Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Carlos Zambrano

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Gamecast: September 15th vs. Brewers

GameCastYovani Gallardo (12-11, 3.59 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (8-6, 3.77 ERA)
Story Lines

The Cubs almost had a perfect night last night. They found a way to win without much offense, the Giants lost, but the Cardinals out-slugged the Marlins (which wasn't all bad, since the Cubs trail the Marlins in the Wild Card).

The Cubs are 6.5 games back in the Wild Card with 20 games left. That's a lot of games to make up, of course it is worse because the Giants, Braves and Marlins are still ahead of the Cubs. The Cubs are actually tied in the loss column with the Braves and Marlins now, so there is some hope.

Tonight's game is the worse match-up for the Cubs with Gallardo on the mound, but the Cubs are ready to break loose, I can feel it. Still, the playoff chances are really tiny right now. Lets just say the Rockies the finish 9-8 in their last 17 games. That would mean the Cubs would need to go 17-3, just to tie. I just don't see that happening. Now, if the Rockies fall apart and go 5-12, that is another story, but that would be a tough assignment as well.

Who's Hot
Derrek Lee - Lee's like a broken record, but in a good way. He hit another home run last night to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead, which turned out to be enough. He's hitting .304 overall now, and has 33 HR's. If the Cubs do make the playoffs somehow, it will be because of D-Lee.

Aramis Ramirez - Two more hits and he's hitting .324 now, which would be the highest average of his career. Too bad, he missed all that time this year.

Who's Not
Jeff Baker - Maybe it's time to give Fontenot a start. Baker's 1 for his last 18, which now opens the question of second base in 2010.

Everybody else - Only Jake Fox and Mike Fontenot picked up hits last night after our two best players.

Conclusions
The Cubs have to stockpile some wins to have a chance, and I would love to see the Giants sweep the Rockies, while the Cubs sweep the Brewers. If that happened, the Cubs would be 4 games back heading into the weekend.

Trading Zambrano

Since both major Chicago papers and ESPN Chicago have essentially the same story in it this morning, let's mention it here - Carlos Zambrano is officially on the shopping block.

Oh, really?

Those of us who remember the end of 2004, recall how all the local outlets, led by the Tribune, seemed to do a 180 on Sammy Sosa, with seemingly new revelations about how poor of a teammate he was, how insubordinate he was, and how badly he wanted to play elsewhwere.

So go out there today.  The Big Toro we all know and love supposedly does not want to play here anymore, and will waive his no-trade clause.  Big Z is lazy, childish, underachieving, complains about being yanked from games, and is fed up with the Chicago media because they begrudged him a little quality daddy-daughter softball time.  In effect, he is being painted as one of the key Fall Guys for 2009.  He deserves a bit of this treatment - all of this is based on some degree on fact - but to think he is one of the top 3 Cubs problems of 2009 is wrong.  He is no more liable for all this than, say. Alfonso Soriano.

Essentially, it boils down to this: the Cubs want to get rid of Z, and their PR machine is hard at work, greasing the skids by alienating Cub Nation against him by listing all his sins in the media.  By the time this abortion of a season is over, Cub Fandom will turn against him, the way they turned against Sosa, with the nudge provided by the papers and talk shows.

What do we think of all this here at GROTA?  We think it's bunk!

Yes, he makes Staff Ace money, the most of any Cub, and he isn't a Staff Ace.  That's not HIS fault.  Once again, there is no evidence that Carlos held a Grach to Hendry's temple and forced him to write down the terms of his swollen pact.  What's more, his contract, when factored into any trade scenario, means that we will not get dollar-for-dollar value in any exchange.  We will eat the difference, either in player value or monetarily.

Honestly, there is no need to trade the man, given the uneven exchange rate of such a transaction.  He is and would be a great innings-eating #2 or #3 starter, provided we ourselves could then attract a true Staff Ace, one that provides leadership and takes much of the focus and attention AWAY from Z.

The path to ultimate victory does not include trading Zambrano away for a fraction of his worth.

Game and Series Recap: Cubs 1, Mets 4 (2 to 1) -- Oh no! We suck again!

Unsurprisingly, the Cubs were shut down by another crappy fringe starter today. Also, Carlos Zambrano got rocked. All in all, a great day for Cubs fans!

