Tagged: Chicago

The Chicago Cubs offensive offense breaks out for a night

Please note, that I am writing part of this while the Chicago Cubs are playing tonight.

You just had to know the trends would not last forever, they couldn’t. The Cubs offense would not be slumping all season long, they would break out sooner or later. That is exactly what they did last night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they score a total of eight runs, three more runs then they scored on the entire road trip. You would think, that with score eight runs, the Cubs won the game. Yeah, you would think that, but you would be wrong. The great pitching the Cubs were getting on the road trip, also came to an end, as the pitching staff as a whole gave up 10 runs. That just figures, don’t you think? The Cubs get all that great pitching without getting the run support, and as soon as the bats wake up the pitching has a set back. Just seems to be the case

As far as the offense goes, and the sudden break out that occurred last night, they are still a pathetic group to look at. While they were able to pound the Pirates, who have been the doormat of the National League for over a decade, this is still an offense which is struggling more then anyone could have imagined. To see just how bad this offense has been performing, all you have to do is look at the statistics. We have two of or everyday players batting over .300, which is pretty damn pathetic. Aramis Ramirez, who is going to be out for at least another month is hitting .364, while Kosuke Fukudome is batting .308. After those two, Ryan Theriot is the next leader on the batting average as far as everyday players go with his .273 average. No one on this roster should be holding their heads high in regards to their offensive outputs as they are all playing disgraceful baseball. While every player on the team is putting up disgraceful numbers, there are a handful of guys in the lineup who are appearing as though they may be ready to break out completely. Derrek Lee and Milton Bradley have both been playing better baseball then they had been for the majority of the season.

As soon as the calendar switched from April to May, Lee has seemingly flipping the switch, and his bat has come to life. While Lee put up a pathetic .189 batting average in April, he is hitting at a .333 clip for May, and his average has climbed to a .248. While his current batting average is still really ugly, Lee is starting to play the way he has his whole career. He may not match the power numbers that he has put up over the course of his career, but he has four months to get 15 more homeruns which will be close to his career average in homers. Lee coming to life is a great sign, as the Cubs need him to be the player that he has always been.

Bradley on the other hand, his climb back up to respectability will be a much longer road to hike. While he is still struggling to break the .200 mark, he has been taking some good swings and hitting the ball hard. With the contact he is making, the hits will start to fall and his average will rise. The problem Bradley will have is keeping his mouth shut when the situation involves the umpires. While I can see the argument he made, to a very limited point, when he claimed the umps were all out to get him, you do not, under any circumstances voice your frustration to the media. Nothing good can ever come from publicly questioning the umpire’s agenda. If you honestly believe that the umpires are out to get you, what do you think publicly complaining about them is going to do? Get them to back off and call things fair? If they do have an agenda against Bradley, his calling them out if the fashion he did will only upset them even more. Now, he is calling out Paul Sullivan for baiting him into saying what he said. Perhaps his media ban should be brought back into effect, he will get into less trouble that way. Outside of Lee and Bradley, all of the other struggling Cubs (Fukudome and Ramirez excluded) have done nothing to impress anyone.

You can say that Theriot has impressed by showing signs of power, but with that power came a massive dip in average. He went from a very impressive .317 April average, all the way down to .273 thanks to his hitting .229 for May. While his power bat has awoken, he sacrificed everything that made him a great two hole batter.

Don’t even get me started on Alfonso Soriano, while he is hitting over .400 while having the first at bat of the game, his batting average as a whole has fallen to a pathetic .253. Sadly, his average is the third best in terms of active everyday players. If your leadoff hitter is hitting that poorly overall, you will not win many games.

Mike Fontenot, whose batting average is only 10 points higher then Bradley’s (who is bringing up the rear in terms of everyday players) is showing that he is not an everyday player. You can talk about how the change in position has hurt his play, but that is the biggest load of bull you can say. The good ball players can adapt and continue to play well, even with a position change. You want proof? Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have all changed positions, and are all still dominant players. Say what you will about steroids when you talk about A-Rod or Pujols, but they did not let a change in position hurt their offensive output.

Micah Hoffpauir is another one of those players who is slowly proving that he should not play everyday. There is a reason he has not gotten a starting gig with the Cubs all those years he was in the organization. While his .267 average is far from the worst on the club, he has played in the last four games as a starter and has one hit in 16 tries. I know that four games is a very small sample size, so lets break things down like this. In every game he starts, he has 18 hits in 75 at bats for a .240 average as a starter. As a bat off the bench he is 5 of 11 for a .455 average. Again, small sample sizes, but the numbers are not pretty when he starts a game.

Geovany Soto will not escape my complaints, as he has completely fallen off what he was expected to be. He appears to be much heavier then he was in his Rookie of the Year campaign. You can point fingers and lay blame on the World Baseball Classic all you want for his poor play, but you can not blame that event for him not being in shape. His .214 batting average is simply disgusting, considering everything he accomplished last year. He won the ROY award, and was the first National League rookie catcher to ever start an All Star game. Other then not being in the shape that he should be in , I do not know what is wrong with him. Whatever is causing his struggles, Soto needs to figure things out fast.

