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
To begin: it is never a good idea to sit down to write just as James Loney hits one about 6 1/2 miles off of Silva the Hutt.
After several near misses and false starts, I finally got together with my fellow old-school Cubs bloggers Tommy Acuff and Troy Church. Beginning around 2002 or so, the three of us started sharing our thoughts about Cubs and life its ownself. As things have evolved, the two of them have gravitated more toward life its ownself and shut their published Cubs thoughts to a trickle. Thorough and iterative disappointment has that impact on healthy minds. I of course am still here, so what does that say about my mental makeup?
Anyway, we convened in the compact white bread capitol of the universe, Des Moines, to break some (fermented) bread, get some Ryno autographs (FAIL) and to turn our eyes to the young men playing for the AAA I-Cubs. After all, if it is in fact true that Head Chad Tom Ricketts has come back from safari and intends to clean house, we need to see if we have someone ready to step into the lineup, perhaps provide a spark to what has been a dog-ass offense. I admit to some pre-conceived notions coming in, because logic dictates that IF there was help on the farm, that it would have been here by now.
Unfortunately, I was right.
We saw three games - a loss to the Marlins' affiliate that got away in the late innings, and two fairly well-pitched wins against the hard-hitting yet free-swinging Marlins farm team. Your 2010 I-Cubs features Micah the Hoff, who has regressed to a below .240 average, which explains why he hasn't come on up to give DP Lee a breather. Their best hitters are corner outfielders, which of course we have a surplus of. Jim Adducci is the best looking of all of them, because he plays a nice outfield as well as makes frequent contact, at least at the present. He looked real nice in Spring Training, too, but somewhere between then and now he must have sucked a lot of pipe, because his BA is below .280. Other members of the AAAA All-Stars include Brian LaHair and Brad Snyder, both displaying modest production, nothing 2009 Jake Fox-like.
Outside of Adducci, the next most impressive I-Cub in the lineup was - wait for it - The Outlaw Bobby Scales. Like I said, not a lot of help on the farm. Darwin Barney is ok, running towards meh. Matt Camp has no power, and Wellington Castillo is probably at this point in his life slightly better than Koyie Hill. No saviors here.
As mentioned, the pitching was somewhat better. Friday's win was due to the efforts of something called Austin Bibens-Dirkx, which we naturally bastardized into Justin Bieber Dirks Bentley. Tommy saw his act earlier in Tennessee, and said J.B.D.B. throws hard, and gets tired early. But J.B.D.B. had them chasing his pitches for five-plus, then gave way to sawed off reliever David Cales, who closed that ish out.
Last night was Jay Jackson's start, and six innings, four hits, and five punchouts later, the I-Cubs were on the way to an easy win. It was a good start. His last start was bad. The one before that, good, and the one before that? Yep, bad. The braintrust have mentioned him recently as a possible callup, for the bullpen, which is the same story I can tell about several of the I-Cubs pitchers. It appears most of the Iowa staff are relievers, with the exception of J.B.D.B., Jackson, J.R Mathes, and Thomas Diamond, who didn't do dick in spring training, and is only 5-3 at the moment, yet is the I-Cubs All-Star representative.
If we decided to trade Ted Lilly and possibly Silva the Hutt, there will be some big, hard, complicated and (to me at least) unpredictable decisions to be made about who would fill in. Would it be Cashner? Would Sean Marshall get what he presumably deserves (but at the same time has proven time and time again to be a mistake?) Would it be Jackson, who is very inconsistent but on his good days can win major league games? Or would we torture what is left of Ron Santo and bring Austin Bibens-Dirkx to town? He may eventually perish in the booth, deprived of air as he chokes himself trying to pronounce that name?
Well, Silva's gone. We obviously waited three weeks too long to trade HIS fat ass. Now he's shown his true Zambranoesque nature, and we will endure the next two years dealing with over 600 pounds and $64 million of uncontrollable Venezuelan dysfunction between Los Dos Carloses.
I DID see Sam Fuld go deep Friday night. Just one more thought about Iowa - the outfield walls are clad with metal signs, and since all the I-Cubs outfielders have been here all year, and longer, they are all adept at playing opponent's drives off the walls and holding the runners to singles. Once they gauge the drive will hit the wall, they retreat forty feel away from the wall and play the lively carom. I mean, I guess I applaud their ability to adjust to their environment, but shouldn't the park more closely resemble and play like Wrigley, a place where NOBODY has ever retreated from the wall to play the carom? Shouldn't your 'dress rehearsal' be more like the real thing?
Just a thought.
