Fresh off of a win, the Miami Marlins will try to get their season back on track during a seven game homestand. The Chicago Cubs, losers in 8 of their past 10 games, will be in Miami from Thursday through Sunday for a four-game series.
Although the Marlins have the worst record (5-16) in baseball, the Cubs are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins, with their record sitting at 6-14. Both teams sit in the basement of their respective divisions.
At this point last season, the newly rebranded Miami Marlins were 7-9 and in last place in the NL East.
To preview the series between the Chicago Cubs and the Miami Marlins, I had an email chat with Joe Han, the editor of Cubbies Crib, the Fansided Chicago Cubs site. Joe and his staff do an excellent job of covering everything Cubs related. Be sure to check out their great site for all Cubs-related news and updates.
Without any further ado, here is my chat with Joe:
Ehsan Kassim: So is Jeffery Loria paying Carlos Marmol to give the Marlins a chance to finish with a better record than the Cubs? On a serious note, what has been his issue this season?
Joe Han: It’s a combination of mechanics and the mental aspect of being a closer that haunts Marmol. Cubs fans are familiar with his struggles so far this season from his track record over the past couple of seasons. He has a tendency to drop his arm slot on the nasty slider of his and gets himself into trouble with walks. As things start to snowball (Marmolcoaster as was recently coined), he becomes unraveled mentally and its pretty much game over for the Cubs.
To his credit, he has accepted the advice of his pitching coach and manager. He is no longer allowed to shake off his catcher and they have been trying to get Marmol to throw more fastballs as a result. The plan kind of back fired on him in Atlanta when he got burned by the Upton brothers. While he has not been lights out since being demoted from the closer’s role, he has become to show signs of returning to form.
Ehsan: Is Dale Sveum crazy for suggesting that he would demote Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro? Or was he just blowing smoke? Does Cubs nation feel like he is the right manager to lead them back to the playoffs?
Joe: I had a recent blog post to discuss Sveum’s rant and I believe the reason for it was twofold. Both players had defensive lapses in the field in the sweep at the hands of the Brewers over the weekend and Rizzo has hit under .200 for much of the young season despite leading the team with six home runs. The comments are a reminder to the young phenoms that they need to bring it every day.
These two are certainly not the only ones that have had their share of mistakes in this rough start to the 2013 season for the Cubs, but the other take I have on Sveum’s quotes is that he is molding the accountability aspect of being a leader. As the cornerstones of the Cubs infield and the future, it may be a tough love lesson on developing Castro and Rizzo as team leaders.
As for the fan base’s take on Sveum and how he has done so far, I think its still too early to tell. Last year’s squad was gutted by the trade deadline, so the 100 plus losses don’t all fall on his head. But some of the positives touted with his hiring included a mindset of no non sense, play the game the right way approach have yet to translate on the field. Just see Exhibit A and B in Castro and Rizzo above. The Cubs GM has come out to confirm that Sveum is the guy. The sarcastic interpretation is that Sveum’s fate is now sealed, but the organization knows that the team is still in rebuild mode. Many of the fans cried for a full rebuild after the Hendry era and now that we have gotten what we asked for, we have to sit tight and grind it out until the overhaul starts to bear fruit.
Ehsan: Theo Epstein is one of the better GM’s in baseball. What do you think about the plan that he has laid out for the Cubs and how soon do you expect the team to become contenders again?
Joe: In year two of the rebuild, we’re at the point where its just a matter of executing the plan. Epstein and Company have made the most of their international spending limits under the new CBA with the signing of a pair of Cubans. The farm system has noticeably improved, but it remains to be seen whether that is an indictment of just how bad the minors were previously or if the magic Epstein had in Boston is really translating here in Chicago.
My expectation remains that the Cubs will be contenders in 2015. Some of the local media are starting to back track that to 2016 and 2017, but I think the system has enough position players to field a solid roster by then. The question will really come down to the pitching behind ace in the making Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs will attempt to address that need in the upcoming draft in June and to speed up the contending timeline, Epstein and Hoyer may dip into the free agent market like they did with Edwin Jackson this past winter.
Ehsan: Gut feeling right now, who will finish with a worse record, the Marlins or the Cubs?
Joe: For the sake of full disclosure, I have not kept up with the Marlins much from the off season until now. Obviously no one can ignore the blockbuster trade with the Jays and an off season approach that I would guess reminded Marlins fans of the fire sale in the 90s. On that limited knowledge I am led to believe the Marlins are at about the same level as the Astros at worst.
Call me biased, but I am going to go with the Marlins having a worse record. The silver lining in the bad start to the Cubs season so far is that they have been in all of the games, with none of the losses being more than four runs down. The schedule makers did the boys in blue no favors with a stretch that included the Rangers, defending champion Giants, and currently the defending NL Central division champion Reds. After 100 plus losses last season, I expect an improvement to at worst 92 losses for the 2013 Cubs.
Ehsan: Can you give us a quick scouting report on the Cubs pitchers the Marlins will face this series?
Joe: Edwin Jackson is still searching for his first win as a Cub and has struggled with the one bad inning that ends up doing him in. So far he seems to be nibbling on the edges of the plate too much. Hopefully a familiar NL East opponent in the Marlins from his days as a National will help him get back on track.
Scott Feldman has been a disappointment so far, struggling with his command in all of his starts. His last one against the Brewers was a bit more promising after 10 days off with a back issue, but his own error on defense helped his demise in that game.
Travis Wood has been better than advertised so far this April and I expect him to continue his excellent start to the season on Saturday. He reminds me of Ted Lilly without the big curveball. Wood won’t overpower hitters, but has been attacking the strike zone with his mix of pitches. His win loss record would be better reflective of his efforts if it weren’t for his bullpen and anemic Cubs offense.
Carlos Villanueva has been the other pleasant surprise in the rotation. He signed with the Cubs this off season despite not being guaranteed a rotation spot. Thanks to injuries he has been given his chance and he has been pitching like a man on a mission to not let go of his starting role. Villaneuva is another pitcher that won’t overpower you with his stuff, but the term junk baller is almost too crude a label for him. He can change speeds on all of his pitches to help keep batters off balance and has shown excellent command so far this season.
Ehsan: Make a bold prediction for the series. Which Cubs hitter wills step up for the team? Which pitcher?
Joe: Watch for Alfonso Soriano to have a great series. He has been hitting well lately despite just one home run, and the warmer climate of Miami leads me to believe he will have at least two home runs in the series. While casual fans outside of Cubs nation may see the 30 plus homers and 100 plus RBI from last season, Soriano had not hit his first homer until May last year.
He further turned back the clock on Tuesday night, stealing two bases on back to back pitches. I can’t remember the last time I saw him steal two bases in a game let alone in one inning as a Cub. Soriano is capable of carrying a team on his shoulders when he gets hot and I think Miami will be the perfect setting for that to happen.
It would be a bold prediction to say that Scott Feldman has a dominant outing, but I don’t see that being realistic. I am going to go with Carlos Marmol quietly earning his closer’s job back during the Miami series, without Sveum necessarily announcing Marmol as his closer.
A big thank you to Joe for taking his timeout to talk to us. We at Marlin Maniac wish all Cubs fans the best of luck in the upcoming series. If you get a chance, please check out Cubbies Crib for some of the best Cubs content on the internet. I also answered some questions for Joe and they should be up on Cubbies Crib as well.