Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Previews

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Braves

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Before I get started with this preview, I’d like to make a comment on Alfonso Soriano.

As I write this, the Cubs have yet to make any roster moves in the Messiah-like return of Aramis Ramirez and his two disciples White Slice and Angel Guzman, but I’m hoping they realize it’s time for Soriano to take a seat on the DL train and make room for someone who will have a positive impact on this team.

I don’t care if they make up an injury or if Soriano ends up coming clean that he has been playing with some sort of boo-boo this whole time: he needs to go. NOW.

When D-Lee was captaining the Crapboat and everyone wanted him benched in favor of the Hoff, I refused to turn my back on Derrek. Sure he was statistically struggling, but I thought I still saw some of that old skill there. In the curious case of Alfonso Soriano, his skill is all but gone.

When I wrote the player preview for the Fonz, the comment section quickly turned into a discussion of what kind of hitter Soriano was. It seemed that most people agreed he was a fastball hitter who had success pulling the ball to left. He had made a career off of hitting fastballs. But now that is all gone. Seemingly every at-bat that doesn’t end in a strikeout concludes in some sort of soft pop-up to right field. He doesn’t have the bat speed anymore. He doesn’t have what made him a big-time player.

Now the question becomes can Soriano get it back? I’d like to think the answer is yes, but not while Lou keeps trotting his rotten corpse out onto the field everyday. Soriano has responded well to spending time on the DL the past few season. He usually comes back strong and tends to put up huge power numbers (going from memory here but I think I’m right).

The logical answer is to put him on the DL. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real injury or not. The guy needs time off and we need time off from him.

Overview
Alright, moving onto the series preview.

The Cubs are coming off of a huge series with the Brewers where they won three of four. Just like that, hope has been restored and the Cubs are looking like they are getting ready to close out the first half of the season on a positive note. Sha-Zam.

My concern for this upcoming series is not who the Cubs are playing, but who they’re playing next.

Don’t get me wrong, the Braves are no slouches – although they did just lose two of three from the Nationals. They’re 39-42 and only four games out in the NL East, so they certainly have something to play for. But guess what’s after the Braves? That’s right, a four-game home series with the current NLC leading Redbirds.

The Cubs are probably riding pretty high right now, but this series smells like a trap to me if the Cubs don’t focus on the team in front of them.

The Matchups
Monday, July 6th – Jair Jurrjens vs. Randy Wells

Two men enter, one man leaves. Both Jurrjens and Wells have been pitching solidly this season (despite the fact that they both have .500 records) and tonight should be a lot of fun to watch.

Jurrjens nearly threw a no-hitter in his last outing and has been shutting down right-handed hitters this season. Lefties are hitting .296 against him though, so the Cubs are going to need something out of Fukudome, Fontenot and Bradley tonight…probably not a good thing.

What can I say about Wells? He has easily been the surprise of the season and continues to impress. Yeah he’s the “fifth starter,” but aside from Lilly pitching at Wrigley, there is no other pitcher on staff that I have more confidence in than Wells.

Tuesday, July 7th – Javier Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster

I look at Vazquez’s 5-7 record and say to myself, “Typical sucktacular Javy.” But then I see that he has a 3.05 ERA and is tied for second in the Majors with 130 strikeouts and I say, “OK, maybe not that sucktacular, but he played for the White Sox so he still sucks.” Seriously though, Javy has been putting together a respectable season despite no run support. He should be another tough matchup for the Cubs. How do I know this? Last time he faced the Cubs he threw 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, which also happens to be the last time he won a game.

Dempster got the win against the Brewers, but D-Lee was really the guy who won that game with his 7 RBI. I like that Demp struck out nine in that game, but he gave up eight hits (two of which were homers) in 6 2/3 innings. I’m still worried about this guy.

Wednesday, July 8th – Kenshin Kawakami vs. Carlos Zambrano

I don’t know much about Kawakami aside from the fact that he is a 34-year-old rookie. I’m sure there is a good story in there somewhere, but I have to think he is an old rookie for a reason (which is to say that he sucks). It seems that Kawakami has had trouble with his command recently, so taking lots of pitches and being patient should lead to success for the Cubs.

Zambrano looked solid (although not spectacular) in his last start against the Brewers. Some run support from anyone other than himself would have been nice, so of course he didn’t get the win despite deserving one. Who knows what Z is going to do next, but I like this matchup for him.

Conclusion

As I said in the overview, this series is all about concentration. The Cardinals are coming in for a huge series at the end of the week, but that won’t mean dick if the Cubs crap the bed and get swept.

