Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bearing down

The Bears had a big day on Friday, signing free agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (PEES-oh tee-noy-SAW-mo-ah), giving defensive lineman Israel Idonije a two-year extension (he had been signed through 2010), and inking seven of their nine draft picks to contracts.

Tinoisamoa, who will turn 28 in July, will most likely replace Hunter Hillenmeyer, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery. He played under Lovie Smith for one year when Smith was the defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Tinoi (may I call you Tinoi?) had 104 tackles last year; as a point of comparison, Urlacher had 93. To be fair, the only other season he had more tackles than Urlacher was 2004, when Urlacher missed seven games.

After improving their offense by acquiring Jay Cutler, it's good to see Jerry Angelo working to improve the defense as well. The Bears "D" allowed 334 yards per game in 2008, 21st in the NFL.

Not Yankin' yer chain

The Yankees have taken over first place in the AL East, and while that doesn't sound like a big deal, it's the first time they've been atop the division since they won the division in 2006.

A rotation spot to Phil

With Brett Myers out for the season after electing to have hip surgery, the Phillies could pursue an impact pitcher such as Roy Oswalt or Erik Bedard, according to Ken Rosenthal. As of Saturday morning, the Phillies trailed the Mets by .5 game in the NL East.

Wings clipped

While I wouldn't mind seeing LeBron and Kobe go at it for the title (this was written Saturday morning, so if the Cavs lost Saturday, then never mind), Denver was a pretty fun team to watch. Birdman absolutely cracks me up, and with Carmelo, Chauncey and Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets were an exciting bunch.

If the Magic manage to de-throne the King Saturday night, I'll be rooting for them as the underdog against the Lakers. But what I'd most like to see is for LeBron to get his first ring. Just for perspective: MJ won his first title in his seventh year; this is LeBron's sixth year.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cubs pitchers continue to dodge LA's bats, Cubs win 2-1

Friday: Cubs 2, Dodgers 1

-The Cubs won a low-scoring game! The Cubs won a low-scoring game! For the first time since September 11 of last year, the Cubs won a game while scoring fewer than four runs; they're now 1-19 when doing so this season.

-Just like I said when the season started: Koyie Hill will have more home runs than Geovany Soto this year.

-It's still a very, very small sample size, but Jake Fox has thus far shown the ability to translate his minor league achievements into success at the major league level. Despite pinch-hitting in three of his four at-bats, he's 3-for-4 (in fact, the only time he failed to record a hit was when he wasn't pinch-hitting). Fox also scored the winning run on Friday.

-Lilly recorded his sixth win of the year with seven strong innings; only Johan Santana and Bronson Arroyo have more wins in the NL.

-After facing Randy Wolf and Chad Billingsley, the series is tied at one. Now the Cubs will see a couple more hittable pitchers in Eric Stults and Eric Milton. Wolf and Billingsley have batting averages against in the .220's, while Stults and Milton allow averages over .250.

Central intelligence

-Brewers GM Doug Melvin said his team is not currently going after Jake Peavy or anyone other trade targets.

-The Cardinals lost 4-2 to Matt Cain and the Giants, pulling the Cubs to within 3.5 games of first.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cubs can't unload in the ninth, fall to 4.5 back

Thursday: Dodgers 2, Cubs 1

-First, I must say that I disagree with MLB's six-game suspension of Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano acted childish, no doubt, but Mark Carlson initiated the contact. Luckily, the Cubs have an off day Monday and Zambrano will simply start two days later (Thursday) than he would have were it not for the suspension.

-Can someone please tell me why the switch-hitting Andres Blanco keeps batting left-handed against left-handed pitchers? All four of his at-bats have been against lefties, yet he's batted lefty in his last three at-bats.

-While I've become more understanding of Soriano batting leadoff, it's a damn shame that he can't be asked to bunt. Trailing 2-1 with runners at first and second and nobody out in the eighth, he faked as if to bunt on the first pitch and then quickly struck out swinging on two breaking balls outside. With Theriot on deck, a bunt would have put the Cubs in a great position to at least tie the game.

-You've gotta tip your hat to Randy Wells: seven innings, two runs against the highest scoring team in the majors. He also struck out seven and walked just one. He's kept the Cubs in every game he's pitched, and his ERA is a sparkling 1.80. I still think Piniella will have to move him to the 'pen when Harden returns from the DL (which, by the way, could still be a couple weeks away, according to the Tribune), but hopefully Wells can translate his success into a relief role.

-Raise your hand if, when the season started, you predicted that on May 28, Bobby Scales and Jake Fox would come up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to win the game.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cubs seize series from Bucs, prepare for best team in majors

Wednesday: Cubs 5, Pirates 2

Zambrano got a no decision after pitching 6.1 innings and allowing two runs, so his record remains 3-2 and his ERA drops slightly to 4.22. Last year at this time, he was 7-1 with a 2.47 ERA. Then again, this time in 2007 he was 5-4 with a 5.24 ERA. You never really know when Zambrano is going to have a good or a bad stretch, but he usually provides solid production when all is said and done: in each of the last six seasons, Z has started at least 30 games, won at least 13, and had an ERA under four. I get frustrated with his high pitch counts and short outings at times, but he has thrown over 200 innings in five of the last six seasons.

If there's anything to be frustrated about after Wednesday's start, though, it's that Zambrano might face a suspension after he bumped home plate umpire Mark Carlson while arguing a safe call at home. Though it did appear to me that Carlson bumped him, so hopefully Zambrano will only incur a fine. And it was pretty hilarious when Zambrano subsequently motioned as if he were throwing Carlson out of the game:

Milton Bradley went 1-for-3 to raise his average to .200 exactly. It's the first time Bradley has cracked the Mendoza line this year.

Ryan Freel left the game with a hamstring strain, which almost certainly means he's headed to the DL--welcome back, Bobby Scales! How was your day in Iowa? While Fontenot will presumably get the lion's share of time over at third, we may soon get to find out what Jake Fox is capable of in the field. It was great to see Fox start off with a bang by hitting a pinch-hit double in the ninth. Fox now has three career hits in the majors, all of them doubles.

Funny little ironic tidbit (courtesy of Bleed Cubbie Blue): Wednesday was Jake Fox Jersey Day at the Iowa Cubs game.

On deck

The Cubs will welcome the Dodgers to town for four games, which is scary because the Dodgers are 33-15, have not lost more than two games in a row this entire season, and have won 11 of their last 14. The Blue Crew has the second best starting staff in the NL (by ERA), the fifth best bullpen, and they've scored the most runs. Here's how good the Dodgers are:

-Manny Ramirez got suspended, and his replacement Juan Pierre is batting .404.

-Their closer, Jonathan Broxton, has 11 saves and five wins.

-They signed Eric Milton, who hadn't pitched in the majors since 2007, and he's 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

Pitching matchups:

Thursday: Randy Wolf (3-1, 1.02) vs. Randy Wells (0-1, 1.50)
Friday: Chad Billingsley (6-2, 2.82) vs. Ted Lilly (5-4, 3.77)
Saturday: Eric Stults (4-1, 4.29) vs. Ryan Dempster (3-3, 4.99)
Sunday: Eric Milton (1-0, 3.00) vs. Sean Marshall (3-3, 3.70)

Five of the eight starting pitchers in this series are left-handed, while two of them are named Randy and two are named Eric. Also, Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher without an "L" in his last name. Interesting stuff, huh? You only get that here, folks.

When Wolf pitched at Wrigley last September, he threw a complete game shutout. He was cuffed around earlier in the year, though, allowing seven runs in just four innings on May 12. Wells has impressed in all three of his starts, and Saturday in San Diego was the first time he'd allowed a run in the majors.

