Monday, August 31, 2009

Harden and Heilman staying put

says Bruce Levine.

If the Cubs could have gotten a couple top prospects from the Twins, it would have been well worth it, in my opinion. But Twins GM Bill Smith was presumably (and understandably) leery about giving up top prospects for what could have turned out to be a five-week rental.

Getting absolutely anything for Heilman would have been worth it, but Brian Sabean must have made his way to his computer this morning and realized Heilman sucks.

Are we sure Zambrano's not still hurt?

Sunday: Mets 4, Cubs 1

I don't ask that just to be cantankerous. I ask it for two reasons:

1) Zambrano hasn't just struggled in his two starts since coming off the DL, he's been lit up. Seven hits and eight runs in just 4.1 innings against the Nationals on Tuesday, and then 11 hits--including five straight at one point--in just 3.1 innings Sunday against the Mets. In total, he's allowed 18 hits and 12 runs in his last two starts. It looked like batting practice despite it being a cold day (57 degrees at game time) with the wind blowing in.

2) Big Z has an ego and a serious competitive streak. He, more than some players, is the type to fight through pain when perhaps he shouldn't.

If he is in fact feeling any lingering effects from his recent DL stint, the Cubs would be better served with Tom Gorzelanny taking the ball every fifth day. Zambrano isn't fooling anybody on the mound right now.

The Cubs offense, however, was fooled all day by Nelson Figueroa. They managed seven hits, all singles, and scarcely threatened to score after taking a 1-0 lead in the first.

And may I ask, what is with Cubs players swinging on 3-0 counts this year? It's a freakin' epidemic. Milton Bradley must have a clause in his contract requiring him to do so, and Derrek Lee has done so quite a bit this year, including once on Saturday and once on Sunday.

First of all, I'm not a big fan of swinging 3-0 no matter what. As a batter, you've worked hard to get the pitcher into a terrible count, and then you bail him out by swinging at the next pitch? But hey, I realize the pitcher often grooves one right down Broadway on 3-0, and if you can tee one up and drive it hard somewhere, that's understandable. But Bradley is 1-for-14 this year when he swings at a 3-0 pitch, and Derrek Lee flied out on 3-0 each of the last two days. And, yesterday, he did so with two men on and the Cubs' most clutch hitter, Aramis Ramirez, on deck. A potential bases loaded situation vanished when a normally patient hitter took a weak swing at a pitcher's pitch. I can understand Lou giving these guys the green light, but someone needs to tell them the green light doesn't work like a stoplight--you don't have to swing!

The Cubs fell to 3-3 on the homestand and to two games over .500 overall with just one more game to play until September.

News from the South Side

The White Sox appear poised to join the Cubs at the back end of Sportscenter. They're 1-6 on their current 10-game road trip. Ozzie Guillen berated his team with a barrage of expletive-filled Ozzieness after Saturday's performance in which they tallied one hit against Sergio Mitre and the Yankees. Jose Contreras got lit up again and has been demoted to the 'pen. And their supposed savior, Jake Peavy, left his most recent rehab start and will have his elbow examined.

The Sox remain in the hunt in the AL Central, sitting six games back of a mediocre Tigers team and 1.5 games back of the how-do-they-stay-in-the-race-every-single-year Twins. But the reality is, the Sox are two games under .500, and the butt-whooping they've received from the playoff caliber Red Sox and Yankees this week has shown their true colors--a home run-dependent, defensively challenged, pitching poor team in a piss poor division.

News from the East Side

Cutler silenced the boo birds--well, actually, I think the boo birds were pretty resilient. But Cutler did all he could, completing 16 of 21 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in his return to Denver. Cutler vs. Orton was obviously the main event, but there were some great undercards as well.

Devin Hester brought back visions of 2008 when he backpedaled to the five yard line and fair caught a punt, but then reminded us of 2007 on another punt return with a great cutback move and a 54-yard return to the Denver four, leading to the go-ahead touchdown.

Adrian Peterson opened some eyes by averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 12 attempts, scoring a touchdown along the way. And that chemistry we've been hearing about between Cutler and Greg Olsen was evident as Cutler lasered a couple balls into Olsen's breadbasket (three catches, 47 yards total for Olsen).

Denver helped out the Bears defense quite a bit with some penalties (10 for 86 yards), but all in all it was a good night for Lovie Smith's squad. The Bears were facing the first of four consecutive 3-4 defensive schemes (including Cleveland in the final preseason game this week, then Green Bay and Pittsburgh in the first two regular season games), so they'll be seeing some familiar sights by the time the real games roll around.

Did you know ...

With a 4-1 loss on Sunday, the Pirates have now lost 21 straight games in Milwaukee. Twenty-one straight! That's the longest streak by one team over another at home since 1954 (Indians over the Orioles). I hope the Pirates players at least found some watering holes while in the beer haven known as Milwaukee.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meet the mets, meet the Mets, step right up and BEAT the Mets

Saturday: Cubs 11, Mets 4

Overall, the news was good on Saturday. The Cubs came back from two early deficits and pounded the Mets 11-4, winning back-to-back games for the first time since two weeks ago against the Pirates. Let's take a look at some other good news from Saturday, along with some corresponding bad news:

Good news: Ryan Dempster has now won back-to-back starts, and every Cubs starter is now over .500.

Bad news: It's the first time all season that Dempster has won consecutive starts, and how are the Cubs just three games over .500 despite every starter having more wins than losses?

Good news: Jake Fox hit his first career grand slam and had five total RBI.

Bad news: He was only playing because Soriano was at the hospital getting an MRI. The exam revealed only inflammation, and Piniella said Soriano will most likely play today. Why does Piniella continue to choose MRIs over RBIs? While Fonzie is batting .185 with just one home run and seven RBI in August, Fox is batting .327 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 16 starts this month. And after Soriano's Little League-esque defensive performance on Friday, we can officially put the "But Fox can't play defense" reasoning to rest. Fox has made just two errors in left field all year, and no one can tell me that Fox is a defensive liability compared to Sori-oh-no.

Good news: Fontenot went 1-for-2 with two RBI.

Bad news: He was playing because Jeff Baker took a ball off his pinky in batting practice, and was taken to the hospital. But wait, more good news! He's okay, and could be back as early as today. The rare good news, bad news, good news. Didn't see that comin', did ya?

Good news: Koyie Hill went 1-for-2 with an RBI.

That's bad news for Geovany Soto, who is quickly fading into the backstop background, at least when it comes to the remainder of the 2009 season.

Good news: The Rockies--with Jason Marquis on the mound--lost to the Giants, allowing the Cubs to pull within 5.5 games in the Wild Card race.

Bad news: The Cardinals beat the hapless (except when they play the Cubs) Nationals, so the Cubs remain nine back in the Central.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Soriano, no, no, yes!

Friday: Cubs 5, Nationals 2

The three fingers represent the number of runs he drove in with his game-winning home run, as well as the number of fielding miscues he had in the game.

