Archive for July, 2012

Game 95: The Shark Climbs Back Onto His Horse

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Cubs 2 @ Pirates 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Game

  • I don’t really like to call Jeff Samardzija The Shark, or even worse, just Shark. It seems like an unearned nickname–the kind this guy might give himself. (Perhaps I’m just unaware of the species of shark known for sporting skeevy facial hair and losing sight of the strike zone for weeks at a time–after all, I’m no Jacques Cousteau.) But whatever you want to call him, it looks like Jeff has sorted out the problems that plagued him throughout June. Monday night he pitched what might be his best game of the season. While he only posted 5 Ks and 1 BB, he was economical and highly efficient with his pitches–through 8 innings of work, he only threw 99 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. In fact, the only Pirate to reach base against Samardzija was Andrew McCutchen, first on a walk, and then in the 4th on a grounder that pulled Anthony Rizzo toward second base. If Samardzija had immediately broken for first base, it probably would have been an out and he could have kept his no-hitter alive. On the other hand, he looked as sharp as he’s looked all season, and his momentary mental lapse really only cost himself, so it’s a little hard to beat him up too much over it.
  • And since he wasn’t pitching a no-hitter, Dale pulled him after the Cubs added a run in the top of the 8th. Samardzija looked fairly unhappy, and who wouldn’t be if the game of your season–nay, of your young career–was resting in the unstable, untrustworthy hands of Carlos Marmol? Early on, it looked like Marmol was trying to breath life back into the Pirates, or at least make the last outs interesting. He did manage to complete the save–even striking out a pair of batters–but he still gave any Cubs fans in attendance or watching on TV that shaky, uneasy feeling that the wheels were about to fall off again.
  • The game was actually an all-around pitchers duel, with Erik Bedard recording 11 Ks and surrendering only 2 hits. Bedard actually looked as strong or stronger than Samardzija Monday night, but he burnt himself out too soon, throwing a season-high 113 pitches through only 7 innings. (The Cubs showed a little more life against the Pittsburgh bullpen, but still not much.)
  • But really, the Cubs only needed one hit to beat Bedard and the Pirates. It came off the bat of Alfonso Soriano in the 4th inning, as he doubled in Starlin Castro, who had walked to lead off the inning. The two Cubs repeated the scoring performance in the 8th, tacking on another run off a second Soriano double. Other than their tandem, there wasn’t much offense on either side of the diamond Monday. Fortunately for the reeling Cubs, it was all they would need to get back into the win column.

Everything Else

  • Rumors swirled most of Monday that the Cubs had traded Ryan Dempster to the Atlanta Braves for Randall Delgado. For all I know at this hour, the deal still could go through, in one of it’s various iterations (at one point, Jair Jurrjens was also part of the deal). But as of right now, Ryan Dempster is still a Cub. While I’ve seen no direct confirmation of these details, it seems the deal fell apart when it came time to get Dempster’s approval–one popular theory is that he balked at Atlanta’s insistence that he sign an extension. It’s an understandable demand on their part–Delgado was listed by some as the 46th or higher MLB prospect going into the season, so they’d be giving up a lot for Dempster’s remaining starts. On the other hand, Dempster has pitched well enough that he could get a sizable deal in free agency. Either way, blocking Theo & Jed‘s deal might be the best way to get himself in hot water with his current team. We’ll see if the deal survives or if it falls apart within site of the finish line, like this guy (at the 0:20 mark).
  • One interesting side note: the barrage of news surrounding the rumored Dempster trade was partially kicked off by WGN’s own Len Kasper with this tweet. While there had been other reports that the talks had ramped up with the Braves, Len was the first “source” to bid Dempster farewell. I’d love to know how their next conversation went.
  • Just the rumor of the Dempster deal was enough to kickstart the MLB’s trade machine into high gear. The Tigers traded prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn to the Marlins for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez (they also swapped compensatory picks). That would have been the deal of the day, if not for the Yankees afternoon trade for Ichiro Suzuki. New York sent D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to Seattle, while Ichiro made the short walk to the visitors’ clubhouse (the Yankees are in Seattle this week).
  • While the deal for Dempster stalled out, it did help establish a better idea of what they might be asking for Matt Garza, who could also be on the move this week. The primary trade candidate for him seems to be the Dodgers, who will apparently have to part ways with Zach Lee and others to obtain Garza. There’s also some interest in Paul Maholm from his former team, the Pirates. He’s schedule to start against them tomorrow and again next week, and I doubt they’ll let him make both those starts if they really want him back.
  • Whatever happens, don’t expect another motionless day from the Cubs. There was a flurry of trade activity on Monday, and I’m sure it frustrated Theo & Jed no end to miss out on it. I can’t see that happening two days in a row.
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Pirates Series Preview

