Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Derrek Lee

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Week 19 awards: Helping the Reds' cause again

I know, it's sad that this is now the lens through which I view the Cubs season, but what can I say--they're in fifth place in the division and reached a nadir of 20 games below .500 in the middle of this past week before taking the final two games from the Cardinals. There are still other reasons to watch: to witness the development of youngsters like Castro and Colvin; to see if Zambrano can get his act together in the final two months; and to continue to monitor the carousel of rookie relievers who are essentially auditioning for spots in the bullpen next season, among others. But when it comes to the actual wins and losses, it doesn't get much better than beating the Cardinals, and the Cubs have now taken two series from the redbirds in the last three weeks.

The aforementioned bullpen nearly ruined what should have been a comfortable victory yesterday, but Marmol eventually nudged the door shut against a ragtag lineup consisting of several Cardinals back-ups. Though the game was a blowout early on, the Cubs ultimately needed pretty much all of their nine runs to hold off their rivals.

The Cubs swung the bats well throughout the week, scoring 37 runs while going 3-4 against two potential playoff teams with three of the losses being of the one-run variety, giving them 29 of those frustrating defeats on the season. Twenty-nine! Even more frustrating, the Cubs held a lead in all four of their losses.

Ryno of the Week: It was an abbreviated week for Derrek Lee as he was tending to his ill grandfather for a few days, but he returned with a vengeance by launching four home runs over the weekend. His four dingers match the highest total he's had in any month so far this season. Overall this week he was 5-for-10 with three runs and 4 RBI.

Honorable mentions: Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: When you fantasize about finally getting your shot in the major leagues, you definitely don't think your career will start the way Thomas Diamond's has. The 27-year-old lasted just four innings against St. Louis on Friday which was one inning more than he pitched against the Reds in his previous start, and he struck out just three guys in his last two starts after chalking up 10 Ks in his major league debut. His struggles cost him his spot in the rotation, as his next scheduled start will go to Casey Coleman; Diamond will move to the bullpen.

Dishonorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano, Randy Wells

Top Ten Lessons Learned in 2010

Goat Riders of the Apocalypse is not going so strong, lately.  But, GOOD LORD?  Can you blame us?

Even the most optimistic, blue sky Cub fans could not possibly enjoy what they are seeing on a daily basis?  Losers of 13 of the last 16?  As it happens, Hendry and Piniella are pretty much doing what I asked them to do earlier this week - treat the rest of this year as if it is Spring Training 2011.  It began when Derrek Lee and Lou himself removed themselves from the proceedings - neither of them are going to Mesa next spring.  We have brought up the freshest produce from the farm.

But, once again, it goes sour, because pretty much everyone we brought up has sucked so far.  It would have been nice to see Micah the Hoff hit a few quick welcome-back dongs, or a Marcos Mateo pitch lights-out.  It is early in our extended Spring Training, but it doesn't appear that any of our recent call-ups are going to help us anytime soon.  So, as was the case going into this season, it appears that most of the heavy lifting in 2011 will be done by the men currently on the roster, a roster, once again, that is last in the majors in one-run losses.

So what have we learned thus far in 2010?

10) Alfonso Soriano may not be the most overpriced sixth hitter in major league history - but then again, he might just be. 

As a longtime student of the intangible and the psychological, I understand why Hendry signed #12 back in 2007.  The interim owner gave him permission to spend whatever it took, and Alf was the premier free agent that winter.  Jim was convinced that the Cubs would win a World Series that year or next, and figured if we had, that people wouldn't care that the club would then owe Soriano $18 million a year for all perpetuity.  It was a crap shoot, and the first two years, Jim shot eights, but then last year, the dice came up seven, and now we're stuck with a number six hitter with degenerative legs, a miserable glove, and absolutely no knowledge of situational baseball.  For the next three years.

9) Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are the yin and yang of miserable free agent pitching judgement

A few years back, officials at two separate organizations took a look at two big, strong, tough Venezuelan guys named Carlos and decided that yes, these guys were Quality, they would eat innings, win games, and lead men.  It would be the wisest thing to sign them to long term contracts worth nearly 8 figures, because everyone knows the work ethic of South Americans is second to none.

Ahem.  So it was inevitable that a few years later, los dos Carloses would both be Cubs, serving as twin anchors, keeping us firmly tethered to the bottom, representing the main sunk costs to the most miserable team contract picture in MLB history.

The difference is: Silva the Hutt is a follower, and Z is a leader.  There is no way to reign in #38 with the Cubs, none.  He appears to respect nobody but himself, which is the very reason why it is going to be so painful when he inevitably moves on to the Yankees a couple of years from now and starts winning games again (hey, Kerry Wood?  How YOU doin'?)  #52, on the other hand, is a follower, and I honestly feel that in the right situation, with the right guidance from the right pitching coach and staff, that Silva could be poked, prodded, and coaxed in a useful direction.  However...

Cool 2010 is the death knell of the Larry Rothschild Era

Several of my knowledgeable friends, like the boys over at HJE have called for the head of Rothschild for years now.  I personally was torn.  For every Wood and Prior who caved in, a Dempster or Marmol seemed to rise up.  Maybe, I have always thought, Rothschild wasn't part of the problem.

But lately?  Outside of Dempster, Marmol, Marshall, the first three months of Silva and the occasional Gorzellany outing, Cubs pitching 2010 has been beyond dreadful.  Walks, mistakes, walks, mistakes.  A conveyor belt of arms have made their way back and forth between here and Des Moines. 

Here's my problem with Rothschild - these guys pitch well in Iowa, come here, get blasted, go back to Iowa, pitch well, come back, get blasted.  And it isn't just a function of the quality of the hitters.  It is the command that they seem to lose here.  Is it the pressure?  Shouldn't be any pressure, throwing for a fifth-place team.  And if it is, whose job is it to help these guys acclimate?  As I see it, he is taking good arms and turning them bad once they get here.

When the new manager arrives, he should be allowed to pick his own pitching coach.

7) Marmol is a major league closer

Speaking of Marmol, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities in 2010.  Yes, the team has the worst one-run record in baseball, but curiously enough, it isn't really the closer's fault.  Most of the games have gone the way yesterday's game went - we fall far behind, and either come back to within a run and fall short, or tie it up only to let one of our "middle" guys, usually Cashner, go blow it. 

The few saves Marmol has blown, his defense helped blow.  Which, speaking of:

6) Our defense utterly sucks

Our catcher is "offensive-minded", a euphemism for a guy who isn't Yadier Molina.  Our third baseman is getting old, frail, and losing what little utility he ever had.  Our shortstop is better than the man he replaced, yes, but is young and may or may not be a major league shortstop.  Our second basemen define 'suck', We got DeWitt because we thought he is better than Theriot, of course, the Dodgers think just the opposite.  Uh oh.  Our fancy hood ornament, DLee has had his worst fielding year.  Soriano has had an Epic Fail year in left.  Our slick fielding right fielder can't hit enough to play, and the guy who can hit in RF should be playing left field. 

5) Marlon Byrd is a nice player

Byrd does everything pretty well.  He is not and will never be an impact major league ballplayer, and his CF play is very average at best.  He is the beneficiary of the "Robbie Gould Syndrome", in which he is surrounded by badness, so his relative competence shines brighter in comparison.  He is a fourth outfielder on a championship team, and although he actually tries to provide the leadership this team so woefully lacks, he really doesn't have the oomph in his game to back it up.

Starlin Castro gets one of his 4 hits4) Starlin Castro is a major league hitter

The storybooks are full of great men who started off as middle
infielders who committed a ton of errors in the field, and were
converted to other positions so their teams would not lose their bat. 
Mickey Mantle comes immediately to mind, and Alf Soriano is a recent,
close-to-home example.  With Hak-Ju Lee in the low minors, there are
discussions that Lee will eventually be the SS, and Castro will play
2nd.  Or maybe 3rd, since the 24 year old DeWitt is on board, except
that DeWitt has 'utility guy' written all over him, and don't 3rd
basemen usually hit with more power?

