Archive for June, 2010

Game 76: Zambrano’s Future and Another Loss to Pittsburgh

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

First Star – Paul Maholm (.445 WPA)
Second Star – Randy Wells (.248 WPA)
Third Star – Jose Tabata (.235 WPA)

Before we begin, we gotta address Zambrano. Jim Hendry came out and said that Z will be on the restricted list and will need to go through some medical aspects to his rehab before being reinstated. It’s a good move for the Cubs and I would even guess that there is a chance we don’t see Zambrano back until as early as August.

Kevin Millar chimed in on MLB Network on the situation:

Millar on Zambrano’s outburst during Friday’s game against the White Sox:

I spoke with him the other day, after the games on Saturday and the main thing he wanted to get across was that at times guys like Carlos, they don’t know how to handle or how to fire up a team. …There wasn’t one play that made him mad, it was just the whole team and the way they’ve been playing made him mad and then he was frustrated, he said, after his inning and came in and was basically trying to pump all the guys up.

…He told me a week before that he wanted to get Carlos Silva to do something to the team because he’s doing well and Carlos Zambrano said that he knew [Silva] wasn’t the right guy to do this at this time because of his struggles. … I told him straight up, I said… ‘You can’t say the team’s playing like girls … You can’t say that this whole team that’s not clicking for some reason’ or ‘We’re not playing hard’ because he’s a big part of that problem. He understood that … and that’s what he was trying to get across. It wasn’t a personal thing with Derrick Lee – obviously Derrick Lee took it personal, and [Zambrano] felt terrible and we obviously see what happened in the dugout. We see the way he’s reacted and this is the second time. [In 2007], he went out and fought Michael Barrett and beat up Michael Barrett, well then they end up trading Michael Barrett thinking that, ‘Ok, we’ll get rid of him but something has to be done.’ Now him [Zambrano] going to anger management counseling…I think this is the new fad that we’re trying to show that at least there’s an effort there.

That was basically his view, that he shouldn’t have done it, he wasn’t the right guy to do it, he wanted Carlos Silva to do it last week. It wasn’t one play, it wasn’t the Derrick Lee play that caused this whole scene. He ran in the dugout and was yelling at the whole group.

Millar on whether Zambrano wants to remain with the Cubs:

I think he wants to heal the situation, whether he remains a Chicago Cub or not. Who knows if the wounds are too deep? Who knows? That’s Jim Hendry’s job. But see this is the problem: we give huge contracts to players and now we think ‘Oh, that equals leadership,’ or, “If a guy’s doing well, that equals leadership.’ That’s not the case. You create these monsters through organizations and Carlos Zambrano’s Carlos Zambrano. I think they knew this was an intense guy, I think they knew this guy who dances to a different beat at times, but he’s not a bad human being by any means.

It’s getting harder and harder to look to the positive each and every game as we watch this team piddle away games that are winnable. Last night marked the ninth straight series in which we lost the opening game. You can’t win the majority of series you play in when you continually drop the opening frame. It just puts too much pressure on the team. It reminds me a little of the USA World Cup run. Just about every game, the team put themselves in an early hole and had to battle back to scrap out a tie. You can’t keep going to that well and expect it to have water. If the Cubs want to make this season a respectable one, and that’s certainly still a possibility, they have to “Strike first! Strike hard. No mercy, Sir!” (Anyone know what movie that is from? On to the notes:

