Some notes after today's frustrating game:
1)Cubs are now 2-4 in 1 run games and 3-6 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs this year. It's frustrating but with a little luck, the Cubs would have a much better record.
2) Aramis' K rate is alarmingly high in the early going this year. Coming into today's game, He was striking out close to 35% of the time. His career K rate is only 15%. I'm hoping this isn't something that continues.
3)Geovany Soto is fine. I think the Cubs are hurting themselves by keeping him in the 8 hole. This is where you should place your worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher). If you don't put the pitcher there, I can think of at least 2 or 3 players who would better suited for that spot over Soto.
4) Despite today's blown save, I am very happy about Marmol's control this year. After today's game, Marmol has walked just 2 betters in 6.2 innings. It's early but if he can keep his walk rate significantly below 4, he is likely to make the All Star team.
Sure was nice of Smiley Caridad to have that stiff forearm. That's 1 bullpen change, 9 to go.
Anyway, on my browser home page, I have sections for ESPN, Yahoo! Big League Stew, AOL Fanhouse, The Tribune, Sun-Times and Daily Herald. Every last one of them has something about the current Worst Contract in the Bigs, Employee #12, Alfonso Soriano. And, right they are, his inability to run, field his position, or have much impact at the plate anymore seem to be part of a permanent trend. Chances are, he isn't going to get much better, ever.
It reminds me a lot of the 2004 Nomar we brought in. Man, Boston sure knew when to trade THAT prick, didn't they? It was like buying something off of eBay, having it brought in, and watching it literally disintegrate before our eyes.
Now, I remember that Soriano carried us the last month of 2007, and was productive in the parts of 2008 when his legs were healthy. I'm talking about the here and now, and what I am seeing, the stiffness, the hesitancy, reminds me of the Nomar Cubs Era. And, obviously, backwards Ramon never ever got healthy again, and I suspect neither will Sori. The other difference was, backwards Ramon was in the last year of his contract. We still owe Sori 90 million buckos.
Therefore, the Fonz is a topical notion; what excuse will the Cubs use for their next five years of failure? Oh, probably that they are paying a guy $18 million a year for next to nothing. We like to cover our own butts.
However, at least at the time of this posting, Soriano is hitting above .200. In fact, his batting average is over 100 points higher than our clean-up hitter.
Our fourth hitter has 12 strikeouts already - far more than Soriano's 8, albeit in more at-bats. In fact, our clean-up hitter has more at bats than everyone else on the team except The Riot, who took his turn as the team punching bag last week. But smart people figured Theriot would start hitting, and he has, and I also suppose that Aramis Ramirez is not going to hit a buck-twenty-five all year.
Lord, at least, I hope he doesn't. In fact, I am very confident that he will not. But, for the present moment, Aramis Ramirez is just....killing...us!! Far worse than Soriano, in fact. I wouldn't think that a dislocated shoulder should throw a man's swing off permanently, but then again, I can't think of too many precedents of players dislocating their shoulder THAT badly.
I'm just saying, let's hope that Ramirez is just having a slump, and that he will pull out of it soon. Otherwise, folks, there will be very little cheering again this year.
Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!
In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.
Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.
I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.
We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.
Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.
What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:
Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.
Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!
Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.
To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,
Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.
A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.
This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:
Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.
Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.
As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.
Any lessons learned? I suppose so.
First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).
Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.
(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)
And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.
It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.
The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.
(*This is officially known as the Dr. Doom Clause, in case you didn't know, and it stipulates that no matter how screwed he appears to be, Aramis can jettison to free agency whenever it's convenient, or even inconvenient)
The question is this, though: why would he use it? He's set to earn 14 million plus a year with the Cubs should he remain in Chicago. There aren't many teams that can afford that salary, and most of the ones that can already have third basemen making ludicrous amounts of money.
Not to mention that Ramirez is coming off of an injury-saddled season, in which his shoulder made a runner while he was trying to field a grounder. We don't know if Ramirez will be healthy this year (or ever again). He's at that pesky age where bodies start to fall apart, and he chose to rehabilitate his shoulder rather than repair it surgically. If he stays healthy and puts up massive numbers, I suppose it's plausible that he exercise the Dr. Doom Clause, but realistically speaking he'll be doing it in order to pull an A-Rod: force the Cubs to bid against themselves with the hopes of increasing his already-ridiculous salary.
