Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Playoffs

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Friday Update (June 4, 2010)

Currently the Cubs are 24-29 and people are calling for the whole team to be flushed down the toilet. The peripherals suggest they should be more like 28-25. Here is how it breaks down:

The Cubs' Pythagorean Record is 25-28, one game better than their actual record. The Cubs' record in one run games is 8-12. They are the only team in the NL Central with a record below .500 in one run games. Yes that includes the Brewers.

The Cubs have underscored their linear weights by about 13 runs. They have a league average level offense that is currently 13th in actual runs scored. They should be closer to 8th. That is worth 2 wins.

Their current team ERA is 4.11 which is 10th in the NL. Their xFIP is 3.99, 3rd in the NL. The difference is small but it appears that most teams have an actual ERA much lower than their xFIP while the Cubs are one of the few teams where the opposite is true. I'm going to believe that the Cubs defense has been this bad and only give them 1 win for this.

This makes the Cubs a 28-25 team. If they had that record, I think the mood around here would be more hopeful.

I believe 2 things about this team. I believe they are better than they've shown and will go on a nice run at some point. I also believe they aren't a playoff team. I think given that they aren't a playoff team, losing like they have has an upside. It may force them to do things that losing teams need to do to improve their performance in the future while at the same time, the Cubs have a base in place to turn their team around in a year or two.

The poor season this year will mean the end of the Hendry/Piniella regime. If rumours are to be believed, it could also mean the trades of both Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee, and the move towards building the new Cubs. On top of this, the Cubs will have a better draft pick in the 2011 draft and the commencement of the future will begin.

I do not think we are there yet and I would be surprised if Lee was traded but although the Cubs are clearly underperformaning where they should be this year, I'd still like to see a mini fire sale occur.

Friday Update

The Cubs have had a very good and somwhat lucky week. Here is where they stand:

Cubs current record: 19-23

Cubs expected record: 20-22

Cubs runs scored: 192 runs, 4.57 per game, 9th in NL

Cubs wOBA standing: .336, 6th in NL, expected runs 203.

Cubs ERA: 4.29 10th in NL

Cubs RA: 4.71 10th in NL

Cubs xFIP: 4.01 3rd in NL

The Cubs luck is beginning to even out since I last reported this. My guess is, they probably should be about 23-19 or 24-18 right now. BTW, when Ramirez and Lee start hitting it should allow all these hitting numbers to increase. I'm hopeful about the next month. We aren't out of it yet. As of now, I believe we are going to make it to 85 wins. I'll try to leave one of these reports every Friday before the weekend.

Why oh Why (Game Recap: Pirates 4, Cubs 3)

Newsflash: The Cubs are playing terrible right now. But it just doesn't comport with the facts of this team in my eyes. I don't get it. Why are they losing?

Mostly, it's just bad luck. I know that seems like hyperbole but let's look at some basic information on the Cubs.

The Cubs, coming into today's game, were tied for 5th in the NL in runs scored but 7th in the NL in runs scored per game just above league average.

The pitching looks much worse as the Cubs came into today's game 11th in ERA. The runs scored/runs allowed results in a pythagorean won loss record of 17-19, 2 games better than the 15-21 record they had coming into today's game.

So they should be 2 games better just assuming the runs scored/runs allowed were fairer but even that isn't fair. The Cubs should have scored slightly more runs and should have allowed a ton less. They should be challenging the Cardinals right now.

The Cubs are 5th in the NL in wOBA and haven't been especially lucky offensively. They have a decent K rate, a decent walk rate and above average isolated power. Linear weights suggest they should have scored 181 runs this year, not 167.

To make matters worse, the Cubs are second in the NL in xFIP! Only the Padres are barely better. That is partly a sign that the Cubs defense is worse than expected but it's also a sign that they have been very very unlucky. The Cubs actual record this year should be closer to 22-14, not 15-21. Taking away 2 games for defense (which is probably too many) they still come into today's game at 20-16. Can you imagine how much different the tone would be on this site if the Cubs were actually doing that?

Now, two very annoying facts make all this data less relevant. The first is that the Cubs have buried themselves in a hole so deep that even if they played at this level the rest of the year, they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. The second is that they put up that record against less than stellar opposition. Still, it's a sign that things aren't completely what they seem.

