The wonderful thing about blogging -- all your words are as immortal as your domain registration and hosting contract. That means that in the years GROTA has been around, we've said plenty of really stupid things that time proved us to be totally wrong about.
For example - I was wrong about Mark DeRosa.
When the Cubs let DeRosa go for some young pitching that very well prove me right in the end about the DeRo deal, I said it was no big thang. After all, the Cubs had a tremendous hitter in Mike Fontenot who could bat lefty and would probably put up numbers equal-to or better-than the '09 DeRosa.
I said DeRo would revert. He'd had a career year in 2008 and, at his age, career years don't get duplicated.
I said that Fontenot was a better defensive second baseman. (Actually, this one still might be true, he hasn't gotten to play there a whole lot.) And with the addition of the versatile backup Aaron Miles, DeRosa's ability to play multiple positions would not be missed.
Hell, it's June 22nd. We're well on our way through the 2009 season. And the evidence to the contrary about my bold opinions is staggering.
Mike Fontenot is not cutting it as a starter. Actually, the amount of doubles and homers he's on pace to hit are fine and dandy. The problem is his .230 AVG. Strike that, the problem is his .121 AVG against lefties. At the very least, Fontenot needs somebody to spell him against south-paws. Even Aaron Miles would be acceptable -- BAM! is batting .259 against lefty pitching, which is better than the next-to-nothing that Lil' Mike is delivering.
Then again, DeRosa is a near-.280 hitter so far this year, on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 RBI, and post an OPS of .819. And he is killing lefties.
On a team starving for offense there is no denying that the Cubs would've been better off with DeRosa on the roster. So, big-time screw-up for Hendry, and admission of being wrong from me. But before you get on my case too much about it, be honest about how fast you gave up on Derrek Lee -- many were sticking forks in him back in October 2008.
Now, lately one of our writers has taken a significant amount of flack -- even from some of our other writers -- for being harsh on the players on this team. He said Lee was toast about a month ago, he's called Soto fat and lacking ambition, he's declared to be embarrassed for ever having advocated Fukudome, and so-on. Well, Rob, I'm callin' you out.
At one point this season, Lee was batting .194 with 3 homeruns and 15 RBI. (That was on May 13th, by the way). In just over a month since then, Lee has been batting .374 with 8 homeruns and 20 RBI. The point being that, in baseball, nobody's done until after they've taken their last at bat.
As for Soto, this has been a strong point of disagreement between Rob and the rest of us. He thinks Geo grew fat on his laurels. I don't know for sure that he gained weight over the winter, but I do know that he started the year with a sore shoulder and a screwed-up swing. At his low point, April 30th, Soto was batting .109 with 0 homers and only 2 RBI. Since then, he's hitting .264 but more importantly with 5 homers and 17 RBI. Geo's not out of the woods but he is definitely, undeniably hitting the ball better.
Fukudome, on the other hand ... eh, it's hard to say. After starting the year with a .338 AVG in April, Kosuke batted .277 in May with only 1 homer and 5 RBI and is batting .180 in June, even after Saturday's 4-hit assault. I'm prepared to give this one to Rob, but not until we see where Fukudome is by mid July.
Oh -- and Milton Bradley. I don't recall that Rob has given Bradley too much flack for his crappy 2009 season, but I just wanted to note to everybody that Don't Wake was batting .097 on April 29th. Since then, he batted .268 with 3 homers and 12 RBI in May and is batting .286 but with only 2 extra base hits in all of June. Still -- he's improving.
The point is that nobody really knows. We can guess, we can trust our gut, we can follow projections and detailed statistics, but until the games are played we're just rolling dice and making bold declarations that we hope nobody will bother to remember.
What I will say is that the difference between a good team and a bad one appears to occur in inches. The Cubs team we've followed through the start of June was indescribably awful. They failed to get big hits, they couldn't win close games, they surrendered late leads, and on a whole they were just painful to watch.
Probably they are still that team, at least a little. But with the Questionable Quartet coming around, we suddenly have a team getting huge hits late in games, often coming from behind to win on their last at bat, with a bullpen that still appears to be shaking off the cobwebs but has been able to hold down small leads. It's the same team, the same personnel, and suddenly they don't look like they're going to lose 90 -- instead they appear as if they just might win that many games.
