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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.

  • joejoe234

    I think Bonifacio is going to become one of my favorite players on the team quick. Seems like we haven’t had a true lead off hitter in ten years. I know this isn’t the right spot for this, but I posted a message on the message board about tickets. I have season tickets but due to some issues I will be in Indianapolis most of the year and unfortunately not be able to go to a lot of games. I want to offer my tickets to bleacher nation fans first before stubhub, since they raise the prices by 20%. I have two tickets with a press box view, section 517 row 5. I’m selling most games for $12 first come first serve. If you are interested you can find the post in the message board. I attached a picture of the view as well. Opening day tickets are still available.

  • Funn Dave

    Thanks for the notes on the defense–it’s tough to get info on those things when you’re just following the Gameday tracker. Hopefully Starlin can keep it up and people stop accusing him of being an airhead.

  • http://obstructedview.net Myles

    Surprised you didn’t mention how good Castro’s defense was yesterday, unless I missed it. Actually, the whole team was very stout defensively.

    • TWC

      His pump fake early in the game was great, as was his snag to start the DP that ended the 6th.

      • ame1908

        Yes, he made that pump fake LIKE A BOSS. It looked like Marte was eyeing CF anyways, but it was nice to see that Castro actually made a somewhat headsy play!

    • waittilthisyear

      “I was very impressed at how fluid Starlin Castro looked at shortstop”

      u missed it

  • Diehardthefirst

    You are very welcome

  • GoCubs

    Yesterday’s game: Balls & Stikes, Liriano was getting all the BoD–makes the game much tougher against a pitcher who is already pretty tough. The thing which bothers me about the game is I felt that the Cubs were NOT prepared for the game. Going in, Cubs knew they were going against a very tough lefty and yet I hardly saw anyone try to go the opposite way as far as hitting goes…

  • JL82

    Hopefully EBon will be in the lineup about everyday. They need that speed threat. I’m really surprised KC just let him go like that.

  • CubFanBob

    Assuming we go all left handed tomorrow other than castro in the lineup. I hope we put the smack down on these guys tomorrow.

    • cking6178

      I hope we don’t go all left handed…I hate seeing that lineup….It allows the pitcher to get into a zone and work just one side of the plate…

      • willis

        Man do I agree with that. I hate the “handed” lineups. I get when a guy here or there is put in there, but when it’s all one sided, I don’t think it plays that well.

    • C. Steadman

      “other than castro in the lineup”

      and Welington

  • J. L.

    How did Lake look like at the plate? As bad as I pictured him whenever he came up on Gameday?

    • CubChymyst

      I’d appreciate a recap of Lake’s at bats as well. Listening to the game on the radio during work made it hard to figure out if how Lake’s at bats where.

    • another JP

      Lake looked pretty decent at the plate- showed the patience he displayed last year in seeing some pitches in each AB and his base hit was a nice easy swing. He tried another bunt of course (which I’d rather see him do much less), but overall Lake looks like he belongs on the roster. It’s just one game, but his defense looked very good too… he got to a few balls easily that Soriano would have never made a play on, like Brett said.

      • willis

        Yeah people were giving Lake a very hard time yesterday around here, but really he played well in the field and looked ok at the plate. Nothing awesome but he took pitches, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt (which he damn near beat out) and had a solid single. I was worried with Liriano that he would make Lake look silly, but I thought his approach was ok.

        Days when he plays in left and Bonafacio plays in center, they can cover a lot of ground with their speed.

  • Johnny Chess

    The funny thing about baseball is that 1 team wins and the other loses. What can you take away? Nothing it was 1 Game.

    • Picklenose

      I took away a nice pennant and a bobblehead last time I visited Wrigley! Oh, and a bit of a buzz.

  • Diggs

    I liked the Cubs’ overall approach at the plate, working counts to get Liriano out relatively early. Too bad the Pirates’ bullpen is so good. I hope that kind of approach continues and it wasn’t just a one-game thing.

    • Diggs

      And it was also neat to see some of the flexibility of the roster — when Sweeney pinch-hit for Barney, they were able to just move Bonifacio to 2nd.

  • Bruns Cubs

    Thanks for pointing out all the bright points. It was a tough read yesterday how many people had given up after one game. I realize we left A LOT out there on the base paths but I think this team deserves a little more than one game! Like Brett said the D was awesome and really in all honesty we should have won that game. I think this team has been sold low all off season. I’m not screaming we will win the pennant but I think they can be competitive. Show some love Cubs fans.