Rob and others have said it before: the Cubs has not looked like a championship-caliber team this season and have given us no reason to suspect that they can play like one. Taking care of a clearly inferior team at home would help a lot to changing that way of thinking though.

I think it’s realistic to think the Cubs will win two of three with one of the losses coming in the first two games. But I can’t say I’d be surprised if the Cubs only win one in this series.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

Let’s see, how do I put this modestly? Hmmm. Ah screw it.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SERIES OF OUR ENTIRE LIVES.

Well, not really. But I it’s kind of important or something. Think of it this way: If the Cubs sweep this 4-game series with the Brewers, then they could be in first place. However if they are swept, then they could be in last. Thanks mediocre NL Central.

Anyway, the Brewers come in 5-5 over their last 10 games with their most recent game being a 1-0 loss to the Mets at home. Milwaukee was 5-4 at Wrigley last season and this will be their first trip to the Cathedral in ‘09.

As for the Cubs, they’re coming off a hellish road trip (3-7) that has had players and fans alike tearing each other apart. Let me just say thank God for the Pirates. Taking two of three from Shatsburgh was probably more important for the confidence of this team than we realize. The Cubs should be carrying some of that momentum into the series (the important word here is “should”).

The Matchups
Thursday, July 2nd - Seth McClung vs. Ryan Dempster
McClung (Milwaukee’s more ginger and right-handed version of Sean Marshall) made his first start of the season against the Giants at home and was knocked around quite a bit. Being used mostly as a relief pitcher this season, I’d guess it will take a him a few more starts to stretch out the arm. So I’d expect him to be out by the fifth inning. Getting to McClung early and working high pitch counts should be the offense’s goal.

Dempster seems to pitch better at Wrigley this season than on the road, so he’s got that going for him. Hopefully the comforts of home will help Demp get a handle on his control because this dude needs to stop walking people. Unfortunately the Brewers are 2nd in the NL in walks. Fear the walk people.

Friday, July 3rd - Jeff Suppan vs. Carlos Zambrano
Guess what Phil Rogers? Carlos Zambrano is still on the Chicago Cubs. Yet amazingly you still have a job. It’s a crazy world we live in.

So what if Big Z is a little loco. At least someone on this team is showing some passion. I don’t expect things to change Friday and I’m thinking Scarlos has one of his better outings of the season.

As for Suppan, what can I say? The guy is the definition of “meh”-ish. The elements are ripe for a beat down.

Saturday, July 4th - Braden Looper vs. Rich Harden

Another Cardinals reject and another saucy matchup for the Cubs. Although Looper held the Cubs to only one run in five innings earlier this season, I like it when this lineup faces familiar foes.

Welcome back Rich Harden. Sure your gem was against the Pirates – whom my 72-year-old grandmother could probably throw a scoreless inning against based on the way they played this past series – but I tip my hat to you sir. Maybe this is the start of a dominating run for Rich…or maybe he’ll go to Wrigley and stink it up like he has all season (2-3 with a 6.31 ERA at home).

Sunday, July 5th – Mike Burns vs. Ted Lilly
Me likey Ted Lilly at Wrigley. Especially his 1.85 ERA while pitching at the Friendly Confines this season. I can’t remember the last time I saw a pitcher on the Cubs roster who was so consistently dominant at Wrigley and so consistently subpar on the road. Then again, I also drink a lot.

I really don’t know much about Mike Burns and I’m just trying to make it through this paragraph without referencing a “Simpsons” joke. What I can tell you is that this will be his first start on the road. Pretty tough considering it is at Wrigley during a primetime broadcast. I wish him nothing but back luck

Conclusion
If this series were being played in Milwaukee, I would be deeply worried. But it’s not, so tough nards for the Brewers. Not facing Yovani Gallardo means the Cubs have the starting pitching advantage across the board, which tells me it is imperative for the offense to score early. The Brewers’ bullpen has been surprisingly solid this season (especially Trevor Hoffman), so don’t expect many come-from-behind wins if the Cubs are trailing late.

I’m not going to predict a sweep either way, but the Cubs should win 3 of 4 if the starting pitching continues to give quality starts.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview - Chicago Cubs vs Pittsburgh Pirates

Series Preview
Matchups
Overview

The Pirates roll into town with a chance to leap-frog the Cubs and send the Cubs reeling into last place.  That's cool.

The Pirates, compared to the Cubs, are an offensive juggernaut.  They currently rank 7th in the league in runs (the Cubs are 13th), lead by Adam LaRoche, Freddie Sanchez, and Andrew McCutchen.  Those are pretty decent hitters, but do you know how many of the Pirates hitters have been better than their Cub counterpart?

