Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Previews

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Series Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles at Chicago Cubs (May 25- May 27, 2010)

Preview
Overview
Don't look now, but the Cubs are coming off another series win.  In fact, they've actually not lost any of the past three series.  Much of this success can be attributed to the fact that the Cubs have done just enough to win games lately.  The pitching continues to be pretty good and the offense has been showing occassional signs of life.

The Dodgers have been one of the most torrid teams in baseball right now.  At one point an afterthought in the San Diego/San Francisco race to the top of the NL West, the Dodgers rattled off an 8 game winning streak and are 8-2 in their last ten.  Momentum is definitely on the Dodgers side right now.  After a much needed off day for both teams, the Dodgers head into Wrigley and try to improve their road record from 10-11.

Matchups
Tuesday, May 25, 2010- Clayton Kershaw (4-2, 3.23) vs. Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.73)
Kershaw was (and the Dodgers continue to hope he is) the wunderkind that can anchor their starting rotation.  Earlier in the season, Kershaw was all over the place and many speculated he couldn't control his emotions on the mound.  Some of those critics have been quieted as of late.  Kershaw has had a ridiculous month of May in which he has allowed only two runs over 22 1/3 innings since his catastrophic first start of the month (1 1/3, 7 runs).  In that time he has also struck out 23 batters and added 3 wins to his record.  Clayton has a fastball that sits mid-90s that is complemented by a hard 1-to-7 curve (mid-70s), a "plus" circle change and a slider.  He has a great repeatable delivery and a good frame for it.  The best way to get at Kershaw is to attack the pitches he throws early in the count, particularly early in the game.  Opponents are batting .353 against Clayton in his first 15 pitches of the game, and .429 on the first pitch in the sequence.

Dempster has lost his last four starts and looks to get back on track tonight.  He's been a victim of the big gopherball lately and needs to cut down in order to see a bit more success in the W column.  On the month, Clownsevelt is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA.  Over his career, Dempster has had good success against the Dodgers, including two wins last year, so hopefully he keeps that pace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010- Chad Billingsley (5-2, 3.66) vs. Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 3.09)
Billingsley is the other reason the Dodgers have had success in the month of May.  He has won his last three starts and has made it through at least seven innings in his past two starts.  Billingsley experimented with adding some sink to his fastball last year and into this year with moderate success.  He has since ditched that plan and gone back to being a four-seam fastball and curveball combination with great results as demonstrated by his 44:21 K:BB ratio.

Gorz took a ball off of his pitching hand in his last start and still made a fine play to get the out.  The X-rays were negative, but the schedule allowed for Tommy to get an extra day of rest regardless.  Gorz had a strong outing in that start against the Phils, going 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball and allowing only three hits.

Thursday, May 27, 2010- John Ely (3-1, 3.41) vs. Ted Lilly (1-4, 4.30)
Ely, the Homewood-Flossmoor native, was traded this offseason to the Dodgers along with Jon Link for the currently floundering Juan Pierre by the White Sox.  Since he has been called up Ely has had nothing but success, winning his last three starts.  Ely aggressively attacks the strike zone and is seemingly fearless in doing so.  Much like our own Carlos Silva, Ely issues few walks.  To date, he has only issued a walk.  Ely features a high-80s fastball with a changeup that Baseball America referred to in 2009 as a "plus-plus" pitch.  While he won't blow it by batters, the dominance of his change has allowed him to strike out 28 batters in only 31 2/3 innings and also will induce a lot of ground balls.

Lilly is coming off a good start against the offensively talented Rangers this weekend where he went 6 2/3 innings and allowed only two runs.  The Cubs, however, only managed to score one run so Lilly got tagged with the loss.  It's looking like the more Lilly pitches this season, the more comfortable he looks on the mound.  Hopefully he can keep up the momentum from the Rangers game and pitch a gem on Thursday for a much deserved win.

Conclusion
Starting pitching is the name of the game for this series.  Whichever team gets the most out of their starting staff will likely win the serie.  Despite the fact that our de facto "ace" so far isn't going in this series, I can see the Cubs winning two of three with Dempster and Lilly getting a "W."  Either way, runs are going to be at a premium in this series for both teams.

