Hey guys, how 'bout that Ben?!?!? What a kid!! Congratulations, yarbage!
Hopefully Ben will see more of that Crimson Tide onesie than his Cubs outfit, because winning is fun. And speaking of winning (which we... ya know, won), last night's game reminded me of a mindset I had back in 2008.
(I know this seems like an awful tangent but bear with me. OK, here goes.)
Going into the NLDS in 2008 I was cautiously optimistic, which is really to say I was 100% cautious. I realized our team proved itself as the best in the National League over the course of a regular season, but I remembered the cat-poopish taste left in my mouth by our brief 2007 playoff experience. Winning a game in the division series is no small feat, and when a baseball series is best of five, you've really gotta win game one.
So the main thought on my mind was, "Until we win a game I will make a minimal emotional investment in these playoffs." Turns out we didn't win a game, so now I'm convinced: even if we were to win 105 games in the regular season before our next playoff run, I'd still be skeptical until we managed to snag that first W.
This is essentially the way I've been handling Aramis Ramirez' struggles this year. It was sad to see Aramis go so quickly, I thought, but after hitting under .200 for a few months, I decided it would be best to completely abandon hope until he did something -- ANYTHING -- to prove he wasn't a complete waste of space this year (and $16 million or so next year, thank you player option).
Call me crazy, and I know it's just one game. But hitting two home runs is definitely a start. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Aramis is now slugging .520 over his 14 games in June and July.
Last night's game was cool for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Marmol's striking out all FIVE batters he faced. The contest gave Carlos Silva his ninth win of the season, too. But if Aramis Ramirez can somehow turn one good night in the desert into a solid second-half, that'd be the coolest thing by far.
Regarding the title: when's the last time five different Cubs recorded an RBI in a game? I admit, there's a good chance I haven't been playing close enough attention and it happened, like, two days ago, but really when's the last time this team scored five runs, much less had five different guys do it?
On Monday, the Cubs' "five guys" were Kosuke Fukudome (lead-off dinger), Mike Fontenot (pinch-hit single), Alfonso Soriano (pinch-hit two-run bomb), Geovany Soto (3-for-4, two runs and two RBIs) and Starlin Castro (1-for-4 with a two-run triple).
Speaking of which, guess which catcher leads MLB (as in, ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL) in offensive production according to wOBA? Hint: he's a Cub, and it's not Koyie Hill. Having said that, let's keep splitting up the ABs, shall we? Gosh darn it, Lou.
Tom Gorzelanny started for the Cubs, and did not have very good control of the strike zone, allowing six walks over five innings. I blame The Organization for this. Much in the same way that Jeff Samardzija's development could not have been handled worse by the dudes upstairs (starter! reliever! starter! reliever! relief starter! closer! ham sandwich!), it's gotta be tough for a creature of habit to adjust from starting to relieving to starting again, and doing so while facing major league hitters. If it were my organization and I had six starters, I'd send whoever had options down to Iowa to stay stretched out. Heck, maybe he could even work on his fundamentals and pitch mix in relatively meaningless games, and improve even. But that makes way too much sense, obviously.
Lou used five relievers to get the win. James Russell performed well as a LOOGY, going one-for-one against his assigned hitter, while Andrew Cashner was less successful, allowing three base runners to reach while recording just one out. Beyond those two, however: Justin Berg, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out eight of their eleven batters faced, with Marmol striking out the side in the ninth inning. Super.
I was unfortunate enough to have tickets to Friday's 12-0 blowout at the hands of the Reds, the second time in just over two weeks I attended a 12-0 loss. This means I've seen firsthand the Cubs' two worst losses of the season (didn't it feel great to lose by only 11 on Sunday, which you might recall matched the scoring disparity in their Opening Day 16-5 loss which, it turns out, was a harbinger of the season to come rather than a mere aberration?). The last two times I've been to Wrigley, the other teams have scored 24 runs on 24 hits while the Cubs managed zero runs on five hits. The Cubs sprinkled in three errors to their opponents' none just for good measure.
