Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Phillies

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New Duo lead Cubs (Game Recap: Cubs 11, Phillies 6)

I agree with Goat Reader George's comment in the Shout Box: This is getting VERY interesting.

Last night, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro were slotted into the first two spots of the lineup, and responded by going 6-for-9 with three runs scored. In the second inning, they collaborated on an almost-double steal, bringing Colvin home from third after Castro's attempt at stealing second.

Indeed, their repeated ability to put the ball in play, and then run really fast towards first base, sparked the offense last night, as did Marlon Byrd's ability to get hit by a pitch -- Phillie starter Halladay plunked him twice, and both times he came around to score.

Speaking of pitching, kudos to Cub pitcher Tom Gorzelanny for posting another decent outing. Two earned runs, five hits, and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings counts for a good effort. The five walks given up aren't exactly helpful, but Tom managed to pitch around his mistakes and keep the team in the game.

Back to the Killer C's for another minute. Even the great Joe Morgan acknowledged these twerps' importance to the future of the franchise -- although, the only skill he could identify for either player was his speed. And it's true, Colvin and Castro are both fast. But I'll go ahead and help Joe out by pointing out the other superior skills had by these two that suggest they deserve more regular responsibility in this line-up. In both cases, it comes down to power.

Tyler Colvin is strong. He doesn't walk a lot, and he strikes out often. But when he does manage to make solid contact, the ball goes far. In fact, Colvin is among the Top 10 in the National League in isolated slugging (ISO), which essentially measures how often a player's base hits go for extras. Colvin's ISO is .255 for the season; for comparison, Alfonso Soriano's team-leading ISO is .272, Geovany Soto's is .212, and Ryan Theriot's is .034.

Starlin Castro's power is not his best skill (yet). It's not top three, really (glove, contact hitting, speed). But even at 20, he's shown line drive ability, with 12 doubles, four triples, and two home runs hit in 211 at-bats. He's not quite walking enough to be considered the ideal leadoff option yet, but on this team, he may already have shown himself to be the best one on the roster. (Corollary: Colvin is not the best leadoff option. He strikes out too often to lead off, and his power is wasted at the top of the order.)

As for tonight's game, the lineup I'd like to see would be: Castro, Soto, Byrd, Aramis, Colvin, Soriano, Lee, Theriot, Pitcher. Call me crazy.

In the meantime, go Cubs!

Marmol temporarily blows (Game Recap: Cubs 1, Phillies 4)

Once again: Cub starter great, Cub offense bad, Cub bullpen not good enough to make up for the difference.

For the sake of naming names, Randy Wells and Sean Marshall combined to pitch eight shutout innings in yesterday's contest, and in the bottom of the seventh, Starlin Castro scored the Cubs' lone run, coming home on a squeeze bunt laid down perfectly by Ryan Theriot.

The team had a one-run lead in the top of the ninth inning when the ball was handed to Carlos Marmol, who would quickly demonstrate that he didn't have his best stuff. Actually, that's not true -- it takes a while to walk five guys, doesn't it? By the time the half-inning was over, the Phillies had scored four runs, despite Marmol's allowing just one hit.

And now, for today's "Just Saying" moment:

Carlos Marmol, thru 43 games in 2010:
2-2, 17 SV, 4 BS, 2.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 82 K

Guess Who, thru 42 games in 2009:
3-2, 16 SV, 3 BS, 3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 41 K

That's all, just saying. Go Cubs!

Gamecast (July 17, 2010) Phillies @ Cubs

(Sorry for the lateness of this gamecast, work requirements got in the way on this very warm Saturday morning in Southern California)

The win yesterday was very nice and it's good that the Cubs have ensured at least a split against the two time defending NL champions. It's obvious that the Cubs are playing better but it's important that we, as Cub fans, keep this all in perspective. Yesterday was a one run game and with the Cubs on top, luck played every bit as much of factor in this game as did skill.

Still, it's nice to win and I hope it continues. We play the Phillies again today and I hope the Cubs can win the series today instead of having to do it against Roy Halladay tomorrow. Cole Hamels is good but Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball.

