer.

** The White Sox fired manager Robin Ventura and replaced him with bench coach and former Cubs manager Rick Renteria.

What’s Ahead

Former commissioner and Brewers president Bud Selig will be a candidate for Cooperstown induction next season.

The MDR Blog will remain weekly as long as the Cubs are still playing. It will then go monthly.


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/30


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/30

The Cubs already have been playing out the season after becoming the first team in baseball to clinch their division.

Now, they’ll have to play another waiting game to see who they will meet in the first round of the post-season playoffs. They could have to wait until Oct. 9 to play either the Mets, Giants or Cardinals.

Manager Joe Maddon has been resting some regulars since the Cubs clinched the division, and switching players to different positions to maximize the club’s versatility in case that’s needed during the playoffs. He also wants the Cubs to go into post-season as healthy as possible.

Not everybody on the Cubs has liked Maddon’s approach to what has been termed “the post-clinch” period of the season. “It felt like a spring training game from the get-go,” starter Jake Arrieta said after an 8-4 loss to the Pirates.

Catcher Miguel Montero echoed Arrieta. “It had a feel like in spring training, I do believe that,” he said. “And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is. This game’s still important for all the players.

“I don’t want to go out there not caring about wining or losing. My mentality is that I want to win, regardless. It can be a little bit tough on players’ minds, so we have to find a point where we have to trick our mind. If that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

Maddon didn’t take any issues with Arrieta and Montero speaking out. “I don’t think we have any issues,” he said.

“My answer to that is we’re 7-2 in our last nine games,” Maddon said during Thursday’s pregame media session. “I don’t see any kind of real negative patterns right there. They all knew what was going to happen before that game. There were no surprises. And there has been no surprises.”

Another task for Maddon and his staff has been deciding on who will make the roster for the first-playoff series. Jason Hammel could be the odd man out of the rotation, or could end up in the bullpen.

The status of Jorge Soler, who has been nursing injuries for much of the season and has some shoulder problems currently needs to be determined. Chris Coghlan also was day-to-day this week with some nagging problems.

The Cubs did take care of some off-field decisions before they face the playoffs. They announced that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has signed a five-year contract extension that will run from 2017-21. General manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development Jason McLeod also reportedly received extensions.

We’ll have to see until the playoffs start to determine whether the Cubs lost their edge, or look rusty from too many days away from playing meaningful games. If they are eliminated, you can bet those charges will come up and Maddon will be on the hot seat. If they win, things will be all rosy and Maddon will be heralded as a genius.

MDR All Stars

Here is the 2017 MDR All Star Team:

Left field – Ryan Braun, Brewers

Center field – Dexter Fowler, Cubs

Right Field – Adam Eaton, White Sox

Third Base – Kris Bryant, Cubs

Shortstop – Addison Russell, Cubs

Second Base – Brian Dozier, Twins

First Base – Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Catcher – Jonathan Lucroy (before he was traded by Brewers)

DH – Jose Abreu, White Sox

LHP – Chris Sale, White Sox, and Jon Lester, Cubs

RHP – Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

Players of the Year – Bryzzo, Bryant and Rizzo, Cubs

Pitchers of the Year – Hendricks and Lester, Cubs

Rookies of the Year – Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, Brewers

Manager of the Year – Joe Maddon, Cubs

What’s Ahead

The MDR Blog will continue weekly as long as the Cubs remain in the post-season. The format will be different than it was for most of the regular season. The blog will then go monthly during the post-season and remain monthly in spring training and the regular season in 2017.


You can find the MDR Blog at the addresses below. Updates to the Blog are periodically made on the blog’s Facebook page:

** https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midwest-Diamond-Report/156235634532321
** https://www.facebook.com/gregg.hoffmann.3
** http://www.quicktopic.com/31/H/bcq8WpiTHm8eC

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/23


With a week to go in the regular season, we feel we can do some reviews for the four MDR teams:

Brewers – The Brewers definitely had a rebuilding season, but won’t finish with as bad a record as many were predicting. In spring, they looked like a possible 100-loss team. Instead, they have played most of the season between 10-20 games under .500 (15 games under as of this writing).

Players like Jonathan Villar, Scooter Gennett, Chris Carter, Hernan Perez and Keon Broxton (before he was injured) showed they very well might have futures with Milwaukee, or at least some big league club. Orlando Arcia didn’t hit on a consistent basis after he was called up, but showed he is a major league shortstop in the field.

