On Sunday, it was reported that the Houston Astros will select Stanford righthander Mark Appel with the first pick in Monday's MLB Draft. How will the rest of the first round break down? Dave Perkin, a former major league scout and SI.com's draft analyst, makes his selections below. For more from Perkin, follow his live analysis of the first-round starting at 7 p.m. Monday night.
Five Cuts from the first weekend of interleague play:
Excerpted from CALICO JOE by John Grisham. Copyright © 2012 by Belfry Holdings, Inc. To be published this month by Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Only two teams in all of baseball had a better record than the National League Central champion Brewers last year -- the powerhouse Phillies and Yankees -- and the second-place Cardinals won the World Series.
The Marlins, Reds, Cubs and Angels stay busy while two more pitchers arrive from Japan, and the Mets, Rays and Dodgers find out just how little a million bucks buys these days in this week's Hot Stove Roundup.
The new Cubs administration has reached the three-quarters mark of its fertile first 100 days in (front) office and has been nothing short of aggressive with its reformist platform.
The 2011 baseball year surprised us at so many turns. Offense was dialed back to 1992 levels, none of the nine biggest payrolls in baseball won a postseason series, not one but two teams suffered pennant race collapses of historic proportions, and the Cardinals joined the 1986 Mets as the only teams to be one strike from elimination and win the World Series -- and then they lost two franchise icons.
Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney admits that at his first full-season minor league stop back in 2007, he was sufficiently wide-eyed and unsure of his baseball future that he asked the famous manager of his Class A Peoria (Illinois) Chiefs to autograph a bat as a keepsake.
The Angels and Marlins weren't the only teams getting things done at the just-completed Winter Meetings in Dallas, and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson weren't the only players the Angels acquired. For fans of the other 28 teams and LaTroy Hawkins, here's a summary of some of the less-celebrated player transactions from the last week and a half.
DALLAS -- Albert Pujols is worth more to the Marlins than to the Cardinals. Sound crazy? Only if you believe in the gilded mythology of an iconic player spending his career with one team. Such franchise icons make for nice narratives, but not always great business sense. Does it make sense for the Cardinals, with no escape hatch of the DH rule, to pay a hitter $25 million a year until he's 42 years old? Only if you believe in the sentimentality of turning Pujols into the next Stan Musial -- forgetting, of course, that Musial never was a free agent. Ask the Twins about the cost of keeping Joe Mauer a Twin for life and the Phillies about Ryan Howard.
DALLAS -- With the ultra-aggressive Marlins agreeing to terms with the multitalented Jose Reyes on a $106-million, six-year deal that establishes them as a major winter player, the first superstar is off the board. So where do the rest of the superstars and stars stand now as the Winter Meetings officially begin? Here's an update:
The Red Sox and Cubs are now a full week past the deadline to agree on compensation for new Cubs president Theo Epstein. Their difficulty in finding agreement on this issue shouldn't be such a surprise since Epstein and his Red Sox replacement, Ben Cherington, are so like-minded that they probably value the same prospects, which tends to make dealing difficult.
If you could become the manager of one of baseball's signature teams, which one would you choose from among the Red Sox, Cardinals and Cubs? That's a decision that very well may have to be made by one of the several candidates being considered for the managerial vacancies of those teams. Among those on the lists of more than one of those teams are newly-former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, and former Brewers manager and current hitting coach Dale Sveum.
To be a Texas Rangers baseball fan doesn't compare to the prestige of growing up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. The pinstriped jerseys, classic uniforms and ball caps of those Major League Baseball teams are timeless and have become iconic touchstones in pop culture.
ST. LOUIS -- The surprise courting of hot young general manager Andrew Friedman by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has begun even before Theo Epstein is officially signed, sealed and delivered to the Chicago Cubs. Though Friedman's name hadn't been tied to the Angels until someone tipped @DRaysBay that Friedman had been spotted dining in Tampa with Angels honchos Arte Moreno and John Carpino, it makes perfect sense as baseball owners are increasingly understanding how much more crucial the GM is to a team's success than a manager. Besides, as one AL exec put it, "Teams are copycats.'' Once one got Epstein (or is about to), it's no surprise another wanted the other hot available name.
ST. LOUIS -- In a possible surprise twist, the Chicago Cubs and Theo Epstein are said to have interest in Padres general manager Jed Hoyer to join a baseball operations department they hope is headed soon by Epstein, who is waiting in limbo while the Cubs and Red Sox resolve the compensation issue to complete the trade that would put Epstein in charge of Chicago's beloved North Side team.
