Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do they count as full wins when you're playing Pittsburgh?

Monday: Cubs 3, Pirates 1

Tap your heels three times together and repeat: There's no place like Pittsburgh.

After hammering the Buccos to the tune of 14-4 last year and 20 wins in their last 25 in Steel City, the Cubs won for the third time in four games against them this year as they licked their wounds against the listless Pirates. Rich Harden went seven innings for the second time this year (May 6 @ HOU the other), Milton Bradley drove in his first run since June 12, and newly promoted Sam Fuld saw a little action as well.

But the best was saved for last: Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg posting perfect back-to-back innings to close it out. So here's to the Cubs getting a win, Aaron Miles going on the DL, and the Cardinals getting two-hit by Tim Lincecum.

I have to rant about something: Monday's Cubs game was on WCIU, a channel which now airs eight games a year. WCIU is only broadcast in Chicagoland, and therefore none of the Cubs' WCIU games can be seen in
Bloomington, Ill. Ruby Tuesday used to have some sort of strange/possibly illegal situation going and would show them, but even they've been busted by the WCIU police. Why is a channel that airs Tyler Perry's House of Payne, The Bernie Mac Show, and Frasier reruns during primetime getting the rights to any Cubs games? The channel shows five hours (repeat: five hours) of small courtroom shows (e.g. Judge Karen and Judge Hatchett) during their daytime lineup, plus an hour of Cheaters in a blatant attempt to force the editors of "The Guinness Book of World Records" to create a category for Worst. Channel. Ever. It's a shameful, vile channel and the Cubs should want no part of it.

Or we should at least have access to it in central Illinois. One of the two.

Quick note on Sam Fuld. You will recall he played with the Cubs in 2007, getting into 14 games, mostly for defensive pursposes. He was 0-for-6 at the plate, but roamed all three outfield positions in his time with the big club. At Triple-A Iowa this year, the 27-year-old was batting .285 with more walks than strikeouts and 20 stolen bases. He entered Monday's game as a pinch-runner but was promptly thrown out trying to swipe second.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Let's just stick to the NL from now on

Sunday: White Sox 6, Cubs 0

The Cubs have reached a new low point. I don't say that just because they lost two in a row to the hated White Sox, but rather because they're two games under .500 for the first time this season. On top of that, they came within a Brandon Inge two out, 9th-inning home run of falling into 5th place in the NL Central. They're just 1 1/2 games ahead of last place Pittsburgh.

But the Cubs may have reached a mental low point as well. If you can recall them playing a game in this disinterested a fashion in the last three years, let me know. Sunday's game--which was apparently sponsored by Barnum & Bailey--featured consecutive fly balls that the Cubs refused to catch, a suicide squeeze that was successful due to a wild pitch by Zambrano, and two hit batsmen by Big Z as well. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: the Cubs have absolutely no focus or fundamentals this season, and they are much, much closer to first place than they deserve to be (the baseball gods bestowed yet another round of Cardinals and Brewers losses upon the Cubs, keeping them within 3 1/2 games of first).

The offense once again turned John Danks into Cy Young, tallying just three hits in seven innings and scoring nary a run. Danks's total line in two games against the Cubs this season:

14 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 4 BB (0.64 ERA)

Consistency is not exactly the Cubs' calling card this season--they scored five runs Friday, all via the home run; seven runs Saturday without the benefit of a long ball; and zero runs Sunday, looking pretty pathetic in doing so.

Zambrano has pitched very well since returning from the DL, but couldn't get out of the 6th on this day. He loves to hit so much, I honestly wonder if he struggles more in AL ballparks because he gets bored sitting in the dugout during the top half of each inning. He won't have to worry about that any more in '09, as the Cubs are finished with road interleague games.

There was one good moment in the game. When Danks threw a retaliation pitch and hit Ryan Freel in the arm, Freel brushed off his arm as if to say, "I barely felt it." Freel reached base three times and stole a base.

The Cubs will throw Harden, Lilly and Wells against Zach Duke (third lefty in a row), Ross Ohlendorf, and Virgil Vaszuez, who has started one game since 2005.

Quote of the week

"If he's not 100 percent to help the team to win, we don't need him."

-Alfonso Soriano, on Milton Bradley

Are you kidding me? If there's one player on this team who gives less than 100 percent (and unfortunately, I think there's more than one), it's Alfonso Soriano. There are examples galore, but I can think of three just from Sunday's game. First, he turned a gapper that was fielded near the warning track into a single (leadoff man my ass). Then, he was unable to cut off a ball hit by Paul Konerko that the vast majority of left fielders would get to, allowing the tortoise-like Konerko to get a double. Later, he broke back on a shallow pop-up, then jogged in and was unable to get to the ball before it dropped.

Don't get me wrong, Soriano's right: if Bradley isn't giving 100 percent, that's a problem. But Soriano calling out Bradley is like the charred, burnt pot calling the kettle black. There's nothing that drives me more crazy than our $136 million man moseying around the basepaths and meandering around the outfield as if he'd rather be doing anything but playing baseball. Wait, there's one thing that drives me more crazy--that same player calling out teammates for being lazy.

Random link

Great column from Tim Kurkjian on the increase in strikeouts in baseball. Teaser: last season, 90 players struck out 100 or more times. In 1960, just seven did.

Samardzija watch

Jeff has been locked in in his last two starts. He notched a win with a seven inning, three-run performance Friday after throwing eight shutout innings in his previous start. He's now 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA at Iowa, and we may see him in the big league bullpen soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

M-A-R-M-O-L does not spell relief

Saturday: White Sox 8, Cubs 7

All I have to say is that I hope Jim Hendry is on the horn doing all he can to acquire a reliever or three. When it was 6-6 in the 6th and we had to go to the 'pen, I knew the game was over. Marmol continued his ineffectiveness, though this time he was hurt by base hits rather bases on balls. Marshall and Ascanio then combined to give up the winning run in the 9th, and that was that. Offense looked good, Dempster was solid, but lo, that terrible bullpen. You simply cannot win games without a few reliable relievers. When you have not-a-one reliable reliever ... well, that's just not good.

