Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Ryan Dempster

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Pitching will tell the tale for the Cubs in 2011

The only "impact" hitter the Cubs possess, past, present, or future, is Alfonso Soriano, and his category is, of course, "past".  So, even if he has his current "typical" .800 OPS year, and even if every other member of the offense has an above-average statistical year, the Cubs will still finish in the middle of the pack offensively in the NL.   Considering the salaries being paid, that's not OK, but otherwise, that would be acceptable if we had solid pitching and defense to back that up.

AJ pointed out the other day that, except for third base, the defense isn't going to lose us any games.  The past year or so, an effort was made to replace Soriano in left during late innings.  It might be time to, instead, consider doing that for Ramirez.  It was different when ARam was our most consistent late-inning run producer.  It was also different in his younger days when he was characterized as 'lazy'.  At this point in his life, he may honestly just be this slow.  It is the manager's job to address this situation, and hopefully Quade has these types of late-inning defensive thoughts.

Which leaves the pitching, and well, damn.  I consider myself to know more about hitting than pitching, but I don't think we are very well equipped going forward. 

I think we have Dempster, a #2 starter.  If we are to go with his last 10 starts last year, Zambrano is a nice #3 starter (the slot he held during the "glory" years mid-decade), but there's a catch, and it isn't just that he makes Ace Money.  Personally, I love to watch the man play, but if we are talking about winning, we need consistency and excellence that can be relied on.  You cannot rely on this Toro.  If your lawnmower crapped out as often as Z does, you'd push him to the curb. 

I thought Hendry was going to do just that last month.  The right whispers were there.  Nothing has happened on that front.  Maybe, though, now that Cliff Lee is now with Philly, the Yankees will need to do something big, because that is what they do.  Maybe we'll hear some new rumors soon. (UPDATED)

What else do we have?  One more year of Silva the Hutt, who reverted to his true blobular self in the 2nd half.  There's mediocre lefty Gorzellany, who is being shopped.  There's noted nightlife lover Randy Wells, who early this year I compared to Greg Maddux because he doesn't have a 'big arm', but seems to know how to pitch when all is right.  Wells can be part of a staff if he prioritizes.  To me, he is worth more in a trade than on our staff.

There has been word lately of efforts to get Matt Garza from the Rays.  This would be more exciting if there was, like, any chance in hell it could happen.  The question came up - why would the Rays make this deal?  If it could make their team better!  If somehow the Rays and Jim Hendry could hammer out a good old-fashioned "value" trade, where we sent them something of roughly equal value to what we would receive.

The problem is, to my knowledge, the last time Hendry was involved in a true "value" trade was the big Nomar deal in 2004.  All of Hendry's trades since have either been: desperation dumps of Sammy Sosa and Milton Bradley; favors to players like Ted Lilly and Greg Maddux; or the occasional fire-sale swap with the Pirates.  I doubt Hendry has the ability or the stones to make a straight value-for-value trade, where he gives up, say, Wells and/or Gorzellany, along with top prospects, or something that involves one of our young players with experience, like Colvin or Castro.  At least, I don't trust him to do it right.

I fail to see what is so special about Casey Coleman.  I have never seen why the Shark was worth the money he has been paid, although I grasp the concept it had to do with the eventuality that he might have opted to play football instead, it doesn't justify why it was given to HIM.  It is a hope of mine, though, that the new pitching coach has a rapport with him that Rothschild never had.

In the best of situations, we need two of the afore-mentioned starters to step up.  However, we are going to need three, because we don't have a staff Ace.  Therefore everyone steps up a rung.  And, if sometime between now and spring training, Zambrano opens up his ugly mouth and says something unforgivable, which COULD happen at any given moment that he is awake, then Hendry will be forced into another of his patented 'addition by subtraction' dumps, and all we'll have is Dempster and dumpster.

Bullpen?  Thank God for Sean Marshall.  This is about the time of year, typically, when the "Marshall is a good soldier, he deserves a chance to start" refrain is sung.  This year, though, nobody dares.  He has to stay in the pen.  Otherwise, we rely on surgi-zombies Grabow, Caridad, and Guzman, along with Andrew Cashner and Rafael Dolis, two guys with huge arms and absolutely no idea about how to pitch. 

