We have on one hand the worst team in the NL Central with a long history of losing, a sick fan base, and no promise of a better 2009. We have on the other hand the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wait, what?
Start that over.
If ever there was a team the hapless Pirates could sweep, it would be not the 2009 Cubs, but the May 17th-May 24* 2009 Cubs. The Cubs of the past week have been bad. Real bad. They've been turn your hair grey and make you kiss a guy bad. But unless this is 1904, the Cubs offense is bound to average more than 1.5 runs a game. Things are going to get better.
(*date could change)
Let's just skip this section for now. Nobody on the offense is hot. With apologies to Reed Johnson -- who hit a dinger yesterday -- it takes more than one hit in a game to be "hot" and the Cubs offense is about as cold as your wife would be if she discovered that you just bought your favorite car without consulting her.
However, the Cubs rotation has been pretty damned good. In the past 7 days, as a team their ERA has been below 4. You would think that a sub-4 team ERA would warrant at least a .500 record rather than 7 straight losses, but... well ... no.
In particular, Aaron Heilman has been getting his ass kicked as of late - he's allowed 3 runs in his last 2 innings of work and he was at least partly responsible for Ted Lilly's recent bad performance. (Not in the sense that he kicked Lilly in the back of the head before the 5th inning or anything, but rather in the sense that Lilly exited disgracefully with runners on and Heilman failed to keep them from scoring.)
The Cubs offense, by the way, is batting -- as a team, mind you -- .160 in the last 7 days. Subtract the prodigeous contributions of Derrek Tiberius Lee and that's a .137 team AVG. Speaking of Lee, 125 at bats into 2009 and he is still DP free. Just wanted to remind you.
Jason said it best earlier. Best bring your brooms to Wrigley Field, biatches. There's gonna be some sweepin' to do in a coupla days! SWEEEEEEE...
While this has been the least enjoyable team to watch since Jacque Jones patrolled center, the world is hardly ending (which I know because the seas haven't turned to blood, the four horsemen - er, goat riders - of the apocalypse aren't around, and Bobby Scales doesn't wear the number of the beast).
Nope, this is just a rough patch. This week has been an interesting (heh, "interesting") combination of bad luck and bad performance. Over the last week, the Cubs posted a BABIP of .211 after putting up a BABIP of .280 for the whole season. A .280 BABIP is kind of unlucky, but .211 is insane. That's simply not a sustainable over any kind of length of time. Things have to get better.
If you're interested in reading about season long bad luck, take a look at the luck of the questionable quartet. Bradley, Fontenot, Soto, and Lee have posted BABIP* of .203, .221, .253, and .274. The career numbers for these players are .320, .314, .326, and .322 (hat tip to ACB for bringing this to my attention). That's...insane. While I could accept that Fontenot's and Soto's career numbers are not representative of their true talent levels, Bradley and Lee are well established. And maybe Lee's in decline, but what about Bradley?
(* BABIP - Batting average on balls in play. This number should trend towards career norms, all things being equal)Nope. This is all just a bunch of really, really bad luck. It's what's called a team-wide slump. Have you felt like all the Cub players are hitting the ball right at people? That no line drive will fall and sharp ground balls up the middle deflect off the pitcher RIGHT TO THE SECOND BASEMAN? Well, the evidence is in the numbers. You aren't crazy, the Cubs' luck is.
Want some more bad luck? Soriano has a BABIP of .276 but a career mark of .308. Ryan Theriot? He has a .285 BABIP with a career BABIP of .314. IT'S INSANE! Nobody's hitting up to their career marks! GAH!
Now, this isn't entirely bad luck, as I mentioned. It is also bad performance. With the exception of Soto, each of these players is hitting fewer line drives than usual. In the case of Lee and Fontenot, they're hitting about half as many line drives as usual. As one might guess, this can make it harder to hit for average. But still, nothing here indicates that Fontenot and Bradley should have BABIP's below .230.
Okay, enough of the luck business. Let's look at how hilariously bad the Cubs have been over the last week. How about these numbers:
- Team line: .161/.211/.214
- And OPS+ of 19. Yes, 19.
- Exactly 6 extra base hits.
The point of all this is that things have to get better. While I suppose it is possible to have bad luck for an entire season, but it seems a bit unlikely. And would you like to know the best way to turn around bad luck?
Do you want to know?
Face the Pirates! Yay!
May 25th - Ryan Dempster vs. Paul Maholm
In his last outing, Dempster foolishly thought that 7 innings of 2 run baseball would be good enough for a win. Silly Ryan! Don't you know that you're on the team of destiny. And by destiny, I mean something along the lines of "destined for anal fissures" (so...not "greatness"). Ever since the calendar turned to May, Dempster has been excellent, posing an ERA south of 4 while eating up innings. The trend for Dempster has been consistently upwards, so I see good things on the horizon.
