Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Braves

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GameCast: April 05, 2010 - Cubs at Braves

GameCastCarlos Zambrano (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Derek Lowe (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Overview
The Chicago Cubs look to inflame the hope of fans everywhere and to extinguish our fears of an 0-14 start in one sweeping gesture.  They do this by sending out veteran 20-something ace Carlos Zambrano, he of the epic contract, the infantile behavior, and the gargantuan heart. 

It will be the first time that Alfonso Soriano will open his season for the Cubs in a place other than leadoff.  Chicago's lineup of choice is Theriot, Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez, Byrd, Soriano, Fontenot, Soto, and Zambrano.  Sounds like a reasonable lineup to me.

Cub fans will be anxious to see some Big Picture questions get answered -- but, I caution again, we will have to wait a while.  One series -- or even three or four -- will not tell us outcomes.  We won't know by May if Soriano will have a good year, whether he starts out hot or cold.  We won't know by May if the bullpen is as horrible as it appears, whether they dominate or not.  We'll just have a few trends, some of which will be more concerning than others.

Still, if Dusty Baker taught us anything, it's that a baseball season is far less stressful when the team starts out with motivation and momentum.  Therefore, I hope -- as you surely hope -- that the Chicago Cubs will kick the holy hell out of the Atlanta Braves today.  I hope that they win 20 to 0.  I hope that Carlos strikes out 18, that Soriano slugs 3 dingers, that Soto goes 5 for 5.  I hope the bullpen comes in, pitches the 8th and 9th only, and strikes out every single batter they face.  I hope that Carlos Marmol throws 9 pitches, all strikes, with no appearance of lacking control.

Today, we hope.  The dread comes later.

Game and Series Recap: Cubs 1, Braves 4 (1-2) -- That sucked.

RecRap

I'm a little late with today's recap because I don't really know what to say. And even if I did know what to say, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be fun to write. This is one of those pivotal games, and pivotal series, that you don't really want to talk about.

The month was starting off really nicely.That series against the Brewers? Clutch! We were gaining ground, playing well, scored eight runs in one of the games--it was all coming together, it seemed, for a push towards the top of the standings heading into the All-Star Break.

Then Ryan Dempster broke his toe. Then Javy Vasquez shut us down. Then Geo Soto strained his oblique (oblique injuries SUCK, by the way). Then Kenshin Kawakami shut us down.

In the last recap, I said I expected better results if our top two guys could get on. Boy, was I wrong! A lot of good it was for Kosuke and Ryan to get four base hits in front of Lee, Rami and MB.

Guh.

I don't know what to tell you. What's reasonable to expect from this team going forward? Is it really all that doom-and-gloomish to expect offensive mediocrity throughout the remainder of the season? Is it overly optimistic to expect that they'll be able to flip a switch and turn it around at some point? Frankly, I can't blame either side of the debate after this past week of games.

(Un)fortunately, because this team CONTINUES to be in the thick of the division race, with a ton of baseball to go, we can't not pay attention. They'll just keep stringing us along, until something gives.

Oh, by the way--ready for a four-gamer with the Cardinals?

Go Cubs.

GameCast: July 8th vs. Braves

GameCastThis will have to be v. quick -- so quick in fact that I was forced to abbreviate the word very!!!

Story-Lines
The Cubs, still struggling to stay over .500, battle the Braves, who have pretty much shut them down since the 3rd inning of the first game of the series.

Taking the mound for the Cubs is Kevin Hart -- a pitcher who's been pretty damn good in Iowa, although he's got a spotty track record in the bigs. 

Throwing for the Braves is a guy who evokes a "no, really?" response any time he tells somebody his name.  Every time I try to type it I stutter, which is strange since I'm not even speaking right now.  (I just blew your mind!)

Who's Hot
Megan Fox -- Maybe she can't act, but man she's got pretty eyes! 

Derrek Lee -- He's actually been very hit and miss as of late, but his hits have been big ones which have yet to stay contained by the ballpark.

Who's Not
The Cubs offense has scored 1 run in the last 16 innings of play.  Not exaclty something to compose ballads about, unless they include the lyric "the doormats of the National League."

Conclusions
I think the Cubs should hire Megan Fox to be the new ball girl.  She will flabergast the opposing team with her good looks, only to startle them into a stupor once they get a look at her dwarf thumbs.

Game Recap: Cubs 1, Braves 2 -- Outdueled.

Game Recap
Yesterday, there was a bit of an issue with the timing of the Cubs' scoring. Sure they scored four runs, but they all came far too early, and the team was shut out in the last seven innings of the game.

