Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Gamecast: June 28, 2010- Pirates at Cubs

Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21 ERA)

Overview
After a weekend marked with aggression in the dugout of the Cubs perhaps taking out some aggression out on the Pirates might be what the doctor ordered.  The Pirates went 2-13 during interleague play and have dropped their last six.  While the Pirates have owned the Cubs so far, it can't hurt to run into a team that has hit the skids even harder than your own.

Another storyline of interest is that the Cubs placed Big Z on the restricted list today.  Much to the delight of Paul Sullivan, this situation will not be resolved with an immediate and quiet apology.  According to Jim Hendry, Big Z will "not meet formally or travel with the team before the (All-Star) break." Moreover, he will begin treatment on Wednesday to deal with his "issue."  The corresponding move will likely be a call-up of Jeff Stevens.

Who's Hot- This isn't so much a "who" but a "what" and that is the term "dead-ass."  This phrase seems quite popular among Cubs fans and the national media alike.  I expect Bob Brenly to quickly trademark the phrase like one Pat Riley and have a lucrative cashflow from merchandise bearing the phrase.

Who's Not-  Outside of the obvious, being the Cubs and Pirates, the trade market has been conspicuously quiet.  I would have expected to hear more names being thrown around at this time, particularly of those wearing Cubs Blue.  I guess we will just have to wait.

Conclusion
The Cubs need a win.  In fact, they could use multiple wins.  I know many have given up on this team, but it would be nice to see the Cubs string a few together and at least extend the losing streak of the Pirates.  Strange things can happen in late June and July, but the team has to put forth effort to make that happen.  Whether that can happen is still an unanswered question at the moment.

Reader Blog: Week 12 awards: aaaaand scene

Well, that's all she wrote. The curtain is closed on the 2010 Cubs season (or at least on its chances of involving a postseason). Little did we know on the morning of April 7 how dreadfully terrible "Year One" would be. If it were a play, I would give it zero stars. DO NOT WATCH THIS PLAY! Give the tickets to the nearest homeless person and apologize to him as you do so.

It's fitting that the Cubs lost the so-called "BP Cup" because they're the BP of baseball, and not just because Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano are usually throwing batting practice to the opposing hitters. They are an absolute disaster, a failure that only William Shakespeare could give due description.

Hopefully a few of the players will be exiting stage right in the near future. Ted Lilly should bring a decent return, in my opinion. He has 46 wins as a Cub and could help a National League contender down the stretch. How Hendry will get anything for guys like Fukudome and Lee, I have no idea, but I don't see Lee returning and we have no need for the $12 million man next year with Colvin here to stay.

I'll tell you, with the Cardinals in first and the Sox on a tear, this is turning into an absolutely brutal season for me. I think I am now in a place mentally where I can start rooting for the Reds to win. No, I don't want to see Dusty Baker in the playoffs, but goddamn do I hate those redbirds.

Goat of the Week: Have to start with the Goat this week because it was just that kind of week. I think I have no choice but to go with the entire offense. The eight runs yesterday were nice, but they scored six runs in the five games before that. Six runs make for a decent game but a pretty bad week. It's really not worth singling any one player out--they're all pretty terrible. None of them can hit when it matters, and now everything after the All-Star break won't matter.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

For Big Z to have launched into an angry tirade within the confines of the clubhouse would have been bad, but to do it in front of the cameras--to have yet another immature explosion on camera--was unacceptable. The suspension was certainly warranted, and the Cubs might as well put him on waivers and see if another team wants to roll the dice on an overpaid hothead.

Ryno of the Week: Eight innings/two runs and seven innings/three runs for Ryan Dempster. His 11 quality starts this season tie him for 11th in the NL in that category.

GROTA's Crosstown Series Recap

So often in baseball, with its epically proportioned regular season, a team can shrug off a single game, or a series, or even a bad month. "It's just one loss," you might say, or, "That team is on fire right now," or, "The Cubs are always miserable in June."

At the same time, a single game, or inning, or play -- or in this case, 30 seconds' worth of off-field antics -- can dramatically reshape a season.

It's fitting that Carlos Zambrano's latest meltdown -- the one that may well be his last in a Cub uniform, if standard Chicago media outlets are to be believed -- came on a weekend where the Cubs got their first taste of Kurt's dreaded Number of Death, as the Bears in Blue momentarily went ten games below .500 for the season. As Kurt went on to suggest, these latest events may finally bring about the changing of the guard that this team appears to need so badly.

Having said that, there were some bright spots for the Cubs against the White Sux this weekend.

Take the starting rotation -- that is, the pitchers that comprise the Cubs' starting rotation as of today. Following Ted Lilly's successful bounceback in Seattle, three of the Cubs' other four starters -- Carlos Silva, Ryan Dempster, and Tom "The Phoenix from the Ashes" Gorzelanny -- looked good, combining for 16 strikeouts to just three walks in 16.1 innings pitched.

