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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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.
The Cubs and Lou Piniella are presently acting like two teenagers at a formal. Lou's on one side of the gym, making wry comments to his buddies, looking the entire time across the gym at the Cubs who are acting hoity toity, pretending that they don't give a damn. But sooner or later, the DJ is going to make a muffled "last call" into his microphone, and Lou and the Cubs will come together for that final dance.
And I'm totally cool with that. It's true, I was not thrilled with his managerial moves last year. I thought he demonstrated a lack of fire, I thought he waited too long to make some roster moves, and I felt that some of his other choices were pretty clearly the wrong ones. We joked too often about his senior moments, and there was a general sense of restlessness felt toward the Cubs skipper.
By "we," I mostly mean Rob and myself. I learned early last year that expressing dissatisfaction with Lou Piniella was a hot button topic with Cub fans, who loved him fiercely because he was "better than Dusty Baker." I totally agree with that -- he's definitely better than Dusty Baker, but I think I would be better than Dusty Baker and I have no business managing a baseball team.
Therefore, because Lou's mistakes upset me, because his choices disappointed me, and because his passion to manage appeared invisible to me, some of you might be surprised that I suggest the Cubs bring him back for another year. But I have one simple, logical reason for making that statement:
If Lou retires, then Jim Hendry picks the next Cubs manager.
Go ahead, read it again. Heck, go back and read it a third time. While it's true that Hendry has probably a better than 50% chance of picking the next Cubs manager no matter when Lou hangs 'em up, I would like to avoid that scenario if possible. If Lou stays on with the Cubs for another year, and they continue their downward trend -- as we may expect them to do, with an aging club of overpriced veterans -- then 2011 might be the final year of the Hendry chapter.
And if Lou retires after 2010, and we still have one more year of Jim Hendry to sweat over, then that means he'll have chosen probably not the best manager available (like when he picked Lou over the younger, talented manager Joe Girardi), and we'll have another awkward situation in Chicago, which I would like to see the Cubs avoid.
Baseball fans are like philosophers. If you encounter them one at a time, you might learn something interesting about baseball -- much as a philosopher may teach you something interesting about life. But if you should ever happen to see them grouped up with like-minded folks, then you should run as if your ass was on fire.
Way back in May or June, I began to lose my faith in Lou Piniella and suggested that he wasn't doing his job as a manager and should be fired. I caught a shit storm over that, because we love Lou, and a manager shouldn't be responsible for his team's success, and what does a manager do anyway?
Seriously, though. What does a manager do?
I think that a manager's job should be to keep his team focused, first and foremost. That means extra practice if necessary, that means recognizing problems early, it means starting the best guy on any given day and writing the best lineup. It also means knowing when to pull a tired pitcher and which reliever to turn to first -- and last. If your team is underperforming, it's the manager's job to figure out why. If a player's attitude is a problem, it's the manager's job to fix the attitude.
It turns out that a lot of baseball fans disagree with my assessment. The manager is not responsible for how the batters hit or how the pitchers throw. But if that's the case -- if he has no impact on, y'know, the baseball game -- then why have a manager?
Maybe major league baseball teams could save a couple million bucks a year by firing the manager and letting the hitting coach handle the hitters -- who starts and the lineups, for instance -- while the pitching coach could handle the pitchers. It's not a bad idea, right?
Except if you spend enough time with baseball fans, they'll eventually try to convince you that the coaches don't effect play either. The best hitting coach in the world won't turn a bad hitter into a good one, after all, right? And the best players won't listen to the coaches anyway, they're too arrogant.
So maybe what a team really needs is to fire the coaches too. Then hire a guy to book the hotels and airplanes, and another guy to handle the luggage. They could rely on a computer program to determine the best lineups and use the honor system for when starting pitchers need to be pulled. And maybe that day's starter should get to pick who relieves him. See that? More money saved, and the game would be even more in line with the ridiculous, bullshit concept that stats aren't just everything, they're the only thing. And any right-thinking douchebag would tell you that until Fangraphs finds a way to determine the win shares of a manager, then managers mean nothing.
Or maybe it's like this: good teams can have bad coaches, bad teams can have good coaches. But there's still a difference between a good coach and a bad one, and often times that difference is huge and essential. Lest we forget the impact of Dusty Baker.
Last night's game was another one of those playoff-type contests, the kind of game that reveals the true identity of the team you're rooting for.
