50% of 162 is…uhh…Where’s my Calculator?

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By Paul Schmidt

The halfway point of the baseball season has been reached for the Chicago Cubs.  Suffice it to say, things didn’t quite go as planned.  What has happened?  What will happen?  Let’s take a brief, brief look back (mainly because that’s all I can stomach) and then a glance at the future as we try to figure out where this team is going to take us in this wild and wooly 2009 season.

Offense
The bats, as we all know and has been well documented, have been silent. Everything that Jim Hendry did in this offseason backfired, much as I and many others feared it might. Hendry overcompensated for a lineup that didn’t feature enough left-handers and dealt away one of the teams’ biggest strengths last season – defense (which we will get to).

Alfonso Soriano has been an unbelievable disappointment at the plate.  Geovany Soto’s not been much better – but seems to be coming on ever so slightly after his positive marijuana test has come out. Mike Fontenot is proving why he isn’t an every-day player in the majors. Milton Bradley’s not hitting for power or average (but, in all sincerity, he is getting on base with an OBP of near .380 – exceedingly high for someone only hitting .245). Fukudome is coming back to earth after a torrid start again this spring, but at least is still drawing walks.

Derrek Lee has been absolutely raking, and is deserving of an All Star berth mainly because he’s had to carry this whole mess on his shoulders for the last six weeks.  Ryan Theriot also has been a nice sparkplug at the plate, and, thank goodness, has stopped running the bases with the reckless abandon of past seasons.

Pitching
The starters have been the anchor of the team.  Ted Lilly has been an unsung hero this season – and worthy of an All-Star bid. Randy Wells probably should be getting mentions as a Rookie of the Year candidate, as hard as that might be to believe. Carlos Zambrano has been his usual up and down self, and Ryan Dempster has had to deal with a lot of personal tragedy in his life this season, yet continues to take the ball every five days (until landing on the DL today

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

with a mysterious broken toe).  Only Rich Harden has been completely inconsistent, as no one seems to know which pitcher is going to hit the mound on any given day.

The bullpen has spent much of the season looking sketchy, but might have turned a corner. Kevin Gregg – Known to Chicago Comcast On-Demand subscribers as the Pout-Pout Fish – has thrown very well over the past couple of weeks.  Carlos Marmol seems to – THANK GOD – have turned a corner and should again be considered as a possible closer. With Angel Guzman headed back into the mix as the 7th or 8th inning guy, the bullpen, once thought to be a weakness, could become a big strength.

Defense
Or lack thereof. With Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano on the corners, the outfield struggles to be adequate. Ryan Theriot is generally viewed, in MLB circles, as a picture-perfect example of how NOT to play shortstop. The bench is devoid of anyone who can come in and be a marked improvement defensively, save for Andres Blanco, who unfortunately can’t hit or bunt. One thing saving both Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir in this area is that when the starting OF is as bad defensively as it is, really, there’s no reason to criticize their defense.

To put things in perspective, in the second three-game series against the White Sox, Alfonso Soriano lost a pop fly in the sun and played an out into a hit on three consecutive days…and this received virtually no mention because Milton Bradley’s unfortunate “counting” incident was so very bad. That’s an awful defensive outfield.

The Second Half
Here’s five big subplots to the rest of the season for Cubs fans to be watching:
1)  Off days. The Cubs, as mentioned earlier, just hit the midway point of the season at 81 games, and were the last team in all of baseball to hit that barrier. They have four games played less than the division-leading Cardinals, and obviously that gap has to be made up prior to the end of the year, which means the Cubs will have four less off days due to, mostly, inclement weather at the beginning of the year. How Lou Piniella manages the roster and gets everyone enough rest as the season goes along will be a big part of how far the Cubs can go this season

2) Injuries. The boys in blue received a big boost Monday in getting Aramis Ramirez, Angel Guzman and Reed Johnson back from injury, but then lost Ryan Dempster to the DL with a broken toe on Tuesday, with no immediate timetable for his return. If injuries continue to mount, with so few off days, the Cubs will be in real trouble trying to field an adequate roster.

