Tagged: Dusty Baker

Rizzo and Castro Struggle, Dale’s Cubs Future, and Blaming the Fans?

In today’s loss to Pittsburgh, Starlin Castro had two hits and Anthony Rizzo wore the collar again.  That’s not really too different from the last week or so, where neither has been setting the world on fire.  In Starlin’s case, he’s been less productive all season than he has in his first three.  Anthony Rizzo has been as streaky as it gets.  He ended a 40 PA streak without a strike out with a flurry of them coming in the last four ballgames.  Ultimately, both have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Starlin Castro is not as protected as he was when he was called up three years ago.  Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are not in the line up to protect him anymore, and it has shown since the beginning of 2012.  Anthony Rizzo never got the luxury of  being in the line up with Ramirez or Lee, and has been the man since last June when he was called up.  At least Alfonso Soriano was swinging the bat when he got the call.  Early on, that hasn’t been the case at all, and Rizzo has also done some uncharacteristic swinging and missing, in an obvious effort to carry the offense.

Dale Sveum has shown up as the scapegoat for this season.  It isn’t a surprise that Dale is the one being chased with torches and pitchforks.  After all, he is the one who is hanging sliders late in games.  And it is Sveum who is swinging at pitches a foot off the plate with runners in scoring position.  It would be unimaginable to forget all of the errors in the field he’s committed, as well.  Actually, I’m being told that he hasn’t done any of those things thus far.  While he (and every other manager/ head coach in professional sports) has done some things that may not seem to be the right move, or clearly haven’t been the right move, it is absurd to blame him for the failures of the bullpen this season.  He could not have known, before the season, that Carlos Marmol was going to be as bad as he was out of the gates after as good as he was in the second half of last season.  He could not have known Kyuji Fujikawa would have a forearm injury and not tell anyone about it.  The same applies to the Shawn Camp fiasco that happened earlier this week.  While it is fair to question some of the moves Dale has made in some situations, to pick him apart and blame him for the failures of the team would be a disservice, especially since he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the development that he has overseen.  The Cubs were the worst defensive team in baseball in 2011.  They are much better now (spare me the errors, crap.  Those are 100% subjective.  Peripherals say the Cubs are much better than they were in 2011).  They are much better base runners.  They make some silly plays on the bases now, but they are errors or aggression, and not errors of not knowing what’s going on.  All of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija have grown in the time Sveum has been around.  Darwin Barney won a Gold Freaking Glove.  Matt Garza stayed with a 61 win team after being shut down in July because of the atmosphere of the clubhouse when a lot of players go home to rehab.  That speaks volumes to Dale Sveum’s ability to manage a clubhouse and a ball club.  He should get the credit he deserves if he is going to get the unfair criticisms of being the reason a team with a talent deficiency is 10 under .500.

All of that leads me to this…when do the fans start looking in the mirror and blaming themselves?  The obvious answer is never.  Because nobody wants to think they’re the reason for anything.  We as a fan base, collectively, have a lot more effect on things than we might think.  Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are two very rich players who fans are always talking about being the future of the team and the cornerstones of a team that lead the Cubs fans to the promised land.  That’s a heavy burden on two kids.  Because they are kids.  23 years old is young if they were starting in Iowa.  They are both starting every day at Wrigley Field.  While I am not tremendously older than either of those two, I do know that I have undergone a major transformation in the years since I was 23.  That’s just out of college for most people.  These two are being counted on to win a World Series where one hasn’t been won in 105 years!  Are they feeling the pressure of expectations levied on them by media and fans?  I can’t answer for sure, but I would venture to guess the obvious answer is yes.  It shows in their performance.  They are both trying to make things happen when nothing is there to be made…and it is hurting them and the team.  Matt Garza has already addressed the negativity around the team this season from the fans.  Since he’s still new to the whole Cubs atmosphere, he must not realize the negativity has been going on for a long time.  Dale Sveum isn’t the first “moron,” “idiot,” “over-thinker,” or “washed up player” to come through here and be run out of town by the fans.  It happened to Mike Quade, Dusty Baker, and Don Baylor…all in the last 12 years.  It probably would have happened to Lou Piniella, too, but he got the hell out of town before he could be chased down Sheffield Avenue by an angry mob.  All of the things that I love about being a Cubs fan…the passion, the loyalty, the undying desire to see the Cubs win it all…have to make being on a team that doesn’t win it all an unmitigated hell.  We’re the people who booed Carlos Marmol before the home opener this season.  We’re the people who booed Alfonso Soriano unmercifully for not running out a line drive that was caught at third base on national television.  We’re the people who, inexplicable, found some cause to boo Aramis Ramirez when he made his first visit to Wrigley last season as a member of the Brewers.

