The Cubs have had plenty of problems on offense this season, and they've struggled at times on the mound. But last week, their most prominent deficiency was in the field. After committing a rather unreasonable 12 errors in six games, they have now committed the third-most in the majors. Errors last week:
Lee: 3 (committed six all of last season)
The Cubs allowed four unearned runs in a 9-5 loss Tuesday, four more in a 7-6 loss Friday, and had they not given the Angels four more on Saturday, they would have ... well, lost 8-0. But still.
I was "lucky" enough to see Saturday's demolition in person, and I guess we can't be surprised that this feast or famine team followed up that drubbing with a 12-1 pounding of their own. Here's hoping the offense can remain locked in as the Cubs will face two Seattle starters with sub-three ERAs, including Cliff Lee, and then Felix Hernandez.
Ryno of the Week: Colvin continued to rake, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, six RBI and three runs scored. He's now hitting .339 at home. But how nice was it to see Carlos Zambrano put together a couple good starts, especially yesterday's? His line--7 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 7 K--was his best of the season, and he added two hits and an RBI just for the heck of it.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady
Goat of the Week: Alfonso Soriano continues to look lost at the plate despite two hits yesterday, but being there live to see Ted Lilly get banged around leads me to give him this inglorious distinction. He needed 104 pitches to get through 5.1, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He's been great this year, but Saturday just wasn't his day.
Reader Blog: No-hit duel between Lilly and Floyd fits right in with MLB's 2010 theme: Pitching Rules
What a game that was on Sunday. A no-hitter through eight. Oh, and a no-hitter through 6.2.
You really have to tip your cap to Lilly, as he continues to mow down opposing hitters despite getting virtually no run support from the hitters in his own dugout. He has received two or fewer runs of support in nine of his ten starts, which is why he's 2-5 despite a solid 2.90 ERA. Lilly's getting even less run support than Roy Oswalt who demanded a trade because of the Astros' offensive ineptitude. It may not be long until Lilly, who will be a free agent at season's end, makes a similar request. His last five starts have looked like this:
It's difficult to pitch well knowing you're probably going to get just a run or two of support, but Lilly has been stellar. Watching the Cubs offense makes me want to rip my heart from my chest just to put an end to the agony, but fortunately Lilly just bears down even more.
This year it seems that the Cubs aren't the only team driving their fans nuts with a lack of hitting. Sunday's unique affair in which both starters went at least six innings with a no-hitter--the first time since 1997 that this has happened--was just another example of the dominant pitching that has been on display throughout the 2010 season. It seems like every week there's a new pitching accomplishment to talk about. To wit:
- There have already been two perfect games this season, three if you count Armando Galarraga's. There had never before been more than one in a single season, and there was once a 54-year stretch with just two perfect games.
- There have been three total no-hitters (including the perfect games), four with Galarraga's. That puts MLB on pace for seven or eight. There were seven in 1991.
- Last season, 11 pitchers finished with an ERA under three, the second time since 2000 that the number was in double-digits. Right now, 25 pitchers are under 3.00.
- Ubaldo Jimenez, who tossed one of the aforementioned no-hitters, has a positively Bob Gibson-like 1.16 ERA. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia has a 1.49 ERA, and 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg has baffled hitters in his first two starts.
- Guys named Jonathon Niese and Mat Latos have thrown one-hitters, and there have been two more on top of that.
- The Cardinals and Mets played 19 innings before scratching a run across on April 19, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks needed 14 innings to break a scoreless tie on June 2.
And it's not just a matter of individual impressive performances. Take a look at the league ERA over the last 10 years:
So what in the world is going on? Well, a lot of players and managers posit that it's simply the "ebb" part of a natural ebb and flow. While that's legitimate, it's of course impossible not to draw a connection between baseball's war on steroids and the war pitchers are waging on hitters in 2010. It's June 15 and the league's leading home run hitter has 19 long balls. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in one month back in 1998? So yeah, things have changed a bit.
It's not just home runs, though. Ben Walker of the AP points out that home runs, runs and batting average are at their lowest rate since 1998. Troy Renck at the Denver Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that hitters are no longer ashamed of striking out, and that average hitters are swinging for the fences even if it means they might come up empty. A quick look at the numbers shows that strikeouts are indeed up a bit, though not much.