It is easy to forget that Castro was born in 1990, and that he will gain
most of his strength in the next seven years.  He will never have
A-Roid power, but maybe Jeter power.  The most pleasant development of
2010 has been that, for once, we can believe the hype.  Starlin Castro
seems to be for real.

3) Here comes Adam Dunn

A couple of years ago, when it was late in the free-agent season
(this was the year we signed Milton Bradley early, remember) and Adam
Dunn still did not have a team.  The only substantial offer for a man
who had averaged 40 homers a year the previous five years was from the
godforesaken Nats, and human nature being what it is, there rose an
effort to find out what, if anything, was wrong with Dunn.

Rumors arose that Dunn did not like playing baseball much, that much of
the conversations that would arise when opposing players would stand on
first base next to the Big Donkey revolved around offseason hunting. 
Growing up, Dunn was a football player first, and teams perhaps
questioned his character when formulating contract offers for a
one-dimensional guy.

So, he has played nearly every day in Washington, has continued to hit
his 40 homers a year, and has weathered two trade deadlines.  You know
what?  The man would rather play football and shoot pheasants.  But he still hits and we are going to sign a first baseman this winter.

And just
our luck, watch us sign the guy and watch him age faster than the Nazi
mope in "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  In my gut, I see us going after
Adrian Gonzalez his off season, and ending up with Adam Dunn.  Because
Dunn has always been one of "Hendry's Guys", like the Marquis Du Suck
and Kosuke Fukudome, and we always seem to end up with Hendry's guys.

2) Since nobody seems to know what is going on, Hendry is staying, I guess

The inmates run the asylum at Wrigley Field.  As bad as the Cubs have performed, and for as much pressure that the General Manager of a team such as ours ought to be under, compounded by the fact that he has a known history of heart trouble, Jim Hendry looks pretty damn healthy.

Is he taking his statins and his red krill oil?  Maybe, but hey, why shouldn't he look healthy?  He has the greatest job in the world.  Where else in American business can you mess up, again and again, and nobody calls you on it?  Wall Street?  Well, yeah, but those guys always have the specter of the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission, not the high-falutin college football conference) breathing down their necks.  Lots of those guys jump off bridges, lock themselves in their garages with their Bentleys running, but not Jim Hendry.  His boss is a failed corporate attorney who doesn't know spit from shinola, who in turn works for a owner who is more concerned with piss troughs and gaudy neon signs than a winning ballclub.

There is only one man on earth who gets to play fantasy baseball for real, and lose all the time, and not get called on the carpet for it.  Until there is some accountability established in the Cubs' organization, what you see this year is what you will continue to get in the future.

1) 2011 is going to look a lot like 2010.

Soriano will play for the Cubs next year.  Ramirez will play for the Cubs next year.  Fukudome will sit on the bench and take the Cubs' money next year.  Byrd and Colvin and Castro and DeWitt and Soto will play for the Cubs next year.  Jim Hendry has no ability and no gumption to make a blockbuster trade involving young major league talent for impact major leaguers in return.  Could you see him somehow packaging Castro and Colvin in a trade for, say, Albert Pujols?  Maybe not Pujols, because a Cubs-Cardinals trade will NEVER happen, but something of that magnitude?  How about for Miggy Cabrera or Joe Mauer?  Young stars for a superstar?  Never happen.

As for the pitching, good lord.  While the positional outlook seems stale yet static, the pitching outlook is totally fluid, and utterly without direction.  We have a #2 starter, maybe a #4, a closer and a utility guy, a LOOGY who isn't really a LOOGY with a torn knee ligament, and about 20 other guys who have walked a lot of batters and given up a lot of late-game home runs.  You can't fix that.  The only thing you can do is throw a ton of money at it, and HOPE the guys you sign don't get injured or fat-and-sassy. 

