Randy Wells (4-6 4.67 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-4 3.02 ERA)
Well, that was easy. The Cubs pull out of Arizona with their first series win since 2003 and their first sweep since April of this year. To keep the streak alive, the Cubs turn to Randy Wells and hope he can build on his performance against Cincy where he went into the 7th before allowing a hit.
Kershaw is NOT the type of lefty that seems to mess with the Cubs. In fact, he is nowhere near "crafty" but uses gasoline and hard moving stuff to get by (and a high strikeout rate evidenced by his K per IP in his last 3). That being said, he has a win in his only start against the Cubs this year.
Who's Hot- I never thought I would get to say this during this season, but: Aramis Ramirez. In his last three games he is 5-12 with 3 HR and 7 RBI. One can only hope that his thumb is in good shape and he's ready to resume his career norms for the rest of the season.
Who's Not- All-Star Snubs. Carlos Marmol is a filthy man. So filthy that he has been overlooked on the All-Star Roster. Marmol is piling up strikeouts like there is going to be a shortage with a total of 77 in 40.2 IP. In terms of K/9 that is a 17.04 rate. For a bit of reference, the best rate out there for a full season was Eric Gagne in 2003 with a 14.98. Yep. No pitcher that has pitched over 50 IP has ever cracked even above 15 K/9. Marmol: Amazing.
Hopefully "good" Wells shows up tonight and we at least have a pitchers duel. I have a strange feeling that the momentum being on our side could make this trip not completely suck, starting with tonight. Let's hope my gut is right.
Ryan Dempster (6-7, 3.54 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-6, 4.74 ERA)
All aboard the Piano-back train, Aramis Ramirez looks like he has some sort of life. Rammy went yard twice last night and not shockingly, the Cubs won a game. I'm not saying this is a trend, nor a turning point... just an observation that it was nice to see him look like some semblence of his old self. Also, the Cubs are in line to get their first sweep since April (ew... just, ew).
Looking at the man on the rubber for the DBacks, Jackson has been quite inconsistent this season and is not the pitching savior Arizone expected. Much like his counterpart Scherzer that got traded to Detroit, Jackson has had control issues much of the season. That being said, he's also had flashes of brilliance such as the "Dusty Baker Special" no-hitter where he threw his arm off.
I won't bore you with too much outside of this: Let's get this sweep. Time to look like a respectable team for some part of this season.
Happy Independence Day Everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's July 4th and the Cubs have a game today. We live in the greatest country on the planet Earth so let's not get too down (well, Kurt lives in Canada, but let's not hold that against him! I wanted to mention one other thing from yesterday's game. During the game there was a play where Randy Wells laid down a bunt and didn't run hard to first and it resulted in a near wild throw that should have ended up with Wells on first base.
Now, Bob Brenly lost his mind. He screamed at Wells for not booking down the line but realistically, I am happy he didn't. I don't want these guys to risk hurting themselves running the bases. Please, Randy, jog down the line. Don't hurt yourself. You're an automatic out anyway. Whenever you reach base, it's gravy. If Wells pitches like he did yesterday all year, I don't care if he walks up to the plate and takes 3 batting practice fastballs down the middle of the plate and then takes a left turn back to the dugout.
On to today's game:
Today's Matchup: Mike Leake (95.1 IP, 3.30 ERA, 4.42 xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (86.2IP, 3.12 ERA, 4.61 xFIP)
Two pitchers who have an ERA significanly lower than it should be hook up today. Lilly is a fly ball pitcher who needs to keep people off the bases per the walk. But you all know that. Leake needs to get ground balls to win. He has a ground ball rate near 50%. The question is this. Can Leake keep the ball on the ground. I do think the Cubs will have the advantage if the wind is blowing in but the Reds will have the advantage if it's blowing out. Of if the Cubs offense takes the field
Who's Hot: My man Starlin is 8 for 20 with 4 doubles and 4 unintentional walks since June 26th. People who say there is no good reason to watch the Cubs this year should focus on this player. He is 20 years old and I think he's at the beginning of what is going to be a great career. That is enough reason to keep watching.
Who's Not: There's no longer a good reason for the Cubs to keep batting Tyler Colvin near the top of the lineup. His OBP has drifted down to .316. I don't think he's that bad at that aspect of the game but he is always going to be a bit of an out machine. He will need to hit the ball out of the park regularly to be valuable long term. It's been a nice 3 months but I think we're finally starting to see the real Colvin.
Conclusion: The result of yesterday's game is the reason why I have been dumbfounded by the Cubs this year. See, the starting pitching is so good that they should win games like this. Fairly low scoring games that the Cubs come out on top of should be their forte this year. Instead they've been losing those games all year. The truth is one of two things is going to happen in the second half. Either the Cubs' starting pitching will get worse or the team will surprise people by putting together a bunch of unexpected wins. It shouldn't be enough to get them into playoff contention but I confess, I've never seen a team with starting pitching this good lose so regularly.
