Yeah, it's another gamecast as the Cubs look for the sweep of the Mets. Maybe I should just change this to Starlin-cast because really that's the only thing I care about regarding the Cubs these days. Starlin is now hitting over .320 and Mike Quade had him bunting in the 8th inning!!!! Come on Mike, you need your best hitter to swing the bat. I officially am opposed to making Quade the fulltime manager. I'm squarely in the camp wanting to see what Ryne Sandberg could do.
As for Starlin, he's now hitting .321 and his secondary skills, while not great, haven't exactly been Alcides Escobar-eque either. He's slugging over .440 and closing in on 30 doubles for the season. I think it's going to be tough for him to win the NL batting title but he's currently 3rd in the NL in batting average behind two candidates for the NL MVP. And I think it's fair to say that he's been one of the top 3 or even 2 best shortstops in the NL. He's truly been awesome and his presence on the Cubs makes me very optimistic about the future.
Dempster vs Niese today of course. Ryan has been generally very good this year but is coming off a bad start. Here's hoping he goes out and gives the Cubs a chance to win today just as he's been doing all year. We'll see. Go Cubs!
Editor's Note: This was actually written up back on Thursday night. Two days of internet troubles later, and no publishing was to be had. I suck. Rather than preview the two games that have already occurred, just consider it an advanced GameCast for tomorrow's game...
It's hard to like a Cubs team that's this bad. Then again, it's easy to root for any team that plays the Mets.
As the Cubs storm toward their September exit, a few issues are beginning to come into play. First -- the manager. Jim Hendry says that there are no lead candidates.
Second -- the roster. With Kosuke Fukudome's shocking, good production, will he become trade bait or will Jim Hendry hold onto him with high hopes for a surprising 2011? Same thing with Carlos Zambrano. His suspension and Anger Management classes seem to be having a profoundly positive impact on him. Yay?
Third -- what, there's supposed to be a third? Because there's not.
Anyway, on with the preview -- and then some commentary about the Looming Issues.
Sunday, September 5th - Ryan Dempster (12-9, 3.71 ERA) vs. Jon Niese (8-7, 3.70 ERA)
Despite the fact that Dempster raised his ERA by .29 points in his last start (7 earned in 3 IP = suckage), his ERA for August was 2.89, and he won 4 out of 5 decisions. Does -- dare I say it -- Dempster have a shot at winning 15, in this, the season of bitter remorse?
His opponent is 23, is pitching like 2009 Randy Wells, and went 1-3 with a 4.43 ERA in August. Go get 'im, Cubz.
In the last Series Preview I wrote (I think), I bid farewell to Lou Piniella. Sometime before that, I wrote an article about how Ryne Sandberg should be, under no circumstance the next Cubs manager. I was extremely definitive.
Well, I've changed my mind. Hear me out.
The Cubs, well, the Cubs suck. They're probably going to suck next year, too. Despite sucking, Jim Hendry is expected to return. Do you trust Jim Hendry to rebuild these Cubs?
Therefore, any move Hendry makes is moot. I don't trust him to shore up the bullpen, to improve the offense, or even to hire the best manager for the job. So why should he try?
Instead, since it's a lost cause anyway, I believe Hendry should give the job to Sandberg. Cub fans will be happy, Sandberg will be happy, and in 2012 -- when both Hendry and Sandberg get axed -- we can finally move on to a new regime with half a chance.
So why not? Hire Ryne Sandberg, I say. It can't possibly hurt!
The Cubs had a man in scoring position with one out or less in three out of the first four innings of the game. All three situations yielded a net total of zero runs. The Cubs were 1-11 with runners in scoring position and got an RBI sacrifice fly from Fontenot in the 8th inning. In total, they stranded ten men on base. Johan Santana gave up eight hits in six innings and only allowed a run. If you would have told me the Cubs would get eight hits over six on Santana before the game, I'd have been pretty satisfied. However, the Cubs hitters failed to execute when it counted. It would not be irrational at this time as a Cubs fan to want to curl up into the fetal position and wait for a brighter day.