It's difficult to measure the depths of the Cubs' woes here at the halfway point of the season. Saturday's win put them on pace for a 70-win season. Sunday's 14-3 pounding was a fantastically appropriate way to finish another craptastically awful week in which they managed to lose another series to the Pirates and lose three of four to the first-place Reds while getting outscored by Dusty's squad by 22 runs.
You know, even after the Reds hit line drives and moonshots all over Wrigley, the Cubs' pitching remains the sixth-best in the NL. But their record can of course be traced to an offense that is 14th of 16 in the league, and to their .243 average with runners in scoring position. They left 17 guys on base Saturday in a nine-inning game. Except they didn't even bat in the ninth, so that's over two guys stranded per inning. Their ability to ruin scoring chances would be impressive if it weren't so soul-crushing and painfully boring to watch.
Ryno of the Week: While his average has dipped to .280 in June and July, Tyler Colvin continues to be one of the most productive members of the offense. If you extrapolate his stats to the standard 500 at-bats, he would have 33 home runs and 89 RBI. He needs to be more selective and learn to hit the breaking ball, but this kid's got raw talent and those skills come with time.
Oak Park native Brian Schlitter had a chance to get the award after his major league career began with two scoreless outings against the Pirates. But Schlitter, who was acquired for Scott Eyre back in 2008, allowed five earned runs in just a third of an inning in Friday's disastrous seventh inning, inflating his ERA to 15.00.
Goat of the Week: On Friday morning, Jeff Stevens' ERA was 2.76; now it's 5.71 and he's in the minors.
Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Andrew Cashner
Apologies for the intense lateness of this. Blame me for not EMailing Mike to fill in until around 7AM yesterday morning, and for not appropriately asking him to get in touch with AJ or Peter if he couldn't do the jorb.
Ignoring yesterday's extra inning loss, let's just quickly jump into what the Cubs are facing.
Friday, July 2nd - Bronson Arroyo vs. Ryan Dempster
Bronson Arroyo, who spends his spare time working on the set of Cheech and Chong movies, is a decent and reliable middling starter. He's again on pace for about 15 wins, which is pretty standard for him, and a mid 4's ERA, which is about his average.
He's facing Ryan Dempster today, a pitcher who's a lot better than his 6 wins. Unfortunately, Clownsevelt pitches for the Cubs... so he'll be lucky to finish the year with more than 10.
Saturday, July 3rd - Randy Wells vs. Johnny Cueto
Cueto is 24 years old. He's on pace to win 16, to strike out 150 to only 60 walks, and he's a pretty immense talent. Shame he pitches for Dusty Baker, who beats his pitching arm like it's a naughty schoolboy.
Cueto faces Randy Wells, who is quickly proving to be a one-year-wonder for the Cubs. Who knows -- maybe Randy will bounce back again someday from this mediocre season, but at present he's barely a 5th starter at the most.
Sunday, July 4th - Ted Lilly vs. Mike Leake
Man, those Reds and their young pitchers! Sunday's starter is Mike Leake, a guy who's 5-1 with a 3.30 ERA. Oh, and he's a 22-year-old rookie. Luckily for the Cubs, he pitches righty so they have a decent chance of beating him.
Ted Lilly, meanwhile, continues the swansong of his career in Chicago. Will Sunday be his final game in a Cubs uniform?
Blah blah blah, firesale, blah blah blah? Yadda yackity firesale soon?
Etc., Cubs suck, blerg, firesale, ergo yuck.
Did you hear about the Cubs game? The starter posted a quality start, the bullpen gave up another run or so, and the offense was terrible. Weird, huh?
The Cubs easily should have lost yesterday's game, as their pitchers allowed 16 hits, while the offense could only manage to collect five of their own. But somehow, they found themselves down only two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and just one out recorded in the inning.
Red reliever Nick Masset managed to get two strikes on Tyler Colvin, the second coming on a tight curve thrown up and in that Tyler refused to swing at. But rather than go back to the off-speed out of the zone, Masset threw a 93mph sinker in the middle of the zone, which Colvin managed to rap into right to score Theriot and Castro, and tie the game.