While the pitching staff had a bad night last night, for the most part they have been solid. With the obvious exception of Neal Cotts who I have been voicing my displeasure with all season. I wont get into him tonight, but I don’t think that he will be on the roster too much longer. He definitely will not finish the season on the 25 man roster.

The Cubs have a little over four months of baseball left to play in the regular season, and are currently five games out of first. They have time to turn things around, but if the offense continues to show very little signs of life, they will not be able to hang around for long. The good news, we are currently in the top of the second inning with one out. The Cubs lead 1-0, thanks to a solo shot by Fukudome. Come on Cubs, you need to snap this losing streak.

Cubs just cant catch a break

The Chicago Cubs just cant seem to catch a break, can they? Today the Cubs activated staff ace Carlos Zambrano from the disabled list, and unfortunately made a corresponding move by placing Rich Harden on with a back strain. I guess everyone should have seen this coming, as a season without Harden getting injured and placed on the disabled list just doesn’t happen. They will spin the injury the same way they always have, that this is not an arm injury so there is no need to be overly concerned. But guess what, while the injury is not arm related the back also plays a role in a pitchers delivery.

Many people, myself included, feel that when healthy Harden is the best pitcher in the rotation. His injury is just another slap in the face of Cub fans, and will prolong the M*A*S*H parade the Cubs have been on all season. What this move means, is that neither Randy Wells or Sean Marshall will need to be moved into the bullpen at the current moment. Wells will take Harden’s start on Saturday, and will give Cubs Manager Lou Piniella another look at his young starter to help him decide which pitcher will remain in the rotation when everyone comes back healthy.

We managed to survive for three weeks without Zambrano due to the other pitchers picking up the slack, and pitching gems. They will have to continue doing so now that Harden will be out for two weeks. This injury to Harden really is a shame, because Harden has been pitching well and has looked healthier then any other time in his career. The dog days of Summer are upon us, and June is right around the corner. This is just another obstacle the Cubs will have to over come on their own, as there will not be a trade made to save them.

Cubs are hurting, but help may never come

Just when you didn’t think things could get much worse for the Chicago Cubs, surprise, they have jut gotten worse. I guess this was to be expected when you are a fan of the Cubs, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The offensive slumber continued on for a third straight game, while the starting pitcher once again threw the ball well enough to pick up the win. For that matter, the bullpen has pitched great this series as well. Unfortunately, all their hard work was for nothing. While this is nothing new, there are new concerns coming to light that Cub fans should be aware of, as they will follow our team around for the rest of the season. With his recent actions and comments, Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has apparently lost his mind, or is very close to having a massive meltdown. To top everything off, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry may not be able to do a thing to help out our ball club with a trade.

Last night, Sean Marshall continued the trend by pitching well enough to keep the Cubs in the game. However, the offense also continued their trend by not scoring enough runs to win the game. For the second time in this series, the Cubs scored only a single run in the game. In case you are keeping score, that is a grand total of two runs in the three game set. I don’t care who you are, you are not going to have much success if you can only tally two runs in three games. Don’t play the blame game on the pitchers either, they limited the St. Louis Cardinals to eight runs in the three game set, but that was obviously not enough. I was joking when I said the pitchers may just have to throw a shutout every game to have a chance of winning, but that is looking to be the case more and more with every passing game. With our offense in a slumber this deep, the great pitching they have been getting wont matter one bit. While we are still only in the month of May, and only four games out of first, time is slowly starting to pass the team by.

With our offense struggling to score runs, Piniella and his coaching staff are trying to find ways to add more offense to the lineup. Due to Mike Fontenot’s failure to live up to expectations, Piniella threw an idea out, which he deems as the last resort. His idea? Move Alfonso Soriano back to second base and insert Micah Hoffpauir into the vacated spot in left field. Personally, I feel that this would be the biggest mistake our manager could make, and would likely do more harm then good. For one, I don’t think anyone remembers just how bad Soriano was at second base. He has averaged 21 errors a season while playing in the infield. To top that off, Hoffpauir isn’t exactly a great fielder either. So while we may improve our offense, I don’t believe that they will be able to out hit their errors. Leave them where they are, adding offense by taking away from our defense will not solve any of our problems.