My argument with why that wasn't a big deal (aside from the whole "winning the game" concept) was because of the way I understand a major league offense to work.

Step 1: Hitters in the first two spots get on base.
Step 2: Hitters 3-6 hit doubles and homers to drive in the guys in front.
Step 3: Sprinkle in some other stuff throughout the game.

Yesterday, Kosuke found a way on base in the first and second innings, and the Cubs scored in both those innings. Coincidence? Almost definitely. Even so, there's something to be said for having the table set for your RBI guys during the course of a game.

Guess who scored the runs for Atlanta tonight? I'll tell you, because I am nice! In fact, it was the 1 and 2 hitters, who got on in front of Brian McCann in the clean-up spot, who drove them both in.

Tonight, neither Fukudome nor Theriot could get on against Javy Vasquez. Theriot did manage to double in the eighth against Mike Gonzalez, but with two outs having already been recorded, the small ball option was gone, and D-Lee couldn't convert.

Interpret as you will; of course it'd be silly to suggest that teams only score when the top two guys get on. But let's see how the top two guys fare tomorrow, and their impact on the final score.

Go Cubs!

Gamecast: July 7th vs. Braves

GameCastJavier Vasquez (5-7, 3.05 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (5-5, 4.09 ERA)

Story Lines

Tonight we were supposed to have a rematch of June 22nd, a night that the Cubs would like to forget. Vasquez blanked the Cubs for 6 2/3 innings, despite giving up nine hits and two walks. That was until Ryan Dempster went and broke his toe.  Those were there old Cubs. The new Cubs are much more dangerous (Ok, I know this is a reach, but they have won 6 of 8 ).

The Cubs pulled within two games of the Cardinals last night, and have a chance to gain ground or at least catch the Brewers with a victory over the Braves. The Cubs did not have a lot of scoring chances late last night, so it would be nice to see the offense pick up a little more tonight and put the game away early. The Cubs have played four less games than the Cardinals, which makes up for the 2 games in the standings.

Big Z will go on short rest now that Dempster was moved to the DL. It looks like Kevin Hart will start the series final tomorrow afternoon now. Now sure how long Dempster will be out, but hopefully he will only miss the one start and the Cubs can reshuffle the rotation after the All-Star Break.

Who's Hot

Derrek Lee - Lee isn't quite the 2005 version, but he has been better than everybody else. He cranked his 16th HR last night in the first inning. Hopefully, Lee can keep it with Aramis Ramirez coming back.

Kosuke Fukudome - It sure looks like the move to the top of the lineup has helped Kosuke for the time being. He picked up two more hits last night, 1 run and 1 RBI.

Who's Not

Aramis Ramirez - What have you done for me lately? He misses two months and goes 0-for-4. Can we please trade him right now? Seriously, he's washed up. It would've been great to see him get a hit, but I'm sure he will be back hitting soon.

Conclusions

Watching the Cubs this season hasn't been easy, but they have been able to hang around. Now is the time for the Cubs to make a move to the top of the division.

Belated GameCast: July 6th vs. Braves

GameCastStory-Lines
Coming off 3 wins against the Brewers, the Cubs battle the deadly-but-under-performing Braves also at Wrigley. 

While the Cubs battle it out against Atlanta, the Brewers and Cardinals will be taking chunks out of each other.  Odds are good that a series win puts the Cubs either decisively in second place or, if the Brewers play well against St. Louis, in a three-way tie for the division lead.

Pitching for Chicago is - dare we say it? - phenom Randy Wells, who is having a rookie season to remember despite nobody seemingly paying too much attention.  Remember how quickly Kerry Wood captured our attention in '98?  We were following his every pitch weeks before his 20 strikeout game.  All Wells has done is pitch well in nearly every start and still he's lacking much of a buzz.

Anyway, as I write this the Cubs are winning 4 to 0 thanks to the early success of the top of the lineup.  Odds are good that he's going to collect another win tonight.

Who's Hot
Derrek Lee -- Last year Lee only hit 20 homeruns.  So far this year he's blasted 16.  So much for the mysterious Lee power drain that people were speculating about last season.

Kosuke Fukudome -- He's actually apparently paying off in the leadoff spot.  Rob talks a lot about how important it is for a player to "know his role."  I'm not sure how much I subscribe to that, although certainly a comfort zone plays a pretty big factor in my working life.  Perhaps Fukudome is simply more comfortable leading off.

