Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Really Belated Series Preview -- Cubs vs. Mets

Editor's Note: This was actually written up back on Thursday night.  Two days of internet troubles later, and no publishing was to be had.  I suck.  Rather than preview the two games that have already occurred, just consider it an advanced GameCast for tomorrow's game...

Overview
It's hard to like a Cubs team that's this bad.  Then again, it's easy to root for any team that plays the Mets.

As the Cubs storm toward their September exit, a few issues are beginning to come into play.  First -- the manager.  Jim Hendry says that there are no lead candidates.

Second -- the roster.  With Kosuke Fukudome's shocking, good production, will he become trade bait or will Jim Hendry hold onto him with high hopes for a surprising 2011?  Same thing with Carlos Zambrano.  His suspension and Anger Management classes seem to be having a profoundly positive impact on him.  Yay?

Third -- what, there's supposed to be a third?  Because there's not.

Anyway, on with the preview -- and then some commentary about the Looming Issues.

Sunday, September 5th - Ryan Dempster (12-9, 3.71 ERA) vs. Jon Niese (8-7, 3.70 ERA)

Despite the fact that Dempster raised his ERA by .29 points in his last start (7 earned in 3 IP = suckage), his ERA for August was 2.89, and he won 4 out of 5 decisions.  Does -- dare I say it -- Dempster have a shot at winning 15, in this, the season of bitter remorse?

His opponent is 23, is pitching like 2009 Randy Wells, and went 1-3 with a 4.43 ERA in August.  Go get 'im, Cubz.

Conclusions

In the last Series Preview I wrote (I think), I bid farewell to Lou Piniella.  Sometime before that, I wrote an article about how Ryne Sandberg should be, under no circumstance the next Cubs manager.  I was extremely definitive.

Well, I've changed my mind.  Hear me out.

The Cubs, well, the Cubs suck.  They're probably going to suck next year, too.  Despite sucking, Jim Hendry is expected to return.  Do you trust Jim Hendry to rebuild these Cubs?

Me neither.

Therefore, any move Hendry makes is moot.  I don't trust him to shore up the bullpen, to improve the offense, or even to hire the best manager for the job.  So why should he try?

Instead, since it's a lost cause anyway, I believe Hendry should give the job to Sandberg.  Cub fans will be happy, Sandberg will be happy, and in 2012 -- when both Hendry and Sandberg get axed -- we can finally move on to a new regime with half a chance.

So why not?  Hire Ryne Sandberg, I say.  It can't possibly hurt!

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Cubs managerial candidates

In terms of the Cubs' search for a new manager, it's very early. There are still lots of questions without answers, such as: Will Joe Torre and/or Tony LaRussa retire? Are the Yankees going to extend Joe Girardi? Does Mike Quade actually have a shot at the job?

Then yesterday, the rumor swirled that Hendry has Fredi Gonzalez at the top of his wish list, and that he prefers someone with major league managing experience. As you'll read below, I hope this isn't true.

Nevertheless, let's handicap this thang:

Ryne Sandberg 37%

I've already shared my pro-Ryno feelings, but I'll reiterate succinctly: He's a Hall of Famer who played the game hard and understands what it takes to get the most out of your talent. When he expressed a desire to manage back in 2006, the Cubs asked him to start by riding a bus around the Midwest as a Single A manager. He did it. He paid his dues. He's worked his way up through the minors and by all accounts has grown a great deal as a leader and a communicator. In addition, it's virtually a guarantee that he would be managing a different major league team by the time the Cubs get around to hiring again. Plus, Dutchie Caray is all for it!

For another pro-Ryno view, here's Gene Wojciechowski.

Fredi Gonzalez 23%

I had to bump his percentage up at the last minute because of the rumor mill. He led the Marlins to winning seasons in '08 and '09 despite MLB's lowest payroll. He knows what he's doing and I like the way he handled the Hanley Ramirez "jogging after the ball and then throwing his teammates under the bus" situation. For a few years, he was third base coach of the Braves under Bobby Cox. This is where the problem comes in, in my mind: the Braves will have a vacancy next season too, and would Fredi rather take over the Cubs than the Braves?

Joe Girardi 12%

I still think he's at the top of Hendry's list. The only problem? He's probably at the top of the Steinbrenners' list too. Though he hasn't been extended past this season yet, the Yankees are coming off a World Series title and have the best record in the majors. Yes, Girardi grew up in Peoria, played for the Cubs, and his wife is from Chicago. Yes, leading the Cubs to a title would essentially put him on MLB's Mount Rushmore, or at least Chicago's. But would he really leave the $230 million-payroll, best-team-in-the-majors Yankees for the no-bullpen, Soriano-in-left, lead-the-majors in errors Cubs? I don't see it.

