Friday, March 30, 2007

Cubs leave Arizona with bats on fire

Now, I understand that it's only Spring Training, but I love how the Cactus League season turned out and especially how it ended. We only lost one game in the last seven (5 wins, 1 draw) in Arizona and our offense has been amazing.

There are still two exhibition games remaining, but the numbers that our bats have been putting have really excite me. Derrek Lee, who doubled 12 times this month, led all of baseball with a .469 average (30-64), while Aramis Ramirez finished with a .387 (24-62) average. Both tied for the league lead with 19 RBI's, while Ramirez's 7 homeruns led the Cactus League.

Another player worth mentioning is Ryan Theriot, who definitely earned his spot on the roster. He hit .371 (26-70) while stealing seven bases in seven tries. Ronny Cedeno earned his spot, too. He hit .339 (20-59) and clubbed three homers, including a game-winner last week.

The Cubs were last in the National League last year in drawing walks, with only 395. Only three other teams in the league drew fewer than 500 walks and three teams managed more than 600. It appears, for the moment, however, that Lou Piniella and the Cubs fixed that problem. In 30 games, the team drew 109 walks, including 7 or more from six different players. Pro-rating that over a 162-game season, that's 589 walks, which would've been fifth in the National League last year. Also encouraging was the fact that our pitchers allowed just 90 walks, which pro-rates to 486, a much better improvement 687 walks, which was 65 more than any other team last year.

The Cubs also improved on last year's .741 team OPS, as six players had an OPS over or near .900: Derrek Lee (1.290), Aramis Ramirez (1.272), Ronny Cedeno (.985), Cliff Floyd (.970), Michael Barrett (.918), and Matt Murton (.880).

The .571 winning percentage the team posted this Spring computes to 93 wins, which would've not only won the division but would've trailed only the Mets in the entire league.

Of course, I understand how ridiculous all of this speculation is for two reasons, the most obvious being the fact that these numbers are from Spring Training; they don't count. Also, we're pro-rating a month's performance over the course of entire season.

Nonetheless, it does bring optimism to the upcoming season. Is next year finally here?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A look at the Spring numbers


Carlos Zambrano: 1-1, 3.68 ERA; 14 2/3 IP, 15 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 16 K.
Ted Lilly: 1-0, 2.08 ERA; 8 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
Jason Marquis: 1-1, 2.00 ERA; 9 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.
Rich Hill: 1-1, 4.50 ERA; 10 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 10 K.
Wade Miller: 1-0, 5.11 ERA; 12 1/3 IP, 19 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 11 K.

Angel Guzman: 0-0, 6.52 ERA, 9 2/3 IP, 14 H, 7 ER, BB, 2 K.
Michael Wuertz: 0-0, 0.00 ERA; 2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K.
Neal Cotts: 0-0, 7.20 ERA; 10 IP, 20 H, 8 ER, BB, 6 K.
Will Ohman: 0-1, 5.14 ERA; 7 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 8 K.
Scott Eyre: 0-0, 4.50 ERA; 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 7 K.
Bobby Howry: 0-0, 5.63 ERA; 8 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.
Ryan Dempster: 0-0, 2.25 ERA; 4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.

Michael Barrett: 10-34 (.294), 3 HR, 6 R, 9 RBI; .450 OBP, .922 OPS; 1/1 SB.
Henry Blanco: 2-21 (.095), 0 HR, 1 R, 0 RBI; .095 OBP, .190 OPS.

Derrek Lee: 20-39 (.513), 2 HR, 11 R, 10 RBI; .537 OBP, 1.332 OPS.
Mark DeRosa: 7-29 (.241), 0 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI; .405 OBP, .681 OPS.
Aramis Ramirez: 13-37 (.351), 3 HR, 7 R, 10 RBI; .415 OBP, 1.118 OPS.
Cesar Izturis: 9-25 (.360), 0 HR, 8 R, 2 RBI; .500 OBP, .900 OPS.
Daryle Ward: 5-32 (.156), 1 HR, 4 R, 6 RBI; .182 OBP, .495 OPS.
Ryan Theriot: 18-46 (.391), 0 HR, 8 R, 5 RBI; .451 OBP, 1.016 OPS; 3/3 SB.

