Erm, sorry about that. I need to chill. Anyway, I wonder what it would be like to live in Lou Piniella's brain on a day like this. The team he's managing - expected to be the best offensive team in baseball - is struggling, is sluggish, and is losing a lot. Like Murtaugh, he's probably feeling way too old for this shiz. I'm waiting for Lou to crack.
Theriot, Fukudome, and even Fontenot all managed 2 hits yesterday. Regrettably the Cubs left 9 on the bases and have struggled to get the hits when they count.
The heart of the lineup and the bullpen. It was a testament to the '08 Cubs that they were able to win so many games when the top of the lineup struggled. Believe it or not, they are still that deep. They're just having trouble getting the engines revved up.
As for the bullpen, I think that the release of Luis Vizcaino has complicated matters. Maybe he was an attitude problem; probably he was pissed to not be used often enough. But his departure plus the promotion of Samardzija minus the reliability of Marmol plus the flailings of Patton and Cotts equals a volatile situation. I get the feeling that once the Cubs pull the plug on the Patton experiment - due any day now - the last few spots of the pen will become a revolving door until somebody mans up and takes the job with authority ... or until Hendry makes a few trades.
I would expect the Cubs to play hard today. They don't want to get swept by the Cardinals, they don't want to fall a game under .500, and they certainly don't want to cause Lou to stroke out in the dugout. (Hmm "Stroke Out in the Dugout" could totally be a song.)
Which isn't to say that they will win today, or escape their current troubles by having one magical performance, but if you don't think the Cubs are a better team than how they've been playing then I have nothing for you.
One last note
I'm posting this a little early today because I have the always-exciting marriage course to go to in order to gain the church's permission to have a Catholic wedding. I sure am happy I get to do that rather than watch baseball. (Hint: that was sarcasm)
Lou Piniella continues his experiment with yesterday's lineup. There's only one discouraging problem - the cleanup and protection hitters are batting .206 and .208 respectively.
Not really anybody. Reed Johnson, I guess, who went 2 for 4 yesterday. The Fonz's sole hit yesterday was a double. And, hey, Fontenot drove in a run! Woo-hoo!
The Cubs are facing a young pitcher who hasn't had a whole lot of experience. I'm wondering if/when Lou will try to light a fire under his team. You can bet that if the offense remains lackluster, if big opportunities are squandered, if the Cardinals thrash the Cubs today, then ... dare I say it? It's gonna hai.
The Cubs come into the series down two games, and they are playing the best offense in the league (I gagged as I typed that). The Cubs have shifted around the lineup, thanks in part for Crazy Milton sitting out with only one hit this season. Ryan Dempster will try and get back to his dominating stuff from last year, instead of walking everybody.
The Cubs will also have to hold down Albert Pujols, who is crushing the ball early in the year.
After two games and 1 run, I'm going out on a limb and saying nobody's hot. We need to win before anybody can move back up.
The Bullpen - I'm not ready to give on them, but we need some improvement.
The bottom third of the lineup - I could have said everybody, but it looks we need to get going.
The Cubs are scuffling heading into this season, and the Cards are coming off a sweep of the Mets. All it take is one game to get the next winning streak going. I think it starts tonight.
Aaron Harang (1-2, 2.70 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 5.21 ERA)
It's another rubber game for the Chicago Cubs (or as I hoakingly called it, a Rubber Match). In his last outing, Carlos Zambrano went 7 innings and gave up 7 runs. Aaron Harang, meanwhile, appears to be his old self pre Dusty-Destructo days.
Amazingly, Jeff Samardzija appears to be headed to Chicago. I call it "amazing" because in order to make room for him, the Cubs are cutting a guy with a 0.00 ERA. I'm referring to Luis Vizcaino who has 2 hits allowed, 3 strikeouts and 0 walks in 3.2 innings of work. He's called "seldom used" by the Tribune although at this point he's pitched in 31% of the Cubs games - putting him on pace for 50 over a full season.
