Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cubs improve to 15-6, but with no help from Lou

I guess if your team is as good as the Cubs have been playing, you really don't need to pay attention to the in-game moves you make as a manager. At least, that must've been what Lou Piniella was thinking.

All of you know that I've had very little issues with the way Piniella has managed the ballclub, but his decisions in Wednesday's extra inning win over the Rockies brought me back to the days of Dusty Baker managing the Cubs. No, actually, even Dusty wasn't this bad...

Down by a run in the ninth inning, Derrek Lee stroked his fourth hit of the game: a one-out single into right field. But, the most shocking thing was when Pie popped out of the dugout and ran for Lee. Granted, Lee left several of the recent blowouts early because he was battling a sore neck, but taking the best player out of the game in a one-run game in the ninth is absolutely absurd, unless he physically was unable to continue playing. That wasn't the case; there was no mention of a Lee injury after the game.

Never mind the fact that Lee runs well (which he does). Never mind the fact that there was a strong possibility that the game would go into extra innings (which it did). Never mind the fact that there was a strong possibility that Lee's spot in the lineup would come up again (which it did). We needed to keep Derrek's glove on the field. Mark DeRosa played first base for the final two innings of the ballgame and played it well, but some of the incredible plays that Lee has already made earlier in the season were plays that swung games. We shouldn't have taken that risk.

Then, in the tenth inning, after Theriot singled home what would be the go-ahead run, Jason Marquis was summoned to pinch run for Daryle Ward at second base. Now, you might ask "What was wrong with that?", but the issue was that Ward was allowed to run for himself at first base after he was intentionally walked. I had theorized that perhaps Marquis, who was the next day's starter, was already back at the team hotel. That's standard practice for many teams, especially with a day game following a night game. But, that wasn't the case. Simply, Piniella waited to make a move that he was going to make anyway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No Soriano, No Problem

At the risk of setting on a jinx (we're 13-6 on the year and 13-5 since I last wrote here), I sense something coming so I have to write about it. This is for all you ignorant people out there. The people who say that it's always so easy to second guess a move, just because it turned out poorly. I've never second-guessed any move based on the result alone. In fact, the result is pretty insignificant when it comes down to it. (For example, pinch hitting Rich Hill for Derrek Lee close and late in a ballgame is a bad move, no matter what. Even if Hill drives in the winning run, it's a bad move.)

But, there are those of you that think that you haven't actually accomplished anything if you don't pre-emptively make these kinds of statements. So, here it is.

Since the injury to Alfonso Soriano, many Cubs have had different opportunities to flourish in different roles. Reed Johnson has fit very nicely into the leadoff slot for the team and Ronny Cedeno is making the most of his extra playing time. In fact, in his last three games, Cedeno has five hits and five RBI and a ton of good at-bats. He hit eighth all three games, but did well, so he should be moved up, right?

Wrong.

While I know this may sound a little over dramatic (but please understand, I'm intentionally doing this to make a point), this is a huge point in Ronny Cedeno's career. He was supposed to be the shortstop of the Cubs' future but has continuously struggled and saw Ryan Theriot leapfrog him on the depth chart. Cedeno had a good winter, but probably should not have made the team on his own merits. The way it turned out though, Murton had options, Cedeno didn't. So Ronny stayed.

Now, he's starting to find his groove, coming up with clutch base hits, and starting to find a rhythm. Let's not mess with that. I certainly agree that Ronny Cedeno has earned himself at least one, if not two or three, starts in the lineup, but moving him up in the lineup would be a preposterous idea! Never mind the fact that Johnson and whichever Cajun plays that day make up a good 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup, you don't want to put Cedeno in a big spot. Let him hit in the eight hole. If a big spot naturally comes to him, so be it. But, the last thing you want is the heart of your lineup rolling through late in the game and seeing Cedeno's name in the mix.

Granted, if two weeks from now, Cedeno is still seeing the ball well, it's something to consider. After three games, though? He's earned nothing more than staying in the lineup for the immediate future.

Poor umpiring: While watching our 7-1 victory over the Mets, I saw two horrible calls made by the men in blue. In the sixth inning, Mark DeRosa was called out by homeplate umpire Angel Hernandez on a check swing. I never understand when umpires do that. There's no reason to try to get a notch on your belt. Just get the call right, ask the base umpire. Besides, if you, as the plate umpire, are claiming that you did get a good look at the bat, then you didn't pay enough attention to the thing you are supposed to be watching: the pitch! Then, in the eighth inning, Mets set-up man Aaron Heilman balked twice in a span of one second, but none of the umpires caught that.

I should point out, though, that I get upset when people bitch about the umpires. Everyone's quick to blame losses or bad calls on umpires, but when your team catches a break due to a bad call, it seems to be forgotten. For that reason alone, I feel obligated to remind everyone that it took two blown calls from Adrian Johnson and ten innings for us to avoid the sweep in Philadelphia earlier in the month.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Nothing Piniella could do about it...

What a heartbreaker.

Looking back at Opening Day 2008, it would be easy for fans to question how Piniella handled the pitching staff, especially towards the end of the game. But, there really wasn't much Lou could've done with the situation; he pushed all of the right buttons and unfortunately for us, the players just couldn't execute on the field.

I know people will call for Kerry Wood's head. I know people will want Carlos Marmol to be the closer, but the fact that Marmol was even in consideration for the closing job was outrageous. Marmol is nothing more than an unproven journeyman who had one career year last year. To hand him the reins of the closing duties for the defending NL Central Champions is a ridiculous thought. Personally, I would've preferred Howry (actually, everyone knows that I would've left Dempster right where he is), but Wood was an equally acceptable choice. Let's not jump down the their throats; they'll be incredibly valuable pieces of the puzzle down the road.

But, there were many other things that could've changed the outcome of today's game, and it's clear that the Cubs are either still trying to shake off of the rust from Spring Training or have picked up right where they left off in 2007 as far as athletic effort.

With Fukudome on 3rd base in the second inning, Felix Pie struck out on a Sheets breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning, but didn't get a quick start out of the box. Even after the late break, Pie barely jogged down the first base line only to have an errant Kendall throw pull the first baseman off of the bag. Fielder calmly stepped off the bag, received the throw, and kicked the cushion a full step ahead of Pie. Now, what if Pie was running at full speed right away? Does he beat the throw? Does Kendall throw it away? Who knows?

Geovany Soto also showed that he had a long way to go. With two men on and just one out, Soto stepped up the plate in the 7th inning to try to break what was then a scoreless tie. Kendall blocks a pitch in the dirt and the ball caroms off of Soto in the box. Meanwhile, Fukudome reads a wild pitch and starts to break for third, only to be trapped in no man's land when the ball lands in front of Kendall's feet. Now what's my point? Veteran ballplayers are usually good at motioning to the baserunners whether to stay or go on a pitch in the dirt, but Soto stood there motionless. Again, I'm not saying that Fukudome wouldn't have been picked off had Soto told him to stay put; in fact, Fukudome got such a great jump, he was probably forty feet off the bag by the time the ball hit Soto. But, the least Soto could do is inform his teammates as to the location of the baseball.

Also, in the tenth inning, Soto took a roundabout route to a Braun pop fly with two men out in the inning. Again, the play didn't seem to hurt us directly, as Braun was later fouled out to Fukudome (who, by the way, never gave up on the ball because he knew which way the wind was blowing), but Soto again showed that he definitely could use some improvement on the more subtle aspects of the game. Everyone in the ballpark (and most of us at home) knew that the ball was going to land down the third base line. Everyone but Soto.

After all, in the bottom half of the same inning, veteran catcher Jason Kendall quickly accounted for the wind on a Soriano foul out and was positioned perfectly by the time the ball reached ground level again.

The team also needs to work on infield communication. On a play to begin the seventh inning, a pop up near the mound caused a collision between Lee and Zambrano, which eventually led the early exit of our pitcher. Granted, I'm not saying this changes the outcome of the game either. Had Zambrano tossed eight scoreless innings, I still turn the ball over to Wood in the ninth and Howry in the tenth. But what is clear is that something went wrong. We certainly don't want our all-star first baseman clipping our ace pitcher every time a pop fly is hit on the infield.

So maybe Piniella can be blamed for the out-of-game ways he handled his team. Certainly, it's his responsibility to make sure that the players have all these things sorted out before they break camp. (Or at the very least, his responsibility to make sure someone else gets it sorted out.) But, Piniella made all of the right in-game decisions.

Now only if we could've gotten Fukudome up to the plate in the tenth...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

After day off, Cubs return

The Cubs are 7-12 after taking their off-day in the Cactus League season and the roster for Tuesday's exhibition game looks a lot like what we might expect to see on March 31.

But, the way the 25-man roster will shape up on Opening Day is actually less clear now that what it was heading in the Spring Training. Here is how I see the depth chart. The names in bold are locks and the stats you see are the Cactus League numbers. They have been sorted so it's best to see what the team might look like.

STARTING PITCHERS
Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 0.60 ERA in 14 IP)
Ted Lilly (6.00 ERA in 9 IP)
Rich Hill (0-1, 6.35 ERA in 11 IP)

Jon Lieber (1-0, 1.80 ERA in 10 IP)
Jason Marquis (0-1, 2.00 ERA in 9 IP)
Ryan Dempster (2-1, 6.75 ERA in 10 IP)
Sean Marshall (3.24 ERA in 8 IP)

RELIEVERS & CLOSERS
Kerry Wood (3.86 ERA in 9 IP)
Bob Howry (11.81 ERA in 5 IP)
Carlos Marmol (1.29 ERA in 7 IP)
Scott Eyre (9.82 ERA in 3 IP)
Michael Wuertz (0.00 ERA in 6 IP)

Tim Leahy (1.23 ERA in 7 IP)
Kevin Hart (2.70 ERA in 6 IP)
Neal Cotts (12.00 ERA in 6 IP)
Carmen Pignatiello (0.00 ERA in 4 IP)
Jose Ascanio (6.43 ERA in 7 IP)

CATCHERS
Geovany Soto (.241/.353 in 29 AB)
Henry Blanco (.200/.238 in 20 AB)


INFIELDERS
Derrek Lee (.167/.262 in 36 AB)
Mark DeRosa (.267/.353 in 15 AB)
Aramis Ramirez (.263/.391 in 19 AB)
Ryan Theriot (.333/.349 in 42 AB)
Daryle Ward (.500/.522, 2 HR in 22 AB)

Mike Fontenot (.250/.341, 2 HR in 36 AB)
Micah Hoffpauir (.439/.442, 2 HR in 41 AB)

OUTFIELDERS
Alfonso Soriano (.370/.419, 2 HR in 29 AB)
Kosuke Fukudome (.229/.378, HR in 35 AB)
Felix Pie (.290/.371, 2 HR in 31 AB)
Matt Murton (.359/.419 in 39 AB)

Sam Fuld (.172/.359 in 29 AB)
Eric Patterson (.300/.362, HR in 30 AB)

The way I see it, it's still foolish to try to project the 25-man roster with a week-plus of games remaining and the rumors of a Brian Roberts deal still lingering. However, Tim Leahy looks like he's throwing the ball well enough to make the team and Jon Lieber seems to have earned a spot in the rotation.

