Carlos Villanueva has been solid in the Cubs rotation. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Offensive woes and fielding mishaps have hijacked the headlines for the Cubs as the baseball season reaches the one-month mark. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the team has scored just 61 runs, 13th in the National League. And considering how much time has been spent reinforcing the basics in the last few years, it’s even more surprising that the defense has committed 17 errors in 18 games, second most in the NL. Those stats will need to improve if the team hopes to do better than the 59 wins they managed last season.
But there is some cause for optimism in Chicago thanks to a surprisingly dominant starting rotation.
The starting five as whole has a 3.11 ERA, .208 opponent batting average, 1.15 WHIP and 98 strikeouts over 110 innings. Those numbers are good for third, first, tied for first and fourth respectively.
The front five has thrown a total of 110 innings, sixth most in the NL. Because of the struggles in the bullpen (4.86 ERA, 12th in the NL), manager Dale Sveum has had his starters throw 68.8 percent of all pitches this season, the fourth highest percentage in the NL. Also, Cubs arms have managed to keep the ball on the ground 52.2 percent of the time, while allowing a home run on just 10 percent of all fly balls, good for second and fifth, respectively.
When you look at how the starters have fared individually, these stats should come as no surprise. Newcomer Carlos Villanueva carries a 1.03 ERA—top 10 for starters in the NL—into Tuesday night’s start. Despite throwing a fastball that clocks in at just 87 mph, the veteran has managed to fan 15 batters over 21 innings, walking just four.
Southpaw Travis Wood has a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings. The 26-year-old has gone at least six innings in all four appearances this year, including solid outings against the offensive-minded Brewers, Rangers and Reds.
After a solid 2012, staff ace Jeff Samardzija is trying to establish himself as one of the game’s elite this season. Though his 3.38 ERA could be lower at this point in the year, his 31 strikeouts over 26.2 innings are good for third in the NL. That puts him in the same company as perennial All-Stars Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Add in prized free agent Edwin Jackson and his 24 Ks over 22.1 innings, and it looks like the staff is in good shape.
And let’s not forget that the rotation isn’t even at full strength. Former ace Matt Garza is scheduled to return from a strained lat in early May, and free agent acquisition Scott Baker could be ready to go shortly after the All-Star break. If the offense warms up and the Cubs can find someone to get the last three outs, they have a good chance to improve on last season’s win total.
Jae-Hoon Ha continued his hot start Monday. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona all earned victories Monday while errors led to Kane County’s demise. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (6-11)
Iowa defeated Memphis 5-2 in the third game of a four-game set.
- CF Brian Bogusevic (.389 AVG) extended his hitting streak to eight games (.500/13-for-26), going 2-for-4 with a double (4), a run scored and an RBI (5).
- RF Ryan Sweeney (.372) extended his hitting streak to nine games (.344/11-for-32) with a third inning single (1-for-4).
- 3B Ian Stewart (.100) went 1-for-3 with a double (1), a run and two RBI (3) in the sixth game of his rehabilitation assignment.
- 1B Brad Nelson (.193) hit his third home run of the season, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI (11).
Tennessee Smokies (11-7)
Tennessee scored five runs in the sixth inning to break open a 2-2 tie and defeat Montgomery, 8-3.
- DH Arismendy Alcantara (.288) went 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored, two RBI (13) and two stolen bases (10). He leads the Southern League with 10 stolen bases.
- CF Jae-Hoon Ha (.306) walked, doubled and scored two runs in three at-bats.
- LHP Eric Jokisch (3-0) now ranks fourth in the Southern League in ERA (1.11, 3 ER/24.1 IP) among starting pitchers with at least three starts.
- RHP Brian Schlitter (2.2 IP, 2 H, 1 K) has not allowed an earned run in seven appearances (10.1 IP) this season.
Daytona Cubs (8-10)
Daytona jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings and held on for a 7-4 victory over Dunedin, snapping a four-game skid.
- SS Javier Baez (.234) recorded his second three-hit game of the season, going 3-for-5 with a double (4), two runs scored and an RBI (10).
- 1B Dustin Geiger (.304) went 3-for-5 with three RBI (18). His 18 RBI lead the team.
- LHP Hunter Cervenka (2.2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K) converted his first save of the season.
