Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Brandon's blog

Reader Blog: It's like a broken record. It's like a broken record.

A strong start. Painfully bad situational hitting. A close-but-no-cigar loss.

That recap describes a relatively large number of the Cubs' 12 losses this season, but Wednesday's really hurt. A series loss to the Nationals. A 4-5 record at home despite having hosted the Brewers, Astros and Nationals. The momentum of a recent four-game winning streak gone along with Ryan Dempster's formerly flawless record.

And the Cubs had their chances:

    * Fifth inning: Bases loaded, one out. No runs.
    * Seventh inning: First and second, nobody out. No runs.
    * Eighth inning: Runner at second, nobody out. No runs.

Like Gorzelanny on Tuesday, Dempster took a loss that he probably didn't deserve. Granted, he allowed two home runs and three runs in all, which will lose you a game every now and then. But he went eight innings, the third straight start he's gone at least seven. He's pitched six innings or more in all five starts this season--his 33.2 total innings rank second in the National League (behind, of course, Roy Halladay).

By the way--remember how the Cubs tried to sign Matt Capps in the offseason? I wish they had. He recorded his 10th save on Wednesday, best in the majors. The 26-year-old has a 0.68 ERA.

The Cubs have still won only two series on the year, both against the Brewers. The 10-11 Diamondbacks come into town for an extended four-game series starting Thursday, and three out of four would look mighty nice as it would get the Cubs back to .500.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

Reader Blog: Tom Gorzelanny wondering what a guy's gotta do to get some runs over here

The Cubs have yet to win a game started by Tom Gorzelanny, but he deserves very little of the blame for this unfortunate trend--the Cubs have scored two, three, one and one run(s), respectively, in those games while Gorzelanny has posted a 2.45 ERA.

Though Gorzo allowed two runs last night almost before the pregame show was complete, he settled down after the first and notched a (everybody together now) quality start. He came just one out away from a QS his last time out (and would have had one were it not for an error by Mike Fontenot), and was knocked out, literally, of his previous start after three innings. Those two starts represent the only games in the last 12 in which the Cubs starter did not post a quality start. In fact, don't look now, but the Cubs have the sixth-best ERA in the National League. And yes, that includes the bullpen!

But Livan Hernandez, whose season has started as inexplicably well as Carlos Silva's, shut down the Cubs with his 85 mph fastballs and grab bag of random pitches that have no business working in the major leagues. The end result was one measly unearned run for the Cubs, giving Gorzelanny another loss and bringing the Cubs' record to 0-4 when he has taken the mound.

Hernandez lulled the Cubs offense to sleep even though they should have been energized by the opportunity to climb over .500. It was the fourth time this season the Cubs have had a chance to get their heads above water, but now they'll look to Ryan Dempster on Wednesday as they attempt to even their record at 11-11.

Though Aramis Ramirez was just 1-for-4 with a single, I think he's about to break out of it. He had a line drive single on Sunday as well as a hard line out to center. On Monday, he smoked a double in the first inning and later hit what would have been a home run on most days. And along with his single last night, he drove a ball to the warning track in center. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think Ramirez is almost there.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

Reader Blog: This cup overfloweth with pointlessness

The Cubs and Sox will now play their annual interleague series (plural) with the Crosstown Cup on the line, an actual, literal trophy that will go to the team winning the majority of the six match-ups.

I never cared about the back-and-forth, intense, heated games that the Cubs and Sox have played ever since 1997, but I will now! A trophy, you say? Will it be gold? Will the players be allowed to carry it around with them for a day like they do with the Stanley Cup? Does Tom Ricketts have anything better he could do with his time?

And here's the worst thing: if the teams split the six games, as they have done four of the 10 years in which they've played a home-and-away format, the team that wins the last game gets the trophy. How is that fair? I say, for this year, give it to the team who outscores the other (if there's a tie), and in the future, when they split 3-3, the team that "owns" the trophy simply keeps it. Until the other team can take it away by winning a season series, it stays wherever it is.

But now I've spent a full two paragraphs analyzing this absurd, Little League-style award that none of the players will give a damn about, and that makes me angry. This isn't technically a BAD idea, just a pointless one. I hope I never hear someone utter the words "We won the Crosstown Cup!" even if it's a Cubs fan saying it.

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You can read more from Brandon at his blog ... Wait til this Year!

