Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Marlon Byrd

Running down the rosters: Chicago Cubs


Forget about 2012 and probably 2013 as well; the Cubs are thinking long-term after luring Theo Epstein from Boston as their new showrunner. This year’s club won’t necessarily be one of the worst in baseball — the pitching depth could help it avoid that fate — but there’s also little in the way of upside until more of the youngsters come along.

Ryan Dempster  -R
Matt Garza – R
Randy Wells – R
Paul Maholm – L
Chris Volstad – R

Carlos Marmol – R
Kerry Wood – R
Jeff Samardzija – R
James Russell – L
Marcos Mateo – R
Andy Sonnanstine – R
Scott Maine – L

SP next in line: Travis Wood (L), Rodrigo Lopez (R), Sonnanstine, Casey Coleman (R)
RP next in line: Chris Carpenter (R), Manuel Corpas (R),  Lendy Castillo (R)(Rule 5), John Gaub (L), Rafael Dolis (R), Casey Weathers (R)

The Cubs have yet to find a Garza trade to their liking, leaving the rotation as the team’s strength. No one from the group aside from Garza stands out, but the team should get reasonable innings from everyone. I have the other five starters projected with ERAs ranging from 4.18 (T. Wood) to 4.42 (Maholm).

The bullpen, on the other hand, will need a bounce-back season from Marmol, a healthy Wood and continued improvement from Samardzija if it’s going to be any good. The last three spots should all be up for grabs. I like Carpenter, but he’s going to have to throw a few more strikes in spring training to claim a spot initially. Castillo, a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies, could be kept and hidden as a mop-up man.

RF David DeJesus – L
SS Starlin Castro – R
CF Marlon Byrd – R
LF Alfonso Soriano – R
1B Bryan LaHair – L
C Geovany Soto – R
3B Ian Stewart – L
2B Darwin Barney – R

C Welington Castillo – R
INF-OF Jeff Baker – R
INF-OF Blake DeWitt – L
OF Reed Johnson – R
OF Tony Campana – L

Next in line: C Steve Clevenger (L), C Jason Jaramillo (S), 1B Anthony Rizzo (L), 2B-3B Adrian Cardenas (L), 3B Josh Vitters (R), INF Matt Tolbert (S), INF Bobby Scales (S), INF-OF Alfredo Amezaga (S), OF Dave Sappelt (R), OF Brett Jackson (L)

The lineup appears set, as the Cubs have made it clear that Rizzo will start off at Triple-A Iowa. It could actually be surprisingly productive if LaHair proves that his 2012 was no fluke and Soto continues his even year-odd year pattern (he had an .868 OPS as a rookie in 2008 and an .890 OPS in 2010).

As for the bench, we’ll have to wait and see what happens to DeWitt. He re-signed for $1.1 million last month, only to be designated for assignment in February. The Cubs could cut him and eat about $200,000, but he’s not such a bad guy to have around. If not DeWitt, then the last spot could go to Tolbert; ideally, someone on the bench would be able to serve as a backup shortstop. As is, Barney is the second option there.

Outside of Castro, no one in the lineup here is a great bet to be on the next contending Cubs team. Byrd and Soto are candidates to be traded this summer. Of course, the same goes for Soriano if he can play well enough to draw a suitor. Ideally, Rizzo, Jackson and maybe even Vitters will occupy lineup spots in the second half the season.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.