Tagged: Aaron Miles

Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

On Monday, the Cubs inked
Milton Bradley to a three-year deal in what is the latest of a flurry
of offseason moves by GM Jim Hendry.  With the addition of Bradley, the
Cubs’ lineup takes on a slightly different feel.  Below is a quick look.

Lineup A:

SS Ryan Theriot

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Kosuke Fukudome

2B Mark DeRosa

C Geovany Soto

CF Felix Pie

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Kerry Wood

Bench: Daryle Ward, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno

Lineup B:

LF Alfonso Soriano

SS Ryan Theriot

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Milton Bradley

C Geovany Soto

2B Mike Fontenot

CF Kosuke Fukudome

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Carlos Marmol

Bench: Daryle Ward (I’d prefer Micah Hoffpauir), Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Paul Bako, Joey Gathright

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, you know Lineup A is from Opening Day
2008.  After Monday’s signing of outfielder Milton Bradley, Lineup B is
my projection for Lou Piniella’s team for the 2009 season (against a
right-handed starter). 

Looking at these two lineups, after all their recent offseason
maneuvers, is the current version of the Cubs an improvement at all
from the team swept in the 2008 NLDS? 

OFFENSE

In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.  Bradley is clearly an upgrade to
Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds/Felix Pie at the plate, and can switch-hit,
but defensively the drop is much more significant. 

As everyone under the sun has noted, Bradley has rarely ever played
over 100 games in the field, and his health concerns are a large
liability.  Fontenot provides Piniella with a nice left-handed
alternative in the lineup, but the versatility lost in the field by
trading DeRosa is enormous. 

I know, I know, that’s where the bench comes in.  Aaron Miles
can play 2B, SS, 3B (kind of), and OF. Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright
can play multiple outfield positions, but Ward (or Hoffpauir) and Bako
are one-position guys.  Defensively, the bench is very similar to 2008,
but offensively it has dropped. 

Sure Aaron Miles hit .315 last year, but that’s the only time he has
hit above .300 in his career (not including his 4-for-12 season with
the White Sox in 2003).  Last season was Joey Gathright’s first above
100 games played, and he has also only hit above .300 once in his
career (2007). 

Paul Bako previously played for the Cubs, and he is no Hank White, I
can tell you that.  Bako’s career batting average is .231, with a
career high of .272 way back in 1998.

PITCHING

2008 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis

2009 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall

So before you think I’m all negative, the starting rotation has
clearly improved.  Last season’s midseason acquisition of Rich Harden
and this season’s preseason trade of Jason Marquis make the Cubs’
rotation one of, if not the most formidable in the National League.

An addition of Jake Peavy would only make the case for this being
one of the best starting rotations in history, so I don’t see much more
analysis needed here.

2008 Bullpen – Kevin Hart, Kerry Wood (CL), Carlos Marmol,
Bob Howry, Carmen Pignatiello, Michael Wuertz, Jon Lieber (Scott Eyre
and Angel Guzman on DL)

2009 Bullpen – Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol (CL), Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino

The bullpen suffers an immediate hit as Carlos Marmol is moved from
set-up man to closer.  Marmol is an amazing pitcher, and his 114
strikeouts in just 87.1 IP last year is unheard of.  He was one of the
main reasons the Cubs got so many save opportunities last year. 

But can Marmol hold up under the pressure of the ninth inning?  Will
Cubs fans turn on him as they did during his bad slump during the 2008
season?

On top of that, who gets him the ball in the ninth inning with the
lead?  “Proven” veterans Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts?  Young gun Kevin
Hart?  Newly acquired Kevin Gregg or Luis Vizcaino?  I’m glad we have a
potential lights-out closer in Marmol, but we can’t count on our
starters to go eight innings every game to give him a lead to work with.

OVERALL

Lineup – Advantage: Even

The 2009 Lineup is better in terms of balance and power, but defensively the 2008 lineup is superior.

Bench – Advantage: 2008

Paul Bako pretty much says it all. 

Starting Pitching – Advantage: 2009

Plus Rich Harden, minus Jason Marquis = Advantage 2009

Bullpen – Advantage: 2008

In both years we have an unproven closer, but in 2008 Wood had Marmol.

Overall– Advantage: TBD

Before you write this off as a cop-out answer let me make one
point.  There is virtually no way the Cubs can improve on the regular
season of 2008. Anything less than a division title (and the best
record in the NL) would be a huge disappointment.  There is literally
no way the Cubs can have a worse postseason than 2008.  None.  So only
October will truly be able to tell whether or not these moves have made
a difference.

Why Won’t the Cardinals Go Away?


It’s more than halfway through the season, the Cubs are 16 games over .500, and have a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central.  So why am I not happy?  It’s because the Cardinals won’t go away.  The smiling man pictured below (probably because he is drunk) and his right hand man, pitching coach Dave Duncan, have taken a team comprised of Albert Pujols and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of and led them to the 2nd best record in the NL at 48-37. 

mlb_u_larussa_412.jpgHere is a list of names of pitchers who have started for the Cards so far this year: Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright, Todd Wellemeyer, Joel Pineiro, Mitchell Boggs, Brad Thompson and Mike Parisi.  If you knew more than 2 players on this list you either live in the St. Louis area or have played fantasy baseball for more than 5 years.  This group of no-names has combined to go 38-23 this year, and that record would probably be better if it wasn’t for the 18 blown saves from the St. Louis bullpen this year (thank you Boxer).   The Cardinals have Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter and Matt Clement on or ready to return from the DL as well, which would have scared me 2-3 years ago.

Aside from Pujols, the only other player on the team batting over .300 is journeyman Aaron Miles, and tied for 2nd place (behind Pujols who missed 2 weeks) in HR are Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel, the former pitcher.  Nobody on their team has stolen more than 6 bases, and their bench is full of players that even the most die hard fans must be asking each other where they came from.

So how are they in 2nd place?  How do they contend year after year?   My natural reaction would be to say they cheat, or that they play Kansas City 6 times per year, but due to stringent steroid testing and a 3-game sweep by the Royals this year, those arguments really don’t make much sense.  Looking over this team again and again, I just keep waiting for them to hit the wall and start giving up 10 runs per game, but it doesn’t happen.  So I’m stumped. 

Games 4,5,6 of the 15 game season series begin on Friday, with Big Z making his triumphant return from the DL to start Game 1.  The outcome of this series could really have an impact on the rest of the season, as a 3 game sweep by StL could put them in first place, while a sweep by the Cubs will put some major distance between them and the Cards, meaning StL and the Brew Crew will be fighting for the Wild Card.  Of course, it will probably end up 2-1.    

carlos_zambrano8.jpg