Some people may be speculating that this is all just talk coming from Piniella as a way to tell Hendry the Cubs need help fast. However, that help may never come as Hendry’s hands may very well be tied. With word coming out that the ownership situation with the Cubs may not be settled until at least August, I don’t know how much Hendry can do to improve this team. Without a true owner anymore, and the team in the final stages of being sold, the Cubs funds are all but limited. That is one reason why the Cubs were unable to finalize a trade for Jake Peavy over the winter, they could not guarantee the $22 million dollar option at the end of the contract. That’s the same reason why the Chicago White Sox were unable to get Peavy’s nod of approval. Without any money to spend, the Cubs appear to be stuck with the team they currently have, only adding to the team through promotions from the minors. So anyone who was hoping to land Peavy or a bat to help the offense at the deadline, you can likely count that out. The trade deadline will likely pass before the Cubs officially change hands, and any major player will not clear waivers so we can make a deal.

From the looks of things, this is going to be a very long season. The Cubs best hitter Aramis Ramirez is still over a month away from returning to the team, and there is no telling just how much of an impact he will make when he does get back. While Derrek Lee is starting to look like he is getting back into form, Geovany Soto continues to struggle, Fontenot has fallen below the Mendoza Line and Milton Bradley still cant buy a hit. In his defense, though, he has been driving the ball hard lately. The problem is, he is hitting the ball at people. The hits will start to fall, and while he may not end the season around the .300 mark as we would have hoped, he should start to be a contributor on a regular basis. Don’t even get me started on Aaron Miles, he has been nothing short of a disaster thus far in the season. After our 1-2-3 hitters, everything else seems to be up in the air, and with that being the case the Cubs are headed nowhere fast. Thankfully, Carlos Zambrano is returning tonight. Not only do the Cubs get back a great pitcher, but they get back a much needed bat. Even if he will not be running as hard as he could, his bat could give our boys at least a little bit of a much needed spark.

Crazy couple of days for your Chicago Cubs

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?

Cubs sweep the Padres out of Chicago

The Chicago Cubs have swept their first series of the year, beating the San Diego Padres in a three game set. Perhaps the timing is just a coincidence, but the sweep comes on the very first series the Cubs have played without Aramis Ramirez. Maybe, just maybe the Cubs will be able to keep pace with the rest of the National League Central. Or maybe the Padres are just really really bad. No matter the reason you lean towards, the Cubs are doing exactly what they need to do while Ramirez is on the disabled list. That is winning games by having everyone else pick up their own games. There is no single player who deserves credit, as they have all been team wins.

The starting pitching was outstanding this series, as all three of our starters lasted into at least the sixth inning. Rich Harden matched would be Cub Jake Peavy pitch for pitch and eventually showed that he was the better pitcher on the day limiting the Padres to two runs. Not to be outdone, Ted Lilly matched Harden’s efforts, by mirroring the first inning but ending with only allowing three runs in six plus innings. Ryan Dempster, not to be outdone by his fellow pitchers went out and threw a gem to secure the sweep allowing only two runs in seven innings of work. You shouldn’t be too surprised with the starting staff, as everyone in the rotation has appeared to step things up when staff ace Carlos Zambrano went down with his hamstring injury.

However, the starters are not the only pitchers to shut down the Padres, the bullpen put together three great games. In their 6.2 innings the combined for five hits and two runs. The first run came in the eighth inning of Wednesday nights rain shortened game off of Carlos Marmol who picked up the unexpected save. The second came off of Jose Ascanio making his first appearance of the season in Thursdays game. Everyone, with the exception of David Patton and Neal Cotts, in the bullpen contributed in this series, and all deserve credit for helping the Cubs keep their leads.

The Cubs offense thrived in this series, scoring six runs in the first two games and 11 in the final game. In the series there were six home runs, two by Ryan Theriot and one each by Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto and Bobby Scales. None of those homers came in the finale though, that was all done with good clutch hits. Speaking of Bradley, while we are still waiting to hear word on the verdict of his appeal, he has begun to heat things up with his bat. While he is still hitting .194 he has put together a good hitting streak which has seen his batting average climb in the past few games. Be patient with him, because when you start off as slow as he did, there will be a long climb back to respectability with the batting average. Soto is another player who seems to be coming out of his season long slump. He has put together a couple of games where he has been the player we saw last year. The only everyday players who still seem to be in a slump are first baseman Derrek Lee and second baseman Mike Fontenot. While his critics have been calling for Micah Hoffpauir to replace Lee, Cubs manager Lou Piniella has stuck with Lee despite his struggles. Fontenot, who is also struggling doesn’t seem to be getting any grief for his slump, maybe because he isn’t being paid nearly as much as Lee. However if Scales continues playing as well as he has since being recalled, Fontenot might find his way back to the bench at some point this season.

Not really much from me today, which is rare, but I will end with this. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Cubs are doing fine without their best player for now. Whether or not that will continue to be the case, I don’t know. But they are on a four game winning streak, which is pretty damn good. The offense has come together and has been putting up great numbers to help the Cubs win games. The pitching staff has come together with some amazing starts as well. Everyone is picking up the ball that was dropped when Ramirez left, and that is exactly what had to be done for the Cubs to survive. Even though there is still plenty of time left for the Cubs without Ramirez, these past few games has got to of eased the minds and worried hearts of Cub fans everywhere. Lets go to Houston to play the Astros, and continue what has been started.

