The All-Star Break is over. Thank God. Don't get me wrong, I love the All-Star game, but yesterday is the worst sports day of the year and I'm ready for the season to get going again. Even if it means I have to get frustrated consistently by the 2010 version of the Cubbies. The Cubs start the 2nd half of the season with a 10-game homestand (the longest of the season), and if they don't make serious progress in these first few games of the homestand, it will be time to throw in the towel - that is, if you haven't done so already. Up first is 4 games against the defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils themselves have had a disappointing season (not near as much as the Cubs, however), and currently sit 4.5 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. Now is a decent time to play them because even though they won 4 straight heading into the break, half of their IF is on the disabled list in the form of Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. We shall see what the Northsiders can do, if anything, to get the season going.
Thursday: Jamie Moyer (9-8, 4.51) vs Ryan Dempster (7-7, 3.61)
Moyer is still going strong at age 71. I, as well as others I'm sure, keep waiting for the wheels to come completely off..but he's having an alright year. That 4.51 ERA seems artificially high as he's had a couple games where he was just DESTROYED, such as his 1+ inning start out in Boston a few weeks back. However, for the most part he's been pretty good, even if he is a 6 inning pitcher at best. The Cubs usually have issues with soft-tossing/junkball lefties, I don't expect tonight to be any different. Hopefully the good Ryan Dempster shows up.
Friday: Joe Blanton (3-5, 6.41) vs. Ted Lilly (3-8, 4.08)
After a solid 2009, Blanton has gone back to being downright awful this year, and you could make the case that he's been one of the worst starters in baseball this year. That disgusting ERA over 6 is nearly 2 and a half points higher than what it was in 2009, and he's given up 15 homerjobs in just 80 innings. On what should be a hot Friday afternoon at Wrigley, if the wind is blowing out, watch out. That goes the same for Ted Lilly, however. He's had some truly brutal outings as well (namely last Friday at Dodger Stadium), and I'm hoping he's not irrepairably hurting his trade value. Each start he makes, I wonder if it's the last one he'll make in a Cubs uniform.
Saturday: Cole Hamels (7-7, 3.78) vs. Randy Wells (4-7, 4.61)
For me, this is the most intriguing matchup of the 4-game set. A lot of that feeling is because I believe that both of the starting pitchers are better than their records and ERA's indicate. When he's on, Hamels is probably one of the 10 or 15 best pitchers in baseball, and after 2008, there seemed to be no doubt about that. But he regressed in 2009, and like the Phillies team itself, has been up and down in 2010. His last start before the break was a good one, as he shut out the Reds over 7 2/3. As a lefty (albeit with different stuff than Moyer), he's a good bet to cause the Cubs some issues.
Sunday: Roy Halladay (10-7, 2.18) vs. Tom Gorzellany (4-5, 3.16)
Coming into this season, you couldn't find a bigger Roy Halladay fan for fantasy purposes than me. Huge strikeout pitcher moving from the toughest division in the tougher league, going from a bad team to the defending champs. I thought it was reasonable that he might win 25 games. That's not likely to happen, although 20 shouldn't be out of reach. The Phillies have just blown too many games where Halladay has pitched well, and he's been the victim of poor offense a few times as well. A 10-7 mark is fairly pedestrian for a lights out pitcher like Roy.
I'm not sure what to expect from this series. I can't imagine us beating Halladay, and I have a sick feeling we're gonna make Jamie Moyer look like Tom Glavine in his prime tonight. Maybe a split? What do you guys think??
Starter Carlos Silva gave up a three-run bomb to James Loney in the first inning, and the game never really got much more interesting from there. Cubs lose!
A big "eff you" to the first base umpire, who appeared to have been paid off by Joe Torre before the game started. Every close play seemed to go against the Cubs, to the point that, according to someone I follow on Twitter, the entire Cub dugout deserved ejecting after the umpteenth bad call late in the game.
In the Shout Box, Sayers40 speculated that Carlos Silva was probably hurt, which is probably fact. I wish we had a manager with the balls/brains to 1) identify when players are hurt and 2) tell them they're not allowed to play through severe injuries (see: Ramirez, Aramis this year, Soriano, Alfonso last year).
