From The Natural:
“We must begin by asking it…”What is losing?” Losing is a disease…as contagious as polio. Losing is a disease…as contagious as syphilis. Losing is a disease…as contagious as bubonic plague... attacking one…but infecting all. But curable.”
Well, it may have been a different day, but it was certainly the same story. The Cubs batters clearly read our Piecemeal Preview for today’s game and went about chasing Gio Gonzalez in the 4th inning. A string of two-out hits in the 4th, highlighted by Reed Johnson’s two RBI triple, put the Cubs in the driver’s seat.
But alas, once the game was turned over to the bullpen, things went south in hasty fashion. It must be said that Rafael Dolis did a nice job in the 7th, and Kerry Wood actually was looking very sharp before surrendering the two-out bomb to David Espinosa that served as the catalyst for a 5-run 8th inning. After hesitating the other day, perhaps it is time to castigate Carlos Marmol. Marmol was his typically wild self, giving up a couple of hits, a couple of walks, and a couple of earned runs without recording an out. Shawn Camp did well finishing things off once the game was already lost. I know there will be calls to give Camp an elevated role (which he very well might deserve), but for me at least, his performance today offers little in the way of predictive value for future performance since he came in after the game had been blown wide open.
And so, returning to opening quote from The Natural. Theo, Jed, this is what you’ve gotten yourselves into. The last sentence of the quote is very short, stating in two simple words (“But curable”) that losing is not an ailment without a panacea. Simple words yes, but many Cubs’ fans would probably choose to punctuate that sentence with a question mark instead of a period. Here we stand, two games in and one hundred-sixty to go and the one constant remains: the Cubs’ unflagging ability to lose, their indefatigable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Two very nice starting pitching performances, yet Dempster and Garza have both been let down by the bullpen in characteristically frustrating style. So, Theo and Jed, your job isn’t just about making all the right personnel moves, it’s about inspiring hope in a fan base and showing us that the final sentence in that quote is indeed a statement and not a question.
Our Piecemeal Preview Series offers a haphazard glance at an upcoming game or series. Not a comprehensive preview; instead only a handful of relevant (or irrelevant) topics will be touched upon.
The Cubs complete the first series of the season with a couple of afternoon games against the Washington Nationals.
On Saturday (12:05) Matt Garza will take the mound, looking to help the Cubs get back to .500 and also get his second season with the team off to a good start. Garza was easily the Cubs’ best starting pitcher last season with a solid ERA (3.32) and superior K/BB ratio (8.95). But due to a lack in run support and several leads blown by the bullpen, he finished the season with a pedestrian 10-10 record. Garza will faceoff against Gio Gonzalez, who is making his Nationals’ debut after joining the team in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics. Last year he produced solid numbers, winning 16 games while posting a 3.12 ERA. While not exactly an elite pitcher, most of the Cubs will have little or no experience facing Gonzalez, which is usually a recipe that favors the pitcher. It will be important for the Cubs to get to him early and put some runs on the board in the first couple of innings.
Jeff Samardzija gets the start on Easter Sunday (1:20). Working out of the bullpen, 2011 was probably Samardzija’s best season with the club. Samardzija impressed enough during spring training to earn a spot in the Cubs’ rotation (and also benefitted from the unmitigated disaster that was Travis Wood). After finally getting his shot to start, Samardzija can ill-afford to get off to a bad start if he hopes to curry favor with the new coaches. Starting for Washington will be Jordan Zimmermann, who like Garza, posted respectable numbers (ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.15) for a mediocre team (ending up with an 8-11 record).
A couple other items to look for:
-It is still unclear whether Bryan LaHair will be ready to make his season debut after being sidelined with a back injury. Look for him to possibly be ready to go for Sunday’s game.
-Carrying only 11 pitchers right now, it is important the Cubs don’t string together a couple of games where the starting pitcher gets chased early. Even though Ryan Dempster’s strong outing on Opening Day meant the middle and long relief pitchers went unused, the Cubs are playing 9 games in 9 days and will not want to head into the Milwaukee and St. Louis series with a depleted bullpen.
-After a rather chilly day on the opener, the weather forecast for the weekend is great. Highs in the mid-60s should make for a couple of great days at the ballpark.
*Stats are from baseball-reference.com.
I’m fairly certain that if Rule 5 Draft pick Lendy Castillo makes the roster, the Cubs will be the first MLB team to ever have a Lendy and a Starlin on the same team. Though I’m pretty sure they’d be the only team to ever have a Lendy, period.
What else is there to know about the uniquely named, 22 year old right handed pitcher? One thing is that Dale Sveum specifically mentioned him today, and built up his chances of making the bullpen:
“That’s going to be an interesting decision for that long guy as well,” Sveum said, sidestepping the question. “Lendy Castillo, our Rule 5 kid, has been throwing great. He acts like he’s been out there before.”
Castillo has been solid so far this spring, allowing only one hit and one run in five innings pitched. He has struck out four and walked three in the process. The Cubs certainly took the converted outfielder from the Phillies system because of his upside. As this article points out, he’s a raw prospect with 94-96 mph velocity.
There seems to be evidence from his minor league stats that he is beginning to control that intriguing stuff. He had a 8.3% walk percentage last year, which would be solid for a reliever. And this went along with a 23.7% strikeout percentage.
I’m still thinking that Castillo is towards the bottom of the list of candidates for the bullpen, and that Sveum might just be trying to keep some intensity in the competition by name-dropping Castillo like he did. I have no idea what kind of motivational ploys Sveum likes, so that obviously just a guess. But this is a new era for the Cubs, and since the Sveum-Hoyer-Theo triumvirate is building from scratch, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see a raw prospect like Castillo make the roster with a strong spring.