Things to watch for the rest of the season. Starlin Castro's growth. Carlos Marmol's K rate. The Cubs record in one run games. Tyler Colvin's return to reality. Trades and trade rumours. The continued awesomeness of the starting rotation. Cubs playing the spoiler. Marlon Byrd booking it hard down to first base. Geovanny Soto's incredible walk rate. Jeff Baker's excellent glove. Alfonso Soriano's hot streaks. Andrew Cashner's development. The season really isn't over. The Cubs aren't going to make the playoffs but I think it's time like this that the real fans show their faces. Let's keep rooting for them to win day by day and realize there a ton of things to watch for that have nothing to do with making the playoffs. Besides, it's freaking baseball, what else would you rather be doing anyway??
Today's Matchup: Ryan Dempster (110.2IP, 3.58ERA, 3.77xFIP) vs Bronson Arroyo (106.1IP, 4.49ERA, 5.15xFIP) Obviously, the Cubs have the better pitcher. Almost a run and a half better in xFIP. Arroyo should be facing the wrath of the Cubs' awesome offense. Yeah, that's the ticket. The truth is, the Cubs have better starting pitching than the Reds and it's not even close. If the Cubs get a few timely hits, they should win today.
Who's Hot: I know it's hard to think of him as such but Aramis Ramirez is on a mission to make it back to the Mendoza line. He has a six game hitting streak and has only K'd 3 times in that period (OK 2 were yesterday but still). I think Ramirez will end up north of .230 with a second half that looks like him but people here and elesewhere will think his whole season is trash. I still think the guy is relevant. It will be interesting.
Who's Not: Koyie Hill is producing a wOBA of .248 or an OPS of .574 for those wOBA challenged. His career wOBA is below .260. And yet, he's on pace to produce over 200 plate appearances. This despite the fact that the Cubs' offense is struggling and they have Geovanny Soto. Soto's wOBA is .381. That is 10 points higher than his rookie year. He is, simply, the most productive offensive Cub. Lou, come on!
Conclusion: I will no longer say the Cubs "need" to win. They don't really need to win. They need to play as well as they can and let the chips fall where they may. The season as over as playoffs are concerned but there are still things to contest. Beating the Reds and Dusty Baker is #1 on the docket. I would rather the Cardinals make the playoffs than the Reds (though when the Cubs play the Cardinals, I hope they beat them also).
In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.
Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.
I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.
We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.
Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.
What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:
Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.
Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!
Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.
To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,
Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.
A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.
This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:
Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.
Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.
As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.
Any lessons learned? I suppose so.
First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).
Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.
(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)
And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.
It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.
The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.
It hurts! It hurts me in the soul!
It's hard to blame Carlos, who pitched well but not exceptionally. El Gordo Mooso threw 7 innings, surrendered 7 hits, walked 2, and struck out 7 while allowing 3 earned runs. The problem was that Carlos could have held the Reds to 1 run and it probably would've been too many because the offense is dead right now and the bullpen is struggling.
I'm going to take from this series an important factoid - when the Cubs were working Reds pitchers, they kicked the crap out of them. But the last two games they've drawn maybe 3 walks and so their scoring opportunities have been minimal.
In the bullpen, Neal Cotts continued to deliver - 2 hits and 1 earned, via a homer. And Jeff Samardizja, in his first outing of 2009, prooved to be well worth the cutting of Luis Vizcaino and his 0.00 ERA by giving up 4 hits and 2 earned runs.
Later today I'm going to write a littany of complaints against Lou, which doesn't mean I don't love him in a non-gay way.
The Cubs entered this home series against Dusty Baker's Reds with a statistical lead in the central. They leave 2 games out of first - in fourth place - behind the surprisingly resilient Cardinals.
Hey, it's still way too early to judge but maybe the central will be tougher than we could've expected.
Current Record: 8-6
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 156-6
Worst Possible Record: 8-154
On Pace For: 93-69
The morons were out in force last night, for the Dustbag's 'grand, triumphant' 2009 return to Wrigley. Somebody loosed a cat onto the field. Somebody else reached into the field of play (along the left field line!) and snagged a foul ball. And, then, the opponent got a clutch hit that drove in a run! Curses?
Besides the simple fact that, after Game 6, 2003, no Cubs fan should ever, ever, EVER reach into the field of play ever again to snag a foul ball…there WERE Curses in play last night. Thing is, though, it was a curse against the Reds that worked in our favor. Simply put, the Gods of Professionalism took a look at the Dustbag's RIDICULOUS parka, and decided that no team whose manager dresses for an Antarctic expedition deserves to win a ballgame. It wasn't even a Certified MLB Reds parka, I do not believe. It was just some standard, run of the mill puffed out urban sleeping bag with arms, like all the rappers used to wear in their insipid videos. Like Tupac, without the booty gurlz and the 8 bullet holes. Hey, Dusty? 2002 called…they want their Triple Fat Goose back!!
