Tagged: Kevin Gregg

Déjà Vu: A Dodgers Grand Slam Spells the End for the Cubs

While watching the Cubs 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday night, I
had an eerie feeling of déjà vu.  While it was in a different city,
with a different player at the plate and a different player on the
hill, I felt I was watching the exact same scenario unfold.

And that'll do it...

And that’ll do it…

A grand slam by the Dodgers to all but end the Cubs’ chances of a deep playoff run.

In 2008, it came in Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field.  The Cubs
led 2-0 thanks to second inning Mark DeRosa home run when the Dodgers
came to bat in the fifth inning.  Ryan Dempster proceeded to walk the
bases loaded (his fifth, sixth and seventh walks of the game), before
giving up a granny to James Loney on a 1-2 pitch.

Just like that, the energy was sucked out of Wrigley Field, and even
though the Cubs were only trailing by two runs, you could read the same
expression on everyone’s faces: “Not again.”  The Cubs lost that game
7-2 as well, never led the rest of the series, and were swept out of
the playoffs for the second straight season.

Fast forward back to Thursday night.  The
Cubs, who just two weeks ago were tied for first place in the NL
Central, have taken a nose dive and fallen to six games out of first
place.  They enter a crucial four-game series with the Dodgers, who
their rival Cardinals have just beaten two of three times.

With the score tied at 2-2, the Cubs’ Angel Guzman allows base hits
to the first two batters, and after a sacrifice, James Loney is
intentionally walked to face Russell Martin.  One pitch, and déjà Grand
Slam.

Couple the Cubs loss with a Cardinals win in St. Louis and the Cubs
are now seven games back in the division with just 43 games left to
play.  Their once precious lead in the loss column is now a five game
deficit, and the Cubs and Cardinals only have three games remaining on
the slate, and that series is in St. Louis.  And don’t even think about
the Wild Card, as the Cubs trail the Rockies by six games with San
Francisco, Atlanta and Florida all in front of them too.

Despite the horrific play in Colorado, the destruction by
Philadelphia and even losing two of three to the lowly Padres,
including another Kevin Gregg masterpiece, I was still looking for ways
the Cubs could make a comeback.  After Thursday night, the parallels
are just too similar to last season, so I think it’s time to be
realistic rather than optimistic.

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Call Me Crazy…but the Cubs Should Consider Trading Jake Fox

The 2009 season for the Chicago Cubs has not gone exactly as
planned. Injuries, power outages, suspensions, “lack of fire”, you name
it, it’s gone wrong for the Cubs so far this year.

One bright spot for the team this season has been midseason call-up
Jake Fox. In 23 games over his two stints with the big league club this
season, Fox has hit .317 with 3 HR and 12 RBI. Prior to his callup, he
was lighting up AAA Iowa, with obscene stats of .409 BA, 17 HR and 53
RBI in just 45 games.  The only knock on Fox is his defense. He has
performed decently well playing 3B, LF and RF this year, but he is best
suited as a designated hitter.

With Aramis Ramirez scheduled to return from the disabled list on
Monday, and the Cubs paying Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley far too
much for them to sit on the bench (despite their play), Fox appears to
be headed to the bench, or potentially even back to AAA.

Too much offense is a good problem for the Cubs to have, but it
won’t fix the issues with the bullpen. The Cubs called up Jeff
Samardzija from AAA, sending down right-hander Jose Ascanio.  While
Samardzija shows promise, his 8.10 ERA during his first stint in the
majors this year is part of the reason the Cubs are near the bottom of
the league when it comes to the ‘pen.

The Cubs bullpen ERA is currently 18th in the league at 4.07. In
addition, their K/BB ratio is 1.48, good for 27th in the league, and
their WHIP is an ugly 1.50, tying them for 25th in the majors.  In
addition, the pen is suffering from a bit of overuse. Closer Kevin
Gregg has worked on consecutive days nine times, and primary setup man
Carlos Marmol has done it 15 times already this year.

The final issue with the Cubs bullpen is imbalance. After spending
the majority of the offseason trying to put a lefty-righty balance into
the lineup, GM Jim Hendry has a bullpen with just one left-hander,
former starter Sean Marshall.  The Cubs are in sore need of a lefty
specialist who can work for one batter or one inning, so manager Lou
Piniella is not forced to use Marshall in matchup situations. This
problem has cost the Cubs a few games, including last Saturday against
the rival White Sox.

In this writer’s humble opinion, the Cubs have a surplus of hitters,
including one without a position, and a need for a left-handed bullpen
arm. Jake Fox has been great so far for the Cubs this year, but at the
same time, his trade value might never be higher this season than it is
right now.