Billingsley is the "ace" of the staff with Derek Lowe gone, and he's pitched at least six innings in all 10 starts. He beat the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLDS last year, but was 0-1 in two regular season starts against them. Lilly has been the Cubs' best starter this season, and has held most of the Dodgers lineup in check throughout his career. He didn't pitch against LA last year, but was 1-0 against them in two starts in '07.

Stults missed some time after jamming his thumb, and lasted just 4.1 against the Rockies in his return on Monday. He's gone six innings only once this year, and the three Cubs who've faced him have all fared well (Soriano 1-for-3, Lee 1-for-2, Soto 2-for-2). Dempster has alternated wins and losses on his way to a 3-3 record, and since his most recent decision was a loss, the Cubs are looking good in this one! We can all recall that Dempster imploded against the Dodgers in Game 1 last October; he was 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA against them in two regular season starts.

And finally, Sunday Night Baseball. Milton was signed off the scrapheap to a minor league deal in February, and was called up in May. He's gone four and five innings, respectively, in two starts, and he beat the Rockies on Tuesday. Soriano is 6-for-12 against him in his career. Marshall threw a *cough* complete game in his last start, and has been a reliable fifth starter thus far. He has had success against every Dodger he's faced, with the slight exception of Russell Martin, who's 1-for-2.

Random story

Rick Reilly, on a minor league pitcher who pitches both left- and right-handed.

Did you know ...

-The Rangers are leading the AL West by three games.

-The Rockies are 14 games out of first, the biggest deficit faced by any team.

-The Reds' Joey Votto leads the majors in on-base percentage (.467).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From Paul Sullivan

"In a shake up of their roster, the Cubs made three moves today to help their lineup and their pen.

Jake Fox, who is hitting .423 with 17 home runs and 50 runs batted in for Triple-A Iowa over 40 games, was called up. Joining the infielder from Iowa is shortstop Andres Blanco and left-handed reliever Jason Waddell. Blanco is hitting .314 with 4 home runs and 25 RBI. Waddell has made 18 appearances for Iowa and has a 5.40 earned-run average.

To make room for Fox, Blanco and Waddell, the Cubs put Aaron Miles on the 15-day disabled list and sent down fan-favorite Bobby Scales and lefty reliever Neal Cotts, who has struggled to get out left-handed batters this season."

I believe Cotts had to clear waivers to go down, so it's good to see that he apparently wasn't wanted by anyone else (no surprise there). Though Waddell wasn't tearing it up in Iowa, he can't be a whole lot worse than Cotts, so it's worth a shot.

It will be interesting to see if Fox gets any starts, or if they use him exclusively as a pinch-hitter due to his apparently awful defensive skills. Hopefully Scales will find his way back to the majors at some point. On a team struggling for offense, his recent 1-for-17 streak cost him.

The streak is over: Cubs Marshall a wet win

Tuesday: Cubs 6, Pirates 1 (6 inn.)

The Cubs got an assist from Mother Nature to end their eight-game losing streak, and we'll take it. The offense scored in four of the five innings they came to the plate, and Sean Marshall was on cruise control when the rain washed the rest of the game away in the top of the sixth. It goes in the books as a complete game, and it's just the first of the season for the Cubs (they only had two all of last year).

I hate to dwell, but the two players who could have pinch-hit instead of Carlos Zambrano on Monday were Kosuke Fukudome and Mike Fontenot; Fukudome blasted a homer in his first at-bat, and Fontenot doubled to right in his. Fukudome walked as well and scored two runs, while Fontenot went 2-for-3 and is now 5-for-9 in his last three games.

Fontenot's recent string of success is nothing, though, compared to fellow shorty (he's 5'10) Freddy Sanchez. After a 6-for-6 game Monday, Sanchez went 2-for-3 Tuesday, making him 8-for-9 at the plate over the last two days.

Zambrano takes the hill today in his second start since coming off the DL, while Zach Duke (5-4, 2.77) gets the nod for the Pirates. Duke won 10 games in 2006, but struggled in '07 and '08; he's off to the best start of his career this year. Hopefully Derrek Lee will be healthy and ready to go today, because though Hoffpauir has played well of late, he's batting just .182 against lefties this season.

Cubs notes

-With the Cardinals' win over the Brewers, the Cubs are back to four games out of first.

-Marshall's win means that every Cubs starter now has at least three wins on the season.

-After their horrendous six-game offensive malaise, the Cubs have now racked up 14 runs on 18 hits and 11 walks in their last 13 innings.

MLB note

-Zack Greinke pitched a complete game six-hitter against the Tigers, allowing just one run ... and his ERA went up! It was Greinke's fifth complete game of the year, and he's now 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who is this Murphy guy, anyways, and why must we always follow his law?

Okay, you can't tell me Harry Caray would be happy about this:

Monday: Pirates 10, Cubs 8

Well, at least the Cubs offense showed signs of life Monday with 10 hits and seven walks. Cubs hitters did not draw a walk over the weekend, and they were jumping at everything they saw, but they had patient at-bats Monday and forced Paul Maholm to throw 93 pitches in just four innings. Ultimately the Cubs would score more runs Monday than they had in the previous week. Hopefully that trend can continue tonight as they go up against Ian Snell; Snell is 1-5 with a 4.88 ERA this year and is 1-5 with a 5.93 ERA in his career against the Cubs.

But, as Murphy's Law would have it, Cubs pitchers picked the same day to refuse to get anyone out, allowing 10 runs on 18 hits and five walks to a Pirates team that had scored four runs in their previous three games combined. Dempster made it through just four innings, meaning our big, bad (and I mean bad) bullpen had to throw five innings. The end result: losing streak now at eight.

Here are the ERA's of Cubs relievers, through Monday:

Guzman: 3.15
Marmol: 3.60
Ascanio: 4.05
Gregg: 5.40
Heilman: 5.49
Patton: 6.91
Cotts: 7.36

I don't see how the Cubs can succeed this year without significant changes to their 'pen.

Another edition of one of my favorite segments: Good News, Bad News. The good news: right now, it feels like a team that could go through this horrid of a stretch doesn't have the stuff to win the division, but the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals suffered through three such stretches-- they had two eight-game losing streaks and another seven-gamer that year. The bad news: that team sneaked into the playoffs with 83 victories; I don't think 83 wins would vault the Cubs into the playoffs this season.

Why on Earth, with both Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome available off the bench, did Piniella pinch-hit Carlos Freakin' Zambrano in the seventh with two on and two out? Now that Zambrano's back from the DL, can we expect him to consistently be our first or second option off the bench again? Gimme a break, Lou.

It was pretty cool--seriously--that Ted Lilly got ejected from the bench Monday. As Len and Bob pointed out, some starting pithcers, on a day they're not starting, will watch the game from the video room. That means Lilly was getting a very close look at home plate umpire Bob Davidson's calls. I don't know what Lilly said to get ejected, but I can just see him walking into the dugout from the video room just to tell Davidson, "Hey, I've been watching your calls in our high-tech video room, and I really must say, you're doing quite a horrendous job tonight. Just thought you should know."

MLB note

The Indians overcame a 10-run deficit--and a 10-4 deficit in the ninth--on Monday to beat the Rays 11-10. The Indians trailed 10-5 with two outs in the ninth, but the final six men reached base.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Going streaking: Cubs lose 7th in a row to finish road trip from hell

Sunday: Padres 7, Cubs 2

I'm not sure if any of the Cubs hitters are musically inclined, but I'm pretty sure they'd have a better chance of producing this kind of score rather than the kind normally seen in a baseball game. After another pathetic performance Sunday, the Cubs have now been swept in back-to-back series for the first time since August of 2006 (an 0-6 road trip to St. Louis and Pittsburgh). Pitching was the problem in that stretch, as the Cubs allowed 42 runs in those six games.

It's sad to say, but the Cubs are now a .500 ball club and don't at all resemble the solid contender we all thought they'd be. They're 22nd in the majors in runs scored, 25th in batting average and 22nd in on-base percentage. And while pitching wasn't the problem on their 0-6 road trip, the Cubs are 14th in the majors in ERA, and their relievers' 5.06 ERA is good for 24th.

