Hot on the heels of a road trip sweep, the Cubs head to Los Angeles to do battle with their '08 playoff rivals in the final four game set before the All Star Break.
Since Cubbie Cynicism is frowned upon (nobody wants to date Debbie Downer, right?), let's look at the recent positives of the team.
- They've had three straight wins, in which the Cubs' offense averaged nearly 8 runs a game.
- Aramis Ramirez is doing his best Frampton impression, having come alive to the tune of 3 homeruns and 7 RBI in his last 5 games.
- annnnd that's about it. Damn.
Now, I know that some criticism has continued to be levied, here and abroad, at Geovany Soto. My question is -- why? There is only one catcher in all of baseball with a better OPS -- Miguel Olivo, who's having a career year.
Soto, meanwhile, is on pace for nearly 30 doubles, 20 homers, and 90 walks. Not bad. More impressive, though, is the fact that only 49% of ESPN Fantasy team owners have him. Sounds like a reasonable grab, folks.
Anwyay, on with the Preview.
Thursday, July 8th - Randy Wells (4-6 4.67 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-4 3.02 ERA)
Sayers wants you to know -- Randy Wells is not a one-year wonder. But while Wells may someday have another good season, his 2010 looks pretty wasted. So much for the mentorship of Greg Maddux.
Actually, come to think of it, I can't name a single pitcher who was mentored by Maddux and went on to have a ton of success. Jason Marquis? Sucks. Sean Marshall? Bullpen journeyman. Randy Wells? Lookin' awful. With all due respect to my Goat Riding compatriot, I haven't seen anything from Wells at this point that I didn't see from Jeremi Gonzalez, Kevin Foster, and other one (or two)-year wonders.
His opponent is 22 years old, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and is on pace for 15 wins and a 3.02 ERA. And unlike Randy Wells, he is certifiably not a one year wonder -- he pitched 171 innings in 2009, striking out 185 and winning only 8 while posting a 2.79 ERA. Oh -- did I mention he's a lefty?
Friday, July 9th - Ted Lilly (3-7 3.76 ERA) vs. Chad Billingsley (6-4 4.06 ERA)
Ted Lilly's long career is an improbable -- and fascinating -- one. He was drafted in the 23rd round by the Dodgers, but he never pitched a game for them, instead getting his break in Montreal in 1999. He was then dealt to the New York Yankees, where he pitched for two and a half seasons, before being traded to Oakland where he had his first somewhat successful season -- going 12-10 with a 4.34 ERA in 2003.
Lilly's journey then continued onward to Toronto, where he pitched decently for 3 seasons before getting into a fist fight with his manager in 2006, resulting in his free agent jaunt to Chicago. This year aside, his time at Wrigley has been pretty freaking awesome.
So, it'll be somewhat sad when Lilly leaves, whether it's at the end of the season or in a few weeks. Regardless of what happens, though, I hope the Cubs do not pursue to resign him. Lilly's just a bit too old, and the Cubs desperately need to get as young as they can, as fast as they can.
Speaking of young pitchers, Lilly faces Chad Billingsley tomorrow. For some reason, it feels as though Billingsley has been around forever, but he's only 25. He's another of LA's young, high strike-out pitchers, having SO'd nearly 1 batter an inning since 2007.
Saturday, July 10th - Tom Gorzelanny (3-5 3.31 ERA) vs. John Ely (4-6 4.07 ERA)
Tom Gorzelanny -- or Sloth, as we like to call him -- is better than his 3-5 record conveys. He struggled a little in his second game back to the rotation, although he beat Arizona.
He faces another of LA's young arms -- John Ely, a 24-year-old rookie, is "struggling" with a 4-6 record and a 4.07 ERA in his junior effort. While I don't know that Ely will ever be better than a #3 or #4-type pitcher, I'm impressed by LA's ridiculous abundance of young talent.
