Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at. St. Louis Cardinals

Cubs v. CardsMatchups
Overview

In celebration of the Cubs losing their first three game series of the season, I thought it might be appropriate to indulge in a bit of all-caps panicking.  To wit:

  • AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!  CUBS CAN'T SCORE!!!!! PUT MICAH IN AT CATCHER!!!!!!!
  • AND SECOND BASE!!!!!!!!!!!
  • TRADE MILTON BRADLEY FOR THREE WEDGES OF BRIE AND A LIGHT BRIGHT!!!!!!!!
  • SANDWICHES!!!!!!!!!!

THERE. er, there.  That felt pretty good, right?  Right.

So yeah, the Cubs offense has been slightly worse than stagnant (repugnant?) these last couple of games, managing a mere one run and two walks in two games.  Granted, they faced two pretty good pitchers, but c'mon!  And to top it all off, their would-be-star right fielder is out for the foreseeable future and nobody seems to think he should go onto the DL.

Who's up for a bit more Hoffpauir gymnastics in the outfield?  Rock.

And so now the Cubs will roll into the deep south (too deep for my taste, anyway) and attempt to stop the greatest show on sod.  The Cardinals offense has been hot as a firecracker lately, with the always Ted Williams-esque Albert Pujols doing his thing and the curiously unstoppable Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick (and the most curious of the curious, Yadier Molina.  I mean, what the hell?) mashing the ball.  I'm fairly certain that the Cards won't end the season with three hitters OPS'ing over a thousand but, for now, it's a pain in the ass.

Alright, enough fear and pain.  The slump ends here!  The Cubs will rally!  Geo will get a hit!  Fontenot is a star!  CUUUUUBBBBBSSSSSS!!!!!!!

April 24th Ryan Dempster vs. Adam Wainwright

Dare I say that Dempster is proving the naysayers right?  Dare I say it?  DARE I?  Nah, I don't really dare.  I mean, it's only been a few starts and, hey, at least he has a lower ERA that Big Z.  His stuff still looks good (not that there was ever an issue with that), but his control has been quite spotty (always an issue).  We've got four more years of Ryan, so here's hoping it's just a rough start.  For the record, I think it is.

Hey look, another pitcher with good stuff and spotty control.  Adam Wainwright, if anyone can, should solve the Cubs walking woes.  Wainwright was solid but unspectacular in his last start against the Cubs, but that was the hot-hitting Cubs.  Who knows what your mid-to-late April Cubs can do.

April 25th Sean Marshall vs. Mitchell Boggs

Hey look, I totally got a prediction spot on!  I predicted that Marshall would be a bit rusty in his last start and not be all that impressive.  The result: 5 innings, three runs, and some wildness.  I'm frickin' Kreskin.  Marshall, yet again, has been off for awhile, but not for almost a month, so look for him to be a bit more in control.  He's a solid pitcher and I'm looking for a solid outing.  Thus speaks Jason.

Mitchell Boggs, Wade Boggs' father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate*, was less than spectacular last year, posting a ERA north of 7.  He's only thrown two innings this year, so he's unlikely to have too much in the tank.  In the past, this kind of pitcher would give the Cubs fits, but this is a more patient team and should have more success.  You know, in theory.  Ah, who am I kidding.  Kids like this still terrify me.

That and spiders.

(* may not be true)

April 26th Rich Harden vs. Todd Wellemeyer

Hey look, someone who I can say nothing but positive things about!  Harden is a freak of nature, striking out an amazing 26 men in only 15 innings.  And the stats don't even list how man women he might have struck out!  He's on pace for...calculating...8430 strikeouts in 145 innings.  That's very impressive.  I think that might even be a record.

Todd Wellemeyer, on the other hand, has been less impressive.  I think it's because he realized he's Todd Wellemeyer.  His control's been good but the hits, oh the hits!, they've been a-fallin'.  29 hits in only 17 innings!  Hey Todd, Bob Howry called and he wants his WHIP back.