In the hitters' defense, it is still relatively early. Bats tend to heat up with the weather, so it wouldn't be surprising to see run totals go up with the temperature forecast. But for now, it's a pitcher's world and hitters are just living in it. Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that we're seeing more outs than balls out of the park, but I do foresee one problem: Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are going to have one heck of a time choosing the pitchers for their All-Star rosters.
A couple of weeks ago a fellow writer here mentioned that Ted Lilly was "unlucky". I was confused at the time but realized he was talking about Ted Lilly's won/loss record.
So let me be the first one to say this. A pitcher's individual won/loss record in a single season is the most meaningless stat used by people. It's as simple as this, a pitcher's job is to limit his walks and flyballs (which tend to lead to HR) while striking out as many batters as possible. He is expected to do this job for as many innings as possible.
If things go right for him, he'll end up with a good won/loss record and ERA but effectively, he isn't really responsible for that. After he releases the ball, his job is over. No pitcher is responsible, by himself, for a team winning or losing.
So I've learned to ignore wins and losses. I only notice Carlos Silva's won/loss record because everyone talks about it. Last night on ESPN they also, like my co writer, couldn't stop talking about Lilly's won/loss record so now I'm acutely aware of how unlucky he is supposed to be.
Ted Lilly has been easily the luckiest pitcher on the Cubs. The 3 things that have nothing to do with a pitcher's "skills" but affect his ERA are his strand rate (usually around 70%), his Batting Average allowed on Balls In Play (BABIP usually around .300) and his HR per fly ball (usually around 10%).
Lilly has allowed more balls in play than normal this year because his K rate is down. His fly ball rate, always high is higher than ever this year. But his ERA is only 2.90 because he is stranding close to 80% of all runners and has allowed a BABIP of only .219 and a HR/FB of only 7.8%. That is a recipe for an ERA that is nearly two runs lower than his xFIP which only looks at things ability to K people, keep your BB down as well as fly ball rate.
Statistically, Lilly is going to get worse, much worse this season unless he can get K rate up to a more usable 7 or so K's per 9 and maybe lift his ground ball rate a little. He isn't going to keep this up.
Well, at least one of the Chicago baseball teams got back on track this weekend.
Wait, that doesn't provide me any solace--I hate the Sox! Leave it to the Cubs to get the struggling South siders rolling again. Mark Buehrle's been struggling, hasn't gone more than 5.1 in his last three starts? No problem! A.J. Pierzynski can't hit the broad side of a barn? Take a crack at the Cubs' staff! Gavin Floyd has the worst ERA in the majors? No worries--how does a no-hitter through 6.2 sound?
After a 3-4 week in which the Cubs sank to a season-low eight games under .500, they're 7.5 back of the Reds after getting a game back with yesterday's exciting win. The Sox are the same number back of the Twins and have Detroit to chase down as well, so it's safe to say Chicago baseball isn't as good as, say, Chicago hockey.
After Lou's tirade against Steve Stone, it looks like he may have finally glanced at the stat sheet. He said yesterday that Colvin "is going to play a lot more than he has been" even though the same suggestion from Stone elicited a tirade in which he said "What job has [Stone] had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? ... I'm tired of these guys, I really am."
But the fact is, though Colvin went 0-for-3 yesterday, all he's done the last 15 times Lou started him is go 19-for-48 (.396). And one of Lou's "five major league outfielders" is hitting .185 in June after hitting .253 in May. This slump was as predictable as the sunrise since it has happened all three years he's been a Cub. I'm talking, of course, about Kosuke Fukudome. Both Colvin and Fukudome are left-handed and, conveniently, one of them sucks and one of them is good along with being an important piece of the team's future. So apparently Lou is able to take suggestions, just not without yelling at the person first.
Although, I'll believe it when I see it since Lou also said on June 5 that Colvin would "be in the lineup most of the time," and he then sat four straight games June 9-12. Lou's change of heart back on the 5th, you'll recall, was after a reporter asked about Colvin's playing time and he snapped at him, too. Sigh.
