Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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GameCast: May 10th - Cubs vs. Brewers

Gamecast
Sean Marshall (0-2, 4.15 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (2-2, 5.68 ERA)

Story-lines

There is no doubt that the Cubs look really bad right now.  Their ace is on the DL for having pulled a hamstring.  Their star slugger dislocated his shoulder diving for a ball.  Their newly-extended ace is dealing with a combination of bad luck and bad stuff.  Their free agent right fielder is under-performing - as is a slew of other guys on the team.  And 50% of their bullpen flat-out sucks.

In other words, the Cubs look lost.  Since we all know that good teams never look as bad as the Cubs have looked in recent days, it's safe to say that the season is over.  But here at GROTA we will soldier on, documenting the failed 2009 season with anger.

Who's Hot
Actually the entire offense looks decent right now.  Usually when the Cubs score 6 they will win.  This wasn't the case last night as Lou apparently decided to turn to every suspect arm in his bullpen, one after the next. 

Who's Not
The Questionable Quartet continues to look sluggish, rather than sluggerish.  Neal Cotts, Dave Patton, and Chad Fox belong on another team, like maybe the Cardinals or Brewers. 

Conclusions
Sean Marshall is due for a win and has been pitching better than we might expect from a 5th starter.  (Which is good since Ryan Dempster is pitching quite a bit like a 5th starter this year.)  Jeff Suppan is somebody who the Cubs have had success off of in the past.

Maybe they'll get swept, maybe they won't, but it's a moot point as the Cubs are clearly finished for the season.  Oh well, wait 'til next year!

Game Recap: Brewers 12, Cubs 6 - the Quitting Continues

booooooo!
I truly love it when Cub fans quit on their team during every rough patch.  Rather than beat around the bush, I will directly ask the question that needs to be asked:

What the hell is the matter with you people?

There has never been a team in the history of the game that didn't look like fumbling idiots at least once in a while during a long season.  Even the 1906 Cubs - winners of 116 games - had a 2 and 4 stretch early in the season, went 1-4 between May 19th and May 24th and went 2-4 between July 19th and July 24th.  And they won 116 games!!!  They won more games than any other team in the history of baseball and over the collected span of close to a month of baseball they played like dirt.  And if you don't have the stomach to watch a team lose games badly then go follow inter-murals, brother.  You'll never experience joy from a baseball season because you're too high strung.

So, let's take a look at today's reason for why people are quitting the team. 

Ryan Dempster.  17 game winner.  Multi-millionaire.  Bad luck pitcher who can't string together wins.  Dempster pitched into the 7th today, which is good, he struck out 9, which is better, but he gave up 7 hits and 3 walks which is bad.  Consequently he walked away with the loss.  But the real story is the bullpen.

Here's the funny thing.  I don't think the Cubs pen is actually all that bad.  The problem is that they've got two or three guys who really don't belong there and aren't even the best choices to be there to begin with.  Those three guys - Neal Cotts, Dave Patton, and Chad Fox, three guys who certainly will not be on the team by the time July rolls around - combined to surrender 6 earned runs.  Had that not happened, then the Cubs would actually have had enough offense to possibly win the game.

I mean, really, the Cubs offense was there last night.  They scored 6 runs off of 12 hits, including a 5 for 12 night from the 3 members of the Q4 who played.  Every regular but Theriot collected at least one hit, and every regular but Soriano and Scales got on base at least twice.  The offense was there.  The bullpen was not.

So, here's the deal.  If you think that pitchers like Chad Fox, Neal Cotts, and Dave Patton will still be around blowing leads into June and July, then you're right.  The Cubs are doomed. 

If you think that starters Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot, and Derrek Lee will combine to bat below .200 all year long, then you're right.  The Cubs won't reach the playoffs.

But since the Cubs won't be using relievers who suck all year long, and since the Q4 are in fact much better than their numbers convey, then I think we can agree that quitting on the Cubs is a pretty stupid take to have.

I've said this before and I'll say it now.  If the players quit as easily as some of you do, then you would be outraged.  You would be furious.  I'm sad to see that some of you don't hold yourselves to the same standard that you'd hold the people actually playing the games.

