Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Braves

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Game Recaps: Cubs 5, Braves 4; Braves 16, Cubs 5; So Long, Sweet Lou

Note: This is gonna be a bit of a doosey.  If you want to get past the bad news (the Game Recaps) and get to the more interesting stuff, I won't hold it against you.

Cubs 5, Braves 4

Thus proving that not even the Cubs can lose every game, Chicago held on -- despite 3 late inning Atlanta runs -- to win yesterday's affair by a score of 5-4.

Props go to Tom Gorzelanny (yes, I just started a sentence with the word "props," proving that my heart isn't in this) who went 7 strong innings, striking out 9 batters and walking only 2 in order to get his 7th win of the year.

Poops go to Andrew Cashner, who surrendered 3 runs in a third of an inning.  Hmm, Props and Poops.  This could become a regular segment here.  I actually kinda like it..

Offensively, Aramis Ramirez continues to try like hell to get his batting average up to .250 on the year (after all, what else does he have left?).  A-Ram went 3 for 4 all singles, while driving in 2 of the Cubs runs. 

All told, Chicago managed 10 hits and 4 walks, reminding us of what a good offense looks like. 

Braves 16, Cubs 5
Props:Starlin Castro, Marlin Byrd, and Aramis Ramirez -- the heart of the Cubs lineup went 10 for 14 on the day, with Castro hitting 2 doubles, and Ramirez hitting his 19th homerun on the season.

Poops: Pretty much every other Cubs hitter, since they all combined to go 3 for 25 on the day.  I'm looking at you, Barney&Baker, you 0 for 8 douches who struck out 5 times.  Good job, guys!

Oh, and Poops -- heh, I keep saying "poops" -- to Randy Wells, who gave up 7 runs (5 earned) on the day.  No wonder you canceled your Facebook account! 

Also, Justin Berg continued the bullpen tradition of allowing many, many runs in few opportunities.  5 earned in 1.1 innings of work.  Fan-freakin'-tastic!

On Lou Piniella
First of all, Rob is not alone in his views on Lou.  I'm sure a lot of Cub fans blame Lou's old age, or his incontinence (heh, I said "incontinence") on the mediocre showing of the last two seasons.

And I'm sure that every time Rob or people like him pass even a portion of the blame onto Lou, Jim Hendry feels grateful.

Look.  Honest to God.  A good manager's greatest virtue is the fact that he will rarely cost a team games through stupid decisions.  But these guys don't win games.  The most genius managers of all time, be they Joe Torre, or Tommy Lasorda, or Casey Stengel, or whomever ... these guys weren't geniuses because they "knew how to win."  They were genius managers because, on the contrary, they knew how to not lose.  (Or, hell, they just happened to be the beneficiaries of talented GMs who constantly re-stocked their teams with ever-ready players.  Unlike Lou Piniella, who got stuck with Jim Hendry.)

In reality, the Motivational "Win One for the Gipper/Every Time We Win A Piece of Clothing Comes Off" Speech doesn't exist.  It's FICTION.  If anybody here honestly believes that Lou Piniella could've fixed the 2010 Cubs by throwing a fit on the field, or giving a motivational speech, or forcing them to take more practice, or ANYTHING, then you are a victim of FICTION. 

There was nothing wrong with Lou Piniella in 2009 or 2010.  There was something terribly wrong with the team he was stuck with.  That's the truth of the situation -- Lou was carrying the burden of a 150 million albatross, and it doesn't matter where you bat Kosuke Fukudome, there's no getting around having crappy, expensive players and a poorly managed, crappy farm system.  There was nothing that Lou Piniella could have done.

So, now he's gone.  Again, it's not a big deal.  The next guy -- whoever he is -- will do no better.  He could do worse, however, because it is possible for managers to lose ballgames.

I'll be honest and admit I was wrong about Lou, and I'll miss him.  Originally, I thought he was going to be a wasted pick.  I thought he would continue to express the same shoddy managerial mentality that'd gotten us into the mess of 2005/2006; that he was going to be another Old School Manager like Dusty Baker.  I didn't know he was going to be a calm, resourceful skipper whose flaws -- while not minor -- were no worse than any other manager.  (Because they all have flaws.  Really.)

Of course, I'll also be honest and say that I've been calling for Lou to be fired since the middle of last year.  But I've also been calling for Jim Hendry to be fired.  And the reason for that is a simple one -- Lou was never going to hang around for long enough to lead the next competitive version of the Cubs into the playoffs, and Jim is never going to be the guy who builds that team.  By axing them both, it would be possible for the Cubs to begin a new, hopefully better rebuilding movement.

