Monday, October 24, 2011

NL North Preview - Part IV

Chicago Josias Gonzalez keeps the Cubs Quietly in Contention

One pitcher in the National League finished the season with 20 wins. Quick, can you name him?

Nope. It’s not L.A.’s Bernie Speier, or Milwaukee’s Willie Diggins or Javier Sanches, or even St. Louis’s Jon Lewis. Instead, Chicago’s Josias Gonzalez quietly put together a huge season after signing as a free agent with the Cubs last year, finishing 20-7 while posting an impressive WHIP of 0.98 despite the presence of some big bats in the NL Central.

Too bad then that the offense took a step back last season or the Cubs might have been able to win a few more games. Instead, the team settled to win – 87 games – or exactly what they did in Season 2. Last year, I said the big red “C” on the uniform stood for “Consistent.” I never imagined I was this right. This coming season however, do the Cubs stand to take a couple steps back to take a step or two forward to their future?

Record: 87-75, third in the NL North

Key Additions:
1. Carlos Henriquez, 21-year-old first baseman expected to be promoted from AAA.

Key Departures:
1. Jose Camacho, 35-year-old third baseman via free agency to Texas
2. Adrian McConnell – 30-year-old utility player via free agency to Texas
3. Bailey King – 27-year-old first baseman via free agency (unsigned)
4. Jason Dougherty – 35-year-old utility player via free agency (unsigned)

On offense, it appears the youth movement has arrived. The Cubs lost their stalwart third baseman,35-year-old Jose Camacho, to the Texas Rangers via free agency. Gone with him are his 61 doubles and 50 home runs over two seasons. The loss of the hot corner hitter is another blow to an offense that slipped to 22nd in AVG, 28th in OBP and tied for 14th in SLG last season, and it looks as though the Cubs were unable to find a suitable replacement over the winter. The Cubs also let first baseman Bailey King walk this winter, to prepare the way for young Carlos Henriquez, the AAA-standout who should boost production at first. Orlando Soriano at 33 is now the oldest position player on the team – by five years. Everyone else including NL MVP David Davis is 28 and younger.

Pitching was a strength for the Cubs last year, although the presence of Josias Gonzalez skewed the numbers a bit. The starting rotation looks to return intact, but of the starting five only 20-game-winner Gonzalez posted a winning record. Despite that, all of them are warhorses: three of the five pitched deep into games, posting 200+ innings over the season and alleviating the stress on the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, Christopher Phillips was moved to the closer last season and responded to the challenge well by putting his best season statistically, finishing with a WHIP of 1.05 and an ERA of 1.66. Collectively, the staff limited opponents to 642 runs, helping the Cubs finish with a positive run differential of +55, and had the 5th best WHIP in the league. The rumored additions of minor leaguers Cookie Alfonzo and Quinton Sherman to the bullpen, with Alfonzo likely to take the shutdown closer role, should improve the club’s numbers slightly.

Goose Howard reputedly will be promoted into the defensive shortstop role this season. Defensively, the Cubs are among the league’s elite, which helps explain the low WHIP on the part of the pitching staff. The club committed 69 errors all last season, good for second in the league and well below the league average of 91. They also had twice as many positive plays than they did negative ones. The losses at the corners should not impact the team’s defense, and the Cubs should continue to play well in the field.

dwb’s take: Did the Cubs catch lightning in a bottle with Gonzalez last year? The 20-game winner may take a step back this season. This and the loss of Camacho at third will cost the club a few games this season. I see them finishing just a hair above .500, with a win total in the low 80’s. But if they start to slide, look for the Cubs to shop a couple pieces like Davis and Gonzalez to continue the rebuild movement, which will mean a win total in the 70’s and a possible spot in the cellar under the new and improved Reds.

No comments:

Post a Comment