Archive for July, 2009

Scouting The Starters – Houston Series

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Here is the breakdown on the starting pitching matchups for the series against the Houston Astros.

Monday – Wandy Rodriguez (10-6, 2.72) vs. Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.48)

Rodriguez became Houston’s first 10-game winner this season by winning his fifth consecutive decision last time out against St. Louis. He had his scoreless innings snapped against the Cardinals in the second inning but didn’t waste any time in starting a new one. He had not allowed a run in 18 1/3 innings until Mark DeRosa hit a solo home run with one out in the second frame. After that, he did not allow another run, tossing seven innings, allowing four hits and giving up just the one run while striking out five. He has faced Chicago twice this season but has received tough-luck no-decisions in both starts. Last time out against the Cubs on June 10, he worked seven innings, allowing one run on five hits, striking out six. Rodriguez has a 1.38 ERA over 13 innings against the Cubs this season. (

When he’s on, he keeps his good fastball low in the zone and induces ground balls, while setting the heat up with a solid change and good breaking stuff. Command can be a problem at times. Must work on his approach with runners on, as well as his endurance beyond the sixth inning. A quality mid-rotation starter. (

Zambrano gave up a season-high 10 hits but got enough run support for a change to pick up his third straight win in his last start. He beat the Phillies, giving up five runs (four earned) over 6 2/3 innings. Big Z also struck out seven. He didn’t get a hit, which is a surprise. Zambrano has faced the Astros twice this year, winning on Opening Day, April 6, and not getting a decision June 10 despite holding Houston to one run on three hits over eight innings. (

TuesdayRoy Oswalt (6-4, 3.66) vs. Ryan Dempster (5-5, 4.09)

Through six innings Oswalt was spectacular against the Cardinals, efficiently throwing 59 pitches through six, but he ran into control issues in the seventh, allowing two runs in the inning to be out-dueled by Chris Carpenter. He would allow three runs on seven hits and strike out four over seven innings, taking and receive and no decision. He has faced the Cubs twice this season, going 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA. In his last start against the Cubs on May 16, he tossed six innings allowing three runs and striking out seven to receive a no decision. In his career, Oswalt is 12-12 with a 3.90 ERA in 28 appearances, including 27 starts against Chicago. (

He’s not a big man but manages to crank up the heat into the mid-90s and combine it with devastating pinpoint control. An innings-eater. Injuries have been the bane of his career since Day 1. Anyone who throws that hard at that size is bound to be injury prone. A Cy Young candidate every year. (

Dempster has been on the disabled list since July 8 because of a broken right big toe, but his rehab went well, and he will be activated about a week earlier than expected. The right-hander warmed up with a simulated game last Wednesday in Philadelphia, throwing 60 pitches, and was to throw another side session over the weekend. Give him credit for keeping his arm in shape during his rehab time. (

WednesdayMike Hampton (6-7, 4.74) vs. Randy Wells (6-4, 3.10)

In his last start against the New York Mets, Hampton wasn’t able to work out beyond the sixth inning, allowing four runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings, but he did provide the Astros with a boost at the plate, hitting his first home run since May 8, 2005, and the 16th of his career. He’s faced the Cubs once this season already, taking the loss on May 6 after allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings. In 24 career appearances, including 20 starts, he is 9-5 with a 3.07 ERA against the Cubs. (

A battler with a good sense of deception. Always competitive on the mound, he’s a very good athlete who is a great hitter and fielder for a pitcher. Injuries have really taken their toll. With increasing age, he has lost a lot of zip off his fastball. Has always given up too many walks.
A serviceable mid-rotation starter, when healthy. (

Wells seems to like facing National League Central teams. In his last start, against the Reds, Wells picked up his ninth quality start and a victory. So far, he’s 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA against NL Central teams and 6-0 when he gets four runs of support or more. Against the Reds, Wells’ only mistake was serving up Aaron Harang’s first career homer. Wells was kicking himself after the game for the slider he hung. He’s still a rookie. (

ThursdayRuss Ortiz (3-5, 4.75) vs. Kevin Hart (2-1, 2.08)

Ortiz labored through 4 1/3 innings against the Mets last time out. He threw 96 pitches, allowing six runs on five hits and walking four in his outing. Ortiz has three appearances, including two starts against the Cubs this season, posting an 0-1 record with a 5.06 ERA over 10 2/3 innings versus the North-siders this year. In his last outing against them on June 11, Ortiz allowed no runs and just three hits over 5 1/3 innings but recieved a no decision. In his career, he is 3-5 with 5.23 ERA in 13 appearances, including 11 starts, against the Cubs. (