But remember: say what you will about Jim Hendry and his bumbling strategy of managing a baseball organization, but he is the Mountie of Major League Baseball: he always gets his man. Hendry has yet to lose a Cub to free agency unless he wanted to be rid of the guy, and although he's paid ridiculous sums of money to keep barely-above-average players from departing, I'm betting that Ramirez will be a Cub in 2011. Barring an unforeseen shoulder explosion.
And should he avoid injury, Ramirez will very likely have a respectable year for the Cubs. We haven't really gotten into our predictions yet for what the 2010 team will do (that's coming, don't worry), but last year's offensive druthers were, in some ways, a mirage. The added contribution of A-Ram's bat, added to rebound years from Soriano, Fontenot, and Soto spells a dangerous Cubs lineup.
Should he avoid injury.
What Sully has done is gathered some of the legal facts about Cub contracts, compared them to some of the statements that have been made, and thrown in some wishful thinking on his part, and come up with the following: if the Cubs suck this year, we will have a new manager, GM, third baseman, first baseman, no Ted Lilly, and tons of money to spend.
If you want to know what he thinks about it, go click on the links. But do you know what I think? First of all, I do not hope we suck this year. I hope we win the World Series. I do not think we will, not without a true Ace starter, a true leadoff man, and what has to be regarded as total uncertainty about the health of Alfonso Soriano. I think we will suck this year. But if you read this and come away with the notion that I WANT us to tank 2010 so we can rebuild, forget it. That's stupid, just plain stupid, to wish for us to waste a whole year in the careers of Zambrano, Soto, Theriot, Marmol, etc.
But what if 2010 turns out to be another typical year of frustration at Clark and Addison, only with the majors' third largest payroll, and new owners burdened with stifling debt in an uncertain economy? If we don't win the NL Central this year, here's what might happen:
- Jim Hendry - Sully thinks he won't be back in 2011. I think he will. I don't think the Ricketts want to look for another GM, and with the farm system looking better than it has for many years, Hendry isn't going to be held responsible for the failure. Jim can just blame the 'go for it now' edict from Sam Zell as a twisted sort of justification for saddling us with our nastiest contracts - "it wasn't my idea, it was his".
- Lou Piniella - Lou will most certainly be back in 2011 if we play well this year, and will most certainly will NOT be back if we do not. Fact is, even though this lineup is not built to win a pennant, it could and probably should finish on top of the Central, unless crippling injuries and/or clubhouse strife take place. If it does, it will be another trying season for the manager, and I was surprised Lou lasted all of 2009. He won't make it another year like that.
Who takes his place? Sadly, it won't be Ryne Sandberg. I am cynical enough to believe that Hendry and Crane Kenney have been stringing Ryno along this whole time, in a perverse PR move to boost minor league attendance. Somehow, I believe Joe Girardi has been the plan all along amongst the braintrust. The fact that the Yankees won it all last year just made it all the more convenient to give Lou one more year. Chances are, the Yanks will not repeat, Girardi will take the fall, and end up in our pinstripes in 2011.
- Ted Lilly - his contract is up this year. Sully thinks he won't be re-signed if the Cubs tank. Based on his past 4 years, he will be paid handsomely. Yes, he is rehabbing at the moment, but unlike some other recent Cub hurlers, he will not look back at the winter of 2009-10. It would be a mistake not to retain him.
- Derrek Lee - his contract is also up this year. Sully also thinks he will not be asked back, perhaps under any circumstances. Lee is the leader of this team. That works AGAINST him if we do not win this year. What also works against him is the bumper crop of first base free agents available next off-season. In my honest opinion, if you love Derrek Lee, enjoy him now, while you can.
- Aramis Ramirez - he has a player option for 2011. Sully thinks that if we suck, ARam will not exercise his option to return. I disagree entirely. His option is for over $14MM next year. No way he gets that anywhere else. Plus, you never hear about his desire to play anywhere else. You don't hear about any friendships with any other players in the league. He is a Cub, folks. We are not going to get his money to spend on someone else.
