Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Aramis Ramirez

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Welcome back, Aramis. (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Rockies 2)

Who knew Aramis Ramirez could still hit?

Three RBI for the day, including a deep shot "into the night," as Lenny Kasper called it, ending this one in the bottom of the 11th inning. I actually thought he skied it when he hit it, but apparently he really REALLY skied it -- enough to get it out of the park.

Starlin Castro had three hits -- all singles -- and a stolen base against Miguel Olivo, who is apparently quite good at picking off base runners.

But about those singles: I think it's likely that the home run Castro blasted in his debut was the last homer we'll see from him for a long while. The kid doesn't have an extra-base knock since his first game. I think he'll hit plenty of doubles this year -- his first inning liner almost gave him a two-bagger -- but he's got a ways to go before he can afford to start swinging for the fences again.

Tyler Colvin had a hit and a walk, and also struck out once. He now has 17 strikeouts on the season to go against his seven walks; in contrast, Castro has five walks, against two strikeouts.

Derrek Lee had a rough night. These things happen I guess.

Most folks were fairly outstanding on the pitching side for the Cubs. Kudos to Lou for using Marmol in the high leverage situation -- bases loaded, one out -- instead of saving his "closer" for a "save situation." I suppose that's kind of an easy decision, but not every manager would have gone that way. Which is sad. Also, Marmol was nasty again. Surprise surprise.

You know who else was nasty? Sean freakin' Marshall. I'd encourage any and all fans arguing that we trade Marsh to stop what they're doing and re-evaluate their positions. Marshall is a control guy, not a flame-thrower, so he could have a really long career of throwing junk all over the corners of the plate.

In 20.1 innings pitched this season, Sean Marshall has allowed 11 hits, and given up just three unintentional walks, to go with 27 (!!!) strikeouts. DAMN.

Kudos also to Randy Wells, for another solid start. Also John Grabow sucks.

And now Z is eventually headed back to the rotation? Whatever that means. I suppose we'll see what happens.

Cubs win, oh yeah, get excited.

Reader Blog: Fun with statistics

    * Starlin Castro had six RBI after three major league at-bats. The man he essentially replaced in the lineup, Mike Fontenot, had 71 at-bats before Castro's call-up. In those 71 at-bats, he had ... six RBI. Fontenot nearly doubled his season's RBI total in his 72nd at-bat of the season with a pinch-hit grand slam.
    * Aramis Ramirez has the same number of strikeouts (31) as hits and runs combined (20 + 11 = 31). Ramirez also has a lower batting average (.159) than Ryan Dempster and a lower OBP than Carlos Silva who, prior to this year, had not played in the National League since 2003.
    * Speaking of Silva, he has four quality starts this season; he had one all of last season (granted, he was injured for a significant portion of it). Silva has three wins on the season; he had five the last two seasons combined.
    * Ryan Theriot had back-to-back games with two stolen bases on April 12 and April 14. He has stolen only two other bases this season.
    * Marlon Byrd has 23 RBI this season. The man he essentially replaced, Milton Bradley, notched his 23rd RBI on July 25 of last year.
    * Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have combined for fewer hits than Tigers rookie Austin Jackson.
    * Of the four Cubs starters with the most starts, Gorzelanny and Dempster have the best ERAs (2.83 and 3.44, respectively) but the fewest wins (1 and 2). Silva and Wells (3.50 and 4.57) have three wins each.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

You shouldn't lose to the Pirates. (Game Recap: Cubs 2, Pirates 3)

Game Recap
Check it out, I'm a poet:

Cubs lose. Offense sucks.
Demp gets another tough loss.
Against... the Pirates.

The two runs came on solo shots, one each from Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. The three runs Dempster gave up also came in via homer -- a loner to Andy LaRoche and a two-run dinger to Ryan Church.

The Cubs struck out five times in tonight's game, and every time they did I got pretty pissed off. Of course, hitters will strike out, but tonight's Ks were almost all in big spots in the game. Pretty frustrating.

I'll rank them in order of impact, as defined (quite subjectively) by myself:

5) With two out and nobody on, Ryan Theriot strikes out in the top of the eighth.