Ryan Braun had a good season. Jonathan Lucroy also performed well. Of course, Lucroy is gone. Braun could be over the off-season if you believe some of the national rumors.

The Brewers starting rotation had one of the best ERAs in baseball the last couple months. Zach Davies and Junior Guerra were the surprise standouts while Jimmy Nelson took a step back in his development and Wily Peralta spent part of the season in the minors.

Look for the Brewers to continue to make changes over the off-season and give some of their prospects a good look in the spring, as they hope to take another step in their rebuilding process.

Top Players – Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar
Top Pitchers – Zach Davies and Junior Guerra

Cubs – The Cubs went into the season with high expectations and met, or even exceeded them. They might have fielded one of the most versatile and deep teams in several years.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could either compete with each other, or share, the NL MVP honor. Addison Russell had an All Star season at shortstop, and drove in the most runs by a Cub at that position since Ernie Banks.

Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez and others showed they could play multiple positions. Willson Contreras came up and showed he can contribute at catcher and in the outfield. Veteran catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero provided depth behind the plate.

About the only disappointment at the plate was outfielder Jason Heyward, but he once again proved to be one of the best fielding outfielders in baseball.

Cy Young Award winning Jake Arrieta was only the third best pitcher on his team, behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. John Lackey and Jason Hammel were no slouches to finish out the rotation. The Cubs bullpen was solid, especially after Aroldis Chapman was added as the closer.

Joe Maddon was the maestro in putting it all together. Maddon should win his second NL Manager of the Year with the Cubs.

Of course, expectations remain high. Anything short of a World Series championship will probably be considered falling short.

Top Players – Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell
Top Pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks

Twins – The Twins were the most disappointing of the four MDR teams. They were picked by many to be contenders after 2015, but got off to a bad start and flopped badly.

GM Terry Ryan left before the season was over. Paul Molitor looked like he could go from the Al Manager of the Year to being fired, but will probably survive.

Young players like Byung Ho Park, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton showed flashes of their talent, but overall fell short because of injuries and other factors. Joe Mauer ended up having a rather mediocre season.

The Twins pitching, thought to be improved, struggled. Injuries played a role in that.

Brian Dozier was a bright spot, reaching more than 40 homers and 100 RBI’s. Hitting for power, in fact, was one of the few overall bright spots for the Twins.

The Twins will have some tough decisions over the off-season on whether they stick with some of their young prospects, what they do with their pitching staff, etc. It will start with hiring a new GM. Several candidates have been rumored.

Top Player – Brian Dozier
Top Pitcher – Brandon Kintzler

White Sox

The White Sox didn’t flop as badly as the Twins, but after adding some firepower did fall well short of expectations.

Todd Frazier set a club record for homers by a third baseman. Jose Abreu has had another productive season. Adam Eaton also had a decent season.

But, otherwise the Sox had trouble mounting a consistent attack for much of the season. Injuries sidetracked Brett Lawrie. Decisions will have to be made on players like Avisail Garcia, Melky Cabrera and others.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana had good seasons as starters, but both could be trade bait. Sale, especially, has clashed with Sox management ever since the Adam LaRoche controversy in spring training.

Robin Ventura’s job is probably on the line. An announcement could be made after the World Series.

Top Players – Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu
Top Pitchers – Chris Sale, Jose Quintana

Updated Notes

(Some of these notes come from www.mlbtraderumors.com.)


** Chris Carter matched his career highs with his 37th homer and 88th RBI.

** The Brewers brought up catcher Josmil Pinto from Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Brewers claimed Pinto off waivers from the Padres this offseason after San Diego claimed him from the Twins organization.

** RHP Taylor Jungmann will start on Saturday.


** The Cubs are three shy of their first 100-win season since 1935 and have a magic number of 2 to clinch home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

** Lefty reliever Jack Leathersich will forgo minor league free agency and re-up with the Cubs on a minors pact for the 2017 season.

** The Cubs are aware of, but not particularly concerned over, a decline in Jake Arrieta’s fastball velocity (and recent predilection for surrendering long balls), ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers writes.


** After visiting back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins in Southern California on Monday, Twins reliever Trevor May was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back.

** ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter) that while Mets assistant GM John Ricco has recently been linked to the Twins’ GM job, Ricco is no longer in the running at this point.

** Twins rookie right fielder Max Kepler left Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Tigers in the eighth inning with a mild neck strain. He’s day to day and will be evaluated further on Friday.

White Sox

** LHP Chris Sale was among the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award, but was roughed up in his second shortest outing of the season.

