Miami Marlins Series Preview: @ Chicago Cubs

Alfonso Soriano may be one of the key Cubs who are moved by the trade deadline. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis /Getty Images)

The Miami Marlins travel to Chicago to face the Chicago Cubs for a three-game set during a midwest swing that will also take them through Pittsburgh. The Fish are looking to pick up some steam against a poor Cubs team, and at least earlier in the season, the Marlins were able to do such a thing. The last time these two teams met, the Fish came away with a sweep of the Cubs and helped recover after a poor April start.

Tale of the Tape

Marlins Stat (Rank) Cubs
.305 (22) wOBA .298 (28)
87 (T-25) wRC+ 80 (T-29)
4.15 (20) ERA 4.24 (24)
3.76 (8) FIP 4.26 (26)

Finally, a team that has stats that are worse than the Marlins'. As bad as the Fish have been, they were expected to be better but just have not been. The Cubs, on the other hand, figured to be bad and have actually been bad this season. But the Cubs have the advantage in that Theo Epstein and company knew this would be a rebuilding season that was important to build trade value and evaluate assets; the Marlins, on the other hand, saw the 2012 year as a competitive campaign that is closing in on circling the drain.

Stadium: Wrigley Field

Area Dimensions (ft)
Left Field 355
Left-Center 368
Center Field 400
Right-Center 368
Right Field 353

Five-Year Run PF*: 1.04
Five-Year Home Run PF*: 1.04

*Denotes five-year regressed park factors as calculated by Patriot here

Series Preview

To preview the series, I sent a few questions over to Al Yellon of SB Nation's Cubs blog Bleed Cubbie Blue. Al and I have crossed paths with regards to the Marlins before, but this time, we discussed the Cubs and how they have been doing in a set of questions.

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1) The Cubs have had issues this season, but one good problem they have had is having two first basemen who have both hit well. Bryan LaHair has been excellent in 2012, picking right back up from his awesome 2011 cup of coffee. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo has started off well in the majors after tearing through Triple-A. How do the Cubs "resolve" their "two first basemen" dilemma? Can LaHair handle the outfield?

Bryan LaHair is definitely NOT a right fielder, but that's the only place they can play him right now to keep his bat in the lineup. Alfonso Soriano is the immovable object in left field (figuratively and literally); LaHair would be a little less bad defensively in left.

Long term, with prospect Brett Jackson presumably ready in 2013, LaHair probably has to be traded, if Soriano isn't. LaHair is no kid -- he'll be 30 in November -- so the Cubs would probably be well-advised to sell high on him, if they can.

2) Starlin Castro has done a little worse this season than in the last two years. What is different about this year with the All-Star shorstop?

Castro needs some time off. Until a couple of days before the All-Star break, he had started every game and only missed a couple of defensive innings. Unfortunately, the way the Cubs are currently constructed, their backup shortstop is the starting second baseman, Darwin Barney. Unless the Cubs can come up with a competent backup infielder who can start a game every now and then, Castro is going to be playing every day.

Another possibility is this: Castro drew just six walks in his first 52 games. The Cubs have an interim hitting coach -- James Rowson -- after firing Rudy Jaramillo in mid-May. Since early June Castro has drawn eight walks -- but is hitting only .231/.276/.361. It may be that in an effort to get Castro to be a bit more patient, they've taken away the aggressiveness that makes him such a good hitter. A middle ground on this would be nice.

3) Matt Garza has come back to Earth after an amazing 2011 season. What would it take to pry him from the Cubs now at the trade deadline?

That's a good question. Garza did throw outstandingly well in his last start, Sunday against the Diamondbacks. The Cubs are looking for a third base prospect and young pitching; how much of that, and at what level it would need to be, in return for Garza, remains to be seen.

One thing about Garza that any acquiring team needs to know: he's been much better at Wrigley Field than on the road for the entire time he's been a Cub. That seems odd, given Wrigley's reputation as a hitter's park, but here are the splits.

2011: 2.46 ERA, 1.12 WHIP in 17 starts at home; 4.56 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in 14 starts on the road
2012: 2.12 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 7 starts at home; 5.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 10 starts on the road

It doesn't seem like a fluke, because it's now gone on for a year and a half. I don't really have an explanation, either.

Oh, and one more thing. Matt Garza should never be allowed to touch a baseball hit on the ground near him. He simply cannot make easy throws to first base.

4) Can the Cubs trade Alfonso Soriano by the trade deadline?

Sure they can. There's approximately $45 million left on Soriano's deal. They would probably have to eat about $40 million worth of this to make Soriano dealable; that way, an acquiring team is paying about $5 million for a good-hitting DH/part-time OF for the rest of this year. If the acquiring team doesn't want him after this year, they simply release him and the Cubs pay the rest of the deal.

Soriano played six games at DH this year and hit .360/.407/.880 (9-for-25 with four home runs). He seems perfectly suited to the role; now, the only question is: does any team need such a player?

5) Are the Cubs on the upswing or downswing after the first half of 2012 under the guidance of Theo Epstein and the new front office staff?

Clearly, on the upswing. The team has started to play better and Theo and Co.'s 2012 draft was widely praised. It will still take 2-3 years to make a contending team out of this bunch, but they do appear headed in the right direction. Acquiring some young talent at the trading deadline would help, too.

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I want to thank Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue once again for answering my questions. Good luck on the series!

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