Robel Garcia was never going to be the answer for the 2019 Chicago Cubs. And though his placement in the leadoff spot has unnecessarily hastened his exposure, the sparkle was bound to fade at some point. He provided a burst the Cubs seemed in desperate need of at the time he was called up, but is likely destined for a little more seasoning at Triple-A if the Cubs manage to make a deal at the deadline.
It’s fitting that the human firework came came up on July 3 and had a big game the following day. With a homer and triple included in a three-hit effort that saw the Cubs try to destroy Clint Hurdle and the Pirates both metaphorically and literally, there was a sense that things had turned around. Ah, but we’ve grown all too familiar with the boos that tend to follow the oohs in this season’s pyrotechnics display.
None of that is on Garcia, of course, since he is who we thought he’d be. The big-swinging switch-hitter had a reputation for either running into pitches or missing them completely, so it was only a matter of time before big league pitchers discovered and exploited a weak spot. Which means it’s time for the Cubs to no do something about their own weak spots, though ideally it’s a solution with slightly more permanence.
Garcia’s first two weeks (through July 16, 26 PAs) were actually far better than anyone could have predicted, complete with a .348/.385/.913, three homers, a 212 wRC+ and a .497 wOBA. He was having a major offensive impact without displaying the defensive butchery we were told to expect, all of which served to make Addison Russell even more expendable than he’d already become all on his own.
Those numbers were clearly unsustainable, though, and it was evident from the slim margin between average and OBP that the bottom would fall out quickly once things began to slide. And, boy howdy, has that happened in the time since. Over his last 37 plate appearances, Garcia is slashing .139/.162/.278 with a .200 wOBA and a 6 wRC+ that includes a homer and a triple. He has walked just once in that time.
So, naturally, he’s hit in the leadoff spot in each of his last three games played, the most recently of which saw him don a golden sombrero. If that seems like an odd choice, just remind yourself that Joe Maddon likes to put struggling players at the top of the order and that fans have a really ridiculous concept of lineups and lineup construction. But what’s more ridiculous: Wondering why in the blue hell Garcia is leading off, or thinking that batting him leadoff is going to suddenly change his entire approach?
Listen, shifting the batting order around for any one game isn’t going to make a huge difference in the season as a whole. However, a team that has struggled to string together hits and produce consistently competent offensive results can’t afford to be making decisions that have a decidedly non-zero chance of failing miserably.
Garcia, who was out of American baseball for five years after heading to Italy to keep his dream alive, may be the best story of the season for this team. Perhaps even all of MLB. But the fact that the Cubs have had to lean on a guy who barely made the organization this spring in the first place, is not a particularly encouraging endorsement for where this team is at right now.
If he is their best option atop the order — and he’s not by a long shot, but his usage there says at least one person believes he’s viable — things have gone sideways. If you want to be upset about that, direct your ire toward Maddon for batting Garcia at one. Be mad at Theo Epstein for not being able to provide a better solution. Be mad at Tom Ricketts for tightening the purse strings. Just don’t be mad at Garcia.
That I actually wrote those last few lines, let alone this post in general, is a testament to just how weird this season has gotten.