Conclusions

And so the Cubs are facing yet another season-breaking series.  The Cubs are still only one game out in the loss column, so they're still not technically out of the race yet, but they're on the edge of the edge.  This is not a must win, I suppose, but it would be nice to have.  Or that's total crap and it's April.  I get a bit confused sometimes.

Note from Kurt
I'm always the one to tag on to the end of somebody else's hard work and take credit.  It's just the way I roll; you can thank me for the invention of the BK Triple Stacker. 

As noted in the GROTA ShoutBox - for which somebody has already learned how to turn into a website marketing ploy (tisk, tisk, don't make me burn you) - Lou Piniella woke up lucid today and produced a new lineup.

Ryan Theriot - who has been hitting everything in sight - leads off.
Kosuke Fukudome - who has been hitting that ball like a pimp who's owed money - bats second.
Alfonso Soriano - plays leadoff, acts cleanup - bats third.
Aramis Ramirez - Clutchy McClutcherson - bats cleanup.
Derrek Lee - still DP FREE! - bats 5th.

You know what?  It... it actually makes sense!  It is proof again that Dusty Baker doesn't manage the Cubs.  And while I'm unwilling to realign my support of Piniella based on one lineup, I'm shocked, pleased, and awed. 

Lou Piniella.  Well played.

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Series Recap: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1

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Series Recap - Reds 2, Cubs 1, Dusty wins again, dude

Reds 7, Cubs 1
The Game
It hurts!  It hurts me in the soul! 

It's hard to blame Carlos, who pitched well but not exceptionally.  El Gordo Mooso threw 7 innings, surrendered 7 hits, walked 2, and struck out 7 while allowing 3 earned runs.  The problem was that Carlos could have held the Reds to 1 run and it probably would've been too many because the offense is dead right now and the bullpen is struggling.

I'm going to take from this series an important factoid - when the Cubs were working Reds pitchers, they kicked the crap out of them.  But the last two games they've drawn maybe 3 walks and so their scoring opportunities have been minimal.

In the bullpen, Neal Cotts continued to deliver - 2 hits and 1 earned, via a homer.  And Jeff Samardizja, in his first outing of 2009, prooved to be well worth the cutting of Luis Vizcaino and his 0.00 ERA by giving up 4 hits and 2 earned runs. 

Later today I'm going to write a littany of complaints against Lou, which doesn't mean I don't love him in a non-gay way.

The Series
The Cubs entered this home series against Dusty Baker's Reds with a statistical lead in the central.  They leave 2 games out of first - in fourth place - behind the surprisingly resilient Cardinals.

Hey, it's still way too early to judge but maybe the central will be tougher than we could've expected.

Current Record: 8-6
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 156-6
Worst Possible Record: 8-154
On Pace For: 93-69

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GameCast: April 23rd Reds vs. Cubs Rubber Match

GameCast!
Aaron Harang (1-2, 2.70 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 5.21 ERA)

Story-lines
It's another rubber game for the Chicago Cubs (or as I hoakingly called it, a Rubber Match).  In his last outing, Carlos Zambrano went 7 innings and gave up 7 runs.  Aaron Harang, meanwhile, appears to be his old self pre Dusty-Destructo days. 

Amazingly, Jeff Samardzija appears to be headed to Chicago.  I call it "amazing" because in order to make room for him, the Cubs are cutting a guy with a 0.00 ERA.  I'm referring to Luis Vizcaino who has 2 hits allowed, 3 strikeouts and 0 walks in 3.2 innings of work.  He's called "seldom used" by the Tribune although at this point he's pitched in 31% of the Cubs games - putting him on pace for 50 over a full season.

Maybe Lou sees something that the stat lines don't convey, but it's a little baffling that he and his 4 million owed would get cut over Neal Cotts who has turned into a pitching masochist. 

Also still on the team are Dave Patton - 5.79 ERA - and Angel Guzman - 5.87 ERA.  It just seems weird.  Then again, Luis Vizcaino never even got his own tag here at GROTA, so maybe it was just ... destiny.

Who's Hot
Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome - It's a strange definition of "hot."  It's more like "who got a hit yesterday."  But Soriano is now batting .304, by far his best start as a Cub.  Fukudome is at .348.  Ramirez is batting .362.  And Lee, who started out slow and was sluggish against the Cardinals, is still batting an impressive .344 in his last 29 at bats. 