Who's Not
The bottom half of the Cubs lineup.  Wait, what?  Lou actually put his worst hitters at the bottom of the lineup?  That's crazy talk! 

Conclusions
As I write this, the Cubs lead 4 to 0 in the top of the 4th.  I suppose we can call that a good start.  No matter what, a win gains ground today as both the Brewers and Cardinals are off.

Series Preview: Cubs vs. Braves

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Before I get started with this preview, I’d like to make a comment on Alfonso Soriano.

As I write this, the Cubs have yet to make any roster moves in the Messiah-like return of Aramis Ramirez and his two disciples White Slice and Angel Guzman, but I’m hoping they realize it’s time for Soriano to take a seat on the DL train and make room for someone who will have a positive impact on this team.

I don’t care if they make up an injury or if Soriano ends up coming clean that he has been playing with some sort of boo-boo this whole time: he needs to go. NOW.

When D-Lee was captaining the Crapboat and everyone wanted him benched in favor of the Hoff, I refused to turn my back on Derrek. Sure he was statistically struggling, but I thought I still saw some of that old skill there. In the curious case of Alfonso Soriano, his skill is all but gone.

When I wrote the player preview for the Fonz, the comment section quickly turned into a discussion of what kind of hitter Soriano was. It seemed that most people agreed he was a fastball hitter who had success pulling the ball to left. He had made a career off of hitting fastballs. But now that is all gone. Seemingly every at-bat that doesn’t end in a strikeout concludes in some sort of soft pop-up to right field. He doesn’t have the bat speed anymore. He doesn’t have what made him a big-time player.

Now the question becomes can Soriano get it back? I’d like to think the answer is yes, but not while Lou keeps trotting his rotten corpse out onto the field everyday. Soriano has responded well to spending time on the DL the past few season. He usually comes back strong and tends to put up huge power numbers (going from memory here but I think I’m right).

The logical answer is to put him on the DL. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real injury or not. The guy needs time off and we need time off from him.

Overview
Alright, moving onto the series preview.

The Cubs are coming off of a huge series with the Brewers where they won three of four. Just like that, hope has been restored and the Cubs are looking like they are getting ready to close out the first half of the season on a positive note. Sha-Zam.

My concern for this upcoming series is not who the Cubs are playing, but who they’re playing next.

Don’t get me wrong, the Braves are no slouches – although they did just lose two of three from the Nationals. They’re 39-42 and only four games out in the NL East, so they certainly have something to play for. But guess what’s after the Braves? That’s right, a four-game home series with the current NLC leading Redbirds.

The Cubs are probably riding pretty high right now, but this series smells like a trap to me if the Cubs don’t focus on the team in front of them.

The Matchups
Monday, July 6th – Jair Jurrjens vs. Randy Wells

Two men enter, one man leaves. Both Jurrjens and Wells have been pitching solidly this season (despite the fact that they both have .500 records) and tonight should be a lot of fun to watch.

Jurrjens nearly threw a no-hitter in his last outing and has been shutting down right-handed hitters this season. Lefties are hitting .296 against him though, so the Cubs are going to need something out of Fukudome, Fontenot and Bradley tonight…probably not a good thing.

What can I say about Wells? He has easily been the surprise of the season and continues to impress. Yeah he’s the “fifth starter,” but aside from Lilly pitching at Wrigley, there is no other pitcher on staff that I have more confidence in than Wells.

Tuesday, July 7th – Javier Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster

I look at Vazquez’s 5-7 record and say to myself, “Typical sucktacular Javy.” But then I see that he has a 3.05 ERA and is tied for second in the Majors with 130 strikeouts and I say, “OK, maybe not that sucktacular, but he played for the White Sox so he still sucks.” Seriously though, Javy has been putting together a respectable season despite no run support. He should be another tough matchup for the Cubs. How do I know this? Last time he faced the Cubs he threw 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, which also happens to be the last time he won a game.

Dempster got the win against the Brewers, but D-Lee was really the guy who won that game with his 7 RBI. I like that Demp struck out nine in that game, but he gave up eight hits (two of which were homers) in 6 2/3 innings. I’m still worried about this guy.

Wednesday, July 8th – Kenshin Kawakami vs. Carlos Zambrano

I don’t know much about Kawakami aside from the fact that he is a 34-year-old rookie. I’m sure there is a good story in there somewhere, but I have to think he is an old rookie for a reason (which is to say that he sucks). It seems that Kawakami has had trouble with his command recently, so taking lots of pitches and being patient should lead to success for the Cubs.

