With the Chicago Cubs seemingly in full rebuild mode after a horrific year, the team continues to improve in areas that needed to be upgraded. While they are not improving in the ways many fans would have liked them to, the Cubs are still doing what is needed to put together a team they can only hope contends. They added Carlos Pena to fill the vacancy at first base, and then Kerry Wood to complete the back end of the bullpen. With little money, and room left, the Cubs may only have one move left, which could be to add an unneeded starting pitcher; which is presumably a still rehabbing Brandon Webb, who could be had at a very low price. However, I already gave my thoughts on him, as well as how I would only take him at a low price, so there is no need to bring this up again.
With Wood now being back in the mix for the bullpen, that is where we turn our attention to today. The bullpen has been a trouble spot for years, and now appears as though could be a possible strength of the team. With Sean Marshall teaming up with Wood setting up the save in the late innings for effectively wild, but dominating closer Carlos Marmol, the Cubs may have turned every ballgame into a six or seven inning game. Whether or not that helps matters much, depends solely on the strength of the pitching staff as well as the offense. But the late innings is not the only place in the bullpen which needed a massive improvement, just the most important.
Other areas which are in serious need of a tune up for the pen, is the middle relief. At the moment we are looking squarely at John Grabow as the primary arm to come out of the pen in the middle innings, which does little to settle the fears or stomach pains of Cub fans. However, there is still hope on the horizon, as well as a slight silver lining. Angel Guzman, the one time promising but often injured pitcher, has a chance to make the bullpen. If he is ready to come back (but don’t hold your breath) he could only add to the dominance to the beaten and broken situation in the later innings. Another injured bullpen pitcher who has a chance to earn a job again is Esmailin Caridad, who has never been able to fully give Cub fans any reason to have hope in him. Other than a very impressive half season in 2009, Caridad has not done anything to impress anyone. However, and this is a huge reach (but as Cub fans when are we not reaching on most things), if he is healthy and can pitch the way he did in 2009, the Cubs have something going for them.
Outside of the big three which will be closing out games for the Cubs, there will be between three and four bullpen spots up for grabs in a Spring Training competition. In all likelihood, baring a trade of a player, those voids will be filled with a player who was on the team last year; mainly because they are under contract, and comfortably (at least for them) paid. Sadly, that does include Grabow as well as both Carlos Silva and Jeff Samardzija, both of whom may have to settle for a bullpen roles if they fail to grab a spot in the rotation. Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are also names which will be considered for the rotation, with the bullpen as a backup plan. That leaves little room, about one or two spots left for the young Cubs to grow and blossom at the major league level.
One of the wildcards in the arms race is Tom Gorzelanny, as he would either be a starter or come in as relief. Personally, I would prefer to see him fill out one of the five spots in the starting rotation, as there are no current left handed pitchers other than him on the roster who can fill that void on the roster, nor in trade or free agent rumors. The reason I am calling him a wild card, is he is heavily rumored to be traded at some point this off season. With him on the team, there will only be one spot left to be filled, though depending on what the Cubs get in return for him, if he is indeed traded, will undoubtedly open another slot that could be filled by a younger up and coming talent. With as much as I like Gorzelanny, and consider him to be immensely under rated, I would hope that he remains a Cub for the 2011 season.
Unfortunately, with the pitchers who are currently on the projected 25 man roster, the pitching staff will likely not have one of the Cubs young studs filling out a void, unless there is an injury or the aforementioned trade of already established talent. With the heavily rumored signing of Webb, if he passes all the medical requirements of the team, that would seal the deal; meaning no young pitchers will be making the team.
A mistake which could come back and haunt the Cubs as time goes by,
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.
Today, Carlos Zambrano threw a simulated game, in order to stretch him out for his eventual return to the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs, which could come as soon as next week. This has re-opened the can of worms that was opened when the move was initially made, and new discussions have been brought up, such as why was he moved to the bullpen if you were just going to put him back a month later. This has been one of the biggest head scratching moves the Cubs have made in a long time, and I don’t mind telling you that how they are handling things is really upsetting me. The roller coaster ride that is the Chicago Cubs season, keeps surprising me.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. First and foremost, I don’t believe that he should have ever been taken out of the starting rotation to fill a void elsewhere. Was he struggling at the start of the year? There can be little doubt that he wasn’t having the kind of year that the team and fans would have been hoping for from their ACE pitcher. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best 10-20 pitchers in all of baseball over the past 10 years. Taking him out of the rotation was nothing more than a desperation move to begin with. I can fully understand why he was put in the bullpen, but that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of the move.