Although only a two-pitch pitcher, Ortiz throws both of them with considerable skill. His fastball has a lot of movement when in the low-90s range, and he is able to pump it into the mid-90s when necessary. He throws hitters off balance with his nice curve. Control has been Ortiz’s biggest drawback. He needs to emphasize his mechanics when he gets behind in the count. He also needs to focus on keeping runners close, especially when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Injuries and inconsistency have put his big-league creds in question. (

Hart thought his days as a starter would be over upon Ryan Dempster’s return, but with Ted Lilly going on the DL, the Cubs will be counting on the rookie right-hander. Hart picked up his second win in his last start, against the Reds on Saturday. He posted his longest outing, six innings, and gave up one run on five hits. In his first two starts, Hart had walked 10 and struck out four. Against the Reds, he said he found his groove — as well as his offspeed pitches — so he didn’t have to rely on his fastball alone. This is a makeup of a postponed game against the Astros. (

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Organizational Breakdown – Pitchers

Monday, July 27th, 2009

On Friday we took a look at the hitters in the organization by position and sorted them by OPS to see who met the benchmark of .800. Today we take a look at the pitching staff, with a breakdown on righty and lefty starters and relievers. Unlike the hitters, there really isn’t a good benchmark evaluation tool for both starters and relievers. Wins and losses are completely useless indications of a pitchers effectiveness, so I decided to use two different stats when looking at the starters versus the relievers. For the starting pitchers, I sorted by ERA, with the benchmark being 3.50. It’s a little bit of a tough benchmark, but I want dominant starters, and what better place for them to showcase that talent than in the minors where they can be above the rest of the competition. Relievers were a different story because of the limited amount of innings they throw. A good bullpen, in my mind, is one that doesn’t give up baserunners, whether by walks or hits. I decided to sort those guys by WHIP, with the benchmark being 1.25. Let’s take a look.

Starting Pitchers (RH) – No surprises here that someone like Cashner, a top prospect in the system would be above the benchmark, but it’s who joins him and who is curiously absent that have me intrigued. Randy Wells has been a great surprise this season and really deserves some rookie of the year consideration for how well he’s pitched since being recalled from Iowa. Also above the fold is Chris Archer, who was one of the pitchers acquired in the Mark DeRosa deal this past off-season. Archer is a favorite of mine, primarily because he pitched at the high school down the road from my house here in Garner, NC. He’s still a youngster, but he’s showing good promise so far.

Will Carlos Zambrano ever be the kind of dominate starter that his stuff warrants? I have my doubts. A little disappointing to not see Harden above the fold after all the dominance last year. Hopefully these last two outings are a sign that he’s returning to form.

Starting Pitchers (LH) – Not many to speak of here, but it’s actually somewhat encouraging to see good things from Casey Fossum, who the Cubs picked up just recently. I don’t have incredibly high hopes for him as a starter, but perhaps he can be a September call up that can provide a left handed arm out of the pen. Ted Lilly has been good and is just outside the 3.50 threshold, but is injured for the next few starts. Hopefully he can return to form down the stretch. Overall, a lack of depth from the left side in the organization from a starting pitcher standpoint.

Relief Pitchers (RH) – Take a look at Chris Huseby’s secondary stats. His K/9 and K/BB stats are video gamesque. He’s simply not allowing hitters to put the ball in play or reach base. When you’re not walking guys and are combining that with K’s, it’s a recipe for dominance and that’s what Huseby’s been. It’s funny because I don’t think I would have noticed the dominance had I not done this series. After all, neither John Sickels or Baseball America listed him in the top prospect list for the team in their handbooks for this year.

Admit it. If I would have said that Kevin Gregg would have better numbers than Carlos Marmol at this point in the year, would you have believed me? While Marmol is still blowing guys away (10.5 K/9), he’s dwarfing that stat with an 8.3 BB/9 stat. I’m sorry but he’s simply not the guy I want in the 9th inning until he figures out how to harness that nasty stuff he has.

Relief Pitchers (LH) –  Just like the starters, lefties out of the pen have been a hard commodity to come by this season for this team. Thankfully another name from the Mark DeRosa deal has been pitching well enough to get consideration as an additional lefty out of the pen. John Gaub, along with Archer and Jeff Stevens were the pitchers many thought would be the pieces needed to get a guy like Jake Peavy this past off-season only to see that blow up. I’m actually glad it did. I like what all three have brought to the table and really like the prospects of them pitching for this team in the near future. Guab has struck guys out and kepts the hits to a minimum, which has compensated for some of the control issues he’s had.

