Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Carlos Zambrano

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We read the Shout Box

NEXTyearNOW points out that since I wrote yesterday's post, the Yankees have started talking about trading for Zambrano, and Kid K is negotiating to come back to our bullpen.

So, yes, I will come right out now and say that we DON'T need no stinking Matt Garza.  He has never won 20 in the bigs, and he has pitched most of his games in a dingy wart dome.  He would never be able to adjust to the changing weather conditions in Wrigley.  I don't feel he would be a good fit for us.

I also see big things ahead for the Fooker this year.  The fourth big league season is usually when Japanese players finally acclimate to the speed of the game.  I no longer advocate trading him for a sack of manure.  This is the year he learns to lay off the low pitches and forces hurlers to pitch to HIS strengths.

Also, let me add that since we have Carlos Pena in the fold, we certainly have no room on our club for Albert Pujols.  It would just be too damn weird to see him wearing pinstripes, anyhow.  We can't afford him, anyhow.

Joey Votto has been extremely dismissive of the Cubs in recent years, and in fact, he's just a whiny little bitch,  We sure don't need him, either.  Nor do we need some quiet, shy, wallflower type like Andre Ethier.  Certainly Soriano and Colvin have more experience manning the corner outfield spots at Wrigley. 

Let me conclude this morning by asserting my support for Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney as Executives For Life.  Both men have stood up admirably during tumultuous times at Clark and Addison, and if the Ricketts family knew what was best, they would call both of them in today and extend their contracts into perpetuity.

Pitching will tell the tale for the Cubs in 2011

The only "impact" hitter the Cubs possess, past, present, or future, is Alfonso Soriano, and his category is, of course, "past".  So, even if he has his current "typical" .800 OPS year, and even if every other member of the offense has an above-average statistical year, the Cubs will still finish in the middle of the pack offensively in the NL.   Considering the salaries being paid, that's not OK, but otherwise, that would be acceptable if we had solid pitching and defense to back that up.

AJ pointed out the other day that, except for third base, the defense isn't going to lose us any games.  The past year or so, an effort was made to replace Soriano in left during late innings.  It might be time to, instead, consider doing that for Ramirez.  It was different when ARam was our most consistent late-inning run producer.  It was also different in his younger days when he was characterized as 'lazy'.  At this point in his life, he may honestly just be this slow.  It is the manager's job to address this situation, and hopefully Quade has these types of late-inning defensive thoughts.

Which leaves the pitching, and well, damn.  I consider myself to know more about hitting than pitching, but I don't think we are very well equipped going forward. 

I think we have Dempster, a #2 starter.  If we are to go with his last 10 starts last year, Zambrano is a nice #3 starter (the slot he held during the "glory" years mid-decade), but there's a catch, and it isn't just that he makes Ace Money.  Personally, I love to watch the man play, but if we are talking about winning, we need consistency and excellence that can be relied on.  You cannot rely on this Toro.  If your lawnmower crapped out as often as Z does, you'd push him to the curb. 

I thought Hendry was going to do just that last month.  The right whispers were there.  Nothing has happened on that front.  Maybe, though, now that Cliff Lee is now with Philly, the Yankees will need to do something big, because that is what they do.  Maybe we'll hear some new rumors soon. (UPDATED)

What else do we have?  One more year of Silva the Hutt, who reverted to his true blobular self in the 2nd half.  There's mediocre lefty Gorzellany, who is being shopped.  There's noted nightlife lover Randy Wells, who early this year I compared to Greg Maddux because he doesn't have a 'big arm', but seems to know how to pitch when all is right.  Wells can be part of a staff if he prioritizes.  To me, he is worth more in a trade than on our staff.

There has been word lately of efforts to get Matt Garza from the Rays.  This would be more exciting if there was, like, any chance in hell it could happen.  The question came up - why would the Rays make this deal?  If it could make their team better!  If somehow the Rays and Jim Hendry could hammer out a good old-fashioned "value" trade, where we sent them something of roughly equal value to what we would receive.

