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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wendy and I went to our first ballgame of the year today, and it appears we picked a winner. Everybody hit, even the pitcher, even Ramirez. It helped that Dave Bush is quite possibly the easiest pitcher to hit I have ever witnessed since Rick Sutcliffe was on his last comeback back in the day.
It was a good day, when you stick around to see if Colvin could get the cycle. It was a good day when a mope came in wearing a bedsheet like a cape with the Cubs "logo" painted on it, instead it said "Choke". He held it up before the game, and after the first inning. Dang it if I didn't see it again the rest of the game. It was a good day when I called Colvin's shot, and when I noted that DLee needed to "get better", I was asked to explain myself, and a second later, when his ball crashed into the back wall, I just said "never mind, don't know what I'm talking about."
Randy Wells is not a "stuff" guy, as we all know. He is a control guy, I have dared compare him before to a former pitcher who is now a Special Assistant for us, who has his number on a flagpole. I'll do it again. Guys go up there, pop his stuff up, and slam their damn bats in disgust. You think you can hit him, but obviously not. He could be good for a long time in this league, because often "stuff" fails you, but command is forever.
As for the hitters...I was MFing The Riot today, as he was crashing homers at batting practice. Oh Jesus Kaay-rist, I said, that's all he needs. I guess he managed to dial things down a bit for the game. Colvin is the truth, people. Lou has to play him, don't know how. Soriano was STRONG today, but has never and will never understand how to work a pitcher. He is the John Daly of baseball, grip it and rip it.
You wonder if all number 8 hitters should just do what Geo Soto is doing right now. I dunno how long his patience is going to last, but he simply refuses to swing unless it is HIS pitch. As a result, his OBP is around .550. Yes, small sample size be damned, that's just sick.
As for Ramirez, have you noticed how THIN he is? He is a good 15 pounds less than usual, and he never really had to lose any. I wonder if we are going to find out if he was really sick this winter, or maybe there was a problem with his rehab. But his shirt just hangs off of him, and I wonder if there is any correlation between that and his weak performance so far?
But before we go ahead and declare our offense healed, keep in mind how piss poor the Brewers pitching is when Gallardo doesn't take his turn. Jeff Suppan got Zambrano'd after his Friday start, and Bush was simply useless today. Let's take baby steps here, Tomorrow we entertain the friggin' Nationals, who at this point, even after our series sweep, still have a better record than us. Let's see how that goes.
Oh yeah, some mope leaned over too far today and fell 15 feet onto the field. Heh heh, that rocked! That rocked! Heh heh.
Instead of highlighting the box score, I wanna talk a little strategy.
Ryan Dempster pitched 7.2 innings last night, and I'm raising my eyebrow at the .2 part of that number. Demp had thrown 96 pitches over seven quality innings at that point, which I guess isn't really a whole lot. But after a few more Brewers came to the plate, all of a sudden we had two runners on and just one out, which motivated Lou to bring out Carlos Marmol for another four-out non-save.
Admittedly, the game wasn't close. Even if the runners Marmol inherited scored, the Cubs would have a comfortable lead. And with Braun and Fielder already on base, there weren't many real threats in the Milwaukee line-up left.
But for the sake of whining, I'm going to argue with Lou's approach on principle. This is what he did the last time Dempster started, and the team ended up losing -- and I attributed the loss to Marmol having to get four outs, and Marshall having to pitch the tenth inning instead of the eighth. Even last night, Marmol's ninth inning performance wasn't his sharpest ever.
In close games, I hope to see Cubs relievers getting a shot at their own innings, instead of having to clean up after starters left in too long by a crazy old guy manager.
Anyways, Cubs win. Super!
The Cubs had a man in scoring position with one out or less in three out of the first four innings of the game. All three situations yielded a net total of zero runs. The Cubs were 1-11 with runners in scoring position and got an RBI sacrifice fly from Fontenot in the 8th inning. In total, they stranded ten men on base. Johan Santana gave up eight hits in six innings and only allowed a run. If you would have told me the Cubs would get eight hits over six on Santana before the game, I'd have been pretty satisfied. However, the Cubs hitters failed to execute when it counted. It would not be irrational at this time as a Cubs fan to want to curl up into the fetal position and wait for a brighter day.