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at The Texas Rangers of Arlington (May 21-23)

Overview
The Cubs travel to Arlington to open up Interleague play and face a red-hot Rangers team.  The Rangers have always been known as an "offense first" squad and this year is no different.  The Rangers are 3rd in the AL in terms of batting average and 5th in OBP.  However, unlike previous years, the pitching staff of the club has been very serviceable.  The club has the 6th best ERA in the AL and ranks second in strikeouts.  Much of this success is due to the new and improved Colby Lewis, the excellent start to the season of CJ Wilson, and the recent callup of Derek Holland.  The Cubs will get to face all three in this upcoming series.

The Matchups

Friday, May 21, 2010- Colby Lewis (3-2, 3.68) vs. Ted Lilly (1-3, 4.65)
Lewis has been a big surprise story for the Rangers.  After a terrible showing the first time around in the MLB, Lewis returned from Japan with the goal of making good on his once "top prospect" status.  From 2002 to 2007 Lewis compiled a 6.71 ERA over 217.1 major league innings, walking 124 batters.  He then went to Japan and became an immediate success.  His success was not a coincidence.  During that time he altered his delivery, added a cutter, and bought into the philosophy of pounding the strike zone.  He has good velocity and what some refer to as an "unholy breaking pitch."  So far this has meant success as he has a 2.57 SO/BB ratio and a mid 3's ERA pitching in the AL.  However, he has lost his past two decisions after starting 3-0 on the season, so hopefully the Cubs have caught him at a good time.

Lilly notched a quality start in his last outing against the Pirates, allowing 3 ER over seven innings.  He has now gone seven innings in back to back starts, which is promising considering he is still sort of recovering from knee surgery.  Hopefully Lilly can increase the strikeouts against a hungry Rangers lineup and get a win.

Saturday, May 22, 2010- Derek Holland (2-0, 2.38) vs. Randy Wells (3-2, 4.13)
Holland is one of those "came out of nowhere" prospects for the Rangers system.  He was drafted in the 25th round in 2006 with out much hype.  At the time he threw a 90-92 MPH fastball and had a nice repeatable delivery, so there was good potential for him.  In 2008 he finished 10th overall in strikeouts for the minors with 157.  Much of this sucess can be credited to the development of his fastball.  During 2008, his fastball started middle at 93-96 with a sinking motion, sometimes touching up to 98 MPH.  He compliments this fastball with a changeup and a slider that both come in at low 80s.  So far he has been able to parlay his stuff into success at the big league level, winning his first two starts.

Wells should be 4-2 after his outing this past week against the Rockies where he went 6 2/3 innings of one run ball.  Hopefully we can see more of the same out of Wells and get him a well-deserved win.

Sunday, May 22, 2010- CJ Wilson (3-1, 2.55) vs. Carlos Silva (5-0, 3.35)
This is a matchup of unlikely aces.  Wilson has spent most of his career in the bullpen as a closer or setup man, but with Feliz and Frank Francisco holding down the setup and closer roles in Texas, Wilson needed a new gig.  So far it has been smooth sailing until his last outing.  Wilson only lasted 4 1/3 innings against the Angels after giving up seven runs.  His homerless streak ended when Torii Hunter took him deep.

Silva is 5-0 and no one really knows what to do.  I have to admit, he's been pretty impressive in his consistency and can be maddening for hitters when he stays ahead in counts.  I haven't seen anything to the contrary, so I expect another quality start out of Carlos... even if it continues to defy logic.

Conclusion
This is going to be a rough matchup, but if the Cubs can continue to show life with their bats and John Grabow doesn't get put into a game, I can see the Cubs taking 2 out of 3.

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Phillies (belated)

Series Preview
Whoops.  Sorry for the lateness.

Overview

In one hand, you've got the Phillies.  Back-to-back NL Champs.  Presently 9 games over .500, touting one of the meanest offenses in the game.  Their star slugger, Ryan Howard, has 7 homeruns and 29 RBI in 38 games, and he's actually being outproduced on various levels by Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. 

In the other hand, you've got the Cubs.  Back-to-back(x51) NL losers.  Their 13-million dollar first baseman is batting .229.  Their similarly-well-paid third baseman is hitting at a .171 clip.  Their nearly 20-million dollar ace is pitching from out of the bullpen.  Can anybody say, "Phillies sweep Cubs?"

Aha, but it didn't happen.  The Cubs romped their way past Jamie "GET OFF MY LAWN" Moyer, who probably would pitch no-hitters every time out were he not battling arthritis and dementia.  But more on that in a different post.  Let's instead look to the future...

Thursday, May 20th - Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.49 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.49 ERA)

Jesus. Ryan Dempster, 2-4, decent ERA.  Tom Gorzelanny, 2-4, even better ERA.  Ted Lilly, 1-3, modestly respectable ERA.  WTF?

