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Today’s off-day gives us a moment to step back, and look at where things stand for the Chicago Cubs. It’s been a REALLY nice few weeks, during which the Cubs haven’t lost a single series. Indeed, they just took two of three from the very good Atlanta Braves, and took two of three from the very good Los Angeles Dodgers. But, despite all the fortune, the team is still just 13-18, tied for last in the NL Central (and tied for the second worst record in the NL – seriously, those first two weeks of the season were BAD). The Cubs are 7 games behind the Central-leading Cardinals, and 5 games behind the second Wild Card-leading Mets (if you’re thinking that far ahead). In order to have a fighting chance for a playoff spot, the Cubs will need to win at least 87 games, which would mean they’d need to go about 74-57 over the next 131 games. That’s a .565 winning percentage, which is high, but not completely unreachable. The Cubs have faced the toughest schedule so far this year (tied with the other team in Chicago, at a .528 strength of schedule).

  • Dale Sveum on Kerry Wood’s glove throw the other night: “Do I care? Of course I care. I don’t condone it or wish it to happen all the time. But we all know in this game that there are frustrations that happen, and sometimes we regret things we do, that’s for sure. We’re not perfect human beings. But I missed the whole thing, so I didn’t see any of that.” In other words, no, he doesn’t really care. It isn’t a big deal.
  • Alfonso Soriano is dealing with a sore knee (or sore knees – he’s getting old), which is why he got the extra day off yesterday. Dale Sveum has been happy with Soriano’s defense in left, but not so much with the lack of power.
  • Phil Rogers suggests that the Cubs could consider trading Ryan Dempster to the Red Sox for Kevin Youkilis. Setting aside the fact that Rogers’ insistence that the Cubs could use Youkilis (where, exactly?), and setting aside Youkilis’s poor start to the year and injury issues, in no universe would the Cubs trade Ryan Dempster for a 33-year-old infielder who’s under contract for one more year (on a steep $13 million 2013 option, at that). If the Cubs even consider trading Dempster this year, it will be for prospects or young players. Nothing else would make even the slightest hint of sense. I award you no points, Phil Rogers.
  • Dale Sveum wasn’t too perturbed by Pat Listach’s risky send of Starlin Castro yesterday (Castro was going for an inside-the-park homer, but was throw out by 15 feet, despite the relay throw being 10 feet up the line – he was very, very out). “It’s one of those things, it still took a good relay throw,” Sveum said. “With two outs there, you’re hoping for a bad skip or bad relay throw. Sometimes as the third base coach, you like pushing the envelope especially in a game when you feel it’ll be a tough time scoring runs, and sure enough it was a game like that.” We differ on the meaning of “good relay throw,” but whateves.
  • Dale Sveum discusses managing his bullpen, which has been difficult in light of Kerry Wood’s and Carlos Marmol’s struggles.
  • The Cubs’ defense has been a shifting machine, and it’s been working fantastically.
  • Dan McNeil offers an interesting and fair take on why Tom Ricketts is to “blame” for Kerry Wood being back on the Cubs this year, though I’d probably disagree with the ultimate conclusion (i.e., that’s it’s hugely bad that Wood is back), only because it’s really hard for us to know the impact Wood has had on the other pitchers on the roster.
  • Ground-breaking on the Cubs’ new Spring Training park and facilities in Mesa, Arizona is set for July 11. You can expect fanfare and festivities to celebrate the ground-breaking, which comes a day after the All-Star Game. The park is expected to be completed in December of next year, which would allow the Cubs to Spring there starting in 2014. Mark your calendars now, because we’re going to have a meet-up in Mesa that Spring.
  • I was on the Midway Baseball Today podcast yesterday, and you can catch it here.
  • You still have a little over a day to enter tomorrow’s fantasy baseball contest, in which you can win a share of a $300 prize pool, can try to beat your friends and neighbors, and can support BN in the process. The full details are here. You can sign up here.
  • wernert

    Be really curious to see how this team performs against the Pirates and the Astros (speaking of which, why have the Astros been almost decent?). I will start to think some thoughts for sure if they don’t play down to the level of the competition.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Yeah, that’s been a recent problem.

    • HoustonTransplant

      The Astros are like 4th in the league in runs…they can SCORE. They got hot and won 5 in a row, so that helped them, and they, like the Cubs, have been playing WAY past expectations this year. I was listening to the GM of the ‘Stros down here on the radio the other day, and it sounds like their plans are very similar to the Cubs’ plans. Rebuild with a heavy focus on the advanced stats, listen to ANY offer for ANY player…I don’t think the Astros are as automatic a “W” on the schedule as many of us think. They’re not as horrific as they were last year, that’s for sure.

