Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Reds

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Gamecast: May 7, 2010 - Cubs @ Reds

GameCastCarlos Silva (2-0, 2.90 ERA) vs. Homer Bailey (0-1, 6.04)

Overview
Last time I did the Gamecast, I noted that the Cubs had the decided advantage in the pitching matchup, and we lost...as Charlie Morton had the best game of his season. So..this time I'm not going to disparage Mr. Bailey, only noting that he's got 4 ND in 5, and that he had the best start of his season last time out against STL. We'll see what we get with Silva, who struggled some last Saturday against the Snakes (in a game we came back and won - I was there...good times). However there have been some reports of Silva having a sore hand. Hopefully he's ready to give us at least 6 good innings tonight.

Also for tonight, you might have heard..the Cubs have promoted Starlin Castro. Since everyone has an opinion on this, I'll editorialize some more, and give you mine... I think this is the right move at the right time. I don't care that Castro is only 20, I don't care that he only has 250 plate appearances in AA, and I especially don't care that he's skipping AAA since fewer and fewer elite prospects are spending serious time there these days. Its becoming more and more than AAA is for players on the way down and guys that couldnt quite hack it in the bigs...guys like Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld, Bryan LaHair, etc. This team needs a shot in the arm, and hopefully Castro can do that. I don't think that this situation is anything like what's happened in the past with other highly touted prospects in Patterson and Pie. Castro has a LOT better plate discipline and control of his bat. Give him time Cubs fans - I assure you it will be worth the wait.

Who's Hot
Starlin Castro baby! - He was 9 for his last 17 in AA, finishing his tenure there with a .376 average. And now he's here, upgrading the defense and 2 positions. I'm excited, can you tell?

Who's Not
Everytime I write one of these, I mention Rami's name. So there's him. Apparently Jeff Baker lit his ass on fire, so he's not doing so well..(or should I have put him in the "Hot" column?). And of course Jeff Gray's not doing well either.

Big night tonight. Everyone tune in, and if the way this season's gone is any indication, we'll follow up those 3 Pirate losses with 3 wins in Cincy.

-MW

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at Cincinatti Reds

Series Preview
Overview:
The Cubs hit a rough skid (well, they didn't really hit anything) in Pittsburgh and are looking to right the ship against the Reds at Great American Ballpark.  In an attempt to provide a spark to what has been a lackluster offense, the Cubs called up uber prospect Starlin Castro to take his rightful place at shortstop.  Accordingly, the Cubs demoted the Ginger One, Chad Tracy, to AAA.  Castro had a .376/.421/.569 line in AA Tennessee and had 4 SB (5 CS) on the year.

In short, this move seems pretty desperate.  At this day, May 7, the Cubs are 3 games under .500 at 13-16.  It feels worse because the team just got swept by the Pirates at PNC.  The team is looking for a "kick start" to get them out of the slump.  This really isn't the first time the Cubs have made this play.  You only have to look back to 2007 when the Cubs were in a very similar situation: a middling team that lacked drive and inspiration.  In June of that year, the Cubs made a drastic move and traded what most of us thought was the franchise catcher in an attempt to bring on some chemistry and light a fire under everyone.

Similarly, in 2007 lots of fans were ready to write the team off by the end of May.  The team was seven games under .500 and weren't playing up to the talent level most fans expected of them.  Eventually, the team got hot in the Dog Days of Summer and went on to win the division.

Ladies and Gents, so far the season hasn't gone the way we'd all hoped, but the situation isn't dire.  There's a lot of ball to play, and hopefully this move can work as the spark the front office believes it could be.

Now, onto the matchups.

