Plenty of Depth, Lack of Pizzazz Defines Cubs’ Farm System

Anthony Rizzo

“As the Cubs’ draft went on, we were sitting around in our draft room and we could tell what they were doing. We said ‘hey, they get it, they’re finally getting it’….That got my attention, the attention of a lot of other people in the game.”

Those words, spoken by Theo Epstein at his introductory news conference in Chicago in October of last year, speak volumes about the state of the Cubs’ farm system. Obviously, there is an element of intrigue there, with the Cubs’ drafting of a very strong class last year. They got several big prospects, and they were able to sign a big chunk of them, spending more in bonuses than they had in the previous two drafts combined.

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Cubs Trade Tyler Colvin to Colorado Rockies for Ian Stewart

Before leaving Dallas and the Winter Meetings on Thursday, Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer did manage to make one move. No, it wasn’t signing Albert Pujols or CJ Wilson (both of whom signed with the Angels), but instead it was a trade, acquiring third baseman Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies. They also acquired minor league pitcher Casey Weathers in the deal.

In exchange, the Cubs sent outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu to Denver.

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The Chicago Cubs season is like the Cubs … almost over

lou-piniella-crosstown cup

I am catching everyone a bit off-guard here on Friday, but it is always good to change things up a little bit, right? Just like the Cubs are going to need to change things up more than a little bit when it comes to their 2012 roster.

So, let’s get going and starting rambling, and maybe even start talking about next year a little bit.

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The Chicago Cubs are NOT GOOD at baseball

Hello, good day, hope you are all doing fantastic. It is Friday, and as well all know, that means it is time for some ramblings. It is time to just throw some thoughts out there, see what sticks, then ask some hopefully intriguing questions and create some debate. That is what we do here, so let’s get it on. The trade deadline is Sunday, and a certain third baseman might be changing his tune.

So, without further ado …

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50% of 162 is…uhh…Where’s my Calculator?

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By Paul Schmidt

The halfway point of the baseball season has been reached for the Chicago Cubs.  Suffice it to say, things didn’t quite go as planned.  What has happened?  What will happen?  Let’s take a brief, brief look back (mainly because that’s all I can stomach) and then a glance at the future as we try to figure out where this team is going to take us in this wild and wooly 2009 season.

Offense
The bats, as we all know and has been well documented, have been silent. Everything that Jim Hendry did in this offseason backfired, much as I and many others feared it might. Hendry overcompensated for a lineup that didn’t feature enough left-handers and dealt away one of the teams’ biggest strengths last season – defense (which we will get to).

Alfonso Soriano has been an unbelievable disappointment at the plate.  Geovany Soto’s not been much better – but seems to be coming on ever so slightly after his positive marijuana test has come out. Mike Fontenot is proving why he isn’t an every-day player in the majors. Milton Bradley’s not hitting for power or average (but, in all sincerity, he is getting on base with an OBP of near .380 – exceedingly high for someone only hitting .245). Fukudome is coming back to earth after a torrid start again this spring, but at least is still drawing walks.

Derrek Lee has been absolutely raking, and is deserving of an All Star berth mainly because he’s had to carry this whole mess on his shoulders for the last six weeks.  Ryan Theriot also has been a nice sparkplug at the plate, and, thank goodness, has stopped running the bases with the reckless abandon of past seasons.

Pitching
The starters have been the anchor of the team.  Ted Lilly has been an unsung hero this season – and worthy of an All-Star bid. Randy Wells probably should be getting mentions as a Rookie of the Year candidate, as hard as that might be to believe. Carlos Zambrano has been his usual up and down self, and Ryan Dempster has had to deal with a lot of personal tragedy in his life this season, yet continues to take the ball every five days (until landing on the DL today

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

with a mysterious broken toe).  Only Rich Harden has been completely inconsistent, as no one seems to know which pitcher is going to hit the mound on any given day.

The bullpen has spent much of the season looking sketchy, but might have turned a corner. Kevin Gregg – Known to Chicago Comcast On-Demand subscribers as the Pout-Pout Fish – has thrown very well over the past couple of weeks.  Carlos Marmol seems to – THANK GOD – have turned a corner and should again be considered as a possible closer. With Angel Guzman headed back into the mix as the 7th or 8th inning guy, the bullpen, once thought to be a weakness, could become a big strength.

Defense
Or lack thereof. With Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano on the corners, the outfield struggles to be adequate. Ryan Theriot is generally viewed, in MLB circles, as a picture-perfect example of how NOT to play shortstop. The bench is devoid of anyone who can come in and be a marked improvement defensively, save for Andres Blanco, who unfortunately can’t hit or bunt. One thing saving both Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir in this area is that when the starting OF is as bad defensively as it is, really, there’s no reason to criticize their defense.

To put things in perspective, in the second three-game series against the White Sox, Alfonso Soriano lost a pop fly in the sun and played an out into a hit on three consecutive days…and this received virtually no mention because Milton Bradley’s unfortunate “counting” incident was so very bad. That’s an awful defensive outfield.

