Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Nationals

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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!

Back to basics... (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Nationals 4)

...and what I mean by that is:

  • A hoss-like start from Z
  • Some general wildness from the 'pen
  • Three strikeouts plus a loading of the bases from Marmol
  • All of our scoring coming via home runs

Before the game, I thought to offer an over/under of 4.5 walks from Carlos Zambrano for the start, but I guess if the Nationals offense can make Casey Coleman look good, it stands to reason that Z could easily resemble an ace facing them.

And that's pretty much what he did, getting 22 outs on just over 100 pitches. And his batted ball stats looked just like Coleman's from the night before: 10 ground balls, seven flies, and just one line drive.

Tyler Colvin and Alfonso Soriano drove in two and three runs each on their home runs last night, and we'd end up needing every one of those runs after Marmol went nuts in the ninth.

Since you probably already knew all of that, I'll leave you with one more thing to think about: has Tyler Colvin's pitch recognition improved this season? Seems like his ratio of walks to strikeouts has been improving for the past lil' while:

Thanks Fangraphs!

Casey on the Mound (Game Recap: Cubs 9, Nationals 1)

Casey Coleman followed his game plan last night, and fortunately it worked just about as well as you could expect it to.

The 22-year old Coleman is not a K-machine, but he doesn't walk many batters either. Indeed, Casey showed solid control last night, keeping the ball down against Washington hitters, inducing 11 ground balls against eight flyballs and just one line drive. He's no ace, and doesn't exactly project to ever become one, but a career 3.73 ERA in 321.1 minor league innings at age 21 is nothing to sneeze at. I look forward to watching him in his next start.

The offense came through as well, collecting 15 hits against Nationals pitching. Xavier Nady, Blake DeWitt (each with three), Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Starlin Castro (with two) all had multiple hit nights. Aramis Ramirez walked twice, while Geo Soto walked three times (probably because he was hitting eighth).

Speaking of the offense, I thought Mike Quade did a pretty nice job filling out the line-up card. If DeWitt sticks with the team as a starter (and he should), he's a pretty solid leadoff candidate. The only person better suited would be Kosuke, but we all know he's on the trading block. Other than that, I guess some folks thought Soto should bat higher, seeing as how he leads the team in OPS. I guess I agree with that, which means I guess I'm saying the first baseman should bat eighth, be it Xavier Nady or Micah Hoffpauir -- actually, yeah, that pretty much makes sense.

Nice job by Andrew Cashner pounding the strike zone, getting five outs on 11 pitches (nine strikes). And Thomas Diamond got two strikeouts and a ground out in his inning of relief, also on 11 pitches. Coleman does appear to have higher upside as a starter, whereas Diamond doesn't seem to fit there. In fact, against the 11 batters he's faced as a reliever, Diamond has allowed one single, zero walks, and nabbed four strikeouts. Certainly a small sample size, but better than Justin Berg maybe.

Although that's not saying much, I guess.

Series Preview: August 23-25, Cubs at Nationals

After a tearful goodbye to Sweet Lou, and a game that caused even more tears, the Mike Quade Era will hit the ground running.  It appears that the beginning of the era itself speaks volumes about how the Cubs feel about certain others on their coaching staff.  In particular, it appears that the selection of Quade to serve as interim manager was a big "screw off" to Alan Trammell.  I don't know the reasons why he has already been eliminated, but at least he has taken the classy route and chosen to stay as the bench coach through the end of the season.

Outside of that, nothing is new.  Our middle relief is atrocious.  Starlin Castro is close to qualifying for the batting title, and we get to see if Colvin can regain his bearings at first base tonight.  On the Nationals front, uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg was placed on the DL today in what many assume will end his season with a strained flexor-tendon.

Now here are the matchups for the series:

Casey Coleman (0-1, 7.82) vs. Livan Hernandez (8-8, 3.06)

In a shocker to most, Livan is still making a living in the majors.  Even more surprising was the early season success he had for the Nats.  Despite cooling down from his hot start early on, Livan has put up a pretty respectable stat line.  In 21 career starts against the Cubs, Livan is 11-6 with a 3.84 over 140 2/3 innings.  He tends to have success against the Cubs as a whole, and this year should be no exception.

Coleman got his first shot at a rotation spot last week against the Padres.  Despite starting off with a grueling 37 pitch first inning, he settled down and got in somewhat of a groove but only lasted 4.1 innings.  The spot is his to lose right now, so it'd be nice to see a good audition from here on out.

