Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52 ERA) vs. Adam Ottavino (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Ok, if I told you the season hinged on today's start, would you believe me? Suspend belief for a second and say you do. Now, who would you want to start? Carlos Zambrano --eh...Ted Lilly--eh...Randy Wells--we saw that yesterday. Ok, how about Carlos Silva? If I asked you that question two months ago, I might have been laughed out of GROTA. Now, it's not that crazy, because Silva has thrown great.
Granted, I don't think Silva is an ace, but he has thrown so much better than any of us thought. The Cubs really need to win today, because tomorrow is going to be tough with Adam Wainwright on the mound.
Mike Fontenot - He needs and deserves some starts. He's for his last five with two doubles and triple.
Derrek Lee - He continues to hit, but the Cubs chose not to pitch yesterday.
Marlon Byrd - He's 2 for 20 in his last six games. That's rough. Byrd earned his place in the Cub fans hearts earlier this season with his hard play. We can all hope this is just a mini-slump.
Starlin Castro - It was bound to happen, but Castro is in his first slump. It will be interesting to see how he deals with it in the field.
The Cubs and Cardinals are both looking for a series win, but the Cubs were dealt a huge blow yesterday when Wells couldn't get out of the first inning. Lets hope that Silva has better luck today.
Since that day, the Cardinals have gone 9-13, the Cubs have gone 8-12, and fans at Wrigley don't have to be sober to see the glaring, throbbing, missed opportunity. However, Chicago has won 8 out of their last 11, and there appears to be a light at the end of their tunnel. Maybe. We'll get to that in a bit.
But what we should be focusing in on now is that total lack of invincibility of the Cardinals. That's right -- even Albert Pujols and his crew of HGHeroes (SteroidSidekicks?) are not unbeatable. Their early season lead was not insurmountable - just ask Dusty Baker* and the first place Reds.
(*Dusty Baker! In first place!!)
But what about the Cubs? Yes, they've been playing well enough for even the most cynical of us to feel brief tugs of admiration, but it very truly could be smoke and mirrors. Some of the hot-starters, like Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto, and Starlin Castro, have begun to cool off. And at least one late-beginner, Aramis Ramirez, may be dangling precariously on the edge of never-would-be. Dude sucks.
Over in the pitching staff, Carlos Silva has continued to win. Sooner or later, the officials will forbid him from assembling his mirrors and smoke machine before each start, but until that time comes, holy hell what a good trade. The bullpen has also been looking a little better. Marmol, Marshall, and Russell have been pretty reliable. (And can you believe that Carlos Marmol has a 17.88 K/9 ratio right now? Dude, if a starting pitcher could do that and throw 210 innings, he'd finish the year with 417 SO's!)
So, the Cubs have just enough going for them to not be hopeless, but the hopeless they have (Rammy, Bullpen Pitchers 4-7) looks pretty bad. Still, imagine this: if the Cubs sweep the Cardinals this weekend, they will exit the series with a 26-25 record, while St. Louis would be 27-24. Considering that you know and I know the Reds are not going to be playoff bound, then that would put the Cubs within a game of the only team they actually have to worry about.
Let's look at how realistic it is that that could happen...
Friday, May 28th, 2010 - Randy Wells (3-2, 3.99 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (5-1, 3.09 ERA)
Remember the olden days, when Chris Carpenter was about as healthy as a New York City hooker? How I miss them! Carpenter has gotten stronger as '10 has moved along. His May ERA is 2.75, although in his last start he got kicked around like a tin can. I dare say he's due for a throttlin'.
Randy Wells, meanwhile, is a perfect example of the lil' pitcher without big stuff who makes the most of the few gifts God has given him. And since he took an ass-beating against the Pirates at the beginning of the month, those gifts have translated into a 2.74 ERA and zero wins. I dare say he is due to do some throttlin'!
Saturday, May 29th, 2010 - Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52 ERA) vs. Adam Ottavino (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Silva has already won more games in 2010 than he did in 2009 and 2008 combined. He's basically a jalopy. Sure, drive him around town, and he'll get you to and from without much of a problem. But take him on a road trip somewhere and you will find yourself stranded on the side of the road, watching the better cars pass you by. Sooner or later, Silva's going to have his breakdown, but so far he's been absurdly fun to watch.
