The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.
In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.
In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?
In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.
These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).
Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.
I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!
Ryan Dempster (8-7, 3.57 ERA) vs. Wesley Wright (0-0, 5.59 ERA)
Well, I ate my words. To paraphrase AJ: regression sucks. Regardless, the world has not ended and there are still games to be played in this series. I am a bit late on the uptake with this entry, so I'll just get to the meat of it: Cubs need to win this game to even the series up so they can set up a series win. That it. It's all about winning series' and becoming respectable. So far, it looks like the team is up to the task.
Has Carlos Silva run out of steam?
Those who watched last night's game know why I'm asking. For those who missed the Hutt's most recent gem, check this line: 1 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 0 K. Frankly I'm surprised the Astros didn't score more runs, but if there's any team that can get nine base runners in an inning and only score five of them it's them. (If there were two such teams, it'd be them and us, of course.)
Carlos Silva doesn't appear to be in shape, really. I mean, not that I'm much of a beacon of health myself, but come on, this is professional athletics. Starting pitching require full exertion; maybe he's just out of bullets.
Another theory: you know how Larry Rothschild is rumored to have fixed Silva's mechanics, improving his breaking stuff to better complement his fastball? Something about the shoulder being pulled, or pushed, or twisted, or something? I bet that's been causing Carlos pain, which has built up over the course of the season, and is now rendering him unable to pitch effectively.
Behind door number three, another theory: regression. The man pitches to contact, and doesn't have the stuff to get strikeouts when he needs them. Oftentimes, ground balls and pop flies do land in the gloves of your defenders. But sometimes, those balls turn into hits.
So those are some theories for you to chew on. At the same time, Silva could come back in his next start and dominate. I wouldn't hold your breath on that one though! Because I think you might suffocate! Because you'd be waiting a long time for Silva to have a good outing! Because he probably sucks! Do you get my joke? Awesome.
Speaking of recapping the game, the Cubs lost. I guess we had a chance to win after six innings, after an Aramis Ramirez home run made the score 8-5 'Stros. But the 'pen couldn't keep it close, and the offense would end up being done at that point. Pretty typical follow-up to laying a smackdown on Roy Halladay, no?
I just got "We Believe" in the mail via Netflix today so now I'm gonna go watch that. Toodle-oo! Go Cubs!
For those of you who missed it, Goat Reader Brandon posted recently about his desire for Ryne Sandberg to replace Lou Piniella in the Cubs dugout.
He wrote, "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."
Ehh. I beg to differ.
It's actually pretty interesting to read the various comments across the internets about Sandberg. Fans seem to feel, generally, that he's "earned it," because he's been managing in the minor leagues for four seasons. This comes despite the fact that his career minor league record is 253-258, despite the fact that no outstanding players have been developed under his guidance (sorry, Starlin Castro, but so far you kinda suck), and -- particularly -- despite the fact that probably 99% of all Cub fans have NO IDEA as to what Ryne Sandberg's managerial philosophy is, except for, "Get ejected, a lot."
Here's my advice to you, the Ryne Sandberg Supporter: go read his autobiography. Read it with an open mind. Pay attention to the excerpts where he laments Larry Himes getting rid of his guys, the elderly Andre Dawson and the infirmed Rick Sutcliffe. Consider how Sandberg's philosophy, as expressed in that book, sounds amazingly similar to the one espoused by Dusty Baker while he was in Chicago, and get back to me about how much you want him to be the next manager.
"But, Kurt," you'll say, "that was written 15 years ago! He could've changed!" Good point. He could've changed. But the point is, you don't know. None of us do.
What we do know, however, is that the Chicago Cubs are one of the premier baseball organizations. They are perhaps third to only the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of yearly income and fan following. The Chicago Cubs do not deserve an untested manager who may or may not be a white version of Dusty Baker. No thanks.
Instead, I submit to you that the Chicago Cubs should pursue a proven, premier manager with a long-established track record of success. They should pick a guy who has a very vocal understanding of sabermetrics, who will not put the longest-tenured veteran ahead of the most talented player, and who has a well-established history of successful strategy during a game.
And, hell, they can make Sandberg his bench coach. But any Cub fan who backs Ryno sight-unseen is doing so for one clear reason: because his name is Ryne Sandberg, and he's one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the sport.
That's great, but that's not reason enough to be manager of the Cubs. Nor is being a Hall of Famer who's happened to manage in the minor leagues for four seasons. That doesn't fit my definition of "earning it;" the Cubs can -- and should -- do better.