The Cubs are 10th in the National League in runs scored, but it doesn't feel like they should even be that high, does it? They're 13th in batting average, but have used the long ball to help their cause--they've hit the fourth most home runs in the league, though it feels like they should be lower in that one too. Several key players have seen their home run tallies drop significantly from '08:



The Cubs also had 17 HR from the second base position last year, but have just seven this year. But with 137 home runs, the Cubs are on pace to hit just eight fewer home runs in '09 compared to '08.

Nevertheless, a precipitous decline in batting average, walks, on-base percentage, and a host of other offensive statistics has them in the bottom half of the league in runs scored and reveals why Cubs pitchers lead the league in batting average--because they know the only way they're going to get any run support is if they do it themselves.

On Friday, Ted Lilly was taking his fourth shot at his 10th win, and while he pitched well enough to get it, the offense managed just one first-inning run by the time Lilly had left the game in the eighth inning. When the Mets went up 2-1 in that inning, it looked like another lackluster offensive performance would do the Cubs in.

But the Cubs got Lilly off the hook for the loss when Bradley--who was on base after banging out his third hit of the game--scored on Ramirez's single through a drawn-in infield. After a walk to Jeff Baker, Soriano did the one thing the Cubs do well, launching a three-run homer to become the second Cub to reach the 20 home run plateau this year (aside: the Yankees have six players with 20 or more home runs). It was Soriano's first home run in August.

So while the Cubs will have to wait at least a few more days to get a pitcher into double digits in wins, they at least managed to beat a Mets team with guys like Angel Pagan, Fernando Tatis, Omir Santos, Cory Sullivan, Wilson Valdez, and starting pitcher Pat Misch ("Who?" "Misch." "Oooooh," as the routine between the PA announcer and the crowd used to go at Kenosha Twins games) in their starting lineup.

Lee, Ramirez and Soriano combined to go 6-for-11 with all five RBI in the game. Bradley was the only other player with any hits in the contest, notching two doubles along with a single, though he was booed after miscommunicating with Jeff Baker and dropping a fly ball.

On the mound, Ted Lilly continued to look comfortable since coming off the DL, Kevin Gregg got the win despite allowing the game-tying hit (though the run was charged to Lilly, and Soriano probably should have caught the long fly ball that resulted in said run, just one of several fielding miscues for Soriano in the game), and Carlos Marmol walked the leadoff man in the ninth but retired the next three batters to record his sixth save.

The Cardinals are now 20 games over .500 after Khalil Greene tied the game in the eighth with his first career pinch-hit home run and then Albert Pujols unloaded off Jason Bergmann in the ninth, hitting a tape measure, walk-off home run to beat the Nationals. The Cubs remain nine games back.

Like Brett Favre coming out of retirement, it was only a matter of time until ...

Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek suffered a season-ending injury. For the fourth time in his four-year career, Dvoracek will be placed on injured reserve, this time with a torn right ACL. Dvoracek's injury turns a three-man race into a two-man race between Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison.

A position battle on the same side of the ball has been decided, as Pisa Tinoisamoa (whose name might just be harder to spell than Jeff Samardzija's) will be the starting strongside linebacker alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa, who was released by the Rams last season despite leading the team in tackles, was battling Nick Roach, Jamar Williams, and to a lesser extent, Hunter Hillenmeyer.

It's a good thing he won the battle given that he's the starter on the already-released Madden 10.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is it football season yet?

Thursday: Nationals 5, Cubs 4

The good: Dodgers, Rockies, Phillies

The bad: Nationals, Padres

The ugly: The Cubs have lost to them all.

No matter which opponent takes the field against the Cubs right now, they're likely to be shaking hands after the last out is made. The Cubs are now 9-15 in August, and they have more problems than you can shake a bat at. Problems like:

-Milton Bradley taking the train back to Crazy Town, claiming that he faces "hatred" at Wrigley Field and that he prays each game goes only nine innings (no matter who's winning, presumably) so that he can get home. Phil Rogers says the Cubs should let him stay home, though that would mean eating the $21 million remaining on Bradley's contract.

-And his isn't the only contract the Cubs would love to shed but probably can't. Alfonso Soriano continues to be unproductive (0-for-4 Thursday to drop his average to .238), and the Cubs appear to be stuck with his indolence, inconsistency and ineptitude for five more years. I believe Hendry can fight his way out of this, but if he gets axed and someone else is charged with putting this team back together, I feel for them.

-No second baseman. The Cubs will need to address the hole in the middle of their infield this offseason, with Fontenot looking very much like a backup this season and Jeff Baker and Aaron Miles (shiver) the only other options on the current roster.

-Soto's demise. Wha' happened? From .285, 23 and 86 last year to .218, 9 and 31 this year. Koyie Hill--Koyie Freakin' Hill--is getting more and more playing time, and it's hard to argue with that decision; Soto's batting .150 in August after a .222 July.

-What to do with Rich Harden? Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster and Wells appear to be cemented in the 2010 rotation, but should the Cubs offer Harden a big deal? I think the Cubs should offer one or two years at a moderate salary, say $6-7 million/year. I'm not sure he'll get many offers bigger than that, given the economy and his long history of injuries.

-Randy Wells's Rookie of the Year chances are fading along with the Cubs. Now 9-7 with a 3.06 ERA, he has clearly ceded front-runner status to Spring Valley, Ill. native J.A. Happ (10-3, 2.63). Even the Braves' Tommy Hanson (9-2, 3.12) might have a leg up on Wells at this point. Wells has obviously had a fantastic season (and he deserves a better record to show for it), but his chances of picking up some hardware to remember it by have gotten a lot slimmer.

In fairness, the Cubs did get robbed Thursday on a bad call at the plate when Derrek Lee was called out trying to score on a wild pitch even though pitcher Sean Burnett tagged him with an empty glove. That's the way this season has gone on the North Side, as a chance to gain a game on the Cardinals was wasted perhaps in part because of the missed call, but mostly because the Cubs fell into a 5-0 hole against the worst team in the National League.

It's incredible that the Cardinals have the biggest cushion of any divisional leader (nine games). Last time they made the playoffs, in 2006, they scratched and clawed their way in with a mediocre 83-win season. No need for them to buckle up, put their seats in an upright position or put their tray tables up this September, for they appear headed for a soft landing in what has turned out to be a terrible division.

Like I said, is it football season yet?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Astros implement "Pujols Shift," place seven fielders on warning track

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Pujols heads back to the dugout after being robbed of a home run by one of the seven Astros playing the outfield.

ST. LOUIS--The Houston Astros may have started a trend Wednesday when they implemented what they call the "Pujols Shift," placing all their fielders except the pitcher and catcher on the warning track when Pujols batted. Manager Cecil Cooper called the experiment a success after Pujols went 2-for-4 with two home runs, including an inside-the-park home run, and two deep fly balls on which he was robbed of home runs by Astros fielders.

