Back before the season started, some sage looked at the Cubs first 12 games (home series with Pissburgh and Arizona, road trips to Milwaukee and Houston) and declared that they’d better goÂ at least 7-5 or else.Â I’m not sure what I meant by or else, but they went 6-6 and I remain optimistic that this bunch can win 77 games.Â Not 77 more, just 77.
Twelve games doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, it’s less than 10 percent of the season.Â So what kind of a dumbass would read a whole lot into 12 games?
Me, for one.
Let’s look at what the hell is going on around here so far.
Starlin Castro – I feel obligated to state this until it’s no longer true: he’s the youngest player in Major League Baseball.Â He leads the National League in hits (21) and triples (2), he’s hitting .389 with a .911 OPS and he’s just awfully good at playing baseball.Â There are people out there who still want to find things to complain about.
He’s not a good defensive player.
He’s made one error.
He’s not a good baserunner.
He has two stolen bases.Â You know how many stolen bases the entire Cubs team (including him) has?
And I could get into the entire Chris Deluca senseless horseshit about how batting him leadoff sometimes is going to turn him into Corey Patterson, again, but no.Â It’s so poorly reasoned, so half-assed, and just so stupid that there’s no need to remind people how dumb Chris Deluca is.
I agree that it’s dumb that Mike Quade bats Starlin first.Â I think he should bat Starlin first, third and fifth every game.Â Is that really too much to ask?
Darwin Barney – Is Shel Silverstein naming the Cubs now?Â Are we sure Darwin Barney is real?Â If you were a bouncer and some guy handed you an ID with Darwin Barney on it, you’d tear it in half and laugh in his face.
But apparently, Darwin is a real player.Â My good friend Bruce Miles is developing quite a little crush on Darwin.Â Forgive him if he’s optimistic about the Cubs taking a player with a skill set vaguely familiar to Ryan Theriot’s and
a) playing him at the proper defensive position
b) not allowing him to grow facial hair that even Guy Fawkes would mock
c) reminding him what order to run the bases in (it’s all left turns…)
Barney’s kind of a nice player.Â We’ll see how his bat continues to play.Â I’m pretty confident that he won’t hit .345 all year (wow, look at how far out this limb is!) but even if he hit .270 the timeshare with him and Jeff Baker would work out.Â Mostly.
Jeff Baker – When he plays second base, the Cubs have the tallest middle infield in the big leagues (Baker’s 6’2, and even though he doens’t look it, what with the huge hat and the oversized jersey, Castro is at least that tall–watch when he gets to first next time and stands next to a first baseman of any height–anybody but Prince) and that’s a fact (it’s not a fact, I didn’t look it up, but unless Hanley Ramirez is playing with a normal sized human at second it’s true.)
Baker should look at the positive side of his new reputation as a lefty killer.Â While it limits him to playing only against lefties, it’s keeping him in the big leagues.Â He’s crushing lefties again this year, and he might have played himself into a platoon at first base instead of second, because…
Carlos Pena – is as helpless as a kitten against lefties.Â Then again, he’s not exactly torching righthanders either.Â What we know about Pena is that he’s excellent on defense and he has a good eye.Â We knew that before the Cubs signed him.Â We also knew he was going to strike out a lot.Â He hasn’t disappointed.Â He hit .196 last year in Tampa and there was no way he’d do that again, right?
Right.Â He’s hitting .185 now.
E-ramis Ramirez – is off to a much needed good start.Â He’s hitting for average again (.326), he’s walking (six times) and he’s not striking out (three times).Â Given that even in his good years he’s a slow starter (and runner) it should bode well for a monster year from him.Â He’s not Brooks Robinson at third, but he’s not terrible and it really seems like Bob Brenly can’t wait to jump on him for his defense.Â Over the course of a season, E-ramis will give you plenty of reasons to criticize his play there, you don’t need to go looking for them.Â Lighten up.
The biggest problem I have with the offense, and the team, really, is the outfield.Â Which is strange considering that
Alfonso Soriano – is also off to a decent start.Â The average is mediocre (.250) the on base average is abysmal (.283) but the slugging is good (.545) and he leads the team with four homers and 10 RBI.Â Given that normally this early in the season he’d have Carlos Pena numbers, I’ll take it as a sign that the Cubs are going to get a pretty good year out of him.Â Not an $18 million year (or an $8 million year for that matter) but hey, not everybody can be Xavier Nady.
Marlon Byrd – I like Marlon.Â I like how hard he plays.Â I just want him to do it somewhere else.Â Either in left field (not going to happen with the Albatross’ huge contract) or on another team.Â He’s being asked to do two things in Chicago that he’s not good at.Â He’s asked to play center field and bat third.Â He’s a good defender in that if he gets to it, he turns it into an out, and he actually knows where to throw the ball.Â He’s also off to an excellent start at the plate hitting for average (.353) and he’s already walked twice which is a new career high (fine, not really).
