Got to wonder if Alfonso Soriano’s game-winning home run against the Reds last night is his last as a Chicago Cub?
He’s played exceptionally well since resting his tired legs during the All Star break (.279/.319/.581 – 5 HR, 18 RBI), at least well enough to entice a contending team to trade for him this month.
That would obviously be a huge plus for Chicago, but Soriano’s hefty contract ($18M through 2014) and no-trade clause does make it a bit tricky for the Cubs to find the right suitor, as was the case at the non-waiver trade deadline.
That said, there’s still a handful of contenders in need of an offensive upgrade for the stretch run, and but few players available are performing as well as Soriano.
WAS THERE SOMETHING MORE TO SORIANO’S HR?
I’m also wondering if Logan Ondrusek unintentionally lit a fire under Soriano when the pitcher’s apparent irritation with the Wrigley Field mound conditions drew the grounds crew out to manicure the bump in the middle of Soriano’s at-bat?
The entire game to that point had been played under rainy conditions, not once being halted mid-contest to landscape the diamond, and now suddenly the game needed to be interrupted?
Soriano followed by manicuring an Ondrusek pitch into the juniper bushes for the game-winning hit. Nothing quite like a walk in the park after some unnecessary field maintenance
It’s also his 152 career home run with Chicago, good for 13th place on the franchise’s all-time home run list. Andre Dawson is next with 174.
Billy Williams, who sang the seventh inning stretch yesterday evening (and added a nice tribute to Ron Santo beforehand) is third all-time with 392. Ernie Banks’ 512 dingers ranks second behind the one and only, Sammy Sosa’s 545.
CUBS IN FULL SPOILER MODE
The lowly Cubs, losers of eight-straight, appeared to be the cure-all medicine to the Reds four-game losing skid entering last night’s contest.
Instead, the Cubs 5-3 win was a bitter pill to swallow for Cincinnati, whose losing skid extended to a season-high five-straight games.
With the two clubs squaring off eight times in the next 10 days, including last night, fewer than six total wins over the two series is simply unacceptable for a Reds team fighting tooth and nail for a division title.
There’s only eight weeks left in the season and the Pirates and Cardinals won’t feel sorry the Reds are without Joey Votto.
Cincinnati has one more series left against Chicago in September in addition to six more games against Houston, the worst team in baseball. The Reds couldn’t wish for a more favorable schedule to distance itself from Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
So as insignificant as this series appears for the Cubs, if they can do further damage against the Reds in the coming days it could very well be the telling stretch Cincinnati looks back on if they fail to win the NL Central.
I’ve mentioned before one of my chief concerns with Jeff Samardzija is the football mentality he shows at times on the baseball diamond.
It was on full display at San Diego Wednesday night when Shark unsuccessfully tried to bare hand a hit back up the middle and later broke his bat over his knee following a three pitch strikeout.
Neither example took away from a terrific outing, but chances are this type of behavior will come back to bite him in the worst possible way–injury.
WHY BASEBALL ISN’T FOOTBALL
Baseball, as I understand it, isn’t a grunt sport. The emotional element that’s so necessary on the gridiron does little for one’s success on the ball diamond–often the greater the effort, the more production suffers.
Of course, that doesn’t mean baseball players should be absent of passion and focus on the playing field, Samardzija undoubtedly has both, but learning how to channel his emotions from wild beast to quiet assassin is what’s of importance.
It’s where the right kind of effort meets the desired results. It’s about maturity, self control and the understanding that the game of baseball pays little attention to how macho you are.
HATER IN THE HOUSE?
This post isn’t about throwing mud on Samardzija. He’s come a long way in his first season as a starter.
And perhaps, had it not been for his no-quit, football-like approach, he may not have transitioned so well from reliever to starter after the Cubs unwisely bussed him to and from Iowa at the beginning of his career.
The truth is, I’m all for Shark’s emotion. The Cubs, unquestionably, are in desperate need of his energy, his drive, and his desire to dominate opposing hitters. He badly wants to be the staff ace and I love him for it.
Samardzija has all the talent to reach those expectations, but now it’s just a matter of him learning how to wrangle his raw emotions into productivity on the baseball field.
Otherwise, he’s no better off than Carlos Zambrano, who for years self destructed under his own lack of self control.