"I was so excited when we robbed those homers," Cooper said. "I was like, 'It worked! We did it!'"

Cooper said after the game that he plans to use the shift for the rest of the series, though he may ask the umpires if he can place some of his fielders in the stands.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cubs get "Mock"ed, humiliated

Tuesday: Nationals 15, Cubs 6

The Cubs are now 5-13 since Justin Lehr and the Reds shut them out on August 5. The swoon has dropped them nine games behind the Cardinals, and the fat lady is humming if not singing.

Even the return of Carlos Zambrano and a return to Wrigley couldn't turn the Cubs' fortunes around--Zambrano couldn't make it through the fifth, and five relievers combined to allow seven runs. The Cubs are now just one game over .500, and are in danger of dropping back to the break-even point for the first time since the All-Star break.

Alfonso Soriano was scratched from the starting lineup with a sore left knee, but he would have played had he not been hurt, given that Piniella said he'll play his veterans down the stretch. Really? Even casual Cubs fans realize that young'uns like Jake Fox and Sam Fuld have been the defibrillators who have kept the Cubs' collective heart from stopping completely. What's next, replacing Randy Wells with Aaron Heilman? How about this for a managerial approach: don't commit to playing veterans or newbies, just play the guys who produce.

On the 2010 front, both Piniella and chariman Crane Kenney will likely be back next year. Jim Hendry remains the biggest question mark.

And finally, Jason Marquis is at it again. No, he didn't pitch last night (though he got a win with eight innings of one-run ball on Monday), but the man who has made the playoffs every year of his nine-year career (despite playing with three different teams) has helped lead the Rockies to a four-game lead in the NL Wild Card race. The Rockies weren't given much of a chance heading into the season, but the analysts clearly didn't account for Jason Marquis' magical ability to will his team to the postseason.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

There's no place like home

The Cubs are coming back home, and surely they're glad to be back after a miserable road trip.

I too am glad to be home--I purchased a house in Normal and settled in this past weekend. Photographic evidence of said home:

The sign proves that I bought it.

That's it!

Living room, with gas fireplace.

Also the living room, complete with XBox, without which no home is complete.

Kitchen. Red.

Sunroom, which will soon be furnished with a patio set.

Backyard, freshly mowed by yours truly (after dad showed me the ropes), and a sweet brick patio.

Basement, with full bathroom. Not quite done yet, clearly.

One of the two bedrooms, complete with random things strewn about.

I'm very happy with it, and appreciate all the help I've received from family and friends as I turn the house into a home.

I chalk this up as a victory. Now if the Cubs could just get a few of those ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wells deserves better, Cubs can't get much worse

Friday: Dodgers 2, Cubs 1

An error by the sure-handed Ramirez and a two-run double by a career .185 hitter.

That pretty much sums up Friday's performance, at least when you add in the fact that the Cubs tallied one--uno, un, unus, eins--hit on the night. The Cardinals and Rockies lost, but they needn't look in the rearview mirror for the Cubs, for they are now 1-4 on this all-important West Coast road trip and appear to have no interest in working their way back into the thick of the playoff race.

On the bright side, Randy Wells lowered his ERA to 2.84, Sam Fuld stole a home run from Manny Ramirez, and Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless inning (thanks in part to Fuld's catch).

Despite pitching 6 2/3 innings and allowing no earned runs (two runs total), Wells' record dropped to 9-6 because of the minimal support provided by the offense. Here's hoping J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson stumble in their next outings as we root for Wells in the Rookie of the Year race.

Today's game should be interesting, with Ted Lilly making his second start since coming off the DL and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger taking the mound for the Dodgers. The Cubs have two more chances to right the ship on the road before coming home for a 10-game homestand.

Did you know ...

Mark Reynolds is just one home run off the NL-leading pace of Albert Pujols (Phat Albert has 39). However, Pujols has struck out just 51 times compared to Reynolds's 169.

Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis are tied for the NL lead in wins (14).

Zach Greinke leads the AL in ERA (2.44), but is just 3-7 since May 31.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tribune Co. to sell Cubs to Ricketts family

Though the deal must be approved by a bankruptcy judge and rubber-stamped by 75 percent of baseball owners, the Ricketts family will gain control of the team sometime after the season ends, probably in October.

With the team slowly--well, quickly, actually--swirling down the toilet, Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry now know for sure who will be deciding their respective futures in a couple months.

Grand slammed

Thursday: Dodgers 7, Cubs 2

The play that broke the back of the Cubs' 2008 season was a grand slam by the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. It might be another Dodgers grand slam that broke the back of the 2009 season.

I hope Russell Martin's slam off Guzman wasn't the death knell for the Cubs, but with the Cubs now seven games out in the division and six games out of the Wild Card race (and trailing four teams), things ain't lookin' so good.

Gorzelanny had a decent outing, allowing two runs in five innings. With Zambrano coming back on Tuesday, Gorzelanny was likely making his last start and may have been auditioning for a spot in the bullpen.

Koyie Hill (who was batting .400 in his previous three starts, but went 0-for-2 last night) started again in place of Geovany Soto, and I would like to suggest that Soriano be forced to share his position as well, with Jake Fox. Things are ugly enough for the Cubs that salaries be damned, it's time to play the guys who are producing, and Jake Fox deserves a chance to show what he's got given that Soriano is now batting .162 this month.

I've made fun of Lou before for having guys on his roster whom he doesn't use (like David Patton early in the season), but on the other side of the coin, why does he insist on using Aaron Miles? Miles was the first option off the bench last night, and every now and then he gets a spot start despite having done absolutely nothing at all to warrant one iota of playing time. Leave him on the bench so Hendry will consider sending him down and bringing up Andres Blanco. Come to think of it: Hey Hendry, consider it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One for the road

Wednesday: Cubs 7, Padres 1

Well, San Diego was about as enjoyable as a whale's vagina for the Cubs this year, but they finally proved that it is in fact possible for them to win at Petco.

Rich Harden just kept on keepin' on, lowering his road ERA to 2.02. He is now 38-0 in his career when his team scores four or more runs. Talk about locking it down.

He's been on lock down for the last month or so, having now allowed two earned runs or less in seven consecutive starts. Last night he pitched a short shutout, as Baseball Musings would say, giving up nary a run in seven innings of work. He allowed just one hit and struck out eight.

Harden didn't need much offense, but the Cubs gave him seven runs anyways. Jeff Baker went 1-for-4, and is batting .425 in the month of August. He's been the hottest Cub over the last few weeks, and that means that Aaron Miles, the worst thing since unsliced bread, should never, ever start at second base again.

Aramis Ramirez had two extra base hits including his 10th home run of the year, and how about Soriano busting it around the bases and getting a triple in the fifth inning? Pretty unbelievable that it's his first three bagger since 2007; I thought when we signed him he was speedy and athletic.

