Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal just broke the news late on this Sunday night that the Cubs have traded outfielder Scott Hairston to the Washington Nationals for a minor league pitcher. We don't know who that pitcher is yet, and it sounds like we won't find out until Monday morning:

Even with the Cubs making three trades last week and being fully expected to make more trades as we approach the July 31st deadline, this Hairston trade comes as a bit of a surprise. Well, at least the timing with the trade, anyway.

The 33-year-old Hairston homered in his only at-bat (pinch-hitting) in the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Pirates on Sunday, and homered in his last start, on Friday (also against the Pirates). So he's swinging the bat well over the last few days, but overall on the season? Not so much.

On the season, Hairston has a .172/.232/.434 line in 112 plate appearances, with eight homers, 19 RBI, seven walks, 25 strikeouts, and two stolen bases. He's at least made the most out of those 112 plate appearances with the eight home runs, and 19 RBI. He also has four sacrifice flies. What's incredible he has more homers than singles (seven) even on the season (and almost as many sacrifice flies too).

However, Hairston is coming off a very nice 2012 season with the Mets, in which he hit 20 homers, drove in 57 runs, and put up an .803 OPS in 398 plate appearances. Versus left-handed pitching, Hairston had an .867 OPS in 2012, and on his career, an .813 OPS versus southpaws in 1,008 plate appearances.

That's certainly what the Nationals saw with this move: A veteran outfielder that has been very successful against left-handed pitching in his career, particularly in the power department over the last few years. He makes for a very fine platoon outfielder, and at an affordable price. Hairston, who signed with the Cubs over the offseason, is making $2.5 million this season, and is under contract for the same amount of money in 2014.

In regards to the Cubs and Hairston, I fully expected them to use him as trade bait this season, but with his struggles, thought they may not find a trade offer to their liking- especially this soon. I figured they'd hope he improves his numbers a bit more as we approached the deadline, enhancing his value. But, clearly they liked this minor league pitcher the Nationals were offering enough to jump on a deal involving Hairston over three weeks before the trade deadline.

While Rosenthal didn't suggest it in his tweets, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs also came away with some international slot money from the Nationals in the deal, as the Cubs appear to be over their spending limit for this year once they make the signing of 16-year-old Dominican Republic outfielder Eloy Jimenez official, and don't want to be penalized by MLB with restrictions in their international spending for 2014.

Now, in terms of what corresponding roster move could be happening for the Cubs after this trade? That's anyone's guess right now.

Alfonso Soriano is of course going to be starting most everyday (until he's potentially dealt this month as well), but after him, only Dave Sappelt offers right-handed hitting among Cubs outfielders. And Sappelt's done little at the major league level, or even at Triple-A Iowa, to warrant much more playing time.

Looking at theoretical right-handed hitting replacement options down on the farm, Junior Lake is a possibility, but he only has 32 games under his belt in Triple-A. Then there's outfielder Matt Szczur, but he's still at Double-A. The Cubs have made it known that they would like their prospects getting a lot of time at Triple-A before getting a call-up to join the big club.

It's also possible the Cubs will just forget about "handedness"and not worry about a right field "platoon" with Nate Schierholtz. I mean, it's not like they're all that concerned about winning this year anyway. They could add a left-handed bat to the roster, such as infielder Logan Watkins, a promising prospect currently at Iowa. Or maybe there's another trade on the way. Who knows?

We should know much more by the morning, so stay tuned.

Update: CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets that the pitcher the Cubs acquired is in "A-ball":

So, there's at least a little more info, and hopefully we'll have an actual, you know, -name- of the pitcher by the morning.

Update #2: Heyman now tweets that the Cubs are paying for a small amount of Hairston's 2014 contract, with the Nats paying all of it for 2013:

Update #3: The trade is now official, and the pitcher the Cubs received in the deal is 21-year-old Ivan Pineyro, who was most recently pitching at High-A Potomac (Carolina League) in the Nationals' system. Additionally, both teams will receive the 'ol PTBNL (Player To Be Named Later, for those of you newbies) in the deal.

Pineyro is a 6'1", 198-pound right-handed starting pitcher that made 15 starts in 2013 between Potomac (two starts) and Single-A Hagerstown (13 starts).

Combined between the two levels this season, Pineyro went 6-3, with a 3.24 ERA, with 72 strikeouts compared to 22 walks,  and a 1.159 WHIP in 77 2/3 innings pitched. Over his minor league career (which began in 2011), Pineyro is 13-11, with a a 3.17 ERA, 1.223 WHIP, and 3.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio (195 K, 57 walks) in 204 1/3 innings pitched.

Pineyro was ranked by Baseball America as the Nationals' 27th best prospect coming into the 2013 season (and you'd think with how well he's done this year, he would've moved up those rankings in a bit if BA re-did them). 

As far as the corresponding roster move we were wondering about, left-handed pitcher Brooks Raley is coming up from Iowa to add another arm to the tired Cubs bullpen, and Jed Hoyer says (as you'll see below) the Cubs will "explore options"on adding another right-handed hitter to the roster.

Here's some more from the Chicago Sun-Times:
“He’s a young arm we’re excited to get in our system,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, who added that a player to be named could be added to both sides of the deal but that it wouldn’t be a significant player in either case.
Pineyro, 21, is 6-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 15 starts combined at Class A Hagerstown (13 starts) and advanced-A Potomac (two). He’ll report to advanced-A Daytona to start his Cubs career.
The Cubs replaced Hairston on the roster with left-hander Brooks Raley to bolster a taxed bullpen short term. Hoyer said the club will “explore options” for adding right-handed hitter to the bench once the bullpen no longer needs the extra arm.
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Through the first four innings of the Cubs-Brewers game on a freezing Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, it felt like the Cubs had absolutely no chance to win the game. They (once again) couldn't do anything at the plate, they made two awful throwing errors that were a part of a three-run Brewers second inning, and they of course had lost their last four games.

But, incredibly (in my opinion, anyway), the Cubs scored the game's final six runs after not scoring any through the fourth inning, and got a nice 6-3 win over their division rivals. The win improved the Cubs' record to 3-5.

The Cubs got their scoring started on an RBI groundout by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth, and got another run on an RBI groundout from Starlin Castro in the seventh. Following that Castro at-bat, Rizzo laced a pitch from Brewers left-hander Mike Gonzalez for a two-out RBI double to tie the game at 3-3. And in terms of things that were unexpected in the game, that Rizzo double was right up there, as the Cubs' first baseman came into the game 0-6 with five strikeouts on the season against lefties, and a .191 batting average and .588 OPS against lefties in his career (although that's of course a young one). I've tweeted a bit recently about my concerns in regards to him against lefties, so hopefully that will get him going. Because the Cubs are going to need a lot more than a .600-ish OPS from their No. 3 hitter against left-handed pitching if they're going to play him everyday.