Who's Not
Geovany Soto - He went 0 for 4 yesterday and is now batting .115 on the season.  I have a feeling that barring a really, really hot May, an All Star selection is not in Soto's future for 2009.

Milton Bradley - Lou's cleanup hitter is batting .043 on the season right now and the Cubs are still 8-5 after 13 games.  Here's a little fun math for you.  If Bradley finishes the year with a .300 batting average in 520 at bats, he'll need to go 155 for his next 497, which is a .312 AVG.  Actually, when I put it that way it seems very possible and nothing at all to worry about.  Let's talk about Bradley again 23 at bats from now.

Conclusions
The Cubs are in a crowded NL Central right now.  By that I mean that they are 1 of 4 teams playing better-than-.500 baseball.  Can you believe that the Pirates have 9 wins right now?

The Reds are 8-6 and are poised to hurdle Chicago in the standings if they win today.  And if they win I hope they enjoy it because it won't last. 

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Game Recap: Reds 3, Cubs 0

Reds 3, Cubs 0
After the first game of this series, Dusty Baker must have written Lou Piniella a strongly worded letter.  I can only imagine what it sounded like, but it was likely something such as this:

Dear Dude, as somebody who once managed the Cubs I can tell you that it's awfully tempting to change the way you manage to placate the fans who boo ya.  But I'm a winner, always have been.  I took my team to the World Series as recently as 2002, which is a lot more recent than you, dude.  And I'm telling you right now - walks don't win games.  You can have 10 walks in a game, dude, but if you have nobody hitting the ball you will lose.  So take it from me - get your guys to play more aggressively tomorrow.  Forget the walks.  Get them to swing the hot bats.  I know it will make our job tougher, but I love you dude.  I want to help.

Signed, Johnny B.

If that's similar to the letter that Lou received (but without words like "placate"), then he must have listened because the Cubs drew a big fat zero walks against the Reds last night.

They also only managed 6 hits, 5 of which came from the 1-3 batters (2 by Sori and D-Lee). 

Meanwhile Ted Lilly became the answer to a triva question last night.  Name the most recent pitcher to lose a game without allowing an earned run.  (I'm sure it happens fairly often, but Lilly went 7 strong, allowing 5 hits, 0 walks and 0 earned runs) but it can't really be argued that he deserved the loss.  After all, that unearned run was the eventual result of a Ted Lilly fielding error.

The bullpen - today being Angel Guzman and Kevin Gregg - gave up a couple of garbage runs that really meant nothing. 

Milton Bradley went 0 for 4 again.  Back in February and March a lot of us - myself included - were hoping aloud that he wouldn't have a bad start because Cub fans will turn on new players very quickly and Bradley is a volatile athlete.  And although starting the season with a.043 AVG is really, really something a player doesn't want to do (duh), one hot month will put him right back to where he should be. 

For now, he'll just be the poster child of my Small Sample Sizes argument.

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Gamecast: April 22nd Reds at Chicago Cubs

Reds v. Cubs

Johnny Cueto (0-1, 4.22 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-0, 3.86 ERA)

Story-lines

The Cubs try and take game two tonight against the Cincinnati Reds. It is the second night game at Wrigley. The weather has played a big role in the past few games, a cancellation on Sunday, and freezing temps last night, which killed a couple HR's off the bat of Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto.

The Cubs remain in first by percentage points after New York's Oliver Perez decided to self-destruct in the fifth inning against the Cardinals.

Milton Bradley will most likely return to the lineup tonight. He has as many hits as ejections. I'm sure we would love to see him get hot and put this first two weeks behind us.

Who's Hot

Micah Hoffpauir - Say what you want about the 29-year-old rookie, but he came up big last night. After Jay Bruce put the Reds on top, Micah took Micah deep for his first home run of the season. He's only hitting .375 with five RBI (two of which came last night) in 16 at bats. I know there is no way for him to keep it, but if he can hit .290, while getting four to eight at bats a week, I would take it.

