Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Recap

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Game & Series Recap: Cubs 11, Nationals 3 (4-0) - Sweeeeeeeeee

(with even more great pics complimentary of Yarbage)

Four games into the second half of the season and the Cubs stand alone in second place, tied for first in the loss column, despite 3.5 long months of mediocrity.  Either the NL Central is terrible or the Cubs are just that goo-naw, the NL Central just plain blows.  But at least they aren't the Nationals.

So far this year, Washington has managed a .286 winning percentage -- that makes them rivals with the Detroit Tigers from a few years back as being The Single Worst Baseball Team In the History of the Modern Era.  Therefore you are right, Caustic Cub Fans.  Sweeping the Nats doesn't mean much.  But losing to them even once might have said a lot about the Cubs.

Instead, yesterday at least we found a Cubs team that could not be stopped by Nationals pitchers.  The offense combined for 16 hits and 5 walks, resulting in 11 runs.  Among the heavy hitters were Kosuke Fukudome, who has at least temporarily shaken off his mid-season druthers so far this second half.  Yesterday he went 2 for 4 with 2 walks, hitting his 19th double, driving in 1 and scoring 1 more. 
Fox compliments of Yarbage
Also impressive were hitters without gloves Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir, who both went 3 for 5.  Part of Fox's 3 for 5 day included a 3-run homer and he finished the day with 4 RBI. 
Sori, thanks to Yarbage for sharing the pics
On top of that, Alfonso Soriano went 2 for 3 with a walk, a double, and a homer -- his second straight day with a long ball -- and Mike Fontenot went 3 for 5 with a double as well.  All told, 8 Cubs collected at least 1 hit and 7 Cubs drove in at least 1 run. 
Thanks to Yarbage for the pictures
On the pitching front, Kevin Hart collected his first big league win of the season, pitching 5 innings, surrendering 5 hits, and walking 5 Nationals.  Still, he only surrendered 2 runs, so ugly win or not I'm sure he's happy. 

Since Hart was unable to last past 5, though, Lou tried to rest his over-taxed bullpen by allowing the seldom-used Jeff Samardzija to pitch 3 innings, with Jeff Stevens finishing the game in the 9th.  In their 4 innings of relief, the two Jeffs combined to allow just 2 hits and 1 walk. 

The Cubs will be in Philly tomorrow, taking on the best team in the NL East.  For a lot of Cub fans this is the true gauge -- will the Cubs get hammered, or will they be the hammer?  Not to be a parade-rainer-onner, but sweep or be swept it won't mean much as far as October is concerned except in the standings.  In other words, it won't decide the season and it will not serve as an accurrate predictor of how the Cubs would do against the Phillies in the playoffs.  These games don't have implications of future failure or success, except that the Cubs won't get a shot at success if they keep getting their asses kicked by teams like the Phillies.  But at least they have "sweeping the worst team in baseball" down pat.  That's one less thing to worry about.

Current Record: 47-43
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 2 games out
Best Possible Record: 119-43
Worst Possible Record: 47-115
Record needed to win 110: 53-9
On Pace For: 85-77

Game & Series Recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 2 - Treading Water (2 to 2)

Back to the now-infamous Series Preview. I wrote:
...if Lohse had to exit even earlier on Sunday, and if Wainwright stayed in too long on Sunday night and gave up bundles of runs in the 7th or 8th?
Phase Three: FAIL.

It's hard to rough up a pitcher who only needs 90-or-so pitches to get into the 8th. Maybe the Cubs were anxious to start their mid-season vacations, or perhaps the team is just utterly hapless against top-notch pitching, but no matter how you look at it the Cardinals were in control all night long.

And so, we are left with a Cubs team in the same spot they were in before the 4-game series: at .500, 3.5 games out of first place in a division nobody wants to win. A small consolation Cub fans -- the Cardinals and their fans came to Chicago to bury the Cubs and failed.