By the way, Girardi is the only hire I would accept outside of Sandberg.

Bob Brenly 10%

He's got a World Series ring. More importantly, he knows the Cubs as well as anyone after watching and analyzing them for the last six years. Managerial success + well-liked by Cubs fans = not a bad choice. Okay, I might accept Brenly too. But I'd rather have Sandberg in the dugout and Brenly in the booth.

Mike Quade 7%

He's off to a nice start, I'll give him that. And he has managed literally thousands of games at the minor league level. But still--Mike Quade as your next Cubs manager?

Joe Torre 4%

He's 70 years old--is he really looking to take on a rebuilding Cubs team?

Tony LaRussa 1%

I would murder everyone in the world.

Eric Wedge 1%

He already interviewed for the job, so he has to be on the list. He managed the Indians from 2003-2009.

Pat Listach 1%

He managed players such as Soto, Colvin and Marmol as manager of the Iowa Cubs, and currently serves as the Nationals' third base coach. Meh.

Bobby Valentine 1%

He threw his hat in the ring, but my guess is that Hendry and Ricketts wouldn't want his type of personality.

Ozzie Guillen 1%

Steve Stone said he doesn't think both Guillen and Kenny Williams will survive into next year, so it must be true. Still, I don't see him heading north. Though at least then when he comes to Wrigley he wouldn't have to use the visitors' clubhouse.

Ted Simmons 1%

The Padres bench coach has indicated that he would have interest in the job. Obviously this would be an out-of-left-field pick.

Chris Speier 1%

Another bench coach--he sits next to Dusty in the Reds' dugout. Speier spent two years as the Cubs' third base coach when Dusty was here, and Hendry has said that he's "a good man, and one of my favorite players as a kid."

Whew. I'd be shocked if I haven't listed the next Cubs manager here. What do you think? Who do you want to see and who do you think it'll be?

Dempster sounds like dumpster (Game Recap: Cubs 7, Pirates 14)

I promise I tried to find a database of all game scores recorded by starting pitchers against the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but I came up empty. The reason I was looking for it should be obvious: there's a pretty good chance Ryan Dempster's performance yesterday was the worst of all starters facing the Pirates in 2010.

Demp went three innings, gave up seven hits and three walks, which translated to seven earned runs. In other words, most of the batters Dempster faced yesterday reached base (ten on base, nine outs). That's understandable for a reliever, but really bad news for a starter.

Ryan is actually having a pretty solid year regardless, with 182 innings pitched and a 3.71 ERA. He's posting the highest walk rate he ever has as a starter for the Cubs, but the K's are up slightly as well. When all's said and done, it looks like he'll be worth something near three wins above replacement, which is worth what, between $12 million and $15 million?

Koyie Hill went 3-for-4 yesterday, and hit his first home run of the year. But he still sucks. Maybe someday his OPS will approach .600. Not today, however.

Starlin Castro is still contending for the batting title, but Joey Votto is gonna be tough to overtake.

Okaythat'sallI'vegot!

Series Recap: Cubs 1, Reds 2

We scored 9 (one, then three, then five), they scored 16 (seven, then two, then seven). We made three errors, they didn't make any. We had seven extra-base hits, they hit eleven (I think).

I would say the only pitcher that really stunk it up was Tom Gorzelanny. The Gorz allowed three home runs in his start: two to Jay Bruce (they're both left handed aren't they? what the hell?) and one to Chris Valakia (his first career bomb). For some reason, Cub lefties who look good everywhere else somehow end up sucking at the Great American Ballpark (Ted Lilly, Jon Lieber in 2008, etc).

Speaking of lefties, Sean Marshall's one inning of relief was not a good one. He allowed four hits, two runs (one earned), and took the loss in the rubber match on Sunday. He has struggled in the second half (albeit in a relative sense), with a 4.79 ERA compared to his 2.03 from the first half of the year. But that's mostly due to a change in BABIP -- .288 before the All-Star Break, .379 after. He's still getting a ton of strikeouts (26 in 20.2 innings) and not giving up many extra base hits (14 all year!).

I would say the only Cub hitter that merits mentioning would be the Fukster, Mr. Kosuke. On Saturday and Sunday, Fukudome went a combined 3-for-6 with two jacks. He's now hitting .274 on the year with an .835 OPS.