The Cardinals made news on Wednesday when they signed Red Sox castoff John Smoltz and then beat the Dodgers with a run in the ninth. Surprisingly, the Cardinals plan to slot Smoltz into the starting rotation (in place of Mitchell Boggs), despite Smoltz's 8.33 ERA in eight starts for Boston.

Marquis performance

Jason Marquis won his 14th game last night, beating the Nationals 5-4. That matches his highest win total since 2006, though he had a 6.02 ERA for the Cardinals that year (it's 3.58 this year). Two more wins would establish a new career high. The only year that really compares with 2009 for Marquis is 2004, when he went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA. Who knew this would be the year Marquis would live up to his $9 million salary?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Death, taxes, and Brett Favre being a drama queen

Can anyone really be surprised that Brett Favre is coming back to the NFL?

After months of "I don't know"s and "We'll see"s, and just weeks after "No, I'm staying retired," we now have "I'm back."

In one of my first ever blog posts, I talked about how I (rather unexpectedly) came to appreciate Brett Favre in what seemed to be the last couple years of his career. However, his faux retirement from the Packers and ensuing stint with the Jets made him seem fake and calculated off the field, a far cry from the raw, emotional quarterback he's always been on the field.

When he delivered a supposedly heartfelt and sincere speech announcing his official retirement this past February, it got me choked up--from the vomit in my throat. I would have put money on him coming back to the NFL this season. And lo and behold, after forcing sports fans to endure SportsCenter stories about him every freakin' week since about May, after supposedly thinking things through and finally, ultimately, conclusively deciding that he was walking away from football, here we are: Brett Favre is a Viking.

And know this: my anger is not founded on bitterness or frustration over the fact that Favre is back in the Bears' division. In fact, I'm glad he's back. You know what he led the league in last year? Interceptions. 22 of them. And 10 fumbles to boot. He had a passer rating of 81, good for 21st in the NFL. And he's gonna hit the big four-oh in October. And he missed the first several weeks of training camp. I'm sick of Brett Favre's drama, but as a Bears fan, I say welcome to the black and blue division, pal.

I always look forward to the clashes with the Packers more than any other games on the Bears' schedule. But this year, the games with the Vikings will be a very, very close second. I hope Brian Urlacher et al knock the gray hair right off that little drama queen head of his, and I hope they inflict so much pain on him that he'll have no choice but to retire right then and there.

For good.

Gregg gets stung, then demoted

Monday: Padres 4, Cubs 1

That one hurts. The Cubs are now six games behind the Cardinals and failed to take advantage of an opportunity to gain a 1/2 game in the Wild Card race with a horrific loss to the third worst team in the National League.

Until the 9th inning, the story was the return of both Ted Lilly and Aramis Ramirez.

We hadn't seen Lilly in nearly a month, when he allowed 10 runs in Philadelphia on July 20. Before that, he had three consecutive strong starts. He pitched well last night, giving the Cubs six scoreless innings despite being on an 85-90 pitch count. With only 70 pitches thrown, I'm not sure why Piniella took him down for a pinch-hitter given how well he was pitching. I know the bullpen was at full strength after the rainout on Sunday, but I'd rather see Lilly go one more inning than see three innings from our bullpen.

And while Aramis singled in a pinch-hit appearance on Saturday, he hadn't started since August 8 at Colorado when he left with shoulder soreness. Last night, he had two of the Cubs' seven hits
and drove in their only run.

And that run looked like it would hold up, but Kevin Gregg allowed a walk, a double, an intentional walk and a three -run homer, blowing his sixth save of the season. Ouch. And it sounds like Gregg is now out as the Cubs' closer. I don't think that's necessarily a terrible move given Gregg's recent struggles, but I don't think we should trot Marmol out there every game.

The Padres, by the way, are the only non-NL Central team the Cubs face three times this season. The Cubs swept them at home and got swept at Petco earlier in the season; let's hope a third sweep is not in the works.

While Gregg is the main culprit, you also have to look at an offense that once again looked completely disinterested in scoring any runs on the road. The Cubs had a grand total of two extra base hits, and gave Lilly and the 'pen just one measly run to work with.

Heading into the game, the 6-7-8-9 hitters in the Cubs lineup (Fontenot, Soto, Miles, Lilly) were batting .227, .225, .185 and .073, respectively. Shockingly, they combined to go 0-for-13, and they also left 10 men on base. Aaron Miles is 1-for-20 since coming off the DL. I would be happy if the Cubs traded him for a bag of peanuts. I don't even care if they're unsalted peanuts. Expired, even.

When Carlos Zambrano returns next Tuesday, the Cubs will essentially be back at full strength. Let's hope it's not too late.

Strasburg signs at the last minute

The Nationals came within minutes of failing to sign their top draft pick for the second straight year.

Because Stephen Strasburg is represented by super (evil) agent Scott Boras, baseball's top draft pick nearly remained unsigned at the signing deadline. He scoffed at $12.5 million, asking for multiple times that. But ultimately, he signed for about $15 million. That breaks the record for a draft pick's contract, formerly held by Mark Prior. It would have been a damned shame if a player who has not yet played a single major league game walked away from an eight-figure contract despite the fact that it would have been nearly impossible to improve upon the college numbers he put up last year at San Diego State.

Rookie of the Year Watch

J.A. Happ won his ninth game for the Phillies Sunday night, matching Randy Wells' win total. Tommy Hanson beat the Diamondbacks last night, moving his record to 8-2.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Major surprises

This year's golf majors were all about who didn't win.

On Sunday, Tiger Woods lost a major for the first time in 15 attempts when atop the leaderboard after the third round. Y.E. Yang, ranked 110th in the world, took advantage of some shoddy putting by the best golfer in the world to win for just the second time on the tour. He is the first Asian-born player to win a major.

The stunning comeback also marked Woods' first major-less year since 2004. So apparently he is human, though he's still won five of the 13 tournaments he's entered this year, and finished in the top 10 in three of the four majors.

Viewers probably should have expected the unexpected on Sunday given the way the year's first three majors ended.

First, 48-year-old Kenny Perry was on the verge of making history by becoming the oldest Masters champion, but folded up his tent a couple holes too early and lost to Angel Cabrera in a playoff. Phil Mickelson, not long after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, was on the cusp of winning the U.S. Open until Lucas Glover came out of nowhere to win it. And then, at the British Open, 59-year-old Tom Watson had a putt on 18 that would have won it, but he missed it and then lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.

The majors were anything but foregone conclusions this year, and a sport that sometimes lacks drama has had plenty of it in 2009. Congrats, Y.E. Yang, and Tiger--pull it together!

Adding injury to injury

Because the Mets just didn't have enough players on the DL, David Wright was hit in the head with a 94 mph fastball on Saturday and could be out for the year.