Plenty of reasons for Cub fans to have optimism, even without Ramirez

These past few days since Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez went down with an injury, I have heard a lot of gloom and doom from a good portion of their fans. Granted, when your best hitter gets put on the shelf with an injury for up to two months, your team will be in trouble. However, I honestly believe that there is plenty of reason for optimism, despite the apparent bleak outlook. Before you ask, no I am not speaking as a typical Cub fan who always believes that this is the year. I am looking at the team as a baseball fan in general.

 

First, look at the record that the Cubs have put up without Ramirez in the lineup. In the four games that he has missed (I am counting the game he left with an injury because he left in the third inning), the Cubs are 2-2. I know that playing at a .500 clip is nothing special, but when you are without your best everyday player you will take what you can get. Please also take note, that in those four games we only had Derrek Lee playing in one of them. During that four game stretch, the Cubs played a team which is going to be in the race for the division crown in the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

Since Ramirez will be out for the next two months, let’s take a look at who exactly the Cubs will be facing, and just how good their opponents will be in that stretch. Over the next two months, and up to the All Star break, the Cubs will be playing 18 series and 55 games, counting the current series with the San Diego Padres. In those 18 series, the Cubs will be playing 12 different teams, seven of which are under the .500 mark. The combined current record of those 12 teams is exactly at the .500 mark (198-198). Don’t forget that the Cubs will also be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers without Manny Ramirez, who was suspended for failing a drug test.

 

Since the division games matter the most, let’s focus in on those. In the span of time that Ramirez will be out, the Cubs will play all five division rivals in eight different series, counting for 25 games. The record for our division opponent’s record stands at 85-78, which shows that our inner division games will pose the bigger threat. Also take note that the St. Louis Cardinals have put Ryan Ludwick on the 15-Day disabled list. While he is no Albert Pujols, he has been a beast in the games he has played against the Cubs.

 

What I am trying to say here is that while losing Ramirez for two months is going to test this team, and push them to the limits, there is no reason why we cannot win enough games to keep the race close. After all the Cubs are only 1.5 games out of first place, and that’s not bad considering everything this club has gone through in the first month and a half. Have faith my friends, you have plenty of reasons to remain optimistic that the Ramirez injury is not the end of the season.

 

For those curious of the teams we are facing until the All Star break, I have put the teams we are facing, along with their record and the number of times we will face them below.

 

5- San Diego Padres 13-20

6- Houston Astros 14-18

6- St. Louis Cardinals 20-13

6- Pittsburgh Pirates 13-19

4- Los Angeles Dodgers 22-12

6- Atlanta Braves 17-17

3- Cincinnati Reds 19-14

3- Minnesota Twins 16-17

6- Chicago White Sox 15-18

3- Cleveland Indians 13-22

3- Detroit Tigers 17-14

4- Milwaukee Brewers 19-14

198-198

The aftershock of Ramirez’s injury has past. Time to look forward

Three days ago when Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez injured his shoulder, Cub fans everywhere started to panic; which they did for good reason. With his injury, Ramirez will miss up to eight weeks and the Cubs do not have a viable replacement for him. While the loss of Ramirez is a devastating blow, the Cubs are not as bad off as they appear to be. Look at everything the Cubs have had to endure so far this season, and look at where they are in the standings. I think that you might come to realize that our boys in blue are doing fine, despite the looks of everything.

Take a look back at the 31 games the Cubs have played, how many games have we had Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, and Ramirez? While I do not have an exact number, I am sure that you can count all the games on one hand. Also take into account that Geovany Soto has gotten off to a severally slow start and is battling with a sore shoulder, and Carlos Marmol has been inconsistent with an injured knee.  The Cubs also lost their best pitcher in Carlos Zambrano, who already missed the first of at least three starts. The Cubs have suffered through a tremendous amount of injuries early on, and the Cubs are still only one win off the pace they set last year. They may not be getting a lot of pretty wins, but they are getting wins none the less. After all, isn’t that what counts? Just win games, and get to the playoffs. No one will remember how you got their once you do get there.

The road to getting there might be harder then we all imagined, but we are still doing a good job. While we are not running away with the division like so many people thought, we are not being left for dead either. Currently the Cubs are in third place, only two and a half games behind the St. Louis Cardinals who are starting to come back down to earth. While you never want to be trailing in the division, especially to the hated St. Louis Cardinals, we are still a good three game stretch away from being in first place. Even with the injuries, we are hanging tough and not giving up. Sure there are road blocks along the way, but every team has them.

