Randy Wells (0-1, 1.69 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (7-4, 5.37 ERA)
I saw Randy Wells pitch in person on Tuesday in Atlanta, and I thought that he was finally going to get his first victory.
I had an internal debate whether or not that I should pull out the camera to shoot the final couple innings. That debate was ended when Chipper Jones slapped a single to left. In the end, Wells was once again the unluckiest pitcher in Major League Baseball History as Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg blew the game.
As for Bronson Arroyo, he might be the luckiest pitcher in the NL. Somehow he's won 7 games with a 5.37 ERA. What gives? Wells has been almost perfect and can't buy a win, while Bronson's won 7. It just doesn't seem fair.
Last night the Cubs defense allowed 3 unearned runs, and now they find themselves 4.5 games behind the Brewers. The Cubs still have a chance to win the series.
Derrek Lee - Lee had two more hits yesterday as his average moved closer to .270.
Geovanny Soto - Ok, it's a stretch that he's really hot, but he hit a home run. That's good in my book.
Angel Guzman - After years of frustration, Guzman has gotten his act together. In my book, he's been the biggest surprise this year.
The Cub Defense - Two errors and a bad route by Mike Fontenot in the 11th caused the Cubs to drop a game they could've really won.
This has been an up and down week for the Cubs. So, they might as well end on a positive note with a series win over the Red.
It's pretty ridiculous on the surface. Ryan Dempster gave the Cubs 6 solid innings of 6-hit, 2 walk baseball. He struck out 7. He lowered his ERA to 4.12. But because Mike Fontenot mishandled a ball in the first the Cubs were trailing from the get-go.
Amazingly, they would then pitch nine consecutive innings of shut-out ball, including efforts from Aaron Heilman, Carlos Marmol, and Angel Guzman while slowly nicking away at the Reds' lead. Bobby Scales! would homer, Geo Soto would homer, and even the seldom-used Jake Fox sac-flied in a run.
Then in the 11th Sean Marshall lost it. He walked Jay Bruce, advanced him to second on a wild pitch, walked Ray Hannigan, and then Bruce scored on another Fontenot error.
Its not Mark DeRosa I miss, as he is presently leading all AL third basemen in errors, but instead it's Aramis Ramirez himself.
The thing is, I understand that the Cubs offense is sluggish and they are trying to get their best hitters in the lineup but Fontenot can't possibly be the best fielding third baseman on the team. No way. I wonder if he's even better than Fox (I assume he must be). Why not leave him at second base even if third becomes an offensive vacuum?
Anyway, it's no third place for the Cubs although a win today could put them within percentage points. But the Reds are not a good team. The Cubs could have swept, perhaps they should have, and last night's loss was a heart-breaker.
Ryan Dempster (4-3, 4.48 ERA) vs. Matt Maloney (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
The Cubs go for the series win in game two tonight against the Cincinnati Reds, which is something we haven't said a lot this season it seems. Ryan Demspter, who hasn't pitched since May 30th, is coming off his best start of the year. He threw 7 shutout innings against the Dodgers and didn't walk a batter. Hopefully, Dempster has turned the corner and is more of the guy who threw in the regular season last season.
For the Reds, Matt Maloney makes his Major League debut today (which is never a good sign for the Cubs). Maloney, originally drafted by the Phillies, came over in a deal for Kyle Lohse in 2007. Since then, he has pitched fairly well for the Reds, which includes 58/9 K/BB ratio this season in Louisville. Also, since he's a lefty that means Reed Johnson will get the start in center. It could also mean a start for Jake Fox finally, but I doubt it happens.
The Cubs offense went to sleep last night, with the GWRBI coming from Carlos Zambrano last night. If there is any good news it is that Zambrano can pinch-hit again if Lou keeps burning players in double switches like in Atlanta.
Cubs Starting Pitching - The Cubs starters have really gotten the job done in recent weeks. That continued last night when Zambrano threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball. Ted Lilly and Randy Wells also added great starts this week, so all those people calling for Jake Peavy might want to hold off for a little bit.