With the lack of a clear fifth outfielder and the fact that Micah Hoffpauir is on fire this spring, could there be a chance that Piniella decides to break camp with seven infielders and four outfielders? Besides, Ward, DeRosa and Hoffpauir can all play a corner spot in the outfield in a pinch.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Marquis' arguments justified

I don't understand all of the Jason Marquis hate going around here.

Jason Marquis has won 54 games in the last four years, including at least 12 in each of those years and he is being forced to compete for a job in the rotation? I understand where Piniella's coming from: he does have seven starters, but to say that all seven pitchers are on the same level playing field is ridiculous.

Granted, with the amount of capable options, Marquis could lose the job during Spring Training, but he should be as much of a lock for number four as Rich Hill is for number three. If my number four starter can win 14 games while posting a 4.60 ERA, I'd be ecstatic. And that's exactly what Jason Marquis has been averaging since 2003; he's got potential to be even better. I challenge all of the Marquis haters to name a better number four in this league. He might be one of the top three (if not the best) #4 starter in the National League today!

Dempster should be fighting for a spot in the rotation. Lieber should be fighting for a spot in the rotation. Marshall should be fighting for a spot in the rotation. Not Marquis.

But what are you going to do? Send Marquis to the minor leagues? Move him to the bullpen? He's an established big league starter and he should remain that way. I, too, am upset that he is being asked to compete for a job.

For once, I do agree with the player.

Partly, blame Jim Hendry for this for signing Lieber. (Note that I say blame in the same tone that I call having too many pitchers a problem.) Initially, we suspected that the Lieber signing was because the Cubs planned to flip Marquis or Marshall to the Orioles in a trade for Brian Roberts. Judging by the Cintron signing, we still think that a Roberts deal is in place, and there's still a very good chance that this thing gets done.

We'll see how things turn out.

Wood, Howry compete for closing job: With Kerry Wood and Bob Howry competing for the spot as the club's closer, both allowed at least a run in their Saturday Cactus League outing. However, I can't help but noticing that both pitchers threw the ball extremely well. Wood got victimized for three bloop hits and a homerun that looked like a shallow fly coming off the bat and Howry also suffered a slew of soft hits.

If you ask me, both showed they are capable of closing. But we already knew that.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Here we go again...

The first game in Spring Training hasn't even started yet and already the Cubs are fibbing on the health of their players.

Mark DeRosa was taken to a hospital on Saturday after experiencing an irregular heartbeat. The initial report had said that he was released from the hospital that night. Only another report came out today, saying that he actually stayed in the hospital overnight.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say anything negative about DeRosa or minimize his condition. I understand that it's a scary situation and I know that it's an issue DeRosa has had before. What I'm confused about is why the team initially reported that he had been released. It didn't say that he was expected to be released or that he was going to be released. But, the report said that he was already released. Obviously a lie, since now they are saying he spent all of Saturday night in the hospital.

Quite frankly, I don't understand why they find a need to lie about things like this. As far as an injury is concerned, I can understand why they might lowball the injury: to play a little gamesmanship to the other teams and a little optimistic thinking. But why would you lie about something like where a ballplayer spent the night in the middle of February. The season is still a good six weeks away, and we all know (at least, we think so) DeRosa will be ready to go come March 31 and much before then. So what's with the lies?

Anyway, it looks as though Kerry Wood has yet to slip in a hot tub or have his arm fall off. Let's hope at least he can stay healthy.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Marmol throwing winterball?!?

So, I was glancing over the rosters for the Winter Caribbean Series that is going on right now and imagine my surprise when I saw our ace reliever, Carlos Marmol's name on the roster!

After the type of season that Carlos Marmol posted last year, plus my already quivering confidence that he had a fluke season, I would've thought that the number one thing on Carlos Marmol's to-do list this winter is rest. Especially after the signs of fatigue he showed in late September and the postseason.

But, nope. Carlos Marmol is pitching for the Dominican Republic, less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to Spring Training. I'm not sure what Marmol hopes to achieve in winter ball. He's got a spot solidly locked in the thick of the Cubs bullpen for 2008; only bad things can come out of this decision.

For what it's worth, though, Marmol has been pitching well. In two appearances, Marmol has tossed 2 1/3 innings of hitless, shutout ball, allowing just one walk while fanning five.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Looking ahead to 2008

A couple of days ago, Lou Piniella announced what he thinks he would most likely use as the Opening Day lineup on March 31. I'm sure all of you have seen it by now, but here it is anyway:

Soriano, lf
Theriot, ss
Lee, 1b
Ramirez, 3b
Fukudome, rf
DeRosa, 2b
Soto, c
Pie, cf
Zambrano, p

While I don't necessarily disagree with his choices, I would do some things differently. I'm not trying to say that Piniella's lineup is undoubtedly wrong, like some of Baker's choices were, but if I had it my way, the lineup would read...

1. Alfonso Soriano
Okay, so he's not your typical lead-off hitter and his bat would be more useful elsewhere in the lineup, but let's face it: if Soriano doesn't get to lead off, he bitches and moans. Having him lead off might as well have been a clause in the contract that brought Soriano to the Cubs long term. When we were signing him, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Hopefully, he'll be happy and keep his mouth shut.

2. Mark DeRosa
This may be the toughest decision in the lineup. Those that are for Theriot being in this spot prefer DeRosa in a run-producing spot in the lineup. But, we saw that Theriot's productivity goes down with each passing at-bat and while he should be a little more acclimated to a full season in 2008, we should still try to protect Theriot as much as possible. Besides, Theriot finished with an on-base percentage below Soriano's last year; I don't want a pair of .320-something's at the top of the order.

Theriot does a lot of things that a two-hole hitter should do: take pitches, lay down bunts, and hit behind the runner. But what's the point in having a prototypical number two hitter if you don't have a lead-off man that gets on base. Among the very few times that Soriano reaches, an unusually high proportion of those times will be a double or a homerun. Soriano usually doesn't stop at first base.

(If we get Roberts, he hits here. Soriano is the lead-off man. Period.)

3. Derrek Lee

4. Kosuke Fukudome
I fully expect Fukudome to be able to, at the very least, match Cliff Floyd's production from 2007. With that having been said, that should translate to about a .370 on-base percentage and 10-15 homers with a load of doubles. I had no problem hitting Floyd in between Lee and Ramirez and Fukudome is faster and has potential to be greater than Floyd, so why shouldn't he get to bat here? Besides, breaking apart Lee and Ramirez with a lefty in between can never be a bad thing.

5. Aramis Ramirez

6. Geovany Soto
Maybe I'm stretching a little bit with Geovany Soto, but I have him penciled in for production similar to what Michael Barrett has been doing for us in the past few years. That's a .280 or better average with about 15 homers and 20 or more doubles. If he can do that, then he provides more than enough protection for Ramirez in the lineup, especially if Lee and Fukudome reach base ahead of him. Teams would think twice before loading up the bases to get to Soto...

7. Ryan Theriot

8. Felix Pie
Felix Pie is surrounded by six very good bats and a seventh very capable bat. The way he plays defense, I would be okay with Pie brought little to no production offensively. As long as the top seven can mash the ball and the pitching lives up to expectations, there is no reason why you wouldn't run Pie out there every day.

General Notes:
Obviously, this lineup shouldn't be set in stone. If Ryan Theriot gets hot and proves that maybe he could maintain an on-base percentage around .350 for the entire year, then he would probably be the best candidate for the two-hole hitter. If you remember, Felix Pie also hit second for a small portion of the season last year and did very well. I don't expect Lou to write the Opening Day lineup exactly for 100 games out of the season; it's just a starting point.

Lou's starting point is an okay starting point. I think my starting point is equally valid. Once we are three-plus weeks into the season, the starting point won't matter anymore. Lou showed his willingness to flip-flop the order and juggle the roster when things weren't working and so it's really not a big deal what the team looks like on the first day. Once the season gets going, Piniella will make the appropriate changes, if necessary. Whether he's right or I'm right or a combination of the two, you can rest assured then when the pieces fall into place, Lou will know what to do with them.

1. Carlos Zambrano
What a nutcase this guy is. He wanted to let Lilly start on Opening Day, but that's not his decision to make. Carlos Zambrano is the ace of this team, despite what I may have said or thought at certain points during the 2007 season. Sure, there are times when another pitcher might be hotter than Zambrano, but in the grand scheme of things, few are better than Zambrano. I would start him on Opening Day, and Lou has said he would as well.

2. Ted Lilly

3. Rich Hill
Wow, this 1-2-3 is about as good as they come. I honestly believe that Zambrano, Lilly and Hill could combine for as many as 45 wins in 2008. (Zambrano just over 15, Lilly around 14-15 and Hill just under 14-15.)

4. Jason Marquis
I know a lot of people don't like him, but I don't understand why. Marquis has won 12 or more games in each of the last four seasons. And while I don't know the exact record of the Cubs in games in which Marquis has started, Marquis personally went 12-9. This means the team was, most probably, over .500 in all of Marquis' games. It's not like we need him to be the ace of the ball club; winning more than half of your games started by your number #4 starter is pretty good.

5. ??????
Sean Marshall filled in admirably in this role last year and he, among others, will be in the running for this spot. Ryan Dempster was moved out of the closing role, presumably to make room for Wood, but also to compete for this spot. Sean Gallagher is also in the mix, as is Kevin Hart.

Then, last week, the Cubs signed former 20-game winner Jon Lieber. Despite the fact that he has battled with injuries (albeit, not arm related) and that he will be 38 this season, Lieber will most likely be the fifth starter as long as he's healthy and consistent.