Sunday, July 11th - Carlos Silva (9-2 2.96 ERA) vs. Vincent Padilla (3-2 4.72 ERA)
Carlos Silva is wasting the best year of his career in Chicago. I can only hope that the Cubs manage to deal him for some younger talent in the next few weeks, or otherwise his great year is pretty well wasted. Consider this -- he's presently on pace to win more games than he did in 2007-2009 combined. Crazy.
He faces one of the few pitchers on the Dodgers who is old enough to grow facial hair -- 32 year old Vince Padilla, who's 3-2 record and 4.72 ERA leave him as the most vulnerable Dodger, making Sunday's game the most likely Cubs victory.
The Cubs are the inverse of the Dodgers -- LA is 46-38; Chicago is 38-47. As a realist, I'm not exactly expecting the Cubs to dominate while on the road -- or at home, for that matter -- and so I would expect the Cubs to be lucky with a series split.
As for the other issues, particularly pertaining to how it may be "early" to feel so cynical, allow me to justify this blog's position on things.
We all know that Lou Piniella is a goner, and so is Jim Hendry. Most of us liked Lou quite a bit, but it's been clear for about a full year now that the Cubs wouldn't win the World Series on his watch. Same thing with Hendry -- he did a few things well, but those things failed to make up for his numerous faults.
So when we blog about the season being over -- well, that's just reality -- and our frustration at the lack of movement going on in the clubhouse, it's only because we know from ample experience just how hard it will be for the Cubs to get back on track with the next crew of managers.
It is key, then, that Jim Hendry successfully unload the overpriced veterans who won't be able to help the team anyway three years from now, when they might be competitive again.
It's also important that the next GM and manager both be competent winners, guys who have that extra little drive to get things accomplished on and off the field.
So, we're all a little worried about Tom Ricketts screwing it up. What if he hires another Jim Hendry-type who's so bad at assessing talent that he'd vote for the fat chick at an America's Next Top Model competition? What if the next bumbling GM hires a manager who makes Dusty Baker look like a genius savant?
If the next group of managers are as incompetent as the last dozen or so groups of managers -- and really, it's all been downhill since Dallas Green was chased out of town -- then, as Cub fans, we're looking at another 3 to 5 years of mediocrity before Ricketts rolls the dice again with potentially another batch of bumbling idiots.
So ... we're probably more nervous than we are cynical. We've been to this dance before, and odds are, we'll be there agian ... sooner than we'd like.
When an offense fails to score runs, fans usually start to demand change, and they tend to do so pretty quickly. And yes, we know it's a 162-game season, but can you blame us? We want to win, and we want to win now.
Personally, I'd say this year's most perplexing issue for the offense has been Lou's insistence on hitting Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the 3- and 4-holes, respectively, despite each of their thoroughly failtastic performances at the plate this season. (Along the same lines, why does Nady keep hitting 4th or 5th? Pardon me, I digress.)
So right, Lee and Ramirez have been terrible. And along with the occasional call for a straight-up benching (yes, I'm guilty of that), the most popular request in response had been to simply move those two down in the order.
Which may have made us feel better, I guess. But the fact has always been this: so long as Derrek and Aramis are struggling, this entire offense will continue to struggle. You can't stash these guys in the 7 and 8 spots, and you can't simply bench them. The Cubs need them if they plan on scoring any respectable number of runs this year.
Speaking of which (let the recap commence!!): last night's game, combined with Tuesday's matchup, marked the first time Aramis Ramirez has hit three home runs in two games since June 20th and 21st of 2008 against the White Sux. (June 20th was a walk off blast, and June 21st was the day the Cubs scored nine in the 4th... remember, when Fontenot was pinch-hit for in the same inning in which he hit a home run earlier? Those were the days.)
Starter Ryan Dempster did not have his best stuff, but he's a tough dude, and he managed to get through five innings anyway. And the 'pen stepped up, posting four scoreless innings, with Andrew Cashner putting up the most impressive line of the lot (five outs, three strikeouts, no walks, one hit).
