Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Alfonso Soriano

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Perhaps we should be encouraged by the Todd Ricketts "Undercover Boss" episode

For those of you who may have missed it, "Undercover Boss" is a show where the presumed "boss" of a company goes incognito and does menial jobs with menial schlubs in his own company, generally fails miserably, then cleans himself up and makes futile conciliatory gestures towards said schlubs, the end.  Todd Ricketts was featured in this week's show.

The masses didn't really enjoy it very much.  Andy very nicely summarizes for us here.

I choose to be encouraged, and here's why:

In all the other episodes, the "boss" is usually the boss due to his or her own merits.  It is not necessary that the head of FedEx be able to wrap a package more quickly than his trained package wrappers, for example.  He got to his lofty position because of his other abilities, that far outweigh the abilities of mere mortal men.  The show, by and large, is nothing more than a feel-good device for the Tea Party set: a garbageman can handle a garbage can more effectively than the CEO of his company; thus, in some small, ultimately trivial way, Sam Schlub is better than G. Thurston Gotrocks.

Of course, in our specific case, the Ricketts children are nothing more than the lottery winners of the Lucky Sperm club.  They did nothing to build the 900 million dollars American it took to buy the Cubs: that was thanks to their father, as well as the butt crazy dot.com economy which eventually crashed and left us where we are at today. 

In fact, most of the angst Cub Fan Nation is feeling right now is because none of us really know what the Ricketts kids are truly capable of, outside of swilling Old Styles and picking up chicks in the bleachers.  (Yep, that goes for all the kids).

So this particular episode of "UB" took on far more importance than the usual weekly doses of "Freaky Friday" schlock.  I don't give a rip if a billionaire isn't a very good panhandler.  But, hey, I DID want to see what one of the Ricketts kids is made of.

It wasn't real encouraging that Toddy didn't know how to operate a hose, or a hand truck.  But I don't hold it against him that he wanted to spend as little time as possible in the Wrigley Field bathrooms. I usually dash in and out of there myself, holding my breath as long as possible.  I don't always give the best high-fives, either, although I would know better than to try to give one to an authentic black guy.  An enthusiastic nod and a loud "YEAH" always seems to work.

But what made me sit up in my chair and take notice was his hot-dog vending effort.  After several hours sitting in his heated box, Todd (rightly) determined that the last four weiners were no longer fit for human consumption, so he dipped into his own pocket to "buy off" the Foul Four, and surreptiously dumped them in the trash. 

Now, it may have had nothing to do with the condition of the dogs, he might have just been lazy, but hear me out:

Aren't the four lousy hot dogs an apt metaphor for the expiring utility of Fukudome, Zambrano and Soriano?  Or how about the financials of Crane Kenney's and Jim Hendry's employment?  Yes, $15MM+ is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a player contract, but $4.50 is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a skinny hot dog in a soggy bun.  Might Todd be setting a precedent here, one where the Ricketts are encouraged to dip into their pockets, pay down the bills, and throw out some of their more useless employees?  Put some new baseball people in charge; let another set of eyes look at the organization, and determine whether we should be buyers, sellers, or builders?

I think the Great Hot Dog Toss might be a small first step towards something much more substantial: namely; rather than sitting on their asses and waiting for the bad Hendry contracts to expire, maybe the kids are gonna go out a year or two sooner to try to win?

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, waiting for the economy to bounce back.  Should be any day now. 

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.

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 (July 24, 2010) Cardinals @ Cubs

This was from the gamecast comments from yesterday:

" I'm sure we annoy you Cubs fans plenty, but I believe it has to do with the fact that we (Cardinals) have had such great success over the years, and especially in the last decade, whereas you Cubs have had huge disappointments even in your best recent years, and of course the whole 102-year drought thing. Those two very different histories make us Cards fans sound smug and obnoxious when we think we are only teasing you guys; and conversely even your actual angry talk doesn't bother us much because your team hasn't been able to back up your talk. It's like the little brother that hates the big brother's teasing, whereas nothing the little guy says even phases big brother.


I suppose my pointing this out sounds smug and obnoxious to most of you, but I actually don't mean it to. It would be a LOT more fun if the Cubs were in the position of the Reds this year. Even though I generally pull for whoever is playing the Cubs, I simultaneously dream of the possibility of the Cards and Cubs playing for the pennant some year. THAT would be putting all the chips in the pot, eh?


As I post this, the Cubs are beating the Cards 5-zip in the opener, so my smugness is currently in check..."

