The Pirates got off to a 7-5 start but have gone a more Pirate-like 3-10 since. Their recent slide is not the result of bad luck--the fact is, they don't do much of anything well. They've scored just 86 runs this season (second-worst in the NL) while allowing more than twice that many (175, worst in the NL). This amazingly bad run differential puts them on pace to be outscored by nearly 600 runs this season. While that's really, really unlikely to happen, it's clear that Pittsburgh is really, really bad.
Which is nothing new, of course. The Cubs went 10-4 against them last year after going 14-4 the year before. Though the Cubs will be away from home, they really need to start the road trip off right by winning--if not sweeping--this series. Fortunately, using the transitive property, we can see that the Pirates have been outscored by an average of seven runs per game in their six contests with the Brewers this year, while the Cubs have outscored the Brewers by an average of four runs per game; therefore, the Cubs will outscore the Pirates by an average of 11 runs per game in this series. That's science.
Tuesday, May 4--Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) vs. LH Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83)
Dempster has been on fire lately, even if he did lose his last start. He beat the Pirates twice last year, but had a modest 4.66 ERA against them. While it's still early, Dempster's road split is actually better than his home split so far this season--he has a 1.32 ERA in two road starts, with three walks and 13 strikeouts.
Maholm's last two starts were almost identical: 7 IP, 4 ER in both. His one start against the Cubs last year was the reverse: 4 IP, 7 ER, though the Pirates won that game 10-8 (look who got the win). He struggles against righties, so Xavier Nady is likely to get a start here against his former team.
Wednesday, May 5--Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) vs. Charlie "Holy crap look how bad my numbers are" Morton (0-5, 12.57)
These two matched up last September 30, with Morton throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout. In mid-August, however, Morton lasted just one inning against the Cubs and gave up 10 earned runs. Morton has been downright awful this season: he's allowed at least three earned runs in all five of his starts, given up seven long balls, and has allowed more than two hits and walks per inning pitched (2.17 WHIP). Go get 'im, boys.
It was probably unfair to assume that despite having just come off the DL, Lilly would stay in the groove he was in when he faced Milwaukee. He struggled with his control and gave up several long balls in his second start of the year last week against Arizona, giving him one great start and one terrible one on the season. Lilly was 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA against the Pirates last year. Andy LaRoche is the only current Pirate with a home run off Lilly, while Ryan Doumit is 5-for-15 in his career against him.
Thursday, May 6--Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) vs. LH Brian "TBD" Burres (1-1, 6.00)
The Pirates have not yet announced Thursday's starter--someone needs to fill in for the injured Ross Ohlendorf. Burres did so admirably last week with 5.1 scoreless against the Dodgers, and seems a likely candidate for the series finale. Only Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady have faced him more than three times--Nady is 2-for-7 against him while Byrd's one hit off him was a home run. Recently recalled Brian Bass would seem to be the other potential starter for this game (9.00 ERA in 2 IP).
Wells had his worst start of the season on Friday, though he still got the win. He had success against the Pirates last year, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Andrew McCutchen is 3-for-5 against him.
Wendy and I went to our first ballgame of the year today, and it appears we picked a winner. Everybody hit, even the pitcher, even Ramirez. It helped that Dave Bush is quite possibly the easiest pitcher to hit I have ever witnessed since Rick Sutcliffe was on his last comeback back in the day.
It was a good day, when you stick around to see if Colvin could get the cycle. It was a good day when a mope came in wearing a bedsheet like a cape with the Cubs "logo" painted on it, instead it said "Choke". He held it up before the game, and after the first inning. Dang it if I didn't see it again the rest of the game. It was a good day when I called Colvin's shot, and when I noted that DLee needed to "get better", I was asked to explain myself, and a second later, when his ball crashed into the back wall, I just said "never mind, don't know what I'm talking about."
Randy Wells is not a "stuff" guy, as we all know. He is a control guy, I have dared compare him before to a former pitcher who is now a Special Assistant for us, who has his number on a flagpole. I'll do it again. Guys go up there, pop his stuff up, and slam their damn bats in disgust. You think you can hit him, but obviously not. He could be good for a long time in this league, because often "stuff" fails you, but command is forever.
As for the hitters...I was MFing The Riot today, as he was crashing homers at batting practice. Oh Jesus Kaay-rist, I said, that's all he needs. I guess he managed to dial things down a bit for the game. Colvin is the truth, people. Lou has to play him, don't know how. Soriano was STRONG today, but has never and will never understand how to work a pitcher. He is the John Daly of baseball, grip it and rip it.
You wonder if all number 8 hitters should just do what Geo Soto is doing right now. I dunno how long his patience is going to last, but he simply refuses to swing unless it is HIS pitch. As a result, his OBP is around .550. Yes, small sample size be damned, that's just sick.
As for Ramirez, have you noticed how THIN he is? He is a good 15 pounds less than usual, and he never really had to lose any. I wonder if we are going to find out if he was really sick this winter, or maybe there was a problem with his rehab. But his shirt just hangs off of him, and I wonder if there is any correlation between that and his weak performance so far?
