Tagged: Lou Piniella

Don’t Group All Cubs Fans with One Drunken Idiot

An ugly incident occurred last night at Wrigley Field, when a full beverage was dropped on the head of Philadelphia Phillies’ centerfielder Shane Victorino as he made a catch in the fifth inning.

As a Cubs fan who was in attendance, but not in the bleachers, I
stood up and booed when this occurred, as did many people sitting
around me.  True Cubs fans know this is unacceptable, despicable, and
not the least bit funny.

Bleacher Bums, as they are called, have a reputation of being loud
and obnoxious, and rightfully so.  Anyone who would pay $50 (face
value) to sit on a bench with no back for a full game, plus the two
hours before the game to get good seats is a bit nutty.  Trust me, I’ve
done it multiple times.

But make no mistake, the fans who sit in the bleachers are great
Cubs fans, throwing visiting home run balls back, riding opposing
outfielders for a misplay, and most importantly, never leaving Carlos
Lee alone.

That’s why it’s upsetting as a Cubs fan when one guy, who likely had too much to drink, goes and ruins it for everyone.

So for those of you thinking or saying things like: “I hope
other fans get back at the Cubs” or “The Cubs should be penalized by MLB“,
need to just slow down for a minute.  It’s a natural and acceptable
reaction to be angry, but direct the anger towards the one stupid
moron, not an entire fan base and organization.

Even though they apparently ejected the wrong fan, Cubs Security was
over there in a flash to take care of the situation.  The Chicago PD is
apparently conducting a manhunt for the offender, and plans to
prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella apologized after the game, saying: “That shouldn’t happen, it’s not good sportsmanship. … We apologize to Victorino and the Phillies for that.”

And if you had interviewed the majority of fans like me, well, you’d have this article as my response.  So, to the rest of the MLB
teams and their fans, please don’t group true Blue Cubs fans like me
with the few select individuals who do dumb stuff like this.  We really
are better than that.

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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.

Should the Cubs Move Alfonso Soriano Back to Second Base?

When Alfonso Soriano was
acquired by the Washington Nationals prior to the 2006 season, the club
wanted to convert him from a second baseman to an outfielder. The Nats
already had a second baseman in Jose Vidro, but Soriano wanted no part
of the switch and sat out a few spring training games as a protest.  Eventually, Soriano gave in to the wishes of his manager (so as not
to forfeit any salary) and made the All-Star Game as a left-fielder.

Fast forward to May 2009, and the Chicago Cubs find themselves in
the opposite situation of the 2006 Nationals. The Cubs traded away Mark
DeRosa in the offseason, and have recently lost replacements Aaron
Miles and Ryan Freel to injury. 

The Cubs’ normal second baseman, Mike Fontenot, has been forced to
switch to third base due to another injury to Aramis Ramirez, leaving
manager Lou Piniella short on options at two of the infield positions.  If Freel goes on the DL, as expected, the Cubs will likely
recall Bobby Scales from Triple-A Iowa as his replacement, but the
infield depth will still be thin.

soriano-afraid-running-wall.jpg

In the outfield, however, the Cubs have plenty of options. Soriano,
Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Milton Bradley, and Micah Hoffpauir are
all in the mix, with recent call-up Jake Fox looking for at-bats as well.

Until the most recent series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the
Cubs had been in an offensive slump. On a recent six-game road trip
against St. Louis and San Diego, the Cubs managed just five runs,
losing all six of the games. The team has attempted to solve this
problem by calling up Fox, but it means nothing if there is no way to
get his bat in the starting lineup.

One solution, albeit a crazy one, is to move Soriano back to second
base. Not having played there much over the last three-plus seasons
will make him a defensive liability, but no more so than inserting Fox
at third base.  Soriano does have a great arm in the outfield, but he
is not the best fielder out there either.  Moving Soriano to second opens up an outfield slot for Reed Johnson,
Micah Hoffpauir, or Jake Fox, and also gives Piniella more flexibility
with double switches later in games. 

This is definitely not a permanent solution, and once Aramis Ramirez
returns there will be no need for it. But Ramirez is anywhere from four
to six weeks away from returning, and the Cubs could fall too far back
in the division during that time for it to matter. 

Unfortunately, the Cubs can’t play the Pirates every game, and with
the Dodgers in town this weekend and interleague play on the horizon,
the Cubs need to do something to wake up their bats in a hurry.

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 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.

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.