Things would get better before they got worse: a single from Mike Fontenot in the next at-bat put runners on the corners with one out. But then, the "worse" part, as DP Lee came back from the dead to end the threat on a double play. Ihatewhenmajorleaguerscan'tscorerunnersfromthirdwithlessthantwoouts!!!!!
And then the Cubs lost. So, that's what happened!
Ted Lilly was his usual self last night: he challenged Pirates hitters, gave up a home run and a walk, struck out a handful, topped out at about 86 mph on the heater, and went seven innings. And this time, he even won the game. Bravo, Theodore.
Not that the Cub offense really did all that much to get him the W, of course. But Alfonso "Streaky McStreakerson" Soriano is back into "hot mode," and hit two homers last night, which turned out to be enough to get Lilly the favorable decision. Also, kudos to Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol for their shutdown innings in relief. Each of their ERAs remains just a touch above 2.00.
Also of note: as a team, the Cubs threw 93 of their 127 pitches for strikes last night, a 73% ratio.
As far as positive offensive performances beyond Soriano's, Koyie Hill went 2-for-3 with two doubles, and Starlin Castro went 1-for-1, doubling in his only at-bat (walked intentionally and brought in a run with a sac fly in his other plate appearances).
Cubs win! Yippee skippy. What's more (less?), they play again in two hours. Go Cubs!
Dear Goat Readers:
It has come to our attention -- despite our best efforts at total denial -- that the 2010 Chicago Cubs, despite their massive salaries and high expectations, are a steaming pile of crap.
As July is just around the corner, it's totally reasonable to expect Jim Hendry to fire up his ol' cell phone, duct-tape it to his head, and work non-stop to unload the numerous disappointments on teams too dumb -- or too desperate -- to say no.
As we've highlighted in other posts, the following players are likely candidates for trade -- assuming any team will take their bloated salaries:
SS Ryan Theriot - Sure, he'll give you a .280-.300 AVG most years, and he steals a decent amount of bases, but do you really want your team's shortstop to be a guy with middling defense and no power whatsoever? No? Me neither, but with a little bit of luck, some other teams feel differently.
And remember -- before you decide to fellate Theriot, assuming anybody would at this point, the dude's got a slugging percentage of .307 and an OPS of .628. Unload him!
1B Derrek Lee - He has a no trade clause, a big salary, and a batting average that only Dave Kingman could be proud of, but I think he should be on the block. All Jim Hendry has to do is pull him aside and say, basically, "we are not re-signing you, but we can try to trade you to a competitive team -- and who knows, if you do well, maybe they'll extend you." If Lee knows his time in Chicago is ending, he may agree to something like that. The hard part will be finding any team willing to take him.
2B Mike Fontenot - He's a journeyman middle infielder who could be a servicable backup on any number of competitive teams. Hell, trade him to the Red Sox or the Yankees -- they love their scrappy white guys.
3B Aramis Ramirez - He has a big contract and this is an opt-out year. But, as Rob observed, A-Ram would have to be about as stupid as Bam-Bam to vie for free agency in a season where he's batting .173 into July! The Cubs would have to eat a considerable amount of his salary -- probably the remainder of 2010's, and maybe even up to half of his salary for 2011, which I'm guesstimating to be in the $7 million range.
LF Alfonso Soriano - Ah yes. The White Sox had The Big Hurt in Frank Thomas, the Mariners had the Big Unit in Randy Johnson, and the Cubs have The Big Albatross in Soriano.
At this point, Sori's numbers aren't so bad -- he's on pace to play in more than 150 games, to hit nearly 50 doubles, 4 triples, nearly 30 homeruns, 80+ RBI, and his OPS is .910. The only problem is that he's making 19 million this year, and he's going to earn roughly that much money for the next four seasons. How the hell do the Cubs trade a guy who is still owed more than $70 million?
RF Kosuke Fukudome - He has one year remaining after this season, in which he will earn around 12 million dollars. Stat-hounds everywhere will tell you that the Cubs are paying him appropriately. Realists who watch the games and have even the smallest semblance of how reality works will tell you that he's been a tremendous, heaping disappointment. But -- if the Cubs will eat half his salary in 2011, who knows, maybe somebody will take him.