Jeremy Papelbon has been a bit of a disappointment for me. I had high hopes for this kid because of what his brother has done with Boston. There is still time for him to shine, but this year he’s been hit around. 12.3 H/9 is unacceptable. Thankfully he’s kept the walks down or that 1.65 WHIP could be a lot worse.

Minor League Notes

  • Jovan Rosa was 2-for-5 with 6 RBI
  • Jeffry Antigua struck out 11 batters over 4.2 IP yesterday
  • DJ LeMahieu was 3-for-5
  • Kevin Soto hit 2 extra-base hits

Top Prospect Tracker

Photo Op

Jovan Rosa is hitting .317 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 17 games with Peoria. (Scott Jontes/

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So This Is What 1st Place Feels Like

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

They Put Them On The Schedule – Before you jump all over me for being excited about two sweeps in the last week or so over “bad” teams, its important to remember that everyone has the chance to play the Nationals and the Reds. If anything, teams like the Braves, Marlins and Phillies all get to play the Nationals more than we do. No one is harping on them for playing bad teams. If they put these guys on the schedule, it counts just as much to beat them as it does someone else. If you’re going to be a winning team, you need to beat up on the bad teams and strive to play around .500 ball against the good teams. Doing that should be enough to get you into the playoffs. Right now, the Cubs are doing that. They got beat in Philly, but took care of business against the Nats and Reds to compensate for the series loss in Philly. What more can you ask for that for a weekend sweep that leaves us in first place going into a nice series with Houston?

Offense is coming around – Watching the middle of the order today, I was encouraged. Then again, watching them all weekend, I’ve been encouraged. With Derrek Lee out of the lineup today with spasms, you would have thought that perhaps this was going to be the game that would keep the Cubs from sweeping the series. Instead, Ramirez got on three times with a walk and a double. Foxy, despite trying to drive the ball out of the park in his first few at bats, came through with an RBI single. Milton, reached base three times and scored two key runs. Soriano extended his hitting streak to nine games and has seen his average begin to climb toward respectability since moving to the 6th spot in the order. It was definitely encouraging to see Theriot and Ramirez get on base in the 7th to start the inning with 2nd and 3rd and no outs and actually feel like we were going to score a run. In the past, I felt like they would find a way to not score, but those feelings are beginning to subside a little. Thank God for offense.

Who Says He Can’t Pitch During the Day? – Can we use Rich Harden’s success today as evidence that home / road & day / night splits are garbage. I don’t believe in them and never will. It pains me to say it, but doesn’t “sample size” come into play with situations like those? I am a firm believer that, if given the opportunity, players will gravitate toward the mean in their production. Harden is no exception. People this year have complained that he can’t pitch at Wrigley and we’ve even tried to move the order so as to have him pitch on the road. Let’s not forget that last year, Harden was 2-0 in 7 starts at Wrigley with an ERA of 1.80. Did he suddenly forget how to pitch at Wrigley? No!!! No player or team is as good as they are during a hot streak or as bad as they look during a cold streak. Harden had a few hard outings at home and, if given the chance, will regress to the mean at Wrigley and on the road. Today, Harden was flat out nasty over his six innings of work and got a deserved win after pitching a ND against the Phillies on Tuesday. At one point he had struck out five of six hitters and for the most part looked untouchable.

Reds Got Hosed – I use that title, but you probably know that I will never blame the umpires for a game. Don’t put yourself in a position where they can affect the game. That said, I’m not sure if you saw the call at the plate late in the game, but Fukudome’s throw to the plate resulted in a double play to end the 8th, and a potential Red’s rally late, but taking a look at the replay, Dusty had every right to come out and argue that call. It’s one that, if replay was used, would have been reversed. Looking at the replay it was clear that Koyie Hill missed the tag. Bob Brenly mentioned it in the replay that had Encarnacion just ran hard down the line and not looked back so much, the play would not have been near as close as it was.

Who Goes…Who Stays? – Ryan Dempster is slated to come off the DL this week, which prompts the always fun debate about who should be on their way back to the minors. Justin Berg, for the simple fact that he hasn’t pitched yet has to be the prime candidate as does today’s somewhat disappointing Jeff Samardzija. You could make the case that Samardzija is best served to be pitching out of the rotation, which would be the argument for why you should move him back to Iowa. At the same time, he has the experience of pitching, and pitching well, down the stretch in a pennant race. Ultimately, it will probably be Berg who goes, but I would vote for Samardzija for the simple fact that I want him starting as much as possible to help him develop his secondary pitches in hopes of being either a starter for this team or a wicked multi-pitch member of the pen in the late innings. The best place right now to do that is in Iowa.