The offense scratched out a decent number of runs against a solid starter and decent bullpen--and in the postseason, you're sometimes gonna need to find a way to win with just three runs scored. Those runs scored on good situational hitting rather than pure mashing, on a couple of timely singles with runners in scoring position (one of which had been bunted over), along with a sacrifice fly.
Maybe you disagree with me, but in last night's game, I myself can't blame the offense. Happ, Park, Madson and Lidge are all quality (except for maybe the last guy--who we scored on), and we still managed to plate a few runs.
(As for Walker, Eyre, and Durbin, perhaps we should have come through with one run at some point, but then again this game should never have gone into extras. More on that in a minute.)
Then there's the Cubs' pitching, starting with the starting.
If anyone's whining about the two runs Rich Harden allowed, then those people are just plain stoopid. Richie had a no-hitter going for a good while, walked the #8-hitter (kinda dumb but whatever) and then gave up a homer to Jimmy Rollins. Look, the Phillies have a good offense; they're gonna score runs. I'll take 2 ER in 7 innings every time out.
That brings us to the bullpen. And to that end, I've really got just one question.
When your set-up man walks a guy and hits a batter, and the opponent has three consecutive lefties due up, how do you not get your LOOGY warmed up the moment the HBP happens?
Of course, Lou left Carlos in, and we all know what happened.
As for letting Kevin Gregg pitch two innings, if you check his game log on a site like Yahoo! Sports you'll see that he's actually done it before this season. It's hard to blame Lou for trusting Gregg there.
But for pulling Harden on one of his good nights after just 87 pitches? And for leaving Marmol in, against a lefty, after his having demonstrated to everyone everywhere that he didn't have any idea where the ball was going last night? Those decisions are a bit more questionable.
So once again, we see what this team really is: an offense that might score two or three, but certainly not five or six runs against quality pitching; a starting rotation with some great arms; a bullpen with some questionable ones; and a manager that doesn't know how to manage those relievers.
We're running out of time here, guys.
Lou Pinella admitted that he smoked pot. Once.
No big deal really, as a lot of people have tried it. I did too in college...wasn't a fan.
But what cracks me up is that back when Sammy was linked to have tested positive for PED's back in 2003, which means steroids, Pinella said the following: "I wouldn't know the difference between a reefer and a steroid."
Well, technically, since Lou has now admitted that he knew what a reefer is, shouldn't he know the difference between a reefer and a steroid?
When he said that comment last week, I told a friend, jokingly, that Lou had better not have tried pot, otherwise some smart aleck might bring this up one day. I just didn't know I would be that smart aleck ;)
First, the back-story:
Way back on April 23rd, I wrote an article titled "The Litany Against Lou Piniella." The summarization of this letter was that, because of his choice in batting order and his blunders with the bullpen, Piniella was to be on our Not to be Trusted list. I concluded the article with this:
Therefore, Mr. Piniella, the Goat Riders of the Apocalypse can no longer endorse you as the manager of the Chicago Cubs. We will question your every move, scrutinize your every mistake, and shout loudly to the heavens your every idiotic blunder.
But I most say, sir, that it is not yet too late. We do not hate you, nor do we wish to see you fired. We believe that - like Saddam in the South Park movie - you can change. We may still choose to support you at a later date. Or we may take the next step and demand that you be let out to pasture before your senior moments cost the Cubs a pennant.
April the 24th was practically two whole months ago! All sorts of crazy crap can happen in two months of baseball!
Less than a week later I posted my first of several roster-fixing articles.
Yesterday, I posted an image that caused quite a ruckus. The implication of my harmless photoshop? Fire Lou Piniella. That's when STUFF EXPLODED! HOLY CRAP!!
So, fine, okay, forget it. Let's try this revised image instead:
Here's the thing. Any Cub fan who says that a manager's impact is minimal has a short memory. (In fact, maybe you should go get checked up ... Dusty's reign wasn't that long ago, dude.)
The manager writes the lineup. And whether he bats Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez ahead of Derrek Lee or he bats Soriano leadoff, that sort of thing impacts how many runs a team scores each game. Maybe it's minimal, but have you seen the minimal amount of offense the Cubs are producing?
If I was the manager of the Cubs I would be entering the "contact a voodoo witch doctor" stage of the season. I'd be calling in the hypnotists. I'd start plying my opponents with booze and whores. Lou Piniella has gone the route of leaving Soriano in leadoff and alternating between Lee and Bradley at 3rd and cleanup.
The manager -- I know, this one will blow your mind -- has some degree of say-so about the 25-man roster. And a 25-man roster with your only backup third baseman being your starting second baseman coupled with an 8 man bullpen mixed in with your only backup right fielder being a first baseman kind of leaves me sick to my stomach.
