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wrigley field from right bleachersThe Cubs will need Carlos Villanueva to do a little better in the rotation than he did last week out of the bullpen, but, more importantly, the Cubs’ bats will need to finally do some damage against an opposing pitcher. In this case, it’s A.J. Burnett, who was quietly all kinds of fantastic for the Pirates the last two years. He was solid, if unspectacular in his first time out this year, after a rough Spring Training.

Flame away, but I love today’s lineup. A.J. Burnett does not have a strong career split, but last year, lefties posted an OPS nearly 200(!) points higher on him than righties. He had a pretty healthy split in 2012, too, so I’m wondering if we’re seeing it become more prominent as he ages (he’s 37 now).

Today, he’ll start the game with five consecutive lefties. I dig it, and I also dig putting Starlin Castro lower in the lineup against a tough righty. Castro broke out a bit yesterday, but this is still very much his Spring Training (and, frankly, I’m not convinced that, long term, the 6/7 range in the lineup isn’t the best spot for him). Sliding him down in favor of the lefties is totally fine with me.

I’ll have more thoughts on the platoon situation tomorrow, and although I’m obviously very pro giving Mike Olt and Junior Lake consistent looks this year, I’m also understanding of Olt’s shoulder situation, Luis Valbuena’s flipability, and Ryan Kalish’s upside.

As I said, flame away. When the Cubs fail to score again today, you can blast me. (And I’ll just say something about bad luck and sample sizes, and then we can be friends again.)

Game Info

Philadelphia Phillies (3-2) at Chicago Cubs (1-4), 1:20 CT on WGN.

Game Thread and Series Preview

The Game Thread lives here. And, of course, for those who aren’t into message board-style game threads, please feel free to use the comments on this post for your in-game commentary/outbursts.

The Series Preview lives here.

Starting Pitchers

A.J. Burnett (1.50 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 5.16 xFIP; 1.50 K/BB)

versus

Carlos Villanueva (13.50 ERA, 11.43 FIP, 3.58 xFIP; 1.00 K/BB)

Philadelpia Phillies Lineup

1. Ben Revere, CF

2. Jimmy Rollins, SS

3. Chase Utley, 2B

4. Ryan Howard, 1B

5. Marlon Byrd, RF

6. Domonic Brown, LF

7. Carlos Ruiz, C

8. Cody Asche, 3B

9. A.J. Burnett, P

Chicago Cubs Lineup

1. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B

2. Ryan Kalish, LF

3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

4. Nate Schierholtz, RF

5. Luis Valbuena, 3B

6. Starlin Castro, SS

7. Ryan Sweeney, CF

8. John Baker, C

9. Carlos Villanueva, P

  • ssckelley

    Nice to see Kalish in the lineup with Bonifacio, that is a lot of speed at the top. Perhaps it can manufacture a run today.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Hey! That’s basically the lineup I asked for this morning- great minds think alike … Or not

  • dumbledoresacubsfan

    It’s starting to piss me off that every time the Cubs play on WGN Olt’s not in the lineup. hahaha

    Here’s to a win today.

    • Required

      Did we just become best friends!? Thought the same thing.

      • dumbledoresacubsfan

        Ha! +1

  • Lou Brown

    I wonder how much Villanueva is going to have today. Two appearances, with warm ups and all, seems like a bit much. And he didn’t really look that good in those appearances. I was hoping they would just pull someone up for a spot start.

  • 5412

    Hi guys,

    I want to draw you attention to something. Back in the days of Pinella we used to get all bent out of shape in April and much of May. It was particularly noticeable when he would play veterans and we would be chomping at the bit for some kids (who we obviously knew were better, like Theriot) to get to show what they could do.

    Then in late May, Pinella would start working with an every day lineup based on who produced and who did not. At one point the newly minted $4 million shortstop took a spot on the bench and Theriot started.

    Personally I feel I learned from watching Pinella. If this same crap is going on in June, I will be the first on the bitching bandwagon. For now, let’s just let it play out for awhile. If guys do well on their platoon day, then they get more playing time. They will earn it and if things follow the Pinella example it will be pretty clear by the end of May, if not earlier.

    regards,
    5412

  • itzscott

    Just wondering from a statistical standpoint if a poor hitting lefty shows better results than a better hitting righty when facing a right handed pitcher?

    Do the left handed hitters in the Cub lineup today possess better averages than their right handed teammates when facing right handed pitchers?