SP Ryan Dempster - He has two years left on his current contract. At this point, he's actually pretty much earned his wage. But based on his age, that probably won't be the case as he transitions from Year Three to Year Four. Therefore, the Cubs should swing a deal for him while he might actually be worth something.
SP Carlos Silva - With the Mariners already eating a good portion of his salary, and with one year remaining on his present contract, and with Carlos pitching better than he ever has in his entire career, this might be the ideal time to unload him on a team needing a starter.
SP Ted Lilly - I'll be sad to see the best free agent acquisition of my lifetime traded away, but why would Lilly come back next year? Could the Cubs even afford him? Despite his crappy record -- 3-6 -- Lilly surely has some value right now.
SP Carlos Zambrano - Alfonso Soriano's Albatross-in-Crime. Who knew that Carlos would not only remain an immature asshole, but at the still-young age of 29 he'd lose the talent which justified his insanity? If the Cubs can find any team willing to roll the dice on him, and if he'd be willing to approve a trade, this needs to happen.
Realistically speaking, Theriot, Fontenot, Silva, Dempster, and Lilly are all capable of finding homes without the Cubs needing to pay for parts of their salaries. At the same time, Lee, Fukudome, and Ramirez would require some financial sacrifice to deal, and Soriano and Zambrano are probably untradeable.
All that said, I was originally going to suggest likely teams for whom each player might fit some needs, but I think I'd rather leave it up to you guys to make suggestions.
So -- what teams would take these jabrones, and how much might they be willing to pay for them? I leave it to you.
It's time for a change in the Cubs' dugout. It's not that they need to "inject life" into the clubhouse, as they always say; this team was DOA when the season began. It's also not a desire to see Lou Piniella punished or called out. In fact, I think Lou deserves the opportunity to resign. But the point is, he's not coming back next year, and the second half of the season will be as pointless as the first if he's still at the helm.
Wave the white flag, Jim Hendry. I know, it's embarrassing. The third highest payroll in the majors yet only a half game better than the Royals. It's bad. It's pathetic. But what's worse: yelling "Charge!" to your troops and sending them to certain defeat, or admitting that it's time to reorganize and regroup before the next battle?
I personally feel that Ryne Sandberg should get a chance to be the next Cubs' manager, whether it be today or starting in November. The organization gave him a chance to prove that he was serious about the whole managing thing back in 2007, and now he's in Iowa. He's going to get a shot with a major league team, and soon. While he certainly wasn't management material back in his playing days, he and those around him acknowledge that he's a much different person now. He knows how to communicate, how to lead, and how to work with young players. The Cubs' 2011 roster will include Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Geovany Soto, Andrew Cashner and other youngsters, making it the perfect time to give Ryno a shot.
By making the change now, Hendry can give Sandberg a chance to get his feet wet in a virtually pressure-free situation. This team's cooked, anyways. Will anyone care if he goes 30-50 the rest of the way? You could argue that hiring him in the offseason gives him a clean slate, a fresh start. But there's pressure with every new season, and high (if unjustified) hopes with each Opening Day.
And this way, Ryno will have a three-month head start on evaluating the Cubs' talent, their strengths and weaknesses. He can play an integral role in forming the team's offseason plan rather than stepping in in November with more knowledge about dining out in Des Moines than which trades or free agents the Cubs should pursue.
We knew back in March the sun could be setting on the current era. The sun shone through a window of opportunity over the past few years, but aging veterans and a decimated bullpen have brought the team to a turning point. Turn the corner, Jim Hendry. It's time for the native son to rise to his dream job. Give Ryno a chance, and do it now.
Three points, plus a link:
1) Our offense sucks. Who knew?
2) Grabow back to the DL. Thank the Lord for that balky knee -- and maybe it is the knee that's been causing him to pitch poorly this season, but if you look at his numbers historically (specifically walks and hits allowed regardless of handedness of batters faced, plus lack of strikeouts), then you shouldn't be surprised to see him pitching this way even if he had a clean bill of health.
3) As for Randy Wells sucking: lately, despite maintaining a good K/BB ratio, Wells has been giving up too many hits. So I liked last night's strategy of throwing more balls outside the zone; even if it led to a few more walks, at least it was something new. And in the end, the guy's line was pretty darn good: 6 IP, 3 H, 6 K, 1 ER (and yes, four walks).
