The Cubs’ Early-Season Schedule is Scary and Other Bullets

MLB is expected – by everyone – to announce today the official inclusion of an additional Wild Card in each league for the 2012 season, and I’ll have more on that (and its impact on the Cubs) later today. Until then, Bullets…

  • Randy Wells and Travis Wood will start tomorrow’s intrasquad game, with Casey Coleman and Andy Sonnanstine following in relief. Each of the four is competing for a rotation spot, so the order of the four is probably not altogether coincidental. On Saturday, AAA starters Jay Jackson and Chris Rusin will start, with Alberto Cabrera and Trey McNutt pitching thereafter.
  • Geovany Soto says his “minor” groin strain is nothing like the “not-so-minor” groin strain that cost him a few weeks last May. Dale Sveum will get plenty of looks at his back-up catcher options – Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger, and Jason Jaramillo being the primary three – with Soto out. Sveum conceded that Clevenger and Jaramillo will have a slight leg up because of their ability to bat left-handed.
  • The Cubs Bunt Tournament has reached its Sweet Sixteen, with Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo, Chris Rusin, and Casey Coleman taking down Bryan LaHair, Brett Jackson, Dae-Eun Rhee, and Scott Maine.
  • Matt Garza says starting on Opening Day would be “awesome” and “an honor” (presumably, in his head, he was thinking that it would be “the cat’s pajamas”), but, ultimately, it’s just another day. Spot on, Matt. Spot on. Speaking of Garza, here’s some fluff on his excitable nature.
  • The Cubs’ early-season schedule is the second toughest in baseball (behind only the Pirates), according to Buster Olney. Of the Cubs’ first 39 games, a full 27 are against teams that had winning records in 2011. The first half of May is particularly brutal, during which the Cubs play the Reds, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, and Phillies, in order. Eesh. Obviously 2011 records aren’t the tell-all (though that cuts both way – I reckon the Reds are going to be a heck of a lot better than they were in 2011), but it’s a data point. If the Cubs have a .500 record come May 18, we should probably be pretty pleased.
  • Dave Kaplan discusses the possibility of Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo both playing for the Cubs in 2012 at the same time. Rizzo, who will start the year at AAA Iowa, has a good attitude about the whole thing: “I can’t control anything. I can go to the minors and do what Bryan did last year and still be there all season. I know that I can play up here but I will just continue working as hard as I can until I get my shot in the big leagues. I have never struggled like I did when I was called up in San Diego but I think that experience will help me when I do finally come up.”
  • MLB teams (and possibly MLB) are fixin’ to be pretty pissed at the Rangers for signing Dominican teenager Jairo Beras to a $4.5 million contract. Why? Because the MLB teams believed Beras to be just 16, and thus not eligible to sign until July 2 (which is significant, since the international signing “cap” of $2.9 million will have kicked in by then). The Rangers, apparently unearthed “proof” that Beras is actually 17, and signed him quickly and quietly. Beras may have previously represented to baseball that he was 16, so there could be some problems for both he and the Rangers here. Kevin Goldstein has a good write-up of the situation here. (You’ll have to ignore the “Curious Case” title. Please: writers of the world, stop using “the Curious Case of So-And-So” as your title. It ceased to be clever the day after that damn movie came out … four years ago. I’m just trying to help.)
  • The Yadier Molina five-year, $75 million extension is going to happen. Unlike with Albert Pujols, whose crippling contract would have crushed the Cardinals for years, this one isn’t particularly damning, even though it is the second largest contract for a catcher in the game today (behind Joe Mauer’s unfortunately large deal). Molina, I suspect, is far more valuable to the Cardinals than is readily-apparent, so I don’t think the Cards could afford to lose him after this season. That said, 2011 was his first above-average offensive season, and he’ll have to sustain that kind of production to truly justify $15 million per year.
  • The Orioles very much want to keep Ryan Flaherty – whom they took from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft this year – but are already struggling with finding a spot on the 25-man roster for him. It will be interesting to see how he performs in Spring Training because, I’ve got a feeling that, if he breaks camp with the O’s, they’ll find a way to keep him all year.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

51 responses to “The Cubs’ Early-Season Schedule is Scary and Other Bullets”

  1. ramin

    is it safe to assume that by may 18 if tje cubs are at 500 that they r a pretty good darn team and that they will start to adf pieces

    1. Ryan

      not necessarily, last year we were hanging around 0.500 til about the Boston series then it was all downhill from there.