Then of course we have our closer, the Harry Potter of the majors.  Carlos Marmol set records last year for both percentage of pitches swung at and missed as well as strikeouts per nine innings.  Honestly, I thought the 1977-79 Bruce Sutter was the most unhittable force of all time - Marmol crushed his stats, simply crushed them.  Thing is, though, both Sutter and Marmol pitched for fifth place teams.  I have always maintained that the secret of his success is how hard he concentrates on his task.  Can he keep up that level of concentration to close games that matter?  Nobody knows, do we?

So that brings us to the point where we go get some pitching help.  I will come back soon with some possible candidates, but one of them is not Kerry Lee Wood.  Now, I love me some Wood.  Great guy, historical guy, diabolical stuff, cute, perky wife.  Great in the community, loves the Cubs and Chicago.  But he also represents something we need to get away from: unrequited Cub Hope. 

The Ricketts need to pull a 180 in terms of historic direction.  I am afraid Wood represents the way things used to be done here: work hard, not smart.  When at first you don't succeed, throw harder; tear yourself apart, go on the DL.  Suffer the crush of over 100 years of Cubs karma; resign yourself to your fate.  I feel that happened to Wood, as it happened to Grace, Sandberg, Banks, Williams, and on and on. 

If the Cubs are ever going to win it all, it will need to be with new blood.  Could it be Castro?  Soto?  Marmol?  The Korean kids in Peoria?  I dunno, but it won't be with Kerry Wood, God bless him and his 20 Ks and his Game 7 loss and his tattered shoulder and the burden of 102 years on top of him.  We need to find some help elsewhere.

Week 25 awards: Things we learned

  • Mike Quade did not make a deal with the devil. For the first time in his five weeks as manager, the Cubs were under .500 for the week. At least when the Cardinals finally managed to take a series from the Cubs, they were too far out for it to matter.

  • Randy Wells has something to build on for next year: he's 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts. Walks have been a major issue for him this season, but he's had just one in his last two games.

  • The Zambrano Situation will be a very interesting one this offseason. He still hasn't lost since rejoining the rotation, making it either very tempting for Hendry to keep him around, or increasingly tempting for another GM to try to trade for him.

  • "Carlos Marmol, you are ridiculous!" With three strikeouts against the Cardinals on Saturday, he set a Cubs record for strikeouts by a reliever, breaking Bruce Sutter's 1977 record of 129. But that's not the interesting part: Sutter threw 107 innings that year; Marmol's thrown just 73. In a related story, Marmol is going to get PAID this offseason.

  • Bob Brenly will not be the next Cubs manager. I don't think he would have been a terrible option, but on the bright side, I do hope to at least get another year of he and Len in the booth (he said he would be open to other team's managerial positions).

Ryno of the Week: This might be our first back-to-back winner of the year: Randy Wells. He shut out the Giants over 7.2 innings for his eighth win of the year and has looked like last year's Randy Wells for the past month or so.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, Casey Coleman

Goat of the Week: "Anything you can do, I can do worse." Gorzelanny allowed seven runs in just 3.1 innings? Pffft, I can do way worse than that, says Ryan Dempster. Nine earned runs in just 1.2, raising his ERA 0.37 this late in the season. He's 14-11 and will likely have one more shot to get his 15th win.

Dishonorable mentions: Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady, Koyie Hill

Week 22 awards: Sure these teams are bad, but better to beat them than lose to them!

Well this is sort of fun, no? I mean sure, the emphasis is on "sort of" since there's a pretty low ceiling on the enjoyment one can glean from a fifth-place team with an interim manager and some guy named Scott Maine in the bullpen. But fun nonetheless.

A second straight 4-2 week resulted in some rather pleasant press conferences for Mike Quade who suddenly has the Cubs looking like they care. The team is scoring runs, two different pitchers (Diamond and Russell) earned their first major league victories, and Carlos Marmol climbed into sixth place on the NL saves leaderboard.

By the way, for those who said the Cubs shouldn't bring in Sandberg mid-season because it's a toxic environment, because it would be unfair to him, etc., etc., do you still think that now? Do you think Quade is sick and tired of managing this unmanageable group of players? For those who want Sandberg at the helm next season, it would be pretty cool if he were 8-4 as manager right now, wouldn't it? He'd have a few press conferences under his belt, he'd be gaining a sense of the team's strengths and weaknesses, and he would have had a month or two to hone his major league management style. Do you think Buck Showalter wishes the Orioles would have waited until the offseason to hire him, given that the Orioles are 19-13 under him after beating the Rays yesterday? But I digress.