Anybody think we should keep him around for next year instead of trading him and eating half his salary for a 21 year old pitcher or two in exchange?

Series Preview: Cubs v. Pirates (Aug. 30 - Sept. 1 2010)

Overview
So much for that glimmering hope of optimism. After sweeping the Nats under new manager Mike Quade, I'll admit - I was a little intrigued by the Cubs again. Not in a "we're gonna go on some sick run and get back in it somehow", but in more of a "well maybe we'll be frisky down the stretch and be passable September viewing". After a weekend spent in the Queen City, I feel the needle has been jolted back in the other direction. Shaky pitching, shaky defense, not a ton of hitting in big spots. Most importantly, perhaps another month's worth of baseball without a ton to look forward to (non-Starlin Castro division). The Cubs are now back home against the team they can not beat, the Pittsburgh Pirates. This will be the last time the Cubs face the Buccos this year, whom they have a stellar 3-9 record against in 2010. Here's your series preview and the first post on Goatriders in over 2 days..guess everyone hates the Cubs.

Monday August 30th - Paul Maholm (7-12, 4.82) vs. Carlos Zambrano (5-6, 4.64) - Maholm, like a lot of the Pirates, is having a rough year, and his stats are all pretty much off what they've been throughout his career. He hasn't notched a victory since early August either, though perhaps that's not surprising with the struggles the Pirates themselves have been having. Big Z looked REALLY good against Washington, but then immediately flew out to Venezuela to deal with a family issue. I'm seriously hoping Carlos can build on that great start and string together some good outings as the season winds down. For his sanity, for Cubs fans' sanity, for his trade value, for everything.

Tuesday August 31st - Jeff Karstens (2-10, 4.98) vs. Ryan Dempster (12-8, 3.42) - Karstens fits the mold of the majority of the Pirates starters the last couple of seasons: former highly touted prospect from another organization who scuffled and then ended up in Pittsburgh. The former prospect sheen Karstens had with the Yankees is now long gone, and he's had an uneven 2010. He'll go up against Dempster, who continues to be the consistent cog in the Cubs 2010 rotation. Being paid well, Dempster has delivered again in 2010. He only went 79 pitches in a win against Washinton last week, so he should be good to go deep into the game Tuesday if needed...and with Z going the night before, he might be.

Wednesday September 1st - James McDonald (2-3, 4.97) vs. Tom Gorzellany (7-8, 3.98) - James McDonald fits the same profile as Karstens. McDonald is now out of the Dodgers organization and into the Pirates one (what an upgrade!). He's shown flashes since he's become a regular starter, but just like about everyone pitching for Pittsburgh currently, he's been up and down from a performance perspective. Long term though, I like McDonald. Gorzo the Great will be opposing his former team here. He got rocked pretty good Friday night against the Reds and had a fairly shaky month of August overall. Here's hoping for a better finish for Tom.

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Week 21 awards: Mike Quade for Manager of the Year!

Right? Am I right? The new guy comes in and all of a sudden the Cubs pull off their first sweep since early July? And a winning road trip? Just give the guy a three-year deal right now.

I'm kidding, of course. I'm not sure if he'll actually get a real shot at the job next year, but he's not anywhere near the top of my list at the moment. If the Cubs were to play out of their minds for the final month, I suppose it's possible that could change.

It was a solid first week for the former third base coach, though. The Cubs got strong pitching for the most part and some timely hitting, gave the first-place Reds a run for their money but still managed to allow them to gain ground on the struggling Cardinals, which I'm totally okay with. Good stuff.

Ryno of the Week: We've actually got a few to choose from this week. Casey Coleman earned his first major league victory on Monday; Ryan Dempster had a phenomenal start against the Nationals; Xavier Nady hit his first home run since early June and had nine hits over the course of the week; and Andrew Cashner had four scoreless appearances. But even though he started just four of the six games, Kosuke Fukudome wins the award after hitting a game-winning home run and a game-tying home run in back-to-back games. He drove in five runs overall and batted .461. I had to check the calendar make sure it wasn't April.

Goat of the Week: Justin Berg would certainly argue that he had the worst week given that he now resides in Iowa. But fresh off the DL, Geovany Soto looked stale, going 4-for-16 with four strikeouts.

Belated Series Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

Overview:
A long time ago, the Chicago Cubs hired a multi-award winning manager who'd just come thisclose to getting his former baseball team a World Series ring.  Of course, we were all pretty stoked about that.  And nobody was too concerned with why a baseball team that just reached the World Series would let their Manager of the Year-award winning skipper walk away.