Reader Blog: Weekly awards

Baseball can be a funny game. The Cubs were yet to have a winning week (2-4 in Week 1, 3-3 in Week 2), and, as of Thursday, were 1-3 this week after barely being competitive against a Mets team that had been struggling. The Cubs then headed to Milwaukee to take on a Brewers team that had absolutely obliterated the Pirates in their previous series. Three dominant games later, the Cubs have their first three-game winning streak of the season, their first winning week (4-3), and have scored more runs than their opponents for the first time.

Ryno of the Week: Randy Wells put together two strong starts, but this week's award has to go to a hitter--several Cubs put up video game numbers over the last seven days. First, I thought: "It's got to be Soto--he reached base 64 percent of the times he came to the plate!" But then I realized Marlon Byrd had 13 hits last week along with six runs scored and four RBI, despite the fact that he didn't even play yesterday.

But Ryan Theriot did him one better, literally. He had 14 hits, scored five runs and drove in six, capping his week with a 5-for-6 day that raised his average over 40 points.

Honorable mention: Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week
: When it comes to the Cubs, I think the thing I want to see most right now is Aramis Ramirez bust out of his slump. It's painful to watch. He was 2-for-25 this week with seven strikeouts. It's really weird to see him swing and miss at 85 mph fastballs over the middle, isn't it? Please break out of it, Aramis. I can't take it any more.

Dishonorable mentions: Jeff Baker, Xavier Nady

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You can read more from Brandon at his blog ... Wait til this Year!

Reader Blog: Thank you, Brewers, may we have another?

Three of the Cubs' seven victories in 2010 have come over the Brewers. But there's no need to feel bad about that; after all, Milwaukee is a divisional foe and you have to win games in your division in order to have a good season.

Ryan Dempster had his fourth strong start of the season (out of four), going 7.2 innings for the second straight start. He has left all of his starts with the lead, though he only has two wins to show for his efforts. (Hopefully Carlos Zambrano was able to get a good view of Dempster's efficient outing from his new perch in the bullpen. Speaking of Zambrano, Cubs fans saw a very unfamiliar sight when he warmed up in the bullpen in the eighth inning. No doubt it was a stimulating sight for some fans but a rather agitating one for others.)

The Cubs brought a balanced offensive attack to Miller Park--they've now scored at least six runs in all four of their games against the Brewers this season; they've only scored that many in two others games this year! Every starter had at least one hit, and Dempster joined the party with two sacrifice bunts. Chad Tracy was just barely able to make his first start of the season before Ted Lilly did, and he had a single and played very well defensively at third. Also, Tyler Colvin hit a ball 10,000 feet.

This is the second time the Cubs have roughed up Jeff Suppan in less than two weeks, and they'll have the chance to do the same to lefty Doug Davis tomorrow (he was touched up for six runs in just 3.1 innings in the Cubs home opener). Soriano, Soto and Ramirez should all be fresh after having a day off on Friday.

Perhaps the Cubs benefited from the favorable road crowd--a good friend of mine attended Friday's game and said it was at least a 50/50 split in terms of Cubs/Brewers fans in attendance, and he said it felt like 75/25 in Chicago's favor as the Cubs fans were able to cheer unabated given that the team scored early and dominated throughout. Hopefully Miller Park will be transformed into Wrigley North over the weekend as well.

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Reader Blog: Does Rudy Jaramillo deserve blame for the Cubs' offensive woes?

The Cubs are 22nd in the majors in runs, below offensive juggernauts such as the Royals, Nationals, and A's (who have household names like Adam Rosales, Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis in their lineup). This got me to thinking: is Rudy Jaramillo, the highest-paid hitting coach in the majors, to blame?

Let's dig a bit deeper into the statistics. Through Thursday, the Cubs were 15th in the majors in OBP (.328). This has never been Jaramillo's strong suit--the Rangers were 12th in the AL in OBP last season, and finished outside the top five in four of the five seasons prior. Still, the Cubs are at least in the middle of the pack.

Home runs have always been a specialty of Jaramillo-coached teams, and the Cubs are 12th in the majors with 17. Eight of those came in their six home games, whereas they've hit just nine in 10 road games. The Cubs are just slightly below average--16th--in OPS (.731).

So while the Cubs are doing okay-but-not-great in the aforementioned statistics, they're doing significantly worse when it comes to getting runs across the plate. Hits and walks simply aren't being converted into runs. Jaramillo's Rangers teams scored 800 or more runs for 13 straight years, whereas the Cubs are on pace to score only 648 runs. The Cubs' lack of timely and clutch hitting are problems Jaramillo can't control.

