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Cubs struggling against LHP, but ditching platoon not the answer

Cubs struggling against LHP, but ditching platoon not the answer

I don't know how many losses like this I can take.  On the bright side, we are seeing the Cubs now as a competitive team who are able to stay in ball games, which is better than we saw at most points last season.  It doesn't make the losses any less frustrating, however.  If anything, it makes them more so.  Perhaps this is what rebuilding teams go through before things start to turn around.

It's obvious, however, that the Cubs have some major holes.  There is a reason they are losing these games.  We know about the bullpen and the chronic OBP problem.  But what's been extremely frustrating is that the Cubs are once again extremely vulnerable against LHP.

It's tempting to keep the LH hitters in the lineup but historically they haven't been any better against southpaws.  This team was built to platoon. David DeJesus has hit .192/.284/.250 over the past 3 years.  In the same time frame, Nate Schierholtz has hit .230/.271/.281 without a single HR.   Luis Valbuena is the best of the trio with a line of .250/.346/.386 with 3 HRs in 112 ABs -- but his platoon partner, Cody Ransom, is hitting .323/.364/.723 vs. LHP.  It doesn't make sense to break that 3B platoon up right now. Frustration with the platoon is understandable, but playing the lefties isn't really the answer either.

Unfortunately, the choices in the minors are slim.  The best hitter at Iowa right now, Bryan Bogusevic, hits left-handed.   Iowa's best RH hitter, Dave Sappelt, struggled with the big league team earlier.  Josh Vitters isn't exactly tearing things up at Iowa right now.

The simple answer is the Cubs need to get better production from their regular right-handed hitters.  Alfonso Soriano is doing his usual solid job (.345/.379/.509) against LHP, but he hasn't been getting any help from the other big bats in the lineup.  Starlin Castro is hitting just .217/.254/.283 against lefties while Welington Castillo is hitting .214/.283/.262.  Scott Hairston, who has hit .286/.317/.550 last season against southpaws, is hitting just .089/.129/.311 so far this season.  These are the guys that need to start stepping up.

Anyway, enough with LHP horror story.  Thankfully, the Cubs will face a RHP today in Jeanmar Gomez.

Today's Lineup:

  1. DeJesus CF
  2. Castro SS
  3. Rizzo 1B
  4. Soriano LF
  5. Schierholtz RF
  6. Castillo C
  7. Valbuena 3B
  8. Barney 2B
  9. E. Jackson SP

What to watch for:

John: Gomez is not an overpowering pitcher. He's also a guy with just average command and vulnerable to the long ball.  He's also been pretty lucky so far this year with regard to balls in play,  so I expect him to give the Cubs some very hittable pitches today.  I look for the Cubs to get much needed production from the middle of their lineup.  I'm looking for the #2-#6 spots to carry the day on offense.  I think we'll get a couple of HRs from that part of the lineup today.  Let's go with Alfonso Soriano and Nate Schierholtz to go deep.

Felzz:  Starlin Castro. Part of his maturity will be snapping out of funks quicker. He's in a funk now. Maybe he turns it around today.

Tom:  Edwin Jackson has pitched well lately but has drawn some tough opponents in Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey.  Today is a good chance for him to pick up a much needed victory for him and the Cubs.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    John, have you noticed Scott Hairston's BABIP this year? .067!

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Ouch. He has to be due for a hot streak at some point. Though I have to say a small part of that number is him just not hitting the ball well right now.

  • Yeah, along with the atrocious performance of the pen, this is the story of the season so far. If the Cubs had an average bullpen, and if the righties had performed according to their career norms against lefties, this team would be over .500, easily.

    All the same, it's a reminder of how close this team is. The law of averages suggests that our righties will start hitting lefties soon enough, and the bullpen is always a matter of trial and error, an aspect of the team that can be fixed over the course of a season, as you make trades and identify the hot hands in the system.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Exactly. At least the problems are identifiable and fixable. I have to think Castro and Castillo will even out their performance eventually. But it seems to me the Cubs should target a RH hitter or two this offseason -- especially with Soriano not around for the long term.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, so far what Ive seen out of Beef is he tightens up in RBI situations. He swings at incredably bad pitches-the Sunday games against the Mets was outrageous in the way with a runner and 3rd and 1 out, and he swings at all 3 pitches 2 feet out of the strike zone. That has to change.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Absolutely. He seems preoccupied with getting that big hit/big RBI -- as is Castro, in my opinion. And I think both hitters make themselves vulnerable to get set up by pitchers because of that. I agree that Castillo, though, is especially bad in those situations.

  • We just have to draw more walks and make these starting pitchers work a little harder for the outs. I realize Castro & Sori are by nature, free swingers; but it seems everyone has expanded their strike zone and not drawing many walks to boot.