If the Cubs were to play 20-16 baseball (.556) the rest of the season,  they would get to 85 wins. That might make them a contender for the NL wildcard. I thought they might be through but maybe not. They need to start showing results that live up to their peripherals but it's the underlying numbers that suggest many have given up a little too early here.

The playoff picture grows clearer

Despite what Madisoncubaholic said in the shout box, I haven't found this year's playoffs to be too terribly exciting.  We had what, sweeps in every series but one?  The Yankees and the Angels -- two of the heavy hitters of the AL -- are playing for the Series.  In the NL we have the Dodgers and the Phillies, neither of whom surprised anybody by reaching the playoffs. 

In other words, yawn. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have entered bankruptcy court in order to expedite their sale to the Ricketts clan.  I'm just happy that the light is visible at the end of this ridiculously long tunnel. 

That's all I've got for now.  Call it blogger burn-out if you will.  I'll just call it temporary indifference.  The Season Recaps will start soon, though.

Why yes, life IS sweep

Dear Cardinals fans:

You know that feeling of smug satisfaction that you've had the last two Octobers?  You know, the one stemming from how you saw the Cubs swept out of the playoffs?  I'm talking, of course, about that superior feeling that comes from watching teams like Arizona and, yes, Los Angeles crushing the playoff hopes of Cub fans?

It turns out you were right.  That feeling is a good one.  It's not as great a feeling as a championship would be, but I have to admit I smiled when the Cardinals were helplessly swept away by the Dodgers.

Sorry about your luck, Cardinals fans.  The winter is long.  Go Rams?

The Absolute worst time of year for Cubs fans

(Channeling my inner Jim Mora) PLAYOFFS?  PLAYOFFS?  Who said anything about PLAYOFFS?  We haven't done diddly....POO!


Indeed, we have not.  This IS the worst time of year for us, especially now in 2009, having to endure a NLDS without the Cubs in it, when everyone associated with baseball simply assumed we would have a place just by showing up.  Many, many lessons to be learned, first about taking success for granted.  Also for making snap decisions based solely on stats and not taking human factors into account.  Someday someone will write a egg-heady book about the human cost of trading away a decent, modestly talented human being like Mark DeRosa so that we could afford to bring in an marginally more talented yet profoundly flawed person like Milton Bradley.  On paper, it was a slam-dunk - Bradley led the entire AL in OPS in 2008.  If you believe in personal growth and redemption, you might talk yourself into believing that Bradley had matured enough to deserve, cherish, and professionally uphold a lucrative three-year contract.


But, if you're like me, convinced that a cat can never change its stripes, then you knew from the moment he was signed that it had no chance of working.


So here we are, fans of the club with the best pitching possibly in the entire league, wondering what to do here in October.  Most years prior to this one, it was easier.  We knew we sucked, so real baseball fans would cherish the opportunity to spend their time watching quality ball, and provincial fans like myself would just bury themselves in pro football, college football, high school football or whatever items on the 'honey-do' list we've been putting off all summer.


This year is different.  I feel cheated.  I truly feel like I went to a live show, perhaps a stand-up comedy performance by, say, Chris Rock, but instead they rolled out some guy they caught pissing in the alley out back.  We should be there, we aren't, and I can't help thinking that this is going to cut into the already meager level of enjoyment any of us would normally feel watching October baseball that doesn't include the Cubs.


To make things even more distasteful, most of the Usual Suspects ARE still at it.  The Evil Satanic Fowl.  The Massholes.  The Steinbrenners.  Manny and his bitch-titts. Vlad the Impaler and his Halos, who actually I have very little gripe with, outside of the fact that they ALWAYS make the playoffs, then ALWAYS choke their spot away to the Massholes.  Not to mention the incumbents, Hole Camels, his vacuous blonde succubus wife, their new baby, and the rest of the Phillies, a franchise that, until recently, was even more associated with failure than our own.