But before we go ahead and declare our offense healed, keep in mind how piss poor the Brewers pitching is when Gallardo doesn't take his turn. Jeff Suppan got Zambrano'd after his Friday start, and Bush was simply useless today. Let's take baby steps here, Tomorrow we entertain the friggin' Nationals, who at this point, even after our series sweep, still have a better record than us. Let's see how that goes.
Oh yeah, some mope leaned over too far today and fell 15 feet onto the field. Heh heh, that rocked! That rocked! Heh heh.
Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!
Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
So much for southern hospitality. The Braves continued their trend of picking on the Cubs bullpen last night thanks to the bat of Larry "Chipper" Jones and the lukewarm display of pitching by John Grabow. In both games so far the Cubs have gotten the lead. Tonight they look to hold onto the lead and get a win on get-away day.
The starting pitchers for tonight's matchup have taken very different paths to get to where they are today. Tommy Hanson was widely regarded as one of the game's best young pitchers before his callup in June and backed the hype up with results. Armed with four "plus" pitches (including a filthy slider... look out Fonzie), Hanson carried a 2.59 ERA and averaged over a strikeout per inning over his last 20 starts last season. To say that the Braves expect great things from him for years to come is an understatement. Hanson is a strikeout pitcher that doesn't give up many home runs or walks. Despite the low walk totals, if the Cubs are going to have any success against Hanson, they are going to have to be patient at the plate and hope Tommy pitches himself into some jams.
Randy Wells was easily one of the most pleasant surprise stories in an otherwise frustrating year for Cubs fans. Wells was the first Cubs rookie since Kerry Wood in 1998 to reach double digit wins, and did so with much less hype. Wells is still a work in progress and relies a great deal on control rather than "stuff" but so far it has led to success in the majors. Wells hopes to continue the success he had against the Braves last season (1-0, 13 IP, 3 ER, 8 K over two starts). It would be nice to see Wells repeat his performance in Atlanta from last year without a bullpen implosion. One can only hope.
Brian McCann- Looks like the Braves made the right move trading away Jarrod Saltalamacchia and sticking with McCann. He's hitting .400 with a 1.000 SLG so far and has perenially been one of the league's best catchers.
Troy Glaus- Batting a whopping .143, the human windmill (or Adam Dunn Light, without the OBP) has 6 K's in his last 7 AB's, four of them coming last night for a golden sombrero. To top it off, he made a key error that (briefly) got the Cubs in the game.
Hate to bring it up, as two games in it is already a dead horse, but the Cubs will go as far as their bullpen will let them. So far the 'pen has been pretty shaky outside of Sean Marshall. Hopefully the Cubs can get rid of some of that bad mojo tonight with a solidly pitched game on all fronts tonight.
Although 2009 was hardly the year we'd hoped for, there were a few pleasant surprises. First among them was the breakout season of one Randy David Wells, a late-blooming starter who was almost lost to the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 during the 2008 season.
Wells made 1 appearance in Toronto before being sent back to the Cubs, and in '09 he was promoted out of necessity. Turns out it was the right move to make, as he'd begin his '09 campaign with an inexplicable 0-3 record through 7 starts (including 4 in which he pitched into the 7th inning) and an ERA in the high 1's to mid 2's. Were it me, I would have probably been giving first-hand, one-on-one, beat-downesque examples of how to use a bat to my offense after every failure to provide support. But not Wells.
In an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Goat Riders, Wells said "You know, I wasn't frustrated at all. It was one of those situations where you just couldnt explain it. Guys would tell me, 'Hey, we are gonna get this one for you today,' or, 'we got you today,' and the whole team was pulling for me which I thought this is cool. I was just having fun. I mean I spent a whole lot of years in AAA on the cuff so to be up there pitching well was all I was trying to do, (and) you can't control the unknown
inner demons of the game of baseball sometimes. That's just the way things shake out, plus to get my win on Fathers Day made the wait even more special."
In 2010, fans and GROTA alike are hoping that Wells will build on the success he eventually found last year. After netting his first win, he'd go 8-1 in his next 9 decisions, and he finished the year with a 12-10 record and an ERA of 3.05 -- the best rookie pitching performance the Cubs have seen since Kerry Wood way back in 1998. Wells also expects to build on last year's successes.
In the EXCLUSIVE! INTERVIEW!! with Goat Riders, Wells said, "My personal goals for this year are to just be better than last year in every category. Go back, watch tape, and talk to Larry, Geo and Koyie (in order to) figure out why I was successful and why I wasn't. I want to eliminate the mistakes I can eliminate, and exploit the things I did good, and stay focused for an entire season and stay strong and healthy and win ball games. If I can do that, I should be in good shape and the team will win because Z and Demp and everyone in camp is getting after it and ready to win."
Certainly Wells will face sophomore obstacles. But he will at least have had a full season to prepare for the endurance of a 162 game schedule. Last year by September it seemed as though he was running on fumes on the mount, although he remained successful until the last game he played. Wells may even perform at a higher level as he learned recently that he was suffering from blurry vision, resulting in a need to wear glasses while on the mound. The press ribbed him about this, joking that he was the "Wild Thing." But don't look for Wells to act the part, as he says he will not be wearing black framed,silver-skull glasses any time soon.