Closer: Bob Howry
I don't understand why Dempster was taken lost this job. A closer's duty is simple: finish the game with your team winning. If a closer has a three-run lead, any baseball enthusiast knows that he should go out there and pump strikes. He does, and the batter inexplicably swings at the first pitch and hits a homerun. How is Dempster to blame?

Throwing more strikes with a multiple run lead is the obvious thing to do. Even though you know that you'll give up the occasional solo bomb, that's still what you expect the guy to do. So don't blame him for the homeruns that he does give up. The closer's job is the preserve the lead, and Dempster ranked second in the league in save percentage last year.

Anyway, Wood is the popular choice and also appears to be Lou's choice. I would much rather see Howry as the team's ninth inning man (too late to move Dempster back now) as he has done it before, but I suppose Wood might have a higher ceiling.

RH Set-Up: Kerry Wood

LH Set-Up: Scott Eyre
As bad as he was for parts of the season last year, the fact that he lowered his season ERA all the way to 4.13 says a lot about how good was as well. Exactly how good was he? How about 2 runs and 17 hits in his final 25 innings? Oh yeah, he's definitely re-earned the role of being the top dog (and maybe only dog) among lefty relievers.

Middle Relievers: Carlos Marmol, Michael Wuertz
The fact that Marmol and Wuertz are considered the fourth and fifth best relievers in the bullpen should say something about how good the bullpen is. Marmol has little to no experience pitching as a closer, let alone as a closer for an entire season. We saw him starting to show the kinks in the armor late in the season, which is something that you won't see from Howry and Wood.

Until Marmol proves to me that he didn't have a fluke season (see: James Baldwin), he is at least third in line for the closing job.

Two spots remaining...
Tim Leahy immediately pops to mind, because we traded for this Rule 5 pick. A second lefty, either Ascanio or Pignatiello, also raises some eyebrows. Kevin Hart impressed a lot of people at the end of the season last year and the loads of pitchers that competed for and didn't get the fifth starting job also get thrown into the mix here.

Hendry and MacPhail are still talking potential trades and there's also a month of preseason before the roster needs to be cut down to 25, so trying to pick the two guys that would make the roster right now would be foolish.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cubs, Lieber re-unite

While the rumors about Brian Roberts coming to the Cubs appear to be on-again, off-again, the team did announce that they have agreed to a deal with former 20-game winner Jon Lieber.

The one-year deal worth at least $3.5MM puzzles me, as I don't expect Lieber to bring more to the table than what Dempster is capable of. Nonetheless, the deal does bring options for the team and that can't be all that bad. It might come at a slightly high price, but options are options.

Among those options include trading either Rich Hill, Jason Marquis or Ryan Dempster. While Hill would definitely put more meat on the table, Cubs' GM Jim Hendry has said that Hill, like Pie, is untouchable. Another option is to move Dempster back into the bullpen, though it's unlikely that Piniella would consider him for the closing role. In any event, speculation is that Lieber will make the rotation somehow and Sean Marshall would be the sixth man.

Quite frankly, I hope that Jason Marquis stays in the rotation, because otherwise it would mean that both Dempster AND Lieber will be. Whether or not Dempster can return to being a starter is a large question mark and Lieber's health and ability to pitch at his age is equally uncertain. Sure, they both have upsides, but with Marquis, you know that you'll be getting at least 12 or 13 wins. If our top four pitchers could combine for 55+ wins, we'd be in good shape.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cubs close to landing all-star Roberts

A couple of sources have reported that Roberts was traded to the Cubs, only to have other sources come out and say those reports are false. However, the general consensus is that the deal is all but finalized. Gallagher, Marshall, and Cedeno would be going in the other direction.

I'm getting giddy just thinking about our lineup for 2008. Should Roberts lead off? Yes. Will he lead off? I don't think so.

1. Alfonso Soriano
2. Brian Roberts
3. Derrek Lee
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Kosuke Fukudome
6. Geovany Soto
7. Ryan Theriot
8. Felix Pie

Not bad. Not bad at all.

In a dream world, Roberts would be a shortstop or center fielder, so he can replace either Theriot or Pie and keep Mark DeRosa in the same lineup. In a dream world, DeRosa could slide over and play shortstop to replace Theriot. (In a dream world, Soriano would move down in the lineup.) Even so, the opportunity to land of a guy the caliber of Brian Roberts should not passed up and Hendry realizes it.

While I haven't seen eye-to-eye with Jim Hendry on most of his moves, I want to applaud Hendry for being able to get this deal done without trading Rich Hill, Felix Pie or Matt Murton. (I guess it proves that MacPhail is even worse than Hendry?) Some would've been willing to give up Hill for Roberts and it would've been something that I would've had to think about long and hard about. Gallagher, Marshall, and Cedeno? I don't need to think about that one. And while Felix Pie doesn't impress me, he's our best option at center field and considering the perceived value of Pie on the market, Hendry deserves to be commended for his ability to land Roberts while keeping Hill and Pie.

Again nothing is official yet, but it's close. Real close.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mets re-acquire outfielder Angel Pagan

The Chicago Cubs have dealt outfielder Angel Pagan for two prospects.

Pagan, originally drafted by the Mets in the 4th round of the 1999 draft, spent two major league seasons with the Cubs posting a .255 batting average and hitting 9 homeruns in 318 at-bats. Pagan was originally slated to compete against Sam Fuld for the fifth outfielder's spot on the 2008 roster, but it looks like the Cubs are trying to make room for the 2007 Arizona Fall League MVP.

In return, the Mets have sent A-ball pitcher Ryan Meyers and outfielder Corey Coles the other way. Meyers, 22, served as the closer for Savannah (A) last year, recording 13 saves. Coles, soon to be 26, hit .342 with 27 doubles and 21 steals in a full season with St. Lucie (Advanced-A) in 2006, though he's struggled a bit while bouncing around different levels of the Mets' farm in 2007.

Meanwhile, it looks like rumors about closer Joe Nathan coming to the Cubs will not happen and the story with second baseman Brian Roberts has also considerably cooled down, though there's still a chance for that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cubs, Fukudome agree on four-year deal

The Chicago Cubs and Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome have agreed on a four-year deal believed to total anywhere from $48MM to $50MM. Fukudome, 30, will likely serve as the team's everyday right fielder, while it is uncertain where in the lineup he will hit.

Exactly how well with Fukudome fare in America?

-----
KOSUKE FUKUDOME - OUTFIELDER

2005 CD: 515 at-bats; .328/.430/.590 with 39 doubles and 28 HR.
2006 CD: 496 at-bats; .351/.438/.653 with 47 doubles and 31 HR.
2007 CD: 269 at-bats; .294/.443/.520 with 22 doubles and 13 HR.
-----

Before choking on that .440 on-base percentage, it's important to realize that his batting average going down will drop the on-base percentage considerably too. Not only that, American pitchers walk fewer batters, so that will hurt it even more.

Judging by the numbers of other Japanese stars like Hideki Matsui and Tadahito Iguchi and how they reacted to Major League Baseball, I thought that Fukudome would perform around .290/.360/.480 with 15 homeruns and 25 doubles in a full, healthy season. The experts seem to be a bit more optimistic.

The PECOTA system projected Fukudome at .289/.401/.504 with 30 doubles and 15 homeruns in just 395 official times at-bat. The CHONE system is a little more down to earth, but still expects .283/.373/.465 with 38 doubles and 16 homers in a full season. ZiPS projects Fukudome at 457 AB going .293/.382/.460 with 33 doubles and 13 homers.

It seems like many of computers think that Fukudome can keep his doubles total real close to what it was in Japan. If he can continue to hit 30-40 doubles and keep that on-base percentage in the .380's, Fukudome would be a great addition to the team. I would definitely hit that version of Kosuke Fukudome in the cleanup spot.

LF Soriano
2B DeRosa
1B Lee
RF Fukudome
3B Ramirez
C Soto
SS Cedeno/Theriot
CF Pie

If Felix Pie can live up to his end of the bargain and the shortstop (whoever it may be) can play competently, that is one scary lineup.

Cubs interested in Roberts, Nathan: The Chicago Cubs have shown interest in Orioles' second baseman Brian Roberts as well as Twins' closer Joe Nathan. While the latter might cost a little too much, considering the fact that we have three capable closing options, I would certainly welcome Brian Roberts to the team with open arms, Mitchell Report or not.

Without speculating too much about what it may cost us to bring the switch hitting second baseman to our club, let's try to speculate how that will change things in the lineup. Brian Roberts most definitely would hit second and play second base, meaning Mark DeRosa would be completely replaced.

For the record, there are very few people that I would be willing to bench Mark DeRosa in favor of, but Roberts would be one of them. What does that mean for DeRosa? He might end up having to sit on the bench and play the role that he played for the Braves or his versatility might give him the ability to log some at-bats at short or center field. Someone even suggested that DeRosa would be able to start five game a week by playing a different position each time.

Let's not worry about DeRosa too hard though. As of now, Roberts is still an Oriole and DeRosa is still our starting second baseman.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cubs deal Jones for Infante

This is a surprising one.

I left the 2007 season counting on Jones to be one of the starting three outfielders for the 2008 season. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm not ready to hand Felix Pie 150 starts yet, but I thought we were outfielder short before shipping Jacque Jones to Detroit.

The arrival of Omar Infante is also confusing. I thought we learned our lesson years ago: there is such a thing as too many second basemen. Nonetheless, Infante will almost certainly enter the mix with DeRosa, Theriot, and Fontenot for a good chunk of playing time. There are reports that the club wants to turn Theriot back into the role player that he is. I don't have a problem with that, as long as we have a more capable option at short; Infante is not. There's also talk about taking the second baseman's job away from Mark DeRosa. That would be a mistake, unless we give him a starting role in the outfield (remember, he's an outfielder by trade). Right now, DeRosa's the closest thing to a #5 hitter we've got.

The Cubs seemed to have relied a large part on the Japanese market of players this year. By moving Dempster into the rotation, the Cubs intensified their efforts to land Hideki Iwase, the top closer in Japan. Those efforts failed as Iwase as announced he will return in Japan. Now, we've practically backed ourselves into corner with the trade of Jones. I almost feel like "trading" Jones for Fukudome would be a lateral move; even though Fukudome has more patience and is a consistent doubles hitter, Jones excels defensively and has the capability of clubbing 25 homers. But, now we need to struggle with five other Major League teams and a handful of Japanese teams to earn the services of Fukudome and thereby break even. The good news is that we don't need Fukudome specifically; there are other outfielders like Cameron and Rowand (I don't want Jones or Hunter) available on the market, but I would've liked to have seen us add an outfielder while hanging onto Jones. Before, it would've been nice to get one of them; now, we need another outfielder.

