Archive for June, 2011

Calling The Shots

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Last week I was having an adult beverage with a fellow Cub fan. While drowning our sorrows over this year’s squad, the conversation turned to the first days of our fandom—the early 1980s.

As we chatted about some of our favorite players from that era (Bill Buckner, Lee Smith, and Rick Reuschel to name a few), we reflected on the assembly line of managers over the last three decades. I’d honestly forgotten about a few of them (Charlie Fox and Rene Lachemann for example).

Our trip down managerial memory lane seemed like a decent idea for an article. With that in mind…

  • Preston Gomez (1980): Certainly a name I’d forgotten about. Gomez was canned after a 38-52 start. He’s probably best known as the first-ever manager of the San Diego Padres.
  • Joey Amalfitano (1980-1981): It was back to the future for Amalfitano, as he also wore the interim crown in 1979. He took over for the departed Gomez in July of 1980. The Cubs were especially bad in those days. Amalfitano’s record in his return was a dismal 64-111. His tenure included the 1981 baseball strike.
  • Lee Elia (1982-1983): Elia was hired by GM Dallas Green to turn around a team in turmoil. While he didn’t rack up wins in Chicago (127-158), Elia’s legacy includes one of the city’s best managerial meltdowns. Elia went off on Cubs fans, calling them every name in the book for booing his sorry bunch. The R-rated tirade is worth finding on line.
  • Charlie Fox (1983): It’s no surprise that Elia didn’t make it through 1983. Fox got the call as interim manager after Elia’s firing, but the results weren’t much better (17-22).
  • Jim Frey (1984-1986): The former Royals’ manager took over in 1984 and led the Cubs to a division title and the doorstep of the World Series. The stars aligned in that first season under Frey, who is given some of the credit for developing Ryne Sandberg’s power stroke. Unfortunately, Frey and company couldn’t recapture the magic of 1984. Injuries killed the Cubs that next season, and they finished in fourth place. One year later, he was unemployed. Though his Cub experience didn’t end well, Frey piloted the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945. His overall record was 196-182.
  • John Vukovich (1986): “Vuk” stepped in for one whole day after Jim Frey was shown the door. He managed the Cubs for both games of a doubleheader, which they split.
  • Gene Michael (1986-1987): The former Yankee inherited an awful team in 1986. The ’86 Cubs were old, slow, and defensively challenged. John McGraw in his prime couldn’t have won with this team. Michael didn’t last long in Chicago, compiling a record of 114-124.
  • Frank Lucchesi (1987): Another place holder, Lucchesi finished up the 1987 season. The former Rangers’ and Phillies’ manager was 8-17 in Chicago.
  • Don Zimmer (1988-1991): “Popeye” was beloved by Cubs’ fans, partly for his contagious personality, partly for his unorthodox decision-making, but mostly for leading his team to the playoffs in 1989. That season saw an interesting, energetic, and extremely likable Cubs team (known as “the Boys of Zimmer). The charismatic skipper often made fans scratch their heads (I once saw him intentionally walk three batters in the same inning), but frequently his gambles would pay off.  As always, all good things must come to an end. Popeye sailed out of Chicago in 1991, finishing his term with a record of 265-258.
  • Joe Altobelli (1991): A coach under Zimmer, Altobelli wore the interim hat for one game. The Cubs lost.
  • Jim Essian (1991): Essian was a rising star in the Cubs organization, and he was tabbed to turnaround the scuffling Cubs. Things didn’t go as planned.  The Cubs continued to struggle under Essian, who was given the boot at the end of the year. The chosen one finished his Cub career at 59-63. He never managed in the Majors again.
  • Jim Lefebvre (1992-1993): The former Mariners’ manager had his hands full in 1992. That Cubs team was loaded with out-making specialists (Rey Sanchez, Steve Buechele, Derrick May, and Joe Girardi). A solid pitching staff took a big hit the next season, as Greg Maddux departed via free agency. Somehow the Cubs hung in there, finishing 1993 with 84 wins. It wasn’t good enough for management, and Lefebvre was gone the next year. His two-year record was 162-162.
  • Tom Trebelhorn (1994): I’ve heard this story more than once, so I’m assuming it’s true. During his interview, Trebelhorn was asked, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” His reply, “A Cubs Tree!” That answer alone should have knocked him out of contention. Instead, “Cubs Tree” captained the ship right into the ground. The Cubs finished the strike-shortened season at 49-64. Trebelhorn didn’t return.
  • Jim Riggleman (1995-1999): After three losing seasons in San Diego, Jim Riggleman took over in Chicago in 1995. His up and down tenure was highlighted by a postseason appearance in 1998. That team was propelled by the long ball, combining for 212 home runs (including Sammy Sosa’s 66). The Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves. Riggleman had some success in Chicago, but his overall record was 374-419.
  • Don Baylor (2000-2002). I met Don Baylor at a Central Illinois Cubs Convention in 2000. He was wearing the ugliest sweater I have ever seen. Enough about fashion. Baylor came to Chicago with a winning resume. He compiled three winning seasons in Colorado, including a playoff appearance in 1995. That success didn’t follow him to Wrigley Field. Baylor’s Cub teams went 322-326 and didn’t sniff the postseason. He was fired during the 2002 campaign.
  • Rene Lachemann (2002): Lachemann kept the manager’s seat warm for one game, which the Cubs lost. Baseball fans may remember that he was the first manager of the expansion Florida Marlins.
  • Bruce Kimm (2002): Already in the Cubs system as a minor league manager, Kimm took over for the rest of 2002. He fared no better than his predecessors that year, going 33-45.
  • Dusty Baker (2003-2006): Baker was an interesting choice to lead the Cubs. Many fans praised his work in San Francisco, leading the Giants to the World Series in 2002. Others frowned on the Cubs’ selection, noting how Baker tended to pile up pitch counts for his starter pitchers. In any case, the hire looked brilliant in 2003. Baker and the Cubs finished strong and made the postseason that year. They knocked off the mighty Braves and looked like a sure bet for the NL pennant.  Of course, we all remember how that turned out. Baker’s Cubs never duplicated the success of 2003. Odd excuses seemed to follow his team’s performance (the heat was my favorite). Injuries to his young pitchers began to pile up. Rightly or wrongly, Baker was often blamed. His contract was not renewed after the 2006 season, and Dusty left town with a record of 322-326.
  • Lou Piniella (2007-2010): Piniella’s track record was certainly impressive. He won a World Series with the Cincinnati Reds and led the Seattle Mariners to multiple postseason trips. The Cubs returned to the playoffs in Uncle Lou’s first season, but were swept out of the first round. 2008 was a powerhouse team that led the NL in runs scored and victories. Unfortunately, they collapsed in the Division Series vs. the LA Dodgers. Expectations were high in 2009, but Piniella’s Cubs underachieved. They finished with 83 wins and watched the playoffs on TV. The next season was a disaster. The Cubs lost early and often. Many fans blamed Piniella, saying that the game had passed him by. He resigned that summer to care for his ailing mother. Piniella’s Cub record was 316-293.
  • Mike Quade (2010-present): Already serving the Cubs as a coach, Quade took over for Piniella in August of 2010. His team finished strong that summer, and Quade was officially named manager for 2011. Injuries have plagued his first full season at the helm. As of this writing, the Cubs are 12 games under .500.

