Who: Chicago Cubs (12-7) vs Pittsburgh Pirates (11-10)
When: Wednesday, April 29, 7:05 PM CT
Where: Wrigley Field

Game Time Forecast: 47 Degrees, Partly Cloudy
Line: Pirates -113 Over/Under- 7 Total Runs

The Cubs are rolling, with four straight wins and a 12-7 record, sitting one game behind the Cardinals for the National League Central lead as we approach the end of April. Tonight at Wrigley, the Cubs go for a big three-game sweep of the Pirates, a team that figures to be right there with the Cubs in the thick of the NL Central and Wild Card race all year.

Here's some more info to get you ready for the game...


1. Dexter Fowler, CF (.288 AVG, 1 HR, .804 OPS)
2. Jorge Soler, RF (.260 AVG, 2 HR, .749 OPS)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (.323 AVG, 2 HR, .954 OPS)
4. Kris Bryant, 3B (.341 AVG, 0 HR, .910 OPS)
5. Miguel Montero, C (.214 AVG, 3 HR, .752 OPS)
6. Starlin Castro, SS (.342 AVG, 2 HR, .796 OPS)
7. Chris Coghlan, LF (.241 AVG, 3 HR, .787 OPS)
8. Kyle Hendricks, P (.173 AVG, 0 HR, .286 OPS)
9. Jonathan Herrera, 2B (.226 AVG, 0 HR, .540 OPS)

1. Gregory Polanco, RF (.284 AVG, 1 HR, .722 OPS)
2. Jordy Mercer, SS (.179 AVG, 0 HR, .444 OPS)
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF (.179 AVG, 2 HR, .595 OPS)
4. Neil Walker, 2B (.286 AVG, 1 HR, .746 OPS)
5. Starling Marte, LF (.243 AVG, 6 HR, .752 OPS)
6. Pedro Alvarez, 1B (.226 AVG, 4 HR, .720 OPS)
7. Jung Ho Kang, 3B (.182 AVG, 0 HR, .436 OPS)
8. Chris Stewart, C (.214 AVG, 0 HR, .414 OPS)
9. Gerrit Cole, P (.111 AVG, 0 HR, .311 OPS)

Starting Pitchers 

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks  (5.74 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 0.2 fWAR, 15 2/3 IP)

Pirates: Gerrit Cole (2.19 ERA, 2,33 FIP, 0.7 fWAR, 24 2/3 IP)

Cubs vs Cole

Welington Castillo: 4-11 (.364 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, 1.167 OPS

Starlin Castro: 5-9 (.556 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, 1.156 OPS.

Chris Coghlan 2-5 (.400 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 0 K, .900 OPS

Chris Denorfia: 3-5 (.600 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 0 K, 1.467 OPS.

Dexter Fowler: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K

Junior Lake: 0-5, 1 BB, 2 K

Anthony Rizzo: 2-7 (.286 AVG), 0 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, .873 OPS

Pirates vs Hammel

Pedro Alvarez: 3-17 (.176 AVG), 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 K, .869 OPS.

Francisco Cervelli: 2-3 (.667 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1.333 OPS.

Josh Harrison: 1-4 (.250 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 2 K, .750 OPS.

Corey Hart: 1-9 (.111 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K, .222 OPS.

Starling Marte: 2-9 (.222 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K, .444 OPS.

Andrew McCutchen: 6-20 (.300 AVG), 2 HR, 1 BB, 4 K, .983 OPS.

Jordy Mercer: 3-10 (.300 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, .700 OPS

Gregory Polanco 1-6 (.167 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, .333 OPS

Chris Stewart: 2-4 (.500 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, 1.100 OPS

Neil Walker: 2-9 (.222 AVG), 0 HR, 2 BB, 1 K, .639 OPS.

Who's Hot

Dexter Fowler is looking like a tremendous acquisition for the Cubs. The veteran center fielder is hitting .288 with a .366 obp, setting the tone at the top of the lineup. He has a five-game hitting streak, and has reached base three times in each of the first two games of this series. He's also stolen a base in each of the two games and has six stolen bases on the year.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte homered on Tuesday night, and is now 6-for-16 with three homers against the Cubs in 2015.

Who's Not

Jorge Soler is 2-for-22 with 13 strikeouts over his last seven games. He's shown some progress with his plate discipline over the last few days, however, and his plate discipline was one of his biggest visible strengths before this rough stretch. These things happen with young players, so let's give it some more time before we're too .

The struggles of Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen continue, with his batting average at .179 and OPS at .595. This slump isn't going to last much longer and the Cubs should be very thankful they've played a couple series vs the Pirates without the real McCutchen facing them. He can carry them on his hot streaks.

This & That
Finally that's over and no surprise whatsoever.
Great news on Justin Grimm who would be a really nice boost for the Cubs' bullpen. Hopefully he can return to game action for the Cubs in the next couple of weeks.
It appears Tommy La Stella is a still a few weeks away, so Addison Russell will continue to be the primary second baseman for a bit.

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Around The Web

The First 10 Percent: An Early Look At The Cubs In A Small Sample Size- (Luis Medina; Bleacher Nation)

Cubs Not Afraid To Celebrate Fast Start- (Bruce Levine; 670 The Score)

Overshadowed, Stigmatized Starlin Castro Off To Big Start For Cubs- (Matt Snyder; Eye On Baseball)

Starlin Castro's Pursuit Of 1,000 Hits Puts Him In Elite Company- (Evan Altman; Cubs Insider)

Kris Bryant Effect, Addison Russell Watch, & Javier Baez's Future- (Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune)

Javy Baez Back In Action At Extended Spring Training- (Arizona Phil; The Cub Reporter)

Cubs Key To Success So Far This Season: Controlling The Strike Zone- (John Arguello; Cubs Den)

Joe Maddon Preaching Patience For Jorge Soler- (Patrick Mooney; CSN Chicago)

Jorge Soler Warms Up In The Cold- (Jesse Rogers; ESPN Chicago)

The 2015 Ballad Of Jon Lester: Start No. 4- (Andrew Felper; BP Wrigleyville)

Jon Lester's Breakout Date Revealed- (Evan Altman; Cubs Insider)

Albert Almora Placed On The 7-Day DL For Smokies (@SmokiesOnRadio)

Jason McLeod Talks Cubs, Prospects, & The Draft On MLB Network Radio- (Neil; Chicago Cubs Online)

Cards Look At How To Fill Wainwright Void- (Derrick Goold; St. Louis Dispatch)

Reds' Homer Bailey 'Won't Be Pitching In The Near Future' As Elbow Woes Continue- (Israel Fehr; Big League Stew)

White Sox-Orioles Will Be The First One Ever Played Without A Crowd- (David Just; Chicago Sun-Times)

Tweet Of The Day

Video Of The Day

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Who: Chicago Cubs (8-5) vs Pittsburgh Pirates (6-8)
When: Wednesday, April 22, 6:05 PM CT
Where: PNC Park; Pittsburgh, PA

Game Time Forecast: 45 Degrees, Chance Of Rain
Line: Pirates -111; Over/Under- 7.5 Total Runs

The Cubs had another dramatic come-from-behind win on Tuesday night, stunning the Pirates by the score of 9-8 at PNC Park. Down 8-5, the Cubs scored one run in the eighth on a Welington Castillo solo homer, and added three more runs in the ninth inning off Pirates closer Mark Melancon.