And Ricketts is NOT going to spend a lot of money in the offseasons.  So forget about the Ol' Free Agent Injection.

Fans of the Chicago National League Ballclub have survived the past 102 years on one glorious element: hope.  Yep, the same hope that got our president elected, the same hope that is being frittered away by this same president each day.  Hope is perishable.

I ate whole platterfuls of Cubs hope as a kid, and into my early adulthood.  I confess to have spent good money on the all-you-can-eat hope buffet as recently as fall of 2008.  Nowadays, there is very little fresh hope in the steamer, most of it is discolored and spoiled, like the bananas Soriano and the Fukudome skirt steak.

Our third base prospect, Josh Vitters, is rehabbing.  The next great Korean hope is still years away.  Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the next big thing, but I can't figure out what that thing is supposed to be, unless he is supposed to be a Matt Karchner impersonator.  That's something he does quite well.

But hey, Castro went 4-for-5 yesterday.  Rookie of the Year, gotta be?  Right?

Gamecast (August 1, 2010) Cubs @ Rockies

As the calender changes to August, the Cubs find themselves trying to stave off a sweep at the hands of a good Rockies' club that was struggling before the Cubs came to town. Today marks the likely debut of Blake DeWitt. I haven't seen the lineups but I'd bet DeWitt is in there even against the LHP. Jeff Baker will likely be playing third base with Aramis resting his nagging thumb injury. The Cubs should conisder giving Carlos Gonzalez the Albert Pujols treatment.

Today's Matchup: Carlos Silva (107.2IP, 3.76ERA, 3.90xFIP) vs Jorge De La Rosa (43.2IP, 5.15ERA, 3.61xFIP)

Just a point about Carlos Silva. Much is made about his great control and it is the key reason why he has been effective when he's effective throughout his career; having said that, Silva's success this year has been due to his career best K rate. Silva's K rate has never been above 5 but this year, mostly because of the use of the change up, Silva's K rate is over 6. He likely is going to regress somewhat in this second half but he's been a pleasant surprise and while I don't totally expect it to keep up, he has shocked the bejesus out of me.

Who's Hot: He hasn't really been "hot" per se but did you catch that game tying jack that Derrek Lee hit last night? I think his next two months will see him lift his batting average over .270 and get him up to around 22 or so HR. The Cubs are not making the playoffs this year so I will spend time seeing if guys like Lee can regress to the mean (in a good way) the rest of the year. I still think he could be back in 2011 for one more year.

Who's Not: Aramis has really cooled off and it's pretty clear his thumb is bothering him again. They are sitting him down but I say just let him rest on the DL for 15 days again. Last time he did that, he turned into Barry Bonds on steroids for a few weeks.

Conclusion: Let's get an easy win today and give the bullpen (and especially Sean Marshall) a chance to get their bearings straight. DeLaRosa is no pushover, despite the ERA, so we'll see. Go Cubs!

In Defense of Derrek Lee

The last couple days have been pretty exciting around GROTA.  There’s been plenty of healthy debate on Derrek Lee which has been fun to read and many people have brought up some good and valid points.  However, there have been a few bold and assertive statements that have left me scratching my head.  I’d like to go through some of these criticisms of Lee and offer a rebuttal to some of these interesting assertions.


<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> And here we go… 


 “Do you see Derrek Lee holding someone accountable for their actions on or off the field?  Do you really see him get into Theriot's face for getting picked off base for the umpteenth time, or jumping down Baker's neck for not laying down a crucial bunt, or anything like that?”


