Ryan Dempster (3-5, 3.72 ERA) vs. Roy Oswalt (3-7, 2.78 ERA)
Well, so much for that sweep I was hoping for. Tonight the Cubs face the definitive ace of the Astros staff, Roy Oswalt. Despite his struggles in recent years as well as his mediocre record this season, Oswalt is pitching pretty darn well. Roy O has a WHIP of 1.08 and is striking out over three times as many batters as he walks (72:20 K:BB). In other words, this is gonna be tough.
On the other side, the storyline is the start of the Tyler Colvin era in right. Logically the length of this era will be determined on whether Lou wakes up feeling a certain way. On the downside, Theriot will lead off in the game despite his inability to walk... or hit... or play defense, for that matter.
Honestly, I'm not even doing this until we actually win a game. Seriously. Someone on the Cubs, please force me to write about how awesome you are with a performance tonight. I dare you (and/or beg of you).
A win is needed. A win against Roy Oswalt would be a nice momentum builder, I think. A win is a win, however, so I'll take it any way it comes.
Carlos Zambrano (1-3, 6.12) vs. Felipe Paulino (0-7, 4.40)
Well, this day has finally come. It's hard to ignore the elephant storyline in the room. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past 2 weeks, you've been hearing about the triumphant return of Carlos Zambrano to the rotation. Well, here it is. What that means, I'm not really sure just yet, but I do know this: Z belongs in the rotation.
Outside of that, there really aren't any storylines worth covering. The Cubs are playing mediocre ball, the Astros are absolutely terrible. Good news is, someone has to win this game. Hopefully, the Cubs seize the opportunity.
I expect Zambrano to be passionate, but I hope he holds off on the hot headedness.
The 3-4 hitters of both teams have underperformed for both teams all season long.
We need this game. For that matter, we need a sweep. Go Cubs. Do things.
Yet another youngster has made his way to the Cubs' 25-man roster. Andrew Cashner joins Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto in the Cubs' somewhat odd mix of up-and-coming prospects and aging veterans. I'll try to provide a little context to Cashner's rise through the ranks of the organization.
First of all, it's not all that surprising that he has worked his way to The Show this season. The Cubs bullpen has been a revolving door since Opening Day:
Opening Day bullpen
Only three pitchers have survived the first two months of the season: Marshall, Marmol and Russell. And of course Zambrano saw some time in the 'pen as well. The Cubs have used TWELVE guys in relief already this season. In 2008, they used 14 total (excluding Randy Wells and Carmen Pignatiello, who pitched just two and three times each, respectively).
Cashner was drafted 19th overall by the Cubs in 2008 out of Texas Christian University where he was both a starter and a reliever. It was actually the second time the Cubs drafted him and the fourth time he was drafted overall (that happens pretty often in baseball). He stands 6'6, taller than every Cubs pitcher except for Marshall, and is 23 years old, making him younger than any current Cub save Starlin Castro (Colvin is 24).
Cashner throws a 92-96 mph fastball, a slider that he calls his "out pitch," and has developed a changeup this year. He's also able to throw a sinker when he needs a ground ball. He had a very, very small cup of coffee after being called up on Memorial Day, throwing one pitch, a 95 mph fastball, to Ronny Cedeno that was popped up for the final out of the eighth inning.
Cashner pitched eight games in A ball the year he was drafted, and struggled to the tune of a 5.85 ERA. In 100 innings between A and AA last season, he struggled with his control but had a strong 2.60 ERA. He allowed just one home run in 24 starts. Between AA and AAA this season, he was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA and had just 15 walks in 57 innings before being recalled.
Is Cashner ready to be a consistent contributor on a major league team? Probably not. But he's got his first big league outing out of the way and a 0.00 ERA to go with it. Baseball America had him ranked as the Cubs' fourth-best prospect heading into the season (behind Castro, OF Brett Jackson and 3B Josh Vitters), and Baseball America also declared his fastball and slider the best in the team's farm system. Another piece of the future is here a bit earlier than expected, and let's hope it's a bright one.
The Cubs' 2010 season is currently at a crossroads. They are 6.5 games back of two teams and on the precipise of falling out of the race. Without further ado. Here is a preview of a series that the Cubs should win handily. Of course ,we all know how that has gone this year:
Friday June 4: Carlos Zambrano vs Felipe Paulino
This game marks the triumfant return of Carlos Zambrano. Instead of getting the hapless Pirates (who someone turn into the 1927 Yankees when they play the Cubs), he gets the hapless Astros. In case you didn't know, the Astros are last in almost every relavent offensive category. They have the lowest OBP, the lowest OPS, the lowest SLG, the lowest wOBA and the fewest runs scored in all of baseball. Of course, the Pirates aren't much better and we know how that faired. Still you have to like Zambrano's chances. Z has pitched much better than his putrid ERA and quite frankly I expect him to take the move to the bullpen personally and have one of the best months of his life.