The Second Half
Here’s five big subplots to the rest of the season for Cubs fans to be watching:
1)  Off days. The Cubs, as mentioned earlier, just hit the midway point of the season at 81 games, and were the last team in all of baseball to hit that barrier. They have four games played less than the division-leading Cardinals, and obviously that gap has to be made up prior to the end of the year, which means the Cubs will have four less off days due to, mostly, inclement weather at the beginning of the year. How Lou Piniella manages the roster and gets everyone enough rest as the season goes along will be a big part of how far the Cubs can go this season

2) Injuries. The boys in blue received a big boost Monday in getting Aramis Ramirez, Angel Guzman and Reed Johnson back from injury, but then lost Ryan Dempster to the DL with a broken toe on Tuesday, with no immediate timetable for his return. If injuries continue to mount, with so few off days, the Cubs will be in real trouble trying to field an adequate roster.

3) The rotation. This goes hand-in-hand with the last item, with Dempster headed to the DL. From an immediate standpoint, Carlos Zambrano moves up one day to make the start on Tuesday, and then Kevin Hart, only sent to the

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

minors yesterday, will make his first major league start on Wednesday. Hart, barring a miracle, can’t be a permanent solution in that role, and Sean Marshall has to stay in the bullpen as the only lefty out there, so it leaves questions of who fills that spot in the rotation should Dempster miss any length of time – which, if the toe broken is his big toe on his plant foot, could actually happen. Watch Hart’s Wednesday start closely, and possibly pray a little that he looks like Cy Young.

4) The ownership. Just as soon as it looked like things might get resolved on Monday, things got way less clear on Tuesday. It looked as though Tom Ricketts’ bid was going forward on Monday, but Tuesday it became public that though the Ricketts deal seemed to be agreed to in principal, the Tribune continued to negotiate with the group led by equity investor Marc Utay and reached an agreement for more money overall – but less cash up front. While the particulars of how and why are relevant to the sale of the team, only one thing is important to the fans at this point – it doesn’t look like the sale will be completed in time before the trade deadline, as had been previously speculated upon. With that being the case, it goes from being extremely difficult for Jim Hendry to get a trade together to being near impossible for him.

5) The team to beat. Who is that team, to be more specific.  Is it the Cardinals, with their solid rotation and best player on earth, Albert Pujols?  Is it the Brewers with their other-worldly offense and a pitching staff that ranges from Yovani Gallardo (awesome) to…Seth freaking McClung (to quote the Hebrew Hammer, oy vais). Could it be the up-and-coming (and getting healthier themselves) Reds?

Perhaps any of those teams could pull the division off…but I imagine that it will be the Cubs themselves as the team to beat.  I mean that in one of two ways, though – Maybe they will distance themselves from the pack and become the team to beat.

Or perhaps they will be the team that beats themselves.

With 81 down and 81 to go, we’re closer, rather than further, from the answer.

The Father, The Son, Aramis Ramirez, Amen.

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By Paul Schmidt

The moment that the Cubs and their fans have waited for is finally here. The second coming of Jesus Christ himself, Aramis Ramirez, has returned to the Cubs lineup. Now they will start hitting!
He’ll fix the budget crisis too!  And heal all the election tension in Iran!  I also heard he knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding and is, on his next off day, leading a team of Special Forces soldiers to bring him to justice!

I love Aramis, and I think that he is probably the most underrated superstar in the National League – At least, outside the city of Chicago.  For those on the North Side, at least during his injury, you would think that he is Babe Ruth, Ichiro and Brooks Robinson all rolled into one.

rami

They won their first game back with Rami, but he went 0-for-4.  His mere presence in the lineup must have frightened my favorite Dutch pitcher, Jair Jurrjens, right?

I can’t stand idly by and listen any longer about how, with Ramirez back in the lineup, suddenly the Cubs will hit again.

For the first time since early 2007, the Cubs posting a losing record for a calendar month of the season by going 12-16.  They managed to do this while posting the best ERA for starting pitching in all of baseball.  Think about that for a moment.

Their starters, in June, were the best in all of baseball.  And yet, they lost 4 more games than they won.

Obviously, the offense is a big problem.

Injuries, however, were not the biggest issue.

We have two main cogs in the lineup – Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano – who are apparently statistically punting the 2009 season.  We have a second baseman in Mike Fontenot who should either be a platoon player or a sub off the bench – and is playing like it by only hitting .220.  We have a right fielder in Milton Bradley who has been on a pretty big offensive tear as of late – to bring his average all the way into the .240s.

Setting aside Fontenot (who, honestly has no business starting), if Soto, Soriano and Bradley were all putting up the seasons they had last year, prorated, as of right now, you’d be looking at a first place ball club.  And yes, I mean that, even with Aramis Ramirez, he who stands in the white robes and blesses us all, on the disabled list.

