Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Kevin Gregg

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Kid K? Well, A Middle Aged Version Close to Return

This is news I can get behind, and it really made my morning as I read that Kerry Wood, AKA Kid K, might be returning to the Chicago Cubs. Wood has always been one of my favorite Cub players and it hurt a little when we let him walk two years ago to Cleveland. while the Cubs turned to Kevin Gregg. 

Gregg pitched well at times, but a terrible weekend in Florida doomed him and the Cubs slim playoff hopes. Wood and the Indians struggled and it was evident that both sides had made a bad choice. This season, Wood was finally shipped to the Yankees, where he turned in two really solid months of pitching.

If Wood has turned the corner and can avoid long stints on the DL, the Cubs get a perfect pitcher to help secure the back end of the bullpen. With Carlos Marmol closing, Wood and Sean Marshall take over the 7th and 8th inning duties. The Cubs never found a Right-handed counterpart to Wood last year, and now the Cubs have a few opitions. Andrew Cashner will likely be be used in the 6th and 7th innings, which might be perfect for his development in low-pressure situations. The Cubs will likely trot out the ghost of John Grabow some, until they finally waive him or find a DL spot for him.


Now, the Cubs will likely be forced to trade or release somebody, because the Cubs have 40 players on the 40-man roster.


Here is just some quick speculation on the 40-man:


Starters


Carlos Zambrano


Ryan Dempster


Carlos Silva


Tom Gorzelanny


Jeff Smardzjia


Randy Wells


Andrew Cashner?


Dempster, Zambrano, and Silva are probably going to start. Other signings pending, that leaves the Cubs with four guys with two spots. Wells probably has a leg up, but I would think that someone is going to get dealt before the Wood signing is made offical.


Relievers


Marmol - Closer


Marshall - 7th/8th


Wood - 7th'/8th


Cashner - RH


Grabow - LH


That leaves two spots for the likes of James Russell, Casey Coleman, Brian Schlitter, Jeff Stevens, Esmailin Caridad, Thomas Diamond and Macos Mateo. Not to mention the Biobic Arm of Angel Guzman.

My guess is that Cubs at least try and give Grabow a chance since they are paying him four million dollars this year.


What do you guys think? I love the Wood idea, so I hope it is finalized.

Reader Blog: Cubs' 2009 castoffs: What are they doing now?

Milton Bradley
He's been slowed by a calf injury and, presumably, by the fact that he's certifiably insane. He's hitting .214 with two home runs and 12 RBI. He has a relatively poor .313 OBP. Oh, and he's mad again.

Aaron Miles
Miles disappointed the Cubs immensely in 2009, and did the same to the Reds in spring training. They designated him for assignment (i.e. released him) on April 5, and he signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals last Tuesday.

Reed Johnson
Jim Hendry let Johnson go in favor of free agent Xavier Nady. Johnson found a home with the Dodgers, and here's the comparison thus far:

Player-------AB-------Avg.------HR-----RBI-----OBP
Nady---------34-------.176----------1---------4-------.333
Johnson----48-------.271----------0--------4-------.286

So, basically, it's a big shoulder shrug of a move at this point. However, there's a $2.5 million difference in their salaries, so Nady needs to get it going to make Hendry's investment a good one.

Andres Blanco
He has only amassed 33 at-bats with the Rangers thus far--his slash line (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is an underwhelming .212/.278/.212.

Rich Harden
Rich Harden has been SO Rich Harden with the Rangers. He has not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his six starts this season, yet he's gone five innings or more just three times. His walk total in his first five starts: 5, 3, 6, 4, 5. Not good. He's had two pretty good starts in a row, however, including a dominant outing on Monday.

Aaron Heilman
You probably know what he's up to after having seen him pitch against the Cubs this weekend: six earned runs in just 10.2 innings on the season (5.06 ERA), plus five walks and two home runs.

Kevin Gregg
Gregg lost out on the closer role in spring training, but Jason Frasor's struggles have resulted in several save opportunities for him. He's 7-for-7 in those chances, has struck out 16 guys in 13 innings, and has a miniscule 0.69 ERA. Basically, he's been awesome. If we would have known he was going to do that, he would have fit real nicely in the eighth inning for the Cubs!