The eighth inning was the Cubs' most productive inning at the plate so far this season. Nate Schierholtz led off the inning with a double, Welington Castillo sacrifice bunted to move Schierholtz to third, pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro walked, and another pinch-hitter in Scott Hairston then hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to score Schierholtz for the go-ahead run. David DeJesus then followed with a two-run single for his third straight hit of the game, and to give the Cubs six runs in the game, which is sadly their highest amount of runs scored in a game so far this season (and that's of course only through eight games, but still... not good).

As for the pitching side of things for the Cubs in this game, Travis Wood followed up his tremendous performance against the Pirates last week (6 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs) with another solid outing. The 26-year-old southpaw went 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits, two earned runs, and three walks, while striking out six. He didn't get credit for the win, but he was very impressive again. If he keeps pitching anything like this, he's going to be a damn fine No. 4-5 starter for the Cubs.

The pitcher that was credited with the win for the Cubs? Carlos Marmol. After Sveum said on Monday that he plans to use Marmol mainly when the Cubs are trailing as the right-hander works to get his confidence back/regain form, Sveum surprisingly put Marmol in for the eighth inning with the game tied at 3-3. And Marmol responded well, throwing a scoreless inning, although he would've given up a run if Castro didn't make a spectacular diving stop and throw to end the inning.

Marmol's replacement in the closer's role, Kyuji Fujikawa, had his first outing as the Cubs' official closer in the ninth inning, and threw a scoreless inning for the save.

Let's go to the bullets for notable things from Tuesday night for the Cubs...

  • Although the eighth inning ended up being a great one for the Cubs at the plate, I didn't like how Dale Sveum managed it. After Nate Schierholtz led off the inning with a double, Sveum chose to have Welington Castillo bunt. Castillo is 8 for 21 (.381) on the year with a 1.028 OPS. He's the team's hottest hitter. Yet Sveum chose to have Castillo bunt with a runner already in scoring position, to leave it up to Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge... and we know how terrible each of them have been. Sveum then chose to have Dioner Navarro bat in front of Lillibridge with first and third one out. Navarro is certainly the better hitter, but he's also as slow as they come, and was a very obvious double play candidate that could've ended the rally with one swing. Sveum then pinch-hit Scott Hairston and had Alberto Gonzalez run for Navarro. That's wasting nearly the whole bench in one inning and leaving you in big trouble if the game goes into extras. Again, it all worked out just fine, but Sveum's decisions were very, very questionable, and could've easily backfired.
  • Seriously, Brent Lillibridge is garbage. He's still hitless on the year even. Thankfully, Darwin Barney will go on a minor league rehab assignment this weekend, and will be ready to come off the disabled list Tuesday (Source: Bruce Miles).
  • It was nice to see David DeJesus finally get it going at the plate. The veteran went 3-5 (bringing his average up to .192) with a double, two runs batted in, and two runs scored. He also impressed on the basepaths in the eighth inning by advancing to second on a pitch that didn't get far away from Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. DeJesus ran right when the pitch went into the dirt, and put himself in scoring position for what could've been a nice Cubs insurance run heading into the ninth. They of course didn't end up needing that seventh run, though.
  • I just love the way Travis Wood is pitching so far. Changing speeds well, using both sides of the plate, and looking very composed. He's pitching like a guy that's been around a lot longer than he has.
  • The Cubs' 2012 Rule V Draft pick Hector Rondon is really impressing me out of the pen. The 25-year-old Venezuelan threw 2/3 IP of scoreless baseball on Tuesday night, and has yet to allow a run in his 3 2/3 innings pitched overall. He's also struck out six batters and allowed just one hit on the season. He's showing good velocity on the fastball and a solid slider. He really may have the nastiest stuff in the Cubs' bullpen at the moment, and definitely looks like a keeper.
  • Carlos Marmol gave up a triple and got lucky to avoid giving up a run as I said, but I thought he looked good. His slider particularly looked better than it has in any of his previous outings. I could definitely see a hot streak coming from him soon, if it hasn't already started.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa looked very comfortable in the closer's role, and that's no surprise given that he saved over 200 games in Japan. He pumps the strike zone and is confident in his fastball. He's very good at changing eye levels with it, usually is close to the catcher's target, and really has some nice movement on his two-seamer. And his splitter of course is nasty. He should do well against left-handed hitters with the two-seam fastball on the inside corner Maddux style, and with the splitter dipping down and away after looking enticing to left-handed hitters when it leaves Fujikawa's hand.

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Even with the Cubs starting out with a 2-4 record and giving us little reason to think things will go better than expected for the team in 2013, the home opener at Wrigley Field is always an exciting day for Cubs fans.

And this time around, the day serves as a nice reminder that there's still 81 games to go at Wrigley this year (compared to 75 left on the road). Maybe the Cubs can actually use their home field to their advantage and play well at Wrigley this year? It would certainly make the next six months at The Friendly Confines a bit friendlier.

Anyway, let's preview the home opener, in which the Cubs (2-4) battle their division rival Milwaukee Brewers (1-5)...

Game Time: 1:20 PM CT
TV: WGN

Lineups

Cubs
1. David DeJesus, CF (2-18; .380 OPS)
2. Starlin Castro, SS (6-25; .480 OPS)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (4-21; .768 OPS)
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF (4-23; .382 OPS)
5. Nate Schierholtz, RF (4-15; .922 OPS)
6. Welington Castillo, C (5-14; .900 OPS)
7. Luis Valbuena, 3B (2-16; .535 OPS)
8. Brent Lillibridge, 2B (0-11; .000 OPS)
9. Edwin Jackson, P (0-0; .000 OPS)

Brewers 
1. Norichika Aoki, RF (10-27; .932 OPS)
2. Carlos Gomez, CF (4-25; .360 OPS)
3. Ryan Braun, LF (4-10; 1.338 OPS)
4. Rickie Weeks, 2B (8-25; .929 OPS)
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C (4-20; .427 OPS)
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS (3-21; .494 OPS)
7. Martin Maldonado, 1B (1-9; .422 OPS)
8. Yuniesky Betancourt, 3B (4-13; .665 OPS)
9. Marco Estrada, P (1-2; 1.000 OPS)


Pitching Matchup

Edwin Jackson (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (0-0, 7.20 ERA)

Edwin Jackson makes his first start at Wrigley Field as a Cub after signing a four-year, $52 million deal in the offseason. He gave up two earned runs in five innings in his first start on April 3rd, when the Cubs lost 3-0 to the Pirates. The veteran right-hander only gave up three hits and only walked one in the game, and likely would've gone another inning (he threw 92 pitches) if it weren't his first start of the season. Jackson was brilliant vs. the Brewers in 2012, allowing just one earned run in 15 innings over two starts.