    • DocPeterWimsey

      That depends completely on their splits. However, a “poor hitting lefty” probably isn’t in MLB unless he is a real whiz with the glove: if you don’t hit 2/3rds of the starting pitching well, then you don’t get far in professional ball. (This also is why a lot of LHB get to MLB despite not hitting lefties well: mashing 2/3rds of the opposing pitchers buoys their overall stats.)

      • itzscott

        Well then, in today’s Cub lineup, do the LHBs indicate better results against RHPs than the RHBs they are replacing?

        • itzscott

          Just wondering if there’s any deeper thought process RR uses to justify his platooning other than the general consensus that LHBs do better against RHPs or if he drills a little deeper by gauging the success of each batter against RHPs and/or Burnett specifically?

        • DocPeterWimsey

          That’s hard to state given the sample sizes involved for some of the players. The most obvious contrast would be Valbuena & Olt. Olt posted a 0.930 OPS in 2012 against RHP: but in AA. Valbuena posted a 0.715 OPS against MLB righties in 2013.

          (Of course, there are the competing issues of Olt’s shoulder and showcasing Valbuena’s bat as well as his glove: a guy who can post a 0.700+ OPS against RHP and play 2nd is worth something on the trade market.)

          It looks like we also have Kalish over Lake. Kalish is hard to gauge because of his injury history; *if* he can pick up where he was before those, then he obviously projects to hit better in general than Junior Lake (who projects to K at levels that look appalling if you are unaware of Brett Jackson!).

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That’s actually a fantastic, general question about platoons. For today’s lineup, the obvious outlier is Baker – but he’s in to give Castillo a rest, not necessarily because of the platoon advantage.

      Some of the other guys, it’s hard to answer because of small sample sizes (Kalish versus Lake, Valbuena versus Olt).

      You’d never platoon Ryan Braun against righties just because some lefty scrub on the bench hits righties better than he hits lefties (unless he hits those righties far better than Braun hits ‘em, which is unlikely).

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Moreover, if there is a lefty on the Brewers bench who hits righties better than Braun does, then that guy is starting 2/3rds of the time over some other player and causing arguments about whether the manager needs to let said get extended PAs against LHP! (See LaHair, Bryan, for the closest recent example of which I can think.)

      • 70′s Cub

        One problem with to many platoons in one game by the 6/7th innings the other team has the advantage on bullpen matchups. Dale got his az handed to with the all lefty lineup as the Cub had no left handed pinch hitters. For example it may be likely today that OLT/Barney/Lake may have to face a tough right handed pitcher.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I’m not sure I’d be bothered by an 8th inning lefty/lefty matchup that I’ve got to accept if, in exchange, I got three lefty/righty matchups before that.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Right, and that gets to the whole problem of worrying about the 7th and 8th innings over other innings. Baseball is not some infralapsarian drama in which it is destined to come down to one pitcher and one batter in the 7th or 8th. Runs scored in the first 6 innings make the situation meaningful (or meaningless) then: and the vast majority of games have the deciding runs scored by that time. (The team that holds the first lead wins the majority of baseball games.)

            So, if you sacrifice run-scoring in the first six innings for that great matchup later, then you probably are going to be behind in the score (or winning by only 1 instead of 2) late in the game.

  • Jon

    James Tallion to have TJS, damn…,

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It can happen any time to any pitcher, man. Sucks for Pirates fans and for Taillon. No real warning there until this injury.

    • Henry Rowengartner

      Pick him up!

    • itzscott

      Future Cub

      • YourResidentJag

        Actually, if Brett’s correct, Billingsley (a SP of this nature) may very well be a great pickup in FA next year for the Cubs, provided he performs well this yr and hits the FA market.

    • ssckelley

      This is why I am hoping the Cubs take the top position player this June. Let the others take a chance on the top arms with the high draft picks.

      • NorthSideIrish

        It would definitely feel safer taking a bat after all the pitcher injuries we’ve seen this spring, but I’m not sure there’s a bat worth taking at 1.4. Alex Jackson is the only one in the conversation right now and he’s got future position questions. Zimmer might be the only other bat in the Top 10 and right now looks like a reach at 4. Still three months to go, so a lot will change, but the top of this draft is definitely pitching heavy.

        • ssckelley

          The only question on Jscksons position is possibly moving him into the outfield to move his bat through the minors quicker. If Jackson is available at 1.4 I hope they grab him.

