Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 12/2

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The annual MLB Winter Meetings start next week. The four MDR teams all have things they might want to discuss, or at least start discussions about, at the meeting.

Brewers – Of course, the biggest possibility for Milwaukee is the trade of Ryan Braun. The most prominent rumor about Braun during the last season was a deal to the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig and prospects. Such a deal makes sense since Braun is a Southern California native and would likely accept a trade to L.A.

Puig has under-performed since his rookie season, but has great natural ability. He also is a corner outfielder, who could replace Braun in the field. What prospects the Brewers could get in return might be the keys to the deal.

Junior Guerra and some other Brewers also have received some interest in the trade market. So, expect GM David Stearns to at least get started on some possible moves.

Cubs – You might expect the Cubs to stand pat after winning it all, but teams that do that usually go in reverse. Plus, the Cubs could lose Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel. While they do have enough depth to replace these players, they likely will want to upgrade over that backup talent.

Start with the bullpen. Hector Rondon or Carl Edwards Jr. could take over the closer role from Chapman, but the Cubs also might want to go after a higher profile closer and keep Rondon and Edwards in the positions they now occupy.

Travis Wood, who ate up more innings than any other reliever, and also can play in the field, is a free agent. The Cubs could re-sign him or go after a replacement. They also might want to fill the relief role of Mike Montgomery, who likely will go to the starting rotation to replace Hammel.

The Cubs already added outfield depth in acquiring Jon Jay. Jorge Soler continues to be possible bait for other trades. So, expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to also be at least setting some ground work at the meetings.

Twins – The Twins have been downplaying how active they will be at the meetings. “Candidly, I don’t think the Winter Meetings is where we have to do everything,” CBO Derek Falvey recently said. “We’re not in the business of winning the winter meetings with a firestorm.”

At the same time, the club desperately needs starting pitching and some help in the bullpen. The Twins do have pieces that could be used in deals.

Brian Dozier has attracted a lot of attention. Kennys Vargas and Ervin Santana also could be potential trade bait. The Twins took care of catcher, another area that had been open for a possible deal, by signing Jason Castro for three years this week.

The Twins have some nice young players and prospects, but it seems more likely they will hang on to those players and try to move some veterans. Trevor Plouffe and Tommy Milone already have been cut loose.

No matter what Falvey says, the Twins need to make moves. Whether they do that at the meetings, or just start laying some groundwork, remains to be seen.

White Sox – The Sox brass has been rather open about the fact they want to make some changes. Tops on the rumor mill has been LHP ace Chris Sale. A number of teams are interested, but the price will be high.

Perhaps the hottest rumor has Sale going to the Cubs, but both teams have been downplaying that. Sale to the Tigers for Justin Verlander is another intriguing rumor.

Sale is not the only Sox apparently available. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, Avisail Garcia, Brett Lawrie, James Shields and David Robertson all have been mentioned in possible deals.

There also have been rumors that the Sox could steal the Brewers’ thunder by dealing with the Dodgers for Puig and others.

GM Rick Hahn has said the Sox are willing to trade any player who is under Sox control for four or fewer years. If he is aggressive in pursuing this approach, it could lead to a house cleaning, which could start next week.

Hot Stove Update

Brewers

** The Brewers signed 1B/OF Eric Thames to a three-year contract. Thames, who had been playing in Korea, once played for the La Crosse Loggers in the Northwoods League.

** 1B Chris Carter was designated for assignment and likely will be traded or go free agent, opening up first for Thames.

** The Brewers claimed RHP Steve Getz off waivers from the Rays and designated 1B/OF Adam Walker.

Cubs

** Contracts are expected to be worked out with arbitration-eligible pitchers Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm.

** The Cubs have not discussed moving Jason Heyward, who had a poor season in 2016.

** The Cubs claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from the Mariners.

Twins

** John Ryan Murphy likely will serve as a backup to Jason Castro, who signed a three-year deal to catch for the Twins.

** The Twins hired former players Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins as special assistants in baseball operations.

** Twinsfest will return to Target Field, Jan. 27-29.

White Sox

** The Sox added catcher Roberto Pena on a minor league deal.

** RHP Brandon Brennan was out righted to Triple A.

** LHP Jose Quintana will pitch for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic.

What’s Ahead

In addition to possible player moves, the final details of an agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association likely will be released during the Winter Meetings.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on a five-year collective bargaining deal on Wednesday. For proposed changes in several areas of the agreement, go to http://www.mlbtraderumors.com.

The MDR Blog will run again in early January. You can keep up with any breaking news, including any deals from the meetings, by going to the Midwest Diamond Report Facebook page.

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Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 11/2

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A rain storm might have saved Joe Maddon and the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series.

Maddon went to the Aroldis Chapman well once too often, asking the big closer to pitch multi-innings for the third straight game. Instead, Chapman was gassed and gave up a home run to Rajai Davis that pulled the Indians to a 6-6 tie.

Then, before the teams went out for the top of the 10th inning, the rain came and gave Maddon and the Cubs a chance to regroup. It also cooled down the Indians, who had momentum after Davis’ homer.

After the delay, the Cubs scored two runs in the 10th and held on for a X-X win. Veterans Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero had key RBI hits. Carl Edwards Jr. gave up one run in the bottom of the 10th, but Mike Montgomery got the last out.

While Maddon’s decisions on Chapman, and in other situations on Wednesday, will be debated for weeks, the win gave the Cubs a great comeback for their first World Championship since 1908.

After falling behind 3 games to 1 to the Indians, the Cubs salvaged one game in Wrigley Field on Sunday, but still went to Cleveland at a distinct disadvantage. They were set to face Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber, who had

spun their way to the Indians’ three wins.

But, the Cubs showed up and took over Progressive Field. Suddenly, they were not chasing curve balls into the dirt. They weren’t trying to pull everything.

Instead, the Cubs were selective yet aggressive when they got their pitches. They started going with the pitches.

Addison Russell, who had struggled earlier in the Series,  drove in six runs in Game 6. Willson Contreras and Javier

Baez hit a double and home run respectively to right center and right in Game 7.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo formed the Bryzzo combo again. Dexter Fowler led off Game 7 with a homer to dead center. Even 39-year-old David Ross, playing in the final game of his career, homered. Ross became the oldest player to ever homer in a Game 7.

In Game 7, the Cubs hit against Kluber and reliever Andrew Miller. They made the adjustments and took advantage of

a couple great pitchers who, like Chapman, might have been running low on fuel.

It wasn’t only the adjustments the Cubs made at the plate. Despite some very questionable handling of pitching by

Maddon, the Cubs got good performances on the mound. Jake Arrieta was solid in Game 6. Kyle Hendricks also pitched well in Game 7 and probably deserved to go deeper into contest. Then, there was Chapman, who was a beast before running out of gas.

The Cubs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit is a great story. The way the players, especially their young players, responded

to the pressure of being down shows just how great they could be over the next several years.

Finally, the annual Cubs fans’ chant of “wait ’til next year” can be changed to “can’t wait ’til next year.”

What’s Ahead

The MDR Blog will take a hiatus until early December and then run monthly through the off-season and next season.

Any big stories, such as trades or other moves, will be posted on the Midwest Diamond Report Facebook page.

Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/27

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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.

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Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/23

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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

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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.

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Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 10/14

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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

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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.

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Midwest Diamond Report Blog – 9/30

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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.

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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

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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.)

Brewers

** 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.

Cubs

** 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.

Twins

** 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.

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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

MDRlogobanner

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.)

Brewers

** 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.”

Cubs

** 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.

Twins

** 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.

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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