All I can say then, to Rob and many others, is that this to me is proof that nothing can be assumed or taken for granted. We live in a Cubbie Bubble where we see the worst and assume it doesn't happen to any other team -- or maybe we assume it means more because these are the Cubs, for gawd's sake. But I wrote a while back about the Superlative Season in which if we aren't rewarded with a perfect year of baseball we think the team has no chance at all of winning imperfectly.
On the contrary, I still think the Cubs are playoff bound. I still think it will happen in spite of the managing. I still think this team is immensely talented. And I absolutely believe that in October, this team -- already so beset by adversity -- will be prepared to shrug off at least some of the pressure they will feel to win it all. At this point their talent will almost certainly be bigger than their wins total, and in October talent wins out.
Of that I am certainly not wrong.
Jeremy Sowers (1-4, 5.14 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (0-3, 2.55 ERA)
For those of you who missed yesterday's GameCast -- or even noticed that it never got published -- blame me. I forgot it was such an early game and I had to leave early to do some important, pre-wedding, oh-s-word-we-haven't-bought-rings-yet-and-the-wedding-is-next-weekend stuff. Anyway...
The Cubs -- who have performed dramatically below our expectations this season -- have won three games in a row, all in their last at bat, often in unexpected and unlikely ways. Consequently, while they are only 2 games over .500 they're also only 2.5 games out of first (and share a tie for the lead in the loss column).
Earlier this week, bloggers* started calling for the termination of Cubs' skipper Lou Piniella. Maybe it should've been done sooner based on the completely unrelated results.
(*Well, at least one blogger did)
Derrek Lee - Oh, how I remember the attitude of Cub fans dating back to last October. Lee was washed up. The Cubs should've traded him -- despite his no-trade clause -- and let Hoffpauir start. And do you remember how he started out in '09? Fuel to the Hate 6-4-3-Lee Fire. And yet, here he is, carrying the Cubs on his wide shoulders. In the month of May he batted .313 with 4 homers, 9 RBI, and a .955 OPS. Since June started, he's turned it up a notch and is batting .375 with 6 homers, 16 RBI, and a 1.155 OPS. Not bad for a guy past his prime.
Milton Bradley - In the past week, Milton is batting .333 with an OBP of .391. Hey, maybe the Cubs should bat him 2nd? Just a thought.
Geovany Soto - 5 for his last 14, batting .357 with an OPS of 1.256. Not bad.
Kosuke Fukudome - 4 his last 13, batting .308 after a long, long slump.
Mikey Fontenot - Even I think he's done as a starter. At the very least the Cubs need to evaluate his splits and keep him on the bench full time vs. lefties. Against righties this year he's batting a still-bad-but-good-enough .253 with an OBP of .350 and OPS .768. If only the Cubs had somebody who hit well against lefties that could play third base...
Carlos Marmol - in his last 4 appearances he's surrendered 3 hits in 3.2 innings, while walking 5. Time for Larry to earn his pay -- fix what's wrong with this guy already!
Randy Wells is so overdue for a win that it's kind of ridiculous. The problem has long-been an inability to drudge up offensive support mixed with the failures of the bullpen to keep a lead. Well, minus Marmol, the bullpen has been outstanding the last week or so and the offense appears to fnally be clicking. This could be the day.
Friday night's victory, achieved through a walk-off homerun by Derrek Lee against Wood is like nothing compared with today's, in which Wood imploded on the mound giving the Cubs the victory in the 13th inning.
For the record, before the start of June the Cubs had played in three extra inning games. Since June, they've played seven long games out of fifteen possibilities. That's kind of nuts.
It would never have happened without Derrek Lee and Kerry Wood. Lee hit another homerun today, this time a 2-run shot, which put the Cubs on the board in the 5th. That was followed with a homerun by Micah Hoffpauir in the 6th, which briefly gave the Cubs the lead until Carlos Marmol came undone in the 7th (his 3rd straight appearance, by the way), which is how the game would look until the 13th.
Amazingly, the Cubs probably should have lost. They had 12 total hits and 6 walks, failing to score on 19 separate opportunities, and to add insult to injury Dave "Bonus Baby" Patton served up the go-ahead homer to Luis Valbuena in the top of the 13th. (Valbuena had 2 homeruns himself today against the Cubs.) That's when Kerry Wood came into play.