It feels like it was only yesterday when I was complaining about the Cubs never having five guys drive in runs in the same game (which it was), and here they go and do it again. Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Ryan Dempster each nabbed one ribbie, while Starlin Castro drove in two for himself on a single. And Aramis Ramirez' home run was a three-run bomb.
So yeah, about Ramirez: Take heart, Cub fans, as it seems Aramis hasn't completely lost it yet. (The guy needs to learn when to take a frakkin' breather and let his hand heal, because when his thumb hurts he SUCKSSSSS, but whatever.) At the very least, we don't have to worry so much about that $16 million option for 2011 that AR will still likely exercise.
At best? Maybe there's a chance the Cubs haven't completely lost it either.
Ryan Dempster (6-7, 3.54 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-6, 4.74 ERA)
All aboard the Piano-back train, Aramis Ramirez looks like he has some sort of life. Rammy went yard twice last night and not shockingly, the Cubs won a game. I'm not saying this is a trend, nor a turning point... just an observation that it was nice to see him look like some semblence of his old self. Also, the Cubs are in line to get their first sweep since April (ew... just, ew).
Looking at the man on the rubber for the DBacks, Jackson has been quite inconsistent this season and is not the pitching savior Arizone expected. Much like his counterpart Scherzer that got traded to Detroit, Jackson has had control issues much of the season. That being said, he's also had flashes of brilliance such as the "Dusty Baker Special" no-hitter where he threw his arm off.
I won't bore you with too much outside of this: Let's get this sweep. Time to look like a respectable team for some part of this season.
Because my eyes are watering, and I was coming out here anyway in order to regain some perspective, but oh, my gosh...
It is debatable whether or not God put us on this earth to write Java code, or hit baseballs, or complain about other guys who are supposed to hit baseballs but do not. I'm not sure He intended for us to strive to buy five-bedroom houses with six bathrooms when there will be only four people to sleep in the five bedrooms and whiz in the six bathrooms.
One thing we all can be sure of, though, God did bring us here to bring new lives in this world, and to take good care of the new lives. Yes, Chris, you have to eat, and in order to do so, you have to get educated so that the Man will give you a bit more to live on. But God has given you a gift, and millions of people less prepared than you have succeeded in raising their children. You and Ben will do well.
My own children test me to the limits of my own meager stores of patience. There are many people who are far better parents than I am. But I wouldn't trade it for anything, and in the end, things will be ok.
Now, strap yourselves in, for I am about to say some nice things about one member of the 2010 Cubs.
Obviously, Carlos Marmol was screwed out of an All-Star nod.
I guess we can take solace in the fact that the only time being an All-Star really matters, besides arbitration time, of course, is right now. Five seconds after the ASG actually ends, we are all going to stop caring, and we will turn our attention to whether or not Piniella lasts the year, and who we stand to get back in return for Lilly, Fukudome, and Theriot.
To recap, though, the pitchers chosen are: Broxton, Carpenter, Capps, Gallardo, Halladay, Hudson, Jimenez. Josh Johnson, Lincecum, Evan Meek, Arthur Rhodes, Wainright, and Brian Wilson. The only relievers are Broxton, Capps, Meek, Rhodes, and Wilson. Broxton, Meek, and Rhodes all have microscopic ERAs, although Meek and Rhodes do not pitch ninth innings. Meek represents the Pirates, though. Rhodes has never been and never should be confused with a 'star'. But, I suppose, he is 40 years old, a lifetime LOOGY, and anyone who's the least bit sentimental shrugs and grudgingly backs away from arguing against him, although Marmol is WAY better than he is. Capps has a high ERA, but he is the only Nats representative.
Brian Wilson has more saves than Marmol, but is inferior in all other aspects. Of course, saves are a function of your team giving you enough leads. The Giants are a better team than the Cubs right now, thus Wilson has had more save opportunities. Marmol is better than Wilson. Wilson, for his part, has had a better year than his fellow Giant all-star pitcher, Lincecum. Of course, Lincecum is a Star and an automatic pick at this point.
