Carlos Zambrano looked terrible today.
Someone mentioned on Twitter while Z was pitching, "He never looks good in his first inning, even when he starts." This is an absolutely true statement. Z's value is in his durability, his toughness, his ability to throw 120 pitches and grit it out when you need a starter to give you at least six innings.
Did I mention this bullpen experiment is a terrible idea?
Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen owned Cubs pitchers today. They both had five hits. Pretty crazy, huh? That makes me think: what is this team going to do against the league's premier offenses when we get around to facing them? It's gonna be ugly. I'm scared. I'm shaking right now.
I've asked it before and I'll asked it again: Why is Xavier Nady hitting cleanup? I. Do. Not. Understand. You know what I'd be doing if I were Lou? I'd have Jeff Baker in right field against lefties.
That's what I've got for now. Go Cubs!
Raise your hand if you thought Silva would start the season 4-0 for the Cubs. Outside of those of you who are habitual liars, I don't think any of us saw this coming. So far, Silva has had a (mostly) strong start to the tune of a 3.40 ERA and a nice 26:9 K:BB ratio. As a "pitch-to-contact" pitcher, he's going to have rough days, but luckily today was one of the good ones to snap a four-game skid.
Silva turned in a quality start by going 6.1 innings and allowing only two earned runs on seven hits. Even better, the Cubs offense showed us that good things can happen when your team can score 4 or more runs in a game. The four-run benchmark seems to be an arbitrary guideline, but more often than not a team that scores four or more runs puts a W up.
I am going to have to give Marlon Byrd the offensive star award for his go-ahead double in the 5th that drove in Fukudome and eventually led to the Castro run after a wild pitch by Volstad one batter later. Castro, Byrd and Lee all had two hits in the game and Soriano went 1-for-3 with (another!) walk. I don't know how much Lou plans on trotting out the same configuration, but I really liked seeing Fukudome leading off against a righty with Castro as the 2 hitter. Hypothetically, with the 3 and 4 hitters actually hitting, Castro should be seeing some good pitches to hit in that spot if he stays there.
The bullpen was just good enough today as Marmol came in during the eighth for a four-out save. He was shaky in the ninth, giving up a run, but kept his composure and got out with the save after striking out Hanley Ramirez with runners on first and second.
It feels like it's been far too long since the Cubs have put one in the "W" column. Today felt nice. Even with the drama of Aramis "I dont need a hitting coach" Ramirez, this offense is just too good to be held impotent. I expect a good series this weekend when Pittsburgh comes to town.
Another loss, and the take home message is bad, so let's start with the good news.
- A 2-for-4 night at the plate for Starlin Castro, who also managed to make his fifth error. This kid must be feeling super jittery out there in the field. And crap like Aramis pulled in whatever inning that was, where he had a shot at the ball but pulled up to let Starlin have it -- that won't help. But I'm sure this'll get better, too.
- I was impressed with the location of Esmailin Caridad's fastball. His slider looked really good, but the Dan Uggla at-bat was all about locating the heater on the outside corners. I think this kid will come back from his poor start to the season just fine, and should be a factor in the Cub 'pen for years.
- Two hits and a walk for Kosuke Fukudome out of the leadoff spot. I've always liked the idea of batting Kosuke leadoff against righties, especially considering he and Theriot's career split numbers.
- And isn't Theriot a perfect 2-hitter? Last night in the eighth, Riot flipped one over towards the right field line, got it past the first baseman who was holding Kosuke on, and had himself a base hit. Lou is at least 22.2% of the way there in terms of how he should be setting his lineup batting Fuk and Riot 1-2 against righties (or 33.3%, I suppose, since I'm in favor of batting the pitcher ninth).
- Derrek Lee hit two doubles. His season batting average is still down at .220 though.
- Also, you know what else? I'm gonna put Randy Wells in the "good news" section. Eight innings, four hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts -- you can't really ask for more than that. The two home runs hurt, but that's still just three runs allowed in eight innings pitched. That's a chance to win.