Ottavino -- Doctor Ottapuss to his friends -- is a right-handed starting pitcher making his big league debut tomorrow. He pitched outstandingly this Spring for St.Louis (a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings) but he's yet to throw a pitch in a game that matters. Last year, he went 7-12 in Triple A with a 4.75 ERA.
Sunday, May 30th, 2010 - Ryan Dempster (3-4, 3.31 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-3, 2.38 ERA)
Ryan Dempster has been the poster child of Hard Luck Losers in 2010. For his ERA, and his 1.03 WHIP, and his high strikeout rate, and everything else, Dempster should have at least as many wins as Silva. Instead, he's been beaten like a petulant child. But after eating 3 consecutive losses earlier this month, he dominated the Dodgers in his last outing and is poised to build on that win.
Wainwright, meanwhile, will always have a special place in my heart. I once had a heated debate with a moron Cub fan about Wainwright. I argued -- correctly, at the time -- that Rich Hill would have a better season than Adam, while Captain Idiot used Wainwright's clear superiority as yet another example as to why the 2007 Cubs would have no chance of winning in the division.
Long term, that dope was right. Hill was a flash in the pan, while Wainwright has grown into a successful, kick-ass young starter. Dude's already thrown 2 complete games in '10, and he's on an early pace to win 20. He'll be a tough hurdle for the Cubs to overcome on Sunday.
Earlier, I speculated that a sweep of the Cardinals would put the Cubs in a position to compete for the division lead. Saying it's a lot easier than doing it. The Cardinals are throwing two of their best pitchers at the Cubs. The Cubs are a struggling offense who have yet to do anything impressive against good pitching. Certainly, Chicago should win 1. Maybe even 2. But 3 is probably out of the question.
That is all.
Outside of the Cardinals, the NL Central does appear winnable this year. If the Cubs can string a few wins together, they might be able to finagle 85 this year and take the division. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals are going to fail? Probably not, but it is possible.
Right now, the Cardinals are greatly outperforming their statistical indicators while the Cubs are slightly underperforming there's. This has more to do with St. Louis' 4 game lead over the Cubs than any major difference in quality.
St. L GP-13 RS-59 RA-40
Chi GP-13 RS-54 RA-64
So the Cardinals have outscored the Cubs by a small amount while crushing them in the ability to stop the other team from scoring. Makes sense, but consider this:
Cubs wOBA- .328
So the Cubs have more run potential than the Cardinals on offense. It's early, but at worst these teams should be about tied in runs scored.
The actual ERA's are hugely different but the fielding independent team ERA's are almost identical so far. The Cubs have seriously underperformed their xFIP.
These things have a tendency to work themselves out but as of right now, without looking at the glove work where I am sure the Cardinals have a slight advantage, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals are that much better than the Cubs.
It's a long season everyone. I predict that at some point this year, the Cubs will pass the Cardinals for first place if even for just a short time. It's too early to abadon hope.
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Dear Cardinals fans:
You know that feeling of smug satisfaction that you've had the last two Octobers? You know, the one stemming from how you saw the Cubs swept out of the playoffs? I'm talking, of course, about that superior feeling that comes from watching teams like Arizona and, yes, Los Angeles crushing the playoff hopes of Cub fans?
It turns out you were right. That feeling is a good one. It's not as great a feeling as a championship would be, but I have to admit I smiled when the Cardinals were helplessly swept away by the Dodgers.
Sorry about your luck, Cardinals fans. The winter is long. Go Rams?
Let's take a moment to talk about what happened with the Cardinals, before moving back on to how bad Milwaukee sucks.
It's nice saving face and avoiding the sweep, especially when your team is starting to look more and more like the New York Mets.
Apparently, all a $2 trillion payroll gets you these days is an outfield of Bobby Scales, So Taguchi, and Micah Hoffpauir; a middle infield featuring Mike Fontenot and Andres Blanco; and a win for perennial All-Star Esmailin... Caridad? Whatever.
As we end the season series with the Cardinals, we have one last moment to talk about the Tale of Two Teams. Because really, on top of the storied history of this rivalry, things went really well for one team, and poorly for the other.
Call it a lesson in how to handle a bad economy in professional sports.
