Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Reader Blog: Can we call it a comeback?

It's hard to fathom that Carlos Silva has been a productive member of the Cubs' pitching staff through the first quarter of the season. When the Cubs acquired him in December in exchange for Milton Bradley, he had two positives going for him: he was a warm body, and the move saved the Cubs about $6 million.

Jeff Baker at the Seattle Times opined:

    This is a huge deal for the Mariners. It's a no-brainer.

From Larry Stone at the same paper:

    I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround. He went 4-15, 6.46 in 2008, and was 1-3, 8.60 in eight games in '09, spending most of the year on the disabled list. Bradley, at least, is healthy and can be very productive when he's focused and happy.

The blog Jorge Says No! added:

    It has come to this. The Cubs were forced to take on one of the worst contracts in baseball just to get Milton Bradley off their hands. On one hand they should be celebrating that Milton is gone and they got some savings in return, but Carlos Silva has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball over the past two years.

I'm not trying to hammer these writers. Rather, their thoughts are representative of what pretty much every baseball fan thought about the trade. The Cubs had an albatross on their hands, were admittedly desperate, and agreed to take on a different albatross in exchange for their own. As Stone said, the man had an ERA over six the last two years--how else were we supposed to view the trade?

My friend Brian Brennan, always looking for a way to snag an extra six-pack, tried to take advantage of my friend Trevor Sierra's eternal optimism by betting him that Silva wouldn't even make the Cubs' Opening Day roster. Who could blame him? Silva was basically throwing batting practice the last two seasons--there's no spot on the 25-man roster for the batting practice guy.

But of course he did make the team, and now he's 5-0 with a 3.35 ERA. The Cubs are 7-1 in his starts. What in the world is going on here? Should we feel confident that he's back to his old form, or is this just a mirage, much like the thousands of people Milton Bradley sees yelling at him when he goes to bed at night? Let's take a quick look at his history.

While Silva was just plain awful with Seattle, he was offered a four-year, $48 million contract for a reason. From 2004 through 2007 with the Twins, he won at least nine games each year, had three seasons in which his ERA was 4.21 or lower, and amassed at least 180 innings all four years. (Not exactly a reason to dole out nearly $50 mil, but solid nonetheless.)

But even when he had success in Minnesota, lefties did significantly more damage against him than righties. In all four seasons, his WHIP and HR/9 were much higher against lefties. But when he went to Seattle, lefties really banged him around:

2008 vs LH: .348/.381/.555, 2.19 BB/9, 4.37 K/9, 44.5% GB%, 14.6% HR/FB%, .355 BABIP
2009 vs LH: .380/.436/.718, 3.94 BB/9, 2.25 K/9, 48.5% GB%, 21.1% HR/FB%, .359 BABIP

(hat tip: Dave Cameron, FanGraphs)

But so far this year, it's been a much different story:

2010 vs LH: .212/.264/.273, 2.45 BB/9, 5.89 K/9, 43.4% GB%, 0.49 HR/FB%, .247 BABIP

His WHIP against lefties is significantly lower than that against righties, and five of the six home runs he's allowed this season were to right-handed hitters. That FanGraphs article points out that Silva has altered his pitch selection to southpaws: he's using his changeup 40 percent of the time against lefties and 29 percent of the time overall, compared to 15 percent last year. Going away from his sinker has increased his fly ball rate, but to this point it hasn't hurt him. When the weather turns warm and the wind starts blowing out, this strategy could backfire.

Perhaps Silva is more comfortable throwing his changeup because he changed his position on the rubber prior to the season. From an emotional standpoint, it also seems entirely possible that he's been positively affected by his mother's presence here in the U.S. (see?)