It's not usually easy to get double digit strikeouts in a game as a starting pitcher, but somehow Nelson Figueroa managed to do it today. He must have been pitching against a really bad offense. Honestly, how did this guy make it to the eighth inning?!

Milton Bradley is creeping even closer to the .270 mark; he went 1-for-2 in today's game. And Derrek Lee somehow managed to leave three men on base despite going 2-for-4. That kind of year, I guess.

As for the pitching, it sounds like Carlos is not quite right yet. When you give up 11 hits in less than four innings, there's something you're not doing correctly. From the stuff I read after the fact, it sounded like it was a mechanical issue, with Carlos opening up his shoulder for too long, or maybe too soon, or something. Anyway, I wouldn't really worry about it as a long term thing, but it'd be nice if he could remember proper pitching mechanics sometime soon.

The Cubs ended up winning the series this weekend, which is nice--but it seemed like they were trying their best to lose it. Pat Misch and Nelson Figueroa combined to allow just two runs in 14 innings, for Christ's sakes.

And now the Cubs are ten back. Rest easy, Kurt--things really are that bad!

Current Record: 65-63
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 10 whole games out
Best Possible Record: 99-63 (hahahaha)
Worst Possible Record: 65-97
Record needed to win 90: 25-9 (hahahahahaha)
On Pace For: suck

Cubs 101 - Pt. 56 - The Invincible and Immature Carlos Zambrano

Brought to you by Coast to Coast Tickets!
Carlos Zambrano started off as just one of an entire battalion of young signees from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America, acquired during Jim Hendry's stint as the Director of Player Development.  Then he was one of an entire squadron of young interchangeable arms brought up to shore the miserable Cubs pitching staffs of the early part of the decade.  Z was first brought to our attention by then-pitching coach Oscar Acosta.  Acosta, of course, in the end has been judged to be batshit crazy, due to the fights he would pick with his players and fellow coaches.  I guess Oscar, in his own special way was stamping Z with his seal of approval, because I suppose if he didn't see something in Z, he wouldn't have cared.  However, he showed his love for Z by accusing him of being fat, immature, and lazy.

Carlos, for his part, and not for the last time in his career, told his coach to stick his opinion up his ass.

So okay, Zambrano was on the map, what was up with this kid?  The next thing we all noticed about him was that he battled.  In his first couple of years, he had to battle very hard, particularly from the high number of walks he gave up.  Z has always had "stuff", a great sinker to go along with his strong, heavy fastball.  But he has always been someone who has pitched much more with his heart, than with his head.  That means, many times, he has had to work hard, not smart, during his career.  Working hard means lots of pitches, thrown under duress, and you know us Cub fans and our recent history with pitchers.  During a time when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood was always hurt, and with Dusty (Pitcher Abuse) Baker at the helm, many of us held our breath, waiting for Z to fall apart, too.  Yet, his right arm remained attached to his socket.

So, after his gutty late-season performances in 2003, and his spectacular 2004 where he posted a 2.75 ERA while winning 16 games, coupled with the fragility of Wood and Prior, nearly everyone in Cub World, from the fans to management, annoited big Z as the Staff Ace.

On this website, I have defined the concept of true Staff Ace several times, but the 25 words or less summarization is thus: the Staff Ace must excel in all aspects of the pitching craft: physical, mental, emotional, by posting superlative results, by leading his teammates, and by showing durability.  In many aspects, Zambrano has what it takes.  He does have superior stuff.  He has learned much of the craft of pitching - when he focuses himself, he is practically untouchable, as was evidenced last September in Milwaukee, against the Astros (and we all know the history of that sentence, more later).  Furthermore, he has endeared many in Cub World with his heart - he cares about winning, that much is clear.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  He even enhances his status by doubling as the best hitting pitcher in the game today, and one of the better right-handed hitters you will ever see, anywhere. 

The fact that he is, as a pitcher, a practicing switch-hitter (I hope Jason isn't listening!) speaks to the utterly flaky nature of his personality, and unfortunately, it is the flakiness that has, so far in his career, led to his not reaching his full potential or his fully earning his monstrous $90+ million contract he signed prior to the 2007 season.  For all of his physical talents and mental toughness, Zambrano frequently breaks nearly all the unwritten rules of how to play baseball and be a good teammate.

