Reasons to watch the Cubs in September

Reasons to watch the Cubs in September
Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro are two reasons to watch the Cubs

Another September rolls around and once again the Cubs are nowhere near contention.  There doesn't seem to be any good reason to keep watching.  The cynical side of me says to watch to see if they hit 100 losses which, despite the Cubs history of losing, has only happened twice.  I could also sit back and root for the Cubs to lose and root for that draft pick, but as much as I want the high pick, when game time rolls around I become a fan and any rational thought to what's best for the Cubs future goes out the window.

So here are my reasons for watching.  Feel free to add some of your own...

  1. Starlin Castro's improving approach at the plate.  Castro has struggled since the all-star break, hitting an uncharacteristically low .250.  However, he has walked 15 times compared to 12 before the break despite half the number of PAs.  August, in particular, has seen his walk rate increase.  He's drawn 11 free passes this month alone.  It's not Barry Bonds-like, but we're looking at a 9% walk rate, which is above the MLB average.  If Castro can maintain that rate over a season and go back to hitting .300, we're looking at a .360 OBP over 600 PAs.  Add the extra power and defense he's added this season and we could be looking at a monster breakout next year.
  2. Brett Jackson is always going to strikeout. That's a given.  It's something that Cubs fans will have to live with.  But the Cubs do need him to improve.  After striking out 23 times in his first 12 games, he's cut it down to 14 in the last 12 games.  That's still not great, but we're talking about a pace in the 180s range.  Given everything else he provides: speed, power, true CF defense, and good patience at the plate (12 walks in those last 12 games), that would be an acceptable number.
  3. Like Castro, Anthony Rizzo struggled in August, hitting .252/.300/.342.  However, it could have been worse, and that's where we've seen the improvement with Rizzo.  In San Diego, the more he struggled, the harder he swung, the longer his stroke, and the lower the batting average.  This time around we've seen Rizzo take some pitches the opposite way and he's worked his way out of the slump, hitting .320 in those last 7 days of August.  Yesterday we saw his first HR in over 3 weeks.  The signs are there that this time around, Rizzo can make the adjustments needed after pitchers adjust to him.  If he keeps adapting, they're going to run out of things to try on him.
  4. The emergence of Welington Castillo as an everyday catcher.  Legit everyday catchers are hard to find and while it's true Castillo is still working on his receiving/game-calling skills, the rest of his game is beginning to blossom.  Castillo is hitting .266/.317/.468 in 101 PAs.  Given 500 PAs, he projects to have 20 HR power.  Add that he's a menace to base stealers around the league and you've got yourself a solid building block.  Castillo already has some of the raw tools you just can't teach and while it will take time for him to become an all-around receiver at the plate, he should start to improve that part of his game  with some experience and coaching. The ability is there for him to be a solid, everyday catcher.
  5. Can Chris Volstad actually become relevant to the Cubs 2013 plans?  Volstad has been putting up acceptable peripheral numbers all year (currently a 4.28 FIP), but an unusually low strand rate has blown up what otherwise could have been some solid performances earlier this year.  Granted, that wasn't just about bad luck.  Volstad seemed to fold up like a lawn chair the minute he faced adversity.  Perhaps I'm putting this too simply, but the 6'8" Volstad needed to grow up.   There are a lot of pitchers can do well when things are going their way, it's the guys who can adjust when things aren't going right that eventually have long term success.  Sometimes we forget that Volstad won't turn 26 for another 3 weeks so there is still plenty of time for him to learn the nuances of pitching.   The Cubs have been patient and if he can build on his last two starts, perhaps that patience will pay off.
  6. Darwin Barney's errorless streak.  You have to hand it to Barney, he's not trying to get this record through the back door.  He continues to take chances and tries to make the best play possible instead of the easy, safe one.  Barney may not be an ideal starting 2B because of his lack of offensive production .  He has actually regressed slightly at the plate as compared to last season (OPS, wOBA, RC+ all down), but his defense has been so good that his overall WAR (2.1) is that of an average starting 2B.  The Cubs can do worse, especially with a developing pitching staff, but he's going to have to hit better if he's going to be anything more than a short-term solution.
  7. There aren't any potential stars -- or probably even starters -- among the September call-ups but the hope is that you can find some role players in guys like Dave Sappelt and Jeff Beliveau.  Sappelt has an opening after the trade of Reed Johnson and the below replacement level production of Joe Mather.  Prior to the first half of this season, Sappelt has always hit, so perhaps he can add a RH bat off the bench to complement Jackson and David DeJesus.  Beliveau, meanwhile, is the last lefty reliever standing next to James Russell after the Cubs have parted ways with Sean Marshall, John Gaub, Alex Hinshaw, and Scott Maine.  Chris Rusin will make his case for a crack at the rotation next spring.  Adrian Cardenas will try to show he can be the lefty bat off the bench, particularly if the Cubs part ways with Bryan LaHair, which seems a lot more likely now than it did  before the all-star break.  Tony Campana will try to prove that he can get on base enough to have more than just a niche role on the bench.  Anthony Recker will try to work his way in to the catcher's mix, while Miguel Socolovich, Rafael Dolis, and Blake Parker vie for bullpen roles in 2013.

