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"The fate of the Chicago Cubs' future appears to rest for now on the shoulders of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro," Bruce Levine wrote last week for ESPN Chicago.
"But the growth chart for both young players has been a slow and grinding process this season.
"Castro, a two-time All-Star, has failed to get the job done on both offense, batting a career-worst .246, and defense (15 errors) this season. Although Castro's raw defensive skills have improved (he has a 22-game errorless streak) as far as fielding goes, insiders point to indecision and poor positioning as a weakness for the 23-year-old shortstop.
"Rizzo, who has done well when making contact, has had his own problems on defense. Positioning for cutoff throws and calling cover plays have been challenging for him.
"Meanwhile, Rizzo's batting average fell off to a season-low .232 after Wednesday's 0-for-3 performance in a 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds."
Maybe, as The Cub Factor has suggested before, playing on a crappy, makeshift team filled with transients isn't the best way for core players to develop.
The Week in Review: The Cubs got swept by the Reds and then lost two of three to the Cardinals. They were shut out three times and mustered all of one run in the St. Louis series. The one game they won against the Cardinals was on Cubs Travel Kit Day, which makes sense given that the Cubs have an NL-worst 24-38 record at home, including 13 losses in their last 15 games at Wrigley.
Week in Preview: The Nationals come in for four and then the Cubs head west for three in San Diego. Prognosis: Negative.
The Second Basemen Report: Someone just end it! Can't the Cubs come up with a hangnail or something and put Darwin Barney on the DL for the rest of the season? His 4-for-16 week ended on Sunday with a typical 0-for-4 performance with one strikeout and five left on base. Five. His slash line is .217/.267/.324 and frankly, like most of the lineup these days, he doesn't look like much of a major-league player.
Neither does Logan Watkins, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his one start last week. He has two hits in his 15 major-league at-bats. Then again, he was only hitting .243 in Des Moines when he got called up.
The Third Basemen Report: Or . . . The Legend of Donnie Murphy.
Murph the Smurf went 3-for-7 with an RBI in last week's first two games against the Reds to continue his hot hitting, so naturally Dale Sveum sat him in the series finale in favor of Cody Ransom, who went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
Murphy returned the next day and went 2-for-2 with a walk and an RBI and 1-for-4 the game after that, when he was moved to shortstop after Starlin Castro gave a run away when he lazed a short outfield fly. Ransom came in to play third and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, giving him five strikeouts in a row. There's really no sense in Ransom getting any more at-bats in a Cubs uniform, but Dale has a bet with hitting coach James Rowson over whose average will be lower at season's end, Ransom's or Barney's. The winner gets soup at Mendy's.
Murphy, by the way, ended up going 6-for-16 on the week, including getting rooked on the worst check-swing call in major-league history. That's a .375 clip. Barney, on the other hand, went 4-for-16 on the week, just two hits worse. That's a .250 clip. Just one dying quail . . .
Meanwhile, the notion that the Cubs have stockpiled talent at third base confuses stockpiling players with stockpiling talent.
Mike Olt, whom some thought would be in a Cubs uniform by now as the third baseman of the future, continues to struggle in Des Moines with a .191/.283/.383 slash line. He has 118 strikeouts in 329 Triple-A at-bats this year. He was supposed to be back on track thanks to some eye drops, but that was more than a month ago.
Josh Vitters, also in Des Moines, is back on the DL for the fourth time this year.
And though Javy Baez may end up playing third in the majors, he's currently a shortstop. (Similarly, Junior Lake was a third baseman in the minors who isn't likely to ever return to the infield.)
That leaves Christian Villanueva and Kris Bryant, two third-base prospects who are doing relatively well but hardly resemble a "stockpile," particularly given that Bryant may end up in right field or even first base, depending on former top prospect Anthony Rizzo's suddenly cloudy future.
Villanueva has 16 HRs and 65 RBIs for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. He also has 101 strikeouts and his OBP is just .324.
As for Bryant, he was promoted from low-A ball Boise to high-A ball Daytona after just 18 games, but let's not get carried away. He's in high-A ball.
Wishing Upon A Starlin: This is what we wrote last week:
The Cub Factor's enduring image of Starlin Castro this week is when he signaled to his teammates that he had just assisted in the first out of a particular inning when in fact it was the second. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies watched it happen on replay but ignored it, perhaps fearing the backlash Bobby Valentine received for infamously tracking Castro's lack of, um, game awareness during a nationally televised game last season. Which is lame.
"You need your shortstop to be the leader of the team," David DeJesus said. "On every winning team you see your shortstop be that guy. He has to understand, 'I'm the guy everyone has to be leaning on.'"
Sveum has made similar comments in the past, but it's folly to think it's ever going to happen. It's not in Castro's DNA. As it is, he doesn't call the infield plays now - that task falls to Darwin Barney.
Let's face it: for all of Castro's athleticism, including range and a cannon for an arm, he just doesn't have the head to play shortstop. Right field is suddenly getting quite crowded.
The Legend of Dioner Navarro: It's cute but pathetic that our favorite current Cub is actually getting some time batting clean-up now. Of course, he went 2-for-5 with two runs and a RBI while doing it last week, because that's who Dioner is, but c'mon!
Welington Castillo is also seeing time in the four- (and five-) hole, and Len and J.D. can't stop talking about how well he's hitting. He went 3-for-19 last week, but I've started to get the feeling lately that their broadcasting different games than the ones I'm watching.
I mean, I like his 28 walks - that's why he's got a .350 OBP with a .271 BA - but walks aren't what you want out of the four- and five-hole. Typical Cubs, screwing up in reverse.
Weird Wednesdays: Once again, Sveum put out a Hump Day lineup card that beggars belief.
And once again, I checked the Des Moines Cubs' lineup for that day to see if it would have been equally competitive. The answer: Yes. I mean, I'm pretty sure that the boys from Iowa could have scratched two hits too.
Mad Merch: Sunday was Cubs Tin Lunch Box Day. Let's go with that.
Laughable Headline of the Week: Is It Really Starlin Castro's Fault If He Doesn't Know How To Play Baseball?
Deserted Cubs: As predicted: Tony's back in The Show!
And guess who took his roster spot in Reno?
Former Hot Prospect Watch: Former first-round draft pick Brett Jackson has been demoted to Tennessee. He is hitting .179 in his first 56 at-bats there.
Ameritrade Stock Pick of the Week: Shares of End It Already are sold out.
Sveum's Shadow: Dale Sveum's Five O'Clock Shadow moves two hours forward to 8:30 p.m. due to exasperation with his core. And just like his Uncle Lou, Dale knows that he's not supposed to hit his kids, but he can't help but feel a little spanking might do some good at this point.
Shark Tank: Same old story: 110 pitches in six innings.
Last week we wrote:
Samardzija is also an overly intense competitor - which makes him his own worst enemy and, at times, a drag on his team.
Jeff wants it so bad that sometimes he just gets out of whack . . . A lot of times, not just as pitchers but as players, we are our own worst enemy because of our effort level.
We take no satisfaction in always being right. To the contrary, It hurts.
Jumbotron Preview: Five-thousand-seven-hundred square-feet of interim manager Dave McKay.
Kubs Kalender: Wait 'til
next year 2015 2016 2017.
Over/Under: Darwin Barney hits the rest of the season: +/- 7.
Beachwood Sabermetrics: A complex algorithm performed by The Cub Factor staff using all historical data made available by Major League Baseball has determined that the Cubs don't have a core.
The Cub Factor: Unlike
Alfonso Soriano Starlin Castro, you can catch 'em all!
The White Sox Report: Know the enemy.
The Cub Factor welcomes your comments.