Mike Fontenot - He had the huge hit against Derek Lowe on Wednesday. He followed that up with a bases-loaded two-out walk and another hit last night. He's up to .232 overall.
Micah Hoffpauir - Just goes to show that it is never easy coming off the bench after his 0-for-4 night, including a one-out bases-loaded strikeout in the first inning. Granted, he did come up with the game winner on Wednesday. So, I'll give him a little slack, even if he is 1-for-8 in his last five games.
Alfonso Soriano - It's hard to put a guy with a four-game hitting streak in the cold section, but Soriano has seen his batting average drop during this time. We've all seen him go through these slumps before, but he's down to .244 overall. Right now, I just feel that he can't be counted on to come up with the big hit. While I was at the games this week it was obvious that people are just setting him up for sliders and breaking balls away. I'm ready for one of those crazy hot two weeks where he carries the Cubs.
I really don't like this matchup with the way the Cubs are swinging the bats. A lefty rookie with good control doesn't give me the greatest feeling inside. Hopefully, Maloney will be nervous and give up a couple long balls that lead to a 4-2 Cubs win.
The story of the season -- for good or bad -- has become Carlos Zambrano. On the day in which he won his 100th game of his career the Moose declared his intentions to retire ... in four or five years.
It probably stems from a pretty frustrating two weeks for Carlos. He's been ejected, suspended, fined, disciplined, criticized, and his children apparently dumped his comic book collection into the bath water*. On the heels of all that he went out and had a no-hitter through the 5th inning plus he hit what turned out to be the game-deciding homerun.
(*may not be true)
I dunno. Maybe Cub fans want that stoic ace, that guy who just goes in there and does his job. Maybe they want him to expressionlessly deliver bland, cliche-riddled interviews. But not me. I like my players to have color**. I want that guy who wins a big game and in the press conference says all sorts of funny, nasty things about his now-defeated opponents. I want that guy who will charge a mound without hesitation if he knows he's getting thrown at. And, sure, I want that guy who's so deranged that he'll threaten to retire in five years -- but maybe it's four years, because he doesn't even know when his contract is up*** -- on the heels of collecting his 100th career win in dominating fashion.
(**not intended to refer to racial preferences in sports
***because he's just that cRaZee)
I'm probably alone in that. But think back. If you could have the boringest pitcher ever Steve Traschel with Zambrano's talent or Zambrano himself, who would you pick?
Me, I'd take the guy who curses at God in Spanish every single time.
Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 4.22 ERA) vs. Micah Owings (3-6, 5.10 ERA)
It seems that whenever Carlos Zambrano is the story it's bad news. Either he just punched out his catcher, or he ejected the umpire from the game (I always visualize Zambrano picking the ump up by the pants and heave-hoing him into the stands) or he's missed a team flight or he's breaking through walls or something.
That's fine. Zambrano has never shied away from drama and he's never wilted under the intense pressure of his own emotions. And I certainly don't speak for Cub fans everywhere but it wouldn't bother me at all to see him acting like a child if he had a better record than 3-2, and a better ERA than 4.22. If Carlos was 7-1 with a 2.65 ERA he could be drowning kittens between innings and I'd be mosty okay with it.
Tonight he's under the microscope. As I am writing this a little late I'm pleased to note that he started out just fine, striking out swinging the first 3 batters he faced -- although he took 21 pitches to do it.
Who's Hot (sorry, I'm just copying it straight from the last, rained-out GameCast)
The Gooz - He hasn't allowed a run since May 8th and
he has turned into the most reliable pitcher out of the pen. I'm happy
to have apparently been wrong about him as I would have voted him off
the island back in March.
D.Lee - A .381 AVG in the past week is nothing to scoff
at. Lee is still a ways away from being "on track" but at least now
he's on pace to hit 22 homers, 33 doubles, and to drive in 77 RBI.
Wait -- 77 RBI?! As he has only exclusively batted 3rd or 4th this
season, I cannot emphasize how tremendously this can be used to example
just how ridiculously bad the offense has been. 77 RBI. Sheesh.
