My oh my, what a couple of days we have just had here in the world of the Chicago Cubs. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Cubs have just won their fifth game in a row, which is their longest winning streak of the year. Also in these past few days, the judgment was finally made on Milton Bradley’s appeal of his two game suspension. Oh yeah, one more thing has happened, Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article on steroids in baseball, and threw out Ryan Theriot’s name into the mix. These past few days have been something else, but in case you have been out of the loop, allow me to catch you up.
Lets start with Bradley’s suspension, since the news of this came out first. In the post game press conference of Thursday night’s win over the San Diego Padres, Cubs General Manager revealed that the empty suits in Major League Baseball have finally decided to share the ruling on Bradley’s appeal. Even though both Bradley, and the umpire Vanover agreed that there were no threats or foul language, the suspension was upheld, but reduced to only one game. I know the rules of baseball state that contact between a player and an umpire requires a suspension, but the contact that was made was so slight the suspension should not have been made. When the brim of a players helmet hit’s the bill of the umpire’s cap, that should not be considered contact. No matter how any of us feel, the suspension was carried out, and Bradley sat out today’s game against the Houston Astros.
I know what many of you are saying when you are talking about the suspension. Many of you are wondering why Bradley didn’t just take his suspension when he was injured and wasn’t playing, instead of going through the entire appeal process and then sitting out when he was fully healthy. First and foremost, I must admit that I agree with all of you who feel this way. While he wanted to stand up for himself, he needed to put the team ahead of his own self image. Everyone knew that the suspension and fine would not be eliminated completely. No matter how any of us feel, he did fight the suspension and he technically walked away with a victory in the hearing, though not the complete victory he was hoping for. He paid his debt to baseball, and now he can get on with his baseball life and get back to doing what he was paid to do. Help the Cubs win the world series. Hopefully now we can put this matter behind us for good and look forward.
Today the Cubs played the first game of their rain shortened series against the Astros. The first game of the series, which was scheduled to be played on Friday afternoon, was rained out, and will be made up in July. As I already stated, the Cubs won today, even with Bradley sitting out, to extend their winning streak to five games. Today’s game was a roller coaster ride all the way through. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when the Cubs scored three times, which included a Micah Hoffpauir two run homer that followed a Derrek Lee RBI single. The score would remain that way until the eighth inning when Geovany Soto tacked on what would turn out to be a much needed run to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead heading into the ninth. All secure, or so you would have thought. The Cubs bullpen stepped up and delivered two back to back perfect innings by Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol. All that would be left would be for Kevin Gregg to come in and get the final three outs. With a four run lead, the fans in the stadium were warming up their vocal chords to sing “Go Cubs Go”. However, they would have to wait a little longer then they would have liked to.
Gregg entered the game, and immediately gave up two solo homeruns on three pitches, and the Cubs lead was now cut in half. The next three men all reached base, two with hits and one by being hit by a pitch. So here we were, bases loaded and up by two runs with no outs. A nightmarish situation for any Cub fan to witness. After Gregg loaded the bases, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had seen enough and called Aaron Heilman out from the bullpen to try and fnish the game off. However, that would not be the case because on the first pitch Ivan Rodriguez singled scoring two men to tie the game. Heilman would get the next two men out before walking Michael Bourn to once again load the bases. Again, Piniella had seen enough and went to the pen again. This time, he called in lefty Sean Marshall to try and keep the game tied. Three pitches later, we were heading to the bottom of the ninth looking for that much needed walk off win.
The bottom of the ninth started out great for the Cubs. First we saw former Cub LaTroy Hawkins on the mound, Cub fans who unfortunately remember him knew this could only mean good things. For the Cubs, they had 31 year old rookie Bobby Scales stepping up to the plate, and he worked a full count, then drew a leadoff walk. Good things always tend to happen when you start off an inning with a walk. Aaron Miles was up next, and against my better judgment laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Scales over to second. I say against my better judgment because I was sure they would walk Alfonso Soriano with first base open and a runner at second. Thankfully, that was not the plan that Hawkins and the Astros had in mind. They pitched to Soriano, and that’s all we needed. After two quick strikes, Soriano popped a single into right field and Scales crossed home plate to score the winning run.
Gregg flat out sucked today, which will only add logs to the fire of fans who hate him, and want him out of the closers role. There are no words that I can give to even begin to defend Gregg at this point, because today’s game was inexcusable. How he could blow the game that badly is beyond me. For the past few games, he has been solid and actually looked like he had his job locked down, and then he goes out there and drops this disaster of an outing. The calls for Marmol to be the new closer are already starting, as are a few calls for Guzman to take the job. However, this game will not be the final nail in Gregg’s job as closer. He will have more chances to do the job before Piniella yanks him from the closers job.
