The Chicago Cubs are in Miami today to begin a four game set against the Marlins. Those of you North Side fans that are in Florida can get an early start to your weekend with this evening’s series opener. The Cubs have struggled throughout the month of April against the likes of the Rangers, Giants, Brewers, and the defending division champion Reds. The hope is some warm weather and a more level playing field against fellow division basement dweller Miami will spark a few wins for the boys in Cubbie blue. With a current record of 6-14, there is no way the Cubs will finish the opening month with even a .500 record, but winning the series in Miami can put the North Siders in position to at least have double digit wins by the end of Tuesday.
To preview the series against the team that ended the Cubs playoff run in 2003, I had an email chat with Ehsan Kassim, editor of Marlin Maniac, the FanSided Miami Marlins site. Ehsan and his deep roster of writers help make sure nothing is missed when it comes to anything and everything Marlins. Make sure to check out their site to get educated on the Marlins. Ehsan’s questions and my responses about the Cubs can be found on the Marlins Maniac page. Below is the exchange I had with him, with topics ranging from the ex Cub connection Carlos Zambrano to a scouting report of the pitchers the Cubs will be facing.
Joe Han: I have to ask. Where did things go wrong with Carlos Zambrano after he was traded to the Marlins prior to last season? Cubs fans were glad to finally be rid of the clubhouse cancer, but there was a part of us that was worried that he would have a comeback player of the year type season to stick it to the Cubs one last time.
Ehsan Kassim: Lets be clear, there were no reported issues with Zambrano and his temper in Miami. Zambrano’s downfall was that he could not find the strike zone. His BB/9 last season sat over 5, while he was striking out under 6.5 hitters per nine innings. Due to the excessive walks, Big Z would rarely work deep into games, sometimes not even meeting the 5-inning mark. Ozzie Guillen had no choice but to pull the plug on Carlos as a starter at the end of July, when he labored and allowed 35 earned runs in his last 41.1 innings. Zambrano, unlike in his time with the Cubs, actually pitched better out of the bullpen. Walks and high pitch counts still killed Zambrano though.
With all the rest of the issues with the 2012 team and the baggage Zambrano carries with him, the Marlins made the wise decision not to bring him back in 2013. Sad ending to a career that had such a promising beginning.
Joe: I see that the Marlins roster is sprinkled with some veterans who have had success in the past, such as Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre. Is it fair to say that Miami is not necessarily in a full rebuild mode? What are a couple of names in the line up Cubs fans should keep an eye on?
Ehsan: The Marlins are in full-rebuild mode. The signing of Juan Pierre seems to be one that was a way to appease Marlins fans, by bringing back a former 2003 World Series hero. The Marlins also had a need in left field with Chris Coghlan struggling to reach the level he was at in his rookie of the year season and with Christian Yelich needing at least half a season at Double-A. Pierre played well last season with the Phillies, but has gotten off to a slow start in 2013. It won’t be soon before Yelich declares himself with a monster season in Double-A and takes over left for the Marlins, delegating Pierre to a bench role.
As for Polanco, the Marlins were in dire need of a third baseman. The team has not employed a capable third baseman since Miguel Cabrera. The team decided to trade top third base prospect Matt Dominguez to the Astros last July for the services of Carlos Lee, with the thinking Hanley Ramirez would man third for the Marlins for the foreseeable future. Alas, that did not work out and the team needed a temporarily third baseman and turned to Polanco.
Derek Dietrich and Zach Cox are two names that could become part of the Marlins future third base plans, but both have their work cut out for them.
Joe: The Marlins and Cubs have both started the season in their respective division’s basements at this point. How do you feel the Miami line up stacks up against that of the Cubs?
Ehsan: Even though he is off to a slow start, I would say that Giancarlo Stanton would be the best bat in either lineup, but that is the only advantage the Marlins may hold. Starlin Castro is clearly better than Adeiny Hechavarria, Antony Rizzo is better than Joe Mahoney, but it would be interesting to see how he would stack up against Logan Morrison, who is still out with an injury.
I have always been an Alfonso Soriano and he seems to me be to be a better option in left field than Juan Pierre right now. Justin Ruggiano and Rob Brantly might also be better than the Cubs options in right and behind the plate, respectively. Overall, the lineups seem to be pretty close to each other, but the Cubs would get the nod in my mind, as they have more players producing early on. The Marlins are off to a cold start, but they have a few pieces that are capable of being solid major leaguers in the future.
Joe: Can you give us a run down of what the Cubs hitters will be going up against in the Marlins rotation?
Ehsan: Kevin Slowey is off to a fast start for the Marlins, as his ERA currently sits a 1.90. He has gotten a bit lucky with runners on base, but still has been more than a capable 4 or 5 starter with a respectable 3.73 FIP. Slowey stays in the zone and does not walk many hitters, but is far from unhittable.
Wade LeBlanc has pitched a lot better than his ERA and record would indicate. He is striking out a career high of 7.71 hitters per nine innings and limiting his walks allowed. Hitters are hitting .397 on balls in play off of LeBlanc, over .100 points higher than his career mark. Once a few balls bounce his way, LeBlanc’s numbers should match his peripherals
Alex Sanabia will go in game 3. He has actually pitched worse than his current 5.09 ERA would indicate. Alex’s WHIP currently sits at an ugly 1.74, due to the high amount of hits and walks he allows. He has been rocked twice and produced two quality starts, but his numbers indicate he should be shelled every time he takes the mound. Henderson Alvarez should be activated soon and take Sanabia’s spot.
Ricky Nolasco gets the ball in the finale. Nolasco enjoyed a strong start in the second game of the Marlins double header Tuesday, despite being upset about being switched from game one to game two without much notice. Aside from one rocky start, the former Cub prospect has actually thrown the ball well this season.
Joe: What are some other names that you think will hit the trade rumor mill as we get closer to July?
Ehsan: The aforementioned Nolasco has already stated his desire to play elsewhere and with the recent news he was upset with the Marlins for not giving him proper notice about his start being flopped, the end of Nolasco’s days in Miami seem inevitable. Steve Cishek is a fan favorite, but with the Marlins unlikely to contend for the next couple of seasons, the team would be wise to check out the market for the closer. He drew raves about his pitching during the WBC and opened some eyes. Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Greg Dobbs, Joe Mahoney, and Logan Morrison could be other players on the block. Do not think Stanton is traded at this years deadline, the offseason is more likely.
Thanks to Ehsan for taking time out to talk to Cubbies Crib. For our followers, please make sure you check out my comments about the Cubs during this chat and drop a comment on Marlin Maniac thanking Ehsan for his input on the Marlins. Here’s to an entertaining series and the best of luck to both teams this season as they both work through a rebuilding year.