Carlos Silva (9-3, 3.45 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (6-11, 4.97 ERA)
Well, that was a phun time (see what I did there? I know, I know!). The Cubs showed the Phillies the way to I-55 and now welcome the AAA version of the Astros to town. The Astros would likely have more turnover from their opening day roster to now if they actually had any sort of depth in their farm system. For now, that depth is being showcased by a cast led by Chris Johnson and Juan Castro (the lighter-hitting, catching brother of Starlin).
Carlos Silva looks to continue his quest of hiding a horseshoe up his... jersey. If the cloud cover holds up into the evening, it would be a benefit to the big man and keep him a little bit cooler in this high humidity, high-temperature front and hopefully allow him to go a bit longer in the game.
On the other hand, Wandy Rodriguez tries to stop being an epic failure (guess who drafted him in 3 fantasy leagues this year!). At home, the Magic Wandy has been serviceable. On the road, Wandy has been attrocious. On the road, he is 2-6 with a 5.79 ERA and WHIP of 1.636. Moreover, his K/9 is drastically lower on the road (8.6 at home, 5.1 on the road). I expect this trend to continue when he toes the rubber at Wrigley.
Who's Hot- I'm going to go with Starlin Castro. Watching him recently, I have been quite impressed with his approach at the plate, his ability to inside out a pitch, and his blazing speed (ok, maybe I really liked that "steal" of home). Gents, I think we are looking at our leadoff hitter. He's fast, he gets on base at a decent clip (.350) and he just LOOKS like a leadoff guy (yep, the good old eyeball test reigns supreme). (Runner Up: Geo Soto)
Who's Not- Cubs relievers. The past two days have not been pretty for the Cubs relief corps. First, there was the Marmol Fiasco. Last night, I wasn't very happy with what I saw out of Cashner and Russell. I get it, there was a big lead. Still, I'd like to see cleaner appearances. I'm picky. Plus, the nature of the "who's not" column is to pick something I don't like.
The Astros are coming to town at the right time for a somewhat hot Cubs ballclub. It'd be nice to have even more momentum built up before the weekend series against the Redbirds. Outlook is positive considering the Cubs avoid Roy O this series.
Hot on the heels of thrashing the Phillies, the Cubs continue their home stand by hosting the 37-55 Houston Astros.
Hey, remember when the Astros were perennial competitors? That was back in the day of 'roids and growth. These days, Houston's lucky to win 70. Roy Oswalt, whose nickname officially became "Trade Bait" not too long ago, has to be begging the baseball gods to be unloaded on a large market team. The guy has a 3.12 ERA and -- more impressively -- a 1.07 WHIP, and he's one bad outing from having twice as many losses as wins. Ouch.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are in limbo. They're starting to look good. Things are getting better. Aramis Ramirez raised his batting average by 40 points in 8 games. Ryan Theriot realized he sucks and is making adjustments to his game to suck slightly less. These are the greatest days of our lives, folks. Soak 'em in and enjoy 'em.
Can you believe that there are actually people out there who get paid to write about sports that are advocating the Cubs to hold off on Fire Sale 2010 because they're on a "high note" at the moment?
I mean, c'mon! There gets to be a point in every disappointing season in which the action off the field is exceedingly more interesting than the action on the field. We're at that point, so let's see some wheelin' and dealin'!
...no? No wheeling? No dealing? Fine, then. Let's look at the match-ups while I pout.
Monday, July 19th, 7:05PM - Carlos Silva (9-3, 3.45 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (6-11, 4.97 ERA)
Carlos Silva is looking less like a golden goose every single outing. Take his last one, for instance. 1.1 innings of work, 6 earned runs, 345 crying orphans. Not cool, Carlos. Not cool.
But, if Silva is ever going to get his 10th win, it's going to be tonight. He faces Wandy Rodriguez, who -- apart from having the most embarrassing first name in professional sports -- has about as much pitching talent as the face men of Milli Vanilli have singing talent. Blame it on the lame*.
(*If you're old enough to get this joke, you probably have better things to do with your life than spending your midlife crisis reading this blog...)
Tuesday, July 20th, 7:05PM - Ryan Dempster (8-7, 3.57 ERA) vs. Wesley Wright (0-0, 5.59 ERA)
Dempster is one good second half away from almost justifying the ridiculous contract that Jim Hendry gave him two years ago. So far, so good -- he's got a respectable 1.20 WHIP and is striking out as many batters as innings he's pitched. His only problem? He's wasting what would have been a good season on a baseball team that can feel a justified sense of accomplishment for climbing back into third place.
He faces Wesley Wright, according to ESPN. I'm skeptical about this because Wright has never started a game in the major leagues. Ever. But what he has done is pitch 110 innings in his career as a reliever, for which he has surrendered 110 hits, 62 walks (that's a 1.56 WHIP), 20 homers, and 64 earned runs (career ERA of 5.52). I don't know about you, but if the Cubs have to square off against this jabrone, I won't complain. The Cubs need to face more journeymen relief pitchers with career ERAs in the 5's.
