Writing About the Chicago Cubs and Looking at the Team’s Past
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A player like Albert Pujols can only be held down for so long, and the Cubs learned that the hard way on Sunday during a 9-1 Cardinals rout at Wrigley Field. Pujols, who had just one multi-hit game and only one home run in his past ten games hit three homers on Sunday, two off of starter Ryan Dempster and one off of John Grabow. He was going to get hot again eventually and the Cubs were hoping that he would wait until they left Chicago, but Pujols had other ideas.
Dempster had his worst start of the season allowing 6 earned runs in 6.2 innings, dropping his record to 3-5 on the season. His record is not indicative of the way he has pitched though, as is the case with most of the Cubs’ starters. On the other side, Adam Wainwright’s terrific season continued as he gave up just one run, a solo home run off the bat of Geovanny Soto in seven innings. It was Wainwright’s seventh win of the season, and he also lowered his ERA to 2.28. John Grabow made another disastrous appearance allowing three runs in just two innings of work, and seems to have turned into the team’s sacrificial lamb. He has gone from the opening day setup man to a guy that only comes in when the Cubs are down and the game is sufficiently out of hand.
Despite the loss today, the Cubs were still able to come out of this recent challenging nine game stretch with a winning record. The North Siders went 5-4 against the Rangers, Dodgers, and Cardinals which regardless of who you are that’s a pretty good record. Now it is time to see if they can continue to elevate their level of play, or will they revert back to the team they were two weeks ago? Carlos Zambrano is moving back into the rotation on Wednesday and has shown signs of returning to form. He has the potential to give this team a major boost. Tom Gorzelanny has been moved to the bullpen which means that they now have four left-handed relief pitchers. This is why the Cubs’ top pick from 2008, right-hander Andrew Cashner will be joining the team at some point this week.
A nine game road trip through the NL Central will begin tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Randy Wells (3-3, 4.79) will get another shot at it for Chicago after failing to record an out on Friday against St.Louis.
A day after the worst pitching performance of the season by a Cub starter, Carlos Silva may have delivered the best one yet as he dominated the Cardinals for seven innings en route to a 5-0 victory. Coming into this season I’m not sure if anybody thought that Silva was even capable of pitching like this anymore. During spring training he was being discussed as a possible option to be the fifth starter. Silva had a total of five wins the last two years in Seattle, and he was practically given away to the Cubs in exchange for Milton Bradley. At the time it looked like the Cubs were inheriting an overpaid pitcher who was on the downside of his career. Now he is 7-0 and is the Cubs most reliable pitcher. As for Milton Bradley? Well, he’s still acting like Milton Bradley. Thanks Seattle!
Not only was Silva dominant on Saturday, but the offense showed up as well coming up with some clutch hits. The FOX broadcast was clearly looking to make the Cubs lack of clutch hitting the major story line as they put up this gem right before the start of the game:
Last three game: 4-for-30 with RISP
They turned that trend around though by going 4-for-11 with RISP, three of those coming in the fifth inning. James Ottavino who made his major league debut today for St.Louis struggled with his control right from the outset, and Cub hitters quickly recognized this. They induced six walks out of the rookie who lasted 5.2 innings, allowing 4 earned runs. Ottavino also appeared to be a bit overexcited as he was missing high with his fastball all game. Nevertheless, the Cubs hitters took a good, smart approach to the plate and it paid off.
A win in the rubber game tomorrow would give the Cubs their third consecutive series win which would be impressive considering the teams they have played. Ryan Dempster (3-4, 3.31) will go for Chicago, and on the other side will be Adam Wainwright (6-3, 2.38).
Quick note on Carlos Zambrano, he is expected to make his return to the rotation on Wednesday against Pittsburgh. This likely means that Tom Gorzelanny will be the odd man out and will be forced into the bullpen, although nothing is set in stone. We will find out all of the details tomorrow.
The first six batters of the game made all the difference yesterday in the Cardinals 7-1 rout of the Cubs. Randy Wells was unable to record an out yielding a hit to each one of them and surrendering five runs before Piniella took pity and pulled him out of the game. James Russell took over for Wells and was tremendous as was the rest of the bullpen, holding the Cardinal offense scoreless until the ninth inning.