In 2007, the club seemed to benefit from the trades of Michael Barrett and Cesar Izturis. I wondered if the trade of Barrett was addition by subtraction, while the Izturis trade definitely was. Some may think that Jones is a similar case but I really disagree. He showed me a lot in the second half and actually managed to finish the year at a .285 clip! My confidence in him was very similar to what I thought about him at this point last year: maybe not one of the best outfielders, but he brings enough to put up with the occasional mistake.

Also, many believed that our interest in free-agent infielder Kazuo Matsui was an effort to try to lure the Japanese players to our team. Now, it turns out that we were legitimately searching for another middle infielder. Well, Infante's that guy; the one good thing that might come from adding Infante is that we won't mess around with Matsui anymore.

Lee wins Glove: Ignorant Cubs fans now have another piece of "evidence" to support the so-called superstar first baseman. Despite committing seven errors, Derrek Lee inexplicably won the Gold Glove over Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, and 13 others. Helton committed only 2 errors and ended up with a .999 fielding percentage while the Fielding Bible ranked Pujols miles ahead of everyone else defensively.

Nonetheless, I digress. Derrek Lee is a Cub and I'm happy for him, I guess.

Dempster rounds off rotation: I wanted a competent fifth starter heading into Spring Training, so that we wouldn't have to count on Marshall, Gallagher, or Hart to step up as the fifth starter and if Dempster can pitch to what the Cubs' front office hopes he is capable of, then he's the guy. This creates all sorts of problems though: not only do I believe that Dempster will not be the starter than everyone hopes he'll become, but we lost a great closer. Dempster had the second base save percentage in the league, blowing just three saves all year while converting 28. You'd be hard-pressed to find that kind of efficiency elsewhere.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Sox sweep to World title

Now the Colorado Rockies know exactly how it feels.

In case there was any doubt which league was the better league in baseball, the World Series cleared things up. Teams featured in the World Series were the Rox and Sox, but Boston was the only team doing the rocking and socking, by sweeping the Rockies to win their second championship in just four years.

The Rockies breezed through the NL playoffs, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks (who swept the Cubs) with relative ease, but the Red Sox managed to sweep Colorado, and barely broke a sweat in the process. From the 13-1 laugher in game one at Fenway Park, there was very little question as to who the better team was. The only question was whether or not the Rockies had enough magic on their side, but just minutes after the clock struck midnight in Boston, it struck midnight at Coors Field.

The Rockies did have one golden opportunity to shift momentum in their favor. Despite a horrible loss in the first game of the series, if Colorado would've taken game two, they would've escaped Fenway with a split and taken home-field advantage and momentum along with them. Game two started the right way, too, but the Schilling, Okajima, and Papelbon shut down the Rockies, giving their offense a chance to battle back.

Sure, Colorado had their chances in games three and four as well, but Boston controlled the entire series for the most part, outscoring the Rockies by nineteen runs in the four games. Boston jumped on the board quickly in each of the other three games, scoring a combined eleven times in the first three innings, which really put the pressure on a younger, lesser Rockies team.

Remember, the Rockies shouldn't have even been here; even despite winning 14 of their last 15 regular season games, it took two blown saves from baseball's all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman, for the Rockies to win the Wild Card. Then, they rode their hot-streak to a National League pennant, but as expected, the long layoff between the NLCS and World Series cooled down the champions of the Senior Circuit.

For Cubs fans, especially those that believe in the supernatural controlling the outcome of baseball games, the result of this Series should come as a sigh of relief. Hell froze over when the Sox won in 2004 and again when the White Sox won in 2005. If the Rockies were to win in 2007, that would make the third time; surely, hell wouldn't freeze over for a fourth time.

Rodriguez tests waters: Meanwhile, the other 28 teams around baseball are focused on the next biggest news. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez has opted out of his contract and will test the market as a free agent.

Alex Rodriguez, who could've been owed as much as $33 million per year by 2010, obviously thinks that he could get something larger or comparable with a different team. That limits the number of teams that are in the running for the superstar, and when you consider the Yankees' reaction to Rodriguez's decision, the choices are further limited.

"It's clear he didn't want to be a Yankee," said Yankees' Senior VP Hank Steinbrenner. "He doesn't understand the privilege of being a Yankee on a team where the owners are willing to pay $200 million to put a winning product on the field. I don't want anybody on my team that doesn't want to be a Yankee. We're not backing down. It's goodbye."

Imagine what a Cubs lineup with Alex Rodriguez for the 2008 season would look like:

1. Alfonso Soriano, LF
2. Mark DeRosa, 2B
3. Derrek Lee, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, SS
5. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
6. Geovany Soto, C
7. Jacque Jones, CF
8. Matt Murton, RF

Yikes!

As impressive as that lineup would be, I can't help but think that we don't have an extra $30 million per year to bring Rodriguez into town and that if we did, if there isn't a better way to spend it. Outfielders like Mike Cameron, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand are available as are closers like Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, and Francisco Cordero. Wouldn't an everyday outfielder, a closer, and a fifth starter be so much better?

I understand that there are plenty of options the fifth spot in the rotation already within the organization: Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher, Kevin Hart, etc, but I would much rather prefer we head into Spring Training with a solid option there. If one of the young pitchers step up and win the job in March, fine, but the package of Rivera ($12M/year), Rowand ($10M/year), and Russ Ortiz ($8/year) looks a lot more inviting than a single player.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall classic to feature Rox, Sox

It's a feeling Cubs fans know all too well.

Up 3-1 in the league championship series, the Indians thought they were sitting pretty. When Beckeet beat Cleveland in game five, that still didn't worry too many Indians fans, much like our game five loss to the same Josh Beckett didn't phase us. Okay, so the Tribe didn't have Prior and Wood to pitch in games six and seven (they did have Carmona and Westbrook) and the series wasn't heading back to their home ballpark, but nonetheless, the defeat in game five wasn't seen as a step towards elimination, but rather a day delaying the inevitable.

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Josh Beckett - Pitcher

2003 Game 5 of NLCS vs. Cubs:
CG, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 11 K

2007 Game 5 of ALCS vs. Indians:
8 IP, 5 H, ER, BB, 11 K

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But eliminated are the Indians and Kenny Lofton is again forced to watch another World Series despite having been up 3-1 in the LCS.

So who are the favorites in the 104th Fall Classic?

Well, for every bit that the Rockies were sizzling,t eh Red Sox seem to be just as hot now, especially with the long lay-off for Colorado. Call it extra rest if you want, but Boston is still getting two days off -- plenty of time to reset the rotation and ice down some nagging injuries, but not enough time to lose momentum.

The Red Sox are no doubt the better team on paper, and while I said earlier that that didn't matter to the Rockies, Boston now has just as much magic on their side, having snatched the American League pennant from the jaws of defeat. And even though the Rockies have the Coors Field wild card, Boston has been equally tough at their home, if not tougher, having won nine of their last eleven postseason games at Fenway.

If Colorado had home-field advantage, it would be a different story, and for that reason, if the first two games at Fenway are split, the Rockies have a fighting chance. But many of the young Rockies have not felt the pressure of being in a big postseason series in a big baseball city yet,; the road to the Series for them went through Philadelphia and Phoenix, not Chicago or New York, or Boston. If the first two games go Boston's way, the younger more inexperienced team may shut down; besides it would mean that they feel overmatched and would have to win all three games at Coors and another at Fenway.

Plus, the Rockies haven't stared down the barrel of three aces yet. Sure, they ran into the Cole Hamels and the Brandon Webbs, but Beckett, Schilling, and Matsuzaka in back-to-back-to-back games? And as if that weren't enough, the bullpen features Okajima, Gagne, and Papelbon, a back three that would make even Arizona feel jealous.

At least the Diamondbacks couldn't hit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rox roll to first flag

All four teams in the National League had a storybook entry into the playoffs this season. Take the Chicago Cubs, for example, who were 8 1/2 games out of first place after June 23. The Brewers' mid-season collapse, however, helped the Cubs pick up 6 1/2 games in the standings over 26 games in June and July and get to level ground with Milwaukee by August 1.

The Philadelphia Phillies had an even harder route to their division crown. With just 17 games to go, the Mets had a 7 game lead in the division and were already printing the playoff tickets. Winning 13 of the final 17, however, gave the Phillies a chance to win the division and the Mets struggled in the final two weeks of the season and the Mets were out.

How about the Diamondbacks? A team filled with rookies, a team with Eric Brynes as the third hitter and Doug Davis as the second starter won 90 games despite being outscored by 20 runs throughout the course of the season. The Diamondbacks took the division lead on July 28 and kept that division lead for every day except one after that, en route to a surprising playoff berth.

No playoff berth, however, was more surprising than the path that the Rockies took. After losing to Logan Kensing on September 15, the Rockies caught fire. Once again, proving the point that it doesn't matter who the best team in the playoffs is, just who the hottest team is, the Rockies rattled off 14 wins in the season's final 15 games before winning their first seven postseason matchups.

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N. L. Wild Card Standings on September 15

1. San Diego Padres (80-67)
T2. Los Angeles Dodgers (79-69)
T2. Philadelphia Phillies (79-69)
4. Colorado Rockies (76-72)
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Everyone had counted out the Rockies, even after they won their 11th straight game. Besides, they were still down by 2 games to San Diego with 3 left. But, the Diamondbacks rolled over after taking the first game of the season finale and the Padres lost the final two games of the season, thanks to Hoffman's struggles and the Rockies were able to force a one-game playoff.

Trevor Hoffman had a chance to nail down the final playoff spot in game 161. However, with two outs in the ninth inning, Tony Gwynn delivered the game-tying RBI triple to extend the game, which eventually ended with the Brewers winning. Then, in the tiebreaker, the Padres appeared to have the advantage. Even though the game was at Coors Field, the pitching matchup was laughably in San Diego's favor; 19-6 Jake Peavy vs. 10-9 Josh Fogg.

That didn't matter to the Rockies, just like it didn't matter that they were overmatched on paper against the Phillies and Diamondbacks. It also didn't matter that the Rockies were down by two runs in the 13th against Trevor Hoffman. This was their year and no one's was going to get in their way.

