Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Grabow gets the win? (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Mariners 2)

The Cubs scored three runs last night! WOW!

Of course, they couldn't do it in just nine. The team ended up needing 13 innings, topped off by a leadoff walk from Alfonso Soriano in the final frame (he'd be brought home by a Marlon Byrd single). Also, much thanks to Mariners starter Felix Hernandez for hitting Xavier Nady with a pitch in the seventh, and then allowing him to advance to 2nd on a wild pitch, all so CHAD THE MAN TRACY could drive in the second Cub run.

And then there was the pitching. If this morning, you woke up, read the box score, and immediately splashed a full glass of ice water into your own face to assure you of your sanity, I wouldn't have blamed you: last night's W went to JOHN GRABOW, and Tom Gorzelanny got the one-out save, after BOB HOWRY got the first two outs of the bottom of the 13th. Wacky stuff!

Ted Lilly started the game and pitched rather effectively, allowing one earned run over six innings, nabbing six K's, and allowing just five hits, along with zero walks. Carlos Marmol did his best to make the game interesting, walking the bases loaded in the 10th, but he also struck out the side to preserve the tie. And Andrew Cashner's scoreless streak is over; his ERA has now skyrocketed to 0.87.

In short: The Cubs still suck, but at least we know how to win every once in a while.

Gamecast: June 24, 2010- Cubs at Mariners

Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.42) vs. "King" Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)

Overview
There was a time I was excited that the Mariners were on our schedule.  They were a team that lacked punch, their pitching was shaky at times, and they did none of the little things right.  Coincidentally, now that the Cubs are playing the Mariners, it seems that all of those issues that once plagued the Mariners have been resolved, if not become strengths.  Cliff Lee demonstrated last night why some Major League team will be willing to sacrifice it's first born in order to acquire him at the trade deadline with a complete game outing against the boys in blue.  For getting dominated by an elite pitcher, I can't be mad at the Cubs.  In the game last night, Lee had 0-2 counts on 19 of the Cubs hitters.  The man doesn't walk people and keeps it around the plate.

What I can blame the Cubs for are the chances they wasted last night.  The Cubs started the game last night with 2 straight hits and didn't score a run.  Moreover, the Cubs started the 7th Inning off with back-to-back doubles and still didn't score a run.  I have two issues with the latter: (1) how is that actually possible to not score a guy from second on a double; (2) our offense needs to drastically improve with runners in scoring position.

Theodore Lilly will toe the rubber (or about a foot off of it, depending on how he's feeling) for the Cubs today in hopes of salvaging a win on the trip out to Seattle.  Lilly has been progessively better each start since coming off the DL and I expect him to do the same in Seattle, especially given the dimensions of that ballpark.  On the other hand, King Felix has been inconsistent at best as the "ace" of the staff.  Hopefully the Cubs will face the more beneficial side of his Jekyll/Hyde act and run into a few base hits in clutch situations.

Finally, as reported by crack journalist Paul Sullivan, Big Z has taken to wearing his '08 All-Star t-shirt as a way to reverse his, and the teams fortunes.  To quote Big Z: "That's when I used to be good."

Well Carlos, more power to you.  In fact, more power for this team... we could use the run support.

A Tale of Two NL Central Pitchers (Game Recap: Cubs 1, Mariners 8)

Has the league finally figured Randy Wells out?

Wells has never struck many batters out, and he doesn't walk too many, either. He's a control guy that pounds the corners with pitches that move, hoping to get lots of ground balls into the gloves of his defenders. In 2009, he was able to do that with great success, posting a 47.9 GB%.

Unfortunately, Randy has been allowing many more base hits lately. In his last six starts (including an appearance against the Cardinals in which he was unable to record an out), Randy has allowed 45 hits in 28.1 innings pitched.

I know what you're thinking: a ground ball pitcher allowing more base hits must mean Randy's BABIP allowed is out of whack. And indeed it is; this year, Wells has a .361 BABIP allowed, compared to last year's .294.

