When I first saw the Cubs’ 2012 schedule, I winced at every April opponent. The Washington Nationals, Prince-less Milwaukee Brewers, Pujols-less St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies with a second series against the Cards between the Reds and Phils. Loss, loss, loss, loss…you get the point. 9-14 if things go the Cubs way, 5-18 if talent at least sometimes translates from paper onto the playing field.
Beyond the schedule, I was irked when new skip Dale Sveum named Ryan Dempster the Opening Day starter. Surprisingly, Dempster actually outpitched Stephen Strasburg, but the setup/closer duo of Kerry Wood/Carlos Marmol decided that they’d rather help the Nats start their 2012 campaign off with a win. Starter Matt Garza followed Demp’s lead and outpitched Gio Gonzalez in game two of the opening series, but again, Wood and Marmol were in generous moods, combining to give up 5 hits and 5 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning pitched and the Nats won 7-4.
The hitting has been so-so, but it’s the middle of April and the Cubs have played a few games in Wrigley. I’m sure Castro won’t be hitting .359 by the end of the season, but Soto is better than .138, like Byrd is better than .065. Of course it makes sense for Cubs fans to make their early case for 2012 scapegoat, but it’d be a little better if we waited until about 25 games were played. In 23 at-bats, new/young/old LaHair has 8 hits, 4 of them for extra bases, and has an OPS of 1.119. His opposite-field grand slam off of Cardinals starter Adam Wainright has so far been the best moment of the young season. Rightfielder and offseason acquisition David DeJesus has done what he was paid to do, which is get on base at a high clip, and he has done it very well.
Cubs starting pitching, namely their top 3, have been mostly outstanding in an extremely small sample size. 6 quality starts and a combined ERA of 2.32 and WHIP of .92? Yes, please:
Ryan Dempster: 2 GS, 0-1, 14.1 IP, 15K/6BB, 7 H, 1.88 ERA
Matt Garza: 2 GS, 1-0, 14.2 IP, 14K/3BB, 8 H, 1.23 ERA
Jeff Samardzija: 2 GS, 2-0, 13.2 IP, 13K/1BB, 14 H, 3.95 ERA
But, Dempster and Garza are short a win largely because of Wood and Marmol. However, let’s make sure the blame is properly distributed to all parties responsible when it comes to the ineptitude that has been the Cubs’ bullpen.
Shawn Camp: 4 G, 0-1, 5.2 IP, 4K/0BB, 8 H, 6.35 ERA
Lendy Castillo: 3 G, 0-0, 3.2 IP, 5K/2BB, 3 H, 7.36 ERA
Castro is back at it with his erring ways, committing four miscues already. I’ll be genuinely surprised if he doesn’t commit at least 30 errors this season. On the bright side, he has been much more aggressive on the basepaths and is on pace to steal 97 bases, as he’s thieved 6 through 10 games so far. Right-handed starter Chris Volstad and lefty Paul Maholm have both been fairly craptastic in the 4-5 spots respectively, and will only get “craptasticier”. I…um…guess second baseman Darwin Barney is…better? Dolis would be so much better as a pitcher if he actually threw strikes. James Russell, make me eat my words. If Sori continues to give a semblance of a shit when playing left field, I will continue to be a remotely happy Cubs fan.
Some Cubs fans have already given up on 2012 and have fully invested themselves in tracking the minor league feats of AAA first baseman Anthony Rizzo and centerfielder Brett Jackson. Both have been impressive through 11 games. Rizzo has an OPS of 1.156 with 5 home runs and 13 RBI, and Jackson has an OBP of .393 and OPS of .925. I don’t think even the most gullible Cubs fan expects either to have that type of production at the major league level, but there are more than a few who can’t wait for September call-ups, or for the Cubs to realize that they have no better options than Rizzo and Jackson.
The Cubs kick off their next 10 tonight down in Miami against the Marlins (4-6). Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen returns to the dugout after serving a five-game suspension for making some rather ignorant and insensitive comments about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to a magazine publication. Dempster toes the slab against right-hander Josh Johnson (0-2, 8.38 ERA, 2.48 WHIP), who has been downright terrible in two starts against the Phillies and Cardinals. Let’s hope Johnson continues this trend against the Cubs.