Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Padres

Overview
Unless you're the Yankees or Red Sox, years like this one are bound to happen.  Especially if your team is managed by a doof who can't draft, and who throws piles of money -- and no-trade clauses -- at every swinging dick in the major leagues.

Actually, if this year teaches us anything, it should be that the Cubs need to renovate the holy hell out of Wrigley Field.  (Purists, this is your opportunity to leave the blog.)  Fans love Wrigley, but players hate it.  The training facilities are a joke.  The clubhouse is as cramped as a Cold War submarine.  Consequently, the best players in baseball aren't inclined to play at Wrigley Field.

I have always felt that compromises can be made.  The Cubs can, theoretically, gut Wrigley Field but leave it aesthetically pleasing.  This is something that perhaps needs to happen soon, or else we'll continue to have these down years where the teams' expensive, untradeable, excessively OLD veterans drag the team down like an anchor. 

Anyway, onward:

Monday, August 16th -- Tom Gorzelanny (6-6, 3.65 ERA) vs. Kevin Correia (9-7, 4.86 ERA)
If the Cubs don't get swept, it's because Tom Gorzelanny pitches respectably, while Kevin Correia relies on the success of the team which surrounds him.  Gorzo -- who, by no means am I advocating for in 2011 -- has pretty much done everything the Cubs have asked of him these last two years.  Correia's really nothing special.

Tuesday, August 17th -- Randy Wells (5-10, 4.60 ERA) vs. Jon Garland (11-8, 3.41 ERA)
Probably two months ago, I posted a comment about Wells being, potentially, a one-year wonder.  Sayers responded with a responding disagreement. 

Well, it's too early to say.  Just ask Geovany Soto, who went from being a Godsend to a one-year-wonder to a resoundingly effective catcher, one of the best in the league.  But, so far, Wells has severely disappointed us.  He's been inconsistent at best.

Jon Garland, meanwhile, could've been a Cub this whole time.  Just saying.

Wednesday, August 18th -- Casey Coleman (0-0, 8.64 ERA) vs. Clayton Richards (10-5, 3.80 ERA)
Regarding Casey Coleman: who? 

A guy goes on a road trip for two weeks, and when he gets back Geo Soto is on the DL and Casey Coleman is starting for the Cubs?  WTF?  Considering how effective Clay Richards has been, I wouldn't exactly count on the Cubs to win this one...

Thursday, August 19th -- Carlos Zambrano (4-6, 5.27 ERA) vs. Mat Latos (12-5, 2.32 ERA)
This game should be an excellent learning opportunity for Latos.  If he wants to see how the pros throw fits and violently lose their tempers, then Carlos is the mentor for Mat.

Conclusions

Confession time: sometimes I look at the young talent around the league and I feel real envy.  I realize that Starlin Castro is doing great (although his crunchy numbers are lacking), and that Tyler Colvin is on pace to hit 25 homers (altho' he's barely batting Geovany Soto's weight), and that Wellington Castillo has finally been given the call.  But, still, the Cubs seem lacking in the young, exciting players like Latos.  Maybe I'm just being grouchy.

Either way -- can the Cubs possibly win this series?  I sorta hope not.  It'll take a minor miracle, but my fingers are crossed for a really, really good draft pick...

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Week 19 awards: Helping the Reds' cause again

I know, it's sad that this is now the lens through which I view the Cubs season, but what can I say--they're in fifth place in the division and reached a nadir of 20 games below .500 in the middle of this past week before taking the final two games from the Cardinals. There are still other reasons to watch: to witness the development of youngsters like Castro and Colvin; to see if Zambrano can get his act together in the final two months; and to continue to monitor the carousel of rookie relievers who are essentially auditioning for spots in the bullpen next season, among others. But when it comes to the actual wins and losses, it doesn't get much better than beating the Cardinals, and the Cubs have now taken two series from the redbirds in the last three weeks.

