Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Gamecast: May 29th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Cardinals

Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52 ERA) vs. Adam Ottavino (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview

Ok, if I told you the season hinged on today's start, would you believe me? Suspend belief for a second and say you do. Now, who would you want to start? Carlos Zambrano --eh...Ted Lilly--eh...Randy Wells--we saw that yesterday. Ok, how about Carlos Silva? If I asked you that question two months ago, I might have been laughed out of GROTA. Now, it's not that crazy, because Silva has thrown great.

Granted, I don't think Silva is an ace, but he has thrown so much better than any of us thought. The Cubs really need to win today, because tomorrow is going to be tough with Adam Wainwright on the mound.

Who's Hot

Mike Fontenot - He needs and deserves some starts. He's for his last five with two doubles and triple.

Derrek Lee - He continues to hit, but the Cubs chose not to pitch yesterday.

Who's Not

Marlon Byrd - He's 2 for 20 in his last six games. That's rough. Byrd earned his place in the Cub fans hearts earlier this season with his hard play. We can all hope this is just a mini-slump.

Starlin Castro - It was bound to happen, but Castro is in his first slump. It will be interesting to see how he deals with it in the field.


Conclusions

The Cubs and Cardinals are both looking for a series win, but the Cubs were dealt a huge blow yesterday when Wells couldn't get out of the first inning. Lets hope that Silva has better luck today.

Series Preview: May 28th - Cardinals vs. Cubs

Series Preview
Overview:

It wasn't so long ago that the Cardinals were 18-8, easily in first place, and clearly on their way toward World Series Glory.  At the same time, the Cubs were 13-13 and headed southward.

Since that day, the Cardinals have gone 9-13, the Cubs have gone 8-12, and fans at Wrigley don't have to be sober to see the glaring, throbbing, missed opportunity.  However, Chicago has won 8 out of their last 11, and there appears to be a light at the end of their tunnel.  Maybe.  We'll get to that in a bit.

But what we should be focusing in on now is that total lack of invincibility of the Cardinals.  That's right -- even Albert Pujols and his crew of HGHeroes (SteroidSidekicks?) are not unbeatable.  Their early season lead was not insurmountable - just ask Dusty Baker* and the first place Reds.

(*Dusty Baker!  In first place!!)

But what about the Cubs?  Yes, they've been playing well enough for even the most cynical of us to feel brief tugs of admiration, but it very truly could be smoke and mirrors.  Some of the hot-starters, like Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto, and Starlin Castro, have begun to cool off.  And at least one late-beginner, Aramis Ramirez, may be dangling precariously on the edge of never-would-be.  Dude sucks.

Over in the pitching staff, Carlos Silva has continued to win.  Sooner or later, the officials will forbid him from assembling his mirrors and smoke machine before each start, but until that time comes, holy hell what a good trade.  The bullpen has also been looking a little better.  Marmol, Marshall, and Russell have been pretty reliable.  (And can you believe that Carlos Marmol has a 17.88 K/9 ratio right now?  Dude, if a starting pitcher could do that and throw 210 innings, he'd finish the year with 417 SO's!)

So, the Cubs have just enough going for them to not be hopeless, but the hopeless they have (Rammy, Bullpen Pitchers 4-7) looks pretty bad.  Still, imagine this: if the Cubs sweep the Cardinals this weekend, they will exit the series with a 26-25 record, while St. Louis would be 27-24.  Considering that you know and I know the Reds are not going to be playoff bound, then that would put the Cubs within a game of the only team they actually have to worry about.

Let's look at how realistic it is that that could happen...

Friday, May 28th, 2010 - Randy Wells (3-2, 3.99 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (5-1, 3.09 ERA)
Remember the olden days, when Chris Carpenter was about as healthy as a New York City hooker?  How I miss them!  Carpenter has gotten stronger as '10 has moved along.  His May ERA is 2.75, although in his last start he got kicked around like a tin can.  I dare say he's due for a throttlin'.

Randy Wells, meanwhile, is a perfect example of the lil' pitcher without big stuff who makes the most of the few gifts God has given him.  And since he took an ass-beating against the Pirates at the beginning of the month, those gifts have translated into a 2.74 ERA and zero wins.  I dare say he is due to do some throttlin'!

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 - Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52 ERA) vs. Adam Ottavino (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Silva has already won more games in 2010 than he did in 2009 and 2008 combined.  He's basically a jalopy.  Sure, drive him around town, and he'll get you to and from without much of a problem.  But take him on a road trip somewhere and you will find yourself stranded on the side of the road, watching the better cars pass you by.  Sooner or later, Silva's going to have his breakdown, but so far he's been absurdly fun to watch.

