By Brady Stiff
The Dan Patrick Show does a segment at the end of every show called “What did we learn?” Dan and his four producers share something they learned from the day’s show, usually something from a guest. Most of the time it’s something funny or sarcastic, but sometimes it’s something they legitimately didn’t know before.
So now that we’re through the first series of the baseball season, I thought I’d take a look at what we’ve learned from the Chicago Cubs.
Obviously, it’s just three games (not to mention the first three games) of 162, but I don’t think that the games are at all meaningless as some have suggested. Every game counts in the standings, whether you’re playing the Nationals or the Phillies. Every year it seems like at least one of the divisions or the Wild Card races comes down to one or two games. The teams who lose those races will look back at the games in April and say, “What if?”
Some of the questions facing the 2010 Cubs…
1. What will happen with the starting rotation?
A lot of people thought that the Cubs’ rotation would be one of the weak points, at least to start the season. With Ted Lilly starting the year on the DL, the Cubs were left with just three legitimate starters returning (Zambrano, Dempster, and Wells). They are counting on the likes of Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny to contribute while Lilly is out.
As I write this, Silva is on the mound against the Reds, and he looks pretty good so far. He’s a guy who pitches to contact and lets his defense do the work. There will be some days where he gets knocked around, but if he can manage to have a .500 record, I think the Cubs would take that.
I actually think, and of course this is based on just one outing from each guy, that the Cubs’ rotation could be better than expected. Yes, I know Carlos Zambrano’s opening day start was awful. He can only go up, right? Dempster and Wells pitched very well in their respective outings, with Wells picking up the Cubs’ first win of the year. Lilly will be back mid-to-late April, and if he can return to form, the Cubs can expect big things from him.
What could be the Cubs’ pitching staff’s downfall is getting the ball to Carlos Marmol, which leads us to our next question…
2. How in the world will they get the ball from the starter to Carlos Marmol?
In reality, this is a good problem to have…sort of. Having to come up with a way to consistently get the ball to your closer means you’re at least in position to win some games. The Cubs definitely have some questions in the ‘pen.
Sean Marshall has pitched in all three ballgames thus far so I would imagine Lou won’t use him tonight. He’s been perfect in 4.1 innings, including 2.2 in relief of Zambrano on Opening Day. He’s been, by far, the best pitcher out of the bullpen.
Esmailin Caridad has been good in limited duty as well, and Carlos Marmol is 1-for-1 in saving games.
Who else can pitch down there though? The Jeff Samardjiza experience isn’t exactly going well, and John Grabow got pinned with the loss in the second game against Atlanta after giving up a homer to Chipper Jones in the 8th.
I know, I know. It’s early and a lot can change. But the fact is, the bullpen has to be better if the Cubs are going to be legitimate contenders this year. They can’t always rely on the starters to go 7+ innings every night (although having Rich Harden off the staff helps the chances of that. Harden’s first start for the Rangers: 3.2 IP, 1 H, 3 R (1 ER), 5 BB, 8 K), and Marshall can’t pitch every game.
3. How will the Cubs score runs?
Look, the Cubs had a bad 2009. Some injuries, some bad luck, and some down years led to a disappointing season. They scored just 707 runs, 148 less than the division-winning 2008 season.
I think they have the potential, yes I said potential, to score upwards of 800 runs again. The middle of their order can be downright dangerous if everyone is hot. I know, that’s a big if, but if I’m a pitcher I don’t want to go through a lineup that consists of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Geovany Soto.
Lee and Ramirez had good years last year. With Ramirez healthy, I think he’s good for at least 30 home runs (he’s got one at the time of this writing). Lee could hit 25 dingers, and I think Soto can get back to his 2008 form. With even decent years from Byrd and Soriano, the Cubs have a lot of run potential.
So far, though, they haven’t had a big offensive game. Byrd’s got two homers, and Ramirez has one. Soto’s only played two games and has one hit. Ryan Theriot just got his first couple of hits tonight (can you hear the STAR-LIN CAS-TRO chants already?). Derrek Lee had only one hit coming into tonight, but he’s added two knocks already.
Odds are, the Cubs are going to have to be able to score to win, unless their bullpen can hold teams down.
So, it’s early, but it’s never too early to start speculating about what the Cubs need to do to win ballgames. Hopefully we’ll get some clearer answers to these questions as time goes on.