Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Aramis Ramirez

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/managed/grota/drupal/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

Who plays 1B in 2011?

The trade of Derrek Lee to Atlanta has thrown 1B into a state of flux. Charitably speaking, the Cubs now have three first basemen on the roster: Xavier Nady, Micah Hoffpauir, and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs will want a full time first baseman entering the 2011 season. I'll present some of the options before the Cubs, along with pros and cons for each option.

Tyler Colvin:

Tyler has the power to succeed as a major league regular, if not the plate discipline. His .356 season wOBA has been 19% better than league average. However, his on base percentage is a subpar .314, and he's rocking 4 strikeouts for every free pass. He's had a successful rookie season, but I want to see more.

Pros:

  • He's already on the roster and makes the league minimum. Putting Colvin at 1B allows the Cubs to use their resources elsewhere. For instance, a 9 year contract extension for Castro....
  • He hits for enough power to not be a liability at the position. Tyler leads all major league rookies with 19 HR in only 333 plate appearances. Averaged out over 550 plate appearances, that's 31ish HR. If Colvin is a 30 homer hitter, bat him sixth in the lineup and forget about his mediocre plate discipline.
  • If Colvin plays 1B, Fukudome won't be the world's most expensive sub. We all know Kosuke's faults, and I won't reiterate them here. Instead, lets focus on what he does well: He reaches base. This season he's gotten on base at a .374 clip. That's second on the team behind only Soto and his outstanding .403 OBP. In limited PA's, Kosuke has still been worth 1.4 WAR on the season. Yes it's nowhere near what he's being paid, but his contract is a sunk cost. Better to get him off the bench and in the lineup, where he can contribute. Plus, it'll allow the Cubs to audition him for a trade.

Cons:

  • Can he play 1B at the major league level? No one knows because he hasn't played there with any regularity in over five years. I'm inclined to believe he can do it, as he plays an average corner outfield. However, the uncertainty might scare the Cubs brass into looking elsewhere.
  • If the power isn't for real, he'll be a black hole of suck. That's the largest issue with Colvin. 353 career PA is a small sample size, and we know he has holes in his swing that pitchers can exploit. If Colvin can't improve his plate discipline or reproduce his power output, he'll be one of the worst 1B in the majors.

Alfonso Soriano:

Most Cubs fans seem to think that Soriano's eventual move to 1B is fait accompli. If that's true, wouldn't it make sense to move him now, when there is an opening at the position?

Pros:

  • Playing 1B might keep Sori healthier. Alfonso can still hit, even if he can't run, and keeping him healthy and on the field will be the key for the remainder of his career. A shift to 1B means less running, which should help preserve his legs for launching the bat at the baseball.
  • It makes sense to move him before his defense collapses. As he gets older, Soriano will cover less ground in LF, which means more fly balls will fall in and more runs will be scored against the Cubs. Soriano will be here for another 4 seasons, so it seems reasonable to make the move now, before he becomes an epic liability in the outfield.
  • As noted above, there is an opening at the position, so the time seems ripe to let Alfonso start getting comfortable there.
  • Putting Soriano at 1B allows both Colvin and Fukudome to start in the outfield.

Cons:

  • This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but Soriano is still pretty good in the outfield. This season, his play has been worth 12.3 runs saved over 150 innings, versus the average outfielder. In layman's terms, he is still contributing with the glove, no matter how ugly he looks doing it. Last year he was below average in the outfield, but he was hurt and I'm prepared to give him a pass for it. In 2008, he was worth an impressive 25.5 runs saved above average over 150 innings. The guy is nowhere near the statue that his reputation would have you believe, and moving him from LF next season might actually weaken the outfield defense.

Aramis Ramirez:

Aramis is likely to exercise his $14.6 million player option in the offseason, and return to the Cubs. I'll be happy to see him stay, as the guy is still capable of being a great player. This season was atrocious, but he was playing hurt for much of it and has been victimized by bad luck on balls in play. I fully expect a bounce back 2011 from Rami.