Read more of Brandon's work at his blog Wait 'til this Year!

Reader Blog: Trade Winds

Jim Hendry has been the Cubs GM since mid 2002, so we’ve got a lot of trades to look at. I’m going to highlight one or two from each season that strike me as particularly important or illuminating.

2002: Cubs trade Todd Hundley&Chad Hermansen for Mark Grudzeilanek&Eric Karros.

Hundley is my least favorite Cub of all time. He was shitty.  He was overpaid. And he was a mean son of a bitch. The Cubs handed him a 4 year, $23.5 million contract before the 2001 season. In his two years as a Cub, Hundley totaled 579 plate appearances and posted an OPS below 700. For those who prefer batting average, Todd hit .187 and .211 in 2001 and ’02. He’s most famous in Chicago for flipping off the home fans while rounding the bases after a home run. He was like Fukudome without the production, pleasant demeanor or sobriety.

Somehow, Jimbo convinced the Dodgers to take this sad sack off our hands, and send us something useful in return. Both Grudzeilanek and Karros contributed to the division winning squad in 2003. Grudz became our starting 2B, and he could inside out the ball to the opposite field as well as any hitter I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget watching Karros videotaping the playoffs from the Cubs dugout during the NLCS. It really felt like he was one of us. He wasn’t a bad platoon first baseman either.

Oh, and Hundley was pumped full of steroids for much of his career. So there’s that.

2003: Cubs trade Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback&a PTBNL for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton&Cash.

Cubs trade Ray Sadler for Randall Simon.

2003 was Hendry’s finest season. The Cubs would not have won their division that season were it not for Ramirez, Lofton and Simon. Lofton and Simon are long gone, while Aramis remains as the greatest Cubs 3B since Ron Santo. And Hendry gave up practically nothing to get them. Thanks, Pittsburgh!

2004: Cubs trade Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee.

Cubs trade Brendan Harris, Alex Gonzalez&Francis Beltran for Nomar Garciappara & Matt Murton.

The Choi for Lee deal rivals the Aramis Ramirez trade for the best of Hendry’s career. Clearly, Jim was on his game in the early nineties. Choi never realized his potential, and is probably best remembered for being carted off the field after an in game collision with Kerry Wood.  Derrek’s achievements speak for themselves. He is my favorite Cub, and I will be sad to see him go if this is truly his last season here.

As much as the Nomar trade did not work out, I believe now as I believed then that is was the right move to make. The Cubs SHOULD have won their division that season and were trying to add the missing piece for a postseason run. Obviously things didn’t work out. Mercker bitched, LaTroy imploded, Sammy stepped out, and the Cubs massively underachieved and missed the postseason altogether. The following April, Nomar suffered the most excruciating injury imaginable, and that was that. He was on the DL until August, and by that time the only interesting question left was whether DLee would win the 2005 NL MVP. The Cubs finished 21 games behind the Ratbirds, who won 100 times that year.

2005: Cubs trade Sammy Sosa & Cash for Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.

Cubs trade Ricky Nolaso, Sergio Mitre & Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre.

2005 was the first year that Hendry really pissed me off.  These two trades, which neatly wrap around a lost season, signal a real change in Jim’s ability to maximize value on the trade market. Let’s tackle the Sosa deal first. Sosa was a diva who didn’t mesh well with his teammates. He was getting older and was obviously on the decline. He still hit 35 HR in 2004. He should have brought more in return than he did. I believe he would have, if not for the systematic way the Cubs undermined any leverage they might have had in trading him. As you all undoubtedly remember, Sammy left the ballpark 15 minutes into the final game of the 2004 season. This became public, and it shortly became obvious that Sosa would never be welcomed back into the Cubs clubhouse. When 29 teams know you have to trade a guy, 29 teams will not give you good value in return. Fontenot was the only piece worth mentioning here, and he’s a platoon 2B who was nearly DFA’d by the club this past offseason.