And thus, the All-Star Break is upon us. Here are some stats to tide you over until someone else decides to write something:
Aramis Ramirez' post-DL, pre-Break numbers: .328/.381/.672 (1.053 OPS)
Starlin Castro, so far, in July: .265/.359/.441
and for the year: .270/.333/.383
(compare to Ryan Theriot: .278/.317/.313)
Tyler Colvin's slash line since June 1: .234/.274/.467
Kosuke Fukudome's slash line btwn June 1 and the Break in 2008: .233/.338/.357
Cubs starters, ranked by ERA: Gorzelanny, Silva, Dempster, Lilly, Wells(, Zambrano)
OK, that's enough for now.
Yesterday's turd of a game notwithstanding, the Cubs seemed to be playing a better brand of baseball this week. I speak mostly of the offense, which put up 39 runs in the week's first six games. They drew walks, came through with runners in scoring position and generally enabled us viewers to refrain from expecting the worst for at least a few days.
The pitching was middling, however, and cost them two losses including Friday's in which Ted Lilly took the Cubs out of the game early even though the Cubs would eventually score seven runs. Lilly has not exactly boosted his trade value in the last couple weeks, but the deadline remains nearly three weeks away. Speaking of a possible Lilly trade, word is that the Mets would hope to take on much of his remaining salary so that they could part with lesser talent. I hope Hendry wouldn't go this route--Lilly's salary comes off the payroll after this season anyways, so what good does a trade do if it doesn't net some decent prospects?
Ryno of the Week: Who was that man blasting home run after home run, looking generally comfortable at the plate and enjoying the long-overdue opportunity to look up at the scoreboard and see a batting average starting with a "2"? Aramis Ramirez had at least one hit and one run in every game this week except yesterday's, and clubbed at least one extra-base hit in five different games. He was 12-for-28 with four home runs and nine RBI. It was utterly fantastic.
Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd
Goat of the Week: As happy as I am to write A-Ram's name above, I'm quite disappointed to be doling out the negative hardware to Tyler Colvin. His production has dipped noticeably in the last month or so, and he struggled to the tune of 2-for-17 this week with five strikeouts. Hopefully he can find his way through this slump and improve upon his .263 average.
Dishonorable mention: Ted Lilly
OK, World Cup over, but Futures Game on now! Turn on ESPN to watch Brett Jackson, rising Cub star, who is starting in center field!
But I do owe you a recap, so, quickly: Tom Gorzelanny, super, with 7 K against just 1 BB in 6 IP. Hittingwise, Geo Soto went to town, posting a 3-for-4, including a home run and three ribs. Other players collecting multiple hits include Darlin' Starlin Castro, Derrek Lee, and The Resurgent Aramis Ramirez. That's Aramis' fifth or sixth consecutive mutli-hit game, IIRC.
With yet another home run in last night's game, Ramirez' post-DL OPS continues to climb above one. I'll have it updated after tonight's game (also on ESPN, FYI). But for now, Brett Jackson! (And eventually, Hak-Ju Lee at SS for the World team!)
Not exactly the outing you want to see from a pitcher your team is trying to trade. Or, you might say, exactly not the outing you want to see.
Ted Lilly didn't make it out of the fourth inning last night, allowing seven hits, two walks, and a home run, for a total of five earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. The home run was hit by Russell Martin, immediately after Lilly allowed a walk and a single.
The Cub offense showed up last night, putting up seven runs over the course of the game, including two in the ninth when Aramis Ramirez drove in Kosuke Fukudome on a triple, and was then brought home on a Marlon Byrd single. But it wasn't enough.
Gold stars go to Marlon Byrd, who went 4-for-5 on the night (all singles) with three RBI and a run scored; Tyler Colvin, who went 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and two walks; and Aramis Ramirez, who posted his fourth consecutive multi-hit game, going 3-for-4, with a walk to boot. Aramis ended up a home run short of the cycle, while scoring twice and driving in one run. His post-DL stint stats now look like this:
.333/.381/.628 (1.009 OPS), 10 R, 9 RBI, 4 HR
So much for my analysis a month ago, when I said Derrek Lee looked capable of a comeback while Aramis looked toast. The only defense I can offer up is that I wish Aramis spoke up sooner about his bum thumb. I guess athletes are supposed to tough it out, but Ramirez' at-bats have truly been as different as night and day pre- and post-DL. I'll try to take another look at each hitter's peripheral stats later on to figure out what the problem is.
