WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox weekly for WARR.com.
Check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.
We’ve reached the month of August — “grind time,” essentially — and the Cubs find themselves in a position all too familiar to the franchise: sitting the basement of the National League Central standings.
What’s worse is that at this point of the season, much of the pitching staff responsible for keeping the Cubs competitive in games throughout 2014 are now pitching for other teams, leaving Chicago with just one starting pitcher, Jake Arrieta, with a sub 4.00 ERA and at least four starts.
But dwelling on the Cubs’ departures won’t do anyone any good. It’s clear now, as it as almost always been, that Cubs management are planning for 2015 and beyond. This strategy may make the Cubs a little tough to watch as they should struggle (more so than ever) through the remaining 50+ games on the 2014 schedule, but it really is for the betterment of the organization in the long run.
Examining the Atlanta Trade
As for the newcomers, let’s take a quick look at the return coming to Chicago from the Atlanta Braves, which the Cubs received in the deal that sent Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to National League East contenders Atlanta.
Victor Caratini, a 20-year-old catching prospect, is the Cubs’ big return in this deal. It may seem like a low-level price for two guys who were performing fairly well at the major league level, but Catarini was considered the Braves’ 7th best prospect according to MLB.com and will provide some depth for a minor league system that has been starved for catching talent, save for the recently drafted Kyle Schwarber.
In 87 games with the Class A Rome Braves, Caratini was hitting .279 with five home runs, 18 doubles and a .406 slugging percentage. In 2013, during his rookie ball campaign, Caratini posted similar numbers in 200 at-bats, posting a .290 batting average.
Arrieta a Lone Constant
As I alluded to earlier, Jake Arrieta seems to be the lone remaining starter on the Cubs’ staff that actually should be pitching at the major league level. Travis Wood remains an “okay” option, but he has really imploded at times this year and Kyle Hendricks could have a bright future ahead of him, but it’s really too early to say so.
Aside from Arrieta, Hendricks and Wood, it looks as though the rest of the rotation might be made up by committee, with a few new faces called up from Triple A. Perhaps a few old faces, such as Carlos Villanueva, will re-emerge as well.
Unlike former teammate Jason Hammel, Arrieta’s impressive upstart numbers haven’t faded too much at all. For the season, Arrieta has a 6-2 win-loss record, a 2.11 ERA, 106 strikeouts in 98 innings pitched and has allowed just 23 earned runs, he also has recorded Quality Starts in 11 of his 16 starts. For the month of July, Arrieta kept pace with no home runs and 32 strikeouts in 33+ innings pitched, he also held opponents to just a .167 batting average. Those are some head-turning stats for the 28-year -old right-hander in the midst of the best season of his career.
Hendricks Motoring Through Majors
The 24-year-old rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks is off to an impressive start, posting a 1-1 record in three starts with two Quality Starts, 14 punch outs and six walks allowed. The right-hander relies on a four-pitch type repertoire, throwing his fastball the majority of the time at 53 percent with an average velocity just under 88 miles per hour. Hendricks also throws a cut fastball, slider and changeup, with relatively equal reliance on each and a miles per hour range of 78 to 84 for those off-speed pitches.
Since the Cubs played a fairly soft July schedule, the real tests for Hendricks will be in the upcoming weeks as three of the North Siders’ next four opponents — the Dodgers, Brewers and Rays — are all in contention for a playoff spot.