The Cubs' 21-21 record is worse than that of the Royals, Braves and Reds, and even the Padres are now .500 after their sweep of the Cubs. Earlier, I wrote how it was too early to get too worked up, that there was too much baseball left to panic. Well, it is still relatively early (the Cubs just passed the one-quarter mark), but it ain't that early anymore. One week from today, the calendar will flip to June, and the Cubs are going to have to rev it up soon if they want to stay in the thick of the race.

Here's some good news: on May 25, 2007 (the first year of the Cubs' back-to-back division titles), the Cubs were 21-25, six games back of the Brewers. Today, they stand at 21-21, four games back of the Brewers (thanks to the Brewers getting broomed by the Twins) and Cardinals. The bad news: in 2007, the Cubs were finding ways to lose despite clearly having potential--they had a +26 run differential on May 25, whereas the Cubs' 7-2 loss Sunday means they've now allowed more runs than they've scored this year.

If you'd like, you can take solace in that 2007 season for a while longer--the Cubs didn't climb back to .500 until they were 39-39 on June 29. But the Cubs were chasing only the Brewers that year; it doesn't look like the NL Central will be quite as forgiving this year. While it does seem like the Cubs' starting staff is going to keep them in an awful lot of games this season, the offense has to end their lumber slumber if a third straight title is going to be in the cards.

One thing the Cubs can do now is bring up Jake Fox. For Pete's sake, just get rid of David Patton if he's never going to pitch. He hasn't pitched since May 9--May 9!--and Piniella clearly has no intention of using him, ever. The Cubs are operating with a 24-man roster. Jake Fox apparently can't play defense, but given what the Cubs offense has accomplished--or rather, not accomplished--the last week, it's worth a try. Fox is batting a ridiculous .425 with 17 HR and 50 RBI in 39 games at Iowa.

Bleed Cubbie Blue would like to see Mark DeRosa brought back. Well, so would I, but that seems like a complete pipe dream (side note: DeRosa's 30 RBI would be leading the team right now). Jim Hendry would clearly be working from a position of weakness, meaning he'd probably give Cleveland more than we got for DeRo in the first place, and I'm not sure if there's a GM in any sport willing to have that much egg on his face, i.e. trading for someone just months after trading him away. But if there are any utility men being shopped by teams like the Orioles, Rockies or A's, Hendry should give them a ring ASAP.

Cubs notes

-Cubs pitchers have dropped to second in the league in strikeouts, behind Florida.

-The Cubs have just nine saves despite their 21 victories.

MLB notes

-Sunday may have been the first time I've ever seen a manager win an argument. Okay, maybe I've seen a couple times where the manager argues, the umpires get together, and a call is changed. But when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire got into the home plate umpire's face after the ump said Joe Mauer fouled a pitch as opposed to having been hit by it, I was absolutely shocked when the umpire eventually agreed with him and sent Mauer to first. It was a classic umpire-manager heated feud, and those never, ever, ever--repeat, EVER--result in a call being changed. Brewers manager Ken Macha was livid, and no doubt he was even more upset when Justin Morneau launched the very next pitch for a grand slam.

-Three players hit home runs in Sunday's Pirates-White Sox game, and it was the first home run of the season for all three of them.

-Jason Bartlett of the Rays leads the majors in batting with a .373 average.

-Both the Tigers and the Reds have recorded six shutouts already this season.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Cubs are now 22nd in the majors in runs scored. 'Nuff said.

Saturday: Padres 3, Cubs 1

The Cubs did something Saturday that they hadn't done since last Sunday--they took a lead. Unfortunately, the run that gave them the lead turned out to be the only one they'd score.

I could pretty much just copy and paste the following statement from any of the last few days' posts: the Cubs' starting pitcher pitched a good game and kept the Cubs in the game, but still got the loss. Randy Wells finally allowed a run (three, actually) after starting his major league career with 22 scoreless innings. Cubs pitchers have amassed a 3.00 ERA over the last five games, but are 0-5 to show for it.

Which of the following players isn't completely sucking at the plate of late?

Milton Bradley
Kosuke Fukudome
Ryan Theriot
Mike Fontenot
Geovany Soto
Alfonso Soriano
Derrek Lee

Amazingly, it's Derrek Lee. Lee is batting .319 in May, and his home run Saturday was the first home run for the Cubs since last Sunday when Soriano went deep against the Astros.

Is anyone else shocked that Lou Piniella hasn't yet blown up and gotten tossed from a game? I know that's not truly the solution to the Cubs' woes, but at this point, it's worth a try. Something needs to shake the Cubs out of their funk. I would like to see some sort of normally stationary object get thrown onto the field, in the dugout, or in the clubhouse. For reasons mentioned above, it might be the pitchers who start throwing things rather than Piniella.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can you believe interleague play is in its 13th year?

The Cubs and Padres are playing in the only intraleague series this weekend. The first slate of interleague matchups always revives the debate about the merits of interleague play. Is it perfect the way it is? Should it be limited to the natural rivalries like Cubs-Sox and Yankees-Mets? Should it be eliminated?

Maybe this is just me being intellectually lazy, but I like it the way it is. Sure, we have to deal with our share of Rockies-Tigers, Pirates-White Sox and Nationals-A's matchups, but we also get the great rivalries and fans get a good look at some teams they don't typically see. Is Cubs-Twins a blockbuster series? No, but Wrigley fans will get the chance to see Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and whoever the hell pitches for the Twins. And until they get rid of the terrible DH rule, we get to see AL pitchers play defense AND offense every now and then, and we get to see what the Cubs lineup would look like if they played in the AL.

And whether fans say they like it or not, their wallets speak for them: according to the article linked above, "If you subtracted those four rivalries [Cubs-Sox, Yankees-Mets, Dodgers-Angels and A's-Giants] in each of the last three seasons, interleague attendance was still 7.5 percent higher last year, 4.1 percent bigger in 2007 and 6.0 percent larger in 2006."

I think the anti-interleague argument that holds the most water is that it makes the schedule unfair. The Cubs always play the Sox six times, and the Sox tend to be pretty good. The Cardinals play the Royals six times every year, and the Royals tend to be pretty bad. But there are two responses to this complaint:

1) The schedule is already unfair due to the unbalanced nature of it. If the Mets are battling the Brewers for the final wild card spot, the Mets are most likely going to be at a disadvantage playing the Phillies, Braves and Marlins 50 times as opposed to the Brewers battling the Astros, Pirates and Reds 50 times.

2) Other sports--especially the NFL--have "unfair" schedules, too. As pointed out in the same article referenced above, the Jets and Patriots will have 14 similar opponents this season, but while the Jets draw the Raiders and Bengals in their other two games, the Patriots have to face the Ravens and Broncos. And while two games don't sound like a lot, that equates to 20 games in baseball, percentage-wise.

There's no question that interleague play has its drawbacks, but I always enjoy seeing the unique matchups and the intense rivalries. Because they only play six times a year, Cubs-Sox games are even more intense than Cubs-Cardinals. Schedule fairness be damned, I want my crosstown rivalry.

Friday: Padres 4, Cubs 0

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Five hits, no runs. Two runs in four games. The Cubs have allowed 12 runs in the last four games, and won none of them. Things are going to get better, but that's only because they can't get worse. The Cubs struck out 16 times and Derrek Lee was the only starter who didn't K in the game.

Zambrano couldn't get through five innings in his return from the DL, as he racked up 97 pitches in just 4.2 IP. He gave up a run in the first despite not allowing a hit--he walked two, hit a batter and gave up a sac fly--and though he settled down after that, the Cubs' fate was sealed due to their inability score. Big Z falls to 3-2 with a 4.64 ERA.