It's scary when we're reminded of the true danger professional athletes are in while at work. A fastball to the head, a tackle that bends the neck the wrong way, landing awkwardly after a contested layup--you hate to see injuries that require a hospital instead of just a trainer. In fact, two others players were hit in the head Saturday; both Texas' Ian Kinsler and the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda are doing okay after their respective beanings (Kuroda was hit with a batted ball while on the mound).

Zambrano has been "lazy"

Carlos Zambrano says he's been lazy about his ab workouts, which doctors say has contributed to his recurring back problems. It's great that he owned up to his dilatoriness, but now he needs to do what he said he will and commit to working out the way a $91 million investment should.

Orton hears a boo

After getting booed during training camp, Kyle Orton threw three interceptions in the Broncos' first preseason game. I'm pretty sure Orton shaved his beard, an act that I assumed would immediately turn him into a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. We'll see what happens when the real season starts.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Pirates couldn't have come at a better time

Saturday: Cubs 17, Pirates 2

I see no reason why Major League Baseball can't allow the Cubs to face Charlie Morton every single day.

He faced the Cubs on August 13, 2008, as a member of the Braves, and didn't make it out of the 3rd inning. He allowed four hits, four walks, and ... four runs, en route to a 10-2 Cubs win.

On Friday, he one-downed (opposite of one-upped) himself by failing to get an out in the 2nd inning. Seven hits, three walks, TEN runs. In just one inning. So in his two starts against the Cubs, Morton's ERA is 37.80. His 2009 ERA was 3.81 heading into Friday's game, but it was 5.15 when he hit the showers.

Friday's fun fest featured some feats you don't see every day, and I figured we could all use some fun facts after a painful week of Cubs baseball, so let's get to it:

  • By the 2nd inning, every Cubs starter--including Randy Wells--had at least one hit.
  • The Cubs scored 10 runs in the 2nd, more than the nine runs they scored in the three-game series against the Phillies.
  • The Cubs batted around in the 2nd inning before making an out.
  • The Cubs had five plate appearances with the bases loaded in the 2nd inning, and seven total bases loaded plate appearances in the game.
  • By the 4th inning, Derrek Lee had come to the plate three times with the bases loaded. He walked and doubled twice in those three at-bats. Lee tied a career high with seven RBI; he had seven RBI on July 2 of this year against the Brewers.
  • Through the 4th inning, the Cubs had racked up five walks, eight singles, three doubles, two triples, and a home run.
  • 17 runs is the most scored by the Cubs since a 19-run outburst April 30, 2008, against the Brewers.
  • The last time the Cubs scored 14 runs by the 2nd inning was 1906.
  • Last Saturday, the Cubs had 17 hits and only five runs. Friday, they had 18 hits and 17 runs.
The offense obviously did its job, and so did Randy Wells. With his ninth victory, he tied Ted Lilly for the team lead in wins. Why Lou Piniella took him out after six innings and just 86 pitches, despite a beleaguered bullpen, is beyond me. Wells has now pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA leaderboard, and is tied for 12th in the NL with a 3.01 ERA.

Saturday, Tom Gorzelanny will start against his former team. Hopefully he'll enjoy his first start at Wrigley as a Cub, and hopefully the offense has some more runs in 'em.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sweeping failure

Thursday: Phillies 6, Cubs 1

Remember July 22? Probably not offhand, but I bring it up because that was the last time the Cubs were this few games over .500 (three).

Remember 1984? I don't, but that's the last time the Cubs were swept at home by the Phillies.

Suffice to say, it was not a good day, and it has not been a good week, for the Cubs. They don't look like they could beat the Melrose National Little League Phillies right now, let alone the major league team led by Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard et al. It was another laugher on Thursday, but only because the laughter keeps back the tears.

Here's my one positive from the game: Soriano tried to bunt. He failed, but he tried. Baby steps, people.

Okay, one more positive: Justin Berg had a successful major league debut, pitching two scoreless innings. Perhaps he could be our 8th inning guy?

Though the opponent doesn't seem to matter all that much right now, two last place teams will greet the Cubs in the coming week. The Pirates, who I believe have only 12 players on their roster after their trading binge, come to town for three, followed by a West Coast road trip which begins in San Diego. Ramirez should be back today, and hopefully the rest of the Cubs will be, too.

Maybe security was drunk, too

Regarding that beer-tossing fan from Wednesday, they did get the wrong guy. The culprit has now turned himself in. Here's the story. There's a good photo in that link of the main people involved.

(hat tip: Sherry Christol)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tellin' it like it is

I'm sick of talking about potential.

I'm tired of doubles that turn into singles.

I'm sick of being the worst fielding team in the league, or damn close.

I'm tired of hits that come only when no one is on base.

I'm sick of a bullpen that can't hold a lead.

I'm tired of the wrong players being kept on the major league roster while better options rot in the minors.

I'm sick of runners at second with nobody out staying at second with one out.

I'm tired of runners at third with less than two outs still standing at third when the inning ends.

I'm sick of a team that turns any park not called "Wrigley Field" into a house of horrors.

I'm sick of a $40 million outfield trio that has been outperformed by Josh Willingham ($3 mil; .304, 18, 46), Shane Victorino ($3 mil; .310, 9, 52), and Hunter Pence ($439,000; .291, 16, 52).

I'm tired of watching Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker and Aaron Miles try to replace Mark DeRosa.

I'm sick of watching Geovany Soto flail away at the plate as if he's never heard the words "Rookie of the Year."

I'm tired of Carlos Zambrano's antics and inability to transform from a joker into an ace.

I'm even sick of fans throwing things at opposing players (by the way, did they eject the right person after that bleacher fan threw his beer on Shane Victorino?)

But mostly, I'm sick of rooting for a team that's so damned hard to root for. Remember how the Cubs just found ways to win in 2008? Clutch hitting, no excuses, a manager on his toes, consistency, fundamentals, hustle. How many of those descriptors fit the 2009 version of the Cubs?

Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm a Cubs fan. Always have been, always will be. But it sure takes a lot of the fun out of it when you watch them play and feel like they don't deserve to win.

Last year, casual baseball fans would say, "Wow, you gotta hand it to the Cubs. They're never out of a game, and they come to play."

This year, they say, "How are they only a few games out of first?" or "How did they not lose that game last night? They sure tried."

I don't have any answers. I honestly have no idea how a team can go from all out effort and 97 wins one year to lazy and overpaid and .500 the next, with much the same roster and the same man at the helm. What I do know is that the Cubs must have read a few too many preseason predictions this year, and thought they'd coast to the playoffs. This version of Cubs baseball is not what I signed up for when the season started.

I write all this knowing the season isn't over. There are exactly 50 games left, nearly a third of the season. The Cubs could sneak their way into the playoffs on the back of the Cardinals struggling. Or better yet, the Cubs could still turn it around. We've seen teams like the Astros, Marlins and Rockies put it together late and earn a postseason berth, and the Cubs could do it too.

And I'll certainly be rooting for that to happen.

