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Chicago Cubs vs. Houston Astros Preview, Monday 4/11, 7:05 CT: Stealing Bases, Stealing Wins?

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Ronny Cedeno of the Pittsburgh Pirates tags out Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs as he tries to steal second base during opening day at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ronny Cedeno of the Pittsburgh Pirates tags out Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs as he tries to steal second base during opening day at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Let's talk about stolen bases and what they mean -- and don't -- to baseball teams winning in the second decade of the 21st Century.

We all know that the Cubs do not have a stolen base yet this year. This is the longest any Cubs team has gone without one since 1941. That team didn't swipe one until its 12th game. However, a caveat: in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the stolen base virtually vanished from the game. Teams in that era routinely stole 70 or fewer bases. In 1941, the Cubs stole only 25 bases -- but the league leader, the Dodgers, had just 69.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, speed came back into the game and teams stole hundreds of bases -- even some Cubs teams (154 in 1984, 182 in 1985). But since power came back into the game in the 1990s, the steal has become less important. Last year's World Series winner, the Giants, had just 55 -- the same number the 2010 Cubs did.

It's way too early to tell whether steals = wins this season. The league's best record at this writing belongs to the Phillies at 7-2. They have eight steals, one above league average. Is that the reason they're winning? I'd say their .334 team BA and league-leading .484 SLG, in addition to their 3.49 team ERA, have more to do with it.

The 1969, 1970 and 1971 Cubs all had winning records with few stolen bases. The 92-win 1969 team stole only 30 (and got caught 32 times; they might as well have not bothered); Don Kessinger led the team with 11.

Get on base. That's the most important thing -- and they did that yesterday, with 11 hits and six walks. The second key is hitting with RISP -- that, they did not do yesterday (2-for-17). Combine those two and this team can win the way it is constructed.

Cubs lineup:

Castro SS, Barney 2B, Byrd CF, Ramirez 3B, Peña 1B, Soriano LF, Colvin RF, Soto C, Dempster P

I don't understand the Soto-batting-eighth either, but let's see how having Castro and Barney at the top of the lineup works.

Astros lineup:

Bourn cf, Sanchez ss, Pence rf, Lee lf, Wallace 1b, Johnson 3B, Inglett 2b, Quintero c, Figueroa p
Today's Starting Pitchers
Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster
Cubs
vs. Nelson Figueroa
Nelson Figueroa
Astros
0-2 W-L 0-1
6.59 ERA 10.13
13 SO 2
4 BB 1
2 HR 0
vs. Hou -- vs. Cubs

Nelson Figueroa is a slightly above league average pitcher. And yet, he seems to just kill the Cubs. His overall numbers don't bear that out -- he's 3-5, 3.79 lifetime vs. the Cubs (14 appearances, eight starts), a little better than his overall numbers, but nothing special. Nevertheless, he's got a number of recent games where he's shut Cubs teams down, including the final game of the 2010 regular season in Houston, where he threw six shutout innings. Current Cubs, though, are hitting .325 against him (26-for-80); Aramis Ramirez hits .316 against him (6-for-19) with a pair of homers.

Ryan Dempster has a 6.59 ERA so far this year, even though it doesn't seem as if he's pitched that badly. Maybe Minute Maid Park will be the solution -- he's got a 2.79 ERA there in his last six starts in that ballpark. The Astros' Carlos Lee has been his nemesis: 13-for-36 (.361) with three doubles and two HR. Dempster was Figueroa's opponent in the Oct. 3, 2010 game, which is also the last time these two teams met.

Today's game is on CSN Chicago Plus (check your cable listings) and my20 in Houston. Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Astros site Crawfish Boxes.

Today's first pitch thread will be up at 7 p.m. CDT and the overflow threads will post at 8 pm, 9 pm and 9:45 pm CDT. If you need more overflows due to rain delays or extra innings, post them in the fanshot section.

Discuss amongst yourselves.