On a separate note, Mark DeRosa was traded for the second time in six months Saturday, to the freakin' Cardinals. Cubs fans developed a love affair with DeRosa after he was traded to the Indians (not that he shouldn't be remembered fondly, but the adoration for a solid two-year member of the Cubs was a bit over the top), but it will be significantly harder for blue-bleeders to root for him now. With the Cubs loss combined with Cardinals and Brewers wins, the Cubs are now 3 1/2 back of both teams. Pujols hit two jacks in the Cards' win, giving him 28 on the season (on pace for 60; his career high is 49).

Interesting column from Gene Wojciechowski about Lou Piniella and his sanity (or lack thereof).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cubs win; Bradley presumably listens to end of game on radio

Friday: Cubs 5, White Sox 4

With the Cubs and Sox both entering the second leg of their season series under .500, the Crosstown Classic doesn't carry quite the intrigue it did last year when it looked as though it might be a preview of October baseball. Nevertheless, both teams entered Friday within six games of first place, and there's no doubt that fans on both sides of town remain optimistic about playoff baseball.

With the Cubs having lost their last four games by a combined six runs, a confidence-producing win against the Sox was much needed. Randy Wells did his part by allowing just two runs (he's now allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his nine starts), and the offense turned the power on behind homers by Jake Fox and Geovany Soto. Fox has now had two consecutive games with a single, double and homer, while Soto has homered in four of his last eight games.

But the Cubs, who have now played 25 one-run games, just didn't feel comfortable with a big 5-2 8th-inning lead, so enter Carlos Marmol stage left. Marmol proved useless once again, walking two more batters and allowing a hit for good measure. Carlos is supposed to be the guy in Cubs' 'pen who can get out of jams, but Piniella's going to have to add a firefighter to the 25-man roster to put out all the fires created by Marmol's ineffective wildness. Fortunately, Marshall induced a 3-2-3 double play and Kevin Gregg (who also walked one) scored the save in the 9th to lock down Wells's second consecutive victory.

And if all these one-run games aren't enough drama for you, how about Milton Bradley having words with the water cooler and then his manager and being told to leave the park? Piniella said he was fed up with players' antics in the dugout (e.g. Dempster and Zambrano teaming up to put the fancy new Wrigley drink dispenser six feet under) and told him to leave. Bradley continues to make it difficult to determine what's worse, his average or his antics. But either way, this is just another stitch in the pattern that is his hotheaded career, and my guess it that it will blow over sooner rather than later.

That said, it's obvious that Bradley is not entirely happy with the Cubs, and also that he has some issues. Do we really have to deal with this for 2 1/2 more years?

Cubs sale

According to the Trib, the Ricketts deal is now gaining steam.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ron Artest has his career stats shaved into his chest hair

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

HOUSTON--In one of the more disturbing sports stories of the year, it has been discovered that Ron Artest has shaved his career statistics into his chest hair (he updates them once a year). Artest is well-known for the elaborate designs shaved on his head, but this development left fans across the country shocked and dismayed.

"Oh c'mon, man!" said Rockets fan Adam Janssen when shown a picture of Artest's chest. "Not cool."

Upon seeing the same image, fan Stacy Porter jumped back in horror, then shook her head and continually repeated the question uttered by most observers: Why?

Rockets Coach Rick Adelman wanted nothing less than to ponder the reasons for Artest's grooming decisions. "I've seen what he's done to his head," Adelman said. "And now, unfortunately, I've seen what he's done to his chest. I'll be praying tonight that I never have to see anything below that."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Movin' on up to the NL East side

Some more updates on former Cubs:

Ricky Nolasco, Marlins

Traded by the Cubs (along with two others) in 2005 for Juan Pierre, Nolasco went on to win 11 games in 2006, see very little time in the majors in 2007, and have a stellar 2008 (15-8, 3.52). The 26-year-old found himself back in the minors on May 22 of this year, but has improved upon his ugly 3-6, 7.15 line since being recalled on June 7. Many of his statistics have hit career highs this season, but Nolasco is young and has shown ability in the past.

Angel Pagan, Mets

Traded last January for two minor-leaguers, Pagan played in just 31 games for the Mets last year, spending time on both the 15-day DL and the 60-day DL. His struggles with injury have continued this year, as he's currently enduring his second stint on the DL (groin injury). He produced at a decent clip while on the field, going 14-for-42 with three RBI and four stolen bases.

Scott Eyre, Phillies

Scotty Ire, as Lou Piniella calls him, pitched 19 games for the Cubs last year and sucked. He then got traded to the Phillies, pitched 19 games, and was awesome. 7.15 ERA for the Cubs, 1.88 for the Phillies. He also pitched three solid innings in the postseason and was of course rewarded with a World Series ring. He was off to a solid start this year with a 2.57 ERA in 14 games, but landed on the DL June 12 (strained calf).

Matt Stairs, Phillies

A Cub way back in 2001, Stairs is now on his 11th major league team. Mostly a pinch-hitter this year, the 41-year-old is hitting .282 with 3 HR and 11 RBI.

Corey Patterson, Nationals

At one point a can't-miss prospect for the Cubs, Patterson was unceremoniously traded to Baltimore for two minor-leaguers in 2006; the '06 season would be his last good one, at least to this point. His .276/16/53 line may have made Jim Hendry a little nervous, but his .239/18/79 line in the 2+ years since isn't nearly as impressive. He was signed by Dusty Baker's Reds for the 2008 season, released, and then signed by the Nationals prior to this season. He's played in only five games and is batting .133.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Viva Las Vegas

I'm off to Las Vegas for the week. A few Cubs wins would not only bring me joy, but also help fill my wallet. There will still be a couple pre-prepared posts this week, but I'll be back next week with more Cubs commentary.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wood you believe it?