For anyone who thinks you can’t lose your best player and still win games, well, all you need to do is look at the team that eliminated us in the playoffs last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They’ve been missing some Manny guy for the last 50 games.  While he was suspended, the Dodgers went 29-21, good for a .580 winning percentage.  Now, granted, that was far less than the nearly .700 clip they were winning at prior to his suspension, but it does prove that a team doesn’t need to fold up shop when their best player disappears from the lineup card.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

Which is, essentially, what happened with the Cubs. They just let the snowball start rolling down the hill, gathering speed and momentum, and once it had they couldn’t stop the slump – or the excuses.

Now, with Rami the Great and Benevolent back, the excuses have all run out.

It’s time to prove to your fans and the city what you’re made of, gentlemen. Because if you aren’t good enough, come this winter, we’ll be looking for real answers.

And, just so we’re clear, ‘Aramis Ramirez was hurt’ won’t be good enough.

Cubs-White Sox Exchange Part Deux: Weather Will Be Better!

By The Soxman and Paul Schmidt

cubslogo2untitled
(Paul Schmidt) – It’s time for round two! The Red Line series shifts south to U.S. Cellular Field, where this Friday, Saturday and Sunday the Cubs and Sox will once again take each other on in a battle for city supremacy.

Now, that really sounds like I’m fired up about these games, doesn’t it? However I’ve always, as a Cub fan, felt like these games are nothing more than games against, say, the N. L. East in terms of importance – Sure, they are baseball games and they are obviously important to win, but nothing like games against your division-mates.

Just because we’re both in the same city doesn’t add any more drama to these games for me.

Is it the same for most White Sox fans, or am I barking up the wrong tree by bringing this up?

(Soxman) I think the rivalry means a great deal to most Sox fans because if it didn’t, the White Sox would not have a special Meeeemmmorieeees...sniff...ticket pricing bracket for this series only. Personally, I believe the depth of the energy and passion is relative to the season both teams are having. In 2006, the Cubs were playing with a chip on their shoulder. So I wonder why Michael Barrett threw that punch at AJ? This season the weather in Chicago has been about as extreme as both of our teams play, so I think fans are stoked, but not as stoked.

Honestly, neither team is exactly dominating in their division, so for me personally, I wish you guys would just do you your job and beat up the Tigers for us like we beat up the Brewers for you.

(PS)
– In all seriousness, we wish we could have beaten the Tigers a couple of times for you, too…

Let’s dish a little on your team. Jose Contreras is one of those guys that Sox fans love to hate. His relationship with the team and their fans reminds me a little of the Red Sox and Derek Lowe, a guy that Red Sox fans quit on roughly 250,000 times in his career there. Is everyone back on board the bandwagon of the Sox’s Friday starter, and can he keep up his absolutely torrid run since coming off the DL?

(SM) Jose came back to reality a little bit in his third start since being re-called from AAA, although it seems like he was on the disabled list or at least was limited to pitching batting practice for the first two months of the season. Despite a more human start last week, he still has posted a 1.23 ERA in three starts and appears to be throwing pitches with more confidence. While Sox fans are excited, I believe that he was never going to be counted on as more than a 4th or 5th starter this season anyway. More encouraging is Gavin Floyd’s 1.25 ERA over his last three starts.

Now it’s time for our hitting to come off the DL. We are hitting an appalling .217 at home this season, second worst in major league baseball only to the San Diego Padres. See, there was a reason Jake Peavy turned that trade down.

(PS) – Floyd is finally looking like the starter I envisioned him to be when I drafted him as an end-game starter in most of my fantasy leagues. Too bad I dropped him prior to the good run.

You also bring up something interesting – the White Sox’s struggles to hit the ball at US Cellular. Couple that with the Cubs’ road struggles (after being swept by the Tigers, they have one of MLB’s worst road records at 13-22), and we may have a series no one can win!

Moving on, since sometimes it’s difficult to diagnose problems with your own team without rose-colored glasses, I’d like to get your opinion on ’09 Cubs issues. If you were Jim Hendry, what’s the move you make at this point? Do you stand pat? Is this just a season where bad luck with injuries (after two extremely injury-free, division-title seasons) is going to derail things?

(SM) Jim Hendry really only has himself to blame for his team’s troubles. First, they have minimal payroll flexibility (the Cubs have the 3rd highest team payroll in MLB). They have large sums of money tied up in players with either minimal trade value (Fukudome, Bradley), or to players who are injury prone or attitude prone (Big Z, Soriano, Harden, etc.).

Soto has had a massive sophomore slump and Kevin Gregg was never the most stable closer in the game. He wanted a left-handed bat who could get on-base, which is why he brought in Bradley, and in essence took away a team sparkplug in Mark DeRosa. While he really has no choice but to stand pat, I’d dismantle and try again.

