On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
3:47 PM

By Kevin T. Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com
Tennessee and West Tenn were almost evenly matched throughout the regular season in the Southern League. Now, these in-state rivals will get the chance to grab bragging rights and play for a league title. Heres a closer look at the opening-round matchup in the Southern League playoffs.
Tennessee Smokies vs. West Tenn Diamond Jaxx(Best of five beginning Thursday)

Regular-Season Series

Tennessee had the slightest of edges winning 11 of the 19 games played between the two teams. The Diamond Jaxx took of three late last month at home but Tennessee took four of five games at the end of July and beginning of August at Smokies Park.
HEAD-TO-HEAD
Tennessee

The Smokies have pitched well all season and their contests against West Tenn were no exception. Tennessee had a 3.64 team era in the series with the starters posting a 3.39 ERA. Chris Archer was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA while Luke Sommer posted a 1.93 ERA in eight relief appearances. Brandon Guyer scorched the Diamond Jaxx at the plate, hitting .406 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Brett Jackson hit .321 with nine RBIs though he did strike out 16 times.
West Tenn

Johan Limanta hit .347 with 12 RBIs while Alex Liddi hit .303 with 14 RBIs. The Diamond Jaxx, however, struck out once every 4.2 at-bats led by Carlos Peguero, who fanned 30 times in 65 at-bats. Limanta and Liddi combined for 33 strikeouts. Luis Munoz was 2-0 but he had a 6.57 ERA in his six appearances. Steve Bray and Mauricio Robles each made four starts against the Smokies, combining to go 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA.
ON THE MOUND
Tennessee

The Smokies had the highest winning percentage .619 and the third-best ERA 3.71 in the league. They also topped the circuit with 49 saves. Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 ERA was sixth in the league in ERA but that was it for placing pitchers among the league leaders. Tennessee had a fluid staff throughout the season, moving people up to Iowa while plucking arms off the Daytona roster. Though the Smokies lost Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Andrew Cashner and Hung-Wen Chen, who combined for 16 wins, to Iowa, they were replaced with Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 and Trey McNutt. Archer was a combined 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA at Daytona and Tennessee while McNutt went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA at Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee. Craig Muschko was 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA in 26 games 23 starts. Kyle Smit also proved to be a fine addition after coming over in a trade with the Dodgers, going 5-1 with a save and 1.96 ERA in 12 appearances. As for finishing games, the Smokies have been closer by committee for much of the year with several plays
rotating in, out and around promotions.

West Tenn
The Diamond Jaxx finished seventh in the league with a 4.25 team ERA. Mauricio Robles was having a solid season and was near the top of several categories in terms of the league leaders when he was bumped up to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Game One starter Luis Munoz has appeared in 35 games but only 10 as a starter, during which he was 3-5 with a 4.17 ERA. His last four appearances were starts and he went 2-2 with a 3.43 ERA. Game Two starter Anthony Vazquez has been all over the map this season, spending time in the Midwest and California Leagues. The former 18th-round selection was a combined 11-9 with a 2.46 ERA. West Tenn has gone closer by committee all season and lately Mumba Rivera has been getting many of the chances to finish things off. He has four saves in his last six appearances, during which he didnt allow any runs. Anthony Varvaro led the team with nine saves.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game One: RHP Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 vs. RHP Luis Munoz 7-6, 3.88
Game Two: RHP Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 vs. LHP Anthony Vazquez 2-3, 2.61
Game Three: RHP Trey McNutt 0-1. 5.74 vs. RHP Jarrett Grube 5-5, 3.48
Game Four: RHP Craig Muschko 9-3, 3.77 vs. Stephen Bray 7-11, 5.50
Game Five: TBD vs. LHP Jim Gilheeney 1-2, 6.87
If necessary
AT THE PLATE

Tennessee

The Smokies had three of the top four hitters in the league, including Brandon Guyer who led the circuit with a .344 average despite missing time early with a shoulder injury and in August with a case of pink eye. He had an 18-game hitting streak in July and August during which he batted .471 while propelling himself to the crown. Tony Campana finished second with a .319 batting average while Blake Lalli was fourth at .311. The trio was the biggest reasons why the Smokies led the league with a .285 batting average. The Smokies also led the league in hits, runs scored, homers while striking out the fewest times on the 10-team circuit. Campana was also second in the league in hits 156 and stolen bases 48 while Guyer led the league in slugging percentage .588. Russ Canzler was second .566. If thats not enough, Steve Clevenger hit .317 with 47 RBIs. He hit .383 after the All-Star break and at one point in late August had hits in nine consecutive at-bats.
West Tenn