Saturday: Cubs 6, Indians 5 (13 inn.)

I can't recall a more exciting three-game stretch. Three come-from-behind, walk-off victories. One against the Sox, two against Kerry Wood and the Indians. Two of them extra inning games. Wow.

I feel bad that Wood has had to endure two blown saves at his old stomping grounds, but them's the breaks. The Cubs finally look like a team that believes it can win every game.

All right, it's time to give some "mad props," as the kids say. Derrek Lee now has four home runs in the last three games, and his multi-homer game Friday was his first since 2006. He has also surpassed Theriot for the highest average on the team (.288), and is creeping his way toward the .300 mark. I don't know where he went for six months, but right now, he looks like the Derrek Lee the Cubs signed to a five-year, $65 million extension in 2006.

And props are due to Bob Brenly as well--he called Micah Hoffpauir's pinch-hit home run in the 6th after semi-calling Derrek Lee's home run in the 5th (he said: "You don't have to wait until the 8th to hit a home run, Derrek."). He must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

This is why Marmol cannot be an effective reliever with all these walks. Bringing him in with the bases loaded was almost sure to result in a run-scoring walk. It's one thing when he starts an inning and can get out of his own jam, but he's made himself practically useless when brought in in a tough situation.

Heilman had similar issues, walking three in his first inning of work. The Cubs' bullpen has walked more batters than only five other major league teams. I still think the Cubs will have to make a move to shore up their bullpen if they're going to win the division.

Cubs notes

-I appreciate the effort from Bradley trying to go first to third on a D Lee single in the 1st, but it was still a bad baserunning play--you can't make the third out at third base.

-Incredibly, the highest OBP on the team is owned by Fukudome (.399).

-Saturday marked the Cubs' 10th extra-inning affair in 64 games.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comeback Cubs

Friday: Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 inn.)

What do you call an additional cup of coffee?

Wait for it ...


And the Cubs are all about it.

Down 7-0 with reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee on the mound, the Cubs scratched and clawed their way back to tie it, scoring four in the 8th (for the second straight game) and another in the 9th. And when Theriot's 10th-inning game-winning single took a bounce that the laws of physics couldn't possibly explain, it seemed that maybe the tide had finally turned. I was definitely excited when Lee pounded his second home run of the game to tie off Kerry Wood, but I would prefer the Cubs win the next two in 8 1/2 innings--I don't particularly enjoy seeing Wood get knocked around.

The Cubs have climbed out of four- and seven-run deficits in consecutive games. Friday's comeback was the biggest for the Cubs since this game from last year in which the Cubs beat the Rockies after trailing 8-0. One of the heroes from that game was, ahem, Mark DeRosa. (Even the Cubs' own Web site couldn't believe what happened: the headline for the game recap--even after it was over--was "Cubs can't dig out of early hole vs. Tribe.")

Speaking of DeRosa, it was really nice to see him get a standing ovation when he came to bat in the first. Too often fans boo a former hero simply because they've left town. DeRosa obviously did not make the choice to leave, and he deserves applause for the contributions he made while he was in Chicago.

What a boost to get a win in a game pitched by Cliff Lee when you consider that the weekend pitching match-ups favor the Cubs with Ohka (0-1, 4.24) facing Lilly (7-4, 2.94) on Saturday, and lefty Sowers (1-4, 5.14) battling Wells (0-3, 2.55) on Sunday. Something tells me Wells is in line for his first career win.

On the negative side, it was a tough day at the office for Rich Harden as he continued to get burned by the long ball. The two home runs he allowed gave him 11 on the season, the same number he allowed all of last year.

Good to see Jake Fox get a start at third base. He did fine defensively and was robbed on a grounder up the middle that would have scored a run had it sneaked through.

One complaint: Why did Lou take down pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot when Indians manager Eric Wedge brought in lefty Rafael Perez? Perez has allowed a ridiculous .436 average against lefties this season, and in general, you'd prefer to see Fontenot at the plate rather than Koyie Hill. In the end, it worked out as Hill reached on an infield single.

Okay, two complaints: Marmol will not--repeat, will not--be an effective reliever if he continues to walk people at this pace. With two more walks Friday, he has now walked 34 batters in less than 33 innings. He has survived to the tune of a 3.69 ERA by allowing just 17 hits, but you can't give away that many free passes and succeed consistently in the big leagues.

But enough of that. The Cubs are over .500 and have their mojo back, baby.

What the sell?

It's one step forward and two steps back with the sale of the Cubs. Sam Zell (who may still lose control of the Tribune Co.) is now talking to bidders other than Ricketts.

MLB notes

-Brothers Jeff and Jered Weaver will start against each other on Saturday. It's the first time since 2002 that siblings have opposed each other on the mound. (hat tip: Baseball Musings)

-The Padres are now down two starters as Chris Young joins Jake Peavy on the DL.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A walk (-off) to remember

Wednesday: White Sox 4, Cubs 1

[I feel the need to post about this game because I was there. For the fun part of this post, scroll down.]

Quite a dud of a game. There wasn't much to cheer about in the stands at Wrigley--unless, of course, you were wearing black and white. The Cubs offense sung a similar tune, wasting a few opportunities with men in scoring position and generally looking about as gray and dull as the weather.

On the mound, Dempster struggled with his control all day, walking six and throwing more balls than strikes overall. The Cubs are now 1-5 in their last six games, having scored just 10 total
runs during that stretch. After the game, Piniella spoke of making some changes to the lineup, but then trotted out basically the same lineup Thursday, with one positive change: Andres Blanco started at second in place of Aaron Miles.

In other Cubs news, the team is looking at Pedro Martinez. Only problem is, he's a career .100 hitter.

