The Pirates got off to a 7-5 start but have gone a more Pirate-like 3-10 since. Their recent slide is not the result of bad luck--the fact is, they don't do much of anything well. They've scored just 86 runs this season (second-worst in the NL) while allowing more than twice that many (175, worst in the NL). This amazingly bad run differential puts them on pace to be outscored by nearly 600 runs this season. While that's really, really unlikely to happen, it's clear that Pittsburgh is really, really bad.
Which is nothing new, of course. The Cubs went 10-4 against them last year after going 14-4 the year before. Though the Cubs will be away from home, they really need to start the road trip off right by winning--if not sweeping--this series. Fortunately, using the transitive property, we can see that the Pirates have been outscored by an average of seven runs per game in their six contests with the Brewers this year, while the Cubs have outscored the Brewers by an average of four runs per game; therefore, the Cubs will outscore the Pirates by an average of 11 runs per game in this series. That's science.
Tuesday, May 4--Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) vs. LH Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83)
Dempster has been on fire lately, even if he did lose his last start. He beat the Pirates twice last year, but had a modest 4.66 ERA against them. While it's still early, Dempster's road split is actually better than his home split so far this season--he has a 1.32 ERA in two road starts, with three walks and 13 strikeouts.
Maholm's last two starts were almost identical: 7 IP, 4 ER in both. His one start against the Cubs last year was the reverse: 4 IP, 7 ER, though the Pirates won that game 10-8 (look who got the win). He struggles against righties, so Xavier Nady is likely to get a start here against his former team.
Wednesday, May 5--Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) vs. Charlie "Holy crap look how bad my numbers are" Morton (0-5, 12.57)
These two matched up last September 30, with Morton throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout. In mid-August, however, Morton lasted just one inning against the Cubs and gave up 10 earned runs. Morton has been downright awful this season: he's allowed at least three earned runs in all five of his starts, given up seven long balls, and has allowed more than two hits and walks per inning pitched (2.17 WHIP). Go get 'im, boys.
It was probably unfair to assume that despite having just come off the DL, Lilly would stay in the groove he was in when he faced Milwaukee. He struggled with his control and gave up several long balls in his second start of the year last week against Arizona, giving him one great start and one terrible one on the season. Lilly was 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA against the Pirates last year. Andy LaRoche is the only current Pirate with a home run off Lilly, while Ryan Doumit is 5-for-15 in his career against him.
Thursday, May 6--Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) vs. LH Brian "TBD" Burres (1-1, 6.00)
The Pirates have not yet announced Thursday's starter--someone needs to fill in for the injured Ross Ohlendorf. Burres did so admirably last week with 5.1 scoreless against the Dodgers, and seems a likely candidate for the series finale. Only Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady have faced him more than three times--Nady is 2-for-7 against him while Byrd's one hit off him was a home run. Recently recalled Brian Bass would seem to be the other potential starter for this game (9.00 ERA in 2 IP).
Wells had his worst start of the season on Friday, though he still got the win. He had success against the Pirates last year, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Andrew McCutchen is 3-for-5 against him.
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.
A strong start. Painfully bad situational hitting. A close-but-no-cigar loss.
That recap describes a relatively large number of the Cubs' 12 losses this season, but Wednesday's really hurt. A series loss to the Nationals. A 4-5 record at home despite having hosted the Brewers, Astros and Nationals. The momentum of a recent four-game winning streak gone along with Ryan Dempster's formerly flawless record.
And the Cubs had their chances:
* Fifth inning: Bases loaded, one out. No runs.
* Seventh inning: First and second, nobody out. No runs.
* Eighth inning: Runner at second, nobody out. No runs.
Like Gorzelanny on Tuesday, Dempster took a loss that he probably didn't deserve. Granted, he allowed two home runs and three runs in all, which will lose you a game every now and then. But he went eight innings, the third straight start he's gone at least seven. He's pitched six innings or more in all five starts this season--his 33.2 total innings rank second in the National League (behind, of course, Roy Halladay).
By the way--remember how the Cubs tried to sign Matt Capps in the offseason? I wish they had. He recorded his 10th save on Wednesday, best in the majors. The 26-year-old has a 0.68 ERA.
The Cubs have still won only two series on the year, both against the Brewers. The 10-11 Diamondbacks come into town for an extended four-game series starting Thursday, and three out of four would look mighty nice as it would get the Cubs back to .500.
Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year
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!
Three of the Cubs' seven victories in 2010 have come over the Brewers. But there's no need to feel bad about that; after all, Milwaukee is a divisional foe and you have to win games in your division in order to have a good season.
Ryan Dempster had his fourth strong start of the season (out of four), going 7.2 innings for the second straight start. He has left all of his starts with the lead, though he only has two wins to show for his efforts. (Hopefully Carlos Zambrano was able to get a good view of Dempster's efficient outing from his new perch in the bullpen. Speaking of Zambrano, Cubs fans saw a very unfamiliar sight when he warmed up in the bullpen in the eighth inning. No doubt it was a stimulating sight for some fans but a rather agitating one for others.)