Then there’s Juan Pierre. Hendry’s worst trade as the Cubs’GM. Full disclosure. I despised him then and I still do. Maybe it’s because, along with Josh Beckett and Pudge Rodriguez, I still associate him with the 2003 Marlins. Maybe it’s because he posted a crappy OBP with zero power. Or his limp dick outfield arm. Or maybe it’s because we lost 96 games and I needed a scapegoat. Here’s why this trade still pisses me off to this day: Ricky Nolasco is awesome. He’s exactly the kind of player the Cubs need to keep if they are going to be successful. And Jimbo traded him for one subpar year of a crappy player on a terrible team. GAHHHHHHHHHH.

2006: Cubs trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis.

This one is more emotional than anything else. Hendry traded Maddux to the Dodgers to give him a shot at winning a championship. Respect.

2007: Cubs trade Rocky Cherry and Scott Moore for Steve Trachsel.

WTF? Cherry and Moore were no great shakes, but I can’t begin to fathom what Hendry was hoping to accomplish here. Trachsel was old and finished. Trachsel made a few starts, didn’t pitch well, and was left off the postseason roster.

2008: Cubs trade Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson & Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin.

Cubs trade Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg.

Like the Nomar trade, the Harden deal was a well meaning, but ultimately failed attempt to improve the team for a deep postseason run. I saw Harden’s first Wrigley Field start in person. He was DOMINANT. If memory serves, he went 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 10 K. I was convinced he was the missing piece.  Two years later, the Cubs have no rings, and Harden struggles to get out of the third inning with fewer than 100 pitches thrown. At least it doesn’t look like those prospects amount to much.

Kevin Gregg was a disaster and I'm glad he's gone.

2009: Cubs trade Mark DeRosa for Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Christopher Archer.

And the Trixies wept.

2010: Cubs trade Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva & cash.

Cubs trade Aaron Miles, Jake Fox & cash for Jeff Gray, Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer.

Two things are obvious to me about these most recent trades: First, it is far too early to say anything definitive about these deals.  Second, they were all about Hendry fixing his free agency mistakes from the previous offseason. That’s never a good thing for a GM. I was furious with Hendry for suspending Bradley for the last 15 games of the 2009 season, as it robbed him of any leverage he might have had in trade talks. I was furious all over again when the Cubs traded for Silva, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the last several years. Now I’m just sort of numb. I know Silva isn’t an ace, and his sub – 1.00 ERA is the product of small sample size. I’d be thrilled if he finished the year with an ERA under 4.50, and right now that looks like a possibility. As for Gray, at least he got AAron Miles out of here. Meh.

Conclusions:
Hendry made a number of brilliant trades early in his GM career. Since 2004, he’s been significantly less productive in the trade market. It’s not clear whether other teams simply got smarter, Jim lost his touch, or something else altogether, but Hendry hasn’t had an obvious win since the trade that brought Derrek Lee to Chicago. Hendry’s trades aren’t getting it done anymore. He should be fired.

Editor's Note: If you want to also write on the Readers Blog page of GROTA, drop us a line and let us know!  If you do a bang-up job, we'll even promote your article to the front page of the site!

Who does John Grabow remind you of?

When it comes to baseball, people always love playing the "Guess Who These Stats Belong To?" game, so let's play. I submit to you the following set of statistics, each representing a unique relief pitcher:

Player A: 72.0 IP, 4.00 ERA, 7.63 K/9, 4.25 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, .297 BABIP
Player B: 70.2 IP, 5.35 ERA, 7.51 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 1.66 HR/9, .354 BABIP
Player C: 68.2 IP, 4.72 ERA, 9.31 K/9, 3.93 BB/9, 1.70 HR/9, .277 BABIP

If you're reading the body of this article, you probably glanced at the title first, so you know one of these three lines belongs to John Grabow (hopefully you ignored the tags, for later on). Actually, Grabow hasn't yet posted that line; instead, it's a projected 2010 total generated by Bill James (man, I'm not very good at this whole "suspense" thing, huh?). Take it for what it's worth, which to me is a decent starting point for a comparison to other pitchers.

I was inspired to do this comparison with some other notable former Cubs (oh look, a hint for B and C!) by Grabow's craptastic performance in his first two appearances so far this year. Yes, it's 1.1 innings, but already I'm reminded of painful memories from seasons past.