Aramis Ramirez - He had one of the best at bats during the fifth inning. He fouled off pitch after pitch, before punching a ball to right to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. He looks poised for a great year.

Ted Lilly - Roosevelt is 2-0 already this season, after nearly no-hitting the Rockies last week. After last year's lousy start, it has been nice to see him win early.

Who's Not

Mike Fontenot - "Little Babe Ruth" has been nothing like "The Babe" as he went 0-for-3 last night to drop his average down to .205. He drew a walk, but it would be nice to see him hit a little bit like the other Cajun.

Neal Cotts - Poor Cotts. He gets a gift to strike out a guy in the 8th, before remembering he was Neal Cotts. He proceeded to give up a hit, then walk a guy before Lou had seen enough and brought Carlos Marmol into the game. Cotts' ERA dropped, but he went further in the doghouse.

Conclusions

Clogging the bases vs. Slugging: The battle continues wage on as the Cubs clogged the bases seven times last night (nine if you include the two hit batters). The Cubs clogged their way to seven runs, while the Reds slugged their way to two. I wonder how this game will turn out? The Cubs are facing Johnny Cueto tonight, who has walked seven in 10 2/3 innings, but he has struck out 12. The Cubs should be able to do enough damage to take Game 2 to set up the sweep tomorrow against Aaron Harang.

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Game Recap: Cubs 7, Reds 2, Dusty's brain is clogged by all the Cubs walks

Cubs win!

A game without surprises is surprisingly a rare event. And yet the Cubs had one of those last night as they predictably throttled the Reds.

Rich Harden - not surprisingly - pitched 6 innings of 3-hit ball, walking 2, striking out 8, and allowing 2 earned runs on 92 pitches. When the Cubs turned to their bullpen, they weren't surprised to see solid efforts from Aaron Heilman, Carlos Marmol, and even Luis Vizcaino (who has yet to allow an earned run to score on his watch) while Neal Cotts predictably crapped his pants giving up a hit and walk in under an inning pitched. (Again, I think Lou should have hung him out to get beaten on or to escape. The Cubs had a 5 run lead when Cotts entered the game, they could have afforded him to squander or overcome.)

Offensively the Cubs predictably got a hit and walk from leadoff man Alfonso Soriano, 2 walks from Kosuke Fukudome, and 7 walks from the team in total. In the 6th when the Reds walked Derrek Lee to clog - erm, load the bases - I can only imagine how bewildered Dusty must have felt when the Cubs exploited the opportunity with an Aramis Ramirez 2-run single. Dusty probably threw his hat to the dugout floor and stomped on it saying "THAT'S NOT HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, DUDES! THE BASES WERE CLOGGED!"

Dusty is a bastard.

All told, Aramis went 3 for 5 with 3 RBI. Micah Hoffpauir hit an early homerun and was then pinch-hit for by Reed Johnson late in the game in a run-scoring opportunity. (I know, you were all very upset about that, but maybe Micah just isn't a clutch hitter, eh?) Mike Fontenot and Derrek Lee unsurprisingly had 0-fer nights. Ryan Theriot predictably collected 2 more hits. It was really a good night for the Cubs with no surprises and lots of win.

Tonight it's another late start and the Cubs play to win the series. The question is whether or not Ted Lilly can figure out how the Reds figured him out last year. I'm thinking he'll crush them, figuratively speaking.

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Series Preview: Reds at Chicago Cubs
GameCast: April 21st Reds vs. Cubs

GameCast: April 21st Reds vs. Cubs

Reds Vs. CubsMicah Owings (0-1, 7.20 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (0-1, 5.00 ERA)
Story-lines
Dusty Baker and the Cincinnati Reds come to Chicago.  Cub fans have to wonder what Dusty will bring with him on this trip.  Will he make excuses about the number of day games?  Perhaps he'll put a little bit of the blame on the fans for not supporting the team if the Reds play poorly?  I suppose he could always imply that we're racist and overly-critical of him.

Nevertheless, the Cubs will be looking to extend their stranglehold on the NL Central with a throttling of the Reds who themselves are only half a game out of first. 

