December 2014

12/31 Happy new year


Hope the new year is as full of joy as this young fan showed during pre-game ceremonies at Wrigley Field in 2014. Here’s to a healthy, successful and entertaining Cubs season in 2015.

— Carrie Muskat

12/31 Report: Denorfia to Cubs

The Cubs have reportedly added right-handed hitting outfielder Chris Denorfia. Catcher John Baker broke the news on Twitter Wednesday, and it was confirmed by FOX Sports Ken Rosenthal. The deal is pending a physical. Denorfia will reportedly receive $2.5 million.

Baker posted on Twitter: “Chris Denorfia to the @Cubs? Deno is one of my favorite teammates of all time! The Cubs fans are going to love him. Enjoy him Chicago.”

Denorfia, 34, who was Baker’s teammate on the Padres, has a career .292 average against left-handed pitchers. Last season, he played with the Padres and Mariners, and batted .230 with three home runs, 12 doubles in 121 games.

— Carrie Muskat

12/30 Cubs depth chart

As of Tuesday, here’s the Cubs’ depth chart heading into the 2015 season:

First base: Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt
Second base: Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Tommy La Stella
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Javier Baez
Third base: Luis Valbuena, Mike Olt

Catcher: Miguel Montero, Welington Castillo, David Ross, Rafael Lopez

Left field: Chris Coghlan, Matt Szczur, Junior Lake
Center field: Arismendy Alcantara, Ryan Sweeney, Matt Szczur
Right field: Jorge Soler

Rotation: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront

Bullpen: Hector Rondon, Jason Motte, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Blake Parker, Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, Dan Straily, Brian Schlitter, Edwin Jackson, Mike Kickham

* I’m listing Edwin Jackson in the bullpen because that’s where he finished 2014 but he’ll likely be stretched out and looked at as a starter in Spring Training.

— Carrie Muskat

12/30 The 2014 catch of the year


Here’s one more look at the most viewed post on Aug. 11 of Mike Pullin’s catch at Wrigley Field. Nice job, Mike. Looking forward to seeing you at Wrigley Field in 2015.

— Carrie Muskat

12/30 Thanks, everybody!

Thanks to everyone who has checked out this blog in 2014. This year, it was viewed 910,000 times, and the busiest day was Aug. 11 with 9,414 views. The most popular post that day was “Catch of the Year” which highlighted retired Rochelle resident Mike Pullin’s catch of Mark Reynolds home run. Pullin was sitting in the last row of the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field.

Viewers to this blog came from 140 different countries, including:

Australia: 399
China: 51
Russia: 195
Finland: 17
Sweden: 147
Norway: 67
United Kingdom: 6,459
Ireland: 125
France: 399
Germany: 612
Poland: 10
Italy: 213
Albania: 3
Bulgaria: 55
Romania: 241
Moldova: 21
Serbia: 4
Slovenia: 3
Czech Republic: 23
Switzerland: 102
Spain: 157
Portugal: 36
Algeria: 2
Morocco: 2
Egypt: 2
Sudan: 1
Kenya: 717
Cameroon: 3
South Africa: 31
Madagascar: 56
India: 128
Bangladesh: 4
Thailand: 64
Cambodia: 7
Laos: 1
Indonesia: 19
Philippines: 130
Japan: 2,647
New Zealand: 550
Mexico: 1,142
Guatemala: 40
Honduras: 22
Nicaragua: 6
Costa Rica: 173
Haiti: 1
Dominican Republic: 959
Columbia: 41
Venezuela: 355
Brazil: 509
Peru: 30
Bolivia: 43
Paraguay: 7
Argentina: 31
Chile: 21
Canada: 5,628
U.S.: 883,562

Jasper was the most active commenter this year, followed by k.g., jhosk and petrey10.

Here’s to a winning 2015. Hope I can give you more to talk about in the coming year.

— Carrie Muskat

12/29 Year in Review

Before we say hello to 2015, let’s look back on the Cubs 2014 season:

FEBRUARY/MARCH: This was Rick Renteria’s first season as a big league manager and he spent more time in Spring Training talking about the prospects than the regular lineup.

“You guys are going to crown them the next Babe Ruth,” Anthony Rizzo said to the media in response to questions about Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, et all.