It was a great showing of the new offense the Cubs have, and particularly how dangerous their middle of the order now is. Oh, and it all overshadowed the debut of top prospect Addison Russell, who batted ninth and started at second base.

Up 2-0 in a key series against the NL Central rival Pirates, the Cubs now get a chance to already win the four-game series on game three Wednesday night. Here's more fun stuff to get ready for the game...


1. Dexter Fowler, CF (.232 AVG, 1 HR, .728 OPS)
2. Jorge Soler, RF (.327 AVG, 2 HR, .894 OPS)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (.302 AVG, 1 HR, .870 OPS)
4. Kris Bryant, 3B (.444 AVG, 0 HR, 1.194 OPS)
5. Starlin Castro, SS (.352 AVG, 2 HR, .856 OPS)
6. Miguel Montero, C (.172 AVG, 2 HR, .711 OPS)
7. Chris Coghlan, LF (.231 AVG, 2 HR, .764 OPS)
8. Jason Hammel, P (.500 (3-6), 0 HR, 1.167 OPS)
9. Addison Russell, 2B (0-5, .000 OPS)

1. Josh Harrison, 3B (.212 AVG, 2 HR, .633 OPS)
2. Gregory Polanco, RF (.250 AVG, 0 HR, .605 OPS)
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF (.222 AVG, 2 HR, .745 OPS)
4. Neil Walker, 2B (.240 AVG, 1 HR, .658 OPS)
5. Starling Marte, LF (.208 AVG, 5 HR, .792 OPS)
6. Pedro Alvarez, 1B (.227 AVG, 4 HR, .799 OPS)
7. Francisco Cervelli, C (.306 AVG, 0 HR, .736 OPS)
8. Jung Ho Kang, SS (.176 AVG, 0 HR, .458 OPS)
9. Vance Worley, P (0-4, .000 OPS)

Starting Pitchers 

Cubs: Jason Hammel (5.11 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 0.2 fWAR, 12 1/3 IP)

Pirates: Vance Worley (5.84 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 12/13 IP)

Cubs vs Worley

Starlin Castro: 1-8 (.125 AVG), 0 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, .425 OPS.

Chris Coghlan: 1-4 (.250 AVG), 0 HR, 3 BB, 0 K, .821 OPS.

Chris Denorfia: 0-3, 0 BB, 2 K, .000 OPS.

Dexter Fowler: 2-7 (.286 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, .571 OPS.

Jonathan Herrera: 1-1, 0 BB, 2.000 OPS.

Miguel Montero: 1-9 (.111 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, .311 OPS.

Anthony Rizzo: 1-3 (.333 AVG), 1 HR, 0 BB, 1 K, 1.667 OPS.

Jorge Soler: 0-2, 0 BB, 2 K, .000 OPS

Pirates vs Hammel

Pedro Alvarez: 3-17 (.176 AVG), 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 K, .869 OPS.

Francisco Cervelli: 2-3 (.667 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1.333 OPS.

Josh Harrison: 1-4 (.250 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 2 K, .750 OPS.

Corey Hart: 1-9 (.111 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K, .222 OPS.

Starling Marte: 2-9 (.222 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K, .444 OPS.

Andrew McCutchen: 6-20 (.300 AVG), 2 HR, 1 BB, 4 K, .983 OPS.

Jordy Mercer: 3-10 (.300 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, .700 OPS

Gregory Polanco 1-6 (.167 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, .333 OPS

Chris Stewart: 2-4 (.500 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, 1.100 OPS

Neil Walker: 2-9 (.222 AVG), 0 HR, 2 BB, 1 K, .639 OPS.

Who's Hot

After an 0-4 major league debut that included three strikeouts, Kris Bryant has gone 8-for-14 at the dish, with five walks, and just one strikeout. In this Pittsburgh series, Bryant is 5-for-8, with five RBI, two walks, two doubles off the wall, and no strikeouts.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has homered in each of the first two games of the series, and now has five homers on the season.

Who's Not

The Cubs roughed up Pirates closer Mark Melancon on Tuesday night, scoring three runs off three hits and two walks. Melancon had a 1.39 ERA in 2013, and 1.70 ERA in 2014, but now has an 8.53 ERA (6 ER in 6 1/3 IP) to start out the 2015 campaign. It's showing up in more than the statistics, too. Melancon's average fastball velocity is down to 88.0 MPH, after being 92.8 last year. And his average cutter velocity (his cutter is his main pitch) is down from 91.6 to 88.9. So, the Pirates may want to look deeper into that and make sure Melancon is healthy before trotting him out there again in the ninth inning.

Brian Schlitter... sigh. Hopefully Joe is done trotting Schlitter out there in meaningful situations, but he hasn't so far this year. I tweeted this last night when Schlitter entered the game:
Schlitter proceeded to allow three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, blowing the Cubs' 4-2 lead, and denying Travis Wood of a win. Teams figured out after the first half last season that Schlitter basically throws one pitch (a hard sinker), and he will throw it over the middle of the plate even when he's ahead in the count. It's understandable the Cubs called up Schlitter with the injuries to Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm, but he should only be at the bottom of the bullpen pecking order right now if he's going to be on the roster. Edwin Jackson (who has thrown five scoreless innings and has had a velocity increase out of the bullpen) deserves more important chances than Schlitter at the moment.

This & That

Kris Bryant is still waiting for his first career homer, and came close a few times in this series. It will happen very soon... maybe tonight?

And Addison Russell went 0-for-5 in his debut, so he's still looking for his first hit. We are going to see a lot of firsts in the next week between these two players.

Relatable Tweets

Miguel Montero's Twitter account is gold.

Relatable Video

The most amazing part of Tuesday night's win was this double Kris Bryant hit 375 feet off the right field wall, on an inside pitch.

Just incredible, and a great showcase of Bryant's incredible power and talent. Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan even wrote a whole article reacting to this at-bat and its awesomeness. Give it a read. 

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Well what do we have here, folks? Oh just another top-3 prospect in baseball joining the Chicago Cubs in less than a week. No biggie.

On Friday it was Kris Bryant making major league debut, and Tuesday night, Addison Russell will do the same thing for the Cubs after it was announced late Monday night that the middle infielder had been called up to the bigs from Triple-A Iowa.

Russell will play second base and bat ninth for the Cubs on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Russell, 21, came into this season rated as a top-5 prospect in baseball by most every publication, including No. 3 by Baseball America, and even No. 2 by Baseball Prospectus. And Baseball Prospectus even ranked Russell ahead of Bryant and Jorge Soler:

Whether you agree with that assessment or not, the fact it can even be debated says a lot about how highly Russell is thought of.

You surely remember that the Cubs acquired Russell, minor league outfielder Billy McKinney (also a top-100 prospect), and pitcher Dan Straily from the Oakland Athletics last Fourth of July, for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The Cubs have since of course signed Jason Hammel again, and the A's ended up trading Samardzija in the offseason to the Chicago White Sox. So, it's pretty easy to see who won this Cubs/A's trade now isn't it?