Why this hasn't been asked more often befuddles me but is it possible that the team's offensive troubles might be related to the lack of available hitters on the roster at any given time? Just saying.
The manager is responsible for keeping his players focused and driven. A common comment I've come across consistently ... uh, conclave my concise collateral ... (asenine alliteration)
Ahem. Sorry about that. People like to correctly point out that the manager doesn't weild a bat (unless he's knocking heads in the clubhouse after games) and can't really help it if his team fails to even remotely perform. But have we already forgotten that over the span of about a week we witnessed the meltdowns of Dempster, Lilly, and Zambrano which fell hot on the heels of Milton Bradley's journey through Crazy Land?
Again, memory loss much? Wasn't it just 2004 when the last "most talented Cubs team we've ever seen" self-destructed in a cloud of injuries and player meltdowns as Dusty adapted an "us v. them" mentality that extended to Moises Alou and Kent Mercker threatening the broadcast team in the booth? If Lou Piniella isn't responsible for, you know, managing his players then who the hell is?
At this stage I am awed by the support Lou is receiving from Cub fans. He is seemingly loved unconditionally. He's the teddy bear of baseball with those cute button eyes who makes that notoriously loud farting sound when hugged ... yep, that's our Lou.
So forget it. Forget I suggested the Cubs fire him. But all I know is that, historically, teams that have dramatically underperformed have turned it around when new managers are brought in mid-season. Just ask the hated '03 Marlins or, for that matter, the '09 Rockies.
Still, accountability needs to occur here. Jim Hendry needs to man up. It is inexcusable that the team's only off-season option to play backup third base was a concussion victim who couldn't tie his own shoelaces without barfing. Likewise, Neal Cotts as the only lefty out of the pen? Who the hell thought that was a winning plan?
At the same time, Lou has lost me now and forever. You won't read the words "fire Lou" consecutively on this website again, at least not written by me, but if this season turns into the turd continent it appears to be becoming, just remember where you read it first. Last year was his year. This year he's passed his expiration date. I say again then that if the Cubs win anything it will be in spite of him -- and Jim Hendry for that matter.
But seriously -- does he have to kill your kittens or something?
A manager should not be judged by how he looks when the team is winning. Even the worst get to the Series -- Dusty Baker almost did it in back-to-back years. No, a manager should be judged by what he does when things aren't working out, when losing is the norm.
Can somebody -- anybody -- tell me what Lou Piniella is doing to fix this mess? Jason? I know you and Leah are as pissed about the "fire Lou" thing as anybody ... what's he doing right now that deserves my support?
And if it's true that a manager has little-to-no impact on how a team performs, then why have one to begin with? Cut costs, fire the guy -- or never hire him to begin with, and spend the extra money on another player.
A question I've been pondering lately: how many screw-ups can you get away with at your job before you're finally escorted from the building? At 1060 West, the answer is many. Hell, Dusty Baker couldn't get himself fired. He could have streaked the field, punched out the third base umpire, dry humped the left field foul pole, and finally be taken down with both middle fingers extended and it seems as if he would have been destined to finish out his contract.
I'd say we'll all agree that Lou Piniella has done a damn sight better than Dusty. For one thing he's only rarely started Aaron Miles. If Baker was running the team, the Suckiest Switch Hitter in Baseball would've been playing every single day. But this is like comparing your job performance with the guy you replaced, who happened to get fired after he got caught taking a crap in the boss's chair. It's a pointless comparrison. Terry Schivo could have outmanaged Dusty Baker; that wouldn't have made her a good manager. So maybe we should stop with the comparrisons and instead consider the following:
Lou Piniella bats Alfonso Soriano lead-off. Is the Fonz a prima-donna? If he is, then he's the oddest I've ever seen. He doesn't pout, he doesn't complain, he simply stops producing when a change is forced upon him. Except does he? Really? In baseball we are taught not to obsess over the small sample size. What evidence do we have that Soriano "stops producing" when he bats other than lead-off? A .153 AVG in the #3 spot in 72 at bats in 2006? That's it?
The crime isn't Soriano's imaginary attitude, the crime is that Piniella lets him bat leadoff despite the fact that he's better suited to bat cleanup or 5th. The crime isn't that Soriano isn't able to change his approach to be a more traditional leadoff man, the crime is that Lou has left him there this year despite his .216 AVG in the month of May and .220 AVG so far in June. For God's sake, drop him in the lineup already! You wonder why the Cubs have had an anemic offense in May, maybe it has something to do with Piniella trotting out a guy with an absolutely crappy-since-the-end-of-April OBP as the first batter every game! C'mon already!