The fun thing about the Cubs has always been the heart they play with. While I truly like guys like Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot, who is the true leader on this team? Where is that heart and passion? Big Z water cooler episodes aside? You have more egos to manage than ball players. The only hope they really have is to not be passive. Play whoever performs and ignore the dollar signs next to their names. How about you, what would you do with the White Sox?

(PS) I agree with most of your assessments, although today we learned that Geovany Soto is so fat this season because he’s got the munchies and is getting high. Awesome. Have I mentioned how much I love this Cub team?
For the White Sox, get out your dynamite. There are a lot of pieces that could be valuable come trade-deadline time,

One Cub fan has a little "man-crush" on Becks...

One Cub fan has a little "man-crush" on Becks...

and the Sox could go a long way towards building for the future if they’d just eat some salaries. Send Thome and Konerko out to any teams needing a DH (Seattle, or perhaps even someplace like Kansas City). Send Jermaine Dye to, well, anyone needing a perennial, fringe-MVP candidate. Send Mark Buerhle (yeah, I said it) to the Cardinals. Last but not least…see what Carlos Quentin can get you, assuming he can return to the field 100 percent. I get that he was a revelation last season, but his trade value will NEVER be higher than it is now, and the more he gets hurt the less he’ll be worth to the rest of the league. Again, I’m not saying they will do it, but they should. The future of this team rests with Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham (who may have one of the strongest arms I have ever seen).

(SM) Ok let’s play Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox (and Cubs) and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly? Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words! Let’s play ball…

The Cubs need this series more than the Sox.

(SM) Mirage, The White Sox are hiding their white socks in fear of a white flag.

(PS) Maybe. This answer was different prior to being swept by the Tigers.

The Cubs are in 1st place with Mark DeRosa on the team.

(SM) Maybe, a true sub for A-Ram, and a spark plug.

(PS) Mirage. I love DeRo, but he had an awful start to the season, only coming on of late.

Alfonso Soriano will turn it around in the 2nd half.

(SM) Mirage. Even if he boosts his numbers the 2006 player appears gone forever.

(PS) Mirage. Coughcough PEDs Coughcough

The Sox bats will come alive at the Cell this weekend.


(SM) Maybe.
They better or the only player who walks might be Greg Walker.

(PS) Mirage. The only thing the Cubs have going for them is their rotation right now.

Scott Podsednik patrols CF when Quentin returns.

(SM) Maybe. Unless Brian Anderson suddenly becomes the true reason we traded Aaron Rowand.

(PS) Mirage. Unless Ozzie wants to attempt to field one of the worst fielding outfields in history…

Cubs and Twins exchange: Whoever Sucks Less Wins!

 

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As the Twins head to Wrigley Field for an interleague series against the Cubs this weekend, TSB.net’s David K. and Peter Christian are feeling very pessimistic about their team’s outlook, even though David’s Cubs are just 2.5 games out of first in the NL Central and Peter’s Twins only 4.5 back in the AL Central.  That “glass half-empty” approach comes to light as the two talk about the up-coming series.

Twins Devil Rays Gardenhire Baseball


DK: Peter, we just got swept at home by the Rockies… oh wait… no… that was the Brewers… my bad… (Hey, I have to take a jab whenever possible even though the Cubs just blew two games in Houston.)  But seriously, I haven’t felt this emotionally unattached to something since I last had a girlfriend.  When the Cubs lose, I don’t blink an eye or even consider being remotely angry for a tenth of a second.  I simply shrug it off like the Cubs are an ex nagging about something less meaningful than Adam Morrison’s role on the Lakers.  It’s not like the Cubs are a bad team, but they just continue to be unimpressive as they hang around mediocrity in the National League.  I want to quit them Peter for the 301,927th time ever.  You picking up what I’m putting down?

PC: I’m definitely scooping that vibe. I’m definitely not as detached as you are but I find myself caring a little bit less with each disappointing loss (especially the road losses, which have come to be expected). A little over a week ago I noticed that no team had played more home games than the Twins, they were a game or two under .500 and had the second worst road record in all of baseball just as they were set to start play in June (during which 18 of their 27 games were on the road). The fact that they are 3-4 on the road thus far this month and won back to back games on the road means nothing since they were playing the Mariners and A’s. Add in the fact that the Twins are the 2nd worst day game team in all of baseball and a 3 day game set on the road against the Cubs does not bode well for a team that is 3-13 away from home under the sunlight. Do you think the Twins have vampire blood in them?

twilight1


DK:  Is that a Twilight reference?  Because after the MTV Movie Awards, any thought or mention of Twilight makes me want to violently throw up.

