Whoops. Sorry for the lateness.
In one hand, you've got the Phillies. Back-to-back NL Champs. Presently 9 games over .500, touting one of the meanest offenses in the game. Their star slugger, Ryan Howard, has 7 homeruns and 29 RBI in 38 games, and he's actually being outproduced on various levels by Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth.
In the other hand, you've got the Cubs. Back-to-back(x51) NL losers. Their 13-million dollar first baseman is batting .229. Their similarly-well-paid third baseman is hitting at a .171 clip. Their nearly 20-million dollar ace is pitching from out of the bullpen. Can anybody say, "Phillies sweep Cubs?"
Aha, but it didn't happen. The Cubs romped their way past Jamie "GET OFF MY LAWN" Moyer, who probably would pitch no-hitters every time out were he not battling arthritis and dementia. But more on that in a different post. Let's instead look to the future...
Thursday, May 20th - Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.49 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.49 ERA)
Jesus. Ryan Dempster, 2-4, decent ERA. Tom Gorzelanny, 2-4, even better ERA. Ted Lilly, 1-3, modestly respectable ERA. WTF?
Hey, the Cubs are due. Ryan Dempster is due. The Phillies are not as good as their record. And while I like Joe Blanton -- if only because he is leniently listed as weighing 244 pounds*, the Cubs are playing like a legitimately respectable big league team right now. Kinda sorta.
Even worse -- we missed the Series Preview to a two-game Series. Embarrassing. The Tribune editors would have my job over this mix-up! In light of recent debates on this blog, in the face of a possible 4-game winning streak, and at the risk of being labeled a homer (when, really, I'm not even remotely homeresque), I will say this:
Despite giving Cub fans the best regular production from first base since Ernie Banks, I enjoy how quickly some fans are to throw Derrek Lee under the bus. We get it -- he's your scapegoat.
But, much like Lee (and Rammy's) numbers thus far, 40 games of baseball can easily be characterized as a small sample size. Don't believe me? After 40 games last year, the Kansas City Royals were 21-19. They'd finish the year just shy of 100 losses. Even the 103-win Yankees of last year looked pretty brutal up until Game 33. Before that point, they were 15-17.
Don't let this convince you that I'm flip-flopping. I still want the Cubs to fire Jim Hendry's ass, so somebody with some passion can step in and assemble a perennial winner. But even I know that neither the Cubs, nor Lee, nor Ramirez are done. Not yet.
I love baseball probably more than almost anything in the world. I'd almost trade my whole family (wife, 2 kids) for baseball if given a choice. Probably not, but I'd think about it.
When I was young, I was waiting for the first player younger than me to debut on a baseball field. When that happened, I knew I would cease being a boy and would be a man. It was with great honor when a young man who was born in the same month as me but 16 days later debuted for the Seattle Mariners on April 3, 1989. His name was Ken Griffey, Jr. Because of that connection I have with him, I always consider him one of my favorite non Cub players of all time.
Why do I write this now? Well, 5 days after Griffey debuted, another young man pitched his first game for the Texas Rangers. His name was Jamie Moyer and he is now 47 years old. I wait for him and others to become ineffective and retire because when every player in baseball older than me is done playing, I will officially be "old". I know, it's weird but I do chart my life by what happens in baseball. Jamie Moyer is currently one of my favorite players and I hope he pitches forever. With apologies to Bill James, here is my ode to Mr. Moyer.
Jamie Moyer is old. Moyer was traded with Rafael Palmeiro for Mitch Williams before the 1989 season. Moyer is older than Palmeiro, who hasn't played in five years. He's older than Mitch Williams who hasn't played in 13 years and is now an analyst in the MLB network.
Al Leiter and Barry Larkin are also analysts on the MLB network. Moyer is older than both of them. Moyer is older than Al Leiter's older brother Mark.
Moyer is older than AJ Hinch, the manager for the Diamondbacks. By 12 years. AJ Hinch was a catcher and he became the starting catcher for the A's, replacing previous catcher Brent Mayne. Jamie Moyer is older than Brent Mayne. Mayne replaced Mike MacFarlane at catcher for the Royals after the 1990 season. Moyer is older than MacFarlane.
