With the Cubs and Mariners doing battle until 11:30 and an early morning World Cup game for the U.S., I have just one question in light of Lou Piniella returning to Seattle, where he managed for 10 years, and Milton Bradley being back in the same ballpark as the Cubs.
Who is having a worse year?
- Lou Piniella
Piniella is the lame duck manager of a team eight games under .500. He usually looks like a homeless person. He answers "What else can I do?" in response to 90 percent of reporters' questions, and yelled at a reporter and at Steve Stone for suggesting he should play Colvin more, and then promised to play Colvin more each time. He was also roundly criticized for moving his highest-paid pitcher to the bullpen (a move I agreed with, but I doubt he takes much solace in that).
- Milton Bradley
He's batting .214 with a .301 OBP. He's earning $11 million and yet is owned in just 3.6 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. He spent 13 days on the "restricted list" after admitting he's crazy. He has managed not only to make the Cubs' trade for oh-so-terrible Carlos Silva look good--he's made it look like one of the best trades they've ever made.
Last night's game was a perfect example of Lou and Milton's struggles--the Cubs lost with another meek performance while Bradley went 0-for-3.
The Cubs have had plenty of problems on offense this season, and they've struggled at times on the mound. But last week, their most prominent deficiency was in the field. After committing a rather unreasonable 12 errors in six games, they have now committed the third-most in the majors. Errors last week:
Lee: 3 (committed six all of last season)
The Cubs allowed four unearned runs in a 9-5 loss Tuesday, four more in a 7-6 loss Friday, and had they not given the Angels four more on Saturday, they would have ... well, lost 8-0. But still.
I was "lucky" enough to see Saturday's demolition in person, and I guess we can't be surprised that this feast or famine team followed up that drubbing with a 12-1 pounding of their own. Here's hoping the offense can remain locked in as the Cubs will face two Seattle starters with sub-three ERAs, including Cliff Lee, and then Felix Hernandez.
Ryno of the Week: Colvin continued to rake, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, six RBI and three runs scored. He's now hitting .339 at home. But how nice was it to see Carlos Zambrano put together a couple good starts, especially yesterday's? His line--7 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 7 K--was his best of the season, and he added two hits and an RBI just for the heck of it.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady
Goat of the Week: Alfonso Soriano continues to look lost at the plate despite two hits yesterday, but being there live to see Ted Lilly get banged around leads me to give him this inglorious distinction. He needed 104 pitches to get through 5.1, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He's been great this year, but Saturday just wasn't his day.
Reader Blog: No-hit duel between Lilly and Floyd fits right in with MLB's 2010 theme: Pitching Rules
What a game that was on Sunday. A no-hitter through eight. Oh, and a no-hitter through 6.2.
You really have to tip your cap to Lilly, as he continues to mow down opposing hitters despite getting virtually no run support from the hitters in his own dugout. He has received two or fewer runs of support in nine of his ten starts, which is why he's 2-5 despite a solid 2.90 ERA. Lilly's getting even less run support than Roy Oswalt who demanded a trade because of the Astros' offensive ineptitude. It may not be long until Lilly, who will be a free agent at season's end, makes a similar request. His last five starts have looked like this:
It's difficult to pitch well knowing you're probably going to get just a run or two of support, but Lilly has been stellar. Watching the Cubs offense makes me want to rip my heart from my chest just to put an end to the agony, but fortunately Lilly just bears down even more.
This year it seems that the Cubs aren't the only team driving their fans nuts with a lack of hitting. Sunday's unique affair in which both starters went at least six innings with a no-hitter--the first time since 1997 that this has happened--was just another example of the dominant pitching that has been on display throughout the 2010 season. It seems like every week there's a new pitching accomplishment to talk about. To wit:
- There have already been two perfect games this season, three if you count Armando Galarraga's. There had never before been more than one in a single season, and there was once a 54-year stretch with just two perfect games.
- There have been three total no-hitters (including the perfect games), four with Galarraga's. That puts MLB on pace for seven or eight. There were seven in 1991.
- Last season, 11 pitchers finished with an ERA under three, the second time since 2000 that the number was in double-digits. Right now, 25 pitchers are under 3.00.