While Jim Hendry was giving himself (another?) heart attack this offseason. He signed Aaron Miles (after the Cardinals let him walk; RED FLAG!). He traded Mark DeRosa. He got Aaron Heilman. He signed Ryan Dempster, and of course, he signed Milton Bradley.
While on the one hand, that looks like a lot of moves, the Cardinals appear to have done more at this point in the season.
They added Matt Holliday. They grabbed John Smoltz. They acquired Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo. In the end, the Cards did just as much to reshape their team this year as the Cubs did. They just did it at the right time.
What does this mean for next year, when the economy may or may not rebound? Does it make sense to trade Milton Bradley as quickly as possible? Should we pay Chone Figgins whatever it'll take to get him here? Do we sign Doug Davis before Spring Training begins?
Or should we start the season with what we have, and let things play out?
The Bradley thing may be a non-recoverable situation. But for a team that has been weighed down by enormous contracts for the past few years, maybe it makes sense to exercise a little restraint before we let Jim start writing a bunch more checks.
Just saying. And oh yeah, go Cubs!
Record: 76 - 72
Playoff Chances: real slim
Cranky Right Fielders Suspended: 1
Worst We Can Do: Have to wait one more year. But we're good at that, aren't we!
Way back before the start of the '07 season -- or perhaps shortly after it began -- I had a long debate with a friend of mine about the quality of the Cubs when compared with the Cardinals. This friend -- a lifelong Cub fan who used to sling beers in the bleachers during the '84 season along with his buddy Dave Kaplan -- explained to me that the '07 Cards were head and shoulders better than the '07 Cubs at almost every position. He hammered his views home by telling me how great Adam Wainwright was compared with Rich Hill.
A few years later has proven him right in the long-term about Wainwright vs. Hill -- although as I expected Rich was the most outstanding of the two back in '07 -- but time will never erase the fact that the '07 Cubs were the better. So, he can suck on that one for a while longer.
As for 2009, at this point there's no doubt that the Cardinals are a force. They've received key performances from players of middling talent, all of their studs have played exactly as they'd expected, and they've even had the extra bonus of long-hurt stars returning to tip-top shape. Thus, they have succeeded in making the Cubs their bitches. Yes, it hurts. But I would happily take a second-place finish to the Cardinals if it meant a Wild Card playoff berth, but even that won't be happening now.
And as the season winds down, the Cubs have 15 more games. That's 3 more starts, give or take, which means that Carlos Zambrano will have to win today and once more if he wants to reach double digits for the 7th time in his career. Hopefully this will be the worst season of his career, ironically appearing in a "prime" year, but we'll have to see about that. He may not even be a Cub for 2010, although why they'd deal him now makes little sense.
Then again, not much makes sense about this shit-stain of a baseball season.
Yesterday's one-run loss got me thinking. How many 1-run losses have the Cubs had this year where their opponents won by scoring, say, 5 runs or less in a game? (I'm using 5 as my number because most good teams will average slightly more than 5 runs per.)
The answer is 17, and of those 17 games only 2 actually came to the final score of 5-4. All others were actually games in which their opponents scored 4 runs or less. But remember -- these aren't all the times the Cubs lost to teams they held to 5 runs or less. The number 17 represents all the times they lost by 1 run, like they did yesterday.
In other words, with a half-competent offense, it's probably safe to bet that the Cubs could have won some of those games. Imagine if they'd even only won 10 of them, right now Chicago would be 85-62, right in the thick of it. And that's still assuming they would never have won any of the other games where their bats simply puttered and died. Of course, it's all spilled milk.
During yesterday's GameCast I wrote about the bad luck of Ryan Dempster, but ultimately surmised that he's been good enough against the Cardinals to win "assuming the pansy-ass Cubs offense can figure out how to hit Carpenter."
Sadly, they didn't. Dempster and Carpenter both pitched 8 innings, both allowed 8 hits, with Ryan striking out more, walking less, but unfortunately continuing in his bad habit of surrendering just a few too many homeruns in '09 -- this one to Brendan Ryan, who apparently has Dempster figured out as he collected 2 of the Cardinals' 8 hits.
It would have been another ridiculous Cubs shut-out had Jeff Baker not evened the score in the 9th with a sacrifice fly, but Carlos Marmol proved his unreliability again in the 9th by giving up 3 hits and getting only 1 out before St. Louis closed the door on the game thanks again to Brendan Ryan who singled home Mark "Why'd It Have to Again Be" DeRosa.