Moyer is also older than Ozzie Guillen who won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1985. He's older than Barry Bonds. He's older than Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. He's older than Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. He's older than Roberto Alomar who got snubbed for the Hall of Fame this year.
Remember that great 1991 Blue Jays world seris championship team that included Alomar? Well, Moyer is older than the starting first baseman, shortstop, catcher and center fielder on that team as well as second basmen (in order John Olerud, Manny Lee, Greg Myers, Devon White and Alomar). He's older than 3/5 of that rotation (Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells, Juan Guzman).
How about award winners? Moyer is older than Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas, both MVP winners born on the same day. He's older than Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez and Mo Vaughn (MVP winners all).
He's older than 1996 NL MVP winner Ken Caminiti but Caminiti is dead and you don't get older than dead.
Jamie Moyer is almost 7 years older than me. I hope he pitches forever.
Cliff Lee went eight innings for the Phils, we only scored once. Lame.
Ryan Dempster went seven innings, got hit with a crooked number in the 4th, gave up a couple bombs. That sucked.
Hey, Jeff Baker is hitting .275 all of a sudden! That's cool!
Geovany Soto has been worthless. You nailed that one, Rob. I'm sorry we ever doubted you.
Justin Berg looked great, huh? Ninth rookie pitcher the Cubs have used this year. That's great.
Mike Fontenot is hitting .229 this year.
K, that's all I wanna say. Bring on the Pirates.
The Cubs got swept at home by the Phillies. Yay?
Much as the toughest part of the minor league manager's job is cutting players who just can't hack it, the hardest part of a Cubs blogger's job is writing about the team when they suck serious ass. In that sense, the last couple of seasons have been a blessing, almost making up for 2005 and 2006. But while nobody - and I mean nobody - expected much from the '06 Cubs, we obviously had some high hopes for this team.
They have responded so far by crapping in our Cheerios. This leaves us with a bit of a conundrum. After all, many of these under-performing players are aging, expensive, and quite possibly untradeable. On top of that, the Cubs still aren't sold -- and we haven't heard about the sale in weeks -- and for so long as the team lingers in limbo we are stuck with Jim Hendry helming and Lou Piniella managing. Except everybody loves Lou, so it's only half a problem.
Well, my friends, it doesn't get much worse-feeling than this. I invite you all, then, to consider this season a bust. Let your feelings of despair out. Overturn a car. Throw baseballs at rare seagulls. And when it's over, make your way back to the team and pick a player, any player. From here on until October, root for that guy, cheer for him whenever he does well, and if he ends the season with a good performance between now and then consider it a small consolation.
But, hey, stop freaking out about the Cubs. If you know the season is done for, you shouldn't be upset anymore when they lose. It's as simple as that.
Cliff Lee (9-9, 2.95 ERA) vs. Ryan Dempster (6-5, 4.04 ERA)
The Cubs are playing desperate baseball, trying to avoid a home-series-sweep. The Phillies were swept themselves by the Marlins just before coming to Chicago.
Cub fans are in the news again, this time for the terrible act of -- gasp! -- dumping a plastic cup of beer on the head of a Philly outfielder. I'm just amazed that nobody has done that to Milton Bradley this season.
Frankly, if I'm spending $6.50 on a single cup of beer, then I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it. It's a ridiculous price for booze but even more ridiculous than that is the faux outrage of the douchebags who covered the act. Beer spilling at ballgames is as old as beer swilling, and while it doesn't happen much anymore -- again, because of how freakin' expensive the beer is -- it's hardly the end of the world.
Back to the game at hand, Ryan Dempster will be facing off against Cliff Lee. Both pitchers are having underwhelming years, although Lee's still got a sub-3.00 ERA. Considering that certain Cubs have struggled greatly against lefty pitchers -- like Fukudome -- and considering that the team in general has been struggling against everybody, I suspect this will not be the easiest game to win.
Cub fans at their team -- Frustration is a part of our language. This year looks to mark the 102nd straight season in which the team left fans feeling ANGRY, or in different terms, this marks the continuation of every year of our life so far.