Adding injury to insult

Rich Harden strained his back during a side session on Friday, and is headed to the DL. Randy Wells will fill in Saturday, his third start of the year. The injury is supposedly not all that serious, but it's unfortunate that the Cubs lose a starter on the day they thought their rotation was returning to full strength.

The last week of Cubs baseball has been downright painful to watch. Let's hope this is rock bottom.

Friday, May 22, 2009

White Sox give up 20 runs in one game, win series. Cubs give up eight runs in series, get swept. That's baseball.

Before we get into Thursday's game, I thought it'd be fun to check in on some former Cubs. Let's have at it:

Kerry Wood, Indians
Many Cubs fans were sad to see him go this past offsesason. While part of me was sad as well, I didn't think it was prudent to spend $20 million on a closer. Wood is 6-for-8 in save opportunities, and has an ugly 7.71 ERA and 1.86 WHIP (the ML average is 1.42). Wood might be wishing he'd chosen a different team to sign with--the Indians don't have the worst record in baseball (Nationals), but they do have the second-worst.

Mark DeRosa, Indians
With DeRosa's contract up at the end of the year, it would be a shock if DeRosa doesn't get traded away from the Tribe. His .253 average is his lowest since 2005, but he's still providing decent production with six home runs and 26 RBI.

David Aardsma, Mariners
The player who will forever be listed first in an alphabetical listing of baseball players is on his third team since the Cubs (White Sox, Red Sox, Mariners). The 27-year-old has pitched in 19 games for Seattle and has five saves and six holds with a sparkling 1.37 ERA.

Rich Hill, Orioles
In his first start since last May, Hill won his first game in over a year by beating the Royals last Saturday. He'll start again Friday against the Nationals.

Ronny Cedeno, Mariners
Cedeno has played in 15 games for the Mariners, and is batting just .200 with two home runs and five RBI.

Jason Marquis, Rockies
Marquis started the season red hot, but has come back to Earth a bit in his recent starts. As is his custom, he has recorded a decision in all eight of his starts (he seems to either be great or terrible in all of his starts); he's 5-3 with a 4.75 ERA. His most recent outing was a good one, as he held the Braves to one run over eight innings.

Thursday: Cardinals 3, Cubs 1

Okay, that was painful. And dreadful. And woeful. The Cubs forgot something at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport--their offense. Hopefully they retrieved it on their way to San Diego.

The Cubs' recent struggles have been frustrating, no doubt. But when you step back and realize that Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot, Milton Bradley, Reed Johnson and Aaron Miles are hitting under .240; that Aramis Ramirez is on the DL; that Carlos Zambrano has missed nearly three weeks; and that Ted Lilly is the only starter with an ERA under four, what's really amazing is that the Cubs are still three games over .500.

The Cubs have holes in their lineup and in their bullpen, but Piniella has coaxed 21 victories out of them to this point. While it's taking way too long, Soto and Bradley are going to hit (and hopefully Lee will, too), and Ramirez will be back for most of the second half. With so many new faces in the clubhouse, Piniella seems to be pulling a 2007, i.e. using the first couple months to figure out who belongs in what role. Add to that the fact that Hendry should have some flexbility to make a move or two in July, and the Cubs should be okay.

But in the meantime, Hoffpauir and Koyie Hill should both see some increased time at the plate if you ask me. Somebody needs to jump start this offense, and Hoffpauir has been perhaps the Cubs' most consistent hitter all season, and Hill played well when Soto was hurt earlier in the year. It's worth a try.

Getting swept at the hands of the Cardinals was not even the least bit pleasant, but as Walter Sobchak once said, "Nothing is f---ed here, Dude." Believe it or not, the Cubs have not yet played a quarter of their schedule. Let's go get a couple (or a few) wins in SoCal before coming back home for a seven-game homestand.

MLB pitching notes
-The Dodgers have four lefties--Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Eric Stults and Eric Milton--in their rotation.

-The Nationals have a rotation consisting of four rookies--Craig Stammen, Shairon Martis, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler--and a second-year pitcher, John Lannan. But no worries, they're backed up by a bullpen with a 1-15 record and an ML-worst 6.68 ERA.

-Remember how the Mets' biggest offeseason priority was fixing their bullpen? Well, it appears to have worked: Mets relievers lead the league with a 2.83 ERA.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

House of Cards

Wednesday: Cardinals 2, Cubs 1

Second verse, same as the first--starting pitcher goes seven strong, offense looks offensive. At least the Cubs put one run on the board in the ninth to avoid being shutout in back-to-back games for the first time since September, 2004.

Unfortunately, Chris Carpenter looked very strong in his return. He had good speed on his fastball, and had good location through the five innings he pitched. Unlike Tuesday, the Cardinals needed five pitchers instead of one to hold the Cubs in check (though Carpenter only had 67 pitches through five; the only reason he left is because it was his first start since coming off the DL). And though the Cubs broke through with the one run against Ryan Franklin, they couldn't avoid losing their third in a row to fall into third place, three games back of the Brewers (who finally lost).

  • Carlos Marmol threw a perfect inning.
  • Micah Hoffpauir continues to impress--he had a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth, raising his average to .314.
Yeah, that's pretty much it. But that's something, right?

Sean Marshall will take on Adam Wainwright tonight, and hopefully the Cubs can give themselves a chance to have a winning road trip by salvaging the final game before heading to San Diego. Speaking of the Padres, did you hear that Peavy may not be on the team by the time we face them?

Jake Peavy--who has a full no-trade clause--has apparently delayed a decision regarding his potential trade to the White Sox. Barry Rozner has the scoop. Peavy will pitch against the Cubs Friday.

Tuesday: Cardinals 3, Cubs 0

Well, momma said there'll be days like this. After a loss like the Cubs suffered Tuesday, you just have to tip your cap and move forward.

The Cubs had singles in the first and second innings, and both of those baserunners were eliminated (one on a pickoff, one on a double play). Fontenot doubled in the fifth, and that was all she wrote for the Cubs offense. Joel Pineiro faced just one more than the minimum and needed only 92 pitches to dust the Cubs 3-0. If you looked away for a minute to check out the score of the Blackhawks game, you probably missed the entire Cubs game, which took just 2 hours, 5 minutes to complete; that's the fastest game in the majors so far this season.

The Cubs are now 0-13 when scoring fewer than four runs, though Ted Lilly did his best to keep the Cubs in it. He took the loss despite pitching seven innings and allowing three runs on just four hits.

Milwaukee beat Houston for their seventh straight victory, pushing the Cubs three games out. Interestingly, the NL Central has five teams with a positive run differential (meaning they've scored more runs than they've allowed this season); no other division has more than three.

Minor (league) matters

-Jake Fox leads the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.431), home runs (17), RBI (50), runs (39), total bases (124), on-base percentage (.513), slugging percentage (.954) and OPS (1.467). There's at least one person who thinks the Cubs should call him up (the reason they haven't is because he apparently plays defense like a rock. I don't mean he's solid like a rock, I mean he plays defense like he's an actual rock.)

-Jeff Samardzija is slowly getting stretched out again. He's made three starts since going back to the minors, pitching three, four and five innings, respectively. He allowed two, two and one run in those starts, and struck out one, three and then six. In 24 total innings at Triple-A, Samardzija has struck out 21 and walked just six; his ERA is 3.75. Control was his biggest problem with the big club, but he's walked just two in 12 innings since going back down.

-Josh Vitters, the third overall pick in 2007, has homered in four straight games for Single-A Peoria and has five consecutive three-hit games. His .371 overall average is second in the Midwest League.

MLB notes
-Victor Martinez of the Indians now leads the majors in batting. He's hitting a cool .400.

-Chris Davis of the Rangers has already struck out 56 times (and walked just eight). If he keeps up this pace, he'll strike out 254 times and shatter Mark Reynolds's record of 204, set last year.