Marco Estrada was hit hard in his opening start against the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park. The 29-year-old right-hander allowed nine hits, four earned runs, and two home runs over five innings in a losing effort. I watched most of that outing on TV, and Estrada left many pitches up in the zone as the nine hits and two home runs would lead you to believe. If he does that again today, he's really playing with fire, as the wind is currently howling out (and we know that can quickly change) at Wrigley Field. However, he dominated the Cubs in 2012, going 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in four starts. He struck out 22 Cubs in 18 innings.


Brewers vs. Jackson notables

Norichika Aoki is 0 for 7.

Jonathan Lucroy is 5 for 12, with 1 HR, and a 1.083 OPS

Cubs vs. Estrada notables

Alfonso Soriano is 3 for 9 with 3 doubles.

Starlin Castro is 3 for 9 with a double.


Other Notes...

  • 670 The Score is hearing that the Cubs and the City of Chicago have reached an agreement on the Wrigley Field renovation deal, and that the deal will be announced later today. Kind of a big deal.
  • Dale Sveum said before the game Carlos Marmol will pitch in middle relief during games the Cubs are trailing until he can get it going. Pitching coach Chris Bosio added, "We want Marmol to regain the closer's role. We will work him back in."
  • As I said earlier, the wind is howling out, according to pretty much half of the people I follow on Twitter. So this could be a high-scoring game.
  • Brewers superstar Ryan Braun is in the lineup after missing the last three games due to neck spasms. Certainly wouldn't have minded him taking the series off. Braun's return is a huge lift for a Brewers team that already has Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart on the disabled list.

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Carlos Marmol may be out as Cubs closer after another meltdown.


And unfortunately I'm not talking about Kate, but B.J. and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves.

The Upton brothers were acquired by the Braves in the offseason, and until Saturday night, B.J. was 0 for 15 with a league-leading nine strikeouts at the dish, while Justin was playing like the superstar everybody thought he'd be while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Well, Justin kept doing his thing, and B.J. finally got it going as well, as the brothers combined for three home runs (two from Justin, one from B.J.) in the Braves' 6-5 come-from-behind win over the Cubs at Turner Field. Of course, I'm not sure how impressed we should be by two of those home runs right now, as they came off Cubs closer (well, maybe not anymore as I'll explain) Carlos Marmol, and everybody is lighting him up so far in 2013. Marmol entered as the Cubs were up 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning, and proceeded to give up a solo shot to B.J. to lead off the inning, and a solo shot to Justin with one out to give the Braves a walkoff victory. Justin now has five homers in his first five games a Brave.

In Marmol's 1 2/3 innings pitched on the season, he's allowed six hits and five earned runs, giving him a 27.00 ERA  (that would be a run allowed for each out recorded). After the game, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said that the team will talk about replacing Marmol as closer:

"We're definitely going to talk about it now," Sveum said after the game. 

"You got [Shawn] Camp and [James] Russell that seem to be pretty efficient when they pitch," Sveum said of his seventh-inning pitchers. "They've never had to do the last three outs of the game but there is a mix of pitches, those are options."
Source: ESPN Chicago

Kyuji Fujikawa seemed like the logical replacement for Marmol coming into Saturday, but he was awful himself in the game, allowing four hits, one walk, and three earned runs in the eighth inning. Going into the inning, the Cubs had a 5-1 lead. We have to remember the 32-year-old is an MLB rookie, and while he looked terrific in his previous outings, is likely to have some rough outings in his first season.

It's a shame the bullpen blew the game, because starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva was terrific for the Cubs. In his first outing as a Cub, the 29-year-old veteran allowed just one earned runs, six hits, and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, while striking out six. Villanueva's fastball was in the 87-89 mph range most of the night, but he really changed speeds well and threw four or five pitches with success. His change-up was particularly impressive, as his arm action really sold the pitch well and he had Braves hitters out in front all night. If he and Scott Feldman are in a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation when Matt Garza returns, Villanueva would appear to have the edge after the first turn through the rotation.

Offensively, the Cubs finally showed some life after scoring just seven runs in the first four games. The Cubs got it going in the first with an RBI single from Nate Schierholtz, who surprisingly has been the team's best hitter in the early going. In the fourth inning, Luis Valbuena got his first hit of the year on a solo blast to right field. And in the fifth, Anthony Rizzo launched a two-run bomb for his second homer of the year, before Welington Castillo hit an RBI single later in the inning.

However, in the eighth inning, the offense did something we've seen all too many times in recent years. The Cubs had the bases loaded, with no outs, and their 1-2-3 hitters coming up. David DeJesus grounded out, Starlin Castro flew out into shallow center field, and Rizzo struck out. Inexcusable to not come away with at least one run there, and that was as big of a sequence in the game as the meltdowns from the bullpen were. You immediately felt the Cubs would pay for not getting a run there, and they certainly did.

Let's go to the bullets for some more notable things to take away from Saturday night's loss:

  • Check out The Friendly Blogfines' Twitter account timeline for many of my thoughts on the Marmol situation.
  • If Sveum is really looking at Camp and Russell for the closer's role, hopefully he just goes with a "closer by committee" method where he goes by matchups. For example, while Russell's splits weren't much different in 2012 in terms of vs righties and lefties, he's been significantly better vs lefties (.708 OPS allowed) than righties (.837 OPS allowed).
  • While they all got hits on Saturday night (and Rizzo hit the home run I mentioned earlier), the Cubs' 1-4 hitters (in the lineup vs righties) are all batting under .200. Kind of hard to win games that way...
  • Nate Schierholtz, meanwhile, keeps hitting in the No. 5 spot. He's now batting .364 on the year with a 1.227 OPS (yes, very, very small sample size). No, he won't keep it up anywhere close to those numbers, but if he can just be decent (I'm talking a .750+ OPS or so), that will be a major boost to the Cubs' offense.
  • Welington Castillo also looks at the plate so far, and had two hits in this game. One of those of course drove in a run. He also (stunningly) stole a base on a delayed steal.

And this isn't about the game, but the MLB Draft in June, which frankly is something that is probably more exciting to look forward to than the actual Cubs games this year. General manager Jed Hoyer had some interesting quotes that CSN Chicago gathered (make sure to give the whole article a read) on what the Cubs' philosophy will be entering the draft, in which they hold the No. 2 overall pick:
 
“We’ve been really open about the fact that we need a lot more pitching in the organization, whether that comes at the second pick or not,” Hoyer said Saturday at Turner Field. “We’re really very open to taking a hitter at No. 2. But I think it’s a safe bet we’re going to pound away at pitching throughout the draft, like we did last year.”
During the upcoming 10-game homestand at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will run their midpoint meetings in Chicago and set the agenda for the rest of the spring scouting season. They are looking at around six possible players for their top pick and will have to figure out how to divide their $10.6 million bonus pool.

