If you have ever read my blogs or listened to my podcasts you should know that im a diehard Cubs fan. That's not to say that i only root for the Cubs, i like to consider myself a baseball fan first a Cubs fan second. But usually i tend to talk about the Cubs more than other teams, so at some point you had to assume i would talk about this horrendous Cubs season. I wont be surprised if they lose 100 games this year, the pitching staff has been garbage and the offense has been inconsistent to say the least. So the question is, how can a team with a payroll well over 100 million dollars be this bad? Thats what i wanted to take a look at today.
Before i make any big conclusions about this team i first want to just examine this years team based on production. The Cubs number one enemy has been injuries, starting with the pitching staff. At the outset of the season the rotation looked promising, Ryan Dempster had been a model of consistency, Carlos Zambrano had looked promising at the end of last season and the addition of Matt Garza formed a formidable top 3. The back end of the rotation consisted of Randy Wells who had been dissapointing in 2010 but still servicable and promising young righthander Andrew Cashner. After the first week of the season Wells and Cashner were both on the disabled list and the Cubs were searching desperatly for starting piching help. They decided to get help from the farm using intriguing lefthander James Russell and Casey Coleman who had seen some time at the major league level in 2010. Both players struggled mightly although Coleman did show some flashes. While the back end of the rotation was in shambles Ryan Dempster decided to become one of the worst pitchers in baseball. So the Cubs were only getting production out of Garza and Zambrano. The rotation has started to come together somewhat now as Wells has returned from injury, Dempster has improved and Doug Davis may be the answer as the 5th starter but now Garza has been hurt. If the Cubs can get all of their pitchers healthy we could see the staff at least become servicable.
The offense has been much better than the rotation but still somewhat inconsistent. The top of the order has been a bit of a surprise, Fukudome and Castro have both led off and i like Castro better at the leadoff spot but both have been quite effective. The big surprise has been Darwin Barney who has managed to maintain a .300+ batting average in the 2 hole. While he may not provide much in power he is a nice contact hitter who has far surpased expectations. The 3 hole had been Marlon Byrd's main slot but with his injury Castro has been plugged in there. Castro seems to be struggling a bit in the 3 hole so i think a change needs to be made. Aramis Ramirez has been hitting 4th but has only produced 2 HR and was injured hit in the face by a grounder so he could miss some time. Carlos Pena has hit 5th and after a tough start he has started to produce as expected. The 6th spot has been one of the more productive spots as Alfonso Soriano has been having a very good season although he injured his quade this past week and could be out for a while. We will likely see Blake DeWitt hit here for a while. Now that Geovany Soto is back from the DL we will see him hit in the 7 hole. While he has not hit much yet he should pick it up soon. In the 8 hole we will likely see a combination of Tyler Colvin and Tony Campana playing here. Colvin has done absolutely nothing thus far and Campana is not much of a hitter but has game changing speed. The offense had been hitting pretty well until a recent rash of injuries that are taking hold just as the rotation is starting to come together.
The bullpen seems to have been the strength thus far. Until Carlos Marmols 6 run blown save the other day, he had been one of the better closers in baseball. The duo of Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood in the 7th and 8th innings has been very good, possibly one of the better dous in baseball but like Marmol that have not had a ton of leads to work with. Jeff Samardzija has been a servicable middle reliever this year that has surprised me somewhat. Outside of that the middle releif has been mediocre at best.
The worst aspect of this team next to the rotation has been the defense. The Cubs are second to last in all of baseball in fielding percentage behind only the Astros. Its not that the make errors every night but that when they make one error they tend to make 2 or 3 and sometimes 4 all in one game. The blame gets put a lot on Starlin Castro as he is a very young shortstop and is still prone to mental lapses. It also seems like that the errors will all occur in one play and are questionable calls sometimes. That being said they need to improve in this area greatly and that should get better as the season goes on.
This off-season may be one of the more important ones in the Cubs history. I may be one of the few Cubs fans saying this but we need to avoid going in on Albert Pujols. While he may be one of the greatest hitters of all time, giving him a lot of money on the downside of his career could be a move that could destroy our chances of being competitive for a decade. Of the options available i would rather have a 28 year old Prince Fielder or avoid a big sigining and instead focus on lowering payroll and building a better farm system. Hopefully the Ricketts family will make the right move and remove Jim Hendry and install a much smarter GM who values scouting and player development more and will incorporate statistical analysis much more. If not it could be another 100 years before we win a world series.
So to sum it up like many of the previous seasons, Injuries have destroyed the Cubs chances but this team was not going to win the divison to begin with. The only good thing about being bad is we get a chance to see the farm system in action. Then again the Cubs have a fairly average farm system. If the Cubs finish with 90 or more loses Jim Hendry will likely be done as the Cubs GM. The Cubs need to focus on rebuilding and developing a deep farm system rather than trying to be competitive on a year to year basis. There are promising young players at both the major league level and at the lower levels of the farm system. If they commit to rebuilding by the time the guys at the lower levels of their farm system come up they could be a perenial playoff team. But it will not be an easy task and they really need to get a good general manager. All of their issues aside they did make the right choice in bringing in Mike Quade as manager. He has created a stable clubhouse that when a good team is in place should be able to go deeper into the playoffs. Its going to be a rough season and probably couple of seasons for us Cubs fans but if the organization makes the right moves they could be in much better shape 3-4 years from now.