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Brewers
Game Recap: Brewers 3, Cubs 2
GameCast: May 9th - Cubs vs. Brewers

GameCast: May 9th Cubs vs. Brewers

GameCast
Ryan Dempster (2-1, 4.86 ERA) vs. Yovani Gollardo (3-1, 3.02 ERA)
Story-lines
Last season, I often complained that I wanted a "perfect" season, sort of like the superlative season I described a few weeks ago.  I wanted a year without stress.  While '08 was stressful at times, looking back on it the Cubs really blew the NL Central out of the water and didn't have too much trouble getting to the playoffs. 

Where they were promptly swept and eliminated.

Looking back even further than that, the 2003 Cubs were - up until the playoffs - probably the most exciting team of our lifetimes.  They delivered big games, tremendous performances, prodigious offense, exciting pitching, unlikely heroes, it was all there.  And they also gave us one of the most exciting Septembers ever, where they went on a torrid run in order to capture the NL Central crown before storming into the playoffs.

In other words, it was not easy for the '03 Cubs.  They overcame deficits and didn't definitively become a playoff team until the last month of the season. 

This year we have an immensely talented Cubs team that is already showing us the signs that they could be very good but they're being impeded by obstacle after obstacle.  Their ace is down, their star slugger is down, their offense is slumping ... and it's only May.

Rather than look at it like this is something for us to be nervous about, maybe we need to see these problems as the kind of things that winning teams often need to overcome in order to be cohesive and confident come playoff time.  Maybe in October the Cubs can look back to now and realize that if they can overcome these problems then maybe winning 3 games in a short series won't be so tough.

Just a thought.

Who's Hot
Ryan Theriot - batting .308 in his last 26 at bats with 2 homers and 17 RBI
Three Finger Hill - In his last 7 games he's batting .348 with 4 RBI
Aaron Miles - .300 AVG in his last 20 at bats with an OBP of .391

Who's Not
Milton Bradley - 5 for his last 26 with 1 HR and 2 RBI
Fukudome - The sump is on!  He's batting .143 in his last 7 games

Conclusions
Dempster needs to turn it up tonight.  He's had some bad luck which I believe he can improve on, but the Cubs are facing the ace of the Brewers staff and Ryan really needs to start earning his new, big contract.

I'm outta here.  Recap tomorrow.

Game Recap: Brewers 3, Cubs 2, Rammy out

Cubs lose
The Good News

Randy Wells delivered 5 innings of scoreless baseball in his debut start.  He managed to shake off 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 trailer-park skanks in the process (did I mention how much he looks like Kevin Federline?).  Regrettably for him, the Cubs bullpen will not be mentioned under "The Good News" heading.

In a pinch hit appearance, Bobby Scales! collected his second ever major league hit - a triple.  Considering all the hub-bub with the Rammy shoulder injury, the performance made by Scales today and in the near future might have a pretty big impact on the Cubs.

Milton Bradley went 1 for 4, raising his AVG to .150.  (Pretty bad that a 1 for 4 day raises your batting average.)  But the 1 was his 3rd homer as a Cub.

The Bad News
Angel Guzman and Aaron Heilman pitched 3 innings of relief and surrendered 3 earned runs in the process.  I'm not too upset with Angel, who also struck out 4 and made one mistake, but Aaron Heilman walked Hart, advanced him to second with a wild pitch, and made it a moot point by surrendering a homer to Ryan Braun.  Not a good night for Heilman.

The Ugly News

Aramis Ramirez, as you are already aware, dislocated his shoulder and may miss 4 to 6 weeks.  I will remind you that last season the 97-win Cubs lost one of their best hitters for more than a month due to a broken hand and they still won 97 games.  Just saying.

A-Ram's injury comes hot on the heels of the acquisition of Ryan Freel from Baltimore.  Freel, as Rob eloquently noted, is really a guy you want on your team ... if you live in the year 2005.  (In case you don't get it, that's a clever way of saying that he has lost some of his shine.)  They amazingly acquired Freel for Joey Gathright, which makes no sense since Mr. G. was probably a week away from getting cut.