It was late in the game, and the 2010 Theriot is supposed to be more like the 2008 one, who rarely struck out, instead of the 2009 guy who too often swung for the fences. But even if Theriot avoided the out here, it would have been tough to bring him home with two outs already in the inning.

4) With two on and two out in the top of the seventh, Xavier Nady swings and misses at an Evan Meek heater.

We had a great chance to score here, and Meek could not figure out how to throw his breaking ball for a strike. But Nady couldn't do anything with that knowledge, and the inning ended without the Cubs having scored any runs.

3) One at-bat prior to Nady's K (runners on 1st and 2nd), Alfonso Soriano struck out on a 3-2 Meek fastball -- after being ahead 3-0 at one point.

The Pirates couldn't afford to allow a runner to get to third base with only one out in the inning, so Soriano had to know he had three strikes coming -- and that's exactly what happened. He took the 3-0 fastball (dead center at 93), fouled off the 3-1 (Meek came a bit inside -- it was a good pitch), and whiffed on the 3-2.

A productive out would have moved the speedy Marlon Byrd to 3rd base for Nady, putting more pressure on Meek against Nady, and of course a hit would have scored a run, and put another runner in scoring position for Nady. The K was painful there.

2) Mike Fontenot leads off the top of the ninth by swinging and missing at a letter-high fastball fastball from Octavio Dotel on a 3-2 count.

Simply taking a ball way out of the zone would have put the leadoff man on against a shaky closer with our three, four, and five hitters due up. In my mind, this game was over as soon as Font swung and missed here.

But I'm even more pissed about a strikeout that happened much earlier.

1) In the top of the fifth inning, with Marlon Byrd on 2nd, Aramis Ramirez, our cleanup hitter -- the artist formerly known as Clutchy McClutcherson -- struck out swinging on the fourth pitch of his at bat.

Foul tip. Called strike. Ball. Swinging strike.

A perfect demonstration of ineptitude.

Aramis Ramirez looks straight up terrible, folks. He's never slumped like this.

And the worst part is, it's not even bad luck really. It'd be one thing if his line shots were finding gloves, or if his hard hit grounders were all being hit right at people. But Aramis is just swinging and missing WAY TOO MUCH, and hitting weak crap every time else. He's hitting .149 on the season.

He looks terrible. And if it weren't for the first half of last year, this would be a perfect time to say, "I don't know what the Cubs will do this season if he continues to play this way." Because we all know what it felt like watching the Cubs without Aramis Ramirez last year.

On that note: Guess who will almost certainly be exercising his 2012 player option worth $14.6 million?

(Editor's Note: Feel free to check out an article I -- Kurt -- wrote for a Pirates blog known as Rum Bunter.  It's a pretty cool site)

Reader Blog: Week four awards

Can someone adjust the calendar in the Cubs' clubhouse to make it seem like every day is either Friday, Saturday or Sunday? For the second straight week, the Cubs used a stellar weekend to turn what was shaping up to be a frustrating stretch into a 4-3 week; they're now 7-3 in their last 10 overall. After unloading for 25 runs last weekend against the Brewers, the Cubs put up 28 runs this weekend and came back to take three of four from the Diamondbacks. They're back to .500 and will try for the fifth time to get over the hump when they head to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Ryno of the Week: These offensive outbursts are making it hard to choose--the Cubs are now fifth in the NL in runs scored and tied for fourth in OBP. Byrd continued to torch opposing pitchers this week, piling up 11 hits. Ryan Theriot had four multi-hit games this week and has a 12-game hitting streak overall. Kosuke Fukudome's solid week has him in the top ten in the NL in batting average, OBP and OPS. All three of those guys are in the top 10 in the NL in batting with Soriano close behind at 14th.

And it's Alfonso Soriano who gets the nod this week. He was 8-for-20 with six of those hits going for extra bases, including four home runs. One of his long balls gave the Cubs the lead and another tied the score in a game they eventually won. He also drove in 10, scored seven times, and drew four walks throughout the week. He consistently displayed patience as he watched sliders off the outside corner go by, waited for a hitter's pitch, and drilled it. He's in one of those zones we got used to back in 2008, and boy is it fun to watch.