- Ubaldo Jimenez, who tossed one of the aforementioned no-hitters, has a positively Bob Gibson-like 1.16 ERA. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia has a 1.49 ERA, and 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg has baffled hitters in his first two starts.
- Guys named Jonathon Niese and Mat Latos have thrown one-hitters, and there have been two more on top of that.
- The Cardinals and Mets played 19 innings before scratching a run across on April 19, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks needed 14 innings to break a scoreless tie on June 2.
And it's not just a matter of individual impressive performances. Take a look at the league ERA over the last 10 years:
So what in the world is going on? Well, a lot of players and managers posit that it's simply the "ebb" part of a natural ebb and flow. While that's legitimate, it's of course impossible not to draw a connection between baseball's war on steroids and the war pitchers are waging on hitters in 2010. It's June 15 and the league's leading home run hitter has 19 long balls. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in one month back in 1998? So yeah, things have changed a bit.
It's not just home runs, though. Ben Walker of the AP points out that home runs, runs and batting average are at their lowest rate since 1998. Troy Renck at the Denver Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that hitters are no longer ashamed of striking out, and that average hitters are swinging for the fences even if it means they might come up empty. A quick look at the numbers shows that strikeouts are indeed up a bit, though not much.
In the hitters' defense, it is still relatively early. Bats tend to heat up with the weather, so it wouldn't be surprising to see run totals go up with the temperature forecast. But for now, it's a pitcher's world and hitters are just living in it. Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that we're seeing more outs than balls out of the park, but I do foresee one problem: Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are going to have one heck of a time choosing the pitchers for their All-Star rosters.
Well, at least one of the Chicago baseball teams got back on track this weekend.
Wait, that doesn't provide me any solace--I hate the Sox! Leave it to the Cubs to get the struggling South siders rolling again. Mark Buehrle's been struggling, hasn't gone more than 5.1 in his last three starts? No problem! A.J. Pierzynski can't hit the broad side of a barn? Take a crack at the Cubs' staff! Gavin Floyd has the worst ERA in the majors? No worries--how does a no-hitter through 6.2 sound?
After a 3-4 week in which the Cubs sank to a season-low eight games under .500, they're 7.5 back of the Reds after getting a game back with yesterday's exciting win. The Sox are the same number back of the Twins and have Detroit to chase down as well, so it's safe to say Chicago baseball isn't as good as, say, Chicago hockey.
After Lou's tirade against Steve Stone, it looks like he may have finally glanced at the stat sheet. He said yesterday that Colvin "is going to play a lot more than he has been" even though the same suggestion from Stone elicited a tirade in which he said "What job has [Stone] had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? ... I'm tired of these guys, I really am."
But the fact is, though Colvin went 0-for-3 yesterday, all he's done the last 15 times Lou started him is go 19-for-48 (.396). And one of Lou's "five major league outfielders" is hitting .185 in June after hitting .253 in May. This slump was as predictable as the sunrise since it has happened all three years he's been a Cub. I'm talking, of course, about Kosuke Fukudome. Both Colvin and Fukudome are left-handed and, conveniently, one of them sucks and one of them is good along with being an important piece of the team's future. So apparently Lou is able to take suggestions, just not without yelling at the person first.
Although, I'll believe it when I see it since Lou also said on June 5 that Colvin would "be in the lineup most of the time," and he then sat four straight games June 9-12. Lou's change of heart back on the 5th, you'll recall, was after a reporter asked about Colvin's playing time and he snapped at him, too. Sigh.
Ryno of the Week: Obviously Ted Lilly, who would have been 2-0 were it not for Marmol's blown save in Milwaukee. He threw 16 innings and allowed just one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out 11 and thrilled a wet crowd at Wrigley by taking a no-hitter into the ninth (more on that tomorrow). Ex-Cub Juan Pierre kept him out of the history books but it was still a fantastic week for Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.
Marlon Byrd gets a special mention after a ridiculous 13-for-26 week that included two home runs and five RBI. He's batting .333 on the season.
Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker
Goat of the Week: Though he doubled and scored the only run yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was still just 2-for-20 last week. He's in one of those funks where he's swinging at just about everything, and he's now batting .111 in June.