Today's Matchup: Cole Hamels (112IP, 3.78ERA, 3.86xFIP) vs Randy Wells (105.1IP, 4.61ERA, 3.71xFIP)

Hamels is a good pitcher and he's someone the Cubs should target once he hits free agency but Randy Wells has been the Cubs best pitcher according to xFIP this year. This is true even though some of his results (media based things like won/loss record and ERA) haven't been great. He has a 7.09/2.39 K/BB ratio and a 45% ground ball rate. As usual, the key for Wells is getting out of the first inning. If he does get out of the first inning, I think we can expect a very nice, long good day out of him.

Who's Hot: Aramis Ramirez has heated up just as the Cubs' offense has and now has a .220/.278/.411 triple slash line for the season. At one point, I was hopeful that he would finish the season at .230 or higher, now, I'm hoping for .260. I just hope the Cubs' brass remembers his first half this year, he'll be getting $16 Million in 2011 and the Cubs will probably need a 3B in 2012, Ramirez is an option but I don't see the Cubs giving him more than $10 Million to do that job (and a 1 year contract at that).

Who's Not: it's time for Derrek Lee to follow the Ramirez example and start popping the ball. Lee's month of July? .244/.320/.356. Imagine how well the Cubs would be doing if he got hot!!!!!

Conclusion: I still maintain that it's too late for the Cubs to make a playoff run but I hope they can get back to .500 this season. Winning today is important because of the task ahead of them tomorrow, facing Halladay. Wells is at least as good a pitcher as Hamels so let's hope the Cubs do it.

Has the king returned? (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Phillies 3)

Are all home runs created equal? Do they sometimes differ in terms of their... clutchiness?

The Cubs would end up needing four runs to win yesterday's game, after Ted Lilly allowed his second homer of the game, to Ryan Howard in the sixth inning with a man on ahead of him. Indeed, by allowing just four hits and one walk over seven solid innings (with 10 Ks to boot), Lilly did more than just boost his trade value: he kept his team in the game.

And actually, Ted did even more than that -- yesterday, he drove in a run. After falling behind 0-2 to Phillie starter Joe Blanton, who had just IBBed Geo Soto to load the bases, Theo worked his way back to a 3-2 count, and then fouled off a fastball, before taking one high for a walk. Run scores, and at the time, tie ballgame.

The Cubs would tie the game up yet again, this time in the bottom of the sixth. In the half inning just after Howard hit a two-run bomb, Marlon Byrd answered with a two-run shot of his own.

Neither team would score again, and all of a sudden we found ourselves rooting for Aramis Ramirez at the plate, late in a tie game -- and, no less, with two outs.

Of course, Ramirez would hit a home run, giving the team the lead, and setting the stage for Carlos Marmol to strike out the side for a save once again.

A great game to watch, a great win for the Cubs, and now only one question remains. Speaking of clutchiness: Has Aramis Ramirez retaken his place as Mr. C McC? I dare not say the name until given permission to do so.

Go Cubs.

Gamecast (July 16, 2010) Phillies @ Cubs

The Cubs played well last night. The final score doesn't totally show it but the Cubs crushed the Phillies. Tonight they face another stinky pitcher named Joe Blanton. Makes you wonder why the Phillies, upon acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays would then dispatch Cliff Lee and his rather cheap contract to the Mariners. As Arsenio used to say, things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Today's Matchup: Joe Blanton (80IP, 6.41ERA, 4.60xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (97IP, 4.08ERA, 4.75xFIP)

My take on today's starting pitchers is this. They both stink. Blanton is significantly better than than his ERA has been but is still bad. Lilly is mildly worse than his ERA is and is also bad. I hope Lilly has "good" or even "lucky" outings for the next two so the Cubs can turn him into a prospect. He has been uniformily the worse pitcher in the Cubs' rotation this year. I know it's not likely but I hope the wind is blowing in today. Lilly is an extreme fly ball pitcher. Typically it's very hard to win longterm with a ground ball rate well under 40%. Lilly has successfully done that over time while pitching in Wrigley Field. He's likely to give up a HR or 3 today, I just pray he doesn't walk people before the HR or get unlucky on balls in play. Today would be a good day to go with an outfield of Colvin/Byrd/Fuku to increase the chances of balls to the outfield (which will be many) being caught.