The problem is, to my knowledge, the last time Hendry was involved in a true "value" trade was the big Nomar deal in 2004.  All of Hendry's trades since have either been: desperation dumps of Sammy Sosa and Milton Bradley; favors to players like Ted Lilly and Greg Maddux; or the occasional fire-sale swap with the Pirates.  I doubt Hendry has the ability or the stones to make a straight value-for-value trade, where he gives up, say, Wells and/or Gorzellany, along with top prospects, or something that involves one of our young players with experience, like Colvin or Castro.  At least, I don't trust him to do it right.

I fail to see what is so special about Casey Coleman.  I have never seen why the Shark was worth the money he has been paid, although I grasp the concept it had to do with the eventuality that he might have opted to play football instead, it doesn't justify why it was given to HIM.  It is a hope of mine, though, that the new pitching coach has a rapport with him that Rothschild never had.

In the best of situations, we need two of the afore-mentioned starters to step up.  However, we are going to need three, because we don't have a staff Ace.  Therefore everyone steps up a rung.  And, if sometime between now and spring training, Zambrano opens up his ugly mouth and says something unforgivable, which COULD happen at any given moment that he is awake, then Hendry will be forced into another of his patented 'addition by subtraction' dumps, and all we'll have is Dempster and dumpster.

Bullpen?  Thank God for Sean Marshall.  This is about the time of year, typically, when the "Marshall is a good soldier, he deserves a chance to start" refrain is sung.  This year, though, nobody dares.  He has to stay in the pen.  Otherwise, we rely on surgi-zombies Grabow, Caridad, and Guzman, along with Andrew Cashner and Rafael Dolis, two guys with huge arms and absolutely no idea about how to pitch. 

Then of course we have our closer, the Harry Potter of the majors.  Carlos Marmol set records last year for both percentage of pitches swung at and missed as well as strikeouts per nine innings.  Honestly, I thought the 1977-79 Bruce Sutter was the most unhittable force of all time - Marmol crushed his stats, simply crushed them.  Thing is, though, both Sutter and Marmol pitched for fifth place teams.  I have always maintained that the secret of his success is how hard he concentrates on his task.  Can he keep up that level of concentration to close games that matter?  Nobody knows, do we?

So that brings us to the point where we go get some pitching help.  I will come back soon with some possible candidates, but one of them is not Kerry Lee Wood.  Now, I love me some Wood.  Great guy, historical guy, diabolical stuff, cute, perky wife.  Great in the community, loves the Cubs and Chicago.  But he also represents something we need to get away from: unrequited Cub Hope. 

The Ricketts need to pull a 180 in terms of historic direction.  I am afraid Wood represents the way things used to be done here: work hard, not smart.  When at first you don't succeed, throw harder; tear yourself apart, go on the DL.  Suffer the crush of over 100 years of Cubs karma; resign yourself to your fate.  I feel that happened to Wood, as it happened to Grace, Sandberg, Banks, Williams, and on and on. 

If the Cubs are ever going to win it all, it will need to be with new blood.  Could it be Castro?  Soto?  Marmol?  The Korean kids in Peoria?  I dunno, but it won't be with Kerry Wood, God bless him and his 20 Ks and his Game 7 loss and his tattered shoulder and the burden of 102 years on top of him.  We need to find some help elsewhere.

Hot Stove Warms Up on Fukudome, Zambrano and Dunn

The Cubs get some love from Jayson Stark in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings column. You should read his version (click the link!!!), but here's my understanding of what he said, plus some pontificating on my part.

- Unlike this time last year, there's not an absolute need to trade away one of the Cubs' higher paid players. Stark specifically mentions Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Zambrano, saying their respective performances once the team changed managers have inspired confidence about their futures. Perhaps the best Cub-centric quote from Stark's column was this:

"Scouts who followed the Cubs said they saw young players and the bullpen crew, in particular, relax and perform without the high-strung Piniella around."