OK, I'm pretty sure that's it for the good news. Most of the bad can be summed up by the fact that, aside from the guys mentioned above (Castro, Fuk, Riot, Lee), no Cubs were able to register a hit last night.
And then there's Aramis. Let the beating of the dead horse commence.
Before I get into his fateful at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, let me show you something:
Those are the pitches Aramis saw in his at-bat against LeRoux. You'll likely notice a few things: first, that the first pitch was a dead-center heater; second, that the two breaking balls LeRoux threw were both way out of the zone, so Aramis should have been looking for one pitch; third, that aside from the fifth pitch, every other fastball Aramis got was well up and out of the zone.
It's that first pitch that inspired the title of this recap. With two men in scoring position, late in a close game, the Aramis of yesteryear would have thanked God for the opportunity to swing at an offering like that first pitch there. These days, it's just strike one.
So that's cool.
Game recapped, wahoo. Let's get ready for a fun afternoon of Cubs baseball. And thanks so much to everyone for voting in our Lou Piniella Approval Ratings Poll.
Cubs lose again. Lame!
Lilly was decent (three earned runs allowed in seven innings), the offense was not (two runs scored, both knocked in by The Team Carrier (see below)), and Starlin Castro had a really rough night in the field (three errors -- egads).
Let me ask you something(s):
- Do you understand that ALFONSO SORIANO has been CARRYING this team? 3-for-4, two RBIs, a runner gunned down at home -- he's only hitting .340 with seven home runs now.
- Why did Xavier Nady hit fourth tonight? Seriously, why?
- Why did Derrek Lee hit third tonight? I guess he's hit before, but the guy is not having a good year. And yes, it's likely he'll turn it around, but maybe we could hit him lower until then?
- Do you feel like booing Starlin Castro? I know I don't. Yes, it was a rough night for the kid, but let's give the kid a chance to settle down.
- Did any of Lou's actions tonight change your opinion about his ability to manage? Do you feel Lilly was managed appropriately (yes, hindsight is 20/20!)? Did you like his line-up? Does he take any blame for the double steal that was completed against his team?
Answers to any and/or all questions posed are welcomed in the comments section.
I couldn't have scripted that any better.
Most recaps and articles on the game last night involve some cool play on Starlin's name, like "A Star-lin in the Making" or "Castro Brings the Revolution" or "Hey, that Starlin Kid is Pretty Good." However, I am not that creative at the moment and figured you loyal readers had already been inundated with aforemnetioned pun-filled headlines.
It's also the trendy thing to mention that most "can't miss" prospects, in fact, miss. It seems the name du jour is Ben Grieve, who drove in 5 RBI in his first game, went on to a Rookie of the Year award, and then promptly faded into a career of obscurity, eventually hitting his final HR with the Cubs (118 in total, for those counting). I could mention Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, and countless others that were supposed to be the saviors of our organization. But that would just be far too cynical, even for a Cubs fan, after last night's performance.
The big takeaway point from last night is this: Starlin Castro has the ability to be an impact player. Before his first at bat, everyone wanted to know whether he could adjust to the majors and if he'd be intimidated in the box. What we learned last night is he wasn't too over-eager at the plate and could punish the mistakes of an opposing pitcher. In the second inning, Castro saw one of the nastiest curves Homer Bailey could throw get called for a strike on the inside corner. He then deposited the next pitch, a hanging curve, to the right field stands for a 3-run homer. Three innings later, Castro hit a gapper to left field with the bases loaded for a triple to drive in three more runs. At least in the small sample size we have so far, it's nice to see the "uses all fields" portion of the scouting report hold true. Castro ended the night 2-for-5, HR, 6 RBI.
Lost in the hype of the Castro debut, Marlon Byrd added a home run of his own in the third inning, his sixth on the season. Byrd just keeps on hitting and is off to a ridiculous start. If he stays on the current pace, he's projected to have a career high 33 home runs by the end of the season.
