Over the years, I’ve covered all kinds of Cubs teams: good ones, potentially great ones, mediocre ones and bad ones.
With the current edition trying hard to avoid 100 losses, you’d have to call it a bad one. That’s obvious.
But I will say this for the 2012 Cubs: They haven’t quit.
It would have been easy, especially after management dealt away many productive veteran players around the July 31 trading deadline. At the time, it was easy to predict the Cubs losing a whole lot of ballgames and careening toward a 100-loss season.
That indeed happened, but it was for lack of talent, not for lack of effort.
Credit manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff. They haven’t stopped instructing or paying attention to details, even this week.
In Tuesday night’s game at Houston, Darwin Barney hit what appeared to be a sacrifice fly to medium center field. Starlin Castro tagged up from third and headed for home.
Problem was, recent September call-up Dave Sappelt took off from second and was tagged out at third before Castro could touch home plate.
The Cubs didn’t score on the play and wound up losing 1-0. Sveum said, in no uncertain terms, that Sappelt was at fault and that he planned to address it with him. In other words, Sveum didn’t let it go, just as he hasn’t let anything else go all season.
There are other reasons for the Cubs having not quit. They have a bunch of young players, and those players are looking to impress and win jobs for next season.
Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger have had their good and bad moments.
Rizzo is locked in as the team’s first baseman for next year, but he and the others know they’re being watched. And there’s always something to be said for youthful enthusiasm.
On top of all that, young and old veterans have stepped up and shown some pride or led by example. Jeff Samardzija was shut down after his last start, but he made sure nobody was taking the ball from his hand as he went 9 innings at Pittsburgh to put a complete-game capper on his season.
David DeJesus slumped to 4-for-24 on the just-concluded road trip, but he has been a model of consistency in his approach all season.
Darwin Barney’s hard work has paid off in a National League-record errorless streak that is approaching the major-league record, and Starlin Castro seems to understand that with his new rich contract comes responsibility.
We’ll save left fielder Alfonso Soriano for last. The new Cubs management team appealed to Soriano’s pride, and first-base coach Dave McKay got through to him in a way nobody else has when it comes to outfield play.
Soriano has made 1 error all season, and that came as he was running in and trying to make a play instead of giving up on it. He has learned to make friends with the Wrigley Field wall and a few others around the league, too.
In Wednesday’s game, he leapt at the left-field scoreboard at Minute Maid Park, made the catch and started a nice 7-4-3 double play.
At the plate, Soriano looks assured of finishing with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. There was talk in print this week that Soriano would be an MVP candidate if the Cubs were a contending team. Perhaps.
And who knows? If the Cubs were a good team, it’s possible Soriano’s numbers would be even better with a better supporting cast around him.
Just for fun, I looked up Andre Dawson’s numbers when he won the MVP with the last-place Cubs in 1987. Dawson came in at .287/.328/.568 with 49 homers and 137 RBI. Baseball Reference had Dawson at 3.7 wins above replacement player (WAR).
Soriano enters the weekend series at Pittsburgh with a line of .260/.316/.502 to go along with his 29 homers and 96 RBI. His WAR is 1.6.
Like Dawson, Soriano is respected in the clubhouse. He has a sunny disposition, works hard and is willing to mentor young players.
A few years from now, all people will see about the 2012 Cubs will be the won-loss record, whether it’s 59-103, 62-100, 63-99 or 65-97.
It won’t be good, and nobody should be anything close to satisfied. But if the long term turns out well, maybe it will have started because this year’s club refused to pack it in.
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