** After the White Sox dropped their 14th of 19 games against Kansas City this season, Jose Abreu credited the Royals’ “hunger” and “desire to win,” as being superior to the Sox’s intangibles.

** Adam Eaton hit his ninth triple of the season.

Players of the Week

For the second straight week, the Twins’ Brian Dozier gets the honor after hitting his 42nd homer, 40th as a second baseman, to set an AL record for homers by 2B.

Other MDR teams’ Players of the Week included: the Brewers’ Scooter Gennett, who hit .333 and set a career high with his 14th homer; the Cubs’ Miguel Montero, who has a three-hit game and has hit .372 since Aug. 20; and the Sox’s Todd Frazier, who hit .391 for the week with two homers and five RBIs.

What’s Ahead

We will enter the final week of the regular season on Sunday. The MDR Blog will look at the Cubs’ chances in the post-season and reveal its All Star team next weekend. The Blog will remain weekly until the Cubs’ post-season ends. It will then go monthly during the off-season and remain monthly next spring training and regular season.

You can find the MDR Blog at the addresses below. Updates to the Blog are periodically made on the blog’s Facebook page:

** https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midwest-Diamond-Report/156235634532321
** https://www.facebook.com/gregg.hoffmann.3
** http://www.quicktopic.com/31/H/bcq8WpiTHm8eC
** http://midwestdiamondreport.mlblogs.com/MDR Blog

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/16


The celebration was delayed by a loss to the Brewers, but the Cubs still clinched the NL Central late Thursday.

When the Cardinals lost to the Giants on the West Coast well after the Cubs-Brewers game, Chicago won its first division title since 2008.

The Cubs became the third earliest “clinchers” of a division title in NL history, and sixth earliest overall. With a 17-game lead going into Thursday, it really was a matter of when not if for the Cubs for weeks, if not months. Plus, everyone expected the Cubs to win this season.

“This year, before we even reported to spring training, there were all these expectations that kind of crept into the clubhouse,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein. “The guys handled it incredibly well, embraced the challenge, and didn’t back down from any situations.

“This year’s team has distinguished itself for every challenge thrown its way, including expectations.”

The Cubs are 93-53, 40 games above .500, with easily the best record in baseball. They are on pace to finish with 104 victories, their best mark since 1910. It would be the first time since 1935 that the Cubs entered post-season with 100 or more wins.

Chicago jumped out to a 25-6 record, and 8 ½ game division lead in April, and were never threatened the rest of the season.

As for not clinching with a win, manager Joe Maddon said, ““I can’t get upset about anything that happened.. We have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet.”

Maddon’s right about the Cubs’ fish fry, and now he faces the challenge of resting some of his regulars while still keeping the team sharp for post-season.

“It’s not navel-gazing time just yet,’’ Epstein said. “It all boils down to how you perform in October. We’re rightfully proud of the regular season we’ve had, and it’s meaningful, but it’s never time to look back after that. If you have a good enough regular season, it’s time to play for what really matters.”

For the Brewers, they were determined to not let their I-94 rivals clinch by beating them. The win was Milwaukee’s first at Wrigley Field this season.

“It was just a flat-out good ballgame,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the 5-4 win. “Obviously with where they’re at, there was great energy in the park tonight, and I thought it was a game we were going to do everything we could to win. We answered that energy and we used that energy for us. We played a very good baseball game.”

The Brewers and Cubs will play three more times this weekend. On Friday afternoon, the Brewers will send Chase Anderson against the Cubs’ John Lackey.

Zach Davies will match up with Chicago’s Jake Arrieta on Saturday. Wily Peralta will square off against Kyle Hendricks on Sunday.

Updated Notes

(Some of these notes come from www.mlbtraderumors.com.)


** Counsell will share more details this weekend about the starting rotation and how it will shake out for the rest of the season. He said it could include a start for right-hander Taylor Jungmann, who was demoted to the Minors in late April and spent most of the season working his way back.

** Michael Blazek threw his second simulated game Thursday since being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, but he will throw at least one more before a definitive plan is made to get him back in a game.

** Bob Nightengale of USA Today says that an off-season deal to send Ryan Braun to the Dodgers, perhaps for Yasiel Puig, is actually “likely.”


** Although there were cheers from the bars around Wrigley Field as soon as the Giants-Cardinals game ended, the Cubs’ party will come after Friday’s game, scheduled for a 1:20 p.m. CT start time.

** Cubs players and executives will try to convince catcher David Ross not to retire after the season. Ross declared in November that this would likely be his final year.