On a separate note, the Cardinals are tanking and that brings me joy.

Ryno of the Week: This is probably the toughest one I've had all year. In the one corner we have Starlin Castro who went 11-for-25 with eight runs scored and two RBI, and sits in third in the NL batting race. He also became the first Cubs rookie in 66 years with six straight multi-hit games. In the other corner we have Carlos Zambrano, our resident riddle wrapped in an enigma. He went 2-0 this week with a 1.46 ERA, six walks and 15 strikeouts. He made history of his own, passing Kerry Wood for third on the Cubs' all-time strikeout list. He's 4-0 since returning from the restricted list and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six starts. Since Big Z was still plagued by control issues and only pitched 12.1 innings over his two starts, whereas Castro did just about everything right (except for moving forward to accept a throw on a steal attempt, allowing Carlos Beltran to get in safely behind him), I'm going to go with the rook. Man, can this kid hit.

Judd Sirott made an interesting point during Saturday's post-game show, suggesting that Zambrano's numbers as a starter this season are not too shabby. Unless, that is, you look at them as if Big Z were an ace (and of course he's being paid like one, which is the problem). It reminded me of a post I wrote last year in which I explained that Big Z simply isn't an ace and never has been. What Judd said is true: Zambano isn't a bad pitcher, but he's definitely not an ace.

Honorable mentions: Koyie Hill, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week: From the Department of Baseball Makes No Sense, Ryan Dempster got absolutely pasted twice this week after going 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his previous five starts. He failed to go five innings in either start this week. He still has a small chance of reaching the 15-win mark for the third time in his career.

Dishonorable mention: Blake DeWitt

To read more from this blogger, visit Wait 'til this Year.

Gamecast (September 5, 2010) Mets @ Cubs

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!

Dempster sounds like dumpster (Game Recap: Cubs 7, Pirates 14)

I promise I tried to find a database of all game scores recorded by starting pitchers against the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but I came up empty. The reason I was looking for it should be obvious: there's a pretty good chance Ryan Dempster's performance yesterday was the worst of all starters facing the Pirates in 2010.

Demp went three innings, gave up seven hits and three walks, which translated to seven earned runs. In other words, most of the batters Dempster faced yesterday reached base (ten on base, nine outs). That's understandable for a reliever, but really bad news for a starter.

Ryan is actually having a pretty solid year regardless, with 182 innings pitched and a 3.71 ERA. He's posting the highest walk rate he ever has as a starter for the Cubs, but the K's are up slightly as well. When all's said and done, it looks like he'll be worth something near three wins above replacement, which is worth what, between $12 million and $15 million?

Koyie Hill went 3-for-4 yesterday, and hit his first home run of the year. But he still sucks. Maybe someday his OPS will approach .600. Not today, however.

Starlin Castro is still contending for the batting title, but Joey Votto is gonna be tough to overtake.

Okaythat'sallI'vegot!

Tangent Alert (Game Recap: Cubs 4, Nationals 0)

That's a shutout and a sweep for the Cubs. Why can't we play the Nationals every game? (And why couldn't we do this to the Pirates??????????????????)

We had a scoreless tie in the top of the eighth before TyCo took a walk (see? better pitch recognition!), stole 2nd (see? he's fast!), and was driven home by The Great Starlin Castro.

Guys, hold on for a second, we have to pause here. Starlin Castro deserves our appreciation. Of course, this is the Cubs we're talking about, so it's probably better to assume that the kid will peak as a solid starter. But really, when you watch this kid play, isn't it safe to assume that the sky is indeed the limit on his talent? Yes, the errors are discouraging; yes, he's obviously still figuring out how to steal bases at the major league level (I think he's 6-for-12); and yes, the power isn't all there yet. But the kid has RANGE, and an ARM. And he hits EVERYTHING. And he's 20 years old!!!!!!

Watch out, boys and girls. Castro could really, truly, honestly, seriously end up as a perennial All-Star at shortstop.

And speaking of young kids, it seems Tyler Colvin has developed nicely this year, no? Plenty of pop, improving eye, super speed, decent glove. Very toolsy. But then, as faustus mentioned in a recent comment, why isn't he getting more playing time? Why does Kosuke keep leading off?