Who's Hot
Aramis Ramirez - A-Ram batted .462 in his last series against the Cardinals with 1 homer and 5 RBI.  He's swinging a heavy stick right now and is on pace to hit 53 homers and drive in 193 RBI.  (Reminder: it's only been eleven games.)

Kosuke Fukudome - We're going to learn a lot about Fukudome this season.  For example, if his totals drop down to around .265 or .270 again, then he's a flash-in-the-pan hot starter.  If he can stay fairly level all season long, then he's a genius hitter who adjusted to the league.  At this point, 'dome is on pace to hit 44 homeruns.

Ryan Theriot - Hmm.  Ryan Theriot is batting .400 right now.  He's speedy.  He's actually hitting a fair number of doubles.  He bats righty, Fukudome bats lefty, and Ramirez bats righty.  Sounds like the ideal 1-2-3 R-L-R combo the Cubs need at the top of the order.  And yet he'll be batting 8th tonight - if we're lucky.

Who's Not
Geovany Soto - Jack Sparrow's stunt double needs to find the white pearl pretty fast.  (In case the metaphor is just too stupid to be sensible, the white pearl in this case would be a pitched baseball.)  When Geo isn't pirating the Caribbean, he's experiencing 0-fers.  But it's not as bad as it looks.  He's had 5 games in which he's had 4-or-more plate appearances, and he's failed to hit in 3 of them.  Okay, 60% is pretty bad, but it's still a very small sample size. 

Aaron Miles + Mike Fontenot - Our two-headed, switch-hitting, ring-bearing, Mount-Doom-Heading second base duo isn't exactly winning over old enemies right now.  Between the two of them Miles and Fontenot are 10 for 51 (.196) with 3 extra base hits.  That cute girl wearing a DeRosa game who's sitting next to you at the game tonight will be secretly crying when you aren't looking.

Derrek Lee - On a bigger scale, Lee's doing much better now, thank you.  But he batted a meager .214 in 3 games against the Cardinals.  It'd be nice to watch D.Lee (still DP free, by the way) have a big series against Dusty's boys. 

Conclusions
As Rob noted, Rich Harden is throwing tonight and apparently that guy could crap a 10 strikeout performance if he had to.  There's one thing the Cubs are missing, but luckily it's something every team is "missing" early on in the year - consistency.  The offense will set the world on fire, but the pitching will crap the bed.  The pitching will come close to shutting down the opposition, and the team will still lose 1-0.  The rotation will be aces, the bullpen will be eights.  You get what I'm saying.  But nobody "puts it all together" in the first two weeks of April. 

Still, the Cubs are in a position to pummel the Reds, and I'm pretty sure they're entirely capable of doing it. 

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Series Preview: Reds at Chicago Cubs

Life as it should be

Jason is right.

To steal the line from Madeline Kahn in "Blazing Saddles", I'm Tired.  I'm home from work.  I don't feel like doing squat.  I've been dealing with stress all weekend - anyone that knows me realizes that all my stress comes from home, and work is where I go to get away from it, usually.  There, I'm considered to be some sort of cross between Rain Man and the Village Idiot.  But I am home now, and I am heading for the couch and I am not leaving.

For there is Cubs baseball this evening, HD or not, it's a teevee treat.  It is life, the way it should be.  I sympathize with those flighty romantics who pine for day baseball at Wrigley, under God's sun.  I get what you're saying, I do.  It's a throwback to a time when life was simpler, and in some ways, better.  It was definitely slower, and simpler, and without air conditioning and brazzers.com.

But I gotta tell ya, this is nice to be able to just kick back and watch Rich Harden strike out about 12 Redlegs tonight.  Don't know if he'll win, or even last five...but he'll strike out 12.  Curious that everyone gets on Z for going for K's, padding his pitch counts.  They said the same thing about Wood and Prior.  But somehow Harden, who fans more per inning than anyone I can possibly remember, gets a pass.  Maybe he himself needs a little Maddux-a-cation.

