Tagged: Kevin Hart

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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

The Near Collapse

Carlos Struggles.jpgRich Harden’s debut as a Chicago Cub went just as planned.  For 7 innings.  Harden was lights out for 5.1 innings yesterday, throwing 96 pitches (66 for strikes) and fanning 10.  The Cubs offense was also hitting on all cylinders in the first half of yesterday’s game, scoring 7 times in innings 2-4.  CubBlog favorite Jim Edmonds had a HR and 4 RBIs, sparking the Cubs to a 7-0 lead.  

Then came the 8th.  Kevin Hart, who had thrown a scoreless 7th, promptly gave up a single, a double and another single to allow 2 runs to score.  Bobby Howry came in and put out the fire and the Cubs were out of the inning with no further damage.  Then Carlos Marmol came in to “get some work”.  Marmol misplayed a ball, walked a batter, and gave up 4 hits in allowing 5 runs to score.  We later found out that Kerry Wood was unavailable due to a blister (which will keep him out of the ASG on Tuesday), which explains why Lou had to stick with Carlos in that situtation.  

While listening to Pat and Ron in the 9th, I didn’t even consider the possibility that we could lose the game.  Then the wheels fell off, and it’s pretty clear that something is up with Marmol.  I mentioned in this June entry that Marmol had been pitching a lot (see #3), but now that he has been getting a great deal of rest and pitching in less important situations, the probability that this is a mental block is getting stronger.  The Cubs are definitely going to need Marmol on track for the stretch run, so let’s hope his time at the ASG gets him back where he needs to be.  

Back to the game, Sean Marshall pitched brilliantly out of the pen, just days after being in the rotation.  I don’t know from experience, but I’m pretty sure that it is a tough transition to make. He’s like our Mark DeRosa of the pitching staff.  After throwing his 2nd scoreless inning, Marshall led off the 11th with a base hit and moved to second on a walk to DeRo.  He was forced out at 3rd on Mike Fontenot’s bunt that was hit just a bit too hard, but the next batter was Reed Johnson and he singled home DeRo (on a very exciting play at the plate) to win the game.  

Dero Scores.jpgWhat could have been a devastating loss turned into another exciting win at the Friendly Confines.  The Cubs are attmepting to finish the first half with a sweep of the Giants, but they face a tough task as Tim Lincecum (10-2) takes the bump for the Giants today.

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.

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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. 

Soriano is Back / Gallagher’s Emergence

ptnmVbkS.jpgIt took about a month and a half, just like last year, but Soriano is hitting like we’ve expected him to.  2 more HRs today gives him 4 in the last 4 games, 3 leading off the first inning.  I think everyone who said we needed to leave him out of the lineup because when he returned from the DL is rethinking that.  Sure he was cold originally, but who wouldnt be?  He clearly needs time to heat up and he won’t get that sitting on the bench.

It’s also clear that his quad / hammy / legs aren’t right.  Watching him rounding 3rd trying to score against Arizona was painful for everyone, including Soriano is my guess.  He will never be the player we signed him to be in terms of stealing the bases, but you aren’t gonna find many better hitters out there. 

I’ve always been a Sean Gallagher fan, and I’m happier now than ever that he wasn’t included in the Brian Roberts trade.  Yeah, Roberts would be great, but where would we be without Gallagher giving us 6 strong innings today.  Lieber was ineffective starting and we needed Marshall and Hart out of the bullpen, so Gallagher was the guy and he came through.  I think he’ll be a great starter down the road.