As usual the Cubs gave themselves plenty of chances to score, but they did not take advantage of a single opportunity. Not one. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and it was mostly the middle of the line up that had chances to do the damage. The 4-5-6 hitters: Soriano, Ramirez,and Byrd combined to leave 12 men on base.
Chris Carpenter also did not appear to have his A-game, or even his B-game yesterday repeatedly getting into jams before maneuvering his way out each time. A lot of credit has to go to the Cardinals ace as that is what good pitchers do. When they don’t have their best stuff they are still able to give their team a quality start by bearing down and getting the big outs.
Any loss to St.Louis is going to be a frustrating one, but the Cubs were coming off of back-to-back series wins against two of the major league’s hottest teams. The way that the game felt “over” after six batters combined with all of the missed opportunities makes this one even tougher. However, the Cubs have a chance to bounce back today as they send the suddenly unbeatable Carlos Silva (6-0, 3.52) to the hill. Meanwhile, 24-year-old right-hander Adam Ottavino will make his major league debut for St.Louis. Ottavino was 4-3 in eight starts for Triple-A Memphis with a 4.17 ERA.
Lou Piniella announced after Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Rangers that Aramis Ramirez will get some time off to heal his sprained left thumb. Ramirez played on Saturday (0-for-5, 4 K’s) while sitting out on Friday and Sunday. According to Cubs trainers, the injury is not serious enough to put him on the disabled list. Expect the Cubs to use a combination of Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker over at third base during Ramirez’s absence.
Carlos Zambrano threw 73 pitches during a simulated game on Monday afternoon. Piniella said that Zambrano will make his first start on the road next week, and will not be available to pitch this week against the Dodgers and Cardinals. This is not an opportune time to be down a relief pitcher with two of the National League’s best teams coming to town this week. A decision is yet to be made on which pitcher will be taken out of the rotation to make room for Zambrano.
As stated before this is a tough week for the Cubs even though all of the games will be at Wrigley Field. They will play three against the red hot Los Angeles Dodgers who have won 14 of their last 17, followed by their first meeting of the season against the first place St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs finally displayed some clutch hitting during the final two games of the Texas series, and they will need that to continue this week.
The Cubs could not get the bats going in a 2-1 loss on Friday night against Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers. They had their chances early on, but once again the Cubs failed to capitalize. Lewis was able to settle in and get through six innings allowing just one earned run. Ted Lilly was solid as well for Chicago allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Carlos Zambrano also had a nice outing throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Errors played a critical role in this one, as the Cubs committed back-to-back errors in the fourth inning setting up the Rangers’ first run. What appeared to be a routine ground ball to third base turned into a three base error as Fontenot, who was playing for the injured Aramis Ramirez, sailed his throw over Derrek Lee. Second baseman Ryan Theriot retrieved the ball and promptly launched it into left field advancing Ian Kinsler all the way to third base. Fontenot’s tough night continued when he struck out with runners at second and third to end the eighth inning. The Cubs were unable to threaten again in the ninth against the flame throwing Neftali Perez.
The injury to Aramis Ramirez occurred on Wednesday night during an at bat against Jamie Moyer. He was supposed to receive treatment on Friday, and then he will see how he feels on Saturday. Ramirez is hitting .166 on the season and is hitless in his last three games.
The Cubs are looking to put an end to the Rangers five game winning streak today, as they will send Randy Wells (3-2, 4.13) to the mound. Wells’ sophomore campaign is off to a solid start, and he has shown an impressive competitiveness that this team needs. After lasting only two innings in a start against the Pirates on May 6th, he vowed that he would be better and that would not happen again. He has made two starts since then and has brought his ERA down almost a full run in those outings. Young left-hander Derrek Holland (2-0, 2.38) will start for the Rangers. He started 21 games last year going 8-13 with a 6.12 ERA , but appears to have made some significant strides over the off season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have had the worst bullpen in major league baseball this season. On Monday, they designated veteran right-hander Bob Howry for assignment after posting an ERA of 10.67 through the first 14 games. On Friday, the Cubs decided to sign Howry to a one year deal and he will be with the team for the weekend series against the Texas Rangers. Howry pitched previously for Chicago, and the results were mixed. He struggled mightily his final year with the team recording an ERA of over five. To make space on the roster, rookie Justin Berg will be sent down to Triple-A Iowa, and right-hander David Patton will be designated for assignment.