The aforementioned bullpen nearly ruined what should have been a comfortable victory yesterday, but Marmol eventually nudged the door shut against a ragtag lineup consisting of several Cardinals back-ups. Though the game was a blowout early on, the Cubs ultimately needed pretty much all of their nine runs to hold off their rivals.

The Cubs swung the bats well throughout the week, scoring 37 runs while going 3-4 against two potential playoff teams with three of the losses being of the one-run variety, giving them 29 of those frustrating defeats on the season. Twenty-nine! Even more frustrating, the Cubs held a lead in all four of their losses.

Ryno of the Week: It was an abbreviated week for Derrek Lee as he was tending to his ill grandfather for a few days, but he returned with a vengeance by launching four home runs over the weekend. His four dingers match the highest total he's had in any month so far this season. Overall this week he was 5-for-10 with three runs and 4 RBI.

Honorable mentions: Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: When you fantasize about finally getting your shot in the major leagues, you definitely don't think your career will start the way Thomas Diamond's has. The 27-year-old lasted just four innings against St. Louis on Friday which was one inning more than he pitched against the Reds in his previous start, and he struck out just three guys in his last two starts after chalking up 10 Ks in his major league debut. His struggles cost him his spot in the rotation, as his next scheduled start will go to Casey Coleman; Diamond will move to the bullpen.

Dishonorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano, Randy Wells

Series Preview: Cubs @ Cardinals (Aug. 13-15, 2010)

Overview
Last weekend the Reds swept the Cubs, and then the Reds turned around and got swept by the Cardinals. So by that logic, the Cubs are in for a bad, bad weekend against the Cardinals. I actually think it will turn out that way. Its the northsiders first trip to Saint Louis this year, and we're coming in at the wrong time as the Cards are hot and the Cubs are terrible, having lost 13 of 15. Fontenot has been shipped out of town..who's next? Maybe we can trade Nady to the Cards and he can just switch dugouts like Font did? We'll see what happens, but I think we're gonna get swept.

Friday: Thomas Diamond (0-2, 8.00) vs. Jake Westbrook (0-0, 3.46)
Diamond was just about as awful as he could have been last time out on Sunday against Cincy. He didn't have good stuff, his command was all over the place, and he was quite hittable. He was out of the game early, and the bullpen got overworked as a result. We'll see if things are different tonight. Even in his first start Diamond was hittable, despite striking out 10. With Samardzija pitching well in AAA, and Jay Jackson warranting a look, Diamond probably doesnt have that much rope to work with here. Westbrook has been pretty solid in his 2 starts with the Redbirds. I saw some of his last outing against the Marlins, and he looked like Jake Westbrook, against lesser quality hitters. He was a nice get for the Cards.

Saturday: Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 5.46) vs. Chris Carpenter (13-3, 2.89)
Speaking of bad pitching performances, Z turned one out in his first start since being reinserted (again) into the rotation. He made it threw 5 innings, and only allowed 2 runs, which on the surface looks good, but it wasn't just what was on the surface. He walked 7, struck out only 3, and had awful command. His sinking fastball, which used to just be one of his pitches, was about the only thing he threw in tight counts. And instead of it being 94/95 like it used to be, it rarely got to 90, usually working in the 88-89 range. Maybe he's still building arm strength. We'll see Saturday. I'd love to see some more velo. Carpenter's been a stud this year again, and despite him being a dick a lot of the time (did anyone catch him berating Aaron Miles on Monday?), he's still a damn fine pitcher, unlike Z - who's a dick a lot of the time and isn't a damn fine pitcher anymore.

Sunday: Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.66) vs. TBD
It's not definite yet, but it sounds like Kyle Lohse is gonna be hauled up from rehab to take this start for the Redbirds. He had a pretty shaky start against Omaha, but rebounded well and pitched 7 strong on Tuesday. He's been pretty awful in his MLB time this year. On the other side, Dempster's been easily the Cubs best starter, and he pitched well enough on Tuesday night in the Bay to earn his 10th win of the year, tying Heart-Condition Silva for the team lead. If there's one pitching matchup that favors the Cubbies, its clearly this one.