Wood came in and promptly surrendered a single to Fukudome but was able to negate a potential hit-and-run by striking out Three Finger. The only problem was that Fuku managed to steal second anyway and, thanks to a bad throw by Kelly Shoppach was able to advance to third. At that point Andres Blanco singled home Fooky, reached third on an Aaron Miles single, and scored on a Wood wild pitch.
Thanks, Kerry. You managed to let yourself get beat by two of the worst hitters on the Cubs roster, and a third Cubs hitter who hasn't so much as scratched the ball since the beginning of May. If you were still a Cub we'd be livid.
Actually I'm being a little unfair to Kosuke. He had a 4 for 5 day against the Indians pitchers and also drew a walk. But still -- getting beat by Blanco and Miles is sort of like losing a boxing match to your 120 pound girlfriend. Moy embarassing.
The Cubs play for the sweep tomorrow. Hey, I'm not one to complain or anything but ... maybe they can try to win before their last at bat of the game for once? Just a thought.
Rich Harden, our team's supposed best-stuff pitcher, squared off against Cliff Lee and turned it into a one-sided pitching duel. It was 7 to 0 in the 5th, Mark DeRosa had heart-breakingly contributed to the bloodshed, and Harden was brushed aside like a fly.
At that point it was evident. The Cubs were done for. The season was wasted. I mean, if the Cubs get blown out at home by one of the worst teams in the AL then what chance do they have against some of the best teams in the NL?
Anyway, it wasn't a total waste. Once the game was out of reach the offense showed some sparks of life. Reed Johnson made the first score in the 5th with a solo homerun, and then Derrek Lee contributed a solo shot in the 6th. In the latter situation, Lee was not the first at bat in the inning. If Bradley was able to actually hit the ball regularly or get on base, then it may have been a more meaningful two run homer, but we all know Bradley is a waste.
Speaking of Lee, I have to say that upon reflection, you were all right. At the end of the '08 season, and again in the Spring and early parts of April, a number of fans had proclaimed that he was washed up and should be replaced by Hoffpauir. I admit that I defended Lee strongly at the time, citing Hoffpauir's old age and fluke-until-proven-otherwise status, but I was wrong. While he hit a meaningless homerun in the 6th, Derrek Lee is not the player he once was.
(Sorry, I couldn't help myself up until now)
It wasn't until the 8th inning -- with two outs against them -- that the Cubs began to play like they should have played all year long. The unlikely heroes of the inning were Andres Blanco, who singled home 2 runs with 2 outs, Koyie Hill, who was safe thanks only to a fielding error by Peralta (and, consequently, who scored Reed Johnson on the play) and Alfonso Soriano, who singled home Blanco. Suddenly, just like that, it was a 7-6 game. Not to worry, the Indians survived the onslought and had their closer ready to finish off the Cubs.
It just figures that much as Mark DeRosa would play an important part in the game for Cleveland by going 1 for 3 with an RBI and 2 walks, Kerry Wood would step in to extinguish a comeback attempt in the 9th. He probably would've done it, too, had it not been for that damned Derrek Lee.
Mr. Lee, who went 3 for 5 on the day with a double hit his second homer of the day, still a solo shot but this time a game-tying one to boot. Does that remind you of anything that has happened before? Well, it wasn't on ABC, and the Cubs weren't facing the Cardinals, but an ex Cub closer was on the mound and he did serve up the second homerun hit by a Cubs star, resulting in a tie game and elevating Cub fans everywhere. And then just like in 1984, a scrappy middle infielder singled home the winning run in the 10th ... also off of an ex Cub pitcher Luis Vizcaino.
Oh, and before I forget -- he scared us in the 10th, but Kevin Gregg managed to load the bases and send them home without damage. I just wanted to note that.
Derrek Lee now has a .285 AVG on the season, he's hit 11 homeruns, and for a little while at least he's justified batting him third in the lineup. We have modestly criticized Lee in the past for not being a team leader, and I still don't think he's one in the traditional sense. But if he wants to lead by example the rest of the way, and if he wants to elevate the team with his bat at every given opportunity then you won't hear complaints from this peanut gallery.