Zambrano looked solid (although not spectacular) in his last start against the Brewers. Some run support from anyone other than himself would have been nice, so of course he didn’t get the win despite deserving one. Who knows what Z is going to do next, but I like this matchup for him.

Conclusion

As I said in the overview, this series is all about concentration. The Cardinals are coming in for a huge series at the end of the week, but that won’t mean dick if the Cubs crap the bed and get swept.

Rob and others have said it before: the Cubs has not looked like a championship-caliber team this season and have given us no reason to suspect that they can play like one. Taking care of a clearly inferior team at home would help a lot to changing that way of thinking though.

I think it’s realistic to think the Cubs will win two of three with one of the losses coming in the first two games. But I can’t say I’d be surprised if the Cubs only win one in this series.

Go Cubs.

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Game Recap: Cubs 0, Braves 2 -- Timing Fail

Recap
The Hitting

Usually when a team gets three hits in the first inning, you expect a good day from your offense. At the very least, you expect one or more runs to start the game off. The Cubs would end up with ten hits in total on Monday, outhitting their opponent by two, drawing three walks in the process--and end up not scoring.

The primary issue this evening: a major power outage. All ten hits were singles.

The secondary issue affecting the Cubs' offensive performance this evening? I'd say they were hurt pretty significantly by another lackluster showing from Kosuke Fukudome. Fuk's first inning GIDP came at a pretty awful time, and from there, Kosuke would become the only Cub position player to go hitless on the night.

On the plus side, Andy White had a 2-for-4 evening, pushing his average up to a scorching .245 ("scorching" as in "better than Soto, Font, Sori, Miles, etc."). Blanco appears to have made his way to Lou's good side; he played a crucial role in one of the Cubs' comebacks against the Indians, and throughout his time with the major league club has shown defensive prowess. Every at-bat he takes from Miles adds a day to my life span, thanks to the amount of anger and stress I am spared from as a result.

The Pitching

Ryan Dempster didn't appear to have his best stuff tonight. That'd be at least the second start in a row of that kind by my count. Still, Demp fought his way through, and held the Braves to two runs in 6.2 innings. After his departure, Sean Marshall and Kevin Hart pitched well in relief.

The most important storyline with Dempster is almost certainly that of the medical issue his family has been forced to deal with. I'm blown away by the fact that Ryan can compete at the level he's shown lately, and I'm certain everyone's best wishes are with the entire Dempster family. Let's all hope for the best, yeah?

Conclusions

With Soriano out of the leadoff spot, the 3-4-5 hitters had a few more base runners to try to bring home. Unfortunately, they couldn't get it done in tonight's game. They got hits, they got walks, they got good pitching--but just couldn't put it together.

In terms of long term impact, I'd say this game has only increased the pressure on a struggling Kosuke Fukudome. He's repeating last year's trend of posting a severely declining batting average in each consecutive month of the season.

As we approach the All-Star Break, it appears we pretty much know what we're going to get from most of the regulars from here on out. Having said that, it'd be nice if a role player like Blanco got hot heading into the break, or if a continually disappointing starter-type (Fuk, Soto) kicked it up another notch (BAM!) for the rest of the season.

Go Cubsies!

GameCast: June 22nd at Atlanta; a rainy make-up date

GameCastRyan Dempster (5-5, 3.92 ERA) vs. Javier Vazquez (4-6, 3.41 ERA)
Story-Lines

It would be entirely ironic -- and frustrating -- for today's make-up date to get rained out, but Goat Reader SuckMyDitka reports that rain is very much a possibility tonight.

Still, the Cubs are taking an odd course to continue their winning streak.  They've had to fly from Chicago to Atlanta for one night, and after the game they will have to fly to Detroit for their next three game series. 

Taking the mound of the Cubs is on-again, off-again ace Ryan Dempster, better known as the unluckiest pitcher this side of Randy Wells.  Honestly, Dempster's numbers really aren't that bad.  He's on pace to throw 217 innings, allowing 192 hits, 87 walks, and striking out 179.  That's a WHIP of 1.29.  Last year in 206 innings Dempster's WHIP was 1.21.  Better, sure, but does anybody really think that 0.08 is the difference between 17 wins compared to 10, or an ERA of 2.96 compared to 3.92? 

Therefore I submit to you the belief that Ryan Dempster is better than his current record.  It's very much so possible that he'll end the year with extremely good numbers -- in fact, if the Cubs surprise the nay-sayers and reach the playoffs, count on Dempster to end the year with close to 15 wins.  If Chicago plays the way they aught to, Dempster will reap the benefits in the second half.