Other small consolations from last night:
-Signs of life from Milton Bradley: Don't Wake went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI
-More leadoff success from the reincarnation of Doug Dascenzo: Sam Fuld went 2 for 3 with a walk
-One of the craziest managerial moves we've seen in a while. In the 9th, with the bases loaded, no outs, and a plethora of lefties coming up behind a righty, Lou took relief pitcher Sean Marshall off the mound and inserted him in left field. Aaron Heilman came in, got the out, and Marshall then returned to the mound to finish the ending. Even Tony "Crazy-Ass Moves" LaRussa was impressed.

On the other hand, Ryan Theriot made a ridiculous fielding error in that inning which led the Cubs into needing to encorporate that nutty strategy. But worst of all, Milton Bradley, Jeff Baker, and Micah Hoffpauir all took their bats in the 9th by striking out looking. Maybe Franklin's stuff is just that sick but Lou Piniella is not known to tolerate lightly the "struck out looking in the 9th" scenario.

So. An ultimately disappointing -- but not crushing -- series. I'm coming to expect more of the same in the second half. I'd say at this point that the Cubs don't look like the worst team in the league but they are clearly not the best. An 81-81 record might be just on track and I'll have to craft a Zambran-0-Meter of Diminished Expectations before the break ends.

Current Record: 43-43
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 119-43
Worst Possible Record: 43-119
Record needed to win 110: 57-9
On Pace For: 81-81

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Game & Series Recap: Cubs 8, Brewers 2 (3 games to 1)

Game Recap
The best thing about today's game was that there was no single best thing: the Cubs got a ton of guys on base, Ted Lilly posted a quality start, and the relievers Lou called upon late in the game were able to get outs.

Having said that, I think the "best best thing" would have to be the eight runs the Cubs were able to bring home today. Gigantic home runs from Lee and Fox, clutch two-out hitting throughout the game, productive outs with men on third base and less than two outs--it was all there.

With that, the Cubs take three of four from the scuttling Brewers. Milwaukee now faces the division-leading Cardinals and league-leading Dodgers in their next two series before the All-Star Break.

The Cubs did well to take advantage of an opportunity to gain ground in the division. They'll need to make the most of Aramis Ramirez' return as the Braves arrive in Chicago tomorrow.

Speaking of Ramirez' return, it'll be interesting to see how the Cubs handle the returns of three key players this week, with Aramis, Reed Johnson, and Angel Guzman all returning to the active roster. I'm sure everyone else around here has an opinion of their own on what the team should do, and believe it or not, so do I.

My three top choices to send to Iowa are Jeff Baker (easy), Kevin Hart (kinda easy), and Micah Hoffpauir (toughest decision).

Hart's got options, so we may as well use 'em. Baker's probably better than Ryan Freel, and definitely better than Aaron Miles, but beyond that I don't see where he fits on to this team.

That leaves Micah Hoffpauir. Maybe this isn't that controversial a stance, but look at Micah's offensive numbers on the year, and consider his offensive defense throughout his career. I prefer Sam Fuld's patience and speed to Micah's raw power--and consequent propensity for striking out.

Let's keep the hot Fuld up, and send the cold Hoff down. As soon as the trend(s) reverse(s), we can make another move. In the meantime, I hope Lou goes for versatility over power.

Current Record: 40-39
Position in the NL Central: 3th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 123-39
Worst Possible Record: 40-122
Record needed to win 110: 70-13
On Pace For: 82-80

Game and Series Recap: Cubs 4, Pirates 1 -- SAM FULD!!!!! (2 games to 1)

Game Recap
If these Cubs are going to do anything in October, they've gotta be able to take a regular season, three-game series from a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Fortunately, they were able to do that today.

Aside from Randy Wells continuing to outdo himself, the story from tonight's game has to be the pleasantly surprising performance of one Sam Fuld. Sam went 2-for-4 from the leadoff spot, including a double to start a game, and also walked once.

