Frustration is common place for the Chicago Cubs and fans alike…
After dropping their afternoon matinee game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, its becoming apparent whats the problems are.
Plating runners in scoring position is a serious issue for the Cubs right now, who’s team RISP is far from respectable. These issues continued on Saturday as they went 1-7 with runners in scoring position. When you only cash 1 run of a potential 7, it doesn’t take a baseball wizard to realize you’re not going to win many games – especially against an explosive team like the Cardinals.
Its extremely hard to watch Cubs batters put a string of singles together and just leave them out to dry on the base paths. Believe me Cubs fans, I’m right there with you watching and cringing as batters are struck out or roll into double plays. Consistent power hitting is lacking from the Cubs batting order right now as well (ignoring Ian Stewarts 3-run jack and Bryan LaHair‘s grand slam on Friday)
Guys who are trusted to be the pep in the Cubs batting order like Alfonso Soriano, who has yet to put up an extra base hit on the year, simply aren’t putting good wood on the ball enough to have a significant impact. Geovany Soto falls into that category as well batting a dismal .143 and only has 1 extra base hit this year (a triple).
Its a valid question.
Both these guys are absolutely making a mockery of AAA baseball in Iowa. Rizzo is lighting it up posting a .400/.432/.829 with a whopping 1.261 OPS. Not only is he hitting well, he’s hitting the ball hard having crushed 5 HR in only 9 games and cashing in a ton of RBI in the process. Jackson’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive, but are still very solid posting a .265/.359/.471. He’s been rock solid on defense out in center field and his hard work is paying off.
Its very clear that Rizzo and Jackson “get it” at the AAA level. The stats don’t lie.
So why aren’t they getting their major league debuts? The Cubs could use their offense in the lineup right now…
It’s sometimes a difficult answer to process for a fan base that’s been waiting 104 years to win a World Series Championship, but its simply not time yet.
Remember when Theo Epstein said “we’re going to do things the Cubs Way” from now on? This is part of it. Ill explain further:
The Cubs lack strong hitting for example. Most other teams in the MLB – especially in the NL central – could outslug them for days. Part of beating any team with a good hitting core is to be patient at the plate and pick quality pitches. Work the count and capitalize on mistakes that the opposition’s pitchers will make. Yes, there will be strikeouts and failures, but this requires a lot of hitters to completely rebuild their hitting style. Bryan LaHair is a good example of this. He has taken so many first pitch ground outs that I’m shocked opposition pitchers aren’t throwing him a ball first just to see if he’ll swing at it! Im almost certain that Dale Sveum would like to see him change his ways and take a few more pitches during his at bats.
Being patient is going to be key. Good things come to those who wait.
Take Steve Clevenger for example. He saw his first action of the year when Soto needed a day off to rest and has since played 4 games total for the North Siders. He’s been very impressive batting a mamoth .667 AVG, a 1.667 OPS and 1/3 of his hits have been doubles – including two in one game.
Did any fans or analysts out there pick him to have such a hot start? Absolutely not, but the experiment paying off in a big way for the Cubs. What if Welington Castillo had won the backup catching position? Would you have the same results?
Bryan LaHair is another example. He’s batting .350 and slugging a very respectable .750. Most importantly? He’s had an impact when runners have been in scoring position, which is exactly what the Cubs need at this point. LaHair looked like he was going to be a career AAA first baseman until Carlos Pena was shipped off and the job opened up for him. Theo and Jed decided to take a chance and let him prove himself… and its paid off so far. He’s been steady as anyone out there in the MLB (despite his affinity for swinging at the first pitch)
The Cubs have the tools they need within the team itself. It just takes some time for the colors to shine through. That’s exactly what Dalve Sveum, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein see in this team and it gives me a ton of confidence in the future of this franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, guys like Rizzo and Jackson will have their time and will be super-stars in the MLB. But they’re still young and they just don’t have the experience that a lot of the older players do. Its easy to lose sight of the obvious, but AAA is NOT the bigs. Not by a long shot. The amount of pressure that comes with calling a top prospect up to the majors and expecting them to play at an elite level in the MLB is massive. These young guys are fragile and you don’t want to break their confidence should they get out to a weak start in the MLB. From a team perspective, you want them to continue doing what their doing because its bringing them success and once they can harness this control and take it to the next level, they’ll be wearing Cubs Jerseys.
I always take Kyle Drabek as an example of a blown prospect: He was a piece of the Roy Halladay trade from Toronto to Philadelphia. The Blue Jays had him in their system for a brief period of time then rushed him up to the majors to pitch. Whether it was a marketing scheme or the Blue Jays were desperate for pitching, I’m not sure… but he was awful… and he hasn’t been the same “dominant pitching prospect” since. Its a shame to see, really.
(UPDATE: Drabek pitched a nice game for the Jays on Sunday and is 2-0 on the season… I may have to eat my words on this one)
One final note about Rizzo to help solidify my point. He’s hit 5 homeruns, but no extra base hits. Its early in the year, but its safe to assume that he’s out there swinging the bat as hard as he can trying to crush balls over the wall. Not a bad thing when you’re good at it (and he seems to be pretty darn good at it), but it shows off your youth and inexperience. Good experienced hitters know how to take a cut fast ball that jams them up a little, keep their hands in tight and get the barrel of the bat on the ball. Many young hitter would still be trying to pound the ball and would miss swinging. Only experience, time and practice can teach you how to have a real impact on your team.
I really look forward to the day when I see Rizzo standing on first base and Jackson out in center field. But its only April… mid May would be the earliest we’d hear about them potentially seeing major league action.
Remember, a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.