Maybe Lou sees something that the stat lines don't convey, but it's a little baffling that he and his 4 million owed would get cut over Neal Cotts who has turned into a pitching masochist.
Also still on the team are Dave Patton - 5.79 ERA - and Angel Guzman - 5.87 ERA. It just seems weird. Then again, Luis Vizcaino never even got his own tag here at GROTA, so maybe it was just ... destiny.
Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome - It's a strange definition of "hot." It's more like "who got a hit yesterday." But Soriano is now batting .304, by far his best start as a Cub. Fukudome is at .348. Ramirez is batting .362. And Lee, who started out slow and was sluggish against the Cardinals, is still batting an impressive .344 in his last 29 at bats.
Geovany Soto - He went 0 for 4 yesterday and is now batting .115 on the season. I have a feeling that barring a really, really hot May, an All Star selection is not in Soto's future for 2009.
Milton Bradley - Lou's cleanup hitter is batting .043 on the season right now and the Cubs are still 8-5 after 13 games. Here's a little fun math for you. If Bradley finishes the year with a .300 batting average in 520 at bats, he'll need to go 155 for his next 497, which is a .312 AVG. Actually, when I put it that way it seems very possible and nothing at all to worry about. Let's talk about Bradley again 23 at bats from now.
The Cubs are in a crowded NL Central right now. By that I mean that they are 1 of 4 teams playing better-than-.500 baseball. Can you believe that the Pirates have 9 wins right now?
The Reds are 8-6 and are poised to hurdle Chicago in the standings if they win today. And if they win I hope they enjoy it because it won't last.
Johnny Cueto (0-1, 4.22 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-0, 3.86 ERA)
The Cubs try and take game two tonight against the Cincinnati Reds. It is the second night game at Wrigley. The weather has played a big role in the past few games, a cancellation on Sunday, and freezing temps last night, which killed a couple HR's off the bat of Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto.
The Cubs remain in first by percentage points after New York's Oliver Perez decided to self-destruct in the fifth inning against the Cardinals.
Milton Bradley will most likely return to the lineup tonight. He has as many hits as ejections. I'm sure we would love to see him get hot and put this first two weeks behind us.
Micah Hoffpauir - Say what you want about the 29-year-old rookie, but he came up big last night. After Jay Bruce put the Reds on top, Micah took Micah deep for his first home run of the season. He's only hitting .375 with five RBI (two of which came last night) in 16 at bats. I know there is no way for him to keep it, but if he can hit .290, while getting four to eight at bats a week, I would take it.
Aramis Ramirez - He had one of the best at bats during the fifth inning. He fouled off pitch after pitch, before punching a ball to right to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. He looks poised for a great year.
Ted Lilly - Roosevelt is 2-0 already this season, after nearly no-hitting the Rockies last week. After last year's lousy start, it has been nice to see him win early.
Mike Fontenot - "Little Babe Ruth" has been nothing like "The Babe" as he went 0-for-3 last night to drop his average down to .205. He drew a walk, but it would be nice to see him hit a little bit like the other Cajun.
Neal Cotts - Poor Cotts. He gets a gift to strike out a guy in the 8th, before remembering he was Neal Cotts. He proceeded to give up a hit, then walk a guy before Lou had seen enough and brought Carlos Marmol into the game. Cotts' ERA dropped, but he went further in the doghouse.
Clogging the bases vs. Slugging: The battle continues wage on as the Cubs clogged the bases seven times last night (nine if you include the two hit batters). The Cubs clogged their way to seven runs, while the Reds slugged their way to two. I wonder how this game will turn out? The Cubs are facing Johnny Cueto tonight, who has walked seven in 10 2/3 innings, but he has struck out 12. The Cubs should be able to do enough damage to take Game 2 to set up the sweep tomorrow against Aaron Harang.
