The Chicago Cubs completed the first month of their 2012 MLB season with a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on April 30. The Cubs finished the month with an 8-15 record. That's poor enough for sole possession of the National League Central's worst record.
The Cubs must address their deficiencies over the next few seasons if they want to become an annual pennant contender. That doesn't mean that there haven't been some encouraging signs in the inaugural month of Theo Epstein's reign as the president of baseball operations. In fact, they appear to have a nifty two-through-four combination of hitters with Tony Campana, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair.
The Cubs hit nine home runs throughout the first 23 games. LaHair is the only multi-homer hitter as he has five of them. The Cubs had no homers from their starting outfielders before utilityman Joe Mather hit one against the Phillies on April 29. LaHair has 14 RBIs, a .390 batting average and a .471 on-base percentage (OBP) to go with his five homers.
The Cubs were 3-11 before they traded Marlon Byrd to the Boston Red Sox and promoted Campana as their starting centerfielder on April 21. Campana has used his speed to work his way as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup. Campana has gotten on base in eight of nine games as he has a .370 batting average and .414 OBP. He has seven stolen bases in 27 at-bats.
The great thing about Campana's speed as a No. 2 hitter was highlighted in the eighth inning of the April 30th game against the Phillies. Pitchers already have enough difficulty pitching to Castro without concentrating on Campana at first base. Castro capitalized on a stolen base with an RBI single that cut the deficit to 4-2. LaHair would follow that up with a two-run homer that tied the game at 4-4.
Castro and LaHair should see more fastballs whenever Campana gets on. They should have more scoring opportunities whenever he steals second. Campana plus Castro is a fantastic opportunity to steal one or two runs for an offense that has had minimal slugging power outside of LaHair.
It's great to witness success from players who've been labeled as minor-league lifers, also known as "AAAA players." I just find it funny how they're playing the positions of what's expected to be the two most-prized prospects throughout the entire farm system: Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.
Jackson and Rizzo will probably get called up sometime within the next month or two. That seems inevitable if the Cubs aren't winning more than 35-percent of their games. They'd probably want to get a respectable sample size of at-bats from Jackson and Rizzo before they head into the upcoming offseason.
So what happens if LaHair or Campana continue at their current paces heading into June? Although he'd be a defensive liability, LaHair has the versatility to play a corner-outfield position. The Cubs could use 32-year-old David DeJesus as their centerfielder or attempt to trade him if they're satisfied with an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, LaHair, and either Jackson or Campana.
What if LaHair and Campana are both playing well heading into June? I don't see the Cubs placing their $136-million outfielder on the bench. The outfield would likely consist of Soriano, Jackson and LaHair with Campana either coming off the bench or getting demoted back to Triple-A Iowa. Maybe the Cubs would attempt to sell high on LaHair at the trading deadline? He'd have value just from being a left-handed power bat on the right side of 30-years-old.
Keep an eye on how these players perform in May. I understand it's unrealistic to expect them to perform at their current pace. However, maybe they'll convince management that they have long-term value or trade value within the next month. It'll be interesting to see who receives less playing time when they're ready to promote Jackson or Rizzo, or if continued success will delay those promotions.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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