It was clear to most evaluators which team won the trade when it happened, too. One such example would be Chris Crawford, currently with Baseball Prospectus (and at the time of this tweet, a baseball writer for ESPN):
Now, keep in mind the A's were trying to win a World Series and adding Samardzija and Hammel gave them a better chance at that. Billy Beane knew he had a great chance at a title and took it, even getting out of his comfort zone a bit with what he had to give up in cheap, young talent, to make the team a better title contender. But, make no mistake, Beane was well aware of how good Russell is, and apparently even told Theo Epstein when the two sides agreed to the trade, "You got Barry Larkin (in reference to Russell)":

Source: Peter Gammons

What makes Russell so highly regarded? Well, pretty much everything. He's solid in most every facet of the game, and has an advanced feel for the game.  He's so smooth, both offensively and defensively. Watching him play, you'd never guess he's a 21-year-old with just 11 games at the Triple-A level under his belt. He really looks like a veteran out there.

Russell has a bat with 12-20 homer power, is a career .300 (exactly) hitter in the minors, has a career .376 on-base percentage and .897 OPS in the minors, and is a very good shortstop. Add all of these things up, and you can see how the Barry Larkin and Derek Jeter comparisons make sense.

Peter Gammons tweeted this in Spring Training, and I think it's a perfect way to describe the well-rounded, advanced, steady Russell:

Most evaluators think Russell may already be a better shortstop than Starlin Castro, but Castro is playing tremendously for the Cubs right now, and the Cubs aren't going to mess with Starlin's position in the middle of the season. We can save a shortstop debate for the offseason.

For now, Russell will play next to Castro at second base, after getting just four games of work there in the minors. We saw Javier Baez make the shortstop-to-second base transition rather seamlessly last season, and one would expect the transition to be no different for Russell.

Whatever the case, even if there were to be some hiccups at second base, Russell will be a large upgrade over what the Cubs were getting at the position from Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara through 12 games.

The Cubs could've let Russell get some more Triple-A time, especially to get some reps at second base before having to do it at the major league level, but they are aware he is extremely advanced and gives them a better chance to win right now. And the last part says it all: The Cubs see an opportunity to legitimately compete right now, and they are going to try to do just that.

We are finally seeing the Theo Epstein Cubs and the beginning of what should be a long, long competitive run in Chicago. And the rest of the league knows it.

Let's go to the links for some more Russell material...

Joe Maddon: 'Addison Russell Is Up To Here To Play 2B', Will Likely Bat 9th- (670 The Score)

With Arrival Of Russell, Cubs Continue To Accelerate Towards Competing- (Sahadev Sharma; BP Wrigleyville)

Addison Russell Is Here, And The Cubs Are Going For It- (Tom Ley; Deadspin)

What Do Callups Of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell Say About 2015 Cubs? (Randy Holt; The Outside Corner)

Russell Promotion Continues Cubs' Roster Transformation- (J.J. Cooper; Baseball America)

Addison Russell Is Here, And The Cubs' Super-Infield Is Real- Sorry, Mets fans, but your own local baseball writer is breaking you the news. (Joel Sherman; New York Post)

The Win-Now Move Of Promoting Addison Russell- (Dave Cameron; Fangraphs)

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Who: Chicago Cubs (6-5) vs Pittsburgh Pirates (6-6)
When: Monday, April 20, 6:05 PM CT
Where: PNC Park; Pittsburgh, PA

Game Time Forecast: 61 Degrees, Chance Of Rain
Line: Pirates -109; Over/Under- 7.0

The Cubs and Pirates meet for the first time of the 2015 season on Monday night at PNC Park, in what will be a nice look at two of the teams that expect to make noise in the NL Central this year.

They're also two teams loaded with some of the sport's best young talent. That of course includes the Cubs' Kris Bryant, who will be playing in his first road game at the big league level on Monday. Bryant is still looking for his first home run after being called up to the majors on Friday, so perhaps a memorable moment is ahead at PNC Park.

But, while Bryant will be the media's main focus, both of these teams are much more focused on trying to at least get a split in this four-game series, as those wins and losses could be a huge deal down the road in the NL Central race, and in the race for the NL's two Wild Cards spots.

Let's get a look at the lineups, pitchers, and other storylines to keep an eye on going into Monday night's game...


1. Dexter Fowler, CF (.271 AVG, 1 HR, .819 OPS)
2. Jorge Soler, RF (.267 AVG, 2 HR, .787 OPS)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (.250 AVG, 1 HR, .790 OPS)
4. Kris Bryant, 3B (.300 AVG, 0 HR, .900 OPS)
5. Miguel Montero, C (.160 AVG, 2 HR, .698 OPS)
6. Starlin Castro, SS (.311 AVG, 1 HR, .740 OPS)
7. Chris Coghlan, LF (.235 AVG, 2 HR, .816 OPS)
8. Jake Arrieta, P (0-4, 4 K, .000 OPS)
9. Jonathan Herrera, 2B (.182 AVG, 0 HR, .399 OPS)

1. Josh Harrison, 3B (.233 AVG, 1 HR, .647 OPS)
2. Gregory Polanco, RF (.261 AVG, 0 HR, .639 OPS)
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF (.211 AVG, 2 HR, .721 OPS)
4. Neil Walker, 2B (.238 AVG, 1 HR, .648 OPS)
5. Starling Marte, LF (.171 AVG, 3 HR, .619 OPS)
6. Pedro Alvarez, 1B (.256 AVG, 4 HR, .899 OPS)
7. Francisco Cervelli, C (.300 AVG, 0 HR, .730 OPS)
8. Jung Ho Kang, SS (.100 AVG, 0 HR, .282 OPS)
9. A.J. Burnett, P (0-3, 2 K, .000 OPS)

Starting Pitchers 

Cubs: Jake Arrieta (1.98 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 13 2/3 IP)

Pirates: A.J. Burnett (2.25 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 0.3 fWAR, 12 IP)

Many expected Jake Arrieta to regress after his amazing 2014 season which resulted in the right-hander having a 2.26 ERA, the second-best in MLB of pitchers (behind only Clayton Kershaw) that threw at least 150 innings on the year. But (and while it's a very small sample size), so far Arrieta has looked like the same guy we saw last season, both in terms of stuff and results.

After putting together a rough 4.59 ERA over 34 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014, 38-year-old A.J. Burnett planned to retire, before ultimately signing a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Pirates. And in his two starts in 2015, Burnett has been very effective. He's not the same guy that threw high 90s years ago (Fangraphs has his fastball velocity averaging 90.9 mph right now), but he's a veteran that knows how to pitch.

Pirates vs Arrieta

Pedro Alvarez: 1-8 (.125 AVG), 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, .625 OPS.

Francisco Cervelli: 0-1, 1 K, .000 OPS.

Josh Harrison: 0-3, 2 K, .000 OPS.

Andrew Lambo: 0-1, 1 K, .000 OPS.

Starling Marte: 2-2 (1.000 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 2.000 OPS.

Andrew McCutchen: 4-11 (.364 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, .871 OPS.

Neil Walker: 1-12 (.083 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 4 K, .167 OPS.

It feels like Neil Walker destroys the Cubs (well I know he has in big moments, at least. ) so it's weird to see him with the worst numbers of anyone in the lineup vs Jake Arrieta. I'm sure he has some highly annoying moment up his sleeve for this series, though.

Andrew McCutchen is 4-11 but, I mean, he does that vs everyone so it's hardly worth noting.

Cubs vs Burnett

Welington Castillo: 2-7 (.286 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, .946 OPS.

Starlin Castro: 13-29 (.448 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K, 1.000 OPS.