· You’re right, I haven’t seen Derrek Lee get in anyone’s face…and to be honest, I’m not really sure I want to.  I don’t think it’s a good thing to get in someone’s face in front of television cameras and probably causes more issues than it cures.  I’d much rather something like that be handled in-house, like a professional…which even Rob admits that Derrek Lee is.  Now, does Derrek Lee have a chat with Theriot, Baker and the gang after these screw-ups?  I have no idea.  Like I’ve said before, there are 24 hours in a day, and I watch the Cubs for three of them.  I am not privy to any of the conversations that take place between Cubs players in the 21 remaining hours, and neither are any of us.  It seems that a lot of the Cubs players think of Derrek Lee as a leader, so it remains pretty plausible that there is some factor that we are not aware of.  Of course, this goes both ways, and Derrek Lee could be the biggest idiot ever who is completely incapable of leading a team…but I don’t think that is the case.  In either scenario, whether he pulls his teammates aside or not, it’s outrageously unfair to say that Derrek Lee isn’t a leader because we can’t see him during the games causing a scene and throwing a tantrum.  Derrek Lee has been described on all accounts as being a professional; it would be very fitting that his leadership style would match that characteristic; in-house, behind closed doors, and not through the media.


 


“Nah, just like McStiff, Lee wants to come in, put in his time, and go home.  He could care less about competing, about winning.”


· …okay??  First of all, I find it interesting that Rob would say Lee should be idolized for his “decency and professionalism” and then say he would just put in his time and go home.  It seems to be something a professional would not do, yet I digress…


· Again, I will say that NONE of us have any idea what the baseball habits of Derrek Lee are.  I have no idea when he shows up to the ballpark, I have no idea what time he leaves, I have no idea how much film he studies, I have no idea how many scouting reports he reads, I have no idea how many cuts he takes in the cage, I have no idea how many ground balls he takes…sensing the pattern?  He may do none of this; he may do all of it.  Until we know for sure, statements like “Lee wants to come in, put in his time, and go home” make me very uncomfortable, and I think it is very unfair to say that.  That being said, in his Chicago Cubs career, Lee has posted a slash line of .298/.371/.522 for an OPS of .893…with those numbers, I could honestly care less if you’re the last one to show up and the first one to leave.


· I also take issue with saying that Derrek Lee couldn’t care less about competing or winning….why?  Because he rejected trades to the Angels and Rangers?  First of all, the Angels are about as far out of first place as the Cubs, so let’s cut out that non-sense.  So does rejecting a trade to the first-place Texas Rangers mean that Lee does not care about winning?  Maybe…but you’ve got to jump over A LOT of reasoning to arrive at that conclusion.  Possible reasons for not accepting a deal to Texas include but are not limited to:  Lee is 34 years old with a family, perhaps he enjoys Chicago and doesn’t want to relocate them.  Maybe he wants to be a Chicago Cub and wants to stay and help win a championship (that CAN’T be the case though…it displays too many leadership qualities…).  Maybe he’s not exactly thrilled to be headed to Texas in July….doesn’t mean he’s not interested in winning or competing.  To jump immediately to that conclusion would be an irrational decision.


 


“I have thought that DP Lee has done nothing but go thru the motions. EXACTLY like Crime Dog did. He shows no heart and no hustle day in and day out. Can he field his position? Sure he can and in his sleep too. When was the last time he busted his ass down to first base? I can't think of ONE! He jumped on BigZ because Big Z gives a damn about winning and called his non hustling non caring butt on the carpet! GOOD for BigZ! It's too bad that more of the Cubs don't have the same "wanna win" attitude! I think Brenly got it exactly right..... This has been one dead ass team most of the year!”


· From watching Lee play, I have never been under the impression that he has been going through the motions.  It seems to me that he has always put forth a solid effort, but that may just be my bias.  As for the “heart and hustle” argument, and as I’ve previously posted, Lee was the recipient of the League’s “Heart and Hustle” Award voted on the MLB Alumni Association, last season, which is one of the seasons in which you questions his effort.


