Props to the bats in last night's game. The Cubs can actually hit -- who knew!
In particular, Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto can hit. Each had two home runs. Derrek Lee added one of his own to give the Cubs five taters against Brewers starter Randy Wolf.
Geovany Soto is now hitting .269/.406/.463 on the season, with seven home runs. He's within striking distance of the .285/.364/.504 he hit in 2008.
Marlon Byrd is leading the NL in batting average, and has 21 doubles and nine home runs. And 34 RBI. And four steals. Very nice, Marlon.
And Derrek Lee's home run last night was a big one -- the 300th of his career. Bravo to that guy. Here's to his continuing to figure out how to get going again this season.
Carlos "The Starter" Zambrano got the win last night, giving up just two hits over five innings. Except actually, he wasn't very dominant: five walks, a HBP, and just two strikeouts. And one of the two hits he gave up was a two-run double to Randy Wolf. Oh well, it was good enough.
Kudos to Andrew Cashner for posting two shut down innings in relief. It's feeling like this team FINALLY has the last three innings of the ball game covered with Cashner, Marshall, and Marmol (all 100% Chicago Cubs products, I might add).
So, yeah: Hooray!
The Cubs win another close won today, thanks to back-to-back extra-base hits from Cubs bench players who I would argue should be starting against righties -- for now, at least.
After seven and a half scoreless innings combined from the two teams, Mike Fontenot led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple. (Stats Update #1: Fontenot is now hitting .330 this season, with a respectable .836 OPS to go along with his average.)
Cub fans everywhere were immediately overcome with dread and fear, as we all know the team can't bring home runners from third when there are less than two outs. And Geovany Soto added fuel to those flames by striking out on three pitches. (Status Update #2: Soto is now hitting .257, quickly converging with Lee's average, which now stands at .246.)
Fortunately, Tyler Colvin hasn't been with the team long enough to learn how to not bring runners home from third with less than two out. So he went ahead and doubled in Fontenot, and then took third on a fielding error by the Dodgers' right fielder. (Stats Update #3: Colvin has a .348/.385/.609 in May, while Kosuke has a .258/.338/.394 after today.)
Cubs take lead, all is well -- until Theriot pops out on a bunt attempt (grrrrrr) and Starlin Castro, Mr. Contact Hitter Himself, strikes out at the worst of times. (Stats Update #4: Castro's .292 average has now fallen two points below Theriot's .294.)
Fortunately, Carlos Marmol is teh balls. He struck out Rafael Furcal swinging, walked Blake DeWitt (which people booed? WTF), struck out Manny Ramirez swinging, and then struck out Garrett Anderson swinging. (Stats Update #5: Marmol has struck out 49 of 103 batters faced, a 47.6% rate. Thanks for that one, Rob.)
(Stats Update #6: The Cubs are now two games below .500, and will be either four or five games behind the Reds for the division lead tomorrow morning.)
The Cubs are bad at a lot of things, but from an organizational standpoint, there's one area at which they have really sucked lately: barring few exceptions, they lack young position player talent.
Fortunately for us, at least there are a few exceptions. Actually, it's probably more like "a couple." Really, all we've got going for us are Geovany Soto and Tyler Colvin.
And two months ago, popular opinion was that even those two weren't very good. Soto had just come off a terrible '09 season (did you hear about that? at all? maybe?), and Colvin hadn't yet visited the Beautiful State of Iowa.
But things have looked good at the start of the 2010 season, and a lot of it has to do with patience at the plate.
As of this exact moment, Geo Soto has a .500 on-base percentage. So that is pretty great. He's also shown solid power, with an isolated slugging percentage of .189 (calcuated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage; league average is .150).
His success appears to be a consequence of his decision to be really, really, really picky at the plate, something I've written about before but feel compelled to reiterate now.
If a pitch is thrown outside the zone, Soto will rarely swing. He's third in the league among hitters with as many plate appearances as he has, having swung at just 12% of pitches thrown outside the zone (league average is a whopping 26.9%).
