Ah, Carlos Zambrano. What a shiz-with-a-"z" season you've had. For the second consecutive year, you've thrown under 200 innings -- this year you'll probably top out at around 170. You also, for the second straight year, went winless in August. Not to mention the fact that you have walked more guys this year already than you did in all of last season, despite having tossed 32 fewer innings so far.
In other words, folks, this is not a shining season for Zambrano. And rather than ponder whether or not he will demand a trade, perhaps we should instead be worrying about his inevitable arm injury and whether or not he'll ever have even a single season that justifies his massive contract. My thoughts are that he will, because Carlos Zambrano is just that tough.
But, you know, I could be wrong about that. Still, I do know one thing: the Giants are a tough team, and they are turning to one of their best pitchers tonight. If Carlos wants to avoid any chance of finishing the year with an embarrassing 8-8 record -- a possibility -- then he'll need to hunker down and out-duel an ace tonight.
Jeff Baker is looking like a hell of a pick up by Jim Hendry. It was his bat -- and his bat alone -- that lifted the Cubs to victory last night in a game dominated by pitching.
Ryan Dempster went 7 innings and allowed only 2 runs, but Brad Penny was even more effective. The only runs the Cubs scored in the first 8 came from a double play ball -- hit by Baker -- after which the Giants scored 2 runs (1 immediately in the 4th, the other in the 7th).
Then, in the 9th inning, Derrek Lee drew a walk, stole his first base of the year, and was then knocked home by a Baker ball that could not be contained by the ballpark. Carlos Marmol then proceeded to strike out the first batter he faced, before giving up a single to Randy Wynn and then walking Travis Ishikawa. Then, like the Marmol of old, he buckled down and struck out two batters to end the inning.
Since joining the Cubs, Baker is batting .329 with 4 homers and 19 RBI. Odds are he's a backup at best next year, but he has definitely been a pleasant surprise in 2009. Anyway, the Cubs play the Giants again late tonight.
Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.72 ERA) vs. Brad Penny (10-9, 5.35 ERA)
Dempster and Penny have both had disappointing seasons, but if you want a sense of perspective you should compare their lines. Neither will be bragging about 2009 to their family, but at least Clownsevelt has a respectful ERA.
Of course, all of this remains over-shadowed by the saga of Milton Bradley. Something that we are prone to forget about is how it's not just the Cubs that are seriously dysfunctional. It's pretty much any organization that takes winning seriously. Don't believe me? Just take a gander at the Mets, who are about two incidents away from building an octagon and fighting it out in there.
I'm sure there will always be people who disagree -- those arguing that they have no financial reason to feel this way -- but the Cubs want to win. They really, really do. They want to win badly. Their players want to win, their fans want to win, everybody wants to win. And when winning doesn't happen, like this year, everybody goes a little crazy. It's really not unusual, and it's not prone to happen only to the Cubs.
So, yes, it sucks that they've lost, and it doubly sucks that Milton Bradley has turned out to be the nutter we all denied he was, but I don't feel ashamed about it. I'm not embarrassed by the organization for trying to win. I suppose that that is a step up from previous seasons when I felt humiliated.
The season is winding down and the Cubs are on the road against one of the toughest teams in the west. But even the Giants look as if they are not playoff bound. Still, San Fran will be playing their asses off in this series, and if they have any pride the Cubs will be playing the role of spoiler. As Dusty would say, "you gotta respect the game enough to try to win, dude."
That Dusty was always one righteous dude.
Thursday, September 24th - Ryan Dempster vs. Bad Brad Penny
Clownsevelt has won managed to win his 10 games. So has Penny, who's been a lot worse. Considering who the Giants are turning to later in the series, if the Cubs want to even have a chance for a split this is a must-win game.
Friday, September 25th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Tim Lincecum
The Big Moosey looks like he's going to fall short of 10 wins this year. As Rob would point out, it's not what you'd expect from an ace. As I like to point out, from 1993 until 1996, Roger Clemens was a shell of himself, struggling to stay healthy, to pitch effectively, and to be the Ace everybody thought he was. In other words, Carlos is a shell of himself this year, but that doesn't mean he won't be the best pitcher on the team next year. He has my support and confidence, so long as the journos fail to chase him out of town.