Chris Coghlan: 0-3, 1 K, .000 OPS.

Dexter Fowler: 2-3 (.667 AVG), 0 HR, 1 BB, 0 K, 1.417 OPS.

Jonathan Herrera: 4-4 (1.000 AVG), 0 HR, 2 BB, 0 K, 2.000 OPS.

Miguel Montero: 3-5 (.600 AVG), 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1.467 OPS.

Anthony Rizzo: 5-21 (.238 AVG), 2 HR, 3 BB, 4 K, .857 OPS.

Holy Starlin Castro success vs Burnett.

But, by far the one that stood out is Jonathan Herrera being 4-4 with a couple walks? Huh? What? Didn't see that one coming by Herrera vs anyone, including in the minors.

Who's Hot

Starlin Castro is a really good hitter (and don't let any of the #haterz tell you otherwise), but he's been really, really good of late:

The highlight of Starlin's stretch of course was his game-winning single on Saturday vs Craig Kimbrel:

For the Pirates, 29-year-old right-hander Jared Hughes has been very good out of the bullpen, putting together eight scoreless innings with only four hits and one walk allowed, while striking out 10.

Who's Not

Arismendy Alcantara is a mess right now at the plate, with just two hits (only singles) in 32 at-bats. Joe Maddon has been starting Herrera over Alcantara at second base in most every game of late, and while Alcantara is really bad right now, the talented 23-year-old needs at-bats. He's especially struggling vs changeups and splitters down and away, and you aren't going to get any better hitting those pitches while sitting on the bench. I have a feeling Alcantara will be sent down to Iowa soon (and this would be a good thing if he isn't going to get at-bats in the majors), with either uberprospect Addison Russell (Triple-A) or Tommy La Stella (disabled list) taking his MLB roster spot.

The guy I'm going to highlight being cold for the Pirates... well it's Mr. McCutchen, and we know that won't last. Seeing he is only hitting .211 is about the scariest thing I took note of heading into this series. The superstar center fielder is going to break out at any moment. Let's hope he waits until Friday when the Cubs have left town.

This & That

As we alluded to earlier, Kris Bryant still doesn't have his first home run. And PNC Park is the perfect park for Bryant's power game with the absurd amount of opposite field, high flyballs he drives. It is only 325 feet down the right field line at PNC, so don't be surprised if Bryant's first MLB homer lands in that direction.

Relatable Tweet
This is the beginning of a huge stretch for the Cubs, and the chance for them to make a statement that they have arrived (so to speak) in the NL Central.

Relatable Videos

So, that area of PNC Park I talked about Bryant possibly hitting his first MLB homer in? Mike Olt -- the guy Bryant basically replaced at third base for the Cubs-- did the same thing for his first MLB homer last April:

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The Friendly Linkfines 4/17/15: Merry Krismas

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/17/2015 11:21:00 AM |

Kris Bryant today at Wrigley. Photo via @SarahSpain

You just may have heard: Kris Bryant makes his highly anticipated major league debut today for the Cubs against James Shields and the Padres at Wrigley Field.

And the Cubs have released the lineup:
That's the same lineup I suggested on Twitter yesterday (although I had Montero in rather than Castillo), especially because of the lefty-righty balance that I know Maddon likes. But I wasn't sure if Joe would put Bryant in the clean-up spot on day one. Welp, he sure did. Says a lot about how much they believe in Bryant's ability to handle the pressure, right? And that's no surprise to anyone, especially after he just hit nine homers vs major league competition this Spring Training while being the talk of the Cactus League.

What I really like about the lineup construction is all of the plate discipline loaded at the top. Fowler, Soler, Rizzo, and Bryant are all guys that are going to see a lot of pitches and walk a lot. All four could have (and at least a couple surely will) .350+ on-base percentages. This can also frustrate the heck out of a pitcher and take him out of his comfort zone, possibly forcing a "grooved" pitch right over the heart of the plate that Bryant and company will hit a mile.

Additionally, Starlin is perfect in the fifth or sixth spot behind those guys. It's no secret that he doesn't like to walk a lot, but he has the best hit tool of anyone on the team. He gets to relax and do what he does best, which is rack up hits like they're going out of style. With Fowler, Soler, Rizzo, Bryant, and Coghlan ahead of him, Castro's going to get a lot of hits with guys on base.

But enough about people not named Bryant on Krismas. Let's get to some Bryant related reading material from around the web...

At The Blogfines

My take on Kris Bryant being called up and what to expect 

Around The Web

What type of impact will Bryant make as a rookie?- Jonathan Mayo with an article that goes into the same stuff I did in mine, but with some opinions from scouting directors and other MLB executives. They seem to feel about the same way I do:

Projections of what Bryant will do with the bat in 2015 vary to an extent. The first pro scouting director estimated an OPS between .800 and .850. The second director came up with a .270, 25 homers, 85 RBIs line. Some see less average and more homers, with the aforementioned spike in strikeouts.

There is a lot of good stuff in that article, including many quotes from league executives, so make sure to give it a read. (Jonathan Mayo; MLB.Com)

Projecting Kris Bryant- Chris Mitchell takes a great advanced statistical look at projecting Bryant. (Chris Mitchell; Fangraphs)

The Delays & Speed Bumps Are Behind Kris Bryant & The Cubs-- So Now Enjoy It, Fans- (Jon Greenberg; ESPN Chicago)

The Story Of Kris(Bryant)mas- (Tim Baffoe; 670 The Score)

Merry Krismas: Kris Bryant A Reminder Of The Joys Of Being A Fan- (James Neveau; Windy City Hardball)

Bryant Ready To Make An Impact- (David Schoenfield; ESPN)

Kris Bryant Doesn't Need To Save You- Excellent analysis here from Matthew Trueblood on Bryant and the Cubs' offense. (Matthew Trueblood; BP Wrigleyville)

Kris Bryant's A Different Breed Of Player, As Cubs Fans Will Discover- (Julie DiCaro; 670 The Score)

Kris Bryant's Promotion Could Cause Chain Reaction- Addison Russell isn't far behind. Theo said Addison will play every Iowa game at second base this weekend, by the way. (Mark Gonzales; Chicago Tribune)

Theo Epstein Says If Not For Mike Olt's Injury, Kris Bryant Wouldn't Be Up Quite Yet- (Brett Taylor; Bleacher Nation)

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The Cubs Are Calling Up Kris Bryant

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/16/2015 10:17:00 PM | , ,

It's happening. Finally.

After being held down in Triple-A for the first 12 days of the 2015 MLB season due to stupid contractual service time rules, super duper uber prospect Kris Bryant is being called up to the Chicago Cubs for Friday's game against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field:

By now, you likely know the whole service time stuff and reasoning for why the Cubs held Baseball America's No. 1 prospect down these 12 days, as it would be nearly impossible not to, given that it's been a hot (take) topic on just about every national sports show in America over the last month. So I'm not going to get too much into that.

Really all you need to know is the Cubs sacrificed 12 days --and what turned out to be just eight of 162 Cubs games-- of Bryant in exchange for control of the 23-year-old third baseman through 2021, his age-29 season.

This is a big deal, as Bryant's agent is Scott Boras, and Scott likes money more than you do. And players that hire Boras to represent them typically want to max out their financial opportunities, as they know he is the best at getting that job done.