Thursday: Cubs 6, White Sox 5

Second verse, same as the first ... until the 8th inning.

With four unearned runs in the 8th and another run in the 9th, the Cubs came up with their biggest win of the year, hands down. The win tied the all-time series between the two at 34-34, and this was one of the most exciting games among those 68. The Cubs offense had been dormant for over a week, and then five runs in two innings? All I can say is that I had tickets to the wrong Cubs-Sox game.

Who knows if this shot in the arm will carry over beyond Thursday (especially with Cliff Lee taking the mound for the Indians on Friday), but either way, the Cubs needed exactly this: an exciting, comeback victory. The fact that it came over the Ozzie and the Southsiders makes it that much more enjoyable.

Derrek Lee extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a huge 8th-inning home run into the basket in right center, and Soto followed with an '08-like shot to left center. The four-run inning was the Cubs' first in 29 games, and Thursday was the first time the Cubs had scored more than four runs in a game since last Tuesday in Houston. Soriano capped off the comeback with a two-out, two-strike blooper to score Reed Johnson, who singled to start the inning and really, seriously, totally needs to play more.

Zambrano had his sinker working again, inducing seven ground balls and pitching pretty well overall. Zambrano's been so locked in lately that Chris Getz's double in the 1st was the first extra base hit he's allowed in his last four starts. But those were exactly the problem on this day, as four of the Sox hits off Zambrano went for extra bases.

The Cubs now sit four games out of first with exactly 100 games to go. We may know the Cubs' fate by the All-Star break--the final homestand prior to the Midsummer Classic features four against the Brewers and four against the Cardinals sandwiched around a set with the Braves. If they struggle their way through those 11 games, the Cubs could find themselves trying to sell off some pieces at the trade deadline. But if they turn things around and bang around the Brew Crew and the Redbirds, we should be in for an exciting second half.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rain, rain, go away, because I'm going to the game today

I'll be at Wednesday's game with Trevor Sierra and Brian Brennan. Tuesday's rainout was the first time a Cubs-Sox game had ever been rained out, and let's hope Game 2 doesn't suffer the same fate.

After two off days in a row for the Cubs (which is completely unacceptable), let's take a look around the rest of the majors:

-I hate to do this, but did you know that Mark DeRosa's "big three" statistics (BA, HR, RBI) are better than those of nearly every single Cubs player?

DeRosa: .280
Highest Cub: .283

DeRosa: 13
Highest Cub: 14

DeRosa: 48
Highest Cub: 27

-The Cubs now sit 3.5 games out of first after the Brewers took the first two games of their set with Cleveland.

-Colorado's 11-game winning streak was finally snapped with a 12-4 loss to the Rays, who are now on a six-game winning streak of their own.

Did you know ...

-Ichiro is leading the AL in hitting (.360).

-Chad Billingsley and Matt Cain are tied for the NL lead in wins (9).

-The Royals lead the majors in complete games (7).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A recipe for success

Clearly, the Cubs' current lineup is not getting the job done. Hendry shook things up a bit on Sunday by firing hitting coach Gerald Perry and replacing him with Triple-A hitting coach Von Joshua (Joshua was the White Sox hitting coach from 1998-2001). I can't recall offhand a team firing their hitting coach and then suddenly scoring runs in bunches, but I suppose shaking things up is worth a try. It's certainly not fair to lay all the Cubs' woes at Perry's feet; after all, he was the hitting coach last year when the Cubs consistently worked good at-bats and tore the cover off the ball. But perhaps a new personality and some fresh perspective will give the bats a lift.

What else can the Cubs do to help right the ship? Here are a few thoughts:

Get Miles out of the lineup. Why is he starting every day? He's batting .202 and slugging a pathetic .254. Bobby Scales, who was inexplicably sent down when Harden came off the DL, was hitting just .241 but was slugging .466. He's also a better defensive second baseman. The Cubs could have sent Waddell down or gotten rid of the useless (and seldom used) David Patton instead. Even Andres Blanco would be an improvement over Miles.

Start Reed Johnson, even against righties. I'm not saying Kosuke should never play again, but let's give Johnson a chance. Fukudome has done absolutely nothing at the plate in the last few weeks, and Johnson (.272/.333/.437) deserves a chance to prove himself after a great season in '08.

Bring up Jake Fox. Fox will come up and DH when the Cubs head to Detroit on June 23. If he continues to rake, give him a shot at starting every now and then and let's see how bad is defense really is. He may be able to make up for his glove with his bat.

Move Soriano down in the order. If Soriano's going to strikeout no matter where he bats, then I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. But you simply cannot have a player with a .300 OBP (.268 in June) at the top of the order.

Start Hoffpauir occasionally. I hate to compliment Tony La Russa, but I believe part of the reason the Cardinals get so much out of so little year after year is because every player knows he needs to prove himself in order to stay in the lineup. Start Hoffpauir in left and/or right field every now and then. If he produces, give him more playing time. If not, you may see the residual effect of Bradley and/or Soriano stepping up their game to prove themselves.

Well, there are my two cents. What do you think the Cubs need to do to turn their offensive fortunes around?

**UPDATE**They're listening to me! Okay, maybe not, but the Cubs recalled Jake Fox Tuesday and placed Jason Waddell on the DL.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cubs get a big win, pull closer to first in mediocre NL Central

Sunday: Cubs 3, Twins 2


Doesn't that feel good? A nice walk-off win at home got the Cubs back to .500 for the 12th time this season. Theriot's game-winning single ended the four-game losing streak and gave the Cubs some good mojo heading into a big series with the crosstown rival White Sox (who, by the way, beat the Brewers again to help the Cubs pull within 2.5 games of first).

Ted Lilly pitched well enough to get the win, but left the game with the score tied 2-2. Interestingly, despite having a team-leading seven wins, Lilly has won in just two ballparks this season: Wrigley Field four times and Minute Maid Park three times.

