I remember back in April when I used to look condescendingly at the Astros. Man, they were a bad team. Thank God the Cubs were better put-together than them...
These days, I find myself looking at Houston with a longing I cannot describe on a family-friendly site. (Of course, part of it has to do with their tacos...)
Amazingly, the Astros actually have a chance of finishing the year with a .500-or-better record. On the path to their gloriocrity? The Chicago Cubs, whose poor play is dejecting, horrifying, and other things that end in "ing," but is still better than the Pirates.
On with the Preview...
Monday, September 6th - Casey Coleman (1-1, 5.76 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.71 ERA)
Casey Coleman. 23 years old, and in his first 25 innings as a major leaguer, he's surrendered 27 hits and 10 walks, while notching 11 strikeouts. I believe I may have mentioned in the past -- with guys like Coleman in mind -- that if the Cubs shock us by reaching the playoffs in 2011, it will in part be on the arms of young pitchers like Coleman. Maybe he'll work out, maybe not, but he's 24-13 in his last two years in the minors, with a career minor league ERA of 3.73. His stuff's not dynamic, but he's a potential good'un.
Wandy Rodriguez is a middle-of-the-road starter with a career WHIP of 1.36, a career ERA of 4.22, and 62 career wins to 64 losses. He's a great #3 or #4 pitcher, which means he's got a decent shot of beating the crappy Cubs offense today.
Tuesday, September 7th - Carlos Silva (10-5, 3.92 ERA) vs. Nelson Figueroa (4-2, 2.83 ERA)
Hey! Carlos Silva's on his way back. He last pitched on August 1st, lasting 0.1 innings before slothing his way off the mound onto the disabled list. Maybe he'll be rejuvenated and effective again -- he sure as hell can't be much worse than he was in July, when he went 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA.
He faces Nelson Figueroa, a 36-year-old journeyman with a very interesting career. Nelson has been pitching in the major leagues ever since 2000, but he's never started more than 13 games (in 2001) and he's never made more than 30 appearances (back in 2002). None of this changes these two facts: apart from 2005-2007, when he was in the Mexican/Chinese baseball leagues, he's pitched at least 28.1 innings every year, and his career ERA is actually a respectable 4.30.
In other words, he's the epitome of a journeyman, and if he ever pitched for the Cubs he'd probably be a fan favorite -- it's easy to root for the underdog.
Wednesday, September 8th - Randy Wells (6-12, 4.56 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (10-7, 3.02 ERA)
Randy Wells continues to struggle, and he squares off against, probably, the toughest Astros pitcher on Wednesday.
Anyone want to bet that Wells is out of the big leagues within 3 years?
Both teams are playing for pride, but Houston has a clear objective -- if they sweep the Cubs, then they'll only be 5 games under .500. The Cubs, meanwhile, continue to audition Mike Quade in the managerial role. Dude's 8-4 so far. I think, though, that it's inevitable that Sandberg gets the gig.
Or, at least, that's what I'm hoping for at this point, for reasons previously mentioned.
At some point I'm going to look up the phrase, "Starting pitcher kept team in game, offense failed to capitalize on opportunities, secondary bullpen pitchers put game out of reach," in different languages, because that's really probably the only way I can continue to give you a varied product when it comes to game recaps.
Randy Wells allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings yesterday, but two of those came in the sixth on a Carlos Lee home run that was thiiiiis close to going foul. Lee would also homer off Bob Howry later in the game, giving him four ribs on two homers for the day.
The Cubs had a chance to take the lead early, loading the bases with no outs in the first, and with Castro and Colvin getting on in front of Aramis Ramirez with no outs in the third. They had a chance in the fifth too, when Theriot and Castro both singled. Unfortunately, their inability to capitalize was their downfall yesterday.
Of course, that's what you get for playing Fukudome, Nady, and Baker instead of Byrd, Lee, and Soriano.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game, where I'll be on full-fledged CastroWatch: if Castro goes 1-for-4 and Byrd goes 0-for-4, Starlin will take over the team lead in batting average.
And hey, has anybody been traded yet?
"Rough night for Cash," says Chief, and really I'm pretty sure that's all it was.
Neither the Cubs nor the Astros were able to score through the first 6.5 innings of last night's game in Houston. Ted Lilly and, to an even greater extent, Brett Myers were both sharp.
So bottom seven, Andrew Cashner is on the mound, and the kid throws a high-and-inside fastball to Humberto Quintero that, in my mind, the guy could easily have dodged. It looked like he leaned in for a split second before jerking back, and so he got hit. That was a dick move. Classic Rod Stilenovich rally starter.
