Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Reader's Blog: Week seven awards: Still stressful, but in a good way (like Lost)

Gonna have to make this a short one after a long night of Lost. The Cubs had a 5-2 week, their best week of the year and their first winning week since Week Four when they were 4-3. The Rockies were a game over .500 entering their series with the Cubs, which means the Cubs played three above average teams and managed to sweep a series, split a series, and win another. The last four games were one-run affairs, and it was nice to see the Cubs on the positive side of a couple close decisions.

Ryno of the Week: If there's one thing I hate, it's being repetitive. But even though the one thing I hate is being repetitive, this week's winner is the same as last week's: Sean Marshall. The 6'7 lefty had two wins and two holds, and lowered his ERA from 2.46 to 2.01 in the process. In the month of May, he's 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA. I shudder to think where the Cubs would be without him this year.

I have to give special props to some great offensive performances as well: Starlin Castro had at least one hit in all seven games en route to an 11-for-29 week with five RBI and four runs. And in limited duty, Tyler Colvin went 6-for-11 with four runs and two RBI.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Silva, Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week: This is a tough one, but I'm going to go with John Grabow. He appeared in four games this week and was very consistent--he allowed at least one run in every outing. He also walked five guys in just 3.1 innings, and had a 10.80 ERA. He is completely and utterly useless.

I'm giving Aramis Ramirez a pass this week only because one of his two hits directly resulted in the Cubs winning a game. But as my dad said, he's fast-approaching permanent Goat of the Week status; he was 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts. Here's a stat that will bring a tear to your eye even if none of those Lost montages did: Ramirez has struck out 40 times this year; in 2006 he played 157 games and struck out 63 times. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH HIM?

Dishonorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee

Bradon writes at Wait Til This Year, an awesome Cubs blog

Heroes and Villains (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Rangers 4)

Last night's effort to score runs got little help from most of our veteran regulars. Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez each went 0-for-5, and Marlon Byrd and Geo Soto were also hitless.

Instead, it was Alfonso Soriano and... the... Sorianettes? that got most of the work done. The Fonz himself blasted a two-run homer, Darlin' Starlin Castro added a solo shot to the opposite field (...!!!), and Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukudome came off the bench in the top of the tenth inning to lead off with back-to-back hits, with both eventually scoring to give the Cubs a two-run lead, all of which Carlos Marmol would end up needing.

Randy Wells posted a solid performance, allowing three earned runs in 8.1 innings, with six strikeouts and only one walk, seemingly solidifying his position in the rotation while Carlos Zambrano pitches a simulated game on Monday.

In Carrie Muskat's article that explained that Z would be throwing a sim game, Lou was quoted as saying he didn't know what his rotation will be once Z comes back into it. Frankly, I can't figure it out either.

Gamecast: May 22, 2010 - Cubs @ Rangers

Randy Wells (3-2, 4.13) vs. Derek Holland (2-0, 2.38)

Overview
Randy Wells heads back to the mound hoping for better run support than he's been provided recently, or better than what the Cubs provided Theodore Lilly last night.  In his last start Monday night against the Rox, Wells went 6 2/3 strong, but Grabow predictably shit away the lead in the 8th, before some 11th inning Aramis Ramirez (??) heroics landed the Cubbies a W.  Speaking of Ramirez, he's back in the lineup tonight after a sore thumb has limited him the past couple games.  Problem is, he's DH'ing.  This bothers me.  If he's not healthy enough to play 3rd, then I don't want him DH'ing.  I'd rather see someone like Tyler Colvin in the lineup instead.  What's wrong with Colvin in LF and Soriano DH'ing?  That seems to make more sense.  But instead sore-thumbed and limp-batted Aramis will be back in the middle of the lineup to continue his season long funk.  Eff that.

Opposing Wells will be Derek Holland, a young lefty who had a very up and down rookie season in 2009.  After dominating in AAA to start the season, the Rangers called up Holland a week and a half ago, and he's rewarded that call with 2 good starts.  We'll see if that continues tonight.

