Growing up in the 80s and 90s I was a Braves/Cubs fan. I liked the Braves cause my Dad did, but I liked the Cubs because my favorite player was Ryne Sandberg. I wanted to play 2B/SS in little league just like Ryno, and was disappointed every time I played LF or pitched.
I collected every Ryne Sandberg baseball card I pulled from a pack of cards or could trade for. I had t-shirts, jerseys, pictures, posters any and everything of him. I honestly could not tell you why at the age of five or six I chose him as my favorite, but I never wavered.
Flash forward to the present. I bought tickets for the Louisville Bats game on May 12, without knowing much about who they played. The night before the game I read a Twitter post via @LouisvilleBats of Ryne Sandberg signing before the game. I had forgotten Sandberg was the Phillies AAA manager and the Bats were playing them at home. I was pretty excited at the chance to meet my childhood idol.
I’m not one to ask for autographs or to hound a celeb when I see them, but I had to make an exception for Sandberg. I arrived at the field two hours before the game started, stood in line for an 1:15 prior to him coming out and yes, even asked for an auto on my Sandberg shirt. I couldn’t help myself.
It’s been a pretty cool season so far as a Cubs fan: winning tickets to opening day, meeting Paul Maholm, winning another pair of Cubs tickets for the May 20th game (which I could not attend, so I did not accept the tickets), meeting my idol Ryne Sandberg and being able to share all these experiences with all you Cubs fans.
And I have insider scoop, Ryne will be at Ron Santo’s induction; as if that wasn’t expected, but I heard it straight from the source…
Since the Cubs are rebuilding, many discussions have been held on who should stay and who should go. Here is my take:
1. Dempster: For teams who are legitimate World Series contenders, Dempster would be a great addition for any team in need of an improvement to their staff. His stock is high at this point, as he is pitching lights out. But he is aging and maybe has two good seasons left. Epstein should be looking to acquire a closer or a highly sought after young SP with great potential.
2. Soriano: Like Dempster, Soriano is aging and nearing the end of his career. He could benefit any team in need of an experienced bat and outfielder either due to improvement at position or injuries. The Cubs won’t get a great deal for him, but acquiring developmental players at key positions is worth the risk.
3. Soto: With Clevenger showing signs of promise, and Castillo serving as a backup, the Cubs could move Soto for developmental players, but more-so to free up money. I think the risk is worth the possible reward.
4. Wood: I really hope Kerry will retire as a Cub by the end of the season. He has shown devotion, loyalty and love for this organization and it’s fans. But his body cannot handle the big leagues anymore. But if he is unwilling to retire, than he has to be sent down or cut.
5. Marmol: He just needs to go and I don’t care where. The Cubs won’t acquire much for him, but Sveum could use a new razor.
The Cubs bullpen has caused many heartaches, gray hairs and collective breaths to cease. Dempster and Garza pitched gems in the first two games of the 2012 season, carrying late game leads against the Nationals, while Cubs fans helplessly watched as the bullpen seemingly gave the games away. From this moment on, fans have been overly critical and skeptic whenever a reliever begins to warm-up.
The bullpen is 3-7, with 4 SV, a 3.90ERA, in 80.2IP. Collectively, the have allowed 70H, 35ER, 45BB, 6HR and struck out 61 batters. Most notably, the bullpen has given away 3 games in which the Cubs should have walked away with a win, squandering the lead late in a game. They have also been credited with 4 additional losses when the game has either been tied or the Cubs held a 1-run lead.
To Manager Dale Sveum’s credit, he has given every player on the active roster time to adjust to the 2012 season before making any roster moves. However, Marmol’s latest meltdown prompted Sveum to finally address the bullpen woes.
After Marmol single-handedly cost the team yet another win in a 3-4 loss to the Reds in extras, Sveum announced a change at the closer position, designating Russell and Dolis as a closer-by-committee duo.
Three righties: Dolis, Bowden and Camp, and a lefty: Russell, are now the perceived bullpen rotation. The four relievers have a combined record of 3-3, a 2.37ERA, allowed 14ER, 15BB and 30SO in 48.0IP. In last nights’ come from behind victory, Camp, Russell and Dolis combined for 5.0IP, allowing 3H and no runs or walks. This is exactly how the bullpen needs to conduct business day-in and day-out.
The Cubs batters have proven the ability to get hits and score runs throughout the season, as the team has yet to be shutout. The pen allowed for the hitters to come through late in the game, tie the score and ultimately win in extras. Had the pen been able to perform in this manner earlier in the season, the Cubs could be sitting atop the NL Central, with a record of 18-10.