3) The rotation. This goes hand-in-hand with the last item, with Dempster headed to the DL. From an immediate standpoint, Carlos Zambrano moves up one day to make the start on Tuesday, and then Kevin Hart, only sent to the

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

minors yesterday, will make his first major league start on Wednesday. Hart, barring a miracle, can’t be a permanent solution in that role, and Sean Marshall has to stay in the bullpen as the only lefty out there, so it leaves questions of who fills that spot in the rotation should Dempster miss any length of time – which, if the toe broken is his big toe on his plant foot, could actually happen. Watch Hart’s Wednesday start closely, and possibly pray a little that he looks like Cy Young.

4) The ownership. Just as soon as it looked like things might get resolved on Monday, things got way less clear on Tuesday. It looked as though Tom Ricketts’ bid was going forward on Monday, but Tuesday it became public that though the Ricketts deal seemed to be agreed to in principal, the Tribune continued to negotiate with the group led by equity investor Marc Utay and reached an agreement for more money overall – but less cash up front. While the particulars of how and why are relevant to the sale of the team, only one thing is important to the fans at this point – it doesn’t look like the sale will be completed in time before the trade deadline, as had been previously speculated upon. With that being the case, it goes from being extremely difficult for Jim Hendry to get a trade together to being near impossible for him.

5) The team to beat. Who is that team, to be more specific.  Is it the Cardinals, with their solid rotation and best player on earth, Albert Pujols?  Is it the Brewers with their other-worldly offense and a pitching staff that ranges from Yovani Gallardo (awesome) to…Seth freaking McClung (to quote the Hebrew Hammer, oy vais). Could it be the up-and-coming (and getting healthier themselves) Reds?

Perhaps any of those teams could pull the division off…but I imagine that it will be the Cubs themselves as the team to beat.  I mean that in one of two ways, though – Maybe they will distance themselves from the pack and become the team to beat.

Or perhaps they will be the team that beats themselves.

With 81 down and 81 to go, we’re closer, rather than further, from the answer.

Catching Up with the Cubs

by: David K.

Anytime I have written anything about Carlos Zambrano, I always half-jokingly mention his craziness and habit of taking out his anger out on helpless Gatorade jugs.  Now you know why.

Big Z lost it Wednesday afternoon, throwing an impressive tantrum by bumping the home plate umpire then throwing HIM out of the game, whipping the ball into the outfield, slamming his glove on the ground, and then taking a bat to the new Gatorade dispenser in the Cubs dug-out like it was the copier in Office Space after disagreeing with a close play at the plate.  Cue up the Geto Boys, “Die Mother F@!&ers, Die Mother F@!&ers, Still!”

The thing that really irks me about another Los blow-up is that it came in the seventh inning of a tied game when the Cubs needed him to finish out his solid performance.  Way to have the team’s best interest in mind, Z.  You make Milton Bradley and Lindsey Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson look sane.  Now, you will likely see a hefty fine and multi-game suspension.  Just what the Cubs need.

A friend recently pointed out to me that since his power out-burst of hitting three home runs during a four-game span, Ryan Theriot, who only hit one longball in 2008, hit two more jacks, but just five singles in his next 17 games and saw his average dip fifty-points.  That is what happens when a 5-11, 175 pound shortstop who makes his living using the opposite field and getting on base for the big bats behind him suddenly hits a couple bombs and thinks he is a home run threat.  Thankfully, The Riot has gone back to his old ways in the Pirates’ series in which he was 7-11 with three doubles and ZERO home runs.

Now I know how Brewers’ fans felt last season whenever Eric Gagne toed the rubber in the ninth inning to try and close out a game.  I trust Kevin Gregg as much as I would trust Michael Jackson with my first born child.  Gregg is not quite in Brad Lidge territory (8.85 ERA, 2.07 WHIP), but he certainly doesn’t put Cubs fans at ease in the ninth inning, as he has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of his save opportunities.  What is it going to take for Carlos Marmol to get the closer job?  Maybe Gregg needs shoulder stiffness and a short stint on the DL.

By the way, this rule needs to change.  On May 16th against the Astros, Gregg came in to close things out in the ninth with the Cubs leading 4-0.  He proceeded to give up back-to-back solo home runs, two singles, and then a hit batsman.  Aaron Heilman then relieved Gregg with the bases loaded and gave-up a two-run single to tie the game at four.  So Gregg allowed four earned runs without recording a single out, but did not get credited with the blown save.  Heilman did.  That’s just not fair.

