Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Alfonso Soriano

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Heroes and Villains (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Rangers 4)

Last night's effort to score runs got little help from most of our veteran regulars. Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez each went 0-for-5, and Marlon Byrd and Geo Soto were also hitless.

Instead, it was Alfonso Soriano and... the... Sorianettes? that got most of the work done. The Fonz himself blasted a two-run homer, Darlin' Starlin Castro added a solo shot to the opposite field (...!!!), and Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukudome came off the bench in the top of the tenth inning to lead off with back-to-back hits, with both eventually scoring to give the Cubs a two-run lead, all of which Carlos Marmol would end up needing.

Randy Wells posted a solid performance, allowing three earned runs in 8.1 innings, with six strikeouts and only one walk, seemingly solidifying his position in the rotation while Carlos Zambrano pitches a simulated game on Monday.

In Carrie Muskat's article that explained that Z would be throwing a sim game, Lou was quoted as saying he didn't know what his rotation will be once Z comes back into it. Frankly, I can't figure it out either.

The Question Game (Game Recap: Cubs 2, Marlins 4)

Cubs lose again. Lame!

Lilly was decent (three earned runs allowed in seven innings), the offense was not (two runs scored, both knocked in by The Team Carrier (see below)), and Starlin Castro had a really rough night in the field (three errors -- egads).

Let me ask you something(s):

  • Do you understand that ALFONSO SORIANO has been CARRYING this team? 3-for-4, two RBIs, a runner gunned down at home -- he's only hitting .340 with seven home runs now.
  • Why did Xavier Nady hit fourth tonight? Seriously, why?
  • Why did Derrek Lee hit third tonight? I guess he's hit before, but the guy is not having a good year. And yes, it's likely he'll turn it around, but maybe we could hit him lower until then?
  • Do you feel like booing Starlin Castro? I know I don't. Yes, it was a rough night for the kid, but let's give the kid a chance to settle down.
  • Did any of Lou's actions tonight change your opinion about his ability to manage? Do you feel Lilly was managed appropriately (yes, hindsight is 20/20!)? Did you like his line-up? Does he take any blame for the double steal that was completed against his team?

Answers to any and/or all questions posed are welcomed in the comments section.

Gorzo gets a win. (5/3 Game Recap: Cubs 10, Diamondbacks 5)

The most valuable player for the Cubs in Sunday's game was almost certainly Edwin Jackson. That young kid has a good heater, but apparently not much else.

Regardless, Tom Gorzelanny should get some credit for yet again putting himself and his team in position for a win. Nice enough for him, he got the decision this time.

It's Gorzo's first win of the year, which must be why ESPN said something like, "Finally he's doing well," when they went over the highlights on him. Of course, you and I know that this is Tom's third quality start of the year, and he was one out away from a fourth against the Mets on 4/22, AND that his only other start was the one where he took a liner off his shoulder. So, thank you very much, Tom's been doing quite well all season.

But here's a question for you: Will it continue?

I'm sure the media is really enjoying all this Carlos Zambrano drama (and when I say I'm sure, I mean I'm POSITIVE), but neither Gorzelanny nor Carlos Silva will keep his ERA under 3 all year. When the wind starts to blow out more and a few extra home runs leave the park, I think Lou might change his mind about the value of keeping Z in the 'pen.

But even with a few more home runs allowed, Tom might still figure to be rotation-worthy. Fangraphs likes him enough to predict that he'll finish the year with nine wins and a 3.91 ERA in 28 starts. I buy that, mostly because I'm liking Gorzelanny's ability to get strikeouts -- like the 10 he got yesterday, a new career high.

Speaking of yesterday's game, way to go Alfonso Soriano, who had two home runs and a double. The guy is looking pretty good right now, but allow me to quote MSD from the Shout Box:

"I hate to talk negative but soriano will carry the cubs now and then
bringem down later lol"

This feels mostly correct. In fact, even last year, Soriano posted two
months better than his April from this year OPS-wise (he was at .900 in
April '10, .955 in April '09, and .992 in July '09). For him, it's not a
question of getting hot; it's a matter of staying better-than-tepid. Or
something.