Tangent alert: if Lou had any managerial weakness from Day 1 of his Cub tenure, it was an impatience with his bullpen. He let Bob Howry pitch a billion innings for him, and not because The Gas Can was particularly great, but because he didn't walk anyone. Lou HATED walks, and knowing that might have wracked some young relievers' nerves. (On that note, how did Lou survive 3+ years of handing the ball to Carlos Marmol in the 9th? That slider sure is an amazing pitch...)

Having said that, might Lou's departure have changed the culture for the entire Cubs team? Almost certainly. I'm excited to see what Mike Quade can do with this bunch. Hopefully, the Fukster and Z can be part of the group that benefits, as they did at the end of last year.

The other Cubbie nugget Stark drops in his column (that's Cubbie as an ADJECTIVE, not a NOUN, I'm still obeying the rules!!) referred to a rumor that was once thought to be a near certainty, which is that the Cubs want to sign Adam Dunn to be their first baseman for the next few years. (Haha, Stark dropped a nugget.)

Stark says the Cubs have much less interest in Dunn than had been assumed at the beginning of the offseason, citing his below-average glove -- a problem that might hurt the Cubs even more than usual in 2011 with the still-young Starlin Castro manning short on an everyday basis.

So the cash-strapped Cubs want a 1B with a plus glove, you say? And what's that -- they've been lacking in left-handed power for the last 100 years? In that case, I am now willing to wager a six-pack of Honker's Ale (or Old Style if you prefer, I guess that's more fitting) that Carlos Pena will be the Cubs' starting first baseman on Opening Day 2011.

Any takers?

Presently, Hendry is preparing to shop Zambrano

Seldom I am able to predict the future, but I can predict one thing: the next GROTA Roundtable will feature a question about which huge salary Hendry will trade away this winter - Soriano, Zambrano, or Fukudome.

It appears the correct answer will be: Big Angry Z.

People I know say that Hendry has been asked to broker a deal to send Zambrano away this winter.  His September brilliance aside, Z is no longer someone the Cubs are choosing to depend on.  And although the first question I have is "just WHO on the staff CAN they depend on anyway", I guess paying Randy Wells a half a million to be hit-or-miss is preferable to paying Zambrano 38 times as much to be just as undependable.

It is also my understanding that there are in fact several interested takers.  If you believe Barry Rozner on the Daily Herald, there is even one team who is willing to take Z on AND assume his contract without sending us back their 2011 version of Silva the Hutt.  Of course, this particular team is on Z's No-Trade List.  The few teams that are not on the list that want him also want us to take their bad money back in return.

The Cubs are not willing to go "upside down" simply to rid themselves of the Stampeding Bull, though.  They owe him 38 million; they are not going to take, say, 39 million of contract from someone else simply to get rid of him.  Unlike the Milton Bradley debacle, if they cannot come out ahead financially in the deal, they will not make the deal.  (And I understand we actually did come out a few million ahead in the Bradley Deal. But they simply had to get rid of him, at all costs. The fact that they regained anything in that deal still bewilders me).

Between the sheer sum of the deal, and the no-trade implications, and the utter unpredictability of the man, it cannot be said with certainty that Zambrano will not be a Cub to start the year.  Just realize that, most likely, in what will be a relatively dull off-season, this is potentially Hendry's most splashy move.

Back to basics... (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Nationals 4)

...and what I mean by that is:

  • A hoss-like start from Z
  • Some general wildness from the 'pen
  • Three strikeouts plus a loading of the bases from Marmol
  • All of our scoring coming via home runs

Before the game, I thought to offer an over/under of 4.5 walks from Carlos Zambrano for the start, but I guess if the Nationals offense can make Casey Coleman look good, it stands to reason that Z could easily resemble an ace facing them.