It certainly isn't HIS fault that Hendry handed him that contract.  To the best of my knowledge, nobody put guns to Jim's head or left severed horse heads in Hendry's bed.  But we as sports fans have certain expectations for those fortunate souls who become the highest paid members of our teams.  Like remaining in top physical condition 365 days a year.  Like cheerfully adhering to all training regimens put forth by the medical staff, and by willingly complying to all requested adjustments suggested by management, coaches, and staff.  Like not calling out his teammates for their failings, real and imagined.  Like not purposely antagonizing umpires.  Like not making inflammatory statements in the media. Like not beating up your catcher for calling a bad game (although, it turns out Mike Barrett was dumber than a bucket of mud, so in the long list of 'Z Occurrences', this is way down the list.)

But Zambrano is El Toro, he is The Lawnmower, he is Big Z, and he pretty much does and says whatever pops into his mind at the time.  Now, for all of his faults, he remains a favorite player of mine, even though much of what he does runs counter to the ultimate goal of a Cubs World Series.  How can you NOT love a great big boy, who rails against injustices, who looks like he can put away a very hearty meal, and several cervezas in one sitting?  Z's appeal is that he is like many of us, with visible, mildly destructive faults.  Most of us can relate, and in fact deep in our hearts admit that we would react the Very Same Way to things that he does.

The problem is, though, that none of us occupy the same shoes he wears.  He has monumental responsbilities to his management, his teammates, and to us, due to the role he has chosen, for himself, by taking on his astronomical contract.  Perhaps it isn't fair.  It may be that our society as a whole has their priorities out of whack, that a physically gifted man can command this kind of money when our teachers, firefighters, policemen, blah blah.  But baseball teams, like nearly all earthly entities, have a finite pool of resources to draw from.  And it is true that more people pay to see Carlos Zambrano pitch than, say, an Aaron Heilman.  But the money that Z makes prevents us from, say, signing three average major-league ballplayers that might help us plug holes in the roster otherwise.  So Zambrano does bear an outsized portion of the responsbility for the success of this ballclub.

And how does he respond?  By having his forearms cramp up because of excessive computer usage at night.  By having his whole body cramp up because of excessive consumption of energy drinks.  By berating his teammates who do not cut off base hits into the gaps.  By going on the DL doing very non-pitcheresque things, like swinging for homers in batting practice.  By alienating certain segments of the MLB umpiring pool for all eternity by symbolically "throwing them out" of ball games.  By publicly flirting with Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox, and, most recently, by demanding trades because things aren't going well with the Cubs, which has attracted the media scrutiny that goes along with playing for the franchise that has gone the longest without a title in all of professional sports.

I am fully aware of his many accomplishements: the first Cubs no-hitter since 1972, on that surreal night in Milwaukee; his three All-Star nods; his 103 wins and his 3.50 career ERA.  In today's Offensive era, he has NEVER had an ERA above 4.  But he has led the league in walks twice, and when he is determined to pitch his "own" game (as opposed to the game plan agreed to by the rest of the team), he racks up tons of pitches, thus necessitating his early removal and subsequent bullpen use.  At some point in his career, he needs to put the needs of the Cubs BEFORE his own needs.  That is simply the nature of team sports.  It might make the game less fun, I suppose. 

Carlos Zambrano.  Man's man, guy's guy.  Mas macho.  A human bulldozer.  Entertaining as all get out.  But NOT a Staff Ace, and unless he can Grow Up in a hurry, will ultimately contribute more to the continuation of the Drought than its elimination.

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Gamecast: August 27 vs. Nationals - No. 1 Starter

GameCastJ.D. Martin (2-3, 4.76 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (9-6, 2.84 ERA)

Story Lines

Today, instead of rehashing the same old GameCast, we will start a series of looks at different players that are signed for next year, and some of the free agents. I will take a quick look at their preformance and some overall contract numbers. Feel free to debate the mertis of the players in the comment section.

Starting Pitcher - No. 1 Starter (Carlos Zambrano)

Contract 2009: 17.8 Million


Contract 2010:17.9 Million


Stats 2009: 7-5, 3.80 ERA in 128 innings. 105/60 K/BB Ratio with a 1.38 WHIP


Carlos Zambrano is paid like his is the ace of the staff. While he is a prefectly fine pitcher, it doesn't seem like he is going to win too many Cy Youngs in the future. 2009 will be the second year in a row where Big Z. does not pitch 200 innings, and his strikeouts have fallen once again. At least his opposing OPS has not really taken off, so people are not hitting him hard, but he has a tough time getting the K when he really needs it.


