Chicago Cubs fans are notorious for jumping on the “player hate” train at the drop of a pin.
It’s swift, often snide punishment that fans unleash upon these athletes, but is it really justified?
March 25, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstopBrent Lillibridge
(20) knocks down a ground ball against the San Francisco Giants in the fourth inning during a spring training game at HoHoKam Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
I’m 100% guilty of this too… so don’t go blowing up my twitter feed calling me a hypocrite. I have enough of that already.
Other than Carlos Marmol being subject to Cub fan’s wrath, we all get frustrated with a poor outings from players or the inability to get a clutch hit with RISP. It’s a natural, human element of sports.
However Brent Lillibridge took that to the next level for the Cubs on opening day. The surprisingly seasoned MLB player went 0/3 at the dish with 3 Ks and booted a ball at second base for an E. Needless to say, it made me appreciate Darwin Barney that much more, who is out with a laceration on his knee that required 5 stitches to repair.
Now, before I go off on Lillibridge and give you the wrong impression about what kind of player he is, he certainly earned his spot on the team this spring. The guy was actually unreal going .313/.327/.563 with a jack, 5 RBI and a stolen bag against what would be considered MLB caliber pitching. Defensively, he was strong as well and showed a lot of versatility playing multiple positions. It looked like Lillibridge was going to be a solid bench infielder for the Cubs who could provide a semi-decent bat as well.
It’s not like he’s ever been known for power either. His stature isn’t that of a power hitter and yet, he managed to send one of the fence in spring ball. Good on you, Mr. Lillibridge. I was thinking that considering his career homerun count (which rests at 19 over a 6 year career) that his swing has been refined over the spring with more loft in order to give the ball a bit more of a ride, which was probably the case.
All assumptions about new swings aside, he looked absolutely lost at the plate on opening day. I’m not talking like “TV series” lost, I mean like my older sister could have taken better at bats, and she barely knows how to swing without falling over. Lillibridge was swing-happy, loved to chase breaking balls, and had some serious timing issues with fastball connection. He went down on 3 pitches more than once.
Watching it happen live honestly took years off my life. It was that painful.
So what did Dale Sveum do? He took him out of the game and replaced him with Alberto Gonzalez, who fared no better striking out in his only AB. In retrospect, it was kind of like throwing the guy who had already drowned a life preserver so that they can safely float his carcass to shore.
So is it time to give up on Lillibridge? Can we use him as a blood sacrifice when the team isn’t playing well?
I’m hesitant to jump on the guy just yet. He does have the ability to be effective as a utility player and his past experience in the majors gives him an advantage over others. Keep in mind, he made an absolutely gorgeous play at second robbing a base hit from the Pirates late in the game which proves he’s not incompetent in the infield.
Lillibridge’s poor opening day performance can be attributed to nerves and a lack of acclimation. No, he won’t be a superstar within the Cubs organization but he can be relied on to fill some gaps at just about any IF position. His experience and small glimmers of awesome defense make me believe in the guy, no matter how much he had me cursing on opening day.
Besides, once Darwin Barney has returned, it won’t much matter anyway.
He can’t do any worse than Carlos Marmol.