All of them.  Seriously.  If you swapped any Pirate player for his positional equivalent on the Cubs, you would see an offensive improvement.  That may be the most remarkable statement I've ever written on this site.  The Pirates are that much better than the Cubs offensively.

Me: astounded.

So next time you think about the trouble the Cubs have had hitting the ball, just remember this: the Pirates are 100% better.

Niiiiiice.

The Matchups

Monday, June 29th - Rich Harden vs. Zach Duke
Harden has been a hard 'en to figure out (heh).  We all know that there are hardly any pitchers out there with better stuff then Harden when healthy and on, and yet Harden looks terrible.  Granted, he hasn't been on and we don't know if he's healthy, but...well, I don't have a conclusion to that sentence.  I just want him to do better. I was really excited to have a full season of Rich Harden and he's been yet another disappointment in 2009. 

Zach Duke is the Pirate's best pitcher and a likely all-star, so of course the scuffling Cubs get to face him.  Whee!  Historically, the Cubs have handled him pretty well, but historically the Cubs haven't tried this hard to break my heart.  Okay, that's a lie. But in the last two years, they haven't tried to break my heart at all.

Except in the playoffs.  What was my point again?

Tuesday, June 30th - Ted Lilly vs. Ross Ohlendorf
Other than in his last outing, Lilly have been quite good.  He has started to slow a bit recently, but overall he's still the Cubs' go-to guy and their likely all-star representative.  If anyone can stop the pain, it's Lilly.  Of course, generally "stopping the pain" means "killing the victim" after "a long night of torture" and is followed up with "sauteeing the victim's liver in olive oil and serving it up with a light chardonney".  However, if could also mean beating the Pirates.

Ross Ohlendorf?  I'm sorry, until you get a real name, I can't write about you.



Wednesday, July 1st - Randy Wells vs. Virgil Vasquez
Randy Wells has stopped his losing ways and has begun a nice little winning streak (yes, two games is a streak).  Aside from Lilly who gets the nod for a full season's worth of performance, Wells has been the Cubs' best pitcher.  With a combination of control and movement, Wells have kept hitters off balance and the Cubs in the game. 

Virgil?  Jeebus, where do the Pirates get these guys.  Virgil threw 6 innings of 2 run ball against the Royals in his only start.  Extrapolating from those numbers, I expect him to throw 14 innings of shutout ball against the Cubs and with 42 strikeouts.

Conclusion
The starting pitching is strong and the offense is weak.  Will the Pirates come in and sweep the Cubs and send them rocketing into last?  Only time will tell.

(although the answer is yes)

Go Cubs.

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Textless Series Preview: Cubs vs. White Sox

Looks like Jason didn't get 'er done this morning (I blame Rob) and I have no time to do it.  So, graphics only ... feel free to add comments to make this worth its existence

Series Preview
Match-Ups

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Series Preview - Chicago Cubs vs Detroit Tigers



Overview


The Tigers remind me a lot of Cubs teams of yore.  They've got three pretty good hitters (Cabrera, Inge, and Granderson) and a bunch of pretty bad hitters (um...everyone else).  When I see that, my mind wanders to the days of Sosa, Grace, and whoever the third guy is in any given year. 


Those aren't such great memories.  Why'd I have to bring those days up again.


I'm not crying.  I'M NOT CRYING.

Of course, the Tigers are employing that formula and actually winning a bit.  I guess it helps to have some half-decent pitching.  Crazy, right?

So anyway, in this series the guys to watch out for are the three I mentioned.  Seriously.  Nobody else on that team can hit.  Ordonez has lost the ability to catch up to the fastball, Adam Everett never could hit, and Placido Palanco, the fourth tenor, has lost the ability to hit the high notes - er, fastballs.  Not so impressive.


But you know what's weird?  What's weird is that the Tiger's have hit better at home - a lot better - than on the road.  Given the cavern that is Tiger Stadium, that's fairly surprising.  I know they brought in the fences and all, but what happened to the park that caused people to say that the Tigers would never sign a big name free agent hitter?  Have I just not been paying attention?  Do I pay that little attention to the American League?

Oh.  Wait.  Yeah, that's it.  American League baseball is boring.  Right.

Got it.

The Matchups


Tuesday, June 23rd - Carlos Zambrano vs. Edwin Jackson

Incidentally, also like Cubs teams of yore*, the Tigers have three good pitchers and a bunch of mediocre/bad pitchers.  That is, if you believe that Edwin Jackson is a good pitcher.  Turned into a starter by the Tampa Bay Tampas of Tampa, Jackson has had a bad season followed by a mediocre season and then now this season.  I guess he's improving?