The Cubs are hurting worse than the Cavs NBA Title hopes.  Los comes off the disabled list just as Rich Harden is sidelined with a back strain.  (At least it’s not his shoulder this time.)  Aramis Ramirez has been on the DL since May 10th with a shoulder injury and still is not close to partaking in baseball activities.  Aaron Miles was just put on the shelf with a sore shoulder.  Ryan Freel left Wednesday’s game with a lingering hamstring injury and will likely be placed on the DL as well.  Bobby Scales was recently suffering from flu-like symptoms and sent down to Triple-A because the Cubs need healthy bodies on their roster, but could be called back up if Freel is indeed placed on the DL.  Derrek Lee has been banged up as well, most recently missing a few games due to the flu.  No wonder the Cubs are four games back in the Central and recently went on an eight-game skid.

Thankfully, they won their last two so I can un-quit them for the 298, 714th time in my Cub fandom.

Cubs-Brewers Exchange

By: David K. and Melissa S. Wollering

Thesportsbank.net’s inaugural Cubs-Brewers exchange!  After taking two of three from the depleted Cubs, the Brewers have leapfrogged Chicago in what is shaping up to be a competitive NL Central Division.  TSB’s Brewers expert Melissa S. Wollering and our resident Cubs fool, David K. share their thoughts on this weekend’s series.

DK: Well, at least we saved face by winning Sunday and avoiding an embarrassing sweep to your Brewers.  After Saturday’s game, I was ready to quit the Cubs for about the 214,736th time.  Somehow whenever I threaten to do that, they manage to get a win and just suck me back in.

Kudos to the Crew though.  Ryan Braun’s game-winning home run Friday night was baller.  Saturday, you guys treated our bullpen like they were Eric Gagne and Derrick Turnbow.  You have the best record in baseball since April 19th, winning 15 of your last 20.  Enough with the compliments though.  It’s time to make some excuses.

We played this series without Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, and with Aramis Ramirez separating his shoulder in the first game.  That would be like the Crew being without Yovanni Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun.  Doesn’t sound fun does it?

By the way, can we get Craig Counsell to take a drug test?  He has to be on the juice after going yard Saturday night.

MW: I firmly believe I stood up during his home run and shouted, “that was just worth more than we paid you for your entire 2009 season contract.”  When looking directly at Craig’s face I always think it has been frozen in time since he’s all of 12 ½ years old.  Perhaps his going yard was more of sudden burst of youth circa 1987. But yes, you can test him for banned substances, by all means.

What has surprised me even more than the Brewers recent stellar offensive display is its pitching. The Crew is either tied with the Cubs or is now leading the league in quality starts with at least 18.  Considering all 5 members of your Cubs starting rotation were said to be better than the best starter we had at the beginning of this season, how do you feel about that, David?

DK: I hate it because I was a big basher of the Crew’s rotation at the beginning of the season.  Yo is living up to his stud potential and Dave Bush has been solid.  As of late, Suppan has been more crafty veteran than washed-up junk-baller.  As for that supposedly sweet Cubbies rotation; Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster all have ERA’s in the upper-four’s.  But that’s not the major issue.  It’s our bullpen which I trust as much as I would trust Ron Santo not to scream after a Cubs walk-off home run.  I mean, Chad Fox’s ERA is 135.00 in his two games.  Granted, his arm is pretty much dead, but still, a 135.00 ERA?  Even Gagne and Turnbow are laughing at that.

By the way, did you notice Braun’s home run Saturday night when he stared down Dempster after he knew it was gone.  Granted, Dempster had beaned Braun in the helmet the at-bat before, but still, it seems like Braun is getting a little cocky these days which I am usually all about, just not against by Cubs.  K?  Thanks.  For the record Braun is batting .619 against left-handed pitchers this season.  That is shocking.  Not 135.00 ERA shocking, but nonetheless shocking.

MW: That staredown you speak of consisted of steel-tipped darts protruding from Braun’s eyes, yes.  Good thing Dempster was looking back at the ball in awe instead of at Braun or you would have had two pitchers go down in agony that night.  Fox’s arm looked as though it fell off right then and there.  That’s gotta be tough to rehab all that time and throw it out during one of your first outings back.