  • If you didn’t watch the game, Randy Wells was not as good as his line reads. He did give us a quality start, but he was behind in the count all night long and found himself struggling to manage his pitch counts. He had thrown 80 pitches after the 4th inning. That can’t happen if you’re going to work into the 7th and 8th innings. If you compare his 1st pitch strike % and his over strike %, even his pitches per plate appearance, this year looks basically identical to last year. It just doesn’t look the same. He doesn’t seem as sharp this year.
  • The Bobby Crosby / Lastings Milledge collision was very scary. If you didn’t see the play, Crosby left the game early after colliding with Milledge on a ball in the 2nd that basically fell beside them. He took an elbow / shoulder to the side of the face and you could see his head slap similar to the way it does when a boxer takes a clean knockout to the face. Bob Brenly had a pretty funny quote about the situation, considering that this is the second time this has happened over the last few days for the Pirates. He said “It might be worth the money to buy a few cowbells for the infielders to wear around their necks” It doesn’t seem as funny as I type it, but it made me laugh at the time.
  • We saw a rare issue for Tyler Colvin in the field as he misplayed a ball in RF and came in too far. The ball went over his head and allowed Andrew McCutchen to get an easy triple. Those mistakes are going to happen every now and then. Colvin has played well out there and I’m willing to forgive. I do go back to my constant argument that plays like that should be scored an error.
  • How is Ronny Cedeno on a ML roster? Seriously, look at his numbers.
  • Len Kasper mentioned that in the 9th inning, it would be great to have a guy off the bench that can be that pinch runner, but that it’s a luxury to carry that guy on the roster. I disagree and would argue that if the Cubs wouldn’t carry 12 pitchers, it would allow them to have a guy like Sam Fuld or a player of that ilk to fill that role. A 12 man staff is so stupid, in my opinion, especially when you have starters that work deep in the ball game on a consistent basis.
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Series Preview: Cubs / Pirates (Again)

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Notes of Interest

  • Tonight’s game against Maholm is the 11th game against a lefty this month (We’re 6-4 so far so cross your fingers as that looks good.
  • On the other hand, we’ve lost the opening game in a series for the past nine straight series. (So much for that win we hoped for)
  • Cubs pitchers have a 3.62 ERA (236 ER/587.0 IP) from the second inning and later this season, but have posted a 6.72 ERA (56 ER/75.0 IP) in the first inning
  • Steve Stone mentioned that he thinks the Cubs should consider shifting Carlos Zambrano to 1B to backup Derrek Lee (Source). I have to wonder if that’s just Stone being a jackass like he has been since leaving the Cubs organization.
  • Brett Jackson has been promoted to AA-Tennessee. I’ve been impressed with Jackson this year and I’m anxious to see how he does with the promotion because he tore up A ball in a tough Florida State league to hit the baseball. To make room for him, Ty Wright was promoted to AAA Iowa, which is also exciting based on how he’s hit this year. (Source)

Probable Pitching Matchups

Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21 ERA)

Maholm would like to forget absolutely everything from his last outing, one which lasted a career-short one inning. The left-hander was missing with all his pitches, and when he wasn’t walking hitters, the pitches were right down the middle. He faced just 15 hitters. Four of them walked and seven got hits. Still, the outing was an anomaly for Maholm, who has been the Pirates’ most consistent starter all year. Prior to Wednesday, he hadn’t allowed more than four runs in any of his first 14 starts this year. Maholm is 6-1 with a 6.29 ERA in 11 career starts against the Cubs.

Strength – His best attribute is his razor-sharp command of a deep arsenal of pitches. Can throw his fastball, change-up, curve and slider for first-pitch strikes. Is a workhorse and a leader.

Weakness – Would be better if he cut down on the number of base-runners he puts on via either hit or walk. Lacks a dominant pitch and right-handed bats have an easier time against him.

Wells is looking for his first win since April 30. The right-hander is coming off a loss to Seattle in which he gave up six runs on 10 hits over six innings. He has gone winless in May and June, serving up 20 earned runs in 61 1/3 innings in those two months so far. He’s 0-1 in two starts against the Pirates, including a loss May 6 when he gave up six earned runs on five hits in two innings.

Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.60 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.28 ERA)

Karstens battled through 5 1/3 innings in his last start, but was denied a third win when the Pirates’ bullpen couldn’t a two-run lead. Karstens wasn’t lights out, but given that he was facing baseball’s hottest team at the time, he did well in limiting Texas to two earned runs on seven hits. Karstens continues to be a stabilizing force in the Pirates’ rotation and has not allowed more than four runs in a start since returning to the rotation on May 24. Karstens has made five previous appearances (four starts) against the Cubs. He is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

Strength – Is versatile enough to start or relieve as necessary. Has proven capable of pitching effectively in the rotation in the minors.

