Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Game & Series Recap: Reds 4, Cubs 0 (Cubs win 2 games to 1)

Recap

No brooms tonight, as the Cub's offense was shut down again. How is this team going to hit the opponents best couple starters if they do make the post season, if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys?
-Dan

I know you probably didn't mean it the way it sounded, Dan, but that's the sort of comment that will drive me to stand atop tall buildings and look longingly down at the concrete sidewalk far below. Despite the butt-kicking they received last night, the Cubs have been one of the winningest teams in baseball since the All Star Break. Rather than look negatively at how they failed "to score against number 3-4 guys," I think we should call it what it was -- Reds pitcher Justin Lehr pitched a hell of a game. Expecting any team, be they the Dodgers, or Cubs, or Cardinals, to always beat the 3-4 pitchers in a rotation is a mistake. Teams like the Cubs will surely smack around the Justin Lehrs of the world more often than the Justlin Lehrs smack them around, but not always.

Meanwhile, Cub fans are anxious to give Rich Harden's job to Grozelanny, because Rich has been below-average this year while Gorzo had one solid start. I'd suggest that this might be a case of jumping the ol' gun a bit. Harden suffered from One Bad Inning syndrome last night (the pathos of which were explored in detail by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior several years ago) but if he manages to pitch 6 innings while surrendering only 2 earned runs and striking out 9 every time he's out there, I don't think the Cubs would be justified in taking him out of the rotation.

Also, I think it's pretty ironic that Justin Lehr kicks the team's ass and people are ready to question the team's ability to win, while Gorzelanny kicks the Reds ass and people are ready to prop him up and give him a role in the rotation. Guys, dudes, bros, Lehr and Gorzelanny are essentially the same guy right now -- number 3-4 pitchers who had great games and nothing more until they prove otherwise!

Anyway, at least the Cardinals lost again, keeping the Cubs propped in first place for the time being. It's interesting to note that they were essentially shut down by not one but two "3-4 guys" on the Mets roster -- Jonathon Niese, who left the game in the second inning and Nelson Figueroa, who pitched 4.1 scoreless innings in relief lowering his ERA to 6.75 on the season. I can't help but wonder how the Cardinals can win in the post season against good teams' best couple starters if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys?

Also: today is an off-day, so along with Cubs 101 we will probably have a Roster Thoughts article sometime in the afternoon. I'll probably use the opportunity to dispell the continuing misconception of Jeff Samardzija and his remaining options while waxing hypothetical about what moves need to be made.

Current Record: 57-49
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, .002 percentage points ahead of the Cardinals
Magic Number: 55 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 113-49
Worst Possible Record: 57-105
Record needed to win 90: 33-23
On Pace For: 87-75

One inning?

My issue with Harden is two fold one is durability the other is the number of innings per outing he can pitch. He has pitched two more innings in three more games than Randy Wells. He made it through the 7th inning 3 times this season. The less we have to rely on our bullpen the better it is.

Wait, you wanna make him a

Wait, you wanna make him a reliever instead? As far as I know, the general consensus has always been that starters have an easier job staying healthy given their strict routines, regardless of the heavier workload every fifth day.

Yes

I want to make him a reliever. Unless, the guy can show me that he can go deeper than the 5th inning. Didn't Wood actually finish a season as a reliever? I mean how many full seasons did Wood pitch as a starter?

