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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Cubs designated RHP Rodrigo Lopez for assignment today to make room for Michael Bowden on the roster.
After Lopez failed to field two infield ground balls, leading to two Geovany Soto errors, and issuing a walk in yesterday’s disastrous sixth inning, where Lopez went 1/3 of an inning, this isn’t terribly surprising. That’s not to say one bad outing is the reason Lopez is being shown the door. He had given up 8 hits, 4 walks, and 4 earned runs before yesterday in 6 innings out of the bullpen. His ERA actually went down yesterday from 6.00 to 5.68, as both runs credited to him were unearned, although, I would make the case they were still his responsibility. For the most part this season, he has been getting hammered routinely, leaving little mystery to opposing hitters.
The Cubs now have 10 days to trade, release, or send Lopez to a minor league team. If I were to guess, however, I would guess that this is the end of the line for the 36 year old journeyman pitcher from Mexico.
cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat reported that newly acquired infielder Luis Valbuena was not on the Cubs’ lineup card for today’s second game of the season against the Washington Nationals, which could mean he is being outrighted to Iowa to make room for Rodrigo Lopez, who will be available for today’s game. A move will be official before the 12:05 first pitch.
1B Bryan LaHair is expected to be available for today’s game after recovering from a lower back injury. While he will not start today, against National’s lefty Gio Gonzalez, LaHair is expected to start his first game of the season tomorrow, in the opening series finale.
Today’s starters are Matt Garza (0-0), making his fourth career start against the Nationals and LHP Gio Gonzalez, making his Nationals debut after being acquired from the A’s this off-season. Garza is 0-1 with a 7.90 ERA in his career vs. Washington, while Gonzalez is 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA in one start against the Cubs.
Some random information heading into the regular season…
- Cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat tweeted that Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler will throw out the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening game on Friday. The reason this makes it into a blog dedicated to the Cubs? She is a lifelong Cubs’ fan. I can only hope she wears a Cubs’ jersey out to the mound.
- ESPN Chicago’s Doug Padilla wrote an article about Carlos Marmol heading into the regular season. Dale Sveum talked about Carlos Marmol’s pitch selection and grip improvements made over the course of Spring Training. He spoke about Marmol gripping the seams of the baseball more on his fastball and using that pitch to get ahead in counts or get back into counts. After ditching the awful cutter from last season, look for Marmol to be the fastball/ slider pitcher we’ve seen in the past. Carlos has not allowed a run in his last six outings before today.
- One of the most talked about names in trade rumors as the regular season approaches is Cubs’ CF Marlon Byrd. The potential exists that the Cubs would be willing to absorb some of the salary remaining on the last year of Byrd’s contract. Should Marlon actually be traded, at any point this year, that would all but guarantee Brett Jackson would be called up at some point this season. It probably would not be initially, because the Cubs did send him back to Iowa for a reason. At this point, I would guess Byrd remains with the team until closer to the July non-waiver deadline.
- Like most teams in baseball, the Cubs are looking for help in the bullpen. The only assured slots are going to closer Carlos Marmol, set-up man Kerry Wood, and lefty James Russell. Behind those three are unproven commodities, although it would be a shock if Rodrigo Lopez was not the long reliever going into the season after the spring he’s put together.
- The Cubs are 15-16 this spring. Even though the games do not count, they did not get off to a great start. Hopefully, some of the late spring momentum carries into the regular season, and the Cubs can get out of the gates better than they did last season. If they have any shot at contending, a lot needs to go right, and a fast start is one of them.
Opening Day is less than three days away. Let the real games begin!
In what can only be described as the first spring training game today, the Cubs made their debut in the Theo Epstein/ Dale Sveum era. Statistical measures do not mean much in these games, but here are some of my takeaways:
- 1. If Rodrigo Lopez throws the ball like he did today, my prediction that he would not be on the roster out of camp will turn out to be woefully wrong. He was impressive and efficient, throwing two perfect innings.
- 2. Jeff Beliveau, who is in line to compete for a spot on the roster, just couldn’t find the strike zone, allowing a hit and three walks, without recording an out. He has a steep uphill climb to make the roster.
- 3. The base running was a lot more aggressive…and it was smarter. The Cubs have been a bad base running team for a few years now, and if today was any indication, that should improve dramatically under Sveum. Again, it was the first game, but the improvements were obvious. And yes, I am aware that guys got picked off.
- 4. So far, so good for the defense. Again, with the date being March 4, there is nothing to get worked up about.
- 5. The regular hitters made good contact against A’s starter Brandon McCarthy. Even though it is early, and it is Arizona, the bats looked like they had life.
- 6. This is the most important point of the post…they competed. The youth and the talent on this team is going to need to compete every single day, from now until October 3, to be in it this season. They did that today, rallying in the 6th and staying competitive.
To be honest, it’s hard to analyze the first game of the spring. And to be fair, analyzing the first game of spring is unnecessary. Today is not a microcosm of anything upcoming for the next seven months. There are a lot of new faces and today was a chance to see (or hear, for those of us that were not fortunate enough to watch the game, myself included) them in live action against another team. If today were the last day of spring, there would be more to say. As it is, baseball is back, the Cubs have played the first of 35 spring exhibitions, and there were some ups and downs. Let’s leave it at that.
Tomorrow: A’s @ Cubs. Ryan Dempster makes his first spring start.