Surprisingly, our starting rotation is playing to its potential.  Prior to Sunday, Suppan had 4 quality starts in a row.  That’s a shocking as Paula’s song-and-dance return to the stage on last week’s American Idol. But our bullpen isn’t all that much better than yours with the exception of Trevor Hoffman.  When you have someone like Jorge Julio, who’s given up 7 hits and 10 runs (9 earned) in the last 7 days, you tend to want to throw things at the television before the man even finishes running to the mound.



On a bright note, Fukudome’s on base-percentage when he comes to Miller Park is ridonkulous.  Even with three of your stars MIA you might be able to win even if you skipped the other 8 men in the starting lineup and just sent him out to bat for you every third inning.

DK: A) Somehow I just picked up Trevor Hoffman in fantasy baseball league.  B) I think we should call him George Julio, just like it was Bill Mota last year.  C) We can say five of the Cubs stars are MIA.  The aforementioned Big Z, D-Lee, and A-Ram, but don’t forget Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto who are both hitting well below the Mendoza line.

Besides about thirty pounds, what has gotten into Rickie Weeks this year?  He is finally playing like an All-Star second baseman, no longer looks completely incompetent in the field, and doesn’t talk like he has marbles in his mouth during post-game interviews anymore.

Well a tip of the cap to you and the Brewers.  You got us this time around evening the season series at 3-3.  Finally, the Crew travel south to Wrigley in early July for a four-game series so we will get home field advantage.  Hopefully by then our big guns will be healthy and our bullpen situation figured out.  ‘Til then…

MW: …’til then get on the Rickie bandwagon. What’s gotten into him is aggressive swinging early in the pitch count combined with patience at the plate for more hits, more BB’s, and fewer K’s.  Finally the leadoff hitter we’ve been waiting for. Too bad we almost gnawed our arms off it took so long. Braun and our pitching staff need to stay healthy for the Independence Week showdown in Chi.  We may be even now, but we know your baby bears have every intention of setting off some fireworks on the field before the real thing lights up the skies above Lake Michigan. It’s always a superb matchup during which we’ll have to do this again.

One…Two…Three…Let’s All Step Back From the Ledge

By Paul Schmidt

So as a general rule I have been the most pessimistic Cub fan I know.  Outside of the loss of Mark DeRosa (which every Cub fan hated this past offseason), I hated every single move the Cubs made both with their offense and with their pitching staff.  I felt as though they completely weakened the team from a season ago in a reaction that could only be described as knee-jerk.

Not to bite former Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green, but the Cubs are who I thought they were.  They are who I thought they were.  This isn’t the same team that won 95 games last season.  They aren’t as good.  Now, it’s not going to matter a lick, because the rest of the division is worse this year as well, probably even more so.

And while the Cardinals are dominating early, and the Brewers are showing a little bit of life, it would seem that they don’t have the talent to hang in the long run.
Even still…what is wrong with this team so far?

Overcompensation – I figured I’d get my last gripe (for the length of this article) about the mismanagement of the franchise by GM Jim Hendry while I’m trying to get this noose off from around my neck.

Look, I love Jim Hendry.  I do.  But the things he did this offseason…he just tried too hard.
It sort of reminds me of the new White Castle commercial.  You know, the one with the stripper pig, dancing around on stage?  Then getting doused by barbeque sauce?  It’s a push for everyone to learn about their new pulled pork sandwich…but it turns out just being really creepy.  Excessively skeevy. 

And the worst part was it was completely unnecessary.  Everyone already loves White Castle.  They will never lose business.  And hey, if I’m in the mood, I might try some pulled pork sliders.  Why not?  I like sliders.  I like pulled pork.  I might give it a shot.  But probably not if you show me a stripper pig pole dancing, getting doused by Sweet Baby Ray’s and then slopping it all over the audience.  I’m just saying.
The point is, Jim Hendry did much the same thing this past offseason (without the gross imagery). Not enough lefty bats off the bench?  Let’s ship out solid fielders and good right handed bats for subpar fielders and hitters, just because they hit from the left side of the plate.