Some don't buy into the concept of clutch hitting, or performing under pressure. But I think in baseball, more than in other sports, some players tend to be more clutch than others. After all, though baseball is a team sport, it pretty much always comes down to individual match-ups--one hitter versus one pitcher. And right now, it seems that several of the Cubs' players are pressing at the plate when they have an opportunity to do some real damage.

It's always difficult to measure the impact of a hitting or pitching coach. Under Gerald Perry, the Cubs led the NL in OBP in 2008, then struggled mightily in '09, leading to Perry's ouster. Additionally, the Cubs' run total would start to look a lot better if the 3 and 4 hitters--Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez--got locked in. But at least for the moment, it looks like Rudy Jaramillo has the Cubs being patient at the plate and getting their share of hits. Unfortunately, those same hitters are failing to produce with men on base, resulting in a poor showing in the only offensive statistic that truly matters--runs scored.

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Reader Blog: Cubs finally find the road to victory

The Cubs scored just 319 runs on the road last year (compared to 388 at home), more than only Houston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Every time they were in a park other than Wrigley, it seemed to be as difficult for them to score one run as it was for Frodo to trek to Mordor and destroy the ring. YOU SHALL NOT PASS ... third base. The offense constantly looked uncomfortable on the road. Or uninterested. Or unable. Definitely un-something.

Unfortunately, this trend has continued here at the beginning of the 2010 season. Nineteen runs in the first eight road games. One run combined in two games started by Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey, respectively, to begin this series with the Mets. A road batting average (.195) that makes you wish Mario Mendoza was on the roster.

In fact, the Cubs had yet to score more than five runs in any road game this season. That is, until Wednesday. They finally broke out the bats, scoring nine runs by banging out 14 hits and drawing nine walks. Alfonso Soriano was 3-for-4 with a home run and came just a double shy of the cycle. He appears to be in one of his patented hot streaks--he has 13 hits in his last 28 at-bats.

On the mound, Carlos Silva continued his rather unbelievable early season success, allowing just two hits and one run in six efficient innings. There's no need to get carried away and assume Silva's name will be etched on the Cy Young Award when the season concludes, but it is worth stepping back and enjoying the apparent resurgence of a player the Mariners dumped in exchange for a guy who can't seem to count outs, and when he does, does so with his middle finger. Silva is now 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA, the latter being good for sixth in the majors. Pretty amazing, even if it is only three starts.

But Wednesday's game wasn't all positive. While I know he's the one guy we all just know is going to break out of it eventually, I'm going to allow myself a bit of worry about Aramis Ramirez. I'm honestly not sure that I've ever seen him look this bad. Normally a disciplined hitter, he has struck out  in 20 of his 67 plate appearances, and walked just five times. He has exactly one multi-hit game, way back on Opening Day. The Cubs' offense has had a lot of problems this year, but Ramirez's .194 OBP has to be at the top of the list.

But enough of that. The Cubs got a nice win and will look for the series split against (gulp) Johan Santana tonight. It will be a match-up of lefties with Tom Gorzelanny going for the Cubs.

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Big move: Big Z heads to bullpen

With Ted Lilly's impending return to the starting rotation, Cubs fans were scratching their heads wondering which starter would move to the bullpen. Carlos Silva's been the most reliable starter thus far. Moving Tom Gorzelanny there would mean the team would have more lefties in the 'pen than righties. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells look rather comfortable in their roles.

And then there was Z.

To put it concisely, I like the move. In many ways Zambrano has been the Cubs' least productive starter over the last year plus. And one of his biggest flaws is his tendency to have an elevated pitch count, meaning he doesn't go deep enough into games.  As a reliever, he will only be asked to throw an inning or so at a time.

So the Cubs essentially trade out Zambrano for Lilly in the starting rotation, which to me is a win. And then they trade, say, Jeff Gray for Zambrano in the bullpen. Also a win. It's a bold move that could certainly backfire, but I think it's worth a try.

Oh, and I completely reject the thought that this is a bad decision simply because Zambrano is making so much money. The $18 million he'll earn this year is a sunk cost--he's getting the money either way. Therefore, what's important is to do what management believes is best for the team, regardless of what relievers and starters are "supposed" to earn.

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