Pros:

  • Ramirez's health is an issue as much as Soriano's is. Moving across the diamond to an easier defensive position might help keep him on the field and productive at the plate.
  • Unlike Soriano, Ramirez is pretty bad in the field. He hasn't posted a league average or better UZR/150 since 2007, and that was 3 years and multiple injuries ago. Moving Ramirez to 1B might improve the Cubs defensively.

Cons:

  • Moving Ramirez shakes up the rest of roster, and probably necessitates a free agent signing. Legend has it that Blake DeWitt is an excellent 3B, but his bat would be pretty pathetic at the hot corner, and I don't see the Cubs going in that direction. There aren't many quality 3B free agents this coming offseason. The class is headed by Adrian Beltre, who I covet, but he'd be expensive and is already 32 years old. Long term, big money contracts to older veterans is the kind of shoddy roster construction that I've accused Cruller Jim of on dozens of occasions around here. I haven't had a sudden change of heart, and dropping millions on a free agent when this team is 4 or 5 players away from contention seems foolish.

Adam Dunn:

I expected the Cubs to sign the big donkey after the 2008 season. Instead, they opted for Milton Bradley. That didn't work, and the popular speculation is that the Cubs won't pass on Dunn twice.

Pros:

  • Dunn seems like a panacea for this roster. He's a left handed slugger who has hit historically well at Wrigley Field (although that might be an indictment of our pitching staffs of yore.) He's always featured old man skills like walking and hitting for power, so he may age more gracefully than players who depend on speed or athleticism. His full time position change to 1B has even made him an average defender. Dunn used to remind me of a buffalo on ice skates in the outfield. He was that comically terrible. This year, as a full time 1B, he has been worth 2 full wins more than last season, with almost 6 weeks left to play. The difference is in his defense, which has been about average at 1B.

Cons:

  • Money and length of contract. MLBTradeRumors speculates that it will take a 4 year offer to get Dunn to sign a contract. That's a lot of years for a guy who is already 31, and should be entering the downside of his career. 4 years/$50 million seems likely to me, and it wouldn't surprise me if that was low. Anybody else think Dunn will fail to produce to the level of that contract?
  • Signing Dunn will cost the Cubs their second round draft pick. Washington intends to offer Dunn arbitration. Dunn projects to be a type "A" free agent, so if the Cubs subsequently signed him as a free agent, they would forfeit a draft pick. Because of their dogshit play this season, the team is projected to have the #6 overall draft pick, which would be protected, and the Cubs would instead lose their second rounder. Although with Pauper Tom in the owners box, the Cubs will probably squander their draft picks on bad but cheap amateurs. Scratch this one.

Some other free agent?

The corner infield cupboard is bare in the Iowa and Tennessee, so the Cubs will have to grab a different free agent if they don't go any of the routes suggested above. This is not an ideal situation.

Lets hear your preferences. How should the Cubs fill their 1B vacancy next season?

All statistics, as always, from fangraphs.com.

Week 20 awards: Cubs find new ways to lose games ... and a manager

A 1-0 loss to former Cubs' prospect Jon Garland. A blown save courtesy of three walks by Carlos Marmol. A rare implosion by Sean Marshall. A 16-5 loss to the Braves that mirrored their Opening Day defeat. 

Nope, no form of losing is off-limits for the Cubs these days. Thank God for the God-awful Pirates, for that giant piece of baseball feces out in Steel City is the only thing keeping the Cubs from crashing to the bottom of the NL Central. It's becoming as difficult to keep track of the revolving door of a roster as it is the mounting loss total--a 100-loss season remains unlikely but within the realm of possibility.

And the Cubs managed to lose their skipper as well. Lou Piniella's mother is ailing, but he is only able to skip town to care for her because his team's season has been dead for months. Surprisingly, Mike Quade will take over beginning tonight against Washington. I can't fathom that he would have any chance of keeping the post into 2011, but hopefully some new blood can at least inject some life into this flailing franchise.

