On a day after a ninth inning to forget, we all probably need some good news…so here we go.
- Darwin Barney enters tonight’s game vs. the Brewers one game short of the single season National League record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman. I think it bears repeating that this is only Darwin’s second full season as a second baseman, and his defense is nothing short of outstanding. At the plate, Dale Sveum said he can be a .290-.310 hitter, which would make him an All-Star worthy player, should he put together his fielding and hitting. While others may not have the hopes for Darwin that I have, I do see him as an everyday player that is still getting better. Additionally, there are very few that work as hard, hustle as much, or play with the toughness that Darwin brings to the yard every day. He’s a valuable piece, and hopefully the front office can see that.
- Starlin Castro’s extension was announced today. It is the 7 year/ $60 million that was reported, with escalators and options that could raise the value to 8 years/ $79 million when all is said and done. Reminders about Castro are important, too. He is 22. He already has 1761 career plate appearances, which have only been exceeded by Robin Yount, Edgar Rentaria, Alex Rodriguez, Elvis Andrus, Arky Vaughan, and Travis Jackson for a short stop of that age. Those are some pretty good players to be in company with, and if Castro turns into anything similar to any of those other players, this is going to be a great deal for the Cubs. During his presser, Castro said he wants “to be here” and doesn’t want “to go nowhere.” He was also asked about being a leader, which he seemed to embrace. From a body language standpoint, he seemed to be a little surprised that it was happening for him. He looked humble. He also admitted that the extension talks were a distraction, which might be an explanation for some of the dip in production. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for Castro, and whether or not his batting average climbs back up to around .300.
- Brett Jackson seems to be settling in at the plate for the Cubs, going 1-2 with his 3rd HR in 4 games and 2 walks last night. He seems locked in at Wrigley, and defensively, he’s been as advertised, running down balls and making plays in the outfield. It was quite the slow start for both Jackson and Josh Vitters, with only Jackson breaking out of that. Vitters is 5-53 with 19 strikeouts since being called up. I do wonder if Vitters has been struggling at the plate because of the focus on his defense. That may be a simple explanation, but without asking Josh himself, and getting an honest answer, we’ll never really know.
- Jed Hoyer said during the Starlin Castro presser that the hardest things to find were starting pitchers and short stops, and that he is excited to have short stop taken care of. As for pitching, the current rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Brooks Raley, and Justin Germano is proving his point. Since Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Matt Garza have left the rotation, the Cubs have only won only six games. And the starting pitching has been a big reason why. That said, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija seem to be pitching themselves into rotation spots next season.
- Yesterday, the Cubs made a minor move with the Oakland A’s, acquiring Catcher Anthony Recker for Blake Lalli, and optioned him to Iowa. To make room on the 40 man, Scott Maine was designated for assignment.
- And finally, in the “no surprise here” move of the day, the Cubs have activated Blake Parker from the 60 day DL, and have designated Alex Hinshaw for assignment. If you recall your nightmare from last night, Hinshaw is the guy that threw beach balls to the Brewers, retiring nobody, and allowing three massive home runs to ensure the Cubs had no shot against oft-gotten John Axford, en route to a nine run ninth for the Brewers.
Alright, that’s not entirely true, but it would seem as though it is coming soon since tonight’s line up features Bryan LaHair batting third and playing right field.
Tonight’s line up at the White Sox is:
1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Bryan LaHair, RF
4. Alfonso Soriano, DH
5. Steve Clevenger, 1B
6. Darwin Barney, 2B
7. Luis Valbuena, 3B
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Tony Campana, LF
Pitching: Matt Garza
- That’s right, Geovany Soto has been activated off of the disabled list today and will start. The Cubs will not go with three catchers, as had been discussed, though. Wellington Castillo has been sent back to Iowa.
- Also, Ryan Dempster has been placed on the 15 Day Disabled List today with a “Tight Lat.” This is an injury that Dempster has been playing through for much of his 22 consecutive scoreless innings, apparently. Clearly, it had been devastating his performance and required him to shut it down for a few starts. In his place, Scott Maine has been recalled, and Randy Wells will take Dempster’s place in the starting rotation.
The Cubs have finished signing every player on their 40 man roster with 0-3 years of service time, according to ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla. The list of players is as follows:
Right-handed pitchers: Alberto Cabrera, Lendy Castillo, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, Samardzija and Casey Weathers.
Left-handed pitchers: Jeff Beliveau, John Gaub, Scott Maine, Russell and T. Wood.
Catchers: Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.
Infielders: Barney, Adrian Cardenas, Castro, Bryan LaHair, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Vitters.
Outfielders: Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur.