His contract is pretty big and the good thing is that it does not really jump any higher over the last three years. The problem is that he is getting almost 18 million. Ted Lilly has pitched better and thrown more innings, but makes six million less than Carlos. That being said, Carlos has the ability to turn things around and become one of the best pitchers in the NL if he starts to train a little bit more. Hopefully, he is serious about losing weight in the offseason and that will make him a better pitcher. 

If you look at Carlos, he is really a great snapshot of the Cubs' season. He's been up and down, and the Cubs certainly been up and down. Carlos has three years left on his deal, and baring a trade he will finish up his deal at Age 31, so there is still time for him to turn in a few more solid years. Tomorrow will look at Ted Lilly and what is probaly Jim Hendry's best FA signing ever.

Running Totals:
Payroll for 2010: 17.9 Million

Who's Hot
Milton Bradley - Can you believe it? When the games become basically meaningless, Bradley heats up and drives in three runs.



Koyie Hill - Don't look now, but Koyie's average is up to .242 after a three-hit night last night. It doesn't hurt that he is playing the Nationals, but hey I don't see Geovany Soto hitting.

Who's Not

Carlos Marmol - The Cubs got a nice seven-run lead, before Marmol walked the bases loaded. I still say the Cubs might want to look for some relievers in the offseason.

Aaron Miles  -  I know he laid down a sac bunt in the 7th, but he still sucks and he didn't get a hit.

Conclusions

The Cubs finally won last night, but didn't gain ground since Roy Oswalt decided to give up three runs in an inning. A win today would be nice, because winning is better to deal with.

Lazy is the four-letter word of 2009

In 2008, all we heard was that Contract Year Ryan Dempster was running up and down mountains to get himself in shape for the starting rotation, and that Geovany Soto credited his outstanding 2007 campaign to weight loss.  It was a Hungry Team, embarrassed by their early exit from the NLDS.  Then we went out and won 97 games.  Dempster got a huge contract, and Soto won Rookie of the Year.

So what has happened so far this year?  This isn't the same Hungry team.  Kosuke Fukudome was told to 'work on his core' over the off-season.  During a hot month of April, he admitted that he didn't do what he was told.  He then sucked hot toast during May and June.  Soto came back visibly slower and bigger, and everyone pointed to the World Baseball Classic, which lasted three weeks, not possibly long enough for Soto to put the weight on that he had.  Then, later, it turns out he was smoking weed at some point last winter.  Then he missed over a month due to pulled abdominal muscles, not an injury that happens to athletes in peak condition.  Now, the latest admission of the "L" word came out today.

Carlos Zambrano, he of the back spasms, wasn't speaking.  Ooooh, what deep dark secrets must HE be harboring?  Well, kids, turns out he too is Lazy.  His back is out because he isn't doing his core work, the same core work that has in one way or another bit Mr. Soto and Mr. Fukudome this year.  Cub Fan Nation hasn't taken too kindly to Z's admission of guilt, and honestly, I'm not dealing too well with it, either, coming from a man making over $18 million American this season.

First it was the tantrums, then the excess computer usage, then the hydration, now the gut.  I mean, I guess in "real life" terms, he seems to be learning lessons, and reacting constructively. 

Problem is, THIS is the guy who is the leader of the pitching staff, our "ace", and the man who everyone else takes their cues from.  Wouldn't it be great if our so-called "ace" was DOING his exercises, without being told, instead of after the fact, like a kid?

This, people, is what happens when players get satisfied with themselves.  There's no Hunger with the 2009 Cubs.  There's no fire.  I don't see anyone showing a real distaste to losing.  Oh sure, Don't Wake Daddy has blown up a few times, but notice not once has he ever mentioned Winning or Losing?  He's touched upon several other topics, but W's and L's aren't what's burning his wick.

In a world where bullshit reigns supreme (yep, Big Papi, I'm talking to you), I guess I applaud Z for coming out and falling on his sword with his flabby gut.  As a person, I appreciate it.  As a fan, though, it makes me kind of sick.

What an Ace pitcher is, and is not

Since this site is turning into the home of shouting your false hopes into the cruel winds, I will simply provide a service today by stating what is and what is not an Ace pitcher.