Let's Not Get Giggly

Kurt, your point is taken. Good and even great teams do have off nights and sometimes get beaten by mediocre and bad teams. That's baseball. But take into consideration that in the 106 games that the Cubs have played this season, they have scored two runs exactly 16 times, they have scored just one run exactly 12 times, and they have been shut out exactly 9 times. That's 37 times in 106 games that they have scored two runs or less. They rank 10th in the NL in runs scored. It's difficult to view them as a WS contender when they rank in the lower half of the league in runs scored. And while the Cubs have been one of the winningest teams in baseball since the all-star break as you said, shouldn't we take into account that their 14-6 record includes 4-0 vs Washington, 5-1 vs the Reds, and 3-1 vs Houston. They managed only one win against the Marlins and one win against the Phillies, and anyone who watched the Phillies series couldn't have helped but noticed that the Phillies are pretty much in a different league altogether. Thus far, the Cubs are 18-27 vs teams with winning records, and 39-22 against teams who don't have a winning record. BTW, I'm not going to get too excited about Gorzellany's first start. Not only was it one game, but it was against the Reds, who rank 15th in the NL in runs scored. What was impressive was how he consistently got ahead in the counts against the Reds hitters. It's just tough to get too excited when you know that Dusty has his team brainwashed by now to believe that walks clog the bases. Look at the past WS champs and compare their #1-2 starting pitchers to Zambrano and Lilly (should be Harden but what's the deal with him this year?), their closers to Kevin Gregg, the rest of their bullpens to walk-an-inning Marmol and company, their defense, contact hitting, OBP and OPS, and clutch hitting, and proven veterans on the bench who still feel they have something to prove. While it would be nice to see the Cubs win three consecutive division crowns, that's not quite the goal I've been waiting for them to reach. Now stay away from those tall buildings and bridges Kurt and remember, it's less painful to expect little from the Cubs and be pleasantly surprised when they do well, than it is to make them out to be WS champs only to have reality deliver a swift smack to your face.

A fair point, but consider

A fair point, but consider that before the month of July they ranked something like 15th in the NL in runs scored. The Cubs we've seen are not necessarily the Cubs we've got. From April through June dopes like me kept saying that they were better than what their offense indicated, and they seem to have demonstrated that in July.

My feeling is that, barring the occasional outing in which they are hard pressed to score runs or even shut out, they will probably do pretty well offensively more often than not. And let's also not ignore, just to prove a poorly-made point, that the Cubs have scored something like 86 runs in their last 14 games, an average of 6.14 per, which I would put up against any other team in the league.

One other thing, Dan... since our silly pre-season proclamations, I'd challenge you to find an article written by me (or any Goat Rider, for that matter) declaring the Cubs to be certain, or even likely World Series winners in 2009. Nobody here is "making them out to be WS champs," which I would find just as concerning as when somebody casts serious doubts on their chances just because they get shut out by a mediocre pitcher.

After all, in the same article you just replied to I voiced disagreement with Cub fans for thinking Gorzo to be an obvious asset based on one start, much as I voiced disagreement with Cub fans for prepping to jump ship again based on one shut-out. I think that probably the sanest route to take would be cautious optimism, with a pragmatic outlook based on past performance and ability -- untapped or not -- of players on the roster.

Same Cubs Team

Well, this isn't the same Cubs team that was sorely missing Aramis Ramirez for two months, I'll give you that. They have been scoring a bunch more of late, but again, look at the level of competition. Where do the Reds and Nationals pitching staffs rank? Which pitchers have the Cubs been scoring eight or ten runs off to compile that 6+ runs per game? I'll answer that question for you. Since the AS-Break, the Cubs have scored 6 or more runs ten times in 20 games. Only two of the opposing SP's in those ten games had ERA's under 4.00, Lannan of the Nats and Roy Oswalt. And Oswalt only went 1.2 innings before he was taken out of the game due to injury, so the Cubs took advantage of the getting into the Houston pen early on in that one. In each of those two games, the Cubs scored 6 runs. How about the other 8 games? Here are the number of runs the Cubs scored in those 8 games and the names of the opposing SP's with their ERA's after those games. 6-Cueto (4.27), 9-Badenhop (4.19), 12-Ortiz (5.57 and DFA'd by Houston), 12-Hampton (5.36), 8-Harang (4.25), 10-Moyer (5.65), 11-Garrett Mock (7.71), and 6-Zimmermann (4.63). Now I ask, do any of those pitchers resemble the quality of pitchers the Cubs will face if/when they make it to the post season? Kurt, my pointing out the fact that the Cubs were shutout by a mediocre no name pitcher does not mean whatsover that I take that as evidence that their offense is poor. My comment was more in jest. But not only have they been shut down on several occasions by that sort of pitcher, they have been held scoreless or barely managed to score a run or two off the better pitchers in the league. Just because they have slaughtered some pitchers with ERA's in the 5's doesn't mean they will be able to even score two runs against anyone they will run up against in the playoffs. That 6+ runs per game since the AS-break won't do them a bit of good against the likes of Billingsley, Kershaw, Happ, Hamels, Carpenter, Wainwright, Beckett, Lester, Verlander, Jackson, Chamberlain, Burnett, or Sabathia.

