Finished reading: The Franchise: Chicago Cubs by Bruce Miles 📚I enjoyed reading this one about my favorite baseball team.

I keep reading articles that are interpreting the hiring of Gregg Counsell is a sign that the Cubs will be aggressive in the free agent market this year. I believe people might be overlooking something important. Jed Hoyer has stated that he has admired Counsell’s success in Milwaukee given the budget constraints. I believe that Hoyer is convinced that his way of NOT paying a lot of money for free agents is the correct path, and signing Counsell enables him to continue that strategy and be successful. Counsell might have signed with the Cubs thinking he is stepping up to a big market team, but in practice the Cubs have more in common with the Brewers. It is more than likely that the Cubs do not sign the likes of Bellinger and Ohtani and instead stick to their history of signing bottom top to top mid tier players. None of the players the Cubs signed after hiring Joe Maddon were top tier at that time, including Jon Lester. Until proven otherwise, I am not convinced the signing of Counsell is a signal of a change in how Hoyer will make decisions. I still think the Cubs fired the wrong man.

I realize that what I wrote below and how I relate what the Chicago Cubs have done (sports) to the state of the world may appear to be overly dramatic. What I think is incredible dangerous is a world in which there are no lines, and that is appearing more and more frequently. Some time soon there will be another mass shooting in the United States, this is guaranteed because there is no line, no limit on the amount of death that a gun advocate has in the U.S. to convince them that there is no good reason to have an AK-47. The very principle of liberty for all in the United States, nor the democratic republic instituted for the sake of that liberty no longer appears to be a line. My question to Republicans is, what is the line that Donald Trump cannot cross to either get re-elected or while in office, that will lead you to no longer support him?

I have read The Athletics’s articles on the firing of David Ross and the hiring of Gregg Counsell that confirmed that the decision went down as expected, and no matter how the Cubs front office wants to sugar coat it, they stabbed Ross in the back. Cub fans who have problems seeing this decision as I do likely are in the camp that the ends justify the means. Ends justifying the means is “the” scourge on our society today in things little like what happened to David Ross and large like the support for and voting for Donald Trump as POTUS. No principles, values, or guard rails (ethics) are considered to be in place that lead one to the conclusion that even though one could do something they won’t do it. When the ends justify the means there is no democracy.

Another Chicago Cubs Scapegoat

Whenever a general manager/front office of a professional sports team fires a good coach, or in baseball manager, I am suspicious of the true motivations behind the decision. I tend to think such decisions are often deflections of attention away from the front office. Today the Chicago Cubs dismissed David Ross and hired Gregg Counsell and many will note similarities in this decision with how they dismissed Ricky Renteria in 2014 to hire Joe Maddon who unexpectedly become available. I personally do not think the two situations are the same.

Renteria had been on the job for only one year, had not really proven himself as a manager, and did not have any history with the Cubs. Ross is one of the heros of the 2016 world championship team and had taken the Cubs to the playoffs as a manager. Counsell is a good manager and had taken the Brewers to the playoffs five of his six seasons with them, but did not have success in the playoffs. I do not think Counsell is as good a manager today as Joe Maddon was in 2014.

More important, David Ross was not the reason why the Cubs did not make the playoffs this season. The Cubs did not make the playoffs because of a depleted bullpen and in my opinion bad offseason acquisitions that were eventually released during the season, and those decisions were made by the general manager and president of baseball operations.

Ricketts might have bought Hoyer’s argument that jumping on the opportunity to get Counsell is similar to when Epstein jumped on the opportunity to get Maddon, but if Ricketts really wants to address the root cause for why Cubs did not meet expectations this season he ought to be questioning the decisions made by Hoyer and hold him accountable. If the Cubs have decided to completely move on from 2016 that means moving on from Jed Hoyer. In my opinion, the Cubs released the wrong person from their team.