Baez made quite an impression in Mesa, Ariz., as he broke at least two car windows during batting practice at the Cubs new facility.

“It [stinks] for the person who parked there,” Baez said. “They’re parking too close to the field.”

The Cubs headed into the season with Jose Veras as the closer and Kyuji Fujikawa, Jake Arrieta and James McDonald on the DL. Brian Schlitter made the Opening Day roster in the bullpen.

On March 31, the Cubs opened the season against the Pirates with a 1-0, 10th inning loss as Neil Walker smacked a walk-off home run. Jeff Samardzija made his second Opening Day start, giving up five hits over seven innings. It was a sign of things to come.

APRIL: On April 23, Wrigley Field celebrated its 100th anniversary. Fans were given cupcakes, the Cubs wore Chicago Federals replica uniforms, and Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, and Fergie Jenkins joined in the pre-game festivities. But the Diamondbacks spoiled the party. Samardzija made his fifth quality start but couldn’t get a win in a 7-5 loss. … Earlier in the month, Jose Veras was told he would no longer be the closer. Veras had blown a two-run lead against the Cardinals on April 11, and was 0-2 in save situations at that point. On June 10, he was released.

MAY: Samardzija had one of the stranger first halves. He ranked among the NL leaders in ERA but couldn’t get a win. On May 5, he threw 126 pitches over nine innings against the White Sox, and gave up one unearned run but no “W.” The Cubs lost, 3-1, in 12 innings.

“I was pretty hungry for that one,” Samardzija said.

Samardzija finally did get a win on May 26 in an 8-4 victory over the Giants, and received a beer shower from teammates. He had started that day with a 1.46 ERA, lowest in Major League history without a win through the first 10 starts of the season.

JUNE: On June 19, Bryant made his Triple-A debut, and hit an opposite field two-run homer in the seventh inning in a 6-2 win.

“I went up there today figuring I was due — I haven’t hit one in a while,” Bryant said. “The home runs I’ve been hitting were in the home run derby [in the Southern League All-Star Game].”

Just think: A year ago, Bryant was hitting in cages with his dad in Las Vegas, and had yet to sign with the Cubs, who made the third baseman their first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

The highlight of the month came June 30 when Jake Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the eighth at Fenway Park. The Red Sox ended his bid with one out in the seventh, and Boston fans gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the field.

“I got some goose bumps there,” Arrieta said. “That’s kind of why you play this game, for moments like that.”

JULY: On July 4, the Cubs got a head start on the rest of baseball by dealing Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Dan Straily, Minor League prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, and a player to named later.

“We shared a beer and a cigarette and sent him on his way,” James Russell said of their farewell. “It’s just tough to see your boys leave.”

“My wife’s the only one left from 2011,” second baseman Darwin Barney said.

Russell was traded with Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves on July 31 for Victor Caratini, while Barney was designated for assignment on July 22, then traded to the Dodgers six days later.

“We certainly hope that this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline,” Theo Epstein said.

A sign of things to come: Kyle Hendricks made his Major League debut July 10 against the Reds. He would go back to Triple-A Iowa, but returned for good later in the month.

Starlin Castro and Rizzo were named to the NL All-Star team. Rizzo won the fan-driven Final Vote thanks to a surge on-line.

Catcher John Baker did double duty on July 29. He pitched a scoreless 16th inning and picked up the win, and also scored the game-winning run on Castro’s sacrifice fly. Baker is the first Cubs position player to pitch since Joe Mather on Aug. 27, 2012, and the first true Cubs position player to earn a win since Fred Pfeffer in 1885.

AUGUST: On Aug. 5, Baez made his Major League debut in Colorado, and hit a game-winning homer in the 12th inning. On Aug. 26 in Cincinnati, Jorge Soler made his ML debut, and topped Baez by hitting a home run in his first big league at-bat.

But the best baseball in town was being played by a bunch of Little Leaguers on the South Side of Chicago. The Jackie Robinson West team won the national title at the Little League World Series. They were saluted at Wrigley Field on Sept. 1.

“Whether you play baseball or not, these kids can be role models for their peers,” pitcher Wesley Wright said of the JRW kids. “They’ve shown incredible maturity for their age group. I’ve been really impressed with that.”