But it's not ground balls that are turning into hits; it's squared-up line drives. Randy's line drive percentage is up nearly 40% this year relative to 2009, and now stands at 24.7% -- which puts him at the top of the leaderboard among qualified pitchers.

Curiously, however, Wells isn't the only NL Central pitcher to see his LD% spike up this season. The same thing has happened to Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo, whose LD% stands at 23.1%.

So if batted ball statistics are to be considered useful, how is Gallardo managing a 2.59 ERA this season while Randy's ERA is up at 5.21?

The answer likely lies in LOB%, or strand rate. For Yovani, 20.9% of the base runners he allows come around to score; for Randy, that number is more than doubled -- 44% of the batters that reach base against him eventually score.

Will Randy's strand rate come down? Convention says yes; historical data shows that LOB% rates tend to be closer to Gallardo's rate than Wells' over the course of a season for most major league pitchers. But with recent reports about Larry Rothschild working with Randy on his mechanics with runners on, I'm not so sure this is something that will just go away as Wells pitches more innings.

Oh yeah, and about last night's game: Cliff Lee is really good, Tyler Colvin is pretty great too, and the Cubs are bad. Boom, game set match. Now go watch the World Cup.

Reader Blog: Who's Next?

So there has been a lot of talk, some offhand comments, some full rants, about the managerial competence and questionable deservedness of Lou Piniella continuing to be the skipper for our beloved Cubs. A few of these people have suggested replacements, but it doesn't seem that this part of the equation has really been fully developed. While this is in no way a post saying "Lou Should Go"... it is suggesting that whether it be on his own terms or someone else's, he will no longer be here between now and November.

So, who's next?

Let me first start off by saying I like Lou. He's led the Cubs to back to back playoffs (albeit with 0 wins) and 3 consecutive winning seasons. He's shown fire when he needs to, and it seems he's been paitient and calm when he needs to. He's given hilarious interviews and given new meaning to starting a sentence with the word "Look". But his heart just isn't in it anymore. Really, none of the guys from the deflating 97-win, 0-playoff win 2008 juggernaut seem to have their hearts in it anymore. So besides the roster being overhauled (it needs to be) how can you remake the mindset and passion of this team? Well, before we answer that, let's look at a few things that are wrong with them. (These will be mostly mental things as a manager has more control on his ballclub's outlook than he does on their skills)

- The Cubs are 10-16 in one-run games, 0-37 in games when they enter the 9th trailing and have blown 17 leads this year. Those 3 things together suggest that this team is not mentally tough enough to stay in close ball games or pick up their balls and win when they're down.

- The Cubs have scored 195 runs in their 31 wins (6.29 runs/game) and have scored only 100 runs in the 40 games they've lost (2.5 runs/game!). This again suggests that this team clearly has the talent and ability to score, but only when things are going well. A motivating, positive leader is needed.

- The Cubs have 58 errors this season, good for 3rd worst in baseball. This is clearly slightly more slanted towards the actual skill of a team, but still, mentally tough, fundamentally managed teams do not lead leagues in errors

So, when Lou is gone, who can change these things for us? I'd like to throw out a few suggestions and pros/cons, but this post is really about everyone giving their input. I mean... who the hell knew who Tom Thibodeau was 2 months ago?

Ryne Sandberg - Apparently the "fan favorite". But why? Cause he's one of the few truly likeable, succesful Cubs of the last 2 decades? I guess he's been fairly successful as a minor league skip, but his fast track to the big seat scares me. Highly touted prospects and "saviors" do not fare well in this city (see: Patterson, Corey)

Joe Girardi - The "other guy" from the 2006-2007 off season. His dream job was managing the Yankees. And they won a championship last year. I've heard his name kicked around recently, but why would he leave New York until they force him out?

Mike Scioscia - Talk about a guy getting the most out of his players. Year in and year out some dark horse AL West team is discussed as taking down the Angels finally, but it never happens. Him leaving is very much a longshot also as they're currently in second, and playing good baseball. (Not to mention he's under contract through 2018??) But stranger things have happened

Ron Gardenhire - Another quality guy who gets the most out of seemingly less talented players. Minnesota has done very little in the playoffs under his tenure, so with another early exit, or if they miss the playoffs altogether, he could be available.

