Writing About the Chicago Cubs and Looking at the Team’s Past
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After taking the first two games from the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cubs appeared to be on their way to another victory on Saturday. They took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning due to a tremendous performance from Randy Wells who threw seven shutout innings. He did not make it easy for himself, giving up at least one hit for every inning he pitched, but it was another quality start for the right-hander. Wells is now 1-1 with a 1.63 ERA in his last four starts after struggling for all of May and much of June.
Carlos Marmol was supposed to come in and shut the door in the ninth inning and give the Cubs a chance at a sweep on Sunday. Instead, Marmol ended up being the first Cub in 90 years to walk five batters in less than one inning of work. The last man in a Cub uniform to accomplish this feat went by the name of Speed Martin, who walked five Philadelphia hitters and did not make it out of the first inning. Inevitably, all of these walks led to four runs and yet another painful loss for a team that has had more than its share already this season.
Marmol has been good for the most part this season, but anyone who has followed his career knows that he is capable of losing the strike zone completely like he did on Saturday. When Dusty Baker used to run him out there as a starter, five walks in a game was almost a norm for him during his rookie campaign. His control has certainly improved since then and he has become an effective closer, but not an elite one. Opponents are hitting just .153 against the Cubs closer and he does lead all relievers in strike outs with 81, well ahead of the next closest reliever. However, you have to force the other team to actually make contact to beat you and that is something Marmol still doesn’t always do.
It has been a disappointing first half for the Chicago Cubs, a team that was expected to compete for the division crown prior to the start of the season. However, GM Jim Hendry has watched his team flounder and instead of adding as the trade deadline approaches, he will be subtracting. Here is a rundown of players who may be headed out of town in the near future:
Ted Lilly- Here is the kind of guy that you hear about every year at the trade deadline. A left-hander that can eat innings and give you quality starts that nearly every contender is interested in. Lilly is in the last year of a four year deal which makes trading him almost inevitable at this point. The most recent rumors show interest coming mainly from the Mets, Dodgers, and Tigers but other teams are still in play. Hendry and Ned Colletti (Dodgers GM) reportedly discussed the possibility for a deal involving Lilly, as he seems to be their top choice at the moment in terms of starting pitching.
Xavier Nady- The Texas Rangers are already big winners in the trade market after acquiring Cliff Lee on Friday. Now they have their sights set on the veteran Nady who would come in and platoon at first base with Chris Davis. The Cubs would likely receive a solid Single-A or Double-A prospect in return which would make this a nice deal for both sides.
IF Trio of Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Jeff Baker- Expect one, or possibly two of these three to be in other cities by the time August rolls around. Ryan Theriot is receiving the most attention from other teams, and talks with the Tigers were heating up last week. However, discussion between the Tigers and Cubs has slowed and now the Colorado Rockies appear to be very interested in the Cub second baseman. Once one of these guys go, expect the Cubs to bring up prospect Darwin Barney as they look towards the future.
Tom Gorzelanny- The Giants had a scout at Wrigley Field last week watching Gorzelanny pitch. The left-hander has thrown the ball well this year, and would be a good addition for whoever gets him. However, this is a guy that I would like to see the Cubs hang onto for the future. He is still young (about to turn 28) and they can keep him on the team for a low price. With what he has showed this season (4-5, 3.16 ERA) I think it would be wise to not let him go.
Two sluggers that helped lead the Cubs to the playoffs in 2008 are finally getting on track here in the 2010 campaign. Aramis Ramirez and Geovanny Soto combined for five hits and four runs batted in during Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Dodgers out in LA. Each player’s stat line includes a home run, the ninth of the year for Soto and the tenth for Ramirez, who saw his average climb to .209. Normally a .209 average is not a good thing, but it is a far cry from the .160 average that he was sporting in June. As for Soto, he has a .429 average (15-35) over his last ten games with nine RBI’s. Both of these players are counted on as run producers in the lineup and they are finally starting to come around which should mean more success with runners in scoring position. The Cubs actually went 4-6 with RISP, a gargantuan improvement over a week ago when they stranded 17 runners in a win over Cincinnati.
One more positive from Saturday’s game is we finally got to see some fire from Piniella. It certainly was not the classic kicking his hat down the third base line outburst, but he did enough to get himself ejected for the first time all season. It’s interesting that baseball is the only sport where coaches are praised for getting tossed out of games. Bobby Cox, one of the most revered managers in the history of the game has been thrown out 132 times, more than anyone else. Consequently, he is praised by both his players and the media for his actions. In baseball, when a manager gets thrown out he is said to be standing up for his team. In any other sport, he is just a man with a very short temper.
The Cubs and Dodgers will complete their four game series on Sunday, as Chicago looks for the split. Carlos Silva (9-2, 2.96 ERA) will pitch despite minor calf problems that he has been experiencing.
Wednesday’s 8-3 Cubs victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks led to the rarest of occurrences this season. It gave the Cubs a convincing three game sweep, only their second of the season with the first coming back in April against the Brewers. The Cubs also swept a two game set at Wrigley in May against the Colorado Rockies. This also marked the team’s first three game win streak since late May when they took three straight from the Rangers and Dodgers. This sweep is certainly no small feat for a team that has struggled mightily to string a couple of decent performances together since the beginning of June.