Hey, the Cubs are due.  Ryan Dempster is due.  The Phillies are not as good as their record.  And while I like Joe Blanton -- if only because he is leniently listed as weighing 244 pounds*, the Cubs are playing like a legitimately respectable big league team right now.  Kinda sorta. 

Conclusions
Even worse -- we missed the Series Preview to a two-game Series.  Embarrassing.  The Tribune editors would have my job over this mix-up!  In light of recent debates on this blog, in the face of a possible 4-game winning streak, and at the risk of being labeled a homer (when, really, I'm not even remotely homeresque), I will say this:

Despite giving Cub fans the best regular production from first base since Ernie Banks, I enjoy how quickly some fans are to throw Derrek Lee under the bus.  We get it -- he's your scapegoat. 

But, much like Lee (and Rammy's) numbers thus far, 40 games of baseball can easily be characterized as a small sample size.  Don't believe me?  After 40 games last year, the Kansas City Royals were 21-19.  They'd finish the year just shy of 100 losses.  Even the 103-win Yankees of last year looked pretty brutal up until Game 33.  Before that point, they were 15-17. 

Don't let this convince you that I'm flip-flopping.  I still want the Cubs to fire Jim Hendry's ass, so somebody with some passion can step in and assemble a perennial winner.  But even I know that neither the Cubs, nor Lee, nor Ramirez are done.  Not yet.

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Series Preview: Colorodo Rockies at Chicago Cubs, May 17-18, 2010

Series Preview
Overview
The Rockies swing into Chicago for a brief two game series against the Cubs.  The Rockies are fresh off of taking 3 out of 4 from the Washington Nationals while at home, due largely in part to great starting pitching in the series.  Last night, the Rockies got a great start out of former "ace-until-ubaldo-threw-a-no-hitter" of the staff Jeff Francis.  Colorado has been struggling away from home and look to bring some of that momentum from the Washington series into the Windy City.  If the strong pitching holds up for the Rockies, this could be a rough (albeit short) series for the Cubs.

Matchups
Monday, May 17, 2010- Aaron Cook (1-3, 5.80) vs. Randy Wells (3-2, 4.57)
Cook is a junkerballer that frustrates hitters because of how many times he seems to induce the weak groundball.  Usually a model of consistency for the Rockies, Cook has struggled mightily this year through his first seven starts.  In his last start he did hold a potent Phils lineup to three runs over six innings, but his sinker has not been nearly as effective this year.  If Cook continues to struggle with his sinker, the Cubs could be in for a treat of the run-scoring variety.

Wells is similar to Cook in the sense that he doesn't really have anything "overpowering" but can really frustrate the heck out of hitters with his control.  Wells notched a quality start in his last outing against the Marlins but got the loss despite throwing eight innings of three-run ball.  He looks to build on the success and get a win this time around.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010- Jhoulys Chacin (2-1, 2.66) vs. Carlos Silva (4-0, 3.40)
Jhoulys' career as a starting pitcher took a meteoric rise to legitimacy when he threw 15 1/3 scoreless innings out of the gate.  He couldn't keep the gig up on Thursday as the Nationals tagged him for six runs over five innings.  Still, Chacin has been a very pleasant surprise for an already good Rockies pitching staff, and looked pretty composed even in his worst outing of the year.  He throws a devastating change up, usually late in counts, after he sets it up with a 90-92 MPH fastball.  His slider is still a work in progress, and when it is off it can lead to starts like the one against the Nationals.  Regardless, his career upside has been compared to that of a Ben Sheets without the injury problems.

Carlos Silva has also been a great suprise for his ballclub.  Silva threw his fifth quality start of the year against the Marlins.  There really isn't much to Silva's success: he keeps the ball around the plate and induces contact.  With balls being hit into play, he will have some bad days, but overall, he has been keeping the ball down and getting hitters to hit "his" pitches.  Hope to see more of the same in this game.

Conclusion
The Cubs really could use a series sweep to right the ship.  Hopefully they run into the Chacin that struggled against the Rockies and get their mojo back on the offensive front.

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Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs, May 14-16

Series Preview
Overview
Reversing the fortune of last year, the Pirates now own the Cubs.  At least when it was happening in Pittsburgh no one was there to witnesses it.  Now the series has moved to Wrigley Field.  The name of the game in Pittsburgh for the Cubs was no hitting and mediocre pitching.  If today is any evidence of how the series will go, it's just gonna be mediocrity all around for the Cubs.