Ryno of the Week: Obviously Ted Lilly, who would have been 2-0 were it not for Marmol's blown save in Milwaukee. He threw 16 innings and allowed just one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out 11 and thrilled a wet crowd at Wrigley by taking a no-hitter into the ninth (more on that tomorrow). Ex-Cub Juan Pierre kept him out of the history books but it was still a fantastic week for Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.
Marlon Byrd gets a special mention after a ridiculous 13-for-26 week that included two home runs and five RBI. He's batting .333 on the season.
Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker
Goat of the Week: Though he doubled and scored the only run yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was still just 2-for-20 last week. He's in one of those funks where he's swinging at just about everything, and he's now batting .111 in June.
I have to say, it was almost as if James Russell was trying to win this fake award. In two appearances he went 1+ innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, good for a 45.00 ERA. He was summarily sent to Triple-A Iowa.
Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome
After Armando Galarraga was robbed of his shot at a perfect game, many fans argued over whether or not Bud Selig should step in and overturn Jim Joyce's clearly incorrect call.
I had a conversation about that very subject with a very close friend of mine, a fellow baseball enthusiast who has studied the game since his early childhood. It didn't take long for us to realize that we agreed wholeheartedly on the matter: Selig should not overturn the call.
There's a reason perfect games and, to a lesser extent, no-hitters are such an epic accomplishment -- they're really hard to pull off. You've got to overcome every variable in the game, both those that are under your control, and those that are not.
Ted Lilly came within three outs of a no-hitter last night. Heck, Gavin Floyd was right there through six innings, too. But after Floyd faltered, Lilly managed to keep his bid going, all the way up until the top of the ninth inning.
And that's when the rain started to really come down. Kudos to MLB and ESPN for skipping that commercial break between the eighth and ninth innings. And kudos to the umpires for keeping the teams on the field.
If only God could have gotten in on the act, too.
Would Lilly's pitch selection against Juan Pierre have changed had the heavens not threatened to pull the plug on his no-hit bid? Almost certainly, yes. But that's what makes the no-hitter so special.
Bravo to you, Ted, for giving it your best shot. It was really fun to watch.
Synopsis: Lilly pitched well for seven innings, gave up a two-run bomb to a kid in the eighth (first career homer for Neil Walker) after walking a guy on four pitches, and the Cubs couldn't score aside from Nady's own two-run jack, so we lost.
And as Eddie pointed out, how 'bout that bench last night? Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd were all out of the starting line-up yesterday. Wild.
I suppose the team could conceivably trade any of those guys, huh? Although at this point you're probably not going to be "selling high" on any of them. But yeah, I'll take whatever can be gotten for Lee, Byrd, Theriot, and even Ramirez at this point (I like Soto, call me crazy). And obviously Lilly is available at this point as well. Or Silva, if someone would rather have him.
Yeah, Byrd's on the block at this point, right?
The Cubs win another close won today, thanks to back-to-back extra-base hits from Cubs bench players who I would argue should be starting against righties -- for now, at least.
After seven and a half scoreless innings combined from the two teams, Mike Fontenot led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple. (Stats Update #1: Fontenot is now hitting .330 this season, with a respectable .836 OPS to go along with his average.)
Cub fans everywhere were immediately overcome with dread and fear, as we all know the team can't bring home runners from third when there are less than two outs. And Geovany Soto added fuel to those flames by striking out on three pitches. (Status Update #2: Soto is now hitting .257, quickly converging with Lee's average, which now stands at .246.)
Fortunately, Tyler Colvin hasn't been with the team long enough to learn how to not bring runners home from third with less than two out. So he went ahead and doubled in Fontenot, and then took third on a fielding error by the Dodgers' right fielder. (Stats Update #3: Colvin has a .348/.385/.609 in May, while Kosuke has a .258/.338/.394 after today.)
Cubs take lead, all is well -- until Theriot pops out on a bunt attempt (grrrrrr) and Starlin Castro, Mr. Contact Hitter Himself, strikes out at the worst of times. (Stats Update #4: Castro's .292 average has now fallen two points below Theriot's .294.)