Ottavino -- Doctor Ottapuss to his friends -- is a right-handed starting pitcher making his big league debut tomorrow.  He pitched outstandingly this Spring for St.Louis (a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings) but he's yet to throw a pitch in a game that matters.  Last year, he went 7-12 in Triple A with a 4.75 ERA.

Sunday, May 30th, 2010 - Ryan Dempster (3-4, 3.31 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-3, 2.38 ERA)

Ryan Dempster has been the poster child of Hard Luck Losers in 2010.  For his ERA, and his 1.03 WHIP, and his high strikeout rate, and everything else, Dempster should have at least as many wins as Silva.  Instead, he's been beaten like a petulant child.  But after eating 3 consecutive losses earlier this month, he dominated the Dodgers in his last outing and is poised to build on that win. 

Wainwright, meanwhile, will always have a special place in my heart.  I once had a heated debate with a moron Cub fan about Wainwright.  I argued -- correctly, at the time -- that Rich Hill would have a better season than Adam, while Captain Idiot used Wainwright's clear superiority as yet another example as to why the 2007 Cubs would have no chance of winning in the division.

Long term, that dope was right.  Hill was a flash in the pan, while Wainwright has grown into a successful, kick-ass young starter.  Dude's already thrown 2 complete games in '10, and he's on an early pace to win 20.  He'll be a tough hurdle for the Cubs to overcome on Sunday.

Conclusions

Earlier, I speculated that a sweep of the Cardinals would put the Cubs in a position to compete for the division lead.  Saying it's a lot easier than doing it.  The Cardinals are throwing two of their best pitchers at the Cubs.  The Cubs are a struggling offense who have yet to do anything impressive against good pitching.  Certainly, Chicago should win 1.  Maybe even 2.  But 3 is probably out of the question.

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That is all.

Stats Update (Game Recap: Cubs 1, Dodgers 0)

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.)

Gamecast: May 27th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Dodgers

Ted Lilly (1-4, 4.30 ERA) vs. John Ely (3-1, 3.41 ERA)

Overview

Well, Chad Billingsley gives up a ton of hits, but the Cubs can't make him pay. That result leads us to the rubber match today.

Today, the Cubs will trot out Roosevelt again to face the Dodgers. I read something about the Dodgers not playing well against lefties, but that wasn't case last night.

Who's Hot

Derrek Lee - It's nice to see D-Lee get hot. He's got 2 HR in his last six games with a .358 average. Hopefully, he's ready to take off and lead the Cubs on a run.

Carlos Marmol -This hot report comes from Bruce Miles:

Marmol had faced 99 batters, striking out 46 of them. That means he has struck out 46.4 percent of the batters he's faced. For a whole season, that would be a major-league record. The existing mark was set in 2003 by Eric Gagne, who struck out 44.8 percent (137 of 306) of the batters he faced.

For the season, Marmol has pitched 23.2 innings, striking out 46 batters. That's 17.49 per 9 innings. His record is 1-0 with a 1.52 ERA, and he has his WHIP down to a tidy 1.14.

Needless to say, Marmol's hot right now.

Who's Not

Tom Gorzelanny - I think we found the person that is not going to be in the rotation after Big Z makes his return. It looked like he was really pressing and it didn't. He could make a nice innings-eater for somebody in contention. Maybe the Tigers?

Marlon Byrd - We all new he had to cool off and he finally has for the free swinger. He's going to have to prove that he can walk to keep seeing good pitches. His .217/.143/.360 OBP/SLG/OPS is not promising.

Conclusions

I would be really happy with a 2 of 3 in the this series with the Cardinals coming into town. So, enjoy the early baseball and go Cubs!

Poor Gorz (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Dodgers 8)

When asked if the constant chatter about the Cubs' oversupply of starting pitchers had affected his performance in last night's game, Tom Gorzelanny answered, "No."

"But you read it."

Of course you read it, and of course it affects you. Tom was clearly off his game last night. In the game's first at-bat, he had Rafael Furcal in a 1-2 count before giving up a single, and then followed that up with a dreaded four-pitch walk to Russell Martin. Three runs would eventually score.

In the second inning, he started the at-bat against Dodgers' starting pitcher Chad Billingsley with three straight balls, before eventually walking him. It's little things like that that make you think, "Something's not right."

Pressured or not, however, that's probably that -- Gorz will likely head to the 'pen, and James Russell will likely head back to Iowa. Having said that, I know it would not at all be fair to Tom, but I'd almost be in favor of sending him to Iowa to have him continue to start games, with the understanding that the Cubs would soon trade either him, Lilly, or Silva for either some relief help, or some quasi-talented young players. But what do I know?

