When an offense fails to score runs, fans usually start to demand change, and they tend to do so pretty quickly. And yes, we know it's a 162-game season, but can you blame us? We want to win, and we want to win now.
Personally, I'd say this year's most perplexing issue for the offense has been Lou's insistence on hitting Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the 3- and 4-holes, respectively, despite each of their thoroughly failtastic performances at the plate this season. (Along the same lines, why does Nady keep hitting 4th or 5th? Pardon me, I digress.)
So right, Lee and Ramirez have been terrible. And along with the occasional call for a straight-up benching (yes, I'm guilty of that), the most popular request in response had been to simply move those two down in the order.
Which may have made us feel better, I guess. But the fact has always been this: so long as Derrek and Aramis are struggling, this entire offense will continue to struggle. You can't stash these guys in the 7 and 8 spots, and you can't simply bench them. The Cubs need them if they plan on scoring any respectable number of runs this year.
Speaking of which (let the recap commence!!): last night's game, combined with Tuesday's matchup, marked the first time Aramis Ramirez has hit three home runs in two games since June 20th and 21st of 2008 against the White Sux. (June 20th was a walk off blast, and June 21st was the day the Cubs scored nine in the 4th... remember, when Fontenot was pinch-hit for in the same inning in which he hit a home run earlier? Those were the days.)
Starter Ryan Dempster did not have his best stuff, but he's a tough dude, and he managed to get through five innings anyway. And the 'pen stepped up, posting four scoreless innings, with Andrew Cashner putting up the most impressive line of the lot (five outs, three strikeouts, no walks, one hit).
It feels like it was only yesterday when I was complaining about the Cubs never having five guys drive in runs in the same game (which it was), and here they go and do it again. Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Ryan Dempster each nabbed one ribbie, while Starlin Castro drove in two for himself on a single. And Aramis Ramirez' home run was a three-run bomb.
So yeah, about Ramirez: Take heart, Cub fans, as it seems Aramis hasn't completely lost it yet. (The guy needs to learn when to take a frakkin' breather and let his hand heal, because when his thumb hurts he SUCKSSSSS, but whatever.) At the very least, we don't have to worry so much about that $16 million option for 2011 that AR will still likely exercise.
At best? Maybe there's a chance the Cubs haven't completely lost it either.
Ryan Dempster (6-7, 3.54 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-6, 4.74 ERA)
All aboard the Piano-back train, Aramis Ramirez looks like he has some sort of life. Rammy went yard twice last night and not shockingly, the Cubs won a game. I'm not saying this is a trend, nor a turning point... just an observation that it was nice to see him look like some semblence of his old self. Also, the Cubs are in line to get their first sweep since April (ew... just, ew).
Looking at the man on the rubber for the DBacks, Jackson has been quite inconsistent this season and is not the pitching savior Arizone expected. Much like his counterpart Scherzer that got traded to Detroit, Jackson has had control issues much of the season. That being said, he's also had flashes of brilliance such as the "Dusty Baker Special" no-hitter where he threw his arm off.
I won't bore you with too much outside of this: Let's get this sweep. Time to look like a respectable team for some part of this season.
Hey guys, how 'bout that Ben?!?!? What a kid!! Congratulations, yarbage!
Hopefully Ben will see more of that Crimson Tide onesie than his Cubs outfit, because winning is fun. And speaking of winning (which we... ya know, won), last night's game reminded me of a mindset I had back in 2008.
(I know this seems like an awful tangent but bear with me. OK, here goes.)
Going into the NLDS in 2008 I was cautiously optimistic, which is really to say I was 100% cautious. I realized our team proved itself as the best in the National League over the course of a regular season, but I remembered the cat-poopish taste left in my mouth by our brief 2007 playoff experience. Winning a game in the division series is no small feat, and when a baseball series is best of five, you've really gotta win game one.
So the main thought on my mind was, "Until we win a game I will make a minimal emotional investment in these playoffs." Turns out we didn't win a game, so now I'm convinced: even if we were to win 105 games in the regular season before our next playoff run, I'd still be skeptical until we managed to snag that first W.
This is essentially the way I've been handling Aramis Ramirez' struggles this year. It was sad to see Aramis go so quickly, I thought, but after hitting under .200 for a few months, I decided it would be best to completely abandon hope until he did something -- ANYTHING -- to prove he wasn't a complete waste of space this year (and $16 million or so next year, thank you player option).
Call me crazy, and I know it's just one game. But hitting two home runs is definitely a start. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Aramis is now slugging .520 over his 14 games in June and July.