Joe Torre - Not much needs to be said here. Great with young kids, great with juggling egos, great track record of success and has already managed in the two markets bigger than Chicago. His contract is up at the end of this year.

Bobby Valentine - Seriously, he hasn't managed in the MLB since 2002? Between 1997 and 2001 he worked a record of 449-362 (.553) and took the Mets to The Series. I admittedly don't know what his coaching style is like, but he has managed succesfully in New York with some pretty big egos and pressure.

So that's what I have for now. Again, by no means definitive, but it's a start. If we're all mostly in agreement that this season is lost and Lou is even loster, who's next? Let's get some discussion going. Thoughts on these "options"? Who are your ideal candidates?

Go Cubs.

Gamecast: June 23, 2010: Cubs at Mariners

Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)

Overview
Well, the combination of great opposing pitching combined with a scuffling offense tends to be a really bad combination.  This series may be a perfect example of that as the Cubs have to face the two "aces" of this Seattle staff to end the series.  The big story has to be the year Cliff Lee is having so far.  After beginning the year on the DL, Lee has come back and won five games with a pleasant 2.55 ERA.  More impressive is his K:BB ratio: 67:4.  Yep... that's FOUR walks over 77.2 innings.  This is the type of pitching matchup Dusty would dream about: clog-free.

On the other hand, Wells has been scuffling a bit as of late, but turned in a quality start in a win against the Athletics.  Hopefully the time spent working with Larry Rothschild on his delivery and examining why everyone was hitting him like a pinata will pay dividends tonight.

Who's Hot: I put Lee in here last night and he goes 0-fer.  Awesome.  I'm afraid to put someone here now.  However, I'll talk about Andrew Cashner.  Cash has pitched 8.1 innings and not allowed a run yet.  Moreover, he has done well in the few pressure situations he has been put into.  I really like the kid's pedigree and think he can be a vital cog in the pen for a long time.

Who's Not: Soriano's baserunning.  I know that Safeco is a big park.  I also know that Colvin hit a sinking liner.  However, you need to have the ability to judge that ball a bit better and see that a fielder is reaching the ball easily.  This isn't the first time, and it probably won't be the last, but a little bit more field awareness would be stellar.

Conclusion
My gut instinct is that this game is going to suck.  Like, really badly.  However, the Cubs always seem to win the games they have no business winning and getting dominated by some journeyman lefty that can't win a single game unless he plays the Cubs.  Maybe tonight is one of those crazy nights.

Game Recap: Mariners 2, Cubs 0; Chicago scores about as often as a World Cup team

The hundred million dollar Cubs offense -- we'll just call them El Juggernaut for short -- capitalized on a weak Seattle team last night, and managed to drub up 6 hits and 3 walks, scoring an undeniably impressive 0 runs in the process.

Wait ... six hits?  Three walks?  Seriously, folks.  C'mon!

These Cubs are just about as impressive as the last few rag-tag efforts of the Dusty Baker era.  They are just another shining example of what happens when you give hundreds of millions of dollars to a GM with a baseball IQ of about 80, who, like a magpie, is attracted to the Bright and Shiny rather than the talented and enduring. 

Sorry, but Bright and Shiny does not win championships.  Neither do the Cubs.  The Chicago offense wasted the otherwise impressive performance of Ryan Dempster, who threw a rare complete game loss last night -- he went 8 innings, struck out 8 batters, reduced his ERA to 3.56, and dropped to 5-6 on the season for his efforts.

This comes hot on the heels of talk that Lou might be gassed out as a manager, that Ryne Sandberg may be clamoring to replace him, and that the team is hopefully just a busy week away from being deconstructed.  It can't happen fast enough for me, although I continue to even mistrust Hendry's ability to firesale appropriately. 