The continued offensive drain once again overshadowed yet another quality pitching performance from the starting pitcher. Gorzelanny didn't give up a hit in the game until the fifth inning when (Future Hall of Famer) Ike Davis singled. Gorzo came close to a quality start (5.2 IP, 2 ER, 7K), but like many before him still got tagged with the loss. This season, Cubs starters have gone 91 2/3 innings and carry a 3.35 ERA (that includes Z's opening day start and all the horror that accompanies it) yet aren't getting the W's. Something's gotta give.
Logic dicates that the Cubs won't strand that many players on base every time, and that the offense will eventually turn around, but right now that logic doesn't make the salt sting any less in the wound. At the start of the year I expected the club's bullpen and starting staff to go through a bit of an adjustment period which would be a bit rocky. I also knew that the offense might struggle if Soto and Soriano continued the regression path they set out on last year. However, Soriano and Soto are carrying their weight (in Soto's case, less). The starting staff has been borderline brilliant at times. The bullpen has been... as expected. Even so, this team has performed too well in most areas to be the losers of 10 games so far this season.
I fear that sixteen games into the season some of you fans already feel weary and downtrodden. But now isn't the time to inch towards the edge of the cliff. Just know that there is a lot of games left to be played and that the team is better than it has shown us so far.
Best possible record: 152-10
Record needed for .500 season: 75-71
Record needed for 90 wins: 84-62
Tom Gorzelanny (0-1, 1.93 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (1-1, 3.00 ERA)
We are one day away from the Carlos Zambrano bullpen debut, but until then we have another start from Tom Gorzelanny.
The Mets will counter with Santana, who will probably dominate the Cubs. The Cubs did take a game last night that saw them score nine runs.
The offence was sparked by Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano, who we will cover in the Who's Hot section.
The Cubs have been hitting the problem was scoring runs. It doesn't get easier tonight, but maybe last night was the shot in the arm the team needed.
Alfonso Soriano - Watch out, because Sori is on fire. He's 10-for-his-last-21 with a 1.446 OPS during that time. He missed the cycle by a 2B, mainly because Lou pulled him out before he got another chance to bat.
Marlon Byrd - Byrd has eight RBI in his last seven days. He's been a real bright spot and I hope he keeps it up.
Aramis Ramirez - Ice cold. I mean sub-zero.
Jeff Baker - He would be nice if he could hit to give Aramis a breather, but it hasn't happend. Baker is 3 for 20 in the last few days.
The Cubs are counting on Tom Gorzelanny to stay in the rotation, or pitch well enough to be traded to someone that could bring a bullpen guy over. The Cubs really need to start winning to have a chance to stay in somewhat contention.
Alfonso Soriano is hitting .327, with a .978 OPS, and has struck out ten times. Aramis Ramirez is hitting .131 with a .506 OPS and has struck out 21 times.
Ryan Theriot's on-base percentage is below .300. Geovany Soto's on-base percentage is above .500.
Tyler Colvin is hitting .261. And he is awesome and I love him.
This poetry session is over.
Kudos to Carlos Silva, the winning pitcher from tonight's game who went six strong innings and allowed just two hits. This man is pitching completely out of his mind. It might be because he's throwing a much smaller percentage of fastballs than he usually does (just over 50% so far this year, as opposed to between 70 and 80 percent in all other years of his career). He's never thrown his slider nearly as much as he is so far this year (18% of the time by Fangraphs' latest numbers).
Kudos to Alfonso Soriano. He was inches away from hitting for the cycle tonight, going 3-for-5 with a walk, a single, a triple, and a long shot to left that just got over the wall to plate two runs. Should he be hitting fifth?
For that matter, should Mr. Two-Hits-Three-Walks-No-Outs Geovany Soto and his over-.500 OBP be hitting higher in the order as well? Actually, I'll answer this one for you: Probably not. He's the catcher, so there's no use wearing him out. And for all the walks he draws, he also strikes out a lot. The seventh spot is probably the perfect place for him (much better than eighth; his slugging percentage will suck from that spot).
Ryan Theriot, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin had multi-hit outings themselves, going 3-for-5, 2-for-4, and 2-for-5 respectively.
Also, Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.
In the end, though, this game was won by super performances from Carlos Silva and Alfonso Soriano. Whodathunkit??? Go Cubbos!
The Good: Big Z lowered his ERA two more points! 2 earnies in 6 innings, 116 pitches, 9 Ks. The last two outings, he has 11 innings pitched, and it has taken him 239 pitches. That means more bullpen. But he certainly did not deserve to lose.