  2. ferrets_bueller

    The Curious Case of the Overuse of “The Curious Case….”

    Curious Case-ception!

  3. Fishin Phil

    I am really looking forward to seeing what T. Wood and Volstad can do this spring.

  4. Deer

    Wouldn’t Flaherty be a better potential option at 2B than the great Cardenas? I hope he’s returned to the Cubs. Same goes for Gonzalez.

  5. Oliver dehart

    Maybe we will have a few surprises.
    Could be fun..
    I would be very, very happy with a 500 year.
    82 and 82.
    It will depend on the pitching and defense.

    1. Stan

      82 and 82? You do realize there are only 162 games in a season, right?

      1. ferrets_bueller

        Well, technically…if you had a one game playoff to get into the one game wild card playoff, you could go 82-82.

        1. Stan

          Yeah, but those extra games don’t play into the record do they?

          EDIT: Nevermind, they do.

          1. ferrets_bueller

            I’m not sure if the second game would, but the first definitely does- one game playoffs to get to the postseason are reflected in the teams regular season record (IE, the 2008 Twins finished 88-75, which is 163 games).

  6. Bob

    On the LaHair and Rizzo playing together issue; I would love to see these two in the line up at same time but where would LaHair play in the field. I’m guessing if Soriano or Byrd is moved at deadline that would open door for Brett Jackson first. Both would have to be moved to accommodate Rizzo to first and LaHair to outfield? Can he play there or are we adding substituting one poor defender for another? Side note; if Stewart struggles how long till Vitters comes up? I personally would love to see LaHair, Rizzo, Jackson and Vitters get on the field this year along side Barney and Castro. Let the kids play if we’re sub .500 by break.

    1. Luke

      To me, LaHair looks like an ideal guy to platoon in left with Soriano. Play LaHair against right handers, Soriano against lefties, and use Soriano as a regular pinch hitter when he’s on the bench. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but I don’t think the Cubs need to move Soriano in order to play LaHair.

      Byrd will almost certainly be traded around the time Jackson comes up, likely in mid summer. With Reed Johnson on the roster, the Cubs have a veteran backup to support Jackson even after Byrd is dealt.

      Unless Vitters really surprises some people with his progress on defense, I don’t think we’ll see him in Chicago until September. Ian Stewart should have a full season to get his bat together and lock down the job. If he doesn’t, Vitters will probably be given a try out in September, and we’ll have a spring training battle at third in 2013. I’d love to get Vitters in the majors sooner than that, though. The more opportunity he has to work on his approach at the plate with Jaramillo and Sveum, the better.

  7. mike foster

    Why is it that some players get described as “enthusiastic, gung-ho, competitive” and others get called “excitable”? Just asking….

    1. DocWimsey

      Deconstructionism is all about this very question! Really, it’s just a question of how much a reporter likes a guy: the guys they like are “fiery,” “professional,” or “enthusiastic” whereas the guys that they don’t like are “hot-headed,” “indifferent” or “excitable.” They all describe the same behaviors but with an unsubstantable assertion as to the psychology behind that behavior.

  8. Luke

    Mike Napoli is reported to be planning on testing free agency. That’s something we could be hearing more about in 8 months or so.