It seems like Hoffman pitched everyone into the playoffs except his own team. His save against the Brewers on September 28 sealed the deal for the Cubs and his blown save on September 29 put the Diamondbacks in while keeping the Rockies alive. On October 1, his blown save ended the Padres' season and let the Rockies continue on their glorious run.

The Rockies dominated the post-season, just breezing through NL's so-called best. Against the Phillies, the Rockies blew out Philadelphia in Game 2, while showing they can win the close ones in games 1 & 3. Against Arizona, pitching dominated for the Rockies, despite the fact that all of the games were either in Phoenix or Denver, as the West champions only scored 5 times in the first 36 innings of the game (even we scored 6 times against Arizona in 3 games).

The Rockies seem to be overmatched against both Boston and Cleveland, but don't tell them that. If the route that the Rockies took to win their first ever National League pennant isn't a sign that this was meant to be their year, I don't know what is.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Snakes look forward, but so do Cubs

Our guys choked down the stretch.

I don't know if it was because they couldn't handle the pressure or if they simply ran out of gas at the end of the season, but the Diamondbacks certainly didn't suffer from whatever it is that Piniella's boys did.

You can't take credit away from the Diamondbacks pitching staff, but the Cubs' 2-for-23 was absolutely unacceptable. Even Ryan Theriot broke character, swinging at a 3-1 pitch twice throughout the game, both of which resulted in ground ball outs. Aramis Ramirez's 0-for-12 was ridiculous and Alfonso Soriano was equally useless in the series. Carlos Marmol appeared to be struggling in the final weeks of the season and while he was able to get away with it in the regular season, he wasn't so lucky in the playoffs.

Rich Hill and Ted Lilly also appeared to be pitching scared and our batters seemed like they couldn't deal with the pressure of playing behind. We saw the Cubs battle back time-and-time again this year, but we also saw the Cubs trying too hard to be the hero -- trying too hard to hit the big homerun. The large number of double plays we saw and the guys pressing too hard with runners in scoring position was a prime example of guys not being disciplined enough to just keep the line moving.

Besides, the team was trying to get all three games at once after falling behind 2-0. When asked, both Mark DeRosa and Soriano publically stated that they were trying to win three games in a row, instead of taking one game at a time. It's an inappropriate attitude that ended in our demise.

However, as painful as this loss was, we have to look back at the season and think of the successes. Never mind how much we spent over the off-season, the 2006 Cubs finished dead last in the National League, posting a 66-96 record. One year later, not only did the Cubs improve by 19 games and win a division championship for the first time since 2003, we battled back from an 8 1/2 game hole. No one can take that away from us.

We'll get another shot in the playoffs, and it won't take another four years. Even if the Brewers are getting older and better, the Cubs with just a few key strikes to the free-agent market should be able to keep pace, especially since most of the team is already set to return for the 2008 season; we don't need another Alfonso Soriano (or Alex Rodriguez) signing to remain competitive. Among the NL Central teams, we definitely have the most players already under contract for next year. Many of the Brewers aren't eligible for free agency, but they are eligible for salary arbitration. It would be interesting to see how much of the supporting cast Ned Yost would be able to keep, considering the limited budget the Brewers are on.

As for us, the pitching rotation is mostly set: Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, and Marquis. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, but what team has five starting pitchers, let alone four, set in stone for next year already? Besides, the Cubs have plenty of options from within the organization: Dempster, Marshall, Hart, and countless others. The bullpen might need a little bit of work, but the worst case scenario would be moving Marmol into the closer's role.

The catcher is Geovany Soto and hopefully Derrek Lee will not be useless in future years at first base. Aramis Ramirez should be able to be a bit more productive at the third base position and Mark DeRosa seems to have his future at second base solidified.

We never saw the real Alfonso Soriano as he was marred with injuries. His plate production was even down a bit, but this was just the second time in his career that he's stolen fewer than 30 bases, let alone fewer than 20. I expect his offense to improve marginally and his running game to improve greatly next year. Jacque Jones (yes, I'm counting on him again) should be the second member of starting outfield and the options for a third within the organization are plenty: Pie, Patterson, Murton, and maybe even Cliff Floyd.

It seems like maybe an outfielder with a patient bat, another utility infielder, and a decent pitcher or two may be all we need to add this winter.

The end of this season is a lot different from the end of the 2003 season. The 2003 run was a magical run that focused on improbable stories and things just going the right way. For that reason, the future after 2003 was uncertain: how will things hold up?

That's not the case here. The 2007 run was not a run at all; it was a team that was built to win that did win. Yes, we had surprises like Carlos Marmol, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot to push us over the hump, but Jim Hendry now knows that he doesn't need to do much to keep the 2008 team from needing similar surprises to be contenders.

It's a mantra that Cubs fans are all too familiar with, but waiting for next year is a much different feeling this time around: we know we'll get our fair share of licks in.

Hopefully, the 100th time is the charm.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Snakes in complete control

The Cubs have struggled through adversity before this year. In a matter of just 27 games in July and August, the Cubs made up 7 1/2 games on the Milwaukee Brewers for a share of first place. However, if the Cubs want to keep playing past the Division Series, they're going to have to climb out of a much bigger hole.

The Arizona Diamondbacks won the first two games at Chase Field to retain home field advantage and back the Cubs into a corner in this best-of-five division series. Exactly how big of a hole is it? Well, no team in the National League in the history of the Division Series has come back from a 2-0 deficit.

Initially, I believed that we were the fourth best NL team in the playoffs, but after hearing the opinions of Cubs fans and the so-called experts, I began to second guess what I thought. Turns out, Arizona cleared things up; not only did they beat us, they beat us decidedly in two very different games.

Part of the problem for the Cubs have been the lack of offense. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee combined to go 106-for-327 (.324) with 55 extra-base hits, including a monster 29 homeruns in the month of September to get the Cubs into the postseason. However, in the first two games of the playoffs, the Diamondbacks pitchers have worked the Cubs' sluggers with more curveballs and changeups, an approach that has resulted in the three main Cubs going just 4-for-27 (all singles) with 12 strikeouts. Combined, the NL Central champions have gone 12-for-67 (.179) with 23 strikeouts.

The Cubs will look to turn things around at Wrigley Field and they do have good lifetime numbers against Arizona's game 3 starter, Livan Hernandez. Cliff Floyd is 14-for-41 with 3 doubles and 2 homers while Kendall is 11-for-31 and Ramirez is 10-for-26 with 3 doubles and 4 homers (1.346 OPS). DeRosa, Jones, and Ward also have averages at or above .333, though in a considerably smaller sample size. But with Hernandez being even more of a junk-baller, can Piniella's boys make the adjustment from what happened in the first two games?

Even if we do get past Hernandez and Owings, we'd still need to beat Webb at Chase Field. It looks like the writing's on the wall. We're not going to make it past the first round of the playoffs this year and it's not because of goats, curses, black cats, or Steve Bartman. The Diamondbacks are just a better team; they didn't have the best record in the league for nothing.

For what it's worth though, I think that Lou made all of the right moves in Game 2. He had every reason to believe that Ted Lilly would be able to bounce back and unfortunately by the time he found out that Lilly would not be able to return to form, it was too late.

How I would do it: Here's my game three lineup.

1. LF Alfonso Soriano
2. C Jason Kendall

Jacque Jones and Ryan Theriot both had their shots at the top of the lineup. Now, with Jason Kendall having good lifetime numbers against Hernandez, he gets a shot.

3. 1B Derrek Lee
4. RF Cliff Floyd

Aramis Ramirez has been struggling, so let's try throwing the lefties in between again.

5. 3B Aramis Ramirez
6. CF Jacque Jones

Keeping the left-right-left theme alive.

7. 2B Mark DeRosa
8. SS Ryan Theriot
9. LHP Rich Hill

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Piniella mishandles Zambrano in Game 1

Well, it's the game that the Diamondbacks had the best chance of winning. It's the game that Arizona was heavily favored in. Still, it's a painful loss.

The team didn't play well. Derrek Lee didn't hustle after a third strike got passed Snyder and Carlos Marmol made some pretty bad pitches. We only scratched out four hits while going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine on base. We had the leadoff man on second base before the first out in both the third and fourth innings but failed to score and the team wasn't being selective with their pitches in the eighth and ninth innings, despite taking the obligatory first strike. Lou's not completely off the hook for the loss, though.

After an error put Ryan Theriot on second base to lead off the fourth inning, Piniella decided to let Zambrano swing away. We know he was hitting left-handed, but he's still a pitcher. Zambrano needed to bunt to move Theriot over so that Soriano could tie the game with as little as a productive out.

Then, in the sixth inning, after Theriot's infield single tied the game, Zambrano was allowed to hit for himself. The bases were loaded and two were out, but Piniella didn't take down Zambrano for Ward. What upsets me the most about that move is that Lou only stuck with Zambrano for one more inning. If he wanted to try to get 7 innings out of Zambrano, that's a different story, but why would you turn the ball over the Marmol and Howry in the 7th and 8th innings in a tie ballgame when you're on the road?

Zambrano is a good hitting pitcher, but he's just that: a pitcher! Lou had a hard time seeing through that and again bought into the fans' impulse moves. Managers are paid the big bucks because they know what's right, instead of succumbing to the temptation of the general public, but today, Piniella made two crucial mistakes and is partially responsible for the early hole.

Letting Zambrano throw 8 innings and 101 pitches was okay in the regular season, but not the postseason? Isn't the postseason the time you pull out all of the stops?

Lilly hopes to rebound: Ted Lilly was absolutely phenomenal when pitching after a Cubs' loss this season. However, the Diamondbacks have absolutely crushed left-handed pitching, while we have to take on southpaw Doug Davis. The Cubs were 19-24 on the year against lefties, while the Diamondbacks posted a 28-17 mark when the opposing pitcher is left-handed. With Lilly and Hill going in games 2 and 3, this could mean big trouble.

Hart, Soto on postseason roster

Lou Piniella has made some impulse moves coming into the playoffs and I'm sure he'd be tempted to do some more.

In 11 innings, Kevin Hart has allowed just one run and seven hits while striking out thirteen, and evidently Piniella was impressed enough to put him on the roster. Lou said he was going with 11 pitchers, but I'm really surprised that Scott Eyre is the lone lefty. Don't get me wrong, I don't like Will Ohman and I don't think Carmen Pignatiello is much better, but I still think that Piniella should've taken a second lefty. I understand that Howry, Wuertz, and Marmol have been effective against lefties this year, but not even having a second lefty available makes strategizing a lot easier for Bob Melvin.