Maholm has always managed to beat the Cubs, despite not really pitching all that well against them. I'm actually pretty happy to see Maholm going up against the Cubs, giving them a shot at a lefty. I see good things coming out of this game.
May 26th - Sean Marshall vs. Ian Snell
Marshall was good in his last outing but, because of the absurdity of the Cubs offense, had to come out of the game despite pitching well. Marshall's been awesome all season and, being a lefty, has a chance to neutralize the Pirates best hitter, Nate McClouth.
Snell's been pretty crappy all year. He was also crappy in 2008. He will be crappy in this start. He will lose.
May 27th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Zach Duke
This is the match-up of the series, with ace going against ace. Zambrano showed good stuff in his last outing, but bad control. Having a start under his belt, I see much better things for his today. Plus, you know, he's facing the Pirates.
Duke has been a beast all season, after three years of him trying to rediscover his rookie year magic. He has very good stuff and it seems that he just needed to learn to control it. Still, he's another lefty, so I seem the Cubs - having recently broken out of their slump - beating him mercilessly.
The Cubs are going to sweep. Sweep sweep sweep. Sweep.
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Although I almost dug my heart out with an old wooden spoon yesterday in the wake of loss #7, I'm partially relieved that the rest of the division had a somewhat "meh"-ish week as well. In the last 10 games, no team in the NLC has a record better than 6-4 (Brew, Cards, Bucs). Yay for synchronized mediocrity.
Tribune power rankings: Brewers, Cards, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Astros
1. St. Louis Morans (26-18) Previous ranking: 4
The Cards can thank the Cubs for giving them the confidence they needed to start playing like the best friggin pitching staff in Tony La Russa's time as their manager. Your welcome St. Louis. (PS - As I write this, Carpenter is pitching a no-no against the Brewers. I hate everything.)
2. Milwaukee Makers Of Why I Hate Myself On Sunday Mornings (26-18) Previous ranking: 1
Being swept by the Twins has cooled them off a bit and brought them back to the pack, but they are still scary at the plate and have a solid team OBP (.345). Did I mention that they currently have no hits against the Cardinals and Yovani Gallardo is also pitching a no hitter? Double jinx bitches.
3. Cincinnati Ready For The DL (23-20) Previous ranking: 3
And down goes Edison Volquez. The unraveling begins. On a side note, Homer Bailey will be taking Volquez's spot in the rotation. Is there a worse name for a pitcher than Homer?
4. Chicago Cubs (21-21) Previous ranking: 2
The one constant during this slump has been the lineup, which aside from the occasional sub has remained relatively the same. This may sound crazy, but perhaps it's time to move D-Lee back to the No. 3 spot. That formula has worked for the last two years. Just saying.
5. Somalia Pirates...too soon? (20-24) Previous ranking: 5
If the Pirates go into Wrigley and win two of three (or get the sweep) then I will officially start to worry. But come on. Their pitching staff ranks last in the NL in strikeouts, so the Cubs should at least be able to put the ball in play and stretch out those legs.
6. Houston Colt .45's (18-24) Previous ranking: 6
This is a much better team name, right? Why do we let stupid people run baseball teams?
If the Cubs are the team we follow then we are Ron Santo forever living that horrible moment in 1998 when Brant Brown dropped the lazy fly ball. We moan, we lament our torturous lives, and there is such despair in our fandom that any clinical observer would look upon us and see living proof of a contradiction. Maybe that's why we so fiercely defend him against his detractors. For good or bad he's us.
Tonight -- and lately -- Ron Santo has not been alone. This isn't the way it was supposed to be. 42 games into the season -- just over a full quarter of the campaign -- and the Cubs are a .500 ball team riding a 7 game losing streak in which they averaged 1.43 runs per game during that time.
Everybody but one man has gone cold, and that one man is playing with something you can't really get by on scott free -- a damaged neck. But I suppose that I remain shockingly calm and amazingly unworried because looking at the Cubs lineup I see a team that is way, way, way better than 1.43 runs per game.
So if your plan is to go cliff-jumping based on the past week of play, based on basically an anomoly of team-wide offensive slumber, then you must also be the kind of person to assume that significant others are dumping you just because they didn't call you when they usually do. (Or worse, perhaps they're dead. That's the kind of worry train that you're rolling on.)