The Twins are the anti-Cubs.  They hit for average and actually score runs via the ever popular phrase, “small ball.”  The north-siders are 25th in the majors in hits and 28th in runs.  Our “crucial” off-season acquisition, Milton Bradley is hitting .215 with just 14 RBI.  And this was supposed to be the guy who was going to fill the void of a left-handed bat in the middle of the line-up?  He pulls more muscles than an entire team in a 40-year old-plus bar softball league.  Reigning NL rookie of the year Geovany Soto has slightly better numbers (.215 BA, 15 RBI) and apparently hasn’t got the memo that it’s okay to hit the ball to the opposite field.  Aramis Ramirez might be done for the year.  Alfonso Soriano has six more strike-outs than base hits, but does have 14 home runs.  Isn’t the point of a lead-off hitter to actually get on base?  Maybe the Cubs need to borrow some of the Twins vampire blood and rub it on their bats to wake them up.

SPORTS BBN-CARDS-CUBS 4 TB

PC: Maybe that could help, but I feel like I’m giving you bad news when I say that the Twins might be just what the Cubs need to get going. Both the Yankees and Red Sox used the Twins as a door mat as they continued their early season win streaks when the Twins paid them a visit, maybe the Cubs can use the Twins as a spring board more effectively than Shawn Johnson into a winning streak of their own (wow, a possible Twilight reference and now a Shawn Johnson plug? Are we sure I haven’t been kidnapped by a 13 year old girl? Maybe its time to take the remote out of my wife and daughter’s hands). One other thing to remember is that the Twins offense is something of a Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde. When the offense is rolling, everyone hits. As evidenced in the 20-1 drubbing of the White Sox late last month the Twins seem to bunch their hitting prowess together while also matching up their Oh-fer nights. Then you’ve got the bullpen. The Twins relief pitchers are seemingly incapable of putting together any streaks of dominance whatsoever. With the exception of Joe Nathan and surprisingly Matt Guerrier, every Twins reliever averages at least one base runner per inning pitched. Unless the goal of the bullpen is to make Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson and every Twins fan’s blood pressure go through the roof, that has to stop. Letting runners on just opens the door for the opponents to get back in the game, take the lead or expand the lead. The other half of that problem is the Twins starters inability to pitch into the later innings of games. Each and every starter this season has had a game in which they were in control of early get out of hand because they couldn’t get out of the 6th or 7th inning. I know that some fans get frustrated because they don’t know which version of their favorite team is going to take the field each night. With the Twins, we don’t know which version of the team is going to take the field each INNING.

DK: Have you ever seen the youtube video where some dumb punk frat boy wants Shawn Johnson olympic teammate Alicia Sacrimone (no relation to Johnny Sack from The Sopranos… then again…?) to punch him in the face?  She does and drops the kid with one blow.  It’s quite brilliant actually.

You don’t know which Twins team is going to show up?  Seriously.  Have you seen the Cubs play recently?  In their last 12 games, they have scored three runs or less eight times.  Thankfully, their pitching has worn the pants in the relationship, carrying the team to a 6-6 record during this offensive hiatus.  Look at poor Randy Wells. He was called up when Big Z was hurt and has been stellar, posting a 1.86 ERA and almost 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio in six starts.  But his record is 0-2 because when he takes the mound, the offense has been as productive as a college stoner stumbling across Half Baked on cable.  Is it possible that it’s only mid-June and we might be overreacting a little bit to how much we dislike our teams?

Brewers Twins Baseball

 

PC: I hadn’t seen that video, but yes, it is completely possible we are overreacting to the Twins/Cubs lackluster start to the season but I need to ask: Are we sure we aren’t talking about the same team? The Twins have averaged just under 4 runs per game on their current road trip, but don’t let that fool you. If you take out the 10 run outburst against Oakland on Tuesday night and the 6 run game on Wednesday night, the Twins are averaging just better than 2 runs per game. Outside of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer the rest of the Twins lineup is so inconsistent and strikeout prone it makes me want to swallow razorblades and then throw them up just to feel the pain twice. I hope I’m just setting the expectation bar low so that I will be satisfied when they get back to the .500 mark, but I don’t know. I had high expectations for this Twins team because they went and filled the offensive hole they were missing and had a solid roster everywhere else, but thus far I’ve just been let down. I hope the Twins can win two in Chicago (because they play National League baseball better than most NL teams) but I would be Peter’s complete lack of surprise if they got swept (you like that Fight Club reference?)

fight_club

DK: Better than the aforementioned Shawn Johnson and Twilght references… that’s for sure. Go Cubs!

 

 

 

Cubs-Brewers Exchange

By: David K. and Melissa S. Wollering

Thesportsbank.net’s inaugural Cubs-Brewers exchange!  After taking two of three from the depleted Cubs, the Brewers have leapfrogged Chicago in what is shaping up to be a competitive NL Central Division.  TSB’s Brewers expert Melissa S. Wollering and our resident Cubs fool, David K. share their thoughts on this weekend’s series.

DK: Well, at least we saved face by winning Sunday and avoiding an embarrassing sweep to your Brewers.  After Saturday’s game, I was ready to quit the Cubs for about the 214,736th time.  Somehow whenever I threaten to do that, they manage to get a win and just suck me back in.