Here's the deal, Token, I don't give a flying f&ck about the Cubs' 102 year "failure" as you guys like to throw in our face daily. That "history" has zero to do with this team and this organization. The Cubs may be playing somewhat poorly right now but this isn't your father's Cub organization. This team has zero connection to, for instance, the 1978 team that was the first team I followed as a young bright eyed eight year old. The truth is, going forward, the Cubs are going to be winning more championships than your Cardinals. Why? Because the Cubs can spend money you guys can't and at the moment, we also have a better farm system. This has more to do with reality than some stupid curse that only people like you like to perpetuate. Very few Cub fans actually believe in the "curse" or like to talk to about 100+ years of losing. That just has nothing to do with us today or our team. You may as well be teasing our team for playing in a stadium with vines on the walls. That is why I am annoyed by you guys. It's tired. We've heard it. We don't enjoy the losing. Your opinion of both the current Cubs organization and Cubs fans is just wrong. Find a new way to "tease" us.
 
Today's Matchup: Blake Hawskworth (59.1IP, 4.85ERA, 4.41xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (80.2IP, 3.12ERA, 4.02xFIP)

Whew, after that rant, let's preview this game. It's already going but I will pretend it hasn't started yet. Gorz has been very good since coming back into the rotation. The key to his game is not to walk more than a batter or so every three innings and keep blowing people away. Hawksworth is nothing more than a mediocre middle reliever. Mediocre middle relievers rarely become decent starting pitchers. Dave Duncan, after Suppan yesterday, and Hawksworth today, doesn't look like such a miracle worker.

Who's Hot: Alfonso Soriano hasn't had too many of his patented hot streaks this year but so far, he's producing at a .380 wOBA, which would be a career high, and he's stayed healthy. Like Soto, he probably should be moved up in the order but it's kind of amazing to me how much better the Cubs' offense would be had Ramirez and Lee just had normal seasons this year.

Who's Not: Coming into today the Cardinals offense has gone two straight games without scoring a run. That's the first time in 15 years that has happened. That that occured after an eight game winning streak is beyond unlikely. I doubt this continues but it would be nice if Gorz could put another big zero on the board today.

Conclusion: A win would be nice. I ranted above and mostly about the Cubs but I wanted to point something out. In the last 3 years, the Cubs have won 2 division titles, the Cardinals have won 1. Just saying.....

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.

Lilly pitches... illly? (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Pirates 1)

Ted Lilly was his usual self last night: he challenged Pirates hitters, gave up a home run and a walk, struck out a handful, topped out at about 86 mph on the heater, and went seven innings. And this time, he even won the game. Bravo, Theodore.

Not that the Cub offense really did all that much to get him the W, of course. But Alfonso "Streaky McStreakerson" Soriano is back into "hot mode," and hit two homers last night, which turned out to be enough to get Lilly the favorable decision. Also, kudos to Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol for their shutdown innings in relief. Each of their ERAs remains just a touch above 2.00.

Also of note: as a team, the Cubs threw 93 of their 127 pitches for strikes last night, a 73% ratio.

As far as positive offensive performances beyond Soriano's, Koyie Hill went 2-for-3 with two doubles, and Starlin Castro went 1-for-1, doubling in his only at-bat (walked intentionally and brought in a run with a sac fly in his other plate appearances).

Cubs win! Yippee skippy. What's more (less?), they play again in two hours. Go Cubs!

Gamecast (June 27, 2010) Cubs @ White Sox

Well, with Kurt giving up, the team still presses on. Today is a good pitching matchup so fire up the grill, have a dog and a beer and get ready to watch the greatest game in the world. Sometimes it's tough to be Cubs fan, but let's just remember, it's still baseball no matter what.

Today's Matchup: Ryan Dempster (103.2IP, 3.56ERA, 3.91xFIP) vs John Danks (92IP, 3.23ERA, 4.26xFIP)

I've never been a huge fan of Danks who I see as an ok #3 starter on a good team. Dempster is more like an ok #2 starter on a good team and I've become a fan over the past several years. I expect Dempster to pitch well and I expect the Cubs to struggle with Danks, even though they shouldn't.

Who's Hot: Changes, they are a coming, although slowly and not at the level that will please people on this site. Oh, I'm sorry, this is about who's actually playing well on the field. Well, Aramis Ramirez hit a HR yesterday!!! I actually think he's going to have a decent second half, ala Magglio Ordonez last year.

Who's Not: Kosuke is hitting .196/.260/.239 in June. Wow, just wow.

Conclusion: Baseball is a beautiful game so I can find enjoyment in it even when the Cubs are less stellar. Hopefully the rest of you can also. I'm hoping that as the Cubs move on without the Zambrano distraction for the time being, that they can turn it around and win some games. I don't think this team is built to "blow it up" or whatever people like to write so they will continue to drudge on.

I'll probably watch the game today somewhat dispassionately and see what happens. Go Cubs! Avoid the friggin' sweep!

Grabow gets the win? (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Mariners 2)

The Cubs scored three runs last night! WOW!