I have always believed that teams look to their head coach or manager for guidance and leadership, and what kind of message are you sending to your guys when you show up bundled up like a gatdamn snuffleluffagus and you send them up to hit against shirt-sleeved Canucklehead Rich Harden? "Uh, you troops head on out in the cold….I'll just wrap up in a shawl and get cozy up in here." Johnnie Baker didn't want to be there last night, so why should his guys feel any different? The Reds have some good young talent in their lineup, but last night, at least, there wasn't much fight in them. For gosh sakes, the withered corpse of Luis Vizcaino mowed them down in the ninth. If that ain't the proof that them boys just wanted to get back to the Westin and laze around in their soaking tubs, then there ain't no proof in anything!
Really, Dusty looked like the black Michelin Man, and this isn't so much the color of his skin, but the color of his Triple Fat Goose parka. Perhaps if he was able to find a nice Red parka…I mean, my wife noticed that the Cubs bullpen coach had on a parka, but I pointed out that a) he has to spend the whole game outside, not in a dugout with the heater, b) his parka was at least MLB Cub Blue, and c) it wasn't all puffy like it was rated to 40 below zero. (I used 40 below because -40 Celsius = -40 Fahrenheit, and I also used 40 below because that's what it looked like Dusty was dressed for). Gregg Easterbrook, the guy that does the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on Tuesday mornings, yep, he has the "Cheerleader Professionalism" theory, which basically states that the cheerleaders who wear less during the course of a game usually end up rooting for the winning side, because the Gods of Professionalism smile upon those teams who dress appropriately. And according to Easterbrook, who despite his fancy schmancy education is pretty much a perv like me, less clothes on cheerbabes = professionalism = wins.
And no, I don't wanna know if the Dustbag has his navel pierced, and I don't ever wanna see it. But in the war of Right vs. Wrong Tuesday night in Wrigley, Baker was wrong, like he usually is, and the man who authored the "black guys play better in the sun" postulate looked like a doofus and watched his team lose. It's not going to be much warmer tonight, and Ted Lilly nearly threw a no-no last Monday, when it was even colder. If Baker brings the Southpole with him again tonight, he deserves to lose again.
Come ON, now, peeple...did you think I was just going to let THIS go without comment?
Sure, the man has been gone for two years, we have a new sheriff in town, and he's great and wise and wonderful and all that...fact is, though, the Dustbag wasted at least two, and probably 3 years of our lives, actually, three years and two days if you count Games 6 & 7, as I do.
No, of course I don't have any PROOF that the reason why Dusty Baker keeps trotting out the impatient, uncoachable Corey Patterson wherever he goes is because CPat is layin' the wood to his daughter. In fact, recall back in the day, the CPat rumor was him and Gayle Fischer, the formerly passably-hot studio host for Comcast. But if it is just a rumor, it's a rumor that has a lot of traction. I love the part that what finally set Dusty in front of a microphone, dude, was that the Houston Asstrolls were asking him about it. I mean, think about THAT for a second. Can you imagine the douchebaggery required for a member of an opposing team to go up to the manager and accuse him of 'nepotism' because of a rumored relationship between a player and his daughter.
I mean, say what you want about the grumpy Mets; the Mariners who all hate Ichiro, even the gatdam Sux who take turns calling each other 'slacker'...I think it is safe to go to the podium now and announce the Asstrolls as the "Spent Douchebags of the Year".
As far as Dusty, he's up there "defending his daughter's honor". Puhleeze, what century is this? This ain't the Elizabethan Age. It would be different if, say, he was letting little Darren have unsupervised sleep-overs at CPat's. But Dustbag's daughter is in her mid-twenties. If she wants to date a smallish, neurotic, unproductive Major League player, God and the State think there's nothing wrong with it whatsoever. God bless 'em both. Go make you some athletic babies.
Dusty is, of course, actually defending his own managerial judgment with this official denial. There were some (including my own big self) who questioned Baker's decision to bat him leadoff in 2000 freakin Four after his stellar half-season in 2003. Maybe this was paranoia on our parts, but we figured (correctly) that even with Corey's 2003 high batting average and power, the Cubs did nothing in the standings until Kenny Lofton was installed at the top of the order after Corey's injury. I didn't mind Patterson batting fifth or sixth that year. We just were clamoring for a high-OBP guy who was also a smart baserunner.