“We’ll really sit down at that point and make sure that our group (for) No. 2 is inclusive,” Hoyer said. “(We’ll) make sure there’s no one else we should be considering. And then at that point, we’ll really focus on getting all the information we need on those guys.”

CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney adds some information in the article on players the Cubs are known to be scouting for the No. 2 overall pick:
Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting/player development Jason McLeod recently visited Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows in their Atlanta-area homes while weighing what to do with the No. 2 overall pick. 

The Cubs watched Frazier play on Wednesday and ran a workout for the Loganville High School outfielder the next day. Meadows, the Grayson High School outfielder, also worked out for the Cubs on Thursday during a separate showcase. 

Epstein scouted Stanford right-hander Mark Appel on Friday in Los Angeles. Appel was one out away from a complete-game victory against USC. He has begun to erase some of the doubts during a dominant senior season (5-2, 1.13 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 55.2 innings) after turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

There’s a sense that the Cubs will come away with one of the frontline college pitchers – Appel, Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray or Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea. Hoyer confirmed that the Cubs feel there are multiple pitchers with high enough ceilings to justify the No. 2 slot.


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Cubs vs. Braves 4/5: Quick Pregame Stat Breakdown

Posted by Michael Castillo | 4/05/2013 05:20:00 PM | ,

When the Cubs and Braves face off in Atlanta tonight, Scott Feldman will make his debut start for the Northsiders. He was 0-3 with a 11.25 ERA in 20 innings of Cactus League ball. Feldman is coming off of a struggling 2012 campaign that, other than a one month stretch from late Jute to late July, was an utter disaster in Texas.

Feldman's never started at Turner Field, though back on June 19, 2008, he held the Braves to two earned in a seven-inning no-decision at Rangers' Ballpark in Arlington. In the five years removed from that start, not a single Braves player Feldman faced remains on the roster. As for the current Braves, only B.J. Upton has a significant history against Feldman, and he's a robust one for 11 with four strikeouts in 14 plate appearances.

Other stats of note:

  • While Alfonso Soriano has got off to a slow start in 2013 --he has one hit in his first 12 at bats-- the 37-year-old will be playing against what could be his favorite opponent, in the Braves. In 56 career games, Soriano has 18 homers, while sporting incredible slash stats at .313/.364/.648/1.012. His 141 career OPS+ against Atlanta is tied for his his third highest mark among opponents, trailing only better metrics against Arizona (175 OPS+) and Texas (142 OPS+). Soriano has eight career home runs at Turner Field, including a three-HR performance on June 8, 2007.
  •  The Braves will trot out Mike Minor. The middle-of-the-rotation lefty walked 14 batters in 23 innings of Grapefruit League work this spring, and nearly allowed two runners per inning. He faced the Cubs back on July 5th of last year, getting the win, while striking out six in 6 2/3 innings. In that game, Minor out-dueled Matt Garza, who gave up two first inning home runs to Jason Heyward and Bryan McCann.

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Travis Wood was absolutely spectacular, and Carlos Marmol (again) tried his hardest to give the game away in a 3-2 Cubs win in the rubber match of their season-opening series against the Pirates Thursday at PNC Park.

Wood threw six innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just one hit (a Clint Barmes double), while walking two and striking out four. The 26-year-old southpaw looked as good as the numbers suggest, as he located his pitches beautifully, pitched well to both sides of the plate, and changed speeds very well. It was a pitching exhibition. Dale Sveum elected to pull Wood while he was cruising after 85 pitches, likely due to the fact it was Wood's first start of the season, and to ensure that Wood had a great start to build off of. 

In relief of Wood, Shawn Camp, James Russell, and Kyuji Fujikawa were outstanding, combining to toss two innings with no hits or walks allowed, and striking out three. 

However, in the ninth inning, Carlos Marmol once again was a mess, and it appeared he was going to blow the Cubs' 3-0 lead. Starling Marte singled to leadoff the ninth for the Pirates, Russell Martin then walked, Andrew McCutchen then hit an RBI single, and Gaby Sanchez followed with another RBI single. With no outs and the Cubs' lead trimmed to 3-2, Sveum left Marmol in, and Marmol (miraculously) got out of it by striking out Pedro Alvarez and getting the usual Cub-killing Neil Walker to hit into a 4-6-3 double play. 

Marmol isn't the only Cub struggling, though- The Cubs' offense as a whole is. Through three games, the Cubs have scored six runs, gotten 11 hits, and walked five times. Not good. The team has won two of their first three games, but strictly because of how tremendous the starting pitching has been. 

But, one bright spot so far in the lineup has been Nate Schierholtz in the five-hole. The veteran outfielder saw a whopping 24 pitches in his four at bats Thursday, and the last pitch he saw on the day ended up over the center field wall for a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning. Those two runs obviously ended up being huge.

The Cubs' first run of the day came on a Starlin Castro two-out single in the top of the third to drive in Wood. Before Schierholtz's homer, the Castro single was the Cubs' only hit with a runner in scoring position so far this season.

So, the Cubs bring are happy to bring a 2-1 record into Atlanta to begin (starting Friday night) a three-game series vs. the Braves, but there's certainly major concerns about the offense and closer situation.

Here's some more notable things to take away from Thursday in regards to the Cubs:


  • Brent Lillibridge has been about as bad as you can be through three games. He is now 0-9, with no walks, and four strikeouts. He also booted a routine groundball on Opening Day and couldn't handle a Dioner Navarro throw that would've had Andrew McCutchen caught stealing at second base Thursday. It was a one-hop throw and by no means easy to handle, but it's a play that Darwin Barney makes. It's to the point that I think the Cubs may be better off starting Alberto Gonzalez, a career .595 hitter. Lillibridge isn't much better off at the plate himself over his career, sporting just a .623 OPS, which was greatly inflated by what appears to be a very flukey 2011 season with the White Sox where he had an .845 OPS in 216 plate appearances. Gonzalez has still played at second base in all three games, coming in as a defensive replacement for Lillibridge in two of them. If neither of them are going to be an offensive factor, give me the guy that is at least going to catch the ball and play solid defense. I'm not sure Lillibridge turns the double play that Gonzalez did to end Thursday's game.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa is very impressive so far. He looks very composed and throws strikes. His fastball command and splitter are particularly impressive. The fastball isn't overpowering, but it doesn't need to better than the 89-93 mph range Fujikawa's throwing in when you locate it like he does. 
  • Nate Schierholtz has looked every bit as good in right field as he has at the plate. He made a Web Gem-worthy diving catch on Thursday, and has gotten very good jumps on flyballs. 
  • Catcher Dioner Navarro got his first start as a Cub, and went 0 for 4 at the plate. I mentioned his throw earlier to second base that was a one-hopper, but a good defensive middle infielder handles it cleanly and tags out a speedy Andrew McCutchen. The veteran Navarro should be a pretty solid backup catcher. He's not exactly in tip top shape, though.
  • David DeJesus is hitless so far on the season, but don't worry, he'll be fine. He's at least seeing a lot of pitches as he always does and led off Thursday's game with a walk.
  • For those hoping Sveum gives up on Marmol as closer, here's what the Cubs' skipper had to say in the postgame according to ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers:
  • "I'm not doing anything. We're 2-1. Everyone is in the same roles heading into Atlanta."