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Monday at 7:05pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija vs. Eric Bedard

Samardzija needs to keep his pitch count down. In his last start against the Marlins, he was pulled after throwing 97 pitches over five innings. He has one win in his last eight starts. Bedard came out of the 11-day layoff surrounding the All-Star break sharp on Tuesday, holding Colorado to two runs in the longest (6 2/3 innings) of his last six starts. Remarkably, a sixth win would match his most since 2007.

Tuesday at 7:05pm EDT – Paul Maholm vs. James McDonald

Maholm, who pitched seven seasons with the Pirates before signing with the Cubs this offseason, makes his second start in Pittsburgh this year. He took a no-decision on May 26, but is riding a four-game winning streak in which he has an 0.89 ERA. After not giving up more than three runs in any of his first 16 starts, McDonald has allowed four-plus in three of the last five. He hasn’t had his putaway slider of late, but he has become a fierce competitor who doesn’t give in.

Wednesday at 12:35pm EDT – Ryan Dempster vs. Kevin Correia

Dempster’s scoreless-innings streak was snapped in an eight-pitch span in the first inning vs. the Cardinals on Friday as they scored three quick runs. He recovered, and gave up three hits after that. He’s 0-1 vs. Pirates this year. The righty, who could win only on the road last season, has a superior record (4-3) at PNC Park. Correia will try to add on to his career-long streak of five straight wins. But he has needed support for that: He has a 4.05 ERA across the stretch.

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

The MVP of the weekend was an easy choice. Vicki Santo was eloquent, funny, charming, and gracious as she gave Ron’s Hall of Fame speech on his behalf Sunday. I assumed the honor/duty would fall to Pat Hughes, but after listening to her speech yesterday, I’m very glad she spoke for both Ron and his family. I’ll spare you a long-winded description, but let me recommend you check it out for yourself (you can view her speech here). Just know that as the cameras panned the crowd for Cubs fans, there weren’t many dry eyes to be found.

These three games against the Pirates are the figurative chance to get back on the horse after a no-show weekend in St. Louis. The Pirates could use a little more pitching for the run to the postseason, and they have been scouting Paul Maholm. Don’t be surprised if he makes his start Tuesday from the other dugout.

No further word on the Dempster rumors, but while he’s playing a game of Trade or No Trade with the Braves, the Dodgers look like they’re ready to move on Matt Garza.  Losing two of those guys would be a major shakeup–losing all three would constitute a full-on midseason overhaul. We’ll see what we get back in the deals, but we can probably expect that one of the periodic strengths of this team (the starting pitching) is going to change significantly over the course of the week.

Check back here regularly for the latest trade news.

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Trade Rumors, Suspensions and Scouting Reports

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

When I wrote the ESPN power ranking comment last Sunday, I thought for sure that it would be the last time I mentioned Ryan Dempster. The same went for a month ago when I mentioned him. For a guy that is in such high demand, we just can’t seem to get rid of him. There was a time on Thursday night and all day Friday that the Cubs and Dodgers were going at it hot and heavy and that a deal appeared on the way. Dale Sveum even mentioned he had his phone on loud in case he needed to pull Dempster before the start. Then, nothing. The Dodgers have pulled out and have apparently decided to look elsewhere. Now the rumors are that Nationals and the Braves are the leading contenders. To be honest, it’s grown almost as tiring as the Dwight Howard saga.

The more I think about the sheer number of guys the Cubs have available and the number of days left in which to deal them in, the more worried I’m becoming that that value coming back will not be as good. If you read the rumors, teams have interest in a host of players on this roster. That has me wondering if both Jed and Theo are fielding calls. Because of the sheer amount of work that is involved in consummating all these deals, it just seems like you’d have to have both guys working full time on the case and then they can bounce things off each other. That got me wondering if teams have a preference in dealing with one more than the other when it comes to Theo vs. Jed.