Kosuke Fukudome - Well, "hot" might be the wrong word for it. More like "warm." Fuku is batting .286 with an OBP of .353 in the past week. He's slown down from his earth-shattering start, although I wouldn't scoff at his numbers.
T.Fonz - He's 5 for his last
28 with 9 strikeouts. Fonzie is a hot-and-cold kind of player. The
only problem is that he's been exclusively cold for a while now. Lou
needs to think about sucking it up and dropping him in the lineup.
Geo Soto - Although Geo is indeed slumping, and may
indeed lose some play-time to Three Finger if Hill earns it, Soto
exited May with a .278 AVG, a .376 OBP, and a .730 OPS. Not fantastic,
although that puts him in the top 6 among catchers with as many-or-more
at-bats as he had last month. Just some levity for you.
State-the-obvious time: this is an important game and an important series. The Cubs can get within range of first place if they can trounce the Reds. As of this writing they are winning by 1 -- never a safe lead in Chicago -- and Zambrano is effective but wasting pitches. Well, wasting pitches is fine. Wasting opportunities to win is not. That is all.
Two teams enter. Only one ... well, okay, both ... shall leave. But it's very possible that after this upcoming series is played out the Cubs may find themselves leap-frogged in front of the Reds, who presently occupy third place in the NL Central. Granted, they'd have to sweep. On the road. Against a team that has offensively owned them the last few years. But it could happen!
Actually I'm very interested by the Reds nowadays. They used to be just another NL Central team from an insanely religious* part of the country whose greatest all-time player is a scumbag. Now they're the destination of Dusty Baker and any Cub fan worth his ilk not only detests Baker but also follows his career'S failings with a fervor.
(*experience tells me that I have to note the fact that I'm calling Cincinnati "insanely religious," rather than religion itself "insane." Just making myself clearer here. It's sort of like how if referred to the insanely hot Charlize Theron... I'm not implying that hot women are crazy with that statement, I'm just using "insanely" as an adjective to describe the ridiculous level of Theron's hotness)
I digress. At this point in time, based on everything that's gone before, this is the most important series of the season. A Cubs sweep translates to third place in the division. If the Reds win the series, the Cubs exit Cincinnati a .500 team at best and in need of urgent action.
The problem is the stuff I mentioned earlier today... until Lou Piniella shakes up the bullpen and re-constructs the lineup the Cubs are in for some ugly losses. Back when Dusty was here and he was refusing to shake up the lineup, I attributed it to a stubborn Me Against the World I Ain't Changin' attitude (sort of like how Dubya probably should have fired Rummy long before the Republicans lost the '06 mid-terms). The thing is, I don't see Lou having that problem. As far as I know he doesn't feel attacked, criticized, or scrutinized -- and even if he did, I doubt that would prevent him from making changes. So Lou ... what the hell?
The Pitching Match-Ups
Friday, June 5th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Micah Owings
Back in March the GROTA crew unanimously predicted that Carlos would win 20 for the first time in his career in 2009 (Kyle even said it'd happen despite Zambrano being injury-plagued!). Well, it's still possible but increasingly unlikely. Carlos would need to put on a pitching clinic of '84 Sutcliffeian Proportions and the lineup would have to give him consistent run support. That's a pretty tall order.
Micah Owings is another guy who needs run support; on his part it's because he's not exactly what you'd call "reliable." In his third season with the Reds, he's 17-23 on his career with a 4.99 ERA. This year he's 3-6 with an ERA of 5.10. He's managed to escape Dusty's typical cycle of abuse, which leads me to think he's dogging it on purpose. After all, Baker won't let him throw 120 pitches a game if he's giving up 5 or more runs each outing. Genius plan, Owings!
Saturday, June 6th - Ryan Dempster vs. Matt Maloney
Two plus months into his big contract, Ryan Dempster has been a victim of love (and inconsistent pitching. But mostly love). But I dunno... take a look at his numbers. He's on pace to throw 216 innings, surrender 191 hits, walk 85 batters, strike out 181, and win 13. Last season he threw 206.2 innings, surrendered 174 hits, walked 76 batters, struck out 187 and won 17.