On offense, there were some blown opportunities, sure, but five runs are five runs, definitely enough to give your team a chance to win. Perhaps more importantly in the long run, I don't know who looked worse last night: Kosuke Fukudome or Tyler Colvin.

I think it's pretty clear that, with Soriano and Byrd carrying most of the load on offense so far this year, Kosuke should be feeling the most pressure in terms of being replaced as an everyday starter in favor of Colvin. But for Tylermania! to replace anyone at all, he has to earn it, regardless of how poorly the Fook performs in May (.254/.338/.397 as of right now).

Colvin looked ugly in his first inning at-bat, swinging at two super-low breaking pitches to strike out. He walked in the third, but then didn't take the bat off his shoulder in the fifth, striking out again. So, yeah, he isn't seeing the ball real well lately. And it's not like he ever has -- the kid didn't walk once in spring training this year. But you know what might help improve his eye? Maybe some regular playing time. But again, what do I know?

The Cubs go for the series win this afternoon. Theo gets the start against some young guy. Have fun with that.

Reader's Blog: Here comes the slider


We've often heard of pitchers "adding a pitch," usually in the offseason. Sometimes a pitcher will develop a changeup or add a slider, etc. But Carlos Marmol has become more effective this season by eliminating his curveball.

The percentage of pitches thrown by Marmol that were curveballs, since 2007*:

2007: 20%
2008: 13%
2009: 11%
2010: 3%

But his fastball percentage has actually dropped as well, from 46% in 2007 to 41% this year. So what gives? For Marmol, it's all about the slider. His slider percentages:

2007: 31%
2008: 38%
2009: 43%
2010: 56%

To give you some perspective, he throws his slider more often than all but one pitcher in baseball: Luke Gregerson of the Padres (he's having success, too, with a 1.82 ERA in 22 games). I really noticed Marmol's tendency to rely on his slider a couple weeks ago, and now that I'm looking for it, it's completely obvious that he's using his slider to set up his fastball.

This frustrated me for a while. Usually when a pitcher relies heavily on his breaking ball, it's because he's struggling to control his fastball and has no choice but to depend on his secondary pitch. But with Marmol, it almost seems that he'd rather throw his nasty slider and then surprise the hitter with a fastball. And the fact is, it's working. He has a 1.52 ERA, has converted seven of his last eight save opportunities (the only one he blew was against the Rockies when he entered the game in the eighth with the bases already loaded), and his ridiculous 17.49 K/9 is easily the highest in the majors. The all-time leader in this statistic among relievers is Brad Lidge with 12.98 K/9.

So I'm certainly not complaining any more, but it is interesting to watch a pitcher dominate with his slider the way Marmol does. The man's fastball averages 95 mph, yet he throws it just 41 percent of the time. But I'm sure most hitters in the National League--at least those who have faced him this season--would tell you they'd rather see just about anything other than that slider.

*All data courtesy of FanGraphs

Brandon writes at Wait Til This Year, a kick-ass Cubs blog

Dempster + Lee = Win (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Dodgers 0)

Ryan Dempster is vindicated! Except not quite. Sigh.

Demp starred in last night's outing, mostly by not crapping his pants and/or giving up any grand slams. No, but seriously, eight innings, seven strikeouts to only one walk, and just three hits. That'll do it.

I was hoping Ryan would get a shot at completing the game, but I'm not going to complain about the opportunity to watch Carlos Marmol make lame-os like Manny Ramirez look compleetly stoopid with his narsty slider.

Derrek Lee knocked in all three Cub runs, taking himself above both the .230 mark in batting average as well as the .700 mark in OPS. He'll keep coming back around, I promise. (For the record, Fangraphs' preferred predictor suggets he'll hit .280/.364/.476 for the rest of the season, which would be fine by me.)

So yeah, see? Winning is easy!

Series Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles at Chicago Cubs (May 25- May 27, 2010)

Preview
Overview
Don't look now, but the Cubs are coming off another series win.  In fact, they've actually not lost any of the past three series.  Much of this success can be attributed to the fact that the Cubs have done just enough to win games lately.  The pitching continues to be pretty good and the offense has been showing occassional signs of life.

The Dodgers have been one of the most torrid teams in baseball right now.  At one point an afterthought in the San Diego/San Francisco race to the top of the NL West, the Dodgers rattled off an 8 game winning streak and are 8-2 in their last ten.  Momentum is definitely on the Dodgers side right now.  After a much needed off day for both teams, the Dodgers head into Wrigley and try to improve their road record from 10-11.