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).
Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21 ERA)
After a weekend marked with aggression in the dugout of the Cubs perhaps taking out some aggression out on the Pirates might be what the doctor ordered. The Pirates went 2-13 during interleague play and have dropped their last six. While the Pirates have owned the Cubs so far, it can't hurt to run into a team that has hit the skids even harder than your own.
Another storyline of interest is that the Cubs placed Big Z on the restricted list today. Much to the delight of Paul Sullivan, this situation will not be resolved with an immediate and quiet apology. According to Jim Hendry, Big Z will "not meet formally or travel with the team before the (All-Star) break." Moreover, he will begin treatment on Wednesday to deal with his "issue." The corresponding move will likely be a call-up of Jeff Stevens.
Who's Hot- This isn't so much a "who" but a "what" and that is the term "dead-ass." This phrase seems quite popular among Cubs fans and the national media alike. I expect Bob Brenly to quickly trademark the phrase like one Pat Riley and have a lucrative cashflow from merchandise bearing the phrase.
Who's Not- Outside of the obvious, being the Cubs and Pirates, the trade market has been conspicuously quiet. I would have expected to hear more names being thrown around at this time, particularly of those wearing Cubs Blue. I guess we will just have to wait.
The Cubs need a win. In fact, they could use multiple wins. I know many have given up on this team, but it would be nice to see the Cubs string a few together and at least extend the losing streak of the Pirates. Strange things can happen in late June and July, but the team has to put forth effort to make that happen. Whether that can happen is still an unanswered question at the moment.
I wrote a gamecast yesterday but it appears to have disappeared into cyberspace. It's tough for many people to be Cub fans right now but that's when you find out who's a real fan. I am a real fan. I hope Zambrano can work out his sometimes Milton Bradley level temper and get back to being a decent, above average starter that he is. I know that Derrek Lee is a professional and will be able to put this behind him also. Nothing cures things like this like winning.
Today's Matchup: Carlos Silva (80.2IP, 3.01ERA, 3.79xFIP) vs Freddie Garcia (78IP, 4.85ERA, 4.78xFIP)
What can I say. The Cubs call on Silva to be the stopper once again. I like the matchup today because Garcia is pretty bad and the Cubs could get well against him. I worry about Silva because, well, he's Carlos Silva!!!!! plus he's bothered by a hamstring and it's just the way this season has gone that he would give up a bunch of runs today in the midst of the team falling apart.
Who's Hot: For some reason a team of pretty mediocre players continues to play like they can't lose and it's the White Sox. No one on the Cubs is particularly hot right now unless you count Z.
Who's Not: Trade rumours. They just haven't happened yet and probably won't start heating up in earnest for another 2 weeks. I think that unless the Cubs put together an improbable run, that will be when the team faces the music.
Conclusion: When the White Sox were at their nadir, on June 8th, there were rumours of fights that were happening between the manager and the GM and all over the team. No one talks about that now. The Cubs will need a hot streak to get back into the race. I don't think they have it in them but if they do, they need to start soon.
Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.42) vs. "King" Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)
There was a time I was excited that the Mariners were on our schedule. They were a team that lacked punch, their pitching was shaky at times, and they did none of the little things right. Coincidentally, now that the Cubs are playing the Mariners, it seems that all of those issues that once plagued the Mariners have been resolved, if not become strengths. Cliff Lee demonstrated last night why some Major League team will be willing to sacrifice it's first born in order to acquire him at the trade deadline with a complete game outing against the boys in blue. For getting dominated by an elite pitcher, I can't be mad at the Cubs. In the game last night, Lee had 0-2 counts on 19 of the Cubs hitters. The man doesn't walk people and keeps it around the plate.
What I can blame the Cubs for are the chances they wasted last night. The Cubs started the game last night with 2 straight hits and didn't score a run. Moreover, the Cubs started the 7th Inning off with back-to-back doubles and still didn't score a run. I have two issues with the latter: (1) how is that actually possible to not score a guy from second on a double; (2) our offense needs to drastically improve with runners in scoring position.
Theodore Lilly will toe the rubber (or about a foot off of it, depending on how he's feeling) for the Cubs today in hopes of salvaging a win on the trip out to Seattle. Lilly has been progessively better each start since coming off the DL and I expect him to do the same in Seattle, especially given the dimensions of that ballpark. On the other hand, King Felix has been inconsistent at best as the "ace" of the staff. Hopefully the Cubs will face the more beneficial side of his Jekyll/Hyde act and run into a few base hits in clutch situations.