Micah Owings (0-1, 7.20 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (0-1, 5.00 ERA)
Dusty Baker and the Cincinnati Reds come to Chicago. Cub fans have to wonder what Dusty will bring with him on this trip. Will he make excuses about the number of day games? Perhaps he'll put a little bit of the blame on the fans for not supporting the team if the Reds play poorly? I suppose he could always imply that we're racist and overly-critical of him.
Nevertheless, the Cubs will be looking to extend their stranglehold on the NL Central with a throttling of the Reds who themselves are only half a game out of first.
Aramis Ramirez - A-Ram batted .462 in his last series against the Cardinals with 1 homer and 5 RBI. He's swinging a heavy stick right now and is on pace to hit 53 homers and drive in 193 RBI. (Reminder: it's only been eleven games.)
Kosuke Fukudome - We're going to learn a lot about Fukudome this season. For example, if his totals drop down to around .265 or .270 again, then he's a flash-in-the-pan hot starter. If he can stay fairly level all season long, then he's a genius hitter who adjusted to the league. At this point, 'dome is on pace to hit 44 homeruns.
Ryan Theriot - Hmm. Ryan Theriot is batting .400 right now. He's speedy. He's actually hitting a fair number of doubles. He bats righty, Fukudome bats lefty, and Ramirez bats righty. Sounds like the ideal 1-2-3 R-L-R combo the Cubs need at the top of the order. And yet he'll be batting 8th tonight - if we're lucky.
Geovany Soto - Jack Sparrow's stunt double needs to find the white pearl pretty fast. (In case the metaphor is just too stupid to be sensible, the white pearl in this case would be a pitched baseball.) When Geo isn't pirating the Caribbean, he's experiencing 0-fers. But it's not as bad as it looks. He's had 5 games in which he's had 4-or-more plate appearances, and he's failed to hit in 3 of them. Okay, 60% is pretty bad, but it's still a very small sample size.
Aaron Miles + Mike Fontenot - Our two-headed, switch-hitting, ring-bearing, Mount-Doom-Heading second base duo isn't exactly winning over old enemies right now. Between the two of them Miles and Fontenot are 10 for 51 (.196) with 3 extra base hits. That cute girl wearing a DeRosa game who's sitting next to you at the game tonight will be secretly crying when you aren't looking.
Derrek Lee - On a bigger scale, Lee's doing much better now, thank you. But he batted a meager .214 in 3 games against the Cardinals. It'd be nice to watch D.Lee (still DP free, by the way) have a big series against Dusty's boys.
As Rob noted, Rich Harden is throwing tonight and apparently that guy could crap a 10 strikeout performance if he had to. There's one thing the Cubs are missing, but luckily it's something every team is "missing" early on in the year - consistency. The offense will set the world on fire, but the pitching will crap the bed. The pitching will come close to shutting down the opposition, and the team will still lose 1-0. The rotation will be aces, the bullpen will be eights. You get what I'm saying. But nobody "puts it all together" in the first two weeks of April.
Still, the Cubs are in a position to pummel the Reds, and I'm pretty sure they're entirely capable of doing it.
Series Preview: Reds at Chicago Cubs
Update: This game has been canceled. A very special Series Recap will be published either late tonight or early tomorrow.
Todd Wellemeyer (1-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-0, 3.86 ERA)
The first meeting between the Cubs and Cardinals has been everything it was billed to be. We've had one frustrating loss and two down-to-the-wire games decided late by big homeruns. We've seen the failure of our starting pitchers and of their bullpen. We've witnessed timely hits, cutting defensive plays, and so far the Cubs have two wins to show for it.
Today's game, then, is pretty important. These teams are tied for first in the Central. And who knows - a Chicago win today just might be the moment where they pull ahead and stay that way for the duration of the '09 season. Unlikely, but not impossible.
The Cubs offense ...
Soriano. .292 on the season. 5 homeruns, 8 walks, .393 OBP and 1.039 OPS.
Fukudome. 9 of his 15 hits have been for extra bases (3 homers, 6 doubles). He leads the team with 9 walks. His AVG is .375; his OBP is .480; his OPS is 1.230.
