Archive for July, 2012

Game 100: St. Rizzo Day

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Cards 2 @ Cubs 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game


Full disclosure here: I didn’t plan to watch this game too closely. I had an afternoon full of errands to run, which I expected would last until just after the game ended. I figured I’d fast forward through to the highlights on and piece together a recap from there that would be posted within an hour of the game ending. I don’t like doing it that way, but unfortunately life looked to be getting in the way.

Well, Anthony Rizzo and Paul Maholm had different plans for me. When I got home, I checked Twitter just in time to see that St. Tony added to his growing resume with a walk-off home run. A little more reading and I discovered I’d missed another Maholm gem. With those factors combined, I had to go back and watch…so, I got to see a great game (after knowing the outcome), and unfortunately you, dear reader, get a slightly delayed recap.

The Great (there were a lot of good things – two clutch run-scoring fielders choices to put the Cubs up early, a one-two-three inning out of Carlos Marmol to send it to extra innings  – but today we focus on the great):

  •  St. Tony Wins It – This Anthony Rizzo kid can play a little ball, eh? Rizzo went 3-4, walked once, and drove in a couple runs…a couple of extra inning, game winning runs, that is. Rizzo’s blast in the bottom of the tenth gave the Cubs the series win over the Cardinals, and by my count was the sixth time in 27 games with the Cubs that he drove in the winning run. What I’m trying to say is: I love you, Anthony Rizzo. I may suspend my rule against buying jerseys of non-retired players for you.
  • Maholm’s Gem – Certain to be overshadowed by Rizzo’s heroics was yet another gem twirled by Paul Maholm. The lefty allowed just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings against a Cardinals team that feasts on southpaws, including teammate Travis Wood on Friday. Maholm has now pitched at least six innings without giving up more than one run in six consecutive starts.

The Bad

  • One Bad Pitch – The most unfortunate part of this game is that it should never have gotten to extra innings. Maholm deserved a win for his efforts, but Shawn Camp denied him that joy by throwing a belt high sinker to Carlos Beltran that couldn’t have missed the center of the plate by more that an inch. That sinker ended up in the basket in left center field, ending Maholm’s chance for a win.

 The Ugly

“We can’t be playing well and come in here and lose to the Cubs,” St. Louis’ Matt Holliday said. “We can’t lose this series. But we did.” ~ Matt Holliday

I think I speak for Cubs fans everywhere when I say…well, there’s really no nice way to say it, so fill in the blanks for yourself.


Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Game 99: Samardzija & Cubs Squeeze Win From Cards

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Cards 2 @ Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

This was a game of two important innings, so let’s get right to it.

Top of the 1st
Samardzija was erratic from the opening pitch. None of his first seven offerings found the zone, by his 16th pitch he’d walked the bases loaded without recording an out. Inexplicably the combination of Beltran, Berkman and Molina opted to swing at 5 of the 6 pitches they would see. Two groundouts and one strikeout later, Samardzija was out of the inning with the Cubs down only 1-0.

Bottom of the 1st
The Cubs struck back immediately. DeJesus singled, Castro doubled, and after a Rizzo popout, Soriano tripled to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. This sequence bailed out Samardzija and seemed to settle him in – at least a bit.

Bottom of the 7th
Leading off the 7th in a tie game, LaHair drew a walk and was immediately removed for pinch-runner Campana. Everyone knew Fast Tony was going to try and steal second, the Cards were trying to hold him close. But Campana took yet another base this year off of the great Yadier Molina. Soto singled to right, and with none out the Cubs had runners at the corners. Impatient Jeff Baker, not wanting to take advantage of Joe Kelly’s 7th innning wildness, lined out on the first pitch he saw. Brian Fuentes was brought in, battled Luis Valbuena, and won – two outs.

Reed Johnson had been paying attention, though. Utilityman, Matt Carpenter was at 3B today for the Cards. With two outs and Carpenter playing deep at third, Johnson caught the Cards off guard by bunting the first pitch he saw from Fuentes. After the game Dale would indicate that the bunt was NOT called for from the dugout. Not a very pretty bunt, it was however very effective. Johnson’s sand wedge popped up but died before anyone could catch it; halfway up the third base line, too far to make a play on either Johnson or Campana. The Cubs led 3-2 and the bullpen would eventually slam the door.

Castro’s Single
After Johnson’s squeeze, DeJesus drew a walk from the rattled Fuentes. Castro then with two strikes hit a slow grounder to short. He beat the throw at first but was nevertheless called out. Cub partisans collectively went crazy. Castro was as demonstrative I’ve seen him; replays showed Pat Listach’s disbelief from across the diamond at third. In real time I think it looked closer than it actually was, in part because of how Castro stretched for his final step and then quickly came to a stop. But he was undoubtedly safe. It’s this type of play, in my opinion, that baseball needs to use replay on. There is zero reason to get it wrong. And the time that it took for Dale to come out of the dugout, argue with first base umpire Mike Winters, and eventually get tossed from the game was far longer than it took for replays to reach a conclusive decision on what should’ve been a run-scoring play.  (Watch how Berkman ‘sells’ the call even after Winters had punched out Castro – that should’ve been a big hint that Winters had blown the call)

It’s prudent to remind you now that in the last three games the Cubs have had a HR overturned by an umpire and then incorrectly confirmed as a ground-rule double by replay; and now a clear-cut run-scoring play wiped away by another erroneous call. Two bad calls, one replay, Cubs get screwed both times.

