The Cubs have had plenty of problems on offense this season, and they've struggled at times on the mound. But last week, their most prominent deficiency was in the field. After committing a rather unreasonable 12 errors in six games, they have now committed the third-most in the majors. Errors last week:
Lee: 3 (committed six all of last season)
The Cubs allowed four unearned runs in a 9-5 loss Tuesday, four more in a 7-6 loss Friday, and had they not given the Angels four more on Saturday, they would have ... well, lost 8-0. But still.
I was "lucky" enough to see Saturday's demolition in person, and I guess we can't be surprised that this feast or famine team followed up that drubbing with a 12-1 pounding of their own. Here's hoping the offense can remain locked in as the Cubs will face two Seattle starters with sub-three ERAs, including Cliff Lee, and then Felix Hernandez.
Ryno of the Week: Colvin continued to rake, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, six RBI and three runs scored. He's now hitting .339 at home. But how nice was it to see Carlos Zambrano put together a couple good starts, especially yesterday's? His line--7 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 7 K--was his best of the season, and he added two hits and an RBI just for the heck of it.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady
Goat of the Week: Alfonso Soriano continues to look lost at the plate despite two hits yesterday, but being there live to see Ted Lilly get banged around leads me to give him this inglorious distinction. He needed 104 pitches to get through 5.1, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He's been great this year, but Saturday just wasn't his day.
Two errors each from two players cost the Cubs in two big innings for the A's.
In the fourth, Derrek Lee misplayed a Trevor Cahill (read: AL pitcher) forceout on one play, and followed that up with a missed catch error on the very next play. Admittedly, Carlos Zambrano had not looked good so far in that inning, allowing the first four batters in the inning to reach base. But Z did his best to get out of it as quickly as possible, and unfortunately Lee wasn't there -- something that doesn't happen often, to be sure.
Yes, Big Z is prone to the mental-lapse-induced blowout performance; sometimes he just loses it, and the other team all of a sudden gets eight or nine runs. But one of the man's best qualities is that he's capable of overcoming that and continuing to pitch through trouble. (Case in point: 2008 NLDS, Game 2. I will never forget that game, and neither should you when people start bitching about Z.)
After Zambrano toughed through six innings, the game was put away in the seventh via a rough appearance from Jeff Stevens, made worse by two errors in right field from Tyler Colvin.
A few Cubs reached base twice with a hit and a walk, but the only guy who really deserves kudos for his hitting is Tyler Colvin, who went 2-for-4 with a home run. His slugging percentage is now eight points over .600, and his OPS is up to .967.
Just so you know, here are the top six Cub hitters in terms of slugging:
Interpret that as you will. And go Cubs!
Props to the bats in last night's game. The Cubs can actually hit -- who knew!
In particular, Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto can hit. Each had two home runs. Derrek Lee added one of his own to give the Cubs five taters against Brewers starter Randy Wolf.
Geovany Soto is now hitting .269/.406/.463 on the season, with seven home runs. He's within striking distance of the .285/.364/.504 he hit in 2008.
Marlon Byrd is leading the NL in batting average, and has 21 doubles and nine home runs. And 34 RBI. And four steals. Very nice, Marlon.
And Derrek Lee's home run last night was a big one -- the 300th of his career. Bravo to that guy. Here's to his continuing to figure out how to get going again this season.
Carlos "The Starter" Zambrano got the win last night, giving up just two hits over five innings. Except actually, he wasn't very dominant: five walks, a HBP, and just two strikeouts. And one of the two hits he gave up was a two-run double to Randy Wolf. Oh well, it was good enough.
Kudos to Andrew Cashner for posting two shut down innings in relief. It's feeling like this team FINALLY has the last three innings of the ball game covered with Cashner, Marshall, and Marmol (all 100% Chicago Cubs products, I might add).
So, yeah: Hooray!
Astros 3 Cubs 1
I didn't see the game so if people want to add some insight to this in the comment field, feel free!
Zambrano looked meh, ok. 94. that is the velocity of Z's fastball when he's going good and he has a decent K/BB rate when that happens. Last night, from all reports, he was living at 91 and we do know he had a 3/3 K/BB ratio. I fear that Pineilla may have made Z's a fairly useless pitcher by sending him to bullpen purgatory for a month and a half.
