|Fight Hurts Silva’s Chances to Start||| Print |||Send|
Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on March 07, 2011
Chemistry in baseball is overrated. Ask the 1990 Cincinnati Reds about it. Ask the 1986 New York Mets. Ask Billy Martin's Yankees and Charlie Finley's Oakland A's of the 1970s. Guys do not need to get along for a team to find success.
That said, it's never a good sign when the internal tension begins in Spring Training. Nor do 15 errors in the first six games of Cactus League play portend well. Yet so goes the spring thus far for the Chicago Cubs. The dugout brouhaha between Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez serves notice that not all will be hunky-dory under new manager Mike Quade.
Ramirez has come into camp in excellent shape and with a commitment to being a team leader, so he took Silva to task for chewing out the team. The scuffle that ensued does not seem to have seriously fractured the clubhouse, but whereas Silva loses some face in the wake of this incident, Ramirez may actually rise in the estimation of coaches and players.
In the past, the biggest knock on Ramirez has been lethargy. He often seemed to come into the year a bit overweight or a bit slow, and as a result, he has historically started slowly:
ARAMIS RAMIREZ CAREER OPS BY MONTH
Partially because of that history, Ramirez's attitude and conditioning this offseason have come as a revelation. Derrek Lee's departure seems to have cued Ramirez to step up as a team leader, and for Silva, the choice to make an enemy of Ramirez was a poor one.
The Cubs have a long road ahead. They still need to solidify their pitching staff and the fifth outfield spot before the end of the month, and once the season starts, the real work will be even tougher: The team still lacks on-base ability, command pitchers and (apparently) the ability to consistently catch and throw in the field.
This incident should not disrupt the team too much as camp progresses, but it changes everything for Silva. Whereas he once was the odds-on favorite for the fifth rotation slot, his poor showing and poorer comportment early in camp may erode that initial edge, leaving the door open to one of four or five candidates who are also getting their chance.
Cashner is the most intriguing option. He flashed triple-digit heat out of the bullpen last season and has good raw stuff on his secondary offerings. His success in demonstrating starter-level command of those other pitches will determine whether or not the team lets him get a sniff of the rotation in 2011.
Russell's greatest advantage is that he is the only left-handed candidate to join what is currently an entirely right-handed rotation. He, too, may lack the command for the job, but his change-up is good enough to make him a weapon against both right- and left-handed hitters.
Braden Looper took all of 2009 off but has had recent success in the division as a starter. He has to be a dark horse but pitched well in his first outing of the Cactus League schedule. Todd Wellemeyer, who came up as a Cubs reliever before finding success as a starter in St. Louis, could also make a push with an exceptional showing.
Silva once stood comfortably atop that totem pole; his position is now much more precarious. Cashner may be the new favorite, and Russell remains on Silva's tail despite a rough start. This is a fascinating and important position battle, and if Silva loses it, he may not be in a Cubs uniform on Opening Day.