I know, it's sad that this is now the lens through which I view the Cubs season, but what can I say--they're in fifth place in the division and reached a nadir of 20 games below .500 in the middle of this past week before taking the final two games from the Cardinals. There are still other reasons to watch: to witness the development of youngsters like Castro and Colvin; to see if Zambrano can get his act together in the final two months; and to continue to monitor the carousel of rookie relievers who are essentially auditioning for spots in the bullpen next season, among others. But when it comes to the actual wins and losses, it doesn't get much better than beating the Cardinals, and the Cubs have now taken two series from the redbirds in the last three weeks.
The aforementioned bullpen nearly ruined what should have been a comfortable victory yesterday, but Marmol eventually nudged the door shut against a ragtag lineup consisting of several Cardinals back-ups. Though the game was a blowout early on, the Cubs ultimately needed pretty much all of their nine runs to hold off their rivals.
The Cubs swung the bats well throughout the week, scoring 37 runs while going 3-4 against two potential playoff teams with three of the losses being of the one-run variety, giving them 29 of those frustrating defeats on the season. Twenty-nine! Even more frustrating, the Cubs held a lead in all four of their losses.
Ryno of the Week: It was an abbreviated week for Derrek Lee as he was tending to his ill grandfather for a few days, but he returned with a vengeance by launching four home runs over the weekend. His four dingers match the highest total he's had in any month so far this season. Overall this week he was 5-for-10 with three runs and 4 RBI.
Honorable mentions: Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster
Goat of the Week: When you fantasize about finally getting your shot in the major leagues, you definitely don't think your career will start the way Thomas Diamond's has. The 27-year-old lasted just four innings against St. Louis on Friday which was one inning more than he pitched against the Reds in his previous start, and he struck out just three guys in his last two starts after chalking up 10 Ks in his major league debut. His struggles cost him his spot in the rotation, as his next scheduled start will go to Casey Coleman; Diamond will move to the bullpen.
Dishonorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano, Randy Wells
And, clearly, the Cubs are going to lose. A lot. They already have lost a lot, and they're going to keep losing a lot. But I really don't mind it as much when it helps the Reds keep pace with those dastardly Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cubs' 1-5 week means they're not even keeping pace with the Astros. Or the Nationals. They do have the same record as the Royals, though. You can't pull away from us, Royals! NEVER!
Yeah, it's sad. It's a sad, sad season, and the main thing that's made fans want to grab a Kleenex (or a fork to simply gouge the eyes right out) has been the bullpen. 28th in the league with a 4.91 relief ERA. That ain't right. But at least Zambrano's coming back tonight, and he can definitely go, what, five innings? So that's good.
Ryno of the Week: Despite going hitless Friday and Sunday, Starlin Castro went 9-for-25 this week with three doubles, a triple, four runs and an RBI. His OBP since July 1 is over .400. He did make some poor defensive plays and needs to work on his focus in the field, in my opinion, but the range is there and he obviously has an arm--he just needs to harness it.
Honorable mentions: Blake DeWitt, Ryan Dempster
Goat of the Week: After hitting .250 in June and .253 in July, Tyler Colvin is just 2-for-22 in August (2-for-18 this week). He can smash a mistake fastball, but right now he can't hit much else.
Dishonorable mentions: Brian Schlitter, Casey Coleman, Randy Wells
To read more from Brandon's blog, visit Wait 'til this Year.
For the first time since 2006, the Cubs are focused on the future rather than the present. Though we've known it for months, Saturday's trade made it official: this year is over, and Cubs fans must once again wait 'til next year.
I'm just happy it's next week after a 1-5 week that pushed the Cubs' record to a season-low 13 games under .500. They lost two of three to the Astros for the fourth time this season and then gave up 31 runs in three games while getting swept by the Rockies (though 12 of those runs came in run inning--I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse).
In addition to truly losing Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot, the Cubs may have lost Carlos Silva for awhile after he left yesterday's game with an abnormal heart rate. Hopefully he'll be all right even though his team has been anything but all right here in 2010.
Ryno of the Week: While Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin combined to go 13-for-41 with a home run, eight runs scored and three RBI, I'm going with the sentimental choice: Ted Lilly. Knowing he was likely making his final start as a Cub, Lilly threw 5.2 scoreless innings in Houston but suffered yet again from a lack of run support in a 6-1 loss.