That’s quite a list, no matter how you slice it. As I review the last three decades, I’m reminded how many rotten seasons Cub fans had to endure. Fortunately, the high points were extremely high. 1984, 1989, and 2008 will always stand out for me.

Obviously, I wish Mike Quade nothing but the best of luck. He certainly has his share of challenges this year. Will he be a long-term fit in Chicago, or another blip on the radar screen?

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Game 67 – Long Balls Not Enough to Lift Cubs

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Brewers 9, Cubs 5

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Wrong

  • Carlos Zambrano struggled in this middle part of the game, allowing the Brewers to score twice in the fourth and three more in the fifth.  Z ended up going six innings and was charged with five earned runs on nine hits to take the loss.
  • Chris Carpenter allowed a key two-run single to Yuniesky Betancourt with two outs in the seventh inning to extend the Milwaukee edge to three.  Carpenter has allowed the Brewers to score against him in each of the first two appearances of his big league career.
  • James Russell, who was actually charged with the two runs that scored on the Betancourt single, only retired one man and allowed two to reach.
  • The middle part of the order (Ramirez and Soto) failed to come up with big hits tonight.  Geovano Soto suffered an 0-for-4 night to see his average dip to .213.
  • Alfonso Soriano struck out in his return from the DL in a pinch hit appearance.
  • Starlin Castro made a costly error that eventually led to a pair of unearned tallies in the top of the seventh. 
  • The Cubs still do not have a three game winning streak all season.   They are the only squad in the big leagues that has not yet put together a string of three victories.   The Cubs had a chance to pull within nine games of the top in the NL Central, but instead they fall to 11 back as the Brewers take over sole possession of first place.
  • John Grabow entered the game in the eighth and allowed Rickie Weeks to blast one on to Waveland Avenue to extend the lead.  The Cubs left handed middle relievers (Grabow and Russell) have not been very effective.
  • Kosuke Fukudome did not take the bat off his shoulder when he was pinch hitting with two on and two out in the ninth.  He was caught looking at strike three.