Weakness – Is far too hittable at the major-league level and also lacks the ability to strike batters out with consistency.

Lilly did not get a decision in his last start June 24 against the Mariners. He gave up one run on five hits over six innings. He has only one win in his last 11 starts. The lefty is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA in three games against the Pirates this season.

Brad Lincoln (0-2, 6.00 ERA) vs. Tom Gorzelanny (2-5, 3.41 ERA)

Lincoln’s outing Friday was his fourth start of the season. His performance — six innings, three earned runs, eight hits — was similar to his others and only lowered his ERA from 6.50 to 6.00. Lincoln’s fastball command was off early in the game, and he said he didn’t attack the strike zone like he’s capable of. He threw 107 pitches, 63 for strikes.

Strength – Is a consistent strike-thrower who is usually around the plate. Does well in pitching to contact. Has a winning mentality when on the mound.

Weakness – Lacks ideal size for a pitcher. Has trouble with the long ball and is a bit too hittable, overall. Hitters are a bit too comfortable at the plate against him.

Gorzelanny will replace Carlos Zambrano in the Cubs rotation. Zambrano was bumped after inappropriate comments and a tantrum last Friday. Gorzelanny began the season in the rotation but was moved when Zambrano didn’t like his relief role. Gorzelanny has made six relief appearances, including last Friday when he went 3 1/3 innings after Zambrano was pulled. He’ll be facing his former team for the second time this year. He did not get a decision in a loss May 14.

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Cubs Legends & Hall of Fame Snubs

Monday, June 28th, 2010

It’s tough to stay positive about the Cubs at the moment. Thanks to a weak NL Central, they’re barely staying in the hunt, even though they can not seem to win a 3 game series against anyone. It’s times like this that us life long Cubs fans must close our eyes and let the humid Chicago breeze take us back to older days.

If you were born in the 80’s, you instantly had reason to be a Cubs fan. The Ryno, the Hawk, the pennant races- there was plenty to be excited about. But the Cubs history goes well beyond that. Yes, even further back than Ernie Banks & Billy Williams. As a matter of fact, right toward the end of the dead ball era, two players (among many, many others) came along who delivered particularly exciting seasons in Cubs’ uniforms.

Hack Wilson played 850 games, roughly two thirds of his career, with the Chicago Cubs.  Of course, everyone should at least know his name, thanks to his memorable season in 1930, when he belted 56 home runs (an NL record until the Steroid Era) and tallied 191 RBI’s, which remains the Major League single season record. If the MVP were awarded in 1930, Wilson would have been an obvious shoo-in to receive the honor by a huge margin.

Hack was only 5’6”, but had a stocky 190 lb. build and roved center field from 1926 until 1931 with the Cubs. A career .307 hitter, Wilson led the NL in home runs four out of his six Cubs seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

Gabby Hartnett, a lifetime .297 hitter, caught over 100 games for 12 years. A six time All Star from 1933-37, Hartnett was named the NL MVP in 1935 with 13 home runs, 91 RBI’s, and a stellar .344 BA in 116 games. He played 19 of his 20 professional seasons with the Cubs, amassing over 1900 hits, almost 400 doubles, and 236 career homeruns.

What solidified Hartnett as an elite player was his strong defense. With a career .987 fielding percentage, including an unbelievable .996 mark as catcher in 1934 and 1937, Hartnett also frequently led the league in runners caught stealing, throwing out 54% of attempting base thieves on average.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous “Homer in the Gloamin”- a shot hit by Hartnett into the left field bleachers against the division leading Pirates on September 28, 1938. Hartnett connected while down 0-2 in the bottom of the ninth, as darkening conditions threatened to render the game meaningless*. According to Gabby, the player/manager at the time: “A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did- maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew the minute I hit it…I don’t think I walked a step to the plate- I was carried in.” They Cubs would go on to overtake the Pirates and win the pennant, their fourth in ten years.