OK, World Cup over, but Futures Game on now! Turn on ESPN to watch Brett Jackson, rising Cub star, who is starting in center field!
But I do owe you a recap, so, quickly: Tom Gorzelanny, super, with 7 K against just 1 BB in 6 IP. Hittingwise, Geo Soto went to town, posting a 3-for-4, including a home run and three ribs. Other players collecting multiple hits include Darlin' Starlin Castro, Derrek Lee, and The Resurgent Aramis Ramirez. That's Aramis' fifth or sixth consecutive mutli-hit game, IIRC.
With yet another home run in last night's game, Ramirez' post-DL OPS continues to climb above one. I'll have it updated after tonight's game (also on ESPN, FYI). But for now, Brett Jackson! (And eventually, Hak-Ju Lee at SS for the World team!)
Cubs got a good win with a decent performance from Gorzelanny on Saturday. They finish off the pre all star break season with a prime time game on ESPN. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the Cubs "get" to play these get away games on ESPN on Sunday night just before the all star game quite often. Anyway onto the last game of the first half:
Matchup: Carlos Silva (100.1IP, 2.96ERA, 3.82xFIP) vs Vicente Padilla (47.2IP, 4.72ERA, 3.73xFIP)
Today is a much closer matchup than it appears on paper. Padilla has a really high K rate and has been hurt for much of the first half. He is actually a pretty good pitcher and the Cubs should play with that in mind. He does give up a lot of flyballs aned the key for the Cubs tonight is to get the ball up and over the wall against him.
As for Silva, he has given the Cubs more than they could have ever hoped for in the first half. He's nursing a leg injury but the Cubs have decided to let him go out and get a short outing tonight. I hope it doesn't blow up in the Cubs' face. Silva's key is the same as always. Don't allow too many hits. Try to fan around 2 every 3 innings and don't walk a second batter. Other than that, it should be all about the bullpen tonight. I expect to see Cashner, Marshall and Marmol even though they all pitched on Saturday.
Who's Hot: I don't think people realize how good Geovany Soto has been this year. He is, perhaps, the best hitting catcher in baseball. His power has returned almost completely back to 2008 levels. He continues to take walks like Eddie Joost and is even hitting for a somewhat BABIP inflated batting average. I don't expect him to wOBA over .390 the rest of the season but I don't see why he can't continue to wOBA over .365 or so. He's been awesome.
Who's Not: Why, oh why does Lou Piniella keep Ryan Theriot and Tyler Colvin at the top of the order. Colvin is a perfect #6 hitter and Theriot is a, yeah, ok so Colvin is a perfect #6 hitter. The Cubs need to bury Theriot deep on their bench and go to a full out Fontenot/Baker platoon at second base and possibly in the leadoff spot of the order. The lack of production from the 1/2 spots is hurting the Cubs. I love Theriot's spunk and thought he was a better defensive shortstop than the Cubs gave him credit for but he's falling off precipitiously and wasn't particularly good to begin with!
Conclusion: It would be nice to finish the season with a win. The Reds are scuffling at the moment and just got swept in four games in Phlly and the Cardinals haven't exactly set the world on fire this year so the Cubs still might have a shot in this week division. I don't think a loss is the end of the world though and we all need to philosophical about this game and this season. Still, a win would be real, real nice.
The Cubs' strategy at the second base position seems to be to hope that one of their many Grade B- prospects takes the bull by the horn. For the time being, the Cubs are employing a group of mediocre but at times mildly useful trio at the positon.
Major League Level: Ryan Theriot (age 30) : Since Theriot's Home Run explosion last year, he has turned into a terrible hitter. Coming into today's game, he had a .277/.314/.308 triple slash number. His ISO, never particularly good, has completely tanked. He used to be a shortstop where a team could live with that type of productiion if a player were awesome with the glove but Theriot is now a poor fielding second baseman. He's 16 for 20 in SB attempts so at least he has that.
The thing with Theriot is that he is being paid 2.6 Million. It's not much and in a typical year, it wouldn't be a big deal but he's far from earning his paycheck this year and I see no real use to the team next year. I think the Cubs will try to move Theriot at the trade deadline or they will DFA him in the off season. It would surprise me if Theriot were still around in 2011. Sorry Ryan, you were a Riot, but your time as a Cub appears to be coming to an end.
Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Fontenot is the prototype perfect left handed hitting half of a platoon at second base. Fontenot is under control of the Cubs for two more seasons and I see no good reason why the Cubs shouldn't maintain that control. Now he's not a great player or a great hitter. He's hitting .294/.341/.412 this year. He's become more of a contact hitter. He occasionally drives the ball and the rumours of his impending power decline have been somewhat exaggerated. That stated, if some other team wants to give us a prospect for him at the trade deadline this year, I say the Cubs need to move him.
Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is the near perfect bench player and the best player the Cubs could have with Fontenot on the team. He is a good hitter vs LHP's and is a really fantastic glove man. He's under team control for either 2 or 3 more years and would become mildly superfluous if Fontenot is dealt. He shouldn't be a starter ever even for a bad team. Once again, like Fontenot, Baker has his uses. A true Fontenot/Baker platoon at second base with Baker also spelling Ramirez at third from time to time would be a very productive platoon.
AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): Nothing special potential bench player playing in Iowa. Everyone remembers him from 2009 on the Cubs. If the Cubs decided to give Scales the job that Baker is now doing, I seriously doubt we'd notice a particularly large drop off. He's the guy who will be starting at second in August and September in all likelyhood if the Cubs trade all 3 players above. Not likely but possible.
AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): Left handed hitter. 13th round draft pick. Numbers in the minors suggest a poor man's Theriot. Yeah, not good. I give him credit for making it to AAA. He's not a candidate to take the second base job.
AA level: Tony Thomas (age 23): Basically a grade C or grade C+ prospect sitting in Double A and the leading candidate to be someone you never heard of making an impact on the 2011 Cubs. He's got OK power, decent speed. He seems pretty good with the glove. He's repeating Double A and he does have some contact problems and will struggle to keep his batting average over, say, .240 in the big leagues. He walks a decent amount but probably not enough at this time to be better than the Fontenot/Baker combo we have in the big leagues now. I think he should spend all of 2011 in triple A but it's possible that he could impress and make the big league squad.
High A level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): This is where we get into the potential future at this position for the Cubs. Flaherty was challenged by the Cubs at the start of this season and sent to Double A but he failed miserably and ended up in High A after hitting the cover off the ball in Peoria in 2009. Back in the Florida State League, Flaherty has hit well again. He's a real big guy (6'3", 220) and I worry if he will stay at second base but he has a chance to really move in 2011. He has genuine power but he also has some contact issues. He probably will never be a star but he could hold his own, easily as a solid regular for years. At the rate he's going, he might not enjoy his rookie year until he's 25 or 26 but he should be fine in the majors once he gets there. I am rooting for him to be playing in Iowa and pushing Tony Thomas off of second by this time next year.
High A level: D.J. LaMahieu (age 21): On the bright side, he is very young at just 21 for a former college guy. He is also tall and has "projectable" power. On the negative side, it's hard to imagine a 6'4" second baseman and he just barely hit his first HR as a pro. I'm not calling him a bust as he's 2 years younger than Flaherty and Thomas so he could still make it as a major leaguer but I'm scratching my head right now.
Low A level: Logan Watkins (age 20): Watkins has a decent left handed bat and is just 20 but he was a late round draft pick and hasn't hit well in Peoria this year. I do think he has probably earned a couple more year look in the low minors to make sure but so far I think Watkins is just the left handed version of LaMahieu. At this point, I would be surprised if either of them ever knocked on the door of Wrigley Field.
Short Season: Pierre LePage (age 21): It's early and he's 21 and playing in the Pioneer League but what a great name. I don't know much else about him. He's hitting over .330 in his inagural year as a Cub farmhand.
Conclusion: I think the Cubs might be smart not to get too excited about their middle infield prospects. Flaherty is good and I like him but he stumbled this year. LaMahieu has shown very little power thus far. The Cubs can get by for a year with the Fontenot/Baker platoon or even giving Thomas a shot but eventually someone else is going to have to step up. I think the Cubs should be on a look out for a player at this position at the trading deadline this year or they might have to dip into their free agent budget for a second baseman in the future. That would not be good.
Of course, hoping Hak-Ju Lee plays well enough that they can decide where to play Lee and Castro in a couple of years would be the best possible result. Second base is an interesting situation. We'll see how it plays out.
I don't know about you guys but I'm feeling more optimistic about this team all of sudden. Oh sure, they lost last night but it wasn't really a "team" effort. It was all Ted Lilly's doing and while that hurts his trade value somewhat, he's going to be off the team very soon anyway. The offense is waking up and that's a good thing. If the rest of the starters can keep up their general streak of good starts, I like the team's chances of having a decent second half (once again, no, I don't think they will be contending at any point but I do think making an assault on .500 will bode well for 2011 and beyond).