It is getting old to say, but to me this is just another head scratching move by the Cubs. The veteran reliever does not have the velocity that he used to, and he is prone to giving up the long ball. He allowed 13 home runs in just over 70 innings in 2008, and he has already given up six this year. Wrigley Field also does not compliment his pitching style very well, as depending on which way the wind is blowing seemingly routine fly balls can end up sailing into the bleachers. Furthermore, with the way that the Cubs bullpen is currently assembled it appears that Howry may be asked to assume a prominent role during the late innings. They already have left-hander Sean Marshall in the set up role so it seems like they would want a right-hander to compliment him in the seventh and eighth innings. With Zambrano moving back to the rotation it looks like Howry is a good bet for the set up role. Does the veteran have enough left to still be an effective pitcher in the late innings of a ballgame? We will find out soon and you have to think that Piniella will have him on a very short leash.
The Cubs have been playing better baseball of late, and they will surely take the split of the series they just finished up in Philadelphia. They came very close to taking both games from the Phillies, but an eighth inning rally against John Grabow prevented that. They are currently playing the first of three games down in Texas against the Rangers. Top of the third inning and the Cubs are already 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Ugh.
Just a few weeks after being moved to the set up role in the Cubs’ bullpen, General Manager Jim Hendry announced that Carlos Zambrano will be headed back to the starting rotation. Neither Hendry or Piniella would specify exactly when Zambrano will actually make the move back into the rotation, but they did say that he would be used in long relief to get his arm ready to start. Zambrano compiled a 6.23 ERA in eight relief appearances.
It appears that the Cubs have almost no plan whatsoever on what to do with Carlos Zambrano. The original move to the bullpen seemed premature based on his past and his contract. Being one of the team’s highest paid players, he has to be more than just a bridge to the closer. The Cubs believed that moving him to a one inning role would allow him to throw with more velocity and just blow batters away. Instead, the opposite happened as his velocity actually dropped, routinely struggling to hit 90 mph. Now the team believes that moving him back into the rotation will increase his velocity because he does not start hitting his top speed until the fourth or fifth inning. Didn’t they know this before? If they knew that it took him a long time to get warmed up and to hit his top speed then why was he ever moved to the bullpen? This entire situation has reeked of desperation from the beginning, and now it seems they are just trying to move on.
The Cubs have won three games in a row to move back to 18-22. They are currently 5.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds who are led by former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker. A five game road trip begins tonight in Philadelphia against the first place Phillies. Tom Gorzelanny (1-4, 3.60) will start tonight for Chicago. He has pitched well so far, but has received very little run support which is a major reason for his 1-4 record. The 47 year old Jamie Moyer (5-2, 4.57) who made his major league debut before I was even born (and I’m 21 years old!) will pitch for Philadelphia.
The Pre-Chicago Cub version of Lou Piniella was that of a hot-headed manager who was frequently thrown out of games, and always let his opinions be known. However, since joining the Cubs his demeanor has been far different. Piniella has been calm and reserved both during games and when discussing his team…until today. Before today’s game against Pittsburgh, Piniella called out his highest paid players for not performing up to expectations. Then when asked about trying to get rookie Tyler Colvin more at-bats, he responded by saying that he needed to worry about getting wins, not playing time. It was nice to see Piniella show a some fire because lately it seems to have been missing.
The Cubs responded today with a 4-3 victory, their first win of the season against the Pirates. Chicago was able to overcome an early 3-0 deficit, something they have rarely done this season. They also got some clutch hitting as Xavier Nady got a clutch two out single in the eighth for the game’s winning run. Derrek Lee continues to show some signs of life, coming up with two more hits today including an RBI. His batting average is now up to a much more respectable .238, a far cry from where he was just one week ago. However, Aramiz Ramirez continues to do absolutely nothing going hitless in four at-bats. There are a lot of players that have a bad first month and go onto have a great season, but we are now more than halfway through May and he is still hitting a cool .167. The longer this slump goes on for the less chance there appears to be for a turnaround, and the Cubs really need him to get his bat going.