Matt Murton: 11-42 (.262), 3 HR, 7 R, 9 RBI; .353 OBP, .877 OPS.
Alfonso Soriano: 13-40 (.325), 2 HR, 8 R, 3 RBI; .372 OBP, .947 OPS; 2/3 SB.
Jacque Jones: 13-40 (.325), 1 HR, 8 R, 12 RBI; .341 OBP, .816 OPS; 3/3 SB.
Cliff Floyd: 5-15 (.333), 1 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI; .444 OBP, 1.044 OPS.


Ronny Cedeno: 11-39 (.282), 1 HR, 7 R, 3 RBI; .378 OBP, .788 OPS; 1/1 SB.

Angel Pagan: 3-16 (.188), 0 HR, 1 R, 0 RBI; .350 OBP, .538 OPS; 4/4 SB.
Buck Coats: 14-36 (.389), 0 HR, 5 R, 3 RBI; .450 OBP, .922 OPS; 1/1 SB.


Rocky Cherry: 0-1, 1.13 ERA; 8 IP, 5 H, ER, 4 BB, 11 K; 3/3 Saves.
Carmen Pignatiello: 0-1, 1.69 ERA; 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K.
Mark Prior: 0-1, 18.90 ERA; 3 1/3 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 5 BB, 0 K.
Kerry Wood: 1-0, 12.00 ERA; 3 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
Jeff Samardzija: 0-0, 1.80 ERA; 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.

Jake Fox: 6-13 (.462), 2 HR, 5 R, 7 RBI; .533 OBP, 1.610 OPS.
Geovany Soto: 5-13 (.295), 0 HR, 2 R, 6 RBI; .438 OBP, 1.130 OPS.

Micah Hoffpauir: 6-17 (.353), 1 HR, 7 R, 3 RBI; .450 OBP, 1.215 OPS.
Casey McGehee: 4-12 (.333), 0 HR, 0 R, 3 RBI; .385 OBP, .802 OPS.
Eric Patterson: 5-12 (.417), 1 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI; .417 OBP, 1.167 OPS; 1/1 SB.

Felix Pie: 17-46 (.370), 0 HR, 6 R, 5 RBI; .420 OBP, .855 OPS; 3/4 SB.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cubs score 27 runs in one day; 25-man roster becomes clearer

Just a day after the Chicago Cubs had been held to two hits against John Lackey and the rest of the Angels bullpen, the Cubs made up for their lack of offense by scoring 27 times and pounding 38 hits against the Mariners and Brewers, en route to two wins.

Against Seattle, Soriano led the game off with a homerun, but the offense kept pouring it on. Theriot and Lee each collected four hits in the game, while Ramirez, Barrett, Floyd, Rojas, and McGehee all joined Soriano for a two-hit day.

Barrett homered twice in the game, while Ramirez's homerun capped a five-run first.

Wade Miller, the likely fifth starter, started today's game going 3 1/3 innings while allowing six hits and three earned runs, a three-run blast to Beltre. Howry and Cotts each added more than one inning of scoreless relief, and most encouraging of all was the fact that the entire staff did not allow a walk. I guess it's easier to pitch with a double-digit lead, which the Cubs had had since the fourth inning.

Meanwhile in Phoenix, the other half of the Cubs also scored five times in the first, thanks in large part to a three-run homerun by center fielder Jacque Jones. Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, and Daryle Ward each had multi-hit days along with Jones, while Ward drove in four.

Sean Gallagher started for the Cubs and allowed three runs over three innings. Sean Marshall, Roberto Novoa, and Rocky Cherry all tossed scoreless innings in relief, which is encouraging news.

Before the games, however, manager Lou Piniella announced that he does not intend on rushing Prior or Wood into the regular season, meaning that the two pitchers will likely stay in Arizona for atleast the beginning of April. Michael Wuertz and Roberto Novoa returned to action three days ago, each tossing a scoreless inning, meaning they could take up spots in the bullpen, but because of their uncertainity to be able to work on back-to-back days, Piniella may look elsewhere for the beginning of the season.