As a Cub for the last 3 1/2 seasons, Lilly made Jim Hendry's decision to sign him four years ago look like a very good one (in an offseason with many bad signings; see: Zito, Barry and Suppan, Jeff), winning 44 games in his first three years in Chicago. He has been one of the best and most consistent Cubs since 2007, and I wholeheartedly wish him well in L.A.
Goat of the Week: I have zero choice but to go with the entire bullpen. Holy crap. Cubs relievers were forced to throw 22 innings last week, and boy was that unfortunate. They allowed 31 runs in those innings, which works out to a ... carry the three ... add the six ... 12.68 ERA! When even Sean Marshall can't get anybody out, you know it's going to be a bad week for the bullpen.
Does ESPN not have access to the MLB standings? Despite being in fourth place, the Cubs found themselves in prime time the last three Sundays. They actually made ESPN's decision look good the last two weeks, beating Roy Halladay and then engaging in an exciting duel against Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals. Unfortunately they couldn't quite pull it out last night to finish off what would have been their first home sweep since a two-gamer against the Rockies back in May.
The 3-3 week went according to script with the Cubs playing down to a bad team and getting their act together against a good one; they're now 7-17 against the Astros, Pirates and Nationals but are 9-5 against the Cardinals, Phillies and Rockies.
Overall the offense fared well yet again, sparked by the solid play of the two sub-25-year-olds at the top of the order. The team is third in the majors in runs during the month of July (guess who's first, I dare you ... nope, it's the Giants) and second in home runs. If only the young guys in the bullpen were half as good as the Cubs' young hitters.
Ryno of the Week: Starlin Castro has been raking. He hit nearly .500 this week and is batting over .380 this month. He's over .300 for the season, in fact, and piled up stats this week like Nicolas Cage piles up painfully bad movies--six RBI, four runs, four doubles and two stolen bases over the last seven days.
Honorable mentions: Aramis Ramirez (who leads the majors in HR and RBI this month), Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee, Randy Wells
Goat of the Week: Oh, Carlos Silva. I haven't completely turned on you yet, but I'm definitely worried. In Silva's last two starts, his ERA has almost gone up more than his innings pitched (ERA up 0.9, innings pitched = 2.1). He'll get another shot against the Astros tonight after lasting just one inning against them last Monday.
I will quickly dispense with the negative thought that can't help but run through my mind when it comes to Aramis Ramirez--that it would have been nice if a few of these home runs and RBI had come before the Grim Reaper took his scythe and hacked the 2010 Cubs season to pieces--and move on to the positive feelings that Cubs fans are feeling after 13 unanswered runs gave them a 14-7 victory over the Astros.
Ramirez is now hitting .404 since ... well, since he started hitting. He's had at least one hit in 10 of the last 13 games and at least two hits in nine of those games. He's also had at least one RBI in eight of those contests and scored at least one run in 10 of them. Actually, you know what--let's get a little crazy; I feel a list coming on:
Last 13 games:
Most hits in any month, excluding July: 14
9 home runs
Number of games it took him to hit 9 home runs prior to the last 13: 75
RBI this season prior to last 13 games: 23
Runs this season prior to last 13 games: 19
Last two games: 10 RBI
RBI in May and June combined: 10
Season stats extrapolating last 13 games to 162-game season: .404, 112 HR, 300 RBI
You can enjoy the ride he's on right now or be angry with him for mysteriously turning into a Single-A hitter for the first half of the season. I'm doing a little bit of both, myself, but trying to forget that the first three months ever happened. What do you mean Ramirez couldn't hit an 85 mph fastball down Broadway a month ago? I don't know what you're talking about, crazy person. The Cubs have scored over 6.6 runs per game over those last 13, and in this disappointing season, I'm choosing to be thankful for the fact that now, at least, the games are watchable.
Reader Blog: Week 15 awards: Cancel that shipment of new bats--these actually seem to be working now
It was a short week in the baseball world (and therefore a long week for fans). The Cubs were one Marmol-implosion away from a four-game sweep to begin the second half, and they've been a lot more fun to watch lately--they've scored 67 runs in their last 11 games. Even Roy Halladay had to bow down to the offensive juggernaut that is the Chicago Cubs. You are no match for our muscles and legendary hitting prowess, Roy.
Marlon Byrd may have had the best week of any Cub given the impact he had in the NL's first All-Star Game win in 14 years. And Joey Votto can freakin' suck it. Since when are the Cubs and Reds arch rivals? And it's the All-Star Game, Joey! I understand that fans have a tough time rooting for players they normally root against, but you really can't set that aside for a night and get into the spirit of things? Your team is in the playoff hunt and may need that home field advantage Byrd just earned you, you jackass. Your goal in the All-Star Game is to win the All-Star Game, and if Byrd helps you do that, you should feel free to congratulate him.
