Friday, July 31, 2009
The Red Sox are of course right in the thick of things, and their offense has slumped since the All-Star break (16 runs in the first seven games after the break). Martinez (.284, 15, 67) will take at-bats from Jason Varitek (.239, 13, 44) and shore up an offense that already benefits from the fourth best pitching staff in the AL.
The Tigers lead the AL Central by just two games, and Jarrod Washburn (8-6, 2.64) gives them a solid lefty in the middle of their rotation. If they're able to push their way into the playoffs, they set up well with Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Washburn in a short series.
And it's already been said here, but Holliday provides protection for Pujols and stretches their lineup as they try to score more runs for Carpenter, Wainwright, Piniero et al.
In the trade no one saw coming, the White Sox responded to the Washburn acquisition by getting--really, this time--Jake Peavy. The Sox traded Friday's scheduled starter Clayton Richard, top prospect Aaron Poreda, and two other prospects. Only problem is, Peavy is injured and out for at least another month. With Richard gone in the deal, the Sox are going to be hard up for a fifth starter for the next month. The good news for the Sox is that Peavy is also locked in for a few more years, though his salary (upwards of $17 mil) is not in the range that Kenny Williams is accustomed to paying his starting pitchers.
Kevin Hart had a good start and a strange finish. His start (6 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) netted him his third straight victory, but his Cubs career was finished shortly thereafter, as he was traded to the Pirates after the game. Hart, along with Jose Ascanio and Single-A third baseman Josh Harrison, were shipped to one of Hendry's favorite trading partners for lefty reliever John Grabow and lefty starter Tom Gorzelanny.
It was a good pick-up for the Cubs, who will now have two lefties in the pen once Lilly returns from the DL. Marshall will presumably return to the rotation for now given that Hart was involved in the trade.
Grabow had the third-lowest ERA among NL left-handed relievers last year, and was the Jewish Pitcher of the Year (seriously). 2008 and 2009 have been the best years of his career. He has control issues at times, as he's walked 28 men in 47.1 innings, and he's actually better against righties (.234 average against) than lefties (.275).
Gorzelanny, 27, was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in 2007, but has struggled since and finds himself in the minors this year.
The trade seems pretty fair on paper: Hart could turn into a back-end starter, Gorzelanny already proved he has the potential to contribute at the major league level, but hasn't harnessed his talent consistently; the Cubs get the lefty they need and give up a serviceable arm in Ascanio; and the Pirates get a Single-A OBP guy.
The trade makes the Cubs bullpen--which has been very strong of late--even stronger, improves the rotation slightly while Lilly is out, and gives them a lefty with the potential to be a mid-rotation starter in a year or two.
The Cubs' second consecutive pounding of the Astros puts them a season-high eight games over .500. The offense feasted on Houston pitching once again, putting up double-digit runs in back-to-back games for the first time since ... well, not that long ago, actually: August 25-26 of last year in Pittsburgh, when they won 12-3 and 14-9. The bats looked so good Thursday, they knocked Russ Ortiz right out of the Astros organization--he was released after the game.
The lineup seems to have a different hero every day, and Thursday it was Fukudome: a single, a double, a triple and two walks, along with four RBI and two runs. Theriot also drove in four runs, and Derrek Lee was the only starter (including Kevin Hart) who didn't record at least one hit. Fox and Bradley added long balls, and the Cubs are now up to 10th in the NL in runs scored (not great, but up from 15th).
A 6-1 homestand on the heels of a 5-2 road trip is just what the doctor ordered out of the break, and it's nice to have momentum heading into a nine-game road trip to Florida, Cincinnati and Colorado. The Cardinals used a 15-for-29 start from Matt Holliday to take three of four from the best team in the majors, but lost to the Dodgers in 10 innings Thursday, 5-3. So the Cubs regain possession of first place, 1/2 game up on the Cardinals, with the Astros and Brewers four games back at .500 exactly.
***UPDATE***I stand corrected. According to the Trib, Gorzelanny will take over the fifth starter role, and Marshall will remain in the bullpen. Gorzelanny has a 0.96 ERA in his last six minor league starts.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Most of the Cubs' wins in 2009 have been nail-biters. Wednesday, they returned to 2008 form, putting the Astros away practically before the National Anthem was finished.
A six-run first was more than enough for Randy Wells, who went eight scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 2.84. That ERA would place him ninth in the NL if he weren't just four innings shy of qualifying. He's now 7-1 in his last eight starts, and has become the Cubs' most reliable starter--he's allowed more than three earned runs just three times in 15 starts (cough Rookie of the Year cough).
The Cubs' offense made sure Wells had some breathing room by racking up 12 runs on 14 hits. They scored in five of the eight innings in which they batted, and seven different Cubs players had at least one RBI. Three players left the yard as Ramirez hit career HR # 258, Soriano blasted # 289, and Andres Blanco belted ... # 1. Ramirez is now batting .309 with 4 HR and 12 RBI since his return.
With six more walks Wednesday, the Cubs are now seventh in the NL in that category. Milton Bradley drew one of them, and only Jayson Werth has drawn more free passes in July. Bradley's OBP is up to .385.
Last offensive note: Jake Fox hits even when he doesn't start. Despite entering the game as a pinch-hitter in the 7th, Fox had a sacrifice fly and an RBI single in the game. That man can hit.
And not to ignore the defense, the infield turned four double plays, putting them on pace for 147. I love seeing those twin killings, since I predicted they'd have 149 of them.
Finally, props to Mitch Atkins, 23, on a scoreless inning in his major league debut. Atkins was called up because the bullpen has been so overworked of late, but Jeff Stevens will probably be back up soon, as he showed great stuff in his short time with the big club.
The bad news
Reed Johnson is out at least a month with a broken bone in his foot. Sam Fuld is expected to be recalled from Iowa.
