Tagged: Jason Marquis

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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

A Look Back

The Cubs enter into a series against Philadelphia tonight in their first battle against a potential playoff team in 3 weeks (4 if you don’t count St. Louis).  The Cubs take a major league best 83-50 record into tonight’s game, having won 5 in a row, 13 of their last 14 on the road, and unbelievably 9 straight series dating back the 4 game sweep of the Brewers in Miller Park.  Here at CubBlog, we feel it is our duty to remind all you Cub fans of how we got to this unfamiliar place by looking back at some of the games that you may or may not remember, but were crucial in getting the Cubs to where they are today.

In Chronological Order:

1.  April 5th vs. Houston
After dropping 2 of 3 to Milwaukee to start the year and the first game of the series to Houston the day before, the Cubs were in danger of dropping to 1-4 on the year as they trailed the Astros 5-3 going into the bottom of the 7th inning with Astros ace Roy Oswalt still on the hill.  The Cubs scratched out a run on a walk, infield single and 2 ground outs before Derrek Lee tied it with a single and the legend of Kosuke Fukudome grew even larger when he hit a tie breaking 2-run double to give the Cubs the lead and chase Oswalt from the game.  The Cubs needed all the insurance they could get, holding on to win 9-7.  The Cubs went on to win 4 straight after that, including our number 2 game below.

2.  April 7th / 9th @ Pittsburgh:
The Cubs were lucky to have a day off between these games, as they played enough innings in these two to last them a 3rd game.  After going 2-8 in extra inning games in 2007, the Cubs took game 1 in 12 innings and game 2 in 15, blowing a 1-run lead in the 9th and a 2-run lead in the 14th before Felix Pie (a name we won’t hear much more this year) knocked a 2-run single with the bases loaded in the 15th.  In a theme we will see more of this year, Sean Marshall did whatever the team needed, making an appearance out of the bullpen and picking up his first career save in the 2nd game.

3.  May 11th vs. Arizona
It was a cold, dreary, rainy Mother’s Day in Chicago, and the Cubs were going for a sweep of the Diamondbacks.  Although they had completed a 2-game sweep of the Mets in April, many touted this series as the Cubs first real test against a contending team.  After beating Dan Haren in game 1 and coming from behind against the DBacks’ pen in game 2, Carlos Zambrano was slated to face off against Randy Johnson in game 3, but the weather forced both managers to take precautions, and those of us in the stands were left to see Sean Gallagher face Edgar Gonzalez. What ensued was the Cubs’ second straight come from behind victory, with Reed Johnson hitting his first HR as Cub to tie the game in the 7th and Daryle Ward coming through in the 8th with a huge 2-run double with the bases loaded off the bench.   Marmol and Wood each pitched a perfect inning and the Cubs swept the NL-best (at the time) DBacks. 

4.  May 30th vs. Colorado
The Comeback.  If you’re a Cubs fan you should already be replaying this game in your head, it’s that unforgettable.  With the wind blowing out and Ted “Gopher Ball” Lilly on the mound, the Rockies built an 8-0 lead after 4 innings and had a 9-1 advantage going into the bottom of 6th.  That’s when Cubs fans around the country (and maybe even world) started to believe.  Fukudome drove one the opposite way for a 2-run bomb, new Cub (or should I say former Cardinal) Jim Edmonds drove a solo blast to center, Henry Blanco hit his first homer since 2006 to make it 9-6, Edmonds drove a 2-run double to center and then scored on Mark DeRosa’s HR to give the Cubs a 10-9 lead that they held onto.  What added to the incredibility of this game was that Theriot and Ramirez both had the day off, and Lee and Soto were each removed in the top of the 6th.  Since it was a Friday day game, I didn’t get a chance to watch it live (Pat and Ron did a superb job), but this was one of a few games that I stayed up to watch the replay on Comcast at 1 AM.