Freel is a guy who plays a lot of positions - he's logged more than 100 appearances (many of them starts) at second base, third base, center field, right field, and he's appeared in left field 75 times.  When the 33-year-old is performing well, he's a patient-but-not-spectacular hitter who can steal a lot of bases.  But with a career OPS of .731, he's the kind of guy who, like Theriot, bats leadoff or bats eighth and belongs nowhere in between.

With Ramirez missing a big chunk of time, this leaves the Cubs roster in a continued state of flux.  Bobby Scales(!) was probably going to get demoted once Freel joined the team, but with Gathright gone and Ramirez hurt, Scales* will probably remain on the big league roster.

(*!)

This leaves the Cubs still with their precious 7 man bullpen, and Wells pitched solidly enough to not only continue starting until Zambrano returns, but to be the first candidate to replace the inept Chad Fox at that point.  Although, obviously, Wells will still have time to look like crap.

Anyway, I know that the natural reaction of any Cub fan is to immediately panic when something like this happens, but as I noted back in Spring Training the Cubs were built with depth this year.  I'm not exactly challenging them to prove me right, but they could probably actually handle a few more injuries to their regulars before we should start getting nervous.  But one thing this does mean is that there should now be slightly more pressure on the shoulders of Soto, Lee, and Bradley to start producing.  If they can do that, then they'll be fine.

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Brewers
GameCast: May 8th Cubs at Brewers

Cubs Get New and Improved Player*

The Cubs dealt fan favorite** and celebrated car jumper, Joey Gathright to the Baltimore Orioles for another favorite*** Ryan Freel today.

This does two things:

• First off, the Cubs now have a player that can play pretty much everywhere, and a player with decent speed. The problem is that he hasn't been healthy in a few years. He only played 48 games last season, and 75 games in 2007. He's already been on the DL once this year as well.

• Secondly, the Cubs get to clear a roster spot today for Randy Wells, and it keeps the feel-good story of year Bobby Scales on the roster for a few more days. But, I feel that with Freel around it probably means Scales is headed back to Iowa at some point.

(*Ok, the title is misleading, because Freel is new, but not really any improvement on the team. **Gathright a fan-favorite is probably the most absurd thing I've written at Grota since joining, but he can jump cars.)

The Cubs aren't gaining any payroll since the O's are send us some cash, and Freel can provide some much-needed utility play that the Cubs lacked during all the injuries. I'm not sure if this will cause a dent, but he's probably better than Gathright, at least with the bat.

GameCast: May 8th - Cubs at Milwaukee

GameCast
Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00) vs. Dave Bush (1-0, 4.36 ERA)

Story-Lines
This one is coming at you early because I'm going straight from work to dinner to Star Trek to bed. 

The Cubs and the Brewers are the modern day Tiffany and Debbie Gibson - their rivalry burns like hellfire.  And in the end one will lose her fanbase to the other, who in turn will become anorexic, addicted to meth, and will pose naked in Playboy 10 years after anybody cares.

Wait, they both lost their fanbases?  ...

Anyway, since I've posted this early and you've got time on your hands, let me recommend to you a couple of pieces written by Goat Friend and ESPN writer Wayne Drehs, who interviewed me last year and was directly responsible for my rocket toward stardom.  These days he's writing for ESPN Chicago* and blogging there so often that it makes me dizzy.  I mean, how can he possibly blog that often?

(*ESPN Chicago?  That sounds like a perfect fit for GROTA!  Damn you for not calling me, ESPN!  You know I always answer you on the FIRST RING!!)

What would you give for the Cubs to win it all?  - well, that one is self explanatory and since I'm a good sport I will probably answer Wayne's question with a retort column.  Right after I write that piece about Marmol and Gregg sometime next year.  Nevertheless, Wayne also Emailed me a What would you give up ESPN poll (or a ballot, if you will).  I don't want to influence your vote, but if you tick off on the "pay $$$$" options I will quit you.  It's not that I wouldn't surrender money in the name of Cub, it's just that if we tell them how much they might take us up on it.