Friday, May 7: Carlos Silva (2-0, 2.90) vs. Homer Bailey (0-1, 6.04)
Bailey and the Cubs are familiar with each other as they met in the first Cubs/Reds series of the season.  In that game, Bailey went five innings and struck out five while giving up 3 earned runs.  Perhaps fitting to his name, Homer is a flyball pitcher that relies on a plus fastball and a very nice 12-to-6 curve.  When he is able to keep the ball down in the zone, he can be at times unhittable.  However, he has struggled with consistency and frequently leaves his curveball and mediocre changeup up in the zone, which can lead to some long home run balls.  The best way to get to Bailey is to wait him out and not fall behind in a count so he can utilize his curve.

Silva is coming off the worst start of his Cubs career.  Speaking of keeping the ball down, Carlos left his sinker in the middle of the zone in his last start and allowed Arizona's lineup to take advantage of the gale force wind blowing out to the tune of 3 HR.  Silva's start was supposed to be pushed back because of a barking right wrist, but the trainer reports came back and he seems to be feeling well enough to toe the rubber tonight.  Which Silva will show up will be the main thing to watch for.

Saturday, May 8: Tom Gorzelanny (1-3, 2.48) vs. Aaron Harang (1-4, 6.68)
I know this point has been brought up countless times, but ever since Dusty made Harang run out in an extra innings game on minimal rest a few seasons ago, Harang really hasn't been right.  Regardless, he still always seems to have the Cubs' number.  In his last start against the Cubs, Harang went seven innings and only allowed three earned runs while striking out seven.  His most recent start was a quality start against the Cardinals, but he took the loss in a duel against Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals.  He's going to try hard to get ahead in the count by being aggresive with his fastball and then use his junker stuff to get hitters to chase out of the zone.  Sadly, this is a pretty good plan of success against an aggressive Cubs team.

Gorz got his first win of the season in his last outing against the Dbacks and set a career high 10 strikeouts in the game.  Posting three quality starts in his last five starts, Gorz has been a great asset to the Cubs pitching staff.  Another note of interest is that Gorz and Maddux constantly text/call each other to break down each start Gorz makes and how he can improve upon it.  Hopefully Maddux gave Tommy some good advice this time around and he continues to build upon his strong start.

Sunday, May 9: Ryan Dempster (2-2, 2.95) vs. Mike Leake (2-0, 2.94)
Leake has turned in four quality starts in his last five outings.  He turned in a decent performance the first time around against the Cubs where he only gave up one run in 6.2 innings.  The big knock on him was the seven walks he gave up in that game as well.  After giving up five walks in his start after facing the Cubs, Leake has limited his walks in his last 3 starts (2 being the max number).  Leake really doesn't have dominant stuff, but has above average command of all of his pitches.  He will go as far as his control lets him.

Dempster was the latest casualty of no run support in Pittsburgh in his last outing.  Clownsevelt went seven innings and allowed only 3 ER, two of those runs coming by way of the homerun ball.  The Cubs stranded 11 men on base in his last start, so hopefully that trend can change in the fortuitous hitters paradise that is Great American Ballpark.

Conclusion
The Cubs should take 2/3 in this series.  I expect the team to wake up from it's haze with the moves made today and show some signs of life and rededication.  If they turn in another performance like in Pittsburgh, then this team may have a longer and harder road to recovery than I imagined.

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Game Recap: Cubs 1, Reds 3 -- The blame game

Game Recap
Plenty of mistakes in this one. Let's see if we can identify all of them, starting chronologically from the start of the game.

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.

Go Cubs!

Gamecast: April11th, 2010 - Cubs at Reds

Tom Gorzelanny (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview

The Cubs will go for their first series victory today against the Reds and phenom Mike Leake. Why phenom? Well, Leake will make his professional debut in the majors. Leake becomes only the 22nd player in MLB history to skip the minors. The last player? Current Cub Xavier Nady.

The Cubs have not fared well against young pitchers in the past. That is probably because the Cubs are not full patient hitters, which leads to a quick innings and strikeouts.

The other trend early on the season are the homeruns for the Cubs. The Cubs scored all their runs off the long ball on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. So, the Cubs are hitting the long ball, but they are still only 2-3.

