Holy crap! Yep, here he is! The triumphant return of Sayers! Yeah, I know I haven't been around very much lately even though the Cubs are, shockingly, paying their best baseball on the season. And yeah, I was wrong about my earlier predictions, I can admit that. Still, I believe this Cubs team is better than they have seemed this year and I think they are at worst, a .500 team going forward.
Today they are playing an effectively meaningless game against the Cardinals who are now almost as out of the race as the Cubs are. Who'd thunk that would happen? The Reds are the class of the division, shockingly.
Today's Matchup: Adam Wainwright (224.1IP, 2.45ERA, 3.15xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (127.1IP, 3.90ERA,4.37xFIP)
Gorz should make an excellent #5 starter going forward for the Cubs. Being under cubs' control for, I think 4 more years beginning in 2011 is key to his value. He is who we thought he was (sorry, I'm in Bears mode right now!) and should continue to give the Cubs about 140-160 IP with an ERA about 4 for the next 4 years. That will be worth far more than the Cubs will pay for it and allow them to increase team payroll elsewhere. It's how you build a winning team. OTOH, Wainwright is going for 20 "wins" which is an almost meaningless stat but the key here is that he is awesome and a leading candidate to eventually hit the free agent market and possibly come to the Cubs. Today's game is meaningless but it would be nice to beat Wainwright.
Who's Hot: I have no idea. But Starlin Castro's batting average is currently batting .306. He is 20 years old. He is a shrtstop. Yeah.
Who's Not: Unfortunately Castro has only hit .240 with just one Xtra base hit (a double) in the month of September. I hope he picks it up a little. His BABIP this month is a putrid .273.
Conclusion: Go Cubs! Let's pass the Brewers and maybe even the Astros in the standings. There's still time!
There are only two reasonable conclusions that can be reached from Carrie Muskat's various analyses of Jeff Samardzija's start last night. Either she is disingenuous, and a liar, or she does not understand what it means to be good at baseball. "#Cubs Jeff Samardzija impresses with offspeed stuff to get 1st win as a ML starter," she tweeted last night.
Who exactly did he impress? Six hits, four walks, and only one strikeout in 5.2 innings pitched? Sorry, but no thank you, I'll pass on Samardzija once again.
Of course, the Cardinals' piece of crap offense is exactly the sort of team you could pull this sort of thing off against -- that is, a team built around three great hitters, one halfway decent one, and four godawful ones (one of which they actually traded for recently!!).
But yeah, don't be fooled by crap like this, again from Muskat, this time in her Cubs.com recap:
"No matter what happened Monday night in his first big league start of
the season, Jeff Samardzija will be considered for the Cubs' 2011
rotation. And the right-hander gave the Chicago front office something
to think about."
I pray to God that Jeff comes nowhere near the starting rotation for next year. Ideally, he can keep his ERA below three for the rest of the month with a few more starts, and he can be shipped off to Kansas City or Baltimore or something.
The Cubs longest road trip of the season continues tonight as the Big Blue Train (credit: Dan Plesac) rolls into St. Louis. Despite scoring just 5 runs, the Cubs managed to get 2 out of 3 up in Brewers (including absolute gems by Demp and Big Z). They'll likely need to score more than 5 runs in the next 3 days against the Cardinals with the starting pitching we'll be trotting out there. With the Cubs playing for nothing - and the Cards still having faint playoff hopes, it would be VERY nice for this Cubs fan if we could absolutely bury the Redbirds this week. Enough of that though - let's get to the pitching matchups!
Monday 9/13 - Jeff Samardzija (0-1, 18.90) vs. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 2.69)
Its Shark Week! Smardge is back up with the big club and he'll be making the start tonight in place of Carlos Silva, who's hurt again. At this point, I really dont think we should see Silva the rest of the year. The season's lost, and might as well let Smardge or Gorzo make the last 4 turns to see if either are guys you would want to pencil into the rotation for next year. The Cardinals trot out Garcia, who got hit around pretty good in his last start. Still, he's one of the favorites for NL Rookie of the Year (and what a stacked NL group of candidates there are..), and he's a guy the Cardinals are heavily relying on as they try to get back into the playoff race in the season's waning days.
Tuesday 9/14 - Randall T. Wells (6-13, 4.61) vs. Adam Wainwright (18-10, 2.61)
Despite the fact that he's had a shaky sophomore campaign, Wells is a guy who I think should be written into next year's rotation in pen. I like the way he pitches, and stats suggest he's been a bit unlucky. He could hold down the #4 spot admirably next year behind Dempster and Zambrano, and ahead of someone out of the Gorzo/Cashner/Samardzija/Silva group. Wainwright was considered a frontrunner for Cy Young about a month ago, but has scuffled some since. He could still finish strong and have a chance, as he did last year. Either way - this will be a 2nd straight night the Cards have a decided advantage on the pitching front.