That's all I've got for now...why are you guys still watching? 

Filed under: Analysis

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  • I want Lake amd Watkins up!

  • In reply to drew:

    So do I!!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I can't see Watkins getting a ton of playing time (REALLY not fair to Darwin Barney), but it might be good for him to get a few ABs to see exactly how major league pitchers work him.

  • My reasons why I still watch the Cubs games....

    1. Pick up a good looking lady for a date while her boyfriend goes for his beers and hot dogs.

    2. Awaiting the return of Blake DeWitt

    3. Hoping to catch a home run ball from Tony Campana

    4. To watch the Reds clinch the division between Sept 18-20 at Wrigley.

    5. To watch Lendy Castillo get his ERA below 10.00

    6. To hear the sailing dates from Len & Bob on the next Cubs cruise.

    7. To watch the ivy on the outfield walls change colors.

    8. To hear Ronnie Woo Woo

    9. Hoping to see Theo Epstein talk to a empty chair next to him during the game believing Jim Hendry is sitting there.

    10. Knowing I can hit better than watching Josh Vitters at the plate.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    LOL! I think you'll be pretty disappointed this month.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    So will be many Cubs fans in 2013!

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    Man I am truly excited for this last month for one reason, Starlin Castro. People bicker and complain unfairly to this kid, but he continues to improve. The walk rate though is what really is getting to me. If Castro can walk at the rate he is now, which there is no reason he cannot, then the Cubs could have their superstar. By having above average plate discipline, I don't think the projections of 300 BA 350 OBP 20 homers 20 steals are all that unbelievable.

  • I'm still watching for the same reason I've always watched. I hope to see them win that day's game. As for the rest of this season, I hope to see them win as many games as possible.

  • Good point. I simply like baseball and the Cubs are my favorite team.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you, John, and your 2nd sentence sums it nicely. I'll enjoy watching the Cubs the rest of the season and any post-season games that don't involve the Cardinals or White Sox.

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    Castro, big time. Next year really is looking like the breakout. (His agent is going to be sobbing come mid-June.)

    Also watching how Rizzo adjusts to left-handed pitchers. I think that process over September will tell us a lot about both (a) Rizzo's ceiling and (b) James Rowson's likelihood of being the hitting coach next year. (My money is still on Magadan, though Starlin Castro is a *huge* piece on Rowson's resume.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    They could easily wind up regretting that deal. On Castro's side, security means a lot to a kid who probably grew up in poverty in the DR. I'm guessing that makes him happy, not ever having to worry about money again and taking care of his family. Some guys respond well to big contracts because it means they can just focus on baseball.

    I think Magadan is a great choice to come here and my gut says it happens.

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    Has anyone else noticed how happy Starlin Castro has looked since he signed is extension? When he scores a run or a Cubs player gets a big hit, Starlin has a massive smile on his face and looks like a kid who just got a new toy. This, to me, means awesome things. He signed a big contract and is showing he cares. I don't see any relaxation from this kid, just more effort.

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    In reply to Demarrer:

    $60 million will do that to you. :)

    It could also be somewhat coincidental -- the new approach appears to have finally "clicked" with him, and so the game is fun again, and not weeks and weeks of going up there and not hitting the ball.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    I know Sosa went out on a bad note but one thing I remember him saying that he actually felt less pressure after signing the contract. He was able to have security for the first time in his life and was able to take care of his family. That pressure can be a lot more than just playing the game of baseball at the MLB level.

    And good point, he's not coasting at all. He's working as hard as ever.

  • Because college football doesn't even resemble something interesting till November, "Breaking Bad" ends tomorrow, Saratoga's closing. And the Bears are only on once a week.

    Seriously, one is because they're on. It's kinda what I've done for the last...oh let's say...30+ years.

    Mostly I want to see if I can get into Dale Sveum, Chris Bosio, and Dave McKay's heads. Are things getting through? Is this Josh Vitters "tough love" a tactic? Can they do anything significant with the 3-4 Chris Rusin starts? Is Dave Sappelt merely filler? Or can he show some Reed Joh son like feistiness? Small questions whose answers might not mean much but are still interesting.

    Oh right, the other reason: Arguello has some really compromising pictures of me and I need to write the wraps to keep them from seeing the light of day.

  • In reply to felzz:

    felzz ... I feel ya. Fifty for me!!

    RRK: Ditto!!

    John ... My son asked me last year "Why do you even care?" I actually stopped and thought about it. "I guess it's cuz I've been doing it for about 50 years." I watched the Castro AB earlier this week when he took an outside pitch and hit it sharply to RF. I was talking to BB as he explained how marvelous the approach was!! RizzOMG is a wonder to watch. BJax ... whatever they're whispering in his ear me likee!!