Also: Jeff Gray - 1 inning of scoreless ball.
The Ugly: we only got 3 guys in scoring position tonight. One of them, Fontenot, got picked off by Hank White. The second, Three Finger Hill, could not manage tagging up and advancing to third on a slicing fly that Jason Bay had to bang into the wall to handle.
Also: Grabow. All of you who said we overpaid for him, line up and take your whacks at me. Mea culpa.
The Bad: look. Every year we have this argument. I start saying "it is no longer early" and the rest of you, like Sayers40 for example, say "it is still early".
I am willing to admit that I am no General Manager. I thought signing Grabow was a good thing. I also thought signing Fukudome was a good thing. If you want to rip on me for being a poor judge of talent, fine. I deserve it.
However, I have been watching shittty Cubs baseball for over 40 years now, and I am telling you all, it is no longer early. This offense, the one that is last in the league in average? This is the best it can do. This is what it has done ever since Ramirez dislocated his shoulder last June. This is not a slow start. This is a trend. This team cannot hit.
And what is worse, there is NOTHING that anyone is going to do about it. The only hope we have is for these guys to pull a 180 and do things differently than they have done the past 140 games or so.
And lemme tell you guys, baseball clubs just don't simply do 180s.
This team sucks.
Carlos Zambrano (1-1, 9.45 ERA) vs. Mike Pelfrey (2-0, 1.29 ERA)
Well, yesterday was predictable. Good start by Wells, a bunch of hits scattered, but not a lot of runs, then the bullpen breaks down, allows a bunch of runs, and the Cubs lose. Certainly seems to be the way things have gone this year. I know its early, but I've seen enough of Jeph Spellcheck. Has he been sent back behind the barn and put out of his misery? No? Can we?
We're facing a righty tonight, and Fukudome's leading off. We'll see how that goes. Z's making his 4th start, he's got one good one, one meh one, and one miserable one. Which will we see tonight? It's all the fun of playing russian roulette w/o the death. Can I be Chris Walken? Pelfrey takes the bump for the Mets, and like Z, he's making his 4th apprearance. One of them, however was in relief during the 20-inning debacle last Saturday night. Saturday was his likely throw day, and he only pitched one inning, so that shouldn't be a concern. His last start out he was dominant against the Rox in Denver. I pray he's not that good tonight.
The same guys Yarbage noted yesterday still apply as Soriano got 2 hits, and Soto got on base twice as well. That's about it. I know my temper is hot with this team as well, as is most people's i'm sure.
The pen has lost 6 of our 8 games and has an ERA of 6, and thats with good work by Marmol and Marshall mixed in there. I'm ready for new faces, honestly. D-Lee is 3 for 20 since coming back from his short hand injury. Small sample size, obviously, but I'm throwing it out there.
That's it for now. First pitch is in 60 minutes. God help us all, we need a W tonight.
Randy Wells churned out another quality start by allowing an earned run on six hits and two walks over six innings. It looked like things were about to fall apart in the fifth inning when Wells loaded the bases with two outs and subsequently allowed a run-scoring infield single to Luis Castillo. However, Wells was able to strike out an over-eager David Wright on three pitches to end the threat and the inning.
Lou went to the bullpen in the seventh inning, and like a match to a powderkeg, the fireworks promptly began for the Mets. Feeling left out from the rest of the pen, the previously unscored upon James Russell served up a home run to Angel Pagan immediately after beaning Jose Reyes on an 0-2 pitch. And the fun didn't stop there. With two outs in the inning, Lou brought in implosion specialist Jeff Samardzija who promptly issued a walk to David Wright and a double off of the wall by Jason Bay. Even Sean Marshall got in on the fun in the seventh by allowing an RBI single to future Hall of Famer Ike Davis (he has a career batting average of .500!) and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch to the next batter.
There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about the bullpen woes of the Cubs. It's thirteen games into the season and the roles in the bullpen are about as defined as they were coming into Spring Training. The Shark looks like he has no idea where his release point is at and really needs to be put on the first bus down to Iowa to get some substantive instruction (like: how a sinker is supposed to sink). With Andrew Cashner dominating hitters in Double A (3 GS, 17.1 IP, 5 ER, 25:4 K:BB) and the instability of the club's MLB bullpen, I think it is safe to begin the "Cashner Watch" (in spite of this) He was a very good closer for TCU, and I believe he could be useful at the major league level.