One major roadblock the Cubs are facing is having what may very well be the worst bullpen in the majors. Aaron Heilman has completely fallen off the face of the planet and is pitching like he did during his time in New York with the Mets. In fact, you could easily say that he is pitching worse. Neal Cotts is still struggling badly, and has yet to put together any consistency that would give Cub fans any hope that he can rebound. David Patton is, well, who he is; just an A ball player with very limited experience. While he can put forth a good two inning outing one game, he can also go out and get lit up like a Christmas tree. Marmol has been struggling in recent games as well, but appears to be coming out of his funk. While he is still walking too many people, he is getting out of the ugly jams that he seems to put himself into. Kevin Gregg still is one of the most hated men in the bullpen, likely because he replaced Kerry Wood on the roster. However, he is getting the job done. He may look bad doing things, but he is doing the job. A surprise in the bullpen is Angel Guzman, who appears to finally be figuring things out. He has had some very quality outings as of late, and may very well be the seventh inning guy Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has been looking for. Add into the fact that the Cubs added Jose AsCanio to the roster to replace the walking arm injury Chad Fox. He has been one of the best pitchers in the Cubs farm system this year, and the hope is that he will continue his dominance at the pro-level.

However, you also need to look at one of the bright sides going on for the Cubs. Bradley seems to be coming out of his season opening slump, and is starting to look very good. While he only has a .179 batting average, he is getting on base at a .321 clip. I don’t care what you say about him, a batting average that low, with an on base that high is very impressive. That is not what I am talking about though in terms of him looking good. Over the course of the five game road trip, Bradley has six hits in 20 at bats, for a .300 average. He is also going to work the count more often then not, and rarely swings at a bad pitch. You may not like him, but you are going to have to support him, because with Ramirez out, with Lee coming off an injury, Bradley will have to be one of the guys to help carry the team. Alfonso Soriano, who seems to be getting on one of his hot streaks lately as well is another man who is going to be leaned on hard to help carry a team. When Soriano gets hot, he can single handedly carry a team for at least a week, as can Bradley. Soto is another man who needs to stop up his game while Ramirez is out.  While the loss of Ramirez is the most costly loss the Cubs could endure, the Cubs have enough fire power to at least keep their head above water and keep the race close.

The road for the Cubs will be a bumpy one, but one that I honestly they will be able to survive. They may not look good getting the wins, but they will come.

Worst Case scenario is underway

I don’t know how much you paid attention to all the preseason talk about the Chicago Cubs and their chances to go for the three-peat and win their third straight division title, but everyone was in agreement. Every single baseball analyst and beat writer all said generally the same thing about the Cubs chances to win the division again. They all said that barring the unthinkable happening, the Cubs should be the runaway favorites to once again win the National League Central division. Basically what they meant, was unless everything that can go wrong does go wrong, the Cubs should be the favorite to once again win the division and a top contender for the league as well. Well, since the season has gotten underway, everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Team Ace Carlos Zambrano strained his hamstring and has been placed on the disabled list. Derrek Lee has been battling neck spasms and has missed time as well. Milton Bradley suffered a groin injury which limited him to only pinch hitting duties for most of the early season. Geovany Soto suffered a shoulder injury, and has taken several steps back in his power and catching base stealers. This is all without mentioning what has happened to Aramis Ramirez and his injuries. He has suffered through back spasms and had a calf injury. Of these injuries, Zambrano was the only player to go on the disabled list, which will keep him sidelined for at least three weeks. That is, until last nights game.

Since his injury in the third inning of last nights loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, I have been trying to figure out exactly how to say what needs to be said. I will cut to the chase, and save everyone a lot of time, the Cubs are in a lot of trouble. With Ramirez leaving the game, with a separated shoulder, the Cubs are lacking the middle of the order power threat that they need to remain competitive. Sure, they still have Lee and Bradley, but the effect they will have remains to be seen.

While both Lee and Bradley are showing signs of coming out of their season long slumps, what will we get out of them? Lee has seemingly lost the power stroke that he once had. By him losing his power stroke, I am not talking about his monstrous 2005 season, which I have stated was nothing more then a career year. That being the case, no one can tell for sure if Lee will ever return to the player he once was before his wrist injury. When you look at Bradley, he appears to be slowly breaking out of his opening series funk and is getting his hits we all knew would come. The problem with Bradley, is he dug himself into such a deep hole, he will have to be very productive to get back to respectability. While he does have the ability to give us the much needed power, his slow start fills our head with doubts. If there ever was a time for Bradley to be the player he was supposed to be, now is that time. We need him now more then ever.

Kosuke Fukudome was recently moved down into the three hole because of his great production thus far in the year, but the move might have been counter productive. Since he has been moved into the three hole, his offense has taken a dive. We can only hope that this is only a temporary slump, and he will continue to play the way he did in April. We can not afford to have Fukudome slip into the same funk that he was in for most of last year, with Ramirez out for close to two months, we need all of the production we can get, which is why Ryan Theriot’s recent offensive explosion is now a much needed asset.

