The Cubs have gotten nothing offensively from the catcher’s spot this season; as a team, they have a 584 OPS from that position. The lone exception, of course, has been Clevenger, who posted a .500/.522/.727 batting line in 23 PA before hitting the DL. That’s only 23 PA, of course, so nothing to get terribly excited about, but Clevenger has a career .309 batting average and .370 OBP in the minors, and figures to get most of the playing time until Geovany Soto is activated from the DL himself (whenever that will be). Given the production by the rest of his backstop collegues this eason, he won’t need to hit .500 to be a welcome addition to the lineup, especially since he hits lefthanded.
Not much to say about this. Lalli wasn’t expected to get much playing time after being called up in emergency circumstances, and he didn’t get much playing time, with only 16 plate appearances over the 10 games in which he was on the roster. He picked up two singles and a walk in those 16 PA. He also looked frankly overwhelmed behind the plate, which was to be expected, given that he only has 109 games at catcher in his career in the minor leagues.
He’ll return to Iowa, where I presume he’ll split time with Juan Apodaca, who has handled most of the catching since both Welington Castillo and Lalli were called up to Chicago. Barring further injuries, I think it’s unlikely that Lalli makes another appearance with the Cubs at the major league level.
I’m sure that I’m not alone when I cringe at Marmol’s return. Granted, Rafael Dolis was not much better in the closer role than Marmol had been, but I don’t know what to expect from Marmol at this point. I doubt that anyone else does, either.
For what it’s worth, he made two appearances for Iowa during a rehab stint, pitching an inning each time, allowing 1 hit, and no runs, while walking two (of course) and striking out four. Were his struggles earlier this year due to injury? Or did the rehab process allow him to straighten out his mechanics, as he’s said? It’s nice to think that either or both of those things are true, but as I wrote when he went on the DL, his struggles really date back to last season. That being the case, it’s hard to believe in simple fixes and magic mechanics-fixing bullets.
I suppose we’re about to find out, but I’ll be holding my breath when he enters his next game.
Dolis was a marginal prospect coming into the year, and I have no problem with the Cubs giving him a chance since they weren’t expecting to have a very good team anyway. And he was indeed given a chance; when he was demoted before yesterday’s game, he was tied with Shawn Camp for the team lead in innings pitched in relief. Furthermore, Dolis saw a lot of high-leverage innings as the team’s closer, making 13 of his 23 appearances in high-leverage situations.
Unfortunately, he struggled mightily, and I think that his future as an effective major-leaguer is very much in doubt. His minor league stats are modest at best, and while he has an effective sinker, he struggles with his command, and he’s never been able to strike out a lot of hitters. That inability caused him the majority of his troubles this season, as he actually walked more batters (17) than he struck out (11). He’s fairly difficult to hit, but a pitcher just can’t be effective when that’s the case.
Simply put, I don’t think he looks like a major league pitcher at this point of his career. In his defense, this season was the first time that he pitched at a level higher than AA, so this trip to Iowa will be his first. On the other hand, he’s 24, which isn’t old by any stretch but isn’t really all that young for AAA, either, especially for a pitcher who has demonstrated that he has a long way to go in his development. The Cubs gave him his shot, but he’s proven that he belongs in the minors right now.
With Chris Volstad ineffective and demoted to Iowa, Wood looks to get an extended chance to earn a permanent spot in the rotation. Since rejoining Iowa after his one-game spot start for the Cubs, Wood has made 2 starts, allowing 5 runs in 13 innings, while walking 3 and striking out 9. His ERA for Iowa is still pretty high (4.57), but his control has been very good, walking only 11 in 41.1 IP while striking out 39.
He’s had a disappointing spring, there’s no question about it. But all that’s behind him now, as a spot in the starting rotation is now his to lose. He’ll need to continue to avoid issuing walks, because as a flyball pitcher, he’ll probably give up his share of homers in Wrigley. On the whole, though, I think his performance in Iowa has been encouraging, after a rough start and terrible spring training.
When Castillo was first recalled last month, I wrote:
Soto is badly struggling, and is experiencing minor back problems himself, so Castillo looks like he’ll have an opportunity to make an impression right out of the gate.
Castillo ended up starting seven games before getting hurt himself (he has an MCL sprain in his right knee), and wasn’t able to make much of his playing time, hitting only .185/.241/.370, good for a 67 OPS+. He’s been listed as day-to-day since being removed from the game last Friday, but the Cubs were in a tough spot roster-wise. Travis Wood needed to be added to the roster to start tonight in Houston, and the staff only has 11 pitchers on it the way it is, thanks to the need to have three catchers. Since Steve Clevenger is expected back by the end of the week, the decision to DL Castillo is much easier if it looks like he’ll still be unavailable to catch for a few more days.
Since being demoted to Iowa two weeks ago, Wells has continued to struggle, allowing 11 runs in 16.0 innings pitched. Believe it or not, this has been good enough to lower his season ERA, which now stands at 7.71 over 30.1 IP.