Then again it's not like the offense helped Wells out tonight, either. On a positive note, the new leadoff hitter Marlon Byrd went 3-4 with an RBI and the oft-criticized Alfonso Soriano went 2-4 (albiet, with a double that could have been streched out if he hustled). Byrd's comfort in the leadoff spot may have something to do with the fact that he spent a fair amount of time in that spot during his time with the Phils. It seems that some Chicago sports personalities are against the move, as they believe Byrd is more valuable in a lower lineup spot because he is 'clutch'. Considering the Cubs could use any spark possible at the top of the lineup, I think Byrd did a fine job of working the count and setting the table; both qualities I attribute to a successful leadoff hitter.
Aside from Byrd and Soriano, all the other offensive statistics are appaling. The team went 1-10 with runners in scoring position. The 3-4-5 hitters went 1-11 with two walks. Aramis Ramirez continued his frigid start to the season with an 0-4 showing which dropped his average to .157. Even more troubling, Ramirez only saw a total of 14 pitches in his 4 AB's. It seems like Ramirez is pressing right now and the Cubs as a whole are suffering because of it.
On a positive note, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly allowed only one run over seven innings in his final rehab start for Class A Peoria. He threw 88 pitches in the outing and stuck out nine batters while only walking one. Theodore, well aware of the offensive struggles in his absence and always the consummate team player, even attempted a stolen base. It looks like he will make his first start with the big club on Sunday against the Brewers.
Tomorrow the Cubs look to even the series against right hander Mike Pelfrey. Lou may not trot out the new look lineup tomorrow, but hopefully the end result will be different.
Randy Wells (1-0, 2.92 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (0-1, 6.55 ERA)
The Cubs finished a less than stellar homestand 3-3 after losing two games in a row to the Astros. That's not a great way to start the season. The Cubs try to get back on the winning train today against the New York Mets.
Apparently, Lou is tinkering with the lineup even more and will move Ryan Theriot down in the order against lefties. This means Marlon Byrd will leadoff against LHP. I can't say I'm too shocked about this, because this is what bad teams do. I'm worried that the Cubs are this kind of bad team.
Geovanny Soto - Watch out, but Geo's swinging a pretty good bat in the last seven days. He has a 1.372 OPS, while hitting .467.
Alfonso Soriano - a weak start has turned better. He's hitting .412 in the last seven, but with no HR's.
Cubs Bullpen - They seem to give up runs all the time that led to three losses this week. If the Cubs dream about contending they need fix that soon.
Kosuke Fukudome - So much for "The Dome". He's only 3 for 17 in his last seven days.
The Cubs are playing a bad, but it can end today against the Mets. I'm sure the Cubs will play a stretch of games that will make us believe that they can win this year. It might as well happen early.
Note from Kurt
For baseball prospect enthusiasts, this should be an interesting series due to the debut of Mets prospect Ike Davis. Davis is a powerhouse lefty first baseman who, despite all prejudicial appearances, is as white as a piece of Wonder Bread. He very well may bring with him fear and domination, but we can safely expect a relatively slow start -- even if he does have the chance to face Tom Gorzelanny in a few days.
Picture Dennis Green, his bloodshot eyes glazed over, yelling into a microphone, "the Cubs are who we thought they were!" He wouldn't be wrong, and yet we are acting frustrated and angry to discover that the bullpen is a steaming pile of dog crap.
Consider the positives of this development -- would you rather a bunch of mediocre relievers got hot at the start of the season, put up respectable numbers for a while, and then fell off the planet? After all, even a crappy player can look great for a few weeks (just ask Neifi Perez). If the Cubs had started out the way we'd hoped, then we might've had to deal with who-knows-how-much suck once the pen's talent dissipated under the summer sun, and Lou and Jim held onto them out of hope that their talent would re-emerge. Instead, their soul-crushing mediocrity has already been revealed, and now Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella can start figuring out how to fix it.