The injuries are certainly getting tiresome, but with Johnson hitting .252 this season and the fact that Fuld hit .368 in his stint with the Cubs, this one shouldn't hurt too much.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Apparently it was Grand Slam Day in Major League Baseball, as there were a total of four on Monday night. Josh Willingham of the Nationals hit grand slams in the 5th and 6th innings. He's the thirteenth player to hit two grand slams in one game (meaning it's a feat more rare than a perfect game), and the sixth to hit them in back-to-back innings. Fernando Tatis, by the way, is the only player ever to have hit two grand slams in one inning, and, interestingly, he hit a grand slam Monday as well.
And the fourth, of course, was hit by Alfonso Soriano. He was 0-for-5 through 12 innings, meaning his nine-game hitting streak was in serious jeopardy. But even though all he needed was a long fly ball in the 13th, he smashed one about 430 feet to straightaway center just for fun.
The win enabled the Cubs to match their high-water mark of the season: they were seven games over .500 at 21-14 after beating ... the Astros on May 16.
Speaking of home runs, it doesn't matter what jersey Carlos Lee is wearing, he always hits the Cubs. He wailed on them with the White Sox, bashed them as a Brewer, and now he annihilates them as an Astro. His tape measure shot in the 2nd was his 29th career home run against the Cubs, by far the most for him against any team (he has 19 off the Royals and Indians). As I mentioned yesterday, he's definitely a starter on the All-Cub Killer Team.
A different Lee--Derrek--became the first Cub to hit 20 HR, and he did it in style with a visit to Waveland Avenue. He also matched his home run total from last year. Back in April, he would have been about fifth on my list of Cubs Likely to Hit 20 HR.
And while I give Piniella huge props for calling a suicide squeeze, what was he doing letting Zambrano bat in the 7th even though no bench players had been used and he was coming out of the game anyways? No Jake Fox? I realize Lou is loathe to use him because he's the back-up catcher, but you have to put an actual hitter in the game with runners at first and second in the bottom of the 7th, especially when the pitcher is being taken down one way or the other. Plus, Fox ended up coming in to catch late in the game anyways.
On the bright side, Z did an excellent job on the mound. With 7 IP and 1 ER, he now has a 2.63 July ERA and a 3-1 record to go with it. He took a tough no-decision Monday as Wandy Rodriguez continued an even better month--a 0.75 ERA and a 4-0 record. Rodriguez, 30, has seen his ERA go down every year since 2006, and his next win will give him more wins (11) in 2009 than any year of his career. Let's hope we don't have to see him in our one remaining series with the Astros.
On a separate note, Carlos Marmol has really turned it on of late. He hasn't allowed any runs in his last eight appearances, and has allowed just one run in his last 14. With Gregg just four saves off the league leading pace, the 8th and 9th innings have become very comfortable for the Cubs (as comfortable as 8th and 9th innings can be, anyways).
The Cardinals beat the Dodgers with the assistance of yet another home run by Mark DeRosa (5 of his 11 hits as a Cardinal are home runs, though he's hitting just .244), while the Brewers lost in part because of those Josh Willingham grand slams mentioned earlier. So the Cubs remain 1/2 game up on the Cards, and extend their lead over the Astros and Brewers to three and four games, respectively.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Quick trivia question: Who's in first place in the NL Central?
That would be the Cubs.
I'm just going to let you soak that in for a second.
I know, it's only July 27, but the Cubs haven't been in first since April 21, so it's worth enjoying. On top of the fact that the Cardinals lost (despite DeRosa's fourth home run as a Cardinal), the Astros and Brewers lost, meaning the standings are quite pleasant to look at:
|Chicago Cubs||51||45||.531||-||30-18||21-27||411||393||+18||Won 4||8-2|
|St. Louis||53||48||.525||.5||26-21||27-27||444||424||+20||Lost 2||4-6|
And after the Cubs' second sweep in their last three series, let's put a couple of theories to bed:
1) Rich Harden needs to pitch at night.
Gimme a break. A story in the Trib last week indicated that the Cubs would try to have Harden pitch at night, though it also had him pitching in his normal spot in the rotation, so the story seemed a bit nonsensical to me. With Lilly going on the DL, there was concern from some corners that Harden had to be moved up to Sunday to pitch during the day. Unless Harden is half-human, half-bat (the flying kind, not the hitting kind), the whole thing seems utterly ridiculous to me.
First of all, Harden's career day/night splits are practically identical; it's only this year that a significant difference has appeared. Second, I'm much more prepared to give credence to home/road splits (see: Ervin Santana, who was 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA at home in 2007, but 1-10 with an 8.38 ERA on the road), where the crowd, ballpark quirks, and mound can affect performance. But day vs. night? Absurd.
Harden helped prove this point on Sunday with six amazing innings (and just 90 pitches) in which he allowed just one baserunner. Cub killer Joey Votto launched a 1st inning home run, but that was literally all the Reds could muster against Harden. By the way, Joey Votto is definitely a starter on the All-Cub Killer Team, joining Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Craig Counsell, Jeff Blauser, and others. Votto has hit 11 of his 47 career HR against the Cubs.
By the way, Harden's last three starts: 19 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 21 K (0.95 ERA)
2) Soriano can only hit in the leadoff spot.
Up until this year, Soriano bitched and moaned every time it was suggested he should hit lower in the lineup. Despite no longer being a threat to steal and never having been an OBP guy, a change seemed to make sense. Now I'll admit that I never got too caught up in this debate, mainly because the Cubs led the NL in runs scored in 2008 with him at the top. My thought was: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
But Soriano has been broke this year. His OBP has plummeted to .315, and instead of providing an immediate energy boost at the top, he's been a buzzkill.
But wait, what do we have here? Soriano is hitting .392 with 3 HR in the 6th spot in the order. He added a single and a double on Sunday. Soriano is much better suited to bat in the middle of the order, and perhaps even he realizes that after his recent run of success.