Oh, and by the way, if the Cubs make this move of stabbing one of their own in the back, they darn well better be aggressive at signing free agents during the off season.

Seven years ago the greatest game ever played was played, on a Wednesday, in Cleveland.

I thought that the Arizona Diamondbacks were going to win the World Series, but I guess I forgot to take into account the fact that the middle three games were in Arizona and how the Rangers won every road game during the playoffs. It’s the first World Series that the Texas Rangers have ever won. Here is something overlooked, Aroldis Chapman helped the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years, and now has helped the Rangers win their first World Series in 63 years. I think that Chapman does not get enough credit for the Cubs winning game seven in Cleveland. He gave up the tying home run to Raji Davis in the 8th inning but then came back out in the 9th and held the Indians to no runs with the potential for let down from the 8th inning being huge! The Indians could have walked off in the 9th inning, instead the game played on, the Cubs went ahead in the 10th inning and then won, and Ben Zobrist was named MVP.

If you think you are not religious then you don’t know what is religion. I think Americans are more religious today than ever before, but don’t recognize it because we equate religion with a specific association to specific organizations or specific beliefs in deities.

Religion is much more fundamental to who we are as humans. For example, if you identify yourself with an NFL team, like I say I am a Packers fan, you are religious. The religion, which is that to which you connect or bind yourself (re-ligio) is professional U.S. football. Republicans? Democrat? Conservative? Liberal? Progressive? All religions. Yes, even atheism is a religion. Religion is an aspect of our ego.

The problem in all of this is we have no understanding of our true selves, and the decisions we make are to maintain all these false selves that don’t really add value to who we are and what we truly need. It is the stranglehold of our religions that is driving decisions that we make against our own best interests.

All of the MLB wild card series games of both leagues are done with sweeps of each. The NL wildcards that I preferred to advance won. The Diamondbacks play the Dodgers and the Phillies play the Braves, and I look forward to watching both series. The Brewers, who finished the regular season nine games ahead of the Cubs to win the NL Central division, were swept in two both games by wide margins. Had the Cubs hung on to the third wild card they would have played the Brewers, who I am sure wish that had happened.

My 2023 MLB Playoff Preferences

I am not as crazy as to pretend that I can predict what will happen in this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs, but I did want to go down on record about what are my preferences given that the Chicago Cubs are not in the tournament.

Given I closely follow the Cubs, I am more emotionally invested in the National League games, so I will start with the easy part, which is that my preference for the American League champion is any team other than Houston. Houston has won it recently, most of the others have not, and that is the bottom line. For some reason I find myself drawn to the Baltimore Orioles, so I will prefer they play in the Word Series for the American League.

Wild card teams seem to excel in the tournament and do so at the expense of the higher seeds who are division winners. I think the wild card teams have the advantage of actually having played under playoff pressure for weeks up to the tournament just to make it in to the postseason. Of the the wild card teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Arizona Diamondbacks made it to the NLCS, and I think a championship between them and Atlanta would be very fun to watch.

My emotional preference is for Philadelphia to represent the NL in the World Series because of Kyle Schwarber, but I expect Atlanta to make it to the World Series and win it all because they are the best team in all of baseball. A big part of me likes the idea of Schwarber having the most success of the former Cub players after the 2016 World Series given how the Cubs front office gave up on him waaaay too soon.

Looking back at it, the last week of the MLB baseball season is often been filled with angst. I do agree with what I wrote back in 2019, I’d rather be in the position of being disappointed that a good team did not succeed than always rooting for bad teams who occasionally surprise. The Cubs lost last night after having a 6-0 lead. In many ways the game encapsulates their current state, some good pitching to gain a lead or stay close, but not enough pitching to sustain the lead through 9 innings. In that state all other facets of the game have to be played near flawlessly, so a fielding error can (and last night was) be fatal. Good news is that the one loss does not put them out of the playoff standings, but they cannot lose two games in a row now and when they do lose they are at the mercy of how other teams perform.