Now, if Silva was going to have a misleadingly strong month, it would be April. He's 17-7 in that month in his career, easily the best record of any month. He also hasn't pitched in the NL since 2003, which means hitters don't have a good scouting report on him yet. There's also no question that his performance has regressed here in May. Probably the worst comparison to be found is the one originally posted as a comment by SMan:

Carlos Silva in first 6 starts of 2010:
3-0, 6 GS, 36 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 7 BB, 24 K

Carlos Silva first 6 starts of 2008:
3-0, 6 GS, 42 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 9 BB, 18 K

Carlos Silva in 2008 after those 6 starts:
1-15, 22 GS, 111 IP, 7.84 ERA, 1.760 WHIP, 23 BB, 51 K

All in all, it seems likely that Silva will continue to regress at least a little: he's never finished a season as a starter with an ERA as low as 3.35; his K/9 is the highest he's ever had; and his BAbip (average on balls in play) is also the lowest he's ever had (.283), though it's not so low as to be impossible for him to maintain.

On the other hand, he seems to have made some key adjustments that could enable him to perform much closer to the levels he was accustomed to in Minnesota as opposed to the struggles he encountered in Seattle. Few if any thought he'd be in the Cubs' rotation in mid-May, but perhaps the Cubs have found a fifth starter for the next two years.

What's with this whole winning thing? (Game Recap: Cubs 6, Rockies 2)

Who says the Cubs don't draft well?

OK, so maybe they don't. But last night's starting lineup featured four Cub products -- Theriot, Colvin, Soto and Castro -- and every reliever that appeared last night has been through our minor league system, including Caridad, Russell, Marshall, and that one guy who will soon become a long reliever so he can become a starting pitcher but until then will be the backup closer.

Major kudos to James Russell, who according to Fangraphs' leverage index was the ballsiest player of the night last night. And I'd agree with that. He came on with the tying run at first -- which later got to second on a bloody-nose-inducing steal courtesy of Miguel Olivo. Bleeding aside, the run didn't score, and our late inning guys had a lead to hold.

Three hits for Tyler Colvin, who is now back to hitting .300. In 15 May at-bats, he's got a .908 OPS (boosted by his home run that I believe was hit in Cincinnati). And guess which Japanese prospect blocker has an OPS below .800 so far this month? Hint: It's Kosuke, who has a .759 over 48 at-bats.

Derrek Lee struck out three times. I suppose he did hit that double late in the game, but I was pretty pissed off in the first inning when the Cubs had runners on first and third and no outs and neither he nor Ramirez could bring one of the damn things home.

And Carlos Silva wins again. Five-and-oh for the season. Gee whiz. He was cruising early, and I wonder how much longer he would have gone if not for the mistake to Helton.

In my defense, Rafael Betancourt's first inning of work was fine. Betancourt, of course, was the guy I was pimping earlier this week as a trade target for the Cubs; he does have a good fastball, and he did strikeout Theriot. Also, try telling me the Cubs don't need a right-handed power reliever after Caridad's performance last night. He should be thanking God for the size of James Russell's testicles.

Actually, yeah, I'm gonna leave it right there. Go Cubs.

Gamecast: May 18th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Rockies

Carlos Silva (4-0, 3.40 ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (2-1, 2.66 ERA)

Overview

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT:

The Cubs go for a sweep and three wins a row tonight.

It's crazy to think about, but the Cubs have actually won two in a row with last night's dramatic win over the Rockies.

In other news, Carlos is headed to long relief. Marloz Byrd is predicting a Cubs playoff run. Jim Hendry chimes in to say the Lou isstaying put for now.


First off, Carlos in the pen is just crazy. The Cubs need to trade a starter and pick up some value. If they want to keep Gorzelanny, then they have to let Ted Lilly go.

As for Byrd, I love his hustle and his bat. He might want to work on the predictions. Hey, at least he is doing something.

Hendry, I just don't have enough strength to give a quality reponse to this question.

Who's Hot

Aramis Ramirez - I was in bed when he hit the home run, but hey Clutchy might be returning.

Randy Wells - He worked out of trouble from what I saw in the first few innings, including two huge strikeouts with the bases loaded. Wells is the type of pitcher every team needs.

Who's Not

Derrek Lee - Another rough day for Lee. Maybe today will bit a little better.

John Grabow - Just when you thought he might be pitching better he goes and gets wild again. Grabow is the perfect example why Jim Hendry shouldn't be retained as a GM. These deals for bullpen arms have been terrible.

Conclusions

It's nice to be winning again. Maybe the Cubs can get on a serious roll heading into the Philly two-game series.

