Don Zimmer, that baseball sage best known for having a metal plate in his head (and looking like a gerbil) used to say that 40 games into any season you have a pretty good idea of how good teams are. Â Any team that is .500 or better probably has a chance to contend, any team under .500 at that point is probably going to stink.
The Cubs have not played 40 games yet, but at 13-25 even if they win their 39th and 40th games they’re going to be 10 games under .500. Â That’s pretty awful.
The Brewers lead the NL Central at 25-15. Â They’re still living off a great start (they were 15-5) and off the fact that the rest of the division has sucked. Â That’s probably not a winning long-term strategy. Â Neither is counting on Matt Garza for more than a month at a time. Â But hey, at least their fans gave an opening day standing ovation to Ryan Braun. Â Braun certainly deserved it. Â The poor guy, it’s not like he’s been busted twice for steroids now, even though only one stuck, and it’s not like he’s a habitual liar who will throw anyone but himself under the bus for everything. Â What a guy. Â I’m going to stand as I write this to give pay him full respect.
Though, it would be great if the 20-20 Cardinals continued to throw up on themselves all season long. Â They won the pennant last year largely on the strength of ridiculous production with runners in scoring position (an unsustainably high average that they somehow actually did sustain for an entire season) and a great bullpen. Â This year they’re awful with runners in scoring position and the bullpen has been bad (regression to the mean can be a bitch.) Â It also helps that Allen Craig has been bad at the plate and is hilariously useless defensively in right field, and that Peter Bourjos has been just as useless offensively as the Angels suspected he’d always be. Â Oh, and they have Mark Ellis playing second base now. Â Seriously. Â Mark Ellis. Â Is Aaron Miles being held hostage in a hotel room again?
It must be awful to be a Pissburgh fan. Â They finally got their shit together last year and made the playoffs and should have taken the Cardinals down in round one. Â But then they got cheap again in the offseason and let AJ Burnett walk so they could roll the dice on Edinson Volquez, of all people. Â Of their opening day five-man rotation, three of them: Charlie Morton (0-5), Francisco Liriano (0-3) and Wandy Rodgriquez (0-2) are winless. Â They’re also taking shit for not bringing back Justin Morneau. Â It does look bad because the Pirates had no one to replace him with, and he’s hitting .320 with 8 homers and 30 RBI (.918 OPS) for the Rockies. Â But Pissburgh is not located on the moon, like Denver is, (Morneau’s OPS is 128 points higher at home), and Morneau wasn’t very good for them last year. Â He had only four extra base hits in 25 games after his deadline trade there, all of them doubles, and he only drove in three runs.
But what is really pissing off Pirates fans is that they see an easy move the team could make to boost their offense. Â Gregory Polanco is leading the International League in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, runs scored and runs batted in. Â (Largely because Kris Bryant doesn’t play in the International League, I’m sure.) Â They need a right fielder. Â He can play right field. Â Yet, he sits in AAA because the Pirates don’t want to start his arbitration clock prematurely. Â They offered him a seven year contract to buy those years out, but he turned it down, so he sits in Indianapolis until June.
It’s frustrating because long-term it makes sense, but short term it makes no sense. Â The team is built to win and a piece they need is sitting unused. Â But there’s a good chance Pissburgh is not looking at being 7.5 games behind the Brewers. Â The Brewers are a farce. Â They see they’re only 2.5 games behind the Cardinals and one game behind Cincinnati and figure that’s who they’re really chasing. Â Stay close to those two teams, call Polanco up when it makes financial sense and go from there. Â In the meantime, Pirates fans, look…IKE DAVIS!
Speaking of Cincinnati, why are they so bad? Â Jay Bruce’s injury isn’t going to help. Â Aroldis Chapman’s melon getting Gallaghered by a line drive in spring training was awful. Â Billy Hamilton’s Corey Patterson-esque on base average is negating any advantage his speed gives him (and getting caught five times in his first 17 attempts is alarming when that’s the ONE THING he’s supposed to be good at.)
I think what the Reds are really missing is Dusty Baker’s managerial brilliance. Â Dude.
It’s tempting to say that Cubs fans are starting to get tired of this rebuilding process. Â It’s also tempting to tell them to go fuck themselves.
OK, so why are the Cubs so bad? Â I mean we knew they were going to be bad, but 13-25?
I need to clarify one thing before we go too much farther. Â I really don’t give a shit what their record is this year. Â It’s irrelevant. Â In fact, having a record this bad is likely a long-term asset, given that it means better draft picks and a bigger signing pool amount.