In the meantime, as trade speculation continues, the Cubs continue to lose games. So that's too bad.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Cub starter goes quality, offense can't score enough runs, we lose a close one.
And now, the mitigating factors:
- Randy Wells was one pitch away from a super outing. He gave up six hits (a leadoff double, four singles, and a late, low, line-drive homer that barely made it out), walked one, and struck out seven. Whether it was bad mechanics, bad luck, or a combination of both, whatever was ailing Randy's ERA seems to have subsided.
- I promised you a guessing game in the title, so here goes. Check out these numbers, compiled over Mr. Mystery's last 47 at-bats:
.297 avg, .340 obp, .596 slg (i.e. .936 OPS), 4 HR in 47 AB
I know you know who it is, but still, that was fun, right? Of course, every time I look at Aramis' post-DL numbers, I wonder why he wasn't put on the DL earlier. Clearly, an Aramis Ramirez with one good thumb is a completely worthless hitter (see: April and May), so let's try to keep him healthy for the next season and a half, shall we?
- Kudos to the two Cubs who drove in runs last night. If you believe the numbers at Fangraphs, Geovany Soto is on pace for a more valuable season than his 2008 ROY campaign, and Alfonso Soriano has been worth $10.4 million in value over a replacement player thus far this season.
Randy Wells (4-6 4.67 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-4 3.02 ERA)
Well, that was easy. The Cubs pull out of Arizona with their first series win since 2003 and their first sweep since April of this year. To keep the streak alive, the Cubs turn to Randy Wells and hope he can build on his performance against Cincy where he went into the 7th before allowing a hit.
Kershaw is NOT the type of lefty that seems to mess with the Cubs. In fact, he is nowhere near "crafty" but uses gasoline and hard moving stuff to get by (and a high strikeout rate evidenced by his K per IP in his last 3). That being said, he has a win in his only start against the Cubs this year.
Who's Hot- I never thought I would get to say this during this season, but: Aramis Ramirez. In his last three games he is 5-12 with 3 HR and 7 RBI. One can only hope that his thumb is in good shape and he's ready to resume his career norms for the rest of the season.
Who's Not- All-Star Snubs. Carlos Marmol is a filthy man. So filthy that he has been overlooked on the All-Star Roster. Marmol is piling up strikeouts like there is going to be a shortage with a total of 77 in 40.2 IP. In terms of K/9 that is a 17.04 rate. For a bit of reference, the best rate out there for a full season was Eric Gagne in 2003 with a 14.98. Yep. No pitcher that has pitched over 50 IP has ever cracked even above 15 K/9. Marmol: Amazing.
Hopefully "good" Wells shows up tonight and we at least have a pitchers duel. I have a strange feeling that the momentum being on our side could make this trip not completely suck, starting with tonight. Let's hope my gut is right.
Hot on the heels of a road trip sweep, the Cubs head to Los Angeles to do battle with their '08 playoff rivals in the final four game set before the All Star Break.
Since Cubbie Cynicism is frowned upon (nobody wants to date Debbie Downer, right?), let's look at the recent positives of the team.
- They've had three straight wins, in which the Cubs' offense averaged nearly 8 runs a game.
- Aramis Ramirez is doing his best Frampton impression, having come alive to the tune of 3 homeruns and 7 RBI in his last 5 games.
- annnnd that's about it. Damn.
Now, I know that some criticism has continued to be levied, here and abroad, at Geovany Soto. My question is -- why? There is only one catcher in all of baseball with a better OPS -- Miguel Olivo, who's having a career year.
Soto, meanwhile, is on pace for nearly 30 doubles, 20 homers, and 90 walks. Not bad. More impressive, though, is the fact that only 49% of ESPN Fantasy team owners have him. Sounds like a reasonable grab, folks.
Anwyay, on with the Preview.