That means there's a good chance that when Bryant becomes a free agent, he will be looking to go to the highest bidder (or at the very least should be extremely expensive for the Cubs to keep), and there are teams out there that would love to throw stupid money at (what would've been) a 28-year-old hitter that could be hitting 40 homers/year then, in an era where power-hitting is extremely scarce.

Therefore, having Bryant under contract through 2021 and delaying the free agency a year, is huge. It's certainly far more valuable than eight games in April of 2015 (in a year that could end up being the worst team on paper for the Cubs over the next several years), and the Cubs are 5-3 and in first place in the NL Central anyway.

So that's all thinking long-term, but what are the 2015 Cubs getting in Kris Bryant? Well, he's a rookie, so anyone that confidently tells you what the Cubs are getting is lying.

But Bryant seems like a pretty safe bet to immediately hit for a lot of power, and draw a lot of walks in the middle of the Cubs' order (I'd guess he'll primarily bat fourth).

Bryant has tremendous plate discipline (14.5 BB% in 2014), and we got a great look at his incredible power when he hit an absurd nine home runs in just 40 at-bats this Spring Training. And he hit 55 homers in just 181 career minor league games.

While many players hit for a lot of power in the minors and can't carry it over to the majors, Bryant's power is very, very real. The most impressive part of his power production is how many homers he hits to the opposite field, and with an easy, elevated swing. It's so smooth and effortless, using his 6'5" perfectly to get full extension on the ball and frequently drive it the other way. It's very unique and he's going to hit a lot of high flyballs that look like routine flyballs, but they just keep traveling over the wall. This will especially be the case on days where the wind is blowing out at Wrigley. You're going to think he hit a 300 pop-up and next thing you know it's hitting a video board.

Bryant projects to be a 35+ homer hitter in time, but expecting that kind of production in his rookie year would be unfair. In 2014, a grand total of ONE guy (Giancarlo Stanton) hit 35+ homers. Somewhere in the 25-30 home run range for Bryant's rookie season (and keep in mind he's already missed eight games) seems more realistic.

While Bryant's power and plate discipline are off the charts, his offensive game at the time being doesn't come without flaws (and this can be said about nearly anyone that's ever played the game). Even with his eye-popping numbers, Bryant's contact rate has been an issue in the minors. In 2014, Bryant's contact rate was the 25th-lowest in Triple-A since 2008. And keep in mind how many bad, bad hitters there are in Triple-A.

Additionally, Bryant has struck out a lot in the minors. That's certainly no surprise given both his contact rate, and patience. But last year in Triple-A, Bryant had a 28.6 K%. That's not far off from the 30.0 K% Javier Baez had in Triple-A, and Baez went on to have a 41.5 K% in his 2014 major league stint. This of course doesn't mean Bryant will have quite the same struggles as Baez, but the strikeout totals will still likely be pretty high at first (probably 30-35%), and his strikeout totals always figure to be pretty high with his offensive game. Bryant himself has even alluded to that, saying how he understands strikeouts are going to come with his swing and efforts to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And that's a trade-off he'll gladly make.

But with all that in mind, it would be unreasonable to project a high batting average for Bryant until we actually see it at the major league level, even with his awesome .328 career minor league average. Bryant will surely improve on his contact rate, but there may be some struggles to consistently put the bat on the ball early on against major league pitchers, so an average in the .260s or so seems like a more realistic projection in his rookie season. And that's just fine, because the power and walks will definitely be there. A .265 hitter with 30 home runs and a lot of walks is much more valuable than a .300 hitter with small power and walk totals; we'd still be looking at an OPS in the .825+ range.

Then there's defense, and this is definitely where the biggest question marks are with Bryant.

He's played his entire minor league career at third base, but scouts have doubts about Bryant's ability to stay there long term. While Bryant's 6'5" frame is great for his power, it hurts him on the defensive end. It's hard to have the quickness, feet, and ability to bend for groundballs at third base when you're that tall. Error totals are highly overrated for minor league infielders, but Bryant's 23 errors in 136 games over the last two years are a pretty high total. We saw some erratic throwing from Bryant in Spring Training too, although Anthony Rizzo at first base will surely help him a bit more in that regard now.

Bryant is a very good athlete though, and he has a cannon of an arm with an arm angle that translates well to the outfield, so many feel he will end up in left field long term for the Cubs. However, he will initially get his shot at third base, and it will be interesting to see if the Cubs leave him there all season if there are some notable struggles. He may even play some of both third base and left field, especially with how much Joe Maddon loves his players to be versatile.

So, be cautious with your immediate expectations of Bryant, but he should still be very good in 2015 and play a meaningful part in the Cubs' efforts to make the playoffs. And he's especially going to help them over the next seven years. It's going to be a fun ride.

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The Friendly Linkfines 4/15/15

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/15/2015 04:13:00 PM | , ,

After consecutive dramatic, awesome come-from-behind the wins, the Cubs weren't able to keep the magic going for a third straight night in a 3-2 loss to the Reds at Wrigley Field.

But you'd damn well better believe they tried!

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth, Welington Castillo hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to one run. Then in the ninth, Starlin Castro had a tremendous at-bat off the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman that resulted in a line-drive single, and Matt Szczur drew a walk to give the Cubs runners on first and second with one out, but Chapman's 100 mph fastballs (unsurprisingly) proved to be too much for Mike Olt and David Ross.

For the first seven and a half innings, the game felt like "one of those nights", especially after Jake Arrieta got unfair treatment by the BABIP gods in the fourth, allowing five singles that led to all three Reds runs.

So, even though a loss is a loss, this is a game that you would've already accepted as a loss in past years heading into the late innings, and the Cubs almost found a way to come away with a win, again. And that's all without Kris Bryant and other top prospects on the horizon, so hopefully this is a very nice sign of things to come.

On to some nice Cubs-related reading material from around the web...

The Cubs Are Practicing The Patience They Preach- It's nice to finally see some plate discipline from the Cubs' hitters, isn't it? And that will only increase when Bryant is up. (Mark Jablonowski; Cubs Insider)

The Case For Keeping Starlin Castro- Must-read, especially for the many Starlin haterz out there. This is spot-on stuff. (Myles; Obstructed View)

Three-Headed Monster: Why The Cubs' Catching Plan Still Centers Around Montero, Ross... And Castillo?- (John Arguello; Cubs Den)

Welington Castillo's Hot Start Gives The Cubs Options- (Andrew Fair; Cubbies Crib)

Joe Maddon Wants Cubs To Take Flight In The NL Central- (Patrick Mooney; CSN Chicago)

Cubs 7th Inning Guest Conductors, Will You Please Go Now?- Most all of us are sick of the guest conductors, and now there's a fancy videoboard capable of doing great things. So this is a brilliant idea:

Unless the guest conductor is a former Cubs player (or another member of the Cubs family) or someone who can be considered a celebrity super fan (Bill Murray, Eddie Vedder, Lin Brehmer and Joe Mantegna come to mind), the only person we should see and hear during the Stretch is Harry Caray on the jumbotron.            

(WilcoMeThat; Cubs Behind The Pinstripes)

The Value Of Rest- Great stuff from Matthew Trueblood that highlights how underrated the Cubs' depth pieces. (Matthew Trueblood; BP Wrigleyville)

Convalescence Watch: Wada, Beeler, Grimm, & Turner- Brett Taylor checks in on the statuses of four Cubs pitchers currently on the disabled list. (Brett Taylor; Bleacher Nation)

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The Chicago Cubs signed a familiar, hairy face to a minor league deal on Wednesday, in left-handed pitcher James Russell.

