July 18, 2008

Cubs mid-season review

I meant to do this a few days ago, given the baseball-starvation period that was the All-Star break, but here's my recap of the first half and a look forward.

Record: 57-38 (Tied with LAA for best in baseball)

Runs Scored: 507
Runs Allowed: 401
Pythagorean Projection: 57.9 - 37.1
Difference: -0.9
3rd Order Runs Scored: 475
3rd Order Runs Allowed:406
Pythagorean Projection: 54.5 - 40.5
Difference: 2.5

Odds of making playoffs (3rd order wins): 92%
Odds of making playoffs (PECOTA): 94%

Offense: The Cubs can score some runs. They've scored the most runs in the National League - even more than Philly's homer-happy lineup in their homer-happy park, and are second only to Texas in all of MLB. For all the Soriano haters out there, we've really missed him for the past month. All that playing time that went to the likes of Reed Johnson (should only be used vs Lefties) and EPatt/Murton/DeRosa was not nearly the production we see out of that slot...and the defense made Soriano's occasional lapses look less bad. DeRosa's bat plays well as a 2B, but as a LF he's adequate at best offensively and defensively. However, we didn't lose too much with Fontenot filling in for DeRosa (though I still wish that we saw more Cedeno). Cwyer's post over on GROTA has changed my mind about Fontenot - he's given us a decent bat (with pop) and great defense at 2B when he has started. Combine this with Cedeno reverting to 2006 Cedeno (instead of the flashes of Future Cedeno that we saw at the beginning of the season) and Fontenot has been much more valuable than I would have cared to admit even a week ago. My biggest knock against him is still his lack of positional flexibility...If he could play SS we could spin Cedeno for something decent. Speaking of SS, I remain in the anti-Riot camp. He's Jeter-esque in his overrated ness, but also Jeter-esque in that he's so overrated by a segment of fans that he's underrated. Riot's main deficiency is his defense - much like Jeter he has terrible range. Offensively, like Jeter he's been posting a great OBP (for this year at least)...however UNLIKE Jeter he has no power whatsoever. If he could hit a few doubles he would be much more valuable. Dome, however, is the player I am most worried about in the lineup. He just looks exhausted, and needs to make some adjustments. It looks like the league has figured him out, at least for now. We don't really have anyone adequate to spell him right now either, due to our lack of OF depth, and the fact that Reed Johnson should only play vs lefties. (Of course, he could spell him vs lefties, but he might need more time). I hope he turns it around...at least Lou has been putting him in the second spot more often of late. Hopefully that will continue when Soriano gets back. Also, for the record, I am eating all sorts of crow over Edmonds. Way to go, Hendry!

On the pitching side, I'm feeling pretty good. Even with the addition of Harden, I think that Z+Harden isn't as good as Sheets-Sabathia. However, Dempter+Lilly is light years better than any combination of Parra/Bush/McClung/Suppan, which easily gives the Cubs an overall advantage rotation wise. I'm still a little worried about the bullpen...Kerry's hurting right now with this weird blister problem, but I think he'll be okay. As before, the key member of our bullpen is Carlos "White Castle" Marmol. I think he's definitely showing signs of overwork - for more evidence see this hardball times article. We had hoped that a little rest over the ASB would unfatigue his arm, but he ended up pitching in the game (though by how late he went in, clearly Lou did NOT want him to pitch. Dempster pitched on 1 day's rest long before Marmol ever came in). I didn't see the game (radio only here), but the buzz was that he had his White Castle slider back, although he didn't seem like he was 100% yet. As for the rest of the bullpen...they've all been remarkably pedestrian. I have a strong feeling that Gaudin fills Howry's old role as setup man, especially if Marmol continues to struggle. Lou's biggest problem by far this year, aside from overusing Marmol, is not getting enough out of his relievers. We have lots of guys who could be classified as 'long relievers' - Lieber, Marshall, Wuertz, Gaudin. But rarely have they pitched more than one inning - especially when they need to soak up innings when we have big leads and don't need to burn the rest of the pen.

I think the overall team slump we had in June can be attributed to a bunch of injuries happening at the same time (Z, Johnson, Soriano, Edmonds was banged up, etc). We're only a .500 team since Soriano's injury, and desperately need him back. It's going to be a fun race down the stretch with the Brewers and the somehow still in it Cards. Can't wait to be at Wrigley on Sep 20th! (second to last regular season home game, vs the Cards!)