@Zikry @G_T_G @CA @Emmdotfrisk @sdid22 @ryty32 @B0BJR0526 @soxandgators TCBL Insider Report Join me as I dive into random thoughts and observations on each team. Chicago Cubs Beat Coming into this year, the Chicago Cubs were expected to have a repeat performance from last season with their pitching. So far, the staff hasn't disappointed, posting a 7-1 mark as a group with a 1.49 ERA. The most impressive stat this pitching staff has is the other-worldly amount of quality starts their rotation has given them this year. Of the 16 games played thus far, Chicago has 15 quality starts. No, that is not a type. 15 out of 16 quality starts. Simply unbelievable. The surprise of the Cubs staff is Rule 5 afterthought Brian Duensing, who is 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 2 shutouts in 3 starts this season. As expected,the Cubs are struggling a little at the plate. One exception to that is JJ Hardy, another Rule 5 late round pick up who has paid huge dividends at the plate this season. Hardy thus far has posted a .306 batting average in 62 at-bats, including 2 triples and a homerun. I asked JJ how the transition to the Northside has treated him. "I am just feeling it right now. I am glad I am back in the National League, I was very comfortable here with the Brewers. I love playing with Starlin (Castro) and the rest of the guys on this team. The Cubs have treated me great and I hope to stay here a long time." A pleasent surprise for the Cubs, Chicago will need Hardy to continue to produce for them to win a tight NL Central race with the Pirates. It isn't all roses for Chicago, as Carlos Marmol has been one of the worst closers in baseball this season. Ever since he blew a save in game 1 of the NLDS against the New York Mets, Marmol just has not been the same for the Cubs. This season he has an inflated 4.66 ERA and 4 blown saves in 5 chances. Simply put, Marmol has been terrible. When asking Cubs manager Mike Quade about the chances of switching veteran Kerry Wood back into the closer role, Quade responded with very simple answer. "Carlos is our closer." Maybe that emphatic response will help ease the outcry by Cub Nation to see Woody in the 9th inning again. Pittsburgh Pirates Beat The Pirates are off to a surprising 8-3 start this season. This might be shocking news to many baseball fans who have grown accustomed to seeing the Pirates in the cellar of the NL Central. One person who is not in the least bit surprised is Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones. "We knew we were going to be good this season. With the additions of guys like Purkey, J-Roll and Harang, we knew we could hang with any team in the national league" said Jones, adding "We still have a long way to go, but I think we might keep on surprising everyone. Don't be surprised if you see us playing in October." Jones has backed up his talk on the field, hitting an impressive .390 in 41 at-bats, leading his team in both hits (16), doubles (4), home runs (6) and runs batted in (15). Part of the reason for this baseball resurrection in the Steel City is great drafting and international scouting. Guys like Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez are finally paying dividends in the majors in a big way. On top of the already loaded prospect pool of talent on the Pirates roster, Pittsburgh added another gem in Matt Purke. Purke was overwhelmingly considered the top pitching prospect in the draft, and the Pirates took him without hesitation. He was selected #1 overall in the TCBL Amateur Draft last season, and won the #1 spot in the Pirates rotation this spring, something rarely if ever seen by a rookie coming directly out of college. The Pirates are now taking some fire from their fans for what is perceived as throwing Purke out to the wolves of the TCBL too early, as he has struggled in his first 3 major league starts. Currently, Purke has a 6.46 ERA and has yet to post a quality start. Although it might look as if Pittsburgh is hanging their young ace out to dry very early on in his career, I applaud them for giving him the major league treatment. The more innings Purke tosses, the more he will adapt to the major league game and it will benefit both him and the Pirates in the long run. One disturbing trend for the Pirates so far is the bullpen. In a combined 11 innings Jeff Karstens, Josh Judy and Evan Meek have given up 17 hits and 13 runs. The bleeding in the middle innings has got to stop if this team wants to consider itself a true contender in the NL Central. Washington Nationals Beat The widely considered "winners" of the TCBL Rule-5 draft last season, the Washington Nationals have had a strange start to the season. After starting off 0-5, the Nationals have now won 8 of 10 and have fought back over .500 at 8-7. The biggest reason for the quick turnaround is the pitching, which has quickly stabilized after a horrible beginning to the season. The biggest issue coming into the season was who would close for the Nats. After trading away Drew Storen to the Indians, there was a competition held this spring in Nats camp for the job. Tyler Clippard ended up winning the job, and although his ERA is horrible right now (9.00), he has gotten it done when it has mattered, shutting the door on all 3 save opportunities he has had. Clippard still has a chance to turn into a solid closer, but he must cut down on the home runs he allows and walk fewer batters. His stuff is there, now it is just a matter of him grasping the closer mentality. A surprise for the Nationals this season has been 5th starter Scott Feldman. Feldman might not be setting the world on fire with his 3.86 ERA, but it is solid production from a man who really was nothing more than a throw in late in the Rule 5 draft this offseason. Feldman has had quality starts in both games he has pitched this season and really helps round out a surprisingly deep rotation. The Nationals have been turning heads offensively with their new 2 headed monster in the middle of their lineup. Ryan Zimmerman was already a bad, bad man with a bat in his hand. Add a guy like Rickie Weeks in a lineup next to him, and he turns into