I can understand why he was moved, because they had a desperate need to get a strike out pitcher into the eighth inning to help get the ball to their closer Carlos Marmol. The players they had in that role were not getting the job done. John Grabow and Esmailin Caridad did nothing but throw gas onto an already out of control fire. They needed a fireman who could possibly extinguish any threat, and ensure the Cubs kept their lead, however small, and preserve a win. In the beginning, the move was called temporary. He was only going to stay in the bullpen until the Cubs were able to find a replacement, a pitcher they could depend on to get the job done. How long that would take was anyone’s guess, because the season was still young and no one would be giving up valuable setup pitchers this early in the season.
Zambrano’s ERA before the move to the bullpen was 7.45, with an eye popping 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings of work. Hitters were also teeing off on him, at a .317 clip. He was off to a horrible start, and looked like he was headed to a bust of a year, and would fail to come close to what he was able to do last year. However, if you take out that first start of the year, his statistics look far better. In is next three starts, his last ones before being exiled to the bullpen, he had an ERA of 4.00 (I know, still not great) but He threw quality start after quality start. Hitters were hitting only .274 against him. Much better than his statistics as a whole for all of his starts of the season. That just goes to show you how one bad start can kill a pitcher’s stat line, making things hard for him to come back to the expected performance. Think one bad start for a starting pitcher hurts a stat line, just imagine how hard things are for a relief pitcher to have a respectable stat line after a bad inning.
So the desperate move was made, and Zambrano was put into the pen. While the hope was that he would be a success, the outcome told a different story. Here is a brief look at just how things went for Zambrano in his month long bullpen stint. In his time in the pen, he had mixed results. He started off a little shaky, but he got the job done. He had a string of good outings, and then he had a bad one. After that, some more good outings, followed by a bad one. When they decided he was going to go back to the rotation, Zambrano put up a string of a few more good outings again.
If someone were to ask me if he should stay in the bullpen, I would have to say no. Not because he should never have been put in the pen to begin with, but because the results of the move has not done anything to help the team win games. As things stand, he has the second highest bullpen ERA of anyone currently in the Cubs bullpen, behind only John Grabow. If you want to add Bob Howry into that discussion as well fine, but with the Cubs he has pitched .1 inning and has an ERA of 0.00. I did not include him in the Cubs bullpen ERA because I don’t care what you do with other teams, all that matters is what you do for us.
In the bullpen, Zambrano has pitched in 11 games, pitching 11.1 innings. he has giving up six earned runs striking out nine but walking only two while giving up 16 hits. While this is a small sample size, they did not get the immediate results that they would have hoped to get from adding Zambrano into the bullpen. They did not get the lights out stuff they had hoped to get, so they are giving up on the experiment after a month, and putting him back where he is most comfortable. The question now becomes, who do you put into the bullpen to replace Zambrano?
The likely choice of who moves to the pen, is either Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. But why would you move one of the best two pitchers in the Cubs pen? As far as stuff, they are not the best, but you can not argue with results. Silva leads the team with six wins and is second on the staff in ERA, tied for second in fewest walks but also last in strike outs. Gorzelanny leads the team in ERA, but has the second most walks and second most strike outs in the starting staff. Gorzelanny has gotten screwed on his run support, which is evident in his 2-4 record. However, to make room in the starting staff, there are a couple outcomes which could make the decision a lot easier for the Cubs.
The Cubs could make a trade, in which case any of the current five starters could be moved for some promising young prospects and free up a little cash. If this is the case, count out Silva and Zambrano. They wont be moved at all. Silva because of what he is owed, and Zambrano because of what he is owed and a little thing known as a No-Trade Clause. Ted Lilly could draw some interest being in his final year, but his delayed start due to an injury and slow start might not get you too many takers. Ryan Dempster would be the most appealing starter for any other team to want. He has a manageable contract and is pitching well, despite his record. Gorzelanny, low money and is pitching well. He could be attractive to a team as well. Randy Wells could also draw some interest as he has pitched well, and is still under team control for a few more years.
