Archive for July, 2009

Welcome to MLB Hell

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

There is a phenomenon that I hear discussed often on Chicago sports radio often referring to the Bulls. It has to do with the term “NBA Hell.” The term refers to a team that is good enough to make the playoffs in one of the lower seeds but not good enough to win it all. Because they make the playoffs they are also not bad enough to score one of the high picks in the draft and pick a real game changer to build your franchise around. The Bulls “lucked out” last year by landing the first pick and picking Derrick Rose who is hopefully a franchise turn around type guy. However, without that stroke of luck a team can be mired in this territory for years. This is not a fun place to be.

After watching the series’ against the Nationals and Phillies this week I fear that the Cubs are in Major League Baseball Hell. They are good enough to beat bad teams and bad pitching but will struggle against good teams and good pitching. Sometimes they will win series against good teams. Other times they will not. They will be able to play a little above five hundred and hang around in a weak division, but it would seem that they will be no match for the better teams if they make the playoffs.

I know that the stats guys say that it is all up for grabs in the playoffs, and this might be statistically true. However, there is one thing that I feel almost always demonstrates itself in the playoffs. You want to have a shut down ace to pitch games one, four, and seven in a series. You want to have the guy that both teams would pick to start game one for them if they had the choice. This guy might lose a close game and the series might shift on that, but you can be sure that this guy will keep you in the game and give you a chance to win. Is there anyone on the Cubs that you would feel this way about? We know that Big Z is a stud and also nuclear. He seems to have one or two bad innings every game, and if these go real bad you have lost the game. He has that talent that makes you  feel like you want him on your side going to war, but a psyche that makes you know that you don’t really know how that will end up. Dempster has been down this year, and who knows what you will get with him. Harden goes seven at the most, but has days where he (in his words) is throwing batting practice. Wells is unproven. Lilly is the ballsiest, guy on the staff. But he has never been seen as a dominant pitcher. Thinking about all of the teams you could see in the playoffs, there probably is not one whose game 1 starter you would not rather have than whoever ours might be (and many game 2 starters that I would prefer over our game 1).

We all know about the holes that we are currently seeing in this team. We hope they will change. But even if they do what makes us think the playoffs will be different than previous years? Will Soriano be able to hit quality starting pitching (Will most of the players for that matter)? They might be good enough to squeak into the playoffs- but then what?

My fear is that this will be the case for many years to come. Of course, over those years, our core guys will be declining as they age. A team that is not scoring runs now will probably score less runs as their run producers get older. This team was built to win now (two years ago) and leave a boatload of bad contracts and aging players and millions of dollars in salary to a new ownership…along with a championship to bask in the glow of. Unfortunately, there is no new owner and continued delays in finding one…and no championship. But the contracts, and dollars, and no trade clauses are piling up.

You can see the terror of the Cubs situation playing out every day. Milton Bradley was overpaid by Jim Hendry (who outbid himself) and has now just seen his third year option become real because he went less than 75 games on the disabled list this year. Which seems like an odd conract clause (but who am I to evaluate that) and seems odder when you consider that there were times this year when he should have been DL’ed but wasn’t. Alfonso Soriano has five years remaining on his contract which will pay him $18 million annually. He also has a full no trade. Which means that barring some team wanting to take that contract off your hands, Soriano will be playing left field for you for five more years- or be the highest paid bench player in the game. Ryan Dempster (he of the one good post-injury year of starting pitching) will make on average $13 million for the next three seasons. Kosuke (slap hitter extraordinaire) is signed through 2011, will average $13 million over that time and also has full no trade protection. Ramirez, Lee, Lilly, and Samardzija also have no trade clauses. And by the way Aaron Miles will make almost $3 million next year.

The scary thing is that this team is your team for a while, especially if there is no money to add in coming years since so much is already eaten up. Consider that for 2010 the team already has $114 million commited to 8 players: Zambrano, Soriano, Ramirez, Lee, Dempster, Bradley, Fukudome, and Lilly. Which means that if the team keeps their current payroll (At a time when most teams are dropping payroll right now…which would seem to be a desire of new ownership) you will have about $20 million dollars to spend on the other 17 players on your roster. To make things worse: Marmol, Soto, Theriot, Marshall, Fontenot, Guzman, Hoffpauir, Wells, and Jake Fox all make around $500,000 on deals that expire this year. Now, I am not sure how MLB contracts and years work but eventually these guys will need to get paid. You have very liitle to pay them.