And that's pretty much what he did, getting 22 outs on just over 100 pitches. And his batted ball stats looked just like Coleman's from the night before: 10 ground balls, seven flies, and just one line drive.

Tyler Colvin and Alfonso Soriano drove in two and three runs each on their home runs last night, and we'd end up needing every one of those runs after Marmol went nuts in the ninth.

Since you probably already knew all of that, I'll leave you with one more thing to think about: has Tyler Colvin's pitch recognition improved this season? Seems like his ratio of walks to strikeouts has been improving for the past lil' while:

Thanks Fangraphs!

Top Ten Lessons Learned in 2010

Goat Riders of the Apocalypse is not going so strong, lately.  But, GOOD LORD?  Can you blame us?

Even the most optimistic, blue sky Cub fans could not possibly enjoy what they are seeing on a daily basis?  Losers of 13 of the last 16?  As it happens, Hendry and Piniella are pretty much doing what I asked them to do earlier this week - treat the rest of this year as if it is Spring Training 2011.  It began when Derrek Lee and Lou himself removed themselves from the proceedings - neither of them are going to Mesa next spring.  We have brought up the freshest produce from the farm.

But, once again, it goes sour, because pretty much everyone we brought up has sucked so far.  It would have been nice to see Micah the Hoff hit a few quick welcome-back dongs, or a Marcos Mateo pitch lights-out.  It is early in our extended Spring Training, but it doesn't appear that any of our recent call-ups are going to help us anytime soon.  So, as was the case going into this season, it appears that most of the heavy lifting in 2011 will be done by the men currently on the roster, a roster, once again, that is last in the majors in one-run losses.

So what have we learned thus far in 2010?

10) Alfonso Soriano may not be the most overpriced sixth hitter in major league history - but then again, he might just be. 

As a longtime student of the intangible and the psychological, I understand why Hendry signed #12 back in 2007.  The interim owner gave him permission to spend whatever it took, and Alf was the premier free agent that winter.  Jim was convinced that the Cubs would win a World Series that year or next, and figured if we had, that people wouldn't care that the club would then owe Soriano $18 million a year for all perpetuity.  It was a crap shoot, and the first two years, Jim shot eights, but then last year, the dice came up seven, and now we're stuck with a number six hitter with degenerative legs, a miserable glove, and absolutely no knowledge of situational baseball.  For the next three years.

9) Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are the yin and yang of miserable free agent pitching judgement

A few years back, officials at two separate organizations took a look at two big, strong, tough Venezuelan guys named Carlos and decided that yes, these guys were Quality, they would eat innings, win games, and lead men.  It would be the wisest thing to sign them to long term contracts worth nearly 8 figures, because everyone knows the work ethic of South Americans is second to none.

Ahem.  So it was inevitable that a few years later, los dos Carloses would both be Cubs, serving as twin anchors, keeping us firmly tethered to the bottom, representing the main sunk costs to the most miserable team contract picture in MLB history.

The difference is: Silva the Hutt is a follower, and Z is a leader.  There is no way to reign in #38 with the Cubs, none.  He appears to respect nobody but himself, which is the very reason why it is going to be so painful when he inevitably moves on to the Yankees a couple of years from now and starts winning games again (hey, Kerry Wood?  How YOU doin'?)  #52, on the other hand, is a follower, and I honestly feel that in the right situation, with the right guidance from the right pitching coach and staff, that Silva could be poked, prodded, and coaxed in a useful direction.  However...

Cool 2010 is the death knell of the Larry Rothschild Era

Several of my knowledgeable friends, like the boys over at HJE have called for the head of Rothschild for years now.  I personally was torn.  For every Wood and Prior who caved in, a Dempster or Marmol seemed to rise up.  Maybe, I have always thought, Rothschild wasn't part of the problem.

But lately?  Outside of Dempster, Marmol, Marshall, the first three months of Silva and the occasional Gorzellany outing, Cubs pitching 2010 has been beyond dreadful.  Walks, mistakes, walks, mistakes.  A conveyor belt of arms have made their way back and forth between here and Des Moines. 