While Soto has always shown an above average ability to see the ball, his walk rate has never been this good. He's walking in 24.3% of his plate appearances, which is twice his career average. But hopefully once pitchers throw him more strikes, we'll see more extra-base hits.
Then there's Tyler Colvin, the Spring Fling Phenom who hit something like .879 in Arizona -- which was all well and good, except for the whole part about not walking once.
That's always been Colvin's main problem, and actually tends to be how the Cubs draft (see Vitters, Josh; Jackson, Brett; even Dopirak, Brian). I guess they figure you can teach patience, but you can't teach power.
Well, Colvin has taken that criticism and walked with it -- six times, in fact, in 53 plate appearances, for an 11.3% walk rate (which is above league average, actually).
Will that trend continue? I sort of doubt it. But I do think the power -- he's got a slugging percentage of .600 right now (.311 ISO!!) -- will hold up.
Good stuff from the young Cubs so far this season. Let's hope they keep it up.
Some notes after today's frustrating game:
1)Cubs are now 2-4 in 1 run games and 3-6 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs this year. It's frustrating but with a little luck, the Cubs would have a much better record.
2) Aramis' K rate is alarmingly high in the early going this year. Coming into today's game, He was striking out close to 35% of the time. His career K rate is only 15%. I'm hoping this isn't something that continues.
3)Geovany Soto is fine. I think the Cubs are hurting themselves by keeping him in the 8 hole. This is where you should place your worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher). If you don't put the pitcher there, I can think of at least 2 or 3 players who would better suited for that spot over Soto.
4) Despite today's blown save, I am very happy about Marmol's control this year. After today's game, Marmol has walked just 2 betters in 6.2 innings. It's early but if he can keep his walk rate significantly below 4, he is likely to make the All Star team.
Earlier today I submitted a pop quiz question in our Shout Box asking which Cub starters topped the team list in on-base percentage. Rob quickly came through with Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot (1st and 3rd respectively), but had to look to see who the other guy was.
I wouldn't have been able to name Fontenot had I been asked the question yesterday, so kudos to Rob. The only reason I know the answer now is because I was recently looking at the peripheral statistical performance of the third man in the Cub OBP trio, Geovany Soto.
To say the least, Soto has taken an interesting approach to his plate appearances thus far this year. His batting average is poor, with only four hits so far this year. But the on-base percentage is super, at .423 currently.
Soto has walked in 27% of his plate appearances thus far, more than double his career rate. It's all he can do with what pitchers have been throwing him lately, which isn't much at all.
In fact, only 41% of the pitches Soto has seen so far this year have been strikes. And as a credit to him, he's taking the vast majority of those pitches -- which translates to his having swung at only 30% of the pitches thrown to him. That's well below the league average rate of 45%.
That's kind of a lot of numbers, but basically what it means is that Soto's average is pretty low because he hasn't had very many strikes thrown to him yet. That may not change as long as he's stashed away in the 8th spot in the lineup.
Would it be crazy to move Fukudome to leadoff, Soto to the 2nd spot, and hit Theriot 8th instead?
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!
I have been reading all over the internet the frustration that Cub fans are having with Geo Soto. People have actually been suggesting releasing him and trading for a catcher (who????) or benching him in favor Koyie Hill.
I am a member of the Koyie Hill fan club but the fans need to show Soto some patience, for chrissakes! I mean, sure the guy had a low batting average last year but there are several reasons not to worry about that.
1) He was famously injured and fat for the whole season.
2) He hit into awful bad luck.
Soto's.246 BABIP in 2009 was inordinately low. If he simply lifted that number to a more ordinary .300, he would have hit much closer to his 2008 levels. His walk rate was actually *higher* in 2009 than it was in 2008. Every projection system thinks he'll get his batting average back to the .260 level or higher. So if he can stay healthy, he's going to be one of the top 5 or so offensive catchers in the NL this year. Given that he's being paid the minimum, it is ridiculously stupid beyond belief to release or bench him. My God people. Wait until the end of May to make a further judgment on Geo. He will hit.