You can see how dire it is in the Cubs current approach to the trade deadline. They have deep needs and they can do nothing about it. The pop they would have coming from the farm system is blocked by high paid talent that you cannot give up on. While teams like the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Phillies are talking about big names like Halladay, and Holliday the Cubs might not be in the position to even add a guy like Freddie Sanchez who the Pirates will be looking to trade and could make a huge difference to the Cubs lineup.

On paper the team was built to win by now. Probably with 2010 being the last real chance at winning as constructed. It seemed that the team would be sold by now and bad contracts would be the worry of the next ownership. These things are blowing up in their face. Which has tanked faster the ecomony or the talent on this team? The ownership situation is still unresolved. The team has not won and looks weaker than the teams that got bounced from the playoffs without a win the previous two years. Jim Hendry miscalculated on almost every move last off season. And there is no championship for a fan base that finds losing unacceptable now and seems readier to jump ship than ever. Welcome to Hell…MLB style. It seems the old saying is true. After throwing a lot of money around for a couple years, the Cubs have found out that the devil is in the details.

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Minor League Report

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

No games today and I’m enjoying the debate on the healthcare. Tomorrow we’ll have a post taking a look at the complete system by position. We did it a couple months back and I think it will be fun to do it again now that the farm seasons are in the home stretch. That being said, after the jump is our top prospect tracker, minor league notes, and photo op.

(more…)

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Breaking the Code of Silence: Government Run Healthcare

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We all watched the news conference last night and so I thought I’d carefully dip my toe into allowing the occasional non-sports stuff on the site. The key here is going to be kindness, open mindedness and self control. Just debate back and forth without tearing down the other person.

Question 1 – Should the Government be involved in health care?

Question 2 – Are you OK with Obama’s way of paying for the other “1/3″ of the cost by reducing the amount of itemized deductions for families with over $1 mil household income?

I’ll put my thoughts into two quick answers. Nothing run by the government is very good or efficient. Why would health care be different? Taxing only the “rich” is socialism and it’s becoming more and more accepted in this country every day. Not good.

There ya go. Enjoy this spot while it lasts.

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Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I don’t know what to do with this team. I get excited and then get kicked in the gut. Harden going seven strong innings had me jacked up only to see Samardzija give up a 3-run bomb in the 13th. I just sick and tired of being sick and tired with this team. Today becomes very important to salvage the series. If we can win this one, though I thought it would be the Rodrigo Lopez game, we end the trip 5-2. I know “good teams” beat “good teams” as well as “bad teams”, but at this point we have a team that just needs wins, regardless of where they come from.

Today I want to see Sam Fuld in CF…oh wait, we demoted him and kept Hoffpauir for some reason. In all seriousness, I want to see Fukudome back in the leadoff spot today and Fox behind the plate. Hill needs a day off and Fox plays well when he gets in there. We need to jump on Moyer early and give Z something to work with. All is not lost, but I’m a little disappointed with our showing against Philly.

Scouting Today’s Starters

Carlos Zambrano is coming off a win against the Nationals in which he lasted only five innings — but that was because the right-hander ran up his pitch count early in the game. Zambrano struggled through a 40-pitch first inning but gave up only one run, and it was unearned. In his past four starts, Big Z has posted a 2.25 ERA. His start against the Nationals was only the second time in 17 outings this year in which Zambrano did not go past five innings. He also helped himself by hitting a two-run double. Since 2005, Zambrano leads all Major League pitchers with 16 homers and 43 RBIs.

Jamie Moyer continued his mastery of the Marlins in brilliant fashion during Thursday’s win. The 46-year-old retired the first 12 and last eight hitters he faced through seven shutout innings, giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out four and throwing 94 pitches — 67 for strikes. The only inning he even put runners on was the fifth, when Jorge Cantu broke up his perfect game with a leadoff single and Ronny Paulino walked two batters later. Moyer is now 13-2 in 15 career games against Florida. Against the Cubs, with whom he debuted in 1987, he’s 3-0 with a 4.19 ERA in six career starts. Moyer was pushed back a day so Joe Blanton — whose start was rained out after 1 1/3 innings on Saturday — wouldn’t completely lose a turn in the rotation. (MLB.com)

