Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Don't let the Shark fool you. (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Cardinals 1)

There are only two reasonable conclusions that can be reached from Carrie Muskat's various analyses of Jeff Samardzija's start last night. Either she is disingenuous, and a liar, or she does not understand what it means to be good at baseball. "#Cubs Jeff Samardzija impresses with offspeed stuff to get 1st win as a ML starter," she tweeted last night.

Who exactly did he impress? Six hits, four walks, and only one strikeout in 5.2 innings pitched? Sorry, but no thank you, I'll pass on Samardzija once again.

Of course, the Cardinals' piece of crap offense is exactly the sort of team you could pull this sort of thing off against -- that is, a team built around three great hitters, one halfway decent one, and four godawful ones (one of which they actually traded for recently!!).

But yeah, don't be fooled by crap like this, again from Muskat, this time in her Cubs.com recap:

"No matter what happened Monday night in his first big league start of
the season, Jeff Samardzija will be considered for the Cubs' 2011
rotation. And the right-hander gave the Chicago front office something
to think about."

I pray to God that Jeff comes nowhere near the starting rotation for next year. Ideally, he can keep his ERA below three for the rest of the month with a few more starts, and he can be shipped off to Kansas City or Baltimore or something.

Amiright?

Series Preview: Cubs @ Cardinals (9/13/2010 - 9/15/2010)

The Cubs longest road trip of the season continues tonight as the Big Blue Train (credit: Dan Plesac) rolls into St. Louis. Despite scoring just 5 runs, the Cubs managed to get 2 out of 3 up in Brewers (including absolute gems by Demp and Big Z). They'll likely need to score more than 5 runs in the next 3 days against the Cardinals with the starting pitching we'll be trotting out there. With the Cubs playing for nothing - and the Cards still having faint playoff hopes, it would be VERY nice for this Cubs fan if we could absolutely bury the Redbirds this week. Enough of that though - let's get to the pitching matchups!

Monday 9/13 - Jeff Samardzija (0-1, 18.90) vs. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 2.69)
Its Shark Week! Smardge is back up with the big club and he'll be making the start tonight in place of Carlos Silva, who's hurt again. At this point, I really dont think we should see Silva the rest of the year. The season's lost, and might as well let Smardge or Gorzo make the last 4 turns to see if either are guys you would want to pencil into the rotation for next year. The Cardinals trot out Garcia, who got hit around pretty good in his last start. Still, he's one of the favorites for NL Rookie of the Year (and what a stacked NL group of candidates there are..), and he's a guy the Cardinals are heavily relying on as they try to get back into the playoff race in the season's waning days.

Tuesday 9/14 - Randall T. Wells (6-13, 4.61) vs. Adam Wainwright (18-10, 2.61)
Despite the fact that he's had a shaky sophomore campaign, Wells is a guy who I think should be written into next year's rotation in pen. I like the way he pitches, and stats suggest he's been a bit unlucky. He could hold down the #4 spot admirably next year behind Dempster and Zambrano, and ahead of someone out of the Gorzo/Cashner/Samardzija/Silva group. Wainwright was considered a frontrunner for Cy Young about a month ago, but has scuffled some since. He could still finish strong and have a chance, as he did last year. Either way - this will be a 2nd straight night the Cards have a decided advantage on the pitching front.

Wednesday 9/15 - Big Z (8-6, 3.88) vs. Chris Carpenter (15-6, 3.09)
This would be the only matchup you might be able to argue the Cubs have an edge in...and thats only if you use the argument about how good Z's been over the past few weeks. His effort on Friday against the Brewers was unbelievable. That was vintage Z. Here's to hoping for more of that. Carp's one of those guys I dont like and don't have a ton to say about. The Cubs got to him last time we faced him, let's hope for more than that.

Say it with me.. SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers; last man standing

Overview
It would appear that real life* has gotten in the way of blogging for most of us Goat Writers this year.  Frankly, I'm still burned out from the many, many articles I wrote last year and I don't think I'll ever be a daily Cubs writer again.  (Unless you happen to represent a major newspaper, such as the Des Moines Herald, or the Flint Times; if you are, call me.**) 

(*Yarbage with Grad School and fatherhood, Rob with work and teaching, AJ with real life and wimmin, Pete with the back pain, Mike W with vacations and road trips, and me with other projects unrelated to baseball and work
**Don't actually call me)

Besides, as busy as we are with real life, the Cubs are busy with being, well, a pretty shitty baseball team.  But I'm okay with that -- as I've hit the age of 30, I've realized a few things.  You probably aren't going to like many of them, but here they are:

1. Teams will be good, teams will be bad, there's no point in stressing over when one or the other occurs, because -- believe it or not -- your life will not be better if the Cubs win a World Series, and your life will not be over if they don't. 
2. Your hair is going to turn grey, and fall out, possibly at approximately the same time.
3. This is a blog.  Why should we take it so seriously?  Back in the day, GROTA was a place to crack bad jokes, make terrible puns, and have lots of fun.  Then we Got Serious About Blogging, and consequently we Got Mad About Losing, and before you know it we Got Angry With Each Other.  It happens to anybody who invests so much time thinking and writing about sports, especially when they do it for free, but it's still pretty dumb all around. 