Link) Last night, Cubs fans were introduced to Brian Schlitter -- well, unless of course the fan in question was already a regular GROTA reader, because if that were the case, they'd already know who the kid is! That's because Former GROTA Contributor Kyle (now with the Tribune, I do believe) interviewed Schlitter for a GROTA article not too long ago. It's worth another read now that Brian has pitched in Wrigley: http://www.goatriders.org/brian-schlitter-chicago-cubs-minor-league
The Pittsburgh Pirates are 8-1 versus the Chicago Cubs this year. They are 17-49 versus the rest of the league. It's been that kind of season for the Pirates, and of course the Cubs as the Buccos come into Wrigley Field for this weekday set. The Cubs are coming home after losing 2 of 3 a few miles to the south of Wrigley (Hey! I predicted that!), while the Pirates have been struggling as well, even moreso than the Cubs. They've got losing streaks of 12 and 6 sandwiched around 2 wins in their last 20 games. The only real reason for optimism in Pittsburgh is that their penny-pinching ownership finally gave the green light to call up blue-chip prospect Pedro Alvarez. Despite being more than ready, and despite incumbent 3B Andy LaRoche sucking out loud this year, Alvarez stayed in AAA Indianapolis until there was no chance he could head to arbitration a year early and get a bigger contract that he, you know, actually earned. He's off to a slow start, but that will change as long as everyone's patient with him.
Monday - Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21)
It's time to stop sugarcoating it, Randy Wells has flat out not been good for the majority of this year. I'm not sure if it's a sophomore slump, or if the league now has a good book on his assortment of non-overwhelming stuff, or exactly what - but the results have been brutal this year. His last start in Seattle was no exception as he could never get going, and gave up 10 hits and 6 runs in 6 innings. Maholm was even worse in his last start. He gave up 7 hits and 5 runs in just 1 inning - a career low. Besides that blip, however, Maholm has been their best starter this year. The Cubs should be plenty familiar with him, as he beat the Cubs twice in 11 days in early May.
Tuesday - Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.60) vs. Theodore Lilly (2-6, 3.28)
Karstens' picture would be in the baseball dictionary under the picture of "underwhelming back of the rotation righty" if such a dictionary actually existed. He's a former Yankees farmhand who's now 28, and really a "what you see is what you get" finished product. And what he is isn't all that exciting. Last time out he allowed 8 runs in 5 1/3 innings of work against Texas. Lilly gave the Cubs 6 solid innings last Thursday against the Mariners, but didnt figure in the decision as that game went 13 innings before the Cubs were able to eke one out. With the Cubs being dreadful, the rumor mill has started to grumble where Lilly is concerned, and there are reports circulating that the Mets might be interested in the Free Agent to-be.
Wednesday - Brad Lincoln (0-2, 6.00) vs. Tom Gorzellany (2-5, 3.41)
The matinee on Wednesday will be an interesting pitching matchup. Lincoln was drafted 4th overall in the 2006 MLB draft and promptly got hurt. He needed Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his entire 2007 season. He was drafted 3 spots before Clayton Kershaw, 6 spots in front of Tim Lincecum, and also in front of Tyler Colvin, the Cubs first round pick that season. He finally made his big league debut this year, and will be making his 5th MLB start against the Cubs. He's had 2 awful starts and 2 just "OK" ones thus far. Hard to say what he'll do on Wednesday - maybe he'll go ahead and throw a no-hitter. Gorzo will be making his first start since May 26th, filling in for the now "restricted" Carlos Zambrano. Honestly - I'd rather see Gorzo pitch than Z right now. I'm sick of Zambrano, I'm sick of his antics and I wish he'd just go the fuck away for a while. And this is coming from one of Z's biggest fans over the past 8 years.
So..if you're like me and still holding out some hope that the Cubs can get their shit together and make a little run - this series would be a nice spot to start. We owe these guys, and we need a sweep. As miserable as we've been (and we've been awful), we're still just 8 1/2 games out. We're not out of the race. Let's get the sweep.