In his EXCLUSIVE!!! GROTA!!!! INTERVIEW!!!!! ASDFJKL!!, Wells said, "If it wouldn't be such a knock, and rip off of one of the best movies of all time I would wear them and get the Wild Thing haircut too, but it would also be too much of a distraction. The media would be in my locker all the time and the Wrigley clubhouse is small, and it would be a mess. Plus, that's not my personality. I don't like to bring a lot of attention to myself so I'll just stick with the Oakleys."
We appreciate his candor, his willingness to respond, and we hope that he will provide the team with a reliable arm from a spot in the rotation in 2010. We also challenge Wells to the following: if at any point he wins 10 decisions in a row, he must either wear the Wild Thing glasses OR grow a foo-man-choo mustache and a mullet.
Regardless, though, we will obviously be pulling for him and hoping for the best.
Along with the Rejuvenation of Derrek Lee, Randy Wells was the nicest surprise of 2009. When you consider that our best story as about a pitcher without "stuff" that ended up a whopping two games over .500, this should tell you a lot about the abortion of a season we just witnessed.
I almost feel like writing three short summaries on Wells: one as a Kool-Aid swiller, in which I compare Wells favorably to Greg Maddux: one as the Uncouth Sloth, where I make note of his scraped knuckles which attests to his lack of evolutionary genetics; and a final middle of a road version that points out his innings-eating ordinariness.
After all, what do you make of a guy who made nobody's prospect lists; was not mentioned in any of the preseason Peavy speculation; was never on anyone's radar as the Savior of the Cubs (the way the Great Starlin Castro is being portrayed currently, for example)? He was brought up in semi-desperation when the rest of the staff suffered their spate of small injuries this May, and battled like a sumbitch in his first several starts, including a couple of sure wins pissed away by our bullpen.
I don't need to tell any of you that Wells, physically, doesn't possess ANYTHING special whatsoever; he isn't a "stuff" guy like Zambrano and Harden, does not have Lilly's intensity, nor the brawn and strength of Dempster. He seems to operate with his location and control, much like a certain Mr. Maddux during his early years - except that Greg was rocked for 14 losses and an ERA well over 5.
Wells deserved somewhat better than his 12-10 record - if we had any sort of closing ability and clutch hitting, Wells could be sitting more like 16-7, so when I evaluate him, I take this into consideration. Which is why I am spinning in circles right now - a 16-7 pitcher IS someone special in today's game, but there isn't anything whatsoever in his game that suggests that he may go 16-7 next year, or ever again.
He died down the stretch, which is actually understandable when you consider this was his first full big-league season, teams naturally adjust to a pitcher his second trip thru the league, and this was probably his biggest workload ever. So there is hope that next spring, he will be at full strength and as good as he will ever be. That's OK, right? But exactly what is "good as he ever will be" for Randy Wells?
The Kool Aid Klub probably expects him to battle his way to 16-18 wins next year. The pessimist in me simply can't shake the trauma of the cautionary tales of Jeff Pico, Jeremi Gonzalez and Frank Castillo, who initially excelled only to sink into mediocrity, or worse. But, as realistically as I can look at this, I see a guy who can be a valuable 3rd or 4th starter, as long as his mental toughness holds out. He never gives up on a hitter; responds positively to adversity, and as a home-grown product that cost us a low draft pick, is the gravy at Thanksgiving dinner.
It isn't going to be the thing that compels the family to come to the table, but without it, things sure would suck. I'll take some Wells on my spuds, my dressing, and sure, just pour it everywhere, thanks.
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Maybe knowing that he was down to the last hundred yards of the marathon, Randy Wells decided it was okay to give it all he had left. Whatever the reason, Wells pitched 7 solid innings of 3-hit, 1-walk, 10-strikeout baseball to punctuate the end of his season. Very fittingly, Jason Stark wrote an article today in which he presumptively awarded the NL Rookie of the Year trophy to Chris Coghlan. Runners up included J.A. Happ, Tommy Hanson, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, and Casey McGehee. Wells didn't even receive an honorary mention.
For the record, his worn-down showing in September definitely would have played against him anyway, but no matter what the outcome I doubt Wells will get serious contention from the voters. But he finishes the season with a 12-10 record, a 3.05 ERA, and with 46 walks to 104 strikeouts. His only pitching rival, J.A. Happ, who I promise you will blow Wells away in the voting, is 12-4, with a 2.85 ERA, and with 55 walks to 118 strikeouts. Then again, Happ's younger.
Anyway, on top of Wells and his last gasping breath of a pitching performance, the Cubs managed 8 hits and 5 walks -- which they parlayed into 5 runs. Geo Soto is desperately trying to get his AVG over .220 -- he went 2 for 2 with 2 walks and 2 RBI (if only he'd raised his average to .222 today). I think it's safe to say, on this late date, that Soto proved without a doubt to be the lost cause Rob said he was way back in May ... but next season is a new story.