The next two weeks are going to be a real challenge for this team, as they will take on some the major league’s best teams. They will play two against Colorado at Wrigley Field before going on a brief road trip that will take them to Philadelphia, and then to Texas to face the Rangers. They will then return to Chicago for back-to-back series against the Dodgers and Cardinals. That’s a real tough stretch of games for a team that has been in a slump.
With the Cubs trailing by one run and a man on third base with only one out in the ninth inning, they appeared poised to tie the game. Fukudome had just tripled in a run to make it 4-3 and Ryan Theriot and Marlon Byrd, two of the team’s better hitters, were coming up next. There are numerous ways to score the runner from third base, but the most important thing is to put the ball in play. Neither Theriot or Byrd were able to do it against Octavio Dotel, and the Cubs lost their fifth consecutive game to the Pirates this season. Not many people, not even Pirate fans would have believed before the season that they would start off 5-0 against the Cubs. Chicago is now 2-8 in their last ten games.
After watching Carlos Zambrano pitch on Friday, I am now certain that his move to the bullpen will not work. However, I don’t think that he could fill any pitching role right now. He looks like a shadow of his former self with a fastball that is barely reaching 90-mph, and a slider that has lost its bite. There has been some talk that the Cubs would love to move Big Z, but that is simply not possible. His nearly $20 million contract plus his rapid decline make it that way. Zambrano allowed the first five runners to reach base in his last outing and surrendered three runs.
Today, the Cubs will try to snap an overall seven game losing streak to the Pirates that dates back to last season. Ted Lilly (1-3, 4.88) who says his shoulder is back at full strength will make the start for Chicago. Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00) will pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates, looking for his first win of the season. Hopefully the Cubs can finally get Lou Piniella that 1,800th win that he has been waiting for.
The Cubs wasted a strong rebound start from Randy Wells on Tuesday night losing 3-2 in another low scoring affair with the Florida Marlins. This makes it seven out of the last eight games that the Cubs have scored three or fewer runs and they have lost every one. Ready for a another staggering statistic? Chicago is now 1-16 in games where they score four runs or less. Right now whenever the game is close in the late innings there is an impending sense of doom. This team is delivering no clutch hits (0-for-4 last night with RISP) and the bullpen has been unpredictable (season ERA is 5.16.)
Piniella continues to shift players around in the lineup in an attempt to spark some offense. Derrek Lee moved to the clean up spot last night and came through with a pair of doubles, one of them off of Ricky Nolasco the former Cub prospect who pitched seven strong innings and allowed only one run. The trade involving Nolasco is looking worse and worse as he has developed into a solid #2 type starter, while another pitcher they gave up Sergio Mitre is performing very well for the Yankees this season. The only thing the Cubs got out of this deal was one relatively unspectacular year of Juan Pierre. Not good.
Starlin Castro continues to be the most eventful player on the team as he notched two more hits and another error last night. The two knocks brought his batting average back up to .333 while the fielding error was his fifth already. He committed three errors in his Wrigley Field debut on Monday night.
The undefeated Carlos Silva (3-0, 3.50) will take the mound on Wednesday looking for his fourth win of the season. He has surprised just about everyone so far, looking like the Carlos Silva of old that came up with the Minnesota Twins. Chris Volstad (3-2, 4.12) will pitch for the Marlins as they go for the sweep.
It was a different night and a different opponent, but it turned out to be the same old story for the Cubs. A lineup with five players hitting over .300 continued to find ways not to score, as they went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position in a 4-2 defeat to the Florida Marlins. This was the sixth time in the last seven games that they scored three or fewer runs and they have lost each one of those games. The starting pitching was so good during April that it was able to keep the team afloat, near the .500 mark. In May, this unit has fallen back to being average and the results have not been pretty.