There is still no word on Carlos Zambrano’s return to the team. Big Z has been going through anger management treatment as the Cubs advised him to, and is still on the team’s restricted list. The fiery right hander who has been off duty since his meltdown on June 25th is not expected back before the all star break. When Zambrano returns he will be headed back to the bullpen which should be…interesting.
Carlos Silva has been experiencing some soreness in his right knee, however manager Lou Piniella said that he should be able to make his scheduled start on Sunday against the Dodgers.
Final piece of news, the Cubs sent reliever Brian Schlitter to the 15-day disabled list after he hurt his shoulder last Friday against the Cincinnati Reds. Mitch Atkins has been called up from Triple-A Iowa to assume his roster spot, it is his second stint with the major league team this season. However, Atkins never made an appearance during his time with the team in June. With this addition, the Cubs now have four rookies in their bullpen. This is certainly not an ideal situation for Lou Piniella and the Cubs but they have been forced into it due to poor performances and injuries.
The wind was blowing out on Sunday afternoon and the Cincinnati Reds took full advantage of it, bombing the Fighting Colvins 14-3 while the rest of the Cubs took the day off. Well, that’s not quite how it actually happened but it sure felt like it as Tyler Colvin’s two home runs accounted for all the team’s offense on this day. The Reds did most of their damage against starter Ted Lilly and reliever Jeff Stevens. Lilly gave up four home runs in 6.2 innings, and allowed nine runs to cross the plate. Piniella then called for Stevens who faced six batters and failed to record an out while surrendering four runs and two more long balls.
Cincinnati added another home run in the ninth inning off Andrew Cashner giving them a total of seven on the day. You know it’s a bad day when light hitting OF Drew Stubbs goes deep not once, not twice, but THREE times (Stubbs entered Sunday hitting .233 with 8 HR’s). Things got even worse when seldom used backup catcher Corky Miller and his glorious mustache launched his first home run of the season into the seats in left. I would put Miller’s mustache up there in the modern day pantheon of great sports staches, right there with guys like Wannstedt, Ditka, and even newer members like Michael Phelps and Carl Pavano. If you have not seen it yet, seriously, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Overall, with the exception of Tyler Colvin’s two home runs it was just a bad day for the Cubs. They are now 35-47, putting them in fourth place in the Central, and 11.5 GB of Cincinnati. Two series remain before the all star break as the Cubs will head west to take on the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Even though 80 games still remain it feels like we are approaching “last gasp” time with this team. If they don’t catch fire by the end of the month they will simply be too far out of the race to even think about tracking down the Reds or the Cardinals.
It was announced earlier today that Marlon Byrd will be the Chicago Cubs’ lone representative in this year’s all star game. This does not come as much of a surprise as none of the other offensive players have made much of a case to be a part of the game. I think that a case could be made for a couple of the pitchers on the staff such as Carlos Silva and Carlos Marmol, but certainly no complaints about them not making it. This will be Marlon Byrd’s first career all star game appearance and he will be a reserve.
Aramis Ramirez apparently reinjured his left thumb on a swing during Friday’s game and will sit out and work with team trainers to try to get back to full strength. Ramirez is hitting just .177 on the season with six home runs, but he had been better since coming off of the disabled list on June 25 granted it was in a very limited number of at-bats. No timetable has been placed on his return, but it does not appear as though he will be put back on the disabled list.
Lastly, with the trade deadline nearing, several Cub players could be on the trading block. The most recent names being thrown about are infielders Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Jeff Baker. Theriot had carved out a role for himself the past two years as a scrappy, hit-machine but he has not been at that level this season. As for Baker and Fontenot, both have been inconsistent and Piniella has moved them in and out of the lineup. I do believe that these guys could help a contender as a utility player, but they are being looked at for more than that. Teams such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit are all looking for help at second base, but if they are thinking that one of these three can be an everyday player for them they should probably look elsewhere. It should be a very interesting month for the Cubs with the potential for a lot of player movement.
The Cubs got the good Randy Wells on Saturday. They got the Randy Wells that pounds the strike zone (71 of 99 pitches were strikes), makes it deep into games, and keeps hitters off balance. It was certainly a welcome sight for Lou Piniella as Wells took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds, surrendering just one walk through the first 19 batters. Wells eventually got the win ending his six game losing streak making him 4-6 on the season. Unfortunately, they needed every ounce of effort from the young right-hander because well, the offense was doing a whole lot of nothing…again. Chicago went on to win the ballgame by a score of 3-1, and it took everything that the Cubs had to push those three runs across.
In recent days, the Cubs were not scoring because they were not creating any chances for themselves. On Saturday however, there was no shortage of scoring opportunities. Seventeen. That is the number of runners that the Cubs left on base, one shy of the National League record of 18. For the game they were 3-16 with runners in scoring position, a trend that simply will not go away. It is in the players’ heads and they have said as much. It is too bad that even in a Cubs victory where the starting pitcher took a no-hitter into the seventh that the main story continues to be their inability to drive runners in.
The Cubs and Reds will play the final game of this four game series today at 2:20. Chicago is looking for the split by sending Ted Lilly (3-6, 3.12) to the mound against rookie right-hander Mike Leake (5-1, 3.30). Ted Lilly has received little to no run support this season, and the offense already has a difficult task today going up against Leake. Tough assignment for a team trying to break records that nobody wants.
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