Tagged: Scott Eyre

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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

Awesome.jpg

Yes the wind was blowing out, yes the opponent was the
injury-plagued Colorado Rockies, and yes, Manny Corpas is terrible right now,
but that was still one of the more amazing and improbable comebacks in recent
memory.  While it seems obvious, it’s
important to remember that in order to come back from down 9-1; the Cubs still
had to score 9 runs.  Scoring 9 runs in a
single game is difficult enough, and the Cubbies were able to do it in 2
innings.  Amazingly, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan
Theriot, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto were all out of the game by the time the
comeback started in the 6th inning.

The Cubs came through using contributions by Kosuke, Micah,
Blanco, DeRosa, and of course, the day after I thoroughly bash him, Jim
Edmonds.  Kosuke and Jimmy hit back-to-back
HRs from in the 6th, Blanco took his turn with a HR in the 7th,
and following a 2-run double by Edmonds, DeRosa hit a lazy fly ball that the
20+ mph wind took into the 3rd row of the bleachers in left to put
the Cubs up for good.  It is an extremely
comforting feeling to see the bench players come through in the clutch, as they
will be pinch hitting when it counts come September (and hopefully October).

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DeRo HR 2.jpg

Another important aspect of Friday’s game which should not
be lost among the comeback was the work of the Cubs bullpen.  Ted Lilly was atrocious, and yes part of it
was due to the wind and close calls on the basepaths, but he made the bullpen
go to work early.  Jon Lieber ate a bunch
of innings, Scott Eyre pitched to the most batters he could (1) and got the
win, Marmol was nasty (more on him shortly), and Kerry Wood overcame a leadoff
walk and a 3-0 count to the next batter to get out of the 9th
unscathed.  One rally by the Rockies in
the 7th, 8th, or 9th would have made the
incredible comeback all for nothing, and the Cubs relievers did an outstanding
job of holding them down, especially considering the conditions.

KWood and Blanco 2.jpg

Back to Marmol.  He
needed just 10 pitches to strike out the
side
in the 8th inning on Friday.  The first pitch he threw was a ball, and then
came 9 straight strikes, only 1 of which was a foul ball.  I don’t think that Seth Smith ever got the
bat off his shoulders while watching 3 sliders in a row buckle his knees.  A team can be extremely susceptible to giving up a big
inning coming off one their own, and Marmol made sure there was no
chance of that occurring.  I don’t think
it’s a stretch to say that he is one of the best pitchers in the game right
now.  To put his dominance into numbers,
righties are batting just .088 against him this year.  .088!!! 
There are some who might think that it would be wise to imitate what the
Yankees are doing with Joba Chamberlain, and convert Marmol into a starter, and
there are some who believe he should be closing instead of Wood.  Yes he would be good in either of those
spots, but there is no way the Cubs would have the best record in baseball if
it wasn’t for Marmol’s flexibility in the bullpen.  He can come in to start an inning or in the
middle, he can come in with the bases empty or loaded, and he can pitch to both
righties and lefties.  There aren’t many
other relievers in the game who can do that with the success rate that Marmol
does.  And as I often say, “It doesn’t matter
who closes if you can’t get him the ball in the 9th with the
lead”.   Kerry has had a few struggles in
the 9th (all the HBPs jump to mind), but he has still nailed down 13
saves in 17 attempts, and opponents (both righties and lefties) are batting
.190 against him, which is not too shabby. 
Marmol in the 8th and Woody in the 9th is a great
combo.

Marmol.jpg

 

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.