Lou Piniella -- Between his man-crush on Samardzija and his idiocic handling of his lineups and his bullpen, I would like to merely reiterate the previously-made statement that the Cubs might someday soon be better off with a younger manager who owns a better sense of what's happening in-game. I'm not saying fire Lou, but I will say again that if the Cubs win this year it will be in spite of him. He brings nothing to the table anymore.
Actually, so far this series has reminded me a lot of the last one the Cubs played against the Phillies (which I may have mentioned previously). One game against a pitcher who doesn't belong in the bigs was a blow-out. One game went to extra innings, only to be squandered because of a bullpen malfunction. And one game ... well, we'll see.
Even though the Worldwide Leader was providing video to a national audience, I have to say--this game was difficult to watch. I myself was done around the same time as Samardzija was.
Since I didn't watch the entire play-by-play, let's look at the box score, which should be telling enough.
Samardzija: 3.1 IP, 7 ER
Marshall: 3.1 IP, 5 ER
Not surprising. Having said that, it's almost infuriating how much this team is jerking around these two quality young arms. Fact: Jeff Samardjiza is not ready to pitch in the major leagues! Fact: Sean Marshall is a reliever! Guh.
Here's another good one, related to pitch count:
Pitches-strikes: Marmol 12-9
At least we know the kid's CAPABLE of throwing strikes. Now if only he could chill the eff out and do it when the game is on the line. I wonder if Marmol will get any better when the Cubs have a new manager (read: next year).
On offense, no one really stood out. Theriot got three singles; Fuld got a hit in his pinch hitting appearance; Fukudome had another double. A bunch of "meh," really.
So here we are, another game back. That whole thing I mentioned yesterday about "running out of time?" Yeah, that's still in effect.
Pedro Martinez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 6.29 ERA)
The Cubs need a win. After a couple weeks of beating up lower foes, the Cubs have responded by going 1-4 so far against two playoff teams. In the process, the Cubs have lost 3.5 games in the standings and once again the whole Cub Nation is on edge wondering if the Cubs will ever win again.
Ok, so that's a little bit of an hyperbole, but you get the point.
This has all the markings of a great loss on paper. Pedro Martinez makes his return, and pushes back his Hall of Fame induction by one year. For the Cubs, Smardzija makes his first career start. Hopefully, this means Jeff heads to Iowa to become a full-time starter, and the Cubs stop jerking him around.
I'm not sure what to expect from Smardzija, but I don't have high expectations. Maybe he can give us 5-6 innings of 3-run ball. That would be great. Now, the Cubs offense just needs to find a way to score some runs.
Jeff Baker - It looks like Baker's trip to Colorado really paid off. He's kill the ball to the pace of a .571 average in this last six games.
Milton Bradley - Bradley came up with the big hit to tie it last night, but a HR would have been better. He did have a double as well, so we are seeing a big improvement here.
Geovany Soto - Eh, Lou has to move him down or something. It looks like he is no improvement over Koyie Hill as this point.
Alfonso Soriano - He did have a sac-fly last night, but that was about it. Can we all chip in a few dollars and pay off his contract, because I can't take five more years of him out in left field.
The race is far from over, but time is starting to be an issue. The Cubs really need to stay within 1-2 games heading into September. Also, it looks like nobody is coming to help, so get used to this group.
Last night's game was another one of those playoff-type contests, the kind of game that reveals the true identity of the team you're rooting for.
The offense scratched out a decent number of runs against a solid starter and decent bullpen--and in the postseason, you're sometimes gonna need to find a way to win with just three runs scored. Those runs scored on good situational hitting rather than pure mashing, on a couple of timely singles with runners in scoring position (one of which had been bunted over), along with a sacrifice fly.
Maybe you disagree with me, but in last night's game, I myself can't blame the offense. Happ, Park, Madson and Lidge are all quality (except for maybe the last guy--who we scored on), and we still managed to plate a few runs.
(As for Walker, Eyre, and Durbin, perhaps we should have come through with one run at some point, but then again this game should never have gone into extras. More on that in a minute.)
Then there's the Cubs' pitching, starting with the starting.