I’ve turned an emotional corner regarding this year’s Chicago Cubs. I now don’t expect them to make the playoffs, they are clearly in a downward spiral that they don’t have the manpower left to pull up from. I am not going to care whether they make the playoffs and focus on enjoying these remaining games.

Cubs starter Justin Steele got pounded by Pirates last night, and the Cubs lost 7-13. Fortunately, the Marlins also lost so the Cubs maintain the half game lead for the third wild card. My buddy said he thinks the Cubs pitching staff has nothing left in the tank, and that certainly looked to be the case last night. Steele is the best of the Cubs pitchers and he was cruising until he hit an apparent wall in the fourth inning.

Why The Cubs Are Fading

The World Series, like most major sports championships, is won by defense. In baseball that mainly translates to pitching, but also fielding. When you play the same team in a playoff series your hitters usually face the opponent’s best pitching, consequently you should plan for 3 or fewer runs scored and that means you want your pitching to hold the opponent to 3 or fewer runs.

Since the beginning of September the Cubs have been in playoff games. Nearly all of the teams they faced need to beat them to move ahead of the Cubs in the Wild Card playoff standings. By my count the Cubs have played 17 games so far in September and in 7 of them their opponent scored 3 or fewer runs. My conclusion is that the Cubs pitching is simply not good enough to win in the playoffs.

I think my conclusion holds if you look at the larger body of work over the season. I expect that in a high percentage of the games the Cubs won they scored 4 or more runs, too many of those they needed to score 4 or more runs. During the regular season it is not surprising that your hitters will have more success because they will be in many situations where they face poor pitching.

A team built to win in the MLB playoffs has the pitching that more often than not can hold their opponent to 3 or fewer runs. Truth is the Cubs got through the 2023 season with only one reliable starting pitcher, maybe two (Steele for sure, and possibly Hendricks). Stroman and Taillon have not been consistent and Taillon has been aweful. Javier Assad joined the starting rotation too late in to the season so it is really hard to assess his reliability. The bullpen is no better, only Merrywather and Alzolay has been reliable, though Leiter is borderline.

The fact that the Cubs are in a playoff race is much more important this year than they actually make the playoffs, and the goal long term is be winning division championships and not gain a playoff berth via the wild card. While at the beginning of the season there was some hope the Cubs could compete with the Brewers for the NL Central division championship, I think it was evident early on through head to head games with the Brewers that this Cubs team is not as good or better than the Brewers. Sure, the Cubs can win any game, but can they win a series?

Bottom line, the Chicago Cubs are on schedule for their long term goals of winning division titles and the World Series in upcoming years. Clearly, the Cubs need to improve their pitching. Jordan Wicks has shown he is a piece of the puzzle for next year, and we can hope Taillon will return to the how he pitched in the past. Stroman might be back, but with Hendricks being another year older I think the Cubs need to sign at least two reliable starting pitchers during the off season as well as keep Merryweather.

From the lineup perspective, I think the Cubs should be aggressive in their attempt to sign Bellinger, but I doubt he stays and his departure will create a big gap in their lineup. Maybe youngsters Morel, Mervis, or Crow-Armstrong can help fill that gap but all are too inexperienced with MLB pitching. Consequently, the Cubs need to sign at least one big-name hitter to maintain their current starting lineup performance.

Finally, the biggest question of the off season might be whether David Ross has what it takes to manage a championship caliber baseball team. Every manager makes questionable lineup and in-game decisions, and this is Ross’ first manager job so we need to keep in mind that he is learning on the job. I personally can’t pin the current Cubs situation on Ross, the bottom line is that the players have to perform and they are not performing. Ross has made lineup changes and pitching changes, as far as I can tell he is doing everything he can to try and have the Cubs win games. I would not be in a hurry to replace Ross unless there is a championship experienced person to replace him. So, David Ross’ fate, like Rick Renteria’s was in 2015, may be decided more by who is available rather than by his own performance.