"We cling to the fact that we will swing the bats better... You gotta give these guys every opportunity to work out of it." - Lou Piniella
"The Cubs four-run, come from behind victory was their largest ever against the White Sox." - @STATS_MLB
"YEEESSSSS!!!!" - Ron Santo
What a game, what a win.
Derrek Lee is today's hero, coming through in a big way with his three-run bomb in the 8th inning. You may be thinking to yourself that Lee has been having a fantastic month; well, check out this slash line for June coming into today's game.
D-Lee in June: .360/.428/.520
After all the crap we gave him, Derrek has quietly been carrying this team through one of their worst months imaginable on offense. He's only got eight RBI to show for it, but it's not his fault.
Credit is also due to Geo Soto, who brought himself home in the at-bat immediately following Derrek's dinger.
Soto's slugging in June is somewhere around .450 after today's game; that number rates higher than his slugging from June or July of 2008. Furthermore, it'll only go up once Soto figures out how to get his average above .222 for this month.
Finally, let's talk about the third offensive hero from today's game, the man who got the W flag flying, the one and only Mr. Alfonso Soriano.
Fonsi pulled a move out of Ryan Theriot's 2008 playbook in the bottom of the 9th today, flipping a single into the opposite field with ReJo on 2nd to plate today's winning run.
Hopefully, today's game is a sign of things to come, especially for these three dudes in particular. Are you convinced?
Let's savor this one, and get ready for Cliff Lee and the Indians.
In the interests of balance, it is appropriate for me to point out that Derrek Lee has been doing a great job at the plate lately. He will never return to anything even remotely close to his 2005 self, and he will be hard pressed to get his 20 homers this year.
All else being equal, each given 650 PA's at first base, perhaps Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox would end up with a higher OPS than Lee. But all else is not equal, because not only does Lee play an above-average first base, but for better or worse, he is the "team leader" for these 2009 Cubs. Nearly everyone else looks to him for cues, and he needs to be out there, producing the best he can. He should never return to the 3rd hole in the lineup, but it is clear that in his case, his lack of production was not a matter of effort, but of ability to deal with injuries to his hand and neck. His hand will never be the same, but it appears he and the training staff have figured out a regimen that may relieve the pain in his neck.
A healthy, productive Derrek Lee will go a long way to determine the eventual success of the 2009 Cubs. As with Geo Soto, Lee's contribution to the team far exceeds his 1/25th share of the roster, or even his 1/9th share of the starting lineup. His role as "leader" makes it that much more important that he be whole and healthy.
All in all, a good win last night. An important win, to be able to get the clutch hit in the 11th from Hoffpauir. The Cubs need to realize that they CAN win extra-inning games on the road, with clutch hits and reliable closing.
Oh, yeah. Good eye, Geo. Way-to-be-a-hitter.
NO, NO, NO, no, no!! You're all doing it all wrong!!!
So, how are you all enjoying your Memorial Day weekend so far? (For Canucks such as Kurt, the fourth weekend in May here in America is set aside for...) Ok, Kurt is actually here somewhere in the lower 48, and of course he grew up in New York, and that's probably the last attempt at humor from me for the rest of this post, because this shit just ain't working. I came out here after the first 20 games, I think we were 11-9, and I pointed out that Geo Soto was fat and sassy, that Milton Bradley completely had his head stuck up his ass, and that Derrek Lee's best days are absolutely behind him, and you all flamed me up one side and down the other, leaving me with a nice charred crust with very little pink in the middle, because by gawd, it's only TWENTY games, give guys a chance, for cripes sake!!
Now, it's forty games in, we're 21-19, which means we've played .500 ball since that last post. I did what you said, I gave them a chance to work things out, and what's happened since?
- Geo Soto still ain't hit dick
- Milton Bradley is still pressing
- Derrek Lee is not only still struggling, but he's now doing it in the cleanup spot
- and, now, we've exposed Mike Fontenot for what HE is, useful as a backup, but not capable of hitting on an everyday basis
- and, as an added bonus, Ryan Theriot has gotten away from what HE does best (go to right field) and he's swinging for the fences, with the predictable result of a plummeting batting average, on-base percentage, and overall usefulness
- and, of course, Aramis Ramirez' shoulder is still fusing itself back into one piece
- and, we now have not one, but two useless utility men burning at-bats and butchering plays in the field. Sometimes, the Orioles aren't stupid, and I know pretty much the Cardinals aren't.