The Cubs' pair of young, potentially star-powered position players impressed, as well. Starlin Castro went 3-for-6 on the weekend and, perhaps more importantly, didn't strike out once. And Tyler Colvin hit a home run off of a left-handed pitcher (and it was a decent one at that in John Danks), going 3-for-9 on the weekend. Also, speaking of young Cub position players, Geo Soto went 3-for-4 today, and while his .259 average may not impress you, his .398 on-base percentage should.

On the farm, the Cubs have promoted some prospects to higher levels, most notably moving Brett Jackson to Double A Tennessee. So, yeah, the youth movement is on, and it is going pretty damn well. It will be interesting to see how many long time Cubs -- including the 29-year old Carlos Zambrano -- are kept around to see it through.

Shut her down

For all of our bluster and bluff, for all of the criticisms we levy at the team, and the times we say proclaim the team "done for," I have always had a simple system for giving up on a season: 10 games under .500, or 10 games out of first place.

The Cubs pretty much managed to accomplish both of those things on the same day, as they are now 32-42, 9.5 games behind the Reds.

In the process, Carlos Zambrano has imploded -- again -- and we have learned that a team can have a good manager and can rid themselves of the most toxic players and they can still implode and look miserable. 

The fallout of this is that Carlos Zambrano is probably in his final days as a Cub, as is Derrek Lee, Jim Hendry, and Lou Piniella.  And if I have to be honest about it, I don't see that as a bad thing at all.

I'm just tired of these guys.  I'm tired of the disappointment, the failure, the under-performance, the ridiculous antics, the heartbreak, and the losses.  I'm tired of Carlos -- and, believe me, I've been his biggest fan and supporter.  I mean, I'm the creator of the Scarlos photoshop, for Cripe's sake!  I've got a Zambran-0-Meter which is fueled by firebeams shot from his eyes.  But if Zambrano never again pitches a game for the Cubs, I won't be upset.  Enough is enough, and he's lost me.

At this point, I want to see the team deconstructed.  I want to see anybody in a managerial position -- from Jim to Larry and Alan to Lou -- fired.  I want the Cubs to eat the contracts on Fukudome, Soriano, Zambrano, and even Ramirez.  I want next year's team to be the youngest in the league.  What I don't want is another group of tired old veterans and all the baggage they bring with them.

But in the meantime ... it's over.  We hope you'll stick around, though, as we write about the Cubs and their need to pick up the pieces.

Series Preview: Cubs @ White Sox - June 25-27, 2010

Overview
The Pale Hosers come into this series having won 9 in a row. They just dispatched the formerly red-hot Atlanta Braves three games to none, so while the first few wins came against awful teams (like Pittsburgh – who the Cubs can’t beat), the last 3 wins were no joke. While the offense for the White Sox still probably isn’t good enough, the pitching sure has been. They’ve allowed 12 runs in the last 6 games. Also – the Cubs can’t score any runs. This could be a recipe for disaster. As bad as this season’s been for the Northsiders, I sure don’t know if I can handle a sweep at the hands of the White Sox. We’ll have to see what happens. On to the pitching matchups.

Friday June 25th: Carlos Zambrano (3-5, 5.10) vs. Jake Peavy (6-5, 5.07)
In 2008, this would have been a matchup of two of the best pitchers the NL had to offer. This afternoon, it’s a matchup of two overpaid guys with bloated ERA’s over 5. To be fair – both have been pitching much better of late, especially in their last starts. On Sunday, Z went 7 strong, allowing 8 hits, more importantly only walking 1, in getting the victory. The game was a laugher, a 12-1 win, the last time the Cubs scored more than 3 runs – and Z could have got the win even if he’d pitched poorly. It was good to see him bear down, and pitch like the Zambrano we gave the big extension too. Peavy had an absolutely disastrous start to the 2010 season. His last time out he fired a 3-hit shutout against the Nationals. Apparently his fastball had more life in that game, and his stuff is hands down better now than it was 6 weeks ago. If that continues, he’s gonna beat the Cubs today.

Saturday June 26th: Carlos Silva (8-2, 3.01) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-3, 4.85)
Silva got his start pushed back a couple days due to injury, so he gets matched up tomorrow evening against Sweaty Freddy..an exciting matchup over beefy Venezuelans who 12 months ago were thought to be completely washed up. Now both of them have 8 wins and are doing a solid job of holding down spots in pretty decent rotations. This baseball, it’s a crazy game, huh? Silva was supposed to start against his former teammates in Seattle, but the injury that knocked him out of his last start against the Angels got him pushed back. Last time out, Garcia gave up 3 runs in 7 innings. In his last 5 starts, Garcia has failed to go at least 7 innings only once. This will be the Cubs best chance at a W, if Silva’s healthy and effective after the hamsting issues.