Alright, so pressure's on, tied scoreless game, 'Stros pinch-run for Quintero with this Jason Bourgeois cat, who's fast. Astro starter Brett Myers is up, looking to lay down the bunt, but before he has a chance to do so, Bourgeois steals 2nd.
This is an appropriate time to relay to you the factoid I heard during last night's broadcast, which is that Koyie Hill is something like 3-for-25 in throwing out base runners this season. If that's true, then what the hell is this guy good at? He certainly can't hit -- and when I say "can't hit," I mean he literally cannot make contact between the bat and the ball. Are we sure Hill is better than Castillo, Chirinos, Clevenger, Brenly, et al?
As for the rest of the inning, a quick sum: Myers bunts, JB goes to 3B with one out. Pinella IBBs Michael Bourn to keep the double play in order, but then Angel Sanchez drops a bunt into the dead zone between Cash and Hill, allowing the fleet-footed JB to score. Hunter Pence singles, Carlos Lee walks, Cash hits Jeff Keppinger with a pitch, and then gives up a grand slam to Lance Berkman.
It was a stressful situation for Cashner, with absolutely zero help provided by the guy behind the plate. Honestly, let's replace Hill with Castillo or whoever like right now.
On the bright side, Tyler Colvin went 2-for-4, with a double and a homer that would lead to the Cubs' only run. Among players with at least 250 plate appearances, Colvin leads the National League in isolated slugging (SLG - AVG, a measure of raw power). And guess who's in last place in the NL? Hint's in the Shout Box.
Finally, I salute Ted Lilly for 3.5 years of brave service to the Cub cause. This guy is a true winner; doesn't have the 93-95mph heater, but clearly wants to win every night so very badly. Whether he ends up with the Twins or the Dodgers (the frontrunners for his services, according to Bruce Miles), I hope he gets the chance to start in the playoffs that he deserved in 2008 but never received.
You will be missed, TRL.
A quality win for the Cubs last night, as everyone pretty much did their job: starter Carlos Silva kept the team in the game for five innings, the bullpen closed up shop while allowing just one run, and the offense scored 4+ runs.
To clarify, I don't give Silva credit for being anything more than a fifth starter, so any time he allows fewer than three runs and pitches five or more innings, he's done his job. And I said "4+" instead of five not just because I'm crazy, but also because I think a major league offense should be expected to score four runs when it wants to win a ball game.
The first four Cub runs came early. Soto doubled in Byrd (who had walked) and Soriano (who had doubled just prior) in the second inning, and in the third, a Byrd ground out brought home Derrek Lee (who had doubled) and a Soriano double brought home Aramis Ramirez (who hit a single to get on base).
Ryan Theriot hit a solo homer for the Cubs' fifth run, doubling his home run output over his last 700 or so at-bats.
Also: double double double double double double double single double double. Double.
Speaking of doubles, guess who else doubled? Starlin Castro! A double!
Darlin' Starlin went 2-for-5, raising his average to .309. He also has an .809 OPS for the year. Did I mention I love him? I mean, if you wanna talk about arbitrarily small sample sizes, look at his numbers since July 10: .463/.473/.704. HE IS BATTING .463 OVER HIS LAST 54 AT-BATS. THIS MEANS HE WILL BE A HALL OF FAMER AND THE CUBS WILL WIN SEVERAL WORLD SERIESES.
That's logic, baby. Go Cubs.
Ted Lilly got his first hit of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning yesterday, and Darlin' Starlin Castro (oh, he is just so darlin' indeed) drove him in with a double to left field to give the Cubs the game's first run. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz would later tie the game, on a solo shot in the top of the eighth. The Cubs' failure to score in the bottom of the eighth suggested the game could be headed for some late inning drama.
Then this happened:
Bottom 9, man on 2nd, no outs; K, 1B, pop fly to center, K.
Bottom 10, bases loaded, one out; K, fly out to left.
Bottom 11, 1st and 2nd with one out; fly out, fly out.
Bob Howry came in to pitch the 12th, allowed two singles to lead off, and had to be relieved by James Russell, who got Michael Bourn out, and then Jeff Stevens, who gave up a double to Jason Michaels which drove in two runs. Then other things happened, but that's the important stuff.
Here's a thought: without a hit from Ted Lilly, the Cubs may have been shut out by the Astros yesterday.
Who's the goat on offense? There are plenty of candidates, but Tyler Colvin went 0-for-6 overall, and looked over-matched at times. He struck out to end the ninth, and flied out to end the game.
Colvin's a mistake hitter with great bat speed and excellent power -- not a lead-off man. You know, it's not his fault the team lost yesterday, but putting him in the spot in the lineup that gets the most plate appearances in a game might be pushing it. Furthermore, the only argument I've heard against putting Castro in the leadoff spot is that he's too young, and should be coddled and allowed to develop. Along those same lines, are there any reasons why Tyler Colvin should be leading off?