Honorable mention: Tom Gorzelanny

Goat of the Week: It pains me to do this for the second week in a row, but Aramis Ramirez was just 5-for-25 (four singles and a double) and continued to be a virtual black hole in the middle of the Cubs' lineup. The highest his average got all week was .159. His current .156 average is the lowest in the NL by 24 points and higher than only Travis Snyder and Nick Johnson in the majors. Which is, you know, not good.

Dishonorable mention
: Derrek Lee

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Reader Blog: Tom Gorzelanny wondering what a guy's gotta do to get some runs over here

The Cubs have yet to win a game started by Tom Gorzelanny, but he deserves very little of the blame for this unfortunate trend--the Cubs have scored two, three, one and one run(s), respectively, in those games while Gorzelanny has posted a 2.45 ERA.

Though Gorzo allowed two runs last night almost before the pregame show was complete, he settled down after the first and notched a (everybody together now) quality start. He came just one out away from a QS his last time out (and would have had one were it not for an error by Mike Fontenot), and was knocked out, literally, of his previous start after three innings. Those two starts represent the only games in the last 12 in which the Cubs starter did not post a quality start. In fact, don't look now, but the Cubs have the sixth-best ERA in the National League. And yes, that includes the bullpen!

But Livan Hernandez, whose season has started as inexplicably well as Carlos Silva's, shut down the Cubs with his 85 mph fastballs and grab bag of random pitches that have no business working in the major leagues. The end result was one measly unearned run for the Cubs, giving Gorzelanny another loss and bringing the Cubs' record to 0-4 when he has taken the mound.

Hernandez lulled the Cubs offense to sleep even though they should have been energized by the opportunity to climb over .500. It was the fourth time this season the Cubs have had a chance to get their heads above water, but now they'll look to Ryan Dempster on Wednesday as they attempt to even their record at 11-11.

Though Aramis Ramirez was just 1-for-4 with a single, I think he's about to break out of it. He had a line drive single on Sunday as well as a hard line out to center. On Monday, he smoked a double in the first inning and later hit what would have been a home run on most days. And along with his single last night, he drove a ball to the warning track in center. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think Ramirez is almost there.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

I'll take "Long-running Internet Memes that I'm just becoming aware of" for 600, Alex

It appears that ARam's walkoff walk is the first walkoff walk of the 2010 season!  This season saw its first no-hitter before its first walkoff walk...and yes I did know that there was a site devoted to the glory of the walkoff walk.


What I did not know about was the shrimp. Seems I am, as usually, really behind the curve about the shrimp. 


Not anymore.  I am still crying, thanks to ARam, Brian Burnley or whatever his name is, and Walkoff Walk.  God is good, some people are really funny, and it isn't just us who has a shitty bullpen.  Today is starting off to be another fine day. 

Game Recap: Cubs 4, Nationals 3

recap
Seems like four was a magic number tonight.  Cubs win their fourth straight by scoring their fourth run of the game on a four pitch walk.  Should ESPN ever decide to go with an ESPN4, the highlight of A-Ram taking the walk should clearly be the centerpiece of the commercial.

The game itself wasn't pretty by any means, but it was finally a relief to have one of "those" games tilt in the Cubs' favor.  The Cubs opened the scoring in the second by stringing together doubles by Byrd and A-Ram.  Later that inning, Silva the (quality start) Hutt got an RBI on a bases loaded walk.  For the record, Silva has 2 RBI in 10 plate appearances while Milton Bradley has 10 RBI in 52 plate apperances.  Just saying, if you project it out, the production is about the same...

The second inning rally ended with a "here we go again" moment when Theriot flew out to right and watched Willy Taveres gun Soto at home.  Even the most optimistic Cub fan tends to get a little nervous when a momentum-changing moment such as that play occurs, and I am no exception.  The Cubs tacked on another run in the third on a Byrd infield single, driving in Baker who had tripled two batters earlier.  The Cubs didn't score after that until the bottom of the tenth, when Ramirez drew the bases loaded walk.