The Cubs brought a balanced offensive attack to Miller Park--they've now scored at least six runs in all four of their games against the Brewers this season; they've only scored that many in two others games this year! Every starter had at least one hit, and Dempster joined the party with two sacrifice bunts. Chad Tracy was just barely able to make his first start of the season before Ted Lilly did, and he had a single and played very well defensively at third. Also, Tyler Colvin hit a ball 10,000 feet.
This is the second time the Cubs have roughed up Jeff Suppan in less than two weeks, and they'll have the chance to do the same to lefty Doug Davis tomorrow (he was touched up for six runs in just 3.1 innings in the Cubs home opener). Soriano, Soto and Ramirez should all be fresh after having a day off on Friday.
Perhaps the Cubs benefited from the favorable road crowd--a good friend of mine attended Friday's game and said it was at least a 50/50 split in terms of Cubs/Brewers fans in attendance, and he said it felt like 75/25 in Chicago's favor as the Cubs fans were able to cheer unabated given that the team scored early and dominated throughout. Hopefully Miller Park will be transformed into Wrigley North over the weekend as well.
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You can read more from Wait til this Year at his blog ... Wait til this Year!
Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.
Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.
That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.
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Just when we think that the offense is a shell, the Cubs delivered an epic opening day victory against Doug Davis and the Brewers. But before we get too excited -- it was Doug Davis. And the Brewers. Just sayin'.
Offensively, the Cubs took the game thanks in part to a solid, all-around thrashing of Doug. Ryan Theriot finished the day with a hit and a walk. Marlon Byrd went 3 for 5, raising his AVG to .208. Aramis Ramirez delivered his second homerun of the season in the 4th, a 2 run shot that more-than put the game out of reach. Even Alfonso Soriano collected 2 hits behind Xavier Nady, who went 2 for 4 with a 2 out, 3-run homerun in the 3rd inning.
All told, the Cubs collected 13 hits en route to a massacre at Wrigley. Not that Ryan Dempster didn't try his best to cost the team the game.
Clownsevelt managed to pitch into the 7th, but he gave up 5 earned runs and walked 4 in the process. He was mostly effective at maintaining control of the Brewers, except for when Ryan Braun faced him. Braun was responsible for 4 of Milwaukee's 5 runs. Dempster Pwnage. He was effectively relieved by James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Marmol (yes, that's right, Jeffy Spellcheck himself pitched and pitched well).
The Cubs have tomorrow off before resuming play against the Brewers on Wednesday. Look on the bright side, Goat Readers, Chicago is now 3-4.
You do realize he had a base salary of just $5.5 million in 2008, right? That's the year he pitched 206.2 innings, racked up 187 strikeouts, won 17 games, and posted a 2.96 ERA. Fangraphs estimates his play was worth roughly $22.7 million that season, given his performance over what you'd expect from a replacement-level player.
As they say: Holy Cow!
Last year, Dempster played for a base salary of $8 million, but still managed to provide excellent value for his team. He didn't exactly repeat his 2008 performance, but 200 innings of 3.65 ERA ball are worth about $16 million on the open market, so the team made out like bandits once again.
Of course, this is a series of 2010 season previews, so let's get to the Dempster-related question of the day: What should we expect from Ryan this season?
Based on the numbers I trust, the short answer I'll give you is this: another solid season. Multiple projection systems suggest Demp will be in the 180-200 inning neighborhood once again, and that his ERA will be below 4.00 once again.
For the longer answer, let me point out a few important trends that suggest Demp will be good again in 2010.
First: Remember agonizing over Dempster's insistence on loading the bases before closing out games back when he pitched from the 'pen? A lot of that had to do with walks. From 2004 to 2007, he walked more than four batters per nine innings pitched.
Fortunately, since moving to the rotation, Dempster's BB/9 have gone down. In 2007, he walked 4.05 per 9. In 2008, that was down to 3.31, and in 2009 the number fell again, to 2.93. He probably won't lower that number again this year, but at the very least he's demonstrated an ability to limit those walks (a skill he seemed to forget in 2008 -- GAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!).
Second: In his second go-'round as a starter, Dempster's out pitch only got better last season. Dempster has a nasty slider, which he threw 27.4% of the time in 2008, to extremely positive results. In 2009, he upped that percentage to 34.1%, and opposing batters still couldn't hit it.
The reason it's so good is because it coaxes batters into swinging often, and when they do swing they often miss. In fact, while the average pitcher allowed contact on 62% of balls thrown outside the strike zone, Dempster's number was much lower, at 48.2%. Expect Demp to continue feeding opponents a steady dose of sliders, and expect opponents to continue to struggle against it.
Third: He's Canadian. The Olympics were in Canada. The Canucks won hockey. And let me be clear: I do NOT believe in coincidences.
Let's go ahead and call this one right now. Dempster will be good for 195 innings, 160 strikeouts, 12 wins, and a 3.70 ERA. Seem right to you?
Dempster's Quality - More 'Depends' (not the adult diaper kind)
When Ryan Dempster signed his massive, four-year deal with the Cubs after his amazing 17 win season, I (and about every Cub fan with an ounce of common sense) loudly protested against him being rewarded with any contract lasting more than three years.