Ramirez only went down yesterday, and the shockwaves of how this will effect the Cubs lineup have already been heard. Fans are screaming for Alfonso Soriano to once again move out of leadoff and back into a middle of the order batter. While I can not say I disagree with this move, I can not say that I agree with the idea either. The experiment was done earlier in the year and for the two games he played there, were complete failures. I agree that more time was needed to see if his presence in the middle of the order would be successful or not. While we could really use his power bat in the heart of the order now more then ever, I don’t know if the move would be what is best for the Cubs in the long run. Many people will say that the Cubs need to look out for their best interest, and not Soriano’s. However, would you not agree that what is best for Soriano is best for the Cubs? As much as his bat is needed in the heart of the order, I think that we need to keep him in leadoff where he can be most productive. That being said, I think the move should be made. Am I confusing you on where I stand on this issue? Don’t feel bad, I am just as confused.

A more pressing need on where Soriano should bat in the lineup with Ramirez’s injury, is how we are going to replace him. Not just his bat, but his glove work too at the hot corner. As things stand, newly acquired Ryan Freel will platoon with Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles playing third, but none of them can match the defense that Ramirez gave us, and sure as hell wont give us the offense. Sadly, at the moment, there may not be much the Cubs will be able to do. They will likely try to fill the void with an in house option, one of the three men I just mentioned will be their first three attempts. Josh Vitters will not be called up, and I agree with that move as he is still a few years away from being a Major League player. If the three men fail to do a respectable job, the Cubs can try to make a trade for another team’s third baseman, or see if they can find a reliable player in the minors.

One player who comes to mind is former Anaheim Angels prospect, and now former Florida Marlins player Dallas McPherson. The Marlins released McPherson on March 31 of this year, and was signed to a minor league deal by the San Francisco Giants on April 11.. In his four year career he has hit for a .245 batting average and 18 homeruns. Though that is only in a total of 128 games and 371 at bats. Not stellar numbers in the least, but last season in Triple A he hit .275 with 42 homeruns. If the Giants were open to listening to offers for him, he could be had for cheap.

Lets face facts, this is a devastating blow to every aspect of the Cubs team. With Ramirez out, we lost not only our biggest power threat, but we also lost a stellar defensive player at what many people say is the hardest position in baseball to play. He is the most irreplaceable player in our lineup, and just our luck, we lost him. Replacing him will not be an easy task, as we will never find the combination of power and defense that he gave us. You can cry for Mark DeRosa all you want, but he would not give us everything Ramirez did. Sure, he could play solid defense, but his offense would fall far short. Especially if he hit the way he has been this season for the Cleveland Indians.

This is going to be a rough two months Cub fans.

State of the Cubs: Many different thoughts here

So much to talk about, more then enough time to write about everything on my mind. The only question, is do you have enough time to read everything I am about to post. Don’t worry, if you don’t read the entire post I will fully understand. In fact, I will do you a favor so you can easily find and read about what you want to read. That way, you can skip over the thoughts that you couldn’t really care less about. But here, you will read about all the thoughts that have been building up inside of me over the past few days. These thoughts include: The State of the Chicago Cubs after four games against the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, the Lou-P lineup Cubs  Manager Lou Piniella threw out there on Tuesday,  the injury of Derrek Lee, the demotion of Jeff Samardzija, the recalling of Chad Fox, and the Milton Bradley suspension case. All this and probably not much more as I do believe that this is enough information to keep you busy for a while. Here is the part where I am helping you find what you want, the order I will be sharing my thoughts on these subjects, is the order that I listed them out. So without further delay, lets get started shall we?

As I have done at the end of every series, I will give you the state of affairs as far as I am concerned with your Cubs. I did not do one following the Giants series, because I felt things would be easier to cover the series with the Giants and Astros at the same time because they are both two game series. In the Giants series the offense continued to be on display in the first game of the series, and the bullpen looked pretty good if you ask me. Were they perfect? I guess that all depends on your definition of perfect. The bullpen pitched two innings allowing one hit and one walk, which if you ask me (and I assume you are if you are reading this) they did a good job and were pretty damn close to being perfect. The second game made you scratch your head though, especially with the lineup that Piniella threw out there, but I will get to that in a minute or two. The bullpen took a major hit in the second game of the series against the Giants, but that is only because Samardzija pitched unbelievably bad, which in turn made Sean Marshall’s outing look even worse. While we didn’t score a lot of runs in this series (only six) the offense is still showing signs of having some life, and the bullpen is starting to come together.

