FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.
In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.
In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?
In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.
These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).
Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.
I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!
Things to watch for the rest of the season. Starlin Castro's growth. Carlos Marmol's K rate. The Cubs record in one run games. Tyler Colvin's return to reality. Trades and trade rumours. The continued awesomeness of the starting rotation. Cubs playing the spoiler. Marlon Byrd booking it hard down to first base. Geovanny Soto's incredible walk rate. Jeff Baker's excellent glove. Alfonso Soriano's hot streaks. Andrew Cashner's development. The season really isn't over. The Cubs aren't going to make the playoffs but I think it's time like this that the real fans show their faces. Let's keep rooting for them to win day by day and realize there a ton of things to watch for that have nothing to do with making the playoffs. Besides, it's freaking baseball, what else would you rather be doing anyway??
Today's Matchup: Ryan Dempster (110.2IP, 3.58ERA, 3.77xFIP) vs Bronson Arroyo (106.1IP, 4.49ERA, 5.15xFIP) Obviously, the Cubs have the better pitcher. Almost a run and a half better in xFIP. Arroyo should be facing the wrath of the Cubs' awesome offense. Yeah, that's the ticket. The truth is, the Cubs have better starting pitching than the Reds and it's not even close. If the Cubs get a few timely hits, they should win today.
Who's Hot: I know it's hard to think of him as such but Aramis Ramirez is on a mission to make it back to the Mendoza line. He has a six game hitting streak and has only K'd 3 times in that period (OK 2 were yesterday but still). I think Ramirez will end up north of .230 with a second half that looks like him but people here and elesewhere will think his whole season is trash. I still think the guy is relevant. It will be interesting.
Who's Not: Koyie Hill is producing a wOBA of .248 or an OPS of .574 for those wOBA challenged. His career wOBA is below .260. And yet, he's on pace to produce over 200 plate appearances. This despite the fact that the Cubs' offense is struggling and they have Geovanny Soto. Soto's wOBA is .381. That is 10 points higher than his rookie year. He is, simply, the most productive offensive Cub. Lou, come on!
Conclusion: I will no longer say the Cubs "need" to win. They don't really need to win. They need to play as well as they can and let the chips fall where they may. The season as over as playoffs are concerned but there are still things to contest. Beating the Reds and Dusty Baker is #1 on the docket. I would rather the Cardinals make the playoffs than the Reds (though when the Cubs play the Cardinals, I hope they beat them also).
Well, that's all she wrote. The curtain is closed on the 2010 Cubs season (or at least on its chances of involving a postseason). Little did we know on the morning of April 7 how dreadfully terrible "Year One" would be. If it were a play, I would give it zero stars. DO NOT WATCH THIS PLAY! Give the tickets to the nearest homeless person and apologize to him as you do so.
It's fitting that the Cubs lost the so-called "BP Cup" because they're the BP of baseball, and not just because Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano are usually throwing batting practice to the opposing hitters. They are an absolute disaster, a failure that only William Shakespeare could give due description.
Hopefully a few of the players will be exiting stage right in the near future. Ted Lilly should bring a decent return, in my opinion. He has 46 wins as a Cub and could help a National League contender down the stretch. How Hendry will get anything for guys like Fukudome and Lee, I have no idea, but I don't see Lee returning and we have no need for the $12 million man next year with Colvin here to stay.
I'll tell you, with the Cardinals in first and the Sox on a tear, this is turning into an absolutely brutal season for me. I think I am now in a place mentally where I can start rooting for the Reds to win. No, I don't want to see Dusty Baker in the playoffs, but goddamn do I hate those redbirds.
Goat of the Week: Have to start with the Goat this week because it was just that kind of week. I think I have no choice but to go with the entire offense. The eight runs yesterday were nice, but they scored six runs in the five games before that. Six runs make for a decent game but a pretty bad week. It's really not worth singling any one player out--they're all pretty terrible. None of them can hit when it matters, and now everything after the All-Star break won't matter.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano
For Big Z to have launched into an angry tirade within the confines of the clubhouse would have been bad, but to do it in front of the cameras--to have yet another immature explosion on camera--was unacceptable. The suspension was certainly warranted, and the Cubs might as well put him on waivers and see if another team wants to roll the dice on an overpaid hothead.