Kane County Cougars (7-9)
Kane County committed two errors that led to four unearned runs in a 9-6 setback to visiting Peoria.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach (.323) blasted his second home run of the season and drove in a second run with a sacrifice fly as part of a 2-for-4 outing.
- SS Marco Hernandez went 2-for-4 with two doubles (4) and two RBI (8), his first two extra-base hit game of the season.
- DH Rock Shoulders (.410) saw his six-game hitting streak snapped (0-for-2), but he reached base three times via walks and scored a run.
Jorge Soler went 1-for-4 Sunday, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Kane County Cougars beat out their opponents in a narrow victory Sunday, while Tennessee had its five-game win streak snapped in extra-innings. Iowa and Daytona also lost after struggling to get the offensive running. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action:
IOWA CUBS (5-11)
Memphis scored the only run of the game on a walk-off single in the ninth inning to defeat visiting Iowa, 1-0.
- RHP Drew Carpenter (1-2) struck out six and allowed two hits in 5.2 scoreless innings.
- OF Brian Bogusevic (.380) extended his hitting streak to seven games (.500/11-for-22), going 1-for-3 with a walk.
- RF Ryan Sweeney (.385) extended his hitting streak to eight games (.357/10-for-28) with a second-inning single (1-for-4).
- LHP Hisanori Takahashi threw 1.1 hitless innings while striking out one in his first appearance with Iowa.
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (10-7)
Tennessee’s five-game winning streak was snapped in a 9-6, 11-inning loss vs. visiting Montgomery.
- RF Matt Szczur (.299) went 1-for-4 with two walks, a run scored and two RBI (12).
- 2B Anthony Giansanti (.400) made his first start of the season, going 2-for-2 with a walk, a double (1) and a run scored.
- CF Rubi Silva (.333) recorded his second-consecutive, multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with a double (4), a run scored and a RBI (10).
- RHP Trey McNutt tossed 2.0 hitless innings, striking out one. He has held the opposition scoreless in five of six appearances this season.
DAYTONA CUBS (7-10)
Daytona allowed five runs in the first three innings and only managed two hits on offense in a 9-1 setback at Dunedin.
- IF Tim Saunders (.259) went 1-for-4 with a run scored.
- RF Jorge Soler (.378) extended his season-opening hitting streak to 10 games (14-for-37), going 1-for-4.
- RHP David Cales threw 2.0-scoreless innings, striking out three batters and allowing one hit in his first appearance of the season with Daytona.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (7-8)
Kane County allowed six runs in the sixth inning, but the Cougars pulled out a 7-6 victory over visiting Peoria.
- CF Trey Martin (.219) recorded his first multi-hit game of the season, going 3-for-4 with a double (2), two runs scored and a RBI (5).
- DH Rock Shoulders (.424) extended his hitting streak to six games (.476/10-for-21), going 2-for-4 with a double (4) and a run scored. It marked his third-straight, multi-hit game.
- LF Pin-Chieh Chen (.175) went 2-for-4 with a double (1), a run scored and two RBI (3).
- 1B Dan Vogelbach (.311) walked, scored a run and stole his first base of the season.
Carlos Gomez has been solid in the Brewers lineup this season. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty)
The Cubs will get another chance at right-hander Marco Estrada as they venture north to Milwaukee this weekend to take on the Brewers. The 29-year-old Estrada picked up the win and limited Cubs hitters to two runs on five hits in seven innings during the North Siders’ home opener earlier this month.
The three-pitch starter throws an 89 mph fastball 61 percent of the time and mixes in a change-up and a curveball. That repertoire has proved effective so far this season, at least in terms of strikeout totals—Estrada has fanned 21 batters in 18.0 innings. Last season marked his first year as a regular in the rotation, and he finished 5-7 in 23 starts, striking out 9.3 batters per nine.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the speedsters in the Brewers’ lineup have posed the biggest problems for opposing pitchers. Shortstop Jean Segura leads the team with a .367 average, while Carlos Gomez (.308/.321/.442) and Norichika Akoi (.289/.358/.437) have also proved to be tough outs early on. Gomez’s ascent has been especially surprising, considering he’s a career .248 hitter known more for his wheels and defensive ability. Then there’s 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. Though his .275 average is well below his career mark of .313, he’s hit three homers and driven in 10 and remains one of the game’s top hitters.
