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View from the Other Side: Cubs questions for Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue

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The Blue Jays start a three game series with the Chicago Cubs tonight. We preview the series here.

Jeffrey Phelps

Tonight we start a 3 game series with the Chicago Cubs at Rogers Centre.

The Cubs are in last place in the NL Central, but have been playing pretty good ball of late. They might not be the pushovers that we hope to see.

I sent off some questions to Al Yellon, long time manager of Bleed Cubbie Blue. Here are his answers:

I don't see a lot of NL games, can you give us a scouting report on Rick Renteria? Strengths and weaknesses?

It's really hard to judge Rick Renteria, actually, since he's had a roster full of turnover in his first season as Cubs manager. Recently, the Cubs started a lineup that had only one Opening Day starter (catcher Welington Castillo) due to injuries and trades.

He likes lots and lots of relief pitchers. The Cubs have carried an eight-man bullpen almost all year, which has really limited his substitution options, with a four-man bench. Of course, that doesn't apply now with expanded rosters.

I'll give him credit for getting his players to play hard every day and they seem to respect him.

Who is your favorite Cub to watch?

Right now, I'm a big Kyle Hendricks fan. More on Hendricks below.

Who's been the biggest disappointment this season?

No doubt, Travis Wood. Wood appeared to have a breakout year in 2013, when he finished with his first 200-inning season, and was 12th in the league in ERA and 13th in WHIP and made the All-Star team.

This year he's been universally awful. You won't see him in this series but he just came off the worst start of his career and his ERA (5.15) ranks 93rd of the 95 qualified starters in the major leagues.

At 27, Wood is still young enough to turn things around. Plus, he's lefthanded, and lefthanders always seem to get third and fourth and fifth chances.

Theo Epstein has been at the helm of the Cubs for 3 year now, how long till he has them contending?

A year ago, when people asked me that question, my stock answer was "2018." With the selloff of starting pitchers this year and callups of top prospects, that timetable could be accelerated. While the performance of prospects like Javier
Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler has been sometimes good, sometimes not, there's a sense among Cubs fans that if (and that's a BIG if) they'd go out and sign a premier free agent starting pitcher (Jon Lester seems an obvious choice and good fit), that they could be in wild-card contention as soon as 2015.


Since you are following an NL team, I gotta ask....do you really  like watching pitchers back? Which do you prefer, DH or non-DH baseball?

This has been a subject of much contentious debate at BCB. I'm usually as traditionalist as they come but I'm so tired of watching pitchers attempt to hit who can't. Most pitchers can't, and the league-wide BA by pitchers (.120, with a
42 percent strikeout rate) is virtually unchanged from 10, 20, 30 or even 90 years ago.

Further, many pitchers can't even bunt well, one of the few things they're really expected to do successfully at the plate. People say having pitchers in the lineup adds strategy -- nonsense, in my view. Got a runner on, less than two
out, pitcher up? Bunt. It's not "strategy," it's "by the book."

I've come out publicly in favor of the DH in the National League, and primarily because it's inherently unfair to play this game with two sets of rules. We don't really have two "leagues" anymore; we have one league with one
commissioner (no league presidents anymore) and one set of umpires. With interleague play, we now have a setup more like the NFL, one league with two "conferences." For example, what if an American League contender goes to a
National League park in September, and its pitchers haven't hit in two months? How is that fair?

It's time for the DH for everyone, and I think we'll have it after the new collective-bargaining agreement is in place after 2016. New commissioner Rob Manfred isn't as wedded to the old ideas as much as Bud Selig was.

Can we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see?

Jacob Turner is someone who could be really, really good in the future for the Cubs. Just two years ago he was deemed almost untouchable by the Tigers, but eventually went to the Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez deal. The Marlins waived him and the Cubs claimed him and traded two miscellaneous minor leaguers for him. He was very good in his last start and is still just 23 years old. He's got a good selection of pitches and can hit 95.

You're probably familiar with Jake Arrieta from his time with the Orioles. He seems a totally different pitcher; Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has apparently found some mechanical flaws and has Arrieta throwing strikes and
locating. He's been the Cubs' best pitcher since the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Kyle Hendricks is one of the most intriguing rookies in baseball. He's a Dartmouth graduate -- you don't see many Ivy Leaguers in the major leagues -- and some credit his intelligence with his success. He doesn't throw that hard,
barely touching 90 or 91, but so far has been able to locate well enough to throw hitters off their stride. Will the league catch up to him? Probably, but he seems smart enough to make adjustments and succeed in the long term. The Cubs
acquired him from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal and this could be one of the better deals of the Epstein era.

Anything else we should know about the Cubs?

This Cubs team is not a contending team, but they are starting to show signs of being one sometime soon. They got off to a horrendous 13-27 start and seemed doomed to another 95-plus loss season. Since then they are essentially a .500 team -- 51-52 -- and since they dropped to their low point of the year, 19 games under .500 on July 27, they are 22-18, just one game worse than the division-leading Cardinals.

They've got fun-to-watch players, including Baez, who could air out the whole Rogers Centre with his strikeouts and then maybe launch a ball into the fifth deck, and Soler, who has similar power.

Enjoy this series and see you at Wrigley in 2017.

Thank Al. I've always wanted to visit Wrigley Field, I guess 2017 will be the time to do it.