Saturday, September 26th - Tom Gorzelanny vs. Barry Zito
One's a lefty who lost his zip (but has put up half-decent numbers). The other's a lefty with unmet potential. What happens in this game is a total toss-up, but if Gorzo wants to have a shot at starting with the Cubs in '09 then he must know he's under the microscope on Saturday.
Sunday, September 27th - Ted Lilly vs. Matt Cain
I love Ted Lilly with the fervor of a cupid-shot ass monkey (whatever that means), but not even I think he's favored to beat Cain. Still, stranger things have happened, like that time I came up with the cupid-shot ass monkey metaphor. What was I thinking?
Who the hell knows? The Cubs are toast, but have been playing better knowing that Milton Douchely is gone. Or maybe that's a coincidence. Either way, they're playing spoiler and will try to bust some San Francisco ass.
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You can tell that Lou Piniella likes Tim Lincecum on account of how he apparently tried to give him a good chance of tossing a no-hitter today. Here was the lineup the Cubs trotted out there against the Giants:
CF Joey "GONNA LOSE HIS GIG" Gathright
SS Aaron Miles
1B D.Lee (went 1 for 4, which is a mild improvement on going "0 for suck")
LF Micah Hoffpauir
3B Mike Fontenot
2B BOBBY SCALES (went 1 for 4, collecting his first ever big league hit)
C Koyie Hill
In other words, five of the eight Cubs weren't typical starters and today's game resembled more of a split-squad Spring Training game than anything else. Naturally, the Cubs lost.
The positives were that a) this isn't a lineup that was indicative of how the Cubs will perform this year on account of how the majority of those players aren't meant to be big league starters and b) Bobby Scales played and performed decently, although I was somewhat befuddled to see Fontenot start at third and Scales at second.
The negatives were that Jeff Samardzija continues to leave us baffled as to why he was called up to pitch out of the pen as he has yet to display in 2009 the ability to get out major league hitters. This time the consequence was that Sean Marshall's ERA took an unecessary hit, after the lefty had given 7 innings of decent baseball.
Oh, and on the day in which I note that Neal Cotts hasn't faced the minimum but once, he did it again. Go figure.
Current Record: 14-12
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 3 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 150-12
Worst Possible Record: 14-148
Record needed to win 110: 96-40
On Pace For: 87-75
Tim Lincecum (2-1, 3.16ERA) vs. Sean Marshall (0-1, 3.32ERA)
Two consecutive wins is nothing. Three is a trend. Four is a streak. And five? Five is usually the start of something special, which is exactly what the Cubs are playing for today. Lawd knows they have their problems. Shall I outline them for you?
- No, I shall not. You already know all about them.
But despite those issues, the Cubs have the potential to continue to play well. I particularly am looking forward to watching the team play with an actual backup third baseman on the roster - BOBBY SCALES! - and my fingers are crossed that the 31-year-old rookie will play well enough to warrant a tough decision by Hendrinella at a later date.
For me, the interesting subject of now and the future is the gameplay of the Questionable Quartet. Fittingly, all four have begun to show the signs of shaking out the cobwebs - Lee, Fontenot, Bradley, and Soto all had big games in the last series against the Marlins. Maybe it's not a coincidence then that, at last, the Cubs are playing like a winner.
Koyie Hill - 9 for his last 24, Hill's batting .375 in the past 7 days
Ryan Theriot - Geezus, what has Theriot been drinking? Before this season Theriot had never hit more than 3 homeruns in a season, be it his 134 at bat season in 2006, or his 537 at bat season in 2007, or his 580 at bat season last year. In fact, before the start of this season TheQuietRiot had 7 career homeruns. He's well on his way to doubling that total having hit 3 longballs in the past week alone. Cherish this moment Cubs fans, because for now Theriot is on pace to hit 19.
Mike Fontenot - It would be somewhat petty of me to remind you that Mike Fontenot will never be as good as Mark DeRosa. So far this year, DeRo is batting .241 with 5 homers, 19 RBI, and a .738 OPS. Meanwhile Fontenot is now batting .266 with 5 homers, 14 RBI, and an .852 OPS. I'll take the younger one that bats lefty, although now that Lil' Babe is producing, people are now expressing the ridiculous wish that DeRo was the team's first baseman rather than DeePee.