Hartnett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

HOF Snubs:

Jimmy Ryan’s 2500 career hits and lifetime .306 is comparable to HOF inductees such as Jim O’Rourke (Ryan’s career 118 HR’s doubles O’Rourke’s total of 56) and surpasses George Kell in HR’s and hits by a considerable amount, while tying him in lifetime average. So why are they enshrined, while Ryan’s left out? The right fielder was equally effective on defense, playing numerous positions and even pitching in 24 games.

Ryan played 16 of his 18 pro seasons with the Cubs, from 1885-1900. He had one particularly exciting year in 1888, when he led the NL in Hits, 2B’s, HR’s, SLG., and TB’s (182/33/16/.515/283, respectively). Ryan hit for average and power, stole bases and drew walks. The leadoff hitter for the 1880’s dynasty fell one home run shy of being the first Cub to have over 2000 hits, 100 HR’s, and a .300+ BA, a feat that would not fully be accomplished until 1999, by a fella named Mark Grace. It’s a little late now, but if his campaign were revisited, would he have your vote?

Stan Hack is the slightly lesser known Cubs snub at 3B. Like Jimmy Ryan, Hack also amassed 16 impressive seasons with the Cubs, from 1932-1947. He was a fixture at third base as well as a very productive leadoff hitter, scoring over 100 runs seven times. Also like Ryan, Smilin’ Stan compiled over 2000 hits and maintained a .300+ career batting average, while posing a consistent threat on the base paths with 165 career stolen bases.

On defense, Stan Hack was a shining star for the Cubs at one of the toughest positions in the game. In 1942, he played 54 consecutive games without committing an error while posted at the hot corner, a record at the time. If gold gloves were awarded during the 30’s and 40’s, Hack’s fielding stats indicate that he would have been honored at least four times, which would have matched his All Star appearances.

To further the case, Stan Hack batted .348 over four World Series. He may never have had a truly breakout season, but his consistency gives him a strong case to join the legion of legends. And yet he has only ever received 8 votes toward the Hall of Fame (8 more than Jimmy Ryan). Hack was undoubtedly an above average ballplayer, but was he one of the best?

All stats and excerpts courtesy of baseball-reference.com and Doug Myers’ encyclopedic Essential Cubs, published in 1999. A fantastic read and reference for any Cubs fan.

*According to Doug Myers in Essential Cubs, games that were suspended due to darkness or rain during that time period were played all over again as part of a double header the next day, making the original game meaningless.

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Game 75: Kumbaya

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

I’ll be honest. I was counting the minutes until this series ended. It’s bad enough when your team can’t win. It’s even worse when your team can’t win in your nemesis’ ballpark, full of their obnoxious fans (not giving a pass to Cubs fans either, there are plenty of obnoxious Cubs fans around as well). And it’s even way worse than that when your “ace” (HA!) explodes on his own teammates within the first hour of the series, ensuring your team is the laughingstock of the neighborhood all weekend long. Can’t end quickly enough for me. Please don’t think I’m putting the Cubs down. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m more a fan of them this weekend than I have been in awhile. I think it’s the hurt puppy dog syndrome. I feel bad for them. They’ve hit rock bottom.

True to form, the Cubs did absolutely nothing offensively early in the game. Also true to form, the opposing team took advantage of a shaky first inning from Dempster and the Cubs found themselves down two by 1:30CT. Dempster has a 5.40 ERA in first innings this season, 3.25 in subsequent innings. This in itself really wouldn’t be that bad, except that this year it’s hard enough for the Cubs to win any games, let alone those in which they find themselves down by a few runs early in the game.

And then, something happened. The tide turned somehow. Probably had something to do with Tyler Colvin’s three run homer, that didn’t hurt. But they looked different to me all day. I saw them laughing in the dugout. I saw them NOT trying to hit a home run on every pitch. Some took walks. Some just gave us a little single. Some came through in bigger ways. And it all added up to a win.