That said, the Brewers’ offense still has Rickie Weeks in its order. The second baseman is hitting .193/.270/.298 and hardly resembles the player who made the All-Star team in 2011. And former Cub Aramis Ramirez is still on the 15-day DL with a knee sprain and should be back in the lineup in early May.
Of course, the offense isn’t the reason the Brew Crew are 6-8 and only a game up on the rebuilding Cubs. The pitching staff has given up 5.4 runs per game, the worst mark in the National League, and they have a staff ERA of 4.75, 14th in the NL. Much of that comes from poor starting pitching. Newcomer Kyle Lohse has been tough, but ace Yovanni Gallardo has a 5.24 ERA in four starts, while prospect Wily Peralta’s ERA is 6.19 over three starts. And Milwaukee already demoted starter Mike Fiers to Triple-A.
The good news for the Cubs is that they miss Lohse. The Brewers will send right-hander Hiram Burgos—making his ML debut—to the mound Saturday and Peralta on Sunday.
Friday, April 19—RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (1-0, 4.50)
Saturday, April 20—RHP Edwin Jackson (0-2, 6.06) vs. RHP Hiram Burgos (0-0, –)
Sunday, April 21—RHP Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.00) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (0-1, 6.19)
Trey McNutt earned a win in relief for the Smokies Thursday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Tennessee claimed its third-straight win in extra-innings while Daytona and Kane County both fell short Thursday. Iowa’s matchup was postponed due to rain for the second consecutive day. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action:
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (8-6)
Tennessee scored two runs in the 11th inning, winning its third straight game at Huntsville, 5-3. Tennessee has won six of its last seven games.
- SS Arismendy Alcantara (.268) went 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base, his Southern League-leading seventh stolen base of the season.
- 1B Justin Bour (.208) walked three times and drove in three runs as part of a 1-for-3 performance.
- LF Jae-Hoon Ha (.340) scored twice and went 1-for-4 with two walks. His .340 batting average ranks second on the team (Ronald Torreyes, .385).
- RHP Trey McNutt (2.0 IP, H, BB) earned the win in relief and RHP Frank Batista (1.0 IP, H) converted his third save of the season.
DAYTONA CUBS (7-7)
Daytona fell to visiting Tampa, 13-7, in a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair. The two teams combined for 28 hits and 15 walks on the evening.
- 2B Stephen Bruno (.408) extended his hitting streak to 12 games, going 2-for-5 with a run scored and a RBI. He’s batting .438 (21-for-48) during the streak, including nine multi-hit affairs.
- C Chad Noble (.323) went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored, extending his hitting streak to five games (.421 during streak).
- 1B Dustin Geiger (.327) extended his hitting streak to 11 games (.370 during streak) with a third-inning single. He finished 1-for-5 with a run and a RBI.
- SS Javier Baez (.226) recorded two hits, a run scored and a RBI in four at-bats (2-for-4).
- RF Jorge Soler (.423) went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in his first game back from suspension.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (4-8)
Quad Cities scored a run in the 10th inning to claim a 9-8 victory over host Kane County. The game marked the Cougars’ sixth extra-inning affair in 12 games to start the season (2-4 record in extras).
- C Wilson Contreras (2-for-4, HR, R, 3 RBI, BB) homered to left field in the second inning to start the scoring for Kane County, raising his average to .360 (9-for-25).
- SS Marco Hernandez (.250) recorded his first three-hit game of the season in a 3-for-5 effort that included a run scored and a RBI.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya (.240) went 2-for-5 with two runs and two doubles, marking his first two extra-base hit game of the season.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.292) extended his hitting streak to five games (.412 during streak) with a second-inning double. He finished 2-for-5 with a RBI.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach (.294) scored a run, knocked in a run and went 2-for-5.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Through the first 13 games of the 2013 season, the Cubs have gotten everything they could have imagined from outfielder Nate Schierholtz, whom they signed to a two-year deal in the offseason. The 29-year-old leads the team in average, on-base percentage and slugging (.361/.425/.667), all while adequately manning Wrigley Field’s tricky right-field corner.
Smokies shortstop Arismendy Alcantara leads the Southern League in stolen bases. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
While rain kept Iowa and Kane County from taking the field, Tennessee and Daytona both captured a win Wednesday. The Smokies have won five of their last six games. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action:
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (7-6)
Christian Villanueva hit a three-run homer in the sixth to break a scoreless tie and carry Tennessee to a 4-1 victory over host Huntsville.