With Guzman announced to be the team's long reliever, six spots remain in the bullpen, five of which will go to Howry, Eyre, Ohman, Cotts, and closer Ryan Dempster. The last two weeks of camp will show whether it's Wuertz, Novoa, or Cherry that gets that spot. The five starters will be Zambrano, Lilly, Marquis, Hill, and Miller, leaving room for only five backup players on the roster.

After counting catcher Henry Blanco, infielders Ryan Theriot and Daryle Ward, and outfielder Cliff Floyd (or Murton, whichever way you see it), one spot remains, with three contenders: Cedeno, Pagan, and Coats.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Floyd, Ramirez homer, but bad news for Prior, Wood

The Chicago Cubs routed the Seattle Mariners (ss) 9-3 earlier today, as Floyd and Ramirez both hit homers. Soriano went 3-for-3 and scored twice while Lilly threw 3 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and an earned run, but was displeased about his control.

The news surrounding Cubs camp, however, is the future status of pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

Prior will go on to make his previously scheduled start in minor league camp on Friday, but reports indicate that he may not break camp with the big club, putting Wade Miller solidly in the lead for the fifth spot in the rotation. Also, Kerry Wood suffered a minor strain in his right arm, but luckily for the team, his modulus of elasticity isn't that high, so the stress on the team won't be all that great (sorry, you engineers got the joke though). His status is day-to-day.

If Prior and Wood don't make the team, Guzman is almost a shoe-in for the bullpen, but Piniella is going to want to carry twelve pitchers, especially in April, meaning there are still two spots to fill (previously filled by Novoa and Wuertz). Cherry seems like he'll make the team, but the last spot is still undecided.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Position battles continue as off-day is upon us

The Chicago Cubs have made it to the off-day in their exhibition schedule, which means that the preseason is just less than half over. The Cubs enter their mini-break with a 7-6 record which is sixth best among 12 Cactus League teams, but their performance shows more reason for optimism.

To me, 22 of the 25 roster spots are settled. Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, and Marquis are four of the five starters, while the bullpen should consist of Cotts, Ohman, Eyre, Wood, Dempster, and two others. The two catchers are obvious, and the announcement that Ryan Theriot will break camp with the big team makes the six infielders equally obvious. The outfielders should include Murton, Soriano, Jones, Floyd, and Pagan.

The final spot in the rotation I considered to be Prior's to lose, and so far, he has. The once highly coveted pitcher has allowed seven earned runs in 3.1 innings and will make a minor league start this Friday. Of most concern is the fact that Prior has only been able to throw one pitch all spring (the fastball) and has failed to get much velocity or control behind it. Looking to fill that spot include prospect Angel Guzman, who's allowed just a pair of earned runs in 6.1 innings as well as former Astros ace Wade Miller, who has a 4.00 ERA but a 1.89 WHIP in nine innings. Lefty Neal Cotts has apparently run himself out of contention, by allowing six earned runs and seventeen hits in 7 innings, but should still make the team as the long reliever.

Heading into Spring Training, Roberto Novoa and Michael Wuertz were locks in the bullpen for me, but now it appears that the door has been swung open for youngsters Rocky Cherry and Carmen Pignatiello. Cherry has been serving as the team's closer in March, converting all three of his save opportunities while posting allowing just a run on four hits, while fanning nine batters in 5.1 innings. Meanwhile, Pignatiello has allowed just one hit in 5 innings.

It's more likely, however, that Guzman, Miller, and Prior all make the big league club, leaving Cherry and Pignatiello to start yet another season in the minor league ranks.

Of course, I understand how foolish it is to be debating roster spots when no pitcher has thrown more than nine innings, but with Opening Day less than three weeks away, we have to atleast start speculating.

Left field is also a job up for grabs this March. Though initially believed to be Matt Murton's job, the acquisition of free-agent Cliff Floyd brings about a whole new scenario of possibilities. Despite the fact that Murton is hitting .308 (8-26) and has two homeruns this spring, it appears that manager Lou Piniella likes the idea of having Cliff Floyd's bat in the middle of the lineup, allowing him to move Jacque Jones into the two spot of the batting order.