Angel Guzman - I appear to have been wrong. In his last 7 appearances, Guzman has had an ERA of 3.12. Not exactly stellar, but for a long reliever it's pretty damn good.
The Chicago Bullpen - While Guzman has found balance to his season, Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman, Dave Patton, Jeff Samardzija, and Neal Cotts have come undone. The Cubs pen looks horrible right now, but as somebody who recently took a stand to say that the lineup couldn't be as bad as they appeared, I will do so again now and say that the bullpen can - and will - turn things around.
Kosuke Fukudome - He's still doing better than the Questionable Quartet, but Fuku's last week has been, er, weak. In his last 24 at bats Fukudome is batting .250, although he's hit a homer and has 5 RBI in that span. I suspect it's nothing to panic about.
Four is galore but five would be ... a hive? Eh, I dunno. I'm pretty impressed with the Giants pitching but a Cubs team that stays patient, works the counts, draws walks, and gets epic homeruns from pantywaste shortstops is pretty hard to beat. Today's game should be a good one.
Zambrano to miss time
Those of you who bet on "Carlos Zambrano" to be the first Cub to go to the DL, collect your money. But hold off if you thought it would be due to arm issues - nope, our Big Moose hurt himself while trying to beat out a bunt single, that effin' lunatic.
Consequently the Cubs are promoting BOBBY SCALES! to replace him on the active roster which is good on a number of levels - most of them pertaining to Bobby playing the left side of the infield and being the modern day Crash Davis. The only problem is that the Cubs don't have an immediate replacement for Z. in the rotation and a quick look at the schedule shows that they sort of need one by Friday.
ESPN has the Cubs scheduled to turn to Randy Wells on Friday, the only problem being that he's not, y'know, technically on the ML roster yet. So either Scales's trip to Chicago will be a very short one or somebody else - Dave Patton, Joey Gathright - is playing with an expiration date.
(Actually this may be a clever way to get around 25-man roster limitations. My understanding of the rules is that you can promote/demote players as often as deemed necessary and it only counts once toward a notch against their service time. The Cubs could travel with Scales and Wells, promoting Wells every 5th day while demoting Scales, only to re-promote Scales immediately after Wells finishes his start. I'm sure there's something in the rules which prevents ambitious GM's/managers from doing that, though.)
I really think Ryan Dempster has been hard-luck this year, just in a different-than-usual sort of way. Typically "hard-luck" reflects losing low-scoring games, but what's happened to Dempster is that his WHIP hasn't been horrible, but it seems that any time he gives up a walk or allows a hit it bites him in his ass. But last night he had his best outing of the year against a Giants offense best known for sucking.
Dempster threw 7 innings, allowing 5 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs while striking out 7. Cubs ace relievers Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg combined for 2 innings of relief, allowing 1 hit, 1 walk, and striking out 4 between them.
Offensively it was a "passable" day for the Questionable Quartet - 3 of whom played. Bradley, Lee, and Soto combined to go 2 for 7 with 4 walks, 3 of which came from D.Lee. But more impressively, Juice Theriot went yard -- again.
I know that we're not supposed to look gift horses in the mouth, but Ryan Theriot? 3 homeruns in under a week? What the hell?!! Seriously! What the hell!
Nevertheless, the Cubs are now 14-11 and have won 4 straight. Consistency, ladies and gentleman. Consistency!
They play for the mini-sweep tonight.
Incidentally, the Zambran-0-Meter is updated and ready to go on my computer back home. I would have uploaded it last night or this morning, but I have a strict policy of cruelty when it comes to responding to loyal readers who act as if they are entitled. It's nothing personal.
I don't understand what's going on. The bright, shiny lights and three game win streaks, they hurt my head! Where am I? Is that a strained hamstring? Where are my pants?
Yes, it may seem like a dream, but fear not. The last three games were real as pudding. Yes, you really did see Theriot hit homers in back to back games. Yes, and perhaps more importantly, you did see Lee crush two balls on back to back days. And yes, in between those two homers, you did boo Lee. I'm not sure about that one, but I think you're just an idiot.
It's a brave new world! Unicorns and rainbows and win streaks! Sandwiches!