In just two short appearances, Grabow has evoked the worst skills of the last two most goat-like Cub relievers. By serving up a game-losing home run to Chipper Jones, I'm reminded of Bob Howry's 2008 campaign (Player B), and by walking the only batter he faced in Brian McCann I'm reminded of Kevin Gregg's 2009 season (Player C).

But look at those lines again. Howry threw fewer pitches outside the zone, sure, and Gregg strikes more batters out. But it's not the Ks or the BBs, or really even the BABIP that should stand out to you.

Over the course of their careers, all three pitchers have given up about one home run per nine innings pitched. But in the years we remember for Howry and Gregg, that rate skyrocketed.

It's likely that Grabow will suck in 2010. He walks too many batters and doesn't strike enough of them out (worse BB/9 rate than Gregg, same K/9 rate as Howry). But for him to officially take over as Goat Reliever, it'll come down to the number of home runs he allows -- which, at this rate, admittedly, could be pretty high. Hooray!

2009 Recap: Kevin Gregg

Kevin Gregg SUUUUUUCKS!
I think most Cub fans are aware that, by most accounts, Kevin Gregg did a terrible job closing for the Cubs in 2009.

I was one of several GROTA folks that defended a few bad outings here and there with regard to Gregg, trying to focus on the forest rather than a few mangled, dying, termite-infested trees.

But in the end, Gregg had an insurmountable problem that we just couldn't ignore. Worse, it was a problem that major league closers simply cannot survive with.

Gregg gave up 13 home runs in 68.2 innings pitched.

To put that in perspective, let's think about what that home run rate would do for a starter. Work with me here on a little math.

A typical starter would have three times Gregg's workload in a given year (60 * 3 = 180, 70 * 3 = 210, which is a reasonable range for SPs). They'd usually get that amount of work in over the course of 30-some starts.

13 times 3 is 39. That'd mean, in 30-something starts, Gregg would give up 39 home runs.

I mean, WGN would have to develop an "Inevitable Kevin Gregg-Allowed Home Run" graphic for every start!

The statheads among us think home run rates have a bit to do with luck (if you've ever read anything about BABIP, it's the same idea here). So maybe Gregg was simply unlucky in 2009, as over 15% of the fly balls opponents hit off of him left the park. That's about twice as many as his career average.

But then I think back to That One Game (I forget the team we were playing at the time), and how The Other KG served up an ice cream cone of a fat fastball to some division rival, and the guy hit it across the state border.

Not fun.

So, yeah, it didn't work out, which is too bad. If we had to have a closer with a crappy ERA, I'd have much preferred to keep Kerry Wood than to have traded for some goggle-wearing schmo from California. (Nothing against California, just being angry.)

Speaking of that trade, anybody have any idea what Jose Ceda's up to?

Go Cubs!

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Kevin Gregg has turned from average to douche


Alright then. So, it turns out that perhaps our earliest suspscions of Gregg were right -- after blowing last night's game against the hapless Padres, the Cubs are cutting the cord on Gregg's role as closer and turning to a different arm. As one of the Gregg defenders*, I'm disappointed by this turn of events, but I give props to the usually slow-to-act Lou Piniella for his quick response to three weeks of regular Gregg implosions. He's said after last night's debacle that the Cubs will finally be re-arranging the bullpen. But who wants to place bets on the likelihood of Lou turning to the right reliever?

(*y'know. Back when he was doing good and you all hated on him)

The present regulars of the bullpen include as follows:

Lefties: Sean Marshall, John Grabow

Righties: Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Aaron Heilman, Esmalin Caridad, Gregg

So, what are the odds of which pitcher assuming the closer's role in the coming days?

Carlos Marmol 2 to 1
Lou hasn't been as bad about having a "my guys" mentality as Dusty Baker was, but there are certainly signs of him grabbing onto players in certain roles long after they should've been dropped. The Dramatic Gopher, who is no longer effectively wild, belongs nowhere near a save situation or even a close game. But he's been the closer of the future for a couple of years now, and since Gregg has proven to be about as reliable as a 95 Saturn, Marmol will probably be Lou's choice.