Anyway, moving onto the GameCast...

Who's Hot
On a team that collected 14 hits in their last game, it would be easier to make a list of who's not.  But in particular, Alfonso Soriano selfishly hit 2 more homeruns while looking spectacular in the field, Aramis Ramirez collected 3 hits, and by gawd Micah Hoffpauir got 2 more hits raising his average to .312.

Who's Not
Mike Fontenot, Geovany Soto, and Milton Bradley remain on the bubble.  Soto and Bradley both had hits yesterday while Fontenot collected none but drove in 2 RBI. 

Conclusions
This may be the first series with implications, and since tomorrow's game will be tough to win (even if Dempster looks good) then today's contest against Dave Bush is practically essential.  If the Cubs can crack his nut as they have in the past - and especially if the Questionable Quartet can really start pounding the ball - then it shouldn't be too hard.

Then again, with a rookie pitcher on the mound for the Cubs, it could be a run-fest.

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Brewers

Series Preview: Cubs at Milwaukee

Cubs at Brewers
Match-ups
Overview

Who remembers where we were a week ago?  Our beloved Cubs were 10-11 - practically in the basement - and people were panicking.  "This isn't a winning team!" people lamented.  "As built they can't possibly reach the playoffs!" they decried.  "I believe that Mike Fontenot, Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, and Geovany Soto will bat .175 all season long!" they blathered.

A week later, the Cubs have won 6 of their last 7, the Questionable Quartet have very slowly been picking up the pieces, and the 16-12 Cubs are 2.5 games out of first place.  Then again, they won their games against the bottom-dwelling Astros and the Florida Marlins - the latter of whom are in the process of redefining the term "downward trend."  The Brewers represent a different kind of challenge.  We must ask ourselves some of the following essential questions:

Without Carlos Zambrano, do the Cubs have the fortitude to scale Prince Fielder's Cheeseburger Mountain - at the top of which is the legendary White Castle?
Will Kosuke Fukudome don a sausage costume - as did his forefather Hideo Nomo - and win one of the legendary races?

Will it be possible for the Cubs to finally figure out the mysterious northpaw Jeff Suppan?  (Wait, you mean they hammered him harder than Thor earlier this season?)

Let's take a closer look at the match-ups...

Friday, May 8th - Randy Wells vs. Dave Bush
Since he's a rookie, you might not know a lot about Randy Wells.  This is from his bio page: When he's not on the mound, Randy Wells spends his time participating in an amateur dance troupe.  He has also finished in the Top 3 in more than 20 Kevin Federline look-alike contests.  He briefly pitched in Toronto last year before coming to Chicago for a guy in a monkey suit.  So far in Iowa this year, Wells is 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA.  Hey, who knows, if he does half-decently then maybe he'll be the eventual bullpen solution the Cubs are so anxious to find?

Dave Bush is the quintessential 4th starter.  On a good year he'll win you 12 games, get his ERA into the low 4's, and be absolutely unreliable in big game situations.  In his first game against the Cubs this year he threw 6.1 innings of work, allowing 3 earned runs.  This is a step up from his typical production against Milwaukee's biggest rival as from 2006-2008 Bush is 1-7 against Chicago with an ERA of 4.84.  Hey, if the Cubs are lucky enough to face off against him 3 more times this year they might be able to get that record to 1 and 10!  It would be an amazement of ineptitude!

Saturday, May 9th - Ryan Dempster vs. Yovani Gollardo
Ryan Dempster - The Good: 32 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched.  The Bad: 1.35 WHIP, thanks to the 34 hits and 16 walks he's allowed this year (note: a 1.35 WHIP isn't really that bad).  The Ugly: 20 earned runs for an ERA of 4.86.  At this point, Dempster's run-to-hit ratio is .540, and his run-to-hit+walk ratio is .400.  Last year when he won 17 games and posted an ERA of 2.96, it was .390 and .340. 

