When Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells went down, each after their first starts of the season, there were some fans who shrugged off the injuries because they were only the four and five pitchers for the Chicago Cubs. After a combined five starts from their replacements, Casey Coleman and James Russell, I wonder if they are singing a different tune.
Since taking over for Cashner, Russell has made two starts himself, and to be honest there has not been anything good that has come out of either one of them. He has gone a total of 5.2 innings while giving up nine runs, eight of which were earned for an ERA of 13.85. Not good numbers for a starting pitcher, not even your number five pitcher. At least Cubs Manager Mike Quade realizes how bad Russell was, and is unlikely to give him another start. When your manager says that you should likely only be a situational pitcher, that means your starting days are over. The decision came two starts, and two losses might I add too late. The next time the Cubs need a number five pitcher, another roster move might be made.
Today, the Cubs demoted Jeff Stevens back to Triple A, and recalled Justin Berg. Next time Cashner’s spot in the rotation comes up, Berg or Russell could very well be sent back to Iowa for a replacement pitcher. Who that is at the moment I am not sure, but if I were to predict I would say Thomas Diamond might get recalled to fill the void. Is he a better option than Russell? Obviously he can not be any worst, so what more do you have to lose?
Coleman on the other hand, has at least had some success in his three starts, albeit only one of the three starts showed anything promising. In his three starts, Coleman has gone 13.1 innings allowing 11 runs for a 7.43 ERA. Not great, but considering there is a massive lack of options the Cubs may be stuck. Yesterday was obviously the worst outing of his short 2011 season. Six runs allowed with four walks in 2.2 innings is not a stat you want to see, ever. The good thing, is that in his last start (the one before yesterday) he shined, at least as much as you can going 5.2 innings. He allowed only one run, while being effectively wild walking and striking out four. If push comes to shove (and we are in this desperate unfortunate situation) we can live with him for another start or two. Mainly because there likely isn’t another option in the minors.
I never thought that losing Carlos Silva, who left after refusing a minor league assignment, would come back to bite us. Granted, he is not a good pitcher, but he would have been a massive upgrade over Russell, and maybe a little better than Coleman. While that is not saying much, nor would that be all too hard to do, the Cubs need all the help they can get in the starting pitching department until Wells and Cashner get back. The minor league system is lacking Major League ready pitching, even though there are a few young minor league pitchers who have been touted as the next sure thing. Sadly, the group of young promising pitchers, which include Jay Jackson, are not ready for the majors or one of them would have been called up when either of the other two guys went down.
While they each only had one start, one time through the rotation, they had the best outing of anyone in the rotation. Losing both of them was a bigger blow than most people realized. As I mentioned when they went down, losing both of them is equal or worse to the St. Louis Cardinals losing their Ace, at least for the amount of time they would be missing. Losing your best pitcher and replacing him with your sixth best pitcher is a lot better than losing your fourth and fifth best pitchers and replacing them with your sixth and seventh best pitchers, one of whom should not even be in the majors, is a bigger blow. Argue that anyway you want to, but losing two is worse than losing one. Especially in the long run.
Tuesday would be the next time that the fifth start is to take the mound, the smart money is on Russell not making that start. Not sure who will, but you can bet that he will give the Cubs a better chance to win a game.
In what may have been the most pathetic display of baseball I have ever seen, and trust me there has been a lot over the years following the Chicago Cubs, the game they played Tuesday night against the Houston Astros may just take the cake. Nothing but lazy and sloppy defense came out of this game, and buried the Cubs in a 5-0 hole before the second inning was over. There is not one single player who is at fault, as a matter of fact there are several who helped doom the Cubs before you most people could find their seats.
Firstly, I never want to see James Russell ever pitch in a game for the Cubs again, much less start a game for them. Being placed on a 50 pitch count, the youngster making his first career start could not even get out of the second inning before reaching his limit, and allowed five runs to cross the plate. To think, we yell at Carlos Zambrano for being at 80 pitches in the fifth inning, that is nothing compared to the crapfest that Russell delivered to us. Perhaps he should be sent back down to the minors so that he can work on not only learning how to manage his pitch counts and work on not throwing more than 25 pitches per inning, but also working on throwing balls that are not hit as though they are on a batting tee.
To make things worse, our substitute pitcher on the night failed to cover first base on consecutive bunts to lead off the bottom of the first. I do not care who the base runner is, that is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated. If he is to stay with the major league roster, he better make sure to take bunting drills every day until he is able to get to first in time to field a throw.