There aren't any Tampa Bay Rays this year, the former weaklings at the beach kicking sand in everyone's faces.  The only two teams that don't make me want to hurl my lunch are the Twinkies and the Rox.  It is Rocktober again, apparently.  And even the Twins kind of chafe me, when I consider that it is WE that deserved Joe Mauer and THEY what deserved Mark Prior.  If we had the first pick that year, that would be the ultimate insult.  But the Twins actually picked first, and they were smart, thrifty and lucky to pick Mauer, and leave the so-called Best College Pitcher Ever for us.


I work with a whole poopload of Cardinal fans, who advance the theory that if they win, then they will buy themselves another five years of grace with their fanbase, and thus won't have to re-sign Matt Holliday or even, dare I speak it, the Great PooHoles.  Therefore, says they, I should root for them this year, with the long-term success of the Cubs in mind.


When I start trusting Cardinal fans is when I start living my life according to the principles of Rush Limbaugh, driving a gigantic 4-wheel-drive tank deep into virgin woods to better facilitate shooting animals dead for my personal pleasure, and secretly booking hotel rooms at hourly rates on the other side of the tracks so I can have my bare ass beat by swarthy young men with lesions on their necks.


In other words, nah.  Go Twins! 

What would it take?

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

  • The Cubs sweep the Reds at home this weekend.
  • The Cubs take 3 of 4 from the Brewers
  • The Cubs take 2 of 3 from the Cardinals in St. Louis
  • The Cubs take 2 of 3 from the Brewers in Milwaukee
  • The Cubs take 3 of 4 from the Giants in San Francisco
  • The Cubs take 3 of 4 from the Pirates in Chicago
  • The Cubs sweep the Diamondbacks to finish the season.

I know, it's crazy.  I don't believe it could happen.  If it did happen, then the Cubs would be a 25-8 team from September 1st until the end of the season.  It would also give the Cubs a finishing record of 90-72.

Presently, the Wild Card team is the Rockies.  For them to finish with a 90-72 record or worse, they would need to go 10-12 from here on out against juggernauts of talent like the Reds, Padres (twice), Diamondbacks, and Brewers.  To even think they could manage that would mean ignoring their 7-1 record since September 1st.

So, to answer my own question, what would it take? It would take a sodding miracle.  An act of divine intervention.  And the baseball gods proved a long time ago that they are not interested in intervening in favor of the Cubs.

Roster Moves into October


The Cubs have lately been playing extremely well as of late and find themselves in an unusual (for 2009 at least) predicament. With several key players soon to return from trips to the DL, Lou and Jim will have to decide who to demote and what the roster will look like going into September, when it can expand to 40.

We'll do this two ways -- the way I'd do it, and the way they probably will, the difference being that I'd keep the Cubs with an 11-man pitching staff rather than their unecessary 12-man staff.

First, the pitchers:

SP - Zambrano, Dempster, Harden, Wells, Gorzelanny
LR - Heilman
MR - Grabow, Guzman
SU - Marmol, Marshall
CL - Gregg

To me, this is pretty well a no-brainer. Samardzija has not pitched well enough to justify his position with the team and, despite misconceptions, he is nowhere near running out of options. Player options are one-a-year deals, not one-a-promotion/demotion. The Cubs have already exercised Samardzija's option for 2009, which means that within the confines of the rules they can promote and demote him as often as they want, amassing a respectable number of frequent flier miles while doing so. With Geovany Soto's return this weekend, I would almost gleefully demote Samardzija to make room for him. That guy's gotta go.

This would leave 14 spots for the hitters. The questions are -- do the Cubs keep Hoffpauir on the team considering that he's a .233 hitter whose only real skill is the ability to mash? How do they handle their mess-of-a-middle infield?

If Johnson was healthy, I would suggest either sending Hoffpauir back to Iowa, or -- if he's out of options, which I believe he may be -- cutting him free completely. Hoff was a great story last year but stories don't win championships, and I can do nothing but mock, gloat, and strut when recalling how more than a few fans wanted to dump Derrek Lee for Hoffpauir before the start of this season. So I say to you with definitive authority: nyaaaaa! But... with Johnson injured, the Cubs need Hoff and his "ability" to patrol the outfield.