But what worries me the most is looking at Lou Piniella night after night. There is a noticeable cognitive difference in him from 2007 to today. His job is stressful - particularly when he has come so close twice, and have it all slip away so suddenly and completely. This job turns people. When Dusty Baker hit town, he was all California Cool. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin. When Don Baylor hit town, he was all New Age Enthusiasm. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin. When Jim Riggleman hit town, he acted like the slimy horndog he was. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin, which was probably somewhat based in reality, considering his typical nighttime activities. (When he and Mark Grace left town, it left a lot of dental hygenists and flight attendants in their mid-30s unfulfilled)
Now, Lou don't talk like he's in pain, but I have talked to people trained in diagnosing dementia, and they notice how he can't seem to put a coherent sentence together when he is asked a question. He is probably the most confused man in Chicago presently, and not only does that explain why Neal Cotts still has a job, it doesn't bode well for the immediate future of the Cubs. I have backed this man since day one, but I can no longer.
Hendry ain't gonna fire him, no way. But I don't believe Lou has an answer for 2009, and in the meantime, we are wasting some decent-to-good starting pitching. Man, I still think getting Jake Peavy would send a message, but Adrian Gonzalez would look a HELL of a lot better in pinstripes. Too bad he ain't available...
Well, poop. All good things must come to an end, I guess. A shaky 4th inning from starter Rich Harden, a wild start to the top of the 7th by reliever Jose Ascanio, and some solid defensive plays by the Astros brought about the end of two Cub winning streaks: the five straight wins in the Cubs' last five games, as well as their formerly perfect record in games in which the Cubs scored four or more runs (they're now 20-1 in those games, I think, assuming I still understand how numbers work).
Derrek Lee gets the gold star on offense today. He added about 25 points to his average with today's 4-hit effort, which included a double and a home run. Two other Cubs got multiple hits: Alfonso Soriano (one of which was a home run), and Kosuke Fukudome. Kosuke has been earning the number on the back of his jersey lately, and currently leads the team with a .333 batting average. Together, the team knocked out 11 hits, four more than the Astros (see? I understand subtraction!).
On the less-gold-starrish side of things, Mike Fontenot posted his fifth consecutive oh-fer. He's now in the middle of an 0-for-16 streak. He does have a handful of walks in that time, but let's be honest. We want hits, Mike. HITS! AND WALKS! AND HOME RUNS! YEAH MIKE FONTENOT! Yeah!
Cubs hurlers put up seven shutout innings today; even star "hurler" Neal Cotts goosed the 'Stros in the 9th (in his case I mean the OTHER hurling--you know, like barfing? lol!). Unfortunately, they mixed in a pair of bad innings with those good ones. In the 4th, Rich Harden served up three extra-base hits, including a two-run shot to Pudge Rodriguez; and in the 7th, Jose Ascanio went 2-for-2 on his first pair of pitches--he hit both batters he faced. Both would score--one on a Lance Berkman single, the other on a wild pitch.
Apart from those first three batters (Matsui, Bourn, and Elvis), Ascanio would not allow any additional base runners. He also got two strikeouts during his perfect 8th inning. In the end, however, the six runs allowed by Harden and Ascanio were insurmountable.
It's hard to be too upset about this one. The Cubs scored five runs, and weren't completely awful from the mound. Who knows what might've happened if Geo Soto's liner to end the game got past Jeff Keppinger? They were right there. Hopefully that bad luck gets turned around against the Cardinals on Tuesday night.
I didn't see any of today's game as I watched the Astros beat the Braves in Atlanta. By the way, the Braves might have the worst lineup in the majors right now if you were wondering.
As for the Cubs, Derrek Lee's grandslam in the fifth inning was enough to send the Cubs to a 6-4 victory. Apparently, Carlos Zambrano strained his hamstring beating out an infield single in the fifth inning that caused him to leave the game. I couldn't find anything on Zabrano's injury, so we will just have to wait and see.