Enjoy the day off on Monday--the Cubs will play the next 23 days.

Cubs note

Ryan Theriot, who struck out once Sunday, has seen his strikeout total rise significantly this season. He already has 39 K's this year; he had just 58 all of last year and 50 in 2007. He seems to have a completely different approach at the plate this year--he of course has the six home runs, and he seems to shoot for the right side of the field much less often. Hit clutch single on Sunday was more like it.

MLB notes

-You couldn't make this up.

-Caught in a rundown Sunday, Johnny Damon took a page out of A-Rod's playbook and swiped the ball out of Alex Cora's glove. Fortunately, the ump saw it and called Damon out. Just another reason to hate the Yankees.

-The combined lines of NL East aces Derrek Lowe and Johan Santana Sunday: 5.1 IP, 17 H, 16 ER (ERA of 27.00) .

-Two AL pitchers hit home runs Sunday: Mark Buehrle and Josh Beckett. Beckett, of course, used to play in the NL with the Marlins.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cubs' bats driving fans batty--another good outing wasted

Saturday: Twins 2, Cubs 0

Shall I just copy and paste from one of my previous posts? "The Cubs got a strong performance from their starting pitcher, Derrek Lee was pretty good, but the rest of the offense did nothing and the Cubs lost." Yeah, that'll work.

The Cubs were stymied once again, this time by rookie Anthony Swarzak. They had just five hits (four singles and a bloop double) and two walks, never threatening until the 9th inning. It's the fifth time the Cubs have been shut out this season.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the lack of hits is the fact that the Cubs have walked away from last year's approach: drawing walks. After blowing away the National League in both walks and OBP in 2008, the Cubs rank just 10th in those categories this year. They have drawn a total of three walks in this series. It wouldn't be as big of a deal if the Cubs were putting the ball in play for hits, but here are the averages of Saturday's starting eight:

.233 -- Soriano
.240 -- Fontenot
.226 -- Bradley
.273 -- Lee
.209 -- Soto
.272 -- Fukudome
.278 -- Theriot
.205 -- Miles

The Cubs need to start putting together better at-bats and getting into hitters' counts. It was this recipe that resulted in a league-leading 855 runs last year.

Some good news: Rich Harden looked very good in his return from the DL: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K. The bullpen (Ascanio, Marshall, Gregg) was sharp as well. But as every Cubs' starting pitcher knows all too well, you can't win if you don't score.

Is Fukudome a robot programmed to decline?

It's pretty freaky how similar Fukudome's season has been in relation to last year's. In '08, he looked awful in spring training, stormed out of the gates to the point that many people attributed the Cubs' newfound plate discipline to the "Fukudome Effect," then went downhill like he was a cast member of "Cool Runnings" as soon as June 1 hit. This year, he got benched as part of Japan's WBC team, renewed Cubs' fans hope in him when the season began, and has once again fallen apart as soon as the temperature hit 80.

Here are his monthly batting average splits over the last two seasons:

April: .338
May: .277
June: .135

April: .305
May: .293
June: .264

You can see that this year's decline has been much more precipitous. In 2008, his average declined each and every month, ending at .178 in September. Here's hoping he can reverse this trend, and soon. If not, Reed Johnson has to get a lot more playing time. I would be in favor of Johnson getting more playing time right now.

Central intelligence

The loss knocked the Cubs back under .500 for the first time since they fell to 21-22 on May 25. On May 26, the Cubs broke their eight-game losing streak and went on to win four of their next five.

Luckily, the Brewers lost 7-1 to the White Sox, so the Cubs remain just 3.5 games back. On the other hand, the Cubs are closer to last place than they are to first. With the Astros just five games out of first, the Cubs are jammed in the middle of a real snug divisional race. Both the AL and NL Central divisions are mediocre at this point--both are led by a 34-28 team (Brewers and Tigers), and both have a last place team within seven games of first (Astros and Indians). The baseball gods have allowed the Cubs to stay in the race despite very subpar play; it's time for them to take advantage.

MLB notes

-Jake Peavy could miss up to three months with an ankle injury. Fittingly, he suffered the injury in a game against the Cubs.

-When the Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle on May 29, they were 18-28. They started 2-4 under interim manager Jim Tracy, but then reeled off 10 straight wins. They're now just two games under .500 (though they have a lot of work to do to get back into the race--the Dodgers are 19 games over).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A tale of two attitudes

Friday: Twins 7, Cubs 4

While the Twins were busy hitting sac flies, bunting (including pitcher Kevin Slowey, who has 11 career at-bats), and putting the ball in play, the Cubs were hard at work whiffing, running into outs and throwing the ball into the stands at inappropriate times. It was quite a contrast in focus and fundamentals, and the result was an ugly 7-4 loss to Ron Gardenhire's Twins.

I'm not going to lament Randy Wells's poor start, partly because it was his first of the year, and partly because there's just no time for it considering all the Milton Badly ridiculousness we have to get to.

Bradley, who is batting .222 in June, had an inexcusable mental lapse in the 8th inning when he threw the ball into the stands despite there being just two outs and a runner at first. He also lost a ball in the sun (more excusable) and had a baserunning gaffe.

I could deal with Bradley getting hurt every now and then; I could deal with him being a streaky hitter; I could deal with him having a brain fart every now and then; I could deal with him being a bit of a nutcase; I could deal with him mouthing off through the media sometimes. But all of these combined? Aren't we payin' this guy like $30 million?

Bradley's miscues overshadowed his 2-for-4, 2 RBI performance at the plate. Derrek Lee drove in the other two runs to tie Soriano for the team lead in RBI with 27.

There weren't a whole lot of other positives to take from this one. The Cubs are back at the .500 mark, and Rich Harden returns on Saturday and will try to get the Cubs back above sea level.