But until and unless something changes, count me as one of the weary. I'm sick of the lack of leadership on this team, and I'm tired of the lack of effort. Play ball, dammit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Even Wrigley can't save the Cubs; 11 more runners stranded leads to fifth loss in six games

Tuesday: Phillies 4, Cubs 3 (12 inn.)

Tell me if you've heard this one before: The Cubs pounded out a bunch of hits, putting pressure on the other team's pitching all day. But they came up empty time after time with runners on base, and ultimately lost the game.

Oh, you've heard that one before? What's that, you say? That was the case in each of the last two games as well? Hm, come to think of it, you're right.

Perhaps the Cubs don't realize that it only counts if you touch home. Stepping on first, second or third doesn't count in the final score, boys.

But they still had a chance to win because Rich Harden was lights out. Since the All-Star break, Harden has been practically unhittable. In six starts, he's allowed just six earned runs and 19 hits in 37 innings while striking out 47 (1.95 ERA). Harden and Randy Wells are big reasons the Cubs are still afloat with Lilly and Zambrano on the DL.

But once Harden left the game, the tune quickly changed. Let me know if you've heard this one: Carlos Marmol walked three and hit a batter, and he walked in a run.

Yeah, I've heard it too.

What the f*** is wrong with Carlos Marmol? How can a big league pitcher have such bad control? It seems like 75 percent of the time he throws, he has no idea where the ball's going to go. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of baseball, that's not an effective way to pitch.

Is it worth entertaining the notion of sending Marmol down to the minors to try to find his command? It seems to me that Lou can't just keep trotting him out there in the 8th inning of close games. He could use Grabow and Guzman as the primary set-up men. I realize Marmol has great "stuff," and he certainly has the potential to mow guys down, but perhaps a little time in Iowa would help him figure things out.

Grabow and Guzman came on to pitch effectively, and Gregg had a perfect 11th, but he then allowed a leadoff home run to Ben Francisco in the 12th. That turned out to be the decisive run, and the Cubs lost game one of the series with Samardzija starting tonight and Cliff Lee on the mound for the Phillies Thursday.

With an early 2-0 lead and Rich Harden dealing (he took a perfect game into the 6th), it looked like the Cubs were taking advantage of some more home cookin'. The Cubs' home winning percentage is second only to the Giants in the NL, and they were 8-2 in their last 10 at Wrigley prior to last night.

But after leaving 13 men on base in each of the last two games in Colorado, the Cubs stranded 11 more on Tuesday. They had several chances--especially early--to build a bigger lead, but refused to take advantage. Their .232 average with runners in scoring position is the worst in the league. Contrast that with the Cardinals, who are batting .263 in RBI situations, and you get an idea why the Cubs are looking up at them in the standings. For whatever reason, the Cubs seem to find ways to lose this year after consistently finding ways to win last year.

On the bright side, the Cardinals lost to Justin Lehr and the Reds, so the divisional deficit remains at three games. The Cardinals will have Chris Carpenter on the mound tonight.

By the way, I've talked a lot about the Rookie of the Year competition, which includes J.A. Happ, who pitched well and got a no decision last night. But I need to mention that Tommy Hanson, a 22-year-old Braves rookie who was called up in June, improved to 7-2 last night. He has a 3.05 ERA, and has placed himself firmly in the rearview mirror of Happ and Randy Wells.

And it isn't J.A. Happ who will go to the pen with Pedro coming off the DL tonight, it's veteran Jamie Moyer. And he ain't happy about it.

From the blogs

Is Carlos Zambrano the most overpaid player in baseball? David Kaplan thinks so. Jorge Says No! disagrees, as do I.

The dynasty is over

The Nationals' eight-game winning streak ended with a 8-1 loss to the Braves. Don't look now, Phillies--they're only 23 1/2 games behind you!

Sexual harassment isn't funny ...

... but this is hilarious.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to say ...

Monday: Rockies 11, Cubs 5

A 4-6 road trip.

Gorzelanny goes down in the 2nd inning.

Ramirez might have to go on the DL.

The Phillies are coming to town.

The Cubs are three games back in the division and the Wild Card.

So, yeah, there aren't a whole lot of positives to talk about today.

Let's look forward: The Cubs will have a chance to help Randy Wells' Rookie of the Year chances if they can beat up on J.A. Happ tonight. Tomorrow, Pedro Martinez will make his first start of the year, and it'd be nice to win that one with last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, taking the mound on Thursday.

The Cubs will be trying to build on their stellar 33-19 home record, and things start to look a little brighter after Philadelphia with the Pirates and Padres on the schedule. The Cardinals schedule is very weak in August, but heats up in September. If the Cubs can stay close over the next couple weeks, perhaps they can get healthy in September and really make a run.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hit and no run; Cubs get 17 hits but find themselves on the wrong end of a blowout

Sunday: Rockies 11, Cubs 5

Have you ever seen a team get 17 hits and score only five runs?

Sunday's game was something of a microcosm of what's been wrong with the Cubs this year. They were unable to get the big hit (5-for-19 with runners in scoring position), struggled in the field (three errors, which they spread around among the catcher's position, the infield, and the outfield), and the bullpen couldn't get anyone out.

The problems, though, started with the starter, as Randy Wells had one of his worst outings of the year. In fact, the seven runs he allowed are the most he's ever allowed in the majors, and the four earned runs are tied for the most he's ever allowed. He just wasn't sharp, as he fell behind hitters all day and needed 100 pitches to get through 5.1 innings. His ERA rose to 3.01, and he came just 1.1 innings shy of qualifying for the ERA leaderboard. He will almost certainly qualify after his next start Friday against the Pirates.

The Cubs are entering a dangerous stretch. The Cardinals used a five-run 8th to sweep the Pirates, pushing the Cubs two games back in the Central, and they're also two games out in the Wild Card. After one more with the Rockies, the Cubs will battle the Phillies (though perhaps they're catching them at the right time--they were just swept by the Marlins) while the Cardinals come home to face the Reds and Padres, two of the four worst teams in the league.

The Cubs offense was locked in Sunday, except when it came to scoring runs. They had at least two hits in each of the first four innings, but tallied just two runs. Second base umpire Chris Guccione cost them one run with an absolutely awful call at second (after which Piniella was ejected for the second time this season), and Jake Fox should have had an RBI were it not for his gapper bouncing over the wall for a ground-rule double. The Cubs finished with a season-high 17 hits overall, but just couldn't figure out ways to plate enough of those baserunners. They stranded 13 in all.

The bottom of the order, which consisted of Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill, really had it going. Baker had a double and a triple against his former team, and Hill had three hits and an RBI.

A win tonight would give the Cubs a 5-5 road trip, which to me is perfectly acceptable. Tom Gorzelanny will try to follow up a very successful start against the Reds, going up against Jorge De La Rosa who has a 5.00 ERA and is coming off a very poor start against the Phillies.