As for Paulino. I'd say he doesn't really need his outfield. He K's a decent amount, walks a bunch also and gets a fair number of grounders. He is coming off of 3 straight quality starts and his last time out, he went 8 scoreless against Dusty's Juggernaut, the Reds. He is beatable, as long as the Cubs wait him out.
Saturday June 5: Carlos Silva vs Roy Oswalt
Is this the meltdown we have all been expecting from Silva? I sort of doubt it but as bad as the Astros are, Oswalt is one tough customer. I know it may be hard for some people to believe but Oswalt is suddenly very underrated. His K rate is higher this year than at any point since his rookie season. His actual ERA is great and it's backed up strongly by the peripherals. Even on a terrible baseball team, Oswalt could be a Cy Young candidate this year. He is supposedly on the trading block and givin his salary, etc, it seems doubtful that he will be dealt but he is one of the better pitchers in baseball and is not to be underestimated.
Sunday June 6: Ryan Dempster vs Bret Myers
If the Brewers offense had the Astros pitching, it would be a pretty fantastic team. Dempster is probably a slightly better pitcher so I expect to win this game. Is it too much to hope that the Cubs bullpen doesn't give any games away here?
I am probably the only writer at this site who is not willing to give up on this team all the way until at least the end of June but I do acknowledge that a sweep in this series is almost necessary. This team needs to start winning soon and not stop if they have any chance this season.
Synopsis: Lilly pitched well for seven innings, gave up a two-run bomb to a kid in the eighth (first career homer for Neil Walker) after walking a guy on four pitches, and the Cubs couldn't score aside from Nady's own two-run jack, so we lost.
And as Eddie pointed out, how 'bout that bench last night? Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd were all out of the starting line-up yesterday. Wild.
I suppose the team could conceivably trade any of those guys, huh? Although at this point you're probably not going to be "selling high" on any of them. But yeah, I'll take whatever can be gotten for Lee, Byrd, Theriot, and even Ramirez at this point (I like Soto, call me crazy). And obviously Lilly is available at this point as well. Or Silva, if someone would rather have him.
Yeah, Byrd's on the block at this point, right?
Jeff Karstens (1-1, 4.78) vs. Ted Lilly (1-4, 3.63)
In what is a season-long struggle with mediocrity, the Cubs continue to be owned by the Pirates. The good news is, the big storyline for the Cubs is the Ted Lilly revival tour. He's coming off his best start of the year and looks to build on, or at least match his success... and maybe get "W" this time. Being the unstoppable force of nature he is, I think Lilly does just that.
The other storyline is that it's June, which seems to be the make or break month for most teams. In 2007, the Cubs saw a surge that eventually led to a division title. The Cubs look to repeat this success and make the division a bit more competitive while the Reds and Cards keep each other in check.
Um... Ted Lilly. Dude went seven strong and only allowed 3 hits in his last start. Even had a few strikeouts, which was reassuring.
See: the bench for today's game. Theriot ignores that OBP and walks exist. Lee and Ramirez are nowhere near 3 and 4 hitters right now. Soto could use a pick me up.
We should win this game. Start June off on the right foot with a strong effort from Teddy Roosevelt, and get some big contributions from role players that get a start tonight.
The Cubs kept their momentum by taking two of three against LA, but their mojo ran out at the hands of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Two one-run duds were sandwiched around yet another win by Carlos Silva, and the week ended with the Cubs in pretty much the same position they were in when the week started. That's been the team's tendency at home this season; their four homestands have looked like this:
They just can't seem to put together any type of streak at home, mostly because they can't score runs consistently. This was a bit of a strange week in that despite scoring just 16 runs in six games, the Cubs won three times by shutting out their opponents in each win. While Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot heated up a bit, most of the hitters were ice cold. Averages from last week:
It's hard for a team to get hot when two-thirds of the order is batting like ... well, like Aramis Ramirez. Perhaps it's time to see more of Tyler Colvin? Please? And perhaps it's well-past time to move Ramirez down in the order? Might I suggest 10th?
Ryno of the Week: Ted Lilly looked great and deserved a win when he helped the Cubs beat the Dodgers 1-0, but Carlos Silva edges him out because of this stellar in a very important game against the Cardinals: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K. His performance ultimately prevented a sweep, and Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot
Goat of the Week: The choices for this "award" on the offensive side were detailed above. John Grabow also threw his name in the hat by allowing five earned runs in two appearances, and then he was placed on the DL with what I believe is being called a "strained ability to pitch effectively in the major leagues." But overall, I have to go with Ryan Theriot who reached base in just 19 percent of his plate appearances and has a .313 OBP for the season. One could say his job is to "set the table," but instead, he's been getting up halfway through dinner and angrily knocking all the plates and glasses off the table.