5.  June 20th vs. White Sox
The Cubs arrived home after a 6-game road trip that took a detour through Cooperstown, having been handed their first 3-game losing streak of the season courtesy of a sweep by the Rays.  Following up the Thursday night game with the traditional Friday day game at Wrigley, the Cubs faced off against their crosstown rivals with both teams in first place, adding hype to a series that really didn’t need any more.  The Cubs scored first in this one, with Derrek Lee taking another 2 on, no-out situation and turning it into a 1-0 lead with a double play.  “Gopher Ball”  Lilly then struck again, allowing an absolute bomb to Jermaine Dye in the second and a 2-run shot to A.J. Pierzwhatshisface in the 3rd to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.  It remained that way through 6, with John Danks limiting the Cubs to just 5 hits on only 85 pitches when Ozzie Guillen removed him for a pinch hitter in the top of the 7th.  Although pinch-hitter Juan Uribe singled, the Sox failed to score, and Octavio Dotel came in to pitch the bottom of the inning.  Something like 3 pitches later, the game was tied at 3 as Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez went back-to-back, winning some lucky WGN Radio listener $7,000 in the back-to-back jacks game.  After an an uneventful 8th and top of the 9th, Aramis Ramirez came up again in the bottom and took Scott Linebrink’s 2nd pitch into the center field shrubbery for a walk-off homer, which sparked the eventual sweep of the South siders.

6.  July 12th vs. San Francisco
This was the shining debut of Rich Harden and the unraveling of Carlos Marmol.  Who knew a blister on Kerry Wood’s finger would end up meaning so much to this season?  Harden struck out 10 in 5.1 scoreless innings in his debut, but the Cubs pen blew a 7-0 lead, including 5 runs allowed in the 9th by Carlos Marmol during his really really really bad stretch.  That guy Sean Marshall came up huge again, pitching 2 perfect innings of relief and then hitting a leadoff single in the 11th which led to the game-winning run.  A loss here would have been awful for the Cubs’, especially Marmol’s confidence going into the break, but this year’s team just managed to pull another one out. 

7.  July 23rd @ Arizona
The game that started the Cubs on their current hot streak on the road is not coincidentally the same game that saw Alfonso Soriano return to the top of the lineup after missing nearly 6 weeks with a broken finger.  Fonzie went just 1-5 with an RBI, but the Cubs offense exploded for 10 runs, including an 8th-inning grand slam from Reed Johnson which proved to be valuable insurance as the Cubs went on to win 10-6.  Ted Lilly helped his own cause with a game-tying RBI single in the 5th, and pitched 6 strong innings in a quality start, a trend which he would continue through the rest of July and August.  The Cubs 6-run outburst in the 8th inning also added to 2 more common themes, the Cubs scoring lots of runs in the late innings (7th and 8th in particular) and leading the league in innings which they post 5 or more runs on the board (currently at 25, 2nd place at 17).

8.  July 27th vs. Florida
This Sunday afternoon game saw the Cubs coming off 2 straight 3-2 losses at home in which they had blown leads and wasted good outings from starters.  Naturally, that meant Jason Marquis was on the bump and promptly served up a 5-0 lead to the Marlins.  At this point, the Cubs were tied with the Brewers in the division, and were traveling to Milwaukee for a big 4-game series the next day.  Alfonso Soriano would have none of it, scoring the Cubs first run in the 3rd and tying the game at 5 with a 3-run opposite field homer in the 4th.  After Marquis gave up the lead again on a Dan Uggla bomb that still hasn’t landed, Derrek Lee tied it with a homer and
Mike Fontenot hit a bases clearing double to give the Cubs a 9-6 win.  Going into the series at Milwaukee up by a game rather than down made a huge difference, especially in the very next game on our list.

9.  July 28th vs. Milwaukee
A game in July that felt like a game in September.  The first of 4 at Miller Park with just 1 game separating the two teams.  The new ace of the Milwaukee staff was on the hill, but the Cubs struck early thanks to Alfonso Soriano, who doubled and scored in the first and homered in the 3rd.  “Gopher Ball” Lilly pitched great for 5 innings, but baseball games last 9, and he fell apart in the 6th, allowing 3 runs (including back to back jacks) to surrender the lead.  Then this Cubs team showed why this year feels different then all the years past.  Instead of rolling over, the Cubs fought to load the bases with one out in the top of the next frame.  Derrek (league leader in double plays) Lee stepped to the plate and hit a tailor made ball.  Reed Johnson hustled into second, slid into Rickie Weeks, who promptly threw the ball past Prince Fielder and two runs scored to give the Cubs the 4-3 lead.  Although Bobby Howry would surrender the lead, the Cubs scored 2 in the top of the 9th against the Brewers “closer” Solomon Torres and took game 1 of what would turn into a crucial 4-game sweep.