Last night's game was cool for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Marmol's striking out all FIVE batters he faced. The contest gave Carlos Silva his ninth win of the season, too. But if Aramis Ramirez can somehow turn one good night in the desert into a solid second-half, that'd be the coolest thing by far.
Regarding the title: when's the last time five different Cubs recorded an RBI in a game? I admit, there's a good chance I haven't been playing close enough attention and it happened, like, two days ago, but really when's the last time this team scored five runs, much less had five different guys do it?
On Monday, the Cubs' "five guys" were Kosuke Fukudome (lead-off dinger), Mike Fontenot (pinch-hit single), Alfonso Soriano (pinch-hit two-run bomb), Geovany Soto (3-for-4, two runs and two RBIs) and Starlin Castro (1-for-4 with a two-run triple).
Speaking of which, guess which catcher leads MLB (as in, ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL) in offensive production according to wOBA? Hint: he's a Cub, and it's not Koyie Hill. Having said that, let's keep splitting up the ABs, shall we? Gosh darn it, Lou.
Tom Gorzelanny started for the Cubs, and did not have very good control of the strike zone, allowing six walks over five innings. I blame The Organization for this. Much in the same way that Jeff Samardzija's development could not have been handled worse by the dudes upstairs (starter! reliever! starter! reliever! relief starter! closer! ham sandwich!), it's gotta be tough for a creature of habit to adjust from starting to relieving to starting again, and doing so while facing major league hitters. If it were my organization and I had six starters, I'd send whoever had options down to Iowa to stay stretched out. Heck, maybe he could even work on his fundamentals and pitch mix in relatively meaningless games, and improve even. But that makes way too much sense, obviously.
Lou used five relievers to get the win. James Russell performed well as a LOOGY, going one-for-one against his assigned hitter, while Andrew Cashner was less successful, allowing three base runners to reach while recording just one out. Beyond those two, however: Justin Berg, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out eight of their eleven batters faced, with Marmol striking out the side in the ninth inning. Super.
Well game one is in the books as we, the writers at the vestible that is the Goat Riders of the Apocalypse Chicago Cub weblog have failed to provide an adequate series preview up until now. I guess it's hard for all of us, including me, Mr. Happy Talk (the Anti Rob??... That Jim Haley guy should fuckin' love me! Oops) to keep the passion for this team going in this crappy year. Of course, I am trying to keep it in perspective. As I keep telling myself (because no one else believes me!), the Cubs are a better team than they have shown so far.
Well, they adjourn to the heat of the desert to lock horns with the snakey team called the Phoenix (er Arizona) Diamondbacks. Our favorite team has escaped with a victory in the first matchup so I will discuss the next two:
Game 2: Carlos Silva vs Barry Enright
Silva should have made the all star team but in reality, he's lucky that he's still in the starting rotation after all this time. He should still be able to stay successful for some time. Silva is, in my opinion, testamount to the genius of Larry Rothschild. He has learned a new pitch, started throwing his breaking balls more and let the chips fall where they may.
Amazingly, he is still doing well even in terms of his peripherals. He is categorized as a ground ball pitcher and he has a high ground ball rate but he's hardly Tim Hudson. But his K/BB ratio is sitting at an astounding 4.47/1. You have to work hard not to be successful when you're K'ing close to 4.5 times as many batters as your walking. Silva should be good the rest of the season and I wonder if the Cubs could find a trade partner. I think it's possible that he's lifted his value enough that the Cubs might be able to get a decent prospect and some salary relief for 2011
As for Enright. He's making his second start. He is 24 and was repeating Double A this year with some success so the struggling D'Backs decided to jump him over Triple-A and right on into the majors. Now, he's a rookie, so he'll probably no hit us. I hope not. The Cubs will probably find themselves in a low scoring game here.
Game 3: Ryan Dempster vs Edwin Jackson
One of the reasons why I find it hard to completely give up on this team is that I never think they are that far behind in any pitching matchup. I see no reason why they sholdn't win this game. Dempster has been awesome, yet again this year, and he is also testamount to the genius of Mr. Rothschild in my opinion. You know his story but one thing to look for is when Lou pulls him. He's been leaving him in about 2 or 3 batters too long this year for some reason. The Cubs bullpen has been doing better lately (outside of games where they play the Reds) so I hope that will change for Mr. Piniella.
As for Jackson, yep, the Cubs bashed his head in in Wrigley Field back on May 2 but he's really turned it around since then and has added a no hitter to his resume. I think the Cubs might be able to get to him if we are patient. I'd love to see patient hitters like Soto, Fukudome and Fontenot (as opposed to Theriot) in this game. Let's see how the Cubs play this.