Fortunately, Carlos Marmol is teh balls. He struck out Rafael Furcal swinging, walked Blake DeWitt (which people booed? WTF), struck out Manny Ramirez swinging, and then struck out Garrett Anderson swinging. (Stats Update #5: Marmol has struck out 49 of 103 batters faced, a 47.6% rate. Thanks for that one, Rob.)
(Stats Update #6: The Cubs are now two games below .500, and will be either four or five games behind the Reds for the division lead tomorrow morning.)
Since the greatness that is The Cubs Management Think Tank can't think of anything better, allow me to hit you with some knowledge: the foolproof, sure-to-work Cubs Rotation Attack Plan for Starters (CRAPS).
Note: This idea is nowhere close to original.
Let's call Andrew Cashner ready-to-go as a big league starter. And we know Sean Marshall has started previously as well. So if we add those two guys, plus Everyone Loves Carlos Zambrano, to our current rotation, we have eight dudes that can go multiple innings.
Next, let's group those eight into two four-man camps: hosses and non-hosses. Hosses are guys who can definitely throw 100+ quality pitches a game. Demp and Z are locks for this group, and in my humble opinion Wells and Lilly are the next best candidates. By default, that puts Silva, Gorz, Marsh, and Cash in our non-hoss group.
Finally, the pairings:
Dempster - Marshall
Lilly - Silva
Wells - Gorzelanny
Zambrano - Cashner
The first three pairings match righties with lefties, while the last one gives Cashner the hossiest of hosses on which to rely for his appearances.
I think you can see where I'm going with this: every fourth day, we start with a hoss, cut him off in the 85-90 pitch range, and then hand over the next two to four innings to our non-hoss. Out in the 'pen, you of course have Marmol, and then either two or three other guys to serve basically as ROOGYs and LOOGYs for the transition from one starter to the other.
This would work, right?
In terms of how the 2010 roster is built, I'd say the Cubs have a surplus of one thing, and are at the same time missing one prominent piece of the puzzle.
We have too many starting pitchers. Case in point: Z is in the 'pen. We've got a guy in Iowa doing everything he can to earn his way into the rotation (Andrew Cashner), and our mop-up/LOOGY/set-up man has starting experience as well (Sean Marshall). So we're, what, eight deep?
And normally that's all well and good, except the Cubs are lacking a right-handed power reliever (how 'bout a big WHOOPS for trading away Mike Wuertz for next to nothing?).
So first, you gotta ask: which starters could be moved?
I mean, theoretically we could trade anyone without a no-trade clause. But I don't think there are many teams out there that want to take on an extra $30 million in guaranteed dollars. So that eliminates Dempster (owed $12.5m this year, $13.5m next year, and has a player option which you can assume he'll take for $14m in 2012), and of course, Carlos Zambrano (owed nearly $18m for each of '10, '11 and '12).
If the Cubs' window is indeed closing on this group of veterans (and I think we all agree that it appears to be doing so), then it would be stupid of the team to trade a younger pitcher for an older reliever just so they could feel marginally better about this year. So it's probably not in the team's best interest to trade Wells or Gorzelanny.
That leaves two candidates for the Cubs' trading block, effective immediately:
1) Ted Lilly - owed $12 million for 2010, FA in 2011
2) Carlos Silva - owed $8 million in 2010, $6 million in 2011, and a $2 million buyout in 2012
Given their recent performances, I think it's difficult to say which contract is more valuable. I suppose y'all can argue about that in the comments.
Now that we've got guys we're willing to move, we need to identify a reasonable target. Given the performance from their starting rotation so far this year, and the fact that they have a pretty decent team aside from the back of their rotation, I think the Colorado Rockies are a good trade target.
Furthermore, and most importantly for the Cubs, the Rockies have a surplus of decent, hard-throwing, right-handed relief pitching. Even if we assume they want to hold on to their closer, Huston Street, they've got two well-paid righties in the 'pen beyond him:
1) Rafael Betancourt - owed $3.775 million in each of '10 and '11
2) Manny Corpas - owed $2.75m and $3.5m in '10 and '11 respectively
How about Carlos Silva, Jeff Gray, and $5 million, for Rafael Betancourt?