Ultimately, I have trust that these next days will be pretty eventful and profitable in the grand scheme of things. At this point, I just want it to be over with so we can let the dust settle and evaluate what we’ve got.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Juancito De La Cruz and Antonio Encarnacion were suspended on Wednesday when the office of the commissioner announced they had violated Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. As a result, both pitchers will serve a 50 game suspension. De La Cruz, in 20 innings of work has a 6.30 ERA with an eye opening 9.0 walks per nine ratio. Encarnacion has not fared any better. Both have struggled to find the plate so the suspensions aren’t really that big of a deal.
  • Speaking of Dominican born players, the Cubs invested $1.5 million in Juan Carlos Paniagua. Ben Badler of Baseball America notes:“Paniagua, 22, originally signed with Arizona as Juan Carlos Collado for $17,000 on May 8, 2009. He pitched in Arizona’s Dominican Summer League program for parts of two seasons with a pending contract (an option that is no longer allowed) but had his deal terminated due to fraudeulent paperwork and was declared ineligible to sign for one year.During his time off, his fastball rose from peaking at 92 mph to touching 98 mph, and in 2011 he signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million as Juan Carlos Paniagua. MLB also terminated that contract due to what the league called “falsified documents” and declared him ineligible to sign for one year, a penalty that ended today.Paniagua hasn’t shown the same velocity he had when he signed with the Yankees—he sat at 93-95 mph at a May workout in Puerto Rico—but his 81-84 mph slider has improved after some scouts last year thought it was a slurvy pitch that graded out behind his changeup. He also throws an occasional curveball, and while he was around the plate in Puerto Rico, his command and pitchability have been issues in the past.”
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had notes on the hot start of Javier Baez this season and had some kind things to say about him:“Expected to be awfully good, Baez has actually exceeded those expectations, earning 70 or higher scouting grades for both his hit and power tools. …he’s one of the top offensive prospects in any league.”
  • Keith Law had a small scouting reporton Jorge Solar’s debut:“Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million dollar deal with the Cubs in June, only DH’d and had three at-bats before he was pulled for a pinch hitter — you know, don’t want to overtax the guy or anything — and did at least get a chance to show how explosive his hands are at the plate. He loads his hands high and deep, but accelerates quickly enough to catch up to above-average stuff, even meeting a few balls out in front of the plate (perhaps because his timing is still off). He’s balanced through the swing and should be able to generate power from his lower half. He grounded out twice but didn’t run hard either time, although his strides are long and easy and he should be an above-average runner when he decides to show it. (His third at-bat was a hard lineout to the pitcher.) He’s in very good shape and his body looks loose and athletic. This wasn’t an ideal look since he didn’t play the field and hasn’t faced live pitching in ages, but at least some of the tools were on display — and yes, I will go back in a week or so to try to see him in the field.”

Discussion Topic for the Day

The Olympic games are quickly approaching, with the opening ceremonies taking place this Friday. Apparently there is an American tradition when it comes to the processional of the opening ceremonies that I wasn’t aware of. When teams march into the stadium, as a sign of respect for the host nation, the entering countries flag bearer lowers their colors as they pass the box that contains the host country’s dignitaries. The American’s, for over a century, are the only country that does not. My question to you is: Are you OK with this?

What’s on Joe’s iPod?

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Game 94: Sweeping Reality

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Cubs 0 @ Cardinals 7

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

 

Choose Your Own Recap
The Cubs paid tribute to Ron Santo in this ridiculous/approrpriate (circle one only) way before taking the field against the Cards on Sunday.

In dropping the final game to St. Louis, the Cubs were again surprisingly/as expected the victims of terrible pitching equaled only by terrible hitting.

Travis Wood terrible in the first, and in case anyone had lingering hope/foolishness that the Cubs could get back in it he used the 4th and 5th innings to turn the game into an early blowout.

Knowing that my Pirate-turn-Cardinal fan of a grandfather would be joining us for lunch, I opted out of viewing large sections of this game. There is nothing more soul-crushing/pointless than watching a Cubs blowout with a Cardinals fan.

The Cubs website has this laughable/egregiously optimistic headline for the game summary, “Cubs offense stays stuck in neutral.” Doesn’t a car have to start to be stuck in neutral? The Cubs scored a whopping 1 run in this series. I’m offering up, “Cubs offense pulled e-brake and slammed into a bridge abutment.”

This series has reminded us again just how not competitive/embarrassing the Cubs are on the road. Perhaps the Pirates can fling us a win or two to help boost morale.

