Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs @ Seattle Mariners - June 22-24, 2010

The Intro
The Cubs come into Seattle fresh off a 3-game weekend set against the Halos that truly was a microcosm of how this season's gone.  We lost a game where a rally fell frustratingly short, we lost a game where absolutely nothing went right and we couldn't get a hit, and then we won a game where we looked like absolute world-beaters...the pitching was great, the hitting was red-hot..and it was one giant tease.  That is precisely why I expect us to go out to the Emerald City and take at least 2 of 3, if not both..because, well, that's what the Cubs do.  They tease and frustrate.

Plus, this Mariners team is an absolutely awful one.  They've already driven out franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr this year, and absolutely are not scoring enough runs.  They've got some good pitchers in King Felix, Cliff Lee (who they're trying to trade), the currently injured Doug Fister, and tonight's starter Jason Vargas.  And that's before you mention their pen, which has been pretty good.  But oh, the offense.  The Mariners have 8 guys on their roster with over 100 AB, and only 3 have OPS's over .700 (Ichiro, CF Franklin Gutierrez, and IF Josh Wilson).  Their 235 runs rank 28th in baseball.

Therefore it stands to reason that if the Cubbies pitch well, we should see some crisply-played, well pitched games.  We'll see if that's the case.  Onto the pitching matchups...

Tuesday June 22nd:  Ryan Dempster (5-5, 3.67) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2, 2.88)
Demp got his 5th win of the season last week against Oakland to even his season mark.  He's been pitching pretty well, going deep in damn near every game, and being consistent for the most part.  He's making good money - but earning it in my book.  He'll be opposed by Vargas.  He's a career journeyman who has managed to get a 4-leaf clover up his ass this year and has turned in good numbers over his 13 starts.  He's on his 3rd big league team already at the ripe age of 27, and he's making a case to become a part of the M's future.  He's a lefty, and he's been absolutely brutal against other lefties this year, so i'd look for Nady in RF tonight.

Wednesday June 23rd: Randy Wells (3-5, 5.10) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3, 2.55)
The Mariners have the overwhelming pitching advantage here, as Wells has scuffled the better part of the last month-plus (tho he pitched well against Oakland on Thursday), and Cliff Lee has been excellent since his season debut in early May.  Lee started on Friday against Cincinnati, and got the win in a 1-0 game.  Look at that M's offense supporting him!  As mentioned, his name has been thrown about in trade talks, so Mariners fans have to wonder everytime he starts from here on out - "is this the last start for Cliff in our uniform?"

Thursday June 24th:  Carlos Silva (8-2, 3.02) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.39)
Felix Hernandez has a pedestrian record (due to his team's struggles), but he's far from a pedestrian pitcher.  He's quite simply one of the best pitchers in the AL - and a piece that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik refuses to trade.  That's probably a good stance to take.  The fact that he's pitching isn't the only reason to look forward to Thursday's matinee - it also marks the return of Silva the Hut to Seattle - where he terrorized Mariners fans in 2008 and 2009.  That should make for interesting baseball.

Oh and I hear a former Cub from last year will be playing in this series too.  Good for him.  That's all I want to say about him, and I don't want to hear the same tired stories re-hashed.  Just win some damned baseball games.

Keep the faith.
-MW

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Feast, famine, and the Cubs (Game Recaps: Cubs 12, Angels 13)

I owe you two recaps: one for a blowout loss, and one for a blowout win. Let's go with the revisionist's take on the weekend, and only highlight the Cubs that impressed.

- Carlos Zambrano. Seven innings, eight hits, just one walk, and seven strikeouts. Brilliant. This is what we want from our bull-like horse-pitcher.
(I guess that makes him a minotaur? Kurt, photoshop please?)

- Andrew Cashner, Carlos Marmol, and - yes - John Grabow each pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Marmol struck out two of the four batters he faced.

- Derrek Lee went 2-for-7 over the two days, driving in four runs.

- Actually, Tyler Colvin was the only other Cub to drive in more than one run, with two RBIs on Sunday via pinch-hit single. (He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Saturday, but who's counting?)

- Ryan Theriot went 3-for-4 on Sunday, and 0-for-1 on Saturday.

- Others: Byrd, 3-for-10 on the weekend; Soriano, 2-for-5; Baker, 2-for-6; and Carlos Zambrano went 2-for-4.

The real lesson here: Jered Weaver would light up the NL, and Joe Saunders is not that good. And the Cubs are, somehow someway, still kinda sorta almost a team in contention except not really.

Also: think anyone wants to trade for Lilly or DLee as of right now?