Thursday, July 8th - Randy Wells (4-6 4.67 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-4 3.02 ERA)
Sayers wants you to know -- Randy Wells is not a one-year wonder. But while Wells may someday have another good season, his 2010 looks pretty wasted. So much for the mentorship of Greg Maddux.
Actually, come to think of it, I can't name a single pitcher who was mentored by Maddux and went on to have a ton of success. Jason Marquis? Sucks. Sean Marshall? Bullpen journeyman. Randy Wells? Lookin' awful. With all due respect to my Goat Riding compatriot, I haven't seen anything from Wells at this point that I didn't see from Jeremi Gonzalez, Kevin Foster, and other one (or two)-year wonders.
His opponent is 22 years old, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and is on pace for 15 wins and a 3.02 ERA. And unlike Randy Wells, he is certifiably not a one year wonder -- he pitched 171 innings in 2009, striking out 185 and winning only 8 while posting a 2.79 ERA. Oh -- did I mention he's a lefty?
Friday, July 9th - Ted Lilly (3-7 3.76 ERA) vs. Chad Billingsley (6-4 4.06 ERA)
Ted Lilly's long career is an improbable -- and fascinating -- one. He was drafted in the 23rd round by the Dodgers, but he never pitched a game for them, instead getting his break in Montreal in 1999. He was then dealt to the New York Yankees, where he pitched for two and a half seasons, before being traded to Oakland where he had his first somewhat successful season -- going 12-10 with a 4.34 ERA in 2003.
Lilly's journey then continued onward to Toronto, where he pitched decently for 3 seasons before getting into a fist fight with his manager in 2006, resulting in his free agent jaunt to Chicago. This year aside, his time at Wrigley has been pretty freaking awesome.
So, it'll be somewhat sad when Lilly leaves, whether it's at the end of the season or in a few weeks. Regardless of what happens, though, I hope the Cubs do not pursue to resign him. Lilly's just a bit too old, and the Cubs desperately need to get as young as they can, as fast as they can.
Speaking of young pitchers, Lilly faces Chad Billingsley tomorrow. For some reason, it feels as though Billingsley has been around forever, but he's only 25. He's another of LA's young, high strike-out pitchers, having SO'd nearly 1 batter an inning since 2007.
Saturday, July 10th - Tom Gorzelanny (3-5 3.31 ERA) vs. John Ely (4-6 4.07 ERA)
Tom Gorzelanny -- or Sloth, as we like to call him -- is better than his 3-5 record conveys. He struggled a little in his second game back to the rotation, although he beat Arizona.
He faces another of LA's young arms -- John Ely, a 24-year-old rookie, is "struggling" with a 4-6 record and a 4.07 ERA in his junior effort. While I don't know that Ely will ever be better than a #3 or #4-type pitcher, I'm impressed by LA's ridiculous abundance of young talent.
Sunday, July 11th - Carlos Silva (9-2 2.96 ERA) vs. Vincent Padilla (3-2 4.72 ERA)
Carlos Silva is wasting the best year of his career in Chicago. I can only hope that the Cubs manage to deal him for some younger talent in the next few weeks, or otherwise his great year is pretty well wasted. Consider this -- he's presently on pace to win more games than he did in 2007-2009 combined. Crazy.
He faces one of the few pitchers on the Dodgers who is old enough to grow facial hair -- 32 year old Vince Padilla, who's 3-2 record and 4.72 ERA leave him as the most vulnerable Dodger, making Sunday's game the most likely Cubs victory.
The Cubs are the inverse of the Dodgers -- LA is 46-38; Chicago is 38-47. As a realist, I'm not exactly expecting the Cubs to dominate while on the road -- or at home, for that matter -- and so I would expect the Cubs to be lucky with a series split.
As for the other issues, particularly pertaining to how it may be "early" to feel so cynical, allow me to justify this blog's position on things.
We all know that Lou Piniella is a goner, and so is Jim Hendry. Most of us liked Lou quite a bit, but it's been clear for about a full year now that the Cubs wouldn't win the World Series on his watch. Same thing with Hendry -- he did a few things well, but those things failed to make up for his numerous faults.