For me, the season is all about getting Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo back on track. Â Both have rebounded nicely, especially Rizzo who has put up ridiculous numbers against lefties this year after being woeful against them in the past. Â Castro’s all-around play has improved, though he still craps the bed on defense more than he should (but not as much as his critics would make you believe).
Starlin has thrived since being put in the cleanup spot. Â That makes no sense, except to highlight how limited this team is offensively beyond Rizzo, Castro and Emilio Bonifacio. Â Batting fourth, Starlin is .286/342/.529/.871 and his strikeout rate has gone down. Â Granted, the spot he really crushed is sixth where he put up a 1.326 OPS plus, and struck out only once in 21 plate appearances. Â Maybe Dale Sveum was right about where Castro will hit on a good team? Â That’s assuming he ever gets to play on one.
The Jeff Samardzija saga is pretty amazing. Â He’s been, by all accounts, great. Â A 1.45 ERA after eight starts is ridiculous, so is allowing only 43 hits in 56 innings, and 45 K’s to only 16 walks is the kind of thing that we always figured would be a harbinger of success for him. Â His ERA plus is 265 and leads the universe.
And he’s winless. Â Even on a team that’s 13-25 that’s hard to believe. Â How the hell do they even have 13 wins if he doesn’t have any?
It’s tempting to say that Cubs fans are starting to get tired of this rebuilding process. Â It’s also tempting to tell them to go fuck themselves. Â It should not need to be re-explained to them. Â The media chatter that the Cubs aren’t spending because they don’t have any money is not just tiresome, it’s irrelevant at this point.
Not that the issue of the Cubs fiscal solvency isn’t relevant, but trotting out the argument that the Cubs should be bringing in free agents, and because they’re not, they clearly have no money is just lazy.
A very sane argument can be made that signing expensive free agents the last three years would have been ill-advised. Â Free agents are almost always on the wrong side of 30, and you are paying them for what they’ve already done and hoping what they can still do will be close to that value.
If the Cubs had signed Jacoby Ellsbury, for example, they’d have gotten a nice player and had to pay him more than than the $153 the Yankees are paying him for the next seven years. Â Why more? Â Because it’s the Yankees. Â They actually win. Â The Cubs are not the Yankees.
So say they gave him eight years and $165 million. Â The deal would have looked pretty good in 2014, 2015 and maybe 2016. Â Assuming (a big assumption for Jacoby) that he stayed reasonably healthy. Â But then, by 2017 he’d be 33, probably need to shift from center to left, and since he has no power (He’s only had a double digit HR total once…he hit 32 in 2011, and curiously has only hit 14 since. Â Hell, he only hit 20 total in his first four seasons.) he wouldn’t be all that useful from ages 33-38.
What’s frustrating is that this plan isn’t hard to understand. Â It’s hard to execute, and frankly there are plenty of Cubs fans who bitch about the progress and I would like to execute them.
The Cubs suck because they don’t have enough good players. Â They don’t really have a competent outfielder on the roster. Â That’s kind of a blow to any offense. Â What they are doing is developing pitchers at a faster rate than we might have imagined. Â The bullpen is chock-full-o power arms, though some of those guys need to put in time in the big leagues to figure things out. Â Samardzija and Jason Hammel will be valuable trading pieces. Â On the off chance that Samardzija re-signs, that would be OK, too. Â But you have to figure he’s at his absolute peak value right now, and a savvy organization would cash him in for more players.
The Cubs pythagorean record was 18-20 going into today’s game with the Cardinals. Â Meaning that they’re underperforming their runs scored/allowed by five games. Â That’s a shit-ton in 38 games. Â If they were 18-20 they’d be a game ahead of Pissburgh and only four behind where the Brewers should be. Â The Cubs -5 is by far the worst in the league. Â So things have to even out sometime. Â Right?
Well, this is the Cubs, so probably not.
But, at 18-20 this team wouldn’t “feel” this bad. Â It would “feel” like progress was being made. Â You know, for those of you who need that sort of feeling. Â For those of you who can’t see the big picture.
The critics of the plan (what a lowly, awful, petty group that is) are using the early season struggles of Javy Baez at AAA and Albert Almora at high-A to act like these are just the same old Cubs.
Sure, give up on two of the highest rated prospects in baseball based on 26 and 32 games respectively. Â Then go crawl back under your rock.
I agree that it sucks that the Cubs are bad. Â But the Cubs have been bad most years that I’ve been following them. Â This time, they seem to have an actual direction, and that to me is a lot more interesting than most years I’ve followed them.
It’s going to be a while. Â So I’m eating my vegetables, getting regular exercise and sleeping in a hyperbolic chamber at night. Â I’m going to live to see them turn this around.
Even if it kills me.