Today's Matchup: Tom Gorzelanny (68IP, 3.37ERA, 3.97xFIP) vs John Ely (77.1IP, 4.07ERA, 3.86xFIP)
The key for the Gorz is of course to keep his walks down. If he walks more than 2, chances are he's going to give up some runs, less than 2 and he can be dominant. On the surface, this looks like a pretty even matchup in pitching. We faced Ely earlier this year when he was on a roll and he went 7.1 IP with 1 ER (2W, 4K). Ely keeps the ball on the ground pretty well, has decent command and a very nice change up (especially against LHB's). In fact, he has pitched significantly better vs lefties than against RHB's this year. I think today would be a good day to use Theriot at second base against him rather than Fontenot.
Who's Hot: Obviously Aramis Ramirez is on fire and has gotten his BA over .200 for the first time since the start of the year. Last night he drew a walk, with a single, double and homer. Also Marlon Byrd had a great night last night and pushed his BA back up to .319. It'd be nice if he could walk now and again. He has a BABIP of .349 for the season which should come down a little and his OBP is going to be ugly at the end of the season if he ends up with a 3.5% walk rate. Ouch.
Who's Not: Koyie Hill started again last night. He hasn't played in a while but his wOBA is now down to a pitcher like .229!!! Holy crap. I do think the Cubs would be smart to remove him from the roster next year and go with either Wellington Castillo or Robinson Chirinos as their backup catcher. Either guy is going to be a better hitter than Hill by so much that whatever drop off in defense is going to pale in comparison.
Conclusion: The Cubs are playing better. They are hitting the crap out of the ball mostly because of the return of Aramis Ramirez. I'd love to see the Cubs win the next two and go into the All Star break with some momentum.
Not exactly the outing you want to see from a pitcher your team is trying to trade. Or, you might say, exactly not the outing you want to see.
Ted Lilly didn't make it out of the fourth inning last night, allowing seven hits, two walks, and a home run, for a total of five earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. The home run was hit by Russell Martin, immediately after Lilly allowed a walk and a single.
The Cub offense showed up last night, putting up seven runs over the course of the game, including two in the ninth when Aramis Ramirez drove in Kosuke Fukudome on a triple, and was then brought home on a Marlon Byrd single. But it wasn't enough.
Gold stars go to Marlon Byrd, who went 4-for-5 on the night (all singles) with three RBI and a run scored; Tyler Colvin, who went 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and two walks; and Aramis Ramirez, who posted his fourth consecutive multi-hit game, going 3-for-4, with a walk to boot. Aramis ended up a home run short of the cycle, while scoring twice and driving in one run. His post-DL stint stats now look like this:
.333/.381/.628 (1.009 OPS), 10 R, 9 RBI, 4 HR
So much for my analysis a month ago, when I said Derrek Lee looked capable of a comeback while Aramis looked toast. The only defense I can offer up is that I wish Aramis spoke up sooner about his bum thumb. I guess athletes are supposed to tough it out, but Ramirez' at-bats have truly been as different as night and day pre- and post-DL. I'll try to take another look at each hitter's peripheral stats later on to figure out what the problem is.
In the meantime, as trade speculation continues, the Cubs continue to lose games. So that's too bad.
With the impending trade of Cliff Lee to the Yankees and the likelyhood that Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren won't be dealt, the #1 trade target appears to be Theodore Roosevelt Lilly. That's the #1 trade target in all of baseball! Who'd have thunk? I like the idea of getting a big time prospect like Jesus Montero for him but let's be realistic, I think the Cubs can scare up a couple of B level prospects here and be happy. Lilly is pitching tonight and as I've reported in the past, his ERA continues to outpace his performance. Hopefully he can keep this up for a couple of more starts. I'm not sure who replaces him in the rotation when he leaves but if the Cubs gets a couple of prospects for him, I say good bye Ted, we loved you while you were here and will never forget you.
Today's Matchup: Ted Lilly (93.1IP, 3.76ERA, 4.63xFIP) vs Chad Billingsley (88.IP, 4.06ERA, 3.87xFIP)
You know about Lilly so let's concentrate on Billingsley. He's an enigma. A great big guy with several different pitches that has just never been able to quite put it all together. I hope he doesn't choose tonight to doso. I consider the "BZZZZZZZSAW" to be a decent #2 starter in the majors with the talent to be a #1 starter. He's ground ball rate is getting better and he's showing better control. If he could drop his walk rate into, say, Randy Wells land, he'd be major league quality ace.
He throws a few different types of fastballs (2 seem, 4 seem, cutter) and a slurve that is a cross between a slider and a curve. His slurve tends to be very slow and he uses it often as a change of pace off of his low 90's heater. There is close to a 20 MPH difference between the two pitches. Fangraphs says he throws a change up but I think that is wrong and they are confusing some other pitch for a change up.