Dale Sveum seems to think that the Cubs can compete for a World Series Championship. I would tend to agree with him. As I predicted earlier in the season preview, I did not anticipate that it would be this season. Then again, who knows? The 2010 San Diego Padres made it really interesting down the stretch of the regular season, only to be beaten out by the eventual champion, San Francisco Giants. Both of those teams did it with pitching, and substandard offensive outputs. The Cubs are in a similar situation with a core of young offensive players and pitchers that are preparing for the season. One thing is certain, however; if the Cubs are going to play when the leaves are falling, here is the projected pitching staff that is going to do it:
1. RHP Matt Garza – Matt was the victim of some terrible luck last season, losing seven leads (one more than I earlier stated in the 2012 preview, but realized was an error with the aid of cubs.com). This season, he will most likely take the ball on Opening Day, and try to pick up where he left off after an excellent second half of the season.
2. RHP Ryan Dempster – Dempster goes into a contract year looking to rebound from a tough 2011, where he posted a 4.80 ERA, which was an improving statistic throughout the season after a disastrous April, where his ERA was north of 9.00. If the Cubs have any shot, he’s going to be a key reason why.
3. LHP Paul Maholm – The Pittsburgh castoff is the newest Cub starting pitcher, coming off a season where wins and losses did not tell the story of how well he pitched. He had an ugly 6-14 record with a strong 3.66 ERA. He is good at keeping the ball down, and doesn’t walk many, giving free passes to 50 in 162.1 innings last season. If he can keep the ball down at Wrigley, he may not replicate his complete game shut out from May 28 last season, but he will have success in his new home.
4. RHP Randy Wells – Randy needs to stay healthy. Then, Randy needs to get out of the first inning. Last season was the health. 2010 was the first inning. If he figures out his 2009 form this season, it could be a resurgent year for Wells, who figures to fall into the fourth slot in the rotation by near default.
5. RHP Chris Volstad – Chris is another new acquisition, coming from Miami for Carlos Zambrano. He is a classic innings eater, and but is more of a fly ball pitcher. This slot is very much up for grabs, with LHP Travis Wood seeking a spot in the rotation as well. My nod goes to Volstad because of his experience and durability.
Closer: RHP Carlos Marmol – Ditch the cutter. Bring the blown saves down. Relocate the release point on the slider. Problem solved.
Set Up: RHP Kerry Wood, RHP Jeff Samardzija – Samardzija is going to compete for a rotation slot, but he figures to wind up in the role where he excelled last season, especially in the second half. Kerry Wood is a veteran stabilizer in the ‘pen that could find himself closing if Marmol needs a day or falters.
Middle Relief: LHP James Russell, LHP Scott Maine, RHP Lendy Castillo – Castillo was selected in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft and will likely be on the 25 man roster all season, unless of course he is “injured” at some point. Russell and Maine both figure to make the team as lefty specialists, with Russell having the ability to set up from the left side. One thing is for sure, James Russell is not a starting pitcher, even though he was admirable in stepping in and eating innings when called on. He didn’t fair well, but he did the rest of the bullpen a needed service.
Long Relief: LHP Andy Sonnanstine – Andy’s got the ability to go long relief and spot start. It is a stretch to think the Cubs will carry three left handed relievers out of camp, but without much viable alternative for a long reliever, Sonny is probably going to be the guy by default. Look for Marcos Mateo to make the team in middle relief if Dale Sveum wants another righty in middle relief, and Maine to start in Iowa.
Other Expected Contributors
LHP Travis Wood – Spot starts/ long relief
LHP John Gaub – Could be in the bullpen out of Spring Training, but will pitch with the major league team regardless. He is a strong arm that can supplement a tired bullpen
RHP Rafael Dolis – Rafael is a young pitcher that is competing for a roster spot, but is a long shot. He should be in Chicago at some point this season, but it figures to come if there is an injury to a starting pitcher
RHP Casey Coleman – Casey could pick up some spot starts and long relief duty. He figures to be another player that will pitch in injury situations. If he can keep his composure as he showed at times last season, he may make a case to stay around a while.
RHP Justin Berg, RHP Marcos Mateo – Both Berg and Mateo seem to be at the same point in their development. Berg offers a change of pace out of the bullpen that the Cubs do not have, so I expect him to be with the 25 man roster consistently over the course of the season, and Mateo is another arm that can provide relief during long trips, when injuries require an arm, or if another of the youngsters is ineffective.
When the Cubs were competitive in the last decade, their pitching was the catalyst with timely hitting. The Cubs failed to produce either of those things last season. If there is any shot that they are competitive this season, it is going to take the gentlemen on this projection, along with others making the trip from Des Moines to supplement the staff. New Pitching Coach Chris Bosio has his work cut out for him, repairing the unmitigated disaster that was Cubs’ pitching last season. The good news is, there is more depth than there was when the team broke camp for 2011. The bad news is that regardless of who the Cubs break with, the majority of the pitchers are going to be talented, but unproven or under-performing major league pitchers.
Unfortunately, there are too many ifs in this group to expect the great things that will be needed for the Cubs to make a deep run. The pitching needs to catch lightning in a bottle to be better than middle of the road this season. The bright side is, there is not a lot of age in the group, with Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, and Ryan Dempster being the most veteran of the entire staff. Here’s to hoping that I’m way off…