The other possible move would be a temporary move. Gorzelanny or Lilly could be placed on the DL. Lilly could be explained away as his coming back to early, hence giving an excuse as to why he hasn’t pitched that well. Gorzelanny could go on the DL because he got nailed by a line drive. This would give the Cubs a little time to work out what they want to do.
Before you start in on the six man rotation talk, think about why that would never work. While you would get extra rest for your starting staff, which would allow them to go deeper into games, and limit the use of the bullpen, you would also be taking away starts from your best pitchers. In a normal five man pitching staff, assuming you don’t skip the fifth starter when you can, each pitcher gets 32 starts, with your top two starters getting 33 starts. In a six man staff, each starting pitcher would get 27 starts. Why would you want to take five starts away from your best pitchers? That makes no sense if you want to win. Perhaps taking the bullpen out of the equation would offset the fewer starts from the better pitchers (and lets be honest all of the pitchers are pitching well), but I still would not approve of or recommend such a move.
Whatever happens, whoever comes out of the rotation when Zambrano returns, we are sure to find out in a weeks time. I will make one guarantee though, whatever move is made, whoever is taken out of the rotation, there will be some loud grumblings coming out of Cubbie Nation.
While the Cubs continue to be in the range of the quarter mark of the season, now having played 40 games on the year, our look at the four phases of the Cubs as they currently stand. Yesterday, we took a look at the starting position players, and what was wrong with the offense. Today though, we look at another very important aspect of the team, that being the starting pitchers.
Before the season began, our starting pitching was looked at as being one of the weaknesses on the team. Most fans and “baseball experts” took a look at the Cubs starting staff and predicted doom and gloom for the team. They saw Carlos Zambrano and saw a player who was one mistake away from having a mental break down. Ryan Dempster was met with many questions because last season he was hot and cold. When they saw Tom Gorzelanny, they could only see a pitcher that was so bad, that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t even want him. Randy Wells didn’t do anything for them either, as he was coming off a rookie year where he caught many teams by surprise. Don’t even get me started on Carlos Silva, who everyone had written off after a couple seasons which would make anyone nervous to throw him out to start a game. With Ted Lilly slated to miss a month, most people around baseball were not expecting him to make an impact, and whatever he was able to give the team, would not improve the rotation enough to make it dangerous at all.
With no expectations being given to the Cubs starting pitchers, they quickly surprised the league by throwing quality start after quality start. Just about every time out of the game, the starting pitchers did everything they could in order to keep the team in the ball game, but unfortunately the offense let them down more often than not. In fact, towards the end of April, the starting pitching staff was ranked with the best in the Majors with a combined ERA under 2.50.
When you see that statistic, you may be wondering why I am including the starting pitching in the discussions of what needs to be improved. While they have started off the year in tremendous fashion, they have not been able to continue to dominate the opposing hitters. Now, half way through May and a quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs starting pitchers have a combined ERA just over 4.00. That is a far cry from being among the league’s leaders. The combined ERA of the starters though, may actually make the starting staff look worse than they actually are when you look at the individual performances of each pitcher.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the Cubs pitching staff has been Silva. When the Cubs acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for Milton Bradley, fans and media looked at the deal as trading trash for trash. No one expected the Cubs to get anything out of Silva, so with him leading the team with five wins, the Cubs have obvious won this trade. Not only is Silva leading the team in wins, but he is also the team leader with a 3.35 ERA . Having pitched eight games, those are some fantastic statistics. But look a little deeper into his outings. In eight games, he has pitched an average of six innings per start allowing an average of only just over two runs per game. You could argue that Silva should be sitting pretty with a record of 8-0 right now, but 5-0 is something any logical Cub fan will happily take.
Dempster has come on strong again this year, though he has lost his last four outings. You should take notice that in only one of those games did he allow more than three runs, so he should not be held completely responsible for all four of those losses. His record of 2-4 does not reflect his solid ERA of 3.49, and even that stat line does not speak of how well he has pitched this year. In his eight starts on the year, Dempster has gone an average of seven innings every start, allowing just under three runs a start. Much like Silva, he is averaging a quality start every time he takes the mound. His main problem this season, has been his run support. In his eight starts, the offense has only supplied him with 20 runs. The way Dempster has pitched this year, he should have at least twice as many wins, especially when you consider he received two no decisions when he only allowed one run.
Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, has been another pleasant surprise for the Cubs this year. His 3.60 ERA is better than most people would have expected from him through his seven starts. However, he has received even less run support than Dempster. Through his seven starts, he has allowed a very impressive average of just over two runs a game. The sad part of this story, is that his ugly record of 1-4 may be the biggest sign that the offense has been the biggest problem with this team, not the pitching. That isn’t to say that Gorzelanny is not without fault, as he is averaging just under six innings every time he takes the mound. With him leaving the game earlier than you would like, he leaves the door wide open for the bullpen to blow any chance of him recording a win. If he wants to start winning more games, he needs to start going deeper into games, and staying in for at least six innings. That is my only complaint with Gorzelanny.
Wells has posted an ERA of 4.13 with a record of 3-2 through his eight starts in his Sophomore season. Much like with Dempster and Gorzelanny, his stats make him look worse than he actually may be. He is averaging six innings per start, and just under three runs per game. That falls in line with the old standard of what a quality start entails. Much like with everyone of the other starters, his lack of run support has damaged his chances of posting more wins. While he has had a handful of poor starts, allowing more than three runs only three times, he has pitched well enough to have at least four or five wins; especially when he had two no decisions where he only gave up one run. He has been yet another victim of the teams hot and cold offense.
Lilly on the other hand, could be looked at as a disappointment when you consider how well he has pitched his previous three years with the Cubs. You can blame his unusual season on him still trying to come back from an injury if you like, but that does not mean he should not carry some blame with how he has been pitching. Much like the other pitchers in the rotation, Lilly’s stats fall in line with the basic requirements of what a quality start should look like. He has been going at least six innings in each of his games on average, while allowing just over three runs in each start. He has had only one bad start really, allowing six runs against the Arizona Diamond Backs, but two of his other starts he allowed four runs. If he had not of thrown six scoreless innings in his first start of the year, he would look a lot worse. In this case, his stat line makes him look better than he has actually pitched this year. He needs to step up his game, because while he practically has the same record as Gorzelanny with two less starts, he has also given up one more run on average. Whatever is troubling Lilly, he needs to step things up and pitch as he has his first three years with the club.
That brings me to Zambrano, the very pitcher who started the season opener. This season has been a roller coaster ride for Zambrano, who started the season opener and was then thrown into the bullpen to pitch setup; but is now being put in long relief to stretch him out so he can start again. Who moves out of the rotation when he returns is anyone’s guess, but that is at least a week or two away. Since he is returning to the rotation sooner rather than later, he deserves to be included in this discussion, if nothing else because he is a part of the combined ERA.
So far, Zambrano has been limited to only four starts on the season, posting an ugly ERA of 7.45 as a starter, with a 1-2 record. This has been a poor year for Zambrano, given this is a small sample size this year, because he has been getting knocked around. In his four starts, he is averaging just under five innings per start, which is heavily skewed by his only lasting 1.1 innings in his first start. He lasted seven, five and six innings in his three other starts. What may be more troubling though, is his average of our runs per start. A pitcher allowing four runs a game isn’t horrible, but that isn’t anything to brag about either. Even if you pitch a complete game every time out, you are still going to have an ERA of 4.00, which isn’t that good for a National League starting pitcher. When he returns to the rotation, he needs to pitch like the Ace he was tabbed to be. Statistically, he has been one of the best 10 pitchers over the last 10 years. He just hasn’t shown that much this year. The problem with stats, they tell you what you have done, not what you will do. So far this season, Zambrano has been a big disappointment, no matter what role the Cubs have used him in.
As a whole, while the Cubs have a team ERA over 4.00, the starters have lasted an average of over six innings per start, and allowed under three runs per start. With that statistical line like that, they should be winning more games. The over all stat line looks really bad, until you break things down a little bit. Could they be better? Of course, there is always room for improvement. Are they the reason why they are losing? No, the offense remains the reason the Cubs are losing. The pitching is doing all they can, they just have a sore back from carrying the offense the first month and a half of the year.
Yesterday the news came out about who would fill the final two spots in the Cubs Starting rotation; the lucky winners are Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny. For one of these pitchers, however, the rotation spot will just be temporary, as Ted Lilly is due back sometime in the middle of May. Because of the brief stay for one of them, the two of them will be grouped together in this final look at the Cubs starting rotation. This will also likely be one of the shortest as well. While there are many fans who would rather see all four of the candidates disappear and never be heard from again, someone had to fill those voids, and a trade was not going to happen. So the four candidates went through the Spring Training games to prove themselves to Cubs Manager Lou Piniella and show why they deserved to be named to the starting five.