Ryno of the Week: Though it's sad to say, Aramis Ramirez's .244 batting average marks his high point for the season. He also now leads the team in home runs with 20 after an 11-for-28 week with two home runs and seven RBI. He had at least two RBI in each game of the series against the Braves.

Honorable mention: Kosuke Fukudome

Goat of the Week: When hard-throwing Andrew Cashner was called up in late May, I surmised that he probably wasn't ready to be a successful major league pitcher. Unfortunately, it looks like I was right. In four appearances this week, Cashner allowed six earned runs in just 3.1 innings. He ERA sits at 6.69. He's got decent stuff and certainly I hope he can contribute in 2011, but he's a little too raw to get the job done in the 7th or 8th inning at the age of 23.

Dishonorable mention: Koyie Hill

To read more from this blogger visit Wait 'til this Year

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!

Gamecast (July 25, 2010) Cardinals @ Cubs

The Cubs go for the sweep against the Cardinals. I hope the Cubs beat the Cardinals every time they play them this year but I have a personal animase towards the Reds based mostly on the personalities of the current team. Johnny Gomes, more than anyone else, just rubs me the wrong way. I don't want to see Dusty Baker win again either. For that reason, alone, I hope the Cardinals beat the Reds... but if the Reds do beat the Cardinals, I hope it's partly because the Cubs beat down the Cardinals every time they played them! Let's see the Cubs sweep today's series and turn a good home stand into a great one!

Today's Matchup: Chris Carpenter (141.2IP, 3.05ERA, 3.72xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (133.2IP, 3.70ERA, 3.85xFIP)

One of the reasons why the Cardinals have not fallen from grace is the relative health of Chris Carpenter over the last two years. Carpenter seems to have gotten a little more wild this year than he has been in the past. That being said, he is still very good and with Wainwright and Jaime Garcia doing their part, the Cardinals have a nice 1-3. Still, Ryan Dempster has been almost as good as Carpenter this year. His great gift is the ability to strike people out, but he is more wild than Carpenter even.

Given the relative closeness of the two starting pitchers, this will turn into a question of who has the better offense, bullpen and luck. Here's hoping the Cubs win those factors.

Who's Hot: Starlin Castro is now sporting a snazzy .343 wOBA as a 20 year old shortstop. Not half bad. To put into context, Aramis Ramirez has a career wOBA of .357. Castro, as a 20 year old, is performing not that far below an average Aram season. His season is mildly BABIP influenced, as Castro has a BABIP of .348 but as a guy with decent speed who hits a ton of line drives and ground balls, he likely to maintain a BABIP well over .320 for his career, making his .348 BABIP this year only slightly above his eventual average. I'd have been happy with him if he were hitting .270 with an SLG of .360 or so but this .308/.358/.449 stuff is exciting beyond belief.


Who's Not: Well, speaking of Aramis, ever since his 3 HR game, he has gone 3 for 12 with 2 walks and no Xtra base hits. I know that would count as a good stretch throughout most of the season, but after Tuesday's performance, I figured we'd see him keep it up. He has a five game hitting streak so I guess I shouldn't be complaining but hey, come on Aramis! You spoiled us the last couple of weeks!

Conclusion: Dempster pitched in that same game where Aram hit his 3 jacks and he wasn't great. I hope he can limit the Cardinals and especially Albert Pujols tonight. Including the last game against the Phillies, Pujols has gone 0 for 10 with 2 walks in his last 3 games. Let's keep him off the scoreboard again tonight, enjoy the sweep and move on to Houston.

Why Lou's retirement announcement is such a non-story

The current state of the Cubs:

All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.

At the beginning of the year, he wasn't.  He wasn't hitting anything.  Neither was Derrek Lee.  And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year.  Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them.  Over and over again.

Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto.  The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.