I would suggest you take a

I would suggest you take a look at how all teams fare rather than just the Cubs. For example, you outlined the number of times the Cubs have scored 2 or fewer runs in a game without considering that pretty much all teams score a small number of runs in losses and a disproportionate number of runs in wins. I would also suggest you check how the Cardinals have fared against winning teams compared with losing ones.

Beyond that, you point out that the Phillies "were in a different league than the Cubs" in their recent series, ignoring that one loss - the only route - occurred in Ted Lilly's last start before he was DL'd, one loss occurred in extra innings, and one other game was a close win. Hardly "a different league."

"Kurt, my pointing out the fact that the Cubs were shutout by a mediocre no name pitcher does not mean whatsover that I take that as evidence that their offense is poor."

Well, you did say "the Cub's offense was shut down again. How is this team going to hit the opponents best couple starters if they do make the post season, if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys?" The implication is that you don't think they can hit good pitching, and you later go on to elaborate that the Cubs have been offensively tepid in 37 of their 106 games played. Seems like it's a pretty logical conclusion on my part that you think poorly of the Cubs offense, particularly pertaining to their chances against a good pitcher.

When considering how the team would do in the playoffs, in my opinion it seems that you are giving opponents' pitching an awful lot of credit and the Cubs' pitchers not much at all. You mention the Cubs have scored 2 or less 37 times, ignoring that they've held opponents to 2 runs or less something like 35 times. The theoretical advantage of any team isn't in how they do against their opponents' ace in the playoffs, but instead how they do against their opponents' #2-#4 guys. That's why deep teams might win (or lose) Game 1 by a score of 2-1, while blowing out Game 3 by a score of 8-3. The Cubs, should they make the playoffs, have a better offense than the numbers imply but, more importantly, they have deeper pitching than many teams in the league -- especially the Phillies.

Anyway, I think it's clear -- and you apparently agree -- that getting shut out by a bad pitcher is pretty meaningless, which was the point of our disagreement. As for the team's chances in the playoffs, I wouldn't really venture a guess as I think the post season is a total crapshoot and I do NOT believe that the best team always -- or even often -- wins. I totally understand why you might be cautious with your post season expectations, but if the Cubs get there I will strongly defend my belief that they will have a 25% chance of reaching the World Series (regardless of opponents) and a 12.5% chance of winning the Series. Let the experts weigh any advantage or disadvantage beyond that point, but I'll feel pretty certain that they're basically making it up as they go and will only successfully predict the winner through sheer luck.

Because it's a crapshoot, sir. Whether the Cubs are 0-40 or 40-0 against winning teams, it's a crapshoot and we won't know how they'll do until they play the games.

P.S. Just a request ... if you wish to continue debating me on anything, please use paragraphs rather than one block response. No offense, but it gets tough to read when it's one long paragraph.

Offensive Blackouts

It's hard to get complete information, but this is what I found using the press notes available on mlb.com:

The Cubs have scored 0-2 runs 37 times this year, going 3-34.

The Cardinals have scored 0-2 runs 30 times, going 5-25.

The Cubs have scored 0-3 runs 46 times, going 7-39.

The Cardinals have scored 0-3 runs 52 times, going 15-37.

(The Cardinals have scored exactly 3 runs 22 times, going 10-12. The Cubs are 4-5 when scoring 3.)

The Cubs are 50-10 scoring 4 or more, 54-15 scoring 3 or more.

The Cards are 44-13 scoring 4 or more, 54-25 scoring 3 or more.

The Cubs are, I guess, more prone to complete offensive shutdowns than the Cards, but if they can avoid a complete shutdown, the Cubs are better off.

Sounds Like a Lot of Work

That sounds like it would take quite awhile to compile all the data, and I don't even know where to find some of it. I have to think that having a true ace to start game one is more important than having better 2-4 SP's in the playoffs. How often does the team that wins game one go on to win that series, especially in a short 5-game series? And how many starts do you think a #4 SP will make, even in a 7-game series? I suspect the ace would get two starts and possibly even three if the series were to go seven games, and I don't think the 4th best starter would even get one.