  • cubmig

    First, I loved watching yesterday’s game. And mainly because the team played with each player being effective and fluid in his role. Yes, I’m still left with the pangs a lack of risp left from last year, but I’m hoping Bonifacio’s way of playing spills over as an influence on his teammates. Here’s to a better 2014 for us.

  • cking6178

    Brett, I understand your arguments against bunting (and I’m bracing for backlash with this comment), but I don’t think the bunt is COMPLETELY useless…I think it’s very easy to say “Oh, we’re just giving away outs” – and yes I’m familiar with Bill James’ philosophy – but what I have yet to see from anybody is a comparison of likelihood to hit into a DP. What do the statisticians say about the chance of scoring with 1 out and a runner on 2nd vs 2 outs and nobody on? I love statistics and advanced metrics, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as: “we’re giving away outs”….OKAY, I’m now prepared for the onslaught of comments about stupid bunting is….Cheers!

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Eh…GIDPs don’t occur often enough (2% of the time last year) to make you want to throw away outs.

      The ONLY time a sac bunt is really advisable is when you have a runner on third and catch the defense off guard.

      • cking6178

        I’m not talking about as an overall strategy…I’m talking about situational strategies…obviously a player with a high FB rate is much less likely to GIDP…my point is you can’t just make a blanket statement that you’re throwing away outs…if Barney has a high groundball rate and a low BABIP, shouldn’t that give us an indication of his likelihood to GIDP vs sacrificing the runner over? I don’t have the data to sift through, but if I did – this would be something I would look at…

      • terencemann

        I don’t think there’s a manager in baseball who wouldn’t bunt with the pitcher up, runners on first and second and no outs, though. That’s what you have to compare against, unfortunately.

        I only saw 2 sac bunts (the Samardzija failure and Castillo’s bunt) when did the third one happen? If Renteria limits bunting to late game/close game situations and doesn’t bunt with one of the team’s best hitters, I’ll be happy. The fact that Castillo was bunting was what drove me crazy, not necessarily the situation since I think most MLB managers would bunt there.

        • cking6178

          I think he bunted, or attempted to with Lake also…

  • Norm

    What REALLY matters is Anthony Rizzo’s body language.
    That’s what matters.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      We need to get him to start hanging out with Soler. Give Rizzo some of that BellyFire

    • ssckelley

      Cubs need to sign this guy as a bench player.

      [img]http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_QTA4z9i9CAQ/S7qGw0bxytI/AAAAAAAABiI/Yc8CEP40vuU/s320/major_league_2+Marbles.jpg[/img]

  • Indy57

    After reading a re-reading yesterday’s comments, you’ve hit the nail on the head with regard to the good things that went on. Really great defense, excellent pitching and Liriano is a damn good pitcher. No shame in losing to him 1-0. What will be interesting going forward are the mis-matches this roster can create for the 3, 4 and 5 pitchers of the opposition. Give the #1’s and #2’s their due and hope you can beat them once in a while. It would be interesting to see what happens to the stat lines of 3 through 5’s when they pitch against opposite batters (left versus right and right versus left). I thought Renteria did a really nice job at the end of the game working to exploit the right-handed Pittsburgh bullpen with an all left handed outfield and 3 out 5 left hand hitting infielders to end the game. Had we gone another inning or two, you have to believe the odds revert back to our favor.

    If there is one adjustment I’d like made it is moving Castro to #2 and keeping Rizzo at #3 and Ot at #4. I say Lake is too inconsistent to hit high in the order. He’s more of a #6 for me.

    Otherwise, I thought they played well and it was an exciting game. Sure they lost, but hey, they were entertaining and played very well overall. Let’s see how the RISP plays out. It’s just one game, but RR has to keep his eye on it.

    • cking6178

      I agree with your comment about #2 being to high for Lake….6 is a good spot for him…Schierholtz can hit in the 5 hole…I don’t like him cleanup…

      • Voice of Reason

        You’re splitting hairs by saying lake should hit down in the lineup. It doesn’t matter this year. In fact, hitting him second will get him more AB’s so we can evaluate him properly and see if he is part of the future.

        But, lake can hit anywhere in the lineup and This team still loses 90+ games.