For the record, Lee also went for .306/.394/.579 for an OPS of .973 that season…which I don’t think you accomplish while “going through the motions”


· I hate to be “that guy”, but to be honest when was the last time you saw anyone bust his ass down the line these days??  The only guy I watch regularly who does this is Marlon Byrd.  So if we’re going to levy that criticism, let’s be sure to spread it out proportionately among Aramis Ramirez (who has taken some nice jaunts down the first base line himself) Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Ryan Theriot, etc…


 


 


· The only response I have to your Big Z reference is this; do you really want another Carlos Zambrano on this team?  Do you honestly think that would be a GOOD thing??  On that note, for some reason even though Zambrano has a much bigger contract than Lee, and has come NOWHERE CLOSE to living up to it the way Lee has, I almost feel that Lee takes more criticism.  Not to say that Zambrano doesn’t take his fair share, but to me it doesn’t seem proportionate.  The absolute LAST thing this team needs is another guy throwing tantrums like Zambrano.  That’s not a “wanna win” attitude, that’s being an infant.


 


· Bob Brenly is 100% right, this has been one dead ass team all year.  Why is this all Derrek Lee’s fault?  Sure he has to shoulder some of the blame because he’s not having a good season, but this is a team effort.  Again, we have to distribute blame proportionately.


 


“Once again Rob nails it. Please someone tell me one instance this year DP Lee wins a game. A walk-off ? Every must have RBI situation seems to end in a nothing.  Rally killer  RBI monster when we are up 5-1. Show me when you hit it.  Now you won't leave like a fungus”


· And let the beating of the dead horse commence…Derrek Lee has not had a walk-off, game-winning hit this year.  Neither has Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, Tyler Colvin, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker, or Mike Fontenot.  The Cubs have had three walk off hits this year; two by Ramirez and one by Fukudome.  Again, if you’re going to go after Lee for this let’s go after everyone else.


· I’ll be the first to agree with you that Derrek Lee is not having a good year, but I have to be honest, I’m incredibly sick of the notion that Derrek Lee is not a “clutch hitter” (even though I’m not a big fan of clutch statistics to begin with, but that’s a whole other thing…).  Let’s take a look at what Derrek Lee has done in “clutch situations” in his seven-year Cubs career.


o   In “late and close” situations:  .312/.402/.547 .949 OPS


o   In tie games: .291/.383/.497 .880 OPS


o   Within one run: .292/.382/.504 886 OPS


o   Runners in Scoring Position: .309/.412/.536 .948 OPS


Those are some pretty impressive numbers.  So yes, while Derrek Lee is not having a great year in those categories, let’s not forget that he has shown himself to be a very impressive hitter in big situations for the Cubs.  Any notion that is made to Derrek Lee “not getting the big hit” is completely false, and a total joke.  Why are we calling this guy a fungus again??


 


There is NO accountability on the Cubs - nobody is calling out anybody. Otherwise, why would the same mistakes be made game after game after game?


·     I got to see the Cubs clubhouse once when I was on a tour, didn’t get to go in but I got see it and that was pretty neat.  Again, none of us are close enough to the situation to definitively make the statement that “nobody is calling out anybody”.  It may be true, but we have no way of knowing.  Also, the assumption that getting in someone’s face repeatedly will fix a particular problem is not always true…


 


Anyway, if you’ve read this far I’ll offer you both my apologies and congratulations, because it is now mercifully coming to an end.  What I’m saying is this; LET’S BE CAREFUL ABOUT THE CONCLUSIONS WE REACH.  Let’s not make bold and assertive statements about things that we don’t have the slightest idea about.  And God forbid, if we can use actual statistics to support our arguments, please do so.  Just saying that Derrek Lee is not “clutch” is not good enough.  In fact, it’s completely wrong.

If Derrek deserves flak, Ted gets triple.

Most of the Cub trade hubbub lately has focused on Derrek Lee's decision to invoke his no-trade clause and prevent a deal with the Angels. That led to a debate about Lee's interest in winning, his skills as a leader, and other intangibles discussion points.