It appears that the Chicago Cubs are going to pry away Theo Epstein from the Red Sox to be their new general manager. Epstein, 37, was the face of the new breed of ultra-young GMs, handed the reins of the Red Sox in 2002 and producing two World Championships in nine seasons as their top executive. His 2004 team became the first Red Sox club since 1918 to win a World Series, assuring that he'd never need a wallet in any New England bar for the rest of his life.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has an agreement in place to become head the of Cubs baseball operations, SI.com has confirmed.
Theo Epstein is in serious talks with the Cubs about a deal to run their baseball operations, and sources suggest he will "probably'' wind up in Chicago, though there is no evidence a deal has been completed yet with the beloved North Side team, as there are said to be a couple final hurdles to clear.
The big news out of Chicago this weekend was that Theo Epstein might have been spotted at a Lincoln Park Starbucks. Not kidding. That came via a Cubs fan who said he was "99.9 percent'' sure it was the celebrated, elusive longtime Red Sox general manager, and it shows how secretive the Cubs' GM search is being kept by relatively new owner Tom Ricketts. If Ricketts is as good at building a successful team as he is at keeping a secret, maybe the Cubs will break out of their century of general futility.
It's funny how wins were totally devalued last year when it came to the Cy Young Award candidacy of 13-game winner Felix Hernandez but now are becoming the strongest pillar this year in support of the MVP candidacy of Justin Verlander. Whether the Detroit ace wins the MVP or not may come down to whether he wins three of his final four starts -- the last of which figures to be a tuneup start of perhaps five innings on the penultimate day of the regular season. (Verlander is on track to get the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles and Indians; don't bet against him.)
The open Cubs' general manager job is highly coveted, and it's no surprise that a lot of big-name executives have already been mentioned as possibilities. However, it should be noted that big-time GMs very rarely jump from one major job to another (it is hard to think of many instances where it's happened), and it is quite possible the Cubs will end up with a slightly less experienced but still excellent person in the role.
Baseball has, as always, embraced a full slate of retaliation this season, lowlighted by Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco throwing at the heads of opponents.
The Cubs' rather stiff 30-day penalty for embattled pitcher Carlos Zambrano will be contested fiercely by his representatives in a grievance process that began Monday with a filing by the Players Association on his behalf. But there is one thing both sides seem likely to agree on: It is time for a new team for Big Z.
The Apache chief Geronimo was still alive, as were the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not to mention the former slave Harriet Tubman, and the first nurse, Florence Nightingale, and the writers Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoy. Every one of them was drawing breath on October 14, 1908, and thus capable of seeing the Chicago Cubs win the World Series that afternoon, something they rather famously haven't done again in 103 years.
Were the Chicago Cubs legally justified in placing troubled ace Carlos Zambrano on the seldom used Disqualified List? Zambrano's zany behavior in his 11 seasons with the Cubs has ranged from dugout altercations with teammates to hurling objects onto the field, but it took its most bizarre form during last Friday night's game in Atlanta. After being ejected for throwing at the Braves' Chipper Jones, the 30-year-old Zambrano cleaned out his locker and reportedly told teammates he was retiring. In response, the Cubs placed Zambrano on the Disqualified List, which as vaguely defined in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams may use when a player fails to "render his services to his club." While on the Disqualified List, a player forfeits his salary and is removed from the team's roster.
The noncontending Cubs seemed oddly possessive of several of their coveted veterans, including outfielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman Carlos Peña and infielder Jeff Baker, before the trade deadline. But while they declined trade overtures for those players and more, they did at least make some attempt to move on from the era of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, by trying to negotiate trades for the two high-priced stars.
On Thursday morning, the Cubs reached a deal to send Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians. Details still have to be worked out but the Cubs will pay the vast majority of what remains on Fukudome's $11 million salary. As for some of the Cubs' other infamous, unwanted contracts, they are asking around to see if anyone will take some -- or maybe even a little -- of them. Specifically, they are seeking to rid themselves of pitcher Carlos Zambrano and outfielder Alfonso Soriano, which would mark the changing of an era.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Spurned by Carlos Beltran, the Cleveland Indians traded for Kosuke Fukudome and hope to keep upgrading their sagging offense.
Only by the grace of the woebegone AL Central could a team that lost 93 games last year, has gone 22-33 in its last 55 games and outscored its opponents this season by exactly two runs consider itself a division title contender. But look over there, shopping the aisles of the trade market as a most unlikely buyer, and you'll find the Cleveland Indians, the accidental contender.