You know why Kosuke's playing more recently? Because he's the better player.

Colvin's defense is good, but Kosuke's is better. Tyler can hit for power, but Kosuke is probably the best option we have at leadoff; even though he hits in the .250-.270 range he gets on base at a .369 clip.

Of course, the Fukster can't hit lefties. And he's on the wrong side of 30 -- just like our other two starting outfielders. It'd be perfect if there were a way to only play him sometimes, while at the same time possibly giving a break to the other outfielders... maybe we could call this new position a "4th outfielder..."

Joking aside, Tyler Colvin really ought to be a 4th OF. He's a fine hitter, and a reliable outfielder in any of the three spots. But you don't need to bench a .370 on-base guy for a little more pop from the left side every single day. And maybe it's a symptom of small sample size, but it looks like Colvin hits lefties better than righties anyway. Why not try dividing playing time more evenly among the four, rather than going 100% with one or the other like we seemed to do for the first four months of the season?

Off day tonight. Take this extra time to actually comment on something here!

Top Ten Lessons Learned in 2010

Goat Riders of the Apocalypse is not going so strong, lately.  But, GOOD LORD?  Can you blame us?

Even the most optimistic, blue sky Cub fans could not possibly enjoy what they are seeing on a daily basis?  Losers of 13 of the last 16?  As it happens, Hendry and Piniella are pretty much doing what I asked them to do earlier this week - treat the rest of this year as if it is Spring Training 2011.  It began when Derrek Lee and Lou himself removed themselves from the proceedings - neither of them are going to Mesa next spring.  We have brought up the freshest produce from the farm.

But, once again, it goes sour, because pretty much everyone we brought up has sucked so far.  It would have been nice to see Micah the Hoff hit a few quick welcome-back dongs, or a Marcos Mateo pitch lights-out.  It is early in our extended Spring Training, but it doesn't appear that any of our recent call-ups are going to help us anytime soon.  So, as was the case going into this season, it appears that most of the heavy lifting in 2011 will be done by the men currently on the roster, a roster, once again, that is last in the majors in one-run losses.

So what have we learned thus far in 2010?

10) Alfonso Soriano may not be the most overpriced sixth hitter in major league history - but then again, he might just be. 

As a longtime student of the intangible and the psychological, I understand why Hendry signed #12 back in 2007.  The interim owner gave him permission to spend whatever it took, and Alf was the premier free agent that winter.  Jim was convinced that the Cubs would win a World Series that year or next, and figured if we had, that people wouldn't care that the club would then owe Soriano $18 million a year for all perpetuity.  It was a crap shoot, and the first two years, Jim shot eights, but then last year, the dice came up seven, and now we're stuck with a number six hitter with degenerative legs, a miserable glove, and absolutely no knowledge of situational baseball.  For the next three years.

9) Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are the yin and yang of miserable free agent pitching judgement

A few years back, officials at two separate organizations took a look at two big, strong, tough Venezuelan guys named Carlos and decided that yes, these guys were Quality, they would eat innings, win games, and lead men.  It would be the wisest thing to sign them to long term contracts worth nearly 8 figures, because everyone knows the work ethic of South Americans is second to none.

Ahem.  So it was inevitable that a few years later, los dos Carloses would both be Cubs, serving as twin anchors, keeping us firmly tethered to the bottom, representing the main sunk costs to the most miserable team contract picture in MLB history.

The difference is: Silva the Hutt is a follower, and Z is a leader.  There is no way to reign in #38 with the Cubs, none.  He appears to respect nobody but himself, which is the very reason why it is going to be so painful when he inevitably moves on to the Yankees a couple of years from now and starts winning games again (hey, Kerry Wood?  How YOU doin'?)  #52, on the other hand, is a follower, and I honestly feel that in the right situation, with the right guidance from the right pitching coach and staff, that Silva could be poked, prodded, and coaxed in a useful direction.  However...

Cool 2010 is the death knell of the Larry Rothschild Era

Several of my knowledgeable friends, like the boys over at HJE have called for the head of Rothschild for years now.  I personally was torn.  For every Wood and Prior who caved in, a Dempster or Marmol seemed to rise up.  Maybe, I have always thought, Rothschild wasn't part of the problem.