Carlos Zambrano (4-6, 4.97 ERA) vs. John Lannan (5-5, 5.13 ERA)

Lannan used to be the "ace" of the staff for the Nats.  While he's never really featured dominant stuff, he has a knack for getting groundball outs when he needs to, and sometimes that is good enough.  After struggling quite a bit this year, Lannan had a nice outing against the Braves last week where he picked up a win after going 5.1 innings.  He'll be very successful if the Cubs are over-eager and beat the ball into the ground

Z has been such an interesting study since coming back to the rotation.  While he is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA, he has been a free-pass machine.  Going forward, I'd like to see a lot fewer walks.  If he keeps walking batters, its gonna get even uglier than I thought possible.

Ryan Dempster (11-8, 3.56) vs. Marquis De Suck (0-6, 11.39 ERA)

Yay, we have a chance on this one.  True to form, Marquis has been flat out terrible this season.  His "best" outing of the season came this past start when he pitched his first five-inning game.  I'm sure everyone will welcome him home with open arms.

Conclusion
Well, the new era starts tonight.  Maybe Quade will light a fire under their asses like Showalter did in Baltimore... and we can fend off those Pirates for last place.

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Game Recap: Nationals 3, Cubs 2

Recap
If only a starting pitcher could buy runs like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune buys vowels.  I'm pretty sure Ryan Dempster and most of the Cubs starting staff would be in favor of the idea.  The Cubs offense once again fell short against the Nationals, this time for Dempster, in a game the team should have won.  Moreover, it marred the dream that Dempster could go 30-0 on the season and win the Cy Young.  Ok... maybe only Len Kasper's dream based on the booth discussion today.  Even more disappointing, the Cubs once again continued the franchise trend of losing to a young pitcher that I've never heard about.

To cut to the chase, the Cubs dropped the opening series of the homestand because of the lackluster offense.  The team scored a total of 7 runs over those three games.  Despite the resurgence of Soto and Soriano, the SWP-ness of Theriot, and the hustle and clutch hitting of Marlon Byrd, the offense seems to be dead.  The impotence of the offense really can be traced to two culprits: Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.  On the season, Lee and A-Ram have combined to go 29-163, .178 AVG, .331 SLG percentage, with a 42:22 K:BB.  Not exactly acceptable statistics.  To a degree, I have hope for Lee as it appears that in most of his recent at bats he is hitting it hard, but just at people.  On the other hand, Ramirez looks lost at the plate in such a manner that can only be described as Soriano circa 2009.  A-Ram swings at bad pitches, mis-hits mistakes, and looks completely off balance every time he swings.  I know he was dubbed as a savior in the offseason, but if Rudy Jaramillo wants to earn his paycheck, he needs to figure out what is going on with A-Ram... and soon.

The offense was not without opportunities.  In the fifth inning, the bases were loaded with only one out for Marlon Byrd.  Marlon failed to get the ball out of the infield and the inning ended when Fontenot grounded out.  In the seventh, the first two batters reached base only to have A-Ram step into the box and ground into a double play.  Finally, in the eighth, Byrd led off the inning with a double but never advanced any further than second base.  No sac bunt, no grounder to the right side, no deep fly for a tag.  He was stranded where he started the inning.  For this last part, I have no words (that are at least printable).

Despite all these failed opportunities, I was surprised to learn that the Cubs are second in the NL in runs scored with two outs and runners in scoring position.  Moreover, they are fifth in batting average with RISP and two outs.  I'm not sure if those stats should give me hope or cause me to spiral into an even deeper level of disappointment.

Oh, and on a brighter note: Marlon Byrd is a magician.

The Diamondbacks roll into town for a four game series starting Thursday.  They've been pretty hot and cold so far this season, and mainly the latter on the road (3-6).  Hopefully they got out all of their frustration in the 12-11 victory against the Rockies and their bats are lulled into a deep sleep for at least 3 out of the 4 games.

Reader Blog: It's like a broken record. It's like a broken record.

A strong start. Painfully bad situational hitting. A close-but-no-cigar loss.

That recap describes a relatively large number of the Cubs' 12 losses this season, but Wednesday's really hurt. A series loss to the Nationals. A 4-5 record at home despite having hosted the Brewers, Astros and Nationals. The momentum of a recent four-game winning streak gone along with Ryan Dempster's formerly flawless record.

And the Cubs had their chances:

    * Fifth inning: Bases loaded, one out. No runs.
    * Seventh inning: First and second, nobody out. No runs.
    * Eighth inning: Runner at second, nobody out. No runs.

Like Gorzelanny on Tuesday, Dempster took a loss that he probably didn't deserve. Granted, he allowed two home runs and three runs in all, which will lose you a game every now and then. But he went eight innings, the third straight start he's gone at least seven. He's pitched six innings or more in all five starts this season--his 33.2 total innings rank second in the National League (behind, of course, Roy Halladay).