Reader Blog: Week 11 awards: Hard to defend Cubs' defense

The Cubs have had plenty of problems on offense this season, and they've struggled at times on the mound. But last week, their most prominent deficiency was in the field. After committing a rather unreasonable 12 errors in six games, they have now committed the third-most in the majors. Errors last week:


Lee: 3 (committed six all of last season)


Baker: 3


Colvin: 2


Soto: 2


Castro: 1


Lilly: 1


The Cubs allowed four unearned runs in a 9-5 loss Tuesday, four more in a 7-6 loss Friday, and had they not given the Angels four more on Saturday, they would have ... well, lost 8-0. But still.


I was "lucky" enough to see Saturday's demolition in person, and I guess we can't be surprised that this feast or famine team followed up that drubbing with a 12-1 pounding of their own. Here's hoping the offense can remain locked in as the Cubs will face two Seattle starters with sub-three ERAs, including Cliff Lee, and then Felix Hernandez.


Ryno of the Week: Colvin continued to rake, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, six RBI and three runs scored. He's now hitting .339 at home. But how nice was it to see Carlos Zambrano put together a couple good starts, especially yesterday's? His line--7 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 7 K--was his best of the season, and he added two hits and an RBI just for the heck of it.


Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady


Goat of the Week: Alfonso Soriano continues to look lost at the plate despite two hits yesterday, but being there live to see Ted Lilly get banged around leads me to give him this inglorious distinction. He needed 104 pitches to get through 5.1, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He's been great this year, but Saturday just wasn't his day.

Tylver Colvin is cool (Game Recap: Cubs 6, Angels 7)

World Cup is on, so I recommend you watch that. Also, the Cubs played last night, but they lost, so I wouldn't think about it too much.

In a nutshell: Carlos Silva gave up three runs over six innings, and came out after throwing just 70 pitches, forcing Bob Howry to come on in relief, who was bad enough already (allowed a two-run homer to Howie Kendrick), but had his appearance made worse by two Jeff Baker errors (third time a Cub has committed two errors in one inning), and while the Cubs tried to fight back (three-run bomb from Tyler Colvin in the ninth), it wasn't enough.

So that sucks. But anyways, go Cubs.

Series Preview: Angels vs. Cubs

Series Preview
Overview:

The incredibly exciting interleague baseball season continues today, as the California Angels of Los Anaheimgeles head to Wrigley to take on the Cubs.  The Angels are 5 games over .500; the Cubs are 6 games under.  The Angels are a team built on years of superior general managerialship, the Cubs aren't. 

But what they do have in common is this: the Angels have scored 12 fewer runs than they've allowed, while the Cubs have scored 13 fewer runs than theyv'e allowed.  This doesn't make Chicago good, it just means that Anahengelesim (Calosiforniangeleheim?) probably shouldn't be a winning team right now.

Still, the Cubs are 6-8 since the start of June, and this is the part where I really, really man up.

Every year, with every slow start -- and lord knows we see a lot of them, even in the playoff seasons -- I say the same thing: have patience, let's see where they are in two months, don't panic.

Well, folks, it's been two months.  The Cubs are 6 games under .500, Derrek Lee left his talent back in 2009*, Aramis Ramirez has left us yearning for the Vance Law years, and through only some fault of his own Carlos Zambrano is a 2-5 pitcher.  In other words, two months after a slow start with problematic players and troubled fundamentals, the curtain has been pulled back and the Cubs are now revealed to be ... a really, really shitty ballteam.  We're talking 78 wins at best. 

(*.228 AVG, D-Lee?  Really?)

The worst part about it, though, is that some guys have been insanely good.  And there's nothing more disgusting than having unexpected players put up amazing, career years, only for them to be wasted.  Marlon Byrd is batting .328 with 9 homers and a .902 OPS.  Even Lil' Mike Fontenot is batting .293 right now.  Carlos Silva is 8-1 with a .289 ERA.  Carlos Marmol could turn his back to the plate and fire his pitches from between his legs like an NFL center, and he'd still be striking out an assload of players. 

So why, then, why must these great performances be wasted on a team that won't win 80 games?  As much as it hurts me to say this, the clear choice here is that some, if not many of these talents need to be dealt this and next month.  It's time to start looking ahead toward the Next Great Purge.  So, Cub fans, say farewell to Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot, Kosuke Fukudome, the rest while you still can.  Some of these guys will make it to October, but most will be watching the leaves turn colors in a new city.

But I digress.  Onward with the preview!