He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009.  The Cubs finished below .500 both years.  Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years.  As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense.  There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins.  This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.

But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did.  Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs.  When he hits, we win.  As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.

Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning

This was the biggest non-announcement ever.  Of course Lou is retiring.  Some say he retired 2 years ago.  He did it so people will quit asking him.  Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will.  I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.

Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.

There seems to be no accountability in this organization.  Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy.  Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure.  Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.

But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney.  What exactly DOES he do?  How is the Triangle building doing?  How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation?  What great marketing angles have we exploited lately?  When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network?  When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it?  And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?

A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?

I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place.  Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not.  A new manager needs to be found.  Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there?  Is Joe Girardi the guy?  How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel?  I heard Joe Torre mentioned?  Who do you choose?  They all have their own qualities.

There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager.  Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.

The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.

Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro.  Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year.  These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.

I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy.  I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done.  I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above.  That's the biggest question going forward for us.

And now, your obligatory list of interesting Aramis Ramirez factoids

I will quickly dispense with the negative thought that can't help but run through my mind when it comes to Aramis Ramirez--that it would have been nice if a few of these home runs and RBI had come before the Grim Reaper took his scythe and hacked the 2010 Cubs season to pieces--and move on to the positive feelings that Cubs fans are feeling after 13 unanswered runs gave them a 14-7 victory over the Astros.

Ramirez is now hitting .404 since ... well, since he started hitting. He's had at least one hit in 10 of the last 13 games and at least two hits in nine of those games. He's also had at least one RBI in eight of those contests and scored at least one run in 10 of them. Actually, you know what--let's get a little crazy; I feel a list coming on:

Last 13 games:

19 hits

Most hits in any month, excluding July: 14

9 home runs

Number of games it took him to hit 9 home runs prior to the last 13: 75

24 RBI

RBI this season prior to last 13 games: 23

18 runs

Runs this season prior to last 13 games: 19

Last two games: 10 RBI

RBI in May and June combined: 10

Season stats extrapolating last 13 games to 162-game season: .404, 112 HR, 300 RBI

You can enjoy the ride he's on right now or be angry with him for mysteriously turning into a Single-A hitter for the first half of the season. I'm doing a little bit of both, myself, but trying to forget that the first three months ever happened. What do you mean Ramirez couldn't hit an 85 mph fastball down Broadway a month ago? I don't know what you're talking about, crazy person. The Cubs have scored over 6.6 runs per game over those last 13, and in this disappointing season, I'm choosing to be thankful for the fact that now, at least, the games are watchable.

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.

Has the king returned? (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Phillies 3)

Are all home runs created equal? Do they sometimes differ in terms of their... clutchiness?

The Cubs would end up needing four runs to win yesterday's game, after Ted Lilly allowed his second homer of the game, to Ryan Howard in the sixth inning with a man on ahead of him. Indeed, by allowing just four hits and one walk over seven solid innings (with 10 Ks to boot), Lilly did more than just boost his trade value: he kept his team in the game.

And actually, Ted did even more than that -- yesterday, he drove in a run. After falling behind 0-2 to Phillie starter Joe Blanton, who had just IBBed Geo Soto to load the bases, Theo worked his way back to a 3-2 count, and then fouled off a fastball, before taking one high for a walk. Run scores, and at the time, tie ballgame.

The Cubs would tie the game up yet again, this time in the bottom of the sixth. In the half inning just after Howard hit a two-run bomb, Marlon Byrd answered with a two-run shot of his own.

Neither team would score again, and all of a sudden we found ourselves rooting for Aramis Ramirez at the plate, late in a tie game -- and, no less, with two outs.

Of course, Ramirez would hit a home run, giving the team the lead, and setting the stage for Carlos Marmol to strike out the side for a save once again.

A great game to watch, a great win for the Cubs, and now only one question remains. Speaking of clutchiness: Has Aramis Ramirez retaken his place as Mr. C McC? I dare not say the name until given permission to do so.

Go Cubs.

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award