10.  August 8th vs. St. Louis
The Edmonds game.  How else can you title a game where a guy hits 2 homers against his former team and throws the bat at the visitor’s dugout after the first one?  After giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead with a homer in the first, Jim Edmonds stepped to the plate with the Cubs trailing 2-1 in the 8th and promptly cracked his 2nd of the game, adding to the Cardinals league-leading blown save total.  What might be overlooked in this game was the Cubs’ pen, who allowed only 1 hit in 3.2 IP, allowing for the game winning single by Hank White (aka Henry Blanco) in the bottom of the 11th. 

11. August 27th vs. Pittsburgh
Yes it was only 2 days ago, but it is the perfect example of how this club is a 25-man team.  The Cubs’ 5th and most inconsistent starter, Jason Marquis, was on the hill, and held the same Pirates that lit up Carlos Zambrano a night earlier to just 5 hits in 7 innings.  Meanwhile, a combined 0-for-6 from Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez meant runs would have to come from elsewhere.  Tied at 0 in the 7th, Reed Johnson (aka Mr. Hustle) led off with a perfect bunt single.  DeRosa kept the hot hand going by doubling him to 3rd, where Reed then hustled home on a grounder by Ronny Cedeno.  Next up was Henry Blanco, playing in place of Soto who had 7 RBI the night before.  I can’t say it was a perfectly executed squeeze, but the popped up bunt got the job done to score DeRosa and give the Cubs that insurance run they needed to get a rare win when scoring less than 4 runs.

mlb_g_cubs_sw_412.jpgAs I complete this article, the Cubs have just pulled off another come from behind late innings dramatic 5-run inning everyone contributes victory, beating the Phillies 6-4 thanks to an 8th inning grand slam by Aramis Ramirez.  It’s hard to believe that all the games I just wrote about involved wins by THE CUBS, but that’s what makes this year’s team so special.  Let’s hope it continues into September, where the Cubs play 25 of their remaining 28 games at teams currently above .500.  Should be exciting.

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.          

On the Road…Again

After a
2-week absence, the CubBlog makes its triumphant return.  So what did I miss?

 

The Cubs
played 13 games in 14 days, winning 9 and dropping 4, bringing them to
a season high 20 games over .500 at 45-25. 
The stretch included a 3-0 record at home, and more importantly, a 6-4
record on 2 road trips.  The Cubs have 13
of their next 19 on the road (3 on the Southside), so keeping up their winning
ways away from Wrigley will be extremely important. 

So what did we learn from these past two weeks?

1. The rotation is improving

Behind
Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, the rest of the rotation had been a bit
suspect through the first 2 months of the season.  Ted Lilly opened the season with an ERA near
10, Jason Marquis couldn’t get past the 5th inning, and the 5th
starter spot was a mess until Sean Gallagher claimed it in late May.  Since then, Marquis has gone 3-0, Lilly is
2-1 (his only loss was a 2-1 defeat), and while Gallagher has gone 0-2, he has not
allowed more than 3 runs in any start.  The
Cubs are considering going after another starter (I’ve heard anywhere from C.C. Sabbathia to Randy Wolf to Greg Maddux) in the event that Rich Hill
doesn’t make it back to the majors this year, but if the back 3 of the rotation
continue to pitch this well, it may not be necessary, although you can never
have too much pitching.

2.  Jim Edmonds reads my blog

Seriously, there is no other explanation.  Since I blasted him in an entry on May 29th, (Here) all he has done is gone 18-for-44 (.409), with 2 big HRs and 14 RBIs, while starting 12 games.  More importantly, he’s only struck out 3 times in that span.  I still have trouble cheering for the guy, as I’m convinced he’s just waiting to drop a crucial fly ball in October and then rip off his Cubs uni to display a Cardinals shirt, but it’s hard to be unhappy when he hits a game-tying opposite field HR in the 9th inning of a game that the Cubs go on to win. 

3.  Marmol and Wood have pitched a lot
And I mean A LOT.  Marmol has appeared in 37 of the Cubs 70 games this year.  For those of you who like math, that’s more than half.  Bet you thought I was gonna give you a percentage.  Well I am, it’s 52.9%.  Anyway, in those 37 games, he’s gone 43 innings already.  To compare, in all of last season he threw in 59 games, recording just 69 1/3 IP, meaning he’s nearly 2/3 of the way to both games and innings pitched totals from last year. 