I would still like to see the Cubs acquire a more experienced closer, one who has confidence and can also mentor a young future potential closer. But for now, at least Sveum finally booted Marmol and I’m certain the front office is looking for trade potentials. I just hope Russell and Dolis can carry the load for the interim.
In an expected move, the Cubs traded CF Marlon Byrd to the Boston Red Sox for RHP Michael Bowden (RP). The move signaled an important stepping stone for the 2012 season and beyond: Theo Epstein and company are watching the season and are willing to make moves.
Epstein’s rebuilding theme has continued into the first month of the 2012 season. He moved an aging Byrd, who is struggling this season, for a young relief pitcher in a system which is in dire need of bullpen help. The move is encouraging as many fans agree that Byrd is on the decline of his career and the team needs to build for the future. With the glaring focus beginning with the bullpen.
The Cubs bullpen carries a dismal 4.63 ERA (26th in the league), allowing 24 ER (6th most in the league), issuing 29 walks (tied for 3rd most in the league), a WHIP of 1.56 (26th in the league) and is credited with 5 loses (tied for 2nd most in the league). Had the bullpen not blown those leads, the Cubs would be 9-7, 2nd place in the NL Central and giving the Brewers and Reds both an additional loss, rather than wins.
Epstein and Ricketts know the numbers as well, this being why they made the trade and were willing to swallow a large portion of Byrd’s remaining contract. The organization is focused on the future; something many fans of the Cubs are not accustom to.
This move should be an indicator of additional issues the Cubs ownership should be addressing sometime within this season, such as:
The lack of a power hitter – The team is ranked last in the entire league for home runs hit with five (5). Even the Pirates have hit more home runs, who boast the worse offense in the league. Many fans are pleading for Rizzo and Jackson to be called up to the majors, but Gordon Wittenmyer interviewed Epstein who indicated the organization is waiting to move either player to the majors. Brian Davis and Andy Behrens further suggest the organization should wait to move either player with statistical analysis to support their reasoning. These reports would indicate Epstein and his staff will look at possible trades throughout the season to solve this problem.
An aging roster – The Cubs roster has eight players who are over the age of 30; six of which will be over the age of 35 before the All-Star break. Young promising talent is crucial for the development of this ball club within the next three years and into the next decade. Epstein developed such a talent pool in Boston and will likely carry on this tradition within the Cubs organization. The trade of Byrd was the first step in this direction.
It’s encouraging to see the organization recognize glaring problems and addressing them within the first month of a long season. I’m certain the ownership will continue to make moves to improve the Cubs in the years moving forward.
Only time will tell.
We as Cubs’ fans have learned through the years that it’s tough being a fan of our beloved team. From the longest non-championship drought in sports history, the countless number of losing seasons, the humiliating defeats, the bitter taste of the 2003 NLDS; the list is endless. But on personal level, the toughest part of being a Cubs’ fan is the constant trash talking.
I’m not talking about the meaningless banter of “the Cubs suck” or “the Cubs’ fans are losers.” I’m referring to the trash talking that is based on facts, especially from fans of winning teams.
Being that I live in Kentucky, I unfortunately work with a lot of fans from the NL Central. Fans of the Cardinals and Reds are strongly represented throughout my work place and I am not a closet Cubs fan, which comes at a price.
The typical water cooler sports talk involves the latest news of our teams, which I unfortunately am very limited with reporting positive news of the Cubs. But I have enlightened others to the performance of the starting pitchers, the play of a few players and the development of the AAA players. But the razing quickly ensues.
Comments like: “the Cubs have been rebuilding for 103 years,” “the last time the Cubs won the World Series [insert factual information from the early 1900’s here],”the Cardinals have won 11 World Series since the Cubs won their last,” etc. There is nothing I can retort with and all these statements are true facts!
But, as I have for the past 20 plus years being a Cubs fan, I remain loyal, faithful, committed and hopeful of our Cubs. I take the jabs on the chin and appreciate the clever, thoughtfulness of some comments, and keep on trucking. This is why Cubs fans are the best fans in the world.
So while the Cubs may lose 100 plus games this season and cause us to hang our heads in humility, I’ll continue to support our Cubs and patiently wait for the Cubs to end this amazingly embarrassing losing streak.
In Theo we trust!
I have read many discussions of pledges Cubs’ fans will make for the 2012 season through the Master Card “Priceless Chicago” campaign. But an article written by Sarah Spain (Sports Center Anchor for Chicago’s ESPN1000 and a reporter for ESPNChicago.com) inspired me to make a pledge as well.