- Kosuke Fukudome - Sully doesn't mention him at all, but he has one more hefty year left after this year. However, if we suck, it will most likely be due to his inability to repeat his Japanese success here. Cubs fans have turned on him, as bad or worse than they ever turned on Milton Bradley. I don't think he comes back for one more year of this, even for the last huge payday. Ichiro comes back year after year, because although his team sucks, he himself performs at an all-star level. There isn't any dishonor in his game. The Fooker has not been as advertised. I can see him retiring, turning his back on his last $12 million. So maybe we save some money there.
- Carlos Zambrano - as big as his contract is, he is not untradeable. If the Cubs are not leading the division or close to it by the deadline, the media pressure on him will be intense. Last year, he made statements that he wouldn't deal with that kind of pressure from the Chicago media ever again. He just might demand a trade, putting us in the unenviable position of weakness. If I have judged the Ricketts correctly, I don't think they will appreciate Zambrano doing that to them any more than once. They will accommodate him if this comes up again.
So, although the lava on my volcano pours down differently than on Sully's, the Apocalypse may come this winter. The parts are all in place.
For all the bad moves Jim Hendry has made over the years, one stands out above the rest. When the Cubs were in need of a 3B and OF during the 2003 season, Jim reached out to the Cubs Farm team in Pittsburgh and plucked Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez.
Ramirez has worked out just fine, and besides the shoulder injury, played really well this season. Ramirez, long known for sub-par defense, seperated a shoulder diving to stop a Ryan Braun smash. He made the play, but thus ended the Cubs playoff hopes. The Cubs never really got rolling after that injury, even though they were in contention most of the season.
Ramirez turned in his lowest HR (15) and RBI totals (65) of his Cub career, but he did that damage in just 82 games. He actually hit .317 this season with an OPS of .890, but it was obvious at times that he had trouble with his power after the injury. Hopefully, an entire offseason of rest will help Ramirez and he will roll to huge numbers in 2010.
The biggest question following Rameriz is, "will he stay healthy?" He turns 32 this year, and we've seen that players are down declining in their 30's without the help of PEDs. Will this happen to him? Or does he have a few more years in the tank. My guess is that he will turn in a couple more solid years, before giving way to Josh Vitters in 2012.
Overall, it's hard to judge Ramirez's year for the Cubs. He played well when he was in the lineup, but his missed time really killed the Cubs since they didn't have a guy like Mark DeRosa. Instead, we had to trot out Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot in the same lineup. He was able to play late in the season with a little pain, so the Cubs have to figure that he will be just fine. Still, I would love to see a capable backup plan that doesn't include Fontenot gettting the majority of time at third base.
When the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the 12th, I was thinking the top of the 13th would be a breeze.
"What they should do here," I said to myself, "is let the NL leader in stolen bases take first on a base hit to lead off. They'll waste an out on Kaz calling for a bunt. Then we walk Tejada, because everyone knows Carlos Lee sucks in the late innings against young pitchers who rely too much on their fastball! Easy DP."
To continue my lengthy soliloquy, I pondered, "Now what would make the most sense for the bottom of the 13th? Lee, Ramirez, and Bradley are due up... They'll probably figure out a way to get on base. What I really want to have happen is for Soriano, the guy with three strikeouts and another out on a bad hustle play, to have to win this game. Naturally, I can expect him to hit a grand slam home run to put the game away and give the Cubs another night in first place."
It made sense then, and it makes sense now.
At times, it seemed as though the Cubs were trying to give this one away. In the bottom of the 9th, Lou seemed to overthink a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Rather than use Jake Fox to try to bring the winning run home, Lou played The Handedness Game, putting in a lefty (Fontenot) to face Valverde.
Things looked more or less fine, until a 1-1 pitch from Valverde went outside. Fontenot tried to bunt, but couldn't get the bat on the ball; at the same time, Milton Bradley broke from third. The squeeze was foiled, and the game slogged on.
Excellent outings from the bullpen regulars. Heilman, Marmol and Marshall were shutdown. On top of that, the Jeffs (Stevens and Samardzija) contributed 3.2 scoreless innings, giving the Cubs every chance to win.
And win they did, in grand fashion. After failing to capitalize on early opportunities, the Cubs finally broke through the Astros bullpen and, after loading the bases with no outs, Alfonso Soriano hit the game-winner in grand fashion.