Pardon my lack of segue. Call it a quick left turn:

Last night, the Minnesota Twins traded for Matt Capps, the Nationals' closer. In the deal, they gave up Wilson Ramos, a 22-year-old catcher who hit .317 in AA last year, a guy who apparently has a super arm when it comes to throwing out runners.

Another left:

In a potential Ted Lilly trade, the Cubs are asking the Mets for Josh Thole, according to some reports. Thole has a .783 OPS in his career in the minors, but in 48 plate appearances with the big league club this year has managed to post a .941 OPS.

Three lefts, just one more to go:

Until very recently, the Twins had been considered a likely landing spot for Lilly. They wanted him pretty badly, and given the deal they just made with Washington, it seems like they had a guy in mind that they were willing to give up to get Ted.

Fourth left, now we're back to where we started:

Some folks seem to have been bothered by the fact that Derrek Lee used his no-trade clause (the one he earned from having played in the league for 10 years, spending five of those with one team) to block a Los Angeles deal. Let me be honest: the Cubs may have possibly saved some money, but given Lee's performance this year we probably weren't going to get anything valuable back.

Having said that, it looks like up until last night, a Ted Lilly-for-Wilson Ramos swap was distinctly possible. And according to reports, the only thing that held the deal up was Ted Lilly's decision to invoke his limited no-trade clause, which happens to include the Twins.

If you want to talk about "wanting to win," turning down the Angels, who trail the Rangers by a sizable margin, is one thing. But the Twins are getting tons of buzz as a World Series favorite. If you want to give a guy flak for not wanting to go after a championship, take everything you've said about Derrek Lee and triple it, because that's what Ted Lilly deserves, not to mention his role in denying the Cubs a Top 100 catching prospect.

We have an offense! (Cubs 14, Astros 7)

FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.

In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.

In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?

In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.

These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!

On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).

Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.

I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!

Go Cubs!

Gamecast (July 17, 2010) Phillies @ Cubs

(Sorry for the lateness of this gamecast, work requirements got in the way on this very warm Saturday morning in Southern California)

The win yesterday was very nice and it's good that the Cubs have ensured at least a split against the two time defending NL champions. It's obvious that the Cubs are playing better but it's important that we, as Cub fans, keep this all in perspective. Yesterday was a one run game and with the Cubs on top, luck played every bit as much of factor in this game as did skill.

Still, it's nice to win and I hope it continues. We play the Phillies again today and I hope the Cubs can win the series today instead of having to do it against Roy Halladay tomorrow. Cole Hamels is good but Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball.

Today's Matchup: Cole Hamels (112IP, 3.78ERA, 3.86xFIP) vs Randy Wells (105.1IP, 4.61ERA, 3.71xFIP)

Hamels is a good pitcher and he's someone the Cubs should target once he hits free agency but Randy Wells has been the Cubs best pitcher according to xFIP this year. This is true even though some of his results (media based things like won/loss record and ERA) haven't been great. He has a 7.09/2.39 K/BB ratio and a 45% ground ball rate. As usual, the key for Wells is getting out of the first inning. If he does get out of the first inning, I think we can expect a very nice, long good day out of him.

Who's Hot: Aramis Ramirez has heated up just as the Cubs' offense has and now has a .220/.278/.411 triple slash line for the season. At one point, I was hopeful that he would finish the season at .230 or higher, now, I'm hoping for .260. I just hope the Cubs' brass remembers his first half this year, he'll be getting $16 Million in 2011 and the Cubs will probably need a 3B in 2012, Ramirez is an option but I don't see the Cubs giving him more than $10 Million to do that job (and a 1 year contract at that).

Who's Not: it's time for Derrek Lee to follow the Ramirez example and start popping the ball. Lee's month of July? .244/.320/.356. Imagine how well the Cubs would be doing if he got hot!!!!!