The lineup is too right-handed?  Let’s ship out the most versatile player on the team (Mark DeRosa)  and get quite literally nothing of value in return.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s sign an injury-prone, temperamental, stone-handed designated hitter to replace him (Milton Bradley).  Great call.
Point being, sometimes you can over-compensate for perceived problems.  And really make me mad/skeeved out by doing so.

BULLPEN: This is a really bad problem.  Bad, very bad. Going-to-cause-heart-attacks-across Chicago-before-the-end-of-the-season bad.  Naming Kevin Gregg the closer over Carlos Marmol not only sent millions of fantasy baseball players scrambling to the waiver wire, it immediately weakened the ‘pen (the combination of Gregg-Marmol in the 8th and 9th instead of….say…Marmol-Wood is already a step down, why just flip the two and make the problem worse??).

Then you have a situation where you have too many pitchers for roster spots, so obviously, you keep the rule 5 draftee who has never played above High A ball (David Patton) instead of the established long reliever who can spot start for you (Chad Gaudin).  Because why would you need a spot starter for the North Siders’ rotation, when, historically, they’ve been sooooo healthy, and have a pitcher named Rich Harden whose arm could detach at the shoulder on any pitch.

Plus you have Angel Guzman pitching as though he is bringing gasoline and matches to the mound and lighting himself on fire ever time he pitches.  PLUS you have Neal Cotts – the only lefty in the pen, mind you – throwing as though he has money against the Cubs every time he pitches.  I hate this bullpen.  I need a drink.

OFFENSE: Perhaps a lot of the offensive woes could be attributed to injuries to Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley.  I get that.  It does make sense, as two of them, along with Alfonso Soriano, are your teams’ biggest three weapons.
It doesn’t excuse the following stats, though: Derrek Lee, 1 HR, .205 AVG; Soto .143 AVG 0 HR; Bradley 2 HR, 2 RBI, .128 AVG; Aaron Miles .167 AVG;  Mike Fontenot, .250 AVG.

The offense has been, at times, putrid, and is being carried for long stretches by Kosuke Fukudome (one thing I was right about) and freakin’ Ryan Theriot (I LOVE The Riot, I do, but when you’re relying on him to hit a grand slam for you to win a game…well, that’s not a good sign folks.  Not a good sign…).

STARTING ROTATION: These guys cannot be blameless either. Everyone thought Ryan Dempster would take a step back, but at 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 25:14, he’s been downright awful.

Rich Harden is another matter.  He’s striking out a ton of guys, leading the team in Ks despite averaging less than 5 innings per start. When healthy, Harden is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, but he absolutely does not look good so far this season.  The Cubs need him to turn things around quickly, especially if Ryan Dempster is turning into the Ryan Dumpster of Cincinnati fame.

All in all, things could be worse.  The offense will get better quickly as everyone GETS healthy, meaning the pitching staff won’t need to be great to keep the team in games.     However, the larger issue is that, at 11-11 after 22 games into the season, we as a fandom should probably scale back our expectations of running away with the division. Maybe 87 or 88 wins, and a fight to the finish against the Cards and/or the Brewers.

I’m as big of fan as anyone, I swear to you, but when my friends and I took a Vegas trip in mid-March, we made some future bets on win totals in baseball.  We saw the Cubs number at 92.5, my buddy Mark and I did, and we looked at each other.

“The under?” Mark, another die-hard Cub fan, asked.
“The under,” I agreed.
They are who we thought they were.

Cubs 2009 projections and thoughts

By Paul Schmidt

It’s a pretty remarkable thing that, as of the writing of these thoughts and musings leading into the 2009 season, less than 48 hours before the first pitch of the March to the World Series ™, and the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff STILL isn’t set.
It must be by 2 PM on Sunday, so we will revisit the pitchers and my thoughts on the staff and their prospective performances this season in a little bit.

The offense, with my ultimately pessimistic thoughts, are as follows.

C – Geovany Soto  .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 87 runs batted in, .905 OPS (on base + slugging percentage)
This is a little bit higher than I’m seeing from most projection services, but based on the numbers I’ve seen from Geo in 2007 at AAA Iowa, and then in his rookie season last year, there’s certainly no reason to think that he would take a step back or even plateau at his numbers from last season.  After all, he’s only 26, and these numbers would put him at or near the top of pile of catchers.