Russell and utility man Emilio Bonifacio were traded by the Cubs to the Braves last July, in exchange for catching prospect Victor Caratini. But the Braves released Russell last week, after he allowed nine earned runs (including three homers) in 7 2/3 innings for Atlanta in Spring Training. There were also reports of his velocity being down.

Russell was drafted by  the Cubs in the 14th round of the 2007 draft, and pitched at the big-league level for the Cubs in 2010-2014, while strictly being used as a reliever in the final three seasons. The 29-year-old put up a 2.97 ERA in 2014, a 3.59 ERA in 2013, and a 3.25 ERA in 2012.

Over his career, Russell has limited left-handed batters to a .241 batting average and .689 OPS, while right-handed hitters have a career .268 batting average and .781 OPS vs him. However, in 2014, his splits were quite the opposite. Left-handed hitters hit .284 with an .805 OPS in 100 plate appearances vs Russell in 2014, while right-handed hitters hit just .165 with a .421 OPS in 138 plate appearances vs him.

Russell will head to Triple-A Iowa and need to show his velocity is good enough (velocity has never been thing anyway), as well as give a better idea of what his strengths are as a pitcher: Is he more of a "LOOGY" as he showed most of his career that can be an effective lefty out of the pen, or is he a guy that is now better at getting right-handed hitters out?

The Cubs have enough hard-throwing right-handed pitchers not just on the major league roster, but waiting in Iowa and Tennessee as well, so they would likely be looking at Russell strictly as a LOOGY option should Phil Coke struggle or suffer an injury. Even still, Russell may be behind Zac Rosscup (Iowa) in the left-hander pecking order. Whatever the case, Russell provides some nice veteran depth and familiarity in the system.

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(Photo taken at Wrigley Field Tuesday by @dgoold)

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals were slated to play their second game of the season on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, after the Cardinals won the Opening Night meeting on Sunday, 3-0. But, due to rain and freezing conditions in Tuesday night's forecast, the game was postponed:

No make-up date for the game has been set, but it's expected to be in July or September, the next times the Cardinals are back at Wrigley (and geez, that's a while until the Cards are back, right?):

While you'd like to see the Cubs get right back into action as soon as possible to clean the stink off Sunday night's game and try to get the first win of the season (and just because we have no patience as fans), this postponement until July or September is probably a good thing.

Why would be it a good thing? Well, for one, this guy named Kris Bryant will be on the team (this rain-out also means one less game he will miss on the season, as his service time is based on amount of days, not games played). And there's a good chance another super prospect in Addison Russell will be up by then. Then also consider that the Cubs will likely be aggressive leading up to the trade deadline for the first time in the Theo era if the team is in contention, which there is a very good chance they will be.

Overanalyzing short sample sizes and especially one single game in baseball is always a bad idea, but when it comes to the Cardinals, all 18 of these remaining head-to-head games are going to be important for the Cubs. And that's putting the rivalry aside. The Cardinals figure to be the main team the Cubs (and the rest of the division) are chasing for the National League Central crown.

So, having a potentially much better roster on paper when this game is made up certainly can't be a bad thing for the Cubs. And if it's in September, we could be talking about a really, really big game.

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Photo credit: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Opening Night was a tough one for a wildly optimistic Cubs team starting a new chapter in a re-constructed ballpark. The St. Louis Cardinals shut out Chicago 3-0 on a superb start from ace Adam Wainwright.

From the mild struggles of newly acquired ace Jon Lester, to the Cubs' inability to cash in on leadoff doubles and the mismanagement of lines to the restrooms inside of Wrigley Field, seemingly nothing went right.

But for a team with as much buzz and hype around it as these 2015 Cubs, an ample dose of humble pie and reality isn't the worst start to the season.

Lester came into the game off of a bout with dead arm, and while he was rusty, he still had a decent enough of an "off night". He struck out six Cardinals in just over four innings of work and despite not having pin-point command, he only walked a pair.

His issues were primarily tied to having runners on base, which there were plenty of due to a lack of pitch control.

Lester gave up eight hits and three steals to ramp up concern over his lack of pick off attempts and put runs on the board for the Cardinals.

Yet, despite all of that, Lester's velocity was where you want it to be, consistently hitting 93 on the fastball, and bright side is that no one is talking about his performance if he got run support.

Part of that is due to the exceptional performance of the Cubs' bullpen, who combined to throw 4.2 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out five.

Phil Coke was particularly impressive, inheriting and then escaping a one-out jam in the fifth inning left by Lester. He got both Matt Adams and Kolten Wong swinging, lending hope to the thought that he can be a highly serviceable and situational lefty this season. A LOOGY, if you will.

Coke's fifth inning was by far the most stressful part of the bullpen's night, keeping the Cubs in the game despite the short outing from Lester. And of course, this puts the focus right back on the lack of run support the offense gave the pitching staff.

The Cubs were 0-for-13 with RISP, stranding seven runners, including three who reached with leadoff doubles.

Like an ace of his nature should, Wainwright took advantage of an enormous strike zone and picked his spots. The result was just five hits in six innings and a half dozen strikeouts.

And when the Cubs did make solid contact, they were victims of the dreaded BABIP.

Miguel Montero rifled a ball up the middle that almost doubled up David Ross and Chris Coghlan nearly pulled the Cubs within a run with a towering warning track shot to right.

On a different day, maybe those end up as momentum-changing hits. Sunday night, they were just two more failed at bats with RISP.

But the reality is that those frustrations are exactly what this Cubs team can use to grow on. While the front office went out to get Lester and Kris Bryant looks like the next generational talent in baseball, becoming an elite team isn't going to happen overnight.

And while an Opening Day win would've done plenty for morale both in the clubhouse and on the streets of Chicago, it's only the beginning of what should be a long, telling season in the Cubs' new direction.

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Matt Szczur's tremendous spring helped land him a spot on the Cubs' roster. 

The Chicago Cubs begin their season on Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, and they just revealed their 25-man roster on Sunday afternoon.

The roster will likely look much different in a few months (there is one certain guy not on the Opening Day roster that you may have heard about), but here are your 2015 Chicago Cubs to begin the season...

Arismendy Alcantara
Starlin Castro
Jonny Herrera
Tommy La Stella
Mike Olt
Anthony Rizzo

Going into Spring Training, I don't think anyone expected Jonny Herrera to have a realistic shot at making the roster. But, with Javy Baez's demotion, Kris Bryant being a couple weeks away, it made sense to put the versatile, veteran infielder on the Opening Day roster. I don't expect to see Herrera get more than a start or two, and he'll likely serve mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement or emergency replacement/bat off the bench. He doesn't offer much at the plate.

Keep in mind that Arismendy Alcantara is an infielder/outfielder that will play all over the place too; I could've just give him his own 'utility' category. Alcantara will likely see a lot of time at second base all season, and especially until Kris Bryant comes up in a few weeks (that is if Bryant is primarily at third base... he could very well be in left field instead).

Mike Olt figures to be the primary third baseman until Bryant's arrival (and perhaps all season), and Tommy La Stella will likely back bounce and forth between second base and third base.