But we all know that Jim Hendry is still around, and probably will remain for another year or two.  So instead of a rebuilding movement, we get just another movement.  That's bad news for Lou, though, since he already apparently has incontinence. 

Gamecast (August 22, 2010) Braves @ Cubs

Despite the muttering and anger that many of us have experienced in the last two years, I am happy we had Lou Piniella at the helm for the last 3+ years. He is calling it quits today. I, for one, am happy he was here and I think he is leaving at the perfect time. More on Lou's Cub legacy in the offseason.

Tomorrow begins the Mike Quade era, I guess. I am surprised that Alan Trammell isn't taking over as the manager. The apparent dissing of Trammell means it's unlikely he will be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs. I believe this means Ryne Sandberg is very likely to be the man next year. I know other writers on this site have bemoned the possibility but I, for one, believe that Ryno is the only guy for the job. I welcome his ascension to the job of Cub's manager.

This is a gamecast and the time to discuss legacy is the offseason so here is today's matchup:

Today's Matchup: Mike Minor (12IP, 3.75ERA, 4.25 xFIP) vs Randy Wells (148IP, 4.44ERA, 3.97 xFIP)

The awesomeness of the Cubs' pitching in the first half has faded greatly in the second half and with it the team's chances have gone right down the toilet that they were lodged pretty deep within anyway. Ah well, anyway, Wells has been generally decent. I think a lot of what I wrote about Tom Gorzelanny yesterday applies to Wells. Wells should be back next year and isn't even close to getting expensive. He has been generally effective this year and has an upside as an above average #3 starter or passable #2. Given how little he's being paid, that's an important member of the team.

As for Minor, he's drawing comparisons to a young Barry Zito. I'm not completely convinced in his eventual greatness but I am impressed at how quick he rolled through the Braves' minor league system when he was supposed to be a signability pick. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch.

Who's Hot: His batting average has been dropping but Starlin Castro has drawn 3 walks this week. Who'd thunk? His batting average is down to .309 and he is up to 373 plate appearances so it's just a matter of time before he shows up on the top 10 list at ESPN in batting average. Personally, I think he is the key to the Cubs' future.



Who's Not: Hey, the Cubs won a game yesterday! Of course they did it despite the pitching of Andrew Cashner. I am very impressed with Cashner's stuff and I don't think the Cubs have anything to lose by just running him out there day after day. It is interesting to me that so far Cashner has gotten a pass that the Cubs didn't give the Shark. This is despite the fact that their numbers are very similar. I think this is a sign that the Cubs are higher on Cashner. If he can figure out how to pitch this offseason, the Cubs could have a rather awesome bullpen next year. This should be a project for Larry Rothschild (assuming he's coming back).

Conclusion: Even if the Cubs are out of it, it'd be nice if teams didn't look at them as a gimmee on the schedule. The Cubs need to win today to send Lou off on a happy note. They need to beat a rookier lefty for once. Let's go Cubs!

Gamecast (August 21, 2010) Braves @ Cubs

There are some great stories happening these year. The Cubs, as a team, aren't one of them. Sigh. Yesterday's lost must have sucked, I was already at work when it all went down. Ryan Dempster (who should absolutely, positively not be traded!) pitched great again; but Marmol had a rare bad outing and the Cubs ended up losing.


In next year's draft, the Cubs are currently looking at the fifth pick in the draft. I doubt they end up there but I do think it's going to be interesting whom the Cubs draft next year. They have an extremely high pick. I don't want to see the Cubs keep losing but if they do, there are multiple silver linings.

Today's Matchup: Tommy Hanson (148 IP, 3.41 ERA, 4.02 xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (112.1 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.36 xFIP)

As if we needed more reason to trust xFIP, I present Tommy Hanson. Hanson has had a 4.03 xFIP in 2009 and has a 4.02 xFIP this year. For those who look at traditional stats, it may appear as though Hanson has regressed this year but his peripheral stats just don't agree. He is a solid pitcher who probably will see his K rate go up a tick in the future and see his ERA drop to the 3.00 level.

As for Gorz, his problem has been walks along with a K rate that has been moving in the wrong direction. It has resulted in a rising xFIP and poor performance in the second half. I consider Gorz to be a fair #3 starter and a good #4 starter. This is especially so because he costs next to nothing to the Cubs. Once he starts making real money, I think his time with the team may become shortened. I like him. There's something happy about his constantly red face but I have to admit he's not a difference maker.

Starlin Watch: Starlin now has 369 PA on the season and would need 381 PA to qualify for the batting title. He's getting there and should be able to qualify by the time we make it to September. His batting average has dipped of late, he's now hitting just .309 and for some reason, his WAR has suddenly dropped at Fangraphs. I happen to believe Starlin is a very good defender but for some reason, UZR suddenly disagrees.