- 3B Christian Villanueva (.225) went 1-for-3 with a walk and the three-run blast to left field, his first of the season.
- SS Arismendy Alcantara (.231) stole a season-high four bases, tying teammate Matt Sczcur for the most stolen bases in the Southern League (six). Alcantara went 1-for-1 with three walks, a run scored and the four stolen bases.
- LF Rubi Silva (.390) went 1-for-4, extending his hitting streak to six games (.522) with a sixth-inning single.
- LHP Eric Jokisch extended his season-opening, quality-start streak to three games. He has pitched 6.0 innings while allowing four hits or less in each start.
- RHP Brian Schlitter walked two and allowed one unearned run in 1.0 inning of relief. He has not allowed an earned run in his first five appearances (5.2 IP).
DAYTONA CUBS (7-6)
Daytona exploded for 11 runs late (five in the seventh and six in the eighth), cruising to a 13-2 victory at Clearwater.
- SS Javier Baez (.207) homered for the second consecutive game, this time clubbing a two-run shot in the eighth inning. He finished 3-for-6 with the homer, three runs and two RBI.
- 1B Dustin Geiger (.340) extended his hitting streak to 10 games (.390) with a second-inning single. He went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs and four RBI (13).
- 2B Stephen Bruno (.408) extended his hitting streak to 11 games, going 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a RBI. He’s batting .442 (19-for-43) during the streak.
- LHP Austin Kirk (5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 SO) earned the win in relief, improving to 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA (2 ER/13.0 IP).
- Daytona walked a season-high 11 times. CF Zeke DeVoss, LF Taiwan Easterling and RF John Andreoli walked three times apiece and SS David Bote walked twice.
Javier Baez blasted his second homer of the season and recorded a stolen base Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa and Tennessee both defeated their opponents Tuesday, while Daytona struggled to overcome a nine-run deficit. The Kane County Cougars tallied one win and one loss in a doubleheader after rain postponed their Monday game. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
IOWA CUBS (4-9)
Despite being outhit 10-3, Iowa silenced the visiting Nashville Sounds with a 4-1 victory.
- RF Ryan Sweeney (.382) extended his hitting streak to six games, going 1-for-3 with a walk, a triple (1) and an RBI (8).
- C J.C. Boscan (.391) went 1-for-3 with a double (3) and a team-high two RBI (4). He’s hit safely in six of his first seven games to begin the season.
- LHP Brooks Raley tossed his second-straight quality start. He’s holding left-handed hitters to a .182 batting average (4-for-22).
TENNESSEE SMOKIES (6-6)
Tennessee hit three home runs, toppling host Huntsville 4-3.
- RF Rubi Silva (.405) clubbed his team-leading third homer. He finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored, a home run and one RBI (8).
- 1B Justin Bour (.186) went 2-for-4 with a home run and an RBI (10).
- CF Matt Szczur (.304) went 2-for-3 with a home run and a stolen base (6). He’s hitting .333 (12-for-36) against right-handed pitching.
- RHP Frank Batista (1.42) converted his second-straight save despite allowing a run in the ninth inning.
DAYTONA CUBS (6-6)
Clearwater collected 27 hits and scored in every inning, defeating visiting Daytona, 15-6.
- SS Javier Baez (.173) belted his second home run of the season, a solo shot in the third inning. He finished 1-for-5 with the homer and a stolen base (2).
- RF John Andreoli (.364) and DH Dustin Geiger (.310) collected two hits apiece.
- 2B Stephen Bruno (.422) extended his hitting streak to 10 games, going 2-for-2 with two walks, a run scored and a double (6). He’s batting .462 (18-for-39) during the streak.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS (4-7)
Game 1: Kane County plated four runs over the final two innings, defeating host Beloit 4-3 in the first game of a doubleheader.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya (.244) recorded his fourth multihit game of the campaign, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
- 1B Daniel Vogelbach (.302) went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI (6).
- LHP Jeffry Antigua (1-1, 1.00) earned his first win of the season, tossing 3.0 scoreless innings of relief and fanning three.
Game 2: Beloit scored seven runs in the second inning, racing past the Cougars, 8-3.
