Tagged: Ryan Dempster

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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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.

Time to Panic?

Black Cat.jpgI keep reading about and hearing about how much this season resembles 1969.  Well I wasn’t alive then, and I don’t particularly want to think about any similarities between the two seasons.  But some say that the comparison does raise the question, is it time to be worried?  If you’re reading this and you’re a Cubs fan, then you already know the answer.  If you’re not a Cub fan, let me inform you that we, as a fan base, are always worried.  It could be April 2nd or September 27th and we would be equally as worried about our chances to go all the way. It’s something that never leaves a true Cubs fan.  Yes, the current slide where we have lost 7 of 8 (including 2 of 3 to our final cupcake opponent of the season) is somewhat troubling, but Milwaukee keeps losing and we still have a 4-game cushion for the best record in the entire NL and the second most wins in the entire MLB. 

And yes, the remaining schedule is a killer.  13 out of 19 games on the road and all against teams above .500 who still have something to play for.  6 each versus St. Louis and Milwaukee.  That may be frightening to some, but the way I see it is that the Cubs have their destiny in their hands.  Scoreboard watching will basically not come into play, which means the Cubs can decide their own fate.  Actually, I take it back, that is pretty frightening.

On top of all this, two of the Cubs top starting pitchers are having arm troubles.  And, no, I didn’t say top two because I think Ryan Dempster has been the ace of the staff all year long and should start game 1 of a potential NLDS at Wrigley.  I, like all other fans, will be worried about them, but I see no way that Big Z misses any starts in a potential October, or late September if the race tightens.  Harden is another story, and I say that as long as we have this cushion of 3+ games we give him as much time as he needs to rest up. 

So where does all of that leave us?  An 86-57 record, 4 game lead in the NL Central and 7 game lead on a playoff spot, with less than 3 weeks left in the regular season.  Not knowing anything else I’m pretty sure any Cubs fan would take that in a heartbeat. 

Hello Wisconsin

Chants of “Sweep,
sweep, sweep, sweep” could be heard on WGN Radio this afternoon, loud enough to
the point that it sounded like a home game. 
From what I saw, heard and read, this was the atmosphere for all 4 games
at Wrigley North, aka Miller Park, where the Cubs put their road woes aside and
went into the land of Cheese to sweep the Brew Crew and open up a 4.5 game lead
in the Central.  A few things stood out
from this series.

 

1.  The Cubs offense showed up on the road. 

At least 6
runs in every game and 31 in the 4 game series, numbers unheard of from this
Cubs team who had done next to nothing on the road to date (see previous
entry).  In my mind, the key to this offensive
output was scoring first in every game. 
Only in Game 1 when the Cubs trailed 3-2 for half an inning did they
ever play from behind.  Insurance runs
are much easier to score than tying / go-ahead runs, and the Cubs piled on
plenty of them this week.  The Cubs put
up 49 hits in the 4 game series, amazingly having their smallest output (9) in today’s
game where they scored the most runs (11). 

 

2.  Intangibles

There are
many ways to define this word, but in terms of sports I like to keep it
simple.  Things that don’t show up in the
box score.  Things like Reed Johnson’s
slide (which forced the error that did show up the box score), Ryan Braun’s “dive”,
the fact that the Cubs got 7 hits on 17 pitches against Ben Sheets in the 6th
inning of Tuesday’s game, meaning there was no one ready in the Brewers’ pen
when Sheets should have been out of the game, and of course, the home
atmosphere on the road.  Little things
lead to big innings, and the Cubs took advantage of everything handed to them
this week.

 

3.  Pitching

The Brewers
started off the series as if it were October, putting C.C. Sabathia and Ben
Sheets on the hill for games 1 and 2. 
The Cubs offense was struggling, and with their road woes well
documented it seemed that a split was the best the Cubs could ask for.  Not to take anything away from the offense,
but with the exception of some 9th inning lapses by the pen, the
Cubs staff was outstanding. 

Ted Lilly –
6 IP, 3 ER, 4K

Carlos
Zambrano – 8 IP, 0 ER, 9K

Ryan
Dempster – 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K

Rich Harden –
7 IP, 1ER, 9K

28 IP, 5 ER,
31 K.  You really can’t ask for much
more.

 

4.  Rich Harden

Yes I know I
just mentioned pitching but I want to give a special “shout out” to Rich.  Since joining the Cubs on July 8th,
check out these stats: 24 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 39Ks, 1.11 ERA.  Oh yeah, and a 1-1 record.  Only on the Cubs.  Fellow ex-A’s pitcher Chad Gaudin is 2-1 with
a 1.54 ERA since joining the Cubs while only pitching in 11 2/3 innings, so I
hope nobody is still calling him a “throw-in” to that deal.