His pitches per game started between this year and last year are nearly identical (101.2 compared with 100.8.). His K/9 ratio: 8.14 to 7.51. His K/BB ratio: 2.46 to 2.11. AVG against: .227 to .240. OPS: .641 to .713. I dunno, maybe I'm missing something but it just seems as if those minor differences demonstrate why his ERA jumped from 2.96 to 4.48. Either he was really lucky last year or he's been really unlucky this year. I'm choosing to believe it's the latter (although it's probably actually a little bit of both), and if that's the case then I soundly expect Dempster to finish the year with more than the 13 wins he's on pace to have and less than the 4.48 ERA that he's presently got.
Oh, and Matt Maloney is scheduled to make his big league debut. I'm a little surprised by his presence on the Reds ... I always thought Charlie Brown would pitch for the Cubs. (Look at him. LOOK AT HIM!!!) This year in AAA he's got a 2.00 ERA 10 starts. Still, he'd have to be exceptionally special to overcome the First Start Blues.
Sunday, June 7th - K-Fed Wells v. Bronson Arroyo
Randy Wells practically threw a no-hitter his last start. He exited the game with something like a 5-run lead and he's still waiting for his first win. What will he have to do to get the W? I'm predicting an unlikely path ... Wells is going to get lit up like a gasoline-drenched fire cracker on Sunday but will get the win anyway because it's just going to be that kind of game.
In one of life's ironies, Bronson Arroyo has a 5.34 ERA and is on pace to win 20 games. I guess the Reds offense must be that good. He's got a long history of aggravating the Cubs, which means that he's due to receive some payback.
No predictions, not this time. The Cubs are capable of owning the Reds. The Reds are playing better baseball than the Cubs. We can only hope that it comes down to a contest of managers because as ridiculous as Piniella may sometimes appear to be, he makes Baker look like a buffoon.
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Although I almost dug my heart out with an old wooden spoon yesterday in the wake of loss #7, I'm partially relieved that the rest of the division had a somewhat "meh"-ish week as well. In the last 10 games, no team in the NLC has a record better than 6-4 (Brew, Cards, Bucs). Yay for synchronized mediocrity.
Tribune power rankings: Brewers, Cards, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Astros
1. St. Louis Morans (26-18) Previous ranking: 4
The Cards can thank the Cubs for giving them the confidence they needed to start playing like the best friggin pitching staff in Tony La Russa's time as their manager. Your welcome St. Louis. (PS - As I write this, Carpenter is pitching a no-no against the Brewers. I hate everything.)
2. Milwaukee Makers Of Why I Hate Myself On Sunday Mornings (26-18) Previous ranking: 1
Being swept by the Twins has cooled them off a bit and brought them back to the pack, but they are still scary at the plate and have a solid team OBP (.345). Did I mention that they currently have no hits against the Cardinals and Yovani Gallardo is also pitching a no hitter? Double jinx bitches.
3. Cincinnati Ready For The DL (23-20) Previous ranking: 3
And down goes Edison Volquez. The unraveling begins. On a side note, Homer Bailey will be taking Volquez's spot in the rotation. Is there a worse name for a pitcher than Homer?
4. Chicago Cubs (21-21) Previous ranking: 2
The one constant during this slump has been the lineup, which aside from the occasional sub has remained relatively the same. This may sound crazy, but perhaps it's time to move D-Lee back to the No. 3 spot. That formula has worked for the last two years. Just saying.
5. Somalia Pirates...too soon? (20-24) Previous ranking: 5
If the Pirates go into Wrigley and win two of three (or get the sweep) then I will officially start to worry. But come on. Their pitching staff ranks last in the NL in strikeouts, so the Cubs should at least be able to put the ball in play and stretch out those legs.
6. Houston Colt .45's (18-24) Previous ranking: 6
This is a much better team name, right? Why do we let stupid people run baseball teams?
What has two thumbs and thought yesterday was Sunday until around midnight and realized he had forgotten to put up his power rankings? This guy.
