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emilio bonifacio cubsThe Cubs lost 4-3 last night in 16 innings (that’s your Enhanced Box Score, for those who weren’t up in the middle of the night), in one of the longest – in terms of time – games in Cubs history. It was the second straight extra-inning walk-off loss to start the year, and the second straight game in which the Cubs were comically inept with runners in scoring position. Is there a more frustrating way to lose games? That’s not a rhetorical question. I guess a game that the Cubs led 8-0 going into the 9th, and then lost because of 11 consecutive errors would probably do the trick. But that’s about it.

You stack these two games on top of a fan base already frustrated by a slow-paced rebuild and an inactive offseason, and I don’t think the start of this season could have gone much worse, absent an escaped hyena rampaging in the clubhouse and maiming half of the team.

But it is just the start of the season. One time, the Cubs lost the first game of the season in pretty brutal fashion. They were scoreless with the Brewers through eight innings before allowing three runs to Milwaukee in the top half of the 9th. The Cubs then rallied to score three of their own and tie the game up! … and then gave up a run in the 10th to lose. Exasperating. The next game (two days later because of the obligatory off-day), the Cubs were blown out 8-2, and looked pretty crappy if you were judging by the two losses. Heck, they were hitting just .125 with runners in scoring position!

That was the 2008 Cubs team. They went on to win 97 games, tops in the National League.

You’ll grow tired of hearing it long before I grow tired of saying it: baseball is a game best enjoyed as it’s being played, but best understood over long stretches. The predictive ability of two games’ worth of data is pretty much nil, and the Cubs’ profoundly bad performance with runners in scoring position so far is not the kind of thing that sustains over a long period of time. That’s little consolation for fans who’ve already thrown their remote through a window – and the Cubs can’t get these two losses back – but it’s truth. Well, the strong statistical likelihood, anyway.

Am I saying the 2014 Cubs team is going to win 97 games? Of course not. I’m simply pointing out that even very, very good teams can look like crap through two games. (And, of course, sometimes very, very bad teams can look like crap through two games, too.)

A few thoughts on the marathon game and the early returns:

  • Emilio Bonifacio is on fire – historic fire. It sounds like he’s the first player in history to have nine hits in the first two games of a season, and he’s currently batting .750/.769/.833. Yeah, just two games, but he could go 0 for his next 33(!) and he’d *still* be above the Mendoza Line (.200). It was already the case that he was going to be in the lineup regularly, but there’s no way he can come out any time soon. That likely means more starts in center and at second base. He might even spell Starlin Castro one of these games.
  • Speaking of Castro … ugh. That Castro didn’t get to have a Spring Training seems like it’s showing – Castro let a ball slip under his glove last night, allowing a run to score, and didn’t look particularly locked in at the plate. In the 11th, he was double-switched out of the game (which mostly had to do with the personnel available, but still). It’s going to take a little time for him to get going, I think. Unfortunately. This is not what he or the Cubs needed in the early going.
  • And speaking of the Cubs’ RISP woes, as I got into last night during the game, even if you believe the Cubs are truly a terrible team with runners in scoring position – as in, you believe they’re one of the worst in history, and should hit just .200 or so with RISP – the odds that they would have gone just 1 for 27 are microscopic. Once again: little consolation. But that doesn’t make it not a freak thing.
  • If you’re looking for something positive, it remains the pitching: a 1.48 ERA through 24.1 innings is pretty nice. But that’s enough positive; let’s get negative again: the 4.4 BB/9 is ugly, 1.75 K/BB is not impressive, and the 5.2 H/9 is not sustainable.
  • After Starlin Castro’s error and the mounting RISP troubles, and after it felt like a lock that the Cubs would lose another shutout, I tweeted this pointed, but joking, line:

  • More than two hours later, Jose Veras came on for the save. He blew it. And then this happened:

  • That’s an unedited, 20-second slice of what my mentions looked like after the Pirates tied the game in the 12th. My bad. There were about 200 more of those, but, thankfully, I think most were in good fun. The lesson: don’t make irresponsibly predictive jokes, lest you feel the wrath of the interwebz.
  • http://BN Sacko

    RISP will be an issue for most of the year and everyone seems to agree on that. But errors that cost runs and a new BP one really doesn’t expect to loose that way other then the Castro woes on defense story is going to cause some changes as it is really getting old. I don’t want to give up on that kid, he could hit his way out of forgetting about that error. Someone mention why is he batting 3rd with so little AB’s in ST. Good question. The BP can adjust to this Veras guy where he doesn’t have to close. There was some brilliants b4 him.
    They have to win these close games as most of the time we could get blown out.

    • Required

      Definitely feel we are at s crossroads with Castro. With Baez in AAA and Bonifacio playing solid D, he is more expendable than he was last year.

      • ssckelley

        After 2 games we are not at a crossroads with Castro!

        • Required

          Ya we are.

          • ssckelley

            You might be in your mind but you do not make these types of decisions. There is no way the Cubs FO is at a crossroads with Castro over the past 2 games.