- SS Marco Hernandez (.200) went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, a double (2) and a stolen base (3).
- LF Wes Darvill (.348) and RF Bijan Rademacher (.360) recorded two hits apiece.
- RHP Steve Perakslis (11.37) and LHP Nathan Dorris (1.23) combined for 2.0 scoreless innings of relief.
Daytona pitcher Ryan Searle was named the FSL’s pitcher of the week. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
Daytona captured its sixth win of the season, while Iowa and Tennessee both squandered sizable leads Monday. Kane County was once again rained out. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon. The Cougars have been postponed four of the last five days. Here are the highlights from Monday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (3-9)
Iowa led 4-0 after three innings, but surrendered eight unanswered runs, dropping an 11-5 decision to visiting Albuquerque.
- 2B Darwin Barney (.500 AVG) went 4-for-5 with a double (1) and two runs scored in the third game of a rehabilitation assignment.
- LF Ryan Sweeney (.387) went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the third inning.
- CF Brett Jackson (.244) reached base twice, going 1-for-3 with a walk, a run and a stolen base (3).
Tennessee Smokies (5-6)
Tennessee couldn’t hold a 7-3 eighth-inning lead, falling to host Huntsville 8-7 in walk-off fashion.
- CF Rubi Silva (.394) went 3-for-4 with a double (3), a homer, two runs scored, a team-high four RBI (7) and an outfield assist.
- OF Jae-Hoon Ha (.368) reached base four times, going 2-for-3 with two walks, a double (3), a run scored and an RBI (7).
- 2B Jonathan Mota (.269) added two hits, going 2-for-4.
Daytona Cubs (6-5)
Daytona won its second game in a row, using a 13-hit attack to topple host Clearwater 8-1.
- RHP Ben Wells (1-0) tossed six scoreless innings, striking out four to earn the win.
- 2B Stephen Bruno (.395) went 2-for-4 with a double (5) and a run scored. He extended his hitting streak to nine games (.432), including seven multi-hit affairs.
- CF Zeke DeVoss (.233) reached base three times, going 2-for-4 with a walk, a triple (2), three RBI (10) and a stolen base (5).
- RF John Andreoli (.341) went 2-for-5 with two runs scored.
- DH Ben Carhart (.244) went 3-for-4 with a double (3), two runs scored and an RBI (6).
- 3B David Bote (.286) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (1), two runs scored and two RBI (2).
- RHP Ryan Searle (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was named Florida State League Pitcher of the Week for the week ending April 14. He made two appearances out of the bullpen during the week, tossing 8.1 shutout innings (3 H, 1 BB, 10 K). He leads the league in WHIP (0.48) and boasts the third-lowest batting average against (.107).
Despite picking up a loss, Brooks Raley surrendered just two earned runs over seven innings Thursday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona all lost while Kane County’s Thursday matchup in Wisconsin was postponed due to rain. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (1-7)
Iowa mustered only three singles in a 2-0 defeat at Round Rock, falling to 1-7 on the season.
- LHP Brooks Raley (0-2) went seven innings, surrendering two earned runs and striking out seven.
- CF Brett Jackson (.258 AVG) went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base.
- RF Ryan Sweeney (.400) went 1-for-4, recording a hit for the fourth time in six games.
- RHP Jensen Lewis (15.43 ERA) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, allowing one hit.
Tennessee Smokies (2-5)
Tennessee lost its fourth game in a row, dropping a 6-3 decision to visiting Chattanooga.
- C Jair Fernandez (.333) went 2-4 with a RBI-single. He has hit safely in all three games he’s appeared in this season.
- 3B Christian Villanueva (.231) went 1-for-4 with a double, a run scored and a RBI.
- RHP Brian Schlitter (0.00) struck out one while allowing one hit in a scoreless ninth inning. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 3.2 innings this season.
Daytona Cubs (3-4)
Daytona pitching surrendered 15 hits, including four home runs, in a 12-2 setback to visiting Clearwater.
- 2B Stephen Bruno (.370) went 2-for-4 with a double, run scored and a stolen base. He extended his hitting streak to five games (.429/9-for-21).
- C Chad Noble (.250) and LF Taiwan Easterling (.333) each went 2-for-4.
- 1B Dustin Geiger (.261) recorded his second-consecutive two-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a double and a RBI.