There was a bit of a Royal Rumble-like fight at the top of the standing throughout the week, which was entertaining. I don’t know if this division is the best in baseball, but it’s certainly the most competitive.
Here is this week’s Chicago Tribune power rankings for comparison: Brewers, Cubs, Cards, Reds, Pirates, Astros.
1. Milwaukee Tony La Russa Juice Makers (24-14) Previous ranking: 4
The Brewers lead the NL in homers but are 12th in batting average and 11th in hits. While I know that batting average isn’t a good indication of a team’s offensive success, I don’t think a team can succeed exclusively on the longball. If that were true, then the Rangers would have like eight championships in the last 10 years.
2. Chicago Cubs (21-15) Previous ranking: 2
Is anyone else starting to like what Angel Guzman is putting together? Gotta love a reliever that isn’t giving out many walks (only 6 in 19 innings). Nice to see Geo is getting his groove back, but how much longer before Lil’ Mikey and his .204 BA starts hearing the boobirds?
3. Cincinnatrually Self-Imploding Reds (20-17) Previous ranking: 3
Compared to the bottom half of the division, they had a decent week despite suffering their first 3-game losing streak of the season. To the surprise of doctors everywhere, the pitchers still has their arms attached to their bodies. As such, the team’s suckalicious offense is being carried by aforementioned arms. As we all know though, it’s only a matter of time with Dusty.
4. St. Louis Birds of Pray Pujols Doesn’t Get Hurt (21-17) Previous ranking: 1
How many injuries does it take to get to fall out of the division lead? Ah 1. Ah 2. Ah 3. CRUNCH. 3. The Cards were fine with Chris Carpenter hurt and survived with Rick Ankiel going down, but the injury to Ryan Ludwick seemed to push them over the edge. They will get healthy eventually, but for the meantime, let the big dogs eat.
5. Sh*tsburgh Pirates (17-21) Previous ranking: 6
I feel that there is always one crappy team that somehow does better against one good team than any other opponent. For the Pirates, that team is the Cardinals. And for that, I move you out of the cellar...Plus I hate the Astros.
6. Houston Nickname That Sounded Cool In 1965 But Is Stupid Today (17-19) Previous ranking: 5
Why is closer Jose Valverde on the DL? While the official report says a strained right calf, the real reason is because I punched him in the face so hard that he can no longer yell crazy things in Spanish when strikes people out. No one on this team is safe from me.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but as per usual, my time has been at such high demand and those daily transatlantic flights have really been taking it out of me. I’ll try to update this every Monday as the Cubs tend to have most Mondays off throughout the season and it seems to be the unofficial start of the new week.
Since everyone with an Internet connection likes to do “power” rankings (whatever that means), I figure we can do them too. While most experts like to rank all 30 teams, I have neither the time nor the care for anyone outside of the NL Central. Hell, I barely care about any outside of the Cubs, so the other five losers in the division should feel lucky I’ve even mentioning their name. Especially you Houston...good lord do I hate everything about how you choose to be (more on that later).
Also, for fun’s sake, we’ll compare my rankings to those of the Tribune’s Phil Rogers. Here’s how he ordered the division this week: Cards, Cubs, Brewers, Red, Pirates, Assblows. Let’s get started.
1. St. Louis Birds on Artificially Manufactured Wooden Sticks (20-12)
Gotta respect what the Cards have been able to do here early in the season. Clearly they have the best hitter in all of baseball (a title you probably don’t want to have these days) and their bullpen has been surprisingly good. Although the Cards have cooled off over their last 10 games (going 5-5), they have a favorable schedule coming up. STL is 12-5 at home (only the Dodgers and Red Sox are better in their own parks) and 17 of their next 26 games are at Buschhhhhhhhhhhhh.