Speaking of next season, it can't get here soon enough. But tomorrow is the last of this year. We'll have the preview and recap and, mercifully, it'll be over.
Nelson Figueroa (1-3, 5.40 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (7-5, 3.80 ERA)
I hope everybody can read the sarcasm in my typing about the doom and gloom of the Cubs. If not, I still want the Cubs to play well, but I can't write the same things over and over about the Cubs still having chances to make the playoffs. So that being said, lets take a look at another player locked up in 2010.
Starting Pitcher - No. 4 Starter (Randy Wells)
Contract 2009: 402 Thousand
Contract 2010: 400+ Thousand
Stats 2009: 9-7 , 3.06 ERA in 126 2/3 innings. 78/33 K/BB Ratio with a 1.22 WHIP
Randy Wells has been better than anybody could have imagined this season. He was so good, that the Cubs pushed Sean Marshall to the bullpen to be the LOOGY, which worked as well. The problem was the offense once again not hitting, which meant that Randy didn't pick up a lot of wins, and neither did the Cubs.
Now, the Cubs have a guy that can slot into the rotation once again for 2010. I have a feeling that he will be a lot like Ryan Dempster, in the fact that he will probably see his ERA rise quite a bit in 2010. My guess is that he ends up being a 3.80 ERA to 4.20 ERA for next year, which is not terrible, but not really special either. The good thing is that he will be the No. 4/5 starter, so he doesn't have to be an ace.
Now the Cubs are making one last run at the Wild Card, the Cubs are going to throw Wells at least a few more times. The moment that chase ends, the Cubs really need to shut him down for the rest of year, so he doesn't develop any arm problems. I have to say, I'm quite happy with his performance and the fact he will make make less than 12 million dollars for next year.
2010 Payroll: 44.8 Million (4 Starting Pitchers)
2010 Average: 12.2 Million a player
Milton Bradley - Hey, better late than the never, right? He had three more hits yesterday and his average is up to .268.
Jake Fox - Fox hit his first career grand slam yesterday, and he gets another start today with Alfonso Soriano still nursing his bum knee. Fox has 39 RBI and 10 HR's now.
Derrek Lee - Hey, even our best player has to have an 0 for 5 day every now and then.
I leave you today with Bruce Miles and his quote from Lou Pinella:
So I figured I’d ask Lou what he thought of his team being written off.
“I love it,” he said. “I hope they continue to write that. It would
be nice. What people write or don’t write has no bearing on how we do.
It’s good. There’s nothing wrong with playing the role of a big
underdog. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve got to go out and play
on the field regardless of what people write or don’t write. The less
attention, the better.”
Really, there were five key players in tonight's win over the Reds.
First off, we had the Cubs' True Ace, the Second Son of God, Randy Wells.
Last time out, Cub fans were hoping Randy could pitch a good number of innings since the bullpen had been worked so hard in the few games before. This time, Cub fans found themselves in exactly the same place.
Last time, Wells responded by throwing eight innings. Tonight, he got through 7.1 innings pitched, before Key Player #2 John Grabow came on to get an inning-ending double play ball (after hitting a batter, if I remember correctly).
Perhaps the best synonym for "ace" that defines Randy Wells these days is "stopper." When the Cubs have really needed a shutdown performance, a bunch of innings while holding the opposition's offense in check, Randy's given it to them. I think in the postgame press conference, Lou himself posed a question, which was something to the effect of: "Where would we be without this guy?" It's a pretty scary question, actually.
Wells and Grabow covered innings one-thru-eight on the mound. Before we talk about the pitching in the ninth, let's talk about the two Cub hitters with RBIs this evening.
First off, kudos to Mike Fontenot (KP #3). Mike was able to put a good swing on a Aaron Harang fastball with two men on, giving the Cubs a nice 3-0 lead that would end up being enough to win the game tonight. Good to see, indeed.
Also, Derrek Lee (KP #4) was credited with an RBI tonight. His double chased Aaron Harang from the mound, and gave the team even more cushion in the ninth inning.
Speaking of the ninth, let's get back to the pitching. The reliever Piniella went with to close out tonight's win was Carlos Marmol (KP #5), as Kevin Gregg was suffering from a little bit of a dead arm (a completely reasonable response to having thrown 38 pitches two nights before, and 10 the day after that).
Personally, I was kinda hoping he'd keep Grabow in for another hitter, just to see if he could get some additional outs before going with the Human Walkman. But with the Walkman he went, and so the fun began.
Marmol walked the leadoff guy, and gave up a single as well before eventually facing Alex Gonzalez with two men on. In what ended up being an 11-pitch at-bat, Carlos hung about five sliders to Gonzalez (this is by no means an exaggeration--at least five breaking pitches were thrown middle-up). Gonzalez fouled four of them off, before making Carlos pay on the fifth.
Fortunately, Willy Tavares sucks really hard, and Carlos was able to escape the jam with the next batter and preserve the win. But man, was it fun in the meantime!
At the end of the day, the Cubs are back in first place. Cool!
The teacher is only giving out one 'A' this year, I bet you can guess who it is, especially if you look at the tag.