Nevertheless, I'll just end today's recap with an unrelated thought -- Ryne Sandberg should not manage the Cubs.  Unless his autobiography was ghost written by Dusty Baker, then Sandberg has a concerningly similar baseball philosophy to the "you gotta earn it" mentality that Baker espoused.  Therefore, here's to hoping that, as Lou and Jim leave, true baseball men fill their slots.

Otherwise, it'll just be another half decade of Bright and Shiny baseball in Chicago...

Reader Blog: A question

With the Cubs and Mariners doing battle until 11:30 and an early morning World Cup game for the U.S., I have just one question in light of Lou Piniella returning to Seattle, where he managed for 10 years, and Milton Bradley being back in the same ballpark as the Cubs.

Who is having a worse year?

  • Lou Piniella

Piniella is the lame duck manager of a team eight games under .500. He usually looks like a homeless person. He answers "What else can I do?" in response to 90 percent of reporters' questions, and yelled at a reporter and at Steve Stone for suggesting he should play Colvin more, and then promised to play Colvin more each time. He was also roundly criticized for moving his highest-paid pitcher to the bullpen (a move I agreed with, but I doubt he takes much solace in that).

  • Milton Bradley

He's batting .214 with a .301 OBP. He's earning $11 million and yet is owned in just 3.6 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. He spent 13 days on the "restricted list" after admitting he's crazy. He has managed not only to make the Cubs' trade for oh-so-terrible Carlos Silva look good--he's made it look like one of the best trades they've ever made.

Last night's game was a perfect example of Lou and Milton's struggles--the Cubs lost with another meek performance while Bradley went 0-for-3.

Reader Blog: Blow it up.

I don't see any difference between finishing in third and finishing dead last.  No playoffs = failed season. With that in mind, I suggest the Cubs begin the process of razing the roster now, with the goal to be a threat to win the division again in 2012 or 13. Here's the plan:


IN SEASON: Trade Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Kosuke Fukudome. None of these players figure into the Cubs' future, and only Fukudome has a toxic contract. Eat as much of his contract as necessary and move him. Gorzellany moves back into the rotation and Tyler Colvin becomes the everyday RF.

POSTSEASON: Trade Carlos Silva, trade or non tender Ryan Theriot, sign a cheap southpaw power bat to be a warm body at 1B. Andrew Cashner moves into the rotation.


IN SEASON 2011: Call up Josh Vitters, Jay Jackson and Brett Jackson. Trade Marlon Byrd. Shift Aramis Ramirez to 1B.


If the Cubs follow this plan, they will probably be awful next year. I don't care. They will clear payroll allowing them to be aggressive in free agency in 2012, when they will have holes to fill on the roster. The players that remain will mostly be young, with some major league experience, and ready to be competitive again for years. The 2012 roster:


C: Geovany Soto

1B: Open ($12m option on Ramirez)


2B: Open (but Starlin Castro should shift over once Hak Ju Lee is ready to be the major league SS).

SS: Castro


3B: Vitters

LF: Soriano

CF: Jackson

RF: Colvin

SP1: Carlos Zambrano

SP2: Ryan Dempster

SP3: Tom Gorzellany

SP4: Andrew Cashner

SP5: Randy Wells/Jay Jackson.

Hopefully the veteran trades will have netted some nice pieces that can be used on the major league roster as well, or flipped to fill additional needs.


Gamecast: June 22, 2010- Chicago Cubs at Seattle Mariners

Ryan Dempster (5-5, 3.67) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2, 2.88)

Overview
The Cubs head over to the Left Coast to enjoy a town that knows its sushi and maybe even play some baseball while they're there.  For a team that hasn't really done much right this year, the Cubs are surprisingly closer to being in contention than one might think.  The Boys in Blue head into tonight trailing by only 7 games in the divison with a fair amount of games left to play.  That being said, they need to actually start winning a few series to make that fact matter.

The good news is, the Cubs are coming off of one of their best offensive outbursts, if not the best, of the season.  However, consistency in offensive categories has been a bit elusive, as evidenced by the blowout by the Angels the day before.  All I know is, for the Cubs to keep scoring runs, everyone needs to step it up.