Gorzelanny will make his season debut and will have a tough time matching "The Great" Carlos Silva. It looks like Silva and Gorzelanny will both pitch or a coupe more weeks since Ted Lilly was pushed back again.

Who's Hot
Kosuke Fukudome - I know it's early, but I like what I see so far.  The Dome is hitting .313 with a .915 OPS. We need more of this to help the Cubs.  

Who's Not
Take your pick -
Tyler Colvin, Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, Geovanny Soto and Marlon Byrd are all hitting below .200. It's early, but it wouldn't hurt to see some hits form these guys.

Conclusions
The Cubs need some good things to happen heading into the home opener. It would be nice to be .500 on the road trip to start the season .

Gamecast: April 10th, 2010 - Cubs at Reds

Carlos Zambrano (0-1, 54.00 ERA) Vs. Aaron Harang (0-1, 5.40 ERA)

Overview

So here we are once again. One of the beautiful things about baseball is that no matter what happens the day before, the next day gives an opportunity to forget all that nasty "Bullpen fail" that came before. After yesterday's 5-4 suckfest, I'm sure we all will be looking for a better taste in our mouths' today.

Carlos Zambrano gets the start for the Cubs, and after a disastrous 1st start I'm predicting he will bounce back in a big, big way today. Look for him to keep his walks lower, and go about 6 to 7 innings today.

Who's Hot
Cubs Starting Pitchers -
Since Zambrano's opening day shenanigans, Cubs' starters have given up 2 runs in three games. Unfortunately they only got 1 win out of those games, but hey, it's early, right?

Who's Not
Cub's Bullpen -
See the game recap for proof. Someone not named "Sean Marshall" needs to step up soon.

Conclusions
The Cubs need to start putting up more insurance runs, and the 8th inning bullpen awfulness needs to end. I predict a solid bounce back effort, and free chocolates for all.

Game Recap: Reds 5, Cubs 4 - Get Used To It

Recap
Well that wasn't very enjoyable at all, was it? Last night the Cubs took a 4-2 lead into the 8th and in what is turning into a trend gifted 4 runs, and the game, to the Cincinnati Reds. Though it may be early to press the panic button, there is an early trend that reared its' ugly head.
 
Some good news to start with, though: future NutriSystem spokesman Carlos Silva had a best case scenario 1st start, going 6 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, no walks, and 3 strikeouts. Silva threw an incredibly efficient 71 pitches on the day and probably could have lasted longer but it appeared he may have tweaked something in the 6th. I never imagined I would be saying this about our rotund 4th starter, but I hope it's nothing serious because we are going to need him.

The Cubs took advantage (but not enough of an advantage) of Reds starter Homer Bailey, getting one run on a A-Ram sac fly in the 1st, followed by another in the 3rd from Xavier Nady's 1st RBI in a Cubs uniform. The former place holder for the Great Micah Hoffpauir, Derrek Lee helped continue the misery for Bailey with an RBI single, driving in the current place holder for the Great Starlin Castro, Ryan Theriot.

Look, we all now what happened in the 8th as it's now uncomfortably familiar, like a Ronnie Woo-Woo sex video (Don't judge). I know it may be early to look for trends, but let's look at one that has surfaced: Through 4 games, Cubs relievers have given up the following in the 8th inning: 6 walks, 6 hits (2 of which were soul crushing home runs) and 8 runs. If the Cubs have any desire to play in October, the 8th inning bleeding needs to stop soon.

After Esmailin Caridad helped Drew Stubbs become a Cincinnati hero for one day, in the 9th many Cubs fans were left to wonder "What if?" after a close play at 1st resulted in Tyler Colvin grounding out on an excruciating close play at 1st. This play became important due to Derrek Lee blasting a HR into Kentucky. Hopes continued to build when the Cubs loaded the bases thanks to a PH single by Fukudome and a couple of Reds defensive miscues. It wasn't to be, however, as Chad Tracy check swinged his way to the 3rd out.