Despite the Cubs being awful, the Cubs/Cards series is still fun for me. I still really look forward to it, and this weekend is no exception. Go Cubs! Play Wellington Castillo over the awful Koyie Hill please! Get Darwin Barney some time too!

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Gamecast: August 12, 2010 Cubs at Giants

Mark Twain once said: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  Weather aside, the trip to the Bay Area has been cold so far for the boys in blue.  With the Cain to the Cub's Abel on the rubber today, it looks to get considerably colder.  At least with the subtraction of Mike Fontenot the average height of the team has increased considerably.

This afternoon the Cubs run into the scoreless innings train that is Matt Cain.  Sure, he doesn't have a current innings streak going after giving up runs against the Braves in his last start.  However, remember that series preview I wrote that said Matt Cain owns us?  Well, this ain't no urban myth.  In his last three starts against the Cubs (from 2008-2009) Cain has put up the following line against the Cubs: 23 IP, 0 R(earned or otherwise), 27K.  Yeah... so there's that scoreless inning streak.  If those numbers don't scream "Cub Killer" I don't know what does.

Looks like it should be a fun afternoon.  At least it's Thursday.  And Thursday means good happy hours.  Take solace in that, Cubs fans.

Iowa Cubs lose. (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Giants 5)

Cub starter Tom Gorzelanny sucked at the outset of last night's game: single, walk, single, RBI ground out, single, K, single, fly out. That gave the Giants an early 3-0 lead, and while the Cubs came close to surmounting it, in the end the task proved impossible, with Justin Berg allowing a game-winning solo shot in the eighth (I guess Cashner/Marshall/Marmol were unavailable?).

This isn't the first time this year Gorgonzola has struggled in the first inning. In fact, Tom has posted a 6.88 ERA in his 17 first innings pitched this season. His second innings are a little better -- he has a 4.50 ERA in those. And once he makes it to the third inning, he's solid, with ERAs of 2.00, 1.59, 3.24, and 3.75 in each of the next frames.

And before you go off on small sample sizes, check out Tom's career ERAs in each of the first six innings of a game:

  1. 6.29
  2. 4.48
  3. 4.01
  4. 3.43
  5. 4.73
  6. 3.77

I guess there's some selection bias here; obviously, if Tom doesn't have his good stuff in the first, he likely won't make it to the sixth. And teams will usually put their best hitters at the top of the order, so you face the best to start the game. But check out the ERAs by inning for Jon Garland, a decent pitcher whose name I just yanked out of my butt (ew, gross):

  1. 4.11
  2. 3.49
  3. 5.06
  4. 3.87
  5. 5.25
  6. 4.67

So maybe Tom needs to focus on getting off to a good start to become a better pitcher. He seems to have a better handle on batters his second and third times through the order as opposed to his first. And his ERA as a reliever -- 5.40 ERA in 23.1 IP, with 14 BB -- seems to support that, too. But what do I know?

Other quickfire notes on last night's game: Tyler Colvin hit his 18th home run, and Starlin Castro went 2-for-4.

I don't get it. (Game Recap: Cubs 8, Giants 6)

You mean to tell me the Cubs won last night?

I thought it was pretty funny myself. I was using them Twitterdecks last night when the game started, and when Kosuke hit his bomb into McCovey Cove to put the Cubs up 4-0, EVERYONE had the same response, which was some variation of, "Who are these guys, and what have the done with the Cubs?"

Then again, when the inning ended, another rampant bout of groupthink -- tweet after tweet asked, "How quickly will Demp give this lead up?"

The defense tried its best to lose the game last night, with errors from Blake DeWitt, Micah Hoffpauir, Starlin Castro (his 17th) and Tyler Colvin (not a centerfielder). But somehow we came through.

Castro had a nice night, going 2-for-5 with three RBI, a run scored, and a stolen base. Kosuke's blast into the cove in the first was super, and Mike Fontenot contributed a late pinch-hit two-run double that would give Carlos Marmol much-needed insurance for later in the game.