At this point the amount of hits+walks he's on pace to surrender (190 and 89 respectively) isn't really that much worse from 2008 (174 and 76).  I suppose it makes sense that Dempster is bound to have a higher ERA but so far his biggest problem is that he's issued walks and given up hits at really inopportune times.  We can probably call it the statistical equivalent of "unlucky" while hoping for things to balance out a bit.  If he finishes the year having surrendered 190 hits and 89 walks in 207 innings at last year's run-to-hit ratio, then his ERA would be 3.22.  (And based on the run-to-hit+walk ratio, it would be 4.12 - still a lot lower than 4.86).

Yovani Gollardo is Mexican for "we hope he's this year's Sabathia, gringo."  So far the 23-year-old is 3-1 with a 3.02 ERA and is on pace for 218 strikeouts in 229 innings of work.  Considering that he's 23, he's bound to come down a bit.  Then again, he's thrown 176 career innings now and has a record of 12-6 and an ERA of 3.27.  Gollardo is the real - albiet probably unable to pass a phsyical - deal.

Sunday, May 10th - Sean Marshall vs. Jeff Suppan 
Marshall has been "hard luck" so far.  His numbers haven't been bad - and were actually inflated in his last start by a terrible Samardzija relief outing - but he's just not been lucky enough to get a win.  Considering the book I wrote on Dempster, this is all you get.  NO BLOG FOR YOU!!!

Jeff Suppan.  A 34-year-old crafty right-handed starter who's been in the league since 1995.  As a Cardinal he won 16 games back-to-back, as a Brewer he's a borderline gas can who the Cubs probably can't get enough of.  In his first outing against Chicago this year, Suppan went 3.2 innings, surrendered 5 earned runs, and wept tears of remorse into his calloused hands after the Cubs chased him in the 4th.  Over the previous 3 years, Suppan is 3-3 with an ERA of 4.24.  In other words he's "adequate" against the Cubs, but not stellar. 

Conclusions
As hot as the Cubs have been playing of late, the Brewers have been on their on little run.  Since starting the year 4-9, Milwaukee is 12-4, and they sit barely behind the Cubs in the standings.  In other words, unlike the series against the flopping Marlins and the crash-and-burned Astros this series will actually be a challenge to the Cubs.  While Wells is a mystery, Dempster has been unlucky and Marshall is due.  Not to mention the Brewers rotation is not exactly likely to lead the league in shutouts this year.  At the very least this will be a high scoring series that will leave Ron Santo groaning.  At the most it could be another step in the right direction for the Cubs.

 

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Game & Series Recap - Cubs 11 (2) Astros 5 (0)


Cubs 8, Astros 5
The Cubs get the cheap sweep -- with authority!

It wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Ted Lilly and the Cubs did exactly what we thought they would - beat on Russ Ortiz with a Brick the way an Army drill sargeant might beat on a recruit. That's right, the Cubs were Rocking the Suburbs, and the suburbs happened to be the baseball when pitched by Russ Ortiz. Ortiz's undefeated record was forced to Evaporate, and that's the last Ben Folds reference I'll make this article. Although I will point out that the last "hit" by Folds was the song "You Don't Know Me" which eventually landed on #28 of the Adult Alternative chart. Just saying.

Regardless, the Cubs managed 14 hits yesterday along with 5 walks. Every regular starter but Fontenot got at least one hit (and Mikey still managed 2 RBI) with Alfonso Soriano hitting 2 homeruns and making one awesome glove save in the outfield. The Fonz now has 9 homers and, should he manage to avoid the freak injuries that derailed him in '07 and '08, may finally be on the brink of the kind of season he was signed to produce.

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly pitched 6 innings, winning his 4th of the year and reducing his ERA to 3.11. The Cubs bullpen then delivered scoreless relief, not counting Chad Fox whose 2009 ERA is now 81.00. For the record, when all future discussions of the bullpen are made, Chad Fox will not count as being a member of the pen regardless of his status on the roster.

It appears as if the Cubs are finally - FINALLY - starting to click. They've won 6 of their last 7 and enter tonight's series against Milwaukee with the chance to gain some distance from the rest of the division, the Cardinals excluded.

The planned article about Marmol and Gregg remains pending, but I'll get to it eventually.