One other special surprise: Fukudome hit a home run! Crazy!

One more Randy Wells comment: he's chalked up another start in which he allowed one or fewer extra base hits. His allowed slugging percentage is a paltry .328 at this point.

It kinda feels like the Cubs can't win unless they hold the opposing team to zero or one runs. Fortunately, they've been able to do that fairly consistently.

Kudos to Wells, Fuld, the Fook-ster, Derrek Lee, and perhaps most importantly, the New York Mets, who took down the Brewers tonight. Three and a half out, with a whole half-season to go!

Additional Notes from Kurt
Although the Cubs held the lead all night, Lou Piniella finally exploded in a fit of ANGER and got himself expelled from the game.

The short of this series is that -- although the Cubs got shut out by a pitcher coming soon to a softball game near you -- the Cubs took 2 of 3 on a road series (something they haven't done a lot this year) against a crappy team overplaying their talent. Naysayers -- also known in some circles as "realists" -- will point out that beating the Pirates means about as much as successfully breathing. But I say that, on the contrary, every win is important even if they are to be expected. Besides, the Cubs are playing two out of their next three series against the Brewers and Cardinals -- if they had entered the up-coming four gamer after having lost to the Pirates, I think we'd all be going to games with our hangin' nooses around our necks.

I will say that I completely understand the negativity -- obviously. We've been saying since May that the Cubs are only a few games out, and all they need to do is string together a series of wins and it will suddenly be their division to lose. That's true but it's a lot harder than a three-dozen-or-so word sentence makes it out to be. In fact we've been saying it for so long that the season has now slipped into July, with the All Star Game looming. And we're probably wrong for feeling this way but the Cubs are playing with every appearance of time running out on them before they get their acts together.

Then again, if we were fans of the Brewers or Cardinals, I suspect that in our secret places we would be pissed off and perhaps even a little terrified of the fact that our teams have failed to spread the field with a team as potent as the Cubs creeping along behind them.

Perhaps we are so used to this being the Cubs, for gawdssakes, that we are forgetting how we would feel if the Cubs were in the place of the Cardinals right now. We'd be in a panic. We'd be furious at our team for failing to take advantage of a weak division. In other words, even if things were different we'd still be acting the same -- and that says a lot about our sanity or lack thereof. So I'll conclude my tack-on recap with the following, indesputable (not even by you, Rob) observation:

Perhaps it really still is ours to lose.

Rob: indisputable.  Anyway, only a moron would state that, statistically, the Cubs are out of the running when they are 3.5 games out with 85 games to go.

However, the Cubs have played .493 ball this year.  It is indisputable that they have the capability to play better ball.  You may believe they will, due to the logic that they are better than this.  I have not seen anything thus far in 2009 to lead me to believe that they are.  They have looked like a .500 team from day one.  They have some decent days, and some miserable ones. 

So do we all, I suppose.  Then again, I haven't deluded myself into thinking I am going to win the Employee of the Year at my job, and I am also not going to delude myself into thinking that we will win four more games than the Brewers AND the Cardinals the rest of the way.  The Brewers have a better lineup than we do on our best days, and the Cardinals are better managed, both Generally and on the Field. 

So, unless we make a good trade, or unless guys like Soto, Bradley, Zambrano and Soriano do an about-face, we won't be able to make up even the meager deficit we have now. 

Current Record: 37-38
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 124-38
Worst Possible Record: 37-125
Record needed to win 110: 73-14
On Pace For: 80-82

Game Recap: White Sox 6, Cubs 0

Alright, I didn't actually see the game today as the Gay Pride Parade conflicted, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing to say about a 6-0 loss.  If any other Riders would like to add to this "recap", feel free.  Instead of a classic recap, I thought I'd pass along some stat fun.