Joey Votto is leading the NL in batting average at .320 so if Castro gets hot again, he could challenge that.

Who's Not: I don't think this is relevant anymore. The Cubs need to just play as hard as they can and see what happens.

I won't be able to watch the game today thanks to Fox but Go Cubs anyway!

Series Preview: Cubs vs. Braves

Note: this was actually published yesterday on time, but for some reason it didn't appear in the appropriate spot on the page...

Overview:
I'm not sure what's worse -- the fact that the Cubs are now on pace to lose 96 games, or the reality that there are several crappier teams out there.  I mean, as bad as 72 losses are, the Mariners have 73, Diamond-Backs have 75, the Orioles have 79, and the Pirates are rocking 81 L's.  What's the point of sucking if your team can't even squander a #1, 2, or 3 draft pick the following June?

Of course, we now have Doom and Gloomers saying ridiculous things like, "this is worse than '06, because we don't have an '07 to look forward to," as if any of them were predicting '07 after '06, or know something we don't. 

The reality is, we have no idea about what's going to happen in 2011.  And Rob, before you chime in to join the D&G cult proclaiming '11 to be a lost cause, man up and admit you never saw 1989, 1998, 2001, 2003, or 2007 coming.  Those were all years that the Cubs competed, hot on the heels of mediocre seasons.  In this free agency-saturated market, even for a overspent team like the Cubs, anything's possible.

Well, not "anything."  Beating the Braves -- probably not so possible.  Maybe not impossible either, but definitely "not bloody likely."  Let's take a gander.

Friday, August 20th - Ryan Dempster (11-8, 3.62 ERA) vs. Jair Jurrjens (5-4, 3.92 ERA)
Dempster, whose nickname should be "Trade Bait" (altho' I kept typoing it as "Traid Bate") is the best pitcher on the Cubs.  On a good team, he might be a 20 game winner.  In six fewer starts, he's already won as many games as last year, walked as many batters, and given up as many homeruns.  I guess that's a weird mix.  Regardless, he's made it work for himself.

Jurrjens, meanwhile, has a ridiculous name and is injury-prone enough to be a Cub.  Maybe Atlanta and Chicago will orchestrate a swap.

Saturday, August 21st - Tom Gorzelanny (6-7, 3.85 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (8-8, 3.47 ERA)
Where have you gone, Ted Lilly, Cub nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

Not that Gorzo is so bad a pitcher.  But he's exactly the kind of Kevin Foster-like guy you'd expect on a team bound to lose 90+ games.  He's probably got six starts to go -- so he just might win 10, but on this team, he's just as likely to lose 10 games.

I've got nothing to say about Tommy Hanson, though, except that he is 23, won 11 games as a rookie last year, and he may be gassed out as he's already thrown more innings this season than perhaps ever in his career.  (I just made that up, but it's probably close to the truth.)

Sunday, August 22nd - Randy Wells (5-11, 4.44 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (1-0, 3.75 ERA)
Well well well.  Looks like Minor made the Majors.  Haw!  I bet I'm the first person to think of THAT clever joke!  /sarcasm

Wells did a decent job in his last outing.  The only problem -- he pitches for the Cubs, where offense is about as rare as authentic super models. 

Conclusions
Shoutulation (y'know, like speculation?) is that the Cubs could lose 100 games.  I doubt that.  Losing 100 is a pretty tough thing to do -- maybe even harder than winning 100.  Don't believe me?  Think of all the crappy, awful, horrible, heart-breaking Cub teams you've experienced in your life time. 

None of them lost 100 games.  And many of them were worse than this band of jabrones.

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Game Recap: Cubs 3, Braves 2 -- Finally, the Cubs wi-wha'? 3 run 9th? SHI-

Just when you thought it was safe to wear your Cubs jersey...

The Cubs combined yesterday for 10 hits, including doubles from Fukudome and Aramis, who also hit a homer.  But despite that, and regardless of Ryan Dempster's 8 innings of pitching dominance -- where he held the Braves to 4 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs -- Carlos Marmol managed to come in and squander the lead for his 5th blown save.

In fact, he posted quite an interesting line.  1 IP, 1 hit, 3 SO, 3 BB, 3 ER.  Fantastic.  Thus, just like that, the Cubs managed to double the hits of their opponents and still lose by 2 runs.

That's just so ...  Cub.  Especially in this, the year of epic losses. 

That is all.  More after today's game.