Right now we can at least take heart that it *is* early, thus plenty of time to correct these early trends. Outside of a trade though, I'm just not seeing where the bullpen corrections will come from, I'm afraid. Maybe I'll just keep my fingers crossed, and suggest you do the same.

Gamecast: April 9th, 2010 - Cubs at Reds

Carlos Silva (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Homer Bailey (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview

The Cubs finally got the monkey off their back, but they didn't really actually break the slump at the plate. Granted, the season is still very young, but watching in person the last three games gave me a little glimpse into the season.

  • Derrek Lee's bat looks slow. I know he's a slow starter, but he didn't look good once at the plate. Everything he hit was to right and only warning track power. He's 34 and this could get ugly.
  • Ryan Theriot needs a hit. He really didn't do much in the series with the glove or bat. His SF was was barely a SF only because Nate McClouth can't throw. 
  • John Grabow....eh...its been covered already.

The Cubs traveled north last night and will play three with the Reds before heading home for the opener on Monday. The Cubs really could use a couple days in the Great American Home Run Park. It could do the offense good.

On the mound, the Cubs will send Carlos Silva, which is most likely an audition for the No. 5 starter role for when Ted Lilly returns. We will see if the "The Hut" can make us forget Milton Bradley.

Who's Hot
Cubs Starters - Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells threw really well the last two nights and saved the bullpen a little after the Monday opener.

Sean Marshall - He's looked great, but lets hope Lou doesn't run him out there too much that it leads to an injury.

Who's Not
Soto, Lee, Theriot, Soriano, Hill, Baker......I could keep going, but you get the picture.

Conclusions
The Cubs should win this series, but it starts with game one. Hopefully, the bats wake up and the pitching keeps it going, well everybody except John Grabow.

Series Preview: Cubs at Reds

Goat Riders
The Cubs leave Atlanta and head to Cincinnasty with a 1-2 record. Things could be worse, and they most certainly could be better.

The team lost on Opening Day, in a game where Carlos Zambrano decided to stop pitching and start throwing fastball after fastball. Presumably, the idea was to generate a bunch of contact early in counts, and hope batted balls turned into outs instead of towering home runs to right field.

We all know how that went.

Carlos will have a chance to bring his ERA down from 54.00 on Saturday, in Game 2 of this upcoming series with the Reds. In fact, if he manages to allow one or fewer runs in 7.2 or more innings pitched, it'll come all the way down to below 9.00. For what that's worth.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Game 1: Carlos Silva vs. Homer Bailey

I thought all along that Silva would be stashed in the 'pen as a long reliever, and that Gorzo and Marshall would take over starting duties until Mr. L-to-the-Illy came back. But here we are on the fourth game of the 2010 season, with Silva the Hutt slated to start.

Whether he wins or loses, Silva will probably give up several hits -- maybe six or seven in six innings pitched. He won't strike many batters out, and the difference between winning and losing may come down to how many walks he gives up. We want singles and ground ball outs, not walks and fly balls. A lot like Randy Wells, actually.

Also, Alfonso Soriano has three hits in as many at-bats against Homer Bailey. Just saying.

I bet the final score is 6-4. One team will win and the other will not win.

Game 2: Carlos Zambrano vs. Aaron Harang

So like I was saying, Big Z gets a chance to redeem himself on Saturday, as he faces Aaron Harang for the billionth time in his career.

I'll predict Carlos gives up four in six, Harang gives up three in seven, and that Jeff Samardzija puts this one out of reach for the Cubs, allowing two or three runs himself in an inning of relief.

Game 3: Tom Gorzelanny vs. Mike Leake

Again, I find myself saying, "As long as he doesn't walk a bunch of batters he'll be fine." No doi, AJ. But it's really true of Gorzo, also. He's not gonna rack up strikeouts, and he has OK stuff. His problems always seem to happen when he walks five or six batters in the midst of a five or six inning start.