I am frustrated by and mad about the Cub’s performance this month, but I am mostly mad at the Cubs veterans who have under performed with the pressure on. Frankly, if it weren’t for Suzuki the Cubs would probably would have a longer losing streak. Swanson, Bellinger, and Happ have not met expectations as the veteran leaders. In the big picture I am happy about where the Cubs are, they met my expectations for this season and look to be on track of near year and beyond. All of the younger Cub players who have never been in this position of a playoff race in September are gaining valuable experience of how to deal with the pressure, and in my opinion experience matters most.

We are at the start of the second to the last week of the 2023 Major League Baseball season with the Chicago Cubs in the midst of a five game losing streak. Last week has been frustrating and hopefully behind us. The Cubs have played themselves out of any chance of winning the NL Central and have moved to a third place tie with the Florida Marlins in the Wild Card standings, trailing the Diamondbacks, who just swept the Cubs, by a half game. Disappointed as I am, I also know in the big picture this experience is good for the future of the team, and should be a pleasant surprise considering how bad the team as at the beginning of June.

Welcome To September Baseball

As of this morning the Chicago Cubs are 3 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the N.L. Central lead and have a 2 game lead in the N.L. Wildcard. Nearly all MLB teams are not playing today. On Friday (September 1) the Cubs will have a chance to gain more ground on the Brewers by virtue of a double header, whereas the Brewers play the Phillies. The double header is in Cincinnati and the Reds are chasing the Cubs for the Wildcard, so both teams have playoff positions to play for and therefore the games will be tense.

Time For The Chicago Cubs To Embrace The Pressure

The 162 game schedule is a big part of what makes Major League Baseball unique among professional sports in the United States because it tends to force differences in how games are approached throughout the season. No team is ever going to be undefeated, the current best team, the Atlanta Braves, has won a little over 65% of their games. The MLB season is a marathon meaning that in most cases a game is not treated as “must win.”

Oddly, while a long schedule means most games are not “must win,” for some teams, earlier than they would like, the season transitions to “it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose” because they are out of playoff contention. As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan it has been my experience more often than not that the Cubs are out of playoff contention by the end of May or early June. Further, as a lifelong Cubs fan, I have learned it is much more fun watching games year after year when the team is playing meaningful games in September. I would much rather have the team lose in the playoffs every year than have the team out the playoffs by June in the majority of seasons.

So, in baseball, a transition occurs over the course of a season where teams move from playing to win games to playing to must win games. The benefit of expanding the number of playoff teams is that more teams start playing more “must win” games in September than in years past. In my experience, teams with players who have the most experience winning “must win” games are best positioned for long term success.

As an aside, it should be obvious why wild card teams, which have worse records than division winners, have had so much success in the playoffs, it’s because they usually play more “must win” games during the last month of the season and through that gain valuable experience and confidence. Turns out there is a big difference between “wanting to win” and “needing to win.”

At this point of a long 2023 season, the Chicago Cubs are starting the transition in to “must win” territory. Nobody associated with the Cubs is going to admit publicly that the games they are playing this week and next are must win, but it’s a mistake if they don’t start viewing the games as such, in fact they ought to embrace the transition. As Billy Jean King is often quoted as saying, “Pressure is a privilege.” The pressure of being in “must win” mode as the calendar flips from August to September is a badge of success.

The unpredictable nature of sports mean should the Cubs make the playoffs they could win the World Series. The probability of the 2023 Cubs winning the World Series is not high, not like it was for the 2016 team. However, the experience of playing as many “must win” games as possible over the course of the final month of the season is huge! The Cubs are exactly where they hoped to be at this time of the season and now players who have not had the experience with this type of pressure gain the experience that will provide dividends for years beyond.