Not his best outing, but with a little help from the anxious Cardinal hitters he managed the damage quite well without his best stuff. He only threw first pitch strikes to 12 of the 27 batters he faced, only 58 of his 104 pitches were strikes, and in his final inning (the 6th) he faced six batters and each of them started with a 1-0 count. He wasn’t around the strike zone much, but he cobbled together 6 decent innings of work.

Take a bloody pitch! In 11 different plate appearances, a Cub swung at the first pitch he saw. In 32 total PAs on the night, the Cubs only saw 116 pitches. For comparison, the Cardinals had 37 PAs and saw 151 pitches. Only their pitcher saw fewer than 10 pitches; meanwhile Soto went to the plate 3 times and saw only 6. The useless Jeff Baker saw 9. It’s maddening. Rizzo gets a new pitcher (a LHP) to start the 8th, swings at the first pitch – misses – and then makes a horrible bunt attempt to first on which he was easily retired. At-bats like that will only lend more credence to the notion that he needs to sit against lefties.

Ultimately, though, the Cubs beat the Cardinals – so none of that other stuff really matters.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Game 98: Let The Games Begin

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights  / Condensed 

The Game: Where to begin? There were so many things that were great and so many things that were terrible. Each inning had unexpected twists and turns that cannot be divided into “good” and “bad” because they were all mixed together. The game had some promise through the first four innings. The Cardinals would take the lead, then the Cubs would come back to tie it, but by the 7th inning it was over.

Pitching: Travis Wood pitched a doozie. He gave up 5 home runs – one per inning – and 8 ER while taking the loss. He was done after 5 innings. Jeff Beliveau made his Wrigley Field debut, striking out 2 and walking one in a scoreless frame. Manny Corpas had the only hiccup, giving up a run, while Russell and Camp finished the game with no problems. Camp did have a great pickoff at first base, catching Jon Jay off guard. It was great. 

If Wood hadn’t dished up those 5 home runs, the pitching would have been good. If only…

Batting: The offense was great. DeJesus started off the bottom half of the first with a triple. Castro hit an RBI single to drive him in. Rizzo hit a two-run blast. It was beautiful and exciting. Lance Lynn had held the Cubs to 2 runs in his previous starts against them, but gave up 3 runs in the first inning of today’s game. 

The Cubs had 2 doubles, 2 triples, and a home run. With all the hitting that was happening, you would think the wind was blowing out. But no. It was blowing in.

Summary: The game had some promise early on, but the home runs killed us. Thankfully the game wasn’t a blow out. The score easily could have been much higher with the hit parade that was happening out there.

I actually got to witness this game in-person, thanks to Mastercard. Nearly everyone who has access to a television has seen their “Priceless” commercials. Well, they are bringing the Priceless experience to Chicago. Anyone who is a Mastercard cardholder has the opportunity to experience the greatest opportunities Chicago has to offer. The experiences range from exclusive dining privileges to meeting iconic Chicago sports figures, and multiple other events.

If you are a Mastercard cardholder and would like more information, or if you don’t have a Mastercard but are curious about the perks of being a cardholder, check out:

They gave a short presentation about the Priceless program, and had representatives from the Chicago Bears, the Cubs, the American Girl Doll Place, the Magnificent Mile, and the Gilt Groupe all share a bit about their organizations’ involvement in the program. It made me want to go open an account with them just for the possibility of doing all the fun things they talked about!

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Cardinals Series Preview

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of

Friday at 2:20pm EDT – Lance Lynn vs. Travis Wood

Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA in three outings against the Cubs this season. He threw six shutout innings against Chicago on Sunday — his fourth scoreless start of the season — and he’s allowed one earned run in his last three outings. This would’ve been Matt Garza’s spot, but he’s being skipped after coming out of his last game with cramping in his right elbow. Wood lost to the Cardinals on Sunday, giving up six earned runs over six innings, including back-to-back homers.

Saturday at 1:05pm EDT – Joe Kelly vs. Jeff Samardzija

Despite turning in six straight quality starts, Kelly is 1-3 over that span. He’s allowed an unearned run in each of his last four outings, but homers haven’t helped his case, either. Kelly’s given up three-run jacks in two of his last four starts. He has never faced any member of the Cubs in the past. Samardzija is coming off his best outing, in which he held the Pirates to one hit, an infield single, over eight innings. He had good command, mixed his pitches well and kept his pitch count down. Let’s see what he does for an encore.