So why do I want them to trade him?Â Because he’s 33 and he’s got this year and next left on a very affordable contract.Â It doesn’t have to be now, but at some point during the season, Marlon needs to fulfill his destiny of playing 240 pounds of left field on a good team.Â In the meantime, I’ll enjoy watching him barrel around the field, but with the knowledge that he’s going to hit .270 with not much power and not much on baseyness over the long haul.
Kosuke Fukudome – Kosuke’s hamstring injury hurts because the Cubs know by now that you only get two good months out of him every year and they are April and May, and if he’s going to get hurt, he needs to do it in June.Â He’s off to a good start, hitting .313 with a .500 OBA.
Did you know, the Cubs are the only team in baseball who have had their leadoff hitter get at least one hit in every game?Â Fascinating.Â I know.
Tyler Colvin – I tried to tell you last year that Tyler Colvin sucks.Â Nobody wanted to believe me.Â You look at him with that $4 haircut and those enormous teeth and you just want to like him, but he strikes out too much and he never walks.Â On the plus side 80% of his hits this year have been for extra bases.Â On the minus side, that’s only four extra base hits.
Reed Johnson – Reed will run through a wall for you, he can bunt like nobody’s business and I’m amazed he hasn’t leg wrestled Blake DeWitt to get #9 back (although, I have it on authority that the Cubs are planning on retiring that number this summer in an emotional ceremony that will feature both Hundleys, Steve Swisher, Gabor Bako, Damon Buford, Scott Servais, Damon Berryhill, Hank White and several other superstars).
Geovany Soto – He’s a good player, honest.Â He’s off to a slow start (.220 average, .341 slg.) but the best news is that Mike Quade looks like he’s going to play Geovany more than Lou Piniella did.Â Well, until he gets hurt.Â And then it’s all Koyie all the time.
Koyie Dolan Hill – A strong candidate to be the last player on an opening day roster on any team to get a hit.Â But he’s sporting a robust .400 on base average, so suck on that, naysayers.
Blake DeWitt – Remember that big hit he got against Pissburgh in game two?Â Yeah, that’s his only hit so far.Â He’s pacing himself.
Ryan Dempster – He’s made three starts and all of them were good for a little while.Â The wheels fell off of him on opening day, mainly because he forgets how to throw strikes for long stretches, and then this week in Houston he was sailing along, looking unhittable and then he crapped all over himself before Quade could get him out of the game.Â He didn’t surrender the lead and the Cubs ended up winning, but if he’s the “ace” they don’t have an ace.
Matt Garza – Two starts.Â Twenty strikeouts.
Twenty hits allowed.
How do you do that?Â Jeff Pico never did that (hey, Ed Hartig, look that up).Â Now Garza says he hasn’t been throwing enough fastballs.Â Hey, whatever it takes to get down to nine hits per start.
Carlos Zambrano – He’s the Cubs best pitcher.Â They’re 3-0 when he starts.Â He left his first start with a cramp in his hand and the Cubs came back to beat Pissburgh.Â In his second start he pitched with a lead and got through six innings as the Cubs beat Milwaukee 7-4.Â Wednesday night he pitched great for five innings and hit a homer and then a bad bounce on a roller down the third base line and Colvin’s inability to catch a routine flyball turned into a grooved pitch to the immortal Matt Downs and he almost blew a 6-0 lead.
Still, he’s won 10 decisions in a row now and he’s the closest thing the Cubs have to a stable starter.Â Think about that.
Randy Wells – Pitched well in his only start, then had dreaded forearm stiffness.Â That doesn’t always mean a blown out elbow, but it means it quite often.Â Gulp.
Andrew Cashner – Pitched very well in his only start and then left with a sore shoulder.Â They’re calling it a strained rotator cuff, which means a torn rotator cuff, even if it’s just a little bitty tear.Â That’s bad, too.
Casey Coleman – He matched Yovani Gallardo pitch for pitch last Sunday (granted, it was one of Yovani’s worst starts in three years) but the little bastard battles.Â He’s just good enough to keep you close, which is more than you can say about…
James Russell – The Astros aren’t exactly the ’98 Yankees, but don’t tell that to James.Â His nearly two innings of horseshit this week was even worse when you consider that the guy who replaced him looked a lot better than him, and that the guy who replaced him was…
Jeff Samardzija – he’s walked nine guys in six innings.Â That’s all you need to know.Â If he ever learns to throw strikes consistently he’d be a pretty good pitcher.Â But if he never does, he’s useless.Â To his favor he’s on a mediocre team that probably isn’t going to seriously contend so he should have a full season in the big leagues to figure it out.Â Here’s hoping he does.Â (And here’s betting he doesn’t.)