(* my what, you ask?  Mmmmm...punny)



I dunno what's come over Jackson (probably the fact that he's allowed a .255 BABIP.  Anything under .290 is considered luck to some degree), but it'd be great if he decided to stop.  Like, today.  I'm not, however, going to say that the Cubs should get to him and he's due to fall apart.  Every time I say that, things get bad.  Every single time.

Zambrano has been a beast since returning from the DL.  He's been nearly unhittable, keeping the ball on the ground and the hitter off balance.  I'd be more worried about the lack of strikeouts if he didn't look so good out on the mound.

Wednesday, June 24th - Rich Harden vs. Rick Porcello

Rich Harden, on the other hand...not so good.  What the hell happened to this guy?  I guess the easy answer would be to point at an injury as injuries can lead to poor control.  I mean, maybe that's it.  Or maybe he's just off to a really bad start.  Either way, it's be just super if he'd turn it around.

Rick Porcello, a rookie for the Tigers, has underwhelming numbers but pretty good success.  He doesn't strike out a ton of people and his control is nothing all that amazing, but he's been effective this year.  He throws about 1.5 groung balls for every play ball, so that's probably why he's gotten away with the middling periferals.


Thurday, June 25th - Ted Lilly vs. Armando Gallaraga

Lilly continues to be the solid of the solid, with his worst outings coming in at "okay".  He hasn't suffered through a really terrible start since April.  His secret?  Feasting on the blood of the Trixies.  Sadly, Trixies are nowhere to be found in Toronto, so he never had the chance to really find his true talent level.

Also, did you know you can make a really fetching lamp out of the skull of a Chad?  True story.

Gallaraga has been one of the crappy two thirds of the Tiger's rotation (that was a mouthful).  That's probably all you need to know.

Conclusion

Are the Cubs the new hotness or what their hotness simply a result of playing crappy competition?  Wouldn't you like to know. 

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Series Preview: Indians vs. Cubs

Preview
Matchups
This will have to be short as I am also writing the GameCast today and I've got roughly 15 minutes to do both. 

Overview
Ever want to see a Cub fan cry?  If it's not October, your best bet is to visit Wrigley Field for a game which features the return of not one but two departed Cub stars.  Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood will be back this weekend, hoping to propel the lowly Indians past the dreadful Cubs. 

Me, I'm thinking that this is the series where -- I know, I've been saying it a lot -- th Cubs bust out.  They just experienced the rollercoaster high of a dramatic 9th inning win against a heated rival and their slumbering offense may be on the brink of waking up. 

Of course, our friends would probably point out that baseball players perform based on statistical probability.  Unlike how you or I may bungle tasks or projects at work if we are feeling distracted or depressed, in baseball things like "feelings" -- which cannot be statistically quantified -- do not impact the play on the field.  So, the thrill of yesterday's win means absolutely nothing to today's game in the world of counter-programmers.  Hey, they're probably right. 

Match-Ups
Friday, June 19th - Cliff Lee vs. Rich Harden
Lee -- who owned the AL so hard last year that some teams still owe him his pimping money -- has continued to pitch well in 2009, but unfortunately for a team with an offense almost as schitzo as the Cubs'.  His ERA is nearly 2 runs lower than Harden's and he's thrown nearly 50 more innings and yet he's still only 4-6 on the season.

Rich Harden, meanwhile, pitched well in his return to the team and is looking to further increase his trade value but giving a strong performance against an American League team.  I still think he's been much better than his 4.53 ERA conveys, but what do I know -- his ERA is a stat and I can't prove my thought so I'm clearly wrong on that one too. 

Saturday, June 20th - Tomo Ohka vs. Ted Lilly
Tomo Ohka, meanwhile, is a new addition to the Indians rotation.  So far he's their version of Randy Wells -- winless in multiple tries.  Although he's thrown way fewer games and has had dramatically less success.  Then again, he's probably nothing like Wells at all, except he too looks like K-Fed.

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly sometimes serves as Bill Murray's body double at public functions.  But on days that he pitches he most resembles Hannibal.  Either way, it almost seems amazing that he's won 7 games for a team as offensively erratic as the Cubs.  So far in '09 he's been a lot like Ryan Dempster of '08 in this one regard: nearly unbeatable at home.  Lilly is 4-1 with a 1.48 ERA at Wrigley Field.

