On a day with a steady breeze blowing to straight away centerfield, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres had starting pitchers that helped contribute to runs being scored like bananas (in bunches, come on, play along). The 5,325 fans in Peoria, AZ were treated to an old-school 12-11 slugfest that featured 34 base hits and among them were four home runs and eight doubles.
Starting pitchers Chris Volstad and Clayton Richard must have left their pitching prowess back where they are staying, since both were pitching piñatas on this day.
When Richard first came up with the Chicago White Sox, I was surprised they were willing to trade him in a package for Jake Peavy (how did that work out for the Sox?) and Richard made a strong initial impression with the Padres. However, last year his strikeouts per nine innings took a nose dive of 43.7 percent from 2010 to 2011 and his season was finished in July with shoulder surgery.
Unquestionably it will take some time to return to whatever is now Richard’s normal form, but on Thursday, he was batted around for nine runs (8 earned) on a dozen solidly hit balls by Cubs batters. When he finally was running on fumes in the fifth inning, Richard surrendered two shots over the wall and had two more hit the fence on the fly.
Volstad is penciled in as the Cubs No. 4 starter and he was banged around for six runs and nine base-knocks, with not one of them cheap. To be fair, Volstad had pitched well in the Arizona sunshine, but as the 6-8, 25-year old has done in the past, he found way too much of the plate and Padres hitters put a voltage into his pitches around the yard.
The Cubs actually did lead 11-6, but in a scene that will be played out more often than North Side fans will prefer, two Chicago relievers were tagged for six runs in the final three innings, accounting for the defeat.
With an 85-degree day, the wind blowing out and the sounds of beer vendors shouting out “Four-dollar Old Style’s”, if Cubs fans closed their eyes, they would feel like they were in Wrigley Field in July.
Cubs Notes – After eliminating one curse, new Chicago team president, Theo Epstein, goes after another in the Windy City. Epstein has essentially said – Rome or this Chicago franchise will not be built in a day – and that this organization will be built from the ground (minor leagues) up.
Cub fans are certainly used to waiting for something good to happen and their latest front office messiah at least has track record that they can point to.
As for this season, the starting pitching will be similar to a typical Chicago spring, running hot and cold and very unpredictable. Persistent rumors here in Arizona still have Matt Garza on the trading block since he’s their most valuable commodity to attract something good in return.
The middle infield is the team’s leading strength with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro. I have heard enough murmurs that Castro does not seem as comfortable batting third, but he is the team’s best hitter. The top four Cubbies outfielders are similar to “The 70’s Show”, as that is when they all were born, leading to the typical downside of aging players.
Oddsmakers have the Cubs at 73.5 wins and I cannot seem them crossing the 75-victory threshold. And if Garza is traded before June, the under 73.5 is a safe play. The only saving grace is Houston doesn’t change leagues until next year, which means Chicago will not finish last in the Central Division.
Padres Notes – San Diego’s division rival was just sold for 2 billion plus, the other up north team residing in Orange County signed the best player in baseball and has a massive television deal and all the Padres have is a better stadium to watch their games in.
The Padres went through an ugly divorce settlement of their own before the Dodgers calamity and have been pigeon-holed into a small market franchise. Let’s be honest, the 90-win, 2010 final day elimination was a fluke, as the previous two years saw 63 and 75 victories respectively and last season registered just 71 triumphs.
The San Diego franchise has to do what teams like Milwaukee and Minnesota and Cleveland before them did, draft and cultivate star players that bring people to the park and fill in the rest with above average high effort individuals the attendees can relate to, which turns them into playoff contenders.
It can start with Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso as the new faces of the franchise. Players like catcher Nick Hundley, Chase Headley and newly acquired Carlos Quentin should be in their prime. The starting pitching will be adequate, especially playing in cavernous Petco Park and manager Bud Black will always find a way to put together a solid bullpen.
San Diego is projected to win 74 times in 2012 and how they can surpass that total is on couple of levels.
It starts with better plate discipline, since they compiled the second most strikeouts in baseball last season.
Next is turning their spacious park into an advantage. Instead of worrying about losing home runs in the big ballpark, take advantage of all the green space and double opponents to death. Last year, the Friars had the fewest extra bases hits since the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993. Make the park work to give you an edge.