Now that one competition is over, the time for another has begun. Both Silva and Gorzelanny won the right to break camp as a member of the starting rotation, but only one of them will be able to keep their jobs once Lilly returns to claim his spot. The general thinking is that who ever is pitching the best between the two will remain in the rotation, while the other moves to the bullpen. How fair of a competition they will have, remains to be seen. You can not prove too much in only two or three starts, but that is exactly what they are going to have to do; because reports have been that Lilly will only miss two or three turns through the rotation. Basically, they are both going to have to have three excellent starts in a row. Better than a quality start, which is going six innings while allowing three runs at most. The excellent start, would be considered as going seven or more innings allowing two runs or less. Any slip up in any one of their starts would open the door wide for them to be thrown right into the bullpen.
With Piniella wanting one lefthander in the rotation, the door seemed to be wide open for Gorzelanny to be added almost instantly. While Sean Marshall was also considered to be a candidate, the deck seemed to be stacked against him from the start, as he never pitched more than four innings in any of his Spring games, and not because he was pitching poorly either. His experience coming out of the pen also aided in the final decision. Nonetheless, Gorzelanny was given the role. Despite his rough start, he wound up putting up some very respectable stats. Only allowing five earned runs in close to 15 innings, or one ever three, he showed that he has what is needed to have success in the majors. Whether or not he is able to continue pitching this well once the real season starts remains to be seen, but the correct decision was made.
As far as Silva, he was also likely seen to be a favorite to make the starting rotation when the Cubs acquired him in a trade for Milton Bradley. While Silva is fat, out of shape, and hasn’t pitched well since he left the Minnesota Twins, he was deemed to be more favorable than his competition Jeff Samardzija. In his first outing of the Spring, Silva got knocked around by the Chicago White Sox, which turned fans on him even more; which I didn’t think was even possible. However, in every start of his Spring Training since his ugly beginning, Silva has thrown some pretty impressive innings. Reports are that Cubs Pitching coach Larry Rothschild found a flaw in his delivery and was able to correct what he was doing wrong. Silva credit’s the work Rothschild did with him, as well as the news that his mother was finally able to get a visa so she could come and live in the United States. Since he heard the news, Silva has pitched like a whole new pitcher. To top everything off, Silva has also shed around 10 pounds since his arrival in camp, which was much needed. Hopefully there are more pounds being shed as the season goes on.
Because of the limited starting time for one of these two pitchers, I will not extend a predicition on how I believe they will do. That being said, I will say this, the fifth starter is never someone you look to throw gems. The best you can expect from a fifth starter is to eat innings, while putting up as close to a .500 record as they can. Expecting an ERA under four might also be asking for trouble. Whoever wins the job for the full time fifth starter, would hopefully throw about 160 innings, which if he gets 32 starts, would mean he goes at least five innings an outing. Hope for the best from this slot in the rotation, but expect the worst.
Coming out of the All Star break, the Chicago Cubs have put together a very impressive two weeks of baseball, compiling a very impressive record of 11-3. I know what you are saying about this stretch of game though. They played half of those games against some of the worst talent the National League has to offer. The Washington Nationals are the worst team in all of baseball, and the Cincinnati Reds aren’t all that much better. That being the case, the Cubs did exactly what they are supposed to do. Play the teams that are on your schedule, and beat the teams that you are supposed to beat. The Cubs did just that, winning all seven games against the two lowly teams.
With the Philadelphia Phillies was the series to look at. They are one of the best teams in the National League, and we knew they would give us a fight going into that series. How many people honestly thought we would sweep the Phillies, let alone win the series? Going into things, I thought that we would be lucky to win one game. This was a very interesting series when you look back at what happened. The Cubs got blown out in the opener, lost an extra inning battle for the second, and blew them out in the final. If you want a comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals blew out the Phillies in the first game of their recent series, but got blown out themselves in the final two.
Finally, that brings me to the Houston Astros, who while they are a better team then the other two, they are a far cry from a great team. However, by winning the series against the Astros, they added some much needed separation between them and a team that was, until recently, tied with the Cubs for second place. They won three of the four games, and now are a healthy four games ahead of the closest team behind them. A four game series is hard to sweep, so I figured we would lose at least one game. I thought that Roy Oswalt was going to be the one pitcher who would beat us. When he went down in the second inning, my hopes were raised that the Cubs would be able to sweep the series. However, our pitching staff had a one game implosion. We lost the game I figured we would lose, so no harm done. The Cubs still won three of the four games. What else could you expect?
Despite the teams the Cubs played, the offensive output has been very impressive. The most impressive would have to be the red hot Alfonso Soriano who is on fire in his new role as the Cubs six hole hitter. He has really adapted well, and has even stated that he feels he can be of more use to the team in his current spot when he admitted a three run bomb in a game, is a lot better then a leadoff homerun. Truer words have never been spoken. The offensive explosion might also have to do with the return of Aramis Ramirez. While he started off slowly when he finally came back, since the break ended he has looked like he has returned to for. He has once again looked like the RBI machine that we have all come to know and love since he came to Chicago.
One thing that may stand in the way of the Cubs going deep into October are the injuries. The Cubs just can not stay healthy this year. Every time the Cubs are about to reactivate a player from the disabled list, someone else gets injured and has to be put on. This has been the case all season long, as the Cubs have had their whole team healthy for a total of two games this season. Currently, the Cubs have five players on the disabled list. They are, Aaron Miles, David Patton, Ted Lilly, Geovany Soto and now Reed Johnson. In all honesty though, only three of them are important to the Cubs long term success.
Thankfully, Soto is close to returning from his oblique injury, and could be back over the weekend, or by early next week at the latest. No offense to Koyie Hill, but Soto is a much better offensive player. I give him all the props in the world though, he has caught almost every inning of every game since Soto went down, but we need Soto back in a bad way. With Lilly, who knows when he will be back. He is having arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and that recovery takes around three weeks to heal. Hopefully, that time off will allow the inflammation in his shoulder to die down. With his status being unknown, the Cubs made a trade which brings them back a pair of lefty pitchers. More on this in a moment. The final Cub on the disabled list, which we need is Johnson. He broke his foot when he fouled off a ball in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. He will be out for around a month at least.
The only good thing I can say about the team having all these injuries, is that for the most part, the entire team will be relatively well rested come September and October. Just about every member of the team has spent time on the shelf, whether they were on the disabled list or just missing a week due to a nagging injury. I think that the Cubs being where they are considering all the injuries they have had, is a miracle. Take this as a statement of how bad our division is, that or how good of a job Cubs Jim Hendry did in building this team to be as deep as they are. He has been ripped without remorse for some of the moves he has made, but considering how banged up we have been, they have been able to do a pretty decent job at filling the holes we have been left with.
As I mentioned, today the Cubs made a trade with their usual favorite trading partners, the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the trade, the Cubs acquired a pair of left handed pitchers, John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. In return, the Cubs sent out today’s winning pitcher Kevin Hart along with minor leaguers Jose Ascanio and Single-A Daytona infielder Josh Harrison. In my honest opinion, this is a good trade for our beloved Cubs. They were able to get another left handed pitcher to add into the bullpen to go along with Sean Marshall in Grabow. With Gorzelanny, he could very well slide into the starting rotation in Lilly’s slot until he is able to return, if he is able to do so at all this year. Marshall, I feel, will stay in the bullpen as he has had a tremendous amount of success since being moved into that role, 1.25 ERA in 25 games. Apparently he is much more comfortable pitching in relief then as a starter, where many Cub fans wanted him to stay when Carlos Zambrano returned from his injury. However, after Randy Wells has been outstanding in his stint with the Cubs, Marshall as sent back to his common role in the bullpen. Time will tell if these trades will have the desired effect, so I will not judge them fully until they have had some time to get work in. By give them some time, I mean more then just a game or two.
Well, the Cubs have 62 games left this season, and are currently in a first place tie with the Cardinals, though that tie will be broken by the end of the night one way or another. Tomorrow, the Cubs hit the road, and start the trip in Florida to face the Marlins. They get to face another one of the softer teams in the National League, and should be able to continue padding their stats, and hope that they are able to get some separation with the Cardinals to not only get into first place on their own, but get a comfortable lead with the season dwindling down. They will be on the road until August 10, and will face the Marlins, Reds and the Colorado Rockies. While the old saying goes, you need to play .500 on the road, on this 10 game trip, anything less then six or seven wins would be a disappointment. The Pennant race is getting exciting as the final two months are about to begin.