So now I am in the evil position of hoping one of the above guys (hopefully Carpenter) gets hurt, and has to be replaced by Marmol. Muahahahaha!!
Hey guys, how 'bout that Ben?!?!? What a kid!! Congratulations, yarbage!
Hopefully Ben will see more of that Crimson Tide onesie than his Cubs outfit, because winning is fun. And speaking of winning (which we... ya know, won), last night's game reminded me of a mindset I had back in 2008.
(I know this seems like an awful tangent but bear with me. OK, here goes.)
Going into the NLDS in 2008 I was cautiously optimistic, which is really to say I was 100% cautious. I realized our team proved itself as the best in the National League over the course of a regular season, but I remembered the cat-poopish taste left in my mouth by our brief 2007 playoff experience. Winning a game in the division series is no small feat, and when a baseball series is best of five, you've really gotta win game one.
So the main thought on my mind was, "Until we win a game I will make a minimal emotional investment in these playoffs." Turns out we didn't win a game, so now I'm convinced: even if we were to win 105 games in the regular season before our next playoff run, I'd still be skeptical until we managed to snag that first W.
This is essentially the way I've been handling Aramis Ramirez' struggles this year. It was sad to see Aramis go so quickly, I thought, but after hitting under .200 for a few months, I decided it would be best to completely abandon hope until he did something -- ANYTHING -- to prove he wasn't a complete waste of space this year (and $16 million or so next year, thank you player option).
Call me crazy, and I know it's just one game. But hitting two home runs is definitely a start. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Aramis is now slugging .520 over his 14 games in June and July.
Last night's game was cool for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Marmol's striking out all FIVE batters he faced. The contest gave Carlos Silva his ninth win of the season, too. But if Aramis Ramirez can somehow turn one good night in the desert into a solid second-half, that'd be the coolest thing by far.
I took my leave of absence from GROTA back on June 1st and a lot has happened in a month. I've been trying to get in a routine for a while, and I was just unable to update about our first child.
First off, the little guy to the right is Benjamin James Yarbrough. He was born on June 1st and weighed just 6 pounds and 12 ounces. My wife had an emergency c-section three weeks early, which was scary enough. Then, to our surprise the doctor's told us that Ben had Down Syndrome. Needless to say, it was a shock, because we had all the normal tests done and we were told that Ben was negative on everything. While the news wasn't what we were expecting, we wouldn't change anything now. It just shows that life is always unpredictable.
The main reason that I'm so late in getting an update for all the readers (not to mention fellow writers) was that Ben had to stay in the NICU for over two weeks. For parents that have had this happen before, I can only say that I hope it never happens again. There is no worse feeling than having a baby and being discharged before you child. Ben is doing much better, but there are still some issues we are working through because of the Down Syndrome. But as you can see here, he is looking much better already. He also looks happier, maybe it's the Alabama shirt. At least my other team wins championships every now and then.
We finally made it home a couple weeks ago, but it has been really hard juggling all that was going on in my life. My plan was to come back to GROTA starting this month, but that will be on a hold for a few weeks I think since this genius here decided to take 12 hours of grad school this summer. That might have been the dumbest move since picking the Cubs to win 90 games at the beginning of the season. What was I thinking? Ben could come closer and all he does is eat, sleep and poop.
I wanted to say thank you to Rob to reaching out to me after Ben was born. I just had to come to grips with all that happening before I could give the update to everybody. These last few weeks have been really stressful, but I wanted to reach out to everyone. If there is a positive to this situation it is that I picked a great season to not be able to watch, even though the last two nights have been fun as I cranked out numerous papers for class. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.