I have to say, it was almost as if James Russell was trying to win this fake award. In two appearances he went 1+ innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, good for a 45.00 ERA. He was summarily sent to Triple-A Iowa.
Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome
This isn't really working for me right now. It hurts me more than you to say this, but I'm just not really enjoying our time together. I mean, 1-4 against the Pirates and Astros? Those are two of the four National League teams that are worse than you. That's right, there are only four teams worse than you. Your 25-31 record would put you last in the NL East and ahead of only the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Sure, you've wedged your way into third in the crappy NL Central, but you're 7.5 games behind two teams while being just 3.5 games ahead of last-place Houston.
But honestly, Cubs, it's your offense that really got me to thinking. You're on pace to score 677 runs, 30 fewer than last year. You're 13th in the league in runs scored, ahead of only the Giants, Astros and Pirates. And let me remind you that you are 3-11 against the Astros and Pirates. Watching your offense through an entire game is like watching Britney Spears's career arc: it's painfully long and drawn out, and you know it's not going to end well.
Sorry, now I'm just being mean. What I'm trying to say is that our relationship isn't fun like it used to be. Do you know how it makes me feel to see Aramis Ramirez batting .169? Do you know what it's like to see that Geovany Soto has just one more RBI than he did on June 7 of last year? Can you possibly understand the pain that comes with knowing there's one bad Carlos on your team, and his last name isn't Silva?
But I digress. Look, you know that I'll always watch you. I've watched you ever since we first met, and I'll keep watching you no matter what. But you're driving me into the arms of TiVo, and you're starting to make me think that we need to make some serious changes. I'm talking about trading Lilly, Lee, and any other veterans that other teams will take off your hands. It's just that I think this version of you might be bad for me. In fact, I think you might just be a bad team, plain and simple.
There, I said it.
I'm sorry if that hurts, but it's how I feel. I needed to get some of these things off my chest, and I hope you understand where I'm coming from. Hopefully we can somehow make this work.
Ryno of the Week: Per usual, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about on the offensive side. Nady is heating up as he went 5-for-7 with a homer and three RBI; Byrd was on fire in Houston and went 7-for-16 on the week; and Koyie Hill had two big hits in Houston and was 4-for-10 on the week with three RBI.
On the mound, both Jeff Stevens and Bob Howry threw 2.1 scoreless innings--neither pitcher has allowed an earned run as a Cub this season. And the Cubs' bullpen overall was a bright spot last week: they allowed just one earned run in five games. The award goes to the newest member of the 'pen, Andrew Cashner. He tossed three scoreless innings of relief in three appearances, and his considerable talent was readily evident in his smooth delivery and mid- to high-90s velocity.
Honorable mention: Ryan Dempster
Goat of the Week: I'm going to go with Randy Wells. He made two starts last week because he failed to get out of the first inning against the Cardinals on May 28. He did not go more than 5.1 innings in either start and had more first inning trouble on Sunday. Through 12 starts, Wells sports a 4.86 ERA. Through 12 starts last year, he had a 2.72 ERA. Would you like fries with your sophomore slump?
Dishonorable mentions: Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Carlos Zambrano
Yet another youngster has made his way to the Cubs' 25-man roster. Andrew Cashner joins Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto in the Cubs' somewhat odd mix of up-and-coming prospects and aging veterans. I'll try to provide a little context to Cashner's rise through the ranks of the organization.
First of all, it's not all that surprising that he has worked his way to The Show this season. The Cubs bullpen has been a revolving door since Opening Day:
Opening Day bullpen
Only three pitchers have survived the first two months of the season: Marshall, Marmol and Russell. And of course Zambrano saw some time in the 'pen as well. The Cubs have used TWELVE guys in relief already this season. In 2008, they used 14 total (excluding Randy Wells and Carmen Pignatiello, who pitched just two and three times each, respectively).
Cashner was drafted 19th overall by the Cubs in 2008 out of Texas Christian University where he was both a starter and a reliever. It was actually the second time the Cubs drafted him and the fourth time he was drafted overall (that happens pretty often in baseball). He stands 6'6, taller than every Cubs pitcher except for Marshall, and is 23 years old, making him younger than any current Cub save Starlin Castro (Colvin is 24).