Did you know ...
Heading into Sunday, there had been 160 home runs hit at the new Yankee Stadium this year. So what, right? Well, there were 160 home runs hit at the old Yankee Stadium all of last year. That's 51 games compared to 81, and 0ver three home runs per game this year compared to under two per game last year.
Quote of the day
"When he pitched his last no-hitter in 2007, we lost five in a row, and now we've lost three," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Mark Buehrle, this is all your fault."
Holy hole in one!
Courtesy of Leif Olson in the Canadian Open.
Stolen base king Rickey Henderson proves he's still "got it" by stealing HOF memorabilia after induction speech
COOPERSTOWN, New York--Rickey Henderson stole 1,406 bases in his career, more than any other player in baseball history. For that and his many other accomplishments, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday.
But after delivering his speech, he awkwardly tried to prove he's still "got it" by "stealing" several pieces of memorabilia from the Hall. Several witnesses saw Henderson run out of the museum wearing one of his old jerseys and carrying what was believed to be Johnny Bench's plaque, and a baseball. He sped away yelling "Still got it! I'm the king of steals!" out the window.
Tom Shieber, senior curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said the theft was not a planned stunt, and he has contacted local police.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
With the list of injured Cubs growing longer by the day, the team needs contributions from a variety of players if they want to keep winning.
That's exactly what they got on Saturday.
Kevin Hart had the best start of his career (out of three), allowing just one run in six innings and--perhaps most importantly--walking just one. The Cubs reached double digits in hits for the third straight game, and hit their fifth, sixth and seventh home runs of the series. Soriano's was his first at Wrigley since May 17, and even Milton Bradley got into the act with his first career pinch-hit home run off former Cub David Weathers.
The win brought the Cubs to 29-18 at Wrigley. Though they're nowhere near the ridiculous 55-26 home pace of last year, the Cubs have the third most home victories in the NL, behind only the Dodgers (34) and Giants (31).
Aaron Heilman found it necessary to make things interesting by giving up two taters in the 9th, forcing Lou to bring in Kevin Gregg on a day when he should have been able to rest up. On the positive side, Gregg's save was his 20th, vaulting him into the top 10 in the NL in that category.
Today's game pits Rich Harden (gasp!--he's pitching during the day!) against Micah Owings. Owings carries a hefty 5.33 ERA into today's action, and is 0-2 against the Cubs this season. He's allowed 7 ER in each of his last two starts. Harden will try to get on track at Wrigley, where he has allowed at least 4 ER in each of his last three starts.
On the trade front, Bruce Levine writes that the Cubs have had talks with Pittsburgh about lefty reliever John Grabow. Grabow, 30, has a 3.65 ERA in 43 appearances this season.
And Steve Stone started a rumor that Milton Bradley might be on his way to the Tigers. It seems completely unfounded, but it would be great to unload Bradley's $30 million contract and make room in the payroll for a replacement who isn't a headcase or a switch-hitter who can only hit right-handed. But again, don't hold your breath--this rumor is about as far from reality as it gets.
The Cardinals got a taste of the Phillies' ass-whoopin' offense as they scored five runs in the 6th and six more in the 7th to walk away with a 14-6 victory. Houston was finally tripped up by the Mets, leaving the Cubs alone in second place and just 1/2 game back of the Cardinals. Today could be the day the Cubs regain possession of first place for the first time since April 21.
Did you know ...
The Braves and Brewers wore Negro League uniforms on Saturday. Atlanta's were a throwback to the Atlanta Black Crackers. That name does not seem appropriate to me. It also seems like an ironic name for a Negro League team.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
It was a good day on the field for the Cubs as Aramis Ramirez reminded us why his parents bestowed upon him the middle name "Clutch." Ramirez came through in the 1st with a two-out double to give the Cubs the lead, followed that with a two-out single his next time up to tie the game, and one-upped himself with a solo home run to put the Cubs in the lead later in the game. He added a double in the 9th for good measure.
And this is all on the heels of what he did in the series finale against Philadelphia. Just as the Phillies were gaining some momentum, Ramirez deposited a ball into the right-centerfield gap for a two-run double to help the Cubs pull away. While A-Ram may never get back to 100 percent physically this year, his clutchometer appears to be full.
It was great to see 14 hits and eight runs on the heels of their offensive outburst in Philly. And, frankly, the Cubs have to hit the Reds. Dusty Baker's bunch entered this series with a 7.73 road ERA this month, and just the 11th best ERA in the NL overall. For the record, the Cubs have now faced the 16th, 13th and 11th ranked pitching staffs consecutively out of the break.
Fukudome went 2-for-4 and is now batting .333 in the leadoff spot. And while Derrek Lee had cooled off a bit, just 5-for-24 entering Friday, he had two hits including a long home run in the 9th.
And Randy Wells just continues to impress. He tallied his sixth win in his last seven starts, matching Harden's win total and giving him more wins than Ryan Dempster despite the fact that he didn't make a start until May 8. It was another quality start, a category in which the Cubs are tied for the league lead with Colorado. And Wells could have gone past the 6th (he had just 88 pitches), but he was taken down for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out.
But as good as things went on the field Friday, they went just as badly off the field. First, the DL musical chairs game continued as it was announced that Lilly will miss today's start and is likely headed to the DL. With Dempster set to return Tuesday, the Cubs just had to suffer another injury as they seem destined to never have everyone on board at the same time this season. Kevin Hart will pitch today and will presumably go from being Dempster's fill-in to Lilly's.
And earlier in the day, the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday from the A's to support Albert Pujols in the lineup. Not surprisingly, La Russa put him in the cleanup spot so that pitchers have to think twice before pitching around Albert. Holliday went 4-for-5 to help the Cards upend the Phillies and stay 1 1/2 games up on both the Cubs and Astros.