Kudos to the Crew though.  Ryan Braun’s game-winning home run Friday night was baller.  Saturday, you guys treated our bullpen like they were Eric Gagne and Derrick Turnbow.  You have the best record in baseball since April 19th, winning 15 of your last 20.  Enough with the compliments though.  It’s time to make some excuses.

We played this series without Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, and with Aramis Ramirez separating his shoulder in the first game.  That would be like the Crew being without Yovanni Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun.  Doesn’t sound fun does it?

By the way, can we get Craig Counsell to take a drug test?  He has to be on the juice after going yard Saturday night.

MW: I firmly believe I stood up during his home run and shouted, “that was just worth more than we paid you for your entire 2009 season contract.”  When looking directly at Craig’s face I always think it has been frozen in time since he’s all of 12 ½ years old.  Perhaps his going yard was more of sudden burst of youth circa 1987. But yes, you can test him for banned substances, by all means.

What has surprised me even more than the Brewers recent stellar offensive display is its pitching. The Crew is either tied with the Cubs or is now leading the league in quality starts with at least 18.  Considering all 5 members of your Cubs starting rotation were said to be better than the best starter we had at the beginning of this season, how do you feel about that, David?

DK: I hate it because I was a big basher of the Crew’s rotation at the beginning of the season.  Yo is living up to his stud potential and Dave Bush has been solid.  As of late, Suppan has been more crafty veteran than washed-up junk-baller.  As for that supposedly sweet Cubbies rotation; Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster all have ERA’s in the upper-four’s.  But that’s not the major issue.  It’s our bullpen which I trust as much as I would trust Ron Santo not to scream after a Cubs walk-off home run.  I mean, Chad Fox’s ERA is 135.00 in his two games.  Granted, his arm is pretty much dead, but still, a 135.00 ERA?  Even Gagne and Turnbow are laughing at that.

By the way, did you notice Braun’s home run Saturday night when he stared down Dempster after he knew it was gone.  Granted, Dempster had beaned Braun in the helmet the at-bat before, but still, it seems like Braun is getting a little cocky these days which I am usually all about, just not against by Cubs.  K?  Thanks.  For the record Braun is batting .619 against left-handed pitchers this season.  That is shocking.  Not 135.00 ERA shocking, but nonetheless shocking.

MW: That staredown you speak of consisted of steel-tipped darts protruding from Braun’s eyes, yes.  Good thing Dempster was looking back at the ball in awe instead of at Braun or you would have had two pitchers go down in agony that night.  Fox’s arm looked as though it fell off right then and there.  That’s gotta be tough to rehab all that time and throw it out during one of your first outings back.

Surprisingly, our starting rotation is playing to its potential.  Prior to Sunday, Suppan had 4 quality starts in a row.  That’s a shocking as Paula’s song-and-dance return to the stage on last week’s American Idol. But our bullpen isn’t all that much better than yours with the exception of Trevor Hoffman.  When you have someone like Jorge Julio, who’s given up 7 hits and 10 runs (9 earned) in the last 7 days, you tend to want to throw things at the television before the man even finishes running to the mound.



On a bright note, Fukudome’s on base-percentage when he comes to Miller Park is ridonkulous.  Even with three of your stars MIA you might be able to win even if you skipped the other 8 men in the starting lineup and just sent him out to bat for you every third inning.

DK: A) Somehow I just picked up Trevor Hoffman in fantasy baseball league.  B) I think we should call him George Julio, just like it was Bill Mota last year.  C) We can say five of the Cubs stars are MIA.  The aforementioned Big Z, D-Lee, and A-Ram, but don’t forget Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto who are both hitting well below the Mendoza line.

Besides about thirty pounds, what has gotten into Rickie Weeks this year?  He is finally playing like an All-Star second baseman, no longer looks completely incompetent in the field, and doesn’t talk like he has marbles in his mouth during post-game interviews anymore.

Well a tip of the cap to you and the Brewers.  You got us this time around evening the season series at 3-3.  Finally, the Crew travel south to Wrigley in early July for a four-game series so we will get home field advantage.  Hopefully by then our big guns will be healthy and our bullpen situation figured out.  ‘Til then…

MW: …’til then get on the Rickie bandwagon. What’s gotten into him is aggressive swinging early in the pitch count combined with patience at the plate for more hits, more BB’s, and fewer K’s.  Finally the leadoff hitter we’ve been waiting for. Too bad we almost gnawed our arms off it took so long. Braun and our pitching staff need to stay healthy for the Independence Week showdown in Chi.  We may be even now, but we know your baby bears have every intention of setting off some fireworks on the field before the real thing lights up the skies above Lake Michigan. It’s always a superb matchup during which we’ll have to do this again.

One…Two…Three…Let’s All Step Back From the Ledge

By Paul Schmidt

So as a general rule I have been the most pessimistic Cub fan I know.  Outside of the loss of Mark DeRosa (which every Cub fan hated this past offseason), I hated every single move the Cubs made both with their offense and with their pitching staff.  I felt as though they completely weakened the team from a season ago in a reaction that could only be described as knee-jerk.