I've been advocating a "scorched earth" approach to dismantling this team since Mid April, so this post is not all that timely. That said, I read an interesting article on fangraphs this morning (Link Here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/rentals-processes-and-flags-fly...). After reading the article, I jumped into the wayback machine and transported myself back to the high flying 2008 season, when the Cubs were kicking ass and cici Sabathia hadn't yet pulled on his beer helmet.
I wanted Sabathia that year. Bad. I was really pissed when the Crew landed him, although I was somewhat assuaged when the Cubs reeled in Harden for minor league flotsam. Milwaukee failed to win a postseason series that season, and Sabathia broke the bank with the Yankees that Winter. Here's the hypothetical I would like to pose to my fellow goatreaders: If the Cubs had a great major league roster but had the chance to trade for a superstar which might put them over the top, would you do it? What if it cost them Starlin Castro? Or Andrew Cashner? Or Brett Jackson? Basically, how do you value the chance to win it all today, vs. the likelihood of getting good to great value from your prospects tomorrow?
Regarding the title: when's the last time five different Cubs recorded an RBI in a game? I admit, there's a good chance I haven't been playing close enough attention and it happened, like, two days ago, but really when's the last time this team scored five runs, much less had five different guys do it?
On Monday, the Cubs' "five guys" were Kosuke Fukudome (lead-off dinger), Mike Fontenot (pinch-hit single), Alfonso Soriano (pinch-hit two-run bomb), Geovany Soto (3-for-4, two runs and two RBIs) and Starlin Castro (1-for-4 with a two-run triple).
Speaking of which, guess which catcher leads MLB (as in, ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL) in offensive production according to wOBA? Hint: he's a Cub, and it's not Koyie Hill. Having said that, let's keep splitting up the ABs, shall we? Gosh darn it, Lou.
Tom Gorzelanny started for the Cubs, and did not have very good control of the strike zone, allowing six walks over five innings. I blame The Organization for this. Much in the same way that Jeff Samardzija's development could not have been handled worse by the dudes upstairs (starter! reliever! starter! reliever! relief starter! closer! ham sandwich!), it's gotta be tough for a creature of habit to adjust from starting to relieving to starting again, and doing so while facing major league hitters. If it were my organization and I had six starters, I'd send whoever had options down to Iowa to stay stretched out. Heck, maybe he could even work on his fundamentals and pitch mix in relatively meaningless games, and improve even. But that makes way too much sense, obviously.
Lou used five relievers to get the win. James Russell performed well as a LOOGY, going one-for-one against his assigned hitter, while Andrew Cashner was less successful, allowing three base runners to reach while recording just one out. Beyond those two, however: Justin Berg, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out eight of their eleven batters faced, with Marmol striking out the side in the ninth inning. Super.
I was unfortunate enough to have tickets to Friday's 12-0 blowout at the hands of the Reds, the second time in just over two weeks I attended a 12-0 loss. This means I've seen firsthand the Cubs' two worst losses of the season (didn't it feel great to lose by only 11 on Sunday, which you might recall matched the scoring disparity in their Opening Day 16-5 loss which, it turns out, was a harbinger of the season to come rather than a mere aberration?). The last two times I've been to Wrigley, the other teams have scored 24 runs on 24 hits while the Cubs managed zero runs on five hits. The Cubs sprinkled in three errors to their opponents' none just for good measure.
It's difficult to measure the depths of the Cubs' woes here at the halfway point of the season. Saturday's win put them on pace for a 70-win season. Sunday's 14-3 pounding was a fantastically appropriate way to finish another craptastically awful week in which they managed to lose another series to the Pirates and lose three of four to the first-place Reds while getting outscored by Dusty's squad by 22 runs.
You know, even after the Reds hit line drives and moonshots all over Wrigley, the Cubs' pitching remains the sixth-best in the NL. But their record can of course be traced to an offense that is 14th of 16 in the league, and to their .243 average with runners in scoring position. They left 17 guys on base Saturday in a nine-inning game. Except they didn't even bat in the ninth, so that's over two guys stranded per inning. Their ability to ruin scoring chances would be impressive if it weren't so soul-crushing and painfully boring to watch.