It's amazing how far things have come over the last decade. Dr. Rany Jazayerliand Keith Woolner, now the Manager of Baseball Analytics for the Cleveland Indians, developed a metric called Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP.) At the time, they had plenty of 130, 140, even the occasional 150-pitch outing to discuss. It's long been thought that super high counts - 150 and above - were normal during the '40s and '50s, but we remember the outliers. Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, and Bob Feller did have some games that were crazy, but overall, research has shown that pitchers threw about the same number of pitches as today. Pitchers were just more efficient. They didn't get as many strikeouts, which racks up the number of pitches, and they didn't fear the home run. All you have to do is look at shortstops of then and today. We "went crazy" because Ozzie Smith never hit homers, aside from that big one against the Dodgers. Phil Rizzuto hit as many homers in his career (38) as some shortstops do in a year
Babe Ruth and Peter Gammons share little in common beyond baseball and beginning their careers in Boston but, 79 years apart, the two came up with the same description of Wrigley Field: "A dump."
The Twins are toast and the baseball season in Chicago is virtually over. Harsh as that may sound before summer has even arrived, history tells us nothing short of historic comebacks can save the seasons of the Twins, Cubs and White Sox.
Surely, you've heard. The end of the world is coming Saturday. A Christian-based Internet ministry tells us that doomsday unfolds this weekend. It has something to do with Noah and floods and the 17th day of the second month of the biblical calendar.
Commissioner Bud Selig has an attendance problem. It's not a problem with the actual attendance, but a problem with perception people take from the snapshot of a wet, dreary April and extrapolate into doom and gloom for the sport. Far from worried, Selig offered a bold promise to SI.com: major league attendance will rise this year.
When the Tampa Bay Rays sent top starting pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs for a few hot prospects in a seven-player trade this winter, folks barely noticed that a couple of intellectual outfielders were also exchanged in that same deal. Fernando Perez, an Ivy League product of Columbia, went to the Cubs, and Sam Fuld, the Stanford product known mostly for his lack of height and daredevil plays in the outfield, went to the Rays.
The Reds usurped the National League Central crown from the Cardinals in 2010, a year earlier than most expected the change. Now Cincinnati must fend off revenge-seeking St. Louis, pitching-enhanced Milwaukee and veteran-loaded Chicago to hold onto the division title, as forward-thinking Houston and Pittsburgh advance their rebuilding plans.
Chicago Cubs stories in the SI Vault
MESA, Ariz. -- Three observations after spending time in Cubs camp:
MESA, Ariz. -- The weather's been ideal during spring training, especially in the Cactus League. But there have been several unsettling issues, including three DUIs, several injuries to prominent players and one big dugout scuffle between teammates.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- At the age of 61, and back for his 18th try at managing a World Series winner, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, a guy who in the first place didn't want anything to do with managing, has become one of the game's great treasures, even more so now that colleagues Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston retired after last season. Baker blends old-school baseball values with a hipster's love of what's current, constantly engaging his young Reds players in conversations about music, fashion, cars, travel and just about anything else.
As the line goes, the Tampa Bay Rays, who will be spending much less money this year than they did last year, are done. They've lost outfielder Carl Crawford, they've lost first baseman Carlos Peña, they've lost most of their bullpen, and now they've reportedly traded Matt Garza for something less than the best prospects in the Chicago Cubs' farm system, and so now they're cooked.
There is a deal in place to send Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs, pending physicals, sources say. The Cubs' interest in the 27-year-old right-hander has been well-documented.
CHICAGO (AP) -- Kerry Wood never wanted to leave. The Chicago Cubs were part of who he was as a pitcher, through the tough times and the good ones. Chicago was the city where he grew up as a person and an athlete.
The Yankees signed former No. 2 overall pick Mark Prior to a minor-league contract.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It was one wild winter meetings. Only a handful of teams made major moves, but oh, what deals they were.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Red Sox shocked the baseball world, or at least the portion of it that managed to hold on to their drinks around the lobby bars of the winter meetings hotel here when the news broke in the last hour of Wednesday. Boston somehow turned $142 million into stealth money, agreeing to make Carl Crawford the second-highest paid outfielder in baseball history with hardly a moment of preparation by those outside their own suite. It was a rare "wow" moment in a Twitter-mad world.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Both Chicago ballclubs filled their needs at first base with the exact opposite player -- and both got exactly what they needed.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cubs are in agreement with first baseman Carlos Pena on a one-year contract, SI.com has learned.