The Cubs all told managed 10 hits and 2 walks, failing to capitalize on 17 opportunities to drive in runs. I don't know how a manager teaches "timely" hitting -- in fact I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be something where "clutch" is an overrated, made-up statistic -- but the Cubs may need to figure something out.
Besides, much as LaTroy Hawkins taught us that good relievers sometimes cannot close, players like Corey Patterson and Sammy Sosa (particularly the 2004 versions) taught us that if clutch is an illusory statistic, then "anti-clutch" is as real as gravity. The Cubs have had there fair share in that category this year, particularly with guys like Milton Bradley.
It's true that the real idiots out there will try to argue that Milton's been great and just hasn't had as many chances to drive in runs, but the reality of it is that he's been pathetic with runners in scoring position. But we'll save that for a Monday or Tuesday article.
It's the unluckiest man in baseball against the guy who should feel lucky to be healthy.
At the end of last season, Dempster's pending free agency status was the albatross in the room. It's safe to say that any reasonable Cub fan knew he wouldn't duplicate his 17-win, 2.96 ERA 2007 season, but he wasn't about to realistically drop off again. Besides, Jim Hendry has rightly displayed not just loyalty to his best players, but a willingness to reward their success and it probably would've sent the wrong message to allow Ryan Dempster to sign elsewhere. Still, what works out to be essentially a 4-year deal was pretty stupid.
This year, while making $9 million, Clownsevelt has dealt with bad outings, irregular run support, and a broken toe. He's still managed to get to 10 wins, though, and to get his ERA below 4. But I still surmise that he's done better than his numbers convey. Here's what I mean:
K/9: 2007 - 8.14, 2008 - 7.58
K/BB: 2007 - 2.46, 2008 - 2.40
These stats are important for two reasons. First, if something is physically wrong with a pitcher they will tend to fluctuate a lot. Second, that they are so similar tells us that something else is responsible for the higher-by-a-run ERA Dempster's sporting.
The answer to that is how many hits he's given up -- teams were batting .227 against him last year, and they're batting .264 against him in '09. This appears to have happened for a bunch of reasons, the most predominant being that Dempster has allowed for an increasing number of fly-balls -- resulting in a handful more homeruns, but nothing to seek therapy about -- while also surrendering more infield hits (from 5.1% in '08 to 6.4% this year). For comparison's sake, his opponent Chris Carpenter has an infield hit percentage this year of 5.2%.
So -- maybe it's Dempster's fault, as he's not keeping the ball down, but maybe it's also his infield's fault, as they're letting more through, and maybe it's also just bad luck. Either way, my feeling is that in 2010 he'll probably land somewhere between his '08 numbers and his '09 stats.
Regardless, in three starts this season against the Cardinals Dempster is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA. He hasn't dominated them, but they haven't tormented him either. It should be an interesting game ... assuming the pansy-ass Cubs offense can figure out how to hit Carpenter.
The Cubs collected 3 of their 7 hits and both of their 2 runs in the 1st inning yesterday, and were then shut down by John Smoltz and the Cardinals for the next 8 innings. And while Ted Lilly delivered an extremely solid 7.2 innings of work, he melted down in the 5th surrendering 2 runs -- including an RBI triple by Mark "Why Did It Have To Be" DeRosa. Then in the 9th inning, Aaron Heilman surrendered a walk-off homerun to Matt Holliday and that was all she wrote.
There's a saying in baseball about how good teams find ways to win and bad teams find ways to lose. It's a cliche because it's true, but the Cubs aren't really a bad team. They're just a not good enough team, there's a difference. And in a year that seems to belong to the Cardinals, the Cubs are busy at making sure that their fans will have this October free for other things, like vacations, football, and dentistry. Yay.
But hey -- there are teeny, tiny positives in this. Derrek Lee is batting over .300 and has more than 100 RBI. Jeff Baker has, minus a few droughts, been a worthy pickup at least for this season. Aramis Ramirez managed to come back from a serious shoulder injury to have a very productive second half. Oh, and the team got sold.
All these things are worth feeling The Positive about. But the overall play of the Cubs on the field? Not so much.