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via ChicagoNow.com

Consider Jeff Samardzija to be the Cubs' Ben Sheets, as an homage to his sky-high potential and frustrating inconsistency. Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh however, Samardzija was good as he's ever been, striking out nine Pirates in eight scoreless innings, and allowing just three base runners in his first career Opening Day start. The Cubs needed three bullpen arms in ninth, but it was Kyuji Fujikawa that closed the door on the Bucs for Samardzija, to cap a 3-1 Cubs win in Pittsburgh.

For Samardzija, it was his best start in the bigs. The 28-year-old earned a game score of 86, besting a mark of 84 that he set in Pittsburgh back on July 23rd of last year, when he surrendered just one hit in eight innings.

Over his past three starts at PNC Park, Samardzija is 3-0, sporting a miniscule 1.08 ERA in 25 innings. Perhaps more impressive, is that he's allowed just 10 base runners and a K/BB ratio of 23 to 3. Needless to say, this Shark loves the waters around Three Rivers.

Samardzija showed great command of his pitches, and his control on the mound gave way to control on the field. Just two of 18 balls put in play went down as hits for Pittsburgh, giving Samardzija a BABIP of .111. Using his heavy sinker, nearly everything put in play was on the ground, making it easy for the Cubs' infield, who played without the injured Darwin Barney.

In the time since Samardzija first came up to the big leagues in 2008, and through his move from the bullpen to the front of the rotation, it's been fascinating to watch his progression from being merely a talented thrower with a live arm, to a mature 28-year-old 'pitcher'.

Samardzija spoke to the media after the game, stressing the need to maintain composure above all else. He told reporters that when the Pirates had two on in the first inning, he was more than content with letting Starling Marte score, because one run wouldn't mean the game nor knock him off his rocker.

Yes, it was the first inning of the first game, but for an aggressive pitcher entering his prime with pressure to perform at the top of his game, it's a calming approach to hear to verbalized.

Would Carlos Zambrano have been calm in the first inning of an Opening Day game as soon as it didn't go to plan? No. We saw Zambrano crumble numerous times on Opening Day in those situations, which often would up with Adam Dunn and Jason Heyward parking long bombs into the seats.

With a lineup devoid of talent in the bottom third, it won't be an easy season for Samardzija, but if his maturity continues to manifest, he'll keep performing to the level that Jim Hendry saw in him when he ripped from the grasp of the NFL.

Samardzija's next start will come on Sunday in Atlanta against the Braves, a team in which he was 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against last season.

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Just 161 more games to go for the Cubs to meet their quest of a perfect season!

Realistically, I think we'd all settle for 70-ish wins and some improvements from (likely) long-term pieces such as Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, and Jeff Samardzija. And all of those guys certainly came to play in the Cubs' 3-1 Opening Day victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Samardzija in particular, was nothing short of sensational. In his first career Opening Day start, the 28-year-old threw eight scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and one walk, while striking out nine over 110 pitches. He had everything working. The four-seam fastball was consistently 94-97 mph (even after passing the 100-pitch mark in the eighth), his cutter looked sharp, his slider was absolutely filthy, and he mixed in a very good splitter as well. Simply put, he looked like an ace. If you're still doubting that he's for real, it's time to stop.

It turned out that in the top of the first inning, the Cubs got all the runs they'd need on the day. After Castro lined a single to left for one of his two hits on the day against A.J. Burnett, Rizzo hit the first pitch he saw in 2013 an estimated 438 feet to center field for a two-run homer. That was after Rizzo went homerless in Spring Training (once again showing how very little Spring Training statistics mean).

Here's video of Rizzo's bomb (and with each Len Kasper and Pat Hughes' calls, even):



Beautiful swing from the Cubs' 23-year-old first baseman, and what a sound off the bat.

Twice in the game, Cubs manager Dale Sveum dialed up the hit and run with Castillo at the plate and Nate Schierholtz on first base, and each time, Castillo doubled to the right field wall. The second time, Schierholtz was able to score for the Cubs' third and final run of the day.

The Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning, and all of us watching saw a Carlos Marmol struggle coming. While he was much, much better than most Cubs fans realize in post-May 2012, Marmol struggled in the last couple weeks of 2013 Spring Training, and we know he gets in his funks where his command is an absolute disaster. And he is a streaky, rhythm guy; it usually takes him some time to get it going in the regular season.

Well, the 30-year-old right-hander looked exactly as I feared he would. Marmol threw just nine of his 19 pitches for strikes, and one of those strikes was thanks to the Pirates' Garrett Jones foolishly swinging at a slider five feet in front of the plate with a full count to lead off the ninth. Marmol would then hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch, give up an RBI single to Pedro Alvarez, and walk Gaby Sanchez, before Sveum finally decided enough was enough, and pulled Marmol for left-hander James Russell, as Sveum wanted to make switch-hitter Neil Walker bat right-handed for the first time of the game.

Russell got Walker to fly out, and Sveum then brought in 32-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, a right-hander that signed with the Cubs this offseason out of Japan. Fujikawa has never pitched in the major leagues, so this was his major league debut: Two runners on, two outs, bottom of the ninth, up two runs. No pressure! But Fujikawa was able to get the job done to pick up a save, and to get Cubs fans clamoring for him to be the new closer (more on that below).