By the way, if you're feeling down about the Cubs at all, just tell yourself, "At least we're not the Red Sox." Boston went into the Bronx down 2 1/2 games in the AL East, and proceeded to get swept in a four-game series. At one point, they went over 30 innings without scoring a run. They finally scored two in the 8th last night to take a 2-1 lead, and promptly allowed four runs in the bottom of the inning on their way to a loss. So the Red Sox suddenly find themselves 6 1/2 games out of first.

Kane it be true?

I sincerely hope the allegations about Patrick Kane aren't true. I don't care about hockey, but for any superstar athlete (or any person, for that matter) to beat up a cab driver over any amount of money, let alone 20 freakin' cents, is unconscionable. If it's true, this will be quite the scar on the face of the Blackhawks organization.

Major momentum

Tiger Woods won for the second straight week, conquering the Bridgestone Invitational for the seventh time. It was the 70th win of his career, bringing him within 12 of Sam Snead's all-time record. Tiger's surely glad to have some momentum heading into this week's PGA Championship, the year's final major.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dempster gets first win since July 2, Cubs hope for good news on Zambrano, Ramirez

Saturday: Cubs 6, Rockies 5

A strange win, but a big one.

Lou trotted out a brand new lineup, the Cubs made several defensive mistakes, and the Rockies had 11 hits, yet the Cubs got a big win to bring them back to 4-4 on the road trip.

I may have liked Saturday's lineup even more than Friday's. When I heard Fukudome was out of the leadoff spot, I was not happy. He has clearly made himself a nice home at the top of the order. However, the downside of batting Bradley second is that Theriot has to bat too far down in the order. Theriot can certainly hold his own in the leadoff spot, and if Fukudome can carry over his success to the five spot, then Lou can bide some time until Soto (hopefully) gets his swing going. Fukudome had a double and a home run, while Theriot had three singles, an RBI and a run scored.

And with a quality start from Ryan Dempster and three scoreless innings from the bullpen (including Marmol's best outing in a long time), the Cubs were able to remain one game behind the Cardinals. Bradley reached base two more times, Derrek Lee connected for his 23rd home run of the season, and even Aaron Miles connected for a triple and came around to score.

But still I ask: why oh why was Aaron Miles starting again? (Actually, I'll tell you: he was 6-for-16 against Marquis in his career.) If you ask me, he shouldn't even be on the roster, but for goodness' sake, at least stop trotting him out there as part of the starting lineup. There is absolutely no reason why Andres Blanco, who was batting 40 points higher than Miles and is 10 times the fielder (he may be the best fielder the Cubs have had all year), is in the minors while Miles is wasting space on the Cubs roster.

Speaking of who is and isn't on the roster, Carlos Zambrano was placed on the DL for the second time this season due to back spasms. Reliever Jeff Stevens was recalled to replace him. Because he hasn't pitched since Aug. 1, Zambrano will be eligible to return next Monday, Aug. 17. It sounds like Jeff Samardzija will start in his place on Wednesday against the Phillies. With John Grabow now in the bullpen, I would prefer Marshall to get the start, but on the bright side, Samardzija won't be coming on in relief over the next few days!

On top of Zambrano's injury, the injury bug bit the Cubs yet again, as Aramis Ramirez appeared to tweak his shoulder early in the game, and left in the 5th. Hopefully he'll be okay, but we'll at least see Jake Fox at the hot corner today, if not for a few days.

The Cubs have the third worst fielding percentage in the National League this year, and their glovework was perhaps the main reason Saturday's game was so close. In the 4th inning, the Cubs infield did their best impression of the Washington Generals.

First, Theriot was unable to grab a grounder up the middle that would have resulted in at least one out, if not two. On the very next play, Ramirez booted an easy double play grounder, and the stage was set for a big Rockies inning. One was inclined to feel bad for Ryan Dempster, but then he failed to cover first base on what could have been a double play later in the inning. Good ol' Aaron Miles then ran away from second base after Soto threw to second on a wild pitch, conceding the base as he looked to see if the runner at third was going to break for home (he didn't). That's FIVE extra outs the Cubs gave the Rockies in one inning.

All muscle, no hustle

Piniella needs to start benching or fining guys for a lack of effort. That may sound old school or overreactive, but the fact is, the Cubs may put out less effort than any team in baseball. The lineup is loaded with primadonnas who can't bring themselves to run hard when they put the ball in play. Soriano turned a double into a single on Friday, and Bradley came within a split-second of costing the Cubs a run when he decided to admire a ball he hit instead of running hard. He was tagged out at second for the third out just after Theriot crossed the plate with the go-ahead run. I don't care who you are or how much you make, RUN! This isn't football or soccer--you really don't have to run full speed all that often. Props to Bob Brenly for voicing a similar position during last night's broadcast.

Remember him?

Jason Dubois was traded
to the Mets Friday, and was assigned to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He played 72 games for the Cubs between 2004 and 2005, batting .236 with eight home runs and 27 RBI.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zambrano scratched, Cubs overmatched

Friday: Rockies 6, Cubs 2

It was a day of bad news for the Cubs.

First, the Cardinals came back to beat the Pirates 6-4.

Then, Carlos Zambrano was scratched from his start when his back stiffened up while playing long toss before the game. How he made it five days--including a bullpen session--without any trouble, only to be scratched minutes before his start is beyond me. We'll see if Zambrano will be placed on the DL for the second time this season. Because his last start was August 1, he would already be halfway done with his DL stint if they make it retroactive.

Sean Marshall stepped in on (very) short notice, but showed why his career ERA is 2 1/2 points higher as a starter than as a reliever. He needed over 60 pitches to get through two innings, allowing three runs in his short outing. The Cubs may need to make a roster move this weekend, as four relievers were forced to throw all eight innings in the first of four games at hitter friendly Coors Field.

Let's get to the lineup changes: though the Cubs only tallied two runs on Friday, I like Bradley batting second. When the Cubs signed him, they thought they were getting an on-base guy with some pop in his bat. But so far, he's only lived up to the first part of that reputation. Despite a .252 average, he's got a .394 OBP, better than that of Adrian Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Braun (and nearly 50 points higher than Ryan Theriot's as well). For that reason, he's much better-suited for the two-hole, where he can get on base for Lee, Ramirez, Soto and Soriano.

However, I'm not sure why Theriot was dropped all the way to eighth. He's hitting 60 points higher than Fontenot, and has the highest average on the team. It's a waste of his ability to have him right in front of the pitcher where he won't see many pitches to hit. I'd prefer to see Theriot seventh and Fontenot behind him.

The Cubs have started a lot of positive trends in the second half, but here's a negative one that they need to buck: they're now 2-5 against teams above .500.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rookie still struggling to master the art of eating sunflower seeds

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher Derek Holland has had some success on the field this year, but the dugout is a different story. According to teammates, Holland absolutely sucks at eating sunflower seeds.