The Cubs offense has been bad.  Real bad.  And, of course, this is
nothing new to our loyal readers, but I thought I'd just throw out a
few numbers to highlight the tremendous badness of the Cubs' offense. 
Why do I do this?  Most likely because I hate our readers and want them
to suffer.  Or, at least, that my current working theory.  Anyway,
here's a list of notable figures:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Joe Cocker
  • 3.14159...

Hmm, not as elucidating as I had hoped.  Sorry about that.  Let's try a list of stats generated by the woeful Cubs' offense:

  • The Cubs have exactly two starters with OPS's above average: Lee
    and Fukudome. Yes, despite all Fukudome's efforts to destroy his
    leading performance indicators, he still has been above average for
    the season.  Everyone else?  Below average.  And if you take out
    Theriot (OPS+ of 97), nobody's within 10% of league average
  • Of the Cubs non-starters, only Jake Fox, Reed Johnson and...Bobby
    Scales have been above average.  That's one guy who's been up for a
    week, one guy who's on the DL, and one guy who's performing for
    farmers.  Aaron Miles?  He has an OPS+ of 30.  30.  Thirty. 
    Thiiiiiirrrrrtttty.  Hey Aaron, the suck store called and they're
    running out of you.
  • But that's okay, because Ryan Freel's their all time best seller
    with an OPS+ of -22.  NEGATIVE TWENTY TWO.  I don't even understand
    these numbers but I'm pretty sure that translates to a VORP of GO HOME.
  • Ted Lilly has hit better than Ryan Freel.
  • Honestly, so have I.

Get well, Aramis.  You are missed.  A lot.

So there's your recap.  If anyone else who like to share their favorite The Cubs' Offense Sucks moment, feel free to chime in.

Game & Series Recap: Tigers 6, Cubs 5 - SWEEEEEEP

Cubs (don't) Win!
First, before I get to the Recap, I will say what is on everybody's minds -- especially Jason, who I can tell is particularly pissed off by Rob's a-HAH! moment from yesterday.

Geovany Soto tested positive for, of all things, pot use back in the spring.  BIG F!_!(KING DEAL!!  Unless he was baking moments before a game it would NOT have affected his play any more than drinking the night before would have.  Blaming his slow start on smoking pot is flat-out ridiculous and we'll just leave it at that.

(P.S. For those wondering ... don't smoke, haven't smoked, will never smoke)

Onward to the even uglier side of things...

Either Detroit is really good or the Cubs are really terrible.  Maybe it's a bit of a mix of both.  But after winning 4 straight, Chicago has now lost 4 in a row.  They find themselves a game under .500, 3.5 back of the division.  As Jon Miller said on his show this morning, 3.5 games is basically "a good weekend," and while the Cubs haven't been getting timely hits they have at least been hitting regularly as of late.

At this point we have seen that they are capable of putting up runs, getting bit hits, winning in clusters, and out-pitching their opponents.  But we've also seen that it is not the norm.  Probably on Monday -- as I will be busy getting married this weekend -- I'll outline a few alternative lineups that Lou has never tried but probably should and we'll keep the debate alive.

In the meantime, guh.  What an ugly series.  Probably the biggest frustration on my part is the team's lack of doing something -- anything -- to fix the problems. 

Current Record: 34-35
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 127-35
Worst Possible Record: 34-128
Record needed to win 110
: 76-17
On Pace For: 80-82

Game & Series Recap: Cubs 6, Indians 2 (3 to 0)

Don't worry, Cubbie Downers.  This 3-game sweep of the Indians doesn't count for anything.  After all, Cleveland sucks.

For the rest of us, though, it was a small taste of what 2009 should be like.  The Cubs played the role of a powerful team with bullpen and bench depth that battled back, overcame adversity, and scored a lot of runs against good pitchers with no room for error. 

The team was offensively solid, again, collecting 9 hits while drawing 5 walks.  Just like the Cubs of yore.  Every regular sans Fukudome managed to get a hit, the 4-5-6 guys drove in all the runs, and the Jake Fox third base experiment continues to ... well, continue.  Fox went 1 for 3 today with 3 RBI and he even managed to avoid making any errors! 