The All-Star break is regarded as the halfway point of the season, but truth be told, the Cubs should play their 81st game this Sunday, besides, the calendar now says July, and truth be told, I have the time today to devote to a report card. I don't grade on a curve, and it should be no surprise that this teacher is very disappointed in the class standing as a whole.
#1 - Kosuke Fukudome: D
Plusses: fundamentally solid outfielder, high OBP
Minuses: has not, and apparently will not adjust to MLB pitching. Has admitted he ignored Sweet Lou's instructions this off-season, and did his own thing, because after all, he himself has a whole year of big league experience, and Lou only has 40 or so. I do not begrudge him an adjustment period, but that should have ended last September or so. A free agent bust.
Fangraphs has Fukudome as being the 10th best center fielder in baseball this year. Which isn't exactly what you want from a guy who's earning, what, 10 or 12 million? I think that if Fukudome was playing in RF, his defensive prowess might actually make up for his offensive lackings. But until that time, Rob's right. He's toast. Since "10th" is average, but since he's been disappointing since May and is earning "above average" pay, I'm going to say ... C-.
#2 - Ryan Theriot: C
Plusses: sure hands, a sweet little opposite-field hitter when he's not too busy trying to be Babe Ruth.
Minuses: got all full of himself after his little homer binge, forgot what brought him to the big leagues for over a month. Has no range at shortstop. My biggest gripe about The Riot - has taken over the Dumbest Baserunner mantle from Ronny Cedeno.
Range is an antiquated stat; they have come up with better ways to tell us that Theriot sucks at shortstop. Except he's actually not bad there. Despite his weak arm -- probably a fairer criticism than his so-called "lack of range" -- there have only been three shortstops who've done better defensively this year according to Fangraphs. Then again, offensively Theriot's a Big Zero, despite his homer prowess. What we've said about him before remains true now ... bat him leadoff or bat him 8th, and with his recent lack of discipline 8th is about where he belongs (assuming no Cub is slumping so bad to warrant it themselves). B-.
#4 - Ryan Freel: F
Plusses: the highlight of his year was his "manly" brushoff of his John Danks beanball.
Minuses: that brushoff was utterly doucheworthy. Should be home selling tires.
Word. Glad he's gone.
#5 - Jake Fox: B-
Plusses: after hitting like 200 home runs in fifteen games in Iowa, deserved a callup.
Minuses: is showing himself to be the Quadruple-A player he is. Some days he mashes - other days, he hits five harmless pop flies, which is unacceptable when you have ZERO defensive skill. Needs to be traded IMMEDIATELY to an AL team with offensive needs.
Way too early to tell. No offense, Rob, but name me a rook who doesn't have days in which he hits five harmless pop flies. Also, so far he's perhaps a Cey or a Moreland on the field, but I haven't seen any gut-wrenchingly bad blunders. Inc.
#6 - Micah Hoffpauir: C
Plusses: fields slightly better than Fox, and his Micah-on-Micah homer was interesting.
Minuses: needs to be hitting closer to .300. Of course, unless he gets 600 PAs, we'll never know, but when management has invested $40 million annually into three corner outfielders...
I'm not sure what you're looking for in a bench hitter, but Hoffpauir should be it. His .242 AVG looks crappy (ignoring the 17 homeruns he's on pace to hit) but he's a damn sight better in that role than Ward was last year. Speaking of which ... let's keep him there in that role. C+.
#7 - Aaron Miles: F
Plusses: has been considerate enough to allow the Cubs to hide him on the DL
Minuses: an utter failure in all respects of baseball playing this year. A total washout. And see, I got through this without mentioning the "DeRo" word at all...
Can't really argue this one at all.
#9 - Reed Johnson: B-
Plusses: he's White Slice! And, he plays well, when healthy
Minuses: he isn't healthy.
Not healthy in the slightest, but he's due back shortly (putting the Cubs in a roster dilemma) and it's hard to fault a guy for playing so hard his back gives out. B.
#12 - Alfonso Soriano: F
Plusses: hit a lot of early home runs. Plus, he intends to "take his kid to the zoo" during the All-Star break. Awww!
Minuses: for $136 million, need more than a .230 batting average and an "open relationship" with outfield defense. When one night of Sam Fuld in left feels as refreshing like a cool summer breeze, you as the incumbent are doing something wrong.
Here's the thing. We were all expecting Soriano to be a long-term bust. Nobody thought he would be earning his wage in Year Eight of his ridiculous contract, but if he helped the Cubs win the World Series in Year Four, who'd care? I don't think anybody expected Year Three to be the drop-off year -- he's got time (if not this season) to bounce back, but it's a long, painful downhill slide once those wrists slow down. D-, because he has been good at points.
#13 - Andres Blanco: B
Plusses: master tanner. Knows his leather. If I were Sweet Lou, would consider flip-flopping him and The Riot defensively.
Minuses: Andy White and MLB pitching have never been friends. If we had a normal offense, we could swallow his .240 average in the 8 hole to accomodate his excellent defense. But, we don't have one of those - an offense, I mean.