1B – Derrek Lee .280 BA, 15 HR, 80 RBI, .825 OPS

These probably look a little low to a lot of people, but Lee’s 33, his stats have been slipping, and he’s become more and more of an injury risk since injuring his wrist.  IT should be noted that I’m only thinking in the range of 450 at bats for Lee, as well, with Micha Hoffpauir taking away some at bats and they try to keep Lee as fresh as possible. I do think that this will cause his OBP to spike over .400 for the season.

2B – Mike Fontenot .260 BA 10 HR, 65 RBI .750 OPS
The places we’ll miss Mark DeRosa, part one…I just am not confident in the every day capabilities of Little Babe Ruth.  Mike’s certainly a great clubhouse guy, and he’s an above average defender, and a double play combo that has played together as long as Fontenot and Theriot have just has to be great on defense.  However, he’s never played every day at the ML level, and there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period. On the plus side, it isn’t like Aaron Miles is a better option…..

3B – Aramis Ramirez .310 BA, 32 HR, 120 RBI, .880 OPS

The heart of the Cubs lineup, and the cleanup guy, and the most consistent hitter in the Cubs lineup the last 5 full seasons.   There’s no reason for change this season.

SS – Ryan Theriot .285 BA 2 HR 33 RBI .745 OPS
At this point, we know what Ryan Theriot is.  He’s draws some walks, steals some bases (but probably runs too often), and shows next to no power.  He’s got no upside that we don’t already know, and most likely trends downward this season, as his batting average on balls in play last season was nearly .340.  That is an abnormally high payoff on balls put in play, and surely means that his overall BA will drop this season, as a pretty high amount (read: lucky) return.



LF – Alfonso Soriano .297 BA 32 HR 103 RBI .810 OPS

It seems as though Alfonso, a player who had been largely durable for many seasons of his career appears to finally be healthy again this season, and I expect his numbers to return to something of the norm for him.  I’ve also got him penciled in for at least 30 steals this season, as I expect that he’ll be able to return to his normal patterns on the base paths.  Something that I think bears mentioning is that Soriano was so consistent in his number of games played and so durable for many years, and then these little nagging injuries started showing up. Groin pulls, and even more notably oblique strains are all characteristics of someone who…you guessed it…used steroids.  Now, perhaps Soriano is just getting older and a little more fragile. It certainly wouldn’t be unheard of.  It is odd that his is one name you just don’t hear thrown around in the steroids debate.

CF – Kosuke Fukudome .295 BA 14 HR 75 RBI .840 OPS
I’m of the opinion that Kosuke rebounds this season, and quite well – and it’s of the utmost importance to the Cubs season that he do it.  They need a great defender in the outfield, with Soriano in left and Milton “The DH” Bradley in RF.  They need a high OBP guy at the top of the lineup – and the one thing that Kosuke did do well last year was draw walks. AT any rate, maybe this is a pipe dream, but it takes into account how hard it is to adjust coming to America from Japan. The culture shock alone for the soft-spoken Fukudome would have made the whole process extremely difficult, not to mention being away from your family for so long.  Perhaps, in his second season here in the States, we’ll see him adjust better.

RF – Milton Bradley  .290 BA 12 HR 55 RBI .800 OPS (90 games played)
The place that the Cubs will miss Mark DeRosa, part 2.  Players who typically get injured don’t come to Chicago and get healthier.  They just don’t. There’s no way Bradley stays healthy long enough to make the contributions that the Cubs need him to.  He also is such a huge defensive liability that he won’t be out in the field very often late in games (at least, he really, really shouldn’t be). And from the standpoint of his injury history and his, ahem, temperamental nature is all the more reason that this signing was a huge, huge mistake.  I hope I’m wrong.  God, do I hope I’m wrong.

Cubs Spring Training Exchange

By Paul Schmidt and David K.

(PS) I know that it’s a little bit of a cliché, but I always love the beginning of Spring Training. It excites me.  Makes me giddy.  Puts a little hop in my step.

The funny thing is, for me, I swore it was going to take me a while to get over last season’s playoff defeat.  I swore that I wouldn’t recover until at LEAST the end of spring training, that I wouldn’t try to get tickets, etc.