It's résumé season for managing hopefuls. Three new openings were created on D-Day Monday with the firings of the Mets' Jerry Manuel, the Brewers' Ken Macha and the Pirates' John Russell. The Braves' Bobby Cox is retiring, as is the Blue Jays' Cito Gaston. Three teams -- the Cubs, Marlins and Mariners -- have interim managers. And according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, legendary Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is driving cross-country deciding whether to return to St. Louis. So this promises to be one of the most interesting managerial offseasons ever. With that in mind, here are a few folks who could pop up on one or more lists, from the most famous to the more obscure.
The Cubs, from their new owner to their front-office folks, love the job that interim manager and longtime organization man Mike Quade is doing -- love it so much, in fact, that he has gone from seeming long shot to real possibility in the team's much-watched managerial derby, according to people who've talked to Cubs decisionmakers.
The Second City's second team plays, physically, at the fringe of respectable Chicago, that renowned center of molecular gastronomy, Mies van der Rohe structures and futures trading. Home plate at U.S. Cellular Field is a brief walk from the old Union Stock Yard Gate, two L stops from the second most crime-ridden corner in the United States and an hour's bicycle ride from depressed reaches of northwest Indiana which manage to be gray and brown even on perfect June days. The Cubs play in the town of departing mayor Richard Daley's idylls, full of wrought iron fencing and green markets. The White Sox don't.
Manny Ramirez's days as a Dodger appear numbered, and his number could be up as soon as Monday, by which time Mannywood should finally come to a close after an eventful run. At least, that's what should happen.
There could be more big-name managers on the open market than ever this winter, with several marquee names potentially on the move, setting up several interesting scenarios. Yet, at least three men with great playing pedigrees but no major league managerial experience could yet wind up with big-league managing jobs -- Ryne Sandberg (Cubs), Ted Simmons (Mariners) and Tim Wallach (Dodgers).
Here in Chicago the talk is Ryne Sandberg, Ryne Sandberg, Ryne Sandberg right now, and why not? The Cubs are awful and getting worse, and with Lou Piniella's abrupt retirement the public has been deprived of the grand non-sequiturs and occasional fitful furies that were, aside from the brilliance of rookie shortstop Starlin Castro and the free bicycle valet service at Wrigley Field, by far the best thing about the team. The prospect of a legend coming in next year to set things right has its charm.
Last fall I stood in line in a men's room at Giants Stadium while a kid no older than six approached a urinal at least two inches too high for him.
While some of the best moves in baseball over the past calendar year were obvious, like the Braves' decision to keep phenom Jason Heyward on their Opening Day roster, others -- such as the Cubs' acquisition of Carlos Silva -- were panned at the time but have proven to be good calls. It's just further proof that it often makes sense to wait before passing judgment on moves that might have seemed questionable at the time they were made.
CHICAGO -- In his first game as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, against the New York Rangers in an Original 6 matchup, Patrick Sharp looked around cavernous United Center and that's what he saw. Six.
Feel the passion. Experience the pageantry. Live the rivalry. When the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Houston Astros, there's just no telling what will happen.
Brilliant right-hander Stephen Strasburg looks so flawless in the minors, he seems more machine than phenom.
Here's yet another surprise from the first-year general manager of the team that has been the season's biggest surprise to date. Jed Hoyer says if the Padres contend, they could actually become a trade-deadline buyer, and not the seller everyone expects them to be.
President Obama, a diehard Chicago White Sox fan, will test a different kind of diplomacy Monday when he hosts the New York Yankees at the White house.
On the most recent day in which all 30 teams played, last Wednesday, 20 center fielders were African-American. The group included veteran All-Stars such as Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Curtis Granderson, but mostly it included some of the fastest rising young stars in the game, including Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp, Dexter Fowler, Cameron Maybin, Adam Jones, B.J. Upton, Denard Span, Austin Jackson and Michael Bourn.
It's been an eventful first couple weeks, and here are my initial observations, suggestions, rumors, regrets and recriminations ...
NEW YORK -- Contrary to what some folks might think, legendary manager Lou Piniella isn't about to bust a blood vessel or throw a base over his high-priced, slumping Cubs. Not yet, anyway.
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
Here are some random facts about Ben Sheets: He's 31 years old. His fastball runs like it's hung on a clothesline. He's pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title once in the last five years. He just signed with the A's for $10 million plus incentives. If the last of these seems a bit off to you given the first three, you may think you're missing something. You aren't.