The rest of the pitching was just as bad, however Jeff Samardzija was not great, but not bad at all coming out of the bullpen. He gave up two runs over three innings of work, and I will take that effort every time out of him. As much grief as I, and all Cub fans, give him, he deserves credit for a decent outing. Jeff Stevens and Marcus Mateao put up scoreless innings to help the Cubs as much as they could, but that is where all good things ended for the Cubs pitching staff. John Grabow came into the game and decided to take whatever doubt there was in the minds of the Astro fans that this game was still in jeopardy; as he usually does when he comes into a ball game.
Russell’s less than pathetic pitching was not helped by any of his outfielders, all three of them decided to take the night off from defense. We are used to seeing Alfonso Soriano drop the occasional fly ball or bobble a ball when he goes to make a play, so that is nothing new. However, not to be out done, both Marlin Byrd and Tyler Colvin got in on the act by misplaying the same ball that was bouncing to the wall. Colvin also allowed a ball to drop right in front of him later in the inning, when he could have likely made a sliding or a diving catch. If that were Soriano, he would have been barbequed for that lack of hustle, but hey fans love Colvin and Byrd so those two plays likely will not get a mention elsewhere. Add in Reed Johnson dropping the ball that was scorched to deep center and you have every single outfielder coming up short on fly balls. Johnson though, did have a very impressive effort on a fly ball to the following hitter, reminiscent to the remarkable catch he made against the Cincinnati Reds a few years back, which he just missed catching.
The outfield defense, or lack thereof, was not the end of the ugly defensive play in the first two innings. Everyone’s favorite new player, Darwin Barney, also had a brain cramp which allowed another runner to cross the plate. After Soriano bobbled the ball, he threw a strike to second base which helped get Bill Hall in a rundown between first and second. Granted, the base runner was out of the baseline (which the umpire completely missed) but the tag should have been applied before the runner from third was allowed to cross the plate. Or, if you are smart, you ignore the runner between first and second and throw to third or home to keep the other guy from scoring. I know he is young, but that is something that you should learn early on. Let’s not forget the two blunders in the eighth inning by Blake Dewitt. After Johnson dropped a deep fly ball, he threw a strike to Dewitt, who likewise dropped the ball. He also committed an error on a ball hit right to him. Another ugly defensive error to add to the mix.
The hitting has not been horrible, they did get a few good hits to land. The problem comes into play when you take into account that they had very little, if any, timely hitting. Even in the sixth inning when there were men on second and third with only one out, the Cubs could not even score a run as Hall caught a blooper hit off the bat of Soriano into “no mans land” which would have scored a run. Granted, Colvin actually got a hit, which was actually turned into a home run, but for the most part the hitting was perfectly pathetic. Another example would be Reed Johnson leading off the eighth inning with a double, only to be stranded with the next three men making outs. They showed some signs of life in the ninth getting the first two men on base, second and third with no outs, but could only muster a single run, not that I really expected them to actually score the 10 runs needed to tie the game.
To steal a line from one of my favorite baseball movies, “Bull Durham”, “this is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” Sadly, the Cubs went 0-3 with this obvious concept of baseball. The pitching, the hitting and the defense all completely dropped the ball early on in today’s game, leaving the Cubs sitting behind the figurative eight ball.
With the Cubs having one more game against these Astros tomorrow, all we can do is hope and pray that Zambrano is on his game and can give this team some serious innings while twirling a gem. If we lose tomorrow, we are going to have a very ugly road trip as we head to Denver to face the Colorado Rockies for a series starting Friday. Even if we win tomorrow, we face the likelihood of ending a road trip with a record of 3-6 or 4-5. Not a good way to come home if you have any hopes of contending in your division.
With the Chicago Cubs losing in ugly fashion to the St. Louis Cardinals today in the opening game of the series, the reshuffling of the pitching staff may come sooner than expected. Everyone knows that one of the starting pitchers, most likely Tom Gorzelanny, will head to the bullpen to fill the vacancy that is left by Carlos Zambrano. However, Randy Wells may have had an outing bad enough to make Cubs Manager Lou Piniella have second thoughts on who should lose their starting job. With his allowing five runs without recording an out in the first inning, Wells may have just pitched his way out of the starting rotation, though the heavy money favorite has still got to be Gorzelanny.
If the predicted plan to demote Gorzelanny to the bullpen continues as planned, as I mentioned in my blog from yesterday, there will be more changes to come in the bullpen besides the flip flopping of Zambrano and Gorzelanny. Incase you missed what I wrote, allow me to sum the idea up for you. Because the Cubs already have three left handed pitchers in the bullpen, and Gorzelanny would make four, the Cubs are almost surely going to get rid of one of the lefties currently in the bullpen. As I mentioned, the most likely choice to get taken out would be James Russell. If this is still the intended route the Cubs decide to take, his demotion to Triple A may come as soon as tomorrow morning.
While Russell’s demotion may come a week sooner than expected, he is not being demoted for performance reasons. What may be speeding up his demotion, could very well be what will surely be causing fans to call for him to stay with the club. When Wells got knocked out in the first inning without recording an out, the bullpen had nine long innings to pitch. The first man out of the pen was none other than Russell, who went four inning without allowing another run to score; in fact the bullpen posted eight scoreless innings before John Grabow allowed two more runs to cross the plate in the ninth.
The earlier than expected move to send Russell down, if things go as I believe, will likely be written off as a necessity rather than a reshuffling. In the original plan, they would have likely shuffled Russell out in order to add in another right handed pitcher to replace the one they are losing when Zambrano leaves. However now, the Cubs can demote Russell tomorrow and say they made the move in order to get a fresh arm in the bullpen which was pressed into nine innings today. With Russell pitching four of those innings, which is a lot for a relief pitcher to go, he will be unavailable for the next few days. This gives the Cubs every excuse to make this move sooner than expected to bring up another pitcher, likely Andrew Cashner.
However, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for Russell. With the outing Wells had today, there could be a wrench thrown into the original plans and thought process. If Wells has now become the front runner to be removed from the rotation, Russell’s demotion may only be for a limited time, and be purely for the reason to get a fresh arm into the pen. He could very easily be back up within a week, or even sooner if there is an injury to one of the pitchers. With Wells entering the bullpen, there is no further need to take a left handed pitcher out of the pen, as you would surely need to do if Gorzelanny was bumped out of the rotation. In order for this situation to happen, you need to ask yourself a question, was this outing by Wells enough to prove that he is the weak link in the chain?
If you think today is an isolated incident for Wells, you need to take a look at his recent performances. For the third time in his last six starts, Wells has been knocked around, and out up less than quality starts. All of those bad outings added together might be enough to push him over the ledge. On May 6, Wells lasted only two innings due to the seven runs, of which six were earned. Fans jumped all over Gorzelanny and demanded that he be removed from the rotation when he gave up seven runs, of which only five were earned, in his five innings of work in his last start. I wonder if they will give Wells the same grief, or if he will be given a reprieve.
There may be one thing that could save Russell from being demoted for a fresh arm. Because Wells threw so few pitches in today’s game, he could be made available to pitch an inning or two of relief over the weekend, negating the need to bring in a fresh arm. This could very well be an easy way to transition the extra starting pitcher into his new role in the bullpen. That is, of course, if Piniella doesn’t have his mind already made up about Gorzelanny.
Last night Tom Gorzelanny had his worst outing of the 2010 baseball season, at the worst possible time. As soon as the announcement was made that Carlos Zambrano was going to be returning to the starting rotation, sooner rather than later, Gorzelanny was tabbed as the favorite to be demoted to the bullpen. Because of last night’s performance, Manager Lou Piniella had every reason to go ahead with those predictions, and make them come true. Personally, while I do not know who should be removed from the rotation, but as things stand, Gorzelanny is the top contender.
Despite his record of 2-5 on the year, he still has the third best ERA and the second lowest batting average against on the team, just behind Ryan Dempster. How anyone can say he does not keep the team in games is beyond me because in seven of his nine starts he has given up three runs or less, in that stretch, he only gave up three runs once. He has done more than his fair share to keep the team in the ballgames in which he has pitched in. But of course, baseball is sadly a “what have you done for me lately” sport; fans typically only remember the most recent outing. Unfortunately, last night, Gorzelanny put started poorly and things continued to crumble for him as he gave up seven runs, of which only five were earned thanks to a Mike Fontenot error, in only five innings while walking three men. Before last night’s fiasco, Gorzelanny actually held the Cubs best ERA on the starting staff
However, last night likely sunk any chance Gorzelanny had of remaining in the rotation, and he will more than likely replace Zambrano in the bullpen. However, if you thought that this would be the only move made when Zambrano returns to the rotation, you could be severely mistaken. With Gorzelanny heading to the bullpen, the Cubs will have four left handed relievers, more than half of their bullpen. I can not see the Cubs carrying more left handed pitchers than righties. One of the current left handed pitchers will likely be removed to make room for a right handed pitcher to replace Zambrano.