The continued offensive drain once again overshadowed yet another quality pitching performance from the starting pitcher. Gorzelanny didn't give up a hit in the game until the fifth inning when (Future Hall of Famer) Ike Davis singled. Gorzo came close to a quality start (5.2 IP, 2 ER, 7K), but like many before him still got tagged with the loss. This season, Cubs starters have gone 91 2/3 innings and carry a 3.35 ERA (that includes Z's opening day start and all the horror that accompanies it) yet aren't getting the W's. Something's gotta give.
Logic dicates that the Cubs won't strand that many players on base every time, and that the offense will eventually turn around, but right now that logic doesn't make the salt sting any less in the wound. At the start of the year I expected the club's bullpen and starting staff to go through a bit of an adjustment period which would be a bit rocky. I also knew that the offense might struggle if Soto and Soriano continued the regression path they set out on last year. However, Soriano and Soto are carrying their weight (in Soto's case, less). The starting staff has been borderline brilliant at times. The bullpen has been... as expected. Even so, this team has performed too well in most areas to be the losers of 10 games so far this season.
I fear that sixteen games into the season some of you fans already feel weary and downtrodden. But now isn't the time to inch towards the edge of the cliff. Just know that there is a lot of games left to be played and that the team is better than it has shown us so far.
Best possible record: 152-10
Record needed for .500 season: 75-71
Record needed for 90 wins: 84-62
Alfonso Soriano is hitting .327, with a .978 OPS, and has struck out ten times. Aramis Ramirez is hitting .131 with a .506 OPS and has struck out 21 times.
Ryan Theriot's on-base percentage is below .300. Geovany Soto's on-base percentage is above .500.
Tyler Colvin is hitting .261. And he is awesome and I love him.
This poetry session is over.
Kudos to Carlos Silva, the winning pitcher from tonight's game who went six strong innings and allowed just two hits. This man is pitching completely out of his mind. It might be because he's throwing a much smaller percentage of fastballs than he usually does (just over 50% so far this year, as opposed to between 70 and 80 percent in all other years of his career). He's never thrown his slider nearly as much as he is so far this year (18% of the time by Fangraphs' latest numbers).
Kudos to Alfonso Soriano. He was inches away from hitting for the cycle tonight, going 3-for-5 with a walk, a single, a triple, and a long shot to left that just got over the wall to plate two runs. Should he be hitting fifth?
For that matter, should Mr. Two-Hits-Three-Walks-No-Outs Geovany Soto and his over-.500 OBP be hitting higher in the order as well? Actually, I'll answer this one for you: Probably not. He's the catcher, so there's no use wearing him out. And for all the walks he draws, he also strikes out a lot. The seventh spot is probably the perfect place for him (much better than eighth; his slugging percentage will suck from that spot).
Ryan Theriot, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin had multi-hit outings themselves, going 3-for-5, 2-for-4, and 2-for-5 respectively.
Also, Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.
In the end, though, this game was won by super performances from Carlos Silva and Alfonso Soriano. Whodathunkit??? Go Cubbos!
The Good: Big Z lowered his ERA two more points! 2 earnies in 6 innings, 116 pitches, 9 Ks. The last two outings, he has 11 innings pitched, and it has taken him 239 pitches. That means more bullpen. But he certainly did not deserve to lose.
Also: Jeff Gray - 1 inning of scoreless ball.
The Ugly: we only got 3 guys in scoring position tonight. One of them, Fontenot, got picked off by Hank White. The second, Three Finger Hill, could not manage tagging up and advancing to third on a slicing fly that Jason Bay had to bang into the wall to handle.
Also: Grabow. All of you who said we overpaid for him, line up and take your whacks at me. Mea culpa.
The Bad: look. Every year we have this argument. I start saying "it is no longer early" and the rest of you, like Sayers40 for example, say "it is still early".
I am willing to admit that I am no General Manager. I thought signing Grabow was a good thing. I also thought signing Fukudome was a good thing. If you want to rip on me for being a poor judge of talent, fine. I deserve it.
However, I have been watching shittty Cubs baseball for over 40 years now, and I am telling you all, it is no longer early. This offense, the one that is last in the league in average? This is the best it can do. This is what it has done ever since Ramirez dislocated his shoulder last June. This is not a slow start. This is a trend. This team cannot hit.
And what is worse, there is NOTHING that anyone is going to do about it. The only hope we have is for these guys to pull a 180 and do things differently than they have done the past 140 games or so.
And lemme tell you guys, baseball clubs just don't simply do 180s.
This team sucks.