Today we went to our 6th spring training game involving the Chicago Cubs. We sat in the back row of the grandstand, right by the Ron Santo marker. As we looked up we were right below Len Kasper who was doing the radio broadcast today.
We had a short visit with Len Kasper before the broadcast. What a nice man. My wife and I have spoken with him a few times; he is a gentleman and really is a fan who is doing the broadcast for all of us.
Manager Dale Sveum unveiled his 2012 starting lineup today which had no surprises. The leadoff man was David DeJesus who is currently hitting .173. As meaningless as spring training stats are, he is going to have to do a lot better starting next week or he will not be leading off very long.
He had Bryan LaHair hitting in the cleanup spot and Ian Stewart 6th behind Soriano. Last week I was pointing out the poor play of LaHair who was hitting .200 with an OBP of .195 at the time. What a difference a week makes. Once the team mentioned that Rizzo had been sent down LaHair went on a hot streak and is currently hitting .295. I wondered last week how his OBP could be lower than his batting average and learned that a sacrifice fly counts as an out when figuring your OBP but does not affect your batting average. As he now has a couple of walks his OBP is .313.
In the first inning the Cubs had runners on second and third and one out with LaHair hitting. He struck out on three pitches. In his second at bat he took two quick strikes and then hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher who easily threw him out. At the end of the half inning I stood up and looked at Len Kasper and said, “Rizzo will be up by the end of June.” He smiled and said, “No way, won’t happen!” I hope he is right and LaHair is pounding the baseball.
Ian Stewart hit his second spring training home run today to tie the game at one. We saw both of them and, like the one he hit in Surprise last week, today’s was also a monster drive which appeared to go over both right field bullpens. As both LaHair and Stewart hit left handed, it would not surprise me if they got flip-flopped in the order if LaHair gets off to a poor start.
Darwin Barney continued with his stellar play at second base. Early in the game he made a diving stop and turned and threw from his knees to just beat the runner at first base. There has been much written about how he has added some upper body strength and let’s hope it pays off.
The folks next to us were Cub fans from southern Wisconsin. They asked what we thought about this year’s team. My response was I saw one large positive and one real question mark.
The positive was this. The Cubs sent down Randy Wells, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. That appears to be the beginning of having some legitimate depth in the minor leagues. All three should do well in Iowa and should find themselves on the roster at some point during the season.
In my opinion, the negative is the bullpen between the starters and the late inning specialists. Dempster was pulled after 4 2/3 innings and James Russell came in and got the final out of the inning. At the time the score was tied 1-1. At the time my wife’s scorecard showed 77 pitches so, like Matt Garza earlier in the week, it appeared Dempster was on an 80-pitch schedule. They pinch hit for Russell in the bottom of the 5th and he was followed by Corpus and Castillo who gave up four runs and two walks between them. I suspect making the final calls on the bullpen will be a challenge for the manager and coaches.
The team moves are not done just yet. Both Joe Mather and Blake DeWitt have been told they made the team, which became expected as spring training progressed. Neither of them appears on the 40-man roster on the team website which means two players have to go. One may be Castillo who the Cubs picked up in the offseason in the rule V draft. They have to keep him on the major league 25-man roster all season or offer him back to the Phillies. My guess is those last minute roster moves will be made once they figure out which pitchers will be kept on the roster.
A couple of my friends have emailed me and indicated the Cubs likely will not win 80 games this year. I make no predictions other than to say they look and feel different. No matter how many games they lose, it sure appears it will not be due to lack of effort; they are playing hard.
And finally, there is one thing I am feeling good about. Today they draw the winning numbers for the largest lottery in history. It was pointed out to me today the odds of winning the lottery are significantly higher than that of the Cubs winning the World Series. It looks to me like the team is headed in the right direction as opposed to filling out their roster with over-the-hill veterans.