But lately?  Outside of Dempster, Marmol, Marshall, the first three months of Silva and the occasional Gorzellany outing, Cubs pitching 2010 has been beyond dreadful.  Walks, mistakes, walks, mistakes.  A conveyor belt of arms have made their way back and forth between here and Des Moines. 

Here's my problem with Rothschild - these guys pitch well in Iowa, come here, get blasted, go back to Iowa, pitch well, come back, get blasted.  And it isn't just a function of the quality of the hitters.  It is the command that they seem to lose here.  Is it the pressure?  Shouldn't be any pressure, throwing for a fifth-place team.  And if it is, whose job is it to help these guys acclimate?  As I see it, he is taking good arms and turning them bad once they get here.

When the new manager arrives, he should be allowed to pick his own pitching coach.

7) Marmol is a major league closer

Speaking of Marmol, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities in 2010.  Yes, the team has the worst one-run record in baseball, but curiously enough, it isn't really the closer's fault.  Most of the games have gone the way yesterday's game went - we fall far behind, and either come back to within a run and fall short, or tie it up only to let one of our "middle" guys, usually Cashner, go blow it. 

The few saves Marmol has blown, his defense helped blow.  Which, speaking of:

6) Our defense utterly sucks

Our catcher is "offensive-minded", a euphemism for a guy who isn't Yadier Molina.  Our third baseman is getting old, frail, and losing what little utility he ever had.  Our shortstop is better than the man he replaced, yes, but is young and may or may not be a major league shortstop.  Our second basemen define 'suck', We got DeWitt because we thought he is better than Theriot, of course, the Dodgers think just the opposite.  Uh oh.  Our fancy hood ornament, DLee has had his worst fielding year.  Soriano has had an Epic Fail year in left.  Our slick fielding right fielder can't hit enough to play, and the guy who can hit in RF should be playing left field. 

5) Marlon Byrd is a nice player

Byrd does everything pretty well.  He is not and will never be an impact major league ballplayer, and his CF play is very average at best.  He is the beneficiary of the "Robbie Gould Syndrome", in which he is surrounded by badness, so his relative competence shines brighter in comparison.  He is a fourth outfielder on a championship team, and although he actually tries to provide the leadership this team so woefully lacks, he really doesn't have the oomph in his game to back it up.

Starlin Castro gets one of his 4 hits4) Starlin Castro is a major league hitter

The storybooks are full of great men who started off as middle
infielders who committed a ton of errors in the field, and were
converted to other positions so their teams would not lose their bat. 
Mickey Mantle comes immediately to mind, and Alf Soriano is a recent,
close-to-home example.  With Hak-Ju Lee in the low minors, there are
discussions that Lee will eventually be the SS, and Castro will play
2nd.  Or maybe 3rd, since the 24 year old DeWitt is on board, except
that DeWitt has 'utility guy' written all over him, and don't 3rd
basemen usually hit with more power?

It is easy to forget that Castro was born in 1990, and that he will gain
most of his strength in the next seven years.  He will never have
A-Roid power, but maybe Jeter power.  The most pleasant development of
2010 has been that, for once, we can believe the hype.  Starlin Castro
seems to be for real.

3) Here comes Adam Dunn

A couple of years ago, when it was late in the free-agent season
(this was the year we signed Milton Bradley early, remember) and Adam
Dunn still did not have a team.  The only substantial offer for a man
who had averaged 40 homers a year the previous five years was from the
godforesaken Nats, and human nature being what it is, there rose an
effort to find out what, if anything, was wrong with Dunn.

Rumors arose that Dunn did not like playing baseball much, that much of
the conversations that would arise when opposing players would stand on
first base next to the Big Donkey revolved around offseason hunting. 
Growing up, Dunn was a football player first, and teams perhaps
questioned his character when formulating contract offers for a
one-dimensional guy.

So, he has played nearly every day in Washington, has continued to hit
his 40 homers a year, and has weathered two trade deadlines.  You know
what?  The man would rather play football and shoot pheasants.  But he still hits and we are going to sign a first baseman this winter.

And just
our luck, watch us sign the guy and watch him age faster than the Nazi
mope in "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  In my gut, I see us going after
Adrian Gonzalez his off season, and ending up with Adam Dunn.  Because
Dunn has always been one of "Hendry's Guys", like the Marquis Du Suck
and Kosuke Fukudome, and we always seem to end up with Hendry's guys.