The real story was once again the starting pitching staff.  Carlos Silva turned in another quality start with a final line of 7 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.  Silva sent down the first nine batters he faced in the game.  He hit a bit of a rocky patch in the fourth inning when he allowed two runs on three hits.  Even more interesting than the fact that Silva turned in a quality start is the fact that today's start was the first start that Silva allowed more than one earned run.  Moreover, over his first four starts he has a 1.73 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.  Because Silva has only walked three batters in over 26 innings, it's not like he's pitching on a mound surrounded by four leaf clovers while hiding a horsehoe in his jock.  However, because he is currently holding batters to a .173 BABIP, his numbers are due to regress as the season goes on.  Despite all of that, color me impressed so far with Silva's start to the season.  I didn't think he'd cut our rotation out of Spring Training, much less be one of our most productive starters.

The bullpen was near flawless tonight as well.  Marshall, Marmol and Zambrano combined for 3 scoreless innings.  The latter, Zambrano, made his Wrigley Field debut out of the 'pen and only gave up a hit over 1 2/3 innings.  While I was only able to watch on Gamecast when Z was in the game, it seemed like he was relying a little bit too much on his fastball.  To be honest, it felt like his Opening Day pitch sequence but with better results.  I know that he is still re-learning the process of coming out of the bullpen, and that part of that process is understanding what pitches are "on" on any given night.  However, out of the 27 pitches Z threw over the 1 2/3 innings he was in, 22 of them were fastballs.  Again, he was effective, but I'd like to see him mix it up a bit more in the future.

Regardless of those criticisms, winning does solve a lot of things.  The bats are awake, the pitching staff has been solid, and the Cubs have won four straight and made the jump into second place in the division standings.  I'd love to see the momentum continue for the ballclub and watch the Cubs run the streak to five tomorrow.

Reader Blog: Weekly awards

Baseball can be a funny game. The Cubs were yet to have a winning week (2-4 in Week 1, 3-3 in Week 2), and, as of Thursday, were 1-3 this week after barely being competitive against a Mets team that had been struggling. The Cubs then headed to Milwaukee to take on a Brewers team that had absolutely obliterated the Pirates in their previous series. Three dominant games later, the Cubs have their first three-game winning streak of the season, their first winning week (4-3), and have scored more runs than their opponents for the first time.

Ryno of the Week: Randy Wells put together two strong starts, but this week's award has to go to a hitter--several Cubs put up video game numbers over the last seven days. First, I thought: "It's got to be Soto--he reached base 64 percent of the times he came to the plate!" But then I realized Marlon Byrd had 13 hits last week along with six runs scored and four RBI, despite the fact that he didn't even play yesterday.

But Ryan Theriot did him one better, literally. He had 14 hits, scored five runs and drove in six, capping his week with a 5-for-6 day that raised his average over 40 points.

Honorable mention: Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week
: When it comes to the Cubs, I think the thing I want to see most right now is Aramis Ramirez bust out of his slump. It's painful to watch. He was 2-for-25 this week with seven strikeouts. It's really weird to see him swing and miss at 85 mph fastballs over the middle, isn't it? Please break out of it, Aramis. I can't take it any more.

Dishonorable mentions: Jeff Baker, Xavier Nady

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You can read more from Brandon at his blog ... Wait til this Year!

Reader Blog: Cubs finally find the road to victory

The Cubs scored just 319 runs on the road last year (compared to 388 at home), more than only Houston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Every time they were in a park other than Wrigley, it seemed to be as difficult for them to score one run as it was for Frodo to trek to Mordor and destroy the ring. YOU SHALL NOT PASS ... third base. The offense constantly looked uncomfortable on the road. Or uninterested. Or unable. Definitely un-something.

Unfortunately, this trend has continued here at the beginning of the 2010 season. Nineteen runs in the first eight road games. One run combined in two games started by Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey, respectively, to begin this series with the Mets. A road batting average (.195) that makes you wish Mario Mendoza was on the roster.