Conclusion: I'm not going to lie. I pretty much think we're done for but I'm hoping for a bunch of wins in a row. As I've said before there is no reason the Cubs can't put a string of wins together. The pitching is just too good for the team to be this bad. Hopefully this is the start a winning streak.
Oh and BTW, Jim Haley, I concur with Kurt. Choke on it!
The most valuable player for the Cubs in Sunday's game was almost certainly Edwin Jackson. That young kid has a good heater, but apparently not much else.
Regardless, Tom Gorzelanny should get some credit for yet again putting himself and his team in position for a win. Nice enough for him, he got the decision this time.
It's Gorzo's first win of the year, which must be why ESPN said something like, "Finally he's doing well," when they went over the highlights on him. Of course, you and I know that this is Tom's third quality start of the year, and he was one out away from a fourth against the Mets on 4/22, AND that his only other start was the one where he took a liner off his shoulder. So, thank you very much, Tom's been doing quite well all season.
But here's a question for you: Will it continue?
I'm sure the media is really enjoying all this Carlos Zambrano drama (and when I say I'm sure, I mean I'm POSITIVE), but neither Gorzelanny nor Carlos Silva will keep his ERA under 3 all year. When the wind starts to blow out more and a few extra home runs leave the park, I think Lou might change his mind about the value of keeping Z in the 'pen.
But even with a few more home runs allowed, Tom might still figure to be rotation-worthy. Fangraphs likes him enough to predict that he'll finish the year with nine wins and a 3.91 ERA in 28 starts. I buy that, mostly because I'm liking Gorzelanny's ability to get strikeouts -- like the 10 he got yesterday, a new career high.
Speaking of yesterday's game, way to go Alfonso Soriano, who had two home runs and a double. The guy is looking pretty good right now, but allow me to quote MSD from the Shout Box:
"I hate to talk negative but soriano will carry the cubs now and then
bringem down later lol"
This feels mostly correct. In fact, even last year, Soriano posted two
months better than his April from this year OPS-wise (he was at .900 in
April '10, .955 in April '09, and .992 in July '09). For him, it's not a
question of getting hot; it's a matter of staying better-than-tepid. Or
But for now: Cubs win! Good stuff.
The Cubs come from behind two days in a row to win. Are you sure this is May 1, not April 1? The Cubs won today thanks to the timely hitting of Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee and contributed to the collapse of another teams 'pen rather than watching their own implode.
Alfonso Soriano tied the game in the seventh with a two-run homer. If anyone thinks that Soriano is still missing confidence in the batters box, please observe this. He looks pretty confident to me. His 2-for-4 performance brought his season average up to .303 and included his fourth homer of the season. Fonzie is never going to live up to his contract price (or maybe he will, given the going rate of Ryan Howard), but we all knew that from the beginning. But after his performance last season, most of us wrote him off as an aging and declining salary dump candidate. I'm not saying he's fully redeemed himself, but I welcome his recent production and patience at the plate with open arms. Keep it up, Fonz.
However, the hero of the day would have to be Derrek Lee. For a week or so Lee has been hitting the ball hard, but right at defenders. It seemed like only a matter of time until he got a clutch hit or two to fall. Today seemed to be that day. Lee stepped tot he plate in the 8th with the bases loaded and pulled a 1-1 pitch through the hole for the go-ahead 2 RBI single. Lee went 2-for-5 on the day, making it two days in a row he's had a multi-hit game. It's progress, Cubs fans.
As for the pitching side of things, Carlos Silva came back down to earth. Silva gave up five runs in five innings, four of them by the home run ball, and struck out six on the day. It wasn't pretty, but when you miss high all day with the wind blowing out, those results are to be expected. The bullpen came in and pitched four scoreless innings with the win going to Sean Marshall. The ninth inning was a bit of an adventure as Marmol loaded the bases before getting the final out of the game. If that's the worst bullpen scare of the weekend, I think I can deal with it.
Don't look now, but the Cubs have two players in the top 5 for NL batting average. Marlon Byrd (.351) and Kosuke Fukudome (.353) are 5th and 3rd, respectively, on the batting leaderboard. If only the two could lend a few BA points to A-Ram...
In the end, the Cubs walk away with a win, a guaranteed split, and a chance to win a four-game series tomorrow. Hopefully they can end the homestand with a win and take a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh.
It's sort of a nice feeling when your starting pitcher can give up five runs and the team still gets a win. I almost forgot what it felt like to watch the Cubs come back from any sort of deficit. Randy Wells went to 3-0 on the season but was in no way flawless today. Then again, with the wind blowing out it was clear it was going to be one of those days. Wells went six innings and gave up five runs on five hits. Most importantly, he didn't walk anyone and struck out eight on the day. Honestly, that's all you can ask of a pitcher on a day like today. Perhaps even more importantly, the bullpen contributed three scoreless innings... a luxury that hasn't been all that frequent this season.