Blogging should be silly.  If you read a sports blog that isn't silly, that doesn't have fun, and that gets mad at the team they follow (and at the other blogs they disagree with) then, I have news for you.  You're reading the blog of some pompous, self-important douchebag who probably enjoys smelling his own farts.  You don't want to do that, now do you?  I know I don't.
4. If you're a man or a woman, your private bits are going to start sagging.  Sorry, just being honest.
5. See #3.  that's the important one.

Anyway, the season is long since over, but like a loveless marriage it just keeps on going, at least until the children turn 18.  There is some good news, however: some of these guys look like they might be good next season.  I'm talking, of course, about Carlos Zambrano. 

I always knew this about myself, but you could be a murderer of children, and I'd root for you on the baseball field if you won games for the Cubs.  (That might be a minor exaggeration, btw.)  Carlos is totally mental, but ever since he returned to the starting rotation, he's been the Zambrano of old.  The dude is 5-0 with an ERA of 1.60 in his last 7 starts.  It's hard to be upset about something like that.  Since the Cubs are stuck with Carlos, here's to hoping he builds upon this in 2011.  As for the rest...

Saturday, September 11 - Ryan Dempster (12-10, 3.76 ERA) vs. Randy Wolf (11-10, 4.68 ERA)
Back when the Cubs were good, I really enjoyed it when they faced the Brewers.  Even the Milwaukee team with CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets tended to have 2 to 4 pitchers who were absolute crap in their rotations at all times.  Wolf is kind of one of those guys, but the 2010 Cubs are just bad enough to lose to him.

Ryan Dempster, meanwhile, is trying hard to turn this into a crappy season.  It's a shame, really, because when he signed his ridiculous 4 year deal, I felt that he'd likely have 2, maybe 3 good seasons, and while his '09 and '10 haven't been horrid, he's wasted them on some pretty bad Cub teams.  Oh well.

Sunday, September 12 - Casey Coleman (1-1, 5.81 ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (11-7, 3.80 ERA)
In his last 3 starts, Coleman's gone 1-0 with a 4.42 ERA.  That's actually not bad, when you consider that, up until that point, his ERA on the season was 7.82.  Remember -- he's 23, he's got some potential, and he's experiencing his growing pains while pitching for a Cubs team that's going nowhere slow.  So cut the kid some slack.

Gallardo is 24, immensely talented, and he's got an outside chance of his second consecutive 200 strikeout season.  He's also got a history of injury problems.  So how come he's not a Cub?

Conclusions

The Cubs haven't been so bad a team since the start of the month.  Therefore, I predict ... VICTORY!!! 

Now go get 'em!

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Astros

Overview
I remember back in April when I used to look condescendingly at the Astros.  Man, they were a bad team.  Thank God the Cubs were better put-together than them...

These days, I find myself looking at Houston with a longing I cannot describe on a family-friendly site.  (Of course, part of it has to do with their tacos...)

Amazingly, the Astros actually have a chance of finishing the year with a .500-or-better record.  On the path to their gloriocrity?  The Chicago Cubs, whose poor play is dejecting, horrifying, and other things that end in "ing," but is still better than the Pirates.

On with the Preview...

Monday, September 6th - Casey Coleman (1-1, 5.76 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.71 ERA)
Casey Coleman.  23 years old, and in his first 25 innings as a major leaguer, he's surrendered 27 hits and 10 walks, while notching 11 strikeouts.  I believe I may have mentioned in the past -- with guys like Coleman in mind -- that if the Cubs shock us by reaching the playoffs in 2011, it will in part be on the arms of young pitchers like Coleman.  Maybe he'll work out, maybe not, but he's 24-13 in his last two years in the minors, with a career minor league ERA of 3.73.  His stuff's not dynamic, but he's a potential good'un.

Wandy Rodriguez is a middle-of-the-road starter with a career WHIP of 1.36, a career ERA of 4.22, and 62 career wins to 64 losses.  He's a great #3 or #4 pitcher, which means he's got a decent shot of beating the crappy Cubs offense today.