Current Record: 16-12
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 2.5 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 150-12
Worst Possible Record: 16-146
Record needed to win 110: 94-40
On Pace For: 93-69

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Astros
Game Recap: Cubs 6, Astros 3
GameCast: May 7th Cubs at Astros

GameCast: May 7th - Cubs at Houston

Cubs at Houston
Ted Lilly (3-2, 3.13 ERA) vs. Russ Ortiz (2-0, 5.21 ERA)
Story-lines
The Cubs continue their rock-out to Ben Folds and the Barenaked Ladies tonight in a contest against Russ Ortiz, who remembers the 90's as a decade of promise and opportunity ... until the bubble burst.  (Double entente.  Genius)

I've yet to see if Lee will start tonight, but he's trying to get better from a stiff neck that may or may not be a part of his hitting problems so far in '09.  Or he could be a steroid user.  I'm not sure how putting up really crappy numbers make one an alleged steroid user, except I am pretty sure that those who were using steroids probably still are - see Manny Ramirez.  Lee, meanwhile, is getting older and broke his freaking hand a few years ago.  It sort of reminds me of how Joe Borwoski had a career year with the Cubs in 2003, returned ineffective in '04, and was painted a steroid user despite the intense likelihood that he never consumed an illegal substance that wasn't a derrivative of moonshine.  But I digress.

Who's Hot
Reed Johnson - went 1 for 3 with 1 walk yesterday, drove in 3 with his one hit and scored twice off of passed balls.  He's gotta be juicing.
Aramis Ramirez - the sole Cub to collect 2 hits yesterday, A-Ram blasted his 4th of the year as well.  He must be juicing.

Who's Not
Geo Soto - After an 0 for 3 night Soto's AVG remains at .159.  He shouldn't have quit steroids. 

Conclusions
I'm sorry, but Russ Ortiz?  2004 was a long time ago, and he hasn't exactly been effective since then (what with his 9 wins since then).  Lord knows that Ted Lilly got his butt kicked in the first game he faced the Astros this season, but I'd really be shocked if Chicago doesn't beat them easily tonight.

Then agian, they play the games for a reason...

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Astros
Game Recap: Cubs 6, Astros 3

Game Recap: Cubs 6, Astros 3

Cubs 6, Astros 3
It's odd, but I've read multiple recaps about the game and nowhere have I seen a mention of the passed balls capitalized on by the Cubs. 

Regardless, Reed Johnson's big day was emphasized by scoring not once but twice on passed balls.  But probably more impressive was Reed's 3-run triple in the 1st inning and Aramis Ramirez's homerun in the 7th, giving the Cubs all the offense they'd need to beat a putrid Astros team. 

On the mound Rich Harden pitched 7 splendid innings of 1-run ball; unfortunately Lou elected to dip from the well once too often and left Harden in there to be hammered in the 8th.  But then Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg - both of whom will be the subject of an afternoon post if I can remember it - stepped in and closed out the game for a Cubs win.

Overall the Cubs collected 8 hits and 4 walks, and the only two members of the Questionable Quartet to start today - Bradley and Soto - combined to go 1 for 8 with a walk and 2 runs scored.  Not exactly splendid by any means.

Talent In, Garbage Out
Although we Cub fans appear to be brimming with common sense, Hendrinella did not release Neal Cotts yesterday and designate Angel Guzman as the defacto LOOGY, but they did smartly demote the struggling Jeff Samardzija while promoting an Iowan Fox - only not the right one for the job.

Chad Fox - rather than the ball-crushing Jake Fox - has been called up.  Fox apparently enjoys the taste of pain, otherwise he'd be retired by now.  Presently in 11.1 innings of Iowan work he has an ERA of 1.59, but I ask again - why do the Cubs need 7 relievers?

The other Fox presently has a .393 AVG in 89 at bats along with 12 homeruns.  And did we mention that before this season he's played 274 games at catcher, 119 games at first, 4 games at third, and 99 games in the outfield?  Isn't that kind of versatility valuable? 

Cubs play for the mini-sweep today.

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at Astros
Game Cast: May 6th Cubs at Astros

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