Angel Guzman 4 to 1
And yet, he should be the guy. Guzman has been reliable and effective this year. He hasn't been pitching with over-powering stuff, but that's been Marmol's game and it's gotten him a lot of wild pitches and an excessive amount of walks. So which would you rather have -- the closer with the 1.2 SO/inning ratio or the closer with a mid 2's ERA?

Sean Marshall - 8 to 1
Before he had his recent rough-up, Marshall was pitching in relief with a sub-2 ERA. Even now, post rough-up, he's got an ERA of 2.77 in 26 innings of work with teams batting a meager .215 against him.

John Grabow - 20 to 1
He's been effective, posting a 2.98 ERA this year. But the man who looks like a Pirates of the Caribbean extra was brought to Chicago to be the other lefty middle reliever, not to close.

Aaron Heilman - 100 to 1
If Piniella thought he could get away with shoving Heilman down a flight of stairs, he would. As it is, Lou would probably sooner give up eating than give Heilman a shot at blowing more late inning games.

Esmalin Caridad - 100 to 1
Not that Caridad is bad or anything -- he's just way too new.

Kevin Gregg - 10 to 1
I wouldn't be shocked if Lou threw a curve at us and kept Gregg in the closer's role after all. Lou does not easily make decisions to change.

More on Gregg

Typically on GROTA we like to wax the baseball philisophical, but we do from time to time have the ability to actually use statistics to prove points.  With that in mind, let's revisit the Kevin Gregg saga one last time.

At this point, the majority of Gregg haters appear to be reactionary fans and pundits.  I don't blame the pundits so much for that -- guys like Kaplan have to shout into a microphone for hours at a time in an attempt to break through to an audience that tunes in and out every few minutes.  In other words, they are bound to express really stupid opinions, they are doomed to find themselves defending really bad ideas, and they will often find themselves under the microscope of fans who can exercise critical thought.  Still, that's why we're here.

The argument against Gregg can be surmised as follows:
-He's not elite
-He gives up too many homeruns to be a closer
-His stuff is not overwhelming
-He hasn't earned it
-I hates him!  I hates him forever!

Taking a closer look at Gregg and the other closers in baseball, we find the following:

He is indeed "average."  His 21 saves put him at 15th in the majors, and his 81% save conversion rate is in the lower half of the top 30 closers, along with his ERA.  However, we've never denied that Gregg isn't elite.  The problem is that elite closers are really, really rare.  I'm talking about the ones who save 90% of their games, who throw lightning rather than fastballs.  But the question is, do teams need that to win the World Series?

Let's take a look at the last 7 teams to win the Series, and their closers.
2008 - Phillies, Brad Lidge (41 saves, 0 blown, 9 homeruns surrendered, 1.95 ERA)
2007 - Red Sox, Jon Papelbon (37 saves, 3 blown, 5 homeruns surrendered, 1.85 ERA, 93% save rate) 
2006 - Cardinals, Jason Isringhausen (33 saves, 10 blown, 10 homeruns surrendered, 3.55 ERA, 77% save rate)
2005 - White Sox, Dustin Hermanson (34 saves, 5 blown, 4 homeruns surrendered, 2.04 ERA, 87% save rate)
2004 - Red Sox, Keith Foulke (32 saves, 7 blown, 8 homeruns surrendered, 2.17 ERA, 82% save rate)
2003 - Marlins, Braden Looper (28 saves, 6 blown, 4 homeruns surrendered, 3.68 ERA, 82% save rate)
2002 - Angels, Troy Percival (40 saves, 4 blown, 5 homeruns surrendered, 1.92 ERA, 91% save rate)

On the surface, we've got some elites in that crowd (Lidge, Pap, Percival) and some duds (Ishringhausen, Looper).  Teams do not need an elite closer to reach the playoffs, or even to win a World Series.