        • pinkstonaa

          I guess it depends on intention here. If RR is batting Lake 2nd because he thinks that’s a good role for him, it’s a bit worrisome and brings in questions about future similar decisions. If he’s batting Lake 2nd in order to give him more ABs, then that is a defensible position. So while it doesn’t impact the importance of this team winning, it is important to know if the manager will have similar philosophies that may hurt the team when it is in the position to win.

          • Cubbie in NC

            Maybe he is trying to get Lake some more fastballs. Bonifacio gets on base and Castro or Rizzo hitting behind him, it may help him to get some pitches he can handle better.

        • Indy57

          I see your point. They are going to lose around 90 +/-. However, you might hit someone at the top of the order to get them at bats in spring training or in September, but at this time of the season, you’re trying to create success for the hitters. It seems to me that especially with young hitters, you are trying to put them in a position to succeed and learn. Number 2 is a good spot for Castro. Batting Lake at 6 puts him in less stressful situations and seems better for him at this point in his career and in the season. Move him to 2 if/when he figures out what he is doing at the plate.

          • Voice of Reason

            Again, there are no “stressful situations ” for teams that lose 90+ games. Just send the kids out there and tell them to have fun.

  • Boys of Zimmer

    I thought we should have brought in Wright against Walker to make him hit righty. Shark looked great.

  • Darth Ivy

    I think rizzo’s performance against LHP yesterday mattered a little more than virtually nothing, without failing to keep one game in perspective. That’s because it did nothing to curb my concern about his “vs LHP” going into the season.

    But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Eh…it was one game against a very good LHP. (I’d be saying the same thing if he had homered in all of his PA).

      • Darth Ivy

        Im not failing to keep that in perspective. Yesterday didn’t make me more concerned about it. So im not putting too much weight on one game. It simply didn’t ease my concern. If he had a couple hits, or at least good ABs, that would have lessened my concern, especially since it was a good LHP

        • Darth Ivy

          “Virtually nothing” is a very low starting point.

  • another JP

    While we’re bringing up body language I’d point out that the Cubs overall were busting their asses to win the game yesterday and it showed in their reactions during the game. Bonifacio was totally into the game and waving Castro to 2nd in his rundown- meanwhile Starlin slammed his hands in disgust after the play was over because he hadn’t been able to get Emilio home. Shark was pumped every time the defense bailed him out. Strop looks like he wants to K every hitter at the plate. Once the offense scores some runs we’ll see more positive reactions out of everyone.

  • waffle

    great pitching – check
    great defense – check
    mostly looked patient at the plate – check
    clogged those bases! – Check
    Clutch hitting – um?

    Overall a pretty good game. Hopefully they’ll start to come around with RISP

  • Kyle

    Gonna disagree on Mike Olt having a not-bad day. He looked awful. He had a good batting eye, but he didn’t look like much of a threat to put bat on baseball against anything that isn’t hanging in the middle of the zone.

    • Kyle

      To expand:

      He swung at five pitches, and bat touched ball on precisely one of them. That’s concerning, especially against a lefty.

      • ssckelley

        So back off the band wagon?

      • gocatsgo2003

        Yes… Let’s go ahead and draw any conclusions whatsoever based on five swings, most of which came against a starter known for missing bats with his two-seam and slider.

        • Edwin

          Mike Olt has had contact issues for awhile, even before his eye problems. 5 pitches isn’t enough to draw a conclusion, and I don’t see where Kyle drew one, but it is concerning based on Olt’s history in the minors.

        • Kyle

          No conclusion was drawn.

      • Cubbie in NC

        He was not picking up the change vs. the fastball. But Liriano does that to a few people.

    • ThatCubsGuy

      Liriano was at his best against Olt and Rizzo. Each pitch danced considerably. I thought Olt did OK with everything considered….He battled while avoiding the easy temptation of just hacking everything you see

  • lnfihDeL

    Does anyone know why we get this funky scheduling to start the year?

    • terencemann

      Giving some teams the off-day today means they can play straight through the weekend and then most teams will get their next off-day on this coming Monday, I think.

      • lnfihDeL

        Why not just stagger the off-days, starting next monday? Like, for example, a 3 game series, than a 4 game series, than an off day for some teams, etc.

        That would seem like it would flow much better than starting the season with one game, and than stopping it for an off day before finishing with the rest of the series.

        Than again, I’m must a college student! haha.