Randy Wells (3-3, 4.79 ERA) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (0-3, 5.11 ERA)
There are couple interesting story lines going today. First off, cue the celebration music......John Grabow goes on the DL with suckitis. Well, apparently it was a knee injury, but we all know the REAL reason. This should make the bullpen much better just addition by subtraction.
In his place, the Cubs call up prospect Andrew Cashner. I think it is a good move. It allows Cashner to get a little big league time before eventually becoming a starter maybe next year.
The other story line is Randy Wells trying to rebound from Friday's 16-pitch outing against the Cardinals. The Cubs have a lot of starting pitching options, so Wells can't afford to be bad for long.
Cub pitchers not named Wells, Gorzelanny and Grabow - Really, the Cubs have pitched well, but these guys hurt the Cubs this past week. Even Bob Howry has shown signs of life.
Alfonso Soriano - Fonzi's just has two hits in his last 18 AB's. We knew it would happen, but usually the Cubs have somebody else step up. That just hasn't happened this year.
Like Kurt said, it's time for the Cubs to put up or shut up. Hopefully, Cashner is success and the cubs get rolling.
If you are superstitious, then I'm to blame for the way the Cubs been mangled by the Pirates so far this year. I wrote at the beginning of their first meet-up about how the Cubs owe so much to the Pirates for their winning ways in the past few seasons. (And it's true -- the Cubs wouldn't have even remotely been a .500 team last year were it not for Pittsburgh taking it for our team)
Maybe the great karmic wheel noticed too, because Pittsburgh has PWN'd the Cubs all year long. So far, in 6 games, the Cubs are 1-5 against the Pirates, and have been outscored 35-17. 35 to 17! Chicago has its problems, sure, but they cannot possibly be that bad -- can they? Let's take a look at the matchups.
Monday, May 31st - Randy Wells vs. Ross Ohlendorf
Randy Wells, Randy Wells. He started the year looking like Greg Maddux. Now he looks more like Jeremi Gonzalez, pre-electrocution. Wells got smoked in his last start, lasting nary an inning against the Cardinals. But cheer up, Cub fans - the last time Wells faced the Pirates, he lasted 2 innings and gave up 6 earned runs - that's like half as many runs in twice as many innings!
Ross Ohlendorf, meanwhile, almost beat the Cubs in his last outing against them. He went 6 innings and gave up 2 runs, which is - so far - the best he's done this year.
Tuesday, June 1st - Ted Lilly vs. Jeff Karstens
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is not trying very hard to get traded in this, the walk year of his contract. Since coming back from surgery, he's posted a respectable 3.63 ERA, but he's also lost 4 decisions in 7 starts. Ugh. Either he's as bad as his record, or he's as good as his ERA -- guess we'll find out soon.
Jeff Karstens is 27, he's 1-1 this year, and he's 10-18 in his career. He gives up lots of hits, a modest amount of walks, and if he manages to strike out more than a handful of Cubs then they're doing it wrong. If ever there was a game in which Lilly should dominate and the Cubs should explode offensively, it's this one.
Wednesday, June 2nd - Carlos Zambrano vs. Zach Duke
Carlos Zambrano? Scheduled to return to the rotation on Wednesday? Really?! Woo-hoo!
Not that he's got anything in the tank right now -- he's done nothing as a starter or a reliever to convince me that he's reliable. But sweet fancy Krishna, it's about time he returned to where he belongs. What a stupid experiment!
There was a time when Zach Duke was a promising young starter who owned the Cubs. Six years later, he's a run-of-the mill guy with moments of brilliance who's still only 27. It seemed back in the olden days that he was pretty much guaranteed a win against Chicago... it's not like that anymore, but the Cubs are 1 and freakin' 5 against these guys.
The Pirates remain the doormat of the National League, but the Cubs are playing as though they intend to give them some competition for that title in 2010. As Rob might point out, good teams beat teams like the Pirates. The Cubs haven't even come close to beating the Pirates this year. (Okay, fine, they won a game. Big freakin' deal.)
But as the Cubs have made certain moves -- promoting guys like Castro, DLing losers like Grabow, reclaiming projects like Howry -- then they are coming closer and closer to resembling the team we'll probably see for the last three months-or-so of the season. This is pretty much the time to start winning big. If they can't manhandle the Pirates, they might as well cancel Christmas and close the kitchen. 'Nuff said.
So we've split the first two games. Randy Wells looked awful (and bullpen-bound?) in his start, and Carlos Silva struck out 11 in seven innings (not bullpen-bound) in his.
Whether the Cubs win or lose this series, it'll feel a heckuva lot more important that it actually is. But screw sensibility; let's win on Sunday and ride the momentum all the way to the freakin' pennant!
How 'bout y'all readers contribute to this here combined recap? What are your favorite moments from the past two games?