During the top of the sixth, I remember looking at the Brave's scoreboard in right and seeing the Marlins with the bases loaded. I wondered what Zambrano was doing, but it makes a little more sense now. Angel Guzman did manage to get out of the jam by only allowing one run.
Carlos Marmol had another adventure in the 8th inning. He gave up a lead-off home run to John Baker, followed by a walk to Hanley Ramirez. He was able to get out of it. Then, Kevin Gregg picked up the save to the Cubs a 3-1 series victory.
Mike Fontenot hit his fifth home run, but Milton Bradley went 0-for-4 to push his average down to .116.
The Cubs picked up a half-game on the Cardinals, who were rained out. It was good to see the Cubs string a few wins together, and hopefully Ryan Dempster can put together a qaulity start against the Giants tomorrow.
Well Kurt sense your in love with DLee lets see what he does over the next 20 games and then we can decide where he should be
I really need to create a "that old gag" tag. Anyway...
This talk about 20 games got me thinking. Let's say that over the next 20 games, Derrek Lee has 80 at bats and goes 10 for 80. That's a .125 AVG - and guess what? Where he'd be is STILL in the starting lineup as the starting first baseman! You know why? He's making 8 figures a year with an absolute no-trade clause playing for a winning franchise in a city he likes -- and he has a track record of success. Whether he go 20 for 80 or 5 for 80, Derrek Lee will be in the starting lineup all year long. But speaking of 20 games, let's take a look at a couple of lines...
Player 1: 60 AB, 16 H, 8 2B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .267 AVG, .302 OBP, .702 OPS
Player 2: 80 AB, 16 H, 3 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .188 AVG, .239 OBP, .568 OPS
Player 3: 70 AB, 16 H, 2 HR, 11 RBI, .229 AVG, .325 OBP, .739 OPS
Player 4: 75 AB, 15 H, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .200 AVG, .228 OBP, .535 OPS
Not exactly the numbers of champions, eh? These guys had between 60 and 80 at bats, none of them managed better than 16 hits, none displayed -- based on the numbers, anyway -- the ability to hit at the Major League level. If only there had been a Micah Hoffpauir to step in and replace them all.
Problem is, all of those guys started the seasons with those lines and do you know how they finished up? Player 1 wound up batting .299 with 33 HR, 70 RBI, and a .897 OPS. That was Alfonso Soriano, 2007 edition.
Player 2 finished the year with a .280 AVG, 29 HR, 75 RBI, and an OPS of .876. Again, that was Alfonso Soriano, 2008 edition.
Player 3 ended the year with a .278 AVG, 31 HR, 92 RBI, and an OPS of .860. That was the 2004 line of Derrek Lee.
The only guy to not have an epic year is Player 4, but we can't really hold it against Ryne Sandberg. It was his rookie season after all. He still managed a .271 AVG, 7 HR, 54 RBI, and 32 steals. But it's nice to know that mdonnellyacn1 would have cut the string on Ryno after 20 games, thus preventing Cub fans from enjoying the career of the finest second baseman to ever wear a Cubs uniform.
The moral of the story is actually two or threefold. First, Cub fans are fickle. Secondly, passing down arbitrary edicts about how a player has to look productive after X days is ridiculous and counter-productive. A baseball season is six months in length. Over the span of six months, there will always be periods of time in which a Ted Williams plays like a Neifi Perez, and vice versa. Third, we have become conditioned to be reactionary. We can't let something develop - we need resolution and we need it now! Kosuke Fukudome went 0 for 4! He very well might be a total bust, but nobody - no expert, no pundit, no brilliant baseball mind - knows how well he'll do after one 0 for 4 performance. (However I can predict this ... he will have many more 0 for 4 performances this year. Book it. Done.) I guarantee you that the first time the Cubs have a 5 game losing streak, there will be idiots out there wailing doom and gloom, calling it a lost season, giving up on the team.
It's all thoughtless reaction. I guess the only satisfaction I can take is that no matter how poorly Lee starts the season - and before 2005 he was a notorious slow-starter - he will still be starting all year long. And whether he bats .300 and cranks 25+ homeruns, or he bats .265 and hits a meager 15, the Cubs will still be good, even if the overthinkers disagree.
Update to say... That Old Gag tag created