Friday, May 14, 2010- Tom Gorzellany (1-4, 2.83) vs. Brian Burres (2-1, 3.91)
Well, this one has already played out.  Normally at this point I go on a rant about how the Cubs have screwed Gorz over by not giving him any run support.  However, Tommy didn't really help himself out today and gave up 5 earned runs in five innings.  Instead, I'll just talk about the guy that wrote the recap of the game on Cubs.com.  His name is Bradford Dolittle.  Seriously.  I can't make that up.  My day has been made.

Saturday, May 15, 2010- Ryan Dempster (2-3, 3.44) vs. Paul Maholm (2-3, 4.61)
As the "ace" of this Pittsburgh staff, Maholm is coming off of his worst start on the season so far.  On Sunday he only lasted 3.1 innings and gave up 4 ER, after making it through at least six innings in his previous four starts.  "Consistency" and "starting pitcher" usually aren't words used in the same sentence when talking about the Pirates, but Maholm is about as good as it gets for the ballclub.  Like most pitchers, Maholm goes as far as his control will take him.  Hopefully, his control will be all over the place as it was against the Cardinals earlier in the week.

Outside of his last start, Dempster has been a model of consistency.  He was in line for a quality start against the Reds in his last outing before allowing a Joey Votto 3-R HR in the seventh.  He finished the inning and ended up with seven strikeouts.  Last time Demp faced the Pirates he was screwed over by the Cubs offense (this is the horse, this is the beating).  Hopefully he can get back on the "quality start" train and the Cubs offensive woes will be forgotten.

Sunday, May 16, 2010- Theodore Lilly (1-3, 4.88) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00)
Ross "The Boss" Ohlendorf is a sinkerballer.  He also is really, really smart as whenever he's in a highlight all the sports anchors want to do is talk about how he went to Princeton.  In his senior thesis, he used sabermetrics to demonstrate the return a team got in the draft.  Overall, he's one of those "innings eater" types that for some reason have the Cubs number. 

Ted Lilly is a dangerous man.  However, the fear he puts into men while walking down the street has not translated to the pitching mound... yet.  Lilly had a fairly good outing last time out, sans an error by a certain franchise shortstop and a home run, and went seven innings.  He wasn't really striking anyone out as he only tallied one on the day, but built on his previous outing.  It would be nice to see Ted keep progressing and regain his form from last year.

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Florida Marlins

Series Preview
Overview:

This will have to be short -- I'm going to quite possibly lose my internet connection for a day or two, starting tonight.

The Cubs, who are presently 14-18, are hosting the 14-17 Marlins.  It's pretty much a moot point as to whether or not Chicago can pull together a successful run -- win or lose, they are still a mediocre team.

The Marlins, meanwhile, are one of the few teams I really dislike.  I will always have a pretty bad taste in my mouth over '03.  Here's how the series looks like it might play out...

Monday, May 10th, 2010 - Ted Lilly (1-2, 5.29 ERA) vs. Nate Robertson (2-3, 4.85 ERA)
If things continue as they are, this is Ted Lilly's swan song as a Cub.  He's nearing the end of a contract that, despite his performance, is unlikely to be extended.  Therefore, how he pitches in the next 30-45 days will probably have a pretty big impact on what the Cubs get in return for him.  Here's to hoping for some ass kicking, like the days of old.

Nate Robertson, meanwhile, has nearly 20 more losses than he does wins, having spent most of his career in Detroit.  The Cubs can make it 20 even tonight.  Go get 'em, boys.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 - Randy Wells (3-1, 4.86 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (2-2, 4.08 ERA)

Wells is coming off his biggest ass-whippin' of the season.  He blames having become a little too cocky for his own good.  If that's true, then a focused, buckled-down Wells should kick some serious Marlin ass tomorrow night.

Ricky Nolasco, though, is about the best pitcher Florida has.  It won't be easy for Wells, even though Nolasco has only modest success this year -- a 4.08 ERA despite a 1.13 WHIP.

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 - Tom Gorzelanny (1-4, 2.83 ERA) vs. Chris Volstad (3-2, 4.12 ERA)
If Gorzo gets his ass handed to him, it might be the final necessary blow to get Zambrano back in the rotation.  Then again, Tom has been pretty hard-luck as of late and, based on his numbers, is probably a more deserving candidate to stay in the rotation than a luckier pitcher like Carlos Silva.  Regardless, this game will be a big one for him.