Sunday at 2:20pm EDT – Adam Wainwight vs Paul Maholm

Wainwright outdueled Clayton Kershaw to earn his eighth win on Tuesday. His 7 1/3-inning effort was his longest since tossing a complete game on May 22. Wainwright has pitched well for most of two months now but has run into his share of lousy luck. Maholm is on quite a role. He’s posted five straight starts of at least six innings in which he’s given up one or no runs. That’s a first by a Cubs left-hander since 1918. He’s also won all five. And he loves pitching at Wrigley Field.

How to Pitch to the Big Boys

Each series we’ll take a look at the top power hitters in the opposing team’s lineup to establish how to get them out and minimize the damage. Power doesn’t always mean home runs. It can also mean doubles and triples. To examine that, we’ll focus on Isolated Power. The heat maps show each player’s isolated power based on area of the zone. If you’re not familiar with the stat, Isolated Power or ISO is a sabermetric baseball statistic which measures a batter’s raw power. The formula is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average, which removes all the singles that are included in SLG%. The final result measures how many extra bases a player averages per at bat. By limiting extra base hits, you drastically increase your chance to win the game.

Our Take

By Jeremiah Johnson

Last week’s series against the Cardinals represents the one major blight on the Cubs’ record stretching all the way back to before the All Star break. Did Chicago simply fail to show up in St. Louis, like so much lost luggage?

Or are the Cardinals really that much better than the Cubs? Doubtful. I can’t argue that both teams are on an equal competitive footing, but I also can’t believe that they’re really a +22 run differential ahead of us on any given weekend.

Honestly, I don’t have s good explanation for the complete no-show in St. Louis last weekend. Was it the lingering doubts of Dempster’s impending trade (rumors swirled before the game that he might be traded to the Cardinals, and that he’d make the start for them that evening)? Was it the letdown of surrendering an historically bad 12-run inning on Saturday.

I doubt I’ll ever find a satisfactory answer, but I’d really like to know what made the Cubs completely fold last weekend. Because for all their success against us, I don’t believe the Cardinals are really that much better than the Cubs. And I’m hoping to see some proof this weekend.

Series Prediction: A dramatic, hard-fought 2-1.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

How Has Carlos Marmol Changed?

Friday, July 27th, 2012

I want you to close your eyes for a second….well, now that I think about that maybe that’s a dumb thing to say because it means you can’t read the rest of the post. Anyway, pretend you’re closing your eyes and imagining back to 2007. Imagine watching Carlos Marmol, a pitcher out of the bullpen for the Cubs who was flat out dominant. In case your memory is not that good, here is a quick refresher on the numbers that year.

To put it bluntly in a way all the cool kids these days would understand, his stuff was sick that year. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder he even garnered some MVP votes. It was lights out when Marmol came into the game, regardless of situation that season. As a result, his ascent to the closer role began.

Now, open your eyes if you were dumb enough to still have them closed, and fast forward to 2012 and the disaster that is Marmol as a closer. Things are not quite the same for the right-hander who has seen his stock fall to some of the worst it’s been in quite some time. What happened? How can a guy go from posting a 1.43 ERA to being demoted from the closer’s role and being scorned by fans? It doesn’t make sense. There has to be a cause.

I decided to look at some secondary statistics to make some observations. Are they the reason for the decline? I don’t know. They could be. I’m not an expert, just a fan with an opinion and access to the internet (i.e. – I have no idea what I’m talking about).

The first thing I took a look at was his pitch selection. Perhaps there is a difference in how he’s approaching the hitters. Below is a breakdown of Marmol’s usage of his two primary pitches, the fastball and the slider courtesy of Fan Graphs

Looking at those numbers you’ll notice that with the exception of this season, his fastball usage has declined each year, while his reliance on his slider has increased. There must be a reason that is causing that change, so let’s dig a little deeper to search for why Marmol would alter the formula that was so successful in 2007.

In his time in the Majors, here is his effectiveness based on the two pitches:

Looking at those two charts, there are a few things that stand out.

  • The ability to strike guys out with the fastball is just not there anymore, which the ability to strike hitters out with the slide still remains just as strong as it’s ever been.
  • His ability to control the slider has declined each year which is evidenced by the increased walk rate on the slider.
  • The fastball has become very hittable, to the tune of a batting average over .300 the last two seasons.

As I did more research in an attempt to explain the loss of effectiveness when it comes down to the fastball, I could find only one thing…movement, which leads us to one more chart.

Look at the drop off in movement in 2011 and 2012. It’s a direct correlation to the spike in batting average against. If you throw a fastball to hitters, no matter how fast you throw it, they’re going to catch up to it if it’s not moving. You can’t just rely on heat alone. It doesn’t work. As for the ability to control the slider, I’m not sure I know how to explain that, but when you can’t control that and you’re throwing a flat fastball, you’re going to get hit and get hit hard.

The conclusion to all of this? Well, there really isn’t one. What I set out to do is make some observations. We’ve done that and come to the conclusion that his pitches are just not as effective as they were in the past. I know it sounds like a captain obvious (not that one) statement, but hopefully this was more a look at why the drop in effectiveness.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: