The Cubs’ Opening Day win against the Pirates reinforced what we already knew about the Cubs from last year, good and bad. Here are a few of my points from Monday’s game:
1.) If you put any stock into one Jeff Samardzija performance, he is picking up right where he left off. Samardzija threw 8.0 innings of two-hit/one-walk baseball Monday, throwing 110 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. In my opinion, his most important stat is that he got 13 groundouts and 0 flyouts. If Samardzija gets good defense from his infield this year, this ratio will lead to another successful year.
2.) Anthony Rizzo crushed a three-run homerun to right-center in his first at-bat Monday, providing two of the Cubs’ three runs. In my preview for Rizzo this year, I projected Rizzo having a great year and many believe he will have a breakout year. Hopefully Rizzo heats up as the weather does this season. Defensively, Rizzo also made a great play in the seventh.
3.) Also picking up right where he left off, unfortunately, was Carlos Marmol. Marmol threw 19 pitches, with 9 of them being strikes. He threw 8 pitches to Garret Jones before earning a swinging strikeout on a slider in the dirt. Then, Marmol hit Andrew McCutchen with the second pitch of the at bat. After Marmol allowed a single to Pedro Alvarez, Chris Bosio visited the mound and whatever Bosio had to say must not have worked, because Marmol then walked Gaby Sanchez on five pitches.
If any teams were thinking about trading for Marmol, it would have happened by now. Today’s performance just reinforces what people have been saying about Marmol and the fact that he cannot be trusted to get the last three outs of a game. I would hope the Cubs decide to give Marmol’s job to Kyuji Fujikawa who came into the game and got Russell Martin out with two pitches. If you’re keeping track at home, Fujikawa got as many outs as Marmol with only one-tenth of the pitches. Dale Sveum says he is sticking with Marmol for now. As Cub fans watch Marmol continually walk batter after batter this year, they need to remind themselves that he has the fourth highest salary on the team. As executive watch Marmol this year, they need to remind themselves, “This is why you don’t pay closers a lot of money.”
As I did the projections for the Cubs starting rotation, I realized I had a lot of questions and uncertainty about performance. Will Jeff Samardzija continue the progress he made last year? Will Matt Garza or Scott Baker stay healthy enough to be of value to the Cubs either in their rotation or the trade market? What will the rotation look like by the end of the year? I tried researching as much as I could before I came to any conclusions. Here are my projections:
First, Jeff Samardzija pitched better in the second half of the season last year than he did in the first. He had a lower WHIP, lower BB/9, and higher K/9. Since the Cubs were looking hideous by that point in the season last year, I had completely missed this. I’m hoping this was more Samardzija progressing and less the warmer temperatures during that part of the season. I’m projecting him to continue to progress and solidify his spot as a front-end starter.
When I began thinking about this post, I figured Matt Garza was a total wild card. I had no idea what the Cubs would get out of him this year coming back from his elbow injury. Then, Garza strained his lat muscle and will start the season on the disabled list. This is a big disappointment for the Cubs, as Garza was likely to be traded sometime this season. Although I still believe that will happen, his value has definitely been diminished.
Unlike Matt Garza, Scott Baker was already expected to start the season slowly after not pitching at all since 2011. He had problems with his flexor tendon and then eventually needed Tommy John surgery with the Twins. I believe he’ll start the season on the DL and Scott Feldman will pitch about 110 innings. If all goes well, Baker will pitch well also and yield the Cubs some more prospects in a midseason trade.
The projection for Edwin Jackson was easy for me because he is such a consistent pitcher. In the past five years, he’s pitched between 183-209 innings, and his WHIP has been between 1.22 and 1.51. I see him being the most reliable starter for the Cubs this year with little change from his normal statistics.
Overall, Cub fans must remember that Samardzija may be the only pitcher in the Cubs rotation when they are contenders. Two or three of the starters could possibly be on another team by the end of the year. It’s possible one of the young pitchers will seize an opportunity to surprise everyone as a starter and be this year’s Samardzija. But, don’t hold your breath.