Mark McGwire made his choice. So did Alex Rodriguez. And Barry Bonds. And Manny Ramirez. And David Ortiz. And Rafael Palmeiro. And Sammy Sosa. And so on and so on. The list of baseball players who have been linked to performance-enhancing substances seems to stretch on like a tape-measure blast into the summer night.
The Chicago Cubs have reached an agreement with free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd on a three-year, $15 million contract, SI.com has confirmed. The signing allows the Cubs to move Kosuke Fukudome from centerfield to rightfield, which is his preferred position.
As major league GM's awake on Christmas morning, they'll anxiously check their stockings to see what Santa has brought them. If they've been nice, maybe they'll get a new flat-screen TV; if they've been naughty, perhaps a lump of coal awaits them. However, no lump of coal is more burdensome than these: The 10 biggest franchise-killing contracts in baseball.
The physique is markedly different -- not as tall, a little thicker -- and the all-out, purposefully desperate style of play defied easy description. But the effect was unmistakably Jordan-like as Derrick Rose took over the game during a rare Chicago Bulls victory over the high-flying Atlanta Hawks in overtime last week.
With baseball's annual winter meetings under way in Indianapolis this week, Colorado's Jim Tracy is being acknowledged for winning the National League Manager of the Year award. Tracy, a late-May replacement for Clint Hurdle and a good guy, went 74-42 and guided the Rockies to a playoff berth, getting it right in his third try as a big league skipper. He had a 562-572 record (.495) and one postseason trip in seven previous seasons with the Dodgers and Pirates.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella heard the news that Whitey Herzog was elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday, and as he watched on television as Herzog held a news conference, two questions came to his mind: How many games did Herzog win and how many World Series did he win? The answers are that Herzog won 1,281 games and one World Series.
The Cubs are still "not close" to dealing talented yet troubled outfielder Milton Bradley to the Rays or Rangers, the two teams thought to be most interested, sources say.
The Diamondbacks announced that they acquired Aaron Heilman in a trade with the Cubs on Thursday in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers.
Inside the no-frills Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport for Major League Baseball's General Manager meeting, there were signs of tough times ahead for ballplayers. While agent Scott Boras -- who represents Matt Holliday, Johnny Damon and about a dozen other free agents -- went on the other night about how revenues spiked by nearly 600 percent from 1990 to 2009, he was standing in a lobby that was decorated sometime in the '80s, a sharp contrast to the opulence of past GM events.
The late, great ink-stained orator Mike Royko was the wise-guy voice of Chicago on myriad matters large and small, pitch-perfect in articulating his city's sensibilities and proudly unwavering in his disdain for all things New York.
CHICAGO -- Beyond the "Big Three" free agents (Matt Holliday, John Lackey and Jason Bay), there's still some decent action going on here at the GM meetings. And if there's a fourth coveted free agent, it just might be versatile leadoff man Chone Figgins, who is drawing interest from some unexpected sources.
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are trying hard to dump the perennially malcontented Milton Bradley here at the GM meetings, as it isn't just manager Lou Piniella who didn't connect with him in his season here. Apparently, several key members of the team -- including Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano -- barely speak to Bradley.
Highly respected hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo is in serious talks with the Chicago Cubs about becoming their new hitting coach, and it appears likely that the sides will reach an agreement for Jaramillo to join the Cubs soon, SI.com has learned.
Well-regarded hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is talking to the Cubs about becoming their hitting coach, sources say.
My gracious, but this has been a difficult time for us sports troubadours. We do better with simple games, with the tic-tac-toe offensive and defensive Xs and Os, as opposed to the exes and ohs that refer to past marital tense and current romantic joy. I mean, hardly had I begun to digest the news that Lamar Odom of the NBA had married Khloe Kardashian of reality show fame -- ohhh! -- than comes word that Chris Evert and Greg Norman, America's senior sweethearts, had broken up, potential exes-to-be.
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Suspended Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley apologized Wednesday for behavior that led to general manager Jim Hendry's decision to banish him for the rest of the season.
The Chicago Cubs aren't going to win anything this year despite having one of baseball's largest payrolls. But their bankrupt owner, Sam Zell's Tribune Co., may be about to hit a home run -- at your expense.
Before agreeing to sign Milton Bradley as a free agent last offseason, Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry felt it imperative that he sit down face to face with the man who can be as tempestuous as he is talented. Hendry drove from the GM meetings in Dana Point, Calif., to Los Angeles for dinner with Bradley. The discussion centered on the usual subjects, but when it turned to Bradley's combustible behavior in the past that included charging an umpire, trying to go after a broadcaster and angrily confronting a fan, Hendry became equally direct. "I was very blunt and honest with him, and I was very pleased with how honest he was with me," Hendry said back in spring training. "That's all in the past."