** The Rangers have announced that they’ve claimed right-handed reliever R.J. Alvarez off waivers from the Cubs.


** The Twins view Indians assistant general manager Derek Falvey as a “strong candidate” for a front office job, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (links to Twitter).

** CF Byron Buxton was clocked in 10.83 seconds on his way to third base on a triple. That’s the third fastest time by a righthanded batter in baseball this season.

** OF Miguel Sano was scheduled for an exam on his ailing back.

White Sox

** RHP James Shields had one of his best games as a White Sox with eight strikeouts and one run in six innings. He had been 0-5 with a 10.75 ERA in his last eight starts.

** Jose Abreu homered after promising he would to 11-year-old Shane Callighan, who is fighting bone cancer.

** White Sox ace Chris Sale has already seen his name tossed around quite a bit in trade talks, and he figures to be an intriguing trade candidate this winter, but he told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago that he hopes to stay in Chicago.

Player of the Week

Brian Dozier has been one bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Twins. He hit .370 with two homers and six RBIs for the week and could reach 40 homers and 100 RBIs for the season. That earns him the MDR Player of the Week.

Other MDR teams’ Players of the Week included: the Brewers’ Junior Guerra, who had another good outing to move to 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA; the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler, who hit .360 with two homers and three RBIs; and the Sox’s Jose Abreu, who did a Babe Ruth legendary move by hitting a homer after promising a sick kid he would do so.

What’s Ahead

For this weekend, there is the series between the Cubs and Brewers to finish up.

Next week, the MDR Blog will start to summarize the four teams’ regular seasons. The weekend of Oct. 1-2, the MDR All Star Team and a preview of the Cubs in the playoffs will be posted.


You can find the MDR Blog at the addresses below. Updates to the Blog are periodically made on the blog’s Facebook page:

** https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midwest-Diamond-Report/156235634532321
** https://www.facebook.com/gregg.hoffmann.3
** http://www.quicktopic.com/31/H/bcq8WpiTHm8eC
** http://midwestdiamondreport.mlblogs.com/MDR Blog

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/3


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/3

For the last time this season, Miller Park will be transformed into Wrigley Field North next week.

It starts on Labor Day, when the Cubs come to town. The series runs three-games, concluding on Wednesday.

Crowds might be smaller than summer crowds because kids are back in school. But, it undoubtedly will be solidly for the Cubs.

Why not? The Cubs have their best chance of going to a World Series in years, make that decades. The Brewers have fallen to almost 20 games under .500 and have shown the rebuilding process won’t be a quick one.

The Cubs moved to 40 games over .500 at 87-47 with a win on Friday night. Jon Lester went into the 7th inning with a no-hitter before giving up a solo homer to the Giants’ Hunter Pence.

“It’s pretty incredible,” manager Joe Maddon said of the Cubs’ record. “I’ve always talked about increments of five, and I remember back when we were talking about just five. … There’s good energy on the field, there’s a strong belief that we’ll play a pretty good game. The defense and the pitching have really set the tone for the whole thing.”

Maddon could coast during the month of September, but he is more likely to rest some of the regulars while still trying to keep them sharp for the post-season.

The Brewers, meanwhile, are holding auditions for next season, as they try to determine whom among the current roster can be counted on. They also are likely to call up reinforcements once the Minor League season ends on Monday.

“I think really, September for us is a continuation of what we’ve been striving for the entire season,” GM David Stearns said. “Continue to create a positive culture and keep growing our core of young players. You’ve seen aspects of that through the season, and we’ve got five more weeks to progress toward that goal. These five weeks are as important as any others in the season.”

The Cubs acknowledge how much the fans at Wrigley Field help them, and appreciate when the faithful move north to Miller Park. “The thing that doesn’t get talked a lot about here is the atmosphere we play in front of every night,” catcher David Ross said. “It brings the best out of you as a player, especially when you get a little older like I am and get to play in front of 40,000 people every night, and they’re getting on their feet and the music and atmosphere is phenomenal.”

The MDR I-94 Rivalry does have one more series, Sept. 15-18, at Wrigley Field.

But, at Miller Park, Kyle Hendricks will face the Brewers’ Zach Davies on Monday. Jason Hammel will match up with Wily Peralta on Tuesday. Neither team had named their Wednesday starters as of Saturday morning.

Updated Notes


** RHP Junior Guerra returned to the roster this weekend after a rehab assignment and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings Friday night.