Here's my problem with Rothschild - these guys pitch well in Iowa, come here, get blasted, go back to Iowa, pitch well, come back, get blasted.  And it isn't just a function of the quality of the hitters.  It is the command that they seem to lose here.  Is it the pressure?  Shouldn't be any pressure, throwing for a fifth-place team.  And if it is, whose job is it to help these guys acclimate?  As I see it, he is taking good arms and turning them bad once they get here.

When the new manager arrives, he should be allowed to pick his own pitching coach.

7) Marmol is a major league closer

Speaking of Marmol, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities in 2010.  Yes, the team has the worst one-run record in baseball, but curiously enough, it isn't really the closer's fault.  Most of the games have gone the way yesterday's game went - we fall far behind, and either come back to within a run and fall short, or tie it up only to let one of our "middle" guys, usually Cashner, go blow it. 

The few saves Marmol has blown, his defense helped blow.  Which, speaking of:

6) Our defense utterly sucks

Our catcher is "offensive-minded", a euphemism for a guy who isn't Yadier Molina.  Our third baseman is getting old, frail, and losing what little utility he ever had.  Our shortstop is better than the man he replaced, yes, but is young and may or may not be a major league shortstop.  Our second basemen define 'suck', We got DeWitt because we thought he is better than Theriot, of course, the Dodgers think just the opposite.  Uh oh.  Our fancy hood ornament, DLee has had his worst fielding year.  Soriano has had an Epic Fail year in left.  Our slick fielding right fielder can't hit enough to play, and the guy who can hit in RF should be playing left field. 

5) Marlon Byrd is a nice player

Byrd does everything pretty well.  He is not and will never be an impact major league ballplayer, and his CF play is very average at best.  He is the beneficiary of the "Robbie Gould Syndrome", in which he is surrounded by badness, so his relative competence shines brighter in comparison.  He is a fourth outfielder on a championship team, and although he actually tries to provide the leadership this team so woefully lacks, he really doesn't have the oomph in his game to back it up.

Starlin Castro gets one of his 4 hits4) Starlin Castro is a major league hitter

The storybooks are full of great men who started off as middle
infielders who committed a ton of errors in the field, and were
converted to other positions so their teams would not lose their bat. 
Mickey Mantle comes immediately to mind, and Alf Soriano is a recent,
close-to-home example.  With Hak-Ju Lee in the low minors, there are
discussions that Lee will eventually be the SS, and Castro will play
2nd.  Or maybe 3rd, since the 24 year old DeWitt is on board, except
that DeWitt has 'utility guy' written all over him, and don't 3rd
basemen usually hit with more power?

It is easy to forget that Castro was born in 1990, and that he will gain
most of his strength in the next seven years.  He will never have
A-Roid power, but maybe Jeter power.  The most pleasant development of
2010 has been that, for once, we can believe the hype.  Starlin Castro
seems to be for real.

3) Here comes Adam Dunn

A couple of years ago, when it was late in the free-agent season
(this was the year we signed Milton Bradley early, remember) and Adam
Dunn still did not have a team.  The only substantial offer for a man
who had averaged 40 homers a year the previous five years was from the
godforesaken Nats, and human nature being what it is, there rose an
effort to find out what, if anything, was wrong with Dunn.

Rumors arose that Dunn did not like playing baseball much, that much of
the conversations that would arise when opposing players would stand on
first base next to the Big Donkey revolved around offseason hunting. 
Growing up, Dunn was a football player first, and teams perhaps
questioned his character when formulating contract offers for a
one-dimensional guy.

So, he has played nearly every day in Washington, has continued to hit
his 40 homers a year, and has weathered two trade deadlines.  You know
what?  The man would rather play football and shoot pheasants.  But he still hits and we are going to sign a first baseman this winter.