Sunday June 27th: Ryan Dempster (5-6, 3.56) vs. John Danks (7-5, 3.23)
Dempster had one bad inning in Seattle, allowing a 2-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez, and that was it – but it was enough in a 2-0 Cubs loss. Dempster’s been solid all year for the Cubs, and he’ll need to continue that on Sunday against the lefty Danks, who’s been real good for the Pale Hose in 2010, lightyears better than he was last season. He’s allowed just 6 HR in 14 starts and his WHIP is a tidy 1.17. He beat the Braves on Tuesday in his last start. We’ll need a combination of good pitching and hitting to beat Danks.

I’m feelin the Cubs dropping 2 of 3 here. Picking us to win Saturday is the easy call…so I’ll say Z comes up big today, and we snap the Sox’ winning streak at 9, but then drop the 2 weekend games. You guys feelin the love?

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Grabow gets the win? (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Mariners 2)

The Cubs scored three runs last night! WOW!

Of course, they couldn't do it in just nine. The team ended up needing 13 innings, topped off by a leadoff walk from Alfonso Soriano in the final frame (he'd be brought home by a Marlon Byrd single). Also, much thanks to Mariners starter Felix Hernandez for hitting Xavier Nady with a pitch in the seventh, and then allowing him to advance to 2nd on a wild pitch, all so CHAD THE MAN TRACY could drive in the second Cub run.

And then there was the pitching. If this morning, you woke up, read the box score, and immediately splashed a full glass of ice water into your own face to assure you of your sanity, I wouldn't have blamed you: last night's W went to JOHN GRABOW, and Tom Gorzelanny got the one-out save, after BOB HOWRY got the first two outs of the bottom of the 13th. Wacky stuff!

Ted Lilly started the game and pitched rather effectively, allowing one earned run over six innings, nabbing six K's, and allowing just five hits, along with zero walks. Carlos Marmol did his best to make the game interesting, walking the bases loaded in the 10th, but he also struck out the side to preserve the tie. And Andrew Cashner's scoreless streak is over; his ERA has now skyrocketed to 0.87.

In short: The Cubs still suck, but at least we know how to win every once in a while.

Gamecast: June 24, 2010- Cubs at Mariners

Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.42) vs. "King" Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)

Overview
There was a time I was excited that the Mariners were on our schedule.  They were a team that lacked punch, their pitching was shaky at times, and they did none of the little things right.  Coincidentally, now that the Cubs are playing the Mariners, it seems that all of those issues that once plagued the Mariners have been resolved, if not become strengths.  Cliff Lee demonstrated last night why some Major League team will be willing to sacrifice it's first born in order to acquire him at the trade deadline with a complete game outing against the boys in blue.  For getting dominated by an elite pitcher, I can't be mad at the Cubs.  In the game last night, Lee had 0-2 counts on 19 of the Cubs hitters.  The man doesn't walk people and keeps it around the plate.

What I can blame the Cubs for are the chances they wasted last night.  The Cubs started the game last night with 2 straight hits and didn't score a run.  Moreover, the Cubs started the 7th Inning off with back-to-back doubles and still didn't score a run.  I have two issues with the latter: (1) how is that actually possible to not score a guy from second on a double; (2) our offense needs to drastically improve with runners in scoring position.

Theodore Lilly will toe the rubber (or about a foot off of it, depending on how he's feeling) for the Cubs today in hopes of salvaging a win on the trip out to Seattle.  Lilly has been progessively better each start since coming off the DL and I expect him to do the same in Seattle, especially given the dimensions of that ballpark.  On the other hand, King Felix has been inconsistent at best as the "ace" of the staff.  Hopefully the Cubs will face the more beneficial side of his Jekyll/Hyde act and run into a few base hits in clutch situations.

Finally, as reported by crack journalist Paul Sullivan, Big Z has taken to wearing his '08 All-Star t-shirt as a way to reverse his, and the teams fortunes.  To quote Big Z: "That's when I used to be good."

Well Carlos, more power to you.  In fact, more power for this team... we could use the run support.

A Tale of Two NL Central Pitchers (Game Recap: Cubs 1, Mariners 8)

Has the league finally figured Randy Wells out?

Wells has never struck many batters out, and he doesn't walk too many, either. He's a control guy that pounds the corners with pitches that move, hoping to get lots of ground balls into the gloves of his defenders. In 2009, he was able to do that with great success, posting a 47.9 GB%.

Unfortunately, Randy has been allowing many more base hits lately. In his last six starts (including an appearance against the Cardinals in which he was unable to record an out), Randy has allowed 45 hits in 28.1 innings pitched.