Contrary to what Kurt stated yesterday, an Ace pitcher is not merely the pitcher that has the best chance to win today.  By Kurt's definition, the Ace pitcher is merely today's starter.  On any given day, the pitcher with the best chance of posting the "W" in his ledger is the man starting the game.  All he has to do is pitch five innings, leave the game with the lead, and have his team preserve the lead the rest of the way.  The other four starters on the team will not participate on this given day, and thus cannot earn the win.  The relievers COULD earn the win, but they would have to enter the game either behind or tied.  Possibly they could even enter with a lead, like Kevin Gregg did in the middle game in Florida, blow the lead, and have his offense bail him out in their half of the inning.    Statistics indicate, however, that the starting pitcher has the best chance of winning that day.


Last night, the pitcher with the best chance to win for the Chicago Cubs was Tom Gorzelanny.  Does THAT make him a Staff Ace?  Of course not. 


A Staff Ace does more than win a game on a given day.  First of all, he wins a lot of games.  These days, he wins more than 15 games.  Every year.  For several years.  He usually pitches the most innings on the staff.  He more than likely has a very low ERA, and has a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio.


A Staff Ace is a stopper, of course.  When the club is on long losing streaks, he takes the ball and stops the streak.  These are all things we know already, but there's way more to the job than stats.


A Staff Ace knows how to pitch, not just throw.  And he doesn't hoard that information all to himself.  He shares it with the other pitchers on the staff.  He works in concert with the pitching coach, serving as an assistant.  He can do that, because of the respect the rest of the pitchers have for him.  They don't resent being told what to do by a fellow pitcher.  They welcome the input from a true Ace, because they know the Ace has their best intentions at heart, and they know the Ace knows what he is talking about.


A Staff Ace is a leader.  He is dependable.  The vast majority of the time, like 98%, the Ace is there when it is his turn to pitch, and he goes deep into the game.  He knows how to pitch, so his pitch counts stay low, and he is able to either finish what he starts, or gives it to the late guys in the pen.  He leads by example.  He never shows up an umpire.  At the same time, he does communicate with the umpire, in a non-argumentative way, to shape his strike zone the way he wants it.  He works through minor injuries.  He takes care of himself, following the advice of his training staff, so he can take his turns week after week, month after month, year after year.  We rarely have to read in the paper about the physical problems of the Staff Ace, and we NEVER have to read about the emotional problems of the Staff Ace.


The Staff Ace is more than your best starter.  There are precious few true Aces out there anymore.  There are far many more teams (30) than true Aces (less than 10).  If you have the opportunity to acquire a true Staff Ace, you should do so, at nearly any cost possible, short of gutting the very core of your MLB ballclub.  A Staff Ace is more than one out of 25 on the roster, more than one out of 12 on a staff, more than one of 5 in a rotation. 


Many, if not most, winning teams have a true Staff Ace, because that Ace accounts, whether on field or off, for more than his share of wins.  Some teams have an Ace, but do not win it all.  In those cases you tend to find that without the Ace, that team would be hard pressed to not lose 100 games.  There are teams, like ours, that have several good starting pitchers that, when healthy, compile a lot of strikeouts, "Quality Starts", and relatively low ERAs.  But whether for physical, mental, or emotional reasons, none of these guys truly measure up to Staff Ace status.  Not all staffs have one.  The result is a collection of individual efforts that, sometimes end up successful, but other times wanders around the .500 mark like the rudderless crew we currently back.


That's all.  I don't want to be accused of sinking the good ship Lollypop again.

Defending the Big Moose


You may have heard recently about Dave Kaplan's attack on Carlos Zambrano, calling him a "piece of garbage" and the most over-paid player in baseball. He's not an ace, Kaplan tells us; he's only averaged 14 wins a year, he hasn't been healthy, the Cubs need to get rid of him.

First of all, this is clearly a work. Kaplan does not have strong feelings about Zambrano, and he certainly doesn't hate him. He does not think that Carlos is a "piece of garbage." What he does have, however, is a blog with a lagging readership and a radio show where ratings are the end-all-be-all. Kaplan is voicing a loud, obnoxious opinion about Carlos Zambrano for one reason -- to drum up readers and listeners. And so far it's worked. He's had more comments in his one anti-Zambrano post than he did in all other posts currently on his home page combined. This, my friends, is the definition of a "work." For examples of that on GROTA, see pretty much any heated inter-rider debate we've ever had, or any ridiculous opinion such as the recent "trade them all" article or "the Cubs will win 110 wins" story. Not that we necessarily plan for it, but we do recognize that drama stirs readership and we don't really try to stifle it per se. Same as Kaplan -- he's been trying to stir the pot for months, and this is his first really successful attempt.