Ryno of the Week: This is hard, in a good way. (That's what she said.) Aramis Ramirez had five hits in the series and five RBI. Trevor Sierra, Brian Brennan and I were debating less than two weeks ago what Ramirez's average will be at season's end. He was in the .170s at the time, and we settled on .212 as the over/under. Eleven games later, he's up to .213.
Geovany Soto hit a home run to each side of the park in the series and had four hits overall. Soriano had a couple dingers and five hits. All four Cub starters posted a quality start.
But I'm going with Starlin Castro. He batted .600 in the series with two doubles, a triple and three runs scored, and also stole home.
Honorable mention: Randy Wells hasn't been the beneficiary of the Cubs' recent offensive improvement--they've scored just 11 runs in his last six starts. His last four have all been quality starts and his ERA has dropped nearly a point since late June.
Goat of the Week: Again, not easy. Even Ryan Theriot had three hits, but he was still just 3-for-17. Plus his overall .311 OBP just angers me.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Marmol (though in Friday's appearance he was absolutely nasty in striking out Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Ben Francisco)
Yesterday's turd of a game notwithstanding, the Cubs seemed to be playing a better brand of baseball this week. I speak mostly of the offense, which put up 39 runs in the week's first six games. They drew walks, came through with runners in scoring position and generally enabled us viewers to refrain from expecting the worst for at least a few days.
The pitching was middling, however, and cost them two losses including Friday's in which Ted Lilly took the Cubs out of the game early even though the Cubs would eventually score seven runs. Lilly has not exactly boosted his trade value in the last couple weeks, but the deadline remains nearly three weeks away. Speaking of a possible Lilly trade, word is that the Mets would hope to take on much of his remaining salary so that they could part with lesser talent. I hope Hendry wouldn't go this route--Lilly's salary comes off the payroll after this season anyways, so what good does a trade do if it doesn't net some decent prospects?
Ryno of the Week: Who was that man blasting home run after home run, looking generally comfortable at the plate and enjoying the long-overdue opportunity to look up at the scoreboard and see a batting average starting with a "2"? Aramis Ramirez had at least one hit and one run in every game this week except yesterday's, and clubbed at least one extra-base hit in five different games. He was 12-for-28 with four home runs and nine RBI. It was utterly fantastic.
Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd
Goat of the Week: As happy as I am to write A-Ram's name above, I'm quite disappointed to be doling out the negative hardware to Tyler Colvin. His production has dipped noticeably in the last month or so, and he struggled to the tune of 2-for-17 this week with five strikeouts. Hopefully he can find his way through this slump and improve upon his .263 average.
Dishonorable mention: Ted Lilly
I was unfortunate enough to have tickets to Friday's 12-0 blowout at the hands of the Reds, the second time in just over two weeks I attended a 12-0 loss. This means I've seen firsthand the Cubs' two worst losses of the season (didn't it feel great to lose by only 11 on Sunday, which you might recall matched the scoring disparity in their Opening Day 16-5 loss which, it turns out, was a harbinger of the season to come rather than a mere aberration?). The last two times I've been to Wrigley, the other teams have scored 24 runs on 24 hits while the Cubs managed zero runs on five hits. The Cubs sprinkled in three errors to their opponents' none just for good measure.
It's difficult to measure the depths of the Cubs' woes here at the halfway point of the season. Saturday's win put them on pace for a 70-win season. Sunday's 14-3 pounding was a fantastically appropriate way to finish another craptastically awful week in which they managed to lose another series to the Pirates and lose three of four to the first-place Reds while getting outscored by Dusty's squad by 22 runs.
You know, even after the Reds hit line drives and moonshots all over Wrigley, the Cubs' pitching remains the sixth-best in the NL. But their record can of course be traced to an offense that is 14th of 16 in the league, and to their .243 average with runners in scoring position. They left 17 guys on base Saturday in a nine-inning game. Except they didn't even bat in the ninth, so that's over two guys stranded per inning. Their ability to ruin scoring chances would be impressive if it weren't so soul-crushing and painfully boring to watch.
Ryno of the Week: While his average has dipped to .280 in June and July, Tyler Colvin continues to be one of the most productive members of the offense. If you extrapolate his stats to the standard 500 at-bats, he would have 33 home runs and 89 RBI. He needs to be more selective and learn to hit the breaking ball, but this kid's got raw talent and those skills come with time.