Theriot. .400 AVG, .468 OBP, 3 steals in 4 tries.
Ramirez. .333 AVG. 3 homers, 11 RBI, one Clutchy McClutcherson moment.
Lee. .381 AVG in his last 5 games, 0 double plays and counting.
... except for Soto, Fontenot, and Miles
Soto. 2 for 19. On the bright side, he drew 3 walks yesterday and he doesn't appear to be pressing in order to compensate for his crappy bat skills.
Fontenot. His .222 AVG is bad. (Duh.) His .364 OBP and .725 OPS, not too bad. He'll straighten out.
Miles. At least Mike's direct competition for second base isn't exactly setting the field on fire. Mr. Aaron Miles is 2 for 15 with a .369 OPS.
As a team the Cubs are batting a mere .258, but their OBP is a spectacular 101 points higher. There are other teams out there with better OBPs so far, but only 3 have actually drawn more walks.
On the pitching front, it's been very hit and miss with the Cubs. But Ted Lilly in his last outing was mostly miss for his opponents. He probably won't throw another 1-hitter today, but I anticipate him having another good outing.
And wouldn't it just be a perfect start to 2009 for the Cubs to take 3 of 4 at home from their rivals?
In the second game, it looked to be more of the same before Alfonso Soriano selfishly hulked up in the 8th inning and hit a decisive game-winning homerun.
In the third game, Cubs ace Ryan Dempster will take on Kyle Lohse, who is just one of many pitchers to have mediocre careers before coming to St. Louis where he went 15-6 last year.
In the past 3 seasons the Cubs have pwned Lohse. In 7 starts he's 1-2 against the Cubs with a 5.16 ERA, although he's pitched very well at Wrigley Field.
One way or the other, one of these two teams will be playing for a split-at-best after today's game. My money would be on the Cubs if I wasn't opposed to gambling due to political reasons. Nevertheless...
Alfonso Soriano - He struck out 3 times yesterday, and walked not once, but a game-winning homerun will keep anybody in the hot column.
Derrek Lee - Since starting the year 2 for 25, Lee has gone 7 for his last 15. Again, small sample size. But Derrek seems to be able to still get hits after all, and so far this year 0 double plays.
Aramis Ramirez - after going 3 for 4 yesterday, he's up to .364 on the season.
Milton Bradley - Don't Wake will miss the next 2 games thanks to a supsension. He's still only got 1 hit on the '09 campaign, a homer, and his slow start may be a reason for the occasional offensive druthers of the Cubs.
One other thought about Milton and his suspension-inducing strikeout. Rob is right. If you're in Milton's position, after the very first blown call your job becomes Defender of the Strike Zone. Swing at anything and everything close. I'm sure there was something in Bradley's brain that was screaming "you know you're right, it was a ball, so screw him and stick to your guns! Only swing at strikes!" (It's the same kind of mentality that causes a person to drive for half an hour in the wrong direction while lost ... once you start headed down that road, it's awful hard to turn around.)
But what Bradley should have done was protect the strike zone and foul off the balls that looked close until he got one that was an indesputible strike. Just my two cents on it.
Mike Fontenot - A 1 for 4 game yesterday is great, but he's still only batting .229 on the season. Wake Up, Fontenot!
I like the Cubs' chances today. Dempster seems to enjoy pitching at Wrigley, Lohse flinches like a battered spouse any time the Cubs roll into town, and the Cubs offense is starting to click.
Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Cubs
Game Recap: Cardinals 7, Cubs 4
Game Recap: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7
Carlos Zambrano (1-0 3.00 ERA) vs. Pb&J Walters (-)
The hate between Cardinal and Cub fans is real. For those of us who live on the periphery of Cubs baseball, it doesn't seem so bad. I admit that I have to resist the temptation to taunt anybody I see wearing a Cardinals hat when I'm oot and aboot* in Toronto, but I don't feel any particularly strong feelings toward the birds or their fans for the most part.