    • Porkslap

      I’ve always assumed they build in an off-day early for most teams to minimize any scheduling issues. Weather can be nasty this time of year in a lot of places.

  • Kyle

    Castro looked more comfortable and fluid defensively all spring than I’ve ever seen him before, and he continued that yesterday. The fakeout on the 8-3 DP was textbook and the kind of play that gets a scrappy player canonized, and the pick on the one-hop liner up the middle was not as easy as he made it look.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      If that play had been by a cardinal player, they would have shown it 50 times on ESPN and mlb network the last 24 hours. Castro is a whipping boy for the press, only negative plays to be shown.

      • willis

        I re-watched that short hop play to kill the Pirates rally a few times over, and you’re right. He made it look like whatever, when in truth it was a very difficult play.

        He looks very good out there, especially being out almost all of Spring.

        • C. Steadman

          and this is why Baez will probably be moved off SS. I believe Castro will have a breakout year defensively. Of course, you can already write in Andrelton Simmons for the GG however.

  • Spriggs

    I have a bad feeling that 5 years from now — when people are trying to fill in the blanks for the 2014 opening day line-up — a few names will be really hard to recall.

    • Blackhawks1963

      5 years? Try 1 year. Next April some of the current Cub players will be mere trivia quesiton answers that are hard to answer.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    Very good in perspective take on things. The most positive thing I took from the game was to be able to see that Castro is a heck of a ballplayer. Renteria is the best thing to happen for him.
    The morrisey article today in the sun times shows the unique obstacles the cubs have to overcome. To write that venom after one flipping game is really the height of absurd. But that is the media minefield the team and players will have to learn to fight off.

  • Jon

    In 359 major league plate appearances, Rizzo has a 192/267/344 line against left handed pitching. Saying Rizzo can’t hit lefties isn’t an overreaction to yesterdays game, it’s simple fact about him at this point in his career based on a reasonable sample size.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      I believe he showed in the minor leagues he could hit lefties. Last thing to come around for young power hitters like him in the bigs.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        It’s a debate worth having. The point here, however, is that yesterday, alone, doesn’t prove anything.

  • Spoda17

    Good read on the game Brett.

    My thoughts, the pitching was very good. My eyebrow is raised at the sac bunts. I think Lake looked lost at the plate, and he should be told to never try and bunt for a hit. Defense was great. I think Rizzo’s nerves got the best of him, and that made him look uncomfortable at the plate. Barney had two very good at-bats. Olt had good at-bats, but I think his nerves were pretty active as well.

    At the end of the day, Pittsburgh just pitched really well, and the Cubs missed some opportunities. Looking forward to Wednesday’s game… Oh, and my fresh copy of MLB14 the show tonight!

  • Blackhawks1963

    Deep Thoughts….

    1. Cubdom is going to be consumed with Samardzija trade speculation thru July
    2. This team will mightily struggle to score runs…again
    3. Lake is probable not going to work out and is back at Iowa by June
    4. Rizzo needs to sit against the majority of left-handed pitchers for the forseeable future
    5. Bonafacio is NOT the answer despite some Cub fans being seduced with the journeyman’s ability to play multiple positions (none all that well) and run – he’s very well traveled for a reason
    6. Around 95 losses sounds about right
    7. Baez needs to grab the headlines at some point, or the pitchfork and torches crowd will go insane

  • tampacubsphan35
  • No Longer JR

    I was really looking forward to seeing Olt play and was disappointed. He looked really uncomfortable to me. Yes, the umpire missed the fourth ball call on that one at-bat (and generally gave Liriano strikes off the plate) but the swings he took were tentative and he just looked confused. And then he was followed by Castillo who looked really good up there, calm, working counts, seemed to have a nice approach. I don’t know much about pitch framing (other than what I see, which is unreliable, and my probably even more unreliable bias from being a former catcher) but Castillo seemed to be doing pretty poorly at it and Martin was getting a lot of balls called for strikes.

    Like many here, I was really concerned about all this sacrifice bunting. I agree it’s too early to jump to any conclusions but I hope the Chicago media asks Renteria about his philosophy. I certainly hope he has one and it isn’t “going with his gut.” I think it’s a fair question and he should have an answer, and I certainly hope it’s the kind of question that the front office would have asked about before hiring him.

  • tampacubsphan35

    [img]https://scontent-a-atl.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn2/t1.0-9/1452261_10202488278826070_1815175890_n.jpg[/img]

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