2) Since nobody seems to know what is going on, Hendry is staying, I guess

The inmates run the asylum at Wrigley Field.  As bad as the Cubs have performed, and for as much pressure that the General Manager of a team such as ours ought to be under, compounded by the fact that he has a known history of heart trouble, Jim Hendry looks pretty damn healthy.

Is he taking his statins and his red krill oil?  Maybe, but hey, why shouldn't he look healthy?  He has the greatest job in the world.  Where else in American business can you mess up, again and again, and nobody calls you on it?  Wall Street?  Well, yeah, but those guys always have the specter of the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission, not the high-falutin college football conference) breathing down their necks.  Lots of those guys jump off bridges, lock themselves in their garages with their Bentleys running, but not Jim Hendry.  His boss is a failed corporate attorney who doesn't know spit from shinola, who in turn works for a owner who is more concerned with piss troughs and gaudy neon signs than a winning ballclub.

There is only one man on earth who gets to play fantasy baseball for real, and lose all the time, and not get called on the carpet for it.  Until there is some accountability established in the Cubs' organization, what you see this year is what you will continue to get in the future.

1) 2011 is going to look a lot like 2010.

Soriano will play for the Cubs next year.  Ramirez will play for the Cubs next year.  Fukudome will sit on the bench and take the Cubs' money next year.  Byrd and Colvin and Castro and DeWitt and Soto will play for the Cubs next year.  Jim Hendry has no ability and no gumption to make a blockbuster trade involving young major league talent for impact major leaguers in return.  Could you see him somehow packaging Castro and Colvin in a trade for, say, Albert Pujols?  Maybe not Pujols, because a Cubs-Cardinals trade will NEVER happen, but something of that magnitude?  How about for Miggy Cabrera or Joe Mauer?  Young stars for a superstar?  Never happen.

As for the pitching, good lord.  While the positional outlook seems stale yet static, the pitching outlook is totally fluid, and utterly without direction.  We have a #2 starter, maybe a #4, a closer and a utility guy, a LOOGY who isn't really a LOOGY with a torn knee ligament, and about 20 other guys who have walked a lot of batters and given up a lot of late-game home runs.  You can't fix that.  The only thing you can do is throw a ton of money at it, and HOPE the guys you sign don't get injured or fat-and-sassy. 

And Ricketts is NOT going to spend a lot of money in the offseasons.  So forget about the Ol' Free Agent Injection.

Fans of the Chicago National League Ballclub have survived the past 102 years on one glorious element: hope.  Yep, the same hope that got our president elected, the same hope that is being frittered away by this same president each day.  Hope is perishable.

I ate whole platterfuls of Cubs hope as a kid, and into my early adulthood.  I confess to have spent good money on the all-you-can-eat hope buffet as recently as fall of 2008.  Nowadays, there is very little fresh hope in the steamer, most of it is discolored and spoiled, like the bananas Soriano and the Fukudome skirt steak.

Our third base prospect, Josh Vitters, is rehabbing.  The next great Korean hope is still years away.  Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the next big thing, but I can't figure out what that thing is supposed to be, unless he is supposed to be a Matt Karchner impersonator.  That's something he does quite well.

But hey, Castro went 4-for-5 yesterday.  Rookie of the Year, gotta be?  Right?

Double doozie (Game Recaps: Cubs 7, Rockies 23)

If nothing else, the Cubs have continued to provide their fans with some variety over the past two days: after getting walloped on Friday night, they managed to keep it close late in the game on Saturday, only to lose yet again.

I'd like to tell you about the bright spots for the Cubs, but there really weren't any. Derrek Lee hit a three-run homer yesterday, so that's good, but it's his only hit so far in seven at-bats.

The only Cubs to have registered hits in both games were Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin. Colvin tripled on Friday night, and singled last night. He also walked once. Four bases in seven at-bats plus three trips to first in eight plate appearances is representative of a .946 OPS, which is to say that he's been behaving nicely lately. Both of the Byrd's hits were singles, so that's good for a .500 OPS. I suppose those are your three star Cub hitters for the last two games. Joy!