That isn't to say that there aren't reasons to be concerned. There are reasons. We'll talk about that on Monday or Tuesday. But before I actually, y'know, recap the loss, I'll leave you with this one thought.
We spent 2007 with butterflies and damaged nerves because they played down to the wire and snuck in at the end of the season. The entire time, we -- or at least I -- complained loudly about how the Cubs never make it easy.
Then we watched in awe in 2008 when they locked it up basically in August as they surged toward the best team record since 1945. Finally, we had our easy season. Still, they were swept in October.
There is no mathematical formula to winning in the playoffs and there is no such thing as a superlative season. I don't know if teams need rough patches in order to know how to win under pressure later on, but that idea is ludicrous and implies that 25 grown men who've all been there before 2009 somehow forgot between past seasons and this one. But I do know that rough patches are a part of the game and it seems like the best team rarely wins the World Series. So let the Cubs be underdogs, scrambling, fighting, and climbing their way up. Let them scrap for it.
Subtract the "s" from "scrap" and that's what we had on Sunday. Ted Lilly got hammered, Aaron Heilman helped, the Cubs offense walked not once and nobody had more than 1 hit.
Maybe it's time for a classic Lou Piniella Wake Up! moment. I suspect it's coming.
The New Recap Logo
I'm just tinkering, in case you were wondering. I frankly like the previous logo better but I've got big plans and if they turn out to be possible then the Cubs scoreboard as we've been 'chopping it would look confusing on the site. You'll see what I mean soon enough.
Current Record: 21-21
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 4 games out
Best Possible Record: 141-21
Worst Possible Record: 21-141
Record needed to win 110: 89-31
On Pace For: 81-81
Woof. Look what I missed -- when I left, the Cubs were starting to look good. They'd put things together. They were stringing together a nice little streak. Then I go on vacation and everything falls apart. The offense dies, the readers are angry, the writers are dejected, and it's still only May!
Well, my brothers, this is baseball for us. We're in the pit right now looking out but without hope. No matter what happens it's going to be this point in time that really defines the season for the Cubs. Either this is where they come together, climb out, and play the baseball we know they're capable of, or this is the beginning of where everything ends.
I don't know which one it is, but I do know this: people - be they fans or players - who quit on a baseball team with a winning record this early in the season do not have the right to call themselves fans and are not the kinds of players I'd want on the team I follow. So if that sounds like you, scram kiddo. We're not the place for you, yet.
Not the Cubs. Haw! I kill me. Seriously:
In the week I've been gone, Derrek Lee has batted .458 -- that's 11 for his last 24, with 2 homeruns but a meager 3 RBI. I could have sworn that Rob just published an article like, yesterday, in which he wrote "Derrek Lee is not only still struggling, but he's now doing it in the cleanup spot." I guess maybe he's watching baseball from the alternate Fringe universe?
But seriously, it's a lonely offense for Lee right now because he's the only one hitting anything.
Let's see. Ryan Theriot - 3 for 25, .120 AVG in his last 7 games.
Alfonso Soriano - 4 for 22, .182 AVG.
Milton Bradley - 3 for 20, .150 AVG.
Kosuke Fukudome - 4 for 20, .200 AVG.
Mike Fontenot - 3 for 17, .176 AVG.
Geovany Soto - 4 for 17, .235 AVG.
Aaron Miles - 1 for 11, .091 AVG.
Micah Hoffpauir - 2 for 10, .200 AVG.
Bobby Scales - 0 for 10, .000 AVG.
That's 9 Cubs, 152 at bats, and 24 hits, for a .158 Team AVG (minus Derrek Lee). That's also 5 RBI between all 9 over those 152 at bats.
Friends, this offense is capable of doing better than hitting like Randy Johnson. I'm just saying.
I've been gone for a week. I've clearly missed a lot. Rich Harden went onto the DL for a non-arm related reason. Colin re-appeared after having vanished and I never knew that a single-sentence post could bring me such joy, even as it lamented the bad news of Harden's problems. The Cubs have gotten hammered.
I'll have the Game Recap tonight and tomorrow I'll cook up a longer piece on the shape of the team, but I'll just say it again in case it didn't set in earlier...
This team is better than its .158 AVG this past week. Stop being a baby. Let them work it out.
Just a quick couple of post script comments...
First, thanks so much to AJ, Yarbage, and the rest for keeping the ship floating while I was gone. I appreciate their hard work and I hope you guys appreciate their hard work too.
Second, we'll have a new GROTA skin coming soon that's going to knock your socks off, assuming we can pull it off. Stay tuned for that too.
Third, go Cubs.
Throughout this entire losing streak, the Cubs' pitchers have really found a groove.