Fontenot added added a pinch-hit grand slam in the 8th to cap the Cubs scoring.
The pitching for the Cubs was less than impressive. Silva only lasted five innings and gave up four runs on ten hits. In a game where your team is up by 9 after five innings, most pitchers say it is hard to keep focus and stay as sharp as you are in a tight game. I am hoping this was the case for Silva. However, based on his track record, there are going to be nights where hits just happen to drop against Silva. What matters is whether he is able to scatter those hits or whether they come all at once.
John Grabow continued his terrible excuse for pitching in the 9th inning and allowed the Reds to score 3 runs. It is nice to see Lou trying to get Grabow some experience in non-pressure situations. What isn't nice to see is Grabow hanging pitches constantly. I'm no pitching coach, so I don't know what he is doing wrong, but I do know that it needs to stop.
My complaints aside, the Cubs offense woke up once again, our top prospect gave Cubs fans a taste of his potential with a historic performance, and most importantly the Cubs can add another one to the "W" column.
Today's recap is brought to you by Lou Piniella and Randy Wells, courtesy of quotes lifted from Carrie Muskat's latest article.
"It wasn't a good series and today wasn't a very good game -- three errors," Piniella said. "We didn't pitch good today, we didn't hit good and we certainly didn't play good defense."
"It's hard to win when you don't score many runs," said Piniella.
Piniella said he'll have a little talk with the players prior to Friday's game in Cincinnati.
"I'll say something tomorrow," Piniella said. "What am I going to say? You should be able to look in the mirror pretty easy after something like this." "I would think, out of the 28 games we've played, our starting pitchers have given us a chance to win in 20 of them, maybe a couple more," Piniella said. "That's a pretty nice percentage. I can't remember too many games that have gotten away from us early."
"It's terrible," Wells said. "Unacceptable. Everything I've ever preached about why I'm successful, what I do to be successful, I totally got away from.
"I came in too cocky, too confident," he said. "Warming up in the bullpen, I don't think I missed a pitch. I'm laughing, joking around with [catcher Geovany Soto] before the game. I went out there and was all out of whack and let it get out of hand.
"When we needed a win the most to stop the bleeding, I got lackadaisical, wasn't on top of my game.
He didn't even take a breath in his monologue.
"That's pretty much all that happened," Wells said. "I can't throw strikes with the fastball, can't get ahead of hitters. You're flipping [bad] sliders in there, and not throwing strikes with your best pitch, which is your changeup, and that's the kind of stuff that happens. It's time to get back to work and have a reality check and realize what my job is here and what my main focus is, and that's to win ballgames.
"All that other [nonsense], [being] 3-0 and pitching for the Chicago Cubs doesn't mean [anything]," he said. "I'm here to win ballgames. As far as I'm concerned, after tonight, I'm no better than anybody. It's time to get back to work and have a good side."
Kudos to Carrie for some excellent quote-getting. Her full recap is available at the Cubs' website.
We feel your pain, Cub fans, because it is also our pain.
I know that, justifiably, Rob has emotionally quit on this team. I can't say that I blame him. I also can't say I've yet to be emotionally invested at all.
But. Are the Cubs "done?" Can Jim Hendry start breaking the team apart, selling them for scrap, and building for next year? Or for that matter -- can they just fire his ass already?
The answer is probably "no." It pains me to write this, but I believe the Cubs are good enough to play .500 ball for most of the year. They might even rattle off some serious winning streaks every once in a while. Some days, they're going to blow out teams by 10 runs. Other days, they're going to get shut out worse than a geek on prom night.
But remember what I said at the beginning of this series ... the Cubs were closer in record to the Pirates than they were to the Cardinals. Now, the Pirates are closer to the Cardinals than the Cubs are. St. Louis is bound to run away with it (damn you Poo-holes!) but the rest of the Central may be a season-long cluster-bomb.
So, as the Battle for Second Place begins, we must ask: can the Cubs win?
You know who's not a very good pitcher? Charlie Morton.