Sunday, June 21st - Jeremy Sowers vs. Randy Wells
Back in the day of Dusty, even crappy lefties like Sowers would tie the Cubs up in knots.  But while Sowers throws with his south paw, he might as well be aspiring to toss batting practice.  So far in '09 he's surrendered 36 hits in 35 innings, coupled with 17 walks to 17 strikeouts.  It should be a high scoring game for the Cubs.  Keyword: should.

Randy Wells, der der der, overdue, der der der, etc. can't win blah yadda.

Seriously.  Randy Wells.  Wouldn't it just be ridiculous if he never won?

Conclusions
With this team who knows?  I'd like to think that the win yesterday vs. the Sox is the spark the team needed, but baseball is never so simple.  Still, the Indians suck and the Cubs are playing at home.  This is a series in which victory should be expected.

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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox

Series Preview
Series Preview
Overview

This is just another matchup of two mediocre teams, despite what you'll hear in the Trib and the Times.  So, I'll give you a snappy little rundown of the Sox roster and then get to a more important point:

  • Dye, Thome, and Konerko are, in order: good, good and decent.  All three can cause pain
  • Pierzynski is: douchebag
  • Pitching is: not good.

So there you go.  Your 2009 Chicago White Sox. 

Here's what I'm more interested in: Kurt and Rob's take on a certain Kate and Leo vehicle and how it relates to the Cubs.  While they're trying to feng shui their lost cause, I'm hanging with the band, playing as the ship goes down.  And you know why I can do this?  Because I know something they don't know: the ship isn't going down.  And here's my reasoning:

Talent wins out.

The Cubs are playing way, way below their true talent level.  And the thing is, everyone agrees with this fact.  Everyone agrees that Uncle Milton is better than he's shown and that Geo has power (barring injury).  Everyone knows that Soriano is just waiting for a hot streak.  Hell, the one player we all doubted the most, Derrek Lee, is the guy who's finally remembered how to hit.  The rest are just waiting for the hits to start falling in.  And, in the case of Geo Soto, they have.  Over the last two weeks, Geo has an OPS of .814.  That's actually pretty good (and the .981 OPS over the last week: outstanding).  Geo's on the upswing.

But yeah, Soriano and Milton continue to struggle and Fukudome and Theriot are in a slump.  And the team, as we've seen, can't buy a run.  And so, apparently, we decide we need to fire the manager or shake up the roster.  On other sites, they suggest trading away our most talented pitcher.  All because we're at .500 after a third of the season. 

You know what I say to the .500 record at this point?  Good.  We should be damn happy to have a .500 record after losing our best player to a bad wing. Remember what happened in 2006 when Lee went down?  And believe me, Aramis's replacements haven't been any better than Lee's were. We've had bootloads of injuries, and yet we are still afloat, one game out of the loss column.  We have some of the best hitters in baseball unable to lay the good wood and still the rest of the Central has waited for us to figure it out.

Thanks, NL Central!

And so I will wait for Aramis to come back and let Fontenot slide over to his natural position (Fontenot, incidentally, has been everything we thought he would be over the last month), thus solidifying both the offense and defense with one move.  I will wait for Soriano to start hitting again because he always begins to hit again.  If he needs a DL stint, let him take that, then get back to hitting.  Either way.  Fun fact: during his massive slump, Soriano has a BABIP of .197.  Granted, he's making things worse by swinging at whatever comes up to the plate, but he's also not getting any help from the Gods.  It will turn around.

And Uncle Milton has only ever hit.  And he will hit again.  He will revert to his true talent level.

...as do we all.

I know this stretch of baseball is frustrating.  I'm frustrated too (although clearly less so than most as exactly zero of my words required and astricks).  But I'm going to try to ride this wave of bad baseball and look forward to the inevitable hot streak.  The Cubs are too talented for it not to happen.

And if it doesn't turn around?  If every single player has a career worse year?  Well, I don't know what to say about that.  I support the starting lineup Hendry has put together and I don't think you can anticipate everyone failing. 

But the talent's there.

And talent always wins out. 

So yeah, by all means, improve the bullpen and get us a real backup infielder.  But blow up this team?  You could do it.  But you're not going to make it any better.


Okay kids, the comments are open.  Feel free to call me Al Yellon, Part Deux.



The Matchups


Tuesday, June 16th - Carlos Zambrano vs. John Danks

Holy crap, welcome back Carlos.  Carlos has been nothing short of magnificent in his last two outings since coming off the disabled list.  In fact, except for one start in April where he gave up 7 runs (in 7 innings, mind you), Carlos has been every inch of an Ace.  The sinker has been down recently and that should make for tough days for the Sox.  The real key, of course, will be whether or not Carlos brings his A-game...to the plate.  WE NEED RUNS.