In particular, Randy Wells continues to be a joy to watch on the mound. Sure, the scoreless streak is over, but his "Extra Base Hits Per Start" rate (it's an official stat, look it up!) remains below one. Wells allowed just one double in last night's game, a double to Brian Giles in the 4th inning. And seven strikeouts to just one walk? I like it.
The offense? It's just bad timing. We had more base runners than the opponent, and, for once, more home runs. But Derrek Lee hit his HR at the wrong time, and we only managed to score once.
Anyone realize we still have a winning record this month? It's on the line in today's game, however.
Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Josh Geer (0-1, 5.61 ERA)
The Sky is falling! The Sky is falling!
Ok, I know it has been a rough few days, but all is not lost. The offense won't be this bad forever, and hopefully the pitching will continue to perform. Right now the Cubs need to string a few wins together and get the offense going.
Rich Harden has been moved to the DL, so Randy Wells and Sean Marshall will continue to make starts in the mean time. Tonight, Randy Wells will make the start.
Wells has been strong in his last two starts, but he has worked out of a lot trouble in the first two starts. I like what I've seen out of Wells and he might be really useful this season when guys go down.
Kosuke Fukudome - Nobody has more than one hit last night, but Kosuke had one hit and three walks. He continues to be biggest surprise of the season.
Pretty much everbody else. There is no reason to beat a dead horse, so I won't.
The Cubs are in a funk, but at least they are only four games back right now. It could be much worse. People do not give up hope. I really believe that we will turn this thing around.
You know what? All you ledge jumpers out there can...
Honestly, the Cubs will someday score more than two runs in a game. But it's hard to say when that will be. Maybe against this "Geer" guy today?
Last night's problem wasn't base runners. The Cubs reached base 11 times--five via hit, six via walk. They just couldn't find the clutch hit.
Hopefully they remember how to do that soon.
Added from yarbage: My bad yesterday on the Gamecast. I was busy trying to get out of town to head to a birthday party for one of my wife's friends. So, thankfully i was able not to see much of the game. I will post tonight's gamecast closer to game time, but I plan to watch the game.
Sean Marshall (2-2, 4.02 ERA) vs. Adam Wainrwright (3-2, 3.83 ERA)
The Cubs hope to find their offense tonight against Adam Wainwright, after two days of nothing. The Cubs have looked lifeless on offense, and if it weren't for a two-out pinch hit single by Micah Hoffpauir the Cubs would've been shut out twice in a row.
Both games have been close thanks to good pitching preformances from Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Tonight, Sean Marshall takes the mound in possibly his final start, before getting moved to the pen to replace our favorite lefty Neal Cotts. I don't know if that is a good move, but Lou hasn't used him in weeks.
The Cubs are still 3 games back after the Brewers lost to the Astros last night. There isn't much to say after the last two nights.
The other news involves Jake Peavy, who once was rumored to be heading to the North Side. There is a chance he could be headed to the White Sox. I know some people are upset about this, but the Cubs really need offense right now and not starting pitching. Now, if we could trade for a lefty in the pen or another solid bullpen guy, that might actually help.
The Cardinal pitchers - the Cubs have scored 1 run in two games.
The Cub hitters - they have manged 1 run in two days.
The Cubs need to score about five runs in the first inning just to take the pressure off themselves. I've predicted wins in the last two nights. So no predictions tonight. I just hope the Cubs put a better fight.
It's a tough loss, to be sure. No one likes to watch their team put up just one run in 18 innings.
While that sucks, let me see if I can talk you off the ledge anyway.
For one, the pitching has been brilliant. Demp was pretty excellent tonight, and Lilly did well for himself last night as well. It's starting to look like the Cubs will have legitimately fantastic starting pitching throughout this season. Of course you're gonna lose a couple close ones like tonight and last night every once in a while, but over the course of 162 games, I think I'll take the Cubs rotation over any other in the league.
On the other side of the ball, the Cubs have one major issue on offense. They're lacking power. It appears there are two hitters in the Cubs' system capable of helping deal with this problem. Unfortunately, Lou is having a tough time finding a spot in the lineup for either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox.
The trouble with lacking power is, in these close games you often find yourself saying: "We're one swing away." Well, who's gonna give us that one swing? Is it Derrek Lee? Or Milton Bradley? We miss you, Clutchy McClutcherson.
Having said all that, I have one final note for all you ledge jumpers out there: after tonight's game, the Cubs are 11-6 this month, with games against the Padres and Pirates remaining on the schedule. An 18-11 month is very much within reach, and this without our best hitter.
Let's steal one tomorrow, yeah? Go Cubs!