This is a great move for the Cardinals, and helps shore up an offense (along with fellow trade pick-ups Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo) that has kept the Cards from taking off this year. We all know that the Cubs have more potential than any team in the Central, but if Soriano and Bradley refuse to get going down the stretch, the division might not wait around at the .500 mark any more.
On the bright side, the Cardinals gave up a lot for what could be a two-month rental. Third baseman Brett Wallace was listed as the best hitter in last year's draft, and is the Cardinals only bluechip prospect. They also shipped outfielder Shane Peterson and right-hander Clayton Mortensen to the A's.
With Lilly out, today's game sets up as a tough one. Johnny Cueto is the Reds' best starter and shut down the Cubs with seven scoreless innings back on April 22. However, his last four road games have been terrible, and Kevin Hart has pitched respectably in his two starts.
Go get 'em, Cubbies.
***UPDATE***Lilly will not only be placed on the DL, but he won't even pick up a baseball for two weeks and could miss 4-5 starts. Righty Justin Berg was called up from Triple-A to take Lilly's roster spot. In 24 games at Triple-A, Berg is 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Congratulations to Mark Buehrle on his perfect game against the Rays. It was the first in the majors since Randy Johnson blanked the Braves in 2004, and just the 18th in MLB history. The win also brought Buehrle into a tie for the league lead in wins, and pulled the Sox into a virtual tie for first in the AL Central.
I'm no Sox fan (as evidenced by a t-shirt I own which says nothing but "SOX SUCK" in giant block letters), but Buehrle's a good guy and hard to dislike. He's got a good attitude, throws a ton of innings, and gives his team a chance to win pretty much every time out.
And props to MLB.com which allowed visitors to watch the end of the game on MLB.TV even if they weren't subscribers. I got to see the last two innings live on my computer, which was pretty cool.
Even cooler was the catch by Dewayne Wise for the first out in the 9th. I thought the ball was going to leave the park, and that's because it was--until Wise leapt in the air and snagged it, but then juggled it and eventually secured it in his throwing hand as he tumbled to the ground. Given the inning and the context, it's one of the best catches I've ever seen.
Speaking of White Sox pitchers ...
Did you catch this captivating read from the Sun-Times? Former White Sox pitcher Jim Parque wrote an essay admitting to HGH usage and explaining the reasons for his decision. Worth a read.
The Cardinals are close to acquiring Matt Holliday from the A's. He will be a free agent after this season, and while his Oakland Coliseum stats (.287, 11, 54) haven't matched the numbers he put up in Coors Field, he's batting .344 this month.
***UPDATE***According to ESPN, the deal is done.
Because it just wasn't long enough, the NFL is expanding the draft to three days. Now I have to ignore the vapid routine of random players being announced for three days instead of two!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
What was your favorite thing about Wednesday's win?
A) Ryan Theriot: 3-for-5 to raise his average to .300 for the first time since May 9, 3 SB
B) Milton Bradley: Returns from Lou's doghouse, 2-for-4 with a run, an RBI and a walk
C) Aramis Ramirez: 2-for-4 with two runs, two RBI and two walks
D) Alfonso Soriano: 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI, July average at .328
E) Carlos Zambrano: 6.2 IP, win #7
It was that kind of game. The kind of game where bloggers can make lists of positive statistics and ask their readers which one is their favorite.
The Cubs had 13 hits--Koyie Hill and Carlos Zambrano were the only starters without one. The offensive outburst finally put that Phillies winning streak to bed, and it masked an okay-but-subpar outing by Zambrano.
It also netted a successful 5-2 road trip to begin the second half. And none of us can be shocked about a series loss in
I've certainly taken my shots at Milton Bradley, but this is still worth pointing out: the Cubs are 11-5 in the last 16 games he's played, and just 1-3 in the last four he hasn't.
The Astros scored two in the 9th off Ryan Franklin (just his second blown save in 24 chances) to secure the sweep, pulling themselves and the Cubs within one game of first. The Brewers lost on a walk-off as well, so they remain two games back.
Did you see who started for the Yankees on Tuesday? Sergio Mitre.
Mitre, you'll recall, was a Cubs prospect in the early part of this century and then started 18 games for them from 2003-2005. I remember sitting three rows behind the Cubs dugout when he beat Roy Halladay and helped his own cause with an RBI double (click on the link to see the box score from that 2005 game--take a look at the Blue Jays' leadoff man too).
Mitre was shipped to the Marlins in December, 2005, in the Juan Pierre deal. He started 27 games in 2007, going 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA. He then underwent Tommy John surgery last July, and did not throw a pitch the entire season. He signed with the Yankees last November.
But in January of this year, Mitre was suspended 50 games for violating MLB's steroid policy. He served his suspension while on the DL, and was called up Tuesday due to Chien-Ming Wang landing on the DL. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Orioles, getting his first win since '07 along the way.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh says he won't play Madden any more because Madden '10 has his rating too low. He's the 6th highest-rated receiver in the NFC! Besides, we all know he can't resist the lure of Madden.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday: Phillies 4, Cubs 1 (13 inn.)
Okay, seriously, what's going on with these home/road splits? Ryan Dempster was Dorothy last year ("There's no place like home. There's no place like home"), and this year Lilly has taken that mantle while Harden is the anti-Dorothy. He continued to find success on the road Tuesday with one of his best outings of the year: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. Harden has allowed just 4 ER in his last four road starts. And get this: in the Cubs' last six games, Harden is the only starting pitcher to have gone more than five innings, and he's done it twice.
But here's a news flash for you: a good outing by a starting pitcher was wasted due to a lack of offense. The bats have gone back into hibernation, scoring just two runs in two games in a hitters' ballpark against the 13th ranked pitching staff in the National League. Milton Bradley, shortly after announcing that he was "back," was back on the bench for a second straight game. But instead of getting Fox's bat in there, Reed Johnson replaced him as Fukudome moved over to right. With the bats back to their old ways, I'd like to see Fox get in there on a more regular basis.