And just
our luck, watch us sign the guy and watch him age faster than the Nazi
mope in "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  In my gut, I see us going after
Adrian Gonzalez his off season, and ending up with Adam Dunn.  Because
Dunn has always been one of "Hendry's Guys", like the Marquis Du Suck
and Kosuke Fukudome, and we always seem to end up with Hendry's guys.

2) Since nobody seems to know what is going on, Hendry is staying, I guess

The inmates run the asylum at Wrigley Field.  As bad as the Cubs have performed, and for as much pressure that the General Manager of a team such as ours ought to be under, compounded by the fact that he has a known history of heart trouble, Jim Hendry looks pretty damn healthy.

Is he taking his statins and his red krill oil?  Maybe, but hey, why shouldn't he look healthy?  He has the greatest job in the world.  Where else in American business can you mess up, again and again, and nobody calls you on it?  Wall Street?  Well, yeah, but those guys always have the specter of the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission, not the high-falutin college football conference) breathing down their necks.  Lots of those guys jump off bridges, lock themselves in their garages with their Bentleys running, but not Jim Hendry.  His boss is a failed corporate attorney who doesn't know spit from shinola, who in turn works for a owner who is more concerned with piss troughs and gaudy neon signs than a winning ballclub.

There is only one man on earth who gets to play fantasy baseball for real, and lose all the time, and not get called on the carpet for it.  Until there is some accountability established in the Cubs' organization, what you see this year is what you will continue to get in the future.

1) 2011 is going to look a lot like 2010.

Soriano will play for the Cubs next year.  Ramirez will play for the Cubs next year.  Fukudome will sit on the bench and take the Cubs' money next year.  Byrd and Colvin and Castro and DeWitt and Soto will play for the Cubs next year.  Jim Hendry has no ability and no gumption to make a blockbuster trade involving young major league talent for impact major leaguers in return.  Could you see him somehow packaging Castro and Colvin in a trade for, say, Albert Pujols?  Maybe not Pujols, because a Cubs-Cardinals trade will NEVER happen, but something of that magnitude?  How about for Miggy Cabrera or Joe Mauer?  Young stars for a superstar?  Never happen.

As for the pitching, good lord.  While the positional outlook seems stale yet static, the pitching outlook is totally fluid, and utterly without direction.  We have a #2 starter, maybe a #4, a closer and a utility guy, a LOOGY who isn't really a LOOGY with a torn knee ligament, and about 20 other guys who have walked a lot of batters and given up a lot of late-game home runs.  You can't fix that.  The only thing you can do is throw a ton of money at it, and HOPE the guys you sign don't get injured or fat-and-sassy. 

And Ricketts is NOT going to spend a lot of money in the offseasons.  So forget about the Ol' Free Agent Injection.

Fans of the Chicago National League Ballclub have survived the past 102 years on one glorious element: hope.  Yep, the same hope that got our president elected, the same hope that is being frittered away by this same president each day.  Hope is perishable.

I ate whole platterfuls of Cubs hope as a kid, and into my early adulthood.  I confess to have spent good money on the all-you-can-eat hope buffet as recently as fall of 2008.  Nowadays, there is very little fresh hope in the steamer, most of it is discolored and spoiled, like the bananas Soriano and the Fukudome skirt steak.

Our third base prospect, Josh Vitters, is rehabbing.  The next great Korean hope is still years away.  Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the next big thing, but I can't figure out what that thing is supposed to be, unless he is supposed to be a Matt Karchner impersonator.  That's something he does quite well.

But hey, Castro went 4-for-5 yesterday.  Rookie of the Year, gotta be?  Right?

Z's New(?) Strategy (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Giants 4)

A few days ago I tweeted a quote I saw in an article about Carlos Zambrano's soon-to-be-triumphant return to the Cubs rotation:

"Like Larry Rothschild said, I have to throw the ball no matter what and don't try to locate it," said Z.