John Danks is yet another mediocre pitcher in the long line of mediocre pitchers to face the Cubs of late.  Maybe Von Joshua knows the secret to hitting crappy pitchers (seriously, Russ Ortiz owned us.  So sad).  John Danks also thinks Wrigley smells like pee.  Your point?

Wednesday, June 17th - Randy Wells vs. Gavin Floyd

Alright, so fine.  Wells is human.  La Dee Da.  That doesn't mean we don't love him and still expect great things out of him.  When Well's control is on, he's one tough cookie (yes, true of most pictures) and I think his control will be on today.  And no, I have no reason to think that.  Except for BLIND OPTIMISM.

Wells will have to be perfect, though, as the Cubs are facing a pitcher with an ERA just south of 5.  Good god, we'll never hit him!  Yeah yeah, whatevs.  We get it, the Cubs have no offense.  Actually, Floyd has been pitching pretty well of late and so, when he shuts the Cubs down, it won't be humiliating in the usual sense. 


Thurday, June 18th - Ryan Dempster vs. Jose Contreras

Nice to see Dempster back on it this last month or so.  In fact, Dempster is earning every dollar of his contract and this fact is only being obscured by the fact that he's currently only the third best pitcher on the team (fourth, if Harden remembers how to pitch).  Actually, with this team's pitching, we don't need out hitters to be great, we need them to be average.  GOOD GOD, what I wouldn't give for average.

Contreras?  He's still alive?  Well, he isn't really very good anymore, so we should have a shot at him.  Not that that ever helps.  Stupid slumping offense.

Conclusion

As usual, with the Crosstown Classic, anything can happen.  And I expect anything to happen.  And everything.  And a dash of something.

Maybe a little nothing.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Twins vs. Cubs

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview
Dazzled by the success of the Blackhawks this season, the Cubs apparently think that low-scoring games are exactly what the fans have a craving for!  Except when the Cubs tend to be on the wrong side of the decision it leaves us feeling frustrated and saying ridiculous things like "wowee!  Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez are available!  Maybe the Cubs can go out and get 'em!" 

There is no free agent who can fix what's broken with the Cubs.  In fact there aren't many players available who are better than the Cubs theoretically can be.  But we're in June.  There's little time remaining for players to suddenly turn it around and put up the numbers they are capable of.

Instead I think we're just going to have to accept that, much as last year's Cubs all gave surprisingly reliable performances, this year's version is busy giving surprisingly shoddy ones.  Maybe it's a coaching issue -- how many times have we seen poor approaches to the plate or unreasonable blunders in the field?  Don't they have people who serve as instructors with the intention of avoiding those problems?  Maybe it's a talent issue -- perhaps Fontenot isn't a starter, Bradley can't play the field, and Soriano is so single-dimensional that he borders on uselessness.  Or maybe there's plenty of blame to go around.

The good news is that nobody has run away with the NL Central this year.  These mediocre Cubs are only 2.5 games out.  But several things won't continue.  Sooner or later, the Brewers, Cardinals, or -- lord forbid -- Dusty Baker's Reds will go on a run.  Sooner or later, the Cubs unbelievable starting rotation will stop pitching so insanely well.  But before those things happen the Cubs still have time to right their offensive ship and to shore up their bullpen.

But will they? 

The Match-Ups
Friday, June 12th - Randy Wells vs. Kevin Slowey
Randy Wells is going to start getting tear tattoos on his face.  For each game the bullpen -- and offense, let's not be picky -- squanders a win opportunity, he will tattoo on another tear.  Before long it will look like a waterfall.  In the Alternate Universe's 2009 season, the Cubs would be leading this crappy division by about 10 games right now and Wells would be in competition for the Rookie of the Year Award.  But here in reality I have to wonder what will happen first -- a win or a blow-out loss.  He's due for both.

Kevin Slowy is the polar opposite of Wells.  His numbers aren't great -- a 4.21 ERA -- but he's on pace to win 20 for the Twins.  I guess it's fair to say that he's due for a loss as much as Randy is due for a win. 

Saturday, June 13th - Rich Harden vs. Anthony Swarzak
Harden is ready to make his triumphant return!  ESPN reports that he's available for 85 pitches -- or 5 innings -- which ever comes first.  A healthy Harden only strengthens an impressive rotation -- and a mediocre bullpen.  Considering that he wasn't DL'd for arm problems, we can only imagine that he will be effective, nay, nasty out there on the mound.