About a million years later - or maybe it just felt that way - Dusty Baker departed the Cubs a failure.  Our anger toward him was only tempered by one, glorious fact - he signed on to manage a division rival with a considerably impressive farm system.  In other words, that was one less team to worry about.

Although, I have to admit, I sure felt sorry for those guys.  It's not easy being a fan without a glimmer of hope for the future.  And as long as Dusty managed the Reds, hope was gonna be in short supply.

However, much like the 2003/2004 Cubs, some teams are just too damned talented to not compete, regardless of whatever managerial bunglings they may be forced to play through.  And that appears to be the case of the 2010 Reds. 

In a way, a Dusty Baker playoff bound team is worse than a Dusty Baker basement bound team, because now there's a chance that Baker will return in 2011.  Harsh, Reds fans.  Harsh.

Saturday, August 28th - Randy Wells (5-12, 4.56 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (14-7, 3.82 ERA)

It feels as if Arroyo has been around forever.  I still remember when he was that constipated-looking Red Sox pitcher who contributed just enough grit to get them a World Series ring.  This year, though, he's made pitching look easy, as he's leading the Reds in wins and has notched the 100th of his career.

He faces Randy Wells, who just might be pitching his way off the Cubs rotation for next year.  Think I'm wrong?  Let's continue this discussion in April, 2011.

Sunday, August 29th - Casey Coleman (1-1, 5.68 ERA) vs. Edison Volquez (3-2, 6.17 ERA)
Coleman, who is 23, is just another of the Cubs' "throw crap against the wall" strategy that's yet to find anything which sticks. Who knows - when the Cubs surprise us next season by competing for the Wild Card, it'll be guys like Coleman who make it happen.

He faces Victim 4 (or is it more like Victim 10) of the Dusty Baker School of Pitchernomics.  Three seasons ago, Volquez was 24, and he was a 17-win, 206 strikeout pitcher in Dusty's inaugural campaign.  Then, in 2009, Volquez caught Tommy John Disease (big shocker there). 

He's back now, having recuperated while also suspended due to using PEDs (newsflash: pretty much any pitcher who's ever had Tommy John surgery and come back in less than 12 months did it on PEDs).  I kind of wonder if his use of the growth (or whatever) wasn't done, in part, on the hopes that by the time he'd return, Dusty Baker*'d be long gone.

(Dusty's Indian name is Pitcher Destroyer)

Conclusions
Well, the Cubs already got their asses handed to them once this series.  The Reds are now 4 games ahead of the Cardinals.  Of course, there are a lot of Cub fans out there who are pulling for them, and I can understand why.  a) It keeps St. Louis out.  b) It keeps Dusty Baker employed. 

However, I find myself sort of hating the Reds.  Joey Votto is a dick.  Watching them collapse in the last month of the season just might be the kind of sports enjoyment I could get behind.

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Tangent Alert (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Nationals 0)

That's a shutout and a sweep for the Cubs. Why can't we play the Nationals every game? (And why couldn't we do this to the Pirates??????????????????)

We had a scoreless tie in the top of the eighth before TyCo took a walk (see? better pitch recognition!), stole 2nd (see? he's fast!), and was driven home by The Great Starlin Castro.

Guys, hold on for a second, we have to pause here. Starlin Castro deserves our appreciation. Of course, this is the Cubs we're talking about, so it's probably better to assume that the kid will peak as a solid starter. But really, when you watch this kid play, isn't it safe to assume that the sky is indeed the limit on his talent? Yes, the errors are discouraging; yes, he's obviously still figuring out how to steal bases at the major league level (I think he's 6-for-12); and yes, the power isn't all there yet. But the kid has RANGE, and an ARM. And he hits EVERYTHING. And he's 20 years old!!!!!!

Watch out, boys and girls. Castro could really, truly, honestly, seriously end up as a perennial All-Star at shortstop.

And speaking of young kids, it seems Tyler Colvin has developed nicely this year, no? Plenty of pop, improving eye, super speed, decent glove. Very toolsy. But then, as faustus mentioned in a recent comment, why isn't he getting more playing time? Why does Kosuke keep leading off?

You know why Kosuke's playing more recently? Because he's the better player.

Colvin's defense is good, but Kosuke's is better. Tyler can hit for power, but Kosuke is probably the best option we have at leadoff; even though he hits in the .250-.270 range he gets on base at a .369 clip.

Of course, the Fukster can't hit lefties. And he's on the wrong side of 30 -- just like our other two starting outfielders. It'd be perfect if there were a way to only play him sometimes, while at the same time possibly giving a break to the other outfielders... maybe we could call this new position a "4th outfielder..."