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Game 93: Just When Things Are Looking Good…

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Box Score / Highlights 

The Game: The game was quite brutal tonight. It didn’t start out so bad, but Garza was pulled after 3 innings for cramps in his right triceps. He pitched well until he was pulled, only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out three. Justin Germano came in as relief for Garza and pitched well in his Cubs debut. He gave up 4 hits and 1 run and was replaced by Russell in the 7th. After that it all went downhill from there. St. Louis hit seven doubles and scored 12 times. The last time the Cubs gave up 12 runs in an inning was July 30, 2010, against the Rockies. 

The Cubs did have a scoring opportunity in the first, but it was wasted when Soto grounded out to end the inning. The Cubs were 4-hit. It seems like the hot streak is over and everything is going back to how it used to be.

Summary: The past two games were not good. Hopefully all the stink is out of the Cubs for the week, as tomorrow is Ron Santo day. It seems absolutely necessary to win one in honor of Ron. Nobody loved the Cubs as much as he did.

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Game 92: The Streak

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Good: The good was as scarce as rain in southern Wisconsin. Aside from the sequence of LaHair’s walk, Clevenger’s single, and Barney’s sac fly in the second, not much else happened. Rizzo recorded another hit, making his average an incredible .333. He is .51 points ahead of the other starters on the team. 

The Mediocre: Dempster gave up 3 runs in the first inning, ending his scoreless streak at 33. He is tied with Ken Holtzman who managed the same feat in 1969. 

After Demp’s disappointing first inning, the only other mistake he made was the longest home run at New Busch Stadium, a 469 footer to Matt Holiday. Dempster had a sense of humor about it, saying that it was hit so hard, it traveled all the way to the Arch.

After tonight’s outing, his ERA is a whopping 2.11, which is tied for first place in the league. You know who he’s tied with? Chris Sale of the White Sox. Rumors were speculating about Dempster going to the South Side, and if he was to go there Sale would need to be part of the deal.

Speaking of trade rumors, has anyone heard anything about Dempster possibly being traded?

In all seriousness, I thought he would have been traded to the Dodgers before the game. I am extremely curious to see what happens, because there is the possibility that he doesn’t get traded.

Summary: Today’s Cubs looked like the Cubs we’ve been used to this season. Very little offense and the pitching got into an early hole. There was just a lot of mediocrity on the Cubs end of the game. It has been fun watching the Cubs play well, but can the Cubs win next year with this team? Probably not. 

Colorado: Today was a horribly tragic day in Colorado, after 12 people were killed and 38 were injured in a movie theater shooting. Keep the families of the victims in your thoughts and prayers. 

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The Return of Ryan Dempster?

Friday, July 20th, 2012

For several weeks now, we’ve been saying that Ryan Dempster’s next start could be his last as a Cub. Today it looks like he may have already made his last start for the team–and if he does take the mound this evening in St. Louis, it’s almost sure to be his last time for the Cubs. At least for this season.

The popular notion in some circles is that Dempster loves the Cubs and Chicago so much, he’ll give the team a Kerry Wood-esque discount to return next season. That theory assumes a lot, both on Dempster’s side and on the side of the Cubs’ new brain trust. Under Theo & Jed, the Cubs are getting younger, building an affordable core of young talent from within. Most people expect it to be seasons (plural) before they’re competing for the playoffs, and those are the optimistic projections (see cliches about turning around cruise ships for further details). An aging starter who–despite his recent success–has a spotty track record is most likely not on their shopping list.

On the other hand, the Cubs are very short on quality pitchers. That’s why they brought in Paul Maholm this last offseason, and why Theo & Jed will probably need to go fishing for another innings-eater next year.

If Demptster did give them a spectacular discount, it might be enough to make a return to the Northside viable. It really comes down to what other arms the Cubs are able to assemble through trades during the rest of this year and, and what is available during the offseason. I get the sense that they won’t rush a young guy to the mound just to fill a spot in the rotation. A cheap veteran would help bridge the gap between now and whenever we can field a viable, potent starting rotation.

“Cheap” being the operative word. Dempster is likely to get some excellent offers this offseason, especially if he keeps pitching like he has lately. But even if he stays on his Cy Young pace, he’s not likely to be the best pitcher available in free agency–Cole Hamels and Zack Grienke should both draw more attention and longer contracts. But those second tier guys often get good deals, too. Whether he signs ahead of the high-dollar pitchers, or he waits to sign with a team that missed on their first choice, it looks like he could cash in bigtime once more before his career is over.

But no matter what offers roll in, he’d surely have to leave most of that money on the table if he wants to return to the Cubs. I’m not saying it’s impossible–just highly unlikely. To my knowledge, it’s only happened once before, with Kerry Wood. Or twice if you count Andre Dawson’s famous blank check.