Last night's game went 13 innings, but you wouldn't know it by checking the Cubs' half of the line score--the offense stopped participating after the 7th inning. From the 8th through the 13th, the Cubs did not have a single hit, and had just one baserunner on hit by pitch. Allow me to repeat: in the last six innings, the Cubs had one baserunner.
The Cubs bullpen, on the other hand, had a great game. They kept the Cubs in the game by allowing just one hit over the last 5 2/3 innings until Jayson Werth ended the game with a home run.
Carlos Marmol may have had his best outing of the year, and though I say this cautiously, he may be building some momentum. In his last four outings, his line is: 4.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. On Tuesday, he was throwing his fast ball up in the zone and getting guys to swing and miss. Throwing that heater up top is great--throwing it a foot outside as he often does is not effective. If he can start to control that fast ball, the Cubs will be in great shape in the 8th and 9th innings.
The good news is that the Cardinals lost to the Astros for the second straight night (despite two home runs by Mark DeRosa), keeping the Cubs within two games of first. The bad news is that the Brewers and Astros (!) pulled into a three-way tie for second.
Can the Astros fade away just one freakin' time? Every year they start terribly and then come on strong in July and August. They were 18-28 on May 27, and today they sit at 48-46 and in a tie for second.
Over at ESPN, Jerry Crasnick shares his take on the Cubs. Quote worthy: "They have a campus-police-like flair for killing a party mood."
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The most disappointing thing about Raul Ibanez's three-run, back-breaking home run in the 1st inning was that it could have been hit in a blue uniform instead of a red one.
On a day on which Milton Bradley sat in order to work on his swing with Lou Piniella, the man Jim Hendry could have signed in the offseason demonstrated why Hendry should have done so.
The 37-year-old, left-handed right fielder hit at least .289, slammed at least 21 HR, and drove in at least 105 runs in each of the last three seasons. He became a free agent last fall after five seasons with the Mariners, and was signed by the Phillies in December to a 3-year, $30 million contract--a deal identical to Milton Bradley's.
Ibanez's homer was his 25th, and the three RBI gave him 68, good for second and third in the NL, respectively. And this despite the fact that he missed three weeks due to a DL stint.
Ibanez's home run certainly wasn't the last of Lilly's worries on this day. After the home run, he fought his way through three more innings, throwing 96 pitches in all and allowing a season-high nine runs, seven of them earned. The two unearned runs scored after Soriano flat out dropped a fly ball despite getting under it and putting his glove on it. And this was after he and Fukudome jointly decided to let a short fly ball drop between them in the same inning.
But the sad thing wasn't that Soriano made two inexcusable, laughable miscues in the field--the sad thing is that I wasn't the least bit surprised. Soriano is the laziest, least focused fielder I've ever seen. He's making over $11,000 per inning and can't find it in himself to catch routine fly balls. On the bright side, he had three of the Cubs' six hits, raising his July average to .340.
But more disappointing than the pitching and defense, at least to me, was the offense. Coming off a four game series in which they scored 26 runs, playing in a bandbox of a stadium, and facing a starting pitcher who, until his first start with the Phils on July 3, had not pitched since 2007 elbow surgery, one would think the Cubs would have at least made a slugfest out of it instead of plating just one run and letting the Phillies walk away with it. In short, they looked like they usually look when they play in Philadelphia.
After this thorough beat down, it's time to flash the Men in Black memory-erasing thingy and move on. Whereas Lilly has struggled mightily on the road this season, Harden has made himself right at home there. The Cubs are fortunate to miss both Hamels and central Illinois native J.A. Happ in this series, so let's go get the next two and complete a great road trip.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Honestly, I can't remember the last time I missed three consecutive Cubs games. But if that's the secret recipe for a Cubs sweep by a combined score of 26-11, perhaps I'll have to avoid the Cubs altogether!
The Cubs beat a bad, bad (and I mean bad) team, but
a) they did it on the road
b) the Nationals took two of three from the Yankees in Yankee Stadium earlier this season, and also took a series from the Blue Jays
c) they absolutely destroyed them--along with outscoring them by 15, they amassed 17 more base hits
Each Cubs starter (Harden, Zambrano, Wells and Hart) got a win in the series, though perhaps the worst aspect of the sweep was that only Harden managed to go more than five innings. Samardzija saved the bullpen Sunday with three innings of work, and will probably be unavailable tonight. The Cubs' overtaxed bullpen may not get much of a reprieve against the Phillies, who lead the league in runs scored and have won eight in a row.
On the offensive side, Aramis Ramirez got back in the swing of things with his first home run since May 6; Soriano got his groove back with home runs in back-to-back games after sitting out Friday's game with a swollen pinky finger; Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox combined to go 6-for-10 with a HR and 4 RBI on Sunday; Fukudome had six hits in the three games he played; well, you get the picture. The Cubs moved up two spots to 13th (yay!) in the NL in runs scored with their big weekend.
The Cubs were looking to build some confidence coming out of the break, and with that goal in mind, it doesn't get much better than winning the first four on the schedule. The Cardinals lost one to the Diamondbacks while the Brewers split four with the Reds, so the Cubs sit in 2nd place alone, just two games back. The Cubs have also won six of seven overall.
The last time we could feel this good about the team was after they swept the Indians in mid-June. But two of those wins were one-run, walk-off victories, whereas the Cubs abused the Nationals like Mary Murphy abuses my eardrums every Wednesday and Thursday on So You Think You Can Dance (I've been watching this season's shows because IWU student Evan Kasprzak is in it, and is now in the final eight). All the Cubs can do is win the games on their schedule, and they did that in style this weekend. It will be interesting to see how they stack up against one of the better teams in the majors this week. The Phils have taken control of an underperforming NL East, building a 6 1/2 game lead over the Braves and a 9 game lead over the fading Mets.