The comparisons to last year don’t really apply to Woody because he didn’t return from the DL until August 5th.  (Editor’s Note: I was at that game and got chills just thinking about it.)  But it should be noted that it’s his first full season as a RP, and his 35 appearances this season are more than he has ever made in his career.  Yes, he’s only thrown 37 innings, and has done very well in nailing down 18 of 22 save chances.  But you have to wonder why he’s made 35 appearances with only 22 save chances.  Occasionally a 2-run lead will become a 4-run lead, and there will be the extra-inning game where he needs to pitch in a tie game, but 13 of them already?  Seems like a lot.

All this is just to say that while the back end of the bullpen has been outstanding thus far, Lou needs to (and he is) keep an eye on the use of these star relievers so they last into September (and hopefully October).

4.  The Cubs will miss Fonzie
Not his defense of course, but his bat.  In 38 games since returning from the DL on May 1st, Soriano was batting .323, with 13 HRs, 35 RBIs, and most importantly, 5 SBs, including 3 in his final 7 games leading up to the injury.  While that will obviously be missed in the lineup, the Cubs have Lee and Ramirez to pick up the power slack, and Reed Johnson, Ryan Theriot and maybe even Kosuke to fill in at the top. 

The silver lining behind this, if we must look for one, is that Soriano will be able to rehab his legs for 6 weeks while recovering from the broken hand.  He clearly came back early from his first stint on the DL, and only in the last week did he look like he was regaining his form.  Now he has a chance to concentrate on his legs for at least a month, which will hopefully make him a threat on the bases when he returns. 

5.  The Cubs are never out of any game
I know the immediate thought is of the 10-9 comeback win against Colorado that happened before the 2-week absence, but the Cubs have come back from behind against Atlanta and San Diego in the past two weeks, and had a chance to win every game with the exception of the complete game shutout thrown by Kuroda of the Dodgers.  It’s a great feeling to go into the 9th inning with thoughts of a comeback win rather than being resigned to a defeat.

The Cubs are in Tampa tonight for the first of 3 against the AL Wild-Card leading (too early?) Rays.  A good matchup tonight between Ryan Dempster and Scott Kazmir will set the tone for the series.  After that, the Cubs welcome the Sox for 3 and the Orioles for 3 at Wrigley before finishing up interleague play against those same White Sox at the Cell.    

Magic #4

The Cubbies won again on Sunday, primarily because they were able to score 4 runs.  The Cubs are 23-2 in games in which they score 4 or more runs this year, and the offense doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

In a game in which the Cubs scrounged out only 4 hits, including a leadoff single from Soriano wiped out by a DP, they still managed to win thanks to patience at the plate and some good defense.  Jason Marquis pitched surprisingly well, especially after it looked like he was in for another rough outing, giving up a 2-run HR to .199 hitter Adam LaRoche in the 1st inning.  I hope Marquis pitches well enough to be traded, because either Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, or hopefully Rich Hill will be ready to take his spot in July.  That way the inevitable 2nd half “Marquis Meltdown” can be avoided.

k7F3r6vu.jpg

On the other end of the spectrum, the Cubs need to find more playing time for Ronny Cedeno, who is hitting .324 with 19 RBIs in just 68 at bats.  DeRosa and Theriot make up a solid double play combination, and he clearly isnt ready to play center, so there isnt really a spot in the starting lineup for him right now.   Against lefties Fukudome could take a day off every once in a while, DeRosa can play RF, and that would let Ronny get some at bats at 2B.  He can also be used to spell Riot at short as he did on Sunday.  Either way, he is 2nd on the team in batting avg. right now and doing it mostly off the bench, making it even more impressive. 

The bullpen is looking good as well.  In 3 innings yesterday, Howry, Marmol and Wood faced only 12 batters, walking 2 and giving up 1 hit while striking out 5.  Marmol struck out the side using some nasty sliders, and was most impressive coming back from a 2-0 count to get LaRoche.  Wuertz, Eyre, Lieber and Fox are all good to have, but its the 3 guys who pitched yesterday that will be the key to the Cubs success in close games.