Wednesday 9/15 - Big Z (8-6, 3.88) vs. Chris Carpenter (15-6, 3.09)
This would be the only matchup you might be able to argue the Cubs have an edge in...and thats only if you use the argument about how good Z's been over the past few weeks. His effort on Friday against the Brewers was unbelievable. That was vintage Z. Here's to hoping for more of that. Carp's one of those guys I dont like and don't have a ton to say about. The Cubs got to him last time we faced him, let's hope for more than that.
Say it with me.. SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!
Last weekend the Reds swept the Cubs, and then the Reds turned around and got swept by the Cardinals. So by that logic, the Cubs are in for a bad, bad weekend against the Cardinals. I actually think it will turn out that way. Its the northsiders first trip to Saint Louis this year, and we're coming in at the wrong time as the Cards are hot and the Cubs are terrible, having lost 13 of 15. Fontenot has been shipped out of town..who's next? Maybe we can trade Nady to the Cards and he can just switch dugouts like Font did? We'll see what happens, but I think we're gonna get swept.
Friday: Thomas Diamond (0-2, 8.00) vs. Jake Westbrook (0-0, 3.46)
Diamond was just about as awful as he could have been last time out on Sunday against Cincy. He didn't have good stuff, his command was all over the place, and he was quite hittable. He was out of the game early, and the bullpen got overworked as a result. We'll see if things are different tonight. Even in his first start Diamond was hittable, despite striking out 10. With Samardzija pitching well in AAA, and Jay Jackson warranting a look, Diamond probably doesnt have that much rope to work with here. Westbrook has been pretty solid in his 2 starts with the Redbirds. I saw some of his last outing against the Marlins, and he looked like Jake Westbrook, against lesser quality hitters. He was a nice get for the Cards.
Saturday: Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 5.46) vs. Chris Carpenter (13-3, 2.89)
Speaking of bad pitching performances, Z turned one out in his first start since being reinserted (again) into the rotation. He made it threw 5 innings, and only allowed 2 runs, which on the surface looks good, but it wasn't just what was on the surface. He walked 7, struck out only 3, and had awful command. His sinking fastball, which used to just be one of his pitches, was about the only thing he threw in tight counts. And instead of it being 94/95 like it used to be, it rarely got to 90, usually working in the 88-89 range. Maybe he's still building arm strength. We'll see Saturday. I'd love to see some more velo. Carpenter's been a stud this year again, and despite him being a dick a lot of the time (did anyone catch him berating Aaron Miles on Monday?), he's still a damn fine pitcher, unlike Z - who's a dick a lot of the time and isn't a damn fine pitcher anymore.
Sunday: Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.66) vs. TBD
It's not definite yet, but it sounds like Kyle Lohse is gonna be hauled up from rehab to take this start for the Redbirds. He had a pretty shaky start against Omaha, but rebounded well and pitched 7 strong on Tuesday. He's been pretty awful in his MLB time this year. On the other side, Dempster's been easily the Cubs best starter, and he pitched well enough on Tuesday night in the Bay to earn his 10th win of the year, tying Heart-Condition Silva for the team lead. If there's one pitching matchup that favors the Cubbies, its clearly this one.
Despite the Cubs being awful, the Cubs/Cards series is still fun for me. I still really look forward to it, and this weekend is no exception. Go Cubs! Play Wellington Castillo over the awful Koyie Hill please! Get Darwin Barney some time too!
Last night's game was the quintessential example of why it's so hard to sweep a three-game series against a major league team.
The Cubs managed to score three runs against Cardinal starter Chris Carpenter, which is at least two more runs than I expected them to get. And Cub starter Ryan Dempster was equally effective at keeping the Cardinal offense at bay -- even though Albert Pujols went yard again (third time in his last, like, four at-bats against Demp).
This one came down to the bullpens, and when you've won two games in a row, you probably have fewer relief options than you did two days earlier. That was indeed the case for the Cubs last night, as Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol were each limited to one inning, while Andrew Cashner was completely unavailable.
Let me tell ya -- Cashner/Marshall/Marmol is a super end-game trio (and their last names are eerily similar; should we call them Carshol?). But beyond those three, the Cubs don't have many options. Of course, it'd be a different story if Angel Guzman were healthy, and likewise if Jim Hendry had signed Matt Capps instead of John Grabow. But instead, we have Bob Howry and Brian Schlitter, who took the loss last night, allowing the home run to Felipe Lopez in the 11th that would decide the game.
Anybody wanna try and guess what my favorite moment from last night's game was?