My commentary after past wins, particularly recently, has not always been favorable. I had gotten to the point where I was almost disappointed when they would squeak out a win on the third game of every series because I thought the only way things would ever change is if they got even worse. But this game was different, at least for me. This game gave me some hope. I don’t think this is the beginning of the road to the playoffs. I’m not drinking kool-aid. My hope for the Cubs for the rest of the season, is that they can play respectable baseball, recover from whatever angst they’ve been suffering, and complete the season with teammates who support each other when things go well, as well as when things go badly. If we can have that, I will be happy, and we’ll move on. I understand this will probably cause the competitive folks among us to cringe. But sometimes, the atmosphere is important too. I want them to hold their heads up and know they did their best. Regardless of whether the above-mentioned obnoxious fans think they did or not.

Enough holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Here are some of my game notes.

  • Really great game for Tyler Colvin (not to mention he was my BTS pick and I’m now sporting an impressive score of 1! Yay me!) Colvin went 3 for 5 with 4 RBIs and it was his 3-run homer in the 3rd that gave the Cubs their first taste of positivity in some time.
  • Geovany Soto also had a good game offensively (3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored) after going 0-3 yesterday.
  • Alfonso Soriano was also impressive. He went 1-for-2 with an un-Soriano-ish two walks, scoring twice and driving in one run. I also saw him hustle more than once in the outfield. Pair this with yesterday’s two doubles and that amounts to two straight days of hustle. Even a hater like me has to give a pat on the back to that. And I’m not kidding. He’s really doing well among a group of others who aren’t.
  • Not so great game for Jeff Baker. Three strikeouts and a double play. He’s probably glad this day is over.
  • Interesting play in 2nd inning which reminds me that CubbieDude is going to teach me about obstruction in one of his columns sometime soon. :-) Dempster’s first inning woes may have continued into the 2nd had it not been for Gordon Beckham standing in Soto’s way as he attempted to throw out Alexei Ramirez stealing second. Ramirez was safe on the play but called out because of Beckham’s interference with the play. Dempster owes that guy a beer!
  • Xavier Nady, along with contributing next to nothing offensively this series, plays a tentative first base. I like Nady, a lot, and he’s a serviceable backup at first, but he always looks like he’s afraid he’s going to get stepped on or hit. He whips his foot off that base like it shocks him or something and it always looks uncomfortable to me.
  • Marmol went ahead and made himself a mess to get out of, giving up 3 runs on 2 hits and 3 walks and giving Cubs fans everywhere a collective heart attack before finding the strike zone.
  • Was kind of hoping Brian Schlitter would get into the game. One of the saddest bits of fallout from the whole Zambrano debacle involved Jeff Stevens, who ended up being sent down not because he deserved it, not because he pitched badly, but simply because they needed an arm that wasn’t tired. Brian Schlitter was the beneficiary. And in my typical fashion of trying to find the humor in any situation, I got myself a good little laugh thinking about the announcers while they tiptoe around Brian’s name. Have to admit when I first saw it in print I really had to give it a good look to see that mid-stream L in there. Heh.
  • Did any of us REALLY want that BP cup anyway? Glad they have it. Maybe by next year it will find itself another sponsor and then we can win it back!

Have a good night. :-) And buck yourselves up for Pittsburgh tomorrow. No pun intended!

Win Probability

First Star: Tyler Colvin
Second Star: Carlos Quentin
Third Star: Ryan Dempster
Honorable Mention: Derrek Lee

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Game 74: Another Saturday Night….

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

The penultimate game of the 2010 Chicago Crosstown Classic (also known as the 2010 British Petroleum Chicago Crosstown Cup) was a well pitched and evenly played game, the outcome of which, however, did not please me.

The Cubs starter, RHP Carlos Silva, entered the game with eight wins for the season, and that’s how many he has as I write this recap.

Mr. Silva pitched six full innings, giving up two runs and three hits.  During those six innings White Sox players were awarded first base three times after being hit by a pitched ball.  None of those hit batsmen crossed the plate to score a run.