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2007 DIVISION SERIES ROSTER

PITCHERS (11):
Ryan Dempster
Scott Eyre
Kevin Hart
Rich Hill
Bob Howry
Ted Lilly
Carlos Marmol
Jason Marquis
Kerry Wood
Michael Wuertz
Carlos Zambrano

CATCHERS (2):
Jason Kendall
Geovany Soto

INFIELDERS (7):
Ronny Cedeno
Mark DeRosa
Mike Fontenot
Derrek Lee
Aramis Ramirez
Ryan Theriot
Daryle Ward

OUTFIELDERS (5):
Cliff Floyd
Jacque Jones
Matt Murton
Felix Pie
Alfonso Soriano

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Piniella also made two more moves that the general public might like and one that the fans don't like, and all three of them go against the book. Geovany Soto was not only named to the team, but it looks like he would get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, despite the fact that Soto hasn't worked much with the Cubs' pitching staff this year and the fact that Kendall is a three-time all-star.

Also, Piniella demoted Jason Marquis to the bullpen. After three consecutive horrible appearances by Marquis to end the season, Piniella has decided to go with a three-man rotation. This means that Carlos Zambrano would have to pitch on short rest in game four, but the extra off-day allows Lilly to be at full strength for the fifth and final game. Should we be down 2-1 at that point, it may be best to try to turn the ball over to Zambrano with the season on the line, but holding back Zambrano and Lilly, two very different pitchers that throw with opposite hands, for the deciding game in Arizona (if necessary) could be a very special weapon.

With that having been said, Piniella still has a few more impulse move the fans want him to make. Specifically, I know people want Lou to use Carlos Marmol and his 1.43 ERA in the closer's role, while making Dempster a set-up man. It may be something to consider in the off-season, but at this point, I don't think that you want to try to make any major changes to the bullpen. Granted, Ozzie Guillen turned to Bobby Jenks as the closer late in the 2005 season, but this is different. Jenks was a closer in the minor leagues and was always projected to be the closer of the big league club at some point. In Marmol's six professional seasons in baseball, he has one career save. Besides, Ryan Dempster is 28-for-31 in save opportunities, no matter his ERA.

Even with all of that, the biggest surprise on the roster for me is Ronny Cedeno. He has hit at a .203 clip and has reached base just barely over 23% of the time, yet he takes up a precious spot on the 25-man roster. Yes, Cedeno has been hot over the past couple of weeks and we know how Piniella likes to play the hot hand, but it makes me wonder about the health of Ryan Theriot. Theriot has been struggling lately, and has needed some off days in the final weeks of the season either because he needed to rest or nurse a sore back. There may be some question as to whether Theriot is capable of going every inning of every game and that could've led to the decision to carry two shortstops, a decision that cost Craig Monroe or Henry Blanco a roster spot.

Marshall in limbo: Just because Sean Marshall wasn't named to the roster for the first round of the playoffs, doesn't mean that his season is over. The team will continue to work with him to get stretched out a bit. Speculation has it, should the Cubs advance past the Diamondbacks and onto the LCS, Marshall might become the team's fourth starter. As bad as Jason Marquis has been, I still think it's his job to lose. Last month, I thought that third starting spot was Marquis' to lose and he lost it, but to me, he's still got a long way to go before falling behind Marshall on the depth chart.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Numbers Game (part 2)

The old adage is that the numbers always end up where they should be at the end of the year for veteran ballplayers. While Jacque Jones ended the year with just 5 homeruns, the rest of his numbers ended up looking like what we expected them to look like, despite his horrible start.

Almost traded to Florida earlier in the year, Jacque Jones had an awful first half, batting just .233 with 2 homers and 20 RBI. However, his .332 average in the second half along with 46 RBI's brought his season totals real close to what past history has been like for Jones.

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#11 Jacque Jones - Outfielder
Bats: L, Throws: L
Born: April 25, 1975 (age 32)

2004 MIN: 151 G, 555 AB; .254 AVG / 24 HR / 80 RBI / .315 OBP / .427 SLG
2005 MIN: 142 G, 523 AB; .249 AVG / 23 HR / 73 RBI / .319 OBP / .438 SLG
2006 CHC: 149 G, 533 AB; .285 AVG / 27 HR / 81 RBI / .334 OBP / .499 SLG
2007 CHC: 135 G, 453 AB; .285 AVG / 5 HR / 66 RBI / .335 OBP / .400 SLG

9-year career totals:
1260 games, 4478 at bats; .280 AVG / 164 HR / 623 RBI / .329 OBP / .455 SLG
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Meanwhile, some of the Cubs were clearly on the upswing, posting numbers that were career highs. For example, Ted Lilly matched his win total of 15 wins, but only lost 8 decisions this year, as opposed to 13, the number of losses last year. Lilly's 3.83 was also the lowest his season ERA has been.

Carlos Zambrano set a career-high with 18 wins and Rich Hill bested so many of his previous highs: wins (11), innings (195), starts (32), strikeouts (183), ERA (3.92), just to name a few. Carlos Marmol, despite being a reliever this year and a starter last year, tied his win total (5) and set a new career-high in strikeouts (96).

In fact, the pitching staff finished with an ERA just over 4.04 and finished in the top two in the league for the first time in over forty years. Also, the pitching staff combined for over 1,200 strikeouts, making the Cubs the first team to lead the majors in strikeouts for seven consecutive years since the Dodgers did it in 1957-63.

And while the power numbers were down, Derrek Lee contributed 43 doubles, Alfonso Soriano clubbed 42 two-base hits and three others (Ramirez, Jones, Theriot) had 30+ doubles and the club tied a franchise record with 340 doubles.

THAT THAT~! The Cubs were able to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat many times this season, too. Opposing pitchers blew a save 15 times against the Cubs in the first half of the season and 7 times in the second half. While the biggest of the 22 this year remains as the walk-off homerun that Aramis Ramirez hit off of then-first place Brewers' Francisco Cordero, many of the late comebacks for the Cubs in the second half kept the momentum going and led the Cubs ultimately to the first division crown since 2003.

July 16: Randy Messenger (Giants)
With Rich Hill dealing against the Giants, it looked like Koyie Hill's third inning homerun was going to stand up. However, Pedro Feliz evened the score with a solo homerun of his own and Guillermo Rodriguez's RBI single put the Giants up in the eighth inning. After Piniella cut down a squeeze play by pitching out, Aramis Ramirez doubled home the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth for the win.

July 27: David Weathers (Reds)
Down 4-1 in late, the Cardiac Cubs came storming back against a very bad Reds' bullpen, eventually scoring the tying run off of Weathers in the ninth. Jacque Jones' bid to score the go-ahead run was foiled by Ryan Freel, however, and Edwin Encarnacion's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth ended the Cubs' rally.

August 28: Scott Linebrink (Brewers)
Now with the Cubs in first place, the Brewers had their backs up against the wall. After Corey Hart gave the Crew a three-run lead with a sac fly and a two-run single, the Cubs came storming back with a 4-run seventh, including Jacque Jones' two-run double off Linebrink that tied the game.

September 2: Chad Qualls (Astros)
Down 5-1, the Cubs never gave up. Two runs in the sixth and Soriano's solo homerun in the seventh inning set up Derrek Lee's clutch two-run go-ahead homerun off of Chad Qualls in the bottom of eighth inning for a win.

September 6: Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers)
Broxton became the first pitcher to make the TAKE THAT~! list twice on the year, serving up the second homerun of the day for Alfonso Soriano in the seventh inning, but the Cubs' bullpen fell apart, allowing a run in the eighth and four in the ninth to lose the game by an eventual 7-4 final.

September 15: Ryan Franklin (Cardinals)
With the Cardinals six games behind the Cubs, the North Siders put an incredible painful loss on the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader, sending the Cardinals to their ninth straight defeat. After Sam Fuld, the pinch runner, was nearly picked off of first base twice, Alfonso Soriano delivered a two-run homer, the eventual game winner of of Ryan Franklin.

September 17: David Weathers (Reds)
Weathers became the only other pitcher to blow multiple saves against the Cubs. While his first blown save resulted in a win thanks to clutch defense and timely hitting, Weathers wasn't as fortunate when he blew the save at Wrigley Field. After the first two runners reached, Aramis Ramirez hit a triple just out of the reach of diving Norris Hopper to tie the game and Mark DeRosa's fifth hit of the day was the game-winner.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Little Cubs beat Harang; Hill twirls gem

Less than 24 hours after winning the division thanks to Milwaukee's loss at the hands of San Diego, Rich Hill came out and tossed a stunning game against the Reds.

Rich Hill went six innings, allowing just one hit while Sean Marshall and Scott Eyre contributed three hitless innings to complete the one-hitter. The lineup, which was missing Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, Mark DeRosa, and Jason Kendall still came through against the Reds' ace, scoring four times in the game's first three innings. For once, it was good to be able to watch a Cubs' game without having to live and die with every pitch and not being eliminated from the playoffs either. In recent past, too many of the Cubs games that didn't count for anything was because we were already mathematically eliminated, but today it was the other way around.

Ted Lilly will start tomorrow, but it would be interesting to see how Piniella decides to handle the pitching. With the lefty being scheduled to be game 2's starter, that would be short rest. Obviously, Lilly wouldn't have pitched a full outing anyway, but there's no question that he needs some work in between now and the playoffs; otherwise, he'd have eight days in between starts.

The bullpen is going to be tough to control as well. With two off-days before the postseason starts, guys could get rusty. If Wood doesn't pitch tomorrow, it'll be five days in between appearances for him and if Marmol doesn't pitch in the final game of the regular season, that'll put six days between outings. For Dempster and Howry, it would be four days, so you've got to assume that each of the big four will get to pitch tomorrow.

Handling Jason Marquis also becomes interesting. With Rich Hill looking like he's won the job as the starter for game 3, Jason Marquis would have ten days' rest in between starts if he doesn't throw tomorrow. However, with only a finite amount of innings in tomorrow's game, giving Jason three or four innings doesn't seem like a possibility. Perhaps he does some side work during the off days and pitches out of the bullpen in game 1?

Working with the starting players seems a little difficult too. Certainly you don't want to sit all of them again as that would put four days off in between live game action for those guys, but Piniella probably doesn't want all of his regulars going the whole nine innings either. I expect Lou to give his regulars two (or even three) times at-bat in the season finale before turning the game over the the reserves like he did from the very beginning today.

