The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on the 1st 41

Today’s game marked the first quarter of what has been a very down and up and down again 2012 season.  Therefore, I find now to be a perfect time for the obligatory blog entry with premature grades and analysis of 41/162 games.

The Good:

  • Bryan LaHair has proven to be a worthy and able first baseman during the first quarter of the season.  He’s hit for power, average, taken his walks, and done a respectable job manning first base in the field.  While he is not the gold glove that Derek Lee or Carlos Pena had proven to be in their tenures with the Cubs, he is making the plays he is supposed to make.  His bat is the important thing, though, and with talk of an Anthony Rizzo call

    Photo: Johnathan Daniel, Getty Images

    up potentially coming in the next few weeks, his bat could force a shuffle of the outfield.  He could force the energetic Tony Campana to the bench to make room for David DeJesus in center, while he moves to right field.  The takeaway is that he is swinging a strong enough bat to force another player out of the line up if and when Rizzo arrives, and that is a major positive for the Cubs’ offense.

  • Tony Campana has been a spark since joining the roster and getting regular playing time.  I know I took a cheap shot at Nyjer Morgan in an earlier post, but after watching Campana a little more, I don’t think he is a Morgan type as much as he is a Juan Pierre type of player.  His range and versatility in the outfield is excellent, and he has found his swing this season, keeping the ball on the ground and slapping hits all over the park more than he did last season.  With his speed, those are the things he needs to do to be a successful player in the majors.  In the games in which he’s played, he has been mightily successful.
  • The starting pitching has been fantastic, for the most part.  With Chris Volstad being sent to Iowa, the one real weakness has been removed.  Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Paul Maholm have all been very good with only a few rough outings among them.  Samardzija, Dempster, and Maholm were all asked to pitch in the Wrigley bam box this weekend, and all did a respectable job.  There were no cheap home runs off of Maholm today, but he limited the damage to solo home runs and kept the team in the game.  Ryan Dempster gave up back to back home runs that were completely wind aided.  Both of those are harmless fly balls on a normal day.  I can’t fault a guy for giving up a fly ball that the wind carries just into the basket.  Especially one that has been as dominant as Dempster this season.  Unfortunately, none of the three were rewarded with wins.  Actually, the starters only have 10 wins to this point.  They deserve more.  They have been excellent.
  • The defense gets an honorable mention in the good because it has been.  Starlin Castro’s eight errors are kind of misleading.  Overall, his defense, notably his throwing, have been much better.  The work in spring has very much benefited Starlin in the early going, and it seems as though he is moving in the right direction.  The same can be said about Darwin Barney, who is a converted short stop.  Alfonso Soriano, for as much as we ride him has also been much, much better.  He makes all of the plays he is supposed to make and has been better in his paths to the ball how he plays the ball of the wall.  Lately, he has been hampered with a leg injury that has made his defense suffer a little bit, but he is probably an average defender in left thus far, and that is a vast improvement over the last few seasons.  Ian Stewart and David DeJesus have been as advertised with their gloves.  They have been excellent at their respective positions.
  • Joe Mather.  The man is another Reed Johnson type that is always ready and can play anywhere he’s needed.  That’s a valuable commodity in baseball, and he has provided steady and consistent play whenever Dale Sveum has called on him.  He is turning into a very nice addition to the bench and is earning himself more playing time.

The Bad

Photo: Johnathon Daniel, Getty Images

  • Only the Toronto Blue Jays have walked more batters than the Chicago Cubs.  So, while the .239 batting average against Cubs’ pitching is good for 8th in baseball, the walks have been a huge problem and need to come down.  Many of those walks have come late in games by the bullpen.  Carlos Marmol is tied for the team lead with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija with 16.  It is to be expected that the starters would walk more batters because they throw a significant number more innings, and for the most part, the starters have been solid in the BB category.  The problems are with the pen.  Marmol has 16 in 11.1 innings pitched.  Rafael Dolis has 11 in 24 innings, Kerry Wood had 11 in his 8.1 innings before retirement this weekend, and James Russell has 10 in 17.1 innings.  That’s 48 walks out of the late inning relief pitching, in 61.1 innings.  Way too many…and a very big reason why the Cubs have 6 saves and 8 blown saves through 41 games.
  • The rash of injuries to the catchers has been devastating and mind blowing.  At current, Geovany Soto, Steve Clevenger, and Wellington Castillo are all banged up.  That leaves the Cubs with the newly reacquired Koyie Hill and rookie Blake Lalli to serve is the back stops for a young bullpen.  Hill is a veteran that has experience with the Cubs and is a reliable defensive catcher.  He was an excellent addition with the onslaught of injuries to the catchers.  Before the injuries, the catchers were fine.  Geo got off to a slow start, but his bat was coming around as he was hitting some balls hard.  Clevenger was said to have a “slump proof swing” by Manager and former Hitting Coach Dale Sveum.  The catchers were not winning the team any games, but not costing them too many, either.  Soto had two of his four errors in one inning, neither of which were his fault because Rodrigo Lopez should have fielded both balls, and Clevenger and Castillo each have a passed ball.  Other than that, 2 errors for Soto in his other 27 games and doing a good job with the new and young pitchers.  The catching has been about average, and lands in the bad category because all of that average catching is injured and has given way to reacquired veterans and rookie call ups.
  • More about the walks, this time for the hitters.  105 in 41 games is good for 26th in baseball.  The lack of patience at the plate has led to some quick innings, which don’t allow the team to see the weakest part of the bullpen…the middle relief.  Any pitcher that is in middle relief is not the cream of the bullpen because if they were, they’d be starting, setting up, or closing.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have only see starters, set up guys, and closers because there is almost no need to pull the starter for pitch count.  Dale’s edict to take the first pitch, unless you can hit it a country mile has not brought about the patient approach the team needs.  There have been some ugly swings and misses at pitches there is no chance at hitting.  Bryan LaHair, David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, and Geovany Soto are the only guys in double figures.  Guys like Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, and Darwin Barney (who has 9 BB this season) should be in double figures.  They get enough at bats that they should be seeing more free passes.  They’re there for the taking…and the offense would benefit from a few gift base runners.

The Ugly

  • I’ve spoken on the schedule before, so this will be brief.  The games against good and surging teams have been a constant in the early going.  Fortunately, the Houstons, Pittsburghs, and San Diegos are all right in front of the Cubs right now.  This is a golden opportunity to win some games against some teams that the Cubs are better than.  There is room for a better mark than 15-26 at the quarter pole, but many of those teams are, frankly, better than we are.  I am not stunned that the record is 11 under right now because I would have looked at the schedule and thought it about right for this team against that schedule.  The surge that we saw before the current 6 game skid is promising.  I expect that to happen again this season, and to happen with a little more consistency as the season continues.  That’s it for the ugly, though…tough schedule that led to some very up and down results.

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