Well, Dave, here's an inside iggy for you: if you really want to drum up a strong response, you should suggest the firing of Lou Piniella. People will go bat-shiz crazy. (And if you see that Kaplan writes an article on that topic in the next few weeks, then you better believe he got the idea here and ran with it ... again, not from his personal opinion on the topic, but because he wants to bang the drum of controversy to draw the marks to his website.)

So, back to the article in question. Here are a handful of the more outrageous things written by Kaplan:

Zambrano is not a big game pitcher, he is not an ace

I used to think that too, until I actually saw him pitch in some big games. Based on how bad he looked in his first playoff appearance in 2003, when Carlos led the way or the '07 team I was nervous. Little did I realize that he'd be the only Cub to keep it together and deliver a solid performance. In 2007, Zambrano pitched 6 innings of 4-hit ball, striking out 8 in the playoffs against the D-Backs. If only Lou had kept him in a little longer. And in '08, despite a couple of innings of woe, in which his defense completely failed him, Zambrano kept his head and allowed only 3 earned runs in just under 7 innings of work while striking out 7 more. Just saying ... of all the pitchers on the Cubs right now, that's the most ace-like and the biggest game.

Zambrano has averaged 14 wins a season since he became a full time starter in 2003

Actually, that's not true. The Moose has averaged 15 wins per full season from 2003 to 2008. Seing as how 2009 isn't over yet and he hasn't won his last game, it would probably be wrong to count his present record. Then again, since 2003, Zambrano has pitched for two teams that lost 90-or-more games, and "wins" might not be the best way to track his success as a pitcher. As Shawn D. Goldman (I assume, anyway) noted, Carlos is the youngest pitcher to win 90 games over the span of the last 7 years, and he rates in the top 3 in numerous categories -- including games started, lowest ERA, strikeouts, AVG against, and SLG against.

In the comments section of his blog, Kaplan writes
Aces are guys like Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Chris Carpenter, Johan Santana, Josh Beckett

There's no question that Halladay is one of the very best pitchers in the game today, but he wants to compare Carlos to the others? Sabathia has had one more 16-game-win season than Carlos (and has also never won 20, an apparent pre-requisit of Kap's). Not to mention CC's higher career ERA and his 7.92 post-season ERA, including his 12.27 ERA in last year's post season for the Brewers.

Hamels has had one 15 win season and presently has as many -- or as few, as Kaplan would note -- wins as Carlos (7) in more starts and a 4.77 ERA this year.

There's no doubt that Carpenter has had some good years, and is in the midst of a very good season, but Kaplan seems to think that Zambrano's problems with injuries is a detriment toward his ace-like status. Between 2006 and 2007 Carpenter started a total of 4 games for the Cardinals.

Santana is without question, like Haladay, one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Then again, he's 1-3 in the playoffs with a 3.97 ERA.

And counting 2009, Josh Beckett has had 3 very good seasons. That would be fine, except he's been pitching since 2001. Were he a Cub, his inconsistent health coupled with his odd-year-good, even-year-bad performance splits would probably be something Kaplan would rail against.

Then again, just the other day on this very website Rob was also saying that Zambrano ain't an ace because he's "too immature" and needs to be managed.

Sorry, Rob, but an ace is the pitcher who, on any given day, gives your team the best chance to win. It's not the nicest guy in the clubhouse, or the most mature guy, or the team leader. It's the guy with the balls-to-the-walls best ability. That's Carlos Zambrano. Could he be better? Sure. And Ryne Sandberg could've been more vocal in the clubhouse. And Rick Sutcliffe could have manned up and had that shoulder surgery a lot sooner than he did (assuming he ever did). And Greg Maddux could've been less silly and more vocal -- and even he weilded a bat in the dugout in '05.

Yes, sorry, Carlos is the ace. I'd trust him every time in a playoff game more than any other pitcher on the Cubs, and I absolutely believe that he's a healthy season away from winning 20 on a good team. To say otherwise, for the most part, is just an attempt to drum up readership and stir up controversy. So, Kaplan -- mission accomplished.