Quote of the Day
"Jake can swing the bat," Piniella said. "He had a new glove at third base today, and we checked it out a little bit. He said, 'I couldn't catch the ball with my old glove.' I said, 'So far, you're not doing much better with the new one.' The guy swings the bat. He likes to hit."
(hat tip: Mandy Christol)
Rocky Mountain High
Jason Marquis matched his highest win total as a Cub when he notched his ML-leading 12th victory yesterday (he won 12 in '07). He went eight innings against the hapless Padres and allowed just one run to lower his ERA to 3.49.
And in golf ...
On Sunday, the PGA proved it can have an exciting, nail-biting tournament without Tiger Woods even making the cut.
Tom Watson, 59, would have become the oldest golfer to win a major and would have tied for the most British Open wins, but he bogeyed the 18th hole to set up a playoff with Stewart Cink, who had never had even a share of the lead until then. Watson fell apart in the four-hole playoff and lost by six strokes.
Usually if Tiger's not near the top of the leaderboard at the end, many viewers aren't near that channel. But I was definitely not happy when I had to stop watching the re-broadcast with about three holes to go. It turned out to be a great finish, and the PGA has to be thrilled that Sunday's action reminded golf fans that there are indeed other compelling story lines out there--it's just that Tiger usually doesn't let us find them.
On a separate note ...
This is weird.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
BRISTOL, Ct.--With an economic recession taking its toll, even a cash cow like SportsCenter is making sacrifices. The program, which airs on ESPN several times daily, announced Tuesday that it will cut back on its staple segment "Top 10 Plays," and show only the top nine plays for the foreseeable future.
"We've got to find ways to save some dough without changing the show's core," said SportsCenter anchor John Anderson. "I feel bad for the viewers, but I also feel bad for the athlete who makes that 10th best play each night. S/he really deserves to be recognized for making a slightly above average play."
Producers indicated that other cuts are still on the table, including:
-Showing only the winning teams' scores on the bottom line
-Showing highlights of only one of the Williams sisters (and possibly only one of the Manning brothers, if things really get tight)
-Eliminating soccer highlights of missed goals, thereby eliminating soccer highlights altogether
-No more Nationals highlights (this one is partly in response to overwhelming viewer requests as well)
-No more highlights of Ivy League action ("Because seriously, who cares?" said anchor Jay Harris)
-Editing out Stuart Scott's catch phrases, thereby eliminating him altogether and saving on payroll
Friday, July 17, 2009
Welcome back, baseball. (Aside: is the day after the All-Star Game the worst sports day of the year? There's absolutely NOTHING going on!) And welcome back, Rich Harden. For the first time in three July starts, Harden allowed fewer than 4 ER. He's been right at home on the road all year: his home/road splits entering Thursday were: 2.59 ERA on the road, 7.59 ERA at home. If Piniella could work it so that Lilly only started at Wrigley and Harden only started on the road, the Cubs might never lose again!
While Harden had success Thursday, I still have to ask: Why did Lou decide to hand him the ball out of the break? Of the Cubs' four starters (Dempster excluded as he's on the DL), is Harden really the one you want getting the most starts in the second half?
But negative thoughts aside, it was great to see Harden command the strike zone and even up his record at 6-6. He had more strikeouts (7) than hits and walks combined (3), and he nearly dropped his ERA below that ugly five mark (5.06).
One of the Cubs' more frustrating tendencies in the first half was their inability to tack on runs when they had the lead. So I could not have been happier to see them score one in the 6th, one in the 7th, and three more in the 9th to put the game away. The Cubs reached the 10-hit mark and had knocks from seven different players, including Sam Fuld, who raised his average to .412 with a pinch-hit single.
And I don't care if it's against the Nationals--a win's a win. Besides, John Lannan is a quality pitcher. At 24 years old, Lannan has compiled a 3.86 career ERA in 2+ seasons, won nine games last year on a bad team, and has six thus far in 2009. If the Nationals decide to offer him up when he's no longer arbitration eligible, Lannan will garner serious interest from several teams.
While I'm very pleased about a 4-run Cubs victory to begin the second half, I'm about to do my due diligence and explore the negative aspects of the 6-2 win. Avert your eyes if you'd rather not see the dark side of Thursday's performance.
While Soriano did have a single, giving him at least one hit in seven of his last eight games, he made yet another mental error when he ran into an out on the bases. His bonehead play took the Cubs out of a 1st and 3rd, one out situation, but we'll forgive him on the grounds that he once again saw more pitches than any other Cubs batter (22 in four plate appearances).
And while I'll allow Bradley a little more time before countering his "I'm back" proclamation (though I hope he's right), his 0-for-5 performance wasn't exactly fool-proof evidence that he is, in fact, "back."
And finally, Marmol walked yet another batter in his one inning of work. It marked the 27th (!) time in 47 appearances that Marmol has walked at least one batter, and he's walked more than one 13 times. Marmol is 545th in the majors in walks per nine innings pitched at 9.0. On the bright side, he threw a strike to Derrek Lee at first to pick off the man he walked last night.
But it's only right that I end on a positive note: Derrek Lee continued to torment the baseball, falling a triple short of the cycle to raise his average to .287. He's now slugging .738 in July, 5th best in the National League.
Did you know ...
-Dan Haren of the Diamondbacks leads the NL in ERA (2.01).
-Brian Fuentes of the Angels leads the majors in saves (26).
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The Cubs signed former Blue Jays reliever B.J. Ryan to a minor league deal today. The lefty was released by Toronto after he struggled this season and had injury issues. It's a no-risk deal for the Cubs, as the Blue Jays are on the hook for his salary this year and next. If it works out, the Cubs would have another lefty in the 'pen to help out Sean Marshall.