I know we began by debating the offenses, and BTW I agree with you that any team that makes the playoffs could possibly pull off a WS victory. A mediocre Cardinals team won the WS a few years ago, much to my displeasure, so the best teams don't always advance. I just happen to think the Cubs chances, with the team as presently constructed, aren't very good. And it sounds like you agree as you aren't predicting a WS championship for them. But you did point out that they have been one of the winningest teams since the AS break, and I contend that their 14-6, now 14-7 record since the break is tainted by their 9-1 record versus the Nationals and Reds. Afterall, that would make their record against the rest of the league 5-6 since the break.

It goes without saying that a team needs to score to win. But they also need to pitch well, play defense well, and be fundamentally sound. The Cubs rank near the bottom in team defense, and anyone watching their games should be able to see that they make too many fundamental mistakes such as throwing to the wrong base, getting doubled off on line drives and fly balls, failing to execute the sacrifice bunt, being out of position to take the throw from the catcher in an attempt to tag a would be base stealer out at 2B.

A good measure of the offense and pitching is where the Cubs rank in the key stats making up those two criteria, compared to the other likely playoff teams. Here's how the most likely NL playoff teams stack up:

RS: Phil, LA, Col, Stl, Atl, Chi, SF
OBP: LA, Col, Phil, Atl, Chi, Stl, SF
OPS: Phil, Col, LA, Atl, Chi, Stl, SF

ERA: SF, LA, Chi, Atl, Stl, Col, Phil
Least Runs Allowed: SF, LA, Chi, Atl, Stl, Col, Phil
OBP: SF, LA, Stl, Col, Atl, Chi, Phil
OPS: LA, SF, Atl, Stl, Chi, Col, Phil
WHIP: SF, LA, Stl, Atl, Chi, Col, Phil

Run Differential: LA, Phil, Col, SF, Chi, Stl, Atl

So the Cubs finished no higher than 3rd out of seven in any category, and 5th or 6th in all but team ERA and Runs Allowed. The Dodgers finished no lower than third in every category.

Lastly, how do the top four SP's for each team compare(I've listed four even though the #4's don't see much action but you said that the 2-4 SP's are most important)? That's really about all the teams will start in the post season. I've always liked WHIP and ERA as the best measures of how good SP's are, and here they are with ERA's followed by their WHIP's:

LA: Kershaw 2.89/1.27 Wolf 3.55/1.20 Billingsley 3.82/1.28 Kuroda 4.44/1/19
Phil: Happ 2.74/1.12 Lee 2.95/1.96 Blanton 4.02/1.29 Hamels 4.68/1.32
Col: Marquis 3.49/1.25 Jimenez 3.65/1.26 Cook 3.93/1.41 Hammel 4.62/1.49
SF: Lincecum 2.20/1.04 Cain 2.25/1.16 Zito 4.47/1.37 Sanchez 4.49/1/42
Chi: Wells 2.73/1.14 Zambrano 3.35/1.35 Lilly 3.59/1.15 Dempster 4.09/1.38
Stl: Carpenter 2.26/0.97 Wainwright 2.791/28 Pineiro 3.18/1.11 Lohse 4.56/1.35
Atl: Jurrjens 2.85/1.24 Vazquez 2.99/1.05 Hanson 3.22/1.33 Lowe 4.15/1.40

So, ranking the aces in ERA's, then the #2's, #3's, and #4's:
Lincecum, Carpenter, Wells, Happ, Jurrjens, Kershaw, Marquis
Cain, Wainwright, Lee, Vazquez, Zambrano, Wolf, Jimenez
Pineiro, Hanson, Lilly, Billingsley, Cook, Blanton, Zito
Dempster, Lowe, Kuroda, Sanchez, Lohse, Hammel, Hamels

By these numbers, the Cubs would rank (in ERA's) with the 3rd best ace, 5th best #2, 3rd best #3, and best #4. Stl would be 2nd, 2nd, 1st, and 5th. SF would rank 1st, 1st, 7th, and 4th. Atlanta would rank 5th, 4th, 2nd, and 2nd. LA would rank 6th, 6th, 4th, 3rd. Phil would rank 4th, 3rd, 6th, and 7th. Colorado would rank 7th, 7th, 5th, and 6th. Stl and SF would be the teams you wouldn't want to face if the criteria is SP. Dang, that's more searching and keying than I was planning on.

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