Welcome back, Aramis. (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Rockies 2)

Who knew Aramis Ramirez could still hit?

Three RBI for the day, including a deep shot "into the night," as Lenny Kasper called it, ending this one in the bottom of the 11th inning. I actually thought he skied it when he hit it, but apparently he really REALLY skied it -- enough to get it out of the park.

Starlin Castro had three hits -- all singles -- and a stolen base against Miguel Olivo, who is apparently quite good at picking off base runners.

But about those singles: I think it's likely that the home run Castro blasted in his debut was the last homer we'll see from him for a long while. The kid doesn't have an extra-base knock since his first game. I think he'll hit plenty of doubles this year -- his first inning liner almost gave him a two-bagger -- but he's got a ways to go before he can afford to start swinging for the fences again.

Tyler Colvin had a hit and a walk, and also struck out once. He now has 17 strikeouts on the season to go against his seven walks; in contrast, Castro has five walks, against two strikeouts.

Derrek Lee had a rough night. These things happen I guess.

Most folks were fairly outstanding on the pitching side for the Cubs. Kudos to Lou for using Marmol in the high leverage situation -- bases loaded, one out -- instead of saving his "closer" for a "save situation." I suppose that's kind of an easy decision, but not every manager would have gone that way. Which is sad. Also, Marmol was nasty again. Surprise surprise.

You know who else was nasty? Sean freakin' Marshall. I'd encourage any and all fans arguing that we trade Marsh to stop what they're doing and re-evaluate their positions. Marshall is a control guy, not a flame-thrower, so he could have a really long career of throwing junk all over the corners of the plate.

In 20.1 innings pitched this season, Sean Marshall has allowed 11 hits, and given up just three unintentional walks, to go with 27 (!!!) strikeouts. DAMN.

Kudos also to Randy Wells, for another solid start. Also John Grabow sucks.

And now Z is eventually headed back to the rotation? Whatever that means. I suppose we'll see what happens.

Cubs win, oh yeah, get excited.

Gamecast: May 17th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Rockies

Randy Wells (3-2, 4.27 ERA) vs. Aaron Cook (1-3, 5.80 ERA)

Overview

I usually like to look at some of the news around the Cubs world  to discuss, but there really isn't anything of note to discuss.

Yesterday, Lou went off and the Cubs picked up a win. So, I guess it worked this time. But will it last? This team isn't really built to win it seems. Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Mike Fontenot/Ryan Theriot are probably will be dealt if the Cubs can find something that will help.

Thanks to some odd scheduling, the Cubs face the Rockies today and tomorrw, before heading to Philly on Wednesday. The Cubs are still 5.5 back thanks to the Dusty Baker's Reds sweeping the Cardinals. Just Nuts!

Who's Hot

Derrek Lee - Well, it took long enough for Lee to heat up. But he did hit .375 this past week. Thinks are better, but he only had two RBIs and no HR.

Alfonso Soriano - He continues to get knocks and is hitting .331 on the season with 7 HR's. Not too bad, but it's too bad the Cubs can't win.

Who's Not

Geovanny Soto - Soto leads the team in OBP, but is not hitting in his last week. He's only 3 for his last 20 with no RBIs. Everybody is going to be up and down, and right now Soto is down.

Ryan Theriot - He's not looking great since Castro came up. He's three for his last 17 with no walks. No wonder Lou sat him on Sunday, because he has done nothing other than K with a tying runnin on third base.

Conclusions

As we all get ready for the last 3.5 Hours of lost, we will try and get through this week of Chicago Cubs baseball.

Series Preview: Colorodo Rockies at Chicago Cubs, May 17-18, 2010

Series Preview
Overview
The Rockies swing into Chicago for a brief two game series against the Cubs.  The Rockies are fresh off of taking 3 out of 4 from the Washington Nationals while at home, due largely in part to great starting pitching in the series.  Last night, the Rockies got a great start out of former "ace-until-ubaldo-threw-a-no-hitter" of the staff Jeff Francis.  Colorado has been struggling away from home and look to bring some of that momentum from the Washington series into the Windy City.  If the strong pitching holds up for the Rockies, this could be a rough (albeit short) series for the Cubs.

