Tagged: Chad Gaudin

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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.

Advertisements

Hello Wisconsin

Chants of “Sweep,
sweep, sweep, sweep” could be heard on WGN Radio this afternoon, loud enough to
the point that it sounded like a home game. 
From what I saw, heard and read, this was the atmosphere for all 4 games
at Wrigley North, aka Miller Park, where the Cubs put their road woes aside and
went into the land of Cheese to sweep the Brew Crew and open up a 4.5 game lead
in the Central.  A few things stood out
from this series.

 

1.  The Cubs offense showed up on the road. 

At least 6
runs in every game and 31 in the 4 game series, numbers unheard of from this
Cubs team who had done next to nothing on the road to date (see previous
entry).  In my mind, the key to this offensive
output was scoring first in every game. 
Only in Game 1 when the Cubs trailed 3-2 for half an inning did they
ever play from behind.  Insurance runs
are much easier to score than tying / go-ahead runs, and the Cubs piled on
plenty of them this week.  The Cubs put
up 49 hits in the 4 game series, amazingly having their smallest output (9) in today’s
game where they scored the most runs (11). 

 

2.  Intangibles

There are
many ways to define this word, but in terms of sports I like to keep it
simple.  Things that don’t show up in the
box score.  Things like Reed Johnson’s
slide (which forced the error that did show up the box score), Ryan Braun’s “dive”,
the fact that the Cubs got 7 hits on 17 pitches against Ben Sheets in the 6th
inning of Tuesday’s game, meaning there was no one ready in the Brewers’ pen
when Sheets should have been out of the game, and of course, the home
atmosphere on the road.  Little things
lead to big innings, and the Cubs took advantage of everything handed to them
this week.

 

3.  Pitching

The Brewers
started off the series as if it were October, putting C.C. Sabathia and Ben
Sheets on the hill for games 1 and 2. 
The Cubs offense was struggling, and with their road woes well
documented it seemed that a split was the best the Cubs could ask for.  Not to take anything away from the offense,
but with the exception of some 9th inning lapses by the pen, the
Cubs staff was outstanding. 

Ted Lilly –
6 IP, 3 ER, 4K

Carlos
Zambrano – 8 IP, 0 ER, 9K

Ryan
Dempster – 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K

Rich Harden –
7 IP, 1ER, 9K

28 IP, 5 ER,
31 K.  You really can’t ask for much
more.

 

4.  Rich Harden

Yes I know I
just mentioned pitching but I want to give a special “shout out” to Rich.  Since joining the Cubs on July 8th,
check out these stats: 24 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 39Ks, 1.11 ERA.  Oh yeah, and a 1-1 record.  Only on the Cubs.  Fellow ex-A’s pitcher Chad Gaudin is 2-1 with
a 1.54 ERA since joining the Cubs while only pitching in 11 2/3 innings, so I
hope nobody is still calling him a “throw-in” to that deal.

 

However, one of the key factors that led to the outcome of this series occurred before the series even began.  On Saturday July 26th, a Cubs extra inning loss coupled with the Brewers’ 9th win in their last 10 put the teams into a tie atop the Central Division standings.  The next day, Milwaukee led 4-1 while the Cubs trailed 5-0 early in both games.  If those outcomes had stood, the Brewers would have come into the series leading the division for the first time since sometime in May, while the Cubs would have lost 3 in a row at home for what I think would have been the first time all season.  Houston’s 7-run 5th and Mike Fontenot’s 3-run double completely changed the momentum going into this huge series, and in this writer’s opinion, allowed the Cubs to tough out a big win in the opener on Monday. 

As this
article goes to press, the Cubs now have 4.5 games worth of breathing room in the
division.  But don’t get too comfortable
Cubs fans, as we have 9 left against St. Louis (6 at home) and 6 left against
Milwaukee (3 at home).  Those 15 games account
for 28% of the remaining games left on the schedule, so nothing is decided just
yet.  Next up, the Jason Bay, Xavier
Nady, Damaso Marte-less Pittsburgh Pirates for 3 at Wrigley. 

Hendry Strikes Back

t1_harden.jpgApproximately 48 hours ago, I wrote this in an entry in response to the C.C. Sabathia acquisition by the Brewers: “Plus, there are still 24 days left of the trading season, and Jim
Hendry will be working the phones trying to add another starter to the
Cubs rotation (Rich Harden perhaps).” 

Well it certainly didn’t take 24 days, as Jim Hendry moved quickly to acquire the A’s right hander on Tuesday.  Harden and righty Chad Gaudin head to Chicago while CubBlog favorites Sean Gallagher and Matt Murton head to Oakland along with Eric Patterson and minor league catching prospect Josh Donaldson. 

The immediate reaction to this trade was “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  After some consideration, however, my next reaction was that we just traded for Mark Prior v2.  Unhittable when healthy, but unhealthy more often than not.  Harden has already pitched more innings this year (77.0), than in 2006 and 2007 combined (72.1), and that includes a 3-week stint on the DL this year for shoulder problems.  This of course only includes innings pitched in the majors, not in simulated games (a category in which Mark Prior is among the all time career leaders).

In my opinion, there are two ways to look at it. 
1) The Brewers acquired the best available player with a package of prospects that the Cubs were unable to match.  The Cubs went out and acquired the next best available player and paid a pretty good price. 
2) The Cubs acquired a player in Harden who is one of the best, but has a very bad history of inability to stay healthy, and whose fastball has dropped in speed over his past few starts. 

So look at it whichever way you choose, but if (and I did say if) the Cubs take this team into October, and Carlos Zambrano and a healthy Rich Harden are slated to start games 1, 2, 5 and 6 of a playoff series, is there anyone who would pick against them?  I may be biased, but I know I wouldn’t.

Lost among the Harden hoopla is the acquisition of Chad Gaudin.  Don’t call this guy a throw-in, as he will provide much needed long relief in place of Gallagher (or Marquis who refuses to accept a role in the pen).  He has pitched very well in Oakland, has played for Lou briefly in Tampa, and will be a welcome addition to the Rajun Cajuns squad forming along with TheRiot and Fontenot.  In all seriouness, his presence in the pen will give Marmol and Howry some additional rest, which may be the biggest key in the Cubs run towards the postseason.