But for now: Cubs win! Good stuff.

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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Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year!

Soriano's Changed Approach

Minutes before beginning this post, Alfonso Soriano hit his third home run in as many games. Don't look now, but if he can hit 25 home runs in 130 games -- he still may not be worth $18 million, but perhaps much closer to that than was expected a few months ago.

In the at-bat resulting in today's home run, Soriano took the first pitch. It was a low breaking ball -- the kind of thing Fonz used to swing at often. That got me wondering about whether Soriano's recent power burst has had anything to do with a changed approach at the plate, so I hopped over to Fangraphs to check out Soriano's swing rates (and yes, I realize the sample size is still pretty small).

I thought it was interesting to see that Soriano is swinging at almost exactly the same ratio of pitches outside the zone so far this season: 36.9% in '10 vs. 37.0% in '09.

What's different is how many strikes he's swinging at.

Last season, Soriano swung at 72.2% of pitches thrown to him that were in the strike zone. For context: since 2006, the league average swing rate at pitches in the zone (also called Z-Swing% for short) has hovered right around 65%. And so far this year, Soriano's Z-Swing% is 66.1%.

Soriano has always swung at a good percentage of balls thrown outside the zone, and it appears he'll continue to do that. But if indeed he can take a few more so-called "pitchers' pitches," and wait a little longer to get the pitch he wants, perhaps that will boost his offensive numbers overall.

At least, that seems to be what's happening so far.

Game Recap: Cubs 7, Dbacks 5

Game Recap
The Cubs come from behind two days in a row to win.  Are you sure this is May 1, not April 1?  The Cubs won today thanks to the timely hitting of Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee and contributed to the collapse of another teams 'pen rather than watching their own implode.

Alfonso Soriano tied the game in the seventh with a two-run homer.  If anyone thinks that Soriano is still missing confidence in the batters box, please observe this.  He looks pretty confident to me.  His 2-for-4 performance brought his season average up to .303 and included his fourth homer of the season.  Fonzie is never going to live up to his contract price (or maybe he will, given the going rate of Ryan Howard), but we all knew that from the beginning.  But after his performance last season, most of us wrote him off as an aging and declining salary dump candidate.  I'm not saying he's fully redeemed himself, but I welcome his recent production and patience at the plate with open arms.  Keep it up, Fonz.

However, the hero of the day would have to be Derrek Lee.  For a week or so Lee has been hitting the ball hard, but right at defenders.  It seemed like only a matter of time until he got a clutch hit or two to fall.  Today seemed to be that day.  Lee stepped tot he plate in the 8th with the bases loaded and pulled a 1-1 pitch through the hole for the go-ahead 2 RBI single.  Lee went 2-for-5 on the day, making it two days in a row he's had a multi-hit game.  It's progress, Cubs fans.

As for the pitching side of things, Carlos Silva came back down to earth.  Silva gave up five runs in five innings, four of them by the home run ball, and struck out six on the day.  It wasn't pretty, but when you miss high all day with the wind blowing out, those results are to be expected.  The bullpen came in and pitched four scoreless innings with the win going to Sean Marshall.  The ninth inning was a bit of an adventure as Marmol loaded the bases before getting the final out of the game.  If that's the worst bullpen scare of the weekend, I think I can deal with it.

Don't look now, but the Cubs have two players in the top 5 for NL batting average.  Marlon Byrd (.351) and Kosuke Fukudome (.353) are 5th and 3rd, respectively, on the batting leaderboard.  If only the two could lend a few BA points to A-Ram...

In the end, the Cubs walk away with a win, a guaranteed split, and a chance to win a four-game series tomorrow.  Hopefully they can end the homestand with a win and take a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh.