Chris Volstad is 23 years old, went 9-13 last season, and looks to be on pace to do a lot better this year.  But it's early, he's young, and the Cubs just might crush him.

Conclusions

Lordy, I hope the Cubs sweep.  Realistically, Chicago has been just about totally hit and miss this year, and they are overdue to do some hitting. 

One other note -- as I mentioned, I probably won't be around for a day or two while we switch internet providers.  Consequently, I would like to jump the gun and welcome Allen (known in the Reader Blogs as Sayers40) to the fold.  As our new gaggle of writers falters and falls off (we've already lost Phil after only 3 posts), I've offered Allen the chance to step in and contribute as a Goat Rider.  Here's to hoping he lasts longer, and does as good a job as he's done as a Goat Reader.

(Of course, he hasn't actually accepted my invite to join the team yet ... so, uh, I may be jumping the gun a bit...)

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at Cincinatti Reds

Series Preview
Overview:
The Cubs hit a rough skid (well, they didn't really hit anything) in Pittsburgh and are looking to right the ship against the Reds at Great American Ballpark.  In an attempt to provide a spark to what has been a lackluster offense, the Cubs called up uber prospect Starlin Castro to take his rightful place at shortstop.  Accordingly, the Cubs demoted the Ginger One, Chad Tracy, to AAA.  Castro had a .376/.421/.569 line in AA Tennessee and had 4 SB (5 CS) on the year.

In short, this move seems pretty desperate.  At this day, May 7, the Cubs are 3 games under .500 at 13-16.  It feels worse because the team just got swept by the Pirates at PNC.  The team is looking for a "kick start" to get them out of the slump.  This really isn't the first time the Cubs have made this play.  You only have to look back to 2007 when the Cubs were in a very similar situation: a middling team that lacked drive and inspiration.  In June of that year, the Cubs made a drastic move and traded what most of us thought was the franchise catcher in an attempt to bring on some chemistry and light a fire under everyone.

Similarly, in 2007 lots of fans were ready to write the team off by the end of May.  The team was seven games under .500 and weren't playing up to the talent level most fans expected of them.  Eventually, the team got hot in the Dog Days of Summer and went on to win the division.

Ladies and Gents, so far the season hasn't gone the way we'd all hoped, but the situation isn't dire.  There's a lot of ball to play, and hopefully this move can work as the spark the front office believes it could be.

Now, onto the matchups.

Friday, May 7: Carlos Silva (2-0, 2.90) vs. Homer Bailey (0-1, 6.04)
Bailey and the Cubs are familiar with each other as they met in the first Cubs/Reds series of the season.  In that game, Bailey went five innings and struck out five while giving up 3 earned runs.  Perhaps fitting to his name, Homer is a flyball pitcher that relies on a plus fastball and a very nice 12-to-6 curve.  When he is able to keep the ball down in the zone, he can be at times unhittable.  However, he has struggled with consistency and frequently leaves his curveball and mediocre changeup up in the zone, which can lead to some long home run balls.  The best way to get to Bailey is to wait him out and not fall behind in a count so he can utilize his curve.

Silva is coming off the worst start of his Cubs career.  Speaking of keeping the ball down, Carlos left his sinker in the middle of the zone in his last start and allowed Arizona's lineup to take advantage of the gale force wind blowing out to the tune of 3 HR.  Silva's start was supposed to be pushed back because of a barking right wrist, but the trainer reports came back and he seems to be feeling well enough to toe the rubber tonight.  Which Silva will show up will be the main thing to watch for.

Saturday, May 8: Tom Gorzelanny (1-3, 2.48) vs. Aaron Harang (1-4, 6.68)
I know this point has been brought up countless times, but ever since Dusty made Harang run out in an extra innings game on minimal rest a few seasons ago, Harang really hasn't been right.  Regardless, he still always seems to have the Cubs' number.  In his last start against the Cubs, Harang went seven innings and only allowed three earned runs while striking out seven.  His most recent start was a quality start against the Cardinals, but he took the loss in a duel against Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals.  He's going to try hard to get ahead in the count by being aggresive with his fastball and then use his junker stuff to get hitters to chase out of the zone.  Sadly, this is a pretty good plan of success against an aggressive Cubs team.

Gorz got his first win of the season in his last outing against the Dbacks and set a career high 10 strikeouts in the game.  Posting three quality starts in his last five starts, Gorz has been a great asset to the Cubs pitching staff.  Another note of interest is that Gorz and Maddux constantly text/call each other to break down each start Gorz makes and how he can improve upon it.  Hopefully Maddux gave Tommy some good advice this time around and he continues to build upon his strong start.