Finally, Telander wrote an article on Friday about steroids, and brought up Theriot’s name. During the course of the article, he half heartedly accused Theriot of using steroids. However, he only brought up his name tongue in cheek, and only to make his point that now everyone in baseball should now be a suspect. The downside, he has now marked Theriot as a steroid user, even if he didn’t mean to, he has now tarnished Theriot’s career. Take a look at Theriot’s body and tell me he is a user. He is listed at 5’11” and around 170 pounds, yet he is going to have to walk around with the whispers of steroid use following him. Good job Telander, way to bring down someone to make a point. Just because he is performing above expectations, you had to single him out. Why not call out a slugger who at least looks like a possible candidate. Such players like Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals, or Ryan Howard from the Philadelphia Phillies. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that they are users, but they would fit the image of a steroid abuser more then Theriot ever could.
Like I said, these past few days have been crazy, and a lot has gone down. I am sure things will continue to get crazy throughout the season, after all, this wouldn’t be a Cubs season without a lot of craziness following the team around, don’t you agree?
This spring, Heilman has appeared in, and started two games so far, pitching a total of five innings. During that time, he has only given up two hits, and allowing no runs to score. He has looked sharp with his control, striking out seven batters, while only walking two. In both of his spring starts, Heilman has faced the Chicago White Sox, giving up one hit in each of his outings.
In his first outing on February 28, he only pitched two innings, throwing 15 pitches, all of which were thrown for strikes. In that game, he struck out 4 batters while getting the other two out on ground balls. His second outing on March 5, he pitched three innings, throwing a total 52 pitches of which 29 landed for strikes. He struck out three and walked two. While that isn’t a good strike out to walk ratio, he only gave up one hit without allowing a run. So far this spring, Heilman has a perfect earned run average. He is taking care of his business on the field and stating his case on why he should appointed to the fifth starters role over his main competition in Marshall.
Like Heilman, Marshall has started both games that he has appeared in, and has also pitched a total of five innings. In his first start of spring of on February 26, Marshall faced the Milwaukee Brewers for two innings threw only 11 pitches, all of which landed for strikes. Even though he only struck out one batter, he did not issue a walk. In the first start of his spring, he gave up for hits and allowed a run to score. In his second start, Marshall had a much better showing. He pitched three innings of hitless ball, while striking out one batter without walking anyone. He threw 11 pitches, just like in his first outing, and every pitch again landed for a strike. He is showing excellent command of the strike zone in the time he has been given. With this spring start, Marshall lowered his spring ERA to a sparkling 1.80.
Both men are stating their cases and are looking like they will be a great addition to the Cubs pitching staff no matter where they land. While I have made it known that I believe Marshall would be better served coming out of the bullpen because of the need of a second lefty, he is making me rethink the role I think he would be better suited for. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still think that we need a second left handed pitcher in the pen; having a second lefty in the starting rotation might not be such a bad idea either. No matter how the hand plays out for both Heilman and Marshall, I think that our fifth starter slot will be filled by a pitcher who will be more then capable of carrying his own weight.
Of particular consideration is the fact that Aaron Heilman was slated to be a setup man or 7th inning middle reliever. As a result, he was conditioned for this role from the beginning of spring training. As such, we can presume that preseason preparation program was optimized for him to pitch one inning at a time, 2-3 times per week. The sum total of his actual workload in the season, however, was more comparable to that of a long reliever / spot starter. In fact, the only relievers in 2008 who threw more pitches than Heilman and Marmol were those who made at least a few starts, and who were used almost exclusively in long relief roles: Chan Ho Park, Hong Chih Kuo, Boof Bonser, and Carlos Villanueva.
But then what about Marmol, who threw 19 more pitches than Heilman and had perhaps the best season of any setup man / middle reliever in baseball?
Unlike Heilman, however, Marmol was never used in both ends of a doubleheader. He threw more than 26 pitches in an outing 17 times (compared to Heilman’s 16), but never more than 51 (Heilman did it twice).
Also of concern is the fact that both Marmol and Heilman rely heavily on a mid-90s fastball. Generally speaking, throwing at a higher velocity takes more toll on a pitcher’s body.
It has to be understood that these numbers reflect the most abused pitchers in all of MLB — the vast majority of middle relievers are used 10-12 times per month, 160-220 pitches per month. Total pitches for the year for a typical middle reliever is anywhere from 650-1100.
Thank you again to metstoday.com for those stats and passages.
Well, just wanted to get these thoughts out there. What do you think?