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Sweet Home Chicago: a Chicago Cubs Preview

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A brief look at an opponent we play this week.

Dates we play them: 6/20-6/22 at home, 7/1-7/3 @ Wrigley

Offense: Kosuke Fukudome-RF, Starlin Castro-SS, Blake DeWitt-2B, Aramis Ramirez-3B, Carlos Pena-1B, Alfonso Soriano-LF, Jeff Baker-DH, Reed Johnson/Tony Campana-CF, Geovany Soto-C.  Bench: Tyler Colvin-OF, Darwin Barney-INF.

A different man than myself might find that life has dealt Mike Quade quite the bum hand.  You figure your life has to turn around when you start going bald at age 3, but nope, then you get signed to manage the Cubs.  You may think he doesn't deserve it, but a wise old man once taught me something about that.  Wait a second, that's not right at all.  The Cubs' offense hasn't been that far off from that of our Pale Hose so far, with the North Siders averaging 4.10 R/G to our 4.18.  Kosuke Fukudome is doing exactly what he seems to do every season: have a very strong first two months that are partially negated by terrible defense.  This is then followed by his offense doing the best Wile E. Coyote impersonation.  He has a slightly above-average bat, thanks mostly to his ability to draw a walk (14.7 career BB%), but lacks the power you expect from a corner outfielder (career .409 SLG).  When you throw in the fact that he's kind of awful defensively, it makes me happy he chose to play for the wrong side of the city.  That and he looks ridiculous when he misses a pitch (sadly, no youtube videos). 

Anyone else tired of hearing about Starlin Castro?  Oh, he hits for a high batting average you say?  That's just swell!  He has no power, is not a good thief (64.4% success rate in the minors!  Brent Morel was better.), and he's horrible in the field.  He's maybe a top five short stop in the NL (and at the bottom of the five at that) and isn't even the best short stop in the city.  But dammit, he's the next great Cubs superstar!  We'll get to talking about what's happened to the previous heir to that burdensome mantle later.  Have they really been using Blake DeWitt in the three hole lately?  The guy is barely hitting better than Juan Pierre.  You might wonder how the Dodgers turned him and minor league filler into Ted Lilly, but then you remember that it's almost impossible for Kenny Williams to be the worst baseball GM in town and everything makes more sense.  DeWitt is a utility player without much utility.  He doesn't walk, doesn't hit the ball particularly hard, has middling speed, and can't really play any position well.  But he's cheap, so he's got that going for him.

Rumors of Aramis Ramirez's (is that proper grammar?) decline were only mildly exaggerated.  His days as a middle of the order threat are rapidly ending though.  His power numbers have been in decline since 2007 and he's never shown much of an ability to get to balls on defense.  He's not getting around on fastballs nearly as well as he used to and he's grown prone to swinging at pitches out of the zone.  Let's try and exploit that.  Carlos Pena is never going to relive the magic of his 2007.  Once pitchers realized/remembered that he will swing at shit outside of the zone, he started returning to his career as a disappointing former top prospect.  Despite his 11 homeruns, he's pretty much just been a league average bat thus far.  His OBP is the only thing keeping him valuable, as like Ramirez, he seems to have lost his power stroke.  The move to Wrigley hasn't helped as much as Scott Boras was hoping it would.  If one were to only give Alfonso Soriano's numbers a cursory glance, you might think he's having a nice little season.  .275 average with 14 homeruns in only 54 games?  Not too shabby at all.  But then when you see his OBP, the laughter returns.  Soriano has drawn 7 non-intentional walks this season.  7!  Even Jeff Francoeur has twice that many.  And he's still got 3.5 more years at $18MM a year to go!  He's no longer a threat on the basepaths and is a sucker for breaking balls out of the zone.