On a team where offensive support is not a given, the Cubs cannot afford to indulge Rob's hetro-love for Andres Blanco. But considering that Blanco is perhaps the only Cub in the entire organization who can legitimately play second and short, I'd keep him around. D+.
#16 - Aramis Ramirez: Inc
Plusses: he IS Clutchy McClutcherson. Plus, he is devoted to his cocks in the offseason.
Minuses: when wearing the uniform, the shirt should drape down uniformly down both sides of the upper body. Unsightly bulges in the shoulder region are ugly and scare young children and impressionable sportswriters. Will give the team a short-term boost upon his return, but I myself am trying hard to temper my anticipation.
I'm not sold that his return will magically lift the team -- especially if he can't even lift his arm above his head -- but there's no doubt that he makes the Cubs better with his presence.
#17 - Mike Fontenot: D+
Plusses: has been asked to step out of his comfort zone in playing third base.
Minuses: his overall production in 2009 strongly suggests that Font's purpose in life is to be a backup infielder and pinch hitter against righties.
Epic disagreement. Fontenot in his comfort zone + right handed hitters = better than anybody else who should be playing second base for the Cubs. His problem has been the fact that he's 7 for 39 against lefties -- a total turd burger. Still, D+ about sums it up.
#18 - Geovany Soto: D-
Plusses: appears to be slowly losing weight, and just as slowly finding his way at the plate.
Minuses: adheres to the same off-season fitness regimen as I do: get stoned; eat my weight in deep-fried complex carbs, sleep, repeat. Seriously, it appears that Geo did not did tend to his craft seriously this off-season, and it is our hope that he has learned a valuable lesson, and does not repeat the same mistake next year.
I'd give Soto a D for disappointment, but apart from his slow start he's been pretty much all you could ask for in a catcher. The ridiculous thing is that, among catchers with enough at bats to qualify, he's been the third best in the NL this year. Yep, catchers suck that badly. C.
#21 - Milton Bradley: F
Plusses: hasn't murdered anyone, as far as we know, so far in 2009.
Minuses: legally speaking, if someone died from hypertension or stroke while watching this buttstain flip a ball into the crowd with only two outs, it isn't Murder, per se. I don't really have anything else I can say about him that doesn't contain obscenity.
He really brings it upon himself. Seriously, if you have issues with how fans treat you DON'T SIGN WITH THE CUBS! It's not that Cub fans are bad, per se, but they are passionate. And if you suck, you will learn about it... passionately. F+, because he's been hitting the ball since his slow start.
#25 - Derrek Lee: B+
Plusses: reports of his demise have been exaggerated. Yep, I include myself. Has had a sensational June.
Minuses: his best days are behind him. He is the team leader; when anyone else is interviewed about the team, it's always "DLee says this" and "DLee does that". Thus, I hold him somewhat responsible for some of the dysfunction this year. Perhaps I am asking too much, to expect a good man to perform a miracle, to lead these morons to a better, more productive place. Hey, I gave him a B+, I don't REALLY expect miracles.
I love Derrek Lee for one simple reason: fans turned into total douchebags about him last year. We haven't forgotten, and it's nice for Broad Proclaimers to be occassionally put in their place. Since Mr. Lee is not responsible for the clubhouse atmosphere -- I rest that one on the shoulders of Lou -- and since he's having a surprising season considering, I give him an A.
#29 - Jeff Samardzija: F
Plusses: worked on his breaking pitches in Iowa?
Minuses: what? A 6.23 ERA isn't bad, is it?
Pheh. I'd probably have given him an incomplete if only because he didn't stick around long enough to earn that F. Inc.
#30 - Ted Lilly: B-
Plusses: has proven his worth; will run through brick walls and Molinas for us. Easily the best free-agent signing of Hendry's tenure with us.
Minuses: gives up way too many 4-ply jacks.
So did Fergie. I'd probably give Lilly a B+ -- he's been everything we could ask from him. On last year's Cubs, this year's Lilly comes damned close to winning 20. Then again, so did last year's Lilly.
#36 - Randy Wells: A
Plusses: 3-3, 2.57, 1.10 WHIP? Congratulations, Kroeger. You're at the top of your pledge class. Ought to be 6-2, and going to the All-Star game. The single best May call-up since Kerry Wood.
Minuses: somehow, needs to go more than 7 innings. A nitpick, certainly, to ask of your fifth starter, but is really the fifth starter anymore?
I'm waiting for Wells to come back to earth, mostly because I don't believe in the team's ability to grow talent. Still, he's been great, if not lacking in the spectacular department. I'm with Rob on this A.
#37 - Angel Guzman: B
Plusses: finally showed why Hendry's kept his tired old bones around so long. Showed us all a glimpse of getting into the late-inning rotation with Marmol.
Minuses: then he got injured, because just like Tigger, that's what Guzmans do best.
The good news is, this may be the first Guzman injury ever in which the result wasn't a season-ender. He'll be back Tuesday. B is right due to the injury length.
#38 - Carlos Zambrano: D+
Plusses: Barnum&Bailey can kiss my ass; Big Z is the Greatest Show on Earth!
