Chicago Cubs: Changes Cubbies Must Make to Become Legit
With June and the All-Star break approaching, the North Siders haven't reached a better time to capitalize on the much weaker NL Central.
After losing $200 million superstars Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the hitter-friendly American League, the declining NL Central still houses likely All-Stars Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Carlos Beltran and Andrew McCutchen, among many others.
However, the Cubs have a legitimate chance of coming back in the standings this season.
Headed into Tuesday's matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals, here are the changes most important to long-term success for the Cubs.
Standings after 05/14/12:
|St. Louis Cardinals||20||15||-|
|Milwaukee Brewers||15||20|| 5
Slow Down the Cardinals This Week
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The current series against the Cardinals is perhaps the biggest series for the Cubs thus far.
Headed into Monday's matchup with the Cards, Red Birds starter Jake Westbrook led the National League in run support (8.12 run support average), while surprising starter Ryan Dempster was dead last (2.04 run support average).
Even though Westbrook had the absolute advantage headed into Monday night's start, Alfonso Soriano drove in the game-winning run in the eighth inning off Cardinals reliever Mitch Boggs. Both starting pitchers gave up four earned runs and left the fate in the hands of the bullpen—one of the biggest weaknesses for the Cubs.
Yet again, Ryan Dempster and his 1.74 ERA could not get his first win of the season.
On a lighter note, the Cubs are 4-3 against the division-leading Cardinals this season, and will turn the ball over to budding star Jeff Samardzija for tomorrow's day game.
Promote Rizzo, Move LaHair to Guard the Ivy
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The majority of the current Cubs run production comes from the 2-3-4 slots in Tony Campana, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair, respectively.
Soon enough the Cubs will promote the impressive prospect Anthony Rizzo to starting first baseman, and hopefully successfully move LaHair to the outfield.
Talk of trading LaHair is starting to surface, which would flat out torpedo the Cubs offense in the short term, as he's hitting .356 and is the only consistent power hitter in the lineup.
Triple-A Stats: .351 BA, 11 HR, 34 RBI, .416 OBP, .647 SLG
Rizzo's statistics through 35 games in Triple-A consistently indicate why he needs to be swinging in a Cubs uniform.
Although he lacks the utility in the field unlike current first baseman Bryan LaHair, LaHair has the skill set to be a quality outfielder for the North Siders. If the Cubs can successfully integrate Rizzo's big bat into the lineup, they could potentially have one of the most productive lineups in the division.
Sell Dempster, Move Jeff Samardzija Up in Rotation
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Currently, Ryan Dempster is the easiest sell to a team with immediate pitching needs. What would also benefit the Cubs is the fact that they wouldn't need to dump Dempster for another ace, as they already have a potential All-Star in Jeff Samardzija.
Dempster has one of the dirtiest sliders in the league, with opponents hitting just .094—only San Francisco Giants righty Matt Cain has a more effective slider in the league, holding opponents to just a .055 batting average.
Dempster has a 1.74 ERA through six starts, yet is still without recording a win. His 0-1 record indicates the lack of run support and bullpen problems—both which can be solved by swapping Dempster.
The only downside to trading Dempster is the low availability of teams he'd be willing to play for, as he has a no-trade clause up his sleeve. In essence, Dempster will only go to a team that either has potential or is already a contender—potentially having a similar-sounding effect as NHL sniper Dany Heatley.
If Theo can make the right move trading Dempster, the Cubs can profoundly benefit in the long term.
The former Fighting Irish wide receiver has truly prospected into a full-blown franchise starter for the future of the Cubs.
He has a fastball consistently clocking the upper 90s mixed with newly found confidence in his highly-criticized curveball and changeup.
Samardzija began an impressive four-game streak, allowing just one run or less against the division leading Cardinals, adding a career-high nine strikeouts.
His potential claws at the No. 1 spot on the Cubs starting rotation, and trading Dempster for another big bat, will hopefully end the seemingly everlasting "rebuilding phase."
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Perhaps the biggest change that needs to happen for the Cubs is inside the pitching department.
The unlikely wins leaders for the Cubs starting rotation are Paul Maholm and Jeff Samardzija with four, while ace Matt Garza is at a lowly 2-1 and Ryan Dempster simply cannot buy a win.
The most questionable roster move is holding Travis Wood back while continuing to gamble with Chris Volstad.
In Wood's only start, he held likely NL MVP Matt Kemp and his Los Angeles Dodgers to just three runs in six innings, adding four strikeouts.
While Wood tamed the productive Dodgers offense, Chris Volstad continues to get the starting jobs.
In case you are new to Addison and Clark, Volstad is the victim who gave up a grand slam to Edwin Maysonet—a Milwaukee Brewers second baseman who previously had just one home run in his career.
When Volstad pitched for the Cubs in 2012, they were 0-7, meaning they are an even 13-13 when his 6.92 ERA does not pitch.
If Sveum bumps Volstad to the bullpen to chisel his unique 6'8'' frame and give Travis Woods a rightfully deserved start, the Cubs will better hang with the fairly even NL Central.