Kosuke Fukudome started the Cubs scoring when he hit a home run to right field, giving him homers in back to back games for the first time in his stateside career. As frustrating of a month as it has been, Kosuke must be sad to see the month of April end as he hit .344 with 5 HR and 16 RBI on the month. I don't know if the power holds up, but if he can continue to make solid contact like he has been doing recently it would really add another dynamic to the club.
The real star of the day has to be one Alfonso Soriano. Some of you may remember him as the most booed player on the Cubs team (making him the only individual in Chicago that may have actually missed Milton Bradley). Today he went 2 for 3 with 4 RBI, three of which game on a game-changing home run in the sixth inning. Soriano ends the month of April with a .292/.358/.900 (SLG being the latter) line. To me the most surprising number on that line is the on-base percentage. At the moment, Fonzie is seeing the ball so well that he has been uncharacteristically patient at the plate. The end result is a fair amount of walks and much better contact when he swings.
Lou shut his critics up when he made Theriot sacrifice himself in the 7th inning (with a one run lead at the time) to set up what would be 3 insurance runs on the inning. Speaking of walks and Soriano, Fonzie drove in his fourth RBI of the day that inning when he took a bases loaded walk from Aaron Heilman (miss him yet?) after Ramirez had also taken a bases loaded walk earlier. To date, I am pretty sure Ramirez leads the league in the statistical category of "percentage of RBI driven in by means of a walk" with 15.3% rate. In the eighth inning Soto and Byrd won somebody $1000 when they hit back-to-back home runs. Happiness all around. HIGH FIVES EVERYBODY!!!!!!!
The Cubs end this April chapter of the season and march into May. To quote the great Marlon Byrd: "We're going to start swinging, it's just going to come around. April's over, so from what I've heard, the Cubs heat up in May. I think it's about that time." Let's hope he's right.
Randy Wells (2-0, 2.49 ERA) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (1-0, 4.88 ERA)
Can we just go back to Tuesday and try again? The cubs were right off winning their fourth straight and every thing was looking up. Fast foward three days and the Cubs are now floundering once again.
Yesterday, the Cubs couldn't get going early and the bullpen once again took a beating after Ted Lilly got a beating of his own.
The Cubs offense was mainly late on a meaningless grandslam that makes Kosuke Fukedome's season look better. The Cubs really need to figure some things out, and why not against Lopez today.
The season is still early, but the Cubs really haven't improved much from the beginning of the season. These things will need to change if the want to compete or if they want to trade some guys to improve the farm club at the deadline.
Kelly Johnson - I remember hearing people say the Cubs should pick him up possibly, and it looks like those people were right. He had four hits yesterday and a HR.
Derrek Lee - Lee's 0-for-4 dropped him to .192 on the season. It looks like it is another slow April for D-Lee.
Randy Wells has looked good this year. Hopefully, he will continue to add to his legend and rack up wins for the Cubs.
Different story, same result. Ted Lilly decided today that the streak of good starts from Cubs starting pitching should end. Combine that with an anemic Cubs offense and the end result is just as bad as you might expect. Even more depressing, the loss guaranteed the Cubs will finish under .500 for the month. And here I thought this was a "cupcake" month.
With the wind blowing hard out to left field today, it was clear even before the game that Lilly's tendency to induce fly balls could be trouble. Throw in a few untimely walks and combine it with some very hittable stuff, and you have a recipe for disaster. Lilly missed the strike zone a lot today, and when he was in it he was usually throwing belt-high stuff. When you leave hittable stuff over the plate even Adam LaRoche, a terrible April hitter over his career, can make an exception to his career trends and join in on the hit parade. The book was closed on Lilly after five innings and after he gave up six runs on seven hits. It is interesting to note that this was the highest total of runs allowed by Cubs starter since Z's opening day start against the Braves.
The only thing that wasn't too shocking in today's game was the absence of a 3 and 4 hitter in the Cubs lineup. The 3 and 4 spots went a combined 1 for 8 on the day with two strikeouts... and sadly that's one of the more productive days this season. Theriot was the only Cubs player to get more than one hit on the day. At least Fukudome continued his torrid start with an 8th inning grand slam off of Ian Kennedy. On the month, Kosuke is batting .328 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI. It would be great if Kosuke could maintain his April numbers throughout the whole season.
To add insult to his prolonged slump, A-Ram added another error to his resume in what turned out to be a seven-run seventh inning. The Cubs just played terrible baseball today on all fronts. Nothing more can be said. Tomorrow is another day, and hopefully the Cubs will take advantage.