Sunday, May 9: Ryan Dempster (2-2, 2.95) vs. Mike Leake (2-0, 2.94)
Leake has turned in four quality starts in his last five outings.  He turned in a decent performance the first time around against the Cubs where he only gave up one run in 6.2 innings.  The big knock on him was the seven walks he gave up in that game as well.  After giving up five walks in his start after facing the Cubs, Leake has limited his walks in his last 3 starts (2 being the max number).  Leake really doesn't have dominant stuff, but has above average command of all of his pitches.  He will go as far as his control lets him.

Dempster was the latest casualty of no run support in Pittsburgh in his last outing.  Clownsevelt went seven innings and allowed only 3 ER, two of those runs coming by way of the homerun ball.  The Cubs stranded 11 men on base in his last start, so hopefully that trend can change in the fortuitous hitters paradise that is Great American Ballpark.

Conclusion
The Cubs should take 2/3 in this series.  I expect the team to wake up from it's haze with the moves made today and show some signs of life and rededication.  If they turn in another performance like in Pittsburgh, then this team may have a longer and harder road to recovery than I imagined.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Pittsburgh

Series Preview
First, stop reading this article and check out the Series Preview written by Brandon on the Readers Blog section.  Chances are, it's better than mine will be. 

Okay -- are you back?  Let's roll.

Overview:
These days, Cub fans love the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They're NL Central speak for "easy pickings."  And, for as badly hit-and-miss as the Cubs have been, it's nothing compared to the Pirates. 

Check it out -
Pittsburgh has won 10 games.  8 of those 10 games have come in streak clusters -- 2 to start off the season, 3 in a row from April 16-18, and 3 more from April 27-29.  As is to be expected, the Pirates have outscored their opponents 56-34 in games they've won.

Pittsburgh has lost 15 games.  All but 1 loss came in streak clusters -- with a 7 game losing skid from April 20th to April 26th, and 3 more losses since Friday.  And while they would be, obviously, expected to be outscored by their opponents in these losses, it's more like they've been blown out.  Pirate opponents have outscored them 141-30 in their losses.  That's nearly 10 runs given up per game by Pirates pitchers in losses.  Pittsburgh has already had games in which they surrendered 10 runs (April 8, April 25), 15 runs (April 11), 17 runs (April 26), and 20 runs (April 22). 

Ouch.  Seriously, ouch.

But as ridiculous as those lines are, the Pirates are presently closer to the Cubs in the standings than the Cubs are to the Cardinals. 

On this blog, it's probably not too popular to stand up and proclaim your belief that the Cubs not only might reach the post season this year, but they probably will.  Well, looking purely at the standings, the Pirates would have an easier time overtaking the Cubs than the Cubs would overtaking the Cardinals.  Figure that one out.

The Match-Ups
Tuesday, May 4th - Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83 ERA)

Dempster has so far been a pretty reliable starter, but it's extremely early.  Still, most years he has been considerably more effective at home than on the road (Sman would probably consider that to be a fatal defect). 

His opponent is lefty Paul Maholm, whose career ERA (4.35) is a lot better than his career record (39-46).  Then again, he's pitched for a team that's never won 70 games or more while he's been there, so a poor record is understandable.

Wednesday, May 5th - Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (0-5, 12.57 ERA)
Lilly is bound to improve upon his ERA, but so is Morton. I mean, Charlie Morton really isn't that bad, is he?  Maybe he's just the victim of circumstance?  Looking at his game log this year, it's hard to miss the fact that his "best" game was his last one, in which he "only" gave up 6 runs -- 3 earned -- in 6 innings pitched.

Still, he's probably due for a good game.

Thursday, May 6th - Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45 ERA) vs. Who the Hell Knows

The Pirates haven't announced their final starter yet, but Brandon suspects that it will be Brian Burres, who pitched well against the Dodgers last week.

Randy Wells, who couldn't buy a win to start his 2009 season, is off to an unbeaten start in 2010.  If the Cubs manage to pull up the nose on their tailspin (and it looks like they will), it will be due to the solid pitching of guys like Randy.

Conclusions

Yep, Brandon definitely said it better.