First we're not playing Colvin enough, then we're playing him too much. I dunno, maybe I'm just a whiner. Anyways, go Cubs, etc.!
FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.
In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.
In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?
In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.
These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).
Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.
I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!
Ryan Dempster (8-7, 3.57 ERA) vs. Wesley Wright (0-0, 5.59 ERA)
Well, I ate my words. To paraphrase AJ: regression sucks. Regardless, the world has not ended and there are still games to be played in this series. I am a bit late on the uptake with this entry, so I'll just get to the meat of it: Cubs need to win this game to even the series up so they can set up a series win. That it. It's all about winning series' and becoming respectable. So far, it looks like the team is up to the task.
Has Carlos Silva run out of steam?
Those who watched last night's game know why I'm asking. For those who missed the Hutt's most recent gem, check this line: 1 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 0 K. Frankly I'm surprised the Astros didn't score more runs, but if there's any team that can get nine base runners in an inning and only score five of them it's them. (If there were two such teams, it'd be them and us, of course.)
Carlos Silva doesn't appear to be in shape, really. I mean, not that I'm much of a beacon of health myself, but come on, this is professional athletics. Starting pitching require full exertion; maybe he's just out of bullets.
Another theory: you know how Larry Rothschild is rumored to have fixed Silva's mechanics, improving his breaking stuff to better complement his fastball? Something about the shoulder being pulled, or pushed, or twisted, or something? I bet that's been causing Carlos pain, which has built up over the course of the season, and is now rendering him unable to pitch effectively.
Behind door number three, another theory: regression. The man pitches to contact, and doesn't have the stuff to get strikeouts when he needs them. Oftentimes, ground balls and pop flies do land in the gloves of your defenders. But sometimes, those balls turn into hits.
So those are some theories for you to chew on. At the same time, Silva could come back in his next start and dominate. I wouldn't hold your breath on that one though! Because I think you might suffocate! Because you'd be waiting a long time for Silva to have a good outing! Because he probably sucks! Do you get my joke? Awesome.
Speaking of recapping the game, the Cubs lost. I guess we had a chance to win after six innings, after an Aramis Ramirez home run made the score 8-5 'Stros. But the 'pen couldn't keep it close, and the offense would end up being done at that point. Pretty typical follow-up to laying a smackdown on Roy Halladay, no?
I just got "We Believe" in the mail via Netflix today so now I'm gonna go watch that. Toodle-oo! Go Cubs!
Carlos Silva (9-3, 3.45 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (6-11, 4.97 ERA)
Well, that was a phun time (see what I did there? I know, I know!). The Cubs showed the Phillies the way to I-55 and now welcome the AAA version of the Astros to town. The Astros would likely have more turnover from their opening day roster to now if they actually had any sort of depth in their farm system. For now, that depth is being showcased by a cast led by Chris Johnson and Juan Castro (the lighter-hitting, catching brother of Starlin).
Carlos Silva looks to continue his quest of hiding a horseshoe up his... jersey. If the cloud cover holds up into the evening, it would be a benefit to the big man and keep him a little bit cooler in this high humidity, high-temperature front and hopefully allow him to go a bit longer in the game.
On the other hand, Wandy Rodriguez tries to stop being an epic failure (guess who drafted him in 3 fantasy leagues this year!). At home, the Magic Wandy has been serviceable. On the road, Wandy has been attrocious. On the road, he is 2-6 with a 5.79 ERA and WHIP of 1.636. Moreover, his K/9 is drastically lower on the road (8.6 at home, 5.1 on the road). I expect this trend to continue when he toes the rubber at Wrigley.
Who's Hot- I'm going to go with Starlin Castro. Watching him recently, I have been quite impressed with his approach at the plate, his ability to inside out a pitch, and his blazing speed (ok, maybe I really liked that "steal" of home). Gents, I think we are looking at our leadoff hitter. He's fast, he gets on base at a decent clip (.350) and he just LOOKS like a leadoff guy (yep, the good old eyeball test reigns supreme). (Runner Up: Geo Soto)
Who's Not- Cubs relievers. The past two days have not been pretty for the Cubs relief corps. First, there was the Marmol Fiasco. Last night, I wasn't very happy with what I saw out of Cashner and Russell. I get it, there was a big lead. Still, I'd like to see cleaner appearances. I'm picky. Plus, the nature of the "who's not" column is to pick something I don't like.
The Astros are coming to town at the right time for a somewhat hot Cubs ballclub. It'd be nice to have even more momentum built up before the weekend series against the Redbirds. Outlook is positive considering the Cubs avoid Roy O this series.