Oak Park native Brian Schlitter had a chance to get the award after his major league career began with two scoreless outings against the Pirates. But Schlitter, who was acquired for Scott Eyre back in 2008, allowed five earned runs in just a third of an inning in Friday's disastrous seventh inning, inflating his ERA to 15.00.
Goat of the Week: On Friday morning, Jeff Stevens' ERA was 2.76; now it's 5.71 and he's in the minors.
Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Andrew Cashner
It's time for a change in the Cubs' dugout. It's not that they need to "inject life" into the clubhouse, as they always say; this team was DOA when the season began. It's also not a desire to see Lou Piniella punished or called out. In fact, I think Lou deserves the opportunity to resign. But the point is, he's not coming back next year, and the second half of the season will be as pointless as the first if he's still at the helm.
Wave the white flag, Jim Hendry. I know, it's embarrassing. The third highest payroll in the majors yet only a half game better than the Royals. It's bad. It's pathetic. But what's worse: yelling "Charge!" to your troops and sending them to certain defeat, or admitting that it's time to reorganize and regroup before the next battle?
I personally feel that Ryne Sandberg should get a chance to be the next Cubs' manager, whether it be today or starting in November. The organization gave him a chance to prove that he was serious about the whole managing thing back in 2007, and now he's in Iowa. He's going to get a shot with a major league team, and soon. While he certainly wasn't management material back in his playing days, he and those around him acknowledge that he's a much different person now. He knows how to communicate, how to lead, and how to work with young players. The Cubs' 2011 roster will include Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Geovany Soto, Andrew Cashner and other youngsters, making it the perfect time to give Ryno a shot.
By making the change now, Hendry can give Sandberg a chance to get his feet wet in a virtually pressure-free situation. This team's cooked, anyways. Will anyone care if he goes 30-50 the rest of the way? You could argue that hiring him in the offseason gives him a clean slate, a fresh start. But there's pressure with every new season, and high (if unjustified) hopes with each Opening Day.
And this way, Ryno will have a three-month head start on evaluating the Cubs' talent, their strengths and weaknesses. He can play an integral role in forming the team's offseason plan rather than stepping in in November with more knowledge about dining out in Des Moines than which trades or free agents the Cubs should pursue.
We knew back in March the sun could be setting on the current era. The sun shone through a window of opportunity over the past few years, but aging veterans and a decimated bullpen have brought the team to a turning point. Turn the corner, Jim Hendry. It's time for the native son to rise to his dream job. Give Ryno a chance, and do it now.
Well, that's all she wrote. The curtain is closed on the 2010 Cubs season (or at least on its chances of involving a postseason). Little did we know on the morning of April 7 how dreadfully terrible "Year One" would be. If it were a play, I would give it zero stars. DO NOT WATCH THIS PLAY! Give the tickets to the nearest homeless person and apologize to him as you do so.
It's fitting that the Cubs lost the so-called "BP Cup" because they're the BP of baseball, and not just because Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano are usually throwing batting practice to the opposing hitters. They are an absolute disaster, a failure that only William Shakespeare could give due description.
Hopefully a few of the players will be exiting stage right in the near future. Ted Lilly should bring a decent return, in my opinion. He has 46 wins as a Cub and could help a National League contender down the stretch. How Hendry will get anything for guys like Fukudome and Lee, I have no idea, but I don't see Lee returning and we have no need for the $12 million man next year with Colvin here to stay.
I'll tell you, with the Cardinals in first and the Sox on a tear, this is turning into an absolutely brutal season for me. I think I am now in a place mentally where I can start rooting for the Reds to win. No, I don't want to see Dusty Baker in the playoffs, but goddamn do I hate those redbirds.
Goat of the Week: Have to start with the Goat this week because it was just that kind of week. I think I have no choice but to go with the entire offense. The eight runs yesterday were nice, but they scored six runs in the five games before that. Six runs make for a decent game but a pretty bad week. It's really not worth singling any one player out--they're all pretty terrible. None of them can hit when it matters, and now everything after the All-Star break won't matter.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano
For Big Z to have launched into an angry tirade within the confines of the clubhouse would have been bad, but to do it in front of the cameras--to have yet another immature explosion on camera--was unacceptable. The suspension was certainly warranted, and the Cubs might as well put him on waivers and see if another team wants to roll the dice on an overpaid hothead.
Ryno of the Week: Eight innings/two runs and seven innings/three runs for Ryan Dempster. His 11 quality starts this season tie him for 11th in the NL in that category.