a complete monster. Weeks, the crown jewel of Owner Cade Petty's Rule 5 draft, was taken early in the 1st round. Though questioned early on this pick by the Washington media, who thought a closer was needed far more than a power hitting 2nd baseman, GM Petty has shown he knew what he was doing. Zimmerman and Weeks have flourished together in the middle of the Nationals lineup, combining for 12 home runs and 26 runs batted in. The Nationals have one of the best hitting lineups in the NL, and with Zimmerman, Sizemore and Weeks locked up long-term, they are going to be a very good offensive ball club for a long time. Los Angeles Dodgers Beat The Dodgers are perhaps the greatest disappointment in the National League this year. Only one year removed from a great season and a memorable playoff series with their rival San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers find themselves at 5-12 and at the bottom of the NL West. The biggest problem with the Dodgers this year has been their pitching, which is shocking to anyone who followed this club last year. Guys are underachieving and playing down to their competition, something they did not do in 2011. Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly, two guys who pitched many quality innings for the Dodgers last season, have been struggling to get runners out so far this year. Lilly as given up 9 earned runs in 14 innings pitched and seems to keep catching too much plate with his off-speed pitches. The fact that Lilly is 36 years old makes on believe this is perhaps his last stint in a major league rotation before he calls it a career. Kershaw, on the other hand, has been a monumental disappointment. Posting just 1 quality start in 4 games started and carrying a 6.19 ERA is just not getting it done. If the Dodgers are to turn it around, and there is still time, Kershaw is going to have to start putting together quality starts and returning to his usual form. What can you say about Andre Ethier. This man can flat out hit, and he has done nothing but that so far in 2012. Leading the whole league in batting average at .469 is ridiculous. To put this amazing start to his season in perspective, Boston star Carl Crawford has 28 hits in 116 at bats. Ethier has 30 hits in 64 at-bats and has an 16 game hit streak still intact. So Ethier, in 52 less at-bats than Crawford, has 2 more hits. I am still not sure if this guy is human, but it is undeniable that he currently is the premier hitter in all of baseball. Keep the streak going Andre! We already talked about 2 men out of the rotation who have struggled in Lilly and Kershaw, but two other members of the starting 5 have had great success so far this year. Jon Garland and Chad Billingsley have helped pick up an otherwise terrible rotation, yet have received no run support so far this season. Garland is currently 0-2 despite having quality starts in both of his outings this season and posting a very solid 2.45 ERA. Billingsley has been even more screwed by his offense, owning a 1.35 ERA yet no wins and a loss in his 4 starts this year. If there was any question coming into this year as to who was the true ace of this staff, Billingsley has put that conversation to sleep with his great performances thus far this year and Clayton Kershaws struggles. If only he could get some run support... San Francisco Giants Beat The Giants have been hard to read this year. Right when you think they are about to make a long run with a solid win streak, they drop a few games in a row and linger around .500. Currently at 13-11 and only 1 game out of first place, this team has all the tools to win this division. With a .271 team batting average and 2.68 ERA, it is hard to figure out why the Giants aren't even better than their record. After some digging, I think I figured out why. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Cody Ross are batting a combined .162 with runners in scoring position. The lack of clutch hitting seems so out of the ordinary for a team that had a magical run in 2010 and again last year in 2011 with great clutch hitting. If they want to really play up to their fullest potential, these Giants need to start sacking up and hitting the ball when it matters most. Madison Bumgarner is quietly having a break through season for San Francisco this year. Bumgarner is currently 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA and an even more impressive 0.93 WHIP. Left handed hitters are batting a microscopic .091 against him and he has yet to give up a long ball. The best part about Bumgarners great season is the fact that he almost lost out on a rotation spot to another young gun in Zack Wheeler this spring. It looks as if Diddy make the correct decision in putting Wheeler in the bullpen and keeping Bumgarner in the rotation, as both have flourished in their roles on this team. What has gotten into Freddy Sanchez? The veteran 2-bagger leads the Giants in hits, triples and on base percentage and his hitting a red-hot .347 on the season, by far the best on the team. Many thought Sanchez was on the down swing after turning 34 this offseason, but Sanchez is proving the doubters wrong every time he hits the field this year. I asked Freddy what was going on with his monster season. Here is what he said. "The biggest thing for me is to be patient. When I am a patient hitter, I usually have success. I have to just play within myself and know who I am. Look, I am not going to hit 20 bombs or drive in a ton of runs. My job is to set the table for the big bats below me. As long as I play like Freddy Sanchez and not try to be anything else, I know I can hit .300 or better every year." One surprising stat: Buster Posey lead the giants with 8 home runs and 27 RBI last season. Posey only has 3 home runs and 6 RBI right now and is batting a disappointing .222. Lucky for the Giants, Andres Torres rise to stardom has continued this year, as Torres is following up his outstanding season last year with perhaps an even better encore performance this year. Torres has had a dip in his average from last year, but leads the Giants in both homeruns (6) and runs batted in (14).