But still. Holy Hell. The last few innings of the most recent games are almost certainly being played over and over on a loop in a masochist's basement somewhere. They were painful. The worst team in baseball beat the Cubs at Wrigley TWICE.
What this bodes for the upcoming series in New York remains to be seen, except that the Mets are coming off of a 20-inning mega game against the Cardinals. If our bullpen sucks worse, at least they are well-rested. The Mets are screwed. Let's take a closer look.
Monday, April 19th - Randy Wells (1-0, 2.92 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (0-1, 6.55 ERA)
The Cubs offense needs to have a killer's mentality here. Niese has lasted 11 innings in 2 starts, has surrendered 8 earned runs, and has looked worse than the Elijah Woods/Carrot Top hybrid that Johnny Depp plays in Alice in Wonderland.
Wells, meanwhile, has picked up from where he left off last year. He is not the most dominating pitcher to play the game, but he seems to pitch with efficiency and intelligence. New York might be the toughest offense he's faced this season -- keywords: might be -- but he should manage.
Tuesday, April 20th - Carlos Zambrano (1-1, 9.45 ERA) vs. Mike Pelfrey (2-0, 1.29 ERA)
In his first outing of the season, Carlos Zambrano pitched as though he was constructed entirely of ass. He gave up 8 earned runs. It wasn't ugly, it was ridiculous. Then, in his second game, the Moose went 7, struck out 9, and managed to shave about 43 points off of his ERA in one go. Finally, most recently, Carlos pitched 5, walked 3, struck out 8, gave up 4 runs (3 earned), and he did it on 121 pitches.
This is the reason Carlos Zambrano is never going to be a traditional ace. He has too many inconsistent games, where he's not locating a pitch, or his mechanics are screwed up. Maybe he physically can't always be successful on 4 days rest and can only be effective every other game. Maybe he's just too emotionally immature to master the thinking part of the pitching process. Who the hell knows? But if my every-other-game theory is true, he's due for a good one in New York, unless he'll be reeling from the 120+ pitches he tossed.
His opponent is Mike Pelfrey, a pitcher coming off of a 10-12 season and a 5.03 ERA, two years removed from going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA. He's started out well in '10, but he had to pitch an inning of relief yesterday. If this doesn't jeopardize his start on Tuesday, then he should still be less-than at his best.
Wednesday, April 21st - Carlos Silva (1-0, 0.69 ERA) vs. Oliver Perez (0-1, 3.75 ERA)
Holy cow! Carlos Silva? A 0.69 ERA?! Doesn't he know that he's supposed to suck a tolerable amount of ass until Lilly's ready to return, at which point he's to be sent into the bullpen?!
Chances are, he's not really a 0.69 ERA pitcher. Odds are good that he will start giving up the hits and walks that he's known to surrender in droves. It's likely that, even if he has a year comparable to his '07 season (13-14, 4.19 ERA), he will take a thrashing now and again. I'm betting it happens sooner rather than later.
Oliver Perez is coming back from an '09-ending injury. He's 3 years removed from the best season of his career, but he's off to a decent start in 2010. Still, like Silva, he's probably closer to being a pitcher with an ERA in the mid 4's (or worse), and he'll take some beatings. Hear that, Cubs offense? He's due for a beating!
Thursday, April 22nd - Tom Gorzelanny (0-1, 1.93 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (1-1, 3.00 ERA)
Hmm. Tom Gorzelanny, who's been pitching his balls off, against Johan Santana, who's one of the greatest pitchers of this era of baseball.
Tom Gorzelanny, who's got a WHIP of 1.07 against Santana, who's allowed an unusual number of runs to score when compared to the amount of hits and walks he's given up.
Tom Gorzelanny, who looks like Sloth from Goonies, against Santana, who is a dominating lefty.
Yeah, let's just give this one to the Mets.
Despite their awful, horrendous, despicable bullpen, regardless of the fact that they just lost a home series against the ASTROS, ignoring the offensive and defensive struggles of some key players, it's hard to dispute that the bullpen-depleted Mets are in a position to defeat the bullpen-depleted Cubs.
I'd look -- at the very least -- for a road split. At the most, the Cubs have a legitimate shot at taking 3 of 4. Or, if you want to be a realist, you can say that they have a legitimate shot of being in position to take 3 of 4 before the bullpen squanders it. Either way.