Ryno of the Week: Eight innings/two runs and seven innings/three runs for Ryan Dempster. His 11 quality starts this season tie him for 11th in the NL in that category.
Six runs, holy crap. Who knew they could do that?
Derrek Lee got the night going with an early solo shot. His OPS for the season is just over .700 at this point, and his batting average is still pretty low at .230, so hopefully this is the first of many subsequent multi-hit outings from him that include some power.
Several other Cubs reached base multiple times last night, including: Xavier Nady (2-for-3, R), Alfonso Soriano (1-for-2, BB, R, 2 RBI), and Geovany Soto (doubled and walked). Starlin Castro reached three times, with a single and two walks.
Castro drove in two runs last night, giving him 16 RBI for the season. That ties him with Soto and The Great Ryan Theriot, the only position player in last night's game who failed to reach base.
Tyler Colvin doubled in his lone at-bat, raising his OPS to .987. And on the pitching side, Ryan Dempster was solid, yielding two runs over 6.2 innings and getting the win. He collected seven strikeouts, but also gave up eight hits.
With the box score-driven narration out of the way, I'll issue my verdict on a couple of last night's more notable plays before asking for your opinions in the comments section:
1) Geo Soto sent home on Castro's 2nd inning single.
I liked the call here. It ended up being a close play, and if their left fielder hadn't made a perfect throw, it'd have been another run. If Soto holds at third, you have the pitcher coming up with one out -- as in, probably won't bring him home -- followed by Ryan Theriot, who we all know sucks. So yeah, give me the close play over counting on Riot to drive a run in with two outs.
2) Alfonso Soriano bunts Nady and Lee to 2nd and 3rd with no outs.
I'm having trouble deciding whether I like this play or not, but I do know at least one thing, which is that I don't like it as much as the fans at Wrigley appeared to last night. Soriano got a standing ovation for this play, and he should get some credit for being creative, but the guy is one of our best hitters. I don't necessarily hate the decision, but I think I'd rather see him swing away there.
3) Alfonso Soriano makes the third out at third base, attempting to stretch out a double.
This is silly. Soriano would likely have scored from second on a single, since there were two outs in the inning and he would have been running on contact. But the guy did knock in the 5th and 6th runs with this play, so it's hard to complain.
Alright, everyone else: Thoughts on the game?
As I ponder why Tyler Colvin isn't in the list of Content, let's talk about a big Cubs win today!
If Aramis and Derrek Lee start hitting like they did today (on top of Marlon Byrd and the aforementioned Mr. Colvin), the Cubs offense should start scoring enough to back up what has been a solid pitching staff this year.
The Cubs jumped all over Roy Oswalt today to the tune of 6 runs on 9 hits in 7 innings. Both Ramirez and Colvin hit shots off of him. Colvin, who I am admittedly not a believer of, seems to have made himself a quasi regular with his early season heroics.
As for Ramirez? Well, I'm not willing to say he's back but I will say that he needs to do 2 things to turn around his season:
1) Stop striking out
2) Hit the ball far
He has been failing at both this year but has now gone two straight games (against two straight strikeout pitchers) without K'ng. I'd like to see him extend that streak and hit a couple of more extra base hits tomorrow.
Ryan Dempster kept up the string of decent pitching performances. Ryan Theriot drew a walk. The bullpen tried to give it away and then Carlos Marmol actually got 2 straight batters out without a strikeout. An interesting day all around.
Wells on the mound tomorrow. Let's take this series and head to Pittsburgh with a full head of steam!
Ryan Dempster is vindicated! Except not quite. Sigh.
Demp starred in last night's outing, mostly by not crapping his pants and/or giving up any grand slams. No, but seriously, eight innings, seven strikeouts to only one walk, and just three hits. That'll do it.