Wednesday, July 21st, 1:20PM - Ted "Farewell Tour" Lilly (3-8, 4.07 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (7-6, 3.35 ERA)
Ted Mother-F*cking Lilly. The best lefty pitcher the Cubs have had since our writer Rob Letterly was still young enough to poop his pants and get away with it. Sadly, his twilight campaign in Chicago is not going as we'd hoped it would. It's not that he's been bad, per se, although he does have an ERA of 8.83 in the month of July. It's more that when he has been bad, he's sucked worse than a socialist banker. But chin up, Cub fans. In his last outing, he managed to drop his ERA by a whole 0.01, while striking 10 Phillies out in 7 innings of work. W00t!
Lilly and the Cubs will be hoping to continue their dominance of the Phillies on Wednesday, as they square off against Philadelphia alumni Brett Myers, who's basically the One Good Thing in the Astros rotation this year. (He also has a neck that is literally as wide as his head, and a goatee that only Nic Cage could love.) The bad news is, Brett has pitched really, really well in July -- he's 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. The good news, though, is this: he's bound to get smacked around sooner or later -- possibly even as soon as Wednesday against a *snicker* dangerous Cubs lineup.
Just think! If the Cubs sweep the Astros -- not an impossible scenario by any means -- then they will be 45-51. That's spitting distance of .500! Then, the Cubs only need to put the hammer to the Cardinals, before traveling to Houston to do some more smiting. Who knows? By the end of the month, the Cubs could be a .500 team!
Before you poo all over that thrilling concept, consider this: the Cubs are a broken team desperately in need of scrapping what they have and rebuilding as much as possible. Therefore, nothing could be worse than a two-week resurgence in which, for long enough to render their valuable players untradeable, the Cubs set the ball on fire with a holy vengeance.
It's just Cub enough to actually happen. But hell, I can think of worse things...
Riddle me this: how is leading off with Tyler Colvin any different from leading off with Alfonso Soriano?
Hint: It's not.
The one-spot should be given to Castro or Byrd. (Marlon is 2nd on the team with a .378 OBP; Soto leads the team in OBP with a .407, but I don't suppose you want to see his slow ass at the top of the order. Castro is 3rd with a .350 OBP so far this season.)
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)
I agree with Goat Reader George's comment in the Shout Box: This is getting VERY interesting.
Last night, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro were slotted into the first two spots of the lineup, and responded by going 6-for-9 with three runs scored. In the second inning, they collaborated on an almost-double steal, bringing Colvin home from third after Castro's attempt at stealing second.
Indeed, their repeated ability to put the ball in play, and then run really fast towards first base, sparked the offense last night, as did Marlon Byrd's ability to get hit by a pitch -- Phillie starter Halladay plunked him twice, and both times he came around to score.
Speaking of pitching, kudos to Cub pitcher Tom Gorzelanny for posting another decent outing. Two earned runs, five hits, and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings counts for a good effort. The five walks given up aren't exactly helpful, but Tom managed to pitch around his mistakes and keep the team in the game.
Back to the Killer C's for another minute. Even the great Joe Morgan acknowledged these twerps' importance to the future of the franchise -- although, the only skill he could identify for either player was his speed. And it's true, Colvin and Castro are both fast. But I'll go ahead and help Joe out by pointing out the other superior skills had by these two that suggest they deserve more regular responsibility in this line-up. In both cases, it comes down to power.
Tyler Colvin is strong. He doesn't walk a lot, and he strikes out often. But when he does manage to make solid contact, the ball goes far. In fact, Colvin is among the Top 10 in the National League in isolated slugging (ISO), which essentially measures how often a player's base hits go for extras. Colvin's ISO is .255 for the season; for comparison, Alfonso Soriano's team-leading ISO is .272, Geovany Soto's is .212, and Ryan Theriot's is .034.
Starlin Castro's power is not his best skill (yet). It's not top three, really (glove, contact hitting, speed). But even at 20, he's shown line drive ability, with 12 doubles, four triples, and two home runs hit in 211 at-bats. He's not quite walking enough to be considered the ideal leadoff option yet, but on this team, he may already have shown himself to be the best one on the roster. (Corollary: Colvin is not the best leadoff option. He strikes out too often to lead off, and his power is wasted at the top of the order.)
As for tonight's game, the lineup I'd like to see would be: Castro, Soto, Byrd, Aramis, Colvin, Soriano, Lee, Theriot, Pitcher. Call me crazy.
In the meantime, go Cubs!