Spain’s article, Fans tie on-field success with off-field antics, makes a personal pledge to run a mile for every Cubs’ win by the end of the season. This pledge encourages her to regain the status of being a runner after being laid off due to injury. I suggested to Spain that she incorporate a charity fund-raiser; some monetary donation for the miles she runs, etc. But if I’m willing to make a suggestion for a pledge, shouldn’t I be willing to do the same?
For every Cubs’ win during the 2012 season, I pledge to:
1) Run 1 mile. I will complete these miles from the end of the Cubs’ season to the beginning of the 2013 season.
3) If by some miracle the Cubs’ win the World Series, I will donate $500 to each of the above charities.
I encourage all of you to make a pledge of some sort to the Cubs’ 2012 season. Further, I encourage fellow Cubs’ fans to support these charities by making some sort of donation (either on your own or through my pledge).
If the Cubs’ end this terrible 103 season streak, my bank account will be a little lighter…
Go Cubs, Go!
Cubs’ fans know, just as the previous 103 seasons, this is likely not the year. Expectations of ending the longest drought of a professional sports team without a championship is unlikely to occur during the 2012 MLB season. However, amassing countless number of losses is greatly unacceptable. Many fans would be grateful if the Cubs finish one game above .500, but doubt this will likely happen (read Bullpen Brian’s post of the subject here). I simply ask the Cubs to be contenders in each game, playing one game at a time and giving the fans the best possible lineup from our club for each game. Here are my two suggestions to Dale Sveum and the Cubs’ ownership that need to change now!
Improve the Bullpen
Every game when the Cubs have a lead and Wood comes in as the setup man and/or Marmol comes in as the closer to get the win, Cubs’ fans will be holding their collective breathes all season long; I’m sure the organization and coaching staff will do the same. The issue is these two pitchers are the veterans of the bullpen. If, and when, one of them struggles, the depth of experience within the pen is cut in half. And if both of these pitchers struggle as we’ve seen in the first two games of the season…!?
The Cubs recently called up Rodrigo Lopez, a 10-year veteran righty who made his season debut last night (2IP, 0H, 0ER, 1K, 1BB) and also have Shawn Camp, an 8-year veteran righty who is 0-1 in relief appearances this season (3.1IP, 7H, 3ER, 3K, 0BB). But both pitchers are 36 years-old, likely nearing the end of their careers and are not a longterm solution.
The Cubs have three active relief pitchers with a combined three years of experience in Lendy Castillo (23), Rafael Dolis (24) and James Russell (26). The three relief pitchers have combined for 6.1IP, 1H, 1ER, 5BB, 4K, 1.00ERA, 0.86WHIP. The trio has promising numbers, well, at least better than Wood and Marmol have performed so far this season. If the Cubs’ organization is not going to pursue options outside of the organization, then Sveum should focus on developing these pitchers throughout the season to establish potential setup men and/or a future closer.
Reorder the Batting Lineup
Many analyst/fans agree Starlin Castro is a great player and possible future star at shortstop, but he is in wo-way shape or form a #3 power hitter. I believe the theory behind Sveum placing Castro third in the batting order is in belief if the first two batters get on base and Castro can duplicate his batting average from 2011 (.307: 207 of 674), than the Cubs will ultimately score runs often. However, my arguments for moving Castro back to first in the order are as follows:
1) The third position in the batting lineup should be a guy who can physically handle the position, but more importantly, mentally affect the game. He should rattle the nerves of an average pitcher from the opposing team, while also giving you the potential for late game heroics. Castro does not have this effect. He only hit 10 home-runs in 2011 with 674 AB. The power to hit balls out of Wrigley with the wind blowing in is not there and the intimidation he projects is less than many batters in the same position (as seen in the 9th inning against the Brewers).
2) Castro had 24 stolen bases throughout 2011 and has the speed to improve on this number for 2012. Granted Castro has four stolen bases within the first week of the season, his attempts will be limited throughout the season if even one batter ahead of him reaches base. With the aggressive base running Sveum wants to use, Castro could easily be in scoring position before the second batter even leaves the box. This would greatly improve the potential for runs being scored within the first inning and thereafter. He would also intimidate pitchers by his on-base presences and potential for stealing bases.
3) With his .307 batting average from 2011, Castro is bound to reach base. Soriano has hit 20+ home-runs in each of his last 10 seasons and is currently batting a .353 with four RBIs. Soriano has the power and presences needed that a #3 hitter HAS to have. He intimidates pitchers and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of his bat. He has the experience and confidence to bat in that position with runners in scoring position.
As I stated, realistic Cubs’ fans don’t hold high expectations for this season, however, that doesn’t mean a high number of losses this season will be easily tolerated. This fan would like to see the perviously mentioned changes to occur sooner than later, especially the reshuffling of the batting order.
What are your thoughts?