            • TK

              Unless you think the FO intends to punt 2015, then YES Castro is in a sink or swim scenario right now. I think they want to progress this year and next. And its NOT 2 games . . . Its many more than 2. Try 164+. Sure, he’ll some slack based on his abbreviated ST, but a time will come soon when he must start to perform . . . better than last year.

              The prospects are developing and will need to come up at some point so as to not stymie their growth curve. Baez, Bryant, and Alcantara are all near ready, and all are IF. You cannot have an underperforming Castro holding back a stud like Baez, who many are beginning to speak of in similar light to Mike Trout, with respect to all-around greatness. Some are even saying that before long he could be the best player in MLB. And Alcantara also seems to have a game that projects to transfer favorably. I don’t get why y’all insist on holding onto slugs. Yeah, Castro is extremely talented, but you cant delay the progress of the entire organization for one guy . . . Based on emotion.

              Lets purge that Lovable Losers attitude and get on with winning a WS!

              • http://bleachernation.com woody

                164+ ???? Last time i looked they play 162 game seasons.

                • TK

                  If you play dumb, people may just believe you are dumb.

                  • TK

                    Oh . . . ^that^ is what the fortune cookie just said . . . Im just finishing lunch. ;)

      • willis

        Very expendable, but it’s too bad his value has sunk these last couple years. I still think the cubs could get a decent package for him, but not anywhere near what we might have thought a year or so ago.

  • Required

    Oh and I’m not saying send him packing now. If he’s struggling to hit .200 in late May and has 10-15 errors by then, which is not out of the question. Then look at moving him.

    • JeffR

      If he is really performing like that, his trade value would be so low it would be hard to find a taker. Thankfully we are only 2 games into the season and there is no reason to panic as of now.

    • ssckelley

      Castro had 22 errors all of last season! It is highly unlikely he will have 10-15 errors by the end of May.

      Cripes, he botched one last night! Never mind the fact he looked damn good on Monday defensively.

      • Required

        Ok you are correct. The FO will most definitely keep him if he can’t hit his weight. Make a couple of errors a week. With Baez and Bonifacio right there waiting.

  • Required

    I’m not giving up on him yet. I thought he would be be a perennial all star. Maybe our expectations of him were too high. However, we can’t have a SS out there costing us runs when they are going to be hard to come by in the first place.

    • http://BN Sacko

      His value 2 years ago doesn’t matter as we were never going to trade him anyway and doubt we will now. He just has to start hitting again. I have to believe he will. Baez isn’t coming that soon. So he has time to put it together at least hitting wise.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    The main problem I have with Castro is that it pushes Baez to second and that leaves Alcantara as the odd man out unless they decide to make Baez a third baseman. Alcantara strikes me as a guy that could fill the Bonafacio role, but with much better power. We will have to wait and see how sustainable Bonafacio’s success is. But a switch hitting infielder that can hit 15 to 20 homers with power to the gaps and above average speed is not someone we want to miss out on. I think Castro is a good kid, but I question his mental toughness. Some guys can block out all the chatter and rumors better than others. He was psyched out last year and is in grave danger of being so again this year.

    • TK

      I dont expect Castro to be our SS next year. If he dramatically turns things around, i see a trade in his future – for PITCHING. If he continues to struggle, . . . (?) . . . Who knows, but you don’t make Baez learn a new position in favor of a guy who looks totally lost in MLB (assuming he continues with last years performance levels). The FO has made as clear as they possibly can that they intend for Baez to be a SS. You give the spot to your stud & the weak link has to prove he belongs, and (re-)earn a position. When you know something doesn’t work, you try something else. You gotta try Baez and Alcantara. If one of them flops, then if you still have Castro, you give him another shot. This is exactly why we’ve built up so much depth at these positions. We don’t have to stay loyal to an inferior player.

  • TK

    I have a solution for the RISP & LOB problems . . . It will dramatically decrease the frequency at which we fail with runners on base . . . Trade Bonifacio! We’ll be much better as a team as we will strand far fewer runners.

    • http://BN Sacko

      That is a good one.

      • TK

        It is true tho.

  • http://BN Sacko

    Anything could happen before those kids come up. When they do their position will be easy to figure out. As it will be set up before they get here. Injuries, trades and someone could shine down there more then what we expect to come up.

  • Kyle

    Castro got into minor league games for the last week, and batters shouldn’t need that much ST. The length of ST is mostly to allow pitchers to get their arms stretched out. Batters should be fine with a week to get their timing down. I’m not inclined to use the lack of ST as an excuse.

    In 10 PAs, he’s got 1 BB, 2 Ks and 7 BIP. He hasn’t looked great at the plate, but those aren’t the worst results ever. I’d be more worried about the start of a guy like Junior Lake, with his 50% K rate and 50% contact rate on swings.

  • BlameHendry

    #BONERFACIO is unstoppable.

    He’s becoming my favorite offseason acquisition. I don’t know if it’s luck or if he’s really improved his game that much, but I hope he can keep it up and hit over .300 for the whole season.

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