Game Recap: Cubs 2, Braves 0 - FINALLY

It's hard to forget how, several weeks ago, the baseball season started to high expectations but low drama.  Despite our greatest hopes, the Cubs just kept crashing and burning, leaving our playoff hopes dashed before they even managed to escape from the month of April.

...wait, this is only the 3rd game, and the Cubs won 2-0?  What with all the gloom (and hints of doom), I would've thought they were 10 games under .500 by now.  Nevertheless, Randy Wells and a surprisingly effective Cubs bullpen shut down the dangerous Braves in order to avoid a season starting series sweep. 

The pen pitched 3 innings of relief, allowing 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 3.  Only John Grabow continued to serve up shit sandwiches, walking the one guy he faced in the 8th.

Offensively, the Cubs continue to give Rob concerns.  They only managed 4 hits and 3 walks, and taking a page from the Dusty Baker days they scored both their runs off of solo homers -- Tyler Colvin and Marlon Byrd delivered. 

So.  The Cubs are now 1-2.  They limp out of Atlanta, away from the blown calls, missed chances, and defensive mishaps.  They managed to score 9 runs, the bullpen looked awful twice (well, once was all Samardzija, but that's like saying our national debt isn't so bad if we ignore how we're 9 trillion in the hole). 

We'll have a Series Preview for you bright 'n early tomorrow.  Maybe this next one will be a bit better.

Current Record: 1-2
Position in the NL Central:
5th place, 1.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 160-2
Worst Possible Record: 1-161
Record needed to win 120: 119-40
On Pace For: 54-108 (relax, it's way early)

Gamecast: April 8, 2010- Cubs vs. Braves

Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview
So much for southern hospitality.  The Braves continued their trend of picking on the Cubs bullpen last night thanks to the bat of Larry "Chipper" Jones and the lukewarm display of pitching by John Grabow.  In both games so far the Cubs have gotten the lead.  Tonight they look to hold onto the lead and get a win on get-away day.

The starting pitchers for tonight's matchup have taken very different paths to get to where they are today.  Tommy Hanson was widely regarded as one of the game's best young pitchers before his callup in June and backed the hype up with results.  Armed with four "plus" pitches (including a filthy slider... look out Fonzie), Hanson carried a 2.59 ERA and averaged over a strikeout per inning over his last 20 starts last season.  To say that the Braves expect great things from him for years to come is an understatement.  Hanson is a strikeout pitcher that doesn't give up many home runs or walks.  Despite the low walk totals, if the Cubs are going to have any success against Hanson, they are going to have to be patient at the plate and hope Tommy pitches himself into some jams.

Randy Wells was easily one of the most pleasant surprise stories in an otherwise frustrating year for Cubs fans.  Wells was the first Cubs rookie since Kerry Wood in 1998 to reach double digit wins, and did so with much less hype.  Wells is still a work in progress and relies a great deal on control rather than "stuff" but so far it has led to success in the majors.  Wells hopes to continue the success he had against the Braves last season (1-0, 13 IP, 3 ER, 8 K over two starts).  It would be nice to see Wells repeat his performance in Atlanta from last year without a bullpen implosion.  One can only hope.

Who's Hot

Brian McCann- Looks like the Braves made the right move trading away Jarrod Saltalamacchia and sticking with McCann.  He's hitting .400 with a 1.000 SLG so far and has perenially been one of the league's best catchers.

Who's Not

Troy Glaus- Batting a whopping .143, the human windmill (or Adam Dunn Light, without the OBP) has 6 K's in his last 7 AB's, four of them coming last night for a golden sombrero.  To top it off, he made a key error that (briefly) got the Cubs in the game.

Conclusions
Hate to bring it up, as two games in it is already a dead horse, but the Cubs will go as far as their bullpen will let them.  So far the 'pen has been pretty shaky outside of Sean Marshall.  Hopefully the Cubs can get rid of some of that bad mojo tonight with a solidly pitched game on all fronts tonight.

GameCast: April 7th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Braves

GameCastRyan Dempster (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jair Jurrjens (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview
I have always wanted to attend opening day, and I finally got my wish my Monday. Well, I wish I would have gone to the beach for Spring Break instead. The Cubs got off to a great start, but it was quickly ended when the Braves blooped and then bombed their way to a 16-5 win.

The Cubs will try and turn things around today as they face one of the better young right-handers in the game. For the Cubs, Dempster takes the mound as he tries to get the Cubs back on track in the 2010 season. Of course it won't matter if the Cubs walk eight guys again.