Gamecast: July 12th vs. Cardinals

Game 1: Kyle Loshe (4-4, 3.99) vs. Carlos Zambrano (4-4, 3.47 ERA)
Story Lines

First off, who thinks that Ted Lilly signing was bad now? The more and more I see him pitch, the better I feel. Lilly's effort yesterday, plus a little hitting, gives the Cubs a chance to end the first half on a good note.

The Cubs and Cards will battle twice today for a chance to gain some momentum heading into the All-Star Break. I'll focus more on Game 1 today, with Kurt coming in to focus on Game 2.

In Game 1, Carlos Zambrano tries to follow up his solid outing on Monday. Big Z is the perfect guy to go in first game. Kurt made a point in his recap that "Mastermind" Tony LaRussa is throwing Lohse in Game 1, which I don't understand either. Lohse hasn't made a start since June 3rd, and I feel an Aramis Ramirez big day coming.

With Geovany Soto out for the time being, it looks like Jake Fox might see some time behind the dish. It makes sense, but I have a feeling the Cards might run all day long. Of course Fox could just smash a 3-run home run to shut up everyone.

Who's Hot
Carlos Zambrano - In his last two starts, Z has given up 3 runs in 13 innings of work. Too bad he's 1-1 in those starts. He pitched on 3-days rest last time out and was very sharp, except against Brian McCann.

Ryan Theriot - He had two hits, and two runs score yesterday to push his average up to .297. He also drew a walk in the process. As long as he keeps getting on base, Derrek Lee's home runs won't be solo shots.

Who's Not
Kosuke Fukudome - I can't figure Kosuke out. One day he looks great, then the next two he's a combined 0-for-9. He's still got a .370 OBP, so that's something.

Conclusions
The Cubs really need a sweep today to make all of use feel better. A sweep and the Cubs are 1.5 games out with five more games to play than the Cardinals.

Game 2, by Kurt: Adam Wainright (9-5, 3.09 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (4-3, 2.48 ERA)

And here's where things will get interesting.

If the Cubs can manage to take advantage of the long break between outings for Lohse, then they have a fairly good shot of sweeping the day for one reason: the Cardinals bullpen will be depleted and LaRussa will be inclined to use Wainwright for too long.

On the other hand, it might not go so splendidly -- and with the Cubs, we've known that to often be the case in this, our season of woe.

Yesterday in the Game Recap I wrote something about how the Cubs would be playing for the season today.  Probably that was a bit dramatic.  Still, if the Cubs win today they will enter the All Star Break with the fewest losses in the Central and within 1.5 games of the division lead.  And if they lose both games, then they will have been dealt a crushing, demoralizing blow that might just be the dot at the end of the exclamation point on how crappy this season has been. 

What would perhaps be the most Cub to do would be to split -- they'd still be 3.5 games out, nothing lost nothing gained.  Our hopes wouldn't be quite dashed nor would they be confirmed ... it'd be treading water as usual. 

So c'mon, Cubs, do something unusual today.  Win!

Game Recap: Cubs 1, Braves 2 -- Outdueled.

Game Recap
Yesterday, there was a bit of an issue with the timing of the Cubs' scoring. Sure they scored four runs, but they all came far too early, and the team was shut out in the last seven innings of the game.

My argument with why that wasn't a big deal (aside from the whole "winning the game" concept) was because of the way I understand a major league offense to work.

Step 1: Hitters in the first two spots get on base.
Step 2: Hitters 3-6 hit doubles and homers to drive in the guys in front.
Step 3: Sprinkle in some other stuff throughout the game.

Yesterday, Kosuke found a way on base in the first and second innings, and the Cubs scored in both those innings. Coincidence? Almost definitely. Even so, there's something to be said for having the table set for your RBI guys during the course of a game.

Guess who scored the runs for Atlanta tonight? I'll tell you, because I am nice! In fact, it was the 1 and 2 hitters, who got on in front of Brian McCann in the clean-up spot, who drove them both in.

Tonight, neither Fukudome nor Theriot could get on against Javy Vasquez. Theriot did manage to double in the eighth against Mike Gonzalez, but with two outs having already been recorded, the small ball option was gone, and D-Lee couldn't convert.

Interpret as you will; of course it'd be silly to suggest that teams only score when the top two guys get on. But let's see how the top two guys fare tomorrow, and their impact on the final score.

Go Cubs!

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