Cashner throws a 92-96 mph fastball, a slider that he calls his "out pitch," and has developed a changeup this year. He's also able to throw a sinker when he needs a ground ball. He had a very, very small cup of coffee after being called up on Memorial Day, throwing one pitch, a 95 mph fastball, to Ronny Cedeno that was popped up for the final out of the eighth inning.
Cashner pitched eight games in A ball the year he was drafted, and struggled to the tune of a 5.85 ERA. In 100 innings between A and AA last season, he struggled with his control but had a strong 2.60 ERA. He allowed just one home run in 24 starts. Between AA and AAA this season, he was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA and had just 15 walks in 57 innings before being recalled.
Is Cashner ready to be a consistent contributor on a major league team? Probably not. But he's got his first big league outing out of the way and a 0.00 ERA to go with it. Baseball America had him ranked as the Cubs' fourth-best prospect heading into the season (behind Castro, OF Brett Jackson and 3B Josh Vitters), and Baseball America also declared his fastball and slider the best in the team's farm system. Another piece of the future is here a bit earlier than expected, and let's hope it's a bright one.
Without much to talk about after a Cubs rainout in Pittsburgh, I decided I'd go on an angry rant about the scarcity of instant replay in baseball.
Bud Selig and MLB should have implemented a wider use of instant replay long ago. It was obvious when Jeffrey Maier turned into a right fielder; it was obvious when Fred McGriff was called out on strikes in the 1997 NLCS; and it was obvious when Matt Holliday was called safe at home in Game 163 three years ago.
And it was painfully obvious last night. The Tigers' Armando Galaragga had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth, but umpire Jim Joyce blew a call (he admitted as much after the game) at first and it suddenly became a one-hitter. Now what could possibly or conceivably be wrong with the concept of Jim Leyland tossing a flag onto the field, the umpires conferring for a few minutes as they do now on questionable home runs, and then the crew chief coming out to the field and signalling "out" as the crowd's boos quickly become cheers. Would that be so wrong?
I'm not sure if you've noticed this, Bud, but the NFL recently incorporated a heavy dose of instant replay into their rule book, and it's pretty sweet. They even do it in tennis! (The crowd oohs and aahs as they show the replay live--it's kind of fun, actually.) Last night in the Stanley Cup finals, they reviewed an uncertain goal call and got it right. And then they did it again! It works like a freakin' charm!
I know it's not an easy task. There are annoying little things to be written like "Manager will have a red flag available, and may choose to throw the flag onto the field if he desires to challenge an umpire's ruling." That's annoying, no one wants to write that. And there are questions, like where do the runners go if a ball originally called foul ends up being fair? But they should have been working on this for years, and if they can review home runs, they can review bang-bang plays at first (although, we better clear up that whole "tie goes to the runner" myth right now), close plays at home and trapped balls in the outfield.
Amazingly, Galarraga's perfect game would have been the third already this season. Until this year, there had never been two in the same season. Joyce obviously deserves some blame for making a pretty bad call in a situation where normally, the benefit of the doubt would go to the pitcher, if anyone. But Joyce could have gotten off the hook and Galaragga could have gone into the history books if they could have just reviewed the damn thing.
Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said there has to be a way to make this situation right. I'm not sure if that's the case, but there's definitely a way to make sure it never happens again.
The Cubs kept their momentum by taking two of three against LA, but their mojo ran out at the hands of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Two one-run duds were sandwiched around yet another win by Carlos Silva, and the week ended with the Cubs in pretty much the same position they were in when the week started. That's been the team's tendency at home this season; their four homestands have looked like this:
They just can't seem to put together any type of streak at home, mostly because they can't score runs consistently. This was a bit of a strange week in that despite scoring just 16 runs in six games, the Cubs won three times by shutting out their opponents in each win. While Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot heated up a bit, most of the hitters were ice cold. Averages from last week:
It's hard for a team to get hot when two-thirds of the order is batting like ... well, like Aramis Ramirez. Perhaps it's time to see more of Tyler Colvin? Please? And perhaps it's well-past time to move Ramirez down in the order? Might I suggest 10th?