As it was, I went to get my bracelet for tickets, I got up and called all morning and got on the internet all morning last Friday for tickets, and I’m getting that insane feeling that always occurs leading up to the season.

I guess my question is….is this normal?

(DK)  Absolutely.  It’s a rite of passage for any baseball fan to get jacked up for the start of Spring Training, even though I have always felt the whole excitement of pitchers and catchers reporting has been massively overrated.  Right now, my interest in the start of the baseball season is at an all-time low.

It is partially because I am so obsessed with college basketball that I don’t have the time or energy to start thinking about the start of the baseball season.  The other part is I am still suffering the hangover of the Cubs being swept out of the first round of the post-season for a second straight year.

(PS)  It’s that hangover that you speak of that I thought I wouldn’t be able to shake.  And I guess in some ways I haven’t – I won’t be watching any spring training this year, and I usually check some out. I am excited for BASEBALL –and I think that’s the distinction – but not quite as excited about the Cubs, necessarily.  Good to know, however, that I’m normal.  I can’t wait to tell my wife!

I thought this might be a fun exercise – give me the rotation and the lineup as you see it.


(DK) I enjoy fun exercises.

Rotation: Los, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marshall

Marshall is believed to have a leg up in the race for the 5th spot, ahead of Jeff Samardzija.  Hopefully Marshall ends up back in the bullpen when the Cubs acquire, oh, I don’t know… Jake Peavy?    Lilly gets the number three spot over Harden so that the Cubs don’t start lefties in back-to-back games.  Expect another short leash on Harden to keep him healthy throughout the season and rested for potential-October baseball.  I would not be surprised to see Samardzija replace Marshall at some point during the season, or for him to get a few spot starts when Lou wants to give Harden a rest.

Line-up:

SS Theriot

LF Soriano

1B D-Lee

3B Ramirez

RF Bradley

C Soto

CF Fukudome/ Reed Johnson

2B Miles/Fontenot

I would really love to see The Riot in the lead-off spot instead of Soriano.  The Riot hits for average, uses all fields, and does not swing out of his shoes every other pitch.  Plus, he actually takes pitches and doesn’t whiff on every sweeping curve ball low and away when he is down in the count.  Lou has made comments this Spring Training that he is contemplating moving Fonsie down in the line-up, but I guess we will have to wait and see if he pulls the trigger.

The other question I have is- do you put Bradley in the clean-up spot and move A-Ram to the five hole so you break up the four right-handed hitters you have at the top of the order?  It will also be interesting to see how Fukudome bounces back after an abysmal end to last season and if he will end up in a true platoon with Reed Johnson based on lefty/righty match-ups.

(PS) I actually would throw Milton into the cleanup spot, I like the idea of splitting up our big righty bats a little bit. I’d love to find a way to get Soto higher in the lineup too, but I can’t figure out exactly how we’ll do it.  I think that you pretty much nailed everything, but I’m predicting a bigger rebound from Fukudome this season, after a year of adjusting to American life, and the possibility of him leading off is pretty good.  I hope.

I also do agree with the rotation, but I hope that one point is wrong – For now, I want to see Szmardjizjaijajiazjia in the bullpen.  He still only has two pitches, and I know that that can be a detriment to any starter (you really have to have at least a third pitch to be effective).  Plus, the bullpen is already depleted and there’s a ton of question marks there.  Jeff S. is a little bit more of a sure thing as an end of game option.  And I do like that option.

Do we have any options in the minor leagues that you like for that spot, or for bullpen spots (a la Kevin Hart)?

I figure that now is NOT the time for regular season predictions, too much can happen in Spring Training.  And since so much can happen….how about five predictions for Spring Training?

(DK) 1. Micah Hoffpauir KILLS the ball.

2. We constantly hear about how great of a teammate Milton Bradley is, as he puts on his “good guy” persona to get people behind him..

3. Carlos Marmol wins the closer job as your boy Kevin Gregg struggles to find his groove.

4. 41 year old Mike Stanton makes the roster as a situational lefty out of the bullpen.

5. I don’t watch a single Spring Training game.

(PS) And we’ll definitely agree on 5….