What Went Right

  • Jeff Baker, who was hitting in the three spot in the lineup tonight, homered in the first inning to put the Cubs on the board.
  • Reed Johnson drilled a long three run homer in the fifth inning to cut the Brewer lead back to one.  Johnson and Baker both came off the disabled list earlier in the week.
  • DJ LeMahieu notched his first career RBI in the eighth inning when he singled to drive in Blake DeWitt.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Reed Johnson (.157 WPA)

2nd Star – Corey Hart (.149 WPA)

3rd Star – Yuniesky Betancourt (.096 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: -.061 WPA

Cubs Pitching: -.423 WPA

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Chet’s Corner: This is just the beginning……

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

I have actually pondered what it would take to get these Cubs back into contention.  I pulled their overall record up on a web page and started doing the math.  I then tried to convince myself that this week was a turning point, to be more exact, the current series and the next two were the turning point.  Then after coming up with this delusional thought I sighed, closed the web page, and accepted the fact that it probably won’t happen.  I started thinking about next season, the season after that, and even the next one.  Hopelessness set in and I realized something…..as a club, we are a lot like an expansion team that entered the league in 2007.

Stay with me on this one….

The obvious deficits on this team come in the form of overpriced mediocrity.  Overpriced, aging mediocrity is akin to what is available to an expansion team upon entering the league. We have all heard about the overpaid cogs in the wheel being the crux of this team, but the lack of MLB ready youth is a larger concern to me.  I also started to wonder why the Cubs seem to be void of those home grown, 26-28 year old, prime of their career kind of players.  I know we traded a few of them, but nobody that has taken the league by storm.  

I did some research…..

Did you know the Cubs have had 16 first round picks from 1999-2010?  The combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) for all of those players chosen is 12.6.  This is counting every player they have drafted in the first round.  This includes players they drafted in the first round and have traded away, never seeing the diamond for the Cubs. 

Now for the best part, if you remove Mark Prior’s 13.7 WAR (he was the 2001 second overall pick of the first round) from that total, the number is a -1.1 !!!!! Roughly translated, every first round pick the Cubs have made since 1999, with the exception of Prior, has cost the team a little over one win. They have hurt the team (or whatever major league team they ended up with) more then helped.

Of the 16 players chosen in the first round by the Cubs from 1999-2010, only 4 have played at the major league level for any team. They are…..

Lou Montanez – 2000

Mark Prior – 2001

Tyler Colvin – 2006

Andrew Cashner – 2008

*there were 4 players drafted by the Cubs in the first round 0f 2002…..none of them made a major league roster to date.

*most of this info was found here.

Now, I know the amatuer baseball draft is a crap shoot.  I know not every first round pick will make the majors.  However, you would hope half of them would….not talking about being a star, just making a roster.

When I look at the Cubs and I see the void between extremely young talent and old overpaid mediocrity, the above numbers offer a small explanation.  When I look at the remainder of the Cubs selections (rounds 2-50)I notice more of the same trend…..very few players selected that ever amounted to much in the majors….I will give you three: Soto, Randy Wells, and Dontrelle Willis.

Anyhow, we have drafted (and scouted outside the draft, see Castro) fairly well since 2007 and we are starting to see the fruit of those labors, it’s just still quite young and unproven.

Oh yah, so why does this make us comparable to an expansion team that entered the league in 2007? Well, around 2007 we signed (or re-upped) some expensive and available veterans and built a team around them.  They were what was available to us within our budget.  We also started drafting more successfully around 2007, after literally 6 or 7 years of nothing contributing to the pipeline.  Now we wait for this talent to evolve and the expensive vets to …..well….leave!  Think Tampa Bay from 1998-2004.