Here's one thought for you -- yes, the Cubs bullpen sux, no denying that, and yes, they are either Big Hit or Huge Miss, but I think Rob is wrong to suggest that the '10 team as we see them cannot get the job done.  Here's why:

Do you really think that, in September, the starting third baseman of the Chicago Cubs will be batting .155?  And do you really think the starting first baseman will be batting .221?

Granted, this was the same argument I made last year when Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto were leading the Suck Ass Charge, but I think it's still a fair argument to make.  While it's true that Alfonso Soriano will probably not be a .325 hitter all year long, and while we know that Fukudome will certainly not be a .342'er, improved hitting from Lee and Ramirez will go a long way toward making the Cubs offense a little more regular.

In other words, if you happen to have that unfortunate opinion that the Cubs just might be a thread to compete this year after all ... well, I'm right there with you.  These guys aren't done just yet.

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Overview
After a feeling of optimism in the last Series Preview, the Cubs have once again knocked my optimism down a rung by dropping a series to the Nationals.  The Cubs now welcome to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field the Diamondbacks (10-11) and their ability to crush the dreams of Cub Nation (See: 2007).  The Dbacks have won their past two series (PHI, @COL) and look to keep that streak alive on the road, where they are 3-6 on the season so far.  Hopefully the Cubs will help continue the Dbacks road woes during the four-game series.

It may not hurt that since the Arizona State Legislature passed immigration reform for the state that the Diamondbacks have been under a lot of pressure. However illogical the protests may be, I hope it keeps the Dbacks off their game and helps the Cubs get back to .500.

How's it all going to play out?  Well, it's complicated...

Thursday, April 29- Theodore Roosevelt Lilly (1-0, 0.00) vs. Ian "Not John F." Kennedy (0-1, 4.43)
Ian Kennedy was once the diamond of the New York Yankees minor league system, but like almost all prospects in that farm system, was traded away for a veteran.  In the case of Kennedy, he was part of the three-team trade that netted the Yankees Curtis Granderson.  Kennedy only pitched once in 2009 because an anuerysm near his right shoulder put him under the knife.  Kennedy has a 4-seamer that clocks in around 90-92, a plus changeup, a tight curve, and spent the offseason working on a 2-seamer.  He has only allowed 2 earned runs over his last two appearances, and seems to be figuring things out.

His opponent is the Bullmoose.  Lilly came off the disabled list on Saturday in Milwaukee and threw six shutout innings.  Over the start he allowed only three hits.  Lilly only threw 78 pitches in the game but was pulled after his back tightened up.  Hopefully that was just a precaution and isn't an ongoing issue.  Lord knows our bullpen doesn't need anymore of a workload than it already has. 

Cubs win this one.  If I've learned anything in life, it's don't bet against Teddy.  More importantly, don't bet against Lilly if he's on the mound after the Cubs lose two games in a row.

Friday, April 30- Randy Wells (2-0, 2.49) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (1-0, 4.88)
Lopez is a journeyman pitcher that always seems to have a resurgence just when you think he's done.  This year appeared to be one of those resurgance years as Lopez turned his minor league invite to the Dbacks camp into a spot in the starting rotation.  After putting up a good start his first time out (6 IP, 1 ER against PIT) he was hit hard in two of his next three starts.  That being said, Lopez is one of those guys that goes out and just eats innings, no matter what.  He is a four pitch pitcher that has a high 80s fastball that is complimented by a cutter, a slider and a change.  However, at this point in his career he gets by on guile more than anything.

Randy Wells is coming off of another solid start.  Against the Brewers on Sunday Wells allowed two runs in seven innings and didn't walk a batter.  There isn't a whole lot that hasn't been already said about this kid and I don't feel its appropriate to go on a rant about my mancrush for him in this space.  Wells looks to keep his strong start to the season going and shut down what has been a potent, at times, Dbacks lineup.

Despite the fact that guys like Lopez usually dominate a "good" Cubs lineup (not the punchless one we are trotting out right now), I'm leaning towards a Dbacks win... but for the sake of it, I'll say Cubs are 2-0 after Friday (Randy is just too good).

Saturday, May 1- Carlos Silva (2-0, 1.73) vs. Mystery Pitcher X (0-0, INF!!!)
Kris Benson was injured last night in his first start for the Dbacks, so the club is looking to call someone up to take his rotation spot.  Until that happens, the Dbacks rotation appears to be in a shuffle.  Sadly this means the Cubs might have to face Danny Haren on Saturday or Sunday.