Let's go to the bullets for more notable things from the game...
  • Brent Lillibridge came into the season as the likely whipping boy amongst Cubs fans, and his first game as a Cub didn't help the cause. Lillibridge went 0-3... with three strikeouts. One of those came with less than two outs and runners on second and third, a situation calling for contact. He also booted a routine groundball in the first inning. People can rip on Darwin Barney as a hitter all they want, but we already saw how much the Cubs miss the 2012 Gold Glover's defense today.
  • And overall, the bottom of the order looked like a mess for the Cubs. It was like three pitchers batting in a row today with Luis Valbuena, Lillibridge, and Samardzija. The Cubs had second and third with no outs in one inning, and predictably Valbuena, Lillibridge, and Samardzija (although you're never expecting a pitcher to come through at the plate) were unable to get a run in.
  • I already mentioned Starlin Castro's two hits on the day, and he also stole a base. Castro got a terrific jump & ran on a breaking ball, something you'd always prefer to run on. He also made a couple of tremendous plays in the hole, making a backhanded play and smoothly, quickly throwing a dart to first base. He is looking more confident and smooth at shortstop by the day. We already know he has the tools to be great there. Don't be surprised if he makes a huge jump defensively this year.
  • It's great to see Welington Castillo driving the ball the other way, which, again, he did twice in this game for doubles. When a hitter is doing that, it means they're seeing the ball well, and it also makes things difficult for the pitcher/scouting to gameplan how to attack Castillo. He's still struggling with sliders, but hopefully he'll learn to lay off them more in the future.
  • Len Kasper and Jim DeShaies were great in their regular season debut together. Very professional, good knowledge of the game, good chemistry, and a nice dose of humor mixed in. They're going to be very good together and, in time, at least, be regarded as one of the top announcing duos in the majors, in my opinion. Whatever the case, I don't think you're going to hear too many people complaining about the Len and JD duo, even if perhaps they aren't fans of the duo.
  • Ah, the closer controversy. After the game, Dale Sveum said in regards to Carlos Marmol, "He's still the closer. I'm not making any changes or anything like that. He just didn't have it today." 
  • I personally think Sveum handled the closer situation well today. He gave Marmol a chance to get out of it, but after the winning run reached base, brought in Russell (because of the matchup as explained earlier) and Fujikawa. And I still agree with what he's saying going forward about the closer role. You can't completely give up on Marmol as closer yet, both for Marmol mentally and for his trade value. Again, we've seen these funks from Marmol all too many times, but we've also seen him soon (or, at least at some point in the season) get a big hot streak going. He's streaky, and it's frustrating, but at the end of the year his numbers are usually going to end up pretty damn good. I just hope that Sveum keeps up the short-leash philosophy as he did today, and it sounds like that's what he plans to do.
  •  
And now for something completely different... we'll conclude the post with a GIF of A.J. Burnett and an exploding rosin bag in the game:

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Jeff Samardzija got the win for the Cubs on Sunday at HoHoKam Park.

Two Spring Training games completed, two wins for the Cubs (yay?).

After smacking the Angels 11-2 on Saturday at Tempe (read our recap on that game, here), the Cubs opened their final year at Mesa's HoHoKam Park with a 4-3 victory on Sunday over the Giants.

Here's some notable things to take away from Sunday's events at HoHoKam:
  • The main story on Sunday with the Cubs didn't have to do with the game, but rather rumors about outfielder Alfonso Soriano being a potential trade target for the New York Yankees after their star outfielder Curtis Granderson broke his forearm on Sunday and could miss 10 weeks. If the Yankees were to target Soriano and work out a deal with the Cubs, would Soriano waive his no-trade clause to go there? He made it clear on Sunday that he'd prefer to win in Chicago, and would rather see how things are going with the Cubs before possibly accepting a trade to a contender. However, he did say (and you can find this quote and many more ones worth reading in the above link) that if the Yankees called, "... I have to think about it. I don't want to make a quick reaction and say 'Yeah' or say 'No.' I want to think about it. I'm 37 years old so I have to think first what’s good for me and for the team and for my family, too." So, to quickly summarize: Soriano would much prefer to try to win in Chicago, but would at least think about accepting a trade to the Yankees... but would be more inclined to accepting a trade later in the season if the Cubs are clearly not contenders.
  • As for the game, the Cubs got all four runs off Giants stud right-hander Matt Cain in the first inning, although all of the runs were unearned due to an error from the Giants to extend the inning before the runs scored. Three of the runs came on a homer from new Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro. The 29-year-old switch-hitter played in 24 games with the Reds in 2012, putting up a .290/.306/.449 line at the plate, and has a career line of .245/.306/.357 in 2,239 plate appearances. Defensively, he's solid, and would be a nice mentor for the 25-year-old Welington Castilo. He'll battle Steve Clevenger for the Cubs' backup catching position, and I'd definitely put my money on him getting the job.
  • The Cubs' other run came on an RBI groundout from outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who will likely be in a right field platoon with veteran Scott Hairston to start the season. That's unless Brett Jackson impresses so much in Spring Training that he takes the Cubs' starting centerfield job, moving David DeJesus to right field, but the Cubs sound intent on their plan to put Jackson in Iowa to start the season.
  • Jeff Samardzija got the start and win for the Cubs, going two innings, with one earned run allowed on three hits. He struck out two. Shark thought his fastball and splitter were fine on the day, but that his slider "stunk", and his focus for his next start will be to have a better slider. As for possibly being the Opening Day starter, Shark said on Sunday after his outing, "I haven't had that conversation at all. We're still waiting to see what happens with Garz (Matt Garza) and how he comes along. They know where I stand on it and how I feel."
  • 32-year-old Japanese right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa, who the Cubs signed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal in the offseason, made his MLB Spring Training debut on Sunday, and tossed a scoreless inning. He allowed one hit, struck out two, and threw 9 of the 10 pitches for strikes, something that will make manager Dale Sveum quite happy.
  • Speaking of throwing strikes, the Cubs' pitching staff only walked one batter for the second straight day.
  • Carlos Marmol gave up one run in one inning of work, allowing a hit, walking a batter, and striking out one.  
  • Shawn Camp threw a flawless ninth inning to record the save. 
  • While the talk about Soriano on Sunday has been in regards to a possible Yankees trade, he also went 2 for 2 at the plate. Brian Bogusevic and Johermyn Chavez each went 2 for 2 as well.
  • Sveum was very impressed with rule-5 pick Hector Rondon's Saturday performance: "Each time he threw a scud, he came back with a strike. That's what I was impressed with all our pitchers (Saturday). If they got behind, they came back and got back in the count with a strike and didn't let the at-bat get away from them." "It was nice to see Rondon in action for the first time. He threw about three or four cutters that were real quality, which is a pitch he'll have to use. He got back in the count one time with a slider after throwing a scud slider. He showed a lot of poise out there."
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via SBNation.com

The Cubs got out to a flying start yesterday, in an 11-2 split-squad shellacking of the Angels. Today, the Cubs open up the home slate at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, as they host the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. It's Matt Cain vs. Jeff Samardzija, and it'll be the Cubs debut of sorts for players like Nate Schierholtz and Dioner Navarro.