If anyone's whining about the two runs Rich Harden allowed, then those people are just plain stoopid. Richie had a no-hitter going for a good while, walked the #8-hitter (kinda dumb but whatever) and then gave up a homer to Jimmy Rollins. Look, the Phillies have a good offense; they're gonna score runs. I'll take 2 ER in 7 innings every time out.
That brings us to the bullpen. And to that end, I've really got just one question.
When your set-up man walks a guy and hits a batter, and the opponent has three consecutive lefties due up, how do you not get your LOOGY warmed up the moment the HBP happens?
Of course, Lou left Carlos in, and we all know what happened.
As for letting Kevin Gregg pitch two innings, if you check his game log on a site like Yahoo! Sports you'll see that he's actually done it before this season. It's hard to blame Lou for trusting Gregg there.
But for pulling Harden on one of his good nights after just 87 pitches? And for leaving Marmol in, against a lefty, after his having demonstrated to everyone everywhere that he didn't have any idea where the ball was going last night? Those decisions are a bit more questionable.
So once again, we see what this team really is: an offense that might score two or three, but certainly not five or six runs against quality pitching; a starting rotation with some great arms; a bullpen with some questionable ones; and a manager that doesn't know how to manage those relievers.
We're running out of time here, guys.
We've got a former National League phenom (if you can give a veteran of the major leagues that title) against the '09 equivalent -- Harden battles to justify his season, Happ battles for Rookie of the Year consideration.
We've got one of the nastiest teams in the N.L. -- the defending World Champions -- against a team struggling to stay in playoff contention, coming off a road series in which "pummeled" less than describes just how badly they were beaten.
We've got an offense full of false starts -- the Cubs collected 44 hits in their 4 game series vs. Colorado, leaving 41 men on base as a team and squandering 76 total scoring opportunities -- against a team coming off a sweep against a division rival.
In short, we've got a very interesting series that I would characterize as being considerably more important than the last one, even if the Phillies aren't direct rivals with the Cubs for the Wild Card.
Hits-wise, a lot of guys. In the past week the Cubs have five players batting .348 or better: Milton Bradley (.529), Ryan Theriot (.348), Kosuke Fukudome (.350), Koyie Hill (.417), and Jeff Baker (.444). And yet, only one player on the team -- Fukudome has more than 3 RBI in the past 6 games.
Mike Fontenot -- batting .154 in his last 13 at bats -- actually has Cub fans expressing their fondest wishes for Jim Hendry to pursue Mark Grudzielanek. It's gotten that bad. Joining him in the cesspool of suck this week is Derrek Lee, who's batting .227 with 8 strikeouts, perhaps a significant reason why the Cubs left so many guys on base this past week.
Contrary to what one reader suggested, the Cubs did not look over-matched against the Phillies last month on the road. Still, against Happ and the mysteries of Pedro Martinez -- especially considering that Pedro's squaring off against the biggest waste of a roster space in the pitching staff this year (Jeff Samardzija) -- this series is no easy win for the Cubs. Wouldn't it be nice for them to start off on the right foot tonight?
We all know the Cubs had a tough time in Colorado this last weekend, but the Phillies aren’t exactly rolling either. They were recently swept by the Marlins and their division lead is now down to 3.5 games.
After the Cubs pitching gave up 6, 5, 11, and 11 runs against the Rockies, it will be interesting to see how they matchup against a Phillies offense that has only scored more than 3 runs twice in August.
Speaking of matchups, the Cubs are sending three guys to the mound who have either been the closer, competed for the closer’s role, or have been speculated as a closer during their time with the Cubs. One of the best qualities of a closer is his ability to get strikeouts and the Cubs will need them against a Phillies team that leads the NL in homers.
August 11th - J.A. Happ vs. Rich Harden
Northwestern alum J.A. Happ returns to pitch in Chicago blah blah blah. Northwestern can suck it. Nothing but a bunch of trust-funding suckling, crewneck wearing nerds (Sorry, can’t help myself. State school baby). In his last start, Happ struck out 10 and threw a shutout…against a Rockies offense that embarrassed the Cubs. Although Happ has an identical record pitching at home and on the road (4-1), his numbers are considerably better away from Citizen’s Bank. Opponents are hitting .190/.241/.327 against Happ in their home parks. On the plus side, Happ threw 127 pitches in his last start, so fatigue could be a factor.