Where to? With more finals coming in today, the first round opponent seems to be getting clearer and clearer. With the Padres loss to the Brewers today, we know that it won't be San Diego in the first round. While mlb.com still lists the Diamondbacks' magic number to clinch the west as 1, Arizona can already consider themselves champions of the west. That's because they own the tiebreaker over the Padres; should the two teams finish in a tie (and the Snakes have guaranteed at least that), Arizona would be crowned champions without a playoff.

The Mets and Phillies are now tied atop the east once again and San Diego leads the wild card over both of those teams by one game. Should both of the east teams win tomorrow and the Padres lose, we would have a three-way tie for two playoff spots. In that scenario, the tie for the eastern division would be broken at Philadelphia on Monday with the loser of the division playing the Padres for the final spot on Tuesday.

The Rockies still have a back door in as well. Should the Rockies, Padres, Mets, and Phillies all end the season with 89 wins, repeat the same scenario as above, except the winner of Tuesday's game would have to host Colorado on Wednesday.

If the Mets and Phillies both make the playoffs, the Cubs would have to travel to the east for the first round of the playoffs. If not, the first two playoff games for the Cubs would be at Chase Field.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicago Cubs win division in 2007

“Don’t blame us if we ever doubt you, you know we couldn’t live without you…”

Originally, it was sung by Dropkick Murphy’s towards the Boston Red Sox, but I think this definitely applies to our Chicago Cubs, especially in the 2007 season.

We all know that, from time to time this season, I have doubted Piniella’s boys. I’ve doubted their character, determination, and hustle, because let’s face it: their effort on the field was, at times, pathetic. But riding the ups and downs with the Chicago Cubs this summer has been an experience quite unlike anything else. I remember 2003 and 2004, but there’s no doubt that my love for the team has grown since then, and this season will definitely be one that sticks in my head for a long, long time.

Coming into the season, there were very many differing opinions about the Chicago Cubs. Few had hoped that the division might be bad enough for us to have a shot at it. Others thought that we were a .500 team, at best. I thought that we were still one or two pitchers short. Thankfully, those pitchers appeared from within the organization. Sean Marshall was more than serviceable as the team’s fifth starter for the greater portion of the year. When Wade Miller and Angel Guzman couldn’t get the job done, Marshall kept every fifth day from being an automatic loss, by going 7-8 while posting a 4.00 ERA.

The bullpen pitchers, who started off real slow, really have stepped things up, too. Carlos Marmol was the surprise of the season, throwing 68 1/3 dominating innings, allowing just 41 hits and 11 earned runs, while striking out 95. Bobby Howry had a horrible April and Scott Eyre had a disastrous first half, but both of those pitchers have bounced back and closer Ryan Dempster has been literally just a sliver shy of absolute perfection. We can't forget about Kerry Wood and Michael Wuertz, either; they've been equally terrific.

Now that all is said and done, the Chicago Cubs have won the division in 2007 and now are looking to make some noise in the postseason. The likely first round opponent is Arizona, who currently lead the NL West by one game and own the tiebreaker over San Diego. Brandon Webb tossed for the Snakes on Friday, meaning he could go in game 1 on regular rest, just like Zambrano.

Before then, however, there are still two regular season games to play. Rich Hill will throw in Saturday’s game and Ted Lilly may still get some work in on Sunday. With off-days on Monday and Tuesday, Lou might want to get some work in for his relievers, too. I would even advocating treating Sunday’s game like the all-star game: make sure everyone gets one inning.

But we can worry about that later. For now, we just enjoy the moment.

Thank you, Chicago Cubs for a wonderful year!

Did Piniella predict this? Remember when Lou Piniella said at the beginning of the year that he wanted to break the season down into 10 separate sixteen game seasons? Many joked that Piniella couldn’t add while others suggested that implied that we would’ve had the division locked up after 160 games. Well, the latter turned out to be true.

Rotation lining up nicely: If the Chicago Cubs have one thing going for them in the postseason, it's the way the home/road splits match up for the starting pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano would pitch games 1 and 5, which are on the road, where he's 11-4 with a 3.26 ERA compared to a mediocre 6-9, 4.96 ERA at Wrigley Field. In game 2, Lilly will most likely get the nod but location doesn't seem to bother him: 3.86 ERA on the road while 3.87 at home. Then, Jason Marquis and Rich Hill will throw games 3 and 4 at Wrigley Field. Jason Marquis is 8-3 at home, and the young left hander is 6-2.

Go Brewers, Go? Now that we have won the division, should we be pulling for the Brewers? With just two games left in the season, the Padres still are alive in the race for their division. Facing Peavy, Young, and Maddux would be a daunting task, and I'd much rather wait and worry about them later. That means the Brewers are going to help us out.

NL race gets even tighter

It's been quite some time since the American League playoff picture has been determined. Granted, it was only official two days ago and there are certain teams still fighting for home field advantage, but the race in the Senior Circuit is so much tighter.

But first, the American League.

1. Boston Red Sox (94-65)
2. Cleveland Indians (94-65) - AL CENTRAL CHAMPIONS
3. Los Angeles Angels (92-67) - AL WEST CHAMPIONS
4. New York Yankees (92-67)

Those four teams are in, but they're still battling for the position. If the playoffs were to start today, the Red Sox would host the Angels and the Yankees and the Indians would square off at Jacobs Field. However, there are still plenty of things needed to be determined.

For starters, the AL East Championship is still very much up for grabs, even though the Red Sox have a two-game advantage with just three games to play. The Yankees do have one thing going for them: because both teams have already clinched the playoffs, there would not be a tiebreaker if the teams ended up tying atop the division. Instead, the division title would go to the Bronx Bombers for the better head-to-head record.

Also, the Cleveland Indians continue to battle for home field advantage throughout the playoffs while the Angels still have a shot at home field adavantage in the division series.

The National League is so much more crowded though. As opposed to all four teams having been determined in the AL, none have been determined while 7 teams remain alive, mathematically.

NL EAST:
T1. New York Mets (87-72)
T1. Philadelphia Phillies (87-72)

The reeling Mets have lost four games in a row and now find themselves not only in a tie for the division lead, but in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs. The Phillies would have home-field advantage in a potential one-game playoff and they face off against the Nationals to finish out the season, so it appears that they have a clear advantage.

NL CENTRAL:
1. Chicago Cubs (83-76)
2. Milwaukee Brewers (-2.0)

Believe it or not, the Cubs are the team closest to clinching the division in the National League. The sweep to Florida hurts, not only because of what it means in our race against Milwaukee, but the New York's struggles had allowed the Cubs to potentially sneak into the home-field advantage in the first round. Now, the Cubs are four behind New York with three to play, so it is guaranteed that if they make the playoffs, the first two games will be on the road.

Trying to figure out who the first round opponent could be for the Cubs hasn't gotten any easier over the past couple of days. In fact, it's gotten harder. With just three days remaining, there are five very possible scenarios:

a) Cubs would play New York, if Phillies (T in div, -1 in WC) won the Wild Card.
b) Cubs would play Philadelphia, if Mets (T in div, -1 in WC) won the Wild Card.
c) Cubs would play Arizona, if Padres (+1 WC) or Rockies (-1 WC) won the Wild Card.
d) Cubs would play San Diego, if Diamondbacks (+1 div) won the Wild Card.
e) Cubs would play Rockies, if they (-2 div) won the division AND Padres or Diamondbacks won the Wild Card.

NL WEST:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (89-70)
2. San Diego Padres (-1.0)
3. Colorado Rockies (-2.0)

You might say that making up two games in three days is hard enough, especially when you have to leapfrog another team, but with the Padres playing the Brewers and the Rockies getting to take matters into their own hands against Arizona in the final weekend, Colorado has a realistic shot. Besides, they've already won 11 in a row...so 3 more shouldn't be a problem, right? (If only it were that easy.)

The Padres currently have a one-game lead in the Wild Card race and trail the division by one-game. By virtue of records, the Padres could be battling for the difference between the #1 seed and the #4 seed.

NL WILD CARD:
1. San Diego Padres (88-71)
T2. Colorado Rockies (-1.0)
T2. Mets/Phillies (-1.0)

As many as three of the four teams on this list could make the playoffs, if the Diamondbacks fall far enough. However, their magic number to clinch a playoff berth is currently at 2, and they do not need reach that number against all of the teams listed. Considering the fact that a win against the Rockies would drop Rockies' E# immediately to zero, the Diamondbacks could clinch a playoff berth with as little as one win and a loss from EITHER the Mets or Phillies.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Slipping lead reminds fans of 2004

After 153 games in the 2004 season, the Chicago Cubs were coming off of a four-game win streak, had an 87-66 record, and a 2 1/2 game lead on Houston for the Wild Card. However, a 2-7 finish to the season against the Mets, Reds, and Braves allowed the Astros to win the wild card by a whopping 3 games.

After 156 games this year, we were similarly coming off of a four-game winning streak and had a 83-73 record, which was good for a 3 1/2 game lead over the Brewers for the division lead. We all remember 2004 and we all had it in the back of our minds, but we kept reassuring ourselves: "it can't happen again" or "we have a bigger lead this time."

And while it's true that the lead was greater and we were three games deeper into the season this year, the Cubs seem to be more interested in arguing with the umpires than actually playing baseball, leading to a sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins and are now in jeopardy of seeing their lead dwindle to just one game at the end of tonight's play.

The Cubs will play the Reds, the same team responsible for the playoff contention elimination in 2004, in the final three games of the season at the Great American Ballpark. While Adam Dunn is out for the season, the Cubs do still have to deal with both Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang.

The only good news is that the Brewers have their last four against the Padres who are very much in the middle of the playoff hunt. With Maddux and Young (and possibly Peavy) going in the series, Milwaukee already had their backs up against the wall, but the loss of Ben Sheets will hurt even more.

Sheets, who left his last start two turns ago after one inning due to a hamstring pull, was scratched from Friday's start and lefty Chris Capuano has been inserted in place. The Brewers have lost each of the last 21 games in which Capuano has appeared, but you throw all of that out the window at this point in the year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Piniella ponders rotation as Crew pull to 2

(NOTE: The charts may not line up with the text as intended, depending on the browser and window size.)

Just two days after I had counted the Brewers out, Milwaukee has come back with a fury, taking the first two games against the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Cubs dropped the opener in Miami and now the lead is down to just two games. Granted, we're still in a good position as only five games remain on the year, but the past couple of days have gone exactly how the Brewers wanted it to go.