Ryno of the Week: While his average has dipped to .280 in June and July, Tyler Colvin continues to be one of the most productive members of the offense. If you extrapolate his stats to the standard 500 at-bats, he would have 33 home runs and 89 RBI. He needs to be more selective and learn to hit the breaking ball, but this kid's got raw talent and those skills come with time.
Oak Park native Brian Schlitter had a chance to get the award after his major league career began with two scoreless outings against the Pirates. But Schlitter, who was acquired for Scott Eyre back in 2008, allowed five earned runs in just a third of an inning in Friday's disastrous seventh inning, inflating his ERA to 15.00.
Goat of the Week: On Friday morning, Jeff Stevens' ERA was 2.76; now it's 5.71 and he's in the minors.
Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Andrew Cashner
Well game one is in the books as we, the writers at the vestible that is the Goat Riders of the Apocalypse Chicago Cub weblog have failed to provide an adequate series preview up until now. I guess it's hard for all of us, including me, Mr. Happy Talk (the Anti Rob??... That Jim Haley guy should fuckin' love me! Oops) to keep the passion for this team going in this crappy year. Of course, I am trying to keep it in perspective. As I keep telling myself (because no one else believes me!), the Cubs are a better team than they have shown so far.
Well, they adjourn to the heat of the desert to lock horns with the snakey team called the Phoenix (er Arizona) Diamondbacks. Our favorite team has escaped with a victory in the first matchup so I will discuss the next two:
Game 2: Carlos Silva vs Barry Enright
Silva should have made the all star team but in reality, he's lucky that he's still in the starting rotation after all this time. He should still be able to stay successful for some time. Silva is, in my opinion, testamount to the genius of Larry Rothschild. He has learned a new pitch, started throwing his breaking balls more and let the chips fall where they may.
Amazingly, he is still doing well even in terms of his peripherals. He is categorized as a ground ball pitcher and he has a high ground ball rate but he's hardly Tim Hudson. But his K/BB ratio is sitting at an astounding 4.47/1. You have to work hard not to be successful when you're K'ing close to 4.5 times as many batters as your walking. Silva should be good the rest of the season and I wonder if the Cubs could find a trade partner. I think it's possible that he's lifted his value enough that the Cubs might be able to get a decent prospect and some salary relief for 2011
As for Enright. He's making his second start. He is 24 and was repeating Double A this year with some success so the struggling D'Backs decided to jump him over Triple-A and right on into the majors. Now, he's a rookie, so he'll probably no hit us. I hope not. The Cubs will probably find themselves in a low scoring game here.
Game 3: Ryan Dempster vs Edwin Jackson
One of the reasons why I find it hard to completely give up on this team is that I never think they are that far behind in any pitching matchup. I see no reason why they sholdn't win this game. Dempster has been awesome, yet again this year, and he is also testamount to the genius of Mr. Rothschild in my opinion. You know his story but one thing to look for is when Lou pulls him. He's been leaving him in about 2 or 3 batters too long this year for some reason. The Cubs bullpen has been doing better lately (outside of games where they play the Reds) so I hope that will change for Mr. Piniella.
As for Jackson, yep, the Cubs bashed his head in in Wrigley Field back on May 2 but he's really turned it around since then and has added a no hitter to his resume. I think the Cubs might be able to get to him if we are patient. I'd love to see patient hitters like Soto, Fukudome and Fontenot (as opposed to Theriot) in this game. Let's see how the Cubs play this.
Conclusion: I'm not going to lie. I pretty much think we're done for but I'm hoping for a bunch of wins in a row. As I've said before there is no reason the Cubs can't put a string of wins together. The pitching is just too good for the team to be this bad. Hopefully this is the start a winning streak.
Oh and BTW, Jim Haley, I concur with Kurt. Choke on it!