Quote of the Day

Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, after Orlando beat Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite allowing LeBron to rack up 49 points:

“LeBron just made it so difficult. The one thing I don’t leave this game with is any idea whatsoever what to do with him. As a coach you’re supposed to have some idea — I don’t have a clue. I don’t. When we double-teamed him, he made the right play every time and they made shots. When we didn’t double-team him, he made every jumpshot he took, it seemed like. He gets the ball to the basket and draws fouls. You would like to come out of Game 1 and say ‘at least we found a game plan we think will work’ I can’t say I’ve done that. He’s unbelievable and he was incredible tonight.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Atlanta Hawks "totally thought" series with Cavs was best of 13

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

ATLANTA--Atlanta Hawks Coach Mike Woodson is having a hard time getting over his team's sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially because he mistakenly thought the series was best of 13 rather than best of seven.

"We definitely would have played it a lot differently had we known that," Woodson said. "We were really just getting warmed up. Sure, we were down 4-0, but we thought there was plenty of time to make our move. I never even gave my big 'It's now or never' speech."

Woodson said the best of seven format "makes sense," but he could have sworn he overheard a fan say something about "best of 13" during Game 1.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A photographic review and a series preview

The Cubs lost 6-5 on Sunday, but the Illinois Wesleyan University alumni group still had a good time taking in the action. Trevor Sierra and the Alumni Relations Office always put on a great event. Some photographic evidence of the game:

Rich Harden throwing a pitch, from my point of view. There aren't many poles at Wrigley, but I found one of them.

Carlos Lee, playing slugger Ryan Theriot quite deep. Theriot immediately validated Lee's positioning by driving one to the warning track in left center for a double. Lee taunted fans in the bottom of the first, then did so again later in the game by faking as if to throw a ball into the bleachers, only to hang on to it. I guess when you bat .300 against a team lifetime with 28 HR, you get a little cocky.

One of the best signs Miller Lite has produced to date. A direct response, of course, to the madness seen in the first video on this page.

With a rainout Friday and an off day Monday, I'm not sure why Piniella went with Jose Ascanio and Neal Cotts out of the 'pen in a 4-3 game. Ascanio hit two batters with his first two pitches, then followed that up by allowing a single and throwing a wild pitch. The 4-3 score quickly became 6-3, and though Cotts threw a scoreless frame and the Cubs scored two in the bottom of the ninth, Soto's liner with runners at first and second went right to the third baseman, and the rally fell short. I suppose you have to use relievers other than Guzman, Marmol and Gregg every now and then, but with two off days out of four, I'm not sure this was the day to do it.

That said, the offense wasted some great opportunities to tack on runs, including having runners at second and third with nobody out in the third and failing to get either runner home. The Cubs stranded six runners in the first four innings. On a positive note, Derrek Lee had a home run and his first four-hit game since 2007.

Rich Harden had a relatively poor start, needing 112 pitches (his highest pitch count of the year) to get through six innings. All four runs he allowed scored in the fourth inning, the first time Harden has allowed four runs in a single inning since 2004 (courtesy of Brian Brennan, who heard the factoid over the radio while in the little boy's room at Wrigley Field).

One unfortunate aspect of the game (other than the fact that the Cubs lost): the weather! "The weather?" you ask. "Wasn't it sunny and pleasant?" If you were in the bleachers or anywhere near sea level, yes it was. But if you were in the shade in the upper deck at Wrigley Field, no it wasn't. The wind was blowing and some of us were wishing we had more than just a few layers on. It's the middle of May! Upper deck or not, I should not have to worry about layers in mid-May. When I return to Wrigley in a month, it better be at least 75 degrees.

On deck

The Cubs will head to St. Louis for the second time this season starting Tuesday. The pitching matchups:

Tuesday: Lilly (5-2, 3.27) vs. Pineiro (4-3, 4.17)
Wednesday: Dempster (3-2, 4.65) vs. Carpenter (1-0, 0.00)
Thursday: Marshall (2-2, 4.02) vs. Wainwright (3-2, 3.83)

As you can see, the Cardinals expect Chris Carpenter to return from the DL for this series. They also hope to have Rick Ankiel back.

Series notes

The Cardinals are as cold as the above picture of Wrigley Field. They lost two of three to Cincinnati, two of three to Pittsburgh, and then got swept in a three-game series by the Brewers (they were spared a four-game sweep because of a rainout Friday). Yesterday marked the first time in six games that the Redbirds had scored more than two runs--they scored four.

Ted Lilly has won his last three starts, going at least six innings in each start. He has not yet faced the Cardinals in '09, but is 6-2 lifetime against them. Joel Pineiro has lost each of his three May starts, and has not faced the Cubs this season.

Ryan Dempster faced the Cardinals twice within a week back in April--he pitched six innings in each start, allowing four and three runs, respectively. He got a no decision in each start. Chris Carpenter left after three innings in just his second start of the year. In his career against the Cubs, he is 7-3 with a 3.08 ERA.

Sean Marshall might be pitching to stay in the rotation (see yesterday's post). He will be facing Adam Wainwright for the second time this season; on April 16, he went five innings and allowed three earned runs in a game the Cardinals won 7-4. Good news for both Marshall and Lilly: the Cardinals are batting just .227 versus lefties. Wainwright hasn't won since April, but beat the Cubs back on April 16 and allowed just one earned run over seven innings in a 4-3 Cubs win on April 24.

One other note: Khalil Greene has been benched by Tony La Russa. His .204 average wasn't getting it done, and the Cardinals are opting for another Greene instead, rookie Tyler Greene.

MLB note

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks is out for the year (wrist). This is a significant blow to the first-place Brewers--Weeks was batting .272 with nine home runs and 24 RBI, and his backup is 38-year-old Craig Counsell.

Quote of the Day

Reed Johnson, commenting on the steroid "speculation" surrounding Ryan Theriot:

"Theriot's thing is hamburgers. He eats a lot of Drumsticks. Have you seen those ice cream things? I've seen him eat French toast. I just follow him around and try to eat whatever he eats. He'll occasionally take his shirt off and go in the weight room but he just works beach muscles. It's not functional stuff that would help you on the baseball field. He goes in there and does bi's and tri's and chest, and then checks out his spray tan in the mirror."

Monday, May 18, 2009

On Wells, wins and poop

Randy Wells is now 2-0. No, wait, check that--he's 0-0 because the bullpen has blown leads in both of his starts. Wells's performance thus far is a great example of how overrated wins are in baseball. Despite having pitched five scoreless and six scoreless innings respectively in his first two starts, Wells has no wins to show for it. On the other hand, Sean Marshall recorded a win Saturday despite facing exactly one batter.

Let's play a little game. Here are the win-loss records for four major league pitchers; rank them in order of who you'd want most on your team:

Pitcher A: 5-3
Pitcher B: 0-0
Pitcher C: 0-3
Pitcher D: 0-5

Now rank them again after accounting for the following information:

Pitcher A: 6.56 ERA
Pitcher B: 0.00 ERA
Pitcher C: 3.16 ERA
Pitcher D: 3.22 ERA

Your rankings probably changed a bit, no? Pitcher A is Bronson Arroyo, who has allowed five earned runs or more four times this year, but has still amassed five wins. Pitcher B is Randy Wells, of course, who has yet to allow a run this year. Pitcher C is Jorge de la Rosa of the Rockies, who has allowed three or fewer earned runs in five of his seven starts, but has no wins to his name. Pitcher D is Doug Davis of the D'Backs--his team has scored a total of seven runs in his five losses.

Sometimes the pitchers with the most wins are also the best pitchers, but many times that is far from the case. I believe ERA and WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) should be given much stronger consideration than wins in the Cy Young voting, and in how we analyze pitching success in general. You can't control what your team does on offense (especially in the AL, where pitchers don't get to bat), and while wins do mean something, they mean a lot less than ERA and WHIP.