The Astros series started off great, as the offense exploded for an early lead and the Cubs never looked back. The big star of game one was Reed Johnson who drove in three first inning runs with a bases loaded triple. He also scored two runs himself when he crossed home plate after a wild pitch. This time around, he helped the Cubs win with his bat instead of his glove. The bullpen in the first game held their own and looked good again, granted only Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg pitched in the game, but they were both question marks before hand, and might be still. The second game, well that’s still going on as I write this, so perhaps things would be best if I did not include this game in my thoughts. Though after two innings, Cubs are down 2-1 after Ted Lilly gave up a two run bomb in the first inning. Kosuke Fukudome got his first hit of the month of May, and Ryan Theriot got picked off third base. Despite his recent power strike, he still cant run the bases that well. But not everyone can be a perfect ball player. I wont rag on him for that right now. Speaking of Theriot, he just got a base hit to lead off the third. Perhaps I will add to this as the game goes on while I am writing this blog. Still the top of the third, bases loaded no outs, but Hoffpauir popped one up in foul ground at third. Bradley is now up to bat, lets see if he can snap out of this slump in a big way. Basehit by Bradley, not exactly the big hit I was hoping for, but I will take what I can get.

Alright, lets talk about the lineup that Piniella threw out there on Tuesday against Giants Ace Tim Lincicum. Since Tuesday night I have heard numerous fans complain about the lineup, and have read many comments that have been posted saying that Piniella screwed the Cubs and their fans by not starting the best players for that game. The argument was that they were facing a great pitcher, and needed their best hitters in the lineup. I can completely understand that train of thought, but at the same time, I can fully understand what Piniella was doing. Lets take a look at who he sat, and I will give you my thoughts on why they were sat down. First and foremost Alfonso Soriano and Theriot, did you realize that neither of them have gotten a day off  before that game?  They played in every single game the Cubs played without a break, outside of the days the Cubs were off. If they were not sat down then, they would not have been given a day off for at least five more days, because you don’t want to sit players against your division rivals. The next five games were against the Astros and Milwaukee Brewers. I have no problem with them getting that game off. How about Aramis Ramirez, he just sat out for about a week and a half with an injury, he should have been fully rested right? Yeah, rested for sure, but he was just coming off an injury, so why push him too hard. Maybe he could have played, but why not rest him after his first game back just to play things safe, especially with leg and back injuries. The reason Geovany Soto was taken out of the lineup should be obvious, day game after a night game, catchers will very rarely catch both those games. Bradley though, I can not give one good reason why he wasn’t playing. Fukudome could have stayed in center, Hoffpauir could have played at first giving Lee the day off with Joey Gathright playing in left. But hey, I cant justify everyone who sat out with good reasons.

For the second time in a week, Lee had his neck spasms flare up on him, and he sat out both games against the Astros.  This is a tough case to read, as there are different stories coming out about this injury. Piniella has stated that Lee might have to go on the disabled list, but today during the second game of the Astros series Lee commented on how he should be ready to go on Friday when the Cubs travel to play the Brewers. Hopefully Lee is able to play, because he is finally starting to heat up at the plate, and we could use his bat in the lineup. Nothing against Hoffpauir, but if push comes to shove, I would rather have Lee out there. With his bat heating up, and his gold glove caliber defense at first base, he is a threat to win a game for you. Hoffpauir may give you the bat that you would be missing, but his defense is far below what Lee can provide.

After his blow up on the mound in the second game of the Giants series, Samardzija has been sent back down to the minor leagues, rejoining the Iowa Cubs. I honestly think that this move is the best thing for him, as he is a starting pitcher and not a relief pitcher. With him starting, he has the time to work on and develop all of his pitches, as a reliever he can not do that with only one inning of work every other day. No, his future with the Cubs is as a starter and that is where he should stay. Keep him in Iowa the rest of the year, let him work as a starting pitcher. That is where he will be the most help for the Cubs in the future. Bringing him up and throwing him in the bullpen will do nothing but retard his development.

With Samardzija being sent down, a familiar face returned. Long time veteran Fox was recalled, and was place in the bullpen. You might remember him from his time with the Cubs in 2005 where he was attempting a comeback, when his elbow gave out on him during an inning of work. Or, you might remember him from 2007 when he was attempting another comeback. This time his shoulder was giving him problems. Maybe the third time is the charm for Fox, as he is making a third attempt at a comeback. His numbers have looked great in triple A, so lets hope that they carry over now that he is in the majors again. We could sure use his arm at the tail end of the bullpen.

On Wednesday, Bradley had his appeal of his two game suspension heard. Personally I think that he is an idiot for taking this to a hearing when there was plenty of time for him to serve this without hurting the ball club. There was a good week to two weeks where he was just being used as a pinch hitter. He could have served the suspension during that time, and the Cubs would have been fine without him. However, with him taking the ordeal all the way to the hearing, he will miss at least one game, if not two against the Brewers. Face facts, he will not get the suspension dropped completely. The best case scenario is for the suspension to be reduced by a game. Missing one game is better then two, but why not just serve the damn thing earlier when you are not facing a division rival? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the suspension is complete ********, but don’t think that he should have fought the ruling the way he did. Just my two cents.

