Most baseball players go in and out of favor with fans as a season advances. With 162 games on the schedule, it's inevitable that you'll adore certain players at times and want nothing more than to see those same players sent to the minors just a few weeks later. Slumps and hot streaks in baseball, more so than in other sports, are part of the fabric of the game.
My 2011 Cubs Love/Hate list
But as the 2011 regular season gets underway, there are a few specific Cubs players I expect really good things from, players that I therefore expect to have a positive fan/player relationship with. On the other hand, there are a few players I'm already nervous about, and I worry about our long-term prospects as the season wears on.
Three Cubs I expect to get along with juuuuust fine
Quade sure seems to have faith in him: he's batted ahead of Soriano in the lineup and even ahead of Pena against Pirates southpaw Paul Maholm. I expect 20+ home runs and a patient eye at the plate from Soto in 2011. What would probably do the most damage to my relationship with him is an injury--if he forces Koyie Hill on us for an extended period of time, I will have to seriously re-think my feelings for him.
SO excited for Castro. He gets the benefit of the doubt in his sophomore campaign given that he's still just 21. Certainly us Cubs fans have been suckered into expecting too much from prospects in the past, but screw it. If Castro remains a Cub and sticks around in the majors for a while, he won't even hit his prime until about 2016, and yet we're already seeing him produce at the major league level here in 2011. According to FanGraphs, Castro was the most successful NL player in 2010 against both the changeup and the split-fingered fastball (the stat is referred to as Pitch Type Linear Weights). Pretty impressive for a rookie.
It's not that I expect him to be the Cubs' best starter, but I do expect to be satisfied by his production this season. His biggest problem last year were the few times he got absolutely shelled early in the game--you might recall he had a start against the Cardinals at Wrigley in which he failed to record an out, raising his ERA at the time from 3.99 to 4.79. I anticipate a solid season from the 28-year-old.
Continue reading to see which players concern me the most in 2011 ...
Three players who make me nervous and/or I fear I will hate them by the All-Star break
After the Cubs lured him away from the NFL draft with a huge contract, Samardzija was called up in 2008 and was a productive piece of the bullpen on a 97-win team: a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 IP. "Cool," we thought. "He'll get even better with time now that football is behind him, and maybe he'll even develop into a good starter."
Not so much. A 7.53 ERA in 2009, an 8.38 ERA in 2010. He broke camp with the team last year and yet he managed to pitch in just big league seven games the entire season. I fear I'll be rooting for a similar fate in 2011.
I've been down on him for years now. It's not that I think he's terrible--he's clearly not--but around 2009 I finally concluded that he's never going to be the ace that some--including me, at one point--thought he would be. He's too inconsistent, too wild, too mercurial. His first start was pretty much exactly what I would have expected: three walks, a high pitch count and a cramp that forced him from the game. You're on thin ice, Carlos.
No shocker here. In '07 and '08, Soriano embodied the typical love/hate relationship common to baseball. He would go through two-week slumps during which he wouldn't have been able to make contact even if the pitcher had been tossing the moon toward the plate, but then he would carry the team for weeks at a time. Over the last two seasons, the good news is that Soriano hasn't been streaky; the bad news is that's because he's pretty much always been bad. About the only positive thing I expect to be able to say about Soriano this year is: At least we're finally in the second half of his eight-year stay in Chicago.