Tuesday, September 7th - Carlos Silva (10-5, 3.92 ERA) vs. Nelson Figueroa (4-2, 2.83 ERA)
Hey!  Carlos Silva's on his way back.  He last pitched on August 1st, lasting 0.1 innings before slothing his way off the mound onto the disabled list.  Maybe he'll be rejuvenated and effective again -- he sure as hell can't be much worse than he was in July, when he went 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA.

He faces Nelson Figueroa, a 36-year-old journeyman with a very interesting career.  Nelson has been pitching in the major leagues ever since 2000, but he's never started more than 13 games (in 2001) and he's never made more than 30 appearances (back in 2002).  None of this changes these two facts: apart from 2005-2007, when he was in the Mexican/Chinese baseball leagues, he's pitched at least 28.1 innings every year, and his career ERA is actually a respectable 4.30. 

In other words, he's the epitome of a journeyman, and if he ever pitched for the Cubs he'd probably be a fan favorite -- it's easy to root for the underdog. 

Wednesday, September 8th - Randy Wells (6-12, 4.56 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (10-7, 3.02 ERA)

Randy Wells continues to struggle, and he squares off against, probably, the toughest Astros pitcher on Wednesday.

Anyone want to bet that Wells is out of the big leagues within 3 years?

Conclusions

Both teams are playing for pride, but Houston has a clear objective -- if they sweep the Cubs, then they'll only be 5 games under .500.  The Cubs, meanwhile, continue to audition Mike Quade in the managerial role.  Dude's 8-4 so far.  I think, though, that it's inevitable that Sandberg gets the gig.

Or, at least, that's what I'm hoping for at this point, for reasons previously mentioned.

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Gamecast (September 5, 2010) Mets @ Cubs

Yeah, it's another gamecast as the Cubs look for the sweep of the Mets. Maybe I should just change this to Starlin-cast because really that's the only thing I care about regarding the Cubs these days. Starlin is now hitting over .320 and Mike Quade had him bunting in the 8th inning!!!! Come on Mike, you need your best hitter to swing the bat. I officially am opposed to making Quade the fulltime manager. I'm squarely in the camp wanting to see what Ryne Sandberg could do.

As for Starlin, he's now hitting .321 and his secondary skills, while not great, haven't exactly been Alcides Escobar-eque either. He's slugging over .440 and closing in on 30 doubles for the season. I think it's going to be tough for him to win the NL batting title but he's currently 3rd in the NL in batting average behind two candidates for the NL MVP. And I think it's fair to say that he's been one of the top 3 or even 2 best shortstops in the NL. He's truly been awesome and his presence on the Cubs makes me very optimistic about the future.

Dempster vs Niese today of course. Ryan has been generally very good this year but is coming off a bad start. Here's hoping he goes out and gives the Cubs a chance to win today just as he's been doing all year. We'll see. Go Cubs!

Really Belated Series Preview -- Cubs vs. Mets

Editor's Note: This was actually written up back on Thursday night.  Two days of internet troubles later, and no publishing was to be had.  I suck.  Rather than preview the two games that have already occurred, just consider it an advanced GameCast for tomorrow's game...

Overview
It's hard to like a Cubs team that's this bad.  Then again, it's easy to root for any team that plays the Mets.

As the Cubs storm toward their September exit, a few issues are beginning to come into play.  First -- the manager.  Jim Hendry says that there are no lead candidates.

Second -- the roster.  With Kosuke Fukudome's shocking, good production, will he become trade bait or will Jim Hendry hold onto him with high hopes for a surprising 2011?  Same thing with Carlos Zambrano.  His suspension and Anger Management classes seem to be having a profoundly positive impact on him.  Yay?

Third -- what, there's supposed to be a third?  Because there's not.

Anyway, on with the preview -- and then some commentary about the Looming Issues.

Sunday, September 5th - Ryan Dempster (12-9, 3.71 ERA) vs. Jon Niese (8-7, 3.70 ERA)

Despite the fact that Dempster raised his ERA by .29 points in his last start (7 earned in 3 IP = suckage), his ERA for August was 2.89, and he won 4 out of 5 decisions.  Does -- dare I say it -- Dempster have a shot at winning 15, in this, the season of bitter remorse?

His opponent is 23, is pitching like 2009 Randy Wells, and went 1-3 with a 4.43 ERA in August.  Go get 'im, Cubz.

Conclusions

In the last Series Preview I wrote (I think), I bid farewell to Lou Piniella.  Sometime before that, I wrote an article about how Ryne Sandberg should be, under no circumstance the next Cubs manager.  I was extremely definitive.

Well, I've changed my mind.  Hear me out.

The Cubs, well, the Cubs suck.  They're probably going to suck next year, too.  Despite sucking, Jim Hendry is expected to return.  Do you trust Jim Hendry to rebuild these Cubs?

Me neither.

Therefore, any move Hendry makes is moot.  I don't trust him to shore up the bullpen, to improve the offense, or even to hire the best manager for the job.  So why should he try?