Is 40 Possible? – Kevin Gregg picked up save # 21 today, with a little over two months to go. is it out of the question for him to make a run at 40 saves on the year? Think about it for a minute before you answer. The Cubs have played bad ball so far and he still has 20. Why couldn’t he pick up one or two more in July and only need like 17 over the last two months plus since the regular season runs into October? Seriously…I think he has a shot. Only two pitchers in the Cubs history have reached that plateau. Randy Myers with his 53 save season in 1993 and Rod Beck in 1998 with 51. Let’s make it happen Kevin. Get it done.

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Cubs win, Cards lose

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Okay, now we’ve got a horse race! The Cubs pulled within a half game of division-leading St. Louis with another win over Dusty Baker’s Reds. Although today’s game was blacked out in the Nashville area I was able to listen to the game while I worked. Some of the takeaways I had were as follows:

  • Milton Bradley, Soriano and Ramirez are starting to do what the Cubs need them to do – each had homeruns today and Soriano is hitting .438 since the All Star break.  Lee has been hitting well also but was pulled out again today due to neck spasms.  I don’t know what (if anything) can be done about this – I had a neck injury in 1984 and it’s something I have to deal with in the long term.  One learns not to aggravate it because the alternative is a week long crick and the inability to turn one’s head.
  • The Cubs found out today that it’s likely that Lilly will miss four to five starts – he is having arthroscopic surgery on his knee which will set him back about two weeks and he doesn’t intend to throw during that period due to his shoulder soreness.  The last time he had this type of injury on his shoulder he missed about the same period of time.  Justin Berg has been called up to take his roster spot until Dempster is activated.
  • We are getting timely performances from the I-Cubs pitchers that have been called up.  Hart had another strong outing today and you really can’t ask for more than what Wells has given us.  If I’m not mistaken Wells is now 7-1 in his last 8 decisions.

Tomorrow the Cubs go for the sweep against the Cincinnati club – it would be really sweet because it’s Dusty’s club and the Reds are my blackout nemisis.  They will then entertain the surging Houston Astros who have seven games left against the Cubbies – all of them in Wrigley Field.  Now is a good time to be peaking and let’s hope they can carry the momentum into the upcoming series.  This is the time for the Cubs to make their move and winning seven of your last nine is how to do it.

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Saturday, July 25th, 2009

“Satchel – The Life and Times of an American Legend” by Larry Tye is a new book, published in 2009. I found it on a list of New York Times Bestsellers and decided to take a look.

According to the inside back jacket cover the author, Larry Tye, was a prize-winning journalist at ”The Boston Globe” and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He is an avid baseball fan, and he runs a training program for medical journalists.

I must say that before I read this book, although I had heard the name Satchel Paige, I really didn’t know anything about him.

The back cover contains this testimonial from Yogi Berra: “Knowing Satchel Paige is knowing nobody like him.”

“Satchel” contains many entertaining stories and quotes. Here are some of my favorites:

Satchel’s mother Lula told him: “If you tell a lie, always rehearse it. If it don’t sound good to you, it won’t sound good to anybody else.”

“Marriage is like walking in front of a firing squad without anybody making you do it.”

“It ain’t so much how hard you throw, it’s why and where.”

“Bases on balls is the curse of the nation. So throw strikes at all times. Unless you don’t want to.”

“After that honeymoon, I started noticing a powerful lightness in my hip pocket.”

The chapter titled “South of the Border” recalls events of 1937 and 1938 which took place in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Topics include General Trujillo and a torn rotator cuff tendon.

In the 1940s, due to age and injury, Paige admitted that his fastball had slowed from “blindin’ speed” to “just blazin’ speed”.

Retirin’ the first batter is especially critical because that “gives the rest of ‘em the idea.”

On the subject of capitalism: “When the green’s floating around, make sure you get your share.”

In general, it seems that Satchel Paige was a funny guy. Some other players who were not funny, who didn’t have that gift, resented Satchel for it.

It never occurred to me that when the white major leagues brought in players from the Negro leagues, those players were already under contract, and sometimes those existing contracts were not honored or bought out – they were largely ignored.

Regarding his marital status, Satchel once said: “It’s like this. I’m not married, but I’m in great demand.”

“Don’t waste energy throwing the ball to the first baseman to keep a runner from taking a big lead, he chided his protégés, when stepping off the mound does the same thing effortlessly.”

Brothers Joe and Frank Torre were impressed with Satchel’s attitude about life. “He was always sort of being thankful just being alive.”

Hank Aaron once said: “Believe me, Satchel Paige had life figured out.”

Reading this book I learned a lot about Satchel Paige, but I also learned a lot about Jim Crow, about segregation and desegregation, and a lot more.

I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend it highly.

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