It's fairly obvious that Carlos meant what he said at that time, as the man walked seven batters in five innings last night. I guess his start actually ended up turning out OK, as he only allowed two earned runs during his start (although one of those came on a wild pitch). But that sure doesn't seem like a sustainable strategy going forward, right?

This one came down to a battle of bullpen depth, as the game stood tied at three runs a piece after nine innings of play -- and we all know how much depth the Cubs have in their bullpen (hint: < 0).

Indeed, after Alan Trammel burned through Justin Berg, James Russell, Andrew Cashner, and Sean Marshall in the first nine innings, we were treated last night to the debut of the Cubs' latest Iowa callup, Marcos Mateo. Mateo almost lost the game in the 10th, but was saved by a pair of good throws from Tyler Colvin and Mike Fontenot. Fortunately, Marcos was able to finish the job in the 11th, guaranteeing the Cubs a loss.

Now, our best hitter is on the DL, and our starting first baseman is an even worse hitter than Derrek Lee. But maybe Wellington Castillo can save the season? At any rate, he should replace Koyie Hill on the roster when Soto comes back.

Go Cubs!

Reader Blog: Week 12 awards: aaaaand scene

Well, that's all she wrote. The curtain is closed on the 2010 Cubs season (or at least on its chances of involving a postseason). Little did we know on the morning of April 7 how dreadfully terrible "Year One" would be. If it were a play, I would give it zero stars. DO NOT WATCH THIS PLAY! Give the tickets to the nearest homeless person and apologize to him as you do so.

It's fitting that the Cubs lost the so-called "BP Cup" because they're the BP of baseball, and not just because Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano are usually throwing batting practice to the opposing hitters. They are an absolute disaster, a failure that only William Shakespeare could give due description.

Hopefully a few of the players will be exiting stage right in the near future. Ted Lilly should bring a decent return, in my opinion. He has 46 wins as a Cub and could help a National League contender down the stretch. How Hendry will get anything for guys like Fukudome and Lee, I have no idea, but I don't see Lee returning and we have no need for the $12 million man next year with Colvin here to stay.

I'll tell you, with the Cardinals in first and the Sox on a tear, this is turning into an absolutely brutal season for me. I think I am now in a place mentally where I can start rooting for the Reds to win. No, I don't want to see Dusty Baker in the playoffs, but goddamn do I hate those redbirds.

Goat of the Week: Have to start with the Goat this week because it was just that kind of week. I think I have no choice but to go with the entire offense. The eight runs yesterday were nice, but they scored six runs in the five games before that. Six runs make for a decent game but a pretty bad week. It's really not worth singling any one player out--they're all pretty terrible. None of them can hit when it matters, and now everything after the All-Star break won't matter.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

For Big Z to have launched into an angry tirade within the confines of the clubhouse would have been bad, but to do it in front of the cameras--to have yet another immature explosion on camera--was unacceptable. The suspension was certainly warranted, and the Cubs might as well put him on waivers and see if another team wants to roll the dice on an overpaid hothead.

Ryno of the Week: Eight innings/two runs and seven innings/three runs for Ryan Dempster. His 11 quality starts this season tie him for 11th in the NL in that category.

Derrek Lee IS a deadass, but....


...you just don't do what Carlos Zambrano did today.

So, now, what's gonna happen?  Not much, I'm afraid.  The league isn't going to agree to "sponsor" an indefinite leave of absence for Z.  A few games, at most, of league-backed suspension, and then he has to return to the team.  Hendry talked out his own ass as much as you'll ever hear him today, but don't believe his threat that he intends to ride out the string one man short. 

For one thing, Lou won't abide by that, not that Lou has any room to make any demands at this point.  A team takes its cues from his manager, and Lou Piniella is a defeated man.  He is every bit as defeated as the 2006 Dustbag or the 2002 Smooth Baylor.  Lee and most of the rest of the team look like they are just going through the motions, waiting for a change to be made.