(*note: we don't really talk like that. We also don't live in igloos, our bacon looks like your bacon, and yes, we have socialized health care. Suck it, America)
But I have to admit - I feel a little more anxious whenever the Cubs play the Cardinals. For whatever reason, I don't want the Cubs to lose to them. I don't want to be embarrassed. So, yesterday's opening shot across the Cubs-Cardinals bow was an unfortunate one.
Today, though, the Cubs face a rookie pitcher making his major league debut in a hostile ballpark. There will be REVENGE!
Alfonso Soriano - Another hit and 2 walks yesterday gives the Fonz a .308 AVG and .400 OBP start to the '09 season. I still believe that the Fonz is a prolific slow starter and I'm expecting a 1 for 20 drought sometime before May. Still, he's doing well -- for now.
Kosuke Fukudome - Last year, Fooky began the season like a monk on fire. Okay, so that analogy doesn't exactly make sense, but think about it. He starts out flaming, running around, waving his arms, and gradually stops moving and the fire burns out. That was Fukudome. Maybe we shouldn't get too excited too soon, but Kosuke has already hit 3 homers and is batting .375 on the season.
Remember when, after an 0-fer on opening day, fans were calling for Kosuke to be deported? He's given a big Fuku to those fans.
Ryan Theriot - He is now batting .387 on the season. I love how well the Fonz is playing, but doesn't Theriot make way, way more sense at leadoff?
Mike Fontenot - Uh oh. If Dusty Baker was running this team, with Miles on the bench and Fontenot written into the lineup, his erasin' pencil would be looking real good right now. Fontenot is batting .226 on the season after an 0 for 4 outing yesterday. Who is your DeRo ...er, hero ... now?
Geo Soto - Sore shoulder, check. 1 hit to start the season. Check. .071 AVG so far. Check. Panic and fear - ehh, half-check.
Just a friendly reminder, written with ardor and care.
DO NOT FOLLOW SMALL SAMPLE SIZES!!!
Right now, somewhere in baseball there's a guy with a .400 AVG and 3 homeruns who will be demoted to the minors by July. There's another guy in baseball right now who's batting .150 who'll be a finalist for the MVP award. That's just the way it goes.
Brash decisions about the roster is a move better suited for a Baker. Yes, we're turning Baker into an insulting nickname, and probably our first photoshop of the season. So don't Be a Baker - be patient with this team. Much as you would certainly not buy into Fukumania based on his great start, don't sell your Geo stock just because he looks more confused right now than a straight man in a tranny bar.
But I suppose I could be wrong about that. I hope I'm not, though.
Adam Wainwright (1-0, 1.74 ERA) vs. Sean Marshall (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Ah, the Cubs and the Cardinals. Chicago hates St. Louis for being responsible for single-handedly keeping the mullet in style. St. Louis hates Chicago for those sticklerish rules about wearing shoes in restaurants and not smoking cigarettes while pregnant.
But more importantly, the Cubs and Cardinals are tremendously followed by people who live in two kick-ass, hard-working cities who can only agree on one thing: the Yankees are overrated. They will spend the 2009 season chasing one another, and even though on paper the Cubs have a ridiculously superior ballclub, there are a multitude of Cub fans who won't stop working about LaRussa's pesky bunch until that dreaded phrase "mathematically eliminated" comes into play.
I suppose that that's the way it should be.
Dare I say it? Derrek Lee had a 3 for 4 game yesterday including his first homerun of the season. But before you hop onto the Lee bandwagon, Micah Hoffpauir is batting like .500, dood! That guy should be starting!
Reed Johnson is making the most of his recent opportunity to start. He's batting .385 in 13 at bats.
Geovany Soto has something in common with Aaron Miles. They've both started the '09 campaign by batting 1 for their first 10.
Have you seen Kevin Gregg's wife? I'm just saying.
(Note: I have neither seen Gregg's wife nor do I know if he's actually married)
Go get 'em, boys. And watch out - when Cardinals fans are angry they fill empty packs of cigarettes with rocks and chuck them onto the field.