Not to bite former Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green, but the Cubs are who I thought they were.  They are who I thought they were.  This isn’t the same team that won 95 games last season.  They aren’t as good.  Now, it’s not going to matter a lick, because the rest of the division is worse this year as well, probably even more so.

And while the Cardinals are dominating early, and the Brewers are showing a little bit of life, it would seem that they don’t have the talent to hang in the long run.
Even still…what is wrong with this team so far?

Overcompensation – I figured I’d get my last gripe (for the length of this article) about the mismanagement of the franchise by GM Jim Hendry while I’m trying to get this noose off from around my neck.

Look, I love Jim Hendry.  I do.  But the things he did this offseason…he just tried too hard.
It sort of reminds me of the new White Castle commercial.  You know, the one with the stripper pig, dancing around on stage?  Then getting doused by barbeque sauce?  It’s a push for everyone to learn about their new pulled pork sandwich…but it turns out just being really creepy.  Excessively skeevy. 

And the worst part was it was completely unnecessary.  Everyone already loves White Castle.  They will never lose business.  And hey, if I’m in the mood, I might try some pulled pork sliders.  Why not?  I like sliders.  I like pulled pork.  I might give it a shot.  But probably not if you show me a stripper pig pole dancing, getting doused by Sweet Baby Ray’s and then slopping it all over the audience.  I’m just saying.
The point is, Jim Hendry did much the same thing this past offseason (without the gross imagery). Not enough lefty bats off the bench?  Let’s ship out solid fielders and good right handed bats for subpar fielders and hitters, just because they hit from the left side of the plate.

The lineup is too right-handed?  Let’s ship out the most versatile player on the team (Mark DeRosa)  and get quite literally nothing of value in return.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s sign an injury-prone, temperamental, stone-handed designated hitter to replace him (Milton Bradley).  Great call.
Point being, sometimes you can over-compensate for perceived problems.  And really make me mad/skeeved out by doing so.

BULLPEN: This is a really bad problem.  Bad, very bad. Going-to-cause-heart-attacks-across Chicago-before-the-end-of-the-season bad.  Naming Kevin Gregg the closer over Carlos Marmol not only sent millions of fantasy baseball players scrambling to the waiver wire, it immediately weakened the ‘pen (the combination of Gregg-Marmol in the 8th and 9th instead of….say…Marmol-Wood is already a step down, why just flip the two and make the problem worse??).

Then you have a situation where you have too many pitchers for roster spots, so obviously, you keep the rule 5 draftee who has never played above High A ball (David Patton) instead of the established long reliever who can spot start for you (Chad Gaudin).  Because why would you need a spot starter for the North Siders’ rotation, when, historically, they’ve been sooooo healthy, and have a pitcher named Rich Harden whose arm could detach at the shoulder on any pitch.

Plus you have Angel Guzman pitching as though he is bringing gasoline and matches to the mound and lighting himself on fire ever time he pitches.  PLUS you have Neal Cotts – the only lefty in the pen, mind you – throwing as though he has money against the Cubs every time he pitches.  I hate this bullpen.  I need a drink.

OFFENSE: Perhaps a lot of the offensive woes could be attributed to injuries to Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley.  I get that.  It does make sense, as two of them, along with Alfonso Soriano, are your teams’ biggest three weapons.
It doesn’t excuse the following stats, though: Derrek Lee, 1 HR, .205 AVG; Soto .143 AVG 0 HR; Bradley 2 HR, 2 RBI, .128 AVG; Aaron Miles .167 AVG;  Mike Fontenot, .250 AVG.

The offense has been, at times, putrid, and is being carried for long stretches by Kosuke Fukudome (one thing I was right about) and freakin’ Ryan Theriot (I LOVE The Riot, I do, but when you’re relying on him to hit a grand slam for you to win a game…well, that’s not a good sign folks.  Not a good sign…).

STARTING ROTATION: These guys cannot be blameless either. Everyone thought Ryan Dempster would take a step back, but at 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 25:14, he’s been downright awful.

Rich Harden is another matter.  He’s striking out a ton of guys, leading the team in Ks despite averaging less than 5 innings per start. When healthy, Harden is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, but he absolutely does not look good so far this season.  The Cubs need him to turn things around quickly, especially if Ryan Dempster is turning into the Ryan Dumpster of Cincinnati fame.

All in all, things could be worse.  The offense will get better quickly as everyone GETS healthy, meaning the pitching staff won’t need to be great to keep the team in games.     However, the larger issue is that, at 11-11 after 22 games into the season, we as a fandom should probably scale back our expectations of running away with the division. Maybe 87 or 88 wins, and a fight to the finish against the Cards and/or the Brewers.