Minuses: If we had Jake Peavy; if Dempster and Lilly were pitching as well as last year, the Big Z show would be Must-See TV. But since he himself is the Staff Ace, his spoiled brat tantrums send the wrong message to his teammates, fans and enemies alike. Guys come into Wrigley licking their chops, wanting to POUND his ass. Not getting our money's worth when he is 4-3 on July 2nd.
I wrote a pretty lengthy article on this topic recently. Blaming Z for being 4-3 is like crediting Kevin Tapani for his 19-win 1998 season. Some things are just beyond the pitcher's control. I'd like to see a calmer Carlos, but let's face it -- he destroys dugouts because he cares. If more players on the Cubs cared about winning that much then Carlos wouldn't have to get so frustrated. C+.
#40 - Rich Harden: C
Plusses: when the Dick Harden is good, he is very good...
Minuses: and when he is hurt, which is often, he's not helping us any. I know Hendry is trying to trade him for a bat. Obviously there aren't any takers.
Harden is 1985 Rick Sutcliffe. Last year he was the '84 version. But chin up, everybody -- 1987 is just around the corner! ...in a couple of years. D.
#45 - Sean Marshall: B
Plusses: the Teacher's Pet always gets more than he deserves. His selflessness, to do whatever he is asked without complaint, always sways me.
Minuses: fact is, he ain't all that great, albeit all while being jacked around, from starter to long relief to LOOGY.
He probably doesn't have the stuff or the pitches to start. So make him a middle reliever and leave him be... anything else risks ligament damage. C+.
#46 - Ryan Dempster: B-
Plusses: man is going through a lot in his life, so I give him something of a pass.
Minuses: fact is, last year he seemed to concentrate on every single pitch he threw, and that is the only way he was as effective as he was. Part of that was the intense conditioning he underwent before the 2008 season, and you wonder what effect his big new paper had? Also, if we didn't find out about his family problems, would we be so quick to discount what is a below average first half? What if other players <cough marmol cough> were to publicize their personal problems that were serving to take away from their concentration levels?
I've said previously that Dempster is the unluckiest pitcher on the team. If you look at his numbers and how he projects, they just don't line up. I did a little calculation a while back comparing his projections with last year's stats - and I should write a follow-up article on the subject - which showed that, at the time I did it, his ERA would've been in the mid 3's based on last year's luck. He's not earning the contract, per se, but I'd say he's a solid B.
#47 - Aaron Heilman: C+
Plusses: he ain't as bad as we were led to believe, which proves once again that New Yorkers over-exaggerate everything.
Minuses: even in NY, when there is smoke, there's fire, and sometimes after Heilman's been in a game, smoke remains, and other times, a full-out fire. At least he hasn't bitched to the press yet, mainly because they're too busy with Bradley, and whether or not Sweet Lou knows the difference between a syringe and a spliff.
He's been just good enough to annoy us with his sucking. I often wonder what would've happened if he'd won the starter's role back in Spring. While competing for that job he was practically untouchable, and I can't help but wonder if he's another Ryan Dempster waiting to happen ... average-at-best in the bullpen, 17-game winner in the rotation. C.
#48 - Neal Cotts: F
Plusses: he's currently in Iowa getting his arm rebuilt.
Minuses: he started the season in Chicago. I can't imagine what Luis Vizcaino must have done to earn his immediate Heave-Ho while THIS beerfart was allowed to linger as long as he did. Must be the fact he wears his glove on his right hand. I think he's really right-handed, and only throws with the left in a desperate attempt to remain in the league. Utterly sucktastic.
Agreed. Is there such a grade as the F-?
#49 - Carlos Marmol: B-
Plusses: we don't have Dan Plesac around anymore to wear his dippy conductor's hat, blathering on about how filthy Marmol is. I mean, if the man doesn't bathe, that's his own business, I believe.
Minuses: Kurt may argue that the man is showing the wear-and-tear in the third year of Piniellan Bullpen Abuse Syndrome (PBAS), but it appears to me that, like Dempster, if Carlos doesn't have 100% on every single solitary pitch he makes, they end up doing sub-optimal things, like hitting fools and bouncing into the outfield gaps. Seriously, he has done the job for the most part in 2009, but we may be spoiled by his prior two years. Plus when I add two-and-two, I think he's hiding some mid-to-major personal problems that may be contributing to his performance.
But I am arguing that the reason he doesn't have 100% is because Piniella's use of him leaves him tired. I'd say that this is definitely a case of grading on a curve. Marmol of '07 and '08 was probably an A+ and an A respectively. For that reason alone, Marmol '09 is a B- at best. Rob is right.
#54 - David Patton: D
Plusses: he's 3 and 1. Yay?
Minuses: carrying his ass around all year is like having a 24-man roster, and if we were a 97-win team, we could afford such luxuries as a pinch runner (Oh, Joey Gathright. We hardly knew ye) or a Rule V pitcher. Sweet Lou don't trust him, and only uses him as a last resort, or when he wants to issue a subtle "screw you" to his team or his GM.
Ignoring the beating he took in a mop-up game that didn't matter and we see that Patton has been reliable when used correctly. I'm not sold that he'll finish the year with stats worth discussing, but I'd give him a D+ if only for his surprising reliability since his brutal start to the season.