Matchups
Tuesday, May 25, 2010- Clayton Kershaw (4-2, 3.23) vs. Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.73)
Kershaw was (and the Dodgers continue to hope he is) the wunderkind that can anchor their starting rotation.  Earlier in the season, Kershaw was all over the place and many speculated he couldn't control his emotions on the mound.  Some of those critics have been quieted as of late.  Kershaw has had a ridiculous month of May in which he has allowed only two runs over 22 1/3 innings since his catastrophic first start of the month (1 1/3, 7 runs).  In that time he has also struck out 23 batters and added 3 wins to his record.  Clayton has a fastball that sits mid-90s that is complemented by a hard 1-to-7 curve (mid-70s), a "plus" circle change and a slider.  He has a great repeatable delivery and a good frame for it.  The best way to get at Kershaw is to attack the pitches he throws early in the count, particularly early in the game.  Opponents are batting .353 against Clayton in his first 15 pitches of the game, and .429 on the first pitch in the sequence.

Dempster has lost his last four starts and looks to get back on track tonight.  He's been a victim of the big gopherball lately and needs to cut down in order to see a bit more success in the W column.  On the month, Clownsevelt is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA.  Over his career, Dempster has had good success against the Dodgers, including two wins last year, so hopefully he keeps that pace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010- Chad Billingsley (5-2, 3.66) vs. Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 3.09)
Billingsley is the other reason the Dodgers have had success in the month of May.  He has won his last three starts and has made it through at least seven innings in his past two starts.  Billingsley experimented with adding some sink to his fastball last year and into this year with moderate success.  He has since ditched that plan and gone back to being a four-seam fastball and curveball combination with great results as demonstrated by his 44:21 K:BB ratio.

Gorz took a ball off of his pitching hand in his last start and still made a fine play to get the out.  The X-rays were negative, but the schedule allowed for Tommy to get an extra day of rest regardless.  Gorz had a strong outing in that start against the Phils, going 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball and allowing only three hits.

Thursday, May 27, 2010- John Ely (3-1, 3.41) vs. Ted Lilly (1-4, 4.30)
Ely, the Homewood-Flossmoor native, was traded this offseason to the Dodgers along with Jon Link for the currently floundering Juan Pierre by the White Sox.  Since he has been called up Ely has had nothing but success, winning his last three starts.  Ely aggressively attacks the strike zone and is seemingly fearless in doing so.  Much like our own Carlos Silva, Ely issues few walks.  To date, he has only issued a walk.  Ely features a high-80s fastball with a changeup that Baseball America referred to in 2009 as a "plus-plus" pitch.  While he won't blow it by batters, the dominance of his change has allowed him to strike out 28 batters in only 31 2/3 innings and also will induce a lot of ground balls.

Lilly is coming off a good start against the offensively talented Rangers this weekend where he went 6 2/3 innings and allowed only two runs.  The Cubs, however, only managed to score one run so Lilly got tagged with the loss.  It's looking like the more Lilly pitches this season, the more comfortable he looks on the mound.  Hopefully he can keep up the momentum from the Rangers game and pitch a gem on Thursday for a much deserved win.

Conclusion
Starting pitching is the name of the game for this series.  Whichever team gets the most out of their starting staff will likely win the serie.  Despite the fact that our de facto "ace" so far isn't going in this series, I can see the Cubs winning two of three with Dempster and Lilly getting a "W."  Either way, runs are going to be at a premium in this series for both teams.

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Gamecast: May 25th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Dodgers

Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.73 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (4-2, 3.23 ERA)

Overview

The Cubs face a Dodger team that has been on a roll tonight. The Dodgers were multible games back just a week ago, but have gained four games in their past 10 to close within a game of the surprising San Deigo Padres.

Kershaw, a lefty, has the stuff that usually baffles the Cubs. So, it will be interesting to see if the Cubs can manufacture some runs in tonight's game.

Dempster has pitched well this season, but has been plagued by a lack of run support and the long ball. He's already given up 8 HR's this year and he is well on his way to matching the 22 HR's he gave up last year.

The Cubs are in one of those gray areas of the season. They either get hot and make a run or it could be over in a few weeks.

Who's Hot

Tyler Colvin - Wow, he's one fire with five hits in his last eight AB's. He won't get a start against Kershaw tonight, but maybe tomorrow against Chad "The Buzzsaw" Billingsley.

Xavier Nady - After a slow start, Nady has turned things around somewhat. It will be interesting to see how "PT" he gets in the next couple of weeks.

Who's Not

Aramis Ramirez - He's hurt and looks done. Has there been somebody this bad, this quickly? He's 0-for-13 in his last five games and probably won't play for a few days.

John Grabow - What's the over/under on Grabow coming up with a injury that places him on the DL for a few weeks? I'm going with 7 days. Your thoughts? Anyway, he's sucked with a 10.13 ERA with 22/3 innings pitched.

Conclusions

The Cubs would be lucky to take two of three. If they do, it sets up a nice series against the Cardinals this weekend.

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