And, what's more good news for me, and Jason, and the Cubs themselves, the vast majority of weekday games, from now until September, are under the lights.  Night baseball...it's fa-a-a-a-a-antastic!!

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs

Reds @ Chicago
Match-Ups
To find out what Reds fans feel about this series, mosey on over to Red Hot Mama's blog.  We haven't heard from RHM in a while, but she was always a spunky Reds fan until Dusty Baker broke her spirit. 
 
Overview

Do you remember where you were when you found out that Dusty Baker was going to become the manager of the Reds?  Do you remember how good it felt?  Tony LaRussa aside, the NL Central has had more than its share of idiot managers.  Unfortunately those days are ending, though as the Brewers freed themselves of Ned Yost last year.

But unfortunately for the Reds Dusty's probably going to keep his job for the duration of the year.  He's like Teflon - once you commit to him, he sticks until the last bitter day of his contract.  Consequently the Reds are a young, talented team with the wrong players in the lineup.  They're a team with some incredible pitchers who get over-used and obliterated.  And I don't feel good about it.  I remember all-too-well the sickening feeling that Dusty left in my gut.  I wouldn't wish that on any team, but I'm thankful that the Reds are a non-factor based on the way they are managed.  One less worry.

That said, Cincy owned Ted Lilly last year.  I can't explain it.  But Roosevelt was 0-4 against the Reds with an 8.15 ERA.  Perhaps not coincidentally, 8 of Joey Votto's 24 homeruns came against the Cubs last year.  It was brutal.  Anyway, the match-ups:

April 21st Micah Owings vs. Rich Harden
Micah Owings.  26 years old and in his first year with the Reds.  Young Micah has only pitched one game so far this year, and Dusty limited him to 89 pitches.  But now that he's had the chance to stretch his arm, the gloves are off.  I'm predicting 110+ pitches unless Owings gets into early trouble.

Rich Harden has some interesting numbers so far.  He's thrown 9 innings and struck out 18.  Between all those strikeouts though are 8 hits, 6 walks, and 5 earned runs.  He was unhittable in his first outing, he was chased after 3 innings in his second, he has to be looking for consistency in his third. 

April 22nd Johnny Cueto vs. Ted Lilly
Johnny Cueto.  23 years old.  As a rookie he started 31 games, threw 174 innings, and still managed to toss 110-or-more pitches 8 times - and he threw 109 pitches twice more.  Already in 2 starts this year Cueto has had an outing in which he threw 109 pitches - his first of the year on April 11th.  I pity Reds fans because Cueto's first big injury is only a matter of time and I'm betting he misses a big chunk of either 2010 or 2011.

Psycho has something to prove.  In 17.2 innings last year against the Reds, he allowed 18 hits, 10 walks, and 16 earned runs.  Subtract his season against the Reds and Ted Lilly was 17-5 with an ERA of 3.71.  You don't need a Colin Wyers to tell you that such a dramatic difference between Lilly v. The League and Lilly v. The Reds is bizarre if not flat-out fishy. 

April 23rd Aaron Harang vs. Carlos Zambrano
In 2007, Harang was a 16-game winner with 218 strikeouts.  In 2008, he might have done the same.  Then, Dusty very famously used him between starts to pitch 4 innings of relief against San Diego.  His season turned to mush after that and he finished '08 with 17 losses and an ERA of 4.78.  So far in '09, Harang is averaging 105 pitches a game, he's tossed a complete game against Pittsburgh, and his ERA is 2.70.  Is he back?  Is he healthy?  Is it just a matter of time before Dusty sends him to the DL again?

Carlos has something in common with pretty much every Cubs starter in '09 -- he's yet to find consistency.  He's had great games and terrible games and that's an impressive feat since he's only thrown three games all year.  In 2008 Zambrano was 4-0 against the Reds with an ERA of 1.20.  I'm sure he'll work to continue that level of success.

Conclusions
Only a game separates the Cubs and the Reds in the standings, but probably nobody - not even Red fans - expect Cincy to keep up all year long.  It's not the fault of the way the team's been built - on paper, I'd expect the Reds to win more than they lose.  The problem is that the genius running the team is a certifiable baseball idiot. 