Ryno of the Week: Ted Lilly looked great and deserved a win when he helped the Cubs beat the Dodgers 1-0, but Carlos Silva edges him out because of this stellar in a very important game against the Cardinals: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K. His performance ultimately prevented a sweep, and Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot
Goat of the Week: The choices for this "award" on the offensive side were detailed above. John Grabow also threw his name in the hat by allowing five earned runs in two appearances, and then he was placed on the DL with what I believe is being called a "strained ability to pitch effectively in the major leagues." But overall, I have to go with Ryan Theriot who reached base in just 19 percent of his plate appearances and has a .313 OBP for the season. One could say his job is to "set the table," but instead, he's been getting up halfway through dinner and angrily knocking all the plates and glasses off the table.
We've often heard of pitchers "adding a pitch," usually in the offseason. Sometimes a pitcher will develop a changeup or add a slider, etc. But Carlos Marmol has become more effective this season by eliminating his curveball.
The percentage of pitches thrown by Marmol that were curveballs, since 2007*:
But his fastball percentage has actually dropped as well, from 46% in 2007 to 41% this year. So what gives? For Marmol, it's all about the slider. His slider percentages:
To give you some perspective, he throws his slider more often than all but one pitcher in baseball: Luke Gregerson of the Padres (he's having success, too, with a 1.82 ERA in 22 games). I really noticed Marmol's tendency to rely on his slider a couple weeks ago, and now that I'm looking for it, it's completely obvious that he's using his slider to set up his fastball.
This frustrated me for a while. Usually when a pitcher relies heavily on his breaking ball, it's because he's struggling to control his fastball and has no choice but to depend on his secondary pitch. But with Marmol, it almost seems that he'd rather throw his nasty slider and then surprise the hitter with a fastball. And the fact is, it's working. He has a 1.52 ERA, has converted seven of his last eight save opportunities (the only one he blew was against the Rockies when he entered the game in the eighth with the bases already loaded), and his ridiculous 17.49 K/9 is easily the highest in the majors. The all-time leader in this statistic among relievers is Brad Lidge with 12.98 K/9.
So I'm certainly not complaining any more, but it is interesting to watch a pitcher dominate with his slider the way Marmol does. The man's fastball averages 95 mph, yet he throws it just 41 percent of the time. But I'm sure most hitters in the National League--at least those who have faced him this season--would tell you they'd rather see just about anything other than that slider.
*All data courtesy of FanGraphs
Brandon writes at Wait Til This Year, a kick-ass Cubs blog
Gonna have to make this a short one after a long night of Lost. The Cubs had a 5-2 week, their best week of the year and their first winning week since Week Four when they were 4-3. The Rockies were a game over .500 entering their series with the Cubs, which means the Cubs played three above average teams and managed to sweep a series, split a series, and win another. The last four games were one-run affairs, and it was nice to see the Cubs on the positive side of a couple close decisions.
Ryno of the Week: If there's one thing I hate, it's being repetitive. But even though the one thing I hate is being repetitive, this week's winner is the same as last week's: Sean Marshall. The 6'7 lefty had two wins and two holds, and lowered his ERA from 2.46 to 2.01 in the process. In the month of May, he's 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA. I shudder to think where the Cubs would be without him this year.
I have to give special props to some great offensive performances as well: Starlin Castro had at least one hit in all seven games en route to an 11-for-29 week with five RBI and four runs. And in limited duty, Tyler Colvin went 6-for-11 with four runs and two RBI.
Honorable mentions: Carlos Silva, Alfonso Soriano
Goat of the Week: This is a tough one, but I'm going to go with John Grabow. He appeared in four games this week and was very consistent--he allowed at least one run in every outing. He also walked five guys in just 3.1 innings, and had a 10.80 ERA. He is completely and utterly useless.
I'm giving Aramis Ramirez a pass this week only because one of his two hits directly resulted in the Cubs winning a game. But as my dad said, he's fast-approaching permanent Goat of the Week status; he was 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts. Here's a stat that will bring a tear to your eye even if none of those Lost montages did: Ramirez has struck out 40 times this year; in 2006 he played 157 games and struck out 63 times. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH HIM?
Dishonorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee
Bradon writes at Wait Til This Year, an awesome Cubs blog