Finally, as reported by crack journalist Paul Sullivan, Big Z has taken to wearing his '08 All-Star t-shirt as a way to reverse his, and the teams fortunes. To quote Big Z: "That's when I used to be good."
Well Carlos, more power to you. In fact, more power for this team... we could use the run support.
Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)
Well, the combination of great opposing pitching combined with a scuffling offense tends to be a really bad combination. This series may be a perfect example of that as the Cubs have to face the two "aces" of this Seattle staff to end the series. The big story has to be the year Cliff Lee is having so far. After beginning the year on the DL, Lee has come back and won five games with a pleasant 2.55 ERA. More impressive is his K:BB ratio: 67:4. Yep... that's FOUR walks over 77.2 innings. This is the type of pitching matchup Dusty would dream about: clog-free.
On the other hand, Wells has been scuffling a bit as of late, but turned in a quality start in a win against the Athletics. Hopefully the time spent working with Larry Rothschild on his delivery and examining why everyone was hitting him like a pinata will pay dividends tonight.
Who's Hot: I put Lee in here last night and he goes 0-fer. Awesome. I'm afraid to put someone here now. However, I'll talk about Andrew Cashner. Cash has pitched 8.1 innings and not allowed a run yet. Moreover, he has done well in the few pressure situations he has been put into. I really like the kid's pedigree and think he can be a vital cog in the pen for a long time.
Who's Not: Soriano's baserunning. I know that Safeco is a big park. I also know that Colvin hit a sinking liner. However, you need to have the ability to judge that ball a bit better and see that a fielder is reaching the ball easily. This isn't the first time, and it probably won't be the last, but a little bit more field awareness would be stellar.
My gut instinct is that this game is going to suck. Like, really badly. However, the Cubs always seem to win the games they have no business winning and getting dominated by some journeyman lefty that can't win a single game unless he plays the Cubs. Maybe tonight is one of those crazy nights.
Well everyone. We're not 10 games out yet. I'm just saying. As I write this, the Cubs are already down 4-0. Yesterday's loss against the Angels was another one of the 1 run variety. The Cubs are now 10-16 in 1 run games.Hopefully the Cubs can come back today and try to win this blasted game!
Today's Matchup: Jered Weaver (87.2IP, 3.29ERA, 3.49xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (68.1IP, 2.90ERA, 4.79xFIP)
Who's Hot? Derrek Lee and Tyler Colvin had a pretty good game yesterday. Lee is about to start moving back towards his normal .360 wOBA type numbers. Colvin continues to dumfound me. If Lee is due to move up, I think Colvin is due to regress. I wanted to point this out:
Colvin 2010 (major leagues): .315/.372/.639
Colvin 2009 (Double A): .300/.334/.524
He should be a decent player. Instead he's Albert Pujols lite. I expect that to end fairly soon, especially since Lou has decided he's now a regular.
Who's Not? I was just beginning to think that Jeff Baker was enough better than Aramis Ramirez that he could be at least a part time thirdbaseman even when Rammy got back. And then he goes out and basically gives the Angels a big inning that kept the Cubs comeback from resulting in a win yesterday. Jeez.
Conclusion: Once again, I point out, the Cubs are not quite out of it. They are drawing to the proverbial two outer (to use a poker term that probably is missed by many here) but they aren't quite out of it. Recently I saw the draft order for next year and saw that the Cubs were in the top 10 at number 9 currently! For the most part, they have been better than that in the last decade or so. I don't think they will pick that high but if they continue to get as sick unlucky as they have been. The bright side is we'll see a high draft pick. So watch the game today. Root for a win. Be philisophical if they lose.
Believe it or not, the Cubs aren't quite out of it and could use a victory today and hopefully another series win this weekend. I realize how hard that is to comprehend as bad as this team has played this year. I may be alone on this here but I see this team is more mediocre than bad and even though I doubt they are going anywhere this year, I think they have a run or two in them, call me the eternal optimist I guess.
Today's Matchup: Carlos Silva (74.2IP, 2.89ERA, 3.86xFIP) vs Scott Kazmir (66.2IP, 5.27ERA, 5.30xFIP)
Who's Hot: Silva has allowed 3 ER over his last 21 IP. In those 3 games, he has a K/BB rate of 22/3. Who knew this was what we were getting when we dealt Milton Bradley?!? I'd still trade him but OMG, he's been spectacular.
Who's Not: Derek Lee has a triple slash line of .205/.327/.364 in June. Ouch. It's still probably too soon to put a fork in him but the time to implement A.J.'s Colvin starting fulltime at first base is coming soon.
Conclusion: The Cubs have a 2 game winning streak. The 8 out of 10 or 12 out of 15 or so streak has to come soon or they will be giving up the season. I still think they have something like that in them. They need to win today. That much is obvious.