Hot on the heels of thrashing the Phillies, the Cubs continue their home stand by hosting the 37-55 Houston Astros.
Hey, remember when the Astros were perennial competitors? That was back in the day of 'roids and growth. These days, Houston's lucky to win 70. Roy Oswalt, whose nickname officially became "Trade Bait" not too long ago, has to be begging the baseball gods to be unloaded on a large market team. The guy has a 3.12 ERA and -- more impressively -- a 1.07 WHIP, and he's one bad outing from having twice as many losses as wins. Ouch.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are in limbo. They're starting to look good. Things are getting better. Aramis Ramirez raised his batting average by 40 points in 8 games. Ryan Theriot realized he sucks and is making adjustments to his game to suck slightly less. These are the greatest days of our lives, folks. Soak 'em in and enjoy 'em.
Can you believe that there are actually people out there who get paid to write about sports that are advocating the Cubs to hold off on Fire Sale 2010 because they're on a "high note" at the moment?
I mean, c'mon! There gets to be a point in every disappointing season in which the action off the field is exceedingly more interesting than the action on the field. We're at that point, so let's see some wheelin' and dealin'!
...no? No wheeling? No dealing? Fine, then. Let's look at the match-ups while I pout.
Monday, July 19th, 7:05PM - Carlos Silva (9-3, 3.45 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (6-11, 4.97 ERA)
Carlos Silva is looking less like a golden goose every single outing. Take his last one, for instance. 1.1 innings of work, 6 earned runs, 345 crying orphans. Not cool, Carlos. Not cool.
But, if Silva is ever going to get his 10th win, it's going to be tonight. He faces Wandy Rodriguez, who -- apart from having the most embarrassing first name in professional sports -- has about as much pitching talent as the face men of Milli Vanilli have singing talent. Blame it on the lame*.
(*If you're old enough to get this joke, you probably have better things to do with your life than spending your midlife crisis reading this blog...)
Tuesday, July 20th, 7:05PM - Ryan Dempster (8-7, 3.57 ERA) vs. Wesley Wright (0-0, 5.59 ERA)
Dempster is one good second half away from almost justifying the ridiculous contract that Jim Hendry gave him two years ago. So far, so good -- he's got a respectable 1.20 WHIP and is striking out as many batters as innings he's pitched. His only problem? He's wasting what would have been a good season on a baseball team that can feel a justified sense of accomplishment for climbing back into third place.
He faces Wesley Wright, according to ESPN. I'm skeptical about this because Wright has never started a game in the major leagues. Ever. But what he has done is pitch 110 innings in his career as a reliever, for which he has surrendered 110 hits, 62 walks (that's a 1.56 WHIP), 20 homers, and 64 earned runs (career ERA of 5.52). I don't know about you, but if the Cubs have to square off against this jabrone, I won't complain. The Cubs need to face more journeymen relief pitchers with career ERAs in the 5's.
Wednesday, July 21st, 1:20PM - Ted "Farewell Tour" Lilly (3-8, 4.07 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (7-6, 3.35 ERA)
Ted Mother-F*cking Lilly. The best lefty pitcher the Cubs have had since our writer Rob Letterly was still young enough to poop his pants and get away with it. Sadly, his twilight campaign in Chicago is not going as we'd hoped it would. It's not that he's been bad, per se, although he does have an ERA of 8.83 in the month of July. It's more that when he has been bad, he's sucked worse than a socialist banker. But chin up, Cub fans. In his last outing, he managed to drop his ERA by a whole 0.01, while striking 10 Phillies out in 7 innings of work. W00t!
Lilly and the Cubs will be hoping to continue their dominance of the Phillies on Wednesday, as they square off against Philadelphia alumni Brett Myers, who's basically the One Good Thing in the Astros rotation this year. (He also has a neck that is literally as wide as his head, and a goatee that only Nic Cage could love.) The bad news is, Brett has pitched really, really well in July -- he's 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. The good news, though, is this: he's bound to get smacked around sooner or later -- possibly even as soon as Wednesday against a *snicker* dangerous Cubs lineup.
Just think! If the Cubs sweep the Astros -- not an impossible scenario by any means -- then they will be 45-51. That's spitting distance of .500! Then, the Cubs only need to put the hammer to the Cardinals, before traveling to Houston to do some more smiting. Who knows? By the end of the month, the Cubs could be a .500 team!
Before you poo all over that thrilling concept, consider this: the Cubs are a broken team desperately in need of scrapping what they have and rebuilding as much as possible. Therefore, nothing could be worse than a two-week resurgence in which, for long enough to render their valuable players untradeable, the Cubs set the ball on fire with a holy vengeance.
It's just Cub enough to actually happen. But hell, I can think of worse things...