Who's Hot
Lee, Soto, Fukudome, Bradley -- all four players have put up very good numbers in the past week.  Maybe it's no coincidence, then, that the Cubs are on a winning streak.  The four of them have combined to bat .338 with 6 homers and 12 RBI in the past week.

Who's Not
Mike Fontenot -- okay, we get it.  Never play Mike Fontenot against lefties, at least not this year.

Conclusions

If this game gets played, I am looking for the Questionable Quartet Plus Fuku to continue their roll while Ryan Dempster benefits from their rub and picks up win number five.  I think it's entirely likely that the Cubs will win tonight.  Don't ask me about tomorrow, though, after they hop on a plane and fly north to Detroit where they'll take on the first place Tigers.

(Shortened) Series (Belated) Rrecap: Cubs 1, Braves 1

Two games, twenty-three innings of baseball, two blown leads, one eventual victory.  This affair in Atlanta had a bit of everything, didn't it?  Mostly though the split series has left Cub fans feeling nauseous -- after all, the Cubs had the first game in hand before turning to their two "most reliable" relievers only to watch them squander and then blow the lead.

The team is at a cross-roads, whether they admit it or not.  Some people may blame the immature acts of some of the players -- Carlos, Milton, Lilly, Dempster.  Others might attribute this year's woes to the mass-slumps -- Lee, Soto, Fontenot, Bradley.  Still more might call to blame the series of injuries that have plagued the team -- Zambrano, Harden, Bradley.

Our Rob wants to blame Geo Soto, the QB of the defense.  I don't buy it for a bunch of reasons.  He hasn't been the offensive stud that he once was, but he's hardly an automatic out.  He isn't being the gun behind the plate that the Cubs probably need, but he never really was and I still believe he's nursing a shoulder injury.  I don't believe he's responsible and I'm not even particularly worried about his performance.  But I will say this: Rob has garnered himself a bit of a reputation for being the kind of Cubs fan (and blogger) that another kind of Cubs fan (and blogger) detest.  Apparently I'm forbidden from defending Rob to these people because I am always criticized by them when I do so, but that won't stop me from defending Rob now. 

I've spoken with some very intelligent, unbiased individuals who read this blog (read: they aren't Cub fans per se so they lack the pretty rose-colored glasses that the rest of us wear and they do not swill from the blue koolaid) and the general take I've gotten about Rob is that 1) he's a good writer and 2) his points aren't usually far off.  I happen to agree with those people; it just so happens that Rob's stance on the team is 100% of the time stiffer than mine, regardless of whether things are going good or badly.  Maybe this blog would be better if it was run by like-minded individuals and read by others who share many of the same opinions, but I disagree with that emphatically.  I happen to think that forums in general and GROTA in particular are never better than when people are heatedly disagreeing because it organically drives content and gives people something to read ... even if it's the rubber-neck effect and they just want to see how bad the wreck is. 

That said, let's go back and look at this paragraph:

The team is at a cross-roads, whether they admit it or not.  Some people may blame the immature acts of some of the players -- Carlos, Milton, Lilly, Dempster.  Others might attribute this year's woes to the mass-slumps -- Lee, Soto, Fontenot, Bradley.  Still more might call to blame the series of injuries that have plagued the team -- Zambrano, Harden, Bradley.

It seems to me that Milton Bradley is the only one who fits into all those categories of concern, but I don't really think he's to blame.  As Rob himself would point out, it's Lou Piniella.

Much, much earlier this season I prepped this blog for a Jump The Piniella moment. I think that moment is getting decisively closer.  

I'm not expecting Lou to come storming out of the dugout, spittle a-flyin', in order to rally the troops onward toward victory.  No, what Lou needs to do is something a lot simpler:

Fix the frickin' lineup and the goddamn bullpen.  He won't even need to get out of his chair to do it!

I believe - nay, I insist - that the Cubs already have the components they need to win.  They just have to tinker a bit.  But until that moment occurs we will be victims of offensive blackouts and late-inning blow-outs.  This series with the Braves gave us a little bit of both -- the team's reputed set-up man and especially its closer dropped dookie in their drawers.  Then the next night they slipped away with victory despite their inability to score lots of runs.

It's not too late.  Lou is not too old.  So what the hell is the hold up?

Current Record: 26-25
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 137-25
Worst Possible Record: 26-136
Record needed to win 110: 84-27
On Pace For: 83-79

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