It takes time however…..2010 was bad, 2011 is similar…..  2012 won’t be much better and I am not expecting anything great for 2013.  These will all be years for those uber-youth, such as Starlin Castro, to build up to their prime years.  The learning years if you will.  Baseball is a complicated sport to learn at the big league level, there is more then just catch, throw , run , hit……your brain needs to engage likewise.

I also keep my expectations low because of the veteran contracts in place and the seeming lack of youth in our minor league system to replace the vets. 

By the way any of you who thinks Soriano is departing this team any time soon should have your head checked.  I have said it before, when you think the Cubs should be trading a player put yourself in the recieving teams shoes…..what would you give for the players we have available?  That’s what I thought, not much!  It takes two to tango!

With all this being said, hold on to your hopes for a while and enjoy the ride for what it is…..a slow cleansing.   

Whoa!!!! hang on a second……did the Cubs just come back from four runs down????? Did the aging Ramirez hit a game tieing homer in the eighth? Did the kid Campana turn on the jets to set up a win in the tenth?  Did Starlin Castro get a clutch game winning hit?

No, can’t be……I wrote these guys off……then again, if they can win 3 out of 4 against the Brewers, and take two from the Yankees along with two from the Sox………

You see how sick I am……..can’t even write these guys off properly!

Go Cubs! 

Let the cleansing begin!!!!!!

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Game 66 – Come From Behind Surprise

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Cubs 5, Brewers 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Let’s break with orthodoxy here – the Cubs won this game inexplicably. Down 4-1 late in the game Mike Quade got tossed for arguing balls and strikes.  Way to show some moxy Mike!   Despite the win and last minute heroics this team needs to be broken up.

There’s no way to make this franchise look pretty – all of the older players must be traded. This is a team of losers and I only watch them when I have to. So what needs to be done? I propose the following acts which should happen no later than the All Star Game. What I recommend is as follows:

  • Immediate dismissal of Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry.
  • Takeover of said functions by Tom Ricketts.
  • Trade immediately if possible: Pena, Ramirez, Soriano, Fukudome, Byrd, Johnson, Marshall, Wood,  Dewitt – anybody of value except the youngest players.
  • Rebuild the minor leagues, trade guys that aren’t panning out, promote guys that are.
  • Put Quade on an “improve or be fired” program with a one year objective, he’s not putting the right lineup card in, playing guys like DeWitt in left field instead of Campana.

I’m not going to try to make music out of sour milk, it’s time for a change.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Yovani Gallardo (.323 WPA)

2nd Star – Aramis Ramirez (.321 WPA)

3rd Star – Starlin Castro (.233 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: +.292 WPA

Cubs Pitching: +.208 WPA

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So You Wanna Be A Seller

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I think it’s apparent to most Cub fans (it’s still up for debate on whether Ricketts is still in dream land thinking this team has a chance) that the Cubs are in need of a fire sale. Let’s a take a look at what pieces are available for Jim Hendry to work on in the next three months.

STARTING PITCHING

Ryan Dempster – He’s signed for the remainder of the season at $13.5 million and has a player option for 2012. He’s a tremendous player to have in the clubhouse and on the team in general, but I have to wonder what his feelings are for next year. Some guys have the desire to be in a certain place. Chicago was a team that took a chance on him when he was recovering from Tommy John so we’ll see how he feels about staying here. He needs to be shopped for the simple fact that he could leave and the Cubs can’t do a thing about it. If I were Demp, I’d opt out of the deal and try to get paid one more time before retirement.

Carlos Zambrano – It seems like we’ve been shopping his sorry butt for years, but it really hasn’t been that long. It’s hard to see him moving anywhere for two reasons. First, he has said over and over that he would not waive the no-trade clause in his contract. There was a brief tease last year about it, but factor in the other reason, his contract, and you’ve got a player that is probably not going to be going anywhere before next year. He’s scheduled to make a shade under $18 million this year and then $18 mil next season with a vesting option for 2013 that is probably not going to vest. The contact states that the option vests if he finishes in the top 2 in the Cy Young this year or the Top 4 next year and is healthy at the end of the 2012 season. It ain’t happening.

INFIELD

Carlos Pena – He signed a one year deal in the off-season as a stop gap. If the Cubs are serious about making a strong play for a long term solution at the position this off-season then it would serve them well to see what they can get for Pena before the deadline. The problem is that the teams who need help at the position are teams that really aren’t very good. The only team I could see having any interest would be the Giants, to replace Aubrey Huff.