The bad news is, the Cubs run into Jason Vargas, who has a quality start in 11/13 on the season, the most recent being a win against St. Louis.  Vargas tends to struggle with keeping his pitch count down and really lacks a put-away pitch for left-handed batters, so patience is the key tonight.

Who's Hot
Derrek Lee-
  Over his last seven Lee has a line of .353/.429/.941 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Hopefully this is a sign that Lee's bat is starting to heat up and that he's ready to carry the team a bit.

Who's Not
Since the Cubs were awesome yesterday and even John Grabow didn't suck, I'll let everyone have a day off.  Let's cultivate a culture of positivity (I mean, it worked for Rich Hill, right?)

Conclusion
Go Cubs.  Win tonight and show us that you can beat teams that are as offensively challenged at times as you are.

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs @ Seattle Mariners - June 22-24, 2010

The Intro
The Cubs come into Seattle fresh off a 3-game weekend set against the Halos that truly was a microcosm of how this season's gone.  We lost a game where a rally fell frustratingly short, we lost a game where absolutely nothing went right and we couldn't get a hit, and then we won a game where we looked like absolute world-beaters...the pitching was great, the hitting was red-hot..and it was one giant tease.  That is precisely why I expect us to go out to the Emerald City and take at least 2 of 3, if not both..because, well, that's what the Cubs do.  They tease and frustrate.

Plus, this Mariners team is an absolutely awful one.  They've already driven out franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr this year, and absolutely are not scoring enough runs.  They've got some good pitchers in King Felix, Cliff Lee (who they're trying to trade), the currently injured Doug Fister, and tonight's starter Jason Vargas.  And that's before you mention their pen, which has been pretty good.  But oh, the offense.  The Mariners have 8 guys on their roster with over 100 AB, and only 3 have OPS's over .700 (Ichiro, CF Franklin Gutierrez, and IF Josh Wilson).  Their 235 runs rank 28th in baseball.

Therefore it stands to reason that if the Cubbies pitch well, we should see some crisply-played, well pitched games.  We'll see if that's the case.  Onto the pitching matchups...

Tuesday June 22nd:  Ryan Dempster (5-5, 3.67) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2, 2.88)
Demp got his 5th win of the season last week against Oakland to even his season mark.  He's been pitching pretty well, going deep in damn near every game, and being consistent for the most part.  He's making good money - but earning it in my book.  He'll be opposed by Vargas.  He's a career journeyman who has managed to get a 4-leaf clover up his ass this year and has turned in good numbers over his 13 starts.  He's on his 3rd big league team already at the ripe age of 27, and he's making a case to become a part of the M's future.  He's a lefty, and he's been absolutely brutal against other lefties this year, so i'd look for Nady in RF tonight.

Wednesday June 23rd: Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)
The Mariners have the overwhelming pitching advantage here, as Wells has scuffled the better part of the last month-plus (tho he pitched well against Oakland on Thursday), and Cliff Lee has been excellent since his season debut in early May.  Lee started on Friday against Cincinnati, and got the win in a 1-0 game.  Look at that M's offense supporting him!  As mentioned, his name has been thrown about in trade talks, so Mariners fans have to wonder everytime he starts from here on out - "is this the last start for Cliff in our uniform?"

Thursday June 24th:  Carlos Silva (8-2, 3.02) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)
Felix Hernandez has a pedestrian record (due to his team's struggles), but he's far from a pedestrian pitcher.  He's quite simply one of the best pitchers in the AL - and a piece that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik refuses to trade.  That's probably a good stance to take.  The fact that he's pitching isn't the only reason to look forward to Thursday's matinee - it also marks the return of Silva the Hut to Seattle - where he terrorized Mariners fans in 2008 and 2009.  That should make for interesting baseball.

Oh and I hear a former Cub from last year will be playing in this series too.  Good for him.  That's all I want to say about him, and I don't want to hear the same tired stories re-hashed.  Just win some damned baseball games.

Keep the faith.
-MW

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