There's always enough money and just enough baseball talent on the North Side of Chicago to keep things from getting truly ugly. I have a theory that this, and not their team's epic history of failure, is why Cubs fans are so bitter and angry. Their team doesn't even lose well.
The Dom Perignon sat in an ice bucket, near a king size bed in the Ft. Lauderdale Marriott. It had been barely 12 hours since Adam Greenberg got The Call, the promotion to the big leagues.
Yesterday, Tom Verducci examined the AL wild-card situation, so today it's time to break down the race in the NL, which is slightly more competitive, with five teams entering Wednesday within four games of the lead, compared to four teams within 5 1/2 in the AL. Here's a snapshot of each of those five clubs. (Sorry Brewers and Astros fans; you must be this tall (at least .500) to go on this ride.)
From Woodstock and a man on the moon to the Manson murders and the Stonewall riots, the summer of 1969 was a tumultuous and eventful time. Listed below are a few of the historic and memorable moments from that summer.
Twelve of SI.com's 13 baseball experts (myself included) agreed: The Cubs were a lock to win the National League Central this season. After all, the Cubs had the best record in baseball in 2008, and their chief rival in the division, the wild card-winning Brewers, had lost their two best starting pitchers (CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets) to free agency. Coming out of the All-Star break, however, the Cubs are tied for third in their underwhelming division, and their .500 record ranks them ahead of only 12 of the major league's 30 teams.
Baseball's traditional midway point, represented historically by the All-Star Game, is still a week away, but after Tuesday night, all 30 teams will have reached at least the actual 81-game midway point in their schedules. With that milepost in mind, here are 10 burning questions heading into the second half of the season.
This week's Diamond Digits dissects the Diamondbacks' pitching staff's very uneven yet eventful week, a century-long record falling in the Windy City and the Big Unit's big moment -- and how his final steps along the way to 300 wins compare to other recent club members.
This weekend, when the Mets visit the Red Sox and the Yankees host the Phillies, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium will feature four teams with payrolls totaling $574 million. Allowing for inflation, this is as much as the 10 highest payrolls in baseball in 1997, the year of the first regular-season games between the National and American leagues.
Generations of Cubs fans have passed without seeing their team win a World Series title. Now they can feel close to their lovable losers in the after life.
Like anyone else who writes about baseball, I like to think I know what I'm most accurate about, which makes it a good thing for my self-esteem that I don't spend much time going over old predictions. A quick review shows that over the last two years I've called just six of 16 playoff teams correctly. There are likely circus animals who did better.
1. Forget about last year. Not many teams that win 97 games need pep talks the following spring about how to get over what happened the year before, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella felt just such a speech was in order when his team gathered in Mesa, Ariz. As the new season approaches, much of the attention on the Cubs has focused more on last season, specifically their three straight losses in the Division Series to the underdog Dodgers rather than on their league-high 97 wins in the regular season, and Piniella was mindful of the potentially crushing burden that could carry once the year began. "I think this team needed a message, I really do," said Piniella, who has guided the Cubs to back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history. "I told them we played very well for six months and not so good for three days. But the longer you knock on the barn door, eventually you knock it down."
Carlos Zambrano was wrong in 2007. Ryan Dempster was wrong in 2008. And after consecutive seasons of hearing players predict the Cubs, the team that hasn't won a World Series in more than a century, would end that drought, manager Lou Piniella instructed his team to not make any predictions for 2009. That will let the rest of us make the predictions for him: For the first time since 1945, the Chicago Cubs will be playing in the World Series. Last year's squad rolled to 97 wins and the NL Central title but was swept out of the NLDS by an inferior Dodgers team. This year's team features the best offense in the National League and a pitching staff that specializes in missing bats. The Cubs return virtually every key part of an offense that led the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and finished second in batting average and hits. Their pitching staff not only topped the league in wins, but also in strikeouts and fewest hits allowed, while finishing second
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Only three teams in baseball won 97 or more games last year, and two of them got better this week, as the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs and AL champion Tampa Bay Rays both filled significant holes in their lineups via free agency. The Cubs' catch is Milton Bradley, who agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal to become Chicago's new rightfielder, thereby allowing Kosuke Fukudome to slide over to fill the team's hole in centerfield. The Rays, meanwhile, struck an absolute bargain by signing Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million deal to be their designated hitter.
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