 

However, one of the key factors that led to the outcome of this series occurred before the series even began.  On Saturday July 26th, a Cubs extra inning loss coupled with the Brewers’ 9th win in their last 10 put the teams into a tie atop the Central Division standings.  The next day, Milwaukee led 4-1 while the Cubs trailed 5-0 early in both games.  If those outcomes had stood, the Brewers would have come into the series leading the division for the first time since sometime in May, while the Cubs would have lost 3 in a row at home for what I think would have been the first time all season.  Houston’s 7-run 5th and Mike Fontenot’s 3-run double completely changed the momentum going into this huge series, and in this writer’s opinion, allowed the Cubs to tough out a big win in the opener on Monday. 

As this
article goes to press, the Cubs now have 4.5 games worth of breathing room in the
division.  But don’t get too comfortable
Cubs fans, as we have 9 left against St. Louis (6 at home) and 6 left against
Milwaukee (3 at home).  Those 15 games account
for 28% of the remaining games left on the schedule, so nothing is decided just
yet.  Next up, the Jason Bay, Xavier
Nady, Damaso Marte-less Pittsburgh Pirates for 3 at Wrigley. 

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.    

Sweep

After a beautiful day for baseball on Monday, Chicago
weather did what it does best, and brought out 40 degree temperatures and winds
blowing straight in for Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ games vs. the
Dodgers.  The Cubs managed 8 runs total
in the 3-game series, but it was enough to sweep it as the Dodgers only managed
3.    I know the NL West has become this
year’s NL Central, but a sweep is still a sweep.

Overall, the Cubs gave up 23 hits in the 3 game series, and
allowed another 13 men to reach via the walk, but the important thing is that
only 3 of those guys crossed home plate. 
All 3 starters pitched great, Dempster and Gallagher each allowed only 1
earned run in 7, while Zambrano did the same over 8 IP.  The pen combined on 6 scoreless innings, but was
a bit shaky in doing so.  On separate
occasions Marmol and Howry loaded the bags with 1 out, only to narrowly, but dramatically work their way
out of the self-created jams.

39359993.jpg

In Wednesday night’s game, the 10th inning
game-winning rally was started by Mike Fontenot’s 1-out double off Chan-Ho
Park, who yes, is still pitching in the major leagues, earning that $60 million
dollar contract.  Part of the reason
Fontenot was able to come through in that spot because he had started the game
the night before, and wasn’t “ice cold” coming off
the bench.  Another part of the reason
Fontenot was able to come through was because Chan Ho Park was pitching.

39360098.jpg

Much like Tribune Cubs beat writer Paul Sullivan, I’m
getting sick of all the talk about Soriano. 
Yes, I’m sick of his act in LF, and his inability to run anymore, but
instead of worrying about what he’s not, I think it’s time to start focusing on
what he does bring to the table.  Even
though he is in a “mini-slump” at the plate, he came through with the game
winning hit last night, and he is only 1 grooved fastball away from starting up
another hot streak. 

On a different note, Jim Edmonds sucks.  I could say it more elegantly but I don’t think
he deserves the time it would take for me to figure out how to do that.  Some say he is still a Cardinal sabotaging
the Cubs from the inside, and I don’t doubt it. 
Outside of the one outstanding catch he made in Houston, (See
Final Paragraph
), I don’t think he has contributed one positive thing of
any value to this team.  The experiment
failed Mr. Hendry, it’s time to let Jimmy go. 

One alternative that has floated around rumor mills is Kenny
Lofton.  While I think bringing back
Kenny would not be such a bad idea, the reason he isn’t playing for a major
league team right now is money.  He was
offered contracts, but not to his liking, so he continues to sit out.  The reason we took a flier on Edmonds is
because it was for the league minimum. 
Kenny wants a bit more than that, and I think a platoon of Reed Johnson
and Kosuke Fukudome in center will work out just fine.

39360083.jpg


Note: This picture doesn’t have anything to do with the post, but it looks pretty cool.