But probably the best story of the game is Randy Wells.  This guy has been through a lot.  Despite his 2.57 ERA this year, it took Wells 8 tries to earn his first-ever big league win.  I remain unconvinced that Wells will remain successful for the duration of the '09 season, but wouldn't it make for an awesome story if he does?

Anyway, the Cubs are now 34-31.  They play again tomorrow night in a theoretically tougher make-up game against Atlanta, who themselves aren't exactly on the right track to the playoffs.  After that it becomes a race with jet lag as the Cubs take on the first-place Tigers.

Current Record: 34-31
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 131-31
Worst Possible Record: 34-128
Record needed to win 110
: 76-21
On Pace For: 85-78

Game & Series Recap: Cubs 3, Twins 2 (1 game to 2)

Cubs win
The Cubs have officially come under the jurisdiction of Murtaugh's Law -- we are too old for this shit.

On paper, these guys are outstanding.  Their catcher is a damned-near .300 hitter capable of hitting more than 20 bombs.  They've got a first baseman capable of batting .290 and hitting 20 homers.  Their lefty second baseman is scrappy with surprising power for his size.  Their shortstop gets on base at a terrific clip and can steal 30.  Their third baseman can put up MVP caliber numbers.  So can their left fielder, who is easily capable of hitting 40 homeruns if he stays healthy.  Their center fielder may be a better than .300 hitter, and their right fielder led the AL in OPS last year.

Except Soto is a shell, Lee and Fontenot have struggled, Theriot is hit and miss, Ramirez is on the DL, Soriano has suffered from a month long slump, Fukudome is the cream puff of the outfield (empty calories, leaves you unfulfilled), and Bradley is a first-year bust.

With the exception of Theriot and his surprising power numbers nobody is hitting the way we thought they could.  Nobody (except Theriot).  Much as the '08 team surprised us with a Fukudome-excepted offensive bounty, the '09 team are the pantie-wastes of the National League.  Even yesterday's win was disappointing -- and it was a win.  Against three pitchers who began the day with a combined ERA of 5.56 the Cubs managed to score 3 runs.  How the hell does that happen every single game?

Jim Hendry responded to the team's offensive druthers by firing Gerald Perry.  I would have preferred that he trade for another, better bat.  But for a team that will often times hold onto a coach until the bitter end it's a sign of progress.  It tells us that like us, like Murtaugh, they are not having any of this shit. 

Three-or-so weeks ago I wrote an article in which I explained what it would take for me to raise the white flag on the season.  I'll remind you: 10 games under .500, 10 games out of a playoff spot.  The Cubs are neither of these things.  But they are a .500 team with no life in their veins, thanking the lord for the one bit of luck he gave them: a weak NL Central.  This division will probably go to the first team to win 90 and Chicago remains only 2.5 games out.

Still, I don't need to see them drop to 10 games under .500 -- or 10 games out of a playoff spot -- to know that this team has me feeling sick to my stomach.  As a stupid, average fan I have no idea how to fix what's broken.  I just know that it's not right. 

Current Record: 30-30
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 132-30
Worst Possible Record: 30-132
Record needed to win 110
: 80-22
On Pace For: 81-81

Game & Series Recap: Cubs 1, Astros 2 (1 games to 2) - Fulchinoed!

The Astros were held to five runs in this series, and they somehow managed to steal two games. Damn you, Geoff Blum!

There are plenty of positives to take from this series. For one, the starting pitching continues to be outstanding. If I understand how to use these interwebs things correctly, then I'm right in saying that the Cubs now lead the major leagues in ERA from starting pitchers. For those of us that have been watching all year, that's really not all that hard to believe. The starting pitching has been by far the strongest suit of the 2009 Cubs.

No, it's not the starting pitching that's keeping the Cubs down. Lately, and particularly in these past three games, it wasn't even the bullpen that kept the Cubs out of the Winner's Circle. Another positive--we got a lot of good innings from our relievers.