      • wernert

        OK, thank you for that info. Carlos Lee is still on that team but who are the other hitters? It’s rookies, right?

        • HoustonTransplant

          Jed Lowrie (SS) has been hitting lately as has Chris Johnson (3B), the latter being rather streaky…so he could cool off at any time. Jose Altuve, their 2B is the real deal, though…his average is through the roof and he’s young. He’s their “Starlin Castro” if you ask me…someone to potentially build around, even though he’s only 5’6″. Their left fielder, J.D. Martinez has some power but has been in a slump the last few weeks.

          So, basically…yes, aside from Carlos Lee, it’s a bunch of no-name rookies, but some appear to have some real upside. Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris are pitchers that have (kind of) a name, and their closer is Brett Myers…he’s a recognizable name.

          EDIT: Sorry for the significant lack of Cub-ness of this post, haha. It’s just unfortunate that I watch a lot more Astros than I do Cubs, due to location.

          • Joe

            5’6″??? Holy crap, I think I just found my backup team to root for when the Cubbies aren’t available.

            Also, I thought going into this year that the Astros’ lack of expectations and massive youth would turn in their favor. Everybody said they’d be dead last in the league; I have a feeling “everybody” was dead wrong. I just hope it’s not the Cubs who end up in that ignominious position.

            • ferrets_bueller

              Altuve is like a mini-Pedroia.

        • THEOlogical

          Jose Altuve, their 2nd baseman is really playing some ball. He is a hitting machine. J.D. Martinez, an OFer, has provided them with pop. Chris Johnson has been better than expected and same can go for Justin Maxwell, whom the Astros got for nothing from the Red Sox.

  • BD

    At least Kerry didn’t beat up a helpless Gatorade jug. Or a teammate.

    • Deer

      little known fact, that gatorade jug was already scheduled to be retired and recycled days after the “beating”

    • Stinky Pete

      Or a salsa playing boombox.

      • Rick Vaughn

        Nailed it. But in all fairness, that boombox had it coming.

      • ferrets_bueller

        ……or did he? ;)

  • a_mazz_ing

    I mean what the heck. Demp for Youk!? Phil Rogers does realize that Youk is old and injury prone right? And maybe we should be going for prospects like Will Middlebrooks? *grumble grumble grumble*

    • Fishin Phil

      Some days I wonder if Phil Rogers has ever seen a baseball game. The other days, I just write off as mixed up medications.

    • Richard Nose

      That donkey’s hitting like .150 since last June!

  • Spoda17

    ah, that crazy Phil Rodgers… he’s so cute (and amazingly stupid… all at the same time).

  • CubFan Paul

    Brett, the podcast superstar. I’ll listen to it during lunch.

  • bt

    I’ve got to disagree with you Brett. McNeil is drunk. He is acting like Wood was washed up last year. He wasn’t. In short, Wood was good last year, the Cubs signed him under market value, and he is blocking NO ONE. There is no one to “blame” for signing him. Wood might be done, but there was no sure way to tell going into this season that this would be the case.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I guess I’m just saying that I think it’s a fair argument to make that the front office didn’t want to re-sign Kerry (watching how things played out, it sure felt that way), and Tom Ricketts pushed for it to happen.

      • bt

        That’s what the media keeps saying, but in what world does Kerry Wood not fit into their future plans but Shawn Camp does? In other words, even if they didn’t really want Wood, clearly they were desperate for middle relief arms or they wouldn’t break camp with Castillo, Lopez and Camp in their bullpen, and they wouldn’t continue to trot Wood out in the 8th after his struggles. They need him out there. And all we have is the print/radio media’s word that Theo didn’t want Wood re-signed. I’m not sure I’m buying it.

        • Ogyu

          Perhaps the world in which Wood’s salary is more than 5 times greater than Camp’s?

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            That’s kind of where I land – I think they felt like it simply wasn’t worth $3 million when they can pick up guys like Camp (and they do become available every year) for chump change. Even if Wood is “better” than Camp, is he $2.5 million better in a year that was expected to be a big loser anyway?

            • Puma0821

              But there is no salary cap, so if the Owner wants to make a special exception for player X and pay him whatever then I don’t see why The GM would have a problem unless player X is just not worthy of being on the 25 man roster.