So back to Randy Wells--after two great starts, Piniella has a decision to make. He has already stated the Wells will remain with the team in some capacity. Here's the choice as I see it:

1) Wells remains in the rotation, Marshall goes to the 'pen (though he will start Thursday against the Cardinals either way) and Neal Cotts goes down.

2) Marshall remains in the rotation, Wells goes to the 'pen, and Jose Ascanio goes down.

Here's the problem with option #2: though Ascanio did struggle Sunday, the right-handed reliever who should be the odd man out isn't him--it's David Patton. Yes, David Patton is still on the Cubs. He's pitched just three times in May and has an ERA over eight. But as a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies, the Cubs would lose him back to Colorado if they demote him at any point this season.

What I hope the Cubs do is option #2 with Patton being demoted instead of Ascanio. That way the Cubs would still have two lefties in the rotation and Wells could provide strength in the long reliever role, something the Cubs roster currently lacks.

Here's the bottom line, though: both Wells and Marshall are versatile, and whatever decision Piniella makes can always be altered down the road, as Piniella pointed out. And it doesn't seem like the Cubs can really go wrong here--they've got an established starter in Sean Marshall who has three quality starts to his name this year, and another starter who has yet to allow a run in two outings. These are the tough decisions managers love to face.

Rich Hill takes the hill

Rich Hill, whom the Cubs traded to the Orioles in February, started Saturday for the first time this season. He went 5.2 innings against the Royals, allowed two runs and got the win--his first since April 18 of last year.

Hill was considered an "untouchable" just a couple years ago, and while things didn't pan out for him in Chicago, I wish him all the best in Baltimore. Back in 2007, Hill won 11 games and struck out 183 batters, good for 14th in the majors. He struggled with his command in '08 and was ultimately demoted and then traded. He started this season in Baltimore's minor league system and is now back in the majors getting another opportunity to prove himself.

So you could say he's gone through a lot in the last couple years, but that was nothing compared to what happened to him just a couple weeks ago in his final minor league tuneup. While on the mound for the Norfolk Tides, Hill was pooped on. Seriously.

(hat tip: Bleed Cubbie Blue)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Random thoughts after a rainout

Judd Sirott is not very good. For those who don't often listen to Cubs games on WGN Radio, Sirott fills in for Pat Hughes during the fifth inning of every game (side note: what does Hughes do during the fifth inning? I like to imagine he does something weird, like scarf down four chili dogs, or sit on the toilet for 20 minutes reading Elizabethan Era poetry), and serves as host for the pregame and postgame shows. Sirott had been the play-by-play man for the Chicago Wolves, but this year replaced Cory Provis, who now suffers eternal torment in the seat next to Bob Uecker, the most overrated announcer in sports.

Sirott's voice grates on my ears a bit, and you often don't know what's happening until the play is over. For example, Sirott said Thursday that Soriano "cranked" one high in the air, a popout to second. When Soriano's batting, and a radio announcer says the pitch is "cranked," you immediately assume he put a charge into it, not that he hit a high fly ball on the infield.

Another example of poor announcing: On a 3-0 pitch to Soto on Thursday, Sirott said "Got him! That's a strike." You can't "get" someone on a 3-0 pitch. It's not fair to compare Sirott to Pat Hughes, because Hughes is quite possibly the best announcer in sports (seriously), and he has a way of painting a picture of each play as it's happening. But while no fifth inning fill-in could match the standard set by Hughes, Sirott is a below average hire if you ask me. And if you're wondering, Judd is the nephew of WGN radio host Bob Sirott.

Ownership situation
From Jayson Stark's latest column:

"The Cubs' ownership limbo now looks as if it might stretch until Christmas Eve. So who knows whether Cubs GM Jim Hendry will even be released from captivity in time to pursue another Peavy deal come July."

What the h-e-double hockey sticks? According to the Chicago Tribune, several factors are holding up the deal, including the recession and the financial-sector meltdown. Tom Ricketts plans to borrow about $500 million of the $900 million price, and that's difficult to do in this economy. But gimme a break--how long can this thing drag on?

To be honest, the guess here is that if Jim Hendry wants to go after somebody--be it Peavy or someone else--he'll have the flexibility to do so. But the fact that this deal is moving slower than Kirstie Alley through a buffet line is getting frustrating.

Filling the seats
The Cubs lead the majors in putting people in the seats. While Boston and Philadelphia have filled a higher percentage of their seats at home, the Cubs have the highest percentage when you combine road games. On average, the Cubs play in stadiums that are 91% filled. For comparison's sake, the first-place Blue Jays play in stadiums that are 46% filled. The Cubs have finished in the top three in this attendance statistic every year since 2001.

For the record, the Cubs are filling 96% of their seats at Wrigley, third in the majors. The new stadiums in New York are seeing just 92% (Mets) and 85% (Yankees) of their seats filled.

Minor matters
Jake Fox continues to rip the cover off the ball. In 30 games, he's batting .420 with 15 HR and 44 RBI. He leads the Pacific Coast League in all three categories, and has 24 more total bases (107 in just 30 games!) than the player with the next highest total.

MLB notes
I found this story interesting. What would you do if you caught someone's first home run?

From the Tribune Monday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Major impact

Thursday: Cubs 11, Padres 3

You really gotta hand it to Bobby Scales. After playing over 1,000 minor league games, the 31-year-old is making the most of his chance with the big club. He has now played in six games, and has recorded at least one hit in every game. He is 8-for-18 (.444 average) with a home run, five RBI, and six runs scored. Every team has to deal with injuries, and you just hope that something positive comes from them. Scales was originally brought up when Zambrano went on the DL, and was able to remain on the team when Ramirez was shelved. Those are two guys you'd love to have on the active roster, but it's nice when an injury leads to someone unexpectedly showing the ability to be a key contributor. Even if Scales ends up back in Iowa at some point, you can rest assured he'll be at Wrigley in September when the rosters expand.

Thursday's key number: 10. Padres pitchers walked 10 Cubs, including four in a row to walk in a run in the fifth. Ryan Dempster, who had walked three or more in five of his seven starts this year, walked just two. Here's a recipe for a sweep: three quality starts, 23 runs by the offense.

The Cubs look to be regaining some of that Wrigley magic from last year--they're now 11-6 at home and 7-1 in their last eight at the friendly confines.

Quote of the Day

"I finally have an average (.105). Yay!"

-Ryan Dempster, after his first two hits of the season.

This weekend the Astros will come calling, and I'll be there Sunday with the Illinois Wesleyan University alumni group. The pitching matchups for the three-game series:

Friday: Brian Moehler (0-2, 8.44) vs. Randy Wells (0-0. 0.00)
Saturday: Roy Oswalt (1-2, 4.50) vs. Sean Marshall (1-2, 4.06)
Sunday: Felipe Paulino (1-3, 6.93) vs. Rich Harden (4-1, 4.54)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You cannot quiet the riot. Seriously, don't even try.

Let's start the day off with some MLB trivia, shall we? Answers are at the end of this post.

Which team leads the majors in ERA?

Which team leads the majors in batting average?

Which team's starting pitchers have the most combined wins?

Which starting pitcher has amassed the most innings pitched?

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Wednesday: Cubs 6, Padres 4, 8 inn.

Is Ryan Theriot kidding? I've come to realize he actually has power, but I still thought it was limited to straightaway left field. When he lifted a fly ball to straightaway center in the first inning, I thought he had just recorded the first out of the inning. But the wind gave him an assist, and he had his fourth dinger of the year. Then he blasted one out to his normal spot (juuuust over the wall in left) in the fourth, and Ryan Theriot has now hit two more home runs this month than he's ever hit in a season. The last time I saw this many unexpected shots, it was my 21st birthday (just kidding, Mom). Theriot is tied for most NL home runs this month with Pujols, Jay Bruce, Adam Dunn and Justin Upton.