I’m as big of fan as anyone, I swear to you, but when my friends and I took a Vegas trip in mid-March, we made some future bets on win totals in baseball.  We saw the Cubs number at 92.5, my buddy Mark and I did, and we looked at each other.

“The under?” Mark, another die-hard Cub fan, asked.
“The under,” I agreed.
They are who we thought they were.

Cubs 2009 projections and thoughts

By Paul Schmidt

It’s a pretty remarkable thing that, as of the writing of these thoughts and musings leading into the 2009 season, less than 48 hours before the first pitch of the March to the World Series ™, and the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff STILL isn’t set.
It must be by 2 PM on Sunday, so we will revisit the pitchers and my thoughts on the staff and their prospective performances this season in a little bit.

The offense, with my ultimately pessimistic thoughts, are as follows.

C – Geovany Soto  .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 87 runs batted in, .905 OPS (on base + slugging percentage)
This is a little bit higher than I’m seeing from most projection services, but based on the numbers I’ve seen from Geo in 2007 at AAA Iowa, and then in his rookie season last year, there’s certainly no reason to think that he would take a step back or even plateau at his numbers from last season.  After all, he’s only 26, and these numbers would put him at or near the top of pile of catchers.

1B – Derrek Lee .280 BA, 15 HR, 80 RBI, .825 OPS

These probably look a little low to a lot of people, but Lee’s 33, his stats have been slipping, and he’s become more and more of an injury risk since injuring his wrist.  IT should be noted that I’m only thinking in the range of 450 at bats for Lee, as well, with Micha Hoffpauir taking away some at bats and they try to keep Lee as fresh as possible. I do think that this will cause his OBP to spike over .400 for the season.

2B – Mike Fontenot .260 BA 10 HR, 65 RBI .750 OPS
The places we’ll miss Mark DeRosa, part one…I just am not confident in the every day capabilities of Little Babe Ruth.  Mike’s certainly a great clubhouse guy, and he’s an above average defender, and a double play combo that has played together as long as Fontenot and Theriot have just has to be great on defense.  However, he’s never played every day at the ML level, and there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period. On the plus side, it isn’t like Aaron Miles is a better option…..

3B – Aramis Ramirez .310 BA, 32 HR, 120 RBI, .880 OPS

The heart of the Cubs lineup, and the cleanup guy, and the most consistent hitter in the Cubs lineup the last 5 full seasons.   There’s no reason for change this season.

SS – Ryan Theriot .285 BA 2 HR 33 RBI .745 OPS
At this point, we know what Ryan Theriot is.  He’s draws some walks, steals some bases (but probably runs too often), and shows next to no power.  He’s got no upside that we don’t already know, and most likely trends downward this season, as his batting average on balls in play last season was nearly .340.  That is an abnormally high payoff on balls put in play, and surely means that his overall BA will drop this season, as a pretty high amount (read: lucky) return.



LF – Alfonso Soriano .297 BA 32 HR 103 RBI .810 OPS

It seems as though Alfonso, a player who had been largely durable for many seasons of his career appears to finally be healthy again this season, and I expect his numbers to return to something of the norm for him.  I’ve also got him penciled in for at least 30 steals this season, as I expect that he’ll be able to return to his normal patterns on the base paths.  Something that I think bears mentioning is that Soriano was so consistent in his number of games played and so durable for many years, and then these little nagging injuries started showing up. Groin pulls, and even more notably oblique strains are all characteristics of someone who…you guessed it…used steroids.  Now, perhaps Soriano is just getting older and a little more fragile. It certainly wouldn’t be unheard of.  It is odd that his is one name you just don’t hear thrown around in the steroids debate.

CF – Kosuke Fukudome .295 BA 14 HR 75 RBI .840 OPS
I’m of the opinion that Kosuke rebounds this season, and quite well – and it’s of the utmost importance to the Cubs season that he do it.  They need a great defender in the outfield, with Soriano in left and Milton “The DH” Bradley in RF.  They need a high OBP guy at the top of the lineup – and the one thing that Kosuke did do well last year was draw walks. AT any rate, maybe this is a pipe dream, but it takes into account how hard it is to adjust coming to America from Japan. The culture shock alone for the soft-spoken Fukudome would have made the whole process extremely difficult, not to mention being away from your family for so long.  Perhaps, in his second season here in the States, we’ll see him adjust better.

RF – Milton Bradley  .290 BA 12 HR 55 RBI .800 OPS (90 games played)
The place that the Cubs will miss Mark DeRosa, part 2.  Players who typically get injured don’t come to Chicago and get healthier.  They just don’t. There’s no way Bradley stays healthy long enough to make the contributions that the Cubs need him to.  He also is such a huge defensive liability that he won’t be out in the field very often late in games (at least, he really, really shouldn’t be). And from the standpoint of his injury history and his, ahem, temperamental nature is all the more reason that this signing was a huge, huge mistake.  I hope I’m wrong.  God, do I hope I’m wrong.