Baez could also be up as the starting second baseman in the next couple of months if he makes the adjustments at the plate that the Cubs are looking for.

Chris Coghlan
Dexter Fowler
Jorge Soler
Matt Szczur

Like Herrera, Matt Szczur was a long shot to make the roster entering Spring Training. I think most people would've picked Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney to make the roster over Szczur. Well, on Sunday the Cubs designated Sweeney for assignment, and Junior Lake has been demoted to Iowa. Szczur earned the reserve outfielder role with an incredible spring, in which he stunningly hit five homers. Last year in Iowa, Szczur only hit one homer in 414 at-bats, but perhaps he's starting to become the Reed Johnson-esque player many thought he could be. The former college football wide receiver offers very good defense in left and center field, so if he can offer really any offensive production, he can be a very useful backup outfielder.

Lake has changed his stance and the Cubs want him making more contact and having a more selective approach at the plate, but if improvements are shown, he could be back up soon.

Chris Denorfia is battling a hamstring injury, but is expected to be good to go in the next few weeks. When he's ready, he will likely join Coghlan in a left field platoon. That is of course unless Bryant is to be the left fielder when he comes up.

Really who is in left field each game will be the main question mark; Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler will man center and right field on a (near) daily basis.

Welington Castillo
Miguel Montero
David Ross

It's been no secret that the Cubs have made Welington Castillo very available via trade since acquiring Miguel Montero and David Ross over the winter. It's not that Castillo isn't a good player, but the team preferred the left-handed-hitting Montero, whom they acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The main area that Montero is noticeably (much) better than Castillo is in the pitch-framing department.

And most everyone agrees that Castillo is a better player than David Ross. Ross is basically on the team solely to serve as Jon Lester's personal catcher, but given Lester's significance, keeping him happy with a backup catcher isn't a huge deal. Whatever, I guess.

The expectation is still that Castillo will be traded, but the Cubs are waiting for the right offer. If a team has a starting catcher go down for an extended period of time, they may be able to part with a nice prospect or two in exchange for Castillo.

Also, carrying three catchers allows Joe Maddon to pinch-hit one of them in an non-emergency role, as he doesn't have to worry as much about being out of catchers late in the game if there is an injury to one of them. All three catchers --and particularly Montero and Castillo -- offer a better bat off the bench than a Jonny Herrera, for example.

Starting Pitchers
Jake Arrieta
Jason Hammel
Kyle Hendricks
Jon Lester
Travis Wood

Once Jacob Turner and Tsuyoshi Wada went down with injuries this spring, it was pretty clear what five pitchers would be in the rotation to start the season. The only questionable decision was in regards to Travis Wood vs Edwin Jackson, but with how awful Jackson has been in the last two years, and with how good Wood was two years ago, I'm not sure this was a very difficult call for the Cubs.

Relief Pitchers
Phil Coke
Justin Grimm
Edwin Jackson
Jason Motte
Neil Ramirez
Hector Rondon
Pedro Strop

Speaking of Edwin Jackson, he's only on the team because the Cubs can't find another team to deal with his contract, or to at least give an intriguing prospect back. I would imagine he will mainly be use in mop-up duty, at least until he can prove he deserves a bigger role (don't see it happening).

Phil Coke made a mechanical adjustment over the offseason and the veteran thinks it will help him be an effective lefty out of the 'pen.

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Like last year, we've decided to make some over/under picks for the 2015 Chicago Cubs. This year, we're just using all of the over/under prop bet lines from Bovada, an online sportsbook.

Participating in these picks are myself (@TheBlogfines), Justin Agla (@CubsFella), and Cooper Rushing (@TheCubsWord).

Consider this our preview of sorts for the 2015 Cubs, and feel free to share your own picks/opinions in the comments. Also, feel free to offer any other over/under topics as Bovada left out a lot of potential intriguing ones (like Kris Bryant lines, for example).

Anyway, here are our picks...

Starlin Castro Batting Average: .280

Matt: UNDER. Starlin has topped .280 in four of his first five seasons, and hit .292 last year, but I think we see the average dip into the .270s this year. He's likely to bat fourth or fifth much of the year, and behind three or four guys that should get on base at a terrific clip. It's natural as a hitter to try to do a little bit more sometimes when there are runners on base (even though there's nothing wrong with a two-run single), and I think Starlin tries to drive the ball a bit more this year. So I expect some batting average points to be sacrificed for a few more slugging percentage points.

Justin: UNDER. I'll say under on this one, but probably not by much and it could go either way. Castro did have a higher than usual batting average on ground balls last year so I could see the average falling a little bit.

Cooper: OVER. Starlin has had an average over .280 in four of the five seasons of his career. It’s fair to assume his poor 2013 is a thing of the past, as he was a top offensive shortstop in 2014 once again. Despite Steamer and PECOTA taking the under, I am going with ZIPS and its .286 prediction.

Anthony Rizzo Batting Average: .279

Matt: UNDER. Anthony has improved so much as an overall hitter, being able to turn on inside fastballs with a quicker stroke, and always willing to go the other way. But his strength is definitely power and patience.  I think his batting average will be in the .270-.275 neighborhood this time around. Obviously that's still just fine with the obp and slugging he will be bring to the table.

Justin: OVER. Rizzo has shown ability to hit for average and other than his down year in 2013, he has consistent stayed over .280 in the minors and majors so I'll take the over.

Cooper: UNDER. This is a tough one because Rizzo hit .286 last season and .285 in 368 2012 plate appearances. I do think there will be some regression with his average, particularly against left handed pitching where he hit .300 supported by a .324 BABIP that is a handful of points above his career rate. I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong here, but I’ll agree with Steamer, PECOTA, and ZIPS and project around .275.

Anthony Rizzo Home Runs: 30.5

Matt: UNDER. Hitting over 30 homers is really, really hard, especially these days in MLB. Last year, only 10 players did that, with Rizzo of course being one of them (32 homers). But predicting him to repeat that is asking a lot. I'm guessing 25-28 homers for Rizzo this year.

Justin: UNDER. I think I'll go under on this one by just a little bit. Rizzo had a major power surge last year and could top this but I think he will likely be somewhere in the 25-30 range.

Cooper: OVER. Rizzo missed 22 games in 2014 yet still hit 32 home runs in his impressive breakout season. A lot of Rizzo’s success can be attributed to his improvement facing left handed pitching. While it will be hard to repeat his .928 OPS versus southpaws, his power against them did not pad his HR totals from 2013 to 2014.

Anthony Rizzo RBI: 89.5

Matt: OVER. Batting behind two-to-three guys with high on-base percentages should result in Rizzo being able to drive in 100 runs or so with his power. He plays basically everyday, and as Bovada's over/unders show, is expected to hit near 30 homers and near .280 in the batting average department. Shouldn't it be expected he would be able to drive in at least 90 runs then, especially with multiple guys that should be able to get on base at a .350+ clip in front of him?

Justin: UNDER. Predicting RBI is tough because it really depends on the team and the guys in front of you. Rizzo should be directly after some good OBP guys all year but he will also likely have Soler in front of him driving in runners and he walks a lot. 80 is his career high, so I'll say he finishes just under.