The Cubs should obviously wait to make sure that Aramis Ramirez is
fully recovered and able to play everyday before even thinking of
making a trade like this. However, it might not be such a bad idea for
Jim Hendry to start working the phones to see if there are any lefties
available. American league teams should certainly have an interest in
Jake Fox.

Even Injuries Go Right For the Cubs in Win Over Brew Crew

The Chicago Cubs beat the
Brewers 8-5 on Sunday night in a game where everything went their way.
The Cubs scored eight runs on just five hits, thanks to the bat of
Alfonso Soriano and an inning of wildness by the Brewers’ pitching
staff.

Soriano hit the first pitch of the game from Jeff Suppan off the
scoreboard in center field to give the Cubs an early lead.  After the
Brewers tied the game 1-1, the Cubs loaded the bases in the fourth
inning when Milton Bradley was hit by a pitch, Mike Fontenot walked,
and Ryan Theriot singled up the middle. 

On the Theriot single, Milton Bradley came up lame when he took off
for second, and was forced to leave the game with apparent groin
tightness.  Who had Game Six in the “When Does Milton Bradley Get
Injured Pool?”  Reed Johnson replaced him, which turned out to be a
great decision by manager Lou Piniella.

Then it got interesting.  Jeff Suppan proceeded to walk Koyie
Hill, Alfonso Soriano, and Kosuke Fukudome with the bases loaded,
forcing in three runs.  Jorge Julio came on in relief and walked Derrek
Lee, allowing the Cubs to score four runs on just one hit in the inning.

Then, in the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs leading 6-2, starter
Ryan Dempster tried to give up the lead by loading the bases with no
outs.  Prince Fielder then crushed a ball into right field which
appeared to tie the game.  Not so fast.  Bradley’s replacement Reed
Johnson made this catch to keep the ball in the park and hold Fielder to a sac fly.

Would Bradley have made that catch?  No one can say for sure, but my
best guess  would be absolutely no way.  Brewers manager Ken Macha had
this to say:  “I don’t know. Milton is a pretty good defender, how am I
going to figure that one out?”

Either way, despite another shaky outing from Kevin Gregg in the
ninth, the Cubs left Milwaukee with an 8-5 win and a 4-2 road trip to
start the season.  Lou Piniella said it best:

“A 4-2 road trip, I think everybody would’ve been pleased when we
started the season this past Monday to take two out of three in your
division’s home ballparks — you have to be pleased with it,” Piniella
said. “Now we’re home and we’ll see what happens.”

(All quotes taken from cubs.com)

Chicago Cubs Trade Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno…but Not for Jake Peavy

On Wednesday, the Chicago
Cubs traded shortstop Ronny Cedeno and newly-acquired pitcher Garrett
Olson to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Aaron Heilman.  My question
is why?

There are reports that Heilman will compete for the Cubs’ fifth spot
in the starting rotation with the likes of Sean Marshall and the best
wide receiver in the city of Chicago, Jeff Samardzija. 

Others speculate that he will come out of the bullpen to pitch in a
long-reliever role, helping to set up the eighth and ninth-inning
combination of Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.

Heilman prefers to start, but has only done so 25 times in his
career, and not since 2005.  He is already 30 years old, and his career
ERA is 4.24. Prior to last year’s abysmal 5.25 showing, he had three
straight seasons with a sub-3.70 ERA.  His career K/BB ratio is only
2.18, and he strikes out only 7.9 batters per 9 innings.

Looking at the stats, Heilman is a decent pitcher, and you
could do far worse for a long man or a fifth starter.  But he is
definitely NOT worth what the Cubs paid to get him.

In a deal that was eerily similar to the one involving former
can’t-miss prospect Corey Patterson a few years earlier, the Cubs dealt
center fielder Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles.  In return, they
received lefty Olson and Class-A right-hander Henry Williamson.  This
trade by itself is not horrible, as Pie just hasn’t proven he can hit
on the big league level.

When you combine the fact that the Cubs dealt Olson along with
Cedeno for Pie, the deal just becomes outright awful.  Cedeno, Pie, and
Olson were key chips in the potential trade for Padres starter Jake
Peavy.  While I’m not sure if a deal was ever close to occurring, it
seemed that most of the moves the Cubs had made this offseason were
gearing towards a deal. 

Negotiations stalled at the winter meetings because the Cubs didn’t
have the prospects that the Padres needed.  For this reason, the clubs
unsuccessfully tried to involve a third team in the trade to meet the
Padres’ requirements.  Once that failed, the Cubs traded Mark DeRosa
for three minor league pitchers and Pie for two more.  It seemed
everything was falling into place.  Then the Heilman deal.

So while trading Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno for Aaron Heilman is
a pretty balanced deal on its own, when you swap out Olson for Pie and
then factor in that the Cubs essentially gave up on Peavy by doing
this, it doesn’t seem worth it at all.

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.