Ahem, after that I'd then cut the tenaciously craptacular Aaron Miles. Enough is enough and he's batting under .200 this season. It was a dumb idea when Hendry signed him and keeping him around is even more ridiculous. The guy could play every position including pitcher and he'd still suck. If only his "versatility" included the ability to hit the damned ball. Lastly, I would return shawties Bobby Scales and Sam Fuld to the 25-man roster. That would give the Cubs an offense which looks like this:

C - Soto, Hill
1B Lee
2B Fontenot, Baker
SS Theriot, Scales
3B Ramirez, Fox
LF Soriano, Hoffpauir
CF Fukudome, Fuld
RF Bradley

By the end of the month, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is expected to make his return, as is Andres Blanco. If possible, I'd probably wait until September to activate them, thereby preventing the demotion of any players. But if I had to juggle the roster, I'd probably send Scales down for Blanco and, at least temporarily, Fuld down for Lilly (both of whom I'd recall immediately on Sept. 1).

With Lilly back and hopefully healthy, I'd place in the bullpen whichever pitcher -- Gorzelanny or Harden -- has the worst August, with special considerations going to how pitching in relief might land Harden on the DL.

With Blanco back on the roster, I would also consider very strongly either starting him at second or moving Theriot over there, not because it makes the offense better but because it improves the team's defense. It's funny that we remember the drubbing the Dodgers delt the Cubs last October, but we've all seemed to forget that the worst moment happened in an inning in which Lee, DeRosa, and Theriot all made defensive errors resulting in an assload of runs and nausea. Maybe a juggled defensive setup would be, y'know, helpful.

On September 1st I'd recall whichever players remain from my "sweeping" changes initiative -- I'd promote Stevens, Samardzija, and maybe a few other young pitchers just for depth.

But since the Cubs are insistent on having a 12 man pitching staff, they're likely to keep Samardzija (or perhaps Stevens) up the entire time while being a man down in the infield. And since they also are probably going to insist on keeping the damnable Aaron Miles, then that means that they'll either wind up releasing Jeff Baker -- who also sucks -- or demoting Jake Fox, which would be a horrendously stoopid move.

Next Question - Can the Cubs Win the Series With This Roster?

I love writers arrogant enough to ask -- and answer -- their own questions. If you've been reading the comments thread of a few articles the last few days, you'll have seen a running -- but extremely civil, if not boring -- debate between myself and a Cub fan/Goat Reader about What This All Means. Dan has pointed out that the Cubs have done their worst damage against really crappy teams and that their record against winning teams is about as pretty as a naked Betty White. I get the feeling -- I could be wrong -- that Dan thinks my disagreement with him stems from a strong belief that the Cubs are favored to win the World Series.

Well, I haven't said that. I don't think I've said "the Cubs will win the World Series" since March, and that would probably have been when I predicted a 110 win season like the smart-ass I am.

But to pompously answer my own question, yes, the Cubs can win the Series with this roster. It's kind of shocking, but any team that makes the playoffs on any given year can win the World Series... even the Cubs. But I won't play favorites with them in that scenario. I've come to believe that the playoffs are a total crapshoot. Talent does not always win out, sometimes teams as bad as the '06 Cardinals will win a Series, and rarely does the baseball team with the most regular season wins -- or the biggest payroll -- get the job done. I said to Dan that I thought the Cubs, should they reach the playoffs, would have a 25% chance of reaching the World Series and a 12.5% chance of winning it. Anybody who tells you more than that is talking out of their ass, because -- seriously -- the playoffs are a crapshoot.

All that said, I do believe that the Cubs are a much better team than what we saw in April, May, or June. I suspect that they will put up better numbers against good teams in August and September than what we saw earlier in the year. I also believe that they remain one of the deepest teams in the league, even if they were poorly assembled from the parts they started with -- particularly they are strong in the rotation. All of these things lead me to believe that the Cubs are going to be extremely difficult to overtake in the NL Central, and I now think they are very likely playoff bound. But that's as far as I'll go.

Cubs in first; but for how long?

The Cubs are in first! How lovely.

Considering the astounding number of talking heads and idiot columnists in the sports world these days, I'm kinda surprised no one wrote about this a few days back. The Cubs' sweep of the Reds was not an earth-shattering result, and did anyone really expect the Cardinals to beat the Phillies at home?