In fact, the Cubs had yet to score more than five runs in any road game this season. That is, until Wednesday. They finally broke out the bats, scoring nine runs by banging out 14 hits and drawing nine walks. Alfonso Soriano was 3-for-4 with a home run and came just a double shy of the cycle. He appears to be in one of his patented hot streaks--he has 13 hits in his last 28 at-bats.

On the mound, Carlos Silva continued his rather unbelievable early season success, allowing just two hits and one run in six efficient innings. There's no need to get carried away and assume Silva's name will be etched on the Cy Young Award when the season concludes, but it is worth stepping back and enjoying the apparent resurgence of a player the Mariners dumped in exchange for a guy who can't seem to count outs, and when he does, does so with his middle finger. Silva is now 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA, the latter being good for sixth in the majors. Pretty amazing, even if it is only three starts.

But Wednesday's game wasn't all positive. While I know he's the one guy we all just know is going to break out of it eventually, I'm going to allow myself a bit of worry about Aramis Ramirez. I'm honestly not sure that I've ever seen him look this bad. Normally a disciplined hitter, he has struck out  in 20 of his 67 plate appearances, and walked just five times. He has exactly one multi-hit game, way back on Opening Day. The Cubs' offense has had a lot of problems this year, but Ramirez's .194 OBP has to be at the top of the list.

But enough of that. The Cubs got a nice win and will look for the series split against (gulp) Johan Santana tonight. It will be a match-up of lefties with Tom Gorzelanny going for the Cubs.

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Reader Blog: Trade Winds

Jim Hendry has been the Cubs GM since mid 2002, so we’ve got a lot of trades to look at. I’m going to highlight one or two from each season that strike me as particularly important or illuminating.

2002: Cubs trade Todd Hundley&Chad Hermansen for Mark Grudzeilanek&Eric Karros.

Hundley is my least favorite Cub of all time. He was shitty.  He was overpaid. And he was a mean son of a bitch. The Cubs handed him a 4 year, $23.5 million contract before the 2001 season. In his two years as a Cub, Hundley totaled 579 plate appearances and posted an OPS below 700. For those who prefer batting average, Todd hit .187 and .211 in 2001 and ’02. He’s most famous in Chicago for flipping off the home fans while rounding the bases after a home run. He was like Fukudome without the production, pleasant demeanor or sobriety.

Somehow, Jimbo convinced the Dodgers to take this sad sack off our hands, and send us something useful in return. Both Grudzeilanek and Karros contributed to the division winning squad in 2003. Grudz became our starting 2B, and he could inside out the ball to the opposite field as well as any hitter I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget watching Karros videotaping the playoffs from the Cubs dugout during the NLCS. It really felt like he was one of us. He wasn’t a bad platoon first baseman either.

Oh, and Hundley was pumped full of steroids for much of his career. So there’s that.

2003: Cubs trade Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback&a PTBNL for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton&Cash.

Cubs trade Ray Sadler for Randall Simon.

2003 was Hendry’s finest season. The Cubs would not have won their division that season were it not for Ramirez, Lofton and Simon. Lofton and Simon are long gone, while Aramis remains as the greatest Cubs 3B since Ron Santo. And Hendry gave up practically nothing to get them. Thanks, Pittsburgh!

2004: Cubs trade Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee.

Cubs trade Brendan Harris, Alex Gonzalez&Francis Beltran for Nomar Garciappara & Matt Murton.

The Choi for Lee deal rivals the Aramis Ramirez trade for the best of Hendry’s career. Clearly, Jim was on his game in the early nineties. Choi never realized his potential, and is probably best remembered for being carted off the field after an in game collision with Kerry Wood.  Derrek’s achievements speak for themselves. He is my favorite Cub, and I will be sad to see him go if this is truly his last season here.

As much as the Nomar trade did not work out, I believe now as I believed then that is was the right move to make. The Cubs SHOULD have won their division that season and were trying to add the missing piece for a postseason run. Obviously things didn’t work out. Mercker bitched, LaTroy imploded, Sammy stepped out, and the Cubs massively underachieved and missed the postseason altogether. The following April, Nomar suffered the most excruciating injury imaginable, and that was that. He was on the DL until August, and by that time the only interesting question left was whether DLee would win the 2005 NL MVP. The Cubs finished 21 games behind the Ratbirds, who won 100 times that year.