Now, I’m not saying Samardzija is on El Toro’s level, thank god, but his recent behavior isn’t far from it, either.
I think I just want to see Samardzija succeed as much as he shows us he wants to, and the only thing I see standing in his way is himself.
There’s no question how impactful the Cubs trade for Anthony Rizzo was this offseason.
January 6, 2012: Cubs trade Kyung-Min Na (minors) & Andrew Cashner to Padres for Zach Cates (minors) & Anthony Rizzo.
With just 36 games under his belt, including this evening’s contest at San Diego, it’s evident Theo & Jed knew exactly what kind of super-talented player they were dealing for on January 6, 2012.
Rizzo hasn’t disappointed. In fact, all early indications show the 23-year-old is the long-term fix at first base and the three-hole; and that’s excluding his potential leadership qualities and ability to become the new face of the franchise.
Andrew Cashner, the prized return piece in the deal, is also a very talented player with Rizzo-like potential. But it’s looking more like the soon to be 26-year-old wouldn’t have been of the same value to the Cubs as Rizzo appears to be already.
Injuries, mainly, have held Cashner at bay since the trade. And while all teams are in need of power-arms, there’s something to be said for the Cubs gaining a solid position player to fill an everyday need on both sides of the diamond.
Historically the Cubs and Padres haven’t hooked up on many trades. Rizzo for Cashner is easily the headliner. But here’s a look at some of the other notable trades between the two organizations:
June 20, 2007: Cubs trade Michael Barrett & cash to Padres for Kyler Burke (minors) & Rob Bowen.
July 31, 2006: Cubs trade Todd Walker to Padres for Jose Ceda.
February 12, 1988: Padres trade Rich Gossage & Ray Hayward to Cubs for Mike Brumley & Keith Moreland.
April 25, 1969: Padres trade Dick Selma to Cubs for Frankie Libran, Joe Niekro & Gary Ross.
Last Monday the Cubs posted its most runs scored in a single game this season defeating the Pirates 14-4 at Wrigley Field.
It’s also the last time the Cubs won a game, and the lack of offense has largely been the deciding factor.
The Cubs have been outscored 38-16 during its seven-game losing streak. Twice they’ve been shutout, twice they’ve scored one single run, and had it not been for Adrian Cardenas, it’s highly likely AJ Burnett no-hits the Cubs last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the highly touted Brett Jackson has done nothing but reinforce the worry he strikes out too often (he did so 33% of the time in Iowa) by punching out 8 times in 11 at-bats since his callup Sunday. Josh Vitters hasn’t been much better: 1-for-6 with a double and 2 RBI.
Castro and LaHair, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, continue to struggle going a combined 0-for-7 with one walk and one strikeout last night in San Diego. And Anthony Rizzo posted another no-hit night (0-for-4) dropping his average below .300 (.292).
The west coast road trip can’t end soon enough. The Cubs are (8-13) vs. NL West opponents this year, and all eight wins have come at home.
However, it doesn’t get any easier after today’s series finale at San Diego–the red hot Cincinnati Reds come to town for a four-game set.
Maybe a little home cookin’ is just what the Cubs need to get back on track at the plate?
It recently struck me many of my long-time favorite Cubs are no longer Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster: all gone. Reed Johnson: gone. Carlos Pena, albeit his short stay: gone. Heck, even Sweet Lou: gone.
I’ve grown to like Alfonso Soriano a little more each season, but he’s never been one of my favorites. And there’s not much else to choose from as far as tenure is concerned.
SO WHO IS MY FAVORITE CUBS PLAYER?
David DeJesus is a strong candidate. He’s always been a player who caught my eye, even before joining Chicago this offseason. I appreciate his game, his hustle, his professionalism, but chances are he’s gone by next July’s trade deadline or following the season.
The same can be said for Matt Garza.
Starlin Castro has been a lightning rod among Cubs fans–some want him traded, others want to him stay. I tend to side with the ‘keepers’ and think the Cubs should build around him.
Sure, I like Castro enough, think he’s a legit ballplayer, but not sure he’s a favorite just yet. He at least needs to clean up the mental errors for a start. (Who doesn’t hate mental errors?)
Bryan LaHair was a suitor until, well, he stopped hitting. Carlos Marmol? Dude just drives me insane.