Swarzak.  "Swarzak."  Say it out loud.  I'm sure that somewhere, in some language, "Swar" means "testicles" and that is just funny.  If the Cubs struggle to score in the first game of this series -- and you know they will -- then their best chance of an offensive explosion is against the 'Zak, who isn't exactly setting records as he blazes toward overtaking Zack Greinke as the best pitcher in the AL.

Sunday, June 14th - Ted Lilly vs. Scott Baker
At the rate he's going, Ted Lilly will be the Game One starter of the NLDS -- assuming the Cubs get that far.  Lilly has been the most reliable pitcher on the staff and remains on pace to win about 20 games this year.  It's amazing to think about but Lilly is the first left-handed starter to have multiple years of success for the Cubs since Rick Monday was pitching for Leo's teams in the 60's. 

Scott Baker, meanwhile, is about as bad as the 'Zak, except he's been worse for longer.
 
Conclusions
This is a series that a good team would sweep.  Not that the Twins are a bad team, but they're throwing to mediocre pitchers at the Cubs and a third pitcher who's been more lucky than good.  In other words, if the Cubs can surprisingly deliver a win for Randy Wells then they should have a good chance of winning their next two games.

Or they could combine to score 7 runs in the series and escape with one victory.  Because that's the way it's been this year.  Which you know.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Cincinnati In the Battle for Third Place

Cubs v. Reds
Cubs match-ups
Two teams enter.  Only one ... well, okay, both ... shall leave.  But it's very possible that after this upcoming series is played out the Cubs may find themselves leap-frogged in front of the Reds, who presently occupy third place in the NL Central.  Granted, they'd have to sweep.  On the road.  Against a team that has offensively owned them the last few years.  But it could happen!

Actually I'm very interested by the Reds nowadays.  They used to be just another NL Central team from an insanely religious* part of the country whose greatest all-time player is a scumbag.  Now they're the destination of Dusty Baker and any Cub fan worth his ilk not only detests Baker but also follows his career'S failings with a fervor. 

(*experience tells me that I have to note the fact that I'm calling Cincinnati "insanely religious," rather than religion itself "insane."  Just making myself clearer here.  It's sort of like how if referred to the insanely hot Charlize Theron... I'm not implying that hot women are crazy with that statement, I'm just using "insanely" as an adjective to describe the ridiculous level of Theron's hotness)

I digress.  At this point in time, based on everything that's gone before, this is the most important series of the season.  A Cubs sweep translates to third place in the division.  If the Reds win the series, the Cubs exit Cincinnati a .500 team at best and in need of urgent action.

The problem is the stuff I mentioned earlier today... until Lou Piniella shakes up the bullpen and re-constructs the lineup the Cubs are in for some ugly losses.  Back when Dusty was here and he was refusing to shake up the lineup, I attributed it to a stubborn Me Against the World I Ain't Changin' attitude (sort of like how Dubya probably should have fired Rummy long before the Republicans lost the '06 mid-terms).  The thing is, I don't see Lou having that problem.  As far as I know he doesn't feel attacked, criticized, or scrutinized -- and even if he did, I doubt that would prevent him from making changes.  So Lou ... what the hell?

The Pitching Match-Ups
Friday, June 5th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Micah Owings
Back in March the GROTA crew unanimously predicted that Carlos would win 20 for the first time in his career in 2009 (Kyle even said it'd happen despite Zambrano being injury-plagued!).  Well, it's still possible but increasingly unlikely.  Carlos would need to put on a pitching clinic of '84 Sutcliffeian Proportions and the lineup would have to give him consistent run support.  That's a pretty tall order.

Micah Owings is another guy who needs run support; on his part it's because he's not exactly what you'd call "reliable."  In his third season with the Reds, he's 17-23 on his career with a 4.99 ERA.  This year he's 3-6 with an ERA of 5.10.  He's managed to escape Dusty's typical cycle of abuse, which leads me to think he's dogging it on purpose.  After all, Baker won't let him throw 120 pitches a game if he's giving up 5 or more runs each outing.  Genius plan, Owings!

Saturday, June 6th - Ryan Dempster vs. Matt Maloney

Two plus months into his big contract, Ryan Dempster has been a victim of love (and inconsistent pitching.  But mostly love).  But I dunno... take a look at his numbers.  He's on pace to throw 216 innings, surrender 191 hits, walk 85 batters, strike out 181, and win 13.  Last season he threw 206.2 innings, surrendered 174 hits, walked 76 batters, struck out 187 and won 17. 