That about sums up this edition of my Cubs thoughts for the day and night. However, I would not be doing the game a favor if I did not even mention what happened to Manny Ramirez. For those who do not know (and if you don’t I must ask where you have been all day) Man-Ram failed a test for PED (performance enhancing drugs) and will be suspended for 50 games. This does mean that he will miss the series with the Cubs at the end of the month. So if you bought tickets for the end of May series hoping to see him, you are out of luck. Ramirez joins Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and many others in being labeled a steroid using baseball cheater. Honestly, while I am glad to see that they are cleaning up the game, I would be lying if I did not admit that I am a little bit sad. As I mentioned in my post about A-Rod when he tested positive, the game loses a lot of luster for me with these big names failing the tests. How much of what we see is real and genuine. Sometimes,  I honestly wish that the steroid era was never uncovered and no one was the wiser.

 

Alright, that about covers everything I had in mind to cover with a bonus thought. Hopefully you made your way til the end, though if you didn’t, I cant say that I blame you. This is a lot of information to read, but I do hope what you did read you enjoyed. As always, feel free to comment, argue a point or share your thoughts. I always enjoy reading the comments you make on my blogs, however few there are. Until next time, lets root on the Cubs together.

Cubs win a series, but lose an Ace

The Chicago Cubs offense finally seems to have broken out of their deep slumber, as for the third straight day they won a ball game while putting up more then enough offense. One would think that all would be right in the world for Cub fans now that the offense has woken up. However, as the old saying goes, when one door closes, another one usually opens. Well, the door to the Cubs offensive slump has seemingly closed, but another door opened up today, which could leave Cub fans with the cold sweats.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Cubs offense has been struggling to even score one run in a game on a consistent basis. They had a very long string of games without scoring, then followed that up with an offensive explosion. That explosion only lasted a day before the slump kick in once again. This trend went on for a few games until the series with the Florida Marlins began. In the first game, fans would have thought everything was right when Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot hit back to back home runs, but that would be where the offense stopped that day. The next three games though, the Cubs scored at least six runs in winning efforts each night. You could possibly write things off to them taking advantage of a struggling ball club in the Marlins, or you can say that they are finally starting to put everything together. I chose to be the optimist here and say they are finally putting everything together.

While Bradley continues to struggle at the plate (and I will get back to him in a bit), Derrek Lee seems to be coming out of his slump as he belted his second home run of the series, this time a Grand Slam. While Lee is seemingly snapping out of his funk, another hitter is emerging as a serious threat in the middle of the order. After blasting another ball over the wall, Fontenot now has five home runs. He is showing that he belongs in the discussion of the power threats in the Cubs lineup. One player who does not look as though he belongs, is Bradley, and fans are starting to let him know they are not happy.

After striking out in his final at bat of the day, he was showered with a loud chorus of boos from the crowd. Cub fans are getting frustrated with his lack of production, and are getting tired of waiting for him to show up. Part of me has got to wonder if they are showing their displeasure with him only because of his lack of production, or if there is another motive behind the booing. Cub fans are not stupid, not by any means. They all know that Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa were not re-signed because they needed the money they would have gotten to pay Bradley’s contract. While neither Wood (1-1 6.00 ERA 5 for 5 in Save opportunities) or DeRosa (.235 BA 5 HR 19 RBI) are having stellar years, fans are still unhappy that they were sent packing ending their Cub careers. Both could possibly be reasons why fans are showing their displeasure of Bradley’s lack of production. No matter what the reason is, he needs to step up his contributions fast, before the fans turn on him completely. Bradley will start hitting, he is too good of a ball player not to. Only question is will he be able to get on track before he becomes the most hated man to every play for the Cubs.

Okay, I have put off the bad news long enough. With the good news of the offense snapping out of their funk, you had to know that bad news wouldn’t be too far off. In the top of the fifth inning Carlos Zambrano lead off the inning, and for some unknown reason he tried bunting for a base hit. To his credit, Zambrano laid down a perfect bunt and beat out the throw to first base. The only problem is, when he was beating out the throw to first, he strained his hamstring and put his next start in jeopardy. If we are lucky, he will only miss his next start. I know that Zambrano prides himself on being the complete ball player, and trust me, that he is. I am sure you have all heard of the “five tool player” in baseball, but Zambrano is a six tool player because he is also a dominating pitcher. But I have got to question his reasoning in laying down a leadoff bunt. While he was trying to help the team in a tie ball game, he might have inadvertently done more harm then good. He was taking to the hospital to be examined, and results will be known tomorrow. Hold your breath Cub fans, because losing Zambrano for a significant period of time will be a fatal blow; one we might not be able to recover from.

Well, to wrap things up, we won three games in a row, and score 20 runs in those three games. The offense is looking better, and the bullpen is being steady. They aren’t throwing great, but they are not throwing too bad. At least not in the last three games anyway. This season has already been a very bumpy ride, and I have a feeling that things may just be getting started with bumpier rides still to come.