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.

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)

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)

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

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)

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.