The Chicago Cubs are coming into town for a four game series this weekend. Because all I know about the Cubs is that the Padres beat them in the 1984 National League Championship Series, I talked to Sam Fels of The Ivy Drip about the baby bears.
While Anthony Rizzo never really got a fair shake in San Diego, his limited time playing in Petco Park looked... let's say "less than good". He's seemed to fit in well with the Cubs, though he's not exactly setting the world on fire. How does the Cubs fanbase feel about him, and do they ever look longingly at Andrew Cashner's flowing locks?
If you'd asked last year, we probably would have looked at those flowing locks (well, I look at everyone's flowing locks with jealousy as I have no hair). Rizzo really struggled in his first full trip around the majors, which is hardly unheard of. But this year he's been simply awesome, and he's crushing lefties after really struggling with them last year. He's got a .400 OBP and a .850 OPS, so there are no complaints now. He's done it for most of the year with no one behind him, though Castro is there now. At only 25, we're pretty damn excited about him. He also appears to be taking over as a team leader, which is what the Cubs hoped he would.
Speaking of Rizzo, he was brought to Chicago by another former Padre, Jed Hoyer (along with his mentor and definitely-not-GM-really-we-swear Theo Epstein). Obviously, it's tough to judge a GM on just two years of work, but what's your take on his moves to date?
We don't really split Jed and Theo here, so we just refer to them as Thed Epstoyer. It's hard to judge them because they had to do such a massive tear down before they could even start a rebuild. The trade for Rizzo looks great now but that's about the only big move they've made to add to the major league roster. They got great hauls for Dempster and Garza, though we won't officially know that until we see how many of those make the majors (Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez are already here, Kyle Hendricks isn't far behind and neither is Christian Villanueva. C.J. Edwards is a little farther off). They've made some sneaky good signings that have turned into trade chips like Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel this year, but most of their work is below the surface. Ask me about this in three years when we know if Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and a couple others pan out.
Starlin Castro didn't play to his usual standards last year, but he's come out of the gate hot this season. Most notable has got to be the way he's hitting for power: He's slugging a much higher than usual .491 and has 6 homers, nearly halfway to his career high of 14. Is this real life?
Can I stay here if it's not? Castro has been as good as Rizzo if not better. Some of it might be he was playing for his future for the first time, as before the season there were a lot of fans who wanted Javier Baez to play ahead of him. Castro got a break when Dale Sveum was fired as manager because he just never meshed with him. Ricky Renteria, who I'm not sure really has any idea what he's doing, has just let Castro be Castro. He's hitting with more balance than we've ever seen, which is allowing him to drive the ball better. His patience won't result in walks, but it does result in getting pitches to hit. And he's not missing them. His defense is better than he gets credit for, but there's still the occasional boner. It's hard to believe he's only 24 and has 700 hits already. It's been wonderful to watch.
Jeff Samardzija (whose name I had to copy-paste to keep from misspelling) is looking great this season. He's allowed the fewest home runs per 9 in the league (just ahead of Andrew Cashner), which is especially impressive in a homer-friendly park like Wrigley. Thankfully for the Padres, they won't see him this season. So who should the lineup be afraid of?
They won't get a total pass. One of the things obscured by losing teams is how good of a pitching coach Chris Bosio has been. He's turned around Travis Wood, who is probably the only member of the staff who will be around long term. He made Samardzija (it only took me about six months to spell it without looking, so we just call him, "Shark") into the stud he is, and helped Paul Malholm and Scott Feldman turn into things to be flipped for prospects. He's doing it again with Hammel. You'll get Wood who's had a rough ride of late, and Jake Arrieta takes forever. Hammel has the third lowest WHIP in the entire majors, and considering your lineup that would probably be the biggest hurdle.
Speaking of Samardzija, he's only under control for one more season. Are they looking to extend him, or is he destined to be trade fodder?
Sadly, we can almost guarantee he won't make it until August here. Shark is such a weird study. He'll be 30 next season, but because he played football at Notre Dame his arm doesn't have nearly the miles that other pitchers would at his age (pitching out of the pen for the first four years also adds to that). So what do you do? Do you hand him the 8 years and 150 million he's probably going to ask for? It's hard to justify that. Considering what he could fetch from a desperate contender with the way he's pitched this year, that's going to be awfully tempting. The other problem is Shark hasn't shown much of a willingness to sign here, because they have talked. He won't admit it but he's sick of losing and would like to pitch in meaningful games. There's a very outside shot that could happen next year for the Cubs but it's much more likely to be in 2016, and he might not want to wait. He won't have any higher value than he does now with one more year of control, and if some team offers two pitching prospects with at least one knocking on the door to the majors, the Cubs almost can't say no. A lot of fans would like to see him extended no matter the cost. I go back and forth. It's hard to find a genuine #2 starter, which is what he is, and if they just get a younger one in return that's kind of running in place. I guess we'll just have to wait to see what they get.
Thanks again for talking with us, Sam!