2005: Cubs trade Sammy Sosa & Cash for Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.

Cubs trade Ricky Nolaso, Sergio Mitre & Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre.

2005 was the first year that Hendry really pissed me off.  These two trades, which neatly wrap around a lost season, signal a real change in Jim’s ability to maximize value on the trade market. Let’s tackle the Sosa deal first. Sosa was a diva who didn’t mesh well with his teammates. He was getting older and was obviously on the decline. He still hit 35 HR in 2004. He should have brought more in return than he did. I believe he would have, if not for the systematic way the Cubs undermined any leverage they might have had in trading him. As you all undoubtedly remember, Sammy left the ballpark 15 minutes into the final game of the 2004 season. This became public, and it shortly became obvious that Sosa would never be welcomed back into the Cubs clubhouse. When 29 teams know you have to trade a guy, 29 teams will not give you good value in return. Fontenot was the only piece worth mentioning here, and he’s a platoon 2B who was nearly DFA’d by the club this past offseason.

Then there’s Juan Pierre. Hendry’s worst trade as the Cubs’GM. Full disclosure. I despised him then and I still do. Maybe it’s because, along with Josh Beckett and Pudge Rodriguez, I still associate him with the 2003 Marlins. Maybe it’s because he posted a crappy OBP with zero power. Or his limp dick outfield arm. Or maybe it’s because we lost 96 games and I needed a scapegoat. Here’s why this trade still pisses me off to this day: Ricky Nolasco is awesome. He’s exactly the kind of player the Cubs need to keep if they are going to be successful. And Jimbo traded him for one subpar year of a crappy player on a terrible team. GAHHHHHHHHHH.

2006: Cubs trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis.

This one is more emotional than anything else. Hendry traded Maddux to the Dodgers to give him a shot at winning a championship. Respect.

2007: Cubs trade Rocky Cherry and Scott Moore for Steve Trachsel.

WTF? Cherry and Moore were no great shakes, but I can’t begin to fathom what Hendry was hoping to accomplish here. Trachsel was old and finished. Trachsel made a few starts, didn’t pitch well, and was left off the postseason roster.

2008: Cubs trade Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson & Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin.

Cubs trade Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg.

Like the Nomar trade, the Harden deal was a well meaning, but ultimately failed attempt to improve the team for a deep postseason run. I saw Harden’s first Wrigley Field start in person. He was DOMINANT. If memory serves, he went 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 10 K. I was convinced he was the missing piece.  Two years later, the Cubs have no rings, and Harden struggles to get out of the third inning with fewer than 100 pitches thrown. At least it doesn’t look like those prospects amount to much.

Kevin Gregg was a disaster and I'm glad he's gone.

2009: Cubs trade Mark DeRosa for Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Christopher Archer.

And the Trixies wept.

2010: Cubs trade Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva & cash.

Cubs trade Aaron Miles, Jake Fox & cash for Jeff Gray, Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer.

Two things are obvious to me about these most recent trades: First, it is far too early to say anything definitive about these deals.  Second, they were all about Hendry fixing his free agency mistakes from the previous offseason. That’s never a good thing for a GM. I was furious with Hendry for suspending Bradley for the last 15 games of the 2009 season, as it robbed him of any leverage he might have had in trade talks. I was furious all over again when the Cubs traded for Silva, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the last several years. Now I’m just sort of numb. I know Silva isn’t an ace, and his sub – 1.00 ERA is the product of small sample size. I’d be thrilled if he finished the year with an ERA under 4.50, and right now that looks like a possibility. As for Gray, at least he got AAron Miles out of here. Meh.

Conclusions:
Hendry made a number of brilliant trades early in his GM career. Since 2004, he’s been significantly less productive in the trade market. It’s not clear whether other teams simply got smarter, Jim lost his touch, or something else altogether, but Hendry hasn’t had an obvious win since the trade that brought Derrek Lee to Chicago. Hendry’s trades aren’t getting it done anymore. He should be fired.

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