Instead, since it's a lost cause anyway, I believe Hendry should give the job to Sandberg.  Cub fans will be happy, Sandberg will be happy, and in 2012 -- when both Hendry and Sandberg get axed -- we can finally move on to a new regime with half a chance.

So why not?  Hire Ryne Sandberg, I say.  It can't possibly hurt!

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Gamecast (September 3, 2010) Mets @ Cubs

Oops, this will be abbreviated. Cubs playing Mets. Both teams are out of it and have payrolls that are too large for their respective won/loss records. Starlin Castro is now hitting .317. He's great and I love him.

Go Cubs!

I'll have a more detailed gamecast tomorrow....

What's with Kosuke?

"Somebody HAS to talk about Kosuke," George demands, and here at GROTA, what are we if not crowd pleasers? (Answer: schlubs!)

Kosuke Fukudome has hit 12 home runs this year, a new stateside record for him. What makes that number so remarkable, despite the fact that it's just one higher than his previous mark, is that the Fuk has managed to do it in just over half the number of plate appearances he's received in previous years.

So what's with the power surge? Is it all a Fuk fluke (man, that should have been the title of the article)?

Actually, Kosuke has improved across the board as a hitter this year, for the second year in a row. In 2008, Fuk posted a .257/.359/.379, and while those stats were dragged down by a truly dismal second half (.639 OPS post break), he never managed to surpass the .800 OPS in a month after April. A year later, Kosuke's numbers went up a touch, with a 16-point boost in on-base percentage and a 42-point rise in slugging percentage.

Did Kosuke's peripheral stats change from year to year in that instance? A quick glance at his Fangraphs player page shows that they did. His batting average on balls in play went up five points, but that leaves about 50 points worth of OPS that needs explaining, most of it slugging. What else changed?

As it turns out, Kosuke hit more line drives in 2009, going from a 19.1% line-drive rate to a 24.0% mark. And his ratio of home runs to fly balls increased slightly, from 8.3% to 9.6%.

So what about 2010? Has Kosuke maintained his improved BABIP, line-drive ability, and power ratio on fly balls?

Put simply: no, no, and yes. He has given back four points in BABIP this year; his line-drive rate is down significantly -- all the way to 16.1%; and 14.8% of his fly balls are leaving the park as home runs.

And while you might expected a decreased line-drive rate to hurt Kosuke's average, indeed it has not; the extra homers have actually boosted Fuk's average to the .281 mark so far this year.

So what does all this mean? I would guess two things: first, that the extra rest this season is helping Kosuke maintain his strength later into the year; and second, that the Fukster may have adjusted his swing, aiming for the fences more often as opposed to hitting doubles to the gaps.

Here's some visual evidence that may support the rest claim:

Anybody wanna check out his swing this year compared to last year?

Also the Cubs won yesterday. Look, I turned this into a Game Recap with one sentence! HAH!

Jim Hendry will be back.

From Carrie Muskat at MLB.com:

"It's Jim's responsibility to go out and find a new manager," Ricketts told beat writers on Wednesday. "What he'll do is he'll create a short list and I'll meet with everyone on the short list."

So if Tom Ricketts is trusting Jim Hendry to pick the manager of the Cubs for 2011, I'm pretty certain he trusts Hendry to stay on with the team as GM for that year as well.

Seems clear to me. Thought you'd want to know.

As far as I'm concerned, I'll take Hendry if it means keeping Tim Wilken around. That man can evaluate young talent. Our farm system is thriving right now.

Plus, perhaps more importantly: who out there would do a better job?

Dempster sounds like dumpster (Game Recap: Cubs 7, Pirates 14)

I promise I tried to find a database of all game scores recorded by starting pitchers against the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but I came up empty. The reason I was looking for it should be obvious: there's a pretty good chance Ryan Dempster's performance yesterday was the worst of all starters facing the Pirates in 2010.

Demp went three innings, gave up seven hits and three walks, which translated to seven earned runs. In other words, most of the batters Dempster faced yesterday reached base (ten on base, nine outs). That's understandable for a reliever, but really bad news for a starter.

Ryan is actually having a pretty solid year regardless, with 182 innings pitched and a 3.71 ERA. He's posting the highest walk rate he ever has as a starter for the Cubs, but the K's are up slightly as well. When all's said and done, it looks like he'll be worth something near three wins above replacement, which is worth what, between $12 million and $15 million?

Koyie Hill went 3-for-4 yesterday, and hit his first home run of the year. But he still sucks. Maybe someday his OPS will approach .600. Not today, however.

Starlin Castro is still contending for the batting title, but Joey Votto is gonna be tough to overtake.

Okaythat'sallI'vegot!

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