As for the offense, yeah, they got a little unlucky as if you hit 11 flyballs, as the boxscore indicated, of of Paulino, one oughta fly out. But having said that, they are just not hitting right now. There is no easy way to say it. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't pick it up in a big way by the end of June, it will time to start seriously considering sunk costs with him and release him. I'm not saying I will be favor of that and I love Aramis for what he has done for the Cubs these last seven years but really, Aramis? .158? Come on man!
It's as simple as this. The Cubs' pitching and run prevention has been stellar and their offense, a league average unit, has been less than that. You need to score to win, even if your pitching is on a roll. Get them today boys!
Since the greatness that is The Cubs Management Think Tank can't think of anything better, allow me to hit you with some knowledge: the foolproof, sure-to-work Cubs Rotation Attack Plan for Starters (CRAPS).
Note: This idea is nowhere close to original.
Let's call Andrew Cashner ready-to-go as a big league starter. And we know Sean Marshall has started previously as well. So if we add those two guys, plus Everyone Loves Carlos Zambrano, to our current rotation, we have eight dudes that can go multiple innings.
Next, let's group those eight into two four-man camps: hosses and non-hosses. Hosses are guys who can definitely throw 100+ quality pitches a game. Demp and Z are locks for this group, and in my humble opinion Wells and Lilly are the next best candidates. By default, that puts Silva, Gorz, Marsh, and Cash in our non-hoss group.
Finally, the pairings:
Dempster - Marshall
Lilly - Silva
Wells - Gorzelanny
Zambrano - Cashner
The first three pairings match righties with lefties, while the last one gives Cashner the hossiest of hosses on which to rely for his appearances.
I think you can see where I'm going with this: every fourth day, we start with a hoss, cut him off in the 85-90 pitch range, and then hand over the next two to four innings to our non-hoss. Out in the 'pen, you of course have Marmol, and then either two or three other guys to serve basically as ROOGYs and LOOGYs for the transition from one starter to the other.
This would work, right?
Um, Bob Howry? Really? Howry has gotten worse since he left the Cubs. Don't let the 3.39 ERA for the Giants fool you. Howry is a massive fly ball pitcher who has a diminishing K rate and seems to have lost the control he once possessed. This is a bad signing Hendry. I'd rather they call up Jay Jackson or Andrew Cashner.
Speaking of Jackson, the Cubs have an embarrassment of riches in #2 and #3 type starters. Right now, they have the following pitchers I would categorize as likely #2 guys:
And the following pitchers I would categorize as #3 guys:
Carlos Silva (at least for now)
Also the following pitchers are potentially in this same boat:
Now for whatever reason, Jackson has been pitching in relief in Iowa but realistically the Cubs are really just missing a real #1 starter in order to have what is quite possibly the best rotation in baseball. #1 starters are usually hard to find but it's an interesting problem to have.
This begs the question. Who the Hell goes back to the bullpen when a certain large, bat weilding Venezuelen re-enters the rotation? Certainly not Gorzelanny who continues to pitch his brains out. You can't take Silva out of the rotation. Dempster is not a good choice as he's pretty much now spent 2 and a quarter years as the Cubs nominal ace. Lilly doesn't seem right. Either does Wells. I have no clue. I don't think the powers that be on the Cubs have a clue either. They almost seem to be hoping for an injury or for one of these pitchers to blow up but that just isn't happening.
Carlos Zambrano looked terrible today.
Someone mentioned on Twitter while Z was pitching, "He never looks good in his first inning, even when he starts." This is an absolutely true statement. Z's value is in his durability, his toughness, his ability to throw 120 pitches and grit it out when you need a starter to give you at least six innings.
Did I mention this bullpen experiment is a terrible idea?
Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen owned Cubs pitchers today. They both had five hits. Pretty crazy, huh? That makes me think: what is this team going to do against the league's premier offenses when we get around to facing them? It's gonna be ugly. I'm scared. I'm shaking right now.
I've asked it before and I'll asked it again: Why is Xavier Nady hitting cleanup? I. Do. Not. Understand. You know what I'd be doing if I were Lou? I'd have Jeff Baker in right field against lefties.
That's what I've got for now. Go Cubs!