It seems I’ll need to spend the latter half of the season determining who’s my next favorite Cubs player.
Who’s going to be the guy I can count on, the guy who sticks around long enough to see the rebuild through, and help lead our beloved Cubs back to glory?
Of course Anthony Rizzo is a clear favorite. Maybe Travis Wood, too. I’ve always had a soft spot for crafty lefties (I miss you Ted Lilly). Or is it time I switch to a power-throwing right-arm the likes of Jeff Samardzija?
What about Dale Sveum?
Maybe it’s a Brett Jackson or Josh Vitters who catches my eye? Perhaps Jorge Solar steals my heart? I have no idea.
It’s hard to ignore the offensive struggles of Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Tony Campana.
Despite adopting a more disciplined plate approach since the firing of Rudy Jaramillo, which should help in the long run, Castro hasn’t been the same batter that led the NL in hits last season (207).
That doesn’t mean Starlin won’t break out of his funk before season’s end, but we can expect Castro to put together some better quality at-bats. Not to mention, this kid is so super-talented it’s only a matter of time before he settles back into being the Cubs’ premier hitter in the lineup.
Surviving the trade deadline should’ve been LaHair’s golden opportunity to be an everyday player for the Cubs in the season’s second half. Instead, Team Theo opted to promote Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.
The roster move is certain to leave LaHair riding the pine as a role player until he makes the needed adjustments to return to his brilliant hot start to the season, one that earned him All Star honors.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for LaHair is regaining his confidence. It’s vanished over his last 100 at-bats. He looks lost, over-matched and generally defeated at the dish.
Not even Tony Campana can outrun the slump-bug, which is why he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to make room for the arrivals of Jackson & Vitters.
Aside from being a cute base stealing threat, Campana expectedly fell back to earth after his hot start in April.
It’s clearly evident Campana is over-matched by big league pitching–and has been all year. He rarely puts together quality at-bats and what little success Campana has had this season has been fleeting at best.
Both he and the Cubs are best served getting the scrappy lefty more playing time in Iowa vs. sitting the bench on a team with zero need for a pinch-runner.
This post was written on the suggestion of @BullpenBrian Twitter follower Stan Croussett (@MindofStan). These are largely Stan’s opinions with a few of my own contributions included.
If Starlin Castro is such a good bad-ball hitter, then why is the Cubs’ All Star shortstop batting .279 this deep into the season?
Is it a sign he’s regressed since his rookie season of .300/.347/.408, which includes his rookie-record of six RBI in his major league debut?
Such early success paved the way for regression to be easily expected in his sophomore season. And the mere fact Geovany Soto, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, slumped considerably during his sophomore season made Cubs fans more weary Castro might stumble in year two, as well.
However, the young Dominican shined during his sophomore season producing better numbers than he had the year prior .307/.341/.432, in addition to becoming the youngest National League player ever to lead the league in hits (207).
STARLIN STILL A TOP NOTCH HITTER?
Major league scouts remain adamant Castro will soon compete for a batting title. Cubs broadcasters Len Kasper & Bob Brenly echo those predictions while continually noting Starlin is a legit .300-plus hitter, no matter where he hits in the batting order.
But the difference we’re seeing this year with Castro, his third season with the Cubs, is his self imposed learning curve of laying off pitches out of the strike zone.
The new approach has steadily decreased the number of hits Castro use to get poking bloop singles to right field. But curbing his overly-aggressive attack is well worth the plate discipline he’ll gain as his god-given hitting talents naturally decrease with age.
More specifically, it will also help Starlin cut down on his number of strikeouts and further appease the Cubs front office that prefers its hitters grind-out their at-bats.
HOW LONG BEFORE CASTRO BOUNCES BACK?
It’s not unthinkable Castro could rebound in the final two months to raise his average to .300 or above for a third consecutive season, but that’s beside the point.
What’s more important is Starlin taking one step back to take two forward beginning as soon as possible and beyond.
Any worry with Castro’s development shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of Cubs fans; with nearly 1,700 at-bats under his belt we know what kind of super-talented hitter Starlin already is at age 22.
Instead, leave the worries to the rest of the NL, for once Castro gains a greater understanding of the strike zone he’s sure to terrorize the rest of the league.