Carlos Zambrano didn't do the Cubs any favors, but the game really wasn't over until Jeff Samardijza was introduced. I really had a guy tell me he likes to see him, because he was one of the greatest wide receivers in Notre Dame history. Well, that might be, but I hate Notre Dame, and I sure don't like people who can't pitch on the major league level.

Who's Hot
Jason Hayward - I saved my ticket on Monday to one day show my children. I figure he's going to be in the Hall of Fame someday, so it's worth a shot.

Who's Not
Honesty - Yes, I'm looking at you Nate.

Conclusions

I will once again make the trek to the game tonight, so hopefully the game will be more entertaining. The gamecasts will get a little big more in depth after we have some more trends.

Reader Blog: Jair Jurrjens is overrated

Much the same as the rest of the Braves' pitching staff, Jair Jurrjens is overrated. The reason for this stems from a decent ERA in 2008 and an awesome ERA in 2009. But there isn't anything special here and there is no good reason why he should repeat his 2.60 ERA from 2009. Basically Jurrjens is a fastball/curve ball pitcher who mixes in a slider from time to time. He throws his heater about 91 MPH. Nothing special.

His K/BB ratio for his career in the majors is an unimpressive 1.97/1 and he K's just over the acceptable rate of 6 per 9 IP while having OK but not astouding control. He is a slight ground ball pitcher but whereas Tim Hudson posted a better than 3:1 Ground ball rate in 2009, Jurrjens was 1:1. But what Jurrjens really has going for him is luck.

In 2009, Jurrjens allowed a .273 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Most pitchers allow around .300 or so and while some do better than that consistently, you will not be able to see it as a "skill" until they are in the league for several years. Jurrjens also has seen his HR/FB rate be under 10% every year of his major league career. Once again, most pitchers have that number flatten out at the 10% rate. Last year, Jurrjens only allowed 6% of his flyballs to go for HR.

A normal HR rate and BABIP would have led Jurrjens to an ERA of 4.34 which is nearly a run and three quarters higher than his actual ERA.

All of this would be bad news enough for Jurrjens but to make matters worse, he was slowed in the Spring by a balky shoulder which is a huge red flag for a 24 year old pitcher coming off of his first 200+ inning season of his career.

What Jurrjens is, right now, IMO is an OK #3 or a very good #4. The Braves are starting him in their second game. After seeing Derek Lowe get ripped in the opener. Aren't the Braves supposed to have awesome pitching?

All stats courtesy of fangraphs , my favorite non Cubs baseball website.

Game Recap: Braves 16, Cubs 5, dude, WTF?!

Game Recap
There's nothing quite as thrilling as opening day -- the only day of the year in which the best teams and the worst can all be tied in first place, with their glorious 1-0 records shining like becons of hope to millions of fans everywhere.

Except, uh, that didn't exactly happen today, now did it?

The Cubs, brimming with optimism and the promise of a new year, stormed the field in Atlanta only to get their sorry asses kicked en masse.  Royal, serious, severe ass-kicking.

Carlos Zambrano imploded like a third world economy.  Jeff Samardijza served up more meatballs than an Italian restaurant.  The umpires blew more than a Pittsburgh hooker.  Alfonso Soriano looked worse than ... well, a Pittsburgh hooker.  Ryan Theriot couldn't buy a hit. 

It was ugly.  It was also, let's be fair, a series of unfortunate events built on blown calls and near-misses, from McClouth traps to Theriot blunders to Byrd boots.  In most circumstances, despite the fact that the Chicago 6 through 1 hitters went 0 for 16, we'd be happy with 5 runs.  They would be enough for Carlos to seal the deal.  Even with the shoddy bullpen, it would be enough.

Today, it wasn't.  Thus, the infighting has begun.  We've got reasonable Cub fans calling for Samardzija to be shot back to Iowa from a cannon.  We've got Zambrano being called a child.  We've got white flaggers and husband-naggers demanding the Cubs be taken off of the Tivo rotation. 

All I can say is this: before the start of this game, I said that it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.  There is no "tone" to be set -- the only time World Championships get lost in Game 1 of 162 is when a small airplane crashes on the field during that game and takes out half the starting lineup.  The Cubs will not remember this game in two months, or even in two weeks.  It's simply true.

Therefore, while the trend has been set for Zambrano blow-ups and Samardizja melt-downs, there's plenty of time for the course to be redirected.  Maybe it will be, maybe not, I do not know.  But my feelings are no worse now than they were before the start of today -- we knew all along that some players would look like shit while others would shine as if they are golden.  We knew the bullpen is going to be troublesome, and we knew that, despite our greatest hopes and wildest dreams, the Cubs would not win 162.  So what did we really learn from today's game?

Absolutely nothing.  No surprises...yet.

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