Conclusion: I still maintain that it's too late for the Cubs to make a playoff run but I hope they can get back to .500 this season. Winning today is important because of the task ahead of them tomorrow, facing Halladay. Wells is at least as good a pitcher as Hamels so let's hope the Cubs do it.

Do as Colvin does (Game Recap: Cubs 2, Reds 3)

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!

Fact: The Cubs can score runs. (Game Recap: Cubs 6, Athletics 2)

Six runs, holy crap. Who knew they could do that?

Derrek Lee got the night going with an early solo shot. His OPS for the season is just over .700 at this point, and his batting average is still pretty low at .230, so hopefully this is the first of many subsequent multi-hit outings from him that include some power.

Several other Cubs reached base multiple times last night, including: Xavier Nady (2-for-3, R), Alfonso Soriano (1-for-2, BB, R, 2 RBI), and Geovany Soto (doubled and walked). Starlin Castro reached three times, with a single and two walks.

Castro drove in two runs last night, giving him 16 RBI for the season. That ties him with Soto and The Great Ryan Theriot, the only position player in last night's game who failed to reach base.

Tyler Colvin doubled in his lone at-bat, raising his OPS to .987. And on the pitching side, Ryan Dempster was solid, yielding two runs over 6.2 innings and getting the win. He collected seven strikeouts, but also gave up eight hits.

With the box score-driven narration out of the way, I'll issue my verdict on a couple of last night's more notable plays before asking for your opinions in the comments section:

1) Geo Soto sent home on Castro's 2nd inning single.

I liked the call here. It ended up being a close play, and if their left fielder hadn't made a perfect throw, it'd have been another run. If Soto holds at third, you have the pitcher coming up with one out -- as in, probably won't bring him home -- followed by Ryan Theriot, who we all know sucks. So yeah, give me the close play over counting on Riot to drive a run in with two outs.

2) Alfonso Soriano bunts Nady and Lee to 2nd and 3rd with no outs.

I'm having trouble deciding whether I like this play or not, but I do know at least one thing, which is that I don't like it as much as the fans at Wrigley appeared to last night. Soriano got a standing ovation for this play, and he should get some credit for being creative, but the guy is one of our best hitters. I don't necessarily hate the decision, but I think I'd rather see him swing away there.

3) Alfonso Soriano makes the third out at third base, attempting to stretch out a double.

This is silly. Soriano would likely have scored from second on a single, since there were two outs in the inning and he would have been running on contact. But the guy did knock in the 5th and 6th runs with this play, so it's hard to complain.

Alright, everyone else: Thoughts on the game?

Errors cost Cubs (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Athletics 9)

Two errors each from two players cost the Cubs in two big innings for the A's.

In the fourth, Derrek Lee misplayed a Trevor Cahill (read: AL pitcher) forceout on one play, and followed that up with a missed catch error on the very next play. Admittedly, Carlos Zambrano had not looked good so far in that inning, allowing the first four batters in the inning to reach base. But Z did his best to get out of it as quickly as possible, and unfortunately Lee wasn't there -- something that doesn't happen often, to be sure.

Yes, Big Z is prone to the mental-lapse-induced blowout performance; sometimes he just loses it, and the other team all of a sudden gets eight or nine runs. But one of the man's best qualities is that he's capable of overcoming that and continuing to pitch through trouble. (Case in point: 2008 NLDS, Game 2. I will never forget that game, and neither should you when people start bitching about Z.)

After Zambrano toughed through six innings, the game was put away in the seventh via a rough appearance from Jeff Stevens, made worse by two errors in right field from Tyler Colvin.

A few Cubs reached base twice with a hit and a walk, but the only guy who really deserves kudos for his hitting is Tyler Colvin, who went 2-for-4 with a home run. His slugging percentage is now eight points over .600, and his OPS is up to .967.

Just so you know, here are the top six Cub hitters in terms of slugging:

Colvin, .608
Soriano, .541
Byrd, .536
Fukudome, .456
Soto, .453
Fontenot, .431

Interpret that as you will. And go Cubs!

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