It’s hard to discern between the losers and winners on a club that is sitting in the basement of the NL Central, but not every aspect of the Cubs through the first month has been a train wreck.
There is one obvious area of the club that falls into the “winner” category and that is the starting pitching.
If I were to describe the performance of the starting staff in one word, that word would be “Improbable.”
After one month of the season the Cubs have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. Whodathunkit?
Not me, that’s for sure.
The five starters—Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman—have certainly surprised the baseball world with how well they have pitched thus far in 2013.
In regards to starting rotation statistics, entering Tuesday the Cubs’ starting staff has combined to allow the MLB’s fewest hits, the fifth-fewest earned runs, has made 15 quality starts, has the lowest opponent’s batting average and is ranked fifth in starter ERA.
The performance of the starting rotation has surpassed all expectations, and you would have to believe it has surprised even Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein.
Yet while the rotation is the only area where its entirety would fall into the “winner” category, there are individual players who have earned the privilege of the “winner” label.
Nate Schierholtz’s overall play has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubs.
Having been brought in to platoon right field with Scott Hairston, Schierholtz has earned the spot as the Cubs’ everyday right fielder. He also seems to be the only player who is able to do something with the bat when there are runners in scoring-position—.294/.353/.563, six RBI as of Tuesday morning.
In the two weeks and change Kevin Gregg has been on the Cubs roster, he has recorded as many saves—four—as the rest of the bullpen had prior to his signing. Hector Rondon has been a nice addition to the bullpen as well.
But the greatest asset to the Cubs’ bullpen has been short reliever James Russell.
After having made 14 appearances—11 IP—as of April 30, Russell still sports a sparkling 0.00 ERA, a 0.54 WHIP—which, after consulting MLB.com’s statistics and comparing with Matt Reynolds’ Baseball Reference page, is the lowest among relievers with 10-plus IP—and a .139 opponent batting average.
If Gregg and Russell can maintain any semblance of their current form throughout the season, the Cubs could have a quite formidable backbone to the bullpen that could let fewer wins slip out of their hands than last season—or so far this season, for that matter.
David DeJesus is another that would qualify as a “winner” after the first month or so of the season, as would Welington Castillo.
As for the club’s “losers” after the first month there are just as many people, or players, as there are areas in this category.
The team’s defense is deserving of the “loser” label, and whoever put the Cubs through their fielding paces this spring definitely falls in the “loser” category as well.
The Cubs’ inability to drive in runs is also loser-esque; so is the guy that decided to change Anthony Rizzo’s swing—even though Rizzo leads the team in HR and RBI.
But the most difficult inclusion into the “loser” pool is Darwin Barney.
They say in the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king.
Well, in the land of terrible fielders and mediocre hitters, is the man with a Golden Glove and a lead bat an asset?
Sorry, but no matter how great a fielder Darwin Barney is he is not contributing offensively on a consistent basis—getting on base, driving in runs, hitting in general.
Regardless of beginning the season on the DL, Barney’s batting average and on-base percentage are the worst among the team’s regular starters.
Granted, his role is not to smash home runs or be the primary run producer, but he should at least be able to go 1-for-4 on average at the plate and have a .300 OBP.
He may be able to turn things around as the season goes along, but at this point in time, he falls in the “loser” bin.