Harden was decent in his last start striking out 9 and giving up only 2 earned runs to the Reds. Lefties (and the Phillies have a lot of quality lefties) hit Harden well, but Rich’s SO/BB ratio is better against left-handers (3.56) than it is against righties (2.31). Harden has a career 0.90 against the Phillies, even though he’s only pitched 20 innings against them.
August 12th – Pedro Martinez vs. Jeff Samardzija
Neither of these guys has started a game in 2009, so who knows what to expect. In many ways, The Shark could be seen as a young Pedro. Samardzijaizjaijza is a hard throwing right-hander with a dynamic personality (although not quite as dynamic as Pedro’s) and tons of fan appeal. I’d like to give you some statistical analysis or something, but there isn’t much to talk about. The Shark has been a suckfest out of the bullpen and Pedro was knocked around a bit in the minors. Both bullpens should be ready to pitch a lot of innings.
August 13th – Cliff Lee vs. Ryan Dempster
A pitcher from the Cleveland Indians comes to the National League in a midseason trade and dominates. Sounds familiar, right? Since leaving the powerhouse division that is the AL Central, Lee is 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA and 5.00 SO/BB ratio. On the plus side, the Cubs have already seen Lee this season (June 19) and the lineup did a decent job on him. Lee pitched 7.0 innings in that game giving up 2 homers, 3 earned runs, 6 hits, and 3 walks.
Although the Rockies scored 5 runs against Dempster in his last start, only 2 of them were earned runs. Depending on what happens in the Pedro/Shark matchup, Dempster might need to eat some innings to give the bullpen a break. It was good to see Dempster go walk-free in his last start, but he has given up at least 8 hits in 5 of his last 6 starts.
Things have sucked lately for the Cubs and they aren’t getting any easier. The World Series champs are in town and the Cardinals open up a series with the Reds at home. There is a distinct possibility that the Cubs could find themselves 5-6 games out of first place after this series, especially when the Phillies are sending two of their hottest pitchers to the mound.
Players, coaches, and columnists all say that every game is the most important one during this time of the year, but I sincerely believe this series is more important than any other the Cubs will face this month. I believe this only because of what recently happened in Colorado and who the Cardinals are currently facing.
But as I always say, “When life gives you lemons, use them to pelt Cardinals fans.”
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I guess all it takes to wake up the Cubs' bats (other than two days of suck) is an ancient lefty soft-tosser. Something about the line-up being predominantly right-handed, need a lefty power bat, can't get it? Whatever.
Anyways, the Cubs won today! Woo hoo!
Lots of Cubs had multiple hits today (Theriot, A-Ram, Bradley, and Soriano). Also, Ryan Theriot stole three bases. I guess that means he'll get picked off twice tomorrow.
Despite the offensive onslaught, only two of our 13 hits went for extra bases (both doubles), and only one of our runs scored with two outs. So, still no soul-crushing big hits, still no clutch performances, but 11 singles and 9 walks should get you somewhere.
Z was actually really hittable today, giving up 10 hits in his start, along with three walks. But it was good enough for today, thanks to all the Cubs that got themselves safely to first over and over.
As far as the series goes, I for one think these three games were pretty indicative of what we can expect from the team here on out.
Some days they'll slap a bunch of singles off a crap starter having a bad day, and some days all those pokes will roll right to infielders and will mostly turn into outs. Against top line starting pitching (guys like Rodrigo Lopez and Joe Blanton), the Cubs will have trouble scoring runs. And the whole time, the pitching will be more or less good enough to give the team a chance to win.
We will continue to hold out hope for this offense. It'd be great if Soto could heal up by, say, tomorrow. The Baker/Fontenot platoon at second base looks pretty alright. If Bradley can get better, and Soriano can stay hot... well, then, who knows what might happen.
Getting Dempster back soon will make the pitching that much better. I hope the Cubs quit jerking Samardzija around and just stash him in Iowa for the rest of the season when Demp does come back (we need him to start, not handle mop-up).
Beyond those things, what else can you really do?
Current Record: 48-45
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 1.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 48-114
Record needed to win 110: 52-5
On Pace For: 83-79