** Before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers discussed a deal with the Brewers that would have sent outfielder Ryan Braun to Los Angeles, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. The Brewers also won a waiver claim on the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, but no deal was struck.

** The Brewers activated reliever Jacob Barnes, as well as Guerra, on Friday night and called up pitcher Ben Rowen, who was claimed on waivers from Toronto in early August.


** The Cubs recalled infielder/utility man Tommy La Stella from Triple-A Iowa and immediately put him into the starting lineup against the Pirates. It was La Stella’s first appearance in a game at the Major League level since the end of July, when he refused to report to the minors after he was optioned by the Cubs.

** On Thursday, the Cubs’ John Lackey threw his second bullpen session since going on the disabled list and is expected to start on Sunday in the series finale against the Giants. However, reliever Pedro Strop had a setback in his rehab from a torn meniscus in his left knee, and will need the full six weeks to rehab.

** The Cubs have cut ties with left-handed reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. The 26-year-oldhad briefly reached the majors in each of the last two years, but he was having trouble at the Triple-A level with the Chicago organization, compiling a 4.55 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9 over 27 2/3 innings.


** The Twins snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 8-5 win over the Sox on Thursday.

** Byron Buxton, the Twins’ center fielder who had homered in four straight games with Triple-A Rochester a week ago, made his presence felt immediately with a three-run homer in the second inning in his first Major League at-bat since Aug. 5.

** Danny Santana’s season is over, as the Twins utilityman has suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the AC joint in his left shoulder and will require four to six weeks to recover from the injury, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

White Sox

** Todd Frazier set a Sox record for a third baseman with his 35th homer, eclipsing the mark of 34, set by his manager Robin Ventura.

** LHP Carlos Rodon won his third straight game Friday.

** Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reported that the Red Sox weren’t willing to include Jackie Bradley in a trade for either Chris Sale or Jose Quintana, and this morning, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports adds to that a bit. “If they didn’t get Jackie Bradley, there was no way they were doing the deal,” a person familiar with the talks told Heyman in reference to the White Sox.

Player of the Week

The White Sox’s Jose Abreu brought a streak of 29 games reaching base into the weekend. He hit .362 in August with eight homers and 18 RBIs, and had three hits, including a homer to start September. That earns him the MDR Player of the Week.

Other MDR teams’ Players of the Week included: the Brewers’ Chris Carter, who despite leading the league in strikeouts had a streak over 20 games of reaching base; the Cubs’ Jon Lester, who took a no-hitter in the 7th on Friday and won to improve to 15-4; and the Twins’ Byron Buxton, who returned to the big leagues with the big three-run homer mentioned above.

What’s Ahead

The White Sox and Twins will play out a series at Target Field this weekend. The Sox took the first game on Friday, 11-4. Of course, the Cubs and Brewers will start the series featured in the lede of this blog on Monday.

The September call-ups will start coming to the MDR teams after the minor league season ends.

The MDR Blog will not be published next week, as its writer takes a brief vacation. It will return Sept. 17 and continue weekly until MDR teams are no longer playing.


You can find the MDR Blog at the addresses below. Updates to the Blog are periodically made on the blog’s Facebook page:

** https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midwest-Diamond-Report/156235634532321
** https://www.facebook.com/gregg.hoffmann.3
** http://www.quicktopic.com/31/H/bcq8WpiTHm8eC
** http://midwestdiamondreport.mlblogs.com/MDR Blog

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 8/26


Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 8/26

Keon Broxton looks like a centerfielder.

He’s tall (6-3), lean (195), can run like a deer and has a good glove. Now, it looks like he is proving that he could be the Brewers’ answer in center.

Broxton, who was acquired from Pittsburgh for Jason Rodgers over the winter, couldn’t break into the Pirates outfield, which already features tall, lean, fast outfielders like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutcheon.

But, the Brewers acquired him and were waiting for one of several candidates to step up in center. Coming out of spring training, Broxton was sharing the spot with Ramon Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

“It’s been a friendly competition,” said the 26-year-old Broxton. “I think all the outfielders, we’re a family. We look after each other regardless of what position we’re playing or fighting for. We’re still out here trying to help each other. We’re human and we care about each other regardless of what’s going on out on the field, so it’s been very friendly. We’re also teammates. We all want to do the same thing, help this team win games.”

Broxton struggled in his first stint with the Brewers and was sent down. That started a season of ups and downs between the Brewers and the minors. But, this time it’s been different.