            • JulioZuleta

              I know it hasn’t worked out (at all), but I’m not too upset that we overpaid to bring back Wood. We need to keep some level of nostalgia to appease the casual fans, and the moms and dads who know little about baseball, but want to buy tickets so their kids see Kerry Wood and get a chance to get an autograph or something like that. If there had been a a guy out there who Theo thought was a big part of the future, that could have been had for that $3 mil, Woody wouldn’t be around.

              I was all for blowing this team up, but even I get a little warm and fuzzy when Wood steps on the mound. It takes me back to my innocent youth, until the first pitch gets ripped into the gap or down the line and I start throwing stuff.

        • Ogyu

          Or, I dunno, maybe the world in which giving up 1.7 walks per 9 innings is preferable to giving up 12.5?

          • bt

            OHHHH, the world in which all decisions are made based upon hindsight and extremely small sample sizes? Thanks for checking in.

            • Ogyu

              Yea, that salary difference is really gonna change, if you just send Wood out there often enough…

  • Sinnycal

    As bad as Demp-for-Youk sounds, it isn’t half as ridiculous as the speculation coming out of Boston. The speculation being that the Cubs could PACKAGE Matt freaking Garza with prospects (with Jackson and Rizzo “probably” being off-limits) for Youk.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I’m curious… where do these Boston speculations have the Cubs playing Youk?  Left field?

      • hansman1982

        ummm, SS – clearly we are sending Garza and Castro and Baez and Maples for Youk WITH all of Garza’s salary going with.

      • Sinnycal

        “The Cubs, whose experiment with Ian Stewart at the hot corner has not gone well thus far, could offer a package including right-hander Matt Garza, though the young players, including Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, are likely off the table as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer rebuild the franchise.”

        From Gordon Edes. He also suggested Detroit as a destination (as a defensive upgrade over Cabrera) and a trade to the Phillies–Youk for Dominic Brown, Trevor May, and Sebastian Valle.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          For Kevin Youkilis, the Cubs are going to give up a PACKAGE INCLUDING Matt Garza? I mean, I can’t even respond to that. It might be the most inane thing I’ve ever heard from the mainstream media when it comes to trades.

          I can’t find that quote, though, except in a forum. Are you sure that’s actually from Edes?

          • FromFenwayPahk

            1) Brett, your level of fastidiousness with this quote is appreciated. I am from the same part of the planet as Edes. I know him to be generous with his time and talent in our local communities. His love of sports and sportswriting is remarkable whether he is being paid in a big market, all-star venue; or watching the high school team getting thwacked in our mud pit out back. I am sure he would appreciate your trying to track back a source.
            2) I love Youk, but he has no place on this team.
            3) I think Stewart is going to heat up with the temperature. There is no fire to put out at third: no emergency at which to throw Dempster’s quality starts.
            4) If this is zero-sum, the points Phil Rogers loses today are being added to your column.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Thanks on all accounts. Hoping a source reveals itself (not having much luck with the Googles), because I’d prefer no one’s name is besmirched unfairly.

          • Sinnycal

            Hmm, I probably saw it the same place you did. I presumed it was a legitimate quote from ESPN Insider.

            • Joe

              Found it, I think. ESPN Insider, Jason A Churchill. I can’t seem to get that link, nor can I link directly to the original commenter who posted a portion of the article, but here’s what the commenter started it off with:

              “Piggybacking the suggestion by ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes and the fact that the Boston Red Sox have no plans to move their top prospect to render such a suggestion moot, let’s discuss further the potential fits should the club shop the veteran.”

              Way I read that, it’s not Edes saying those things — it’s a followup article building on the idea. Later in the thread, the same guy responds to a query as to the originator, identifying him as Jason A Churchill.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          I’m a big Youk fan (he epitomizes the Sox and Theo’s style of baseball), but this whole scenario is just silly.  Sadly, Youk probably is on the decline: his aggressive style of play coupled with a large body probably wore him down a couple of years earlier than it could have.  (He could recover as a DH, but the Cubs have all of those that they need.)

          The other big problem is that the “Topps Stats” crowd is assuming that GMs use the same numbers.  Yes, Stewart’s numbers look bad, but Theo & Jed (and the Sox FO and the FO’s of most good teams) know that Stewart’s BABiP is nearly as wonky as LaHair’s.  HIs power and his (relative) OBP have been pretty good: if Stewart had just average BABiP, then the Topps Stats crowd would be talking about what a steal he was!

          • King Jeff

            As it stands now, Stewart’s “Topps Stats” are in the same boat as Kevin Youkilis’. If you factor in the defense, BABIP, contract, and age, I am not sure I’d do a Stewart for Youkilis swap, let alone giving up Garza or Dempster.