In the second inning Carlos Quentin was awarded first base, although I’m not convinced that he was actually hit by a pitched ball.  It looked to me like the ball glanced off his bat, but he cried and the home plate umpire bought it.

Juan Pierre was hit by a pitched ball in the bottom of the fifth inning.  And, subsequent to that, Carlos Quentin was actually hit by a pitched ball in the bottom of the sixth, thus completing the trifecta.

Just Carlos Silva’s way of saying “Hello”, I guess.

The White Sox starter, RHP Freddy Garcia pitched seven full innings, giving up two runs and eight hits.

The Cubs scored their first run in the sixth inning.  Ryan Theriot, batting in the 9 hole, led off the inning with a single to left field.  He took second on a sacrifice “swinging bunt” by Kusuke Fukudome, took third base on an infield single by Marlon Byrd, and scored on a single to center field by designated hitter DLee.

The Cubs second and final run came in the very next inning.  Aramis Ramirez slammed a solo home run into the center field bleachers.

I must point out that the Cubs “Clean Up Hitter Du Jour” (Xavier Nady) went 0-4 this evening with one fly out and three ground outs.  In the sixth inning Mr. Nady ground into an inning ending double play, which killed the Cubs biggest rally of the game.

At the time of Xavier’s GIDP, the Cubs had runners at first and third with one out, and had just scored their first run of the game.

Speaking of double plays, Alfonso Soriano ended the game with a walk off GIDP in the top of the ninth.  With one out Aramis Ramirez drew a walk.  Tyler Colvin was brought in to run for Mr. Ramirez, and Mr. Soriano ground into the 5-4-3 double play to seal the deal.

In Alfonso’s defense, he did hit two doubles tonight.  His second double of the game occurred in the seventh inning with no outs.  Mr. Soriano was bunted to third by Starlin Castro, and that’s where he died.  Geovany Soto looked at strike three, a fastball right down the middle, for the second out, and Ryan Theriot ended the threat with a ground out to short.

The White Sox scored their first run in the third inning.  Gordon Beckham led off the inning with a triple to right field.  He scored on a two out single to center by Alex Rios.

Interestingly, the Sox scored their second run of the game while recording no hits in the process.  Paul Konerko walked to lead off the sixth inning.  He took second when Carlos Quentin was hit by an aforementioned pitched ball.  Konerko took third on a sacrifice fly to center field by Mark Kotsay, and scored on a sac fly to right by Alexei Ramirez.

The White Sox scored what would become the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.  The Cubs brought in RHP Andrew Cashner to relieve Carlos Silva at the start of the bottom of the seventh inning.  Mr. Cashner induced the first four batters he faced to ground out, 4-3.  He was throwing 98+ mph fastballs and I think, maybe, he threw one too many.  The fifth batter Mr. Cashner faced, Paul Konerko, lifted one of those fastballs into the left field stands.

In his defense, Mr. Cashner did get the sixth and seventh batters he faced out.  So he gave up only one hit in two complete innings, but it was a biggie.

There were two base running plays which absolutely must be included in tonight’s highlights reel.

In the bottom of the fifth Juan Pierre appeared to be thrown out on an attempt to steal second base.  Geovany Soto’s throw to Starlin Castro beat Mr. Pierre to the bag by a mile.  Closer analysis revealed, however, that while Starlin had applied the tag to the dirt in front of the bag, he did not, in fact, tag the runner.  So the dirt was out, but the baserunner was safe.

Ironically, just a half inning earlier, Starlin Castro was called out on an attempt to steal that very same second base.  I say ironically, because it appeared to many of us who watched the replay that Starlin’s fingers, palms, wrists, forearms and elbows had already crossed the bag before any tag was applied.

It seems like Mr. Castro is a very nice, well mannered young man.  That may have to change.

The White Sox scored three runs on four hits tonight.  The Cubbies scored two runs on eight hits.

The Cubs were in this game the whole way, until the final out.  That’s really all we can ask.

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