Things to Know about the Chicago Cubs

The Mets head out to Chicago this week for a three game set against the Cubs. Here are some things you might want to know about them:

Record: 20-25, 5th place NL Central
Manager: Mike Quade. Lifetime 44-37 managerial record.
Park: Wrigley Field. Windy, hitter friendly park increases runs and home runs.

Quickly . . .
Can they hit? Yes
Can they pitch? No
Can they field? Nope
Who’s their best player? The Cubs don’t really have a best player, so I guess check out Starlin Castro, the 21 year old shortstop. Errant defense, but he hit .300 as a rookie last year and is now batting .323 this year.

Lineup:
RF – Kosuke Fukdome – L
2B – Darwin Barney – R
SS – Starlin Castro – R
3B – Aramis Ramirez – R
1B – Carlos Pena – L
LF – Alfonso Soriano – R
C – Koyie Hill – S
CF – Reed Johnson – R

The Cubs’ offense has been a strange-if-effective group for the first seven weeks of the season. No one stands out, but seven of the eight regulars have on-base percentages better than the NL average of .319, and the one exception, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, leads the team with 11 home runs. The team on-base percentage is .332, third in the league, but this is not a veteran-laden lineup working the count: The Cubs are last in the NL in walks drawn and second to last in pitches per plate appearance. Right fielder Kosuke Fukdome walks, Soriano strikes out and hits home runs, and new first baseman Carlos Pena does all three, but everything else is Single City — few home runs, few walks, and few strikeouts, the Cubs just put the ball in play and see what happens. So far, it’s worked: They’re batting .276 with a .401 slugging percentage, and are 6th in the league in runs per game.

The Mets won’t quite catch the Cubs’ regular lineup, as catcher Geovany Soto and center fielder Marlon Byrd are both on the DL. Soto has a sprained groin and could return this week; Byrd was hit in the face by a pitch on Saturday, a scary play. He should be okay, but he’ll be out for a while.

Rotation:
5/24: RHP – Ryan Dempster (vs. Jon Niese)
5/25: RHP – Casey Coleman (vs. Dillon Gee)
5/26: RHP – Carlos Zambrano (vs. R.A. Dickey)
Miss: RHP – Doug Davis
Miss: RHP – Matt Garza

The Cubs’ rotation has a 5.54 ERA, the worst in the league by nearly a .70 run margin, but there’s reason to think the pitchers aren’t this bad. The rotation’s FIP (an ERA-like statistic that just accounts for walks, strikeouts, and home runs, or events that don’t involve the fielders) sits at 4.12, a mark better than five other NL groups. Injuries to Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, and most recently Matt Garza — scratched from his last start with elbow stiffness — have also hurt. But the ERA-FIP difference isn’t a total manifestation of luck, as the Cubs’ fielders have been terrible. They’re one of the two NL teams to have more errors (35) than double plays (32), and their fielders turn balls in play into outs at a 67% rate, better than just the Astros. The starters may not be quite as bad as the high ERA indicates, but the Cubs, as a team, might really be this bad at preventing runs.

Tuesday’s starter is Ryan Dempster. He’s been fine when he’s kept the ball on the ground, but 1 out of every 5 fly balls he has allowed this season have left the ballpark, resulting in 11 home runs already. Game 2 goes to 23 year old Casey Coleman, whose 6.03 ERA results from an 89 MPH fastball and having as many walks as strikeouts. Thursday’s matinee goes to Carlos Zambrano, whose velocity, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate are all down this season. Fly ball pitchers with control problems generally don’t fare well in Wrigley Field — or really anywhere — and Big Z has a 4.88 ERA on the year, a number that only looks good in comparison with the other starter’s ERAs.

Bench:
C – Welington Castillo – R
UT – Jeff Baker – R
UT – Blake DeWitt – L
OF – Tony Campana – L

The Cubs are running with thirteen pitchers at the moment, but will probably demote a reliever or put Matt Garza on the DL to make room for another outfielder before Tuesday’s game. As for the bench, utility-person Jeff Baker is off to a hot start (.376/.391/.494), while other utility-person Blake DeWitt is not (.231/.250/.333). Rookie outfielder Tony Campana is small (listed at 5’8”, 165), speedy, and has never hit a professional home run, so there’s a 100% chance he’ll be described as scrappy at least once this series. If “Welington Castillo” were listed on a menu somewhere, it would probably be delicious.

Bullpen:
RHP – Carlos Marmol
RHP – Kerry Wood
LHP – Sean Marshall
LHP – James Russell
RHP – Jeff Samardzija
LHP – John Grabow
RHP – Justin Berg
LHP – Scott Maine

A 3.27 bullpen ERA ranks the Cubs relievers somewhere in the middle, but there are omens that it might get worse. They lead all NL bullpens in walks and have allowed a higher percentage of balls in the air than anyone else. Cubs relievers have been good at keeping those fly balls ball in the park so far, but it’s not hard to imagine a few windy days sending more than a few over the ivy — and a lot of baserunners combined with a lot of fly balls is not a good mix in Wrigley Field. The front end of the bullpen has pitched well, as closer Carlos Marmol and his slider (he throws it 60% of the time) have allowed just 11 hits in 21 innings, while setup guys Kerry Wood – somehow just 33 years old — and lefty Sean Marshall have a combined for a 1.91 ERA in 39 appearances. The back end of the pen, on the other hand, has combined for a 4.33 ERA in 87.1 innings — Jeff Samardizaaronheilmandjia has walked nearly a batter per inning.

And those are some things to know about the Chicago Cubs.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Things to Know about the Chicago Cubs

  1. “If “Welington Castillo” were listed on a menu somewhere, it would probably be delicious.” — “Jeff Samardizaaronheilmandjia”

    Man, now I’m wishing I’d come back here a month ago.

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