Game Recap: Cubs 11, Dbacks 5

Game Recap
Today was Arbor Day, and the Cubs celebrated in style by bringing out the lumber.  The Cubs drove in 11 runs on 11 hits and took full advantage of the wind at Wrigley Field.

It's sort of a nice feeling when your starting pitcher can give up five runs and the team still gets a win.  I almost forgot what it felt like to watch the Cubs come back from any sort of deficit.  Randy Wells went to 3-0 on the season but was in no way flawless today.  Then again, with the wind blowing out it was clear it was going to be one of those days.  Wells went six innings and gave up five runs on five hits.  Most importantly, he didn't walk anyone and struck out eight on the day.  Honestly, that's all you can ask of a pitcher on a day like today.  Perhaps even more importantly, the bullpen contributed three scoreless innings... a luxury that hasn't been all that frequent this season.

Kosuke Fukudome started the Cubs scoring when he hit a home run to right field, giving him homers in back to back games for the first time in his stateside career.  As frustrating of a month as it has been, Kosuke must be sad to see the month of April end as he hit .344 with 5 HR and 16 RBI on the month.  I don't know if the power holds up, but if he can continue to make solid contact like he has been doing recently it would really add another dynamic to the club. 

The real star of the day has to be one Alfonso Soriano.  Some of you may remember him as the most booed player on the Cubs team (making him the only individual in Chicago that may have actually missed Milton Bradley).  Today he went 2 for 3 with 4 RBI, three of which game on a game-changing home run in the sixth inning.  Soriano ends the month of April with a .292/.358/.900 (SLG being the latter) line.  To me the most surprising number on that line is the on-base percentage.  At the moment, Fonzie is seeing the ball so well that he has been uncharacteristically patient at the plate.  The end result is a fair amount of walks and much better contact when he swings.

Lou shut his critics up when he made Theriot sacrifice himself in the 7th inning (with a one run lead at the time) to set up what would be 3 insurance runs on the inning.  Speaking of walks and Soriano, Fonzie drove in his fourth RBI of the day that inning when he took a bases loaded walk from Aaron Heilman (miss him yet?) after Ramirez had also taken a bases loaded walk earlier.  To date, I am pretty sure Ramirez leads the league in the statistical category of "percentage of RBI driven in by means of a walk" with 15.3% rate. In the eighth inning Soto and Byrd won somebody $1000 when they hit back-to-back home runs.  Happiness all around. HIGH FIVES EVERYBODY!!!!!!!

The Cubs end this April chapter of the season and march into May.  To quote the great Marlon Byrd: "We're going to start swinging, it's just going to come around.  April's over, so from what I've heard, the Cubs heat up in May. I think it's about that time."   Let's hope he's right.

The Cubs, In Couplets (Game Recap: Chicago Cubs 9, New York Mets 3)

Game Recap
Carlos Zambrano is in the Cubs' bullpen, with a 7.45 ERA and a 1-2 record. Carlos Silva is in the rotation, with a 0.95 ERA and a 2-0 record.

Alfonso Soriano is hitting .327, with a .978 OPS, and has struck out ten times. Aramis Ramirez is hitting .131 with a .506 OPS and has struck out 21 times.

Ryan Theriot's on-base percentage is below .300. Geovany Soto's on-base percentage is above .500.

Tyler Colvin is hitting .261. And he is awesome and I love him.

This poetry session is over.

---

Kudos to Carlos Silva, the winning pitcher from tonight's game who went six strong innings and allowed just two hits. This man is pitching completely out of his mind. It might be because he's throwing a much smaller percentage of fastballs than he usually does (just over 50% so far this year, as opposed to between 70 and 80 percent in all other years of his career). He's never thrown his slider nearly as much as he is so far this year (18% of the time by Fangraphs' latest numbers).

Kudos to Alfonso Soriano. He was inches away from hitting for the cycle tonight, going 3-for-5 with a walk, a single, a triple, and a long shot to left that just got over the wall to plate two runs. Should he be hitting fifth?