But, I suppose Baker's decision to put him there in 2004 was not tantamount to sabotage. Nor was it starting out in 2005, because once again in 2004 Patterson put up numbers, even though he never learned plate discipline nor showed any interest in changing his technique one iota. But as 2005 dragged on, the same 2005 that CPat posted his legendary .254 OBP and ended with his infamous denial that ANYONE in the Cubs organization ever asked him to change his approach, it was clear that having him bat leadoff cost us huge handfuls of games in and of itself! For both of their personal protection, the two were separated from one another in 2006, and while in Baltimore, absolutely nothing transpired that would suggest that he learned anything, which led to his release.
Here's where a nasty rumor starts to gain steam - one of Baker's first moves as Reds manager was to go out and get Patterson - curious, when you consider Baker also possessed Jay Bruce on his 40-man roster. We all got a chuckle out of the signing, but there was no way in God's green earth that Patterson would make the team at Bruce's expense. Et tu, Bruce? I consider myself to be a sane man, and this much I can tell you right now, without a second's thought: If I held a major league managerial position, and Corey Patterson played a major role in my losing the role, if I were ever fortunate enough to obtain yet Another managerial job, the very last thing on the face of the Earth I would do is go out and get Corey Patterson.
Or Paul Bako. Or Jerry Hairston. Or Kent Mercker. Or Dave Weathers.
I think I talked myself into it. Dusty ain't playing Corey because he's planking his daughter. Dusty is just a dumbass.
Two years ago this month, Cubs fans were in misery. Despite a gut-wrenching end to the '04 season and in spite of a depressing '05 season, Jim Hendry had insisted on letting Dusty Baker play through his contract with the Cubs. Well before August 19th, 2006 rolled around, Cubs fans had known that it was a hopeless, futile cause.
On that day in that season, the Cubs beat the Cardinals in 10 innings to, uh, improve to 53-69 on the season. Yep, the Cubs were 16 games under .500, and it was about to get a lot worse. Apparently satisfied with their late-inning triumph, the team proceeded to flop over and die. They'd lose 18 of their next 21. That's right, they'd go 3-18 following that win. Kind of makes you wonder how in the hell Carlos Zambrano had managed to win 16 that year.
"Oh, we suck. We suck mightily, we are flawed and we are very harmless to the rest of the league," lamented Goat Writer Rob in a post on August 17th of that year. "It can be said in some quarters without immediate fear of rousing the Manteno Whitecoats that with the speed and fielding up the gut, the power on the corners, and the surprising level of success of some of the baby pitchers we've been casting out there as bait, that there is Hope for Next Year, given the Right Trades and Free Agent Signings. (Like either or those will ever happen, but bear with me here)." Turns out he was right, even as he expressed his skepticism.
Jim Hendry would somehow keep his job, even while Dusty Baker was chased out of town by angry fans wielding weaponry. I was not alone in expressing tremendous disappointment in Hendry's return. However, driven by the go-get-'em philosophy of a new team president and the never-to-be-underestimated desire to save his own skin, Hendry and the Cubs opened the coffers and proceeded to acquire players who would almost immediately turn the Cubs into contenders. Meanwhile, Dusty - the guy Hendry wouldn't fire - sat behind a desk with ESPN for a season, spouting wisdom that even befuddled certified geniuses like John Kruk. And yet, despite exposing an entire country to his keen baseball mind, Baker managed to land another managing job.
Now, we are taken full circle. Baker has returned to Chicago for the last time this season, and he will be facing a team that is, in many ways, the antithesis of the group of losers he managed. Where Baker favored veterans at the expense of promising rookies, the Cubs are now a team where every player makes meaningful contributions. Where Baker made decisions that baffled, the Cubs now play with precision and order. Most importantly, where Baker brought out the worst in his team and failed to make the slightest positive contribution, the Cubs are now managed by a guy who seems to do everything right.
Dusty Baker, Cubs past, meet Lou Piniella, Cubs present and future. It took Lou a couple of months to fix the mess you left him, but since June 2nd, 2007, the Cubs have gone 139-94, which is the best record of any team in baseball in that time. Meanwhile, in their first season under Baker's leadership, the Reds are whatdoyaknow, 55-70. Pretty much on par for Baker.
Two years ago today, the Cubs - an already bad team - embarked upon a losing streak that was epic, but not unexpected. They narrowly avoided a 100-loss season. This year, the Cubs - an already great team - may very well be on the brink of a winning streak that is epic, but not unexpected. If they do, if they can, then this time they should not fall short of 100.