Aramis, Pena & Big Z: Moving on with mixed results

896483.png

Aramis, Pena & Big Z: Moving on with mixed results

Remember when things seemed so daunting for the St. Louis Cardinals?

They had just lost out on the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, as the perennial MVP candidate put his faith in the Angels and went West. Tony La Russa was not going to return as manager and Dave Duncan, arguably the best pitching coach in the game, was slated to miss the entire season for personal issues.

That was just 10 short months ago. Now, the Cards are only one victory away from a second-straight NL pennant.

A lot can change in a year.

Take a look at the Cubs. They finished the 2011 season packed with valuable veterans -- Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena and Carlos Zambrano -- and promising youngsters -- Tyler Colvin, D.J. LeMahieu, Andrew Cashner and Chris Carpenter.

All seven of those guys were gone before spring training even started. While the Cubs struggled to a 101-loss season, let's check in on how this group fared.

Aramis Ramirez

Ramirez and the Cubs were synonymous since that fateful 2003 season. He was a staple at third base, bringing consistency to the position for the first time since the Ron Santo days. At age 33, he didn't fit in the Cubs' rebuilding plan and wound up signing with the Brewers, where he almost made Milwaukee forget about Prince Fielder.

Ramirez put together a very solid season, leading the league in doubles (50) and tied for first in extra-base hits (80) with teammate Ryan Braun, whom Ramirez protected in the lineup all year. The Brewers didn't end up making the playoffs, but Ramirez helped key a strong run towards the end of the year and finished with 27 homers, 105 RBI (his first 100 RBI season since 2008), a .300 average and a .901 OPS.

Carlos Zambrano

Big Z was the longest tenured Cub on the roster last year and after a blow-up in Atlanta last August, the soap opera that is Carlos Zambrano came to an end in the Cubs clubhouse. He racked up 125 victories and 1,542 strikeouts in more than 300 games (282 starts) over an 11-year span.

He was dealt to Miami this winter, teaming up with friend and manager Ozzie Guillen, and was deemed as a potential sleeper for the NL Cy Young by former teammate Matt Garza. Zambrano had no such luck, as, after a hot start, he struggled and wound up in the bullpen to finish the season with a 7-10 record, 4.49 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.

Carlos Pena

Pena was only a one-year rental and had a very solid 2011 season, walking 101 times and slugging 28 homers while playing very good defense at first base and bringing a positive attitude in the clubhouse.

But his age (33 this winter) and the arrivalemergence of Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair made Pena expendable this winter and he was not re-signed, instead opting to go back to Tampa Bay. There, Pena hit 19 homers and drove in 61 runs, but managed just a .197 average and .684 OPS, a far cry from his career numbers (.234 and .822, respectively). 2012 marked the second season in the last three in which Pena failed to hit even .200.

Tyler ColvinD.J. LeMahieu

Anybody who's followed the Cubs over the past year has likely heard the much-publicized deal that sent Colvin and LeMahieu to Colorado for Ian Stewart and minor-league pitcher Casey Weathers. Neither Colvin (a former first-round pick) nor LeMahieu (a former second-round pick) was guaranteed to have a place to play in 2012 and the Cubs needed a third baseman, so they took a gamble on a low-risk guy in Stewart. It was Theo Epstein's first trade in the Cubs' front office and hasn't worked out in his favor to date, as Stewart struggled to find consistency at the plate before being shut down with a wrist injury halfway through the season.

Both young players wound up having fairly productive seasons for the Rockies, but they combined for just 34 walks in 699 plate appearances. That kind of aggressiveness doesn't fit in Theo's vision for the Cubs, despite the fact they both hit close to .300  (Colvin -- .290; LeMahieu -- .297) and Colvin added some power, with 55 extra-base hits, including 18 homers.

Andrew Cashner

Cashner was considered to be a major piece for the future when Theo and Co. took over as a flame-throwing right-hander who had as high upside as anybody in the Cubs' system. But after arm issues sidelined Cashner for most of the 2011 season, the new front office was hesitant to put Cashner in the taxing position of a starting pitcher, and traded him to the Padres for Rizzo.

The 26-year-old right-hander had a solid year for San Diego, hurling a 4.27 ERA and 1.32 WHIP while striking out 52 in 46.1 innings. But most of that was as a reliever -- he started just five games -- and he spent time on the disabled list, while Rizzo emerged as a franchise cornerstone for the Cubs.

Chris Carpenter

The rest of the players on this list either had significant playing time in 2011 or figured to be a big part of 2012 and beyond, but Carpenter was a 25-year-old middle reliever with upside for more if he could harness his 100 mph fastball. His claim to fame, of course, was as the compensation for Theo Epstein, making the trek to Boston.

An elbow injury derailed most of Carpenter's 2012, but he came back strong, posting a 1.15 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 15.2 innings in Triple-A Pawtucket before appearing in eight games for the big-league Red Sox, struggling to the tune of a 9.00 ERA and 2.83 WHIP.

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

ap_16122041586249.jpg
Associated Press

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

BALTIMORE -- The White Sox closed a record-tying April in the most appropriate of ways -- with another heavy dose of late-inning magic.