Cooper: OVER. It is fair to predict an uptick in RBI total for a 3-hitter in the order when an organization upgrades the first two hitters. New leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler (career .366 OBP) and presumably Soler, Coghlan, Castro, or La Stella hitting second should give Rizzo a nice boost. This is a big improvement from 2014’s frequent lead-off and 2-hitters of Coghlan, Bonifacio, Baez, Lake, and Alcantara. Moreover, Joe Maddon has shown an interest in hitting his pitcher 8th which should allow more RBI opportunities for Rizzo when the lineup rolls over with a capable 9-hitter.

Jorge Soler Home Runs: 22.5

Matt: OVER. Soler didn't put up crazy home run totals in the minors, but we got a glimpse ourselves of his huge power potential in his 24-game big-league stint last season. Example:

And he continued to destroy the ball this Spring Training. Example:

Oh, and Soler reported to Spring Training with 27 more pounds of muscle, giving himself a monstrous 6'4", 242-pound frame. I like Soler to hit 25+ homers this year.

Justin: OVER. I really think Soler is going to have a big year so I'll take the over. I think similarly to Rizzo, he is likely to hit in the 25-30 range if he can stay healthy.

Cooper: OVER. Soler has a great approach and got even stronger this offseason. I don’t expect him to reach 30+, but I do think he’ll hit 24 or 25 HR this season.

Jorge Soler RBI:  70.5

Matt: OVER. This is probably my most confident, "lock" pick. Health provided of course. And health has been an issue for Soler in the past, of course. However, since the Cubs got very serious with trying to prevent Soler from having hamstring issues last year, he's been 100% healthy, and it's certainly shown with his performance on the field. That's with his AA performance last year, his AAA performance last year, his big-league performance last year, and it's all carried over to this spring, in which he's been hitting absolute rockets. I know that Soler could be batting second (and I hope so myself), but Dexter Fowler should get on base at a .370 clip, and Joe Maddon will frequetnly have a position player batting ninth, so he should still have good RBI opportunities.

Justin: OVER. This one probably depends on where he hits in the order all season. It appears its going to be in the 2-3 spots. He should have Fowler and the #9 hitter on in front of him quite a bit, and again, I expect him to have a big year.

Cooper: UNDER. Soler only played 78 games last season because management was cautious with his lingering injuries. It would be a stretch to assume he’ll play every game this season, and I’m guessing he will receive more occasional days off than other regulars. Because of that, the 65-70 RBI range seems more likely than 71+. This might look a bit low, but remember that guys like Puig and Lucroy both fell under 71 RBI last season.

Jon Lester Wins: 13.5

Matt: OVER. W-L record is the most overrated stat in baseball, and maybe the most overrated stat in all of sports really, as it relies on the pitcher being helped out by the rest of his team in terms of run support by the offense and run prevention from the defense and bullpen. But, the Cubs should give Lester enough help in these areas to win over 13 games if he pitches well and throws a lot of innings. And Lester has always done those things. Since 2008, Lester has thrown over 190 innings every season (and over 200 IP in all but one), and had a 3.75 ERA or better in all but one season. He's also coming off the best season of his career, in which he put up a 2.46 ERA and 5.6 fWAR.

Justin: OVER. As long as he stays healthy, Lester should get his wins. He should have a solid offense behind him and a pretty good bullpen taking care of leads after him as well. Just like RBI, wins are unpredictable and are really a team stat, but Lester goes deep into games often and is likely to have a lot of leads when he leaves the game.

Cooper: OVER. Like RBI, wins is tough stat to predict because it is reliant on the quality of players around him among other factors. Still, Lester has been over 13.5 wins in 6 of his 7 seasons. He has pitched on some very good teams in the past, but the Cubs should score plenty of runs and I don’t expect his run support to fall into Samardzija territory. I slot him solidly at 16 wins.

Jon Lester Strikeouts: 190.5

Matt: UNDER. This is more of a guess but I'll go under here. Last year Lester had 220 strikeouts, but also in a career-high in innings pitched. His highest total in the three years before that was 182. I'll say he's closer to that total this time.

Justin: UNDER. Lester has 220 last year but he had quite a bit fewer in all 3 of the previous years before that, so this is a tough one. I'll say goes back a little closer to the previous 3 years and he finishes a little bit under.

Cooper: OVER. Lester has been under 190.5 strikeouts in three of his last four seasons. However, moving from the AL to the NL will be a huge help in increasing strikeout totals since he will face pitchers at the plate rather than designated hitters.

Jake Arrieta Wins: 11.5

Matt: OVER. Again, W-L is so stupid, but there are things in the pitcher's favor this time around for the Cubs with what should be at least a solid offense and bullpen. And while I won't predict him to repeat at quite the same level of excellence, I think Arrieta's breakout campaign in 2014 was very real. The "fancy" stats agree with that too. Arrieta's main goal is to pitch over 200 innings this year, and I like his chances to end up with at least a dozen wins.

Justin: OVER. Arrieta is still flying under the radar a bit after a huge 2014, I like his chances to be very good again this year; he seems to have really mastered his hard breaking ball and he works as hard as anyone. He should get more run support this year, so at least 12 wins seems likely.

Cooper: OVER. Arrieta pitched like a legitimate ace in his 156.2 innings last season and won 10 games in the process. It would be tough for him to be a 5.1 WAR pitcher again this year, but projecting 3.5 WAR over a full season putting him into the top 25-30 pitchers is reasonable. 19 of the 25 pitchers at or over 3.5 WAR finished above 11.5 wins last season. While starting pitcher wins and WAR are likely not directly correlated, the best pitchers put their teams in position to win games and run support shouldn’t be an big issue with the Cubs offense.

Jason Hammel Wins: 9.5

Matt: UNDER. Hammel has never thrown 180 innings in a season, and while he was great last year in the first half with the Cubs before being traded to the A's, he's a 32-year-old with a 4.60 career ERA. Working with Chris Bosio again, I think Hammel is fully capable of repeating last year's performance (or at least coming close), but expecting it is a bit unfair. But, once again, W-L is so stupid and anybody's guess. My main point here was just in terms of expectations for Hammel this season.

Justin: OVER. I was very skeptical of Hammel last year, I think I took the under on everything we did with him. However, he pitched great for the Cubs and settled into things with the A's after some rough starts when he first got there. He may not have a huge year but I think the team will be good enough for him to at least reach 10 wins if he stays healthy all year.

Cooper: UNDER. I’m not totally sold on Hammel to say the least. Bosio does seem to help him, but I think he wins eight or nine with an ERA in the mid 3.80’s.

Total Number Of Cubs Wins: 82.5

Matt: OVER. With all of the young players and unknowns, I really think this team could win anywhere from like 77-92 games. There is the potential for so many different outcomes. If guys like Arrieta heavily regress and the young players struggle, the team would be under .500. But, if guys like Arrieta and the extremely talented young players perform anywhere close to what they're capable of, this team could be great. If I had to guess, I think it will be somewhere in between all that, in the 85-win range.

Justin: OVER. Fangraphs and most other projection systems seem to have the Cubs around 84-85 wins and I think the upside is more than that. Of course, things have have to go right, but I'll take the over on 82.5.

Cooper: OVER. I can see the Cubs coming up short of this benchmark because of growing pains by the youngsters, injuries, or lack of rotation depth, but there is a solid enough core to assume 83+ is doable. The bullpen is quietly strong and will prove pivotal if they are as good as they were last season. The front office won’t be shy at the trade deadline either if they feel they are a piece or two away from putting the Cubs over the edge.

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