Marcos Mateo – He was so unimpressive in his stints last year that I reflexively start to vomit when he warms up in the bullpen, but he’s been good so far.Â He’s got a 1.93 ERA in seven appearances and he’s thrown strikes.Â Let’s not get too excited yet, but it’s a start.
Jeff Stevens – He’s back.Â Did you miss him?
John Grabow – Eight hits in four innings, an 8.31 ERA in six appearances.Â He got a couple of big outs in relief of Dempster the other night and Quade sounded surprised.Â Not a good sign.Â John Grabow blows.
Sean Marshall – This guy’s the balls.Â He was terrible all spring and told everybody not to worry about it.Â So far in six games he’s got a 1.50 ERA, no walks and he even picked up a save.Â Now of course, people want him to start, which would leave the Cubs with nobody no decent lefty relievers.Â Speaking of starters turned relievers…
Kerry Wood – Some dopey blogger last week made a “modest proposal” that Kerry should go back to starting.Â Seriously?Â Haven’t we been down this road?Â Isn’t there a reason he’s been in the bullpen since 2007?Â After his labrum surgery…which didn’t work, by the way…he can’t throw more than 50 pitches before his arm starts to throb and his pitches get hit like he’s John Grabow.Â Keep him under that (hopefully well under it) and he’s got no problems.Â In fact, he handles back-to-back games without much trouble and he’s just a really good relief pitcher.Â But why would a Cubs blogger know that?Â It’s not like it’s been written 12,000 times.Â Wood’s newest weapon is a surprisingly good cut fastball that he said Mariano Rivera taught him in “five minutes” in the Yankees bullpen one day last August.Â Must be nice.
Carlos Marmol – Six games, five save chances, four saves and 10 K’s. He’s walked five, he hasn’t hit anybody yet and he’s all over the place, and it’s awesome to watch.Â No save is ever routine and he makes you sweat even the simplest of situations out, but while you get tired of the three ball counts, you never get tired of watching a righthanded hitter bail out on a nasty slider or a hitter swing and miss a pitch by a foot.Â Something’s got to be fun to watch on this team, doesn’t it?
Mike Quade – I liked the hire when they made it and nothing in three short weeks should or has changed that.Â Other than having way too much faith in Dempster to pitch out of his own messes, there’s not much to question so far with Quade.Â He seems to have found something with the Castro-Barney double play combination and 1-2 spot in the batting order and he’ll ride it until when or if it stops working.Â The media likes him because he actually answers their questions.Â After a game they wanted to know why he used Marshall for one out and Grabow for an inning and he explained it.Â When the starter went out early he knew he’d have to use Wood and Marmol again if they were going to win.Â That meant if they had the lead the next day Marshall would have to close.Â And damnit if Marshall didn’t get a four out save the next day.
He’s had to deal with stuff, but every manager does.Â Zambrano stomped off the mound the other night in Houston and Quade didn’t make a scene, but after the game, Wood told Zambrano to go apologize…and Zambrano did.Â Marlon Byrd threw Ivan DeJesus under the bus when Marlon claimed he saw the steal sign Sunday with nobody out in a one run game at Milwaukee.Â The next day Marlon’s yapper was nailed shut.
This isn’t a very good Cubs team.Â It’s not a terrible team (we know those when we see them) but it’s a team in transition.Â Over the next year or two they’re going to have to weed out some of the older guys and work in some young ones, and it’s not going to be easy, but Quade seems like the kind of guy who can pull that off.Â And if they contend for a while as that happens, even better.
One last thing.
It’s only been three weeks, of course, but I want to make a comment about the radio broadcast.Â I’ve been open about how I felt about Ron Santo.Â He seemed like an awesome guy, honest, generous, emotional, and when the Cubs were in the tank, he and Pat Hughes could make the broadcast tolerable.
Keith Moreland isn’t Ron Santo.
But he’s pretty damned good at his job.Â You know what’s going on in the game, and when things happen, you’re going to get some insight into why it happened.Â That’s a welcome change.Â It doesn’t mean I don’t miss hearing Ronnie.Â Nothing will ever replace the unintended comedy of his pre-game manager shows.Â But I’m encouraged about, and enjoying, the Pat Hughes-Keith Moreland broadcasts.
And Pat will never admit it, but having a real analyst raises his game, too.Â And on his worst day, (and there aren’t many of those) Pat is one of the two or three best baseball announcers (radio or TV) around.