The Cubs go for the sweep against the Cardinals. I hope the Cubs beat the Cardinals every time they play them this year but I have a personal animase towards the Reds based mostly on the personalities of the current team. Johnny Gomes, more than anyone else, just rubs me the wrong way. I don't want to see Dusty Baker win again either. For that reason, alone, I hope the Cardinals beat the Reds... but if the Reds do beat the Cardinals, I hope it's partly because the Cubs beat down the Cardinals every time they played them! Let's see the Cubs sweep today's series and turn a good home stand into a great one!
Today's Matchup: Chris Carpenter (141.2IP, 3.05ERA, 3.72xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (133.2IP, 3.70ERA, 3.85xFIP)
One of the reasons why the Cardinals have not fallen from grace is the relative health of Chris Carpenter over the last two years. Carpenter seems to have gotten a little more wild this year than he has been in the past. That being said, he is still very good and with Wainwright and Jaime Garcia doing their part, the Cardinals have a nice 1-3. Still, Ryan Dempster has been almost as good as Carpenter this year. His great gift is the ability to strike people out, but he is more wild than Carpenter even.
Given the relative closeness of the two starting pitchers, this will turn into a question of who has the better offense, bullpen and luck. Here's hoping the Cubs win those factors.
Who's Hot: Starlin Castro is now sporting a snazzy .343 wOBA as a 20 year old shortstop. Not half bad. To put into context, Aramis Ramirez has a career wOBA of .357. Castro, as a 20 year old, is performing not that far below an average Aram season. His season is mildly BABIP influenced, as Castro has a BABIP of .348 but as a guy with decent speed who hits a ton of line drives and ground balls, he likely to maintain a BABIP well over .320 for his career, making his .348 BABIP this year only slightly above his eventual average. I'd have been happy with him if he were hitting .270 with an SLG of .360 or so but this .308/.358/.449 stuff is exciting beyond belief.
Who's Not: Well, speaking of Aramis, ever since his 3 HR game, he has gone 3 for 12 with 2 walks and no Xtra base hits. I know that would count as a good stretch throughout most of the season, but after Tuesday's performance, I figured we'd see him keep it up. He has a five game hitting streak so I guess I shouldn't be complaining but hey, come on Aramis! You spoiled us the last couple of weeks!
Conclusion: Dempster pitched in that same game where Aram hit his 3 jacks and he wasn't great. I hope he can limit the Cardinals and especially Albert Pujols tonight. Including the last game against the Phillies, Pujols has gone 0 for 10 with 2 walks in his last 3 games. Let's keep him off the scoreboard again tonight, enjoy the sweep and move on to Houston.
It seems like everything but the product on the field has been unbearble for the past two days at the Friendly Confines. Despite oppressive heat and humidity, the Cubs have found a way to take the first two games of the series against the division rival and spawn of satan Cardinals. Let's break it down.
In an opening game that is sure to spawn another book by Tony LaRussa about how much he hates Mark Prior, the Cubs toyed with Jeff Suppan while getting a much needed performance out of Randy Wells. While Dave Duncan is usually the King Midas of reclaimation projects, I think he bit off more than he could chew in the re-signing of Jeff Suppan. The six-inning outing by Suppan was a tie for his longest outing of the year, despite giving up 5 ER and 3 HR. There is just a certain point where a "crafty veteran" loses the craftiness and his stuff just hangs over the plate. If this season between Milwaukee and St. Louis is any indication, Suppan has reached that point.
Tyler Colvin, Geo Soto, and Alfonso Soriano didn't seem to mind the fact that Suppan was toeing the rubber on Friday. In the leadoff role (10 games), Colvin has flourished with a .302/.375/.651 line, accumulating 5 HR and 13 RBI's out of that spot. Those numbers are hard to argue with, but I still stand by my earlier statement that I'd rather see Starlin Castro in the leadoff role due to the speed he brings to the table. Perhaps a flip-flop of Castro and Colvin in the lineup would give us an even more potent 1-2 punch.
Speaking of Castro, he flashed some rare power in the game on Saturday. The fact that we don't see him hit "for power" very often is something that both shocks me and, at the same time, makes me happy. The shock comes from the fact that the swing he put on the ball yesterday was smooth and gorgeous, and it looks like something he could repeat. On the other hand, the lack of power numbers combined with Castro's recent success at the plate show that he is really doing a lot with what is given to him, and not forcing anything.
Cub pitching has also taken center stage with great starting performances by Tommy G and Randy Wells. Moreover, the bullpen, specifically Sean Marshall, has impressed me. As serviceable of a starter Marshall has/could be, the repetoire he brings out of the bullpen is unlike most relievers. The way he can change a hitter's eye level is vital in late game situations.