The best pitching appearance of the last two games goes to James Russell. Three strikeouts in two innings, one hit, no walks, no runs... yeah, fine. For the season, Russell has shown pretty excellent control, with 25 strikeouts against just four walks in 31 innings pitched this year. No wonder the Diamondbacks were interested. Going forward he'll have to learn how to limit the long ball (nine allowed this year), which may involve walking a few more batters. But he seems to have the command needed to pitch well into the future.

All in all, a pair of games to forget. From a karmic standpoint, you might say the Cubs and Rockies are even, given their role in one of the most memorable games of 2008.

Now, I'm going to write something about the Cubs' handling of the trade deadline.

Gamecast (July 25, 2010) Cardinals @ Cubs

The Cubs go for the sweep against the Cardinals. I hope the Cubs beat the Cardinals every time they play them this year but I have a personal animase towards the Reds based mostly on the personalities of the current team. Johnny Gomes, more than anyone else, just rubs me the wrong way. I don't want to see Dusty Baker win again either. For that reason, alone, I hope the Cardinals beat the Reds... but if the Reds do beat the Cardinals, I hope it's partly because the Cubs beat down the Cardinals every time they played them! Let's see the Cubs sweep today's series and turn a good home stand into a great one!

Today's Matchup: Chris Carpenter (141.2IP, 3.05ERA, 3.72xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (133.2IP, 3.70ERA, 3.85xFIP)

One of the reasons why the Cardinals have not fallen from grace is the relative health of Chris Carpenter over the last two years. Carpenter seems to have gotten a little more wild this year than he has been in the past. That being said, he is still very good and with Wainwright and Jaime Garcia doing their part, the Cardinals have a nice 1-3. Still, Ryan Dempster has been almost as good as Carpenter this year. His great gift is the ability to strike people out, but he is more wild than Carpenter even.

Given the relative closeness of the two starting pitchers, this will turn into a question of who has the better offense, bullpen and luck. Here's hoping the Cubs win those factors.

Who's Hot: Starlin Castro is now sporting a snazzy .343 wOBA as a 20 year old shortstop. Not half bad. To put into context, Aramis Ramirez has a career wOBA of .357. Castro, as a 20 year old, is performing not that far below an average Aram season. His season is mildly BABIP influenced, as Castro has a BABIP of .348 but as a guy with decent speed who hits a ton of line drives and ground balls, he likely to maintain a BABIP well over .320 for his career, making his .348 BABIP this year only slightly above his eventual average. I'd have been happy with him if he were hitting .270 with an SLG of .360 or so but this .308/.358/.449 stuff is exciting beyond belief.


Who's Not: Well, speaking of Aramis, ever since his 3 HR game, he has gone 3 for 12 with 2 walks and no Xtra base hits. I know that would count as a good stretch throughout most of the season, but after Tuesday's performance, I figured we'd see him keep it up. He has a five game hitting streak so I guess I shouldn't be complaining but hey, come on Aramis! You spoiled us the last couple of weeks!

Conclusion: Dempster pitched in that same game where Aram hit his 3 jacks and he wasn't great. I hope he can limit the Cardinals and especially Albert Pujols tonight. Including the last game against the Phillies, Pujols has gone 0 for 10 with 2 walks in his last 3 games. Let's keep him off the scoreboard again tonight, enjoy the sweep and move on to Houston.

Why Lou's retirement announcement is such a non-story

The current state of the Cubs:

All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.

At the beginning of the year, he wasn't.  He wasn't hitting anything.  Neither was Derrek Lee.  And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year.  Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them.  Over and over again.

Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto.  The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.

He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009.  The Cubs finished below .500 both years.  Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years.  As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense.  There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins.  This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.

But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did.  Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs.  When he hits, we win.  As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.

Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning

This was the biggest non-announcement ever.  Of course Lou is retiring.  Some say he retired 2 years ago.  He did it so people will quit asking him.  Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will.  I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.

Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.

There seems to be no accountability in this organization.  Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy.  Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure.  Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.

But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney.  What exactly DOES he do?  How is the Triangle building doing?  How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation?  What great marketing angles have we exploited lately?  When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network?  When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it?  And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?

A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?

I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place.  Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not.  A new manager needs to be found.  Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there?  Is Joe Girardi the guy?  How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel?  I heard Joe Torre mentioned?  Who do you choose?  They all have their own qualities.

There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager.  Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.

The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.

Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro.  Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year.  These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.

I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy.  I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done.  I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above.  That's the biggest question going forward for us.

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