In 87 plate appearances since coming back up, Broxton was hitting .361/.465/.667 with five of his six home runs on the year, good for a 196 wRC+. That ranks him as the fifth-most productive hitter in baseball over the last 30 days (minimum 80 PA).


told Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel that he came up with what has turned out to be a key mechanical change while laying in bed watching video: “I was wondering how I could get my hitch out of my swing, because it was making me late and I wasn’t really recognizing pitches very well. I was just thinking to myself, ‘Well, since I like my hands to go down and then I bring them back up again, why not just start them low and just bring them up?”

It’s worked and Broxton has been living up to his ability. Ability, especially athletic ability, consistently comes up when Broxton is discussed. He had so much of it in high school in Lakeland, Florida, that that he considered football and baseball.

“I thought about football,” Broxton said. “I love the game of baseball a little bit more than football. Baseball is a harder sport than football on a consistent basis. I think that’s something that drew me to baseball, how difficult it is.

“When you succeed in baseball, it becomes more of a bigger accomplishment because it’s hard, it’s a hard game. To see your work progress on a daily basis and you become better at your craft, it’s awesome. It’s something that drives me every day to become the best I can be.”

Along with Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez, Broxton has become one of the young Brewers — acquired from other teams — who could end up playing a longer term role for the rebuilding club.

The Brewers have Brett Phillips and others in the minors who could challenge for center, but right now Broxton looks like the best bet at a key position in the outfield.

Updated Notes

(Some of these notes come from www.mlbtraderumors.com.)


** RHP Taylor Jungmann, who started the season in the starting rotation, could be among the September callups.

** Outfielder Ramon Flores has cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Colorado Springs, according to an announcement from the Brewers.

** The Brewers are 36-30 at Miller Park vs. 20-41 elsewhere, representing baseball’s widest disparity between home and road results.


** The Cubs have placed right-handers John Lackey and Hector Rondon on the disabled list for precautionary measures due to arm injuries, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reported. The Cubs have the luxury of placing both pitchers on the DL to avoid risk of worsening their minor injuries and will recall left-hander Rob Zastryzny and right-hander Felix Pena from Triple-A Iowa.

** The farewell tour for 39-year-old David Ross, who is retiring after this season, will be in Los Angeles this weekend when the Cubs play the Dodgers in a three-game series, starting Friday. Ross was the Dodgers’ seventh-round pick in the 1998 Draft, and he made his Major League debut on June 29, 2002.

** Despite giving up two runs over six innings on Wednesday, RHP Kyle Hendricks still leads the Major Leagues with a 2.19 ERA.


** Prospect Jose Berrios was optioned to Triple-A Rochester along with fellow right-hander Tyler Duffey. Lefty Andrew Albers will be called up on Friday, while the other roster move is to be announced.

** The Twins have promoted left-handed pitching prospect Adalberto Mejia from Triple-A Rochester, optioned first baseman Kennys Vargas and signed right-handed reliever Edward Mujica to a minor league deal, per a team announcement.

** Twins designated hitter Byung Ho Park will undergo season-ending surgery on his right wrist, the team announced to reporters, including MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger (Twitter link). The operation will repair a subluxation of the tendon on the back of Park’s right hand, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

White Sox

** GM Rick Hahn vehemently denied that there is any discord in the Chicago front office, as has been suggested, saying that the members of the organization’s upper management “are of a similar mindset as to how best to proceed.”

** LHP Carlos Rodon averaged 95.6 mph with his two-seam fastball and 95.7 with his four-seamer, reaching 98 mph with both, in a win this week.

** RHP James Shields cleared waivers and now could be traded by the Sox.

Players of the Week

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant hit .484 in the last seven games, with five homers and 13 RBIs. That qualifies him for the MDR Player of the Week honor.

Other MDR teams’ Players of the Week include: the Brewers’ Jonathan Villar, who hit .345 with a home and six stolen bases; the Twins’ Brian Dozier, who hit .333 with four homers and four RBIs; and the Sox’s Jose Abreu, who hit ,400 with three homers and five RBIs.

What’s Ahead

Before the season started, the Sox series with the Twins at Target Field looked like it could be a big one in the AL Central. Instead, it will be a series with two disappointing teams with losing records. It starts next Thursday.

The Cubs have a commanding lead in the NL Central, but a series against intra-division rivals, the Pirates, still is worth mentioning.


You can find the MDR Blog at the addresses below. Updates to the Blog are periodically made on the blog’s Facebook page:

** https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midwest-Diamond-Report/156235634532321
http://midwestdiamondreport.mlblogs.com/MDR Blog