While much of the frustration centered around the Cubs offense, or lack thereof, there were some encouraging developments in that first series. The first and most obvious one is that they played a very good and up and coming team to a standstill. They could have easily won at least 2 of those games and potentially all 3 but it was the biggest source of frustration -- the continuing failures with RISP, that was perhaps the biggest reason. The defense played well except for a crucial error by Starlin Castro in the 2nd game, and there were a few baserunning mistakes, most notably Emilio Bonifacio getting picked off twice.
Whether those things begin to correct themselves remains to be seen but the Cubs can be encouraged both by their starting pitching and their young bullpen arms. Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Hammel all gave the Cubs plenty of opportunity to win the game, which is all you can really ask fr0m a starter. But I'm not all that surprised. Samardzija is the team's best pitcher, many of us believe Edwin Jackson will bounce back, and I wrote an article earlier on how I thought Hammel would get off to a good, Feldman-like start. Adam Brown has done a great job of tracking those performance and you can read his latest here on Hammel.
What's been more surprising to me is the early performance of the young bullpen arms. While veterans Wesley Wright and Jose Veras have struggled, pitchers like Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Brian Schlitter have come into the game firing mid 90s fastballs and some nasty breaking stuff. It's something new to Cubs fans who are used to dealing with the James Russells, Shawn Camps, Matt Guerriers, and Michael Bowdens in recent years. Not that those pitchers can't have value -- and James Russell certainly does, but sometimes you need those guys who can come in who can miss bats and/or break them when the game is on the line. We've seen hard throwing pitchers who can throw strikes, get strikeouts and draw weak contact in key situations. That is something the Cubs have lacked in recent years.
It brings to mind the wave of power arms the Cardinals have been able to trot out year after year. but I don't want to get carried away here. The Cubs are nowhere near that level yet. But it may not be long before they get there. In addition to Strop, Grimm, Rondon, and Schlitter, the Cubs have more big arms on the way. Arodys Vizcaino is the best of the bunch but Neil Ramirez showed he can dominate in short stints this spring. Armando Rivero, Corey Black, and Juan Paniagua -- all of whom have hit 97 or more -- could be up in the near future as well.
What was once a long source of heartburn for the Cubs may be developing into a team strength over the next couple of years.
I've seen a lot of angst here and other places about the Cubs early platoon system. I understand the argument and the desire to see guys like Mike Olt play everyday, but I don't share the same frustrations that most fans do.
As I've been saying here in the comments section and on Twitter recently, I don't believe you necessarily have to play guys everyday to develop them. You just need to get them consistent ABs. And in some ways, it can be beneficial to break some hitters in slowly. There is no doubt that Mike Olt has as much power as anyone in the Cubs lineup, but there is also little doubt that he still has holes in his game. MLB pitchers can ruthlessly exploit those holes so sometimes you have to ask yourself if a hitter is learning when he is simply overmatched. It can have the reverse effect of frustrating a hitter and exposing his weaknesses. In some cases, putting hitters in favorable matchups is more desirable than playing him everyday, especially when he may not yet be ready to handle the load of facing MLB level pitchers day after day. I feel similarly about Junior Lake and Ryan Kalish. Lake is still raw and Kalish hasn't played much in the past couple of seasons. Do we need to throw them to the lions right off the bat or do we put them in a position to succeed early with favorable matchups? Maybe you gradually increase their playing time and workload to include increasingly tougher matchups as the season goes on. Teachers know that process as scaffolding and sometimes it's the most appropriate way for people to learn. There's no cookie cutter way to develop players and we shouldn't assume playing young players everyday regardless of situation is the best way to do it.
We also shouldn't ignore the fact that Mike Olt didn't play back to back games at 3B until the last week of the spring after battling shoulder soreness. It's also possible they could be being cautious with his shoulder early in the season, especially given the damp weather and the greater possibility for injury. They could save him some wear and tear and have him ready to play everyday by the 2nd half of the season.
Lastly, the Cubs are still and MLB ballclub and the focus is still on winning games at this level, particularly early in the season. If the Cubs felt Olt needed to play everyday, they would have sent him to AAA where development takes priority. They obviously feel they can better develop him at the MLB level even on a part-time basis while putting both both him and the team in the best position to succeed.
Now...if the Cubs are out of it by August (or even earlier) and they're still platooning the kids in favor of MLB role players, my opinion will certainly change. But for now, I'm okay with it.
With that in mind, here is today's lineups...
- Bonifacio CF
- Castro SS
- Rizzo 1B
- Schierholtz RF
- Valbuena 3B
- Castillo C
- Sweeney LF
- Barney 2B
- Wood P
5th Starter Dilemma
The Cubs have an interesting dilemma as they were forced to use 5th starter Carlos Villanueva in each of the first two games as both were extra inning affairs. I thought the Cubs might consider calling up Chris Rusin for a start but he pitched the opener for Iowa. Many fans would probably like to see the Cubs give prospect Kyle Hendricks the nod -- but he is not on the 40 man roster and would require a move by the organization. That move could conceivably be a shift of Kyuji Fujikawa to the 60 man DL. In that vein, the Cubs could also consider LHP Eric Jokisch, who impressed the Cubs this spring. Perhaps the simplest move at this point is to recall RHP Dallas Beeler, whose heavy fastball and GB style might make him a good fit in the early Wrigley weather. But the thing is I don't see Beeler on the AAA or AA roster and I don't know if he's ready to start the season. One more consideration is Neil Ramirez, who like Beeler is already on the 40 man roster, but after pitching out of the pen in the spring, I do not know if he's stretched out to go any more than 5 innings, which would still put a burden on the bullpen.
The team could still go with Villanueva and watch the pitch count or just skip the 5th spot altogether since the team had a day off on Tuesday and will have another on Monday. But considering the Cubs had no plans to go with a 4 man rotation before the season started, I don't think this is something they really want to do. Of course, the circumstances have changed, so the Cubs may need to adapt their original 5-man rotation plans.
I imagine these are all the options the Cubs are discussing right now along with the now remote possibility that Villanueva takes his start as scheduled. For me, I'd like to see the Cubs call up a pitcher, send an RP with options down temporarily, and continue to use Villanueva as a pen option for now. After the weekend, they can return the starting pitcher back to Iowa and everyone else on the Cubs staff to their normal roles.
- Patrick Mooney reports that the Ricketts may be willing to sell minority interest in the team to help raise money for the renovation. Should we take up a collection and have Cubs Den as part owners? I kid, I kid.
- The amateur draft and international pool allotments will rise by 1.7%. The Cubs have the 6th most money to spend for the draft despite having the 4th worst record, but they do have the 4th most amount of IFA pool money. Because it's their normal philosophy and the Cubs don't have any extra bonus money beyond what they get for their draft position, I see them once again taking a BPA strategy, but the Astros and Marlins have all kinds of options when it comes to allocating their money, so they'll be interesting to watch. The White Sox are a possibility in that regard as well as they have over $1M more to spend than the Cubs do.
- If you want a shortcut to our minors recaps, bookmark this link: Daily Minor League Recaps.
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