Giants (1-0) at Cubs (1-0)

Hohokam Stadium | Mesa, Ariz. 
2:05 pm CST | Radio: MLB.com

Giants Lineup:
Gregor Blanco CF
Kensuke Tanaka 2B
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Brandon Belt 1B
Roger Kieschnick LF
Brandon Crawford SS
Francisco Peguero RF
Guillermo Quiroz C
Angel Villalona DH
Matt Cain P

Cubs Lineup:
David DeJesus CF
Starlin Castro SS
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Nate Schierholtz RF
Dioner Navarro C
Brian Bogusevic DH
Darwin Barney 2B
Christian Villanueva 3B
Jeff Smardzija P

 Here's some news and notes ahead of today's game:

  • Yesterday, it was Travis Wood's turn to kick off the rotation battle, and he had a so-so outing, giving up two earned into two innings, while walking one and striking out a pair. For Samardzija, it'll be about staying calm and within his game. Don't expect the electric arm that Spellcheck is capable of, as the first outing is all about establishing a rhythm and control of the strike zone. If he can go two innings without giving the Giants free base runners, he'll have a successful day.
  • Getting their first tastes of the spring for the Cubs are many of the mainstays, as Dale Sveum will trot out a near-Opening Day lineup against the defending World Champions. 
  • Nate Schierholtz gets his first start in the Cubs' pinstripes and it interestingly enough comes against the righty, Matt Cain. Schierholtz is a lifetime .266 hitter against righties, while he hits at a .284 clip against lefties. It's been bantered about that he and DeJesus could platoon in the outfield at some point,  as DeJesus struggles against lefties.
  • Alfonso Soriano leads the Cubs in terms of success against Cain, with 2 homers and 5 RBIs in 14 at bats. Down side of that stat? Alf is batting .214 against him. So perhaps it's a good thing he'll get just one at bat against Mr. Perfect.
  • Anthony Rizzo is the only Cub to start today that started yesterday in Tempe against the Angels. He was 1 for 2 yesterday, with a walk, strikeout and double in three plate appearances.


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Cubs top prospect Javier Baez runs down a pop-up Saturday. (H/T: Chicago Tribune)

The Cubs opened their Cactus League on Saturday in impressive fashion with an 11-2 victory over the Angels in Tempe, AZ.

11 runs? Winning by nine? Hell, just winning even?

Don't expect to see these things from the Cubs too much more in 2013, but it really was a nice way to open up (non-Intrasquad) game action.

Here's some notable things to take away from the game:

  • Maybe Brett Jackson's new, shortened swing is making a difference already? It's certainly WAY too early to reach any sort of definitive conclusion to that (and will still be too early for a few months), but after going 3 for 3 at the dish on Friday, he opened up Cactus League with two triples and two RBI in his only two at-bats on Saturday. The Cubs intend to send B-Jax to Triple-A Iowa to start the season, but if he keeps raking, he may make that decision tough for them. Whatever the case, you have to like what his revamped swing is doing so far.
  • After Luis Valbuena homered in the Cubs' intrasquad game Friday, he hit another bomb on Saturday. As we told you earlier Saturday, Ian Stewart is out two weeks with a quad injury, and it's possible (much more now after the injury) Stewart may even be cut before Opening Day. So, Valbuena has a great shot to win the Opening Day starting third base job for the Cubs.
  • Left-hander and starting rotation hopeful Travis Wood got the start on the mound for the Cubs, and gave up two earned runs, one hit, and one walk in two innings. He also struck out two. He started the outing by walking the Angels' Peter Bourjos on five pitches, but looked decent after that.
  • After that walk to start the game, the Cubs' pitching staff didn't allow another walk for the remainder of the game. I can guarantee you that's the main, satisfying thing Dale Sveum took away from the game.
  • Trey McNutt, Hisanori Takahashi, Rafael Dolis, Hector Rondon, Zach Putnam, and Jaye Chapman threw seven scoreless innings in relief of Travis Wood.
  • Cubs prospect Junior Lake went 1 for 3 with a solo BOMB and played some third base. You may remember I wrote this about Lake on Thursday: "With Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Daniel Vogelbach in the system, Lake's become a bit of a forgotten guy, but is certainly a prospect worth keeping an eye on. He has tremendous tools both offensively and defensively (he has a cannon), and sometimes looks like a future All-Star... while other times looking like he'll be lucky to ever sniff a major league roster. It's about consistency, polish, and at the plate, showing a bit more patience, which is something this new regime will certainly try to drill into his head."
  • Speaking of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, they each got three at bats as well on Saturday in their first-ever Spring Training games. Baez went 1 for 3 with a single and a run, and Soler went 1 for 3 with a double, RBI, and run. Baez played shortstop, while Soler played left field. 
  • Logan Watkins led off for the Cubs and played second base, and went 1 for 3 with a triple and a run. He's one of the more underrated Cubs prospects in the farm system, and in my opinion, one of the safest bets to be a quality major leaguer. He's also the kind of guy the Cubs' front office loves, as he has terrific plate discipline. In 2012 at Double-A Tennessee, Watkins had a remarkable .383 on-base percentage and drew 76 walks. He also stole 28 bases in 35 attempts. We all love Darwin Barney's Gold Glove defense (and it's certainly not to be undervalued), but if his bat doesn't pick it up much over the next year, Watkins may push him for the Cubs' second base job. Definitely keep an eye on Watkins this spring.
  • Anthony Rizzo and Brad Nelson played first base for the Cubs in the game, with Rizzo going 1 for 2 with a double and walk at the plate, and Nelson going 2 for 2 with with 2 RBI.
  • Brent Lillibridge started his quest to make the Cubs' roster with a nice game, going 1 for 2 with an RBI double and stolen base. He also played well at shortstop.
  • Welington Castillo, the likely starting catcher for the Cubs, went 1 for 3 with an RBI single.
  • Scott Hairston played in right field and went 1 for 3 at the plate with an RBI single.
  • 33-year-old catcher J.C. Boscan went 1 for 2 with an RBI single. He's only played 11 career MLB games and is just a .222 career hitter in the minors, where he's played 1,107 games. So, yeah, he's not going to make the roster.
Next up for the Cubs: Jeff Samardzija, who could end up being the Cubs' Opening Day starting pitcher, takes the mound against the Giants on Sunday (2:05 PM CT) in the Cubs' HoHoKam opener. According to Cubs.Com, "Sunday's lineup will have most of the regulars, including David DeJesus, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano, and Darwin Barney."

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Photo via ChicagoNow.com

It's been nearly five months since the Cubs hung up their spikes and jerseys to end a frustrating 2012 season that saw the Northsiders lose 100 games for the first time since 1966. But alas spring beckons anew, and today begins the grind. This afternoon, the Cubs kick off the Spring Training slate in Tempe against the team that many are pegging to be the odds-on favorite to win the American League, the Los Angeles Angels.