Who's Hot: Geovany Soto's wOBA is now 20 points higher than it was in his rookie year. He is close to his rookie season ISO (.219 then vs .206 now) and is crushing his rookie year walk rate. In the month of July, he's hitting .343/.410/.629 and has as many extra base hits as singles on the whole month. His defense is questionable these days but it's not like he's Mike Napoli. Today is a day game after a night game which is the only day he should be resting though with the all star break just concluded and Soto getting to rest 3 straight days, if I were Lou, I'd start him today. He's simply too important to our offense to sit.

Who's Not: Ryan Theriot is not a leadoff hitter and even though he's had an ok month of July batting average wise, he still doesn't come close to walking enough and has  amonthly OBP of .313. That number is serving to kill the Cubs' offense. Mike Fontenot would be so much better in this role. Play Fontey at second base and hit him first unless you're "showcasing" Theriot for a trade. If the Cubs are playing to win, Theriot is, at best, on the bench.

Conclusion: If the Cubs had a better starter going, I'd call today a likely win but I'd say it's a toss up. I think the Cubs win this game at home with this matchup about 52% of the time. Hopefully Lilly can keep the ball from flying onto Waveland or Sheffield and we can fly that W flag.

Feel the power! (Game Recap: Cubs 12, Phillies 6)

Every non-pitcher in last night's game for the Cubs had either a run or a run batted in. Six Cubs had multiple hits (three had three), a trio of Cubs hit homers, and one even stole home.

I suppose when you have a lot of 30-year-old veteran ball players on your roster, your team might perform better when it only has to play a few times a week instead of six out of seven days. Or maybe Jamie Moyer, who started for the Phillies, is really bad, although it's probably a combination of the two.

Regardless, Aramis Ramirez continued his hot streak last night, driving in four runs with two doubles. And Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano each had three hits, while Lee and Geovany Soto each contributed a two-run home run.

And then there was Starlin Castro, who once again was one at-bat away from hitting for the cycle last night. Castro tripled, singled, and doubled -- or rather, I should really say he tripled AND STOLE HOME, singled, and doubled.

The steal was really more of a Phillie battery mistake than it was a great play by Castro, although the kid is certainly fast. Ryan Dempster whiffed on the squeeze attempt, but Phillie C Carlos Ruiz couldn't handle the breaking ball delivered by Moyer, and the run scored.

Speaking of Ryan Dempster: Clownsevelt went 6.2 innings, giving up two earned runs (both on an early home run allowed to Ryan Howard), allowing six hits and three walks, and striking out nine. A fine line, indeed. Certainly one you can win with on most nights.

And let's be sure to end on a low note, courtesy of Bob Howry's pitching line: 0.2 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 1 HR, 0 K, 0 BB.

So, bravo, Cubs. Enjoy the win -- just PLEASE don't immediately start getting delusional on me. Please?

Gamecast: Phillies at Cubs, July 15, 2010

Jamie Moyer (9-8, 4.51) vs Ryan Dempster (7-7, 3.61)

Overview

Well, the most boring sports day of the year has passed (yesterday).  Hope you enjoyed the ESPYs.  At least we got this little gem out of it.  That aside, it's nice to have baseball back on the air (making it one of the few sports on the air today at a reasonable hour... unless you wake up a 3AM CST for the British Open).  We had our laughs and shouts of joy to the great play of Marlon Byrd during the All-Star Game, but now it's back to business.  The Cubs are 10.5 games out of first place in the division and things look pretty bleak.  However, don't tell that to the team, who was out in the field early today taking fielding practice.  It looks like motivation isn't lacking at this point.