Matchups
Monday, May 17, 2010- Aaron Cook (1-3, 5.80) vs. Randy Wells (3-2, 4.57)
Cook is a junkerballer that frustrates hitters because of how many times he seems to induce the weak groundball.  Usually a model of consistency for the Rockies, Cook has struggled mightily this year through his first seven starts.  In his last start he did hold a potent Phils lineup to three runs over six innings, but his sinker has not been nearly as effective this year.  If Cook continues to struggle with his sinker, the Cubs could be in for a treat of the run-scoring variety.

Wells is similar to Cook in the sense that he doesn't really have anything "overpowering" but can really frustrate the heck out of hitters with his control.  Wells notched a quality start in his last outing against the Marlins but got the loss despite throwing eight innings of three-run ball.  He looks to build on the success and get a win this time around.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010- Jhoulys Chacin (2-1, 2.66) vs. Carlos Silva (4-0, 3.40)
Jhoulys' career as a starting pitcher took a meteoric rise to legitimacy when he threw 15 1/3 scoreless innings out of the gate.  He couldn't keep the gig up on Thursday as the Nationals tagged him for six runs over five innings.  Still, Chacin has been a very pleasant surprise for an already good Rockies pitching staff, and looked pretty composed even in his worst outing of the year.  He throws a devastating change up, usually late in counts, after he sets it up with a 90-92 MPH fastball.  His slider is still a work in progress, and when it is off it can lead to starts like the one against the Nationals.  Regardless, his career upside has been compared to that of a Ben Sheets without the injury problems.

Carlos Silva has also been a great suprise for his ballclub.  Silva threw his fifth quality start of the year against the Marlins.  There really isn't much to Silva's success: he keeps the ball around the plate and induces contact.  With balls being hit into play, he will have some bad days, but overall, he has been keeping the ball down and getting hitters to hit "his" pitches.  Hope to see more of the same in this game.

Conclusion
The Cubs really could use a series sweep to right the ship.  Hopefully they run into the Chacin that struggled against the Rockies and get their mojo back on the offensive front.

Coast to Coast, sponsor of the Goat Riders Series Previews, is a trustworthy World Baseball Classic and Cubs ticket broker with great prices!

Apocalypse When?


My story as a Cubs fan has been detailed all over this blog, and in other places, so I'm not going to bother retelling it now. But what you should know about me is this: I am a life-long Cubs fan who has, at times, been passionately driven by nothing more than a Cubs World Series victory.

The key phrase in that last sentence is "at times." Last season I felt barely involved in the Cubs, despite writing about them every single day, and this year is no different. So they're floating at around 10 games under .500. So Aramis Ramirez can't bat Ryan Theriot's weight, and Derrek Lee is looking his age. So Alfono Soriano has the defensive range of a lead box. So Carlos Zambrano is pitching out of the bullpen.

Okay -- fine. That last one still makes me sick to my stomach.

And yet, I don't feel too upset by any of this. I'm not losing sleep over the Cubs' woes. I don't feel angry. God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I mostly don't care.

In my 30 years, I've lived with a long-lasting, pervasive belief that the Cubs will win the World Series someday. I still believe that. I belive it will happen soon -- before I am 40 for sure. Then again, when I was 20 years old, wouldn't I have been shocked to know the Cubs'd still be titleless a decade later?

It will happen; only it's not going to happen soon. Just look at the facts -- the Cubs have tried to buy their way into contention for a few years now, kind of like the Yankees. Except the Yankees have a history of burying bad, big contracts with new bad, big contracts. When Player X stops producing 4 years into his 8 year contract, the Yankees just go out and buy Player Y and keep on winning. The Cubs can't do that.

Not to mention the continued questionable production of the farm system. Geo Soto may or may not grow into the stud we saw back in 2008. (Things are looking good.) Starlin Castro may or may not be a shortstop slightly better than Shawon Duston was. Same with Josh Vitters.

Despite being owned by a rich Cubs fan (who, you'd think, would be super competitive and extremely hungry for a title), the Cubs are being run by the same people, in the same way as they have been for the past few decades. That model doesn't work. Jim Hendry doesn't have the skills necessary to be a game-changing GM, which is unfortunate for the Cubs since he's been in a position of authority for more than a decade now. A decade!