Who's Hot
Starlin continues to rake even though he can't seem to find a consistent spot in the lineup..having batted 8th, 2nd, 7th, and 9th in the last 4 games.  His average on the season sits at .365, and that one miserable game aside, I've been 100% in favor of the kid's play.  He's exciting, and any reason to get excited about the 2010 Cubs (read: Not Bullet Bob Howry) is a good thing.  Also hot has been the starting pitching.  We've seen a string of nice starts in a row, and having Wells continue that would be terrific.

Who's Not
Derrek Lee: 2 for 19 his last 5 games.  It's been a bad season honestly.  At least he's still drawing walks.
Geo Soto: 2 weeks ago, Geo was hitting .362.  Today it's .280.  At least he's still drawing walks.

That's it from here.  As usual, I'd sure like a GD win tonight.  Anyone else still alive and quasi-optimistic out there?  I'd love to know I'm not alone.

-MW

Gamecast: May 21, 2010 - Cubs at Rangers

Ted Lilly (1-3, 4.65 ERA) vs. Colby Lewis (3-2, 3.68 ERA)

Overview

I'm so excited and I just can't hide it! Bob Howry is making his comeback with the Cubs. I loooovvvee it! Well, maybe not love, but can he be worse than John Grabow? I guess they can be equally as bad and that is the problem with the Cubs.

The Cubs find themselves five games back today and ready for interleague play. It will be interesting to see how Lou handles the lineup, but I guess that Xavier Nady and Tyler Colvin will at least see a start or two. The Cubs could DH Alfonso Soriano and let Colvin play left, or just let Xavier Nady play. I'll try to update when the lineups are released. 

Who's Hot (Night Edition)

Starlin Castro - He loves the night to the tune of a .393 average. 

Mike Fontenot - He's hitting .371 with a .909 OPS. 

Who's Not 

Aramis Ramirez - Not surprisingly, but Ramirez is only hitting .132 at night. 

Derrek Lee - Again, not shocking, but Lee's hitting .188 under the lights. 

Conclusions

Interleague play is novality, but it is here to stay. I would like to see the Cubs in all the American League parks at some point. So, at least until I hit my last seven ballparks.
 

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at The Texas Rangers of Arlington (May 21-23)

Overview
The Cubs travel to Arlington to open up Interleague play and face a red-hot Rangers team.  The Rangers have always been known as an "offense first" squad and this year is no different.  The Rangers are 3rd in the AL in terms of batting average and 5th in OBP.  However, unlike previous years, the pitching staff of the club has been very serviceable.  The club has the 6th best ERA in the AL and ranks second in strikeouts.  Much of this success is due to the new and improved Colby Lewis, the excellent start to the season of CJ Wilson, and the recent callup of Derek Holland.  The Cubs will get to face all three in this upcoming series.

The Matchups

Friday, May 21, 2010- Colby Lewis (3-2, 3.68) vs. Ted Lilly (1-3, 4.65)
Lewis has been a big surprise story for the Rangers.  After a terrible showing the first time around in the MLB, Lewis returned from Japan with the goal of making good on his once "top prospect" status.  From 2002 to 2007 Lewis compiled a 6.71 ERA over 217.1 major league innings, walking 124 batters.  He then went to Japan and became an immediate success.  His success was not a coincidence.  During that time he altered his delivery, added a cutter, and bought into the philosophy of pounding the strike zone.  He has good velocity and what some refer to as an "unholy breaking pitch."  So far this has meant success as he has a 2.57 SO/BB ratio and a mid 3's ERA pitching in the AL.  However, he has lost his past two decisions after starting 3-0 on the season, so hopefully the Cubs have caught him at a good time.

Lilly notched a quality start in his last outing against the Pirates, allowing 3 ER over seven innings.  He has now gone seven innings in back to back starts, which is promising considering he is still sort of recovering from knee surgery.  Hopefully Lilly can increase the strikeouts against a hungry Rangers lineup and get a win.