Maybe, going into last night's game, Charlie was saying to himself:
"Listen. You are garbage, self. But so is your team. So you know you're gonna be out there for at least five innings. Let's give these guys a bunch of crap to hit, not walk anybody, and hope they suck enough where they don't rally or anything. I'll give them all the singles they want, but no extra-base hits, and no walks."
And it worked!
The Cubs collected neither walk nor extra-base hit in this piece of crap game.
Awards for suckitude go to Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome for failing to get on base ever, and to everyone on the team for sucking generally.
In all honesty, the Cubs aren't this bad. But they're also really not that much better, either.
Let's have your predictions for number of games this team will win this season in the comments section, please.
Cubs lose. Offense sucks.
Demp gets another tough loss.
Against... the Pirates.
The two runs came on solo shots, one each from Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. The three runs Dempster gave up also came in via homer -- a loner to Andy LaRoche and a two-run dinger to Ryan Church.
The Cubs struck out five times in tonight's game, and every time they did I got pretty pissed off. Of course, hitters will strike out, but tonight's Ks were almost all in big spots in the game. Pretty frustrating.
I'll rank them in order of impact, as defined (quite subjectively) by myself:
5) With two out and nobody on, Ryan Theriot strikes out in the top of the eighth.
It was late in the game, and the 2010 Theriot is supposed to be more like the 2008 one, who rarely struck out, instead of the 2009 guy who too often swung for the fences. But even if Theriot avoided the out here, it would have been tough to bring him home with two outs already in the inning.
4) With two on and two out in the top of the seventh, Xavier Nady swings and misses at an Evan Meek heater.
We had a great chance to score here, and Meek could not figure out how to throw his breaking ball for a strike. But Nady couldn't do anything with that knowledge, and the inning ended without the Cubs having scored any runs.
3) One at-bat prior to Nady's K (runners on 1st and 2nd), Alfonso Soriano struck out on a 3-2 Meek fastball -- after being ahead 3-0 at one point.
The Pirates couldn't afford to allow a runner to get to third base with only one out in the inning, so Soriano had to know he had three strikes coming -- and that's exactly what happened. He took the 3-0 fastball (dead center at 93), fouled off the 3-1 (Meek came a bit inside -- it was a good pitch), and whiffed on the 3-2.
A productive out would have moved the speedy Marlon Byrd to 3rd base for Nady, putting more pressure on Meek against Nady, and of course a hit would have scored a run, and put another runner in scoring position for Nady. The K was painful there.
2) Mike Fontenot leads off the top of the ninth by swinging and missing at a letter-high fastball fastball from Octavio Dotel on a 3-2 count.
Simply taking a ball way out of the zone would have put the leadoff man on against a shaky closer with our three, four, and five hitters due up. In my mind, this game was over as soon as Font swung and missed here.
But I'm even more pissed about a strikeout that happened much earlier.
1) In the top of the fifth inning, with Marlon Byrd on 2nd, Aramis Ramirez, our cleanup hitter -- the artist formerly known as Clutchy McClutcherson -- struck out swinging on the fourth pitch of his at bat.
Foul tip. Called strike. Ball. Swinging strike.
A perfect demonstration of ineptitude.
Aramis Ramirez looks straight up terrible, folks. He's never slumped like this.
And the worst part is, it's not even bad luck really. It'd be one thing if his line shots were finding gloves, or if his hard hit grounders were all being hit right at people. But Aramis is just swinging and missing WAY TOO MUCH, and hitting weak crap every time else. He's hitting .149 on the season.
He looks terrible. And if it weren't for the first half of last year, this would be a perfect time to say, "I don't know what the Cubs will do this season if he continues to play this way." Because we all know what it felt like watching the Cubs without Aramis Ramirez last year.
On that note: Guess who will almost certainly be exercising his 2012 player option worth $14.6 million?
(Editor's Note: Feel free to check out an article I -- Kurt -- wrote for a Pirates blog known as Rum Bunter. It's a pretty cool site)
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.