    1. ferrets_bueller

      Hmm. I guess it depends on what the contract is- he’s a guy I’d love to have, but he’d also be beginning his age 31 season when he joins his new team. If we’re in a position to go for it by then, I’m all for it. If we’re not, or somewhere in between, I’d be wary of the length of the contract.

  9. BD

    With that schedule, being .500 in the middle of May would be the cat’s pajamas.

    1. hansman1982

      The sad part is last year there was much more reason to believe we would be at .500 come May 18, then Quade was “exposed” by Major League managing

      1. DocWimsey

        No manager in the world could have made the Cubs a 0.500 team last year. The starting pitching and team OBP were just too bad. I mean, yeah, would batting Darwin Barney #8 instead of #2 be a little better? Sure: but you are talking a couple of wins a year, tops. The problem is when you have to start guys like Barney.

        1. Bric

          They were 10 and 10 before Q Ball started messing with the line up. Up until then there were no significant injuries or issues to deal with. In my mind when Q moved Castro down to “make something happen” and adjust everyone else accordingly it all went south. I totally disagree. It was ALL coaching, or the lack thereof.

          1. Bric

            And everyone should recall by his own admission he didn’t even have a clear picture for the line up by opening day. He was totally trying to coach over his head.

          2. TWC

            “Up until then there were no significant injuries or issues to deal with. “

            You mean outside of losing 40% of our starting pitching after the first week, right?

            1. Bric

              I was talking about the line up, not the pitching staff. In any case, a manager that is relying on Cashner, a rookie, to start and win more games than lose and be a consistant 5th day guy in his first year is like trying to hit the jackpot while playing the nickel slots. Statistically possible, but probably aint going to happen.

        2. bluekoolaidaholic

          I can think of at least 10 games that Qball personally lost for us by mis-mangement,
          mostly involving pitchers, but also poor selection of lineup and substitutions.
          That would have put us at 500.

          1. Quintz

            Nobody with any knowledge of baseball thinks a manager can be worth more than +/- 2.5 games in a regular season. I’m dumbfounded by the lack of reality some of y’all possess.

            They stunk. They will stink again this year. When you have below average talent, you get a below average result.

            So many people on here truly believe hustle and a good manager wins……Nope, it’s talent, talent, and then more talent.

            1. CubFan Paul

              Quintz you obviously didn’t watch the majority of the games last year because they “stunk”

              Bluekoolaid is dead on. Quade blew more than 2.5 games. Anyone who actually watched 150plus games WOULD NOT ARGUE that. Just sayin.

              1. DocWimsey

                I did and I would.  Remember, the “right” moves by the manager would have increased the probability of winning only slightly.  Look at it this way: pinch hit 1941 Ted Williams for 2011 Darwin Barney, and you increase the probability of a hit by only 14%.  So, one time in 7 you get the hit that you wanted.  There simply are not enough games in a year that are affected by that for it to add up to much.

                Again, baseball is not deterministic.  It’s not “if Quade had pinch hit here, then we would have scored the run”: it’s “if Quade had pinch hit here, then there was a marginally higher probability that we would have scored the run, and a slowly lower increase in probability that we win the game.”

                1. TWC

                  Quade’s transgressions were far more likely to land on the pitching staff.  I would think that not pitching to Pujols when the game is on the fucking line (for two fucking days in a row) yields a higher probability of success than the marginal increase of getting a hit by swapping Ted Williams for Barney.

                  1. Bric

                    That’s true, but i don’t think Q was all that responsible for the pitching staff anyway. The dumping of Silva, the yo-yoing of Cashner from the bull pen to the rotation is more of Hendry’s work, IMO. So in this sense, it’s more of mismanagement, and clueless coaching. That’s why they’re both gone. Again, IMO.

                    1. TWC

                      I don’t really disagree with anything you wrote, Bric, but pitching to Pujols two days in a row with the Game. On. The. Line. is completely unforgivable, and falls totally on Quade’s shiny head.