I saw that one coming, too -- or at least, I entertained the possibility when I noticed the bases were juiced. "It'd just be fitting," I told myself, "for Soriano to not only win the game with a hit, but to win it definitively." Granted, I was in an empty room at the time, and talking to one's self out loud and later admitting to it on a blog is probably on the wrong side of the crazy line, but I was right.
This was one of those games that could mean more than a simple W in the standings. Not that the Cubs necessarily need it -- they've already seemed to find the momentum they've been lacking all year long. But consider that the Astros have been even hotter than the Cubs this month, and yet the bullpen managed to hold them to 0 runs for 6 innings. Then, consider that Soriano has turned a cold streak into a career move, but last night's grand slam is the icing on top of a great month for him.
This was a gutsy win, and a much-needed victory that helps Chicago keep pace in the NL Central. Tomorrow, the Cardinals face Chad Billingsley, while we get Roy Oswalt, and a thin Astro bullpen. Guzman and Gregg should be available for the Cubs.
One random thought on the Cubs-Phillies Games
In the ShoutBox yesterday, one reader suggested that it's difficult to really get excited because the Cubs got beaten by the Phillies not too long ago. But consider the facts...
The Cubs lost two games out of three on the road against one of the best teams in the NL. Their first loss -- a blow-out -- occurred in part because it was Ted Lilly pitching for the Cubs. Lilly has since then been placed on the DL with a sore shoulder and had his knee scoped. Might it be fair to suggest that on most days, Lilly and the Cubs do not surrender 10 runs to the Phillies?
The second game, which they also lost, took 13 innings of play. The Phillies didn't exactly win with authority.
And the third game was a Cubs route. Just saying -- with a healthy Lilly on the mound, the Cubs may not have lost two games there -- and even the loss that came "honestly" was one that also came in extra innings.
I guess all it takes to wake up the Cubs' bats (other than two days of suck) is an ancient lefty soft-tosser. Something about the line-up being predominantly right-handed, need a lefty power bat, can't get it? Whatever.
Anyways, the Cubs won today! Woo hoo!
Lots of Cubs had multiple hits today (Theriot, A-Ram, Bradley, and Soriano). Also, Ryan Theriot stole three bases. I guess that means he'll get picked off twice tomorrow.
Despite the offensive onslaught, only two of our 13 hits went for extra bases (both doubles), and only one of our runs scored with two outs. So, still no soul-crushing big hits, still no clutch performances, but 11 singles and 9 walks should get you somewhere.
Z was actually really hittable today, giving up 10 hits in his start, along with three walks. But it was good enough for today, thanks to all the Cubs that got themselves safely to first over and over.
As far as the series goes, I for one think these three games were pretty indicative of what we can expect from the team here on out.
Some days they'll slap a bunch of singles off a crap starter having a bad day, and some days all those pokes will roll right to infielders and will mostly turn into outs. Against top line starting pitching (guys like Rodrigo Lopez and Joe Blanton), the Cubs will have trouble scoring runs. And the whole time, the pitching will be more or less good enough to give the team a chance to win.
We will continue to hold out hope for this offense. It'd be great if Soto could heal up by, say, tomorrow. The Baker/Fontenot platoon at second base looks pretty alright. If Bradley can get better, and Soriano can stay hot... well, then, who knows what might happen.
Getting Dempster back soon will make the pitching that much better. I hope the Cubs quit jerking Samardzija around and just stash him in Iowa for the rest of the season when Demp does come back (we need him to start, not handle mop-up).
Beyond those things, what else can you really do?
Current Record: 48-45
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 1.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 48-114
Record needed to win 110: 52-5
On Pace For: 83-79
Update: The moves have been announced.
Fuld and Hart have been sent to AAA, and Patton is on the DL with a groin strain.
As for the line-up, here's tonight's:
At some point today, the Cubs will announce their recall of Aramis Ramirez, Reed Johnson, and Angel Guzman to the major league club's active roster. They'll also announce the corresponding roster moves they've made to make room for these three bona fide major league players.
In my opinion, roster and line-up speculation is what makes sports blogging fun. Not only do you get to play GM, but you also get nearly instant feedback from other passionate fans with interesting ideas of their own.
With that, let's try to get some opinions in the comments on what folks are thinking would be ideal for the club at this point. There are two questions to answer:
1) Who should be sent down?
2) How should Lou line the hitters up now that Aramis is back?