Of course, they couldn't do it in just nine. The team ended up needing 13 innings, topped off by a leadoff walk from Alfonso Soriano in the final frame (he'd be brought home by a Marlon Byrd single). Also, much thanks to Mariners starter Felix Hernandez for hitting Xavier Nady with a pitch in the seventh, and then allowing him to advance to 2nd on a wild pitch, all so CHAD THE MAN TRACY could drive in the second Cub run.

And then there was the pitching. If this morning, you woke up, read the box score, and immediately splashed a full glass of ice water into your own face to assure you of your sanity, I wouldn't have blamed you: last night's W went to JOHN GRABOW, and Tom Gorzelanny got the one-out save, after BOB HOWRY got the first two outs of the bottom of the 13th. Wacky stuff!

Ted Lilly started the game and pitched rather effectively, allowing one earned run over six innings, nabbing six K's, and allowing just five hits, along with zero walks. Carlos Marmol did his best to make the game interesting, walking the bases loaded in the 10th, but he also struck out the side to preserve the tie. And Andrew Cashner's scoreless streak is over; his ERA has now skyrocketed to 0.87.

In short: The Cubs still suck, but at least we know how to win every once in a while.

Reader Blog: Week ten awards: The fat lady has cleared her throat

Well, at least one of the Chicago baseball teams got back on track this weekend.


Wait, that doesn't provide me any solace--I hate the Sox! Leave it to the Cubs to get the struggling South siders rolling again. Mark Buehrle's been struggling, hasn't gone more than 5.1 in his last three starts? No problem! A.J. Pierzynski can't hit the broad side of a barn? Take a crack at the Cubs' staff! Gavin Floyd has the worst ERA in the majors? No worries--how does a no-hitter through 6.2 sound?


After a 3-4 week in which the Cubs sank to a season-low eight games under .500, they're 7.5 back of the Reds after getting a game back with yesterday's exciting win. The Sox are the same number back of the Twins and have Detroit to chase down as well, so it's safe to say Chicago baseball isn't as good as, say, Chicago hockey.


After Lou's tirade against Steve Stone, it looks like he may have finally glanced at the stat sheet. He said yesterday that Colvin "is going to play a lot more than he has been" even though the same suggestion from Stone elicited a tirade in which he said "What job has [Stone] had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? ... I'm tired of these guys, I really am." 


But the fact is, though Colvin went 0-for-3 yesterday, all he's done the last 15 times Lou started him is go 19-for-48 (.396). And one of Lou's "five major league outfielders" is hitting .185 in June after hitting .253 in May. This slump was as predictable as the sunrise since it has happened all three years he's been a Cub. I'm talking, of course, about Kosuke Fukudome. Both Colvin and Fukudome are left-handed and, conveniently, one of them sucks and one of them is good along with being an important piece of the team's future. So apparently Lou is able to take suggestions, just not without yelling at the person first.


Although, I'll believe it when I see it since Lou also said on June 5 that Colvin would "be in the lineup most of the time," and he then sat four straight games June 9-12. Lou's change of heart back on the 5th, you'll recall, was after a reporter asked about Colvin's playing time and he snapped at him, too. Sigh.


Ryno of the Week: Obviously Ted Lilly, who would have been 2-0 were it not for Marmol's blown save in Milwaukee. He threw 16 innings and allowed just one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out 11 and thrilled a wet crowd at Wrigley by taking a no-hitter into the ninth (more on that tomorrow). Ex-Cub Juan Pierre kept him out of the history books but it was still a fantastic week for Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.


Marlon Byrd gets a special mention after a ridiculous 13-for-26 week that included two home runs and five RBI. He's batting .333 on the season.


Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker


Goat of the Week: Though he doubled and scored the only run yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was still just 2-for-20 last week. He's in one of those funks where he's swinging at just about everything, and he's now batting .111 in June.


I have to say, it was almost as if James Russell was trying to win this fake award. In two appearances he went 1+ innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, good for a 45.00 ERA. He was summarily sent to Triple-A Iowa.


Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome

Grabow and Howry... the new nasty boys?(Game Recap: Cubs 5, Rangers 4)

Nice and important win. Cubs take a 4 run lead in the first inning on a few dinks and then a Soriano blast and they hold it thru a less than stellar Carlos Silva and some shaky middle relief. This is the first time the Cubs have pitched both John Grabow and Bob Howry in the same game and they still managed to win!

Soriano made a nice, slightly awkward, diving catch but also saved a run when the Rangers attempted a comeback in the seventh on a double by Ian Kinsler, holding Elvus Andrus, who runs like the wind, at third base. That kept the score 5-4 and some great pitching by Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, they managed to keep it that way.

With the win and losses by both the Cardinals and the Reds, the Cubs have parlayed a surprising 3-2 road trip into a 4.5 game deficit in the central. Day off tomorrow. Let's relish all the big close game wins for the Cubs and get ready for a tough Dodgers series on Tuesday.

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