Chicago –Hub Bradley and David Davis are the Silver Sluggers of Chi-town
Every game counts, but there’s no need to remind that to the Wrigley faithful after the Cubs – 88-74 last season – fell a game shy of earning a potential wild card berth in the playoffs. The good news is that not much has changed in the windy city. The team returning this season has a very good chance of repeating last year’s feat and even earning a playoff spot outright by challenging Milwaukee for the division crown.
There were no changes over the winter to the starting five. Junior Carrasco inked a three-year contract extension worth $16 million. The hard-throwing right-hander has good command, walking just 54 batters while striking out 148 in 180 innings of work. He along with Felix, Kolb, Benitez and 18-game winner Weiss will return to the mound again to anchor a club that tied for 9th in team ERA (4.09) and 10th overall in WHIP (1.37). The quintet is effective: starters combined for more than 70 percent of the team’s total wins.
In the pen, the Cubs were content to let aging All-Star short reliever Dan Cummings go to the New York Mets. The righty performed 51.2 innings of work last year posting a 4.70 ERA. It was a relatively quiet offseason overall, and the pitching staff that allowed 749 runs (+106) returns to work again.
One key behind the success of the Cubs is their potent offense. Lead by a pair of Silver Sluggers up the middle, center fielder Hub Bradley and second baseman David Davis combined for 84 homeruns, 267 RBIs and 234 runs last season. Each hit more than .300 and posted enormous slugging percentages. In addition, shortstop Jose Camacho hit .291 and swatted 40 doubles in 130 games. Thanks to the trio, opponents were often left fishing balls out of the ivy. The club ended up ranking in the top third of the majors in runs (855), homeruns (239), RBI (832) and finished fourth overall in slugging percentage and eighth in average. Rumor has it slugging outfielder Timo Pinto (AAA) will join the club later this season to bolster the attack.
With all that offense there often is a price to pay, and the Cubs pay for it with their defense. The team committed 105 errors last season (27th) and is not strong up the middle: shortstop Camacho and second baseman Davis were responsible for nearly half (49) of those errors. Hector Fernandez holds down the hot corner, earning a Gold Glove, but the middle of the defense can be a concern. The Cubs hope the solution comes out of the minors as rookie Kenji Uehara, blessed with above average range and a gun for an arm, gets the call up. He will likely only see action late in games with the team squatting on a lead.
dwb’s take: The Cubs make no trades in the offseason and return all their weapons for a second assault on the division crown, hoping their offense overcomes the poor defense up the middle. The coaching staff should look to address the base running this year: the Cubs ran into 102 outs, 37 more than next worst team in the league. Will the addition of Pinto and Uehara swing a game or two in their favor? I think so. Look for them to take the NL North if Milwaukee stumbles.