Bobby Scales was sent down to make room for Harden, giving the Cubs 13 pitchers and just four bats off the bench: Hill, Hoffpauir, Blanco, and whoever doesn't start in center (Johnson or Fukudome). With the team struggling to score runs, I'm not sure that losing a bat is the way to go.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I hate Geoff Blum as much as the Cubs hate scoring runs

Thursday: Astros 2, Cubs 1

The Cubs suffered yet another one-run loss Thursday (they're now 6-11 in such games), wasting a very strong performance by Ryan Dempster. They lost in part because they continued to shoot themselves in the foot by failing to hit with runners in scoring position. In the 6th inning, they had runners at first and third with nobody out, and the two, three and four hitters coming up; they failed to score. They're hitting just .233 w/ RISP as a team, 14th in the NL. Even in Tuesday's 7-1 victory in which the Cubs had 16 hits, they scored just seven runs because they left 16 runners on base.

The only offense the Cubs did muster, though, was a sight to see: Derrek Lee hitting an opposite field home run to tie it in the 9th. Lee has easily been the Cubs' most consistent hitter over the last month or so, and Gordon Wittenmyer says it's the adjustments he's made that have brought better results.

But back to Dempster and the Cubs pitching staff. Cubs' starters in the series versus the Astros: 21.2 IP, 2 ER, good for an ERA of 0.84. Sound familiar? You may recall that the series versus the Reds featured starting pitching to the tune of 19.1 IP, 2 ER. On the road trip as a whole, Cubs pitching (including relievers) put up a 1.84 ERA. It's a felony that the Cubs won just four of the eight games.

Russ Ortiz, who is 35 years old and somehow still pitching despite having an ERA over five in 2005, 2006 and 2007, then not pitching at all in 2008, pretty much schooled the Cubs-- he allowed just three hits and no runs in 5.1 innings. You may recall that Ortiz started twice in the 2003 NLDS when the Cubs faced the Braves. He lost Game 1 and won Game 4 in a series ultimately won by the Cubs in five games. (hat tip: Trevor Sierra)

Cubs notes

-Of the three starters in the Astros series--Lilly, Zambrano and Dempster--only one did not have a hit. Can you believe that Zambrano was the one who took the collar?

-The Cubs' eight-game road trip featured five extra inning games: two 11-inning affairs along with 12-, 13- and 14-inning games.

Central intelligence

Remember how I said Piniella should send the Rockies a thank you card? Make that a gift basket. The lowly Rockies escaped the NL West basement by sweeping the Cardinals in four games, then they took 3-of-3 from the Brewers. Despite a so-so 4-4 road trip by the Cubs, they find themselves just 2.5 games out of first as they come home for a nine-game interleague homestand.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rookie defensive back brings tent and s'mores to mini-camp

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BEREA, Oh.--Cleveland Browns rookie defensive back Don Carey was embarrassed last Tuesday after showing up to mini-camp with a tent and all the necessary ingredients to make s'mores. Carey said he was "disappointed" to find out they'd be playing football instead of camping, but agreed to go through the drills and "eat the s'mores later." Carey said he desperately hopes the team can organize a camping trip at some point, because a) he has a great ghost story to tell, and b) he had stayed up half the night coming up with a great joke: if they saw a bear while in the woods, he was going to scream, "Ah! It's Brian Urlacher!" He had also planned to make a great pun on the word "tackle" with reference to his tackle box, though he hadn't quite come up with one yet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ace of Cubs

You can make a pretty strong argument that since coming to the Cubs in 2007, Ted Lilly has been the Cubs' proverbial "ace." While it doesn't really matter who the "ace" is (since other than Opening Day and the first game after the All-Star break your best pitcher is not necessarily going to be matched up against the other team's best pitcher, anyways), Zambrano is constantly referred to as the Cubs ace. And while his track record and contract certainly justify the label to an extent, take a look at this:


2007: 15-8, 3.83 ERA, 207 IP
2008: 17-9, 4.09 ERA, 204 IP
2009: 7-4, 3.00 ERA, 78 IP

Totals: 39-21, 3.80 ERA, 489 IP


2007: 18-13, 3.95 ERA, 216 IP
2008: 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 188 IP
2009: 4-2, 3.72 ERA, 55 IP

Totals: 36-21, 3.92 ERA, 459 IP

The numbers aren't that different, but Lilly has Zambrano beat in all three major categories: He's won more games, amassed a better ERA, and logged more innings than Zambrano since joining the Cubs. Jim Hendry deserves huge props for this signing, especially since he completed it from a hospital bed.

Lilly's only drawback? He apparently is not aware of the baseball phenomenon known as "the third base coach." Did you see him turn to look at the ball five times on his triple to right center last night? The Cubs are paying someone to help you with that, Ted!

After this series, the Cubs will have played the Astros 10 times in their first 57 games, yet another example of what a terrible schedule MLB is operating on this season. The Cubs are making their third trip to Minute Maid Park already, and if only they could face Brian Moehler every time there. In just the third game of the season, the Cubs knocked him out in the second inning of an 11-6 victory. Tuesday, Moehler improved upon that start by going three whole innings and allowing just five runs! His season ERA stands at 6.95.

A portion of last night's offense came from Mike Fontenot, which was great to see. Fontenot was 4-for-5 with his first home run since May 3. After batting just .216 in May, Fontenot appears to be getting his groove back: he's batting .385 in June.

Finally, Carrie Muskat reports that Jake Fox (who had a pinch-hit double last night and is now 5-for-6 as a pinch-hitter) will be sent back to Triple-A Iowa in order to activate Aaron Miles from the DL. All I have to say is that Miles better produce more than his current .204/.250/.265 line, because though Fox can't play much defense, he sure can rake. No doubt Fox will be back in the not-too-distant future.