  • rcleven

    I see McNeil in the back of my mind wearing a turban sitting at a table with two hands cupping his crystal ball.

  • gritsngravy

    It’s like Phil Rogers puts names into two hats. The veterans who are having a good year and the veterans who could use a change of scenery. He then pulls one name out of each hat and pairs them together and then creates baseless rumors. I guess he accomplished something we are talking about it.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    Pat Listach, according to that ESPN piece, is a key guy in setting up the Cubs defensive shifts both before and during games.  That being the case, I think he’s saved far more runs with that work than he has cost the Cubs will questionably aggressive sends from third.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Well, sure (though, with the data being implemented by Sveum, many coaches could probably do what Listach has done). My point only was that Listach’s send yesterday was bogus.

      • hansman1982

        this was one of those moves that if the throw was 10 feet to the other side of home or if it sailed past the catcher it would have been briliant

        since it failed, it is dumb

        • CubFan Paul

          It was dumb from the start since Starlin didn’t hustle out of the box

        • Spencer

          EXACTLY. and the tag was barely applied.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            “If Stewart had been able to score from first on that bunt – you know, because of a bad throw or five – it would have been a great move, but, since he didn’t, it was dumb.”

            Sorry. You guys must know there are objectively bad decisions sometimes made as of the time they are made, and the outcome doesn’t change things.

            • Spencer

              well, yeah. but would it be discussed today if Castro was safe? probably not, and even if it was the analysis would be very different. luckily it didn’t matter because the cubs won. but in a 0-0 game with two outs, i’ll take the send. especially when in order to get the out it required two throws covering about 350 feet.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Definitely not as much as it’s being discussed, no. You guys are right about that. I would have dropped a single bitching line in the EBS, and that would have been it.

      • JB88

        I actually don’t have a problem with the send in principle. This staff is implementing an aggressive offensive, defense, and on-the-base-paths team. They are going to make mistakes, sure, but how many of their runs are a result of stealing a base or how many runs have they saved by having the proper (and aggressive) defensive shift on?

        A perfect anecdote to this IMO was Carlos Marmol the other night. He was pitching like shit and gets the first out when a shifted Castro snags the liner up the middle. After that, Marmol really settled down, found the strike zone and retired the side. If Marmol regains his confidence after that, I’m not accrediting it to the boos, I’m accrediting it to getting that first out on a shifted infield. That shift saved the game and may have saved Marmol’s confidence.

        So I’ll take the mistakes and errors that being aggressive might cause, because this is the first time in 4 years that I’ve really enjoyed watching the Cubs play.

        • Jeremy

          I agree with this. The problem I had with the play was Castro’s mental error out of the box. He didn’t run hard right away like he should have been and instead just watched the ball. Should Pat have stopped him, maybe, but he saw a low relay throw and took a chance which I don’t really mind. If Castro runs hard out of the box he scores. Hopefully this is a learning experience for him, as we very well could see those exact type of plays with him in the future.

  • JoeCub

    Demp for Youk is ridiculous, sure…but it’s not as bad as seeing Gordon Edes suggesting Garza+ for Youk… Seriously, these writers make my head hurt

    • Jeremy

      I saw that same thing. The best part was when they also discussed us giving the Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo as well for Youklis. Are Red Sox writers and fans all this delusional?

    • Joe

      Turns out that crazy suggestion wasn’t Edes. Or did he say that in another article?

  • LWeb23

    About sending Castro… I was not really happy about that, only because the only other player with a hit on the day so far (LaHair), was on deck. I feel like I don’t remember the last time he got out, its LeDiculous!

  • OlderStyle

    Wood’s signing did seem like a PR push by Ricketts and Theo and co. did not seem too eager to sign him. I seem to remember Wood threatening to play elsewhere (he didn’t want to give another hometown discount), the dramatic announcement at the Convention, etc.
    I’m a big Wood fan but wasn’t anxious to see him return, all things considered. Whether the signing turns out to be a big mistake remains to be seen, he still has a lot of baseball left to turn things around.
    One thing I do hope is learned is that an owner should let the baseball guys make the baseball decisions.

  • MaxM1908

    You forgot to add “and may God have mercy on your soul” after awarding Phil Rogers no points.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I wanted to leave that to your imagination.

  • KyleNovak

    I am on record predicting that this Cubs team would flirt with .500, winning between 75-78 games and overachieving a tad. I definitely see reasons for optimism, but this stretch is no guarantee that the Cubs finish that high, let alone contend for a wild-card spot.

