At 9-17, on the surface, it would not seem that the Chicago Cubs have much to be happy about as the season rolls into May. As a rebuilding team, however, the Cubs did, in fact, have a lot to celebrate in the month of April, and in the big scheme of team building, they can call the month a success.
There were major struggles both at the plate and on the mound for the Chicago Cubs, no doubt, but the good thing is that the majority of these issues came at the hands of journeymen players that are not in the Cubs long-term plans. Reliever Jose Veras lost his closing job. Pitcher Carlos Villenueva continued to struggle in the starting role. Second Baseman Darwin Barney cannot seem to find his stroke this season.Outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney are hovering around the Mendoza line. All of these problems make for a sub-par record, but looking to the future they are nothing to worry about.
Speaking of the future, the players that the Cubs are hoping will become the new faces of the franchise have had an excellent month of April. Shortstop Starlin Castro has cut down his gaffes in the field and also rediscovered his offensive consistency at the plate. The 24-year-old former All-Star is batting .306 with already 33 hits this season. Fellow infielder first baseman Anthony Rizzo is batting a solid .283 while leading the club with four home runs and an astounding 18 walks. Also having great seasons so far are utility player Emilio Bonafacio and pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. Both right handers have the possibility of being in the Cubs long term plans and their successive quality starts should only improve those chances. Through the first month of the season, here are the Cubs’ top player of the month and top pitcher of the month.
Player of the Month: Emilio Bonifacio. Though the 29-year-old utility player cooled off a bit towards the end of the month, Bonifacio gave Cubs’ fans something to be excited about even as the club dropped six and even seven games behind the red hot Milwaukee Brewers within the first couple weeks of the season. Bonifacio began the season on a 9-12 tear and did not let up until the end of the month, holding close to a .500 average well into April. Currently hitting .337, the eight-year pro out of the Dominican Republic has filled holes at second base, shortstop, third base and center field for Chicago as other players have struggled and battled injuries. Wherever the useful utility man plays, he seems to have found a home at the top of the Cubs’ lineup and is in the top three in steals in the National League with 10. Originally Bonifacio was not in the club’s long term plans, but if he continues to get on base the way he has, the Cubs will have to make room for him.
Pitcher of the Month: Jeff Samardzija. It may seem counter-intuitive to name a hurler a pitcher of the month when said hurler has not won a game yet this season, but it just goes to show how difficult pitching for the Chicago Cubs can be. Despite a 12-game winless streak that dates back to last season, Samardzija has been lights out so far this year. In six appearances the hard throwing right hander out of Notre Dame has given up only nine earned runs in 41 innings of work. He has also struck out 31 and walked just 13. The seven-year pro has an 0-3 record so far this season, but most of that is due to the fact that in the first four games that Samardzija pitched, he received a grand total of four runs in support. If the right hander continues to pitch as he did in the month of April, he should definitely be among the league leaders in victories when all is said and done this season.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika
GLV Sports Writer for the Chicago Cubs