With the losses coming at a rapid rate and the outside pressure increasing, the frustration is beginning to show for this team. It will be Randy Wells’ turn tonight to reverse the team’s fortunes as he goes for his fourth win of the season.
The Cubs let another one slip out of their hands on Sunday, losing to the Reds 5-3 at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Today’s loss marked the ninth time this season that the Cubs lost a game in which they had a lead and also ended their week long road trip at 1-5. The Cubs clawed back from two runs down in the seventh after a wild pitch and a two run homer off the bat of Tyler Colvin. However, the lead was short lived as Joey Votto hit what turned out to be the game winning home run off Ryan Dempster in the bottom of the inning.
Piniella was grilled by the media after the game about his decision to leave Dempster in to face Votto in the seventh instead of going with left-hander Sean Marshall. However, I think that it is hard to argue too much with his decision as Dempster has been the team’s best starter and he was pitching well once again today. Sure, Sean Marshall has been outstanding out of the bullpen and he would have been a better match up against the left-handed Votto. However, Dempster had been fantastic and Piniella went with his gut and decided to try to ride his ace to a victory. Sometimes you just get beat and that is what happened today.
Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez continue to struggle as they went a combined 8-for-46 (.174) on the road trip. Piniella said that he is done talking about them which is understandable, but it remains such a big issue for this team. They have been extremely inconsistent scoring runs and I think the struggles of those two players has alot to do with it.
The Cubs will begin an eight game home stand tomorrow against the Florida Marlins. This is a team in desperate need of some wins right now if nothing more than just to gain a little bit of confidence.
Another solid pitching performance was thrown away by the Cubs on Saturday night, a theme far too familiar this season. Tom Gorzelanny maneuvered his way through six innings allowing nine hits, but only three runs. The Cubs had come back from a 3-0 deficit and had made the score 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Then, they promptly proceeded to have a complete meltdown as the Reds tallied 11 runs over the next two innings against the Cubs’ bullpen. Final score, 14-2. The Cubs are now 14-17, and sit in fifth place in the NL Central. However, they are still just five back due to the recent struggles of the St.Louis Cardinals. So if your looking for positives right now, you can point to the fact that despite the rough start, the Cubs have not dug themselves a hole in the division that they cannot get out of. The Cardinals are a good baseball team, but there is no dominant team in the division this year. At least not until Albert Pujols starts hitting like Albert Pujols again.
A few other notes from the game last night:
Carlos Zambrano was one of the culprits out of the bullpen as he gave up two runs in one inning of work. His ERA for the season is now at 6.75. It’s generally a bad sign for a team if your paying a player nearly $20 million per year and he has almost no role on the team. Right now, if I had to take a shot at what I think his role is it would be something like below average middle reliever that makes fans uncomfortable/disgruntled star player.
Justin Berg allowed six earned runs in the eighth inning, his only inning of work. Nothing surprises me with Berg, at times he has pitched effectively and looked like an asset in long relief, and other times it is like last night where he can barely record an out. The Cubs do like his durability as he has already appeared in 14 games.
Twelve hits and only two runs, a trend that the Cubs are having a tough time shaking. After a one night respite on Friday, the inability to score runs away from Wrigley Field and hit with runners in scoring position resurfaced.
Chicago is trying to salvage this road trip by taking the rubber game today. After being swept by the Pirates earlier this week, this is a game the Cubs really want to have. It would be a series win, and a good, positive feeling heading into an eight game home stand. Real good pitching match up today as the Cubs send Ryan Dempster (2-2, 2.95) up against the youngster Mike Leake (2-0, 2.94.)
What a debut it was Friday night for Starlin Castro, the 19-year-old phenom from the Dominican Republic. The rookie shortstop sparked most of the team’s scoring with a major league debut record six RBI’s. That many RBI’s is incredible for any player to post, but it is even more impressive coming from a rookie that found out he had been called up to the big leagues just 12 hours before the start of the game.
