All posts by Curtis Koch

Pushing The Right Buttons

If you know me, I have grown up a die hard Cubs fan. I eat, sleep, read, and dream about the team constantly. Having watched this team through the tough times and the countless 90 to 100 loss seasons, seeing the Cubbies go to three straight National League Championship Series makes me realize that this is the “golden age” of Cubs baseball.

So on the night of Thursday October 12th I watched easily one of the most stressful Cubs games ever. (Besides game 7 of the World Series) While watching it there were some questionable moves by manager Joe Maddon that had me wondering, “is that the right thing to do in this situation?” Of course, Joe gets paid the big bucks to make these decisions, and despite winning the World Series and leading the Cubs to their third straight postseason, it’s easy to look at the manager and think that every move he makes is a crucial one.

I don’t know how he does it, but he’s been lucky.

Heading into game 4 against the Nationals, I never questioned Maddon’s pitching changes or decisions to remove a starting pitcher from a game. It wasn’t until midway through game 4 I started to question a few moves made by the Cubs skipper. The first decision I question was taking out Jon Lester.

Lester came out of the bullpen and helped keep the Nationals at 1 run which occurred on an infield hit to shortstop Addison Russell. Joe decided to remove Lester to go to reliever Carl Edwards Jr who had a nice bounce back appearance in game 3 after surrendering the game tying home run in game two. Lester didn’t throw a lot of pitches and besides the walk and 1 hit, could’ve easily finished that 8th inning. Joe took out Lester brought in Edwards who walked two batters, then after throwing 1 pitch to Michael Taylor. Joe decided then he’d seen enough and brought in closer Wade Davis who then allowed the grand slam that broke the game open.

Now granted, it is fair to say this all was a bad decision in hindsight, but let me tell you why it was a bad move to begin with. Before game 4, the Cubs used only relievers Carl Edwards Jr, Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, and closer Wade Davis. He still had Justin Wilson, John Lackey, and Brian Dunning in the bullpen who had yet to make an appearance. So why bring in one of your starting pitchers, and use him in a game that if you had lost wouldn’t have ended the series. Not to mention if you did come back and win the game, he wouldn’t be able to go in the following series until game 3 at the latest. Even still, since the team lost in game 4 with a final score of 5-0 the team going back on the road one “reliever” unavailable in Jon Lester.

Joe Maddon is a successful manager, and has turned around the Cubs organization from top to bottom. Despite the success he and the team has had, his decision making when it comes down to the wire are going to be talked about on a night in night out basis. Even if the move he makes is the right one. Although it’s the ones like bringing in Aroldis Chapman in a pointless time in game 6 of the world series and bringing in Jon Lester during game 4 of the NLDS this year that makes you wonder if the pressure of the playoffs get to even the most successful managers a team has ever had.

You can listen to Curtis Koch every Monday night from 7-8 on 88.1 FM WCRX on “He and She”. You can also follow him on Twitter @CurtisK_Radio. 

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Hitting The Ice

One of the most tossed around phrases in all of sports is “defense wins championships.” It seems pretty simple, right? If your team can prevent your opponent from scoring more points, then you should be a pretty successful team. This season, out of all the issues the Blackhawks will encounter, defense will be their number one concern.

To say the defense is thin is a little bit of an understatement. Yes, they do have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook coming back but outside of those two guys, the Blackhawks don’t have much depth. The loss of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa is huge. Outside of Keith and Seabrook, Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks best defenseman. The direction General Manager Stan Bowman went in the return of the Hjalmarsson trade shows that the Hawks are trying to do one thing on defense— to get younger.

Connor Murphy was the key return in the Niklas Hjalmarsson trade. Not only is he under team control, but he is also 24-years-old. With the other defensive prospects the Hawks have, Bowman is hinting that getting younger on the back end is a priority, not only because of the talent aspect, but because of the salary aspect, as well. The majority of the Hawks’ money is going to Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa, and Saad. This allows Bowman to keep those players, while developing these younger defensemen. Most importantly, they are still on low salary contracts.

How much of a concern should the Hawks’ defense be? Personally, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say an eight, mainly because so many questions remain unanswered. Questions such as who is going to fill the Hjalmarsson void? How much ice time can Duncan Keith handle this season? Will Joel Queneville be able to trust those younger defensemen coming out of camp? Can Seabrook bounce back from last season? Can Michal Roszival return healthy and play decently? Do we see any improvement in Michael Kempny?

Don’t get me wrong, the Hawks have a lot of young defensemen who can really take advantage of an opportunity, but if last year’s post season was any indication, it’s that the Hawks are going to have to be better.

My prediction: the Blackhawks WILL make the playoffs, BUT not win the Central Division or the Stanley Cup this season.