SEPTEMBER: Bryant was honored at Wrigley as the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. … The Cubs closed the season with a win and lots of momentum, and Rizzo made it clear what the goal is for next year.

“To be the [National League] Central champs,” Rizzo said after hitting a two-run homer in the Cubs’ season finale, a 5-2 win over the Brewers. “[We want] to win the division, and obviously, that’s the playoffs and we want to go deep.”

Under Renteria, the Cubs closed at 73-89, below .500 for the fifth straight season, but they did top last year’s 66-win total and head into 2015 encouraged by the play of some of their top prospects, including Alcantara and Soler. It’s the first time the Cubs have won 73 games since a 75-87 season in 2010.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: On Oct. 31, Renteria was dismissed as manager, and three days later, Joe Maddon was named as the 54th manager in Cubs history.

“For me, I’m gonna be talking playoffs next year,” Maddon said. “I’m going to tell you that right now. Because I can’t go to Spring Training and say any other thing. I’m just incapable of doing that. Why would you even report? It’s all about setting your standards and your goals high because if you don’t set them high enough you might actually hit your mark. We’re going to set our mark high and I’m going to talk playoffs and World Series this year and I’m going to believe it.”

The roster continued when Arodys Vizcaino was dealt to the Braves for infielder Tommy La Stella.

DECEMBER: The Cubs acquired catcher Miguel Montero from the Diamondbacks for two Minor League pitchers, then brought back Hammel, who was a free agent. But the biggest news came Dec. 18 when Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract. The Cubs also added veteran reliever Jason Motte, signing him to a two-year deal on Dec. 19.

Looking forward to a happy new year, Cubs fans.

— Carrie Muskat

12/29 Winter league update

Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva hit a two-run single with one out in the ninth to tie the game and then smacked a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 11th to give Obregon a 7-6 victory Sunday over Hermosillo.

12/27 Castro cleared of incident

Starlin Castro was questioned about a shooting outside a nightclub in the Dominican Republic and the Cubs shortstop was cleared of any involvement in the incident, his agent said. Paul Kinzer, who represents Castro, told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday that Castro was not involved in the incident.

“Starlin was not arrested or detained or anything,” Kinzer told the Tribune. “He went to the police station to make sure they knew he was not involved. They told him they had video so they knew he was not involved.”

According to the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, six people were injured Friday night in a shooting in Monte Cristi, which is Castro’s hometown. The newspaper said Castro, 24, was arrested but Kinzer said that report was incorrect.

Three weeks ago, Castro was questioned after a shooting at a concert in the Dominican Republic and was cleared of any involvement, Kinzer said.

Castro was expected to leave the Dominican the first week of January before reporting to Spring Training in February, Kinzer said.

— Carrie Muskat

12/24 Winter league updates

Christian Villanueva went 2-for-4 Tuesday, hitting a solo home run in the first inning in Obregon’s 7-1 loss to Jalisco in Mexico. It was Villanueva’s 10th home run this winter.

In Puerto Rico, Javier Baez played a doubleheader on Tuesday. In the first game, he went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts as Santurce beat San Juan, 3-1, in seven innings. Baez was 1-for-7 in the second game, which San Juan won, 3-2, in 14 innings. Baez hit a RBI double and struck out three times. He’s batting .286 in Puerto Rico. Santurce is off until Friday.

* An update on some of the other Cubs playing winter ball:

Luis Valbuena: .230 with four doubles, four homers, 12 RBIs in 17 games for Lara in Venezuela

Arismendy Alcantara: .324 with one double, one triple, four homers, eight RBIs in 19 games for Licey in Dominican Republic

12/23 Ross officially a Cub

The Cubs announced Tuesday they have signed catcher David Ross to a two-year, $5 million contract. The deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus, and Ross will be paid $2.25 million in 2015 and $2.25 million in 2016.

In 13 seasons, Ross has a .233 career batting average. What’s key is that in 29 games over two seasons catching Jon Lester with Boston, the lefty pitcher has a 2.77 ERA with 192 strikeouts over 195 innings. And, in case you forgot, the Cubs just signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract.

What happens to Welington Castillo? That has yet to be determined. The Cubs made it no secret they wanted to upgrade at catcher, and have added catcher Miguel Montero.

— Carrie Muskat