            2. hardtop

              Normally I would agree with you on your managerial assessment, but in this case, I side with the exception rather than the rule. Though 10 games is a massive stretch; mismanagement of close games was obscenly high in 2011. I could credit the manager with 5 games and not be even slightly uncomfortable with my position. I see your point clearly, but exceptions exist. Anyway you slice it, they would have needed Tebow type luck to be a 500 club last year.

          2. DocWimsey

            No way. Look at this graph: Performance vs. Wins

            This shows total bases + walks gained minus total bases + walks allowed plotted against winning percentage.  The Cubs are at -203, which means that they gave up 203 more bases (from hits and walks) than they accrued.  Given this, and given how well all of the other MLB teams did, they should have won 72 games.

            So, let’s give you your “10 games.”  However, Quade’s moves could not win those games: if they succeeded, then they would have increased the probability of victory by adding to the net Total Bases.  Let’s give you an average of +4 (1 HR) per move you think he should have made.  (Some would have worked out better, but remember that some would have worked out even worse than what actually happened, too).  That takes us up to a rip-roaring -160 or so: and no team with a -160 did better than 0.450.

             

            This team was as far from being 0.500 as a 0.500 team was from being a legit playoff contender: i.e., a multiple major personnel changes.

          3. ty

            Right on Blue. Ten games would be very accurate that Q took away our chances!

  10. die hard

    Soto could be out longer as groin injuries linger which is disappointing because he was to step up this year and be a leader. He was probably trying to hard to impress and over did it. Other injuries of note could impact Cubs. Howard of Phils not coming back so fast. They have lots of good pitching in minors who will never crack current staff. So how about LaHair for two of their minor leaguer pitchers? Also, Seattle OF went down and how about Byrd for the #11 and 12 prospects off this list?

    http://www.minorleagueball.com/2011/12/9/2619595/seattle-mariners-top-20-prospects-for-2012

    1. NEcubsfan

      “He was probably trying to hard to impress and over did it” Is this statement based on anything other than blind speculation? Just wondering if you had any inside information.

      1. die hard

        Factors include new contract, bad 2011, hard off season regimen to get in top shape, new ownership, new mgr, and he was going to be looked to as coach on the field. Adds up to working so hard that he actually created undue stress leading to injury.

        1. NEcubsfan

          So blind speculation is the answer. thanks.

  11. DBT

    Actually, “curious case of …” dates back to at least 1985 and “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.”

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1119283/index.htm

    1. DocWimsey

      And there was the Curious Incident of the Dog who didn’t bark at night back in 1886 or so….

      1. Frank

        Ahhh, but is an incident a case . . . ???? Back to your deconstruction comment, I guess.

    2. Frank

      “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922.

  12. DocWimsey

    How about “Quo vadis ” then? 8)

  13. brittney

    If both lahair and rizzo are having great seasons lahair will be traded at the deadline. My mid may if we are hanging around .500 mark ill be happy!. I think this team is going to be a surprise. I don’t think we are playoff bound this year but the team is going to make those around MLB do some head turning. Castro will cut around 30-40% of his errors out. I can see barney having a decent year. So many people are against him. I personally like the guy and I think he is a tad better then he is given credit for. His numbers weren’t great but aside from castro last year whose numbers were all that great last year. Garza had a good year but his numbers didn’t reflect that. There were a number of games early on he was walking the exact number of batters he was striking out. So before people start bashing jus give the guys until may to get their “mojo” going then go on a bashing ramage.

    1. CubFan Paul

      LaHair has no 2012 trade value unless he hits 22 homers before July (highly unlikely). And if Barney was a tad bit better he would be better but his numbers don’t lie.

      But at least he’s working hard to keep his job
      http://t.co/7YhkHfBf

  14. die hard

    My prediction: LaHair to the Phillies for two pitching prospects, Garner and Bonilla, because Howard could sit this year and Mayberry is an outfielder out of position. Then Rizzo plays every day for experience.