"He always ends up either cracking them open with his fingers, or just swallowing them whole," said second baseman Aaron Hill. "Every couple of innings, you'll hear someone sort of coughing and making choking sounds at the end of the bench. It's really embarrassing."

Any Major Leaguer worth his salt has mastered the art of eating sunflower seeds. This consists of putting the entire seed--shell and all--into the mouth, then cracking it open with one's teeth and spitting the shell out while eating the seed itself. But Holland consistently falters somewhere in that process, sometimes spitting out the entire seed by accident, sometimes choking on sharp shards of shell, sometimes admitting defeat by cracking the shell open with his fingers. Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi said he has considered sending Holland back to the minors for more seasoning.

"We don't want it to turn into one of those unfortunate baseball stories," Ricciardi said. "We don't want it to start affecting him mentally, to the point where there's no coming back from it. He's an important piece of our team, but he's going to have to get his act together when it comes to eating sunflower seeds."

Manager Cito Gaston plans to get in some extra sunflower seed work with Holland, even if it means cutting back on batting and fielding practice.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New York Mess

I cannot recall a team running into worse luck than the 2009 Mets. Mets players on the DL include:

Starting Pitchers
John Maine
Fernando Nieve

J.J. Putz
Billy Wagner

Jose Reyes
Carlos Delgado
Ramon Martinez

Carlos Beltran

Oh, wait, I forgot: Luis Castillo tripped going down the dugout steps on Wednesday, and sprained his ankle. Seriously.

So the Mets starting lineup looked like this yesterday:

Angel Pagan
Alex Cora
David Wright
Gary Sheffield (who, by the way, just came off the DL)
Daniel Murphy
Jeff Francoeur
Brian Schneider
Angel Berroa

This, my friends, is the $135 million New York Mets, the team with a payroll second only to the Yankees.

Oh, wait, one more thing: the Mets starter yesterday was Jon Niese. Niese was called up from the minors in May because ... you guessed it ... Oliver Perez got injured. Niese hurt his hamstring covering first base in the 2nd inning, decided he was okay, then immediately collapsed while throwing a practice pitch and had to leave the game. He needs surgery and is out for the year.

Um, sorry, one more thing: Gary Sheffield hurt his hamstring running to first in the 6th inning. He also left the game.

The Mets still managed to beat the Cardinals 9-0, and are five games under .500, which is actually pretty impressive.

Wednesday: Reds 4, Cubs 0

Justin Lehr is an a**hole.

Okay, that's probably not fair. But who does he think he is? A four-hit shutout?

The man hadn't pitched in the majors since 2006.

The most wins he's ever had in a season is two.


He's owned in .1% of ESPN fantasy leagues. And that's up .1% this week.

In the 2007 Caribbean Series, he had an ERA of 162.00.

But nevertheless, he absolutely steamrolled the Cubs. He went the distance, allowing nothing but singles to Lee, Bradley and Soriano, a bloop double to Rich Harden, and the obligatory walk by Bradley.

Rich Harden struggled mightily in the 2nd, but ended up with a quality start and nine strikeouts. It's his fifth "good" start in a row--he did go just five innings last time out against Florida, but you have to go back to July 10 against the Cardinals to find his last truly disappointing outing.

Perhaps we shouldn't be greedy--the Cubs had won six straight against the Reds before Wednesday--but this one would have been nice to win. It would have given the Cubs a 4-2 record on the road trip, meaning a split with Colorado would net a winning 6-4 trip. Instead, the Cubs head to the Centennial State hoping to win three of four.

By the way, it's one thing for Aaron Miles to be activated from the DL, but did Lou need to start him--and bat him second?! He went 0-for-3 to lower his average to, ahem, .198. That's below the Mendoza Line.

To make room for Miles, Jeff Stevens was sent down, meaning Jeff Samardzija stays. In a separate move, reliever Jason Waddell was released.

Rookie of the Year Watch

J.A. Happ dominated the Rockies on Wednesday to move to 8-2. He saw Randy Wells' 7.1 inning, one-run performance, and raised him a complete game, four-hit shutout. Now both pitchers have eight wins, and their ERAs are virtually identical: 2.74 for Happ, 2.73 for Wells. The question remains: will Happ stay in the rotation when Pedro Martinez is activated from the DL?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

B.J. Ryan released

While the Tom Gorzelanny Experiment is off to a rousing start, the B.J. Ryan Experiment has come to a quick conclusion. The former Blue Jays closer requested his release from the organization today, and the Cubs granted it. According to Gordon Wittenmyer, Ryan felt that his velocity and sharpness weren't going to return.

Dusty can't be having much fun this year; Gorzelanny and Cubs defeat punchless Reds to reach new high-water mark

Tuesday: Cubs 6, Reds 3

Tom Gorzelanny sneaking a peak at his name being back on a major league scoreboard. Or looking at something else. Yeah, he's probably looking at something else.

The Tom Gorzelanny Experiment is a success!

Well, maybe it's too early to report that. But it's off to a helluva start: 7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. How sweet is that? It was his first start since September 10, 2008.

And he can hit! Well, not really. He was an almost impossibly bad 7-for-113 in his career entering Tuesday, but he had a nice little bloop RBI single to raise his career average to .069. That's right, .069.

Gorzelanny will likely get three starts before Lilly returns, and almost certainly be replaced at that point even if he pitches well. But he could become a bullpen option if he pitches well enough to warrant it.

Fukudome provided some instant offense for Gorzelanny, doing his best impression of Alfonso Soriano with a home run to begin the game. It was his first since July 8 off the Braves' Kenshin Kawakami. He reached base twice in the game, and has a .440 OBP when batting leadoff.

The Cubs could have a 12 percent roster turnover from Tuesday to Wednesday:
  • Andres Blanco was placed on the DL with a left calf strain to make room for Tom Gorzelanny. If Blanco's really injured, then so be it. But if not, I strongly prefer him over ...
  • Aaron Miles, who will be activated today (are we sure he's healthy? Maybe he needs a little more time ...). Presumably, a Jeff will be sent to the minors to accommodate Miles--either Stevens or Samardzija. As I said Sunday, I put both hands up to vote for Samardzija.
  • Geovany Soto could be activated as early as today, requiring yet another roster move. Fox and Baker are almost surely safe, leaving Hoffpauir and Fuld as the options. I opt for Hoffpauir, who is rotting on the bench and is batting just .179 since June 1.
Rich Harden has been hot lately, while Justin Lehr will be making just his second career start. Can anyone say "sweep"?

Triple Crown?

I was going to write here about how Albert Pujols' triple crown chances were slipping away. Mark Reynolds had pulled to within two home runs of the league lead, while Prince Fielder had passed Pujols by one in RBI. But then Pujols hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and recorded five RBI as the Cardinals beat the Mets 12-7 in 10 innings. Pujols is fifth in the league in batting average, however, 19 points behind Hanley Ramirez.

You can't make ...

this up.