    The slim chance that this Cubs reaches the playoffs hinges on a couple noteworthy things:

    1) The bullpen and fifth starter. The rotation is starting to look like a real strength with Garza and Samardzija beginning to look like a 1 and 1A. Dempster will provide value as a #3. Maholm looks like he’ll ultimately come out looking average-ish, which is fine. The key at this point is that last spot. Volstad’s luck has been brutal, as his FIP and xFIP continue to point towards signs of a turnaround. Otherwise, based on what we have seen so far, Travis Wood should get the chance to take the last spot if things just get worse and worse for Volstad. The bullpen is still in flux, with some of the pitchers are doing well and others being a liability at this point. Would they ultimately be able to get the job done with no overly dominant “shut-down” reliever on the staff?

    2) The Offense. LaHair and Castro have provided nearly ALL of the offense to this point (3.3 fWAR between the two of them), while everyone else has ranged from merely average-ish to flat-out awful. BABIP says Ian Stewart and Geovany Soto (and even Darwin Barney to an extent) have to start hitting (don’t they?).

    I’m hoping that the original plan of calling up Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo in June/July (for service time purposes) could provide all of the benefits of a couple late season trades without all of the risk of trading away prospects. The best case scenario could be similar to Tampa Bay last year after they brought up Desmond Jennings, caught fire, brought up Matt Moore for his MLB cup-of-coffee, continued playing well, and ultimately made the playoffs due to Boston’s pants-poopingly epic collapse. Regardless of whether his team would make the playoffs, Friedman followed his original plan for going forward, made improvements to the team, and with a bit of luck got to go to the playoffs anyways.

    You would think if LaHair still has an .850-900+ OPS by July that his potential move to left field would gain momentum, especially if Soriano continues hitting in a power vaccum. Would Soriano have any value as a platoon/bench player at all? Would Clevenger or Castillo ultimately provide more value than Soto? Ditto Jeff Baker over Ian Stewart? Do Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol give you anything? Do you worry about overworking Samardzija and think about shutting him down after 160 IP much like the Nationals are planning to do with Strasburg?

    Lots to think about as we roll into the summer. Delusions of grandeur maybe?

  • Jeremy

    Something I have been very happy with is the defensive shifts. I think that has made a difference in quite a few games this year. Most notablely against the Dodgers and Braves these past two series. I think this is making a major difference in our defensive efficiency. Castro is showing improvement on defense after a horrid start and I think these shifts they employ are a big part of it.

    • Kyle

      This was the thing that had me most excited about Sveum when he was hired. There were several articles that said he was at the forefront of aggressive defensive shifting and positioning, and I thought that was an area where the Cubs could really find a nice edge.

      The Cubs have converted 74.2% of balls in play into outs, good for the best Defensive Efficiency in the National League. Last year they were at 69.9%, just barely ahead of Houston for last in the NL.

      • TWC

        “The Cubs have converted 74.2% of balls in play into outs, good for the best Defensive Efficiency in the National League. Last year they were at 69.9%, just barely ahead of Houston for last in the NL.”

        It’s remarkable that such a small difference (~5%) separates the best from the worst.  Makes me wonder if there are other stats that show such a tight range.

        • Kyle

          That doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s roughly 1 hit per game, or 162 hits per year, between the best defense and the worst.

  • Trent

    I’m not the only one who gets INCREDIBLY excited about the use and effectiveness of the defensive shifts, right?

    • Jackalope

      Yes, this is awesome.

  • TrueblueCubbie

    “Phil Rogers suggests that the Cubs could consider trading Ryan Dempster to the Red Sox for Kevin Youkilis”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *catches breath* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Funniest thing I have read in a long, long time.

  • TSB

    Ryan Dempster to the Red Sox for Kevin Youkilis? throw in Nomar Garciaparra and you got a deal!

  • mak

    The only way Demp for Youk makes sense is if there is a 3rd team involved who wants Youk (Phillies not a bad spot. Could also see Arizona getting involved?) and ship prospects to the Cubs. Only makes sense because not many teams are shopping front end starters. Who else is out there? Wandy, Grienke maybe?

  • BFiddy

    Breaking News: Chicago Cubs in talks to trade Alfonso Soriano to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, and a player to be named later.

    See…we can do it too.

  • Wishful Thinking

    Dempster should probably get traded relatively soon. Sell him high. He has been great this season and his value probably won’t ever be higher this season. This would be a nice time to send him off to a contender for a couple of an organization’s higher rated prospects.

  • Cooper R

    Any chance the Angels would be interested in Soto now that Chis Iannetta needs surgery?

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