By the way--remember how the Cubs tried to sign Matt Capps in the offseason? I wish they had. He recorded his 10th save on Wednesday, best in the majors. The 26-year-old has a 0.68 ERA.

The Cubs have still won only two series on the year, both against the Brewers. The 10-11 Diamondbacks come into town for an extended four-game series starting Thursday, and three out of four would look mighty nice as it would get the Cubs back to .500.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

Gamecast: April 28th, 2010 - Cubs vs. Nationals

GameCastRyan Dempster (2-0, 2.60 ERA) vs. Luis Atilano (1-0, 1.50 ERA)

Overview
I missed last night's game because I was busy defending my thesis. So, you can blame me for the loss, because I was not there to offer my support. You know what? I will take the loss just to be done with that stupid paper. Now, I can focus on the Cubs again for at least seven weeks, which is about how much time I have until Baby Yarbage enters the world. Then, all bets are off.

As for the Cubs, Dempster takes the mound once again. He's been good so far, so hopefully that continues.

The Nats trot some guy out there that I've never heard of or know anything about. It would be nice to finally light one of these guys to claim a victory.

Who's Hot
Livan Hernandez -
Seriously, what is up with this guy? My bets on a deal with the deal at the crossroads. He will dominate this year, get traded to the Yankess in July and win a World Series MVP, before disappearing off the face of the earth.

Who's Not
John Grabow
- His ERA is now topping 7 runs a game. Nice job, John!

Conclusions

There is no reason the Cubs can't win today. It would put the Cubs back at .500 before a four-game series with the Diamondbacks.

Game Recap: Nationals 3, Cubs 1

Game Recap
So much for a five game winning streak.  Given the run support the Cubs have given Gorzo, after the Nats put up two in the top of the first inning, the book should have been closed on the game. 

In what is becoming a familiar story, another Cubs starter had a quality start.  Gorzo went seven strong innings while allowing only two runs on five hits.  Despite the quality start, Gorzo dropped to 0-3 on the season.  It seems like the Randy Wells Award for No Run Support has been passed on to Tommy.  In four starts this season, Gorzo has only given up 6 earned runs total over 22 IP (a 2.45 ERA) and hasn't allowed more than 2 runs in any of his starts.  Over those four starts, he has gotten a total of 9 runs in support.  Granted, the bullpen has had a bit of say in his losses as well.  Welcome to Chicago, Tommy.

Speaking of the bullpen, Gorz's trade-mate John Grabow entered the game in the 8th and gave the Wrigley faithful a taste of just how much fans will come to regret the gaudy contract he signed this offseason.  Grabow came into the 8th and immediately had a throwing error trying to get Nyjer Morgan out on what would have been a bang bang play.  Morgan then stole second and scored on an Ian Desmond RBI single.  I pray for the day where Grabow has a clean inning.

Despite the lack of offense tonight, Soriano and Soto continued on the path to redemption by getting hits tonight.  Once again, notably lacking from the world of productive hitting were offensive centerpieces Derrek Lee and A-Ram.  Lee seems to be hitting the ball solidly as of late and this was evidenced tonight by the hard line drive he hit to left field that Willingham just barely caught on the run.  Ramirez, on the other hand, just seems lost.  In the 8th, A-Ram stepped up to the plate with men on second and third and two out and didn't come through in the clutch once again.  Perhaps this is a bit of a harsh expectation, but Ramirez has been very successful in those situations in the past.  This year it just seems that he isn't executing in those situations.  All in all, the Cubs went 0-8 with men in scoring position and stranded eight men on base.

I don't know what it is, but Livan always seems to have the Cubs number.  Plus, he has just been in a zone so far this year.  Regardless, I expect the team to rebound tomorrow and get the series win with Dempster toeing the rubber.

Gamecast: April 27, 2010 - Cubs vs. Nationals

GameCastLivan Hernandez (2-1, 0.75) vs. Tom Gorzellany (0-2, 2.40)

Overview
Take a look at those names and those stats.  Holy shit.  When I think Livan Hernandez, I think fat guy, and an ERA over 5.  I'm sorry, but that's what I think of.  In his three starts, he's been dominant, not allowing a run in two of them, and only allowing 2 ER in 8 innings against Colorado last time out, an outing during which he actually took an L.  Sucks.  Offense didn't support him.  Its a small sample size for sure, and Livan's not turning into a husky Cuban Sandy Koufax.  He's bound to fall apart eventually.  His BABIP this year is .155.  That's not holding up.  Let's say we help him regress to the mean tonight.