So when we blog about the season being over -- well, that's just reality -- and our frustration at the lack of movement going on in the clubhouse, it's only because we know from ample experience just how hard it will be for the Cubs to get back on track with the next crew of managers.
It is key, then, that Jim Hendry successfully unload the overpriced veterans who won't be able to help the team anyway three years from now, when they might be competitive again.
It's also important that the next GM and manager both be competent winners, guys who have that extra little drive to get things accomplished on and off the field.
So, we're all a little worried about Tom Ricketts screwing it up. What if he hires another Jim Hendry-type who's so bad at assessing talent that he'd vote for the fat chick at an America's Next Top Model competition? What if the next bumbling GM hires a manager who makes Dusty Baker look like a genius savant?
If the next group of managers are as incompetent as the last dozen or so groups of managers -- and really, it's all been downhill since Dallas Green was chased out of town -- then, as Cub fans, we're looking at another 3 to 5 years of mediocrity before Ricketts rolls the dice again with potentially another batch of bumbling idiots.
So ... we're probably more nervous than we are cynical. We've been to this dance before, and odds are, we'll be there agian ... sooner than we'd like.
When an offense fails to score runs, fans usually start to demand change, and they tend to do so pretty quickly. And yes, we know it's a 162-game season, but can you blame us? We want to win, and we want to win now.
Personally, I'd say this year's most perplexing issue for the offense has been Lou's insistence on hitting Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the 3- and 4-holes, respectively, despite each of their thoroughly failtastic performances at the plate this season. (Along the same lines, why does Nady keep hitting 4th or 5th? Pardon me, I digress.)
So right, Lee and Ramirez have been terrible. And along with the occasional call for a straight-up benching (yes, I'm guilty of that), the most popular request in response had been to simply move those two down in the order.
Which may have made us feel better, I guess. But the fact has always been this: so long as Derrek and Aramis are struggling, this entire offense will continue to struggle. You can't stash these guys in the 7 and 8 spots, and you can't simply bench them. The Cubs need them if they plan on scoring any respectable number of runs this year.
Speaking of which (let the recap commence!!): last night's game, combined with Tuesday's matchup, marked the first time Aramis Ramirez has hit three home runs in two games since June 20th and 21st of 2008 against the White Sux. (June 20th was a walk off blast, and June 21st was the day the Cubs scored nine in the 4th... remember, when Fontenot was pinch-hit for in the same inning in which he hit a home run earlier? Those were the days.)
Starter Ryan Dempster did not have his best stuff, but he's a tough dude, and he managed to get through five innings anyway. And the 'pen stepped up, posting four scoreless innings, with Andrew Cashner putting up the most impressive line of the lot (five outs, three strikeouts, no walks, one hit).
It feels like it was only yesterday when I was complaining about the Cubs never having five guys drive in runs in the same game (which it was), and here they go and do it again. Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Ryan Dempster each nabbed one ribbie, while Starlin Castro drove in two for himself on a single. And Aramis Ramirez' home run was a three-run bomb.
So yeah, about Ramirez: Take heart, Cub fans, as it seems Aramis hasn't completely lost it yet. (The guy needs to learn when to take a frakkin' breather and let his hand heal, because when his thumb hurts he SUCKSSSSS, but whatever.) At the very least, we don't have to worry so much about that $16 million option for 2011 that AR will still likely exercise.
At best? Maybe there's a chance the Cubs haven't completely lost it either.
Ryan Dempster (6-7, 3.54 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-6, 4.74 ERA)
All aboard the Piano-back train, Aramis Ramirez looks like he has some sort of life. Rammy went yard twice last night and not shockingly, the Cubs won a game. I'm not saying this is a trend, nor a turning point... just an observation that it was nice to see him look like some semblence of his old self. Also, the Cubs are in line to get their first sweep since April (ew... just, ew).
Looking at the man on the rubber for the DBacks, Jackson has been quite inconsistent this season and is not the pitching savior Arizone expected. Much like his counterpart Scherzer that got traded to Detroit, Jackson has had control issues much of the season. That being said, he's also had flashes of brilliance such as the "Dusty Baker Special" no-hitter where he threw his arm off.
I won't bore you with too much outside of this: Let's get this sweep. Time to look like a respectable team for some part of this season.