Furthermore, this "he gives up too many homeruns" nonsense is just that - nonsense.  It's true that Gregg has certainly served up an awful lot of homeruns this year, but from Brad Lidge and his 0 blown saves (despite the 9 homeruns he allowed) to Jason Isringhausen and his 10 surrendered longballs to Keith Foulke, who gave up 8-or-more homeruns in a season as a reliever/closer 7 times in his career, it is not the end-all be-all proof that Gregg's not reliable.  In fact, it all comes back to the conversion rate.

As of today, that rate is hovering at 81%.  Before the two ugly Florida games, he was at 88%.  Chances are, he'll finish the year closer to 85% than to 80%, and unless Lou misuses him (see: calling him to pitch the day after a 40 pitch effort) he'll probably have an ERA closer to 3.50 than to 4.00. 

So, again, Gregg is not exactly a world beater.  He won't follow the trail of Gagne toward Cy Young glory.  In fact, if Marmol is too wild to be effective in the 9th, which now appears to be the case, Gregg's tenure as the Cubs closer should probably only last this season assuming they have a shot at upgrading in the winter.  But for now, all things considered, Gregg is the best option the Cubs have.  Despite the ass-kicking dealt to him by the Marlins this past weekend, he's done nothing to lose the job and his work the previous three months was impeccable.  And even if he's "merely average," there is a precedent of teams winning championships with closers worse than he. 

Therefore, sorry FroDog, apologies Kap, but you're wrong if you want him booted and you're wrong if you think he'd be the reason the Cubs might not win it all.  Gregg isn't a problem, but his use by Piniella may become one.

Hey everybody, let's all hate Kevin Gregg!


Seriously, Cub fan nation? You're going to be that fickle? You're going to hate Kevin Gregg because of back-to-back blown saves? Really?

I guess somebody needs to point out the following to you:

14.0 IP in July, with 8 saves (and 0 blown) and an ERA of 1.93.

13.0 IP in June, with 5 saves (2 blown) and an ERA of 2.77.

11.2 IP in May, with 7 saves (0 blown) and an ERA of 3.86.

That's 38.2 IP, 20 saves, 2 blown, and an ERA of 2.79 since May 1st, before his last two outings. So, just out of curiosity, which is the real Kevin Gregg -- the one who saved 91% of his games or the one who got roughed up on 38 pitches, only to be called out again the very next night to get roughed up some more?

I get it -- whether you ever thought it possible or not, this is an exciting season, the Cubs are competitive, and we have become invested again in how they play. Granted, back before July nobody would've thought it possible that they might be in first place right now. Granted, the people who pronounced the Cubs dead on the scene back then are the same people who now want to burn Gregg in effigy. Therefore I might suggest that it's a bit of a mistake to follow that crowd because those will be the same people in a fervor of panic if a playoff spot's not locked up by the last week of September, and they'll be jumping off cliffs if a playoff Cubs team is trailing by a run after six innings in the first game of the NLDS. This reactionary mentality is not what we need.

I'll concede that Gregg's not the best closer in baseball. But guess what? The Cubs can't have the best at every position and who they have will do the job often enough to warrant his use in that role. And if you want to bail on a guy with a 2.79 ERA from May 1st through July 31st, with 20 saves in 22 tries, who happened to get hammered on back-to-back nights, then you are probably not equipt for the volatile, unpredictable nature of baseball. After all, no player who exists will be able to meet your unrealistic standards and your obnoxious expectations. Worse still, this attitude is embarrassing if not humiliating as it proves right those who'd criticize Cub fans as being far too hard on their team.

In other words, the next time somebody wearing a St. Louis hat tells me that Cub fans are douchebags, remembering how many grew to hate the best closer this team has had since Beck because of back-to-back games, how will I be able to refute it? I suppose I'll be able to counter by saying "no, we only do douchebag things, such as when we turned on Gregg for failing to will his arm into pitchable shape when the team needed him the night after a 40-pitch outing." Yep, I'm sure that will shut them up real quick.

Game and Series Recap: Cubs 2, Marlins 3 (1 games to 2) -- Funk dat.

Game Recap
This one's gonna be short, because I enjoy writing about embarrassing Cub performances about as much as you like reading about them.

Which is to say, not very much at all.

This weekend would have been a lot more fun if our bullpen could have gotten outs every time they took the mound. On Friday, Marmol stunk it up. On Saturday, Samardzija and Gregg coughed up leads. On Sunday, Gregg was at it again.