This long-awaited change isn't going to happen.  Piniella is no quitter - he will gut out the rest of the year, not so much because he wants the remainder of his money...well, maybe it is the money.  But he isn't going to quit.  Hendry will never fire Lou, because based on the unwritten "2 field managers per general manager" rule...he hired Baker, ran his course, then hired Lou.  Typical baseball etiquette dictates that the next field manager for the Cubs will be hired by a new GM.

As for the owner...his hand was forced when Lou ran his biggest investment and highest-paid player into the bullpen, which introduced all sorts of injury risk, and Ricketts decided it was a good time to plan an African safari.  The Ricketts family is doing NOTHING with this damn team.  They are Wrigley Field owners, and the on-field product is secondary to the good times and revenue streams generated by the butts in the stands.

And as long as the days and nights are warm, the beer is cold, and the bathrooms accessible, the Chads and Trixies and all the Keokuk housefraus will keep spinning the turnstiles. 

What you see is what you got, folks.  Z will be back in a week or so.  Nobody wants his dumb ass at this point, even IF Ricketts opted to eat the contract, which they won't.  So you'll have a bunch of guys walking on eggshells the rest of the year, making their fishing and hunting plans, and counting the days.

If you choose to follow this team the rest of the year, prepare for disappointment more often than not.  Enjoy Lou stuttering his way through the post-game conferences the rest of the summer, one he'll never accomplish.  Enjoy Ramirez's stirring quest to reach .200.  Enjoy Lee Eating Ass ala the 2001 McGriff.  Enjoy watching once promising young guys like Soto, Theriot, Colvin and Wells play their way into oblivion.  Enjoy Carlos Zambrano acting like a petulant tool the rest of the year, leaving game after game early and burning out whats left of our bullpen.

And Good Lord, if they manage to win a game once in a while, by all means, play the song, wave the flag, and swill the Kool-Aid.  Every time they manage to score more than they give up, please, bang the pans and proclaim that THIS is the game where they turn it around and make a run. 

Because that's what you want, isn't it?  Blind, unconditional hope? 

Not me, goddammit.  I have two degrees, and I have been deemed 'redundant' by three companies in four years.  I have two sons, 17 and 21, who call me disappointing because I can't understand why they want to do all the things they do.  I wake up each day wondering if this just might be the day that one of the major arteries clogs shut, or perhaps the headaches I've been having the last two weeks aren't stress after all, but something far more sinister.

I need an escape, I need some GOOD news, and right now, the Chicago Cubs ain't it.  They remind me too much of life on THIS side of the TV screen.

Feast, famine, and the Cubs (Game Recaps: Cubs 12, Angels 13)

I owe you two recaps: one for a blowout loss, and one for a blowout win. Let's go with the revisionist's take on the weekend, and only highlight the Cubs that impressed.

- Carlos Zambrano. Seven innings, eight hits, just one walk, and seven strikeouts. Brilliant. This is what we want from our bull-like horse-pitcher.
(I guess that makes him a minotaur? Kurt, photoshop please?)

- Andrew Cashner, Carlos Marmol, and - yes - John Grabow each pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Marmol struck out two of the four batters he faced.

- Derrek Lee went 2-for-7 over the two days, driving in four runs.

- Actually, Tyler Colvin was the only other Cub to drive in more than one run, with two RBIs on Sunday via pinch-hit single. (He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Saturday, but who's counting?)

- Ryan Theriot went 3-for-4 on Sunday, and 0-for-1 on Saturday.

- Others: Byrd, 3-for-10 on the weekend; Soriano, 2-for-5; Baker, 2-for-6; and Carlos Zambrano went 2-for-4.

The real lesson here: Jered Weaver would light up the NL, and Joe Saunders is not that good. And the Cubs are, somehow someway, still kinda sorta almost a team in contention except not really.

Also: think anyone wants to trade for Lilly or DLee as of right now?

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