Friday, June 18 - Carlos Silva (8-1, 2.89 ERA) vs. Scott Kazmir (6-5, 5.27 ERA)
Carlos Silva is on pace to win more games in 2010 than he won from 2007-2009 combined.  Can you imagine what these Cubs would be like if he wasn't pitching for them?  Holy hell!  At the moment, he looks like he's going to toss around 190 innings, walking 34 -- 34!!  that's Maddux territory! -- and striking out 130.  Keep in mind that he has never, ever struck out more than 89 in a season. 

Not to mention he's from the same hometown as me -- Bolivar.  Granted, mine was a Bolivar located in the US.  Still, he and I clearly have a lot in common -- from our wide girths to our obsession with impeccable control, not to mention our shared inability to strike out major league hitters ... yep, Carlos reminds me of me.

Scott Kazmir is a former Ray with recurring arm problems and ungodly talent.  Sounds like he should've been a Cub.  Kaz has only ever thrown 200 innings once in his career, and he has struggled in '10 with pretty much everything -- control, movement, his addiction to viagara, you name it.  Although the Cubs tend to melt like a 12-year-old girl at a Jonas Bros. concert whenever they face a new lefty, they should have a shot.

Saturday, June 19th - Ted Lilly (2-5, 2.90 ERA) vs. Jered Weaver (6-3, 3.29 ERA)
Have you seen a picture of Jered Weaver?  No?  Check it out -- the guy's a douchebag.  I don't know if it's his mullet, or the hint of a soulpatch that he wears on his chin, or that "who farted, y'all" expression on his face, but Weaver puts the "douche" in "douchebag."  And yet ... he's 27 years old, has a career 3.67 ERA, won 16 games last year, and is on pace to strike out more than 200 players this season.  The concensus, then, is this: the Cubs need more douchebags like Jered Weaver on their team.

His opponent is the Iceman, Ted Lilly, known also as "the best free agent singing the Cubs have ever had."  When Lilly's not at Celebrity Impersonation Conventions in his Ghost Busters costume, he stays busy by kicking some serious baseball ass.  Yes, I write this despite the fact that he's 2-5 and will be lucky to pitch 5 more games in a Cubs uniform.  But fresh off his failed no-hit bid, if any unlucky Cub can defeat the steaming pile of douchocity that is Jered Weaver, it's Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.

Sunday, June 20th - Carlos Zambrano (2-5, 5.66 ERA) vs. Joe Saunders, 5-7, 4.70 ERA
I wonder if there's an unwritten rule somewhere about how the most talented Cub pitchers must fly too close to the sun at some point in their career.  Zambrano is just the last example of that -- after Kerry Wood 20K'd his arm into oblivion, and Mark Prior made the National League his bitch for a season (right up until his arm said, "oh no no, it is you who are the bitch!"), should we have been surprised by the Big Moose's catastrophic downturn following his no-hitter?

I love the guy.  You know it, I know it, even he knows it.  But at this point, I'm on the cusp of hitting a terminal level on the Frustration Saturation Scale.  Unless Carlos shocks us all and has the best three months of his career -- or even three above average months -- I think I'll be a little too sad and frustrated to want to see him in a Cubs uniform anymore.  It'll just remind me of yet another disappointment.

But, hey -- if Carlos is going to pummel anybody, it's Joe Saunders.  He's the Jan Brady of the Angels staff, a guy of midling talent who can't get it together.  Dude's got 37 walks and 38 strikeouts, for Chrissakes! 

Conclusions
At this point, I think I would rather get caught in a riot at the G20 than watch a Cubs game in person this year.  They are painful.  But if ever they were going to beat a team with a winning record at home, it would be this team, the Angels.  Los Canaheiliforniam have a puff-pastry record, they're tapping two of their worst starters, and the Cubs -- *snicker * -- are more than due. 

So, c'mon, win already!

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All About Kosuke (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Athletics 2)

The Cubs won their series against the Athletics last night behind the bat of Kosuke Fukudome who, after having to wait until the eighth inning for an at-bat, eventually both scored the tying run and later drove in the winning run.

Randy Wells pitched seven pretty decent innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits and one walk, while also collecting six strikeouts. And fortunately, it only took him 128 pitches to do so.

(Grumblegrumble... EVERY DAY this team feels more and more like it's being managed by Dusty Baker instead of Lou Piniella... grumblegrumble)

Andrew Cashner was the first guy out of the 'pen to relieve Wells, and he did well in his first inning of work. But a leadoff single advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then to third on a groundout, forcing Lou to bring in the Strikeout Machine That Is Carlos Marmol to prevent the Athletics from scoring the go-ahead run.