Central intelligence

-The Brewers and Cardinals both lost. Lou Piniella will probably be sending a "Thank You" card along to Denver, as the Rockies have now defeated the Cardinals and Brewers a combined five consecutive games. In Florida, Chris Carpenter couldn't hold a 3-0 lead, and a ninth-inning homer off Jason Motte sealed their fate. The Reds beat the Nationals 3-2, so there's a three-way tie for second place, with the Brewers leading the pack by 2.5 games. Technically, the Cubs' winning percentage is just slightly better than that of the Reds and Cardinals, so take that, suckers!

Samardzija watch

Jeff has made two starts since the last udpate, one good and one bad. One June 4, he allowed four runs on nine hits in five innings of work. He followed that up, though, with a strong performance on Tuesday--6 IP, 5 H, o ER, o BB, 3 K. His Triple-A ERA sits at 4.05, an he has walked just 13 batters in 46.2 IP.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A feel-good post

This is pretty funny:

And these are pretty adorable (my niece, Brooklyn):

Reports: Hockey league currently engaged in some sort of tournament

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Reports--mostly out of Canada--are that the league with all those hockey teams is currently engaged in some sort of tournament possibly designed to determine a champion. No other information is available at this time. A quick survey of random sports fans revealed very little about said tournament, though one fan reached by phone said, "Didn't the NHL used to have some sort of glass or cup or something? Is the NHL still around?" A cursory glance at the basic cable listings was also of little help, as the tournament--if it really exists--is apparently broadcast mostly on premium channels. Wait 'til this Year kindly requests that readers with any additional information please submit tips via the Comments.

Monday, June 8, 2009

33% of the way through the season, I ask: Are the Cubs giving 100%?

The Cubs had a big 14-inning victory over the Reds Sunday, pulling back into a tied for third and back to within 3.5 games of first. With that said, this may seem like a strange time to go negative, but I just have to say:

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a palpable lack of passion on this 2009 Cubs team? Piniella seems disinterested at times,
and I don't say that simply because he hasn't thrown the third base bag at an umpire, but also because despite mental lapses, a lack of hustle, and bad decisions by his players, he seems calm and content. He doesn't need to throw a baseball bat, but I would like to know that he's concerned about the Cubs' performance.

Soriano runs out ground balls and pop-ups about as often as the Lions win football games; he plays defense like left field is his vacation home--he might as well have a margarita next to him; Derrek Lee didn't even go halfway down the line on a flyout to center Sunday; Marmol, the supposed lockdown 8th inning guy, can't focus enough to throw any strikes; the outfielders just loooove to throw to the wrong base; Bradley talks more than he hits; Ryan Theriot has completely gone away from his patented inside out swing; no one seems to know how to bunt--the Cubs are 15th in the NL in sacrifices; the list goes on.

There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the season about the Cubs walking away with this division, that the regular season was a mere formality. Perhaps some of that talk seeped into the Cubs' mental approach, because we haven't seen much fire (nor fundamentals) from most of the Cubs thus far; instead, they look flat as a pancake.

I'm not saying this can't change: the Cubs looked lazy for the first few months of '07 and then did a 180 in the second half. We've reached the one-third point of the season, and the Cubs are 27-25, within 3.5 games of first; at the one-third point in 2007, the Cubs were just 23-31, 7.5 games back. But I'd just like to see a little more focus and effort--I know the players aren't always going to succeed, but I at least want to know they're trying, and that they want to win as much as I want them to.

Sunday: Cubs 6, Reds 3, 14 inn.

Randy Wells just continues to get people out, though he got yet another no decision to show for his efforts. In six starts, he's allowed just eight total earned runs. Piniella took him out after five scoreless innings in his first start, but his five starts since have all been quality starts. Cubs starting pitching in the series versus the Reds: 19.1 IP, 2 ER, an ERA of 0.93.

Despite the phenomenal starting pitching, the series was a nail-biter because the Cubs offense struggled to come up with the big hit. The Cubs rank just 13th in the NL in both runs scored and batting average. Perhaps the biggest hole in the lineup right now is at the top: Soriano is hitting just .214 since the start of May. Though he did hit the go-ahead home run Sunday, he was 1-for-6, and has 25 strikeouts and just 12 hits over his last 18 games.

I'm very glad we didn't allow Bronson Arroyo to get the win. I say that because a win for Arroyo would have given him the league lead in wins all by himself, despite the fact that going into Saturday's game, his ERA was fifth worst among qualified NL pitchers, and he had allowed the fourth most home runs in the league.

Cubs notes

-Ryan Theriot did something he's never done before: hit a home run in a stadium not named Wrigley Field.

-Derrek Lee's two-run single in the third inning broke an 0-for-22 streak for the Cubs with runners in scoring position. Oh, Aramis Ramirez, please come back soon.

Saturday: Reds 4, Cubs 3, 11 inn.

In the four games on this road trip, all have been one-run games and three have gone into extra innings. This brings to mind the inordinate number of close games the Cubs have played this season. Of their 53 games, 33 have been decided by three runs or less. Additionally, 13 of the Cubs' 27 wins have been by two or fewer runs. The Cubs have also played six extra inning games, a full 11 percent of their schedule.

The Cubs lost despite the fact that for the second straight game, the starting pitcher did not allow an earned run. Unfortunately, Dempster allowed three unearned runs in the first after an error by Mike Fontenot, and though they clawed back to tie the game, a poor throw home by Fontenot in the 11th cost Sean Marshall and the Cubs the loss.

Perhaps the best sight from Saturday's action: Geovany Soto absolutely launched one off the foul pole in left--it was just his second home run this season, and hopefully he'll be sending the ball into orbit a lot more often in the coming months.

And let's give credit where credit is due: Derrek Lee hit .313 in May and after a 2-for-5 day Saturday, he's hitting .438 in June; his average is up to .270 overall. He's also grounded into just one double play this season after racking up 27 last year.