We have seen in the past that teams turn around their fortunes on a shockingly regular basis. It's entirely possible that the 2011 Cubs will be much, much better than their '10 counterparts. But for that to happen, the Cubs will need to do the following:

Purge.

(What, you thought there'd be more? That's all they need!)

Seriously. Fire Jim Hendry. Let Lou Piniella ride off into the sunset. Dispense with their talented, expensive, over-30 players. Roll the dice on some younger guys with a ton of potential. But, most important of all, the Cubs need to get a guy in the front office who is a fearless, hungry, baseball genius.

I'm talking about somebody who, first and foremost, seeks any advantage to win. That means rolling the dice on picking up undervalued players whose significant skill-sets are only obvious when considering little-known statistics. That means ridding the team of anybody who is even remotely cancerous. That means being unafraid to mouth back at the media, to shout down angry fans, to awe us all.

These guys are rare, but they are essential. When I look at Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella, what I don’t see are Type A personalities with an overwhelming passion to win. Maybe they used to be, back in the day, but not anymore.

Ironically, then, I will not be passionate about the Cubs until the Cubs are passionate about winning. The window has closed on Jim and Lou. It’s time to let somebody else have a shot. Until then, it’s a whole bunch of insignificant thunder.

Reader Blog: Week six awards: "Why are they doing this to us?"

Despite a win to finish out the week (which I was able to witness in person), the Cubs lost two more series in the last seven days. They've won three series this year and lost nine. It's like people always say: just win one of out of every three and you'll be in good shape at the end of the season. No wait, that doesn't sound right.

The Cubs needed two nail-biter 4-3 victories to keep from getting swept in back-to-back series and to stave off an to 0-6 record against the Pirates this year, a team they lost to eight times the last two years combined. The 2-4 week leaves them six games under .500 with three teams ahead of them in the division. At the top of the heap is a team that wears red but not the one you'd expect: Dusty Baker's Reds. Incidentally, the Cubs have scored just three fewer runs than the Reds and have a better ERA. Either the Reds are over-performing, the Cubs are under-performing, or both.

Here's the other good news: though it may have felt like 50, the Cubs were outscored by only five runs in the last two series. They lost two one-run games and also a two-run decision as they failed to turn the corner offensively. While it's good they're not getting blown out, their tendency to lose pretty much every close game they play is immensely frustrating and the reason for the title of today's post. Why, Cubs? Why must you torture us?

They still have two more games at Wrigley to try to get momentum on their side before hitting the road again.

Ryno of the Week: Tom Gorzelanny went 1-for-2 at the plate, and he was pretty much the Cubs' offensive star. Okay, okay, Soriano did go 8-for-22 with five RBI, which ain't bad. But Sean Marshall gets the nod this week after he earned a hold and a win, playing an instrumental role in both of the Cubs' wins. The man quietly goes about his business every year--he has a 2.45 ERA and a miniscule 0.87 WHIP, which would be the lowest in the league if he had logged enough innings to qualify.

Honorable mention: Carlos Silva

Goat of the Week: Though I feel badly for him after he got plunked on the elbow and had to miss Sunday's game, Ryan Theriot was just 3-for-17 last week with no walks. He also had a chance to tie Saturday's game in the ninth inning, needing only a fly ball to do so. Instead, he struck out.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

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

Gamecast: May 16th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Pirates

Ted Lilly (1-3, 4.88 ERA) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

Overview

There really isn't much to say, but the Pirates own the Cubs. So far it's 0-5 this year for the Cubs. There really isn't much to say, other than to enjoy some time outside with the family or go to a movie.

It really looks like the Cubs will making more trades for the future, rather than for this year.

Enjoy the game today and hopefully the Cubs will turn things around real soon.

Open Forum: Cubs trade chips

It only took 36 games played for the trade talk to begin here at GROTA. And now that it's begun, let's keep the ball rolling with a question for readers:

Of the guys you'd like to see the team trade, which players do you think have the most value on the open market? Remember to consider not just past and current performance, but also age and contract status.

I think I'll hold back on my list until a few other folks submit their own.

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