Saturday, May 22, 2010- Derek Holland (2-0, 2.38) vs. Randy Wells (3-2, 4.13)
Holland is one of those "came out of nowhere" prospects for the Rangers system.  He was drafted in the 25th round in 2006 with out much hype.  At the time he threw a 90-92 MPH fastball and had a nice repeatable delivery, so there was good potential for him.  In 2008 he finished 10th overall in strikeouts for the minors with 157.  Much of this sucess can be credited to the development of his fastball.  During 2008, his fastball started middle at 93-96 with a sinking motion, sometimes touching up to 98 MPH.  He compliments this fastball with a changeup and a slider that both come in at low 80s.  So far he has been able to parlay his stuff into success at the big league level, winning his first two starts.

Wells should be 4-2 after his outing this past week against the Rockies where he went 6 2/3 innings of one run ball.  Hopefully we can see more of the same out of Wells and get him a well-deserved win.

Sunday, May 22, 2010- CJ Wilson (3-1, 2.55) vs. Carlos Silva (5-0, 3.35)
This is a matchup of unlikely aces.  Wilson has spent most of his career in the bullpen as a closer or setup man, but with Feliz and Frank Francisco holding down the setup and closer roles in Texas, Wilson needed a new gig.  So far it has been smooth sailing until his last outing.  Wilson only lasted 4 1/3 innings against the Angels after giving up seven runs.  His homerless streak ended when Torii Hunter took him deep.

Silva is 5-0 and no one really knows what to do.  I have to admit, he's been pretty impressive in his consistency and can be maddening for hitters when he stays ahead in counts.  I haven't seen anything to the contrary, so I expect another quality start out of Carlos... even if it continues to defy logic.

Conclusion
This is going to be a rough matchup, but if the Cubs can continue to show life with their bats and John Grabow doesn't get put into a game, I can see the Cubs taking 2 out of 3.

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Game Recap: Phillies 5, Cubs 4

Well folks, this one had a little bit of everything: Starlin Castro being good (mostly), a nice comeback to tie it up, John Grabow blowing a game, and Aramis looking feeble.

I'm just going to ignore most of the game and skip right to the part where Grabow came into the game in the 8th.  What is Lou thinking bringing Grabow into a tie game?  This situation has played out countless times in close games, and always with the same result: bringing Grabow into a game as a "stopper" is about as successful as throwing water on a grease fire.  In this game, Grabow came into the 8th inning with one out and gave up a walk, got a deep flyout, and then allowed another walk and a hit that scored the winning run.  Epic failure, once again.  This is about the time where the Cubs need to start dreaming up some mystery ailment that Grabow can get for an entire season.  I'm sure David Patton can let Grabow in on what he was afflicted with last season.

Despite the incompetence of John Grabow, the Cubs still had a chance in the 9th to tie it up.  Soriano led off the inning with a walk/hit by pitch and advanced to third on a Fontenot single.  However, with runners at the corners and no outs, the Cubs failed to put a ball in play.  Probably the most disappointing out came when Aramis flailed at ball 4 to strike out for the second out of the inning.  Honestly, he looks about as lost at the plate as it gets.

On a good note, Jeff Stevens looked good and had a scoreless IP and Derrek Lee went yard on a no-doubter in the 7th.  Kosuke tied it up in the 8th with a shot to right field off left-hander Anthony Bastardo. 

Not much else to say other than that this game was both frustrating and emotionally draining.  I keep hoping Lou will figure out that Grabow shouldn't be used ever, but based on his use of Bob Howry last year, I think this is a pipe dream.

Gamecast: May 20th, 2010 - Cubs at Phillies

Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.49 ERA)

Overview

I give up. I just can't figure out this team out to save my life. One day they can't hit or play defense. The next day they run off four in a row against quality teams. They beat the Rockies and Phillies, but can't beat the Pirates. This really is disturbing to me as a fan.