Third baseman Alex Liddi led the league with 92 RBIs second most in team history. The un-drafted free agent, who was born in San Remo, Italy, finished the regular season riding a 14-game hitting streak. Overall, he hit .281 but hit .490 during the streak to raise his average from .260. The Diamond Jaxx had Dustin Ackley through the first-half of the season but lost him to promotion at the All-Star break. Matt Lawson, one of the players the Mariners got from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal, has played well, hitting .319 with 22 RBIs in 42 games after driving in 34 with Frisco of the Texas League. Nick Franklin, the clubs first-round pick 27th overall in the 2009 draft, was called up from the Midwest League earlier this week and pressed into service when Carlos Triunfel sprained his index finger and went on the DL. Triunfel is likely done for the year meaning Franklin, who skipped right over High Desert, will be the starting shortstop after hitting .281 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs for Clinton. Triunfel had
been hitting .257.

NOTES

Tennessee finished with an 86-53 mark, a franchise record. The Smokies will host four of the five games because they won both halves in the Southern League season. The Diamond Jaxx will change their names next season to the Jackson Generals. Leury Bonilla played all nine positions in the Diamond Jaxx season-finale on Monday. He pitched a scoreless inning, recording a strikeout and inducing a 6-4-3 doubleplay. The Diamond Jaxx last made the playoffs in 2008 when they won the first-half championship by defeating Huntsville in a one-game playoff. They are riding a five-game winning streak heading into the post-season this year. Jacksonville Florida and Mobile Arizona will play in the other opening-round series.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field – the playoff matchup the Cubs dreaded in an elimination game – will happen more than seven months later under far different circumstances.

The Cubs have a 2016 championship banner flying next to the iconic center-field scoreboard – the ultimate response to any questions about their slow start to this season. The San Francisco Giants can’t have Madison Bumgarner saunter out of the bullpen when he’s recovering from a dirt-bike accident, another reason why an odd-year team is much closer to last place than first in an improved National League West.

The Giants don’t have the same aura, because the Cubs staged an epic comeback to end a best-of-five division series last October, scoring four runs again five different relievers in the ninth inning at AT&T Park.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,” Joe Maddon said. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again. I’ll get to see him (Tuesday night), but that’s OK, compared to whatever that day would’ve been.”

Maddon has admitted this already, but it is still telling from a manager who always tries to stay in the moment and ignore the negativity. It says something about a Giant franchise that had won 10 straight postseason elimination games and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and a fan base that used to expect things to go wrong in Wrigleyville after more than a century of losing.

“That whole Game 4 in San Francisco, I did focus on that a lot,” Maddon said. “Just trying to understand Game 5 back at home – how this is going to play out – and do whatever we possibly can to win that game there that night in San Francisco.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battle-tested – Game 5, back here with (Cueto) pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought that pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Even though the Cubs still had to survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning their first NL pennant in 71 years. And come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and beat the Cleveland Indians on the road in a 10-inning Game 7 for the ages.

[RELATED: Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen]

“That’s what good teams do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented club, very solid all around. You don’t win the World Series unless you are.

“Look back at our success, how many times were we looking at elimination? No, you’re never surprised in the postseason. Anything those teams do, it’s because they’re there for a reason. They’re very good.”

Lester beat Cueto in a 1-0 instant classic when Javier Baez lifted a 3-2 quick pitch into the basket beneath the video ribbon in the left-field bleachers. Cueto kept the Cubs so off-balance in Game 1 that Baez actually walked up to home plate in the eighth inning thinking bunt.

The Giants reacted to that Game 4 meltdown by giving All-Star closer Mark Melancon a four-year, $62 million contract at the winter meetings, trying to fix a bullpen that led the majors with 30 blown saves last season.

“It was close,” Bochy said. “Three outs from taking it to Game 5 with a pretty good pitcher going. We can speculate all we want. There’s no point in that. It didn’t happen.

“But, sure, you look back. That’s how tight that series was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold on. Give them credit – great job coming back. We’re a team that plays very well under pressure, and we did there. Just couldn’t hold on to that ninth inning.”