Still a wily veteran, he gets hitters out with great location, late-breaking movement and overall deception. He has seen it all and doesn’t get rattled. When his stuff isn’t working, things get messy in a hurry. At this stage of his career, he is more prone to surrendering the long ball than ever before. A steady mid-rotation starter. (TSN.ca)

Jamie Moyer’s Pitch Usage

Farm Report

  • Esmailin Caridad struck out 7 batters and only allowed 2 earned runs over 6.0 innings pitched
  • Andrew Cashner pitched 6.0 scoreless innings
  • Brett Jackson was 3-for-5
  • Jose Valdez was 3-for-4


Andrew Cashner lowered his ERA to 1.37 over four games at the Double-A level. (Jerry Hale/MiLB.com)

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Well…At Least Soriano’s Hitting

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Forget about last night’s route and move on. I don’t care if we lose 4000-1 or 4-1, a loss is a loss. Because we swept Washington, we really only need to win 1 of the games in this series to come away from the road trip successful. Let’s work on getting that done tonight and moving on. Look on the bright side. Soriano went 3-for-4 and Jeff Stevens went two shutout innings in relief. I’ll take that and get ready to win tonight.

Scouting Tonight’s Starters

Rich Harden opened the second half in much better form than he closed it. In his two starts prior to the All-Star break, Harden gave up 11 runs on 15 hits over seven innings. In his first post-break start, the right-hander held the Nationals to one run — unearned — on three hits over six innings. He seems to like the road grays. Harden is now 5-1 with a 2.17 ERA away from Wrigley Field.

Joe Blanton’s last start on Saturday was wiped out after 1 1/3 innings because of a postponement at Land Shark Stadium, but instead of losing his turn in the rotation altogether, manager Charlie Manuel figured the 28-year-old could use that as pretty much a bullpen session and start him three days later. Blanton threw 24 pitches — giving up two unofficial runs — and will be on 10 days’ rest when he takes on the Cubs. The 28-year-old has a team-high 10 quality starts this season, including seven in his past nine outings. Over that span, he is 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA. And he has been especially dominant lately. On July 5, he outdueled Johan Santana with 7 1/3 scoreless innings, and on Friday he allowed just four hits and one run over 7 1/3 innings. It was the first time he threw more than seven innings in consecutive outings since April 2008. (MLB.com)

Throws darting low-90′s heat, a slider and curveball–all with tremendous command. Has the endurance to finish what he starts well after 100 pitches. Doesn’t have one truly dominant pitch to rack up high strikeout totals, so he realies heavily on his defense. Is a little too hittable. A strong mid-rotation starter. (TSN.ca)

Blanton’s Pitch Usage

Farm Notes

  • Ryan Searle only allowed one run in 6.0 innings pitched
  • Melvin Camarena was 4-for-5
  • Hector Suarez was 4-for-5
  • Greg Rohan hit 2 extra-base hits
  • Aaron Shafer struck out 5 batters and only allowed 2 earned runs over 6.0 innings pitched yesterday

Photo Op


Ryan Searle is 6-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 18 appearances this season. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

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Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I ran across this funny fake letter at www.foulball.net:

Hey there my old friends, remember me? It’s me, Jason Marquis. I used to pitch for the Cubs.

No?

Well let me refresh your memories. I came to the team in 2007 as a free agent after signing a nice three-year $21 million contract. While I was in Chicago I won 23 games and threw 358.2 innings over two years as a fifth starter. Yet, for some reason, most of you hated me.

You thought I was overpaid, that I sucked and that I just wasn’t worthy of the “winning” tradition of the Chicago Cubs. Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you for it. Heck, it wasn’t even just you fans who seemed to have a problem with me.

Lou Piniella kept me off the playoff roster in 2007, and only brought me in out of the bullpen for an inning in 2008. We went 0-6 during those two years in the playoffs, so obviously, Lou was correct in this decision.

Then this offseason you traded me to the Colorado Rockies — where I now pitch — for reliever Luis Vizcaino. The same Luis Vizcaino whom you released like three weeks into the season, so essentially, you just gave me away.

From what I read and heard about all of this, most of you seemed to be happy about it. I, the bane of your existence, was gone along with my “huge” contract.

Hey, if you’re happy, I’m happy. No sour grapes here. It’s all kosher. Besides, I have that “huge” contract to keep me company.

