Cubs’ offense going from bat to worse
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com March 10, 2013 10:49PM
Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano watches his two-RBI double against the San Diego Padres during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game in Mesa, Ariz., Sunday, March 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) ORG XMIT: AZCC105
MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs insist they’re going to be better than people think.
Which probably isn’t saying much.
Certainly, a clear and present depth of pitching that didn’t exist a year ago should keep the Cubs competitive in a few more games.
But the big question coming into camp might be an even bigger question as the Cubs near the halfway mark of the Cactus League calendar: Is there any reason to think the Cubs will improve on last year’s miserable production at the plate?
“You ain’t going to know anything until you get all eight guys out there playing,” manager Dale Sveum said Sunday.
But short of that, he hasn’t liked a lot of what he has seen from his hitters.
“Obviously, we’re missing [Anthony] Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro,’’ he said of key hitters out because of the World Baseball Classic and a mild hamstring strain, respectively. “But even our secondary guys — we’re not swinging the bats at all.
“The on-base percentage — everything — has been pretty bad this spring training. And that’s after two pretty good games to start the Cactus League. Since then, it hasn’t been very productive at all.
“It’s not that easy to get [less than] 10 hits in the Cactus League, and we haven’t done it in quite a while.’’
Even Sunday, when the Cubs got those 10 hits and scored nine runs — the most since their spring opener — against the San Diego Padres, they were throttled by often-maligned former Cubs starter Jason Marquis on just two singles the first four innings. The lineup included starters in the first four spots of the order and two more projected roster guys in the next two spots.
And the big five-run eighth inning was a prospects-vs.-prospects scrum.
“We’ve got to start kicking it in,” Sveum said.
The Cubs entered Sunday as the worst-hitting (.247), worst-at-getting-on-base (.307) and third-lowest-scoring (4.5-run average) team in the National League this spring.
As meaningless as spring stats are, consider the fact that the Cubs are one of seven NL teams that train in the hitter-friendly conditions of Arizona, a place Cubs sluggers of the past used as an excuse to downplay their production and a place pitcher Matt Garza said “sucks” after his first spring here.
But forget the spring performances.
The Cubs were near the bottom of the majors in nearly every offensive category, including third from the bottom in OPS (.680) and runs (613).
And that was with surprisingly high run production from Alfonso Soriano (32 homers, 108 RBI), career highs in homers (14) and RBI (78) from Castro and a 15-homer, 48-RBI half-season from Rizzo in 2012.
“We’ll see what happens, but I think it can be much better than last year,” said Castro, citing newcomers Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston — both career part-time players — and first-year starting catcher Welington Castillo. “I think maybe we can surprise people.”
Castro, Sveum and others in the clubhouse point to Soriano’s big production. But what are the chances, at 37, that he’ll repeat those numbers?
They point to Rizzo being at first all season and potentially doubling those ’12 numbers. But regardless of the likelihood of that, first base wasn’t a void the entire first half last year. Bryan LaHair put together a strong opening six weeks that were good enough to win him an All-Star selection.
David DeJesus should be steady, like last year. Schierholtz and Hairston should be OK. Castillo, who knows?
And if Luis Valbuena is the starting third baseman on Opening Day, which is how it looks until Ian Stewart proves otherwise, where’s the beef?
Sveum admits he’ll have to be creative with lineups.
“It’s not going to be a prolific offense,’’ he said, “but it’s going to be an offense that’ll keep the line moving a little better than they did last year.”
And despite what he has seen in camp, there’s still another three weeks from Monday until the season opens.
“I’ll be more concerned when I’m putting my regular eight guys out there,” he said, “and [wait until] Rizzo’s here and Castro’s here before I start worrying about that.”