2. Chicago Cubs (17-14)
So the blue and red flag might fly below three others tonight in the NLC standings, but that really doesn’t mean dick when you’re only 2.5 games out of first place. While some of us might be a little...distraught...over the current incarnation of the Cubbies, I’m cautiously optimistic if not encouraged. The team has been relatively spoiled the last two years as most of the big names have avoided injuries, but now it is all starting to pile on at once. A cause for concern? Hell yes, but look where the Cubs are. Two and half out with a team made up of guys who were getting PT in Iowa this time last year. If Lou can get the right chemistry in the bullpen and/or the Cubs can get their big names back and swinging, the rest of the division might want to invest in a pair of Oops I Crapped My Pants.
3. Cincinasty Reds (18-14)
I absolutely refuse to give Dusty Baker any sort of credit for this team’s decent start, so let’s not even think it's possible that Baker has somehow worked his magic on a club that will most likely falter in about a month. Sure, they just finished an impressive series against the Cardinals, but this team confuses me dearly. First of all, they are 7-9 at home and 11-5 on the road (best road record in the majors). Do you really think they will be able to win like this all season? Oh, and try to figure out this logic. The Harangutan has a 2.93 ERA and a 3-3 record while Bronson Arroyo is 5-2 with a 7.02 ERA. Argh, DUSTY!!!!!!!!!
4. Chicago’s Northern-Most Suburb Brewers (18-14)
What did I learn from the latest series between the Cubs and Crew? I learned that Ryan Braun is really dangerous but also a little school boy biatch (Oh no poor Ryan, did the scary Canadian with the goatee throw the ball to close to you? Let me taste your tears). I learned that even though the Brewers were at full strength for that series, they really aren’t that much better than half a Cubs team. I learned that as long as the Brewers trot that bullpen out there on a daily basis, they will never win this division. And I learned that my George Foreman Grill does not cook my chicken evenly (I didn’t learn that from the series, but I was making some dinner during one of the games and needless to say I was disappointed).
5. Houston AssTrolls (14-17)
I could analyze Houston’s most recent performances...or I could list all the reasons what I hate them: I hate how Miguel Tejada has to clap his hands furiously after he does anything that is remotely decent. I hate how Hunter Pence looks like he running around with suitcases in his hands. I hate how the Astros thought it was a good idea to have Russ Ortiz, LaTroy Hawkins and Mike Hampton on their team all at the same time. I hate how they have not one, but two players on their team named Geoff (Blum and Geary). Most of all, I hate how Lance Berkman looks like Tony Stewart and both are considered “elite athletes.”
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (12-19)
I haven’t had the chance to take a good look at the ‘Rates this
season since they have yet to play the Cubs, but losing your last 9
games cannot be good for business (at least that’s what I’ve
been told). Maybe the Pirates decided they were playing too good and
decided to go into a slump so they could attack under the cover of
mediocracy? The last thing Pittsburgh wants to do is gain any sort of
attention so opponents start taking them seriously, right? Well played
Pirates. Well played indeed.
It hurts! It hurts me in the soul!
It's hard to blame Carlos, who pitched well but not exceptionally. El Gordo Mooso threw 7 innings, surrendered 7 hits, walked 2, and struck out 7 while allowing 3 earned runs. The problem was that Carlos could have held the Reds to 1 run and it probably would've been too many because the offense is dead right now and the bullpen is struggling.
I'm going to take from this series an important factoid - when the Cubs were working Reds pitchers, they kicked the crap out of them. But the last two games they've drawn maybe 3 walks and so their scoring opportunities have been minimal.
In the bullpen, Neal Cotts continued to deliver - 2 hits and 1 earned, via a homer. And Jeff Samardizja, in his first outing of 2009, prooved to be well worth the cutting of Luis Vizcaino and his 0.00 ERA by giving up 4 hits and 2 earned runs.
Later today I'm going to write a littany of complaints against Lou, which doesn't mean I don't love him in a non-gay way.
The Cubs entered this home series against Dusty Baker's Reds with a statistical lead in the central. They leave 2 games out of first - in fourth place - behind the surprisingly resilient Cardinals.
Hey, it's still way too early to judge but maybe the central will be tougher than we could've expected.
Current Record: 8-6
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 156-6
Worst Possible Record: 8-154
On Pace For: 93-69