The plan worked, albeit without anyone striking out against Marmol, and the Cubs had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth, which they did, as Geo Soto walked, Castro bunted him over, Koyie Hill and Ryan Theriot walked to load the bases, and then Kosuke singled to drive in Soto.

Heads up to the Athletics: you deserve to lose any game in which you walk both Koyie Hill AND Ryan Theriot while the game is tied.

And for today's Young Cub Update: Starlin Castro has a four-game hitting streak going on.

Good times, go Cubs!

Fact: The Cubs can score runs. (Game Recap: Cubs 6, Athletics 2)

Six runs, holy crap. Who knew they could do that?

Derrek Lee got the night going with an early solo shot. His OPS for the season is just over .700 at this point, and his batting average is still pretty low at .230, so hopefully this is the first of many subsequent multi-hit outings from him that include some power.

Several other Cubs reached base multiple times last night, including: Xavier Nady (2-for-3, R), Alfonso Soriano (1-for-2, BB, R, 2 RBI), and Geovany Soto (doubled and walked). Starlin Castro reached three times, with a single and two walks.

Castro drove in two runs last night, giving him 16 RBI for the season. That ties him with Soto and The Great Ryan Theriot, the only position player in last night's game who failed to reach base.

Tyler Colvin doubled in his lone at-bat, raising his OPS to .987. And on the pitching side, Ryan Dempster was solid, yielding two runs over 6.2 innings and getting the win. He collected seven strikeouts, but also gave up eight hits.

With the box score-driven narration out of the way, I'll issue my verdict on a couple of last night's more notable plays before asking for your opinions in the comments section:

1) Geo Soto sent home on Castro's 2nd inning single.

I liked the call here. It ended up being a close play, and if their left fielder hadn't made a perfect throw, it'd have been another run. If Soto holds at third, you have the pitcher coming up with one out -- as in, probably won't bring him home -- followed by Ryan Theriot, who we all know sucks. So yeah, give me the close play over counting on Riot to drive a run in with two outs.

2) Alfonso Soriano bunts Nady and Lee to 2nd and 3rd with no outs.

I'm having trouble deciding whether I like this play or not, but I do know at least one thing, which is that I don't like it as much as the fans at Wrigley appeared to last night. Soriano got a standing ovation for this play, and he should get some credit for being creative, but the guy is one of our best hitters. I don't necessarily hate the decision, but I think I'd rather see him swing away there.

3) Alfonso Soriano makes the third out at third base, attempting to stretch out a double.

This is silly. Soriano would likely have scored from second on a single, since there were two outs in the inning and he would have been running on contact. But the guy did knock in the 5th and 6th runs with this play, so it's hard to complain.

Alright, everyone else: Thoughts on the game?

Gamecast: June 16, 2010, Atheltics at Cubs (7:05 CT)

Ryan Dempster (4-5, 3.74) vs. Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.79)

Overview
Lou Piniella and the Cubs are finding new and interesting ways to lose games.  Most of these ways are screwing up in the most basic fundamentals of baseball.  The Cubs allowed four unearned runs last night, and despite most of their mishaps, were in it for the majority of the game.  However, a missed cutoff man here, and wild pitch there... letting your pitcher hit even though you are going to pull him, have a man in scoring position, and a very viable pinch hitter available... and the game fell apart.  As I was in attendance, all of my frustrations have been told to the players on the field last night, so I figure it would just be overkill to let it flow out in this forum.

Apparently the term "Moneyball" means a nickel and diming offense that gets on base on a great deal of flukey hits and a few lucky bounces/errors courtesy of the opposing team.  The Cubs found that out last night.  Tonight the A's will send out (twice) former White Sox farmhand Gio Gonzalez.  Gonzalez has had a year very much like the Cubs ballclub: flashes of brilliance, moments of implosion, and mediocre peripherals overall.  Gio tends to strike out a lot of batters, but he also walks a lot of batters.  When he walks batters, he gets flustered and hitters can get to him.  As a lefty, right-handers hit him better overall (.261 on the season), so I expect Lou to trot out the anti-lefty lineup and hope for the best.

Who's Hot:  Um... That Colvin fella hit a nice home run when it didn't matter.  I guess we can call that an injection of youth into the team.

Who's Not: The Cubs fundamentals.  Lou and Hendry need to have a pow-wow with Tom Emanski and get these kids playing "pickle" and "hot potato" stat to get their glovework going.  Or at least get this guy to get Big Z's mojo back.

Conclusion
We need a win.  Any way possible.  In the immortal words of Ron Stillenovich: "Just because some of us weren't born with a whole lot of natural talent doesn't mean that we can't contribute."