When the Cubs first made the Zambrano to the bullpen move, I was skeptical. Zambrano is, if not the Cubs best pitcher, their second best or maybe third best behind Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. I never cared about the amount of money he was paid but I did care that he would be pitching fewer innings. Giving fewer innings to one of your best pitchers only works if you don't drop that number by too much and figure out a way to increase the leverage situations he will be coming in.
If the Cubs had used Z as sort of a 6th starter and had him pitch almost every 7th and 8th inning. If they had used him to come in 6th inning when the other team's middle of the lineup was coming up and if they had made sure he got a minimum of 5 innings per week, this could have worked. It could have been a good idea. Fewer innings but better innings. More important innings. Work him on 1-2 days rest at most and alternate him in that role with Sean Marshall. It may have even allowed the Cubs to go with an 11 man or even a 10 man pitching staff.
But has that happened? No. Z moved to the bullpen on April 24, almost 2 weeks ago. He has just barely cleared 5 innings. He should be at least at 10 innings by now. He is being used as a standard 8th inning "set up" guy. Piniella and the Cubs could have done something useful. They could have turned Z into the team savior. Instead he's buried. He needs to go back into the rotation. He's a better pitcher right now than all but one of the Cubs' current rotation. Only Ryan Dempster is obviously better. If Piniella doesn't know what to do with Z in the bullpen, it's time for that experiment to end.
Seems like four was a magic number tonight. Cubs win their fourth straight by scoring their fourth run of the game on a four pitch walk. Should ESPN ever decide to go with an ESPN4, the highlight of A-Ram taking the walk should clearly be the centerpiece of the commercial.
The game itself wasn't pretty by any means, but it was finally a relief to have one of "those" games tilt in the Cubs' favor. The Cubs opened the scoring in the second by stringing together doubles by Byrd and A-Ram. Later that inning, Silva the (quality start) Hutt got an RBI on a bases loaded walk. For the record, Silva has 2 RBI in 10 plate appearances while Milton Bradley has 10 RBI in 52 plate apperances. Just saying, if you project it out, the production is about the same...
The second inning rally ended with a "here we go again" moment when Theriot flew out to right and watched Willy Taveres gun Soto at home. Even the most optimistic Cub fan tends to get a little nervous when a momentum-changing moment such as that play occurs, and I am no exception. The Cubs tacked on another run in the third on a Byrd infield single, driving in Baker who had tripled two batters earlier. The Cubs didn't score after that until the bottom of the tenth, when Ramirez drew the bases loaded walk.
The real story was once again the starting pitching staff. Carlos Silva turned in another quality start with a final line of 7 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. Silva sent down the first nine batters he faced in the game. He hit a bit of a rocky patch in the fourth inning when he allowed two runs on three hits. Even more interesting than the fact that Silva turned in a quality start is the fact that today's start was the first start that Silva allowed more than one earned run. Moreover, over his first four starts he has a 1.73 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. Because Silva has only walked three batters in over 26 innings, it's not like he's pitching on a mound surrounded by four leaf clovers while hiding a horsehoe in his jock. However, because he is currently holding batters to a .173 BABIP, his numbers are due to regress as the season goes on. Despite all of that, color me impressed so far with Silva's start to the season. I didn't think he'd cut our rotation out of Spring Training, much less be one of our most productive starters.
The bullpen was near flawless tonight as well. Marshall, Marmol and Zambrano combined for 3 scoreless innings. The latter, Zambrano, made his Wrigley Field debut out of the 'pen and only gave up a hit over 1 2/3 innings. While I was only able to watch on Gamecast when Z was in the game, it seemed like he was relying a little bit too much on his fastball. To be honest, it felt like his Opening Day pitch sequence but with better results. I know that he is still re-learning the process of coming out of the bullpen, and that part of that process is understanding what pitches are "on" on any given night. However, out of the 27 pitches Z threw over the 1 2/3 innings he was in, 22 of them were fastballs. Again, he was effective, but I'd like to see him mix it up a bit more in the future.
Regardless of those criticisms, winning does solve a lot of things. The bats are awake, the pitching staff has been solid, and the Cubs have won four straight and made the jump into second place in the division standings. I'd love to see the momentum continue for the ballclub and watch the Cubs run the streak to five tomorrow.