And, to be fair, things have worked out pretty well for me in Colorado. I don’t know if you heard, but I made the All-Star team this year. I also lead the Major Leagues in wins with 12 right now, and my 3.50 ERA is pretty nice, no?

And all for the low, low price of $7 million.

How are things working out for your starting pitchers this year by the way? Let’s see.

Carlos Zambrano is making $17.75 million this year, and he has a 6-4 record. That’s half as many victories as I have, and at the price of only $2.95 million per victory so far!

Ted Lilly, my fellow All-Star, is a nice 9-6 on the season, and for only $12 million. That’s a much more economical $1.25 million per victory.

How about Ryan Dempster? Oh, well Ryan’s only 5-5 this season, but in his defense those dugout fences can be really tricky to get around. So I guess we can forgive him somewhat for that $1.6 million per victory price tag.

Rich Harden is 6-6 with a 5.06 ERA. Yeesh, that’s not too good, but at least he’s only costing $1.17 million per victory.

I hope I’m not sounding bitter here. I mean, I do understand why the team had to let me go. My price tag of $583,333 per victory — so far! — is pretty steep, and you did need that money to keep such great players as Alfonso Soriano ($1 million per home run), Kosuke Fukudome ($161,971 per hit) and sign a force like Milton Bradley ($238,095 per RBI).

And it seems to be working out pretty well too. You guys did just win four games in a row from the mighty Washington Nationals and you’re now 47-42, so there’s no question that you’re World Series bound. In Colorado we’re only 50-42 and a half-game behind the Giants for the wild card spot.

You guys are only two games behind the Cardinals for the division lead, and 2.5 games behind the Giants, so it’s only a matter of time before you pass us. You do get to play the Nationals another 30 times right?

So I guess that everything has worked out pretty wonderfully for all of us, and I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, and thank you for loving me enough to spare me another season under the scrutinizing eye of you drunken louts.

Maybe after I get my next “ridiculous” contract this offseason, I can take you all out for some beers.

Mazel tov,
Jason Marquis

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Bring on the Phillies

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I asked for a sweep of the Nats and the Cubs delivered. I came away from the weekend with two thoughts.

  1. Kevin Hart was acceptable as a starter, but is not the long term solution. Sean Marshall or Jeff Samardzija need to be the options for Lou, with Hart moving to the pen. Hart was able to get by a Nats team that is far from good, but imagine the damage we would have seen with his control (or lack of it) against a lineup like Philly.
  2. Alfonso Soriano is going to have an explosive close to the month. He’s hit homers in his last two games and you know how it goes for Soriano, he hits in streaks and bunches. We’re about to see a streak. I was surprised to see Lou pull him in the late innings yesterday, even in a blowout simply because he was having success at the plate and could probably have benefited from that extra at bat.

Scouting Tonight’s Starters

Ted Lilly was pushed back from Saturday’s scheduled start because of inflammation in his left knee. He picked up his 100th career win in his last start against the Cardinals. The Cubs’ lone All-Star representative matched his season high by going eight innings. He notched his 14th quality start this year, giving up four hits. Lilly may want to only pitch at Wrigley Field. His ERA at home is 1.86, which ranks among the NL leaders. Over his last 54 2/3 innings, Lilly has walked seven and struck out 49.

Rodrigo Lopez left his start on July 8 after five innings because of right-shoulder inflammation. But after some rest with the All-Star break, the journeyman Mexico native assured he’s ready to make his third start of the season in a fluctuating No. 5 spot of the Phillies’ rotation. In 11 1/3 innings this season, the 33-year-old has given up four runs, and the Phillies have won both of those games. His spot in the starting staff is currently in jeopardy with the Phillies signing Pedro Martinez recently, but Martinez isn’t eligible to return from his procedural disabled-list stint until July 30, meaning Lopez will likely get at least two or three more starts before a roster move has to be made. In his only career start against the Cubs, Lopez — pitching on 11 days’ rest — gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. (MLB.com)

He gets ahead in the count and changes speeds well. In tight situations with runners in scoring position, he knows how to bear down and get the job done. Lopez simply can’t hold runners on, so they tend to run freely. Often, when he falls behind, he leaves the ball up and it’s knocked out. A solid mid-rotation starter. (TSN.ca)