His pitches per game started between this year and last year are nearly identical (101.2 compared with 100.8.).  His K/9 ratio: 8.14 to 7.51.  His K/BB ratio: 2.46 to 2.11.  AVG against: .227 to .240.  OPS: .641 to .713.  I dunno, maybe I'm missing something but it just seems as if those minor differences demonstrate why his ERA jumped from 2.96 to 4.48.  Either he was really lucky last year or he's been really unlucky this year.  I'm choosing to believe it's the latter (although it's probably actually a little bit of both), and if that's the case then I soundly expect Dempster to finish the year with more than the 13 wins he's on pace to have and less than the 4.48 ERA that he's presently got. 

Oh, and Matt Maloney is scheduled to make his big league debut.  I'm a little surprised by his presence on the Reds ... I always thought Charlie Brown would pitch for the Cubs.  (Look at him.  LOOK AT HIM!!!)  This year in AAA he's got a 2.00 ERA 10 starts.  Still, he'd have to be exceptionally special to overcome the First Start Blues. 

Sunday, June 7th - K-Fed Wells v. Bronson Arroyo
Randy Wells practically threw a no-hitter his last start.  He exited the game with something like a 5-run lead and he's still waiting for his first win.  What will he have to do to get the W?  I'm predicting an unlikely path ... Wells is going to get lit up like a gasoline-drenched fire cracker on Sunday but will get the win anyway because it's just going to be that kind of game.

In one of life's ironies, Bronson Arroyo has a 5.34 ERA and is on pace to win 20 games.  I guess the Reds offense must be that good.  He's got a long history of aggravating the Cubs, which means that he's due to receive some payback. 

Conclusions
No predictions, not this time.  The Cubs are capable of owning the Reds.  The Reds are playing better baseball than the Cubs.  We can only hope that it comes down to a contest of managers because as ridiculous as Piniella may sometimes appear to be, he makes Baker look like a buffoon. 

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Series Preview - Chicago Cubs vs Atlanta Braves

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

The Braves come into today's action sporting a pathetic .500 record.  LAME.  If only they knew what it was like to be one game above .500.  If only they could soar as we have.  Feel the wind in their hair. 

But alas, of their starting outfielders, not one has an OPS above .652.  That makes for a rough time.  The Braves for 10th in runs scored and, conveniently enough, 10th in runs allowed.  The Cubs, on the other hand, are...oh.  They're 11th in runs scored.  But hey, they have a chance to jump a spot.  They'll just use their 6th ranked pitching to hold the Braves down and beat on them with their consistently warming bats!

Speaking of consistently warming, a few positive trends.  Over the last week...

  • Bradley is hitting .400 with a 1.060 OPS.
  • Fontenot is hitting .333 with a .927 OPS
  • Theriot?  .500 with a 1.056 OPS

In other conveniently select sample sizes, Lee hit .313 with a .955 OPS in the month of May,  Angel Guzman had a 1.64 ERA in May, and Dempster had a 3.76 ERA. 

In June, expect even more superlatives.  This team is the team to beat and eventually their luck has to even out and things have to start looking up.  They're the best team in the Central.  Now they just have to show it.

The Matchups

Tuesday, June 2 - Kenshin Kawakami vs. Randy Wells

According to mlb.com, Kawakami has a flat fastball and had poor control, so he focused on throwing first pitch strikes in his last outing.  And mlb.com also says that an aggressive team could take advantage of this.

I wonder if the Cubs read mlb.com?

Randy Wells has yet to struggle in the big leagues, with the possible exception of the first two innings of his last start.  His strikeout rate has been solid and his control excellent. 

Oh yeah, and he hasn't gotten a win yet.  Sad days for K-Fed.

Wednesday, June 3rd - Ted Lilly vs. Derek Lowe

Lilly was, yet again, excellent in his last start.  He did yell any umps, he didn't beat the Gatorade, and he didn't allow more that one run.  These are all key ingredients to a win. 

Lowe has pitched at least seven innings in his last sevens starts and has one fewer than seven wins on the season.  Lowe also has seven fingers and sevens toes* and the first two numbers of his ERA add up to seven.  When the apocalypse comes down, you might want to hang by this guy.

(* maybe not actually be true)


Thurday, June 4th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Jair Jurrjens


As usual, Carlos grabs the series' marquis matchup, taking on the man with the funky name.  Carlos is just coming off a suspension (went fast, didn't it.  Did you even notice?) and, wouldn't you know it, lands the guy with the 5-2 record and 2.59 ERA. 

Is Jair Jurrjens the best kept secret in the NL?  Did I spell his name correctly?  And how the hell am I supposed to say that name?  Answer to all these questions, and more, when we return.

Okay, we're back.  I still don't have any answers.

Sorry.

Conclusion

Concluded.

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