Cubs(ss) at Angels(ss)

Diablo Stadium | Tempe, Ariz. 
2:05 pm CST | WGN 720 am

Cubs Lineup:
Logan Watkins 2B
Dave Sappelt CF
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Scott Hairston RF
Carlos Valbuena 3B
Welington Castillo C
Brett Jackson LF
Brent Lillibridge SS
Darnell McDonald DH
Travis Wood P

Angels Lineup:
Peter Bourjos CF
Erick Aybar SS
Mark Trumbo 1B
Hank Conger C
Bill Hall 3B
Scott Cousins RF
Trent Oletjen LF
Luis Rodriguez 2B
Luke Carlin DH
Jerome Williams P

 Here's some news and notes ahead of today's game:


  • Travis Wood gets the start for the Cubs, as he looks to solidify his spot in the rotation. Wood struggled to start the 2012 season, but finished the season with 3.56 ERA spanning August and September, including a K-BB ratio of 2.71. With Scott Baker and Carlos Villanueva added to the mix, the pressure has mounted on the Cubs' arms, and Wood will need to have a solid spring to re-earn his rotation spot. 
  • Speaking of Scott Baker, the former Twin felt good after throwing 45 pitches in the bullpen. He's still a couple of extended sessions from seeing live action, but it's a big step forward for Baker, who was a low risk/high reward signing in the offseason. 
  •  Ian Stewart is said to be out 10-14 days with a left quad strain, according to Carrie Muskat. Per Cubs.com, Stewart had an MRI on after tweaking the quad during Thursday's intersquad game. Since Spring Training is starting so early due to the World Baseball Classic, the injury shouldn't interfere with Stewart's ability to make the 25-man Opening Day roster. 
  • In possibly the best news of the day for the Cubs so far, the Halos are sitting their big three this afternoon, and neither Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Mike Trout will start. This is a split-squad game for both teams, and even though the Cubs are not playing two games today, Mike Scioscia is giving his stars an extra day of drills before starting their Spring Training campaigns. Yes, it's just Spring Training, but it's the little victories that matter, right? 


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Jorge Soler goes deep in his first at-bat Thursday (picture via @M_Montemurro).

The Cubs had an intrasquad game on Thursday at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Arizona, marking their first game action (although just a scrimmage of course) of 2013. The game wasn't available on television or radio, but plenty of reporters were provided some quality information from the game, and even some play-by-play on Twitter.

Well, the "White Team" defeated the "Blue Team" 7-3. And there was one moment in the game that had everybody talking: A BOMB from Cubs prospect Jorge Soler, in his first at-bat. And we even have two videos of the homer, which took place on a 3-1 count against Cubs pitching prospect Nick Struck.

The first video (which features some great editing from Tim Sheridan) of the Soler bomb, via Boys of Spring:



And another angle of the homer, via Bleacher Nation:


That's a 20-year-old, folks. What a beast. The ball seems to have a different sound off his bat, doesn't it?

Soler also walked and made a diving catch on a sinking line drive. You get a pretty good idea of why Baseball America recently ranked him No. 34 on their 2013 Top 100 Prospects list.

The other headliner of the game was Starlin Castro's tremendous performance both offensively and defensively. Starlin's already doing his thing at the plate, as he went 3 for 3 today. And defensively, he reportedly (going by what I was seeing on Twitter... make sure to check out our Cubs "list" on Twitter by the way) made a couple terrific plays, including a diving grab to rob top prospect Javier Baez of a base hit.

Here's video of Starlin's diving catch, again via Bleacher Nation:


Starlin sounds very motivated this spring, saying his mental lapses are a thing of the past, that he wants to win a Gold Glove, etc. So don't be surprised if the 23-year-old soon breaks out with a monster season. We know he has the talent to do so, and he should only be improving for a long, long time.

Other things of note from the game:

  • Javier Baez certainly deserved a hit in the video you saw above, but otherwise struggled in the game, particularly defensively. He bobbled a routine double play ball (he still got one out) that allowed a run to score. It's possible the exceptionally talented 20-year-old was a bit nervous in his first "game" with the big leaguers and in front of Cubs manager Dale Sveum. No need to worry about Baseball America's No. 16 prospect yet.
  • Cubs infield prospect Junior Lake tripled off the centerfield wall in his first at-bat (right after the Soler homer, actually). With Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Daniel Vogelbach in the system, Lake's become a bit of a forgotten guy, but is certainly a prospect worth keeping an eye on. He has tremendous tools both offensively and defensively (he has a cannon), and sometimes looks like a future All-Star... while other times looking like he'll be lucky to ever sniff a major league roster. It's about consistency, polish, and at the plate, showing a bit more patience, which is something this new regime will certainly try to drill into his head.
  • Veteran outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Brian Bogusevic each homered in the game, which was their Cubs debut... of sorts.
  • Dioner Navarro, the Cubs' likely No. 2 catcher, hit a 2-run single. Likely Cubs starting catcher, Welington Castillo, went 1 for 2 at the dish. Welington isn't getting enough talk in my opinion. He needs to really work on his receiving skills as a catcher, but he has an absolute cannon and the ability to be a Gold Glove-esque backstop. And he should also be a .750+ OPS type at the plate, with lots of room for growth. Actually, he's exactly a .750 OPS hitter through 224 MLB plate appearances. 
  • Anthony Rizzo reached base all three times, going 1 for 1 with 2 walks.
  • Ian Stewart doubled to the wall in left-center, and his left wrist is feeling good for the first time in a few years after undergoing surgery. Don't be surprised if he looks a lot more like his pre-2011 self this season, as a bothersome wrist can really, really be a big deal for a hitter (remember when Derrek Lee struggled for a while following his broken wrist?). But... he and Josh Vitters apparently are day-to-day now with quad strains. As of now, he's listed in tomorrow's intrasquad lineup, though.
  • Cubs Senior VP of scouting and player development, Jason McLeod, told Northwest Herald's Meghan Montemurro (make sure to give her a follow) that Soler and Baez will likely start the season at Single-A (High-A) Daytona, and Lake will start the year at Triple-A Iowa. All of these moves make sense. And don't expect Soler or Baez to be in Double-A until late in the year, if at all in 2013. Baez struggled greatly at Daytona (.188/.244/.400 in 86 plate appearances) in 2012, after dominating at the lower A-level Peoria (.333/.383/.596 in 235 plate appearances), so he could use a full season-ish there. 
  • Sveum on Soler: "Pretty nice bat speed we saw. He doesn't seem like a panic type guy. Very poised."
  • Schierholtz on Soler: "I'm very impressed by him. You'd never guess he's 20 years old the way he carries himself and how big and strong he is."
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