How about Milton Bradley laying down a beautiful bunt for a base hit? Doing whatever he can to get on base, you gotta love that.

How Soto Got His Groove Back: I don't know if Geovany Soto set the record for longest homerless streak to start a season by a reigning Rookie of the Year, but it was great to see him put a charge into one. If he and Bradley both get locked in, the Cubs offense can do some real damage.

Ted Lilly continued the Cubs' trend of strong starting pitching, and became the first Cub to get his fifth win. What a great signing he has turned out to be. He goes out there every five days and gives you a chance to win. Since joining the Cubs, Lilly has averaged 34 starts per year and is 37-19.

Yesterday I titled my post "Thank you sirs, may we have another?" Well, for the second game in a row, the leadoff man reached, the next guy got out, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer to left-center, and then the Cubs scored the next six runs. Weird.

With two walks Wednesday, Marmol has now walked one batter per every inning he's pitched. He often gets out of his own jams (though he did allow a run Wednesday), but he's going to need to exhibit more consistent control if he wants to continue to be effective.

The Cubs are now a season-best five games over .500. They're technically in fourth place in the Central, but they're just a half game back of the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals.

MLB notes
-Ryan Zimmerman's 30-game hitting streak came to an end Wednesday. Zimmerman was 0-for-2 when he came up in the seventh, but was intentionally walked with runners at second and third. Zimmerman got another chance in the ninth, but grounded into a fielder's choice.

Trivia answers
-Best ERA? The Royals, of course, at 3.67. Zach Greinke's 0.51 ERA helps, but they have five other pitchers with an ERA of 2.08 or lower.

-Best average? That would be the team with the best record in the AL--the Blue Jays. They're hitting .293 as a team. The last team to post such an average for an entire season was the 2000 Rockies, who batted .294.

-Most wins by starters? The Cincinnati Reds, believe it or not, with 19. Every starter has at least three wins, though Bronson Arroyo should be thanking the baseball gods every night before he goes to sleep--he's 5-2 despite an ugly 7.02 ERA.

-Most innings pitched? This one's not a real shocker: Roy Halladay. Halladay led the majors in innings pitched in 2003, finished second to CC Sabathia last year, and has thrown over 200 innings five times in his career.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thank you sirs, may we have another?

We all love a walk-off home run, a ninth-inning comeback, or a comfortable blowout victory, but wins like Tuesday's are still my favorite--solid starting pitching, quality relief, and offensive production from multiple players. The 6-2 win over the Padres puts the Cubs back at their high-water mark of four games over .500 for the third time this season.

Rich Harden gave the Cubs another quality start, going six innings and allowing just two runs (why he would throw Adrian Gonzalez--the only good hitter in the entire lineup--a pitch to hit with first base open, I have no idea) in the first inning and nothing else. It was the 18th quality start of the season for the Cubs, tied for third in the majors.

Milton Bradley pounded a Jake Peavy pitch out to straightaway center, a shot that may have hit someone who was buying a hot dog. It was measured at 450 feet, just 20 feet shorter than the longest home run hit in the majors this year.

As Bob Brenly mentioned on the broadcast, Bradley really seems to be finding the strike zone again. He was swinging at bad pitches early in the year, which is not the calling card of the man who led the AL in OBP last season. Bradley's average has now gone up in every game he's played since May 5, and while he's still hitting just .186, his OBP has been at least .325 in both April and May, and he's on a six-game hitting streak during which he's batting .303. He's starting to look a little more like the outfielder we paid $30 million for, and that's a good thing with Ramirez out and Lee and Soto still struggling.

Thirty-one-year-old career minor-leaguer Bobby Scales saw the bite Bradley took out of that pitch and decided he was hungry for his first major league home run. By hitting a pinch-hit solo blast, he made sure he didn't have to slide into any bases and repeat his patented dive-and-bellyflop move.

And finally, Kosuke Fukudome sneaked into the top 10 in NL batting. His 3-5 day moved his average up to .333 (10th) and his OBP up to .455, good for fifth in the NL.

Cubs notes
-The top teams in the NL Central are nice and cozy right now, as four teams are within 1.5 games of first place. St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and the Cubs all have either 13 or 14 losses.

-One of the coolest things in Tuesday's game was Soriano's RBI single through the right side of the infield--you just don't see him go the opposite way very often. In fact, that was just Soriano's second hit to right field this season.

-Though Zambrano is eligible to come off the DL Tuesday, the Cubs are planning to have him return next Friday in San Diego. That means Randy Wells, who will start Friday, will likely make one more start after that, though the Cubs could shuffle the rotation and have Marshall make an extra start (on regular rest) instead.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cubs-Padres series preview

The Padres got off to a surprising 9-3 start, but then the smoke and mirrors abandoned them. San Diego is 4-16 since then, and they have not won a series since taking two of three from the Phillies April 17-19. They've also lost eight straight road games. None of the three starters who will pitch against the Cubs have won since April 16.

As expected, the Padres have struggled to score runs, entering this series 14th in the league. They're also in a slump even by their standards, having scored just 26 runs in their last 10 games. The only real threats in the lineup are CF Scott Hairston (.333, 4, 16) and 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.294, 11, 22).

Surprisingly, the Padres also clock in at 14th in pitching, just behind the Cubs. After losing Trevor Hoffman, their middle relief is a huge question mark (sound familiar?), and their 4.73 relief ERA tells you that if you can knock the starter out of the game, you've got a good chance of putting up some runs late.

Tuesday: Jake Peavy (2-4, 4.27) vs. Rich Harden (3-1, 4.83)

Why have I heard the name Jake Peavy before? Seems like he was in the news during the offseason for some reason ...

As evidenced by his middling ERA, Peavy is doing just okay thus far, and he has not won since April 16. However, he's pitched 15 innings in his last two starts while allowing just two runs and striking out 20. On May 14, 2008, Peavy lasted just four innings at Wrigley Field in an 8-5 Cubs victory. Soriano is 4-10 with two home runs against Peavy, and Fukudome is 2-2.

Rich Harden has put together four quality starts in six outings, though his other two starts were anything but quality. He's 3-0 in his last four starts, and while he's never faced the Padres, he has faced five Padres batters including Adrian Gonzalez, who is 2-2 against him.

Wednesday: Chris Young (2-1, 4.76) vs. Ted Lilly (4-2, 3.11)

Chris Young's winless streak is even longer than Peavy's--he hasn't recorded a "W" since April 12. He has, however, received no decisions in 1-0 and 2-1 losses since then. Young did not face the Cubs last year, but started twice against them in '07. He gave up one run in seven innings on May 24, and got into a fight with Derrek Lee on June 16 in a game the Padres won 1-0 despite a complete game by Carlos Zambrano. The only Cub with a homer off Young is Soriano, and he is also the only Cub other than Aramis Ramirez with more than five at-bats against Young.

Ted Lilly has been the Cubs best starter to this point. He has allowed two runs or less in four of his six starts, and one of his two losses was a result of running into buzzsaw Johnny Cueto. Lilly was the winner of the 8-5 game pitched by Peavy last year, and he lost a tough 2-1 decision on June 4, giving up just two runs in 7.1 IP. Lilly has held lefty Adrian Gonzalez in check (1-9), but Scott Hairston is 4-11 with two home runs against him.

Thursday: Chad Gaudin (0-2, 4.08) vs. Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00)

In Thursday's matinee, the Cubs will see a familiar beard--I mean face. Chad Gaudin will no doubt be fired up to face the team that cut him this spring. After being picked up by the Padres, Gaudin has started three games: he shutout Colorado through five innings, got shelled by the Dodgers for six runs in 5.2 innings, and gave up just two runs in seven innings against Houston on Friday. Expect Aaron Miles--who is 3-5 against Gaudin--in the lineup Thursday.