I was mad the Cubs were crushed by the Brewers last night because I desire the immediate gratification of winning the N.L. Central this year, but I am happy that the young Cubs players such as their current best starting pitcher, Justin Steele, are getting this experience playing these games. However, the full value of that experience will not be realized if the team, from top to bottom, doesn’t consider these games “must win.”

The 2023 MLB Season is transitioning from “would like to win” to “must win” for the Cubs, and I am looking for the team to embrace the pressure.

Cubs vs. Tigers at Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan

The Chicago Cubs are playing the Detroit Tigers in Detroit this week, and I went to the Monday and Tuesday night games. The Cubs won 7-6 Monday night in a game when the Cubs gained and gave up a four run lead but hung on to win. The Tigers won Tuesday night 8-6, but the Cubs had a 4-3 run lead after the top of the fourth inning and then gave up 4 runs to the Tigers in the bottom of the inning. The Cubs scored 2 runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull within one run, but scored no more while the Tigers added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning. As of today the Cubs record is 65-60 and they are 3.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central division and have the second wild card for the NL playoffs.

Highlights of the games include seeing Cody Bellinger, former NL MVP, playing for the Cubs, he will likely not re-sign with the Cubs at the end of the season. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera was the DH for the Tigers in Tuesday’s game, possibly his last game ever against the Chicago Cubs. Click to see the pictures I took during the games on Monday and Tuesday.

Finally, I captured a foul ball during the game on Tuesday. It was fumbled by the guy in front of me and I grabbed after it landed on the steps next to me.

Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!

Go Cubs Go!

Yesterday the Cubs beat the Braves, who by record is the best team in the National League. Today will be a test to see whether the Cubs can beat a better team in a series. Given how this is playing out, I think the experience of playing meaningful games through September is going to be huge for the near future Cub teams. Even if they lose Stroman and Bellinger during the offseason this experience for the maturity of the team is with every penny spent.

I am seeing lots of articles about the demise of the PAC-12 college conference. To an older guy such as myself I find the current conference names no longer make sense. Granted, the Big Ten doesn’t explicitly name a region but it has been for Midwest colleges all my life, west coast colleges mess that up. So, I say you might as well just change the conference names.

One thing I do wonder, with the PAC-12 disbanded what of the Rose Bowl? While the CFB championship long ago broke the Big Ten/PAC-12 match ups, they did try to hold to that when not hosting the championship. Now what?

Reading what I wrote about the results at the end of the MLB trade deadline last year where the Chicago Cubs did not sell Wilson Contreras or Ian Happ, amazed by how much changes in one season. The Cubs extended Happ this year and honestly have not missed Contreras. Further, it seems the new cornerstone of the Cubs is Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson. Better yet, the Cubs bought at this trade deadline and their playoff chances are very much alive.

The game last night encapsulates why it has been frustrating to follow the Chicago Cubs this season. They have the hitting to put up a huge number of runs and the pitching to enable them to win, but as prone they are to score 20 runs in one night, today they might score only 2. Too many losing streaks up to this season has prevented them from being in first place right now. Good new is that they have more games against the Brewers and Reds that enable them to close the gap.

The Chicago Cubs winning streak ended at eight games today with a loss to the Cardinals in the last game of the season against their division rival. (Let that sink in a moment, thanks due to the new “balanced” MLB schedule.) Obviously, the streak had to end eventually, but the Cards have proven to be very beatable and we had every reason to expect the Cubs to win today too. Tomorrow night the Cubs start a four game series against the Reds at home, and they need to win the first game as they can no longer afford losing streaks. Even more importantly, the Cubs are 3.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central standings and we do not want to fall further behind. The Cubs have an opportunity to pull closer to the Reds and Brewers this week and therefore solidify being in the hunt for the remainder of the season. Losing 3 out of 4 of these games against the Reds might actually be too difficult to overcome. Ross needs to be putting the best lineup in every game for this series, I do not want to see Mancini at first and Morel in place other than DH. Play Gomes in all of these games. Cubs need to treat this series like the playoffs!