Ryan Dempster was hittable (8 H in 6.2 IP) and didn't blow it past anyone (3 K, 2 BB) but managed to post yet another quality start (4 R, 3 ER). Cashner, Marshall, and Marmol closed the game out, striking out three and walking one in 2.1 innings of relief (Marmol allowed two runs on four hits but managed to secure the win eventually).

Finally, last night's Photo of the Night, brought to you by the Associated Press:


Don't worry about the errors, folks -- this guy is for real.

Gamecast: August 10, 2010- Cubs at Giants

Ryan Dempster vs. Tim Lincecum

Baseball is one of those sports where when things are going great, its amazing.  However, when your team is doing everything wrong down to the basic fundamentals of the game, it can be one of the longest and painful things to watch.  In the past three years, the Cubs have exemplified this sort of fall from grace much to the chagrin of the fans.  I'd include the players in that latter statement, but as of lately, I'm not sure they really care.

What Lou really needs to do... or someone, I don't care who, needs to do is this.  I don't care that the season is basically done for the team.  Baseball is a really simple game that tends to get really complicated when you are losing.  To end the season, the Cubs need to stop letting their brains spill all over the field, get back to fundamentals, and just play the game.  Will we finish higher than fourth place?  It's doubtful.  However, it might lead to some watchable baseball, and that's something I can get on board with.

End of rant.  Go Cubs.  Drive Lincecum back to his bong in shame.

Z's New(?) Strategy (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Giants 4)

A few days ago I tweeted a quote I saw in an article about Carlos Zambrano's soon-to-be-triumphant return to the Cubs rotation:

"Like Larry Rothschild said, I have to throw the ball no matter what and don't try to locate it," said Z.

It's fairly obvious that Carlos meant what he said at that time, as the man walked seven batters in five innings last night. I guess his start actually ended up turning out OK, as he only allowed two earned runs during his start (although one of those came on a wild pitch). But that sure doesn't seem like a sustainable strategy going forward, right?

This one came down to a battle of bullpen depth, as the game stood tied at three runs a piece after nine innings of play -- and we all know how much depth the Cubs have in their bullpen (hint: < 0).

Indeed, after Alan Trammel burned through Justin Berg, James Russell, Andrew Cashner, and Sean Marshall in the first nine innings, we were treated last night to the debut of the Cubs' latest Iowa callup, Marcos Mateo. Mateo almost lost the game in the 10th, but was saved by a pair of good throws from Tyler Colvin and Mike Fontenot. Fortunately, Marcos was able to finish the job in the 11th, guaranteeing the Cubs a loss.

Now, our best hitter is on the DL, and our starting first baseman is an even worse hitter than Derrek Lee. But maybe Wellington Castillo can save the season? At any rate, he should replace Koyie Hill on the roster when Soto comes back.

Go Cubs!

Series Preview: Cubs at Giants (August 9-12)

The only thing colder than San Francisco in August is the play of a certain North Side Chicago baseball team.  The Cubs look to bring a little bit of a warm front through the Bay Area by re-inserting hot-head Carlos Zambrano back into the starting rotation for the opening game of the four-game series.  In a series likely dominated by Bob Brenly stories of his time on the Giants to take the minds of the fans off the product on the field, the Cubs at least have a chance to play a bit of the spoiler to a Giants team in need of a series win.

Monday, August 9, 2010- Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 5.61 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 3.20 ERA)

Welcome back Big Z.  In an attempt to build some value for the services of Carlos Zambrano in the offseason, the Cubs have brought the big righty back into the rotation to audition in Silva's absence.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that most scouts that saw Z pitch in his rehab starts said he looked like a middle-of-the-road starter at best and had mediocre stuff.  His time out of the pen since then has confirmed this. 