Overall, it has been a good two days. I'd love to see us take the sweep later tonight. However, our attention should be turned to more important matters right now. One of my childhood idols, and I'm sure many of the readers here feel the same, is being inducted into the Hall of Fame today. While he may not don a hat with a big red "C" upon entry, he will always be a Cub to me, to the game of baseball, and in his own view. Congrats, Hawk: you gave your heart, soul and body to the game of baseball and because of that, you will forever be able to call Chicago home.
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.....
The Redbirds return to Wrigley Field this weekend, their 2nd trip to Wrigley this year, to drive the final nails in the coffin of the Cubs 2010 season. Despite being 1-hit yesterday at the hands of a filthy Cole Hamels, the Cards have been red hot, and go into play 11 games ahead of the hometown nine in the standings. An optimist would look at the situation and say, "Well if we get a horseshoe up our ass and sweep them and are then only 8 out...", but I think we're all smarter than that. For me, the last good chance to turn the season around came when we had the then-first place Reds in town for 4 games the 4th of July weekend and dropped 3 or 4. That was it for me. I expect the Cubs to at best win 2 of 3 this weekend, but likely only 1, and then the firesale starts. That's the only thing we fans truly have to look forward to: What young prospects will we get for veterans like Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee, and perhaps guys like Ryan Theriot and Xavier Nady. Let's take a look at the weekend's pitching matchups..
Friday @ 1:20: Jeff Suppan (0-3, 4.20) vs. Randy Wells (4-7, 4.33) - I'm excited that the Cubs get to face Suppan, mostly because I know he's awful. He's a 5 inning pitcher at this point - a slug that can maybe if he's lucky keep the Cardinals in the game, but isn't going to shut anyone down. He's been very average since the Cardinals picked him up - and average is twice as good as he was with the Brewers. If the wind is blowing out today - Soup could be in trouble. Wells has been pretty average this year, but he's seemed to solve his early-season bouts of awfulness in the first inning. He's got a 1.66 ERA in his 3 starts this month, including last time out versus the Phightin Phils where he threw 7 shutout innings. Having grown up a Cardinals fan near St. Louis, I wonder if Wells remembers his last start @ Wrigley vs. the Cards.. a gem on May 28th where he didnt get one out before being pulled. I'm hoping that won't be the case today.
Saturday @ 12:05: Blake Hawksworth (4-5, 4.85) vs. Tom Gorzellany (5-5, 3.12) - Hawksworth is a guy who seemed to be a perpetual prospect who never got his chance with the big club until late last year when he was added to the scuffling Cardinals bullpen and he thrived, allowing 29 hits in 40 relief innings. This year has been the opposite. His ERA doesnt tell the story of how many baserunners he's allowed. In 59 1/3 innings, he's allowed 80 hits, 8 HR, and 25 walks. That's a lot of runners reaching base. His last time out he got the win against Philly despite allowing 13 batters to reach in 6 innings. Opposing him will be the magnificent Gorzo, who has proven himself to be quite steady since being re-inserted into the Cubs rotation. In those three starts, he's allowed just 6 ER in 17 2/3 innings. He's had off and on problems with wildness though, so that's something to watch.
Sunday @ 7:05: Chris Carpenter (11-3, 3.05) vs. Ryan Dempster (8-7, 3.70) - This was supposed to be Carlos Silva's start, but he was pushed back another day by Lou Piniella. Something's amiss with that guy, and I'm starting to think maybe a 15-day DL stint wouldnt be the worst idea. He's been struggling of late leading up to last Monday's start against the Astros when, to borrow a phrase from my buddy Brad, Silva got his tits lit on fire. So taking his place is Ryan Dempster, who scuffled himself against HOU. But he stuck it out for 5 innings and saved an overworked bullpen in a game the Cubs ended up winnning 14-7. He's been our steadiest starting pitcher, in my opinion. Carp will be starting for the Cards, obviously the best pitcher they'll throw this series. He's death on the Cubs, and under the lights on national TV, there's no reason to expect anything different this time. This should be the best pitched game of the series.
Cubs/Cardinals @ Wrigley on what should be a gorgeous summer weekend. Should be a good time, regardless of how bad the Cubs are struggling. Go Cubs!
So we've split the first two games. Randy Wells looked awful (and bullpen-bound?) in his start, and Carlos Silva struck out 11 in seven innings (not bullpen-bound) in his.
Whether the Cubs win or lose this series, it'll feel a heckuva lot more important that it actually is. But screw sensibility; let's win on Sunday and ride the momentum all the way to the freakin' pennant!
How 'bout y'all readers contribute to this here combined recap? What are your favorite moments from the past two games?