None of it matters, of course, as the St. Louis Cardinals have the division all sewn up. Or do they? I present to you three scenarios that could propel the Cubs from second-dwellers into first place.
- Isiah Thomas looks to be wearing out his welcome in Florida already (well, it has already been two weeks) and might be looking for a new job. Give him a month as skipper of The Greatest Team on Earth and I give you a fourth place team.
- Lure Pujols into the Democratic party. His team will alienate him, he'll pull into his shell like a frightened turtle, and those numbers will fall faster than a brick in a barnyard (doesn't make sense? Let's see you write metaphors at 6 am. Or was that a simile?)
- Swine Flu (too soon?)
And with that, what will the Cubs have to do for their part? Let's move onto the matchups to find out.
Jonathan Sanchez vs. Ryan Dempster - I'd say not to let Sanchez's low 2 era fool you as he posted a 5+ era last year, but that'd be risking a jinx. No, I prefer to let you know that Sanchez is off to a hot start (that hit rate is totally sustainable) and the Cubs will be lucky to get to him as the Cubs always struggle against young pitchers. Blah blah blah. Rinse. Repeat.
Dempster, on the other hand, has been just as bad as his numbers (5.40 ERA) suggest. His control has been spotty and he's getting knocked around pretty good. Other than that, though, he's been great. Don't worry, folks, we've got three and three quarters years to find out which Dempster is the real Ryan Dempster.
Tim Lincecum vs. Sean Marshall - How about we just don't have to face Lincecum this series? I don't see any real need for it.
Lincecum got off to a slow start this season, but in his last two starts he's been stellar. Lincecum is sporting a brilliant strikeout rate (43 in 30 innings) and has been keeping the walks down pretty well. In fact, there's nothing wrong with his stat line. He doesn't even give up homers. For once, I'm glad I'll be at work and miss this game.
But hey, we've got our new ace on the mound: Sean Marshall. Marshall has been decidedly awesome recently, culminating in his 7 inning, one run gem in his last start. Marshall will be facing an impressively bad lineup and should be able to take advantage with his mix of curves and changeups away, so I see a pitcher's duel in the offing.
This series has split written all over it. Not literally, of course. That would just be silly. But still. Split.
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The Cubs are riding a three-game winning streak coming into tonight’s game against
the Giants. After a week of bad baseball, it was nice to see the Cubs do something good for a change.
The major story-line of the night is how will Aramis Ramirez look after taking forever off to
rest his calf (I know it hasn’t been forever, but really he needs to start playing again)?
The Cubs got pretty good pitching during the Marlin series, sans Rich Harden’s walk
fest, but they now turn back to last year’s most consistent pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Dempster hasn’t been the same since his seven-walk playoff game. But did we really
expect anything different? The Cubs signed him to a huge four-year deal, and he promptly turned into the pitcher I thought he would be
Mike Fontenot – In the last seven days, “Little Babe Ruth” has lived up
to the name. He has four home runs, 8 RBI, and a 1.179 OPS. This has
raised his overall average to .263. It looks like his little slump is over for now.
Derrek Lee – Ok, to be honest Lee isn’t really too hot, but he has hit two home
runs in the last two days. You have to start somewhere. We can only hope those 1-for-4’s with a HR turn into 3-for-4’s pretty soon.
Cubs Pitchers – Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano and Sean Marshall looked really solid in
their starts against the Marlins. Now we need Carlos Marmol to get his act together.
Milton Bradley – See the last 50 billion posts on Mr. Crazy. In the last seven, he is
4-for-20. He can only go up for here? At least I hope so.
Alfonso Soriano – After Soriano’s quick start, we knew this was coming. Now, he
does have two home runs in the last seven days, but he is only hitting .206 (6-for-29). With Soriano you have to take the good and bad, and right now he is on one of those bad streaks.
The Cubs are still 3.5 back heading into this series, and the Cubs really need to take Game
1 against Sanchez. It is really important since Tim Lincecum is up tomorrow afternoon. Getting Ramirez back will be a boost, and hopefully the Cubs will continue their run producing ways.
Of course the Giant offense isn’t great, so a few runs will go a long way.
There should be a Series Preview a little later, but I neede to go ahead and get this posted, because I need to grade about 50 research papers (Hopefully I can get to at least five).