Normally this is about when we’d share Ivy’s recap (and you can still check it out for the Cincinnati Reds preview as well as the Yankees recap) but when I saw today’s lineup:
#Cubs lineup vs CIN: Bonifacio 2B, Lake LF, Riz 1B, Schierholtz RF, Castro SS, Sweeney CF, Castillo C, Valbuena 3B, Samardzija P
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 18, 2014
I thought about a couple things…
Now I know Mike Olt struggled when going up against Masahiro Tanaka on Wednesday, but to be perfectly frank, EVERYONE struggled against Tanaka. That’s why two-thirds of MLB was willing to give Tanaka his own private island to pitch for their team. But so far, Olt has not played every day, partly due to the convenient excuse that his sore shoulder needs to be eased back in (which is actually legitimate, I don’t want to see him get hurt) and partly due to our observation that he tends to play against left-handed pitching, so he’s on the short end of the platoon stick. I’m not the only one who thinks he should play more despite the slow start.
The issue is several-fold against Mr. Olt, though. He can’t be bumped down to Iowa because he’d have to share time there anyway with Christian Villanueva, who is a pretty solid third base prospect in his own right. And in Chicago, he has to battle for time with Luis Valbuena (who is left-handed, something you did know!), Darwin Barney (who is not left-handed) and Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio is likely to remain at leadoff even though his career statistics show that he’s…well, he’s not that good, and I guess he stays there until regression smashes his kneecaps and manager Rick Renteria has no choice but to put him back into a super-utility substitute and pinch-runner. Darwin Barney is making the most money of the infield corps despite swinging a bat made of canned air, and Luis Valbuena isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either.
However, the Cubs may have legitimate baseball and business reasons for playing all these guys before Olt, at the expense of one of their more intriguing MLB-ready prospects rotting on the bench. Firstly, they have to make sure that guys who sign deals to play with the Cubs with the promise that they will get playing time with said Cubs (read: Bonifacio) will not be reneged on after just two weeks, especially if said player was hitting over .400 for much of that span. Second, they have to showcase the would-be-benchrot for potential trades JUST IN CASE. I don’t think the front office is complacent, nor do I think Renteria is an idiot, and I chronicled some of my thoughts earlier. The Cubs still haven’t played 10% of their season yet and I would expect there to be a few changes soon if the lineup experiments aren’t working.
At the same time, take a look at Reds starter Alfredo Simon, who goes Friday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Simon is there as a sort of placeholder for Mat Latos, who is still rehabbing a spring training injury. The previous two seasons, he pitched in relief for the Reds. Before that, he was a pretty crappy starter for the Baltimore Orioles. Simon is an interesting pitcher in that as a right-hander, he has no significant platoon split through his career. Olt is more likely to play against Tony Cingrani (a lefty) on Saturday, but he could easily have seen action against Simon on Friday. Not to mention that Olt is a more-than-competent defender at third base according to most scouting reports and has prodigious power potential. So again, we have a mini-mystery on our hands.
My hope is that Mike Olt can play more regularly after this weekend and that this playing time doesn’t have to be earned solely through him batting .800/.950/ZOMFG over the weekend. As one of the key pieces in the Matt Garza trade, he should be given every opportunity to succeed (or fail) and he can’t show that if he’s growing roots on the bench or pinch-hitting after being ice-cold most of the game. It seems unfair to Olt, and somewhat silly for the organization as a whole, to relegate him to cheerleading duties like this. I’m willing to give the Cubs the benefit of the doubt this early in the season, but Olt should be the regular starter by early May or else something is truly amiss in my opinion.