I honestly don't know what to expect out of this team in the second half.  On the plus side, Aramis started to rediscover how to hit a baseball, Byrd has been a delight to watch, and there are some young kids (Castro, Cashner, sometimes Colvin) that have been fun to watch.  On the other hand, we have some aging vets that are barely hitting their weight (Lee, Koyie) and a lack of that "x" factor that seems to pull teams together.  In all honesty, I just want to see a better second half than the first.

To test out how this team's second half will start, the Cubs will face their kryptonite: and aging lefty junkerballer.  The Phillies are struggling as well and are missing 1/2 of their opening day infield, while their star shortstop still isn't confident in running on his strained calf at 100%.  This smells like an opportunity for the Cubs to get off on the right foot and win a 4 game series at the outset.

Call me an eternal optimist at times, but I have a feeling this can be a fun second half, and will at least produce some watchable baseball.  What are your expectations/predictions for the second half?

Series Preview: Phillies @ Cubs (July 15-18, 2010)

Overview
The All-Star Break is over. Thank God. Don't get me wrong, I love the All-Star game, but yesterday is the worst sports day of the year and I'm ready for the season to get going again. Even if it means I have to get frustrated consistently by the 2010 version of the Cubbies. The Cubs start the 2nd half of the season with a 10-game homestand (the longest of the season), and if they don't make serious progress in these first few games of the homestand, it will be time to throw in the towel - that is, if you haven't done so already. Up first is 4 games against the defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils themselves have had a disappointing season (not near as much as the Cubs, however), and currently sit 4.5 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. Now is a decent time to play them because even though they won 4 straight heading into the break, half of their IF is on the disabled list in the form of Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. We shall see what the Northsiders can do, if anything, to get the season going.

Thursday: Jamie Moyer (9-8, 4.51) vs Ryan Dempster (7-7, 3.61)
Moyer is still going strong at age 71. I, as well as others I'm sure, keep waiting for the wheels to come completely off..but he's having an alright year. That 4.51 ERA seems artificially high as he's had a couple games where he was just DESTROYED, such as his 1+ inning start out in Boston a few weeks back. However, for the most part he's been pretty good, even if he is a 6 inning pitcher at best. The Cubs usually have issues with soft-tossing/junkball lefties, I don't expect tonight to be any different. Hopefully the good Ryan Dempster shows up.

Friday: Joe Blanton (3-5, 6.41) vs. Ted Lilly (3-8, 4.08)
After a solid 2009, Blanton has gone back to being downright awful this year, and you could make the case that he's been one of the worst starters in baseball this year. That disgusting ERA over 6 is nearly 2 and a half points higher than what it was in 2009, and he's given up 15 homerjobs in just 80 innings. On what should be a hot Friday afternoon at Wrigley, if the wind is blowing out, watch out. That goes the same for Ted Lilly, however. He's had some truly brutal outings as well (namely last Friday at Dodger Stadium), and I'm hoping he's not irrepairably hurting his trade value. Each start he makes, I wonder if it's the last one he'll make in a Cubs uniform.

Saturday: Cole Hamels (7-7, 3.78) vs. Randy Wells (4-7, 4.61)
For me, this is the most intriguing matchup of the 4-game set. A lot of that feeling is because I believe that both of the starting pitchers are better than their records and ERA's indicate. When he's on, Hamels is probably one of the 10 or 15 best pitchers in baseball, and after 2008, there seemed to be no doubt about that. But he regressed in 2009, and like the Phillies team itself, has been up and down in 2010. His last start before the break was a good one, as he shut out the Reds over 7 2/3. As a lefty (albeit with different stuff than Moyer), he's a good bet to cause the Cubs some issues.

Sunday: Roy Halladay (10-7, 2.18) vs. Tom Gorzellany (4-5, 3.16)
Coming into this season, you couldn't find a bigger Roy Halladay fan for fantasy purposes than me. Huge strikeout pitcher moving from the toughest division in the tougher league, going from a bad team to the defending champs. I thought it was reasonable that he might win 25 games. That's not likely to happen, although 20 shouldn't be out of reach. The Phillies have just blown too many games where Halladay has pitched well, and he's been the victim of poor offense a few times as well. A 10-7 mark is fairly pedestrian for a lights out pitcher like Roy.