#55 - Three Finger Hill: C
Plusses: did not play too badly in April and May; cool hand, too!
Minuses: when all was said and done, he's Koyie Hill, the real-life Crash Davis. He kind of sucks. Always has, always will. God, I miss Hank White.
The C is too much for a guy who hasn't done anything for months. When I saw Hill's line the other day, I was shocked to note a .225 AVG. I had no idea it had gotten that badly. Then again, catcher is not an offensive position and he's a backup. Still, D+.
#58 - Jose Ascanio: D
Plusses: I got to call him the "Ass Can". Summerguy loves him. Started off OK.
Minuses: gives up a lot of hits, walks, and hits batters. Otherwise, he's a good pitcher. He's still 24 - there may be hope for him.
High WHIP, so yes, he walks too many and surrenders more hits than he should. Also high strikeout rate and decent ERA. He's like Marmol but without turning us into a ball of nerves, since Lou doesn't use him in close and late situations. C+.
#63 - Kevin Gregg: C-
Plusses: has a passing resemblance to Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn. Has only blown three saves.
Minuses: He's only blown three saves because he's only had 17 chances. That's an 82% conversion rate, which in my book is minimally acceptable. C-minus.
82% = doing his job. He's not an elite closer. Nobody ever said he was. Frankly, I don't know if the Cubs have had an elite closer since Lee Smith (no offense, Rod Beck). But Gregg started out about as ugly as possible and he's been extremely reliable since the start of May. I say he deserves a solid B.
#41 - Lou Piniella: D+
Plusses: told Milton Bradley he was a "piece of shit". Like Bradley, has not murdered a beat-writer so far this year. Has been handcuffed with a miserable roster (see below).
Minuses: at times, we've all (bloggers and mainstream media alike) wondered if the man is suffering early-onset senility. Actually, it looks more like the throes of constipation to me. He was promised complete and total roster support upon joining us in 2007, and he is not getting it. From all indications, he is fighting an internal battle within himself; between Being a Professional and finishing the job he started; and Giving Up, because that's what his superiors appear to have done.
Regardless, if you are of the mindset that a team takes its cues from the field manager, then based on the dysfunctional hot mess the Cubs have been so far in 2009, then Sweet Lou is to blame. 37-38 with the third highest payroll in the majors is simply unacceptable.
I apparently stand tallest and nearly-alone in my displeasure with Piniella this year. (Rob's displeased too, but I haven't seen him call out for a Lou Axing.) I'm mad at Lou for building a ridiculous roster -- yes, argue that he could work only with the tools he was given, but there were a handful of choices he could have made that might have helped a little. I'm mad at Lou for failing to control his players' tempers. If that's not the managers job, then what is? I'm mad at Lou for leaving Alfonso in the leadoff spot for about two months too long. I'm mad at Lou. F.
#250 - Jim Hendry: F
Plusses: it appears that he has lost some weight.
Minuses: he signed Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Dempster, Zambrano and don't forget Jason Marquis, who might make the All-Star game for the Rockies. (The second half is here, though, so stay tuned). He has failed to secure a legitimate leadoff hitter. He has stocked this team full of DHs and reserve infielders. Any trades he has ever made have been pennies-on-the-dollar salary dumps of our worst malcontents (Sosa, Turd Hundley) or fire-sale pickups from the Pirates.
My biggest problem with Hendry is that in the past year, the Pirates have given away: Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, and Nyjer Morgan, and none of them currently play for us!! The hell, Jim? Did you switch cell phones and didn't let the Pirates know?
Yes, players should play, and honor their contracts, especially generous ones, with solid performance. Blame can be assigned to all the above players making 8-figure salaries. Fact is, though, there are many other guys out there making 8-figure salaries who are hitting above .230 or winning more games than they lose. Why do we end up with the Bradleys instead of the Abreus and the Ibanezes? Why do we end up with the Fukudomes instead of the Torii Hunters? Why do we end up with the Sorianos, instead of the Carlos Lees? Why do other teams' incumbent pitchers, like the Oswalts and Halladays, pitch their asses off, and ours just makes an ass of himself?
The biggest job of a GM is to be a judge of talent and character, especially on huge free-agent signings that handcuff a team's financial flexibility, and in that, Hendry has failed. F-minus-minus-minus.
I used to think that Cub fans were a clever bunch who were at least heads above most other fans, if not head-and-shoulders. I thought we all knew that Hendry was mediocre at developing talent and saved his ass through a free agent fiesta that is now entering its hangover period. I thought we all agreed that if winning is the objective than loyalty is a perk, not an expectation.
And yet, when I said "blame Jim Hendry" last week even members of the GROTA crew responded with "don't you remember how he won us 2007 and 2008 with his roster moves?" As if he didn't cost us 2005 and 2006 with his refusal to fire Baker, among other things.
I used to think we were better than that as fans. Obviously that makes me an idiot. Still, short of a miracle second-half, Hendry belongs on the Needs to be Fired list. I won't say "fire Lou" again, but I'm all Hendry'd out.