And for what?  Because every year has to be THE YEAR?  I’ve said it before, other bloggers have said it before, and the front office and manager have said it before if you listened closely to what they’ve said…this is not the year.  This is another completely developmental year.  Theo, and I paraphrase, said it’s either playoffs or protected pick.  And if you hooked him up to a polygraph, he’d probably tell you playoffs were never really an option.  He’s smart.  He knows who is on the line up card Dale fills out everyday.  It’s not a playoff team.

I’m not saying to applaud mediocrity.  I’m not saying to ignore mistakes and to not boo a lack of effort.  I’m saying that we aren’t helping.  The players that are running out there everyday feel the weight of a fan base pushing down on their shoulders.  And there are only a few who are out there everyday.  Castro.  Rizzo.  Barney.  Those are the ones who will have the best chance of being a part of the team that does win it all.  Crushing them now is just counterproductive.

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2013 NL Central Preview

Ah, yes…we have reached the time of the year where bats start cracking and gloves start popping.  Spring Training is upon us.  While pitchers and catchers are on the cusp of having to report, there are a number of position players who have already descended on Arizona.  It would not have been surprising to see players wait until the last possible day before reporting after last season’s 61 wins.  Many will do that, anyway.  It is good to see that there are players in camp and working, already.  It is evidence of the players having some optimism for this season.

Optimism is admirable, considering the Cubs will not contend this season, either.  Don’t get me wrong, here…they’re going to be much better than they were last season.  I predicted last season’s version of the Cubs would finish with a record of 77-85.  My prediction appeared to have some validity until the trade deadline.  While it was anticipated the team would sell at the deadline, the degree to which they did, coupled with the losses of Matt Garza to injury and Jeff Samardzija to an innings limit pushed the Cubs to the wrong side of 100 losses for the first time since 1966.  This season, even if they do end up trading some players (Matt Garza the most likely), they have some depth to keep the losses from piling up as quickly and as plentifully as they did in 2012.

A great many prognosticators are saying the Cubs are a lock for last place this year with the Astros leaving for the American League.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!”  This season, it appears the Pirates walk the plank, right into the cellar…

Consider this the official prediction of the division in 2013, in both  final standing and record for each of the now five NL Central ball clubs.

1. Cincinnati Reds (94-68)

With the top of the division, it’s the status quo.  The Reds are still the most complete team in the division and have, arguably, the best bullpen in baseball.  I say that knowing full well that Dusty Baker plans on slowly sucking the life out of Aroldis Chapman’s arm.  For now, though, they are the best team, and with a healthy Joey Votto, there isn’t a good reason why they wouldn’t win the division this season.  A team without major holes is a team that seems destined to win a division.  That best explains the Reds, and the only thing I can see changing this is a rash of injuries.  Even that seems unlikely to cause the Reds to falter, as the team without Joey Votto for a sizable piece of 2012 still won the division by a wide margin.

Projected Line-Up
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Jay Bruce, RF
5. Ryan Ludwick, LF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Zack Cozart, SS
8. Ryan Hanigan, C

Projected Rotation:
1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Aroldis Chapman
5. Homer Bailey

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Sean Marshall
Closer: Jonathon Broxton

2. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)

As sick as it makes me, the Cardinals are chalk for a winning season and competing for a Wild Card…especially since there are two of them, now.  Even with the loss of Chris Carpenter, there is a wealth of depth on this team and in this organization.  They seem to heal wounds better than any team in baseball.  That, in large part, comes from the best farm system in baseball, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.  Without any major changes to the way this team is constructed from last season and Adam Wainwright being a full season past Tommy John Surgery, there is no good reason why they would fail to meet their usual standards of being a complete pain in the neck.  Even after losing Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa, and Chris Carpenter, they’re still pretty darn good.  Which blows.  Hard.

Projected Line-Up
1. John Jay, CF
2. Rafael Furcal, SS
3. Carlos Beltran, RF
4. Matt Holliday, LF
5. David Freese, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Allen Craig, 1B
8. Daniel Descalso, 2B

Projected Rotation:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Jaime Garcia
3. Jake Westbrook
4. Lance Lynn
5. Shelby Miller

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Marc Rzepczynski
Closer: Jason Motte

3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)