The problem is these Cubs can't figure out how to freakin' score.

Fortunately for Lou, I've got some really excellent ideas on how to help the Cubs get it in gear and consistently score some runs! (How generous am I?!)

For one, based on preliminary results from the poll, it looks like most people agree that Alfonso Soriano should not be hitting lead-off for the Cubs right now. His average in June is below .200, he is swinging at bad pitches, he's not drawing walks--and yet he continues to get the most plate apperances of any Cub hitter every single game. This is ludicrous, right?

Second, I cannot understand how this team is better off with Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales AND Andres Blanco over Jake Fox. Frankly, I think Scales is every bit the ball player that Miles is, and that Hendry wasted $4 million in adding Miles to the team. Having said that, carrying both is a mistake (I prefer Blanco over the other two because, aside from today's error, he's flashed a pretty good glove over at short). And what happens when Ryan Freel gets healthy? Gah!

My last idea is probably my best one. Let's FORCE Aramis Ramirez to get healthy really quickly. That way, he can crush our opponents' hopes tomorrow, instead of a month from now. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

If we continue to get such excellent starting pitching throughout the season, the wins will come. But until the offense comes around, it'll be more of this crap every couple weeks.

Go Cubs.

Current Record: 29-27
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 135-27
Worst Possible Record: 29-133
Record needed to win 110: 81-25
On Pace For: 83-79

Game & Series Recap: Cubs 6, Reds 3 (2 games to 1)

Cubs win
By one percentage point the Cubs have hurdled the Reds and are now in 3rd place of the NL Central.  If they don't straighten up it will be the closest they get to the Brewers and Cardinals.

Randy Wells -- who I now think looks more like Sam from True Blood than K-Fed -- delivered another strong performance.  He went 6.2 innings, surrendering 2 runs off of 7 hits and 1 walk.  And thanks to the offensive contributions of Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee, he exited the game in the 7th with another shot at his first win.

Then, Carlos Marmol came in and walked the only 2 batters he faced.  Wisely Lou yanked him immediately -- Piniella really needs to start getting stiff with Marmol -- and while Aaron Heilman managed to mostly get the Cubs out of a bases-loaded jam, he was unable to do it before allowing one run to be sac flied-in by ex-Ray Johnny Gomes.  More on this play later.  With that run went Randy's win, and so our troubles began.

Between the 9th and 14th innings, the Cubs had multiple opportunities to score.  They left multiple runners on in all but the 12th inning.  They made numerous bonehead plays, like when Theriot botched a hit-and-run with Blanco by striking out, resulting in a double play.  In reality the Cubs sloppy offensive play contributed toward this simple conclusion: they did not deserve to win today.

This conclusion is supported by the sloppy defensive play too.  In the 8th when the Reds tied it up, Reed Johnson failed to throw a caught ball to the right base resulting in a loss of a double play opportunity.  It didn't directly come back to bite the Cubs on the ass but Reed's pointless attempt to gun out Nix at third is just one example of the defense not playing good, fundamental baseball.

Nevertheless, once Marmol was chased into the showers the bullpen did its job rather well.  Gregg, Ascanio, Patton, and Guzman combined to give the Cubs six innings of scoreless ball.  On a team in which the bullpen is one of the weakest points they delievered.  They were able to keep the game tied until the Cubs offense woke up, exploding for 3 runs against the depleted Reds in the 14th.  Soriano homered, Fontenot drove in Theriot, and Reed doubled in Fukudome.  Just like that an excrutiating game turned into a late blow-out.

So, now the Cubs are in third place.  They next travel to Houston to take on the hapless Astros who, despite their haplessness are almost as close to the Cubs as the Cubs are to the Brewers.  Just some perspective for ya.

Current Record: 28-26
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 136-26
Worst Possible Record: 28-134
Record needed to win 110: 82-26
On Pace For: 84-78

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