The Cubs are on pace for 81 wins. Obviously, we all hope the Cubs find a groove at some point in the second half, something they never really got around to in the first half. That said, the Cubs would need to go 48-28 in their remaining games for me to even tie this one, 47-29 in Andrew's case. Trevor's sitting pretty.
Historically, Trevor and I always predict about 19, 20, or even 22 wins for Big Z. Andrew, always the realist, goes lower. But something went terribly awry this year and Trevor and I dipped below Andrew with our predictions. Zambrano is sitting on just five wins, however, so Andrew might have to hand over his Zambrano Wins Prediction Trophy in a few months. (Note: that trophy does not really exist, though it'd be pretty sweet if it did.)
Fukudome was batting .338 at the end of April. He was down to .309 at the end of May. Two months into the season, none of us were even close. But who knew that the player who's probably least in tune to the history of June swoons at Wrigley Field would be the biggest June swooner of them all. Fukudome hit .169 in June to drop his average below all of our predictions, to .256. He's dropped even more since then, and stands at .251 at the break. I'm completely Fuked on this one, as Trevor and Andrew sandwiched me, and Trevor's pessimism looks like it might once again take the day.
Oooh, this is a good one. Gregg is on pace for 30 saves (16 currently). If the Cubs do indeed improve in the second half, and Gregg stays healthy, I've got a chance to take it. Andrew needs a Gregg implosion to have a shot, but he's allowed just 2 ER in his last 18 appearances (Gregg, not Andrew).
Soto home runs
Uh-oh. Perhaps this should be our collective mulligan. Soto has just eight dingers, and Andrew's looking good on the low end. You would have THOUGHT that Soto might IMPROVE upon last year's 23 HR, but nooooooo, he had to go and suck it up in the first half, and now he's out for 3-4 weeks meaning 29 HR is pretty much completely out of the picture. Stupid Soto.
Dammit. Marshall has just three wins, and he appears to be in the bullpen for good with Randy Wells holding down the fifth starter job with aplomb. Andrew can take this one to the bank. Though a bank probably wouldn't assign much monetary value to a baseball prediction.
Team double plays turned
The Cubs have been terrible in this statistic for several years, and though they're still 22nd in the majors, there has been a noticeable difference. With 77 DPs turned thus far, they're on pace to turn 145 when all's said and done. Keep those twin killings comin', Cubbies!
So here's how the final standings would look if everyone played exactly the same way in the final 76 games as they did in the first 86.
There's an extra one in there because Trevor and I are headed for a tie in the "Zambrano wins" category.
But enough predicting, let's play the games!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
They are who we thought they were!!
Ryan Theriot: A solid top-of-the-order contact hitter. But 7 HR? Theriot must have BALCO's number on speed dial (kidding).
Derrek Lee: Whether Lee fits into this category actually depends on your levels of optimism and patience. A month into the season, I would have penciled him in for about 12 HR and a .265 BA. But it turns out, he is who we though he was at the beginning of last year.
Kosuke Fukudome: A hot starter with a penchant for dropping off the table when the temperature hits 75.
Koyie Hill: A backup catcher.
Ted Lilly: A great signing by Hendry. Top-notch left-handed innings-eater (enough hyphens for ya?).
Sean Marshall: Reliable, do-what-the-team-needs lefty. Has been better than expected out of the 'pen.
Kevin Gregg: Serviceable closer. Has 16 saves in 19 chances.
Aaron Heilman: Not-so-great reliever who walks too many people.
Carlos Zambrano: A bit frustrating at times, but gets the job done in the end.
They aren't who we thought they were! (the good version)
Angel Guzman: Not many Cubs have exceeded expectations, but Angel Guzman has been a godsend out of the 'pen. His 2.60 ERA has given Lou another reliable late-inning arm.
They aren't who we thought they were! (the bad version)
Milton Bradley: .321, 22, 77. Recognize those numbers? Those are Bradley's numbers last year with the Rangers. .243, 6, 21. Surely you recognize those. He needs to step it up, and he's not alone.
Aramis Ramirez: Well, we did think he was injury prone, but the fact that he missed two months means we have not had his big, clutch bat in the middle of the lineup like we expected.
Alfonso Soriano: .233 BA (lowest in any prior season: .268). 14 HR and 33 RBI (averages 36 and 93). But, he has stayed healthy! (Unless, of course, he's actually hurt and that's why he looks so terrible.)
Mike Fontenot: Won the 2B job after batting .305 last season. Batting .230 this year.
Geovany Soto: From Rookie of the Year to struggling, injury prone disappointment. Is the WBC at fault?
Aaron Miles: From my season preview: "He's scrappy and I like him." Never mind.
Ryan Dempster: Most of us didn't expect a repeat of his 17-6 performance last year, but he's got an ERA over a run higher and just five wins.
Jeff Samardzija: Made some waves last year, hoping to build on it this year. Not so much.
Rich Harden: Career ERA 3.47. 2009 ERA 5.47. But he's batting .304!
Carlos Marmol: I know, I know, his ERA is 3.64, but I can barely watch the guy any more with his 42 BB in 42 IP.
Who the hell are they?
Randy Wells: Nabbed by the Blue Jays as a Rule 5 last year, it sure is nice that we got him back. Two more quality starts than Harden.
Sam Fuld: Put his name on the radar screen last year, and has brought some energy to a listless left field this year.
Jake Fox: An up-and-coming prospect for several years, and now we know why. The ball just jumps off his bat.
Micah Hoffpauir: His average has slipped to .244, but his 8 HR and 25 RBI have provided some pop.
So that's how the Cubs stack up in relation to my expectations. It's obviously not good that there are so many players who have failed to meet expectations, but it could bode well for the second half. Teams that are in the playoff race due to guys playing out of their minds have to worry about them coming back to Earth. The Cubs just need to find a way to get guys like Soriano and Bradley back to this solar system in order to break away from the .500 mark and make a run in what to this point has been a very weak division.