Errors cost Cubs (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Athletics 9)

Two errors each from two players cost the Cubs in two big innings for the A's.

In the fourth, Derrek Lee misplayed a Trevor Cahill (read: AL pitcher) forceout on one play, and followed that up with a missed catch error on the very next play. Admittedly, Carlos Zambrano had not looked good so far in that inning, allowing the first four batters in the inning to reach base. But Z did his best to get out of it as quickly as possible, and unfortunately Lee wasn't there -- something that doesn't happen often, to be sure.

Yes, Big Z is prone to the mental-lapse-induced blowout performance; sometimes he just loses it, and the other team all of a sudden gets eight or nine runs. But one of the man's best qualities is that he's capable of overcoming that and continuing to pitch through trouble. (Case in point: 2008 NLDS, Game 2. I will never forget that game, and neither should you when people start bitching about Z.)

After Zambrano toughed through six innings, the game was put away in the seventh via a rough appearance from Jeff Stevens, made worse by two errors in right field from Tyler Colvin.

A few Cubs reached base twice with a hit and a walk, but the only guy who really deserves kudos for his hitting is Tyler Colvin, who went 2-for-4 with a home run. His slugging percentage is now eight points over .600, and his OPS is up to .967.

Just so you know, here are the top six Cub hitters in terms of slugging:

Colvin, .608
Soriano, .541
Byrd, .536
Fukudome, .456
Soto, .453
Fontenot, .431

Interpret that as you will. And go Cubs!

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics @ Chicago Cubs, June 15-17 2010

Preview
I've got to admit it, I like Interleague play.  I like when we have series like this one, where teams you don't normally see come into Wrigley for a few games.  I went to Cubs/Blue Jays game a couple years ago, and it felt special.  It was a bad Blue Jays team, but hey, they don't show up at Wrigley often!  So I have to say, even though the Cubs are brutal, I'm excited for this series.  Cubs and A's.  The 2 teams I liked when I was young.  In fairness I only liked Oakland b/c of the Bash Brothers and because I was like 8 years old at the time.  I grew out of that phase, and quick.

Oakland, after spending time early in the season at the top, or near the top of their division, has scuffled of late, losing their last 3 against their rivals across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants.  They're still just 4 out at the start of play today, and are obviously still putting themselves as in the race, as they acquired Arizona 1B/OF Conor Jackson today.  One has to figure he'll be an option in LF for A's manager Bob Geren.  Late word out of Chicago has Jackson available tonight, even though he's not starting.

The Matchups
*Tonight: Big Z (2-4, 6.05) vs. Trevor Cahill (5-2, 2.91)
Cahill's one of Oakland's good young pitchers, and he's had QS his last 6 times out. He's a righty, and I feel like we're gonna struggle against him.  Z is Z.  This year - ya just don't know what we're gonna get out of him.  I can't imagine we win tonight.  And why are we insistant on starting Koyie Hill every night? 

*Tomorrow: Demp (4-5, 3.74) vs. Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.79)
Demp's been a HR machine this year - allowing 13 bombs in 13 starts.  Good news for him, the A's aren't much of a HR team.  Maybe he'll get lucky and the win will be blowing in tomorrow night.  Gio will be making his first start against the Cubs.  He's been pretty good this year, though his command has been a bit wobbly (roughly 4 BB/9).  He had a tough go of it last Friday night against the Giants as well.

*Thursday: First Inning Randy Wells (3-5, 5.15) vs. Dallas Braden (4-6, 3.95)
Interesting matchup here.  I personally think Wells is pitching for his rotation slot on Thursday.  If he flops again, there's a chance the team options him to Iowa, and someone else gets a turn.  I'd assume that guy would be Gorzo, but Jay Jackson at AAA Iowa is an interesting option.  Honestly, it should be Cashner, but we're all about taking our best starting pitching prospect and putting him in the pen, baby!  Great job Cubs!  Idiots.  Braden's best known for his love of the 2-oh-9 and his perfect game earlier this year..but he's been up and down all year.  I know - he's on my fantasy team.  By the time he starts Thursday, he'll be at 8 days between starts due to some left arm soreness, so it'll be worth watching to see if that continues.  He's allowed 11 hits in 2 of his last 3 starts, so this could be a high scoring affair.  Here's to hoping Wells figures his shit out.  I like the kid, honestly.

Conclusions
What conclusions can you have other than we need to win some damn games?  I dont care how, just win some damn games.  Score some runs, don't act like assholes in the field and give those runs away, and be better than those guys in green.  Not hard.  

Go Cubbies.  Keep the faith

-MW

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