    I've got no issues with the platoons. Those numbers will average out over the course of the season. What's frustrating is that we seem to struggle terribly in key situations, specifically with RISP. That's the case with the team in general, not just the platoon players.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Lets see-after 6 innings Liriano had 6 ks and had thrown only 76 pitches and average of 13 per inning. He was striking guys out on 86-87 MPH change ups all night, and no one adjusted. Especially considering Liriano doesnt exactly have a sterling record for throwing strikes. Patience appears to be a dirty word in the Cubs lexcion.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed. Cubs need to get better ABs from Castro and Castillo, no question about it. And it seems they do expand their zone too much when there are RISP -- and good pitchers will exploit that.

  • John, its not losing the games thats so frustrating. Its HOW you lose them . Every loss seems to include the bullpen collapsing because they cant throw strikes, the team failing to even make contact with runners on 3rd and less than 2 outs(last nights 3rd inning being the latest example-bases loaded, no outs and the top of the order coming up-and you cant even put a ball in play. What is the Cubs % of driving home a runner from 3rd and less than 2 outs? Id bet its under 33%, which is ridiculous for a major league team.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I totally agree. I'm encouraged by the improvement in certain areas but that just means the Cubs have been just good enough to lose. I think the Cubs need players who take a better approach with runners in scoring position -- and a better approach in general. The Cubs are getting themselves out in pressure situations over and over again.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I totally agree. I'm encouraged by the improvement in certain areas but that just means the Cubs have been just good enough to lose. I think the Cubs need players who take a better approach with runners in scoring position -- and a better approach in general. The Cubs are getting themselves out in pressure situations over and over again.

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    Could all the righties in the line up actually be hurting the Cubs? The pitcher has 8 hitters in a row to get comfortable instead of facing a couple lefties here and there to throw him off balance.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    Cubs had Borbon and Rizzo in the line up last night. Good god, Rizzo in the 8th inning should have been a snapshot of whats wrong with this team, not once , but on consecutive pitches, swinging at pitches that nearly hit him.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    Rizzo looks really uncomfortable right now at the plate. But at this point I think they should play DDJ and Sweeney against lefties just to get some good AB's in there. Can't be any worse than what Hairston is doing.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    And not only swinging at pitches that nearly hit him but swinging like he was trying to hit it over the river, with the tying run on second.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    That's one theory. I want to say that idea has been brought up in the past. Maybe it was Steve Stone. Can't remember. But the bottom line to me is you need LH hitters who have a chance to be able to keep them in the lineup. The Cubs are a team that's built to platoon.

    I also wonder if the RH part of the platoon is out of rhythm because they don't get consistent ABs, but that doesn't explain why Castro and Castillo haven't helped vs. lefties. They've been playing every day.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    Rizzo is always in there. And the team has had to play a lefty in CF as well since Sappelt was sent out (Borbon has been the latest victim).

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    In reply to mjvz:

    The 8 hitters in a row was the rest of the line up around Rizzo. And yeah they have been playing a lefty in CF out of necessity but I think they should put at least one more lefty in the line up. Facing a couple righties and then a leftie may be just enough to throw the pitcher off balance and keep him from getting into a groove. Just some thoughts. What they're doing now isn't working. And waiting for the righties to even out their numbers may be too late in the season to help.

  • Has there been a Cubs season that felt weirder than this one?

    Out of 15 NL teams the Cubs rank third in home runs and in slugging percentage (but it doesn't feel like they're slugging their way through games does it?); fourth in stolen bases (but the team looks slow, doesn't it?); first in doubles; and fifth in WHIP.

    Yet their winning percentage is .400

  • In reply to baseballet:

    The Cubs entire offense is the long ball. This team doesnt do small ball, since they dont beleive in plate discipline and not swing at pitches that bounce 5 feet in front of the plate or are in the LH batters box(if a RH hitter). And its everyone on the team. Travis Wood and Scott Feldman are better in RBI situations than the regular line up is.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Very weird indeed. In some ways I'm encouraged because there is progress behind the scenes and maybe that pays off next year -- or in the second half this year. In the present, however, it's incredibly frustrating knowing you have a chance to win almost every game and yet always seem to find a new way to lose.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree about encouraging signs, especially regarding the starting pitching, Rizzo's power and Castillo's defense. An offensive hot streak for Sori, Castro and Barney would really be encouraging, and for some reason I think it's going to begin today.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    If you notice one thing about Rizzos power numbers, most all of his HRs are coming on the first pitch. Pitchers are bound to notice eventually, and adjust. Thats been one of my pet peeves with this team, its they dont make adjustments. Watch a Miguel Cabrera-I realize hes great, but the reason hes great is he adjusts, often during the same AB.