As a result, we get to have that, "If the season ended right now..." conversation as many times as we'd like today. Of course, we've still got more than one-third left of the season to play out before anything's decided. With that, I thought I'd take a look at both teams' upcoming schedules, to get a gauge on what's reasonable to expect going forward.

-----

The Cubs and Cards each close out the month of July with a four-gamer. Both teams are at home, but the quality of their opponents isn't quite equal.

The Cubs take on the Astros, a team that has somehow played its way into third place in the NL Central. It's true that the offense has some pretty huge holes in it throughout the line-up. However, as you'll see in the upcoming Series Preview, the Cubs have a couple of tough pitching match-ups ahead of them. Neither of the first two games (Z vs. Wandy, Demp vs. Oswalt) will be easy wins by any means. If the Cubs drop both, they'll need Randy Wells and Kevin Hart to pitch well against Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to salvage a series split.

At the same time, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have much of an advantage in any of their match-ups, either. Their series probables are: Wolf vs. Carpenter, Billingsley vs. Wainwright, Kershaw vs. somebody (TBA), and Kuroda vs. Lohse. If Carp and Wainwright go nuts, the Cards might get lucky with Lohse and take three of four. More likely, they'll split, or worse.

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It'll be important for the Cubs to pick up a game on their way into August, because it'll be a tough month to try to stay in the lead.

Generally, there's the issue of opponents' winning percentage. The Cards take on teams with a collective .449 winning percentage, while the Cubs take on a schedule with a .490 percentage.

There are a few key series that explain the difference in strength of schedule. The Cardinals have arguably one tough series, a three-gamer at Los Angeles. In contrast, the Cubs have three difficult series in August: four games of their own at Dodger Stadium, playing host for three games to the Phillies, and four games in Colorado against a surprisingly spunky Rockies team.

Pitching match-ups and reinforcements from the disabled list will hopefully give the Cubs the extra oomph they need to carry the division lead into September. In the meantime, it'll be important to take advantage of this next series, to try to get some breathing room before heading into August.

Go Cubs.

Encarnacion was safe; but who cares?

In every successful season in sports, there are many "breaks" that help the successful team down the road.  It has been a great break for us to have played Pittsburgh, Cincy and Washington after the All-Star hiatus.  It has been a great break that the Cardinals lost two of three after trading for offensive missing link Matt Holliday.  We have endured many injuries, but so have nearly every other contender in the division.

I still think we suck.  I still don't think Fukudome and Bradley are earning their keep.  Soriano seems to be on the upswing; this particular swing better be quite long, drawn out, and bloody to make up for the two months of utter suckitude he just turned in.  We still don't have a second baseman, particularly against lefties, and wasn't that the key area we were supposed to be addressing this past off-season? 

Oh, yeah.  That's what Aaron Miles was brought here for.  GUH!

I'm the 'glass half-empty' guy.  While the rest of you are hootin' and hollerin' about sweeping the Reds, I'm still worried about how we laid down like panting dogs in Philly, and how we are going to do this week with the AssTrolls.  This is a big series, coming up, because we have a road trip after this.  And God bless those of you with enough wherewithall and foresight to make the road trips and negate the home crowds in most NL parks.  (I have done my part so far in Milwaukee and the Cell this year, and I'll make an appearence in Pissburgh on Labor Day.  But I myself consider my contributions to be meager, at best). 

If you are a Cub fan "abroad", and the boys are coming to your town, show up!  This particular Cub team is operating with the thinnest of error margins.  They may hang tough the rest of the summer; they may fold like a wet taco shell, neither will surprise me.  They are going to have to function at nearly full capacity in order to make the NLDS for a third consecutive year.  That means that all of us can play a part in this.  I think it helps when the Cubs can count on some of their fans nearly everywhere they go.  That's what the Dempsters and Reed Johnsons and DLees always say when asked, and while it might sound like rah-rah hooey to the more cynical of us, what is important that THEY believe it.

So if you live in Ohio or Kentucky or Colorado or Florida, get your ass to the park next week.  Help the Cubs, and help the rest of us mortgage slaves who can't make it there.

And, if you can wear catcher's gear without looking silly, and make a decent throw to second base, pack it along with you.  We might need you...

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