A lot is expected of Castro however, as he was hitting a ridiculous .376 at Double-A Tennessee and had long been billed as the organization’s top prospect. MLB.com also had Castro rated as the 22nd best prospect in all of baseball. General Manager Jim Hendry has mentioned recently that the team wanted to bring up Castro at some point this season so that leadoff man Ryan Theriot could shift over to second base, a position he has played in the past. Mike Fontenot has been serviceable this season (hit a grand slam last night,) but he is not the second baseman of the future. The Cubs are hoping that Castro and Theriot can hold down the middle of the diamond for years to come. This sounds nice and all, but I am going to temper my enthusiasm just a bit because we all know how the last great Cub duo turned out. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you Mark Prior and Kerry Wood! (If you ever want an instant, potentially violent response from a Cubs fan just mention one of three names: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Steve Bartman.)
The Cubs look to make it two in a row tonight after pounding the Reds 14-7 in Friday night’s series opener. According to recent trends, things are looking up tonight as they have won and lost in streaks all season. Most recently they won four in a row, lost the next three, won three, then lost three more. Then there was last night’s big victory and possibly the beginning of another winning streak. The Cubs will send Tom Gorzelanny (1-3, 2.48) to the mound tonight to face Reds ace Aaron Harang (1-4, 6.68) who has had a tough time getting settled in here in the early part of the season.
A four game win streak, followed by three straight losses, followed by three straight wins. Those are the last ten games that the Chicago Cubs have played. That has been the story of the season so far for this team, the lack of consistency, mainly on the offensive side. When the bats get going, the Cubs win. In games where they have scored five or more runs their record is 10-3. When they score less than five runs the Cubs are just 3-10. The bullpen has not helped in some of those low scoring one run losses, but these numbers show that if the offense can just put some runs on the board consistently they are going to win a lot of games because the pitching is there.
The Cubs took control of the game today in the first inning and never let up defeating the Diamondbacks 10-5. Alfonso Soriano had another monster game collecting four RBI’s on two, two run home runs. His batting average is now up to .325, and I for one am extremely surprised by how well he is performing right now. The past two seasons he generally looked old as well as seriously lacking confidence at the plate. He looked lost. But those days are behind him for now as he has now homered in three consecutive games.
The offense posted 33 runs during the four game series with Arizona, is it a sign that the bats are coming around to stay this time? With this team we are really just going to have to wait and see. The month of May should be very telling in terms of the direction of this team. Will they gain some consistency and compete with the Cardinals in the Central or will they continue to hover around .500. There is also Carlos Zambrano, the X-factor for this team. He is the new $19 million set up man and according to recent comments from Lou Piniella he will also serve as the backup closer. He has the ability to give the Cubs a big boost out of the bullpen, but will he do it? Tough to say right now.
The Cubs will get Monday off before starting a six game road trip that will take them through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. A win on Tuesday would put them over .500 for the first time this season.
The Cubs won their second game in a row yesterday over the Arizona Diamondbacks to climb back to within one game of .500 at 12-13. However, they did it in a different way as they came back from a 5-2 deficit in the fifth inning scoring five unanswered runs to win the ballgame 7-5. The Cubs went down initially after Carlos Silva got hit around for the first time all season raising his earned run average to a still very impressive 2.90. Mark Reynolds of the Diamondbacks, the definition of an all-or-nothing hitter clubbed a pair of home runs off of Silva moving his total to nine on the season. The corner infielder set the all time single season record for strike outs last year with a whopping total of 223 while also hitting 44 home runs that averaged a ridiculous 430 feet. He is certainly a fun player to watch, just not when he is teeing off on your team.
It keeps looking more and more like Soriano has rediscovered his swing as he tallied two more hits yesterday including the game-tying homer off of Bob Howry in the seventh inning (something that Cub fans became too accustomed to seeing during his recent stint in Chicago.) He looks like a completely different hitter right now displaying the type of power that made him a force in Washington and New York. The other aspect of his game that stands out right now is the patience he has shown at the plate. A player normally known for his free-swinging approach has been laying off the high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt that pitchers have tempted him with for years. His production along with strong starts from the likes of Theriot, Fukudome, Byrd, and Soto has helped to negate the severe lack of production from Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee in the middle of the order.
The Cubs look to take three of four from Arizona today as they will send Tom Gorzelanny to the mound.
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