That's the thing about professional sports - you smoke one joint, and they call you a "potsmoker" forever...
Ah, but let's be serious here for a moment. I wore Geo Soto's ass out big time last year. I could link to all of the posts I wrote, along with all the posts from some of the other blogs, suggesting I hang myself, and bathe with a plugged-in toaster, because I DARED to speak the truth about the 2009 season. Hell, I even managed (inadvertently, I assure you) to chase away some of our own staff with my rampant and wanton negativity from last year, which stemmed in large part from the brutal sophomore season of one Geovany Soto, NL Rookie of the Year of 2008.
Seems like you can't criticize a guy without making the implicit demand to have him traded or released. I of course find this notion to be outrageously presumptuous. Geo Soto was the best catcher in the major leagues in 2008. The 2008 Cubs team was, in the regular season, the best Cubs team since at least 1969, if not the pennant winners of the 1930s. I publicly went on the air in Iowa with my choice of Geo Soto as my 2008 Cubs MVP. He is the best position player developed by the Cubs since Mark Grace, and based on the horrendous state of catching in the game these days, was a major strategic threat for us that year.
I have also mentioned being in attendance at a Cubs Caravan event that spring, when Geo was asked what the key to his resurgence in the organization was, seeings how he went from a non-factor to a AAA MVP in 2007, he quickly and resoundingly stated "conditioning". He admitted it never was a priority to him, that he knew he tended to gain weight, and once he hit the gym, his game improved dramatically.
He knew the secret, he saw its benefits, and yet, he chose to follow up his ROY season with a winter of eating, smoking, and presumably other carrying on as they do in the PR. They party down there, make no doubt. He came back fat, sluggish, sloppy behind the plate, late to react to breaking stuff at the plate. Our strategic advantage was lost, I knew why, heard it from his own mouth, and as a once and current fat guy, I also know that you just don't flip a switch and turn it back on.
The fat might seem to come overnight, but it takes months, even years of dedicated work to get rid of it. Life ain't fair sometimes to people with fat tendencies, and Geo is going to have to spend the rest of his career mindful of everything he puts in his mouth.
I agree with all of you - you have to keep the guy, and you have to play the guy. My assertion was that he needed to pay the price for his lapse in judgment, and it didn't appear he was having to face any consequences, at least publicly.
However, happily, somehow he got the message for 2010. For Geo Soto is in great shape, smacking the ball all over the yard. I expect great things from him this year. I expect he will get through the season without any conditioning-based injuries. I expect he will approach the productivity of 2008. I expect the Cubs as a whole to rise in the standings because catching still sucks, and having Geo Soto behind the plate, in great shape, is a bonus. Time will tell if he continues to approach his craft the way he has this off-season. But barring any accidental injuries, Soto should play well.
And yes, if he does, I will come out here and kiss his ass, just like all of you did last year. You have to earn my love, honey.
In January, 2008, I along with 200 other slopeheads sat rapturously in the cavernous U. S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL as each of the participants in the Cubs Caravan reluctantly stood up and blathered for 3 minutes or so about how they were going to finally end the Cubs drought.
The most interesting guest that day was one Geovany Soto, the newly installed starting catcher, a man who toiled for years rather anonymously in the Cubs system, until seemingly flipping a switch the previous year, where he became the PCL's Player of the Year, capped off by his inclusion to the 2007 Playoff Roster, where he hit our lone 2007 Postseason home run. When he was asked for a reason behind his turnaround, he noted that he was always "out of shape", and once he lost some weight, he just found catching to be easier.
Fair enough. The young, lean Soto then went out and won the NL Rookie of the Year, by virtue of turning in the best overall catching performance in the entire league. In a world where quality catching is scarce, when most teams have to choose between an offensive or defensive backstop, Soto became a strategic weapon for the Chicago Cubs, was probably the biggest reason why we won 97 games, and set himself up to be the game's next superstar.