Today the Cubs go for their second straight mini-sweep, before they fly off to Texas for some good ole interleague play against the Rangers.

Dempster toes the rubber for the Cubs. Last time out he was a hard-luck loser against Pirates. Blanton, on the other hand, gave up five runs in seven innings and still got the win. It doesn't seem fair that we judge so much by wins and losses for pitchers.

Surprisingly the Cubs are only 4.5 games back in the central with plenty of baseball ahead. Of course, I'm not sure I want to see Bob Howry join this club, which I didn't know was an option. Didn't we already see that show? Now, if they want to hire him as a bouncer in the bleachers, then I'm all for it.

Who's Hot

Starlin Castro - Last night we saw the future. In the 8th inning Jason Werth hit a ball in the hole and Castro makes a great throw to get him by a step. There is no way that Ryan Theriot makes that play, and the Cubs could have lost the game. By the way, he's hitting .364 in his last six games.

Xavier Nady - Huge hit last night and he's got three his in his last nine now. I was little shocked to see Baker play right last night, but I guess Baker hasn't played in a while and they needed to get him some AB's.

Who's Not

Geovany Soto - He's as cold as ice. Soto is only hitting .143 lately and is not helping.

Esmailin Caridad - In his comeback, Caridad pitched a 1/3 of an inning and now is heading back to the DL.

Special Mention to Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and John Grawbow - All have played below expectations, but have shown signs of breaking out.

Conclusions

The Cubs are a confusing team, but I like the wins as of late. Hopefully, they can finish off the Phillies and roll over the Rangers this weekend.

Reader Blog: Howry reuniting with Cubs?

Reliever Bob Howry was recently released by the Diamondbacks, and word on the street is that the Cubs might reach out to him. Howry, of course, pitched for the Cubs from 2006-2008 before heading to the Giants in '09 and then Arizona this year. He was released after posting a 10.67 ERA in 14 appearances.

My immediate reaction upon hearing that the Cubs might sign Howry was two parts disgust and one part anger. A 36-year-old retread who couldn't even keep a job in the Diamondbacks' bullpen, which is the worst in the league by far? Jeez, Hendry, how desperate are you?

But then I remembered: Hendry is very desperate. As he should be. Cubs relievers sport a 4.95 ERA, and Sean Marshall, James Russell and Carlos Marmol are the only relievers I feel good about (perhaps because they're the only relievers with ERAs under six). The Cubs can sign Howry for about $280,000, otherwise known as "nothing" in the baseball world. It's a low risk, potentially high reward move. If Howry makes two or three appearances and sucks ... well, that's probably what Esmailin Caridad or John Grabow would have done anyway. And if he pitches well ... then Jeff Gray or Jeff Stevens can head back to the minors where they belong.

I don't expect much from Howry if the Cubs do in fact sign him. But recall that Jim Edmonds was hitting .178 with one home run and six RBI when he was cut by the Padres in 2008. With the Cubs, he put up a .343 OBP and 20 homers.

No one knows for sure what kind of numbers Howry could put up with the Cubs. But we do know that he'll play for next-to-nothing and that we don't have a whole lot of reliable options in our bullpen at the moment. Go ahead, Jim, take a shot.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: The Tyler Colvin Effect


Tyler Colvin has played in 34 of the Cubs' 41 games and has started just 12 of those. But here's the more interesting number: 19. Colvin has played in 19 games that the Cubs have won. Of course, the Cubs have won 19 games total, which means ... Colvin has played in every Cubs victory this year.

Here are the scores of the games in which he did not appear at all:

Lost to ATL 3-2
Lost to NYM 4-0
Lost to PIT 3-2
Lost to PIT 4-2
Lost to CIN 14-2
Lost to FLA 4-2
Lost to FLA 3-2

Now I'm not suggesting that the Cubs are guaranteed to lose if Colvin doesn't play, but it does seem worth noting that the team is 19-15 when he steps on the field and 0-7 when he doesn't. That's as good an argument as any that he should get more playing time.