Jose Abreu made up for a costly error with two late RBIs, including singling in the go-ahead run in the ninth, and the White Sox tied a team record for April victories with an 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles in front of 29,152 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Playing without manager Robin Ventura, who was ejected after a controversial review in the fourth, the White Sox scored five times in the final three innings to rally for win No. 17. They finished the season’s opening month with a 17-8 mark to tie the 2000, 2005 and 2006 clubs for most April victories.

“I’ll put a lot of money with Jose at the plate with runners in scoring position,” Adam Eaton said. “We got the job done. Good team win. Not really how we drew it up, but it shows character with the team for sure. Battling back, each delivering punches and for us to get the last punch in there … Huge night for us.”

It was in particular a big showing for Abreu, who entered the game with a .220 average and 11 RBIs, his fewest in April in three seasons. The occasion became even bigger after Abreu’s fielding error in the eighth -- one of two by the White Sox -- extended the inning for Matt Albers.

With the White Sox leading 7-5, Abreu couldn’t handle a nice throw by Todd Frazier with two outs in the eighth and Manny Machado reached. Albers -- whose scoreless streak was snapped after 33 1/3 innings -- hit Adam Jones with the next pitch and Chris Davis followed with a game-tying, two-run double off Zach Duke.

But a team that has scored 49 of its 95 runs (51.6 percent) from the seventh inning came through again.

Eaton started the winning rally with a bunt single off Orioles closer Zach Britton, who exited the game as he injured himself retrieving the ball. Carlos Sanchez then walked against reliever Vance Worley to set up Abreu, who also singled in the tying run in an eighth-inning rally. Abreu drove an 0-1 cutter from Worley to right and Eaton slid in to home ahead of the throw from Joey Rickard. Nate Jones, who got the final out in the eighth, retired the side in order in the ninth to close it out.

The White Sox also rallied back from a pair of earlier deficits, long after Orioles starter Kevin Gausman departed.

Brett Lawrie, who had a solo homer in the third, walked and stole second base in the seventh and Austin Jackson singled after a 10-pitch battle with Mychal Givens to get the White Sox within 5-4.

The White Sox scored three runs off Darren O’Day, who hadn’t allowed a run all season. Sanchez had a pinch-hit double to open the eighth inning and scored on Abreu’s tying RBI single to right. Frazier blasted a 411-foot homer -- his seventh -- to center to put the White Sox up 7-5. The team’s 49 runs from the seventh inning on are the most in the American League. The White Sox, who finished with 10 hits, also have six comeback wins.

“It seemed like everybody picked everybody up tonight,” Frazier said. “It’s just a good character builder here.”

The offense came through for starter Mat Latos, who had his worst start of the season. The Orioles tried often to go the opposite way against Latos and it worked to the tune of four runs and 11 hits.

Baltimore had at least two hits in four of the five innings that Latos worked, including solo homers by Pedro Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop to tie it at 3 in the fourth.  

Latos allowed two hits to start the third, but was spared more damage when Adam Jones grounded into a controversial 5-4 double play that resulted in the 12th ejection of Ventura’s career.

Machado, who had singled ahead of Jones, slid late into second base and made contact with the leg of Lawrie, who never threw to first. Ventura asked for a review as Machado appeared to be in violation of the new slide rule. After a stoppage of at least six minutes, review officials determined that Machado didn’t interfere on the play and Jones was safe at first. Ventura immediately argued the call and loss of challenge with crew chief Gerry Davis, who ejected him.

But Latos pitched around it. He stranded two more runners on in the fourth to keep the score tied, but Baltimore pulled ahead in the fifth as Latos walked Matt Wieters and Alvarez doubled deep to center to make it 4-3.

Latos saw his ERA increase to 1.84 from 0.74.

“I was fortunate,” Latos said. “The offense showed up and put up a bunch of runs on the board and the defense showed up and we were able to get away with a really good win, a hard fought win.”

Ventura is pleased with how his team has handled its early success. Even though the White Sox have proven to be a fiery team in the dugout, Ventura thinks his veteran core has helped them keep a level head. While he’s pleased with the team’s April, he doesn’t think White Sox players will get ahead of themselves.

“They're looking for Sunday,” Ventura said. “They're excited about the win, no doubt, the way they're playing. But very good group about focusing on what's at hand and not looking in the rear view mirror.”

Today on CSN: Sale, White Sox close series with O's

ap_175195282664.jpg
Associated Press

Today on CSN: Sale, White Sox close series with O's

The White Sox take on the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at noon. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (5-0, 1.66) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2, 3.91)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Nick Kwiatkoski Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

kwiatkoski_profile_04-30_640x360_677106243517.jpg

Nick Kwiatkoski Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 150 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Nick Kwiatkoski (LB), West Virginia

6’2” | 243 lbs.

2015 stats:

85 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 INT

Selection:

4th round, 113rd overall to Chicago Bears

Scouting Report:

"Kwiatkoski is known for his weight room work and has transitioned his body type from safety to inside linebacker. He has some physical limitations that could prevent him from becoming a full-­time starter, but his mean streak and ability to finish as a tackler could serve him well as a special teamer which is likely how he will have to make a team." - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles