Feb 27, 2012; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) during photo day at HoHoKam Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
As the Twins kick off interleague play, they welcome the Chicago Cubs to Target Field. Which starters are they sending to the hill?
As a fan of an American League baseball team, the Chicago Cubs are your natural default favorite for the National League. You're actually in the minority if this isn't true. Maybe it's the reference to the early years of Boy Scouts, maybe it's the association to day games and Ryne Sandberg, maybe it's the vision of sunlight glinting off those helmets of purest blue. It could even be a bit of youthful envy at the beauty of Wrigley Field or the persona of the perpetual underdog. Whatever the case, there are a lof of soft spots for the Cubs.
Let's familiarize ourselves with the starters that the North Siders are sending to the hill as they stop into Minneapolis for a weekend set at Target Field.
|2012 - Travis Wood||0-2||4||4||0||0||0||0||23.2||15||12||12||6||10||18||4.56||1.06|
A second-round pick out of high school by the Reds in 2005, Wood made 35 starts for Cincinnati between '10 and '11 before getting sent to Chicago in a package that saw the Cubs swap out Sean Marshall. Wood seems to profile as a decent middle-of-the-rotation type starter, posting decent strikeout and walk rates in his career but at times becoming hittable thanks to a heavy (and sometimes predictable) reliance on his mediocre fastballs.
He is getting fewer swings and misses this season, but he's also getting more ground balls which has helped his batting average on balls in play drop precipitously. Wood's been the benefactor of a lot of bounces so far this season, so hopefully the Twins can help him regress to the mean.
|2012 - Jeff Samardzija||5-3||13||11||0||0||0||0||69.0||64||26||24||5||24||71||3.13||1.28|
Samardzija breached the Majors just two years after being drafted, but it was another three years until he found success as a reliever for the Cubs. This season his success has translated to a starter's role, complimenting a hard mid-90s fastball with a cutter, sinker, slider and changeup. Seven of his last eight starts have been quality starts, and he hasn't allowed more than three runs since April 19. He owns a 2.26 ERA since then, so perhaps the good news is that he's due to have a bad outing.
|2012 - Ryan Dempster||1-3||10||10||0||0||0||0||66.0||52||21||19||6||19||57||2.59||1.08|
At 35, Dempster is off to one of the best starts of his career. His once erratic command seems to have toned itself down as walk rates have hit a career low. He's doing a great job of mixing speeds between his four and two seam fastballs, off-sets it with a sinker, and of course he still has a pretty good slider.
The one thing that sticks out with Dempster: 25% of balls in play against him have been line drives, and yet his batting average on balls in play is just .250. While there isn't a complete correlation between those two numbers, you could easily expect his BABIP to be 120 points higher.
Samardzija profiles to be the most difficult test for the Twins this weekend. Wood, while capable of being a solid starter, is probably the weakest of the three starters Minnesota will see. Dempeter has been very good, and he's worth watching because he's the type of pitcher that the front office could target this winter as they attempt to fill out a competitive rotation, but there are certainly a couple of red flags in his peripheral metrics.
On the plus side we miss Matt Garza entirely, who probably has no qualms about coming into Minnesota and reminding all of us why we probably shouldn't have traded him in the first place.