Cubs notes

-Zambrano says he will retire after his current contract expires. Huh? His contract is up in 2012, with a vesting option for 2013; he'll be 32 when the 2013 season ends. First of all, I don't put much stock in these comments. Zambrano's been in a goofy mood all week after his suspension, and most of the things he says don't matter a week later, let alone four years later. The other issue is that if he continues to play after his current contract, there's no guarantee it would be with the Cubs, anyways. So let's check back in with Z regarding his retirement plans in about three years.

-It looks like Marshall will probably be making at least one more start for the Cubs. Rich Harden was scratched from his rehab start Sunday due to a stomach virus, and hopes to do the rehab start Monday and return to the Cubs' rotation Saturday.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Randy Johnson gets win #300, Zambrano gets #100

On Thursday, Randy Johnson became the 24th player to win 300 games, which of course begs the question: will he be the last to accomplish this feat? Only one pitcher won over 500 games (Cy Young, 511), and only one other pitcher won over 400 games (Walter Johnson, 417). Obviously those milestones will never again be reached, but how about 300?

Here are the active pitchers with more than 200 wins, with their ages in parentheses:

Jamie Moyer, 250 (46)
Pettitte, 220 (36)
Pedro Martinez, 214 (37)
John Smoltz, 210 (42)

Moyer would need to be Nick Altrock to get to 300. Pettitte keeps talking about retiring, but keeps coming back. If he plays until he's 41, he'd need to average about 16 wins per season. Pedro is not technically active at the moment, but expressed a desire to pitch this season while pitching in the World Baseball Classic. He'd need to average 17 wins even if he played another four years--that's not going to happen. And Smoltz is too old to have a shot at 90 more wins.

So we probably won't be seeing any more 300-game winners for a while. But what about the younger pitchers out there? The first few names on the "all-time wins" leaderboard that pop out to me are:

Roy H
alladay (32): 140 wins

If Halladay pitches until he's 43, he'd need to average about 14.5 wins per season (I don't know why I picked age 43; it just seems like a nice mid-point between "too young to have a good shot at 300" and "older than the vast majority of pitchers when they retire"). He's a workhorse, which either means he's got the makeup to pitch well into his 40's, or that he's logging so many innings early in his career that he'll run out of gas before he can get there.

Roy Oswal
t (31): 131 wins

If he pitches until he's 43, he'd need to average 14 wins per season. He's had just one season in his first eight in which he didn't win at least 14 games. He's off to a slow start this year, however, with just two wins. Some think he's already slowing down, which would certainly preclude him from reaching 300 wins.

Mark Buehrl
e (30): 128

Would need to average 13 wins per season if he pitches to age 43. He has averaged 14.75 over the last seven years.

Barry Zito (31): 124

His huge contract with the Giants appears to be a huge bust, but I put him on the list anyways because if he were to regain his past form, he's within range. Keep in mind that when Randy Johnson was 31, he had just 83 wins.

CC Sabathia (28): 122

If he pitches 15 more years, he needs just 12 wins per season. It's some of the younger pitchers that are really in range of 300, though whether they can maintain a high level of performance over the next decade-and-a-half is the question.

Johan Santana (30): 116

The lefty would need 14 wins per season over the next 13 years.

Carlos Zambrano (28): 100

It se
ems like Zambrano could have racked up more wins by now, but even 300 game winner Tom Glavine had "just" 107 wins at the end of the season in which he turned 28. Z would need to average 13 wins if he pitches 'til he's 43.

Jake Peavy (28): 91

We're getting pretty young here with Peavy and Zambrano. It's pretty difficult to project someone to get 300 wins when they haven't yet cracked triple digits. But we'll throw Peavy on the list anyways, as his career is off to the kind of start one needs in order to have a chance.

What do you think? Will baseball ever see another 300 game winner?

Friday: Cubs 2, Reds 1

Speaking of Carlos Zambrano and wins, Big Z earned his 100th career win with 6.2 scoreless innings, dropping his ERA to 3.72 along the way. In classic Zambrano style, he drove in more runs than he allowed by virtue of a solo home run, his second long ball of the season.

The bullpen once again made things interesting: Marmol allowed a hit, two walks and a run in his inning of work, and Gregg allowed a hit and another baserunner via a dropped third strike, but when all was said and done, the Cubs picked up the win and improved to two games over .500.

I don't think a whole lot of people (including myself) are ready to start believing in the Reds, but for now, this series matters in the standings. The Cubs entered the series one game behind the Reds for third place in the NL Central, and thus drew even with Friday's victory.

Hitter pitcher Micah Owings had one of his better starts of the year, allowing just two runs in six innings of work, but it wasn't enough, and his record dropped to 3-7. He is still batting .290, though.

Cubs notes

-With Thursday's rainout and subsequent makeup game June 22, the Cubs will now play on 23 consecutive days starting June 16. They will finally have an off day July 9, and will then play a doubleheader just three days later. Fortunately, the All-Star break immediately follows the doubleheader.

-The rainout also means that Zambrano, Dempster and Wells will start this weekend, and Marshall is officially a member of the bullpen. Harden hopes to return to the mound Friday.

-With Milton Bradley hurt, will Jake Fox get a chance to start and play in the field?

MLB notes

-Outman has to be one of the best names for a pitcher, ever. (hat tip: Brian Brennan)

-Quick: Who has the second best ERA in each league, behind Zach Greinke and Johan Santana, respectively?

AL: Jered Weaver (2.26)
NL: Matt Cain (2.27)

-Tony La Russa is suing Twitter. Does someone who fell asleep at a stoplight because he was driving drunk really need to defend his reputation? Perhaps the impersonator angered La Russa by suggesting that he was going to bat the pitcher ninth?

-The White Sox were shutout on Friday for the ninth time this season.

Central Intelligence

The Cardinals' Kyle Lohse is headed to the DL; Brad Thompson will fill in.