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    BTW, I'm going to try to make it to tonight and tomorrow's Peoria Chiefs games. I'll try to tweet some of the action if you want to follow me @DarkestHour138

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    Awesome. Will do Zachary. Let us know on Maples and Johnson's velocity if you can. I've seen Johnson a couple times, so I'm really curious on Maples, who I believe goes tonight.

    And for anyone out there, if I don't follow you on Twitter, let me know and I'll fix that.

  • My fear is that the Cubs will have same problems next year.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That is certainly very possible. I think one big RH hitter would take the pressure off of guys like Castro and Castillo -- probably two because Soriano won't be around for long.

  • Scott Hairston has been a beast for some reason on my MLB 2013 the Show on PS3 this season. However, his performance has not translated to real life. That's for damn sure. :)

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    We need the video version to show up!

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    From now on, whenever someone argues we need big free agency signings to compete, I'm just going to say "Edwin Jackson."

  • It might not be just the Cubs alone who are struggling to take walks.

    A casual glance at the daily box scores show many teams not drawing the amount of walks that they used to drew a few years ago.

    Not sure what it is...but it seems like many teams are showing less patience at the plate and are more free-swinging these days. Personally, I hate that approach and prefer the old days when teams would get 6 or 7 walks on a regular basis. Kind of like the 2008/2009 Cubs team.

  • E-Jax being BABIPed to death yet again. I do not understand how his ERA gets worse while his DIPS continue to improve.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Dude pitches to contact. I guess there's something to be said for power pitchers after all like Shark that don't allow the hitter to put the ball in play as much.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    He's averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. To me, that does not imply
    "pitching to contact."

  • In reply to Eddie:

    He's pitching much better than those numbers -- though he has given up some hard contact at times. His command has been spotty so far and though he pitches well for the most part and BABIP explains much of it, sometimes he's just throwing pitchese up there that are much too hittable.

  • The fact that we're all so frustrated is definitely a sign that the team has made great progress from last year when we didn't care and were resigned losing -- and losing badly. It's real progress that we're in all these games and all the games seem to be nail biters down to the last out.

    So, yeah, you want to kick the TV when time after time we can't get one lousy hit with RISP. But , despite the disappointment, I will say the games are of full of drama and, therefore, worth watching. Couldn't say that the last few years. And all Cubs fans must always remember:

    Success is counted sweetest
    By those who ne'er succeed.
    To comprehend a necter
    Requires sorest need ;)

  • Through 3 innings, The Cubs have seen a total of 33 pitches..... at this pace, Gomez could pitch a complete game and not break 100 pitches.

  • and just like that, we have seen 23 pitches so far in the 4th (2 outs - rain delay).

  • What is worst....watching this terrible Cubs team.....or....living in Pittsburgh?

  • Don't have a thread for the game yet, so with the game delay, I guess the questions becomes...........what to make of Edwin?

    Look at the line for today thus far:

    Jackson, E 3.0 6 4 4 1 6

    1 walk, 6 strikeouts. Brilliant. 4 runs in 4 innings, not so much.

    What do you do if you are the Cubs in regards to Jackson? Just keep throwing him out there and hoping for the best? These perifs are crazy.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Rather have Berken or Volstad come back?

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Clearly, not enough talent there. I would have to go with Carlos Silva. :) :)

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    I added a new "rain delay" article if you guys are interested.

  • Who will be the first Cub traded?

    Feldman?
    Garza?
    DeJesus?
    Marmol?
    Barney?
    Russell?

    I did not put Soriano on this list due to the fact Soriano enjoys the good dental plan he has in Chicago.

  • Once again, I'm late to the discussion, but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents since in a previous article I suggested that Sveum tried to keep his regulars in versus LHP. I think that in the long run, it's not a viable plan for the reasons you outlined, John. However, Harrison (and Sappelt before him) along with some of the other righties have been *so* ineffective that I don't see what it hurts to throw Schierhotlz or DeJesus out there for a couple of games. Hitting .230 is better than .089.

    And just to repeat myself, it's not the long term answer, but some of these guys have NO answer against LHPs right now and who knows? if Scheirholtz has a string of good ABs against lefties maybe that even raises his trade value a bit.

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    Remember the good ol' days, when the cubs line-up was too right handed so they signed Milton Bradley?

    that was awesome.

  • In reply to brober34:

    Ahh, the good ole days.

  • "A lot of guys don't like hitting off left-handers in batting practice because it's more of a feel thing." - Dale Sveum

    Dale may want to consider stepping in there and asserting himself on this one.

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