Lou Piniella is at least partially responsible for the mental fundamentals and bad attitudes we've seen. Don't get me wrong. I don't really think a good manager can guide a bad team into the playoffs, but he does make some significant differences on a team. Much as Dusty drove a talented Cubs team into the dirt in 2004, we have seen zero evidence that Lou is taking steps -- aside perhaps from dishing out half-hearted scoldings -- to shore up this team's defensive problems. Nor have we seen Lou take control of his clubhouse. How many violent, idiotic outbursts do the Cubs need to have before Piniella lays down the law?
Lou needs to do something! Make these dopes take extra fielding practice if they can't put their gloves on the ball! Make Soriano use both hands when he handles a fly ball, ban that ridiculous hop, and for gawd's sake prep the pitchers for base stealers and the hitters for breaking balls! How hard is it to do this?
Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild are killing the Cubs' bullpen. If you think Lou Piniella has any idea how to manage a bullpen then you are half way toward being diagnosed as crazy. He doesn't have the patience to force his relievers to work their way through their problems. Instead he runs out and yanks them the first time they fail to do their job. How hard would your job be if you knew that you'd get yanked after the first mistake? And on top of that, if a pitcher actually does a good job Lou will ride him into the dirt. You will never convince me that Carlos Marmol hasn't been damaged by his excessive use from Piniella in '07 and especially '08.
Not to mention that either the entire bullpen has lost the ability to throw strikes or Lou and Larry have some kind of stupid approach toward pitching in the late innings. I'm not sure if every single Cubs reliever is being told to pitch around their opponents, but even if they're not maybe Lou and Larry can step up and emphasize throwing strikes and challenging hitters a little more.
Lou Piniella can't manage in the playoffs. I won't blame Lou for past seasons that I didn't see. But it is true that since his first trip to the playoffs -- when he won the World Series with the Reds -- Lou's playoff record is 15-25. He even managed to not win the World Series -- or even get there! -- with a 116 win team! But forget all that.
Instead I defer to the choices we saw him make in 2007 and 2008. Maybe the players were "tight." Maybe the fans were too tough on the team. Or maybe Lou made blundering pitching decisions and stupid roster choices the last two Octobers. Maybe it's not just the players who over-think the playoffs, but Lou as well.
Lou Piniella is not Moses either. Fine. We'll revisit the first thing I wrote. He's better than Dusty Baker. But I truly believe that if the Cubs reach the World Series and win it it will have little-to-nothing to do with Lou Piniella. And if this year is another one of those failures, if the Cubs -- as talented as they are -- cannot even reach the playoffs, then Lou needs to go. I don't care if they win 98 games and miss the playoffs or 68 games, the Cubs need to be a little tougher on their managers. After all, as another Cubs manager once said ... nice guys finish last. And maybe Lou's not a "nice guy" but he may be too old and too tired to finish first.
I didn't say it, because I didn't think you could apologize a jinx away. As it turns out, the Cubs didn't need my help in giving this one away.
You know what? We damn well SHOULD win every one of those games. We have guys in the 'pen capable of getting six outs when working with that sort of margin.
We got EVERYTHING we could ask for from this team: seven strong innings from our young starter Randy Wells (he's ACES, isn't he?); home runs from two of our veterans; five runs total from our occasionally inept, consistently inconsistent offense.
We got EVERYTHING--except six outs from a 'pen given a five-run lead.
Whether Marmol stays in the set-up role and Gregg keeps closing, or Lou changes the order in which they're brought out, the fact is, we're going to need BOTH Marmol AND Gregg to pitch a heckuvalot better in the near future if this team's gonna start winning consistently at any point.
Unfortunately for tonight, the result looks like another variation on a common theme from the 2009 season thus far.
Just a few weeks ago, the offense was the problem. So of course it makes sense that, just as the bats start to look like they're getting hot (aside from Soto, who had his bat taken out of his hands at a pivotal point in the game), this happens.
Oh yeah, and "Don't Wake Daddy" (so named because he'll probably pull something if you startle him) strained his calf running out a grounder.
I guess we should try to end on a positive note. Umm... Randy Wells is awesome? Seriously, Wells just keeps rolling. He deserves a ton of credit for giving this team a chance to win each night he's started. I look forward to his next start. Let's get him an effing win sometime soon, huh?