I think most of us doubted last year that he'd post the same kind of ERA that he did in '08, but it was both conceivable -- if not probable -- that he'd be reliable. And he was. Year Two should be more of the same. 200-or-so innings, as AJ projects, 160-or-more strikeouts, and I'd actually say that Dempster will have an ERA no higher than 3.70, with a possibility of dipping down into the low 3's.
Either way, his win total will be contingent on two things -- if he can stay healthy and how good the offense is. With last year's offense, 2010 Dempster is still probably a 12-win guy. With 2008's offense, he'd be a 15-or-more win guy. While I doubt that the '10 Cubs are going to be as much an offensive juggernaut as the '08 squad was, I do think they should be a bit better than last year's team.
For that reason, I'm banking on Dempster winning more than 12 games. And if the Cubs are good and surprise us with 90 -- or even 87 -- wins or more, then Dempster will likely be responsible for at least 15 of them. Here's to hope.
Because of how prominently these recaps are titled, I probably shouldn't lead this one with, "Guess who led the Cubs in innings pitched and strikeouts?" But I'm clever, so I basically just did it anyway without you even noticing.
P.S. The answer is Ryan Dempster!!!
At the beginning of this season, a lot of Cubs fans were expecting to be really super pissed at Demp right about now. No one thought he'd be able to deliver on the four-year, $52 million deal he signed in the offseason.
But deliver he did, maintaining a 3.65 ERA over 200 innings, with 172 strikeouts to just 65 walks. To put those numbers into context, Dempster allowed 65 walks in one game this past postseason. (Consider yourself lucky if you don't get that joke.)
For the statheads out there, Dempster's '09 season was worth 3.7 wins over a replacement level pitcher, a value of just over $16 million, or twice his 2009 salary.
How'd he do it? Demp ended up taking the meh-diocre route, allowing two or fewer runs in only 16 of his 31 starts, and allowing three runs in exactly three starts. That's 12 starts with 4 or more runs, which is kinda not really all that great, actually.
In fact, that's probably the best explanation for why a guy with a 3.65 ERA only won 11 of his 31 starts.
Having said that, Ryan avoided disasters for the most part (although 6 ER in 4 IP against the frikkin' Pirates is pretty dern close). And he managed to post a few really good lines, too, like his two games against the Dodgers (7IP, 0ER, 3H, 1BB, 5K in each).
And of the 15 starts with two or fewer earned runs allowed, Ryan allowed zero earned runs in seven of them.
Beyond the numbers, there was one majorly frustrating moment during Dempster's 2009 season. Heck, when a kid in the stands starts pointing and laughing at you, you know you've screwed up.
That was when Ryan broke his toe on July 5th. He pulled a move that's known in sports circles as a "Gramatica," severely injuring himself while attempting to celebrate a recent victory.
But even with that stoopid move, Demp managed to hit the 200IP mark, give the Cubs a bunch of chances to win, and basically earn his salary. I'd put my money on another 200IP, sub-4.00 ERA season next year, too.
WAY TO GO, RYAN!!!
Bobby Parnell (3-6, 5.08 ERA) vs. Ryan Dempster (7-7, 4.07 ERA)
The Cubs won, but the Cardinals pull out a crazy win...go figure. Ok, so onto our look at the Cubs in 2010.
Starting Pitcher - No. 3 Starter (Ryan Dempster)
Contract 2009: 9 Million
Contract 2010:13.5 Million
Stats 2009: 7-7, 4.07 ERA in 143 2/3 innings. 122/54 K/BB Ratio with a 1.36 WHIP
Ryan Dempster as a big reason the Cubs won 97 games a year ago, and he hasn't been in bad in 2010. Of course, he really has been up and down, which is the story of the Cubs 2009 season. Dempster was rewarded with a big offseason contract and we all knew that it might have been a bad idea. One year into the deal, and I'm sure Cub fans wished Dempster was not signed for three years.
The Cubs have a lot of money committed into the rotation for next year, and Dempster going to be getting a nice 4.5 million dollar raise. The problem with sinking so much money into guy's like Dempster is that it is hard to make improvements.
The problem is that Dempster will probably not be as good as he was in 2008, and he's getting paid more than Ted Lilly, who is a better pitcher at this point. Of course, if Dempster pitches with a sub 4 ERA in the last three years it would work out just fine. Does anybody else think he can do that for three more years? This is just another move of Jim Hendry that is going to tie the Cubs hands for the next few years.
2010 Payroll: 44.4 Million (3 Starting Pitchers)
Alfonso Soriano - Dude, he had three hits yesterday including his first home run in ages. It is good to see, but I have a feeling he is heading to a nice DL stint. Looks like Jake Fox needs to get ready and play some OF.
Milton Bradley - Maybe Milton can play just good enough over the last month and get some trade value for the Cubs. He had three more hits yesterday and is up to .262 on the season.
Ryan Theriot - Another 0 for 4 at the top of the lineup. He's down to .290 and looks rough out there.
Sam Fuld - Fuld's hot start is over, as he has seen his average did down to .259 with an 0 for 4 yesterday.
The Cubs need to win, but I'm not getting some hopes up.