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Love the adjustments Castro is making and I think it will pay off for him eventually. It's been a tough year but it's been necessary for his development.

    As for Rizzo, really glad that he is making the adjustments this time, unlike his time in SD. FO did a great job making sure he was truly ready this year.

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    As bad as this sounds, this would be a Chicago Cubs perfect September: The kids keep getting better, Starlin Castro puts it all together, Rizzo adjusts... and the Cubs lose a lot. If the kids can improve while the Cubs draft spot improves, well that is a win-win to me.

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    In reply to Demarrer:

    Yeah, that's my vote. Though that requires the pitchers getting lit up, and I was enjoying the Justin Germano story before he turned into a glorified batting practice pitcher.

  • I know we are probably going to keep trying to stock up on bullpen arms this offseason, but let's look at the fact that the only souhtpaws left are Russell and Beliveau. So here's the scenario: Either Raley or Rusin is going to be at the top of the AAA rotation to begin next season, and the other will most likely be the 5th starter in the major league rotation. The battle for that final spot in the rotation might not come down to which one is better, but which one is better suited as a reliever. The guy who lands in Iowa will be needed if either Russell of Beliveau gets hurt. It's not like there's much to gain out of both being starters. We have enough guys in this system with back end potential.

    In your opinion, John, which guy would be more likely to succeed out of the bullpen.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    I hope we never see Paul Assenmacher pitching for the Cubs.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Assenmacher wasn't that bad. Less hits than innings pitched and almost as many strikeouts as hits allowed. There have been worse.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    I think Cabrera and Beliveau are the most likely, especially if they get their good command back.

    And I agree that either Rusin or Raley have a shot to be that 2nd or 3rd lefty out of the pen.

  • Thinking of some of the better left handed relief pitchers that I saw.....

    Franco, Meyers, Lyle, Wagner, Lavelle, McGraw.....

    over-rated lefty relievers......

    Pleasac, Orosco, W. Hernandez, Howe, Hrabosky

  • I've been promoting the idea that Welington Castillo is the most important prospect on this year's team, due to the fact that we have no catchers in the pipeline after him. So I've been thrilled to see him flash power and decent average. But I'm also concerned that the league's pitchers are going to catch up to him.

  • In reply to Taft:

    That's a good point. The catchers the Cubs have now are more backup types. Some strong HS catchers in this coming draft, so wouldn't be surprised to see Cubs take one -- of course, they won't be ready for 4-5 years.

  • Looking at 2013 HOF list....these names stood out...Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Biggio, Schilling, Piazza

    Take out the steroid crowd, I see Biggio making it first time around....if the voters look at the entire career.

    2014 will be a Cubs & White Sox year....Maddux and Thomas......but Maddux will have a Braves hat on.

    2015......R. Johnson, Smoltz and Pedro Martinez...maybe Glavine

    2016 ...Ken Griffey Jr.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I put Bonds and Clemens in the HOF using this admittedly bizarre scenario:

    They're killed together in a plane crash in 1998.
    Nothing after that ever happened because they're dead.
    Look at the pre-1998 stats. Good enought to get in?

    Yep.

    Oh... why do I still watch the Cubs?
    Same reason people climb Mt. Everest.
    Because it's there.

    Come New Years you'll wish there was ANY game on.

  • Okay folks, off to run some errands and then it's off to the Kane County/Peoria game. Hope it doesn't rain!

  • I'm interested in seeing if BJax can gain any consistency at the plate, other than consistently striking out. I hate to say it, but some of those extra basehits recently look a bit like blind-luck. Here's hoping they weren't.

  • In reply to TheFiveYearPlan:

    I don't know, he hits the ball pretty hard when he makes contact. He's had a couple of soft ones, but that's where his speed comes in. He's had a history of striking out, but he's also had a history of excellent extra base power so the past record seems to indicate he'll do both.

  • I can think of three reasons: 1) extends the length of the summer, lets play two, 2) take someone to wrigley that hasn't been before, 3) if and when the cubs win it, you'll want to have been there in these ealry days when things are getting turned around. Besides Wrigley is still a great place to watch a game. For a lot of die hard cub fans who got hooked going to games in the seventies, when you could get a seat in a row by yourself, going through some of those years with more boarded up buildings around Wrigley than bars, made the 84 season that much more memorable.

  • In reply to eddie35:

    One of these days it will all pay off and no doubt it's more special watching it all happen from the ground up rather than jumping on the bandwagon when they finally do win.

  • In reply to eddie35:

    Wow Eddie

    You're right!! I like the other major sports but my heart belongs to baseball. 60 yrs old and it still takes my breath away to get to the top of the stairs and see the field.

    In this "that's so 15 minutes ago" world it's easy to forget what less than 2 million fans look like. But 1984 was the FIRST yr! Want to take a peek? Here's your "way back" machine: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teams/cubsatte.shtml

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