Still he's a horse. He's struggled a little bit with lefties so it wouldn't surprise me to see Soriano, for instance, get a day off tonight. I don't like this matchup.
Who's Hot: Yeah, that'd be Aramis Ramirez. As AJ pointed out, Ramy has been popping the shit out of the ball over the past few weeks and now is on the precipice of climbing over .200 in batting average. On top of that, his contact rate is climbing and so is his isolated power. His ISO is up to .155 which isn't quite there but is far more Ramirez like than the .110 or so he's been sporting all year.
I want to say something about Ramirez' early season slump and the Cubs' options, not going into 2011 because they are "stuck" paying him $16 Million that year but rather for 2012 and beyond. Some players fade quickly in their 30's. I hope that Aramis is going to be above average for the next year and a half but the Cubs really need to think twice before giving him a single dollar over, say, $8 Million to play for them in 2012. I think the evidence is he's going to fade in a way that is sad and quick and the Cubs need to steer clear of that. I think that will be one of the tests of whoever replaces Hendry.
Who's Not: Tyler Colvin's triple slash line in June: .250/.280/.500 and July: .222/.250/.444. The increase in playing time has overexposed him. I think he should start tonight (along with Fontenot at second) only because he's left handed but I think it's a little premature to think of this guy as our right fielder of the future. He's excellent as a secret weapon fourth outfielder that you give 250-300 AB's to in a year. It fairly obvious he should not be starting, Kosuke isn't great but I still think he's more of a 'starter' than Colvin is.
Conclusion: This game is about Lilly and his trade value. That is all. It would be nice if the Cubs win the game but the next 3-4 starts that Lilly makes will hopefully be near his best starts of the year. I love ya, Ted but it's time to boost that trade value. 2012 beckons and tonight's start is about that.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Cub starter goes quality, offense can't score enough runs, we lose a close one.
And now, the mitigating factors:
- Randy Wells was one pitch away from a super outing. He gave up six hits (a leadoff double, four singles, and a late, low, line-drive homer that barely made it out), walked one, and struck out seven. Whether it was bad mechanics, bad luck, or a combination of both, whatever was ailing Randy's ERA seems to have subsided.
- I promised you a guessing game in the title, so here goes. Check out these numbers, compiled over Mr. Mystery's last 47 at-bats:
.297 avg, .340 obp, .596 slg (i.e. .936 OPS), 4 HR in 47 AB
I know you know who it is, but still, that was fun, right? Of course, every time I look at Aramis' post-DL numbers, I wonder why he wasn't put on the DL earlier. Clearly, an Aramis Ramirez with one good thumb is a completely worthless hitter (see: April and May), so let's try to keep him healthy for the next season and a half, shall we?
- Kudos to the two Cubs who drove in runs last night. If you believe the numbers at Fangraphs, Geovany Soto is on pace for a more valuable season than his 2008 ROY campaign, and Alfonso Soriano has been worth $10.4 million in value over a replacement player thus far this season.
Randy Wells (4-6 4.67 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-4 3.02 ERA)
Well, that was easy. The Cubs pull out of Arizona with their first series win since 2003 and their first sweep since April of this year. To keep the streak alive, the Cubs turn to Randy Wells and hope he can build on his performance against Cincy where he went into the 7th before allowing a hit.
Kershaw is NOT the type of lefty that seems to mess with the Cubs. In fact, he is nowhere near "crafty" but uses gasoline and hard moving stuff to get by (and a high strikeout rate evidenced by his K per IP in his last 3). That being said, he has a win in his only start against the Cubs this year.
Who's Hot- I never thought I would get to say this during this season, but: Aramis Ramirez. In his last three games he is 5-12 with 3 HR and 7 RBI. One can only hope that his thumb is in good shape and he's ready to resume his career norms for the rest of the season.
Who's Not- All-Star Snubs. Carlos Marmol is a filthy man. So filthy that he has been overlooked on the All-Star Roster. Marmol is piling up strikeouts like there is going to be a shortage with a total of 77 in 40.2 IP. In terms of K/9 that is a 17.04 rate. For a bit of reference, the best rate out there for a full season was Eric Gagne in 2003 with a 14.98. Yep. No pitcher that has pitched over 50 IP has ever cracked even above 15 K/9. Marmol: Amazing.
Hopefully "good" Wells shows up tonight and we at least have a pitchers duel. I have a strange feeling that the momentum being on our side could make this trip not completely suck, starting with tonight. Let's hope my gut is right.