Now, with the division race getting closer and closer, the primary focus goes back to winning the division instead of trying to set things up for the postseason. With that having been said, Piniella announced before today's game that Steve Trachsel might not get the nod on Thursday. The veteran right-hander was tentatively scheduled as that game's starter, but there are other options.

AS IT STANDS:

As it stands, the rotation stacks up like that.

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OPTION 1:





OPTION 1: Monday's off-day would allow Piniella to skip Trachsel by bringing back Hill and Zambrano on Thursday and Friday on regular rest, but that would force Lilly and Marquis to pitch the final two games on short rest.

OPTION 2:

OPTION 2: It's also possible that Lou takes a wait-and-see approach: throw Hill and Zambrano and then re-evaluate the situation for game 161. If we can build back a large enough lead by then, Steve Trachsel could get the nod in order to keep Lilly and Marquis at full strength for games 162 and 163. (Or even better: if we clinch by then, Lilly can be saved for the playoffs.)


(Notice that throwing Zambrano on Friday also lets him pitch in Game 1 of the playoffs on regular rest.)

The bottom line is that Steve Trachsel needs to pitch at least one game in order to prevent Lilly, Marquis (and possibly Hill) to all have to pitch on short rest. Saturday's game 161 seems like the ideal time, except for the fact that pitching Trachsel in a meaningful game that late in the season can be unsettling. But then again, aren't all games equally meaningful at this point?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Double result changes "if" to "when"

A lot of the discussions about the Cubs I've been having since the sweep of Pittsburgh and the Brewers loss to the Braves have been about what will happen when we make the playoffs, instead of being concerned about if we will make the playoffs. Granted, the magic number is still 4 and I know that nothing's been decided yet, but we have a 3 1/2 game lead in the division; even if we finish the season 1-5, the Brewers still have to go 5-2 just to force a tie. And baseballprospectus.com is giving us anywhere from 95% to 98% odds of making the playoffs.

The rotation is an interesting thing to ponder. Currently, Carlos Zambrano is set to pitch in game #161 on Saturday and Ted Lilly will get the nod on #162 on Sunday. While I completely understand that it may be too early for us to start considering things now, let's face it: it's (statistically) likely that we won't need either game.

If that's the case, the impulse decision would be to push Zambrano and Lilly back to games 1 and 2 of the division series, respectively. But with the new postseason schedule, that would put nine days in between starts for Zambrano. For a guy that lacks command like Zambrano does, giving him too much rest could be problematic. So what are your other options?

Pitching Zambrano out of the bullpen or letting him throw in a simulated game aren't good options, which leaves just one thing. Let him throw in game 161, regardless. Push Ted Lilly back to the first game of the playoffs, which would lead Zambrano to pitch in Thursday's game 2. He'd still be going on regular rest and he'd still be pitching on the road. And you could still give him two starts (if that's what you want); Monday's off day makes Tuesday regular rest for Thursday's starter.

The postseason roster is also becoming clearer: it seems as though Piniella has made it obvious that he will be taking Soto, Wuertz, and Murton, by the way he's been using those guys over the past few days. The second lefty reliever has still yet to emerge, but Angel Pagan has officially been deemed as being out for the year, meaning Felix Pie is the guy the Cubs will turn to, if they want a defense/running substitute.

The possible first round opponent certainly hasn't gotten clearer, though. We still know that it will be the winner of the division that gets the wild card, but the Phillies are just 1/2 game behind San Diego, meaning the Cubs need to stay on their toes for both the Mets and the Diamondbacks. If that wasn't confusing enough, the Rockies are now just 1 1/2 games behind the Padres, while margin in both divisions is just 2 1/2 games. It's possible that we might have to play either the Phillies or Padres, if either of the current leaders gets knocked down to second.

Just in case you're wondering, we were 2-5 this year against the Mets, while posting a 2-4 record vs Arizona. Against Philadelphia we went 3-4, and 3-5 against the Padres.

The final week For the final seven games, the Brewers will return home, where they are 47-27. However, they have been 5-7 against the Cardinals thus far this year and 0-3 vs San Diego. The Cubs will hit the road after an off-day, but the road hasn't really been a problem for Piniella's boys, unlike Yost's club. We're 39-36 away from the Friendly Confines.

The pitching matchups also look favorable for us. While the Brewers have to face Wainwright, Looper, Maddux, and Young (and/or Peavy), we have Willis, Barone and Olsen in the series against the Marlins.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Torres vows revenge on Soriano

This guy makes it so hard to root for him. Every time he does something good, he manages to make a complete ass out of himself. You'd think he'd learn to stop hopping before catching fly balls after his muffed pop up turned into fielder's choice and outfield assist against the Cardinals, but I guess not.

A week after doing everything but somersaults after hitting a homerun, Alfonso Soriano was at it again. Facing former Pirates' closer Solomon Torres in the fifth inning, Soriano posed after hitting a deep fly ball.

"I didn't appreciate him standing at the plate, but what are you going to do?" said Torres after the game. "That's his routine. Next time, I'll have my routine. I'll strike him out and show him up."

And I appreciate Torres for saying the right things. I know it's tempting to want to bean him the next time he's up and Torres still may, but at least he didn't lose his cool in front of the microphones. The funny thing is that I was watching Soriano closely after he hit that shot; it looked like to me that Soriano didn't celebrate as much as he usually does. I guess that just goes to show you how much of an asshole he can be.

One of these days, Soriano is going to cost his team a star player. If Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, or one of our pitchers gets hurt for his childish antics, I want that fucker's head on a platter. Literally.

Magic Number: 6 I've kept a quiet count of the magic number for a few weeks now, but now I think it's safe for me to start counting out loud. With a 2 1/2 game lead on the Brewers with just 7 games to go, it would take a gigantic Cubs collapse to let the division slip out of our hands. Granted, the Cubs are capable of such collapse (erm, 2004) but to put things into perspective: if the Brewers go 6-2 in their remaining eight, we can still force a playoff with a 3-4 performance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lou overthinks rotation

Boy, I didn't like how Piniella has handled the rotation over the past couple of weeks and I definitely don't like it now that I've seen three innings from Carlos Zambrano.

Ever since we acquired Steve Trachsel, the rotation's been in shambles. I wouldn't have minded had the fifth spot been the only thing that was affected, but while trying to juggle his pitchers, Lou made a mess out of his staff. Okay, maybe the doubleheader on Saturday had something to do with it, but I really think that Piniella over thought it.

Piniella brought Steve Trachsel back on short rest in the final game at Minute Maid Park so that Zambrano could throw against the Cardinals. I thought that was a risk, but it turned out to be okay, as we ended up winning both games. Had the Cardinals been closer to the division lead, I would've agreed with the move. I certainly agreed with Tony LaRussa's decision to push Adam Wainwright back; he was down and had no other choice. But, was it really worth the risk to push a team five games out further back?

Then, Piniella decided to bring back Zambrano on short rest (after 8 innings and 101 pitches) with a one-game lead in the division! We're ahead, so why are we taking the risks? We should've been okay with pitching Trachsel today against the Reds so that the worst case scenario was a tie in the division lead and our pitchers at full strength. Instead, we've now risked falling into a tie anyway and having to bring back Lilly on the fourth day.

What bothers me most about this is that it seems like we pushed Zambrano back last week, just so we could bring him back on short rest?

That's not something we should do with the division lead.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Soto adds confusion to potential playoff roster

Okay, so I know that it may be a bit premature to think about the playoff roster. After all, we're just tied in the loss column and more than two weeks of season remains, but you can't help but think about what the Cubs options are, if and when they make the playoffs.

It was just six months ago, that the Cubs were looking at a large roster, looking to make cuts down to 25. Then, it was the end of Spring Training and the team was looking to finalize the roster for the regular season. Now, the rosters have expanded and more is on the line. Changes to the roster won't be able to be made as easily and so there is a lot more and stake here.

Geovany Soto had a career year in Iowa. We all know that. Batting .353 while clubbing 26 homeruns and driving in 109 in just 385 at-bats earned him a 1.076 OPS and MVP honors for the Pacific Coast League. Now, Soto is with the big club and he hasn't stopped hitting. His 4-for-5 on Sunday raised his batting average to .423 (11-26) and he's now slugging .692 with a 1.175 OPS. I understand that the sample size is small and that expecting to put up those kinds of numbers, especially against quality pitchers from playoffs teams, is unreasonable. Hell, if we did expect that, there wouldn't even be a discussion here.

But, one thing is for certain. Soto brings so much more to the table offensively than Henry Blanco, who has been hurt for most of the year. So, are his offensive abilities worth leaving Henry Blanco and his sparkling defense off of the playoff roster? It may depend on who the first round opponent is. If the Wild Card comes out of the east, we would have to take on Jose Reyes and the Mets. If the Padres can hang on to the National League's final playoff berth, our first round opponent would be the Arizona Diamondbacks, a station-to-station team.

So why not take three catchers? Well, the problem is that there is a log jam already for the limited number of bullpen slots and outfield slots; we shouldn't be taking away another roster spot just for a third catcher. Lou can't have eight relievers, five outfielders, and three catchers and it seems to me like the third catcher is the least important.

The way I see it, there are 20 locks for the playoff roster. The top four pitchers in the rotation will obviously be the starters used in the post season, while the big four in the bullpen will obviously all make the team. Scott Eyre and Sean Marshall are the obvious choices for the lefties in the bullpen, but who the other two choices are -- and if Lou even wants two more choices -- is anybody's guess.

As far as infielders are concerned, the team would likely go with the six main guys that they have used all year: Lee, DeRosa, Ramirez, Theriot, and Ward are all must keeps while Fontenot is the default sixth. The three starting outfielders should make the playoff roster as well, but that leaves just two slots remaining for Pie, Murton, and Monroe. The latter two guys would both serve the same purpose (to hit lefties), so maybe Pie comes on for the defense and speed. But, then which of the two righties would you take?

Jason Kendall rounds out the locks as the starting catcher.

Of the players on the team, there are also locks for not making the playoff roster. Pitchers Carmen Pignatiello, Will Ohman, and Kevin Hart fall into that list as do Ronny Cedeno and Sam Fuld. It clears up the picture a little bit, but it's still not perfect. Gallagher, Wuertz and Trachsel will probably battle the rest of the season for the final two (or maybe just one) remaining slot in the bullpen.