Aramis Ramirez – His time in Chicago is coming to a close. We have a club option for him for 2012 at a rate of $16 million. To buy him out would cost $2 million and the Cubs have already said they will not be exercising the option for next season. Unfortunately, Ramirez hasn’t performed and has seen the value of his contract drop significantly. Injuries have been a concern. His no-trade clause ended at the end of the season last year so he’s tradable if you can find a taker. The problem is that if he’s traded, his 2012 option becomes guaranteed. That’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there. Perhaps we can pull one over on the White Sox. They need a third baseman.

Jeff Baker – This is a guy I could see moving before the deadline. In fact, I can almost promise he’ll be gone. Blake DeWitt has done enough to make Baker expendable. He’s a nice, cheap, platoon piece that can play multiple positions that can help a team on the bench down the stretch. Combine that with his low salary and the fact that he’s still in his arbitration years and you’ve got a player very pleasing to the trade pallet.

OUTFIELD

Alfonso Soriano - He’s not going anywhere…period. Stop dreaming. He’s going to rot out that contract in Chicago. I know that’s depressing so let’s leave you with this note on him. His contract through 2014 is $18 million annually. At least that means that he becomes more of a value as inflation takes effect.

Marlon Byrd – He’s a hard worker and a good outfielder. The problem is that his face is broken. That may be a scary proposition for GM. It’s a risky move to give up anything of value for a guy that may come back shell shocked.

Kosuke Fukudome – This is the last year on the books for Fukudome. He plays a good right field and seems to have figured out how to continue to hit once the calendar turns over past May. He could be a decent trade piece for someone looking for on base percentage and defense. He can provide both and provide them quite well.

BULLPEN

Kerry Wood – I would hope to God that the Cubs wouldn’t do it, but you have to think that his value for the price he’s signed for could draw interest from quite a few people. He took a massive home town discount to be here. Don’t screw him over. Let him retire here and then be a part of the organization like he wants to do.

So there you have it. There are your trade pieces. Do you really think a fire sale is coming? Really?

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Minor League Update: Who’s Next

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011


Trey McNutt (Photo: Adam Kline of the Smokies)

by Mark Sherrard of the Cubs Billy Goat Blog

Due to injuries and other factors, the Cubs have employed 8 rookies so far this year:  Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo, D.J. LeMahieu, Brad Snyder, Marcos Mateo, Scott Maine and Jeff Stevens.  Led primarily by Barney’s strong rookie season, the hitters have combined for a .273/.297/.327 line, while the pitchers have combined to go 1-1 with a 6.67 ERA in 29.2 IP.

The youth movement is obviously here for the Cubs, which makes one wonder, who will be called up next.

Here are some possible candidates:

Brett Jackson, OF, Tennessee – there has been talk of a Jackson callup since early in the season, but, as I discussed in the Brett Jackson watch on Friday, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.  If the Cubs continue to be beset by injuries, then its possible he could be called up early, otherwise, I would not expect to see him until September.

Steve Clevenger, C, Iowa – Geovany Soto has already spent time on the DL this year and has been pretty ineffective while active.  Another injury or possibly even a trade could open up a spot for the hot hitting Clevenger, who has a .337/.393/.556 line between AA and AAA.

Jay Jackson, RHP, Iowa – Jackson has struggled so far this year at Iowa, with a 6.31 ERA in 51.1 IP.  However, with the Cubs still searching for an adequate 5th starter, Jackson just might get a shot, if he can get straightened out.

Ryan Flaherty, 3B, Tennessee – the Cubs have already had one rookie skip a level to reach the majors in LeMahieu.  Could Flaherty be next?  Flaherty has hit well (.301/.381/.565) and could get a shot if the Cubs can convince Aramis Ramirez to waive his no trade clause.

Trey McNutt, RHP, Tennessee – the best pitching prospect in the Cubs system, McNutt could eventually force his way into the Cubs rotation.  He is pitching well in AA (2.70 ERA in 36.3 IP), but may need to get some AAA experience first.

John Gaub, LHP, Iowa – despite continued struggles with his command (19 walks in 27 IP), Gaub has been unhitable when he finds the strike zone (43 K’s).  If he can just harness his stuff a bit more, he could get the call if/when the Cubs can find a taker for John Grabow.

If I had to guess, I would pick Gaub as the next callup, mainly because many teams, including the Cubs, like to shuttle relievers back and forth from their AAA affiliate to provide extra depth.  Barring injury, the other players will probably be called up in September.

