Tagged: Rich Hill

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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

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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.

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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. 

Another W

It would be nice to score in more than 1 inning, but a W is a W.  It’s also good to see Rich Hill back in form, throwing 5 strong innings.  It seems pretty clear that Reed Johnson was not brought in to be a backup and as much as I don’t like to see Murton toiling in AAA, it was a good move  to bring him in. 

It’s also good to see the Cubs winning the close ones.  After opening the 2007 season 0-6 in 1 run games, the 2008 Cubs are 3-2 in that category.  They didn’t win their 3rd 1 run game until June last season. 

Finally, Carlos Marmol is approaching Devin Hester status in Chicago.  That slider is unhittable. 

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