I'm gonna guess he walks three, and gives up several runs -- but that it won't matter, because the Cubs are facing a rookie right-hander, a class of pitcher that always seems to confound them. They might not score more than two runs against Leake.

For pessimism's sake, I'll suppose the Reds win the first game, giving the Cubs a second consecutive series loss and a 2-4 record by the time they get home.

I'll be especially pissed if Theriot strikes out four more times or Grabow issues three more walks, but I'll probably be able to forget absolutely everything bad about this series if Tyler Colvin stays hot and does some cool stuff.

I love Tyler Colvin. There, I said it.

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Game & Series Recap: Cubs 5, Reds 2 (2 games to 1)

Game Recap
In another universe, the Cubs just swept the Reds, are 74-67 right now and are only 5 games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card.  Then again, in that same universe I'm a flame-throwing rap star who, at this very moment, is snorting cocaine off of Eliza Dushku's ass.  Since neither of those things will ever occur in this universe, though, let's just return to reality and assess what we're stuck with.

We're stuck with a ridiculous bullpen, a lefty starter who is trying his hardest to reach 15 wins for a third consecutive year, and an aging first baseman who wants to have at least one more glory year in a Cubs uniform before he eventually fades away. 

Ted Lilly won his 12th today, allowing 6 hits and 0 runs while striking out 7.  He was then relieved by a bullpen mired in a streak of suck.  In the past week alone, the Cubs pen has thrown 24.0 innings, and they've surrendered multiple runs 5 times to the tune of a 4.50 ERA.  Today's goat was John Grabow, who surrendered 2 9th inning runs.

On the offensive front, the Cubs combined for 11 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs.  The best of the best, again, was Derrek Lee who went 3 for 4 with his 32nd homerun of the season.

Tomorrow the Cubs start their 4 game series with the Brewers.  Since Milwaukee has sucked -- but have a shot at finishing at .500 or better -- it should be an interesting series.

Current Record: 73-68
Position in the NL Central:
2nd place, 9.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 94-68
Worst Possible Record: 73-89
Record needed to win 90: 17-4
On Pace For: 84-78

GameCast: September 13th vs. Reds

GameCastHomer Bailey (5-4, 5.60 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (11-8, 3.17 ERA)

Story-lines
The Cubs blew a chance to gain a game on the Rockies last night, thanks in part to the erratic arm of Carlos Marmol.  I know that some people think he's capable of being the team's next closer, but his inability to regularly throw a strike makes that a bad idea. 

Maybe Marmol is just erratic and always will be, but you'd think the team's pitching coach might figure out a few strategies to fix his mechanics and help him get effective again.  Perhaps Larry should be sitting down with the Dramatic Gopher and they could study tape from a few years ago when he was accurate and unhittable.  Or maybe not.

It seems to me that in Chicago, the concept of closer has been blown to epic proportions over the years.  Maybe that's because the Cubs haven't had a guy do the job well for more than two years straight since the 80's.  But it seems to me that teams have found success converting all sorts of middle relievers into closers in recent years, so maybe the Cubs should stop over-thinking it and just give their best reliever a shot -- that'd be Angel Guzman, at least this season.

Who's Hot

Geo Soto -- Way too little, and way, way too late.  Soto has been hitting at a sick pace as of late, but he's still a second-year FAIL.  Next season will be essential for him.

Who's Not
The Cubs Bullpen -- every day as of late the Cubs pen has coughed up a lot of runs, even in games they've won.  It'd probably be fair to call them Lou's dirty habit or something ... just when you think it's better now and things have cleaned up, the dirty habit reappears and the Cubs tank again.

Conclusions

With all due respect to Randy Wells -- and he is due a ton of my respect by now -- Ted Lilly has been the best pitcher on the team in 2009.  He was also lit up like a firecracker against the Reds last year, but he's been luckier in '09.  I feel good about this team's chances of getting a series win.

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