Unlike the top two teams, everyone else has some question marks, starting with our beloved Cubs.  The outfield looks to be a strength of the organization…but not at the big league level.  Nate Schierholtz was looking for a one year deal to be an everyday player for a reason.  He is very talented, but that hasn’t translated well at the major league level, yet.  David DeJesus is a good on base player and can grind out an at-bat, but is not a prototypical lead off hitter.  He actually projects nicely into the 7th spot in a contending line up.  Third base looks like it will be held by Ian Stewart, if he’s healthy and shows some of the pop he had in Colorado.  He had flashes of it last year, but his wrist just didn’t let it happen like it needed to.  If he doesn’t get the job done, the hot corner will be ice cold for the Cubs again this season.  Luis Valbuena is a nice player, but doesn’t have the punch a corner infielder should have, and Josh Vitters appears to need more minor league time.  There is some question as to whether Wellington Castillo can be the everyday catcher.  Dioner Navarro is a nice addition to help, but Wellington is the most talented and will need to play to his level.  While the offense has some question marks, the rotation has been solidified by the additions of Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, and Edwin Jackson.  Even if the Cubs do end up trading Matt Garza or have injuries, it will not leave the devastation that trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and losing Garza to injury did last season.  With seven legitimate options to start, not including Arodys Vizcaino,  the Cubs figure to be in much better shape in the rotation.  The bullpen looks better, too.  Shawn Camp was retained, James Russell is another year in, the team signed Kyuji Fujikawa, and Carlos Marmol seemed to figure it out in the second half last season.  If Marmol gets dealt, which is a real possibility, Fujikawa is an option to step into the closer’s role that was so uncertain for the first half of last season.  Villanueva gives the Cubs a flexible option in the bullpen and as a spot starter, if needed.  Long story short, a much improved pitching staff is going to be a catalyst to a much improved Cubs team in 2013.

Projected Line-Up
1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
5. Ian Stewart, 3B
6. Wellington Castillo, C
7. Nate Schierholtz, RF
8. Darwin Barney, 2B

Projected Rotation:
1. Matt Garza
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Edwin Jackson
4. Travis Wood
5. Scott Feldman

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Kyuji Fujikawa
Closer: Carlos Marmol

4. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85)

Looking at the Brewers, they will score runs.  A lot of runs.  I did not include Corey Hart in the projected line-up because he is going to be sidelined for the beginning of the season.  When he comes back, and likely occupies first base, it is going to be full steam ahead at Miller Park.  If they can get some stability out of their starting pitching, if their bullpen improves to be average (or settles for better than worst in the NL), if Corey Hart comes back healthy sooner rather than later, if Aramis Ramirez doesn’t go on a six week slump out of the starting block, and if Ryan Braun emerges clear of PED links again, this team has the potential to have a record just the opposite of what I predicted, and could peak into the playoff window.  There is a lot of if with this team, though.  Generally, some of the ifs work out, but not all of them.  The pitching is suspect.  Mike Fiers was outstanding last season, but with a year to adjust to a guy most teams had never seen and with a season’s worth of tape on him, hitters may be able to get a better read on his less than overwhelming stuff.  I love the kid as a 4th or 5th starter…not as a 2.  The bullpen could be better, but they added nothing to instill confidence in it to anyone but the homeriest of homers up here in Wisconsin.  Too many questions, too many uncertainties, no way to give them the benefit of all of the doubts at their chances of being competitive.

Projected Line-Up
1. Norichika Aoki, RF
2. Rickie Weeks, 2B
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Matt Gamel, 1B
6. Jonathon Lucroy, C
7. Carlos Gomez, CF
8. Jean Segura, SS

Projected Rotation:
1. Yovani Gallardo
2. Mike Fiers
3. Chris Narveson
4. Marco Estrada
5. Tom Gorzelanny

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Mike Gonzalez
Closer: John Axford

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (76-86)

I’ll admit, my projected line-up here seems amiss.  I look at the parts they have, and they don’t seem to fit together that well.  I like a number of their offensive players individually, and I think they will score some runs, led by Andrew McCutchen, who is an absolute stud of the highest order.  Like the Brewers, I have major concerns about their pitching staff.  A.J. Burnett is getting older.  Wandy Rodriguez is a good pitcher, but he doesn’t match up well with other number two pitchers in good rotations.  He’s a good middle of the rotation guy.  James McDonald faded down the stretch last season, and will need to figure it out again.  The bullpen, once a strength, loses much of its force by losing its strongest asset in Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox.  That move alone makes the bullpen average, at best.  With Jason Grilli becoming the closer, it appears to have sent the bullpen just over its head.  Everybody in it is elevated one spot, which to me, seems to be one spot too big for each player.  If Hanrahan were still a Pirate, I could make a good case for the team’s bullpen being the strength of the team.  Without him, it just doesn’t look the same, which is to say it does not look right.  Like the Brewers, too many ifs and concerns to see them being anything more than a team winning in the mid 70s.  For Pirates fans after the last couple of seasons, that may not be desirable, but they’re still much better than the Pirates of the last 20 years have been on average.

Projected Line-Up
1. Neil Walker, 2B
2. Starling Marte, LF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Travis Snider, RF
6. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
7. Russell Martin, C
8. Clint Barmes, SS

Projected Rotation:
1. A.J. Burnett
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. James McDonald
4. Jeff Locke
5. Jeff Karstens

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Mark Melancon
Closer: Jason Grilli