Is Dempster that kind of guy? We’ll find out in a few months.

*****

Just a quick programming note for this weekend. On Sunday, legendary Cubs’ player and broadcaster Ron Santo will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’ve written before (here, here, and here) about my affection and appreciation for Santo, and I’ll be watching closely–maybe tearfully–as Ron is enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ll probably have more to say about the induction ceremony and the speeches about Ron next week.

For now I just wanted to remind you that the ceremony is at 1:30pm ET. It will be broadcast live on the MLB Network, with coverage starting around 11:30am ET. You can also see a special, updated version of This Old Cub tomorrow on the MLB Network at 1:00pm ET.

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Cardinals Series Preview

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Can the Cubs continue their winning ways against their arch rivals in St. Louis? Or will the Cardinals remind us that the Cubs are who we thought they were? Find out in our series preview.

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Friday at 7:15pm CT – Ryan Dempster vs. Kyle Lohse

Dempster’s career-high scoreless innings streak is at 33, the most for a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman in 1969. He hasn’t allowed a run since May 30, spanning five starts, and has lowered his ERA to 1.86. Lohse surrendered just two runs on eight hits in his last start, but the Cardinals lost and the right-hander was awarded a no-decision. He has gone at least five innings in every one of his 19 outings this season.

Saturday at 6:15pm CT – Matt Garza vs. Jake Westbrook

Garza is coming off a win over the D-backs in which he threw seven shutout innings. He’s fared much better at Wrigley, posting a 3-1 record and 2.12 ERA, compared to a 2-6 mark and 5.67 ERA in 10 road starts. Two eighth-inning runs left Westbrook to shoulder a loss in his last outing, which was otherwise a fairly strong outing. All four runs he allowed came with two outs, and Westbrook pitched into the eighth inning for just the second time this year.

Sunday at 1:15pm CT – Travis Wood vs. Lance Lynn

Wood’s four-game win streak was snapped in his last start, as the Fish roughed him up. The lefty gave up a career-high-tying eight runs in 4 2/3 innings, including two homers. He stopped throwing offspeed pitches, and can’t do that to be effective. Despite not picking up the win, Lynn was dominant in his last start. Pitching seven innings against the Brewers, Lynn struck out 10 and surrendered just one run while not allowing a walk for the first time this season.

Our Take

These next few series will be a good test for the surging Cubs. It’s one thing to beat the Diamondbacks and the Marlins. It’s another thing to stay hot on the road against the leaders in your division.

The Cardinals have come back to earth a bit after rocketing off to a great start, but they’re still a potent team, and they stack up well against the Cubs. I’m confident they can be beaten by this Cubs team–I just don’t know if we’ll show the patience and discipline to get the job done.

This will be Anthony Rizzo’s first taste of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. And even if it’s a less-vicious feud than some other big league rivalries, it will be interesting to see how he’s greeted by Jeans Shorts Nation the Cardinals faithful.

Here’s hoping he makes a big impression early, and that the Cubs can keep rolling up series victories on their road to the playoffs mediocrity.

Series Prediction: I’m hoping for 2-1, but expecting 1-2.

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Game 91: Down Go The Marlins

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Paul Maholm threw eight innings of one run baseball. Only one walk as well. It’s amazing what happens when a pitcher throws strikes.
  • Alfonso Soriano swatted home run number 18. I still don’t think he’s tradable, but I’d love to be wrong about that.
  • Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Lil’ Darwin Barney each added two hits.
  • The Cubs are 14-5 in their last 19 games.
  • No errors for the good guys.

What Went Wrong

  • Carlos Marmol gave up a run in the ninth, and yes he walked a batter.
  • Starlin Castro didn’t get a hit or draw a walk. That lowers his 2012 on-base percentage to .308.
  • The Cubs didn’t win 24-0.

Is It Just Me?

I’ll say it again…I really dislike the Miami Marlins. Their uniforms are hideous. The new ballpark is worse.  I can’t stand Ozzie Guillen. And then there’s Carlos Zambrano. The Marlins subpar 2012 has been enjoyable to watch, especially after they flushed millions of dollars down the toilet in the offseason.

Now all we need is a major Ozzie Guillen meltdown to complete the set. I’m talking about a tantrum that would make the “Real Housewives of Orange County” turn the channel in disgust. If history has taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time.

In case I offended any “Fighting Fish” fans, here’s a little Florida/Miami trivia: Who is the Marlins’ career leader in doubles?

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