  • http://www.draftday.com udbrky
    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Was in the Bullets this morning. Glad the Cubs stayed away from that whole thing.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    I’m liking this discussion also. I look forward to the day when we only think of matchups when hitting for the pitchers.

    We want a roster full of everyday players and a bench full of pinch hitting specialists. Renteria said Rizzo plays every day. So does Castro. We have six more position players to go to the point a guy gets an off day for a rest.

    Regards,
    5423

    • itzscott

      I’d love to see that again too, but we live in an era of probabilities, risk and how that translates to predictability.

      Baseball, as in just about everything else in life is trying to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

      So we rely on statistics out of the fear of the unknown.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Miami is in first place in NL East. Go fish! I was looking at the schedule and it’s pretty brutal for the whole month. It was a relief to see Castro have a good day yesterday. Let’s hope that Rizzo can get it going soon. I wonder if Riz continues to struggle with lefties, then maybe Happy would play Olt at first against tough lefties? Probably not since that would leave Valbuna at third against a lefty. The problem with this platoon of lefties against righthanded pitching is that it take Olt and Lake out of the lineup, and those are two guys that have the potential to go yard or shake the game up offensively. I would be more optomistic about todays game if Villanueva wasn’t pitching. Not that he is awful or anything, but he’s likely to give up some runs and we can’t afford to get into a shoot out with this offense.

  • TonyP

    Hey Hey!!!!

  • Diehardthefirst

    From my lips to Ricks ears- wonder if I can do lineup every Sunday?

  • C. Steadman

    Too bad Boni wasn’t on 2B, could’ve used a boost to our AVG RISP..haha

    • ssckelley

      Castro baby!

      • C. Steadman

        Yeah baby!

        • ssckelley

          Hey, did you see Jeimer got one yesterday?

          • C. Steadman

            Yeah, hey I hope I lose that bet! Means good year by Jeimer!

            • C. Steadman

              *great year actually

            • ssckelley

              No doubt!

              Don’t worry, I drink cheap beer. Well except in Wrigley!

              • C. Steadman

                Then we’ll catch an I-Cubs game instead. :) Where in Iowa do you live, we could maybe catch a Cougars game in Cedar Rapids.

                • ssckelley

                  Small town by Waterloo. I will be heading to Des Moines when it warms up and will be catching a few Kernel games when the Cougars come to town.

                  • C. Steadman

                    Okay, I’m originally from Pella, but now live in the Chicago burbs with hopes of moving closer to Wrigley when my lease is up in July. Once we find out what Jeimer does, maybe catch a September game at Wrigley or catch a I-Cubs game next year to fulfill the bet.

                    • ssckelley

                      Works for me, it will be fun to track.

                    • C. Steadman

                      Yeah, good friendly wager on an intriguing prospect.

  • roz

    Vitters with another hit out at Iowa. Hopefully he keeps hitting this way and forces himself up to Chicago sooner rather than later.

    • ssckelley

      If Ruggiano does not get the job done we might see Vitters sooner rather than later. I had hoped the Cubs would have given Vitters a longer look in spring training.

      • mjhurdle

        Vitters has hit and hit well at every level in the minors. if he can stay healthy and do a passable job in LF, then I think/hope we see him up soon.

  • ssckelley

    Nice job by Schierholtz to get Kalish home.

  • C. Steadman

    Brown took a terrible route and failed to get behind it, good job by Rizzo to tag and advance.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Brown didn’t “take a bad route”: he thought that the ball was going to land 20 feet closer to home plate than it did. The ball might be carrying a bit better than players are anticipating today: the CFer & RFer both clearly thought that Kalish’s drive was not going as far is it did, too.

      I like what Schierholtz did there: he didn’t just try to get the ball in the air, he was really trying to drive the ball. Similarly, Sweeney’s SF was a line drive. A team will get more SF by not trying to get hits with men on third than by trying to “just get the ball airborne” with men on third.

      • C. Steadman

        Brown played it wrong and should’ve gotten more behind it, they had fielding practice before the game and they should know the ball is carrying more. He let the wind play him.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Shagging hit balls before the game is nothing like chasing down balls hit off of live pitching, particularly balls hit to the opposite field. Those often carry a bit further back (as well as hook) considerably compared to balls hit by a standing batter. (This is true even in beer league softball: it’s even more true in baseball where the speed and spin of the pitch affects the spin on the batted ball considerably.)

          Again, the big issue with playing the OF is your instantaneous read off of the bat. It’s not unlike batting: you swing at where you think the ball is going to be when it’s 10′ from the pitcher’s hand, and you run to where you think the ball is going to land as soon as it leaves the bat. “Bad routes” are guys misjudging the ball and having to alter their destination as they run: all OFers are running straight to where they are triangulating the ball to land (or be catchable) at all times.

          • C. Steadman

            ” all OFers are running straight to where they are triangulating the ball to land (or be catchable) at all times.”

            Fine, he read it wrong. That was a lazy fly ball that he could easily gotten behind to prevent Rizzo from tagging. As an outfielder you are taught to run behind where you think the ball is going to land when there’s runner(s) on to get forward momentum. Brown obviously didn’t have forward momentum to generate a strong, accurate throw and Rizzo took advantage. You should know the wind is going to carry the ball, but Brown played it wrong and gave up a base.

  • TonyP

    There is a hit with RISP!!!

    • C. Steadman

      woo! 1-1 and a SF!

  • roz

    CASTRO!!!

  • spearman

    Way to get out in front and that ball, Starlin. Nice ab’s so far.

    • spearman

      And drive!

  • C. Steadman

    Highest scoring game of the season and we’re only in the 1st! Baseball!

  • ssckelley

    Another good piece of hitting by Sweeney.

    RBIs baby, woo hoo!

  • TonyP

    Gap one here Baker!!! Get all we can before Burnett settles in.

    • TonyP

      Barreled it, just right at SS.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        All three of the Cubs outs were pretty well hit. In a way, it’s the opposite of what we’ve seen the last couple of days where their outs and hits were generally poorly hit.

  • willis

    How nice is this to see? Been a long time coming.

    I know the law of averages will catch up, but I just love Bonafcio at the top.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    Wow, two extra-base hits and three walks in one inning. You don’t need “clutch” hitting to score a few if you can do that.

  • Jason P

    Even though Castro didn’t look very good getting his 3 hits yesterday, maybe the positive outcomes were all he needed to get his confidence back and get in a groove. He smoked that double in his first at bat today.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Castro often doesn’t look “good” hitting the ball, particularly when he goes the other way. His swing never has been “pretty”: there is a lot of body movement and he’s always looked awkward leaving the batters box. However, there doesn’t seem to be much association between how pretty Castro’s swing is and how effective it is.

      • Jason P

        That ball he hit in the first was a pretty swing (granted, it was pulled). When Castro’s on, even if he doesn’t have the greatest mechanics, he gets his body around well and drives the ball to all fields. When he’s off, there are a lot more strikeouts and “reach” swings, where he just kind of sticks his bat out and makes weak contact.

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          I think Castro is going to be OK and his confidence should be bolstered by this game and the last one. I am more worried about Rizzo since he doesn’t have that many seasons under his belt to make projections. I think that Castro’s last season will prove to be an outlier. The thing I have noticed is that the Phillies left handed hitters have been taking the ball to left field with regularity. It seems as though Rizzo is not going to get a lot of pitches over the plate so he needs to hang in and take that outside pitch the other way. He seems to struggle with the pitches on the inner half of the plate He’s either pulling the ball foul or grounding into the shift.

    • ssckelley

      That double he hit was a text book swing.

  • willis

    Nice shut down inning by Villanueva. Man if he can give the cubs 5ish solid innings today. What a first week he’s had.

  • Karl Groucho

    Finally getting our due — what a great Sunday.

  • C. Steadman

    We need to really stop getting picked off at first, our OBP suffers enough without having to make it worse by erasing baserunners. Hopefully as the season goes this cleans up.

  • BABIP

    I like Castro in the 6 spot in the lineup. He is not a great on base guy but still a quality hitter is he is on. There is less pressure on him, but he can still really produce a lot of offense there. Then in return we can put more of an OBP guy in the 2 spot such as Kalish against the RHP.

    The Nationals put Ian Desmond in the 6th spot and he really took off as well…he is kind of the same sort of lower walk player but with more power than Castro.

    • Mike

      Yep, I’ve always said I like him in the 5 or 6 spot. He would definitely improve our RISP numbers alone if he was hitting there consistently. Less pressure on him to put up a good OBP too. I like the Ian Desmond reference, they are very similar hitters with Ian probably have more power and Castro a better contact guy.

  • Jason P

    Len Kasper said in the broadcast that James McDonald is Darnell McDonald’s cousin. I never knew that.

    • ssckelley

      Yes, and he had a brother Donzell who played briefly for Kansas City.

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