The Astros: The Best Thing to Happen to the Cubs in 2012
A few weeks ago, the Cubs were in last place and the fans were getting impatient. Then this happened (metaphorically speaking).
Via Grant Brisbee, who writes: "every so often, a play will come along that requires closer inspection. A play so bad, so awful, it needs to be broken down and saved for posterity."
What may not be clear about this play, and needs to be understood for the play to be appreciated in all its glory, is that it occurred in the top of the 11th inning in a tie game. Roger Bernadina was on first, and slap-hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki was attempting to bunt him to second to put him in scoring position. He did so quite badly, requiring Bernadina to stop and make sure the bunt wasn't caught in mid-flight. What was supposed to get the batter out and advance the runner one base—and what was almost a double play—ended with two errors, a run, and the bunter on third.
Most reasonable people, including myself, assumed that no matter what Theo Epstein chose to do to the Cubs, the Astros would find a way to be worse. And on June 29, the 27-49 Cubs played the 32-45 Astros. The Cubs won that day, and swept the three-game series. Since the 29th, the Cubs are 16-16. The Astros are 4-30. In July they went 3-24, the fifth worst month in baseball history, while trading 75 percent of their opening-day payroll. The Cubs managed to shed most of their trade bait during the same period, and managed to tred water; the Astros collapsed while doing the same. And their best player this season in terms of wins-over-replacement, Jed Lowrie (2.5 WAR, a bit better than Starlin Castro) is another trade candidate.
(Fun fact: the Cubs best player by WAR is... Alfonso Soriano! He's been worth 2.9 wins, 45th among position players.)
Make no mistake, the Cubs are still a bad team. On both sides of the inning, walks are killing them. When batting, they walk less than any other team in baseball (an abysmal 6.5 percent); when pitching, they walk opponents more than any other team (3.71 BB/9). But they happen to share the NL Central with not just the worst team in baseball, but a team that—for the remainder of the season at least—promises to be one of the worst teams in baseball history.