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Game 65 – Pitchers’ Duel

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Cubs 1, Brewers 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Ryan Dempster pitched around some two-out trouble to escape the 1st inning. He picked up steam as the night rolled along and finished with a solid line: 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 BB, 7 SO
  • After a Darwin Barney single in the 8th, Carlos Pena smacked a pinch-hit double to put two runners in scoring position. Aramis Ramirez grounded to 2B, but Barney beat a close play at the plate. That was the only run of the night. Thanks to Dempster, it was enough.
  • Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless 9th to record his 13th save.
  • Starlin Castro started the series off right with two hits and a stolen base.
  • The Cubs sniffed out a squeeze in the 5th. They made the play interesting with a sloppy rundown, but still recorded the out to keep the game scoreless.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Brewers’ starter Randy Wolf had very little trouble with Mike Quade’s B-team lineup. For a minute I thought I was watching the Iowa Cubs.
  • The Cubs wasted a lead-off double in the bottom of the 1st and stranded Castro.
  • Ramirez just missed home runs in the 4th and 6th innings.
  • The impatient Cubs didn’t draw even one walk.

NOT EXACTLY THE 1927 YANKEES

Tonight’s Cub lineup was less than inspiring. In case you missed it…

Castro SS

Barney 2B

Baker RF

Ramirez 3B

Soto C

Montanez LF

LeMahieu 1B

Campana CF

Dempster P

I know that Quade isn’t blessed with many options at this point, but that’s a bad starting nine by any definition. To almost nobody’s surprise, Randy Wolf carved up the Cubs.

At the plate, Darwin Barney continues to look like a Ryan Theriot clone. Lou Montanez wouldn’t take a walk if his life depended on it. Tony Campana is certainly fast, but that’s about the only thing he contributes offensively. I’m honestly not sure what to make of D.J. LeMahieu. His name sounds like a character on “All My Children.”

I talk to a lot of Cub fans, and many of them say “play the youngsters” (even though Montanez will be 30 years old this year). Others can’t wait for Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, and Alfonso Soriano to return. So I ask you VFTB nation, what do you want to see the rest of the way?

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Randy Wolf & Ryan Dempster (.458 WPA)

2nd Star – Carlos Marmol (.172 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Pena (.166 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: -.241 WPA

Cubs Pitching: +.741 WPA

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Cubs / Brewers – Series Preview

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Probable Pitchers
by MLB.com

Ryan Dempster vs. Randy Wolf

Dempster wasn’t sure he’d make his last start because of a right hip strain, which he felt during warmups. He may want to re-think getting it fixed. He threw 113 pitches over six innings and got the win against the Reds. Wolf had no-decisions in his past three starts. He’s surrendered 12 hits and five earned runs during this three-game span, but also pitched 19 innings and struck out 15 batters.

Randy Wells vs. Yovanni Gallardo

Wells’ last start was cut short after 2 1/3 innings because of rain. Another problem was pitch count: He threw 53 in the abbreviated outing. This will be his first game against the Brewers since Cactus League play on Feb. 28. Gallardo’s six-start winning streak ended with a thud Thursday, when Gallardo allowed 10 hits and threw 96 pitches in four-plus innings of a loss to the Mets. He’s 3-1 with a 3.61 ERA in eight starts against the Cubs.

Carlos Zambrano vs. Chris Narveson

Zambrano had to go deep to give the bullpen a breather in his last start and threw 128 pitches over 6 1/3 innings. He says he’s strong enough to handle it. What he also needs to deal with is not walking as many; he walked seven against the Phillies. So much for the calls to remove Narveson from the Brewers’ rotation. He pitched eight shutout innings against the Cardinals on Friday in a big series-opening win and contributed to the team’s eighth shutout this season.

Matt Garza vs. Zack Greinke

This will be Garza’s third start since coming off the DL with a sore right elbow. In his last game against the Phillies, he gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits over six innings. He lost to the Brewers on April 9. Greinke is on a roll. The Brewers are 7-1 in his starts, Greinke has won six straight decisions and he’s delivered five quality starts of at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs.

Kyle Lobner Scouts the Brewers

Who’s Hot – Prince Fielder entered play Sunday with eight home runs in his last ten games and a .370/.541/.1.222 batting line over that stretch. Even when he’s not hitting the ball over the fence Fielder is doing a very good job of being patient at the plate: coming into Sunday’s game he had 18 walks in his last 20 games, fueling a .506 OBP over that stretch.