Silva is coming off his "worst" outing of the season which was still a quality start.  Silva went 7 innings and allowed 3 ER against the Nationals.  It is only a small sample size of four starts, but Silva has done a damn fine job in the rotation.  I expect his numbers to eventually even out a bit, but deep down I'm hoping he's turned over a new leaf and doesn't regress completely to his career mean.  Regardless, Saturday is May Day, so bring your friend Carlos Silva a bouquet of flowers.  Yes, that just happened.

No prediction because I don't know who he's facing.

Sunday, May 2- Tommy Gorzelanny (0-3, 2.45) vs. Another Mystery Pitcher (0-0, ?)
Again, the pitcher here could very well be Haren or Edwin Jackson, but I'm not going to speculate any further until I see something more official on MLB.com in the "probables" section.

Tom Gorzelanny is the Randy Wells of 2010.  I don't know what he did and to whom, but the whole team refuses to give him run support any time he is on the mound.  The only way to make his losses any less painful than they are is if we could revive Harry Carey and at least listen to the man butcher Tom's name.  In Gorz's last outing he went seven innings and allowed only two runs.  A quality start from a Cubs pitcher?  Again?  I know, it's a shocker.  Hopefully the team can actually get him some run support and beat the current streak.

Tenatively, I predict the Cubs win (more out of pity for Tom, than anything).

Conclusion
It would be nice to see the Cubs at .500 after this series by going 3-1.  I mean, eventually the Cubs have to win a series against someone other than the Brewers, right?  Why not now?

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Preview
Overview

Hot on the heels of a road series sweep, the Cubs return to the friendly confines where they take on the only team in baseball that makes the Brewers look good: the Washington Nationals.*  Except the Nationals aren't so bad just now.  They're 10-9, only 1.5 games behind the defending National League champion Phillies. 

(*known in some circles as the Modern Day 1950's Chicago Cubs)

Nevertheless, the Nats have been treading water since April 17th, which was when they lost the ability to put together two consecutive wins -- or losses.  And they've been at home for the duration of their streak of mediocrity.  That's good news for the Cubs.

Let's take a look at how this will all play out...

Monday, April 26th - Carlos Silva (2-0, 0.95 ERA) vs. John Lannan (1-1, 5.82 ERA)
John Lannan is a soft-tossing lefty* who has a career ERA of 4.01, but is 10 games under .500 since he first threw a baseball in a major league park.  (The perils of pitching for the Nationals.) 

His opponent is Carlos Silva, a fat, angry, obnoxious Venezuelan man who has convinced many fans to conveniently forget the "small sample size" mantra with his outstanding start.  So let's see if I've got it right ... soft-tossing lefty faces Cub pitcher who's off to a ridiculously good start?

Crap.  0-1 for Chicago.

(*I write this confidently, not based on my detailed knowledge of his pitching velocity, but because the dude struck out 89 batters in 206.1 innings last year)

Tuesday, April 27th - Tom Gorzelanny (0-2, 2.40 ERA) vs. Livan Hernandez (2-1, 0.75 ERA)

Tom Gorzelanny is a soft-tossing lefty who's actually managed almost a K an inning so far this season.  But because he pitches for the offensively challenged Chicago Cubs, despite his admirable start, Gorzo is winless. 

His opponent is Livan Hernandez, an ancient, fat Cuban pitcher who is the perfect example of a "small sample size," what with his amazing start to the '10 season.  (Although, concernedly, he's got 7 walks and only 9 strikeouts in 24 innings.)  Therefore, because Gorzo is due and Livan is overdue...

1-1 for Chicago.

Wednesday, April 28th - Ryan Dempster (2-0, 2.60 ERA) vs. Luis Atilano (1-0, 1.50 ERA)
The debate rages on -- should Ryan Dempster be called "Clownsevelt" or something that makes slightly more sense to the layman?  Here's my stump for the preferred "Clownsevelt" moniker -- over the past few years, he has regularly pitched immediately before, or directly after, Ted Lilly.  Lilly's full name is "Theodore Roosevelt Lilly."  Roosevelt.  Clownsevelt.  C'mon!  It's perfect!

Anyway, the Cubs will be sending in the clown to take on rookie pitcher Luis Atilano, who defied the odds and won his major league debut by pitching 6 solid innings of 5-hit, 2-walk baseball.  In other words ... Dempster vs. A Rookie Who's Not a Lefty?

Tres win.  2-1 for Chicago.

Conclusions
Theoretically, the Cubs are better than 9-10, and the Nationals are worse than 10-9.  Therefore, this series should end with both teams having an 11-11 record!  Book it!

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