Jeff Baker will probably either be DHing or playing 3B or 1B while Ramirez or Pena handle hitting duties.  Baker's a good bench player.  He fields well enough to not cost the team runs or upset the fans and has an averagish bat.  He's not a real power threat, so there really isn't much to worry about here.  Center field seems to be a bit of a platoon between the immortal Reed Johnson and something named Tony Campana.  Johnson is a decent enough fourth outfielder who tends to be exposed as just that when given too many at bats a season.  He's good defensively and is worth starting against lefties.  Tony Campana is some sort of scary speed monster (103 SB in the minors the past two years) whose name is far too similar to that of a very hot girl I went to high school with.  Expect to see him running any time he's on base.  Geovany Soto is the aforementioned last great young Cubs position player.  Soto had a great rookie year (3.7 WAR), but came right back to Earth the next season.  Maybe he's like Prince Fielder, but goes Beast Mode in even year seasons as opposed to odd.  He comes into this series with a smooth and even .700 OPS and only 5 homeruns.  For his career, he's thrown out just over a quarter of would-be thieves, but has bumped this number up to 31% this year.

Pitching: Ryan Dempster-RHP, Carlos Zambrano-RHP, Matt Garza-RHP, Randy Wells-RHP, Doug Davis-LHP, Carlos Marmol-CL.

Ryan Dempster has been running into a bit of bad luck this season in regards to batted balls.  He's also been giving up more homeruns than usual.  His fastball velocity has been dropping, which certainly hasn't been helpful.  Dempster hurls low-90's four seam and two fastballs, a changeup, a slider, and a spiltter.  His non-fastball offerings are better.  Carlos Zambrano has been known to meltdown against us, so here's hoping for some more of that.  He's drawn some flak for his candid comments on the team's play as of late, though nothing he said was out of line or false.  So far this season, Big Z has managed to reduce his walk numbers, but at the cost of strikeouts.  He's not quite the pitcher he was in the early 2000's, but he's a good mid-rotation innings eater.  If he didn't have such an awful contract (5/$91.5MM), there would be much less bitching about him.  He uses a sinker, an upper-80's fastball, a splitter, a changeup, a cutter, and a slider.  Matt Garza switched leagues this winter in a pretty lopsided trade in favor (so far) of the Rays.  Garza has been incredibly lucky in regards to homeruns so far.  You don't leave Tropicana having given up 53 homers over the past two seasons and move into Wrigley and somehow only give up four through June and expect it to actually mean something.  I'll believe in the increase in strikeouts though, seeing as he gets to see pitchers now.  When the other shoe drops on Garza, it's going to drop hard.  Garza throws a low to mid-90's four seam, a low-90's two seam, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball.  The slider is his best secondary offering.

Randy Wells seems to have reached his ceiling as a back of the rotation starter.  His command has abandoned him so far this year, as evidenced by his 1.24 K/BB ratio.  He's been unlucky with homeruns, but that seems more likely to happen when you're having trouble locating your pitches.  He's been getting less and less fewer and fewer groundballs each passing season, which isn't exactly what you want to see from a guy who isn't likely to strikeout more than 150 hitters a campaign.  Wells has a sinker, an upper-80's fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball.  The slider has been damn good in the past, but not so much this year.  Doug Davis was picked up off the scrap heap this winter and has provided the Cubs with 36.1 innings of meh left-handed pitching.  Davis will never be the pitcher he was before kicking thyroid cancer's ass (a huge tip of the cap to him for that accomplishment).  Expect the longballs to start showing up once he gets more innings under his belt, like say Wednesday for an example.  Davis has some mid-80's fastballs, a cutter, a changeup, and a curveball down in the 60's.  Carlos Marmol is a good closer with a tendency to get a little wild every now and then.  He'll never have the control to post a K/BB greater than 3, but if he keeps his K/9 above 11, it really won't matter too much.  It still is kind of weird seeing a closer walk more guys per season than Mark Buehrle though.  Marmol has a power mid to upper-90's fastball that seems to be stuck in the low-90's this season, a devastating slider, and a show-me changeup.

Outlook:  While the Cubs may be near our equals on offense, they have the worst pitching staff in the majors in terms of R/G and one of the worst defenses.  4-2 season series win.