Before you get your hopes up, the Cubs will not be wishing John Grabow the best in his future endeavors. While he has not performed up to expectations, or even close, with two years left on his contract as well as a few million dollars his spot on the roster is likely safe. The best you can hope for is for him to be placed on the disabled list. But unless the Cubs are able to come up with something determined to be “season ending” this move will only buy them an extra two weeks.
Another left hander who will be safe is Sean Marshall. He has shown more than enough to convince Piniella to make him the 8th inning pitcher, and bridge the game to Carlos Marmol. Outside of Jeff Stevens, who has only appeared in two games, and Carlos Marmol, who is the teams closer and wont pitch in the middle innings, Marshall has been the best reliever the Cubs have been able to throw out there and have confidence in. His crisp .165 batting average against and solid .86 WHIP shows exactly why he will not be the odd lefty out. That leaves just one player, James Russell.
After Marshall, Russell may be the next best pitcher in the Cubs pen, but he may on his way out as soon as Zambrano makes his triumphant return. Of the three left handed pitchers the pen, Russell has the least experience, and would be the easiest pitcher to remove from the bullpen, despite the success he has had. He will just be the unfortunate casualty of war. I am sure he would understand, but how can you deny that he has done everything that was asked of him? He has pitched well enough to keep his spot in the bullpen, but his future with the Cubs 25 man roster, at least at this time, may have run out.
If, as I believe he will, Russell gets demoted, you can expect to see another young right handed pitcher called up to replace him. Either Andrew Cashner or Jay Jackson will be on the top of the list of names to be called up to effectively replacing Zambrano. With recent reports of Jackson starting tonight for the Iowa Cubs in Triple A, in place of Cashner, you can bet that Cashner is a sure fire lock to be called up when Zambrano returns to the rotation and Gorzelanny replacing Russell in the pen. That would definitely help out a struggling bullpen, and be the start of the Cashner Era.
In an honest moment, I could not possibly tell you who should be the odd man out, once Zambrano returns. You could pick any one of our current starters and make a case for them to stay in the rotation or be demoted to the bullpen. As for me though, removing Gorzelanny does not make the most sense, and the ripple effect will be felt in the bullpen.
The biggest worry of the Chicago Cubs 2010 team, is what we shall turn our focus to in today’s look at the team breaking camp, and that is the bullpen. For every team in the major leagues, the bullpen is always the deciding factor with how successful a ball team can be. A team can have the best starting rotation in the major leagues, but if their bullpen is unable to successfully hold and maintain a lead, your ball club will not have a very good season. While bullpens can usually be looked upon as either hit or miss on a year by year basis, the bullpen the Cubs are going north with this year, is an even bigger question mark than most. The reason why, is that you have no idea what to expect from the three rookies that will be called upon to relieve that days starter.
Breaking camp in the bullpen, the only pitchers with a fair amount of major league service time are: Carlos Marmol, Jeff Grabow, Shawn Marshall and Jeff Samardzija. Other pitchers, Justin Berg and Esmilin Caridad have spent time with the major league club, but have not spent an entire season there. Rounding out the bullpen is another rookie, James Russell. Good or bad, you have a pretty good idea what you can expect from the four pitchers who have been around for a while. The two that have seen some action, you have a basic idea what they can do as well, though they remain untested for any real amount of time. Russell, however, has never thrown a pitch at the major league level so you have no idea what to expect out of him throughout the year. Is having a young an unknown pitcher better than having an older reliever that you know is bad? Possibly, but at least you know what you are getting from them. The three rookies the Cubs are breaking camp with are complete unknowns. However, we will take a brief look at each one, individually.
The most important pitcher in the Cubs bullpen is their closer, Marmol. He can be one of the most frustrating pitchers you have ever seen. When he is on, and is throwing strikes, there isn’t a batter around who can touch him. I know you can say that about any pitcher, but there is more reason to believe that with Marmol than with anyone else. For starters his WHIP (Walks and Hits by innings pitched) for his career is 1.28, which is amazing. Now take into account that opponents batting average against him for his career is a sparkling .181 which is outstanding. His problem has always been the walks he allows, and the batters he hits. He walks on average close to six guys for every nine innings he pitches, which is higher than you would like to see from your closer. On the flip side, he strikes out close to 11 men for every nine innings pitched. If Marmol is able to limit the walks he gives up, he could turn into one of the game’s best closers.
Setting up Marmol from the left side of the plate is Grabow, who the Cubs acquired via trade last year. He pitched well enough out of the pen for the Cubs that they decided to keep him around, and signed him to a multiyear deal. His one drawback, according to several scouts, is that he is far better against right handed batters instead of the lefties which would be what you would normally expect to see out of your left handed setup man. Perhaps those numbers can be viewed as coming in against tough lefties who will get a hit off you, while then get staying in to get out some lighter hitting right handed bats. However, the stats are the stats no matter how they are achieved. With him being in the setup role, there is more emphasis on him getting tough hitters out, no matter what side of the plate they hit from. His career ERA, which is over four, does not really send encouraging vibes out to Cubbie Nation, nor does his career WHIP of 1.44. However, he was able to put up a sparkling ERA of 3.24 with a 1.24 WHIP once he arrived in Chicago. Perhaps all he needed was a change in scenery to bring out his full potential, or perhaps he will wind up reverting to what he has been for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The next two pitchers I am going to put together, because they are both rookies with success in limited time in the majors. First, from the right side of the mound in the set up role, we find Caridad. He appeared in only 14 games for the Cubs last year, but when he was in, he was great. His ERA of 1.40 and WHIP of .93 are exactly what you want to see out of a pitcher in your pen, especially your setup pitcher. However, that was only 14 games. There is no telling what he will be able to do for the long haul, and how hitters will adjust to him once they get a better chance to see what he is doing. His early career numbers give you hope, but in the long run you simply have no idea what to expect out of this kid. Cross your fingers and hope that what you saw out of him last year is legit, and we could have a very dominant back end of the bullpen. Like Caridad, Berg also had great success in his limited time with the big league club. In the 11 games he pitched in, his ERA of .75 and WHIP of .92 turned a lot of heads. But, just like Caridad, you don’t know how much to trust those numbers. He looked great in his limited chances, but when hitters get their second or third looks at him, their approach is going to change, and that ERA and WHIP could go through the roof. Perhaps he is as good as he showed, and perhaps those numbers are not just a mirage, but let him get tested for a whole season before anointing him as the next great thing.
Marshall got thrust into the bullpen after losing out on the starting rotation job, which is probably the best thing for the Cubs. He has a lot of experience pitching out of the bullpen, and while he would rather start, the Cubs needed his experience in the pen where he has performed far greater than in his time in the rotation. The lefty throwing Marshall also works as the long man in the pen, who can slide come into a ball game in case the starting pitcher for the day gets knocked around hard early and often. His veteran presence in the pen can also help with the younger guys who haven’t been around nearly as long as he has. While Marshall is still only a few years into his major league career, he is still years ahead of most of the others in the pen. His career ERA of 4.55 and WHIP of 1.42 are ugly stats to see out of a pitcher in your bullpen, but he is still going to be leaned upon heavily down the stretch. He will also likely be called upon to start a game here or there if one of the regular starters is unable to go. He is good at his best, but below average at his worst. Looking at his career statistics, you pretty much know what you can expect from him. A high three or low four ERA, but someone who will do whatever job that is asked of him.
Another pitcher who lost out on a starter’s job, is Samardzija. This was a no brainer as he has a very limited pitch selection. He lacks the control as speed on his fast ball that will make him the dominant starting pitcher Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry envisioned when he drafted him. He is in his fourth year of a six year contract, and many fans are already getting tired of waiting on him to show up and do the job he is paid to do. At this point in his career and development, he should be much further along than he is. His career ERA of 5.20 and WHIP of 1.60 is simply disgraceful and has no place in a major league bullpen. He has been working on new pitches, which is long overdue, so perhaps this will finally be the year that he is able to put everything together and earn the paychecks he has been cashing the past three years. However, if his last two seasons in the majors are any indication; this will be a long year for Cub fans that are forced to watch him coming out of the pen.
That brings us to the actual rookie, Russell. The pitcher, who has absolutely no experience pitching in a big league game, has earned a spot in the bullpen. Whether he will be a great addition to the major league pen, or if he is going to be a total failure is anyone’s guess. Personally, I would not have selected him to be a part of the pen, and that is not because of his lack of experience. The main problem I have with him being there, is now the Cubs have three lefty pitchers in the pen, which I think is one too many. However, the choice is not mine to make, so I will leave my complaint out of things He is the wildcard in the pen, though I don’t see him lasting long. Once Ted Lilly returns in the middle of April, one of the starters will be moved to the pen, likely taking his place, unless he has a very stellar start to the season.
Overall, the bullpen scares me, and I believe this to be the clubs biggest weakness. If they are able to pull things together and not allow leads to slip away, this club could have a fighting chance to win the division. With the inexperience that is overflowing in the pen though, I am not sure that I like their chances of having a successful season.