Randy Wells made his first major league start Friday against the Brewers, and while he allowed seven baserunners in five innings (five hits, two walks), he kept waving his magic wand and finding ways to get out of trouble. Zambrano will be eligible to come off the DL by the time Wells's next scheduled start rolls around, so he'll no doubt empty the tank in what could be an audition for a spot in the Cubs beleaguered bullpen. Not one current Padre has ever faced Wells.

The next 12 games for the Cubs feature six with the Padres (how much do these new schedules suck? The Cubs play the Cardinals just three times after the All-Star break. The Red Sox and Rays don't play again until August. I could go on and on ...), three with the Astros and three with the Cardinals. These are the kind of games the Cubs need to win (nine against teams with losing records, three against the team leading the division) if they want to remain in the thick of it.

Cubs note
-I didn't even know this was a possibility.

Ryan Dempster has been moved up and will start Thursday. Wells will pitch Friday against Houston.

Monday, May 11, 2009

NASCAR racer wishes he could turn right just once

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.--Sean Hudson, a NASCAR competitor yet to win a race in 58 tries, said Sunday that he just wishes he could turn right, even if only one time. All three of the racing series sponsored by NASCAR--the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series--feature oval-shaped race tracks on which competitors race counterclockwise, meaning racers are constantly turning left, and never right.

"It just gets to you after a while," Hudson said. "It's not natural. I have a constant urge to go right, right, right. I spend most of each race thinking about doing a U-turn, or slowing down at each turn so I can make sure there isn't a right turn I may not have seen."

Hudson said he may take the drastic action of instructing his pit crew to alter his alignment so that turning the steering wheel right would make the car turn left.

"That way I would at least feel like I was turning right," he said. "Maybe just for one race. I think it would really put me at ease."

Hudson's team, Bill Davis Racing, declined to comment, but issued a press release stating that "It is becoming painfully clear that something is not right with that guy." Hudson said he couldn't agree more, and that that's his point.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

You can't spell "interminable career" without "I-N-T"

As I said here, you simply can't believe Brett Favre is retired until all 32 teams have played a game and Favre has not suited up for any of them. After officially retiring for the second time this February, Favre is now in talks with the Vikings and might come back to play for them. I don't even know what the real story is at this point--first he was considering coming out of retirement, then he supposedly told Vikings coach Brad Childress he wanted to remain retired, and now he will reportedly play for them as long as his shoulder doesn't require "major" surgery.

Can anyone truly say they're shocked by these developments? This is what Brett Favre does. Why is it that some of the toughest, manliest athletes in the world are also the biggest drama queens? Why do people like Roger Clemens and Brett Favre lack the ability to anticipate how they might feel a few months down the road?

Now, I want to point out that I don't think these wishy-washy athletes tarnish their legacies by coming back to the game. The fact that Jordan came back to play for Washington for a couple years doesn't affect my opinion of him as a player even the tiniest bit. I don't look at Clemens', Jordan's or Favre's numbers any differently, I just think less of them for being insincere in their dramatic news conference retirements.

But here's the long and short of it: Come on back, Brett! Favre led the NFL last year with 29 interceptions, and he's thrown 84 over the last four seasons. He got hurt near the end of last season (hence Minnesota wondering if he needs major surgery) and the Jets fell apart down the stretch, going 1-4 and missing the playoffs. Sure he's a legend, but a 40-year-old interception prone quarterback coming off an injury? If I were allowed to pick a division to put him in, I'd go with the NFC North. Tillman and Vasher, get to work developing your post-interception dances, cuz you're gonna need plenty of them.

Granted, Favre is a step up over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, but as a Bears fan, I have absolutely no problem seeing #4 standing behind center when the Bears take on the Vikings. I don't want the drama of yet another season with post-retirement Favre, but I wouldn't mind the excitement of two Bears victories over Minnesota.

Cubs notes
The Cubs will be without Aramis Ramirez for about four to six weeks. Ryan Freel takes his place on the roster, and Bobby Scales started at third base Saturday.

This hurts, but the Cubs can deal with the loss if they can continue to get strong pitching and get some sort of contributions from guys like Bradley, Lee and Soto, who have done next-to-nothing to this point. The Cubs are two games over .500 despite minimal offensive contributions from several of their key players. Hopefully this injury will only cost them a few wins over the next month or two, and the Cubs can still be right in the thick of it when Ramirez returns.

MLB notes
-I was shocked to see that Evan Longoria's five RBI Saturday gave him 44 for the season. He's on pace to drive in 222 runs. Plus, Longoria's teammate Carlos Pena has 32 RBI--the two of them are on pace to drive in 380 runs this year, which would shatter the record of 347 set by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1931. The duo is 1-3 in the majors in RBI and 1-2 in HR (with Longoria first in RBI and second in HR).

(hat tip: Baseball Musings)

-Did you hear Bob Brenly pull a Steve Stone on Saturday? Micah Hoffpauir stepped up to the plate in the 5th, and Brenly said, "I don't do this very often, but I think Hoffpauir's going to hit one a long way right here." And on the first pitch he saw, Hoffpauir launched one out to right center. Great job, Micah; but even greater job, Bob Brenly.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Manny would?

OK, first thing's first: Manny Ramirez used steroids. I saw a comment from a reader in USA Today that said, "I believe Ramirez even though I didn't believe guys like Clemens and McGwire." He believes what? Ramirez was on a women's fertility drug, a drug commonly used to kick start the body's testosterone development after finishing a steroid cycle. And he dropped his appeal and accepted a 50-game suspension, thereby forfeiting about $8 million in salary.

He dropped his appeal, put up a very minimal fight through the media, and was on a women's fertility drug. Manny Ramirez used steroids.

This means that Manny Ramirez--whose career features a .315 average, 533 home runs and 1,745 RBI--has a darn good chance of NOT making the Hall of Fame. He joins Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi as one of the 50 players with the most home runs all-time who may not make their way to Cooperstown.

But even more worrisome than this one case is the fact that there were 104 players who tested positive in 2003, and to me it seems inevitable that these names will trickle out at some point, either one-by-one or all at once. If you ask me, these names need to come out sooner rather than later. It will be extremely difficult for MLB and its fans to digest this information, no doubt, but we might as well deal with it instead of letting it linger.

The fact that MLB suspended perhaps the best hitter in the game for 50 games is a good sign. They put together a commission to decide what to do about this huge cloud hovering over the game, and now they've followed through on one of the recommendations, proving it wasn't just lip service (Ramirez is not the first to be suspended 50 games, but his stature is just a teensy bit higher than that of J.C. Romero, Sergio Mitre and Kelvin Pichardo).

MLB seems to be moving in the right direction; it doesn't seem that the same can be said for the Players' Association. MLBPA continues to fight against blood-testing, the only way to test for human growth hormone, or HGH. MLBPA can't help but focus on the fact that all these monster numbers have resulted in monster contracts for its players, so instead of working with MLB to clean up the game, they continue to work for themselves and laugh all the way to the bank.

I simply can't figure out why all the players who aren't using steroids wouldn't want to do everything in their power to make sure they're not going up against artificially-enhanced competition. And don't get me wrong: MLB deserves lots and lots of blame for the so-called steroid era, but while they seem to be working to get the train back on the tracks, the Players' Association is apparently waiting to derail it should that happen.

MLB notes
-Cardinals OF Rick Ankiel crashed headfirst into the outfield wall earlier this week, and left the field on a stretcher. Though he apparently told Chris Duncan he was fine as he laid on the ground and left the hospital after X-rays were negative, he has a bruised right shoulder and overall soreness, and will be out for 15 days.

-Are you serious, A-Rod? In his season debut Friday, he hit a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw. One steroid user is out till July, another one wasted no time getting back into the swing of things.

-Zach Greinke (6-0, 0.40) goes for his seventh win against the Angels tonight.