I was hoping Ryan would get a shot at completing the game, but I'm not going to complain about the opportunity to watch Carlos Marmol make lame-os like Manny Ramirez look compleetly stoopid with his narsty slider.
Derrek Lee knocked in all three Cub runs, taking himself above both the .230 mark in batting average as well as the .700 mark in OPS. He'll keep coming back around, I promise. (For the record, Fangraphs' preferred predictor suggets he'll hit .280/.364/.476 for the rest of the season, which would be fine by me.)
So yeah, see? Winning is easy!
Since the greatness that is The Cubs Management Think Tank can't think of anything better, allow me to hit you with some knowledge: the foolproof, sure-to-work Cubs Rotation Attack Plan for Starters (CRAPS).
Note: This idea is nowhere close to original.
Let's call Andrew Cashner ready-to-go as a big league starter. And we know Sean Marshall has started previously as well. So if we add those two guys, plus Everyone Loves Carlos Zambrano, to our current rotation, we have eight dudes that can go multiple innings.
Next, let's group those eight into two four-man camps: hosses and non-hosses. Hosses are guys who can definitely throw 100+ quality pitches a game. Demp and Z are locks for this group, and in my humble opinion Wells and Lilly are the next best candidates. By default, that puts Silva, Gorz, Marsh, and Cash in our non-hoss group.
Finally, the pairings:
Dempster - Marshall
Lilly - Silva
Wells - Gorzelanny
Zambrano - Cashner
The first three pairings match righties with lefties, while the last one gives Cashner the hossiest of hosses on which to rely for his appearances.
I think you can see where I'm going with this: every fourth day, we start with a hoss, cut him off in the 85-90 pitch range, and then hand over the next two to four innings to our non-hoss. Out in the 'pen, you of course have Marmol, and then either two or three other guys to serve basically as ROOGYs and LOOGYs for the transition from one starter to the other.
This would work, right?
Ryan Dempster (2-2, 2.95) vs. Mike Leake (2-0, 2.94)
Well, the Cubs come into this Mothers Day contest trying to win the series. Yes, the game last night was effing atrocious. However, you don't get style points for your wins or losses, and with a win today the Cubs will get 2 of 3 @ Cincinnati and that's OK in my book. Ryan Dempster takes the mound for the Cubs, and quite honestly, there's no one else I'd rather have on the mound trying to turn it around after a tough loss than Ryan. He pitched pretty well last time out on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, but got the L because the Cubs couldn't score more than 2 runs. He has allowed 2 dingers in each of his last 2 times out, so that's a bit troubling, especially given the bandbox where today's game is taking place.
This Mike Leake character made his big league debut against the Cubs the first week of the season (remember, he was the cat that skipped the minor leagues entirely). That game he walked 7, and was generally pretty sketchy, but the Cubs only managed 1 run, and he survived his wildness. His control has got quite a bit tighter since then, and he's only allowed 1 run in each of his last 2 starts. The Cubs could use a major bounceback, however, I don't know if it's going to come today. I feel a low scoring game today honestly.
Soriano. It pains me, but we have really needed him the past couple weeks. And last night, he, the Byrdman, and Theriot (who's still hitting well at the top of the lineup) were the only Cubs with more than one hit. Honestly if you told me that by this point in the season, that Byrd and Soriano would be raking..both hitting about .320, I'd have told you we'd be in real nice shape. Oof.
Everytime I write one of these, I mention Rami's name. So there's him. Apparently Jeff Baker lit his ass on fire, so he's not doing so well..(or should I have put him in the "Hot" column?). And of course Jeff Gray's not doing well either. (This is what I wrote Friday, and it still applies..and Jeff Gray's now in AAA). - Also apparently John Grabow has a knee issue and has been sent home for an MRI. Can we just give him the same treatment that you give lame racehorses? Just put him out to pasture to graze?
So here we are. It's Mothers Day, and our season is in trouble. You can't fix it all in one day though. All the Cubs can do today is win the one game, and then head home and try to right the ship. I'm feeling a W, are you? Go Cubs! And Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!
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)