The Cubs say that he’s going to be used in long relief, with Casey Coleman, the incumbent long man, moving into a late-inning role. Travis Wood will be called up to take Chris Volstad’s spot in the rotation. The bullpen right now is an extremely unimpressive collection of talent, but I guess that at this point, this as good of a plan as any. The only other plausible candidates on the 40-man right now for a major league bullpen spot are Jeff Beliveau, who’s pitching well in AAA, and Alberto Cabrera, who’s been very good for Tennessee in AA. If (or when) the current bullpen arrangement proves untenable, those guys look to be the next in line.
A lot of things have gone wrong for the Cubs this season, but Soto’s struggles have to be put near the top of that list. He’s had 104 plate appearances, and managed only a very poor 52 OPS+. Since Marlon Byrd was traded, Soto has been the worst everyday player on the team this year, and that’s saying something for a team that’s also had Alfonso Soriano and Ian Stewart in the lineup.
So his being hurt (with a torn left meniscus) adds injury to insult, for several different reasons. First, it results in the return of Koyie Hill, which is bad enough in itself. A 52 OPS+ is very poor indeed, but it’s still better, however marginally, than Hill’s career 50 OPS+. Think about that for a moment.
Second, it prevents Soto from getting better, which would have been nice, since a productive Soto might provide for attractive trade bait this summer. The Cubs theoretically would be in good position to trade Soto, because they have two reserve catchers who look like candidates to be starters at the major league level, although of course those plans are in all kind of disarray at the moment.
At any rate, Soto is expected to miss about three weeks. Clevenger and Castillo should both be back well before then, so I guess we’ll see how things unfold after that, and what kind of job Soto has to come back to.
Officially, he’s been acquired for “a cash consideration”. I assume that means a gift certificate for Skyline Chili.
The Cubs’ catching situation is critical at the moment, with Geovany Soto heading to the DL, Steve Clevenger already on the DL and not expected back for a week yet, and now Welington Castillo possibly being hurt as well. Blake Lalli has already been called up, which is a desperate move in itself, but now, finding themselves needing a fifth catcher, the Cubs have no in-house options. Who does? It’s absurd that any team should need 5 catchers.
It’s easy to say that Hill isn’t much of an option, either. After being pretty much terrible with the Cubs for years, he couldn’t find a major league job after leaving the Cubs in the offseason … and in fact, couldn’t even find a AAA job. He’s been playing this season for Pensacola in the AA Southern League, where again, he’s been terrible, with a 591 OPS in 44 PA.
Nonetheless, he’ll be the Cubs’ primary catcher until Clevenger returns or Castillo is ready to go, whichever comes first. That’s a sad thought, and it’s not obvious to me that Lalli would be worse. Though to be fair, it’s not obvious to me that Lalli would be better, either. It’s just a shame that it’s come to this, because if there’s one position where the Cubs had appeared to have legitimate depth heading into the season, it was at catcher. Yet here we are.
Like most other Cubs fans, I can vividly remember when I heard about Wood’s 20-strikeout game. I was a sophomore at the University of Florida, and unfortunately I didn’t get WGN in Gainesville. In those days, I pretty routinely watched Headline News for their semi-hourly sports updates, and I’m sure it’s easy to imagine my astonishment when they reported that Kerry Wood, in his fifth major league game, had struck out 20 batters in a 1-hit shutout.
In my lifetime as a Cubs fan, Ryne Sandberg was universally beloved, Sammy Sosa amazed with his power, and Greg Maddux was the one that got away. Kerry Wood, though, captured fan imagination in a way that only a true fireball pitcher can. I saw Sammy Sosa hit a number of homeruns in person, including 3 in one game, and as much fun as that was, in the end it’s still just a number of homeruns. But a guy like Kerry Wood, when he was starting games … well, if a guy like that is pitching the day you go to a game, you might get to see history.
As we all know, Wood never duplicated the dominance that he had that day that he struck out 20 Astros – how could he? – and he never ended up throwing that no-hitter that a lot of us assumed he someday would, but for several years, it seemed on any given day that he might. I, for one, never rushed to check the box score like I did on the days he was pitching. His legend grew impossibly large, despite or perhaps even because of the problems he had with injuries, and the expectations around him were impossible to fulfill.
And yet, he was a fine pitcher for a long time, in the rotation and later in the bullpen, and it seemed to me that he was always a credit to his teams and to the game he played. Unlike with Mark Prior, the fans never seemed to hold his injury problems against him. His reputation has remained strong, and the fans’ support for him unwavering. I could recap the struggles he’s had this season, and the dire outlook of the Cubs’ bullpen without the possibility of Wood regaining form, but those things seem beside the point right now.
The point is, I can’t imagine anyone being a Cubs fan over the last 14 years without being a Kerry Wood fan. I’m grateful for all the times I got to see him pitch, both in person (this game was the best) and on TV. And I’m proud to say that I’m a Cubs fan, because that was Kerry Wood’s team.