The Cubs have the fourth best ERA in the league despite Zambrano and Harden spending time on the DL and the fact that they've used 14 relievers. If Marmol gets his act together, Guzman settles in again and guys like Samardzija and Stevens can contribute, the Cubs can add a solid bullpen to a strong rotation and continue to shut down their opponents' offense in the second half.
On the offensive side ... well, it was offensive. The Cubs' $214 million outfield of Soriano, Fukudome and Bradley has combined for 81 RBI; Ramirez checks in with just 17 due to the time he missed with an injury; and Ryan Freel, Joey Gathright and Aaron Miles were as useless as a catcher with no mitt. The lineup has seen more position changes than Ron Jeremy, and without Derrek Lee the Cubs would likely be out of contention by now.
But, with Reed Johnson and Aramis Ramirez back (and Milton Bradley says he's back too), combined with the emergence of guys like Jake Fox and Sam Fuld, perhaps Lou will be able to find a lineup that clicks as we head into the second half. There's nowhere to go but up for the offense, and even a slight improvement--even if it's just an improvement with runners in scoring position--should enable the starters to rack up the wins they deserve.
It was a first half of mediocrity, averageness, ordinariness ... fill in your own synonym here. The Cubs went 43-43 and outscored their opponents by two runs. It wasn't what we expected to see, to say the least, but with the Cubs needing to lose just one fewer game than the Cardinals in the second half, there's a lot to look forward to.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
According to Yahoo!, Pedro passed his physical today and the signing ($1M, plus $1.5M in incentives) will be announced at a Wednesday press conference. Pedro, 37, will become the fifth starter, filling a void that has thus far been filled with crappy pitchers/pitchers who've gotten injured.
***UPDATE*** The Phillies signed Pedro and immediately placed him on the DL. I guess the Phillies decided they didn't have enough injured starters.
Ted Lilly is awarded his 2009 All-Star jersey.
Every time you go to the ballpark, there's a chance you're going to see something you've never seen before. In Game 1, that was Albert Pujols popping one up on the infield, seeing it get dropped by Theriot, then heading for second only to have Jeff Baker pick up the ball with his barehand, spin around and--after getting over his surprise at seeing Pujols about 10 feet away from him--tagging him out. From a pop-up to an error to an out, all in about 15 seconds.
Pujols did his damage in Game 1, going 1-for-4 with a 2-run double and a run. But Hoffpauir's 3-run blast (his first since June 25) off just-returned-from-the-DL Kyle Lohse got the Cubs out to an early lead, and Zambrano's third home run of the year gave the Cubs the lead for good. It was a close game the whole way until errors by both members of the Cardinals' right side of the infield allowed three unearned runs to score in the 7th inning (and the 7th errors of the year for both Schumaker and Pujols, weird).
The win guaranteed that the Cubs would be no further back in the standings at the end of this 11-game homestand than they were when it began: 3 1/2 games out. The home runs and the Cardinals' errors allowed the frenzied Wrigley fans to ignore the fact that the Cubs were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. A win over the Cardinals on a sunny, 75 degree day washes away just about any negative elements. For at least the next four hours, it was "Go Cubs Go."
Game 2 didn't start off quite so well. The 1st inning home run this time went to the Redbirds, as Ryan Ludwick absolutely unloaded off of Randy Wells to put the Cubs in a 2-0 hole. The Cubs got one right back in the bottom of the inning as back-in-the-lineup Fuld notched his first of two hits, and Lee drove him in after Theriot bunted him to third.
Both Wells and Wainwright continued to hold serve until the 6th, when--after Wells had retired Pujols for the third consecutive time--Ludwick smashed another 2-run homer to make it 4-1. Bradley would drive in Aramis Ramirez with a hard-hit double (batting lefty!) in the bottom of the inning, but alas, that would be the end of the scoring for both teams on this night. It was not, however, the end of the story.
First, Fukudome pinch-hit for Koyie Hill in the 7th, which meant we were destined to see Jake Fox strap on the catcher's gear in the 8th. He did just fine behind the dish, blocking a couple balls and never having to attempt to throw out any base stealers.
The other Cubs player who found himself out of position in Game 2 was Sean Marshall. When Piniella went to take Marshall out of the game after he'd loaded the bases in the 9th, everyone at Wrigley (including Marshall, presumably) was perplexed to see Marshall walking out towards left field. Soriano left the game, and Heilman came on to pitch.
Brendan Ryan (who was probably doing everything he could to hit it to left field just to see what would happen) struck out, and Piniella emerged from the dugout to make another pitching change. And lo and behold, Little League-style, Lou summoned Marshall from left field back to the mound, and he was replaced in left by Reed Johnson. Marshall then struck out the Cardinals' version of a Hoffpauir (Jarrett), and then got Colby Rasmus to fly out to left (though I understand from my TV-viewing friends that Johnson's catch was questionable at best).
So the Cubs got out of the bases-loaded, nobody out jam with one of the most clever and most risky managerial moves I've ever seen. If you count Game 1 and Marshall's two pitching stints in Game 2, he essentially pitched three separate times on Sunday. Once again, you don't exactly see that every day.
The split doubleheader left the Cubs 3 1/2 games out at the break, exactly where they were before The Homestand. They sit right at .500, 43-43, an underperforming team with a surprisingly good chance of sneaking to the top of a weak division as the second half unfolds. We've seen glimpses of the team we expected heading into the season, and we've seen performances and statistics more appropriate for RFK Stadium than Wrigley Field. Everyone but Ted Lilly will take a few days off and prepare for 76 more games, starting with the Nationals on Thursday (who, by the way, just replaced Manny Acta with former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman). The Cubs are tied with the Brewers and just one behind the Cardinals in the loss column, so here's to a second half that goes exactly like the first ... was expected to go.