Another strong candidate for regression to the mean is the Cubs' starter tonight, Tom Gorzellany.  The 0-2 record isn't pretty, but he's been the benefactor of some shoddy run support.  Last time out he allowed 4 runs (though only 2 were earned) in 5 innings of work.  Gorzo strikes me as a 5 and fly sort of guy, which makes you wonder why the Cubs are sticking with him in the rotation instead of a guy who, I don't know, is a lot better than him?  Sigh.  Anyways, look out.  I feel a lot of runs being scored tonight.

Who's Hot
Pudge Rodriguez is hitting .411 for the Nats.  He was a late scratch for back tightness last night.  Not sure if he's in the lineup tonight.  Ryan Zimmerman has been off to a hot start for the Nats as well, he's now missed 5 straight with hamstring issues.  My fantasy team sure wishes he'd get healthy.  He might play tomorrow, but last I heard, he's out for tonight as well.  On the Cubs side of the ledger, Ryan Theriot and Marlon Byrd are hitting the ball well..but I bet you already knew that!

Who's Not
For the Cubs, D-Lee's really struggling.  His average has fallen all the way to .214.  He needs a big night to get him going.  Aramis is not hot...that's not new news.  And for once, I can say the Cubs bullpen doesn't belong here.  In the past 4 games, the pen has given up 1 run (Z on Saturday) in 9 1/3 innings.  Keep it up fellas!

A win tonight would be 5 in a row and put us over .500 for the first time this decade.  Keep the faith!
-MW

Game Recap: Cubs 4, Nationals 3

recap
Seems like four was a magic number tonight.  Cubs win their fourth straight by scoring their fourth run of the game on a four pitch walk.  Should ESPN ever decide to go with an ESPN4, the highlight of A-Ram taking the walk should clearly be the centerpiece of the commercial.

The game itself wasn't pretty by any means, but it was finally a relief to have one of "those" games tilt in the Cubs' favor.  The Cubs opened the scoring in the second by stringing together doubles by Byrd and A-Ram.  Later that inning, Silva the (quality start) Hutt got an RBI on a bases loaded walk.  For the record, Silva has 2 RBI in 10 plate appearances while Milton Bradley has 10 RBI in 52 plate apperances.  Just saying, if you project it out, the production is about the same...

The second inning rally ended with a "here we go again" moment when Theriot flew out to right and watched Willy Taveres gun Soto at home.  Even the most optimistic Cub fan tends to get a little nervous when a momentum-changing moment such as that play occurs, and I am no exception.  The Cubs tacked on another run in the third on a Byrd infield single, driving in Baker who had tripled two batters earlier.  The Cubs didn't score after that until the bottom of the tenth, when Ramirez drew the bases loaded walk.

The real story was once again the starting pitching staff.  Carlos Silva turned in another quality start with a final line of 7 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.  Silva sent down the first nine batters he faced in the game.  He hit a bit of a rocky patch in the fourth inning when he allowed two runs on three hits.  Even more interesting than the fact that Silva turned in a quality start is the fact that today's start was the first start that Silva allowed more than one earned run.  Moreover, over his first four starts he has a 1.73 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.  Because Silva has only walked three batters in over 26 innings, it's not like he's pitching on a mound surrounded by four leaf clovers while hiding a horsehoe in his jock.  However, because he is currently holding batters to a .173 BABIP, his numbers are due to regress as the season goes on.  Despite all of that, color me impressed so far with Silva's start to the season.  I didn't think he'd cut our rotation out of Spring Training, much less be one of our most productive starters.

The bullpen was near flawless tonight as well.  Marshall, Marmol and Zambrano combined for 3 scoreless innings.  The latter, Zambrano, made his Wrigley Field debut out of the 'pen and only gave up a hit over 1 2/3 innings.  While I was only able to watch on Gamecast when Z was in the game, it seemed like he was relying a little bit too much on his fastball.  To be honest, it felt like his Opening Day pitch sequence but with better results.  I know that he is still re-learning the process of coming out of the bullpen, and that part of that process is understanding what pitches are "on" on any given night.  However, out of the 27 pitches Z threw over the 1 2/3 innings he was in, 22 of them were fastballs.  Again, he was effective, but I'd like to see him mix it up a bit more in the future.

Regardless of those criticisms, winning does solve a lot of things.  The bats are awake, the pitching staff has been solid, and the Cubs have won four straight and made the jump into second place in the division standings.  I'd love to see the momentum continue for the ballclub and watch the Cubs run the streak to five tomorrow.

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