He's got a decent team if only he didn't insist on batting lead off a guy who's never walked more than 36 times in a season.  He's got a rotation that mixes fantastic youngsters with talented veterans, except you'd win a lot of money if you could accurately guess which one was heading to the DL first. 

And most shocking of all, Dusty's got a job in baseball.  I'll never understand that one.  For that reason alone, I expect the Cubs to sweep each and every time they play the Reds.

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Series Recap - Cubs win 2 of 3, exit in first place

Sunday evening's Cubs-Cardinals showdown was rained out, much to our disappointment. 

I've pretty much said everything about the series - that I can think of at least, I happily welcome you to interject your own reflections on the match-up - but I'll do a quick recap for everybody.

In general...

The Hitting: The Cubs scored 19 in 3 games.  If they can average 6.3 runs a game the rest of the year, then they will be playoff bound. 

Specifically...

Alfonso Soriano - 3 for 12, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .250 AVG, .438 OBP.  The Fonz actually resembled a leadoff hitter this series with just a dash of clutch thrown in.  Between his 4 walks he hit a game-winning homerun on Friday.

Kosuke Fukudome - 5 for 12, 2 BB, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .417 AVG, .500 OBP.  Fukudome had at least 1 RBI in every game and was probably the series MVP, even if he didn't hit a game winning homer like Soriano and Ramirez.  He very well may wind up batting .270 this year with below-average numbers, but he remains a contributor for now.

Derrek Lee - 3 for 14, 0 BB, 1 2B, 3 RBI, .214 AVG.  Lee slowed down this series.  The lack of walks gives the impression that he's pressing.  Then again, 3 RBI in 3 games.  I reiterate that Lee belongs batting 6th, but by the end of the year his numbers will be that of a slightly below-average #3 hitter ... and on a team with above average 5 through 8 hitters, that's not such a big deal.

Micah Hoffpauir - 3 for 11, 0 BB, 1 2B, 1 RBI, .273 AVG.  Hoff stepped in for Milton this series, as the Crazy Uncle has found himself slumping and in trouble.  Hoff's numbers aren't bad for your top bench choice.  Maybe Lou needs to realize that that's what Hoffpauir is - the best pinch hitter on the team - rather than continue to feed at bats for Aaron Miles to squander. 

Aramis Ramirez - 6 for 13, 1 BB, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .416 AVG, .500 OBP.  If Fukudome is the series MVP, Ramirez is the runner up.  Aramis put up great numbers against the Cubs' biggest rival.  Some Goat Riders think that this is Clutchy's year to bust out.  I remain skeptical that he'll outproduce his normal numbers, but even a "normal" Ramirez season is pretty damned good.

Mike Fontenot - 1 for 9, .111 AVG.  Ugh.  Not a good series for FonteYES.  This blog went out of its way to defend Fontenot as the choice to play second base for the Cubs in '09, but so far he's making us look dumber than a brain-damaged Paris Hilton.  Blah blah, small sample sizes, yadda yadda, two months to prove himself, etc. etc., he's still way better than Aaron Miles, (secretly shed a tear for the departed DeRosa; put on a strong face, and so-on).

Aaron Miles - 1 for 5, 2 BB, 2 RBI, .200 AVG, .375 OBP.  Listen.  If you really think Aaron Miles should be starting on the Cubs, then you need to go back to 1997 with your Sammy Sosa hop and your $15 bleachers so you can drunkenly sway with the crowd while Harry Caray sings TMOTTBG in the 7th because under no circumstance should Aaron Miles be starting for a team that's going to win more than 90 games.  I hope you like boy bands, buddy, because you belong in the era where they reigned supreme if you want to stump for Miles.  ...then again, Brittany was hot back then.

Geovany Soto - 1 for 9, 4 BB, 1 RBI, .111 AVG, .385 OBP.  Ah yes, Geovany Soto.  This week's reason for my developing ulcer.  Doesn't Geo know that the Cubs have a history of one-year-wonders?  Isn't he aware of how effin' nervous we get at slow starts?  Anyway, Soto and Bradley should be best friends.  Between them they have 3 hits this year.  And it's April 20th.  Geeze!

