So the Cubs got shut out in both sides of the doubleheader today, which apparently was the first time it's happened since the 1960s. On the other hand, the Cubs have already scored 47 runs in 14 games, with 13 games left in April. Even if we exclude the March 31 opener where they got shut out by the Pirates, the Cubs still have 47 runs in 13 games. So unless they get shut out for the remainder of the month, I'll win my customary bet with Anno that the rebuilding Cubs can score 70 runs in the month of April. I'm reasonably sure they can muster up 23 runs in 13 games, barring rainouts (which do count against the total number of games in the month, by the way, so Anno needs to pray for rain haha). I think they can muster up three runs a game though, just as they've done the past couple seasons.
Back to the Cubs games...we know that the Cubs looked silly against Masahiro Tanaka, and that was kind of to be expected. The Cubs did allocate a ton of money to try to convince Tanaka to come to Chicago, but a number of factors ultimately led Tanaka to choose the Yankees instead. Among those was the fact that the Yankees outbid everyone else by about $35MM for some reason and also acquiesced to Tanaka's request for an opt-out clause, which made no sense to the Cubs' rebuilding effort. Behind the Ivy has blogged about all the mileage on Tanaka's arm, and while we hope it doesn't happen, Tanaka may inevitably suffer an injury due to the workload on his pitching arm. We'll see. It's natural for us as Cubs fans to feel a bit of jealousy and remorse that the Cubs lost out on such an asset, and it's actually refreshing to know that they weren't completely nuts in offering the $120MM+ contract to him since Tanaka is actually pretty good at baseball.
The Cubs' pitching actually hasn't been too bad even with the losing. The bullpen has had their share of screw-ups, but the starting pitching has held up its end of the deal, even Edwin Jackson (whom a lot of fans hate, somewhat justifiably, but he really isn't THAT bad). Jason Hammel had a quality start against the Yankees, which, despite having a lineup that's close to qualifying for the senior discount at Old Country Buffet, still does pretty well on offense. Travis Wood was close to nailing down a quality start of his own (ultimately giving up two runs) but couldn't finish up the sixth inning as he got BABIP'd to death. The issue isn't with the pitching; it's more with the offense not giving their starters enough run support, and then having to rely on a relatively untested and/or inconsistent bullpen to keep games close or hold a lead. On a rebuilding team, the bullpen is usually the last thing to be fixed, and we saw some very encouraging performances from Hector Rondon and Zac Rosscup. It would be nice for the Cubs to score some runs for the starters though! And it'd be nice if the umpires would call a good zone so Chris Bosio wouldn't get tossed from games...
The thing is, the Cubs can actually score runs as we've seen before. Sometimes it's just bad luck or bad execution that short-circuits a rally. For example, Welington Castillo:
Missed sign :-( RT @ESPNChiCubs Welington Castillo bunted on his own in the 5th inning, according to Renteria. They wanted him to swing away
— Rice Cube (@CubicSnarkonia) April 17, 2014
Like, why the hell would you bunt, Beef Castle? It was a nice bunt and it moved the runners over, but man...you have the power to destroy the baseball. I dunno. At least it wasn't called by the bench. On the bright side, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are continuing to get good hits, so we should feel encouraged about that. And of course, we couldn't expect Emilio Bonifacio to hit .400 forever.
I may or may not be unfairly criticizing manager Rick Renteria for going full-on platoon with the lineups and getting a bit bunt-happy at times. I don't know if there is a method to the madness, if he's trying to figure out what works (so far, very little seems to work, but we're working on very small samples through 14 games), or if he's just trying to find good matchups for prospects like Junior Lake or Mike Olt to get them more comfortable and confident once they transition to full-time players. There might also be a sort of de facto mandate to play certain players like Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz and Darwin Barney in order to generate some manner of trade interest prior to July. But I think at some point the Cubs and Renteria will start playing Olt and Lake more.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the Cubs are projected to bring up the rear in the NL Central this season. A lot of these results shouldn't be surprising, and any additional win the Cubs get should be celebrated because they probably won't win much more than 70 games if they can even get there at this pace. The pitching and the young core in Rizzo, Castro and even Beef Castle is exciting to watch again, at least. But we also have to be mindful of the current CBA and what it means to the Cubs continuing to build a solid foundation of impact talent.
— Dan Kirby (@DanMKirby) April 14, 2014
To add on to that last tweet, there are some great ones next year. Lots of prep bats, too.
— Dan Kirby (@DanMKirby) April 17, 2014
The Cubs are going to be more watchable than in previous years of the rebuild, in my opinion. But in order to get a better shot at the bigger names in the draft pool, they unfortunately can't win too much. I don't think there's a conspiracy in place for the front office to tell Rick Renteria that he has to lose a certain number of games. But at the same time, Renteria has a roster that is basically Rizzo, Castro, Beef Castle, a rotation that's good more than half the time, a smattering of backup players and retreads and a bullpen full of not-so-provens. The Cubs have been competitive in all but two games so far this season, not that it makes those close losses any less annoying. There may be a few questionable bunts here or there, and reliever usage may prove mysterious on occasion, but I try my best to come back off the edge and think to myself that Renteria really is doing his best with the hand he's been dealt. And as I watched my own high school team get massacred due to lack of effort, busted plays and bad luck, I think I appreciate Renteria a bit more knowing how hard it is to coach baseball. We've barely gone through 10% of the season, maybe we'll see something more in the next 10%.