I know what you're thinking: a ground ball pitcher allowing more base hits must mean Randy's BABIP allowed is out of whack. And indeed it is; this year, Wells has a .361 BABIP allowed, compared to last year's .294.

But it's not ground balls that are turning into hits; it's squared-up line drives. Randy's line drive percentage is up nearly 40% this year relative to 2009, and now stands at 24.7% -- which puts him at the top of the leaderboard among qualified pitchers.

Curiously, however, Wells isn't the only NL Central pitcher to see his LD% spike up this season. The same thing has happened to Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo, whose LD% stands at 23.1%.

So if batted ball statistics are to be considered useful, how is Gallardo managing a 2.59 ERA this season while Randy's ERA is up at 5.21?

The answer likely lies in LOB%, or strand rate. For Yovani, 20.9% of the base runners he allows come around to score; for Randy, that number is more than doubled -- 44% of the batters that reach base against him eventually score.

Will Randy's strand rate come down? Convention says yes; historical data shows that LOB% rates tend to be closer to Gallardo's rate than Wells' over the course of a season for most major league pitchers. But with recent reports about Larry Rothschild working with Randy on his mechanics with runners on, I'm not so sure this is something that will just go away as Wells pitches more innings.

Oh yeah, and about last night's game: Cliff Lee is really good, Tyler Colvin is pretty great too, and the Cubs are bad. Boom, game set match. Now go watch the World Cup.

Gamecast: June 23, 2010: Cubs at Mariners

Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)

Overview
Well, the combination of great opposing pitching combined with a scuffling offense tends to be a really bad combination.  This series may be a perfect example of that as the Cubs have to face the two "aces" of this Seattle staff to end the series.  The big story has to be the year Cliff Lee is having so far.  After beginning the year on the DL, Lee has come back and won five games with a pleasant 2.55 ERA.  More impressive is his K:BB ratio: 67:4.  Yep... that's FOUR walks over 77.2 innings.  This is the type of pitching matchup Dusty would dream about: clog-free.

On the other hand, Wells has been scuffling a bit as of late, but turned in a quality start in a win against the Athletics.  Hopefully the time spent working with Larry Rothschild on his delivery and examining why everyone was hitting him like a pinata will pay dividends tonight.

Who's Hot: I put Lee in here last night and he goes 0-fer.  Awesome.  I'm afraid to put someone here now.  However, I'll talk about Andrew Cashner.  Cash has pitched 8.1 innings and not allowed a run yet.  Moreover, he has done well in the few pressure situations he has been put into.  I really like the kid's pedigree and think he can be a vital cog in the pen for a long time.

Who's Not: Soriano's baserunning.  I know that Safeco is a big park.  I also know that Colvin hit a sinking liner.  However, you need to have the ability to judge that ball a bit better and see that a fielder is reaching the ball easily.  This isn't the first time, and it probably won't be the last, but a little bit more field awareness would be stellar.

Conclusion
My gut instinct is that this game is going to suck.  Like, really badly.  However, the Cubs always seem to win the games they have no business winning and getting dominated by some journeyman lefty that can't win a single game unless he plays the Cubs.  Maybe tonight is one of those crazy nights.

Game Recap: Mariners 2, Cubs 0; Chicago scores about as often as a World Cup team

The hundred million dollar Cubs offense -- we'll just call them El Juggernaut for short -- capitalized on a weak Seattle team last night, and managed to drub up 6 hits and 3 walks, scoring an undeniably impressive 0 runs in the process.

Wait ... six hits?  Three walks?  Seriously, folks.  C'mon!

These Cubs are just about as impressive as the last few rag-tag efforts of the Dusty Baker era.  They are just another shining example of what happens when you give hundreds of millions of dollars to a GM with a baseball IQ of about 80, who, like a magpie, is attracted to the Bright and Shiny rather than the talented and enduring. 

Sorry, but Bright and Shiny does not win championships.  Neither do the Cubs.  The Chicago offense wasted the otherwise impressive performance of Ryan Dempster, who threw a rare complete game loss last night -- he went 8 innings, struck out 8 batters, reduced his ERA to 3.56, and dropped to 5-6 on the season for his efforts.

This comes hot on the heels of talk that Lou might be gassed out as a manager, that Ryne Sandberg may be clamoring to replace him, and that the team is hopefully just a busy week away from being deconstructed.  It can't happen fast enough for me, although I continue to even mistrust Hendry's ability to firesale appropriately. 

Nevertheless, I'll just end today's recap with an unrelated thought -- Ryne Sandberg should not manage the Cubs.  Unless his autobiography was ghost written by Dusty Baker, then Sandberg has a concerningly similar baseball philosophy to the "you gotta earn it" mentality that Baker espoused.  Therefore, here's to hoping that, as Lou and Jim leave, true baseball men fill their slots.

Otherwise, it'll just be another half decade of Bright and Shiny baseball in Chicago...

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