Whereupon he went home to Puerto Rico, smoked grass, ate a buttload of beans, rice, and everything else he could grab, and showed up for spring training 2009 fat, slow, and susceptible to injury.
The first month or two of the season he hit well below .200, let opposing runners steal bases at will, and instead of continuing as the Cubs' best strategic weapon, Soto killed rally after rally with harmless pop flies. He was trying to play as hard as he could, his attitude was acceptable. But he obviously took the game and his talent for granted last off-season, and I came out here and called him out on it.
Most of you decided that I knew nothing about sports, physical fitness, or frankly, anything, claimed I was 'giving up' on the reigning ROY, and otherwise lit my ass on fire. Almost immediately afterwards, his positive marijuana test was publicly disclosed, which was then followed by his abdominal injury, where we were treated to six weeks straight of Koyie Hill. When Soto finally did return, he was in somewhat better shape, with marginally increased power and mobility behind the plate, but he never did get his average up, and in the end, Geo Soto took more off the table in 2009 than he brought.
Perhaps you are under 30; perhaps you are young and in peak physical condition. Perhaps you work a physical job, or are able to put in a hour a day to work out, and that is sufficient to keep you in shape. Perhaps you are one of those scumbags who "has trouble gaining weight". Well, then, you have absolutely NO perspective when it comes to people who DO have weight problems, like myself, like Geo Soto. He knows that the less he weighs, the better he plays. He's not yet a millionaire, but he makes enough to ensure he can enjoy a healthy diet and has access to workout facilities in the off-season.
Yet he chose to let it all go, and this is what I have to tell you young and skinnies - when he was blundering around in April and May, 20 to 30 pounds overweight, I knew that it would take several MONTHS for him to get back to his 2008 form. Some of you figured he could just turn it on and off instantly. But that is just humanly impossible. When the first two months passed, and he was lethargic at the plate as well as behind it, you must realize there is only four more months of season left, and it would take at least that long for Soto to get back to peak condition.
His last month of 2009, he was close to the player that won the ROY. But by then, his team was more than 10 games out of the division lead, and the rest of his teammates were breaking down. Soto chose his fate in 2009, and it was selfish, and it pissed me off, and it should have pissed you off, too. He never recovered, and it hurt the team, and it was totally expected once his initial fitness level was evident.
He should have been fined, and people within the organization who "monitor the fitness levels of players in the off-season" should have been fired, as well. However, nobody on this website has ever advocated the man be traded. Hell, none of us have ever even THOUGHT it. Catching in MLB is at its all-time premium, and even though Geo Soto screwed the pooch in 2009, he must be kept, he must be trusted, and he must be sent out there to play, because he is a special talent, there might, maybe, be only a couple of catchers with his all-around game. And, offhand, I can't think of any.
Soto was the biggest reason we won 97 in 2008, and one of the biggest reasons we only won 83 in 2009. Along with Soriano, as Soto goes, so will the Cubs next year.
A major fuel storage depot exploded today near San Juan, PR, as reported by CNN and other news sources.
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the mishap, which has injured one person critically and caused thousands more to be evacuated. One report describes how investigators have been talking to Geovany Soto, catcher of the Chicago Cubs, who himself narrowly escaped injury.
Reportedly, Soto was at a city park near the site of the explosion, enjoying a traditional Puerto Rican meal of mofongo, lechon, and peas-and-rice, with friends and family. An unidentified man carrying a Russian-made bazooka opened fire in the general direction of Soto's meal, vaporizing the wooden table, the meal, and in the process, reportedly striking one of the nearby diesel storage tanks.
The unidentified man was described to be in his sixties, top-heavy with a large stomach, silver hair and a slow, deliberate gait. However, in the confusion, he was able to slip away unnoticed. Soto was able to direct his family and friends to safety, aided by the use of his catcher's mask which he always keeps nearby. The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year regretted not being able to identify his assailant, as well as not being able to finish the excellent mofongo, which reportedly was made of pollo.
Attempts to reach Soto's manager, Lou Piniella of Tampa, Florida, were unsuccessful.