Who’s Not – Former Cub Casey McGehee’s bat is showing some signs of life lately, but he’s still only hitting .229/.288/.326 on the season and recently snapped an 0-for-27 skid. His struggles are likely a large part of the reason Prince Fielder is drawing so many walks: putting Fielder on base and pitching to McGehee is going to remain an appealing option unless he gives teams a reason to worry about him.

News / Notes – This Brewer team is in contention in the NL Central and just finished a series win over the Cardinals, but they’ve been much better at home than on the road. They’ll enter play Monday just 13-19 away from Miller Park this season. The Astros are the only NL team with fewer road wins. The Brewers swept the Marlins in their last road series, though, and have gone 7-4 in their last 11 road games.

Predictions for the Series – A week at Wrigley Field could be a good thing for some of the Brewers’ hot hitters, but Wrigley’s reputation as a hitters’ park could lead some of the already-less disciplined Brewers to swing for the fences even more. Don’t be surprised if the Brewers score a huge percentage of their runs this week via the home run ball, and drop a game or two if they catch a day where the wind isn’t blowing out.

You can follow Kyle at the Brew Crew Ball blog on the SB Nation

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Game 64 – And Mercifully The Road Trip Ends

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Cubs 3, Phillies 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What went right:

  • Aramis Ramirez hit his second home run of the week – he’d only hit two homers all year before the last game in Cincinnati on Wednesday.
  • Solid effort from Doug Davis, he kept the damage to a minimum in the first and third innings.  He’s been much better than his 0-5 record would indicate, and frankly he deserved the win in this game.
  • The road trip ended.

What went wrong:

  • Every MLB bullpen seems destined to have someone struggling at any given point; somehow Quade keeps putting the Cubs struggling reliever du jour on the mound at the game’s most critical points.  Sean Marshall is a great reliever; he’s been terrible two days in a row.
  • The Cubs utterly lack patience at the plate.  Roy Oswalt – yes, Roy Oswalt – saw more pitches in his three strikeouts than every Cub except Fukudome and Hill saw all day long.  When the opposing team can run out a pitcher who works the count better than our hitters, the Cubs coaching staff is at fault just as much if not more than the players.  The Cubs’ plate discipline is severely lacking.
  • A ten game road trip on which the Cubs were 2-8.

The Takeaway:

What plagued the Cubs in their final game of the series at Citizens Bank Park seems like a familiar tale.  Hitters swinging at everything, pitchers giving up big hits at key points late in the game, and a complete inability to build on leads.  Since the start of the series at Wrigley against Pittsburgh more than two weeks ago, the Cubs are 3-13.  They couldn’t beat the Pirates and Astros at home (1-5) and that carried over into a 10 game road trip against serious NL contenders where the Cubs finished 2-8.  They’re now 3-13 in a little more than two weeks and have effectively played themselves out of the race.

Increasingly frustrating is the fact that the Cubs can’t even get the little things straight.  Hitters can’t work a count, pitchers can’t execute pitches, and a manager who can’t manage his personnel.  On Saturday, Quade had Blake DeWitt in left field late in the game.  DeWitt played a two-out single into a “double” that managed to score the fleet Ryan Howard from first base.

On Sunday, Quade runs Marshall back out to the same murderer’s row that beat him up for two runs on Saturday.  It’s great to be able to give a reliever a second chance to get back on the metaphorical horse, but the very next day?  In essentially the EXACT same situation?  Yes, it’s hindsight – but those decisions have been indicative of this staff, especially recently.  It seems that no matter how often those type of calls continue to burn the Cubs, the course will not be altered.  The very definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The coming schedule of opponents doesn’t get much easier.  The Cubs need something to change, and quickly.  Maybe it’ll be the health of the players who’ve been piling up on the DL.  Maybe someone, anyone will get hot and start hitting the ball hard in clutch situations.  Maybe our pitchers will all put it together for a string of a couple weeks.

But even if any of that occurs, it’d be nice to see outfielders playing the outfield, hitters taking pitches at the plate, and pitchers getting outs at key junctures late in the game.  Those things CAN be corrected, that doesn’t have to wait until the DL is clear and everyone is back in their proper spot.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Ryan Howard (.413 WPA)

2nd Star – Chase Utley (.283 WPA)

3rd Star – Ryan Madson (.158 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: -.315 WPA

Cubs Pitching: -.185 WPA

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