As I mentioned, he's had 12 starts through 41 games. When Piniella announced that the 24-year-old would make the team out of spring training, he stated the importance of finding him 2-3 starts per week. We're halfway through week seven, which means he's not even averaging two starts per week.

The problem, of course, is sort of a good one: Fukudome, Byrd and Soriano are all hitting at least .313 (Colvin is hitting .295), so it's been tough to get him into the lineup. But if we look at OPS, it's a little easier to argue that Colvin should be playing more:

Soriano------.985
Fukudome- .946
Colvin------- .936
Byrd ---------.936

Among major league rookies, only Jason Heyward has more home runs than Colvin and only Heyward and the Tigers' Brennan Boesch have a higher OPS.

I grant that Colvin probably can't sustain these numbers--he's never had an OPS over .850 even in the minors. But he's playing well right now and deserves the 2-3 starts per week Lou promised back in March.

It's a strange time to write this post; after all, Lou did in fact start Colvin two of the last three games. But that was on the heels of six straight non-starts despite the fact that he hit a go-ahead home run the game before that. Those two starts also came just after Lou snapped at a reporter for asking whether Colvin should get more playing time. The answer, Lou, is yes.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Series Preview: Cubs vs. Phillies (belated)

Series Preview
Whoops.  Sorry for the lateness.

Overview

In one hand, you've got the Phillies.  Back-to-back NL Champs.  Presently 9 games over .500, touting one of the meanest offenses in the game.  Their star slugger, Ryan Howard, has 7 homeruns and 29 RBI in 38 games, and he's actually being outproduced on various levels by Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. 

In the other hand, you've got the Cubs.  Back-to-back(x51) NL losers.  Their 13-million dollar first baseman is batting .229.  Their similarly-well-paid third baseman is hitting at a .171 clip.  Their nearly 20-million dollar ace is pitching from out of the bullpen.  Can anybody say, "Phillies sweep Cubs?"

Aha, but it didn't happen.  The Cubs romped their way past Jamie "GET OFF MY LAWN" Moyer, who probably would pitch no-hitters every time out were he not battling arthritis and dementia.  But more on that in a different post.  Let's instead look to the future...

Thursday, May 20th - Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.49 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.49 ERA)

Jesus. Ryan Dempster, 2-4, decent ERA.  Tom Gorzelanny, 2-4, even better ERA.  Ted Lilly, 1-3, modestly respectable ERA.  WTF?

Hey, the Cubs are due.  Ryan Dempster is due.  The Phillies are not as good as their record.  And while I like Joe Blanton -- if only because he is leniently listed as weighing 244 pounds*, the Cubs are playing like a legitimately respectable big league team right now.  Kinda sorta. 

Conclusions
Even worse -- we missed the Series Preview to a two-game Series.  Embarrassing.  The Tribune editors would have my job over this mix-up!  In light of recent debates on this blog, in the face of a possible 4-game winning streak, and at the risk of being labeled a homer (when, really, I'm not even remotely homeresque), I will say this:

Despite giving Cub fans the best regular production from first base since Ernie Banks, I enjoy how quickly some fans are to throw Derrek Lee under the bus.  We get it -- he's your scapegoat. 

But, much like Lee (and Rammy's) numbers thus far, 40 games of baseball can easily be characterized as a small sample size.  Don't believe me?  After 40 games last year, the Kansas City Royals were 21-19.  They'd finish the year just shy of 100 losses.  Even the 103-win Yankees of last year looked pretty brutal up until Game 33.  Before that point, they were 15-17. 

Don't let this convince you that I'm flip-flopping.  I still want the Cubs to fire Jim Hendry's ass, so somebody with some passion can step in and assemble a perennial winner.  But even I know that neither the Cubs, nor Lee, nor Ramirez are done.  Not yet.

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