Madison Bumgarner is a top prospect of the Giants that seemed to have lost his way.  Initially a fireballer with upper-90s heat on his four-seamer, Bumgarner mysteriously lost the fire and struggled to break 90 at the end of last season.  Featuring a low-90s fastball with less develolped change and slider.  Despite some success at the major league level, it seems that the lefty lacks the bulldog confidence he once had when his velocity was up.  While he is highly deceptive to left-handed hitters, the same cannot be said against righties.  Right handed batters are hitting .282 against the young lefty, while lefties are hitting only .196.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010- Ryan Dempster (9-8, 3.76 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (11-5, 3.15 ERA)
Demp is coming off a win against the Brewers where he gave up three unearned runs over six innings.  It seems at this point in the season that Demp is the most consistent start the Cubs have right now and will tend to at least keep the team in the game.  Whether the offense shows up for their end of the bargain has been the challenge all season.

Lincecum is a pitcher you might have heard about.  Most likely you've heard of him because of his offseason antics through TMZ or People Magazine.  Outside of that, most people around baseball only know about the diminutive righty because he won some award or something for being popular with sportswriters.  I expect he will fare decent against us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010- Tommy G (6-6, 3.51 ERA) vs. Barry Zito (8-6, 3.35 ERA)
Tommy put up his 9th quality start up in his last outing allowing only three earned runs over seven innings.  I still contend that the G-man was a great throw in on the otherwise terrible Grabow deal and the continued dividends he's given the club are proof.

Barry Zito is also a lefty that likes to surf, write music, and long walks on the beach.  While getting paid millions to be a waste of space in San Francisco, Zito magically realized how to pitch again and is doing so with quite a fair amount of success this season.  In his last outing he struck out 10 batters and only allowed 2 earned runs on four hits.  Since the All-Star break, Zito has a 2.02 ERA.

Thursday, August 12, 2010- Randy Wells (5-10, 4.37 ERA) vs. Matt Cain (9-9, 3.06 ERA)
Despite having a terrible start to the season, Wells has been pretty consistent as of late.  In seven of his past nine games he has given up three or fewer earned runs.  Despite a quality start against the Reds in his last outing, Wells was hung with another loss because the Cubs are terrible at supporting their starting pitchers. 

Cain is a pitcher that has more or less dominated the Cubs in his young career.  Every time he seems to toe the rubber, Cubs hitters look baffled.  Given the fact that most of the Cubs hitters would look baffled if I took the mound against them this year, this is not a good omen.  Cain has a 5-2 career mark against the Cubs while toting a 2.41 ERA in that span of eight starts.

In what should be a long series, the Cubs have a chance to play hard against a contending team and prove they aren't just mailing it in along with their lame duck manager.  It would be nice to see some life, if only to give me hope for the prospects of next year.  I've said it once, and I'll likely have it be my mantra for the rest of the year: Entertain me and prove to me that you deserve a spot on next years club.

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Week 18 awards: If you're going to lose, lose to the Reds. That's what I always say.

And, clearly, the Cubs are going to lose. A lot. They already have lost a lot, and they're going to keep losing a lot. But I really don't mind it as much when it helps the Reds keep pace with those dastardly Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cubs' 1-5 week means they're not even keeping pace with the Astros. Or the Nationals. They do have the same record as the Royals, though. You can't pull away from us, Royals! NEVER!

Yeah, it's sad. It's a sad, sad season, and the main thing that's made fans want to grab a Kleenex (or a fork to simply gouge the eyes right out) has been the bullpen. 28th in the league with a 4.91 relief ERA. That ain't right. But at least Zambrano's coming back tonight, and he can definitely go, what, five innings? So that's good.

Ryno of the Week: Despite going hitless Friday and Sunday, Starlin Castro went 9-for-25 this week with three doubles, a triple, four runs and an RBI. His OBP since July 1 is over .400. He did make some poor defensive plays and needs to work on his focus in the field, in my opinion, but the range is there and he obviously has an arm--he just needs to harness it.

Honorable mentions: Blake DeWitt, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: After hitting .250 in June and .253 in July, Tyler Colvin is just 2-for-22 in August (2-for-18 this week). He can smash a mistake fastball, but right now he can't hit much else.

Dishonorable mentions: Brian Schlitter, Casey Coleman, Randy Wells

To read more from Brandon's blog, visit Wait 'til this Year

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