Ryan Theriot - 5 for 12, 1 BB, 1 3B, .416 AVG, .462 OBP.  He has long been known as The Riot or, in my case, TheQuitRiot.  But I have a new nickname for Theriot, and I think it will stick.  He shall be called "Slappy."  The guy is getting a ton of hits, often multiple hits per game, but the are rarely for extra bases despite his speed.  Theriot belongs either 1st or 8th in the lineup based on his inability to slug. 

Okay, back to generalities. 

The Pitching (in my best Frankenstein's Monster voice): Starters (and fire) baaaaad.  Bullpen goooood. 

Specifically...

Sean Marshall - Good news: allowed 3 earned runs in 5 innings and left the game with the chance to win.  Bad news: WHIP was 1.8 that game.  Not a terrible outing for a #5 pitcher.  I know Rob expressed a different viewpoint, but I think he overreacted a little.  A team's 5th pitcher - be it the guy pitching for the Yankees or the Pirates - tends to suck.  Marshall very well may be better than most of those #5 guys and one outing in which he barely left with a lead will not even remotely indicate if he's going to be successful.  I need a much larger sample size.

Carlos Zambrano - Good news: 7 innings pitched.  Bad news: 7 earned runs.  Good news: 7 strikeouts.  Bad news: 7 earned runs.  I don't know what it is about Carlos, but when he loses he tends to get beaten up.  He rarely loses a game 3 to 2.  I didn't get to see this game, but I'd guess by the strikeouts that his problem wasn't velocity.  Was it location/lack of movement? 

Ryan Dempster - Good news: 6 innings pitched.  Bad news: they were mediocre.  4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 4 earned runs were the result of his 103 pitch effort.  Our second richest pitcher needs to improve on that.

Aaron Heilman - 3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 3.00 ERA.  Heilman blew a save opportunity (although losing a lead in the 6th inning is blowing a save the cheap way), won a game, and was mostly effective.  Let's just face it - the first game was not the Cubs' to win.

Neil Cotts - 0.1 IP, 1 H, 2 BB.  Let's just be honest.  Cotts is on the Piniella shit list.  Aubrey Huff once told a story about Lou following him into the clubhouse after a game, red-faced and ranting, dogging him in the showers, screaming at the top of his lungs because Huffy screwed up.  Why do I have a feeling that Cotts has experienced something similar to that?  I just think that Piniella needs to put him out there on the mound and leave him to bail out the Cubs or get beaten up by their opponents.  Seriously, the next time Cotts comes in and walks the first batter he faces, Lou needs to leave him out there to bail himself out.

Dave Patton - 0.2 IP, 1 H, 2BB, 2 ER, 27.00 ERA.  (Correct me please if I screwed up the ERA calculation.)  The General had a rough one in the first game of the series. 

Angel Guzman - 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K, 4.50 ERA.  Guzman along with the entire Cubs bullpen got slammed in the first game, but he got the job done in Game Three. 

Luis Vizcaino - 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K, 0.00 ERA.  Go figure - Vizcaino has yet to allow an earned run this year.  Isn't he washed up?

Carlos Marmol - 2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 4.50 ERA.  Marmol killed it in Game Two, but in the third game Lou went to the well once too often and it cost him.  Carlos is not a two innings-pitched reliever.  Sorry.  He just can't do it.

Kevin Gregg - 2 IP, 2 K, 0 ER, 0.00 ERA.  This guy pretty well may have lost the closer's role, but he saved the day on Saturday.  I think Gregg will still have the gig next week ... but he's right behind Neal Cotts on that list. 

Conclusions
Good, timely hitting - check.
Good, effective starting pitching - meh.
Quality relieving - minus game one, check.
Cubs win 2 of 3, and are now in first place.  Eat it, St. Louis.

Current Record: 7-4
Position in the NL Central: 1st Place, tied with St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 158-4
Worst Possible Record: 7-155
On Pace For: 103-59
Magic Number: 151 courtesy of Cubsmagicnumber.com

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