For that matter, should Mr. Two-Hits-Three-Walks-No-Outs Geovany Soto and his over-.500 OBP be hitting higher in the order as well? Actually, I'll answer this one for you: Probably not. He's the catcher, so there's no use wearing him out. And for all the walks he draws, he also strikes out a lot. The seventh spot is probably the perfect place for him (much better than eighth; his slugging percentage will suck from that spot).

Ryan Theriot, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin had multi-hit outings themselves, going 3-for-5, 2-for-4, and 2-for-5 respectively.

Also, Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.

...

In the end, though, this game was won by super performances from Carlos Silva and Alfonso Soriano. Whodathunkit??? Go Cubbos!

When will it be time to start cleaning up the mess?

Question: if this season is toast, what good does it do to maintain the status quo and allow Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella their jobs?

Elaboration: This season isn't toast -- not quite yet.  I know that Rob made the bold claim that teams don't do 180's, despite the fact that the '09 Rockies, '03 Marlins, and -- most pertinent -- the '07 Cubs would disagree with him.  So this entire article is more rhetorical than anything else.

But when do we raise the white flag, surrender on the season, and look to 2011 to rebuild? 

Personally, I'd vote for June 1.  If the Cubs are battling it out with the Astros for the bottom of the division by June 1st, then it's over.  Or if they are 10 games out of a playoff spot, or 10 games under .500, it's over.  At that point, I no longer see the need to defend Lou Piniella or Jim Hendry.

GROTA contributor Sayers40 has voiced the opinion that no good would come from replacing Hendry or Lou, because it's a) not what a top team/organization would do and b) no good would come from it.  While I really enjoy reading Sayers' take on things, I've got to disagree with him here for a few reasons.

First -- top organizations do not flinch when disposing of broken parts.  If the Yankees were done for by the end of May, you can bet you'd see Joe Girardi on the breadline.  If the Red Sox looked like they'd been assembled by an incompetent oaf, with income-heavy, useless players eating up the team's payroll, you can bet that Theo Epstein would be getting a job elsewhere.  And they wouldn't wait until October to do it -- good organizations never sleep, not even when they suck at winning.

Second -- if the Cubs do indeed fall out of contention, as they appear to be doing in rapid order, do you really want Jim Hendry around to rebuild them?  This team will not be able to get better if he's steering the ship, because he has clearly demonstrated the inclination to crash us into Soriano-shaped rocks.

Hendry has already demonstrated a failure to build the farm system -- and, sorry Starlin Castro lovers, but he has just a bit more plate discipline than Corey Patterson, and while he doesn't swing at balls the way C-Pat did, I'll believe in his success when I see it -- he has demonstrated an inability to build a team without spending gobs of money on players with limited shelf-lives, and he has not done anything to convince me that he knows how to fix things. 

Therefore, the Cubs need to consider making a few moves.  If, on June 1st, they are out of it, they need to consider axing Hendry, appointing a temporary successor at GM, and possibly even removing Lou Piniella unless they are comfortable with keeping him as a lame-duck manager.  Then they need to consider expelling the valuable parts of their bloated team -- Ryan Dempster, who will never be more valuable than he is right now, Ted Lilly, who is unlikely to return anyway, Aramis Ramirez, who is on the wrong side of 30, anybody and everybody who has value should be up for trade. 

But, sadly, no matter who takes over, no matter what magic they can work, the Cubs are likely stuck with Soriano, Fukudome, Silva, and Zambrano (although I bull-headedly refuse to consider Carlos Zambrano to be a problem).  These contract albatrosses will continue to weigh the team down for parts of the next decade. 

Hopefully, then, the next Cubs GM will somehow figure out a way to build around them.  Since that's a pretty tall order, the Cubs definitely can not afford to hesitate on their search to find that guy, whoever he is.  But one thing is clear -- that guy is not Jim Hendry, and the sooner Hendry is removed from his decision-making responsibilities, the better. 

Reader Blog: Hendry's Free Agent Signings

Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.

Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.

That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.

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