Joking aside, Tyler Colvin really ought to be a 4th OF. He's a fine hitter, and a reliable outfielder in any of the three spots. But you don't need to bench a .370 on-base guy for a little more pop from the left side every single day. And maybe it's a symptom of small sample size, but it looks like Colvin hits lefties better than righties anyway. Why not try dividing playing time more evenly among the four, rather than going 100% with one or the other like we seemed to do for the first four months of the season?

Off day tonight. Take this extra time to actually comment on something here!

The defense, unfortunately, rests

It's an underrated facet of baseball, something that's often overlooked when analyzing a team. But when it comes to the 2010 Cubs, it can't be ignored. As the title suggests, I'm talking about defense.

The Cubs lead the majors with 103 errors; they had 105 all of last season. They've turned 102 double plays after turning 144 last year because most of their double play chances are ruined by a bobble or a throw that sails into the outfield. The Cubs have exhibited a scary combination of lack of focus and just plain bad glovework, resulting in more unearned runs allowed than any other team, by far. It's strange that Zambrano chose to lash out at Derrek Lee after a play he probably couldn't have made anyways, given that he's probably had a lot of more legitimate opportunities to complain about one of his defenders' handiwork.

Nearly 20 percent of the team's errors have been committed by Starlin Castro (20)--only Ian Desmond (28) has more errors among shortstops. Aramis Ramirez is only four off the major league-worst pace at third base despite having played fewer than 100 games. Ryan Theriot had six before being shipped to LA, and Blake DeWitt has 11 between the Dodgers and Cubs. Even Derrek Lee has six errors this season, more than 13 other first basemen.

Soriano has five--just one away from the major league-worst in left--while Byrd and Fukudome have actually played well. Colvin has four errors in right field, none in left.

It should go without saying, but the next Cubs manager and his army of coaches will have to do a better job preparing the team defensively. The lazy throws, the missed cutoff men, the slow-to-develop double play attempts ... these are not qualities commonly seen in playoff teams.

Errors are going to happen, quite obviously, but not 103 of them. Earlier this week Blake Dewitt managed to bobble a grounder and walk lazily towards it, unaware that the runner got a slow start out of the box. The bobble's going to happen sometimes, though the Cubs have exceeded their fair share this season. The second part should never happen, but it seems like just about every Cub has done something similar this season: Castro didn't hustle over the weekend and allowed a runner to score from third; Bob Brenly just criticized Ramirez the other day for not getting in front of a grounder down the line; Soriano exerts effort like Drew Barrymore makes good movies--I don't think it's ever happened.

Most of the position players will return in 2011, which means the gloves themselves may not improve much. In fact, the Cubs' best defender--Derrek Lee--is gone. But hopefully the mental mistakes and lapses can be reduced, and clearly Castro has more potential defensively than he has exhibited in his rookie season. Defense can be one of those things you don't think about until you don't have it. Unfortunately, it's been a glaring problem with this year's team. I just hope that whomever's in charge next season realizes that defense must not be left off the list of things that need to be improved upon in 2011.

P.S. I have to commend Marlon Byrd for his superb defense this season. He's in the top ten in assists for center fielders, has just two errors on the season, and has made countless highlight reel catches. The Cubs have a number of players who have been defensive liabilities this season, but Byrd has been nothing but a strength. As Len and Bob have pointed out, he absolutely deserves Gold Glove consideration.

To read more from this blogger, visit Wait 'til this Year

Back to basics... (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Nationals 4)

...and what I mean by that is:

  • A hoss-like start from Z
  • Some general wildness from the 'pen
  • Three strikeouts plus a loading of the bases from Marmol
  • All of our scoring coming via home runs

Before the game, I thought to offer an over/under of 4.5 walks from Carlos Zambrano for the start, but I guess if the Nationals offense can make Casey Coleman look good, it stands to reason that Z could easily resemble an ace facing them.

And that's pretty much what he did, getting 22 outs on just over 100 pitches. And his batted ball stats looked just like Coleman's from the night before: 10 ground balls, seven flies, and just one line drive.

Tyler Colvin and Alfonso Soriano drove in two and three runs each on their home runs last night, and we'd end up needing every one of those runs after Marmol went nuts in the ninth.

Since you probably already knew all of that, I'll leave you with one more thing to think about: has Tyler Colvin's pitch recognition improved this season? Seems like his ratio of walks to strikeouts has been improving for the past lil' while:

Thanks Fangraphs!

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