Before we all start hooting and hollering about who the Cubs closer should be, I just want to point out two things.

---

1) Kevin Gregg's June/July numbers.

His April was pretty shitty, and his May was pretty meh-diocre. But let's look at the groove Gregg had been in before this past weekend.

In 27 innings pitched between June and July, Gregg had allowed just 17 hits, 8 walks, and collected 25 strikeouts. With only seven earned runs allowed, that gave him a 2.33 ERA for the J months.

Clearly, he's a capable reliever. And he's gotten a ton of saves already. So what gives with the last two outings?

Saturday is hard to account for. Two outs, two strikes--you gotta close that out, man. Maybe pitching in Florida made him nervous; maybe the opposing staff knew what he was going to throw (did we have that advantage against Wood?); maybe he's an idiot.

But Sunday was a little more surprising.

2) Kevin Gregg threw 38 pitches on Saturday.

We love Lou Piniella. We've given him various amounts of grief throughout his Cubs tenure, depending on the latest performance of our team. We may or may not have had an "axe Lou" series earlier this season, but we realize that, for the most part, he's better than the rest.

At the same time, there's one thing Lou has never been good at, and that's managing a bullpen. Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol are two quick examples of Lou inexplicably overworking arms, often to the detriment of the team.

Does Lou take the blame for Sunday's crap outing from Kevin Gregg? I'd be willing to pin a sliver of it on him. In my recap from the previous game, I mentioned that I expected to see Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall used in today's game, since everyone else had been worked pretty hard the night before. Of course, Lou didn't use either of those relievers, and stuck with his main 'pen rotation.

---

Maybe I'm making crap excuses for a crap closer. But really, what else can we do? He's our guy. Hopefully, it's not close against the Reds, and we get another outstanding performance from a starter like we did in Sunday's game with Dempster.

If you don't buy my excuses with Gregg, please let me know. Regardless, I have a feeling he's still gonna be the closer this month. And I'd say I'm OK with that.

Go Cubs.

Current Record: 55-48
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, .5 games behind St. Louis
Magic Number: 58 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 114-48
Worst Possible Record: 55-107
Record needed to win 90: 35-24
On Pace For: 86-76

Game Recap: Cubs 9, Marlins 8 -- WTF?

Well, that was fun.

A lot happened in last night's game. Working backwards: Soriano saw time at 2nd and 3rd in the 10th inning; Derrek Lee hit his 21st home run in the top of the 10th inning, after Kevin Gregg blew a three-run lead despite getting two outs and two strikes on the third hitter; of Carlos Marmol's first 17 pitches in the 8th inning, three were for strikes (he would get two strikeouts from that point); and Jeff Samardzija gave up three notable runs in 1.2 innings pitched in relief of an injured Carlos Zambrano.

Oh yeah, and the Cubs won.

This was a pretty wild game, a game that puts the Cubs in a bit of a bind today. With almost everyone in the 'pen having gotten some serious work, it seems like we can almost guarantee appearances from Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall in today's game.

Speaking of guarantees, I can also almost guarantee that Jeff Samardzija will be sent to Triple A Iowa as soon as the Cubs add newly-acquired SP Tom Gorzelanny to the active roster. Furthermore, I hope he stays there for the rest of the season and figures out how the hell he's supposed to pitch. It's clear that this kid is not ready for the bigs, and in that case, why is he here?

Other storylines we'll need to keep an eye on going forward: what's up with Big Z's back? Zambrano left last night's game after three innings with back tightness. He claimed it wasn't serious at the time, but who knows what effect this will have on an already thin rotation?

Another injured Cub in last night's game was Aramis Ramirez. Rammy got dizzy after being hit in the "meaty part" of the forearm with a pitch. The dizziness thing sounds more like exhaustion or dehydration than anything serious, so we'll see if he plays in today's game.

Ideally, Ryan Dempster pitches seven innings today, Stevens and Marshall close it out, and the offense scores a bunch of runs. For some reason, I have a feeling it'll be a little more exciting than that.

Go Cubs!

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