Other notable Cubs who have had good Spring numbers thus far include first basemen Derrek Lee, who leads the team with a .520 (13-25) average. Ramirez, despite a slow start, is now hitting .375 (9-24) and Izturis' .412 (7-17) has been a pleasant surprise. More good news is that Barrett appears to be shaking off his injury issues at the end of last season; he has a .333 (8-24) average.

Most encouraging for me, however, is the performance of the pitching staff, mainly the fact that Jason Marquis has yet to implode. Marquis has allowed just two earned runs in 9 innings and more importantly no homers and just two walks, while Lilly has surrendered one run on four hits and (get this) no walks in 5 innings. Zambrano and Hill have looked equally solid.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Zambrano triples, falls, then fans five in Cubs win

The Cubs kept rolling today, improving their Cactus League record to 7-5, despite losing the first three decisions of the exhibition season.

Carlos Zambrano was the starting pitcher of the game, but was able to bat before pitching thanks to a six-run first inning by the Cubs. With a runner on second and two outs, Zambrano lined an 0-2 pitch off of the right field wall and fell en route to third base. While it provided a scare for many of the Cubs, Zambrano showed he was just fine, throwing four innings and allowing just two runs on three hits, while fanning five. Most important of all, Zambrano didn't walk a single batter, showing possible signs of improving from his league-high 115 walks allowed last year.

The battle for left field also got a bit interesting as Cliff Floyd made his debut with the Cubs. Floyd, who was sidelined due to a foot surgery he underwent in the winter, knocked in two runs in his first at-bat. Murton, the other candidate for left field, did not play today. He has a .304 average (7-23) and has hit 2 homeruns this spring.

Also on the mound today for the Cubs, were Samardzija, who tossed two scoreless frames and Ohman and Pignatiello, who each contributed one scoreless inning.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hill, Theriot to break camp

Manager Lou Piniella has announced that left-hander Rich Hill and infielder Ryan Theriot will make the major league team on Opening Day. Neither move comes as a surprise, though I'm wondering why Hill needed to be told that he would make the team; I had him as the team's #2 starter.

Whether or not he is the second-best starter on the team, Hill will start the season's fourth game. After Zambrano on Opening Day, Ted Lilly will start the second game. Followed by an unknown (likely Prior) pitcher, then Hill and Marquis.

The decision to add Ryan Theriot to the team was expected by most experts, but may come as a surprise to the casual fan. Theriot will become the team's sixth infielder, as Lee, DeRosa, Ramirez, and Izturis are the starters and Ward is the top bat off of the bench, leaving Ronny Cedeno in the minor leagues. The decision makes sense though; Cedeno is too good to not be playing every day, even if it is in Iowa. Right now, Theriot will serve as the utility infielder.

I project the team to go with five outfielders (Pagan as the fifth) and two catchers, leaving 7 relievers: my guesses would are Dempster, Eyre, Ohman, Cotts (if he doesn't start), Howry, Novoa, and Wood.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Zambrano fans four, guarantees title

In just the second day of Cactus League play, Carlos Zambrano fanned four batters while allowing just one hit in two innings. The Cubs ace then went on to say that he thinks he can win this year's Cy Young and guaranteed a World Series victory this October.

Despite the 9-6 loss to LA (and not considering Zambrano's predictions), the Cubs continued to raise my expectations for the 2007 season. The team lost the game only thanks to five runs off of Clay Rapada, but the regulars looked real good. Matt Murton collected three hits and drove in four, while Derrek Lee's hit was his second in as many games. Also, Cesar Izturis responded to Piniella's search for a two-hole hitter by wrapping two hits and scoring twice from that position in the batting order.

The next few games will tell a lot more about this year's team; Miller, Hill, and Prior, all three of whom are going to have to stay healthy and consistent if the Cubs are to be successful in 2007, will start the next three games.

It's nice to be back in baseball season.