I'm not sure what to expect from this series. I can't imagine us beating Halladay, and I have a sick feeling we're gonna make Jamie Moyer look like Tom Glavine in his prime tonight. Maybe a split? What do you guys think??

Game Recap: Phillies 5, Cubs 4

Well folks, this one had a little bit of everything: Starlin Castro being good (mostly), a nice comeback to tie it up, John Grabow blowing a game, and Aramis looking feeble.

I'm just going to ignore most of the game and skip right to the part where Grabow came into the game in the 8th.  What is Lou thinking bringing Grabow into a tie game?  This situation has played out countless times in close games, and always with the same result: bringing Grabow into a game as a "stopper" is about as successful as throwing water on a grease fire.  In this game, Grabow came into the 8th inning with one out and gave up a walk, got a deep flyout, and then allowed another walk and a hit that scored the winning run.  Epic failure, once again.  This is about the time where the Cubs need to start dreaming up some mystery ailment that Grabow can get for an entire season.  I'm sure David Patton can let Grabow in on what he was afflicted with last season.

Despite the incompetence of John Grabow, the Cubs still had a chance in the 9th to tie it up.  Soriano led off the inning with a walk/hit by pitch and advanced to third on a Fontenot single.  However, with runners at the corners and no outs, the Cubs failed to put a ball in play.  Probably the most disappointing out came when Aramis flailed at ball 4 to strike out for the second out of the inning.  Honestly, he looks about as lost at the plate as it gets.

On a good note, Jeff Stevens looked good and had a scoreless IP and Derrek Lee went yard on a no-doubter in the 7th.  Kosuke tied it up in the 8th with a shot to right field off left-hander Anthony Bastardo. 

Not much else to say other than that this game was both frustrating and emotionally draining.  I keep hoping Lou will figure out that Grabow shouldn't be used ever, but based on his use of Bob Howry last year, I think this is a pipe dream.

Gamecast: May 20th, 2010 - Cubs at Phillies

Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.49 ERA)

Overview

I give up. I just can't figure out this team out to save my life. One day they can't hit or play defense. The next day they run off four in a row against quality teams. They beat the Rockies and Phillies, but can't beat the Pirates. This really is disturbing to me as a fan.

Today the Cubs go for their second straight mini-sweep, before they fly off to Texas for some good ole interleague play against the Rangers.

Dempster toes the rubber for the Cubs. Last time out he was a hard-luck loser against Pirates. Blanton, on the other hand, gave up five runs in seven innings and still got the win. It doesn't seem fair that we judge so much by wins and losses for pitchers.

Surprisingly the Cubs are only 4.5 games back in the central with plenty of baseball ahead. Of course, I'm not sure I want to see Bob Howry join this club, which I didn't know was an option. Didn't we already see that show? Now, if they want to hire him as a bouncer in the bleachers, then I'm all for it.

Who's Hot

Starlin Castro - Last night we saw the future. In the 8th inning Jason Werth hit a ball in the hole and Castro makes a great throw to get him by a step. There is no way that Ryan Theriot makes that play, and the Cubs could have lost the game. By the way, he's hitting .364 in his last six games.

Xavier Nady - Huge hit last night and he's got three his in his last nine now. I was little shocked to see Baker play right last night, but I guess Baker hasn't played in a while and they needed to get him some AB's.

Who's Not

Geovany Soto - He's as cold as ice. Soto is only hitting .143 lately and is not helping.

Esmailin Caridad - In his comeback, Caridad pitched a 1/3 of an inning and now is heading back to the DL.

Special Mention to Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and John Grawbow - All have played below expectations, but have shown signs of breaking out.

Conclusions

The Cubs are a confusing team, but I like the wins as of late. Hopefully, they can finish off the Phillies and roll over the Rangers this weekend.

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