Lopez Pitch Usage Chart

Highlights from the Farm

  • Wes Darvill was 4-for-5
  • Ryan Flaherty was 3-for-5
  • Jovan Rosa was 3-for-4
  • Mitch Atkins struck out 5 batters and only allowed 3 earned runs over 6.0 innings pitched yesterday

Photo Op


Robinson Chirinos is hitting .316 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs in 59 games this season. (Scott Jontes/MiLB.com)

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Swatting the Nats

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Yes. We whupped up on the mighty mighty Nationals. Good for us. I am happy that we won four games — against anybody — so don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to point out a few things that I noticed. I only was able to watch one game — the third — the 6 – 4 victory in which Soriano hit the decision three run homer. Nice to see him hit one with men on base. So, he CAN do it when he’s not batting leadoff. Hmm. The thing I found most interesting in the inning in which Soriano hit what would turn out to be the game winner was the absence of Milton Bradley in the dugout celebration. Maybe he was in the clubhouse rubbing his sore leg from that completely feeble attempt to break the bat over his knee? I mean, really — a.) Soriano just picked him up BIG TIME, and more importantly, b.) the Cubs just took the lead. It’s still a team sport, right? He should have been on the top step to congratulate his teammate. But not our Milkit Badly — not his style. At what point will some of you who have been “giving him a chance” realize that the sample size is big enough. For crying out loud…do you see that Jake Fox is two rbi’s behind him now? I say that we are a better team without him in the starting lineup.

Nice to see that Fontenot is beginning to swing the bat again. He looks a lot looser than he did a few weeks ago. Von Joshua? I am seeing a different approach — taking the outside pitch and going with it instead of trying to jerk everything. Good. We need the production from second base.

 Koyie Hill is a pretty good catcher.

I thought Lou went to the bullpen too soon. Wells had JUST gotten it together — his first one, two, three inning — and had only thrown 80 some pitches when he was pulled. I’d have given him the ball in the sixth. He did the same thing yesterday with Hart with a big lead — not sure why, unless it was to stretch Samardzija out a little.

I know we swept the series, but Adam Dunn outplayed Milton Bradley.

This just in. Michael Jackson? Still dead.

 Rumor I’m hearing? Roy Halladay will be a Philly in the next week. That’s not good for the NL. Better than him being a Cardinal, though, which is also rumored. Apparently Chris Carpenter is one of his best friends…

Aramis is hurting. I think we’re lucky if he’s 75%.

I read that Lou is going to “personally work with Bradley on his swing.” I hope that’s synonymous with “beat the crap out of him and leave him somewhere.” But I doubt it.

On a side note: I may get to throw out the first pitch at a Pirate game (don’t ask — long story) and have been wondering…do I wear my Cub jersey? Thoughts?

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Cubs sweep

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Please forgive me for not being as comprehensive and analytical as Joe but I just had to post about this game. As usual it was a Cubs rollercoaster – this time it was a bunch of downward spirals and a thrilling ride. I really feel sorry for Jim Riggleman – he’s a nice guy and a very good coach but he’s in way over his head. He’s got a team that has a whole lot of potential in terms of starting pitching and a few decent field players (Nyjer Morgan, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman) but this is essentially the Washington Senators. I watched ‘em growing up and I’m watching ‘em again. The difference is that they’re now playing in a quality ballpark. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.

That notwithstanding the Cubs swept a four game series in one that I thought was hopefully going to end in a 3-1. I would feel good about it if I were a Cub – we won a series that we had to win going into a series against a team that could very well repeat as the World Series champions. The 2009 Phillies look improved to me – they have guys like AJ Happ and Ryan Madsen that are getting the job done and I really don’t expect these role players to be stars. But they are pushing the team forward with their contributions and guys like Utley are doing what you think they should do; if Rollins started performing this team could be hard to beat. I got rid of Jimmy Rollins in one of my fantasy teams after he rode the bench for about 8 weeks – totally useless as a fantasy player!

Coming up is a crucial three game series – two out of three would be huge. One out of three would be like kissin’ yer sister and I don’t want to consider the third option. Sam Fuld was optioned to Iowa to make room for Hart, let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite us. I was very disappointed with Fukudome’s bonehead running mistake but appreciated his leadoff hit, let’s hope we don’t miss Fuld!

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