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starlin-castro-batBeing that today is an off-day, and being that yesterday’s game is the first real baseball we’ve had to discuss in months, I thought the Opening Day loss deserved a little more discussion. Judging by yesterday’s boisterous EBS comment thread, I suspect many of you still have some thoughts, too.

The first, and most important point to make about the game: It was one game. The smallest of sample sizes (outside of a solitary inning or at bat or pitch), from which extrapolation is virtually useless. Don’t fall into the trap of putting too much into one game simply because it happens to be the first game you’ve gotten to see in a long, long time. I sure as hell hope the players don’t.

Among the other thoughts, from the negative to the positive:

  • No, Anthony Rizzo didn’t have a good game. He was up in many scoring situations, and he looked ugly, striking out three times in four unsuccessful at bats. How much do we actually take away from that? Virtually nothing. Although we’d like to see some improvement from Rizzo against lefties this year (and, for my part, I’d like to see a bunt or two against that extreme shift – just sayin’), Francisco Liriano is a stud against lefties. For his career, lefties hit just .212/.283/.274 against him, and he was even more brutally tough last year: .131/.175/.146 with a 5.29 K/BB. Shake it off, Anthony. It was a particularly rough matchup against a great lefty pitcher who happens to also be especially great against lefties.
  • (Mike Olt really didn’t have a bad day at the plate, by the way. He looked comfortable, saw a lot of pitches, and one of his strikeouts actually came on a mis-called ball four.)
  • The Runners in Scoring Position issue – yup, it was awful yesterday, with the Cubs going 0-11. Last year, it was a huge – almost historically huge – problem. That said, it tends to be the kind of thing that bounces around from year to year, so I’m not worried that the Cubs are going to be a .200 hitting team with RISP this year (unless they’re a .200 hitting team overall).
  • The sac bunt issue – I’m not going to play the part of angry blogger and make this a thing after just one game, and just three sac attempts. It was a low-scoring, close game against a pitcher (and a bullpen) that was dealing. I understand the urge to try and move a runner along to get a run, even if I vehemently disagree with giving away outs (and that’s when you’re successful at the sac!). Let’s just see how this one plays out over the course of the next month or so before getting too up in arms.
  • I liked the way Welington Castillo looked at the plate yesterday (calm and patient, even with one ugly swing against a tough pitch), even if I didn’t like the way he looked behind it (a little stabby). Yes, his framing skills – which were highlighted earlier in the day with a BP piece that projected him to be the single worst pitch-framer in baseball this year – didn’t look so hot. It’s early, and it certainly feels like framing is the kind of thing that improves as the year goes on. We’ll see.
  • On the wholly good side, I thought the defense yesterday looked fantastic. Specifically, I was very impressed at how fluid Starlin Castro looked at shortstop, and how fast Junior Lake looked in left field. With Lake in left and Bonifacio in center, it seemed like anything hit to the left side of the outfield was going to be caught if it was even remotely high enough. I counted at least two 2013 doubles that turned into routine catches with Lake in left rather than Alfonso Soriano. And I was a Soriano defense defender! I think he did the best he could, but, seeing the difference in action yesterday was really striking. Assuming they are all effective at getting reads off the bat, an outfield of Lake-Bonifacio-Kalish could be amazing. Not that you’d do it just for the defense – the bats do have to be considered – I’m just making the note.
  • The pitching was fantastic yesterday. It’s something that’s almost always lost in a 1-0 loss, but Samardzija was great, and stuck to his game plan. Pedro Strop showed his nasty slider (again and again and again). James Russell was getting great movement on his pitches. Justin Grimm struck out Andrew freaking McCutchen, swinging through a bender in the zone. Carlos Villanueva made one bad pitch. That was it.
  • Starlin Castro looked healthy, and looked impressive at the plate. How can I say that about a guy who was 0-3 and couldn’t get home a runner on third with less than two outs? Well, that outcome not withstanding (hitting RIGHT at the second baseman is not exactly within Castro’s control), Castro took a walk, and didn’t flail helplessly against a starter with great stuff. This is a guy who’s been facing minor league pitchers for a week, basically, and that was his tuneup to face Francisco Liriano. I came away happy with the performance.
  • Emilio Bonifacio got picked off, but he looked great yesterday. The speed showed on his double and in the outfield. He threw a strike to first base to complete a double play. He had four hits. It was just a good day for him.

To the extent you saw things yesterday that fit into the things you already feared about the team, don’t fall victim to a variation of confirmation bias. For example, yes, we fear that the Cubs’ offense this year will be very weak. And, yes, yesterday, the Cubs’ offense really struggled. But that second part doesn’t prove that the first part is actually true. Why? Because it’s just one game. It turns out that the Cubs’ offense was facing a starting pitcher and a bullpen that consistently made offenses from all across baseball look bad last year.

In other words, it’s entirely possible that the Cubs’ offense will stink this year, but let’s give it a little more than one game against a dominant pitching staff (and without a key cog in the “against lefty” lineup (Justin Ruggiano)) to say anything definitively.

I’ll say it again: it was just one game. If you take nothing else from this post, or that game, take the fact that we’ll do this 161 more times this year. A lot of those games will be losses, a lot of them will be frustrating, and a lot of them will involve events that fit into various narratives.

  • Medicos

    Brett: Great analysis of Loss #1. I still feel our 2014 roster contains many players who basically have Triple AAA ability. That being said, to have much success this year runs are going to have to be “manufactured” and if that means using the bunt, hit-and-run, hitting behind the runner, attempting a stolen base so be it. Last year the Cubs were among the better teams in hitting doubles and HRs , but near dead last in producing runs. Until the lineup contains some big RBI producers, the vast majority of the games are going to be low scoring close ballgames where one or two more runs will culminate in winning the game as opposed to another loss.

  • Cubbie in NC

    It was with Lake he stabbed at one, and then laid it down perfectly

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I think you may have mis-read. Stabby behind the plate.

      • Cubbie in NC

        Sorry posted in wrong place. Was referring to Lake’s first bunt attempt and then the bunt that he laid down.

  • Cubbie in NC

    I was impressed with Bonifacio being smart enough to get into the run down with the contact play on. I was also impressed with Castro paying enough attention to get to 2nd. Not sure that happened last year.

    The questionable thing I agree with Brett about is the bunting. He maybe felt like 1 was going to be enough and saw his guys struggling with Liriano and felt like the Cubs were not going to string anything together. We will see.

    Thought that Barney’s approach was better even though he did not get a lot out of it.

  • lordbal4

    Brett, are you opposed to sac bunts in all situations? My understanding is that they always decrease *run* expectancy by killing the chance for the big inning but can sometimes increase *win* probability by increasing the chance of scoring at least one run (which would have been sufficient in yesterday’s game and made sense to play for in the late innings). Since the goal is to win rather than maximize run production, wouldn’t it make sense in those (admittedly somewhat rare) situations? Am I misunderstanding the research here?

  • fromthemitten

    One thing I didn’t like: pinch hitting Valbuena for Olt. Yeah, Valbuena got on base but that’s not great for Olt’s confidence after his rough day (on paper) at the plate…

    • terencemann

      I felt the same way.

      The Cubs only had Ruggiano and Baker on the bench entering the 10th inning and I believe Ruggiano is nursing an injury which would leave them with just Baker?

      I’m glad he was trying to win the game but I don’t see what Valbuena gets you there and would be much better pinch hitting for a reliever.

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