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Posts Tagged ‘Aramis Ramirez’

Chicago Cubs Begin Their Struggling Season

Posted by sportsmaven on May 1, 2009

In comparison to 2008, the 2009 season has been brutally unkind to the Chicago Cubs.  From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

The Cubs struggles seem to be set in motion during a devastating post season playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to close out what was then developing into a magical season of 2008.  As dominant as the Cubs were in winning 97 games in 2008, they were equally as feeble once the playoffs began.  The Dodgers sucked the life out of the Cubs, exposing every weakness and shutting down the most powerful NL lineup and battering around the league’s #3 pitching staff in a NLDS sweep.

In the off season, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, tried in earnest to make his team more flexible for manager Lou Piniella.  What he did was inadvertently neutered his two-time division championship team, cutting them off at the knees.  Like a mad scientist, Hendry first moved to clear his entire bullpen, short of his All-Star setup man, RHP Carlos Marmol.  Included in that purge was All-Star closer RHP Kerry Wood, who finally found a successful niche as a power closer.  Not that he didn’t need to purge most of that bullpen, but it’s unclear to me as I watch the Cubs struggle, why Wood, the heart and soul of the Cubs team and the most tenured of all Cubs players, leader on and off the field, was allowed to depart. Essentially, Hendry traded Wood for former Florida Marlins closer, RHP Kevin Gregg, a one-sided trade then, and even more magnified in view of this horrible start.

The other perplexing move was trading 2B Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, replacing him with free-agent RF Milton Bradley.  All Bradley has done since signing a 3-year, $30M contract is injure his hamstring, get kicked out of his first game at Wrigley Field, bump an umpire while arguing, earning himself a 2-game suspension, which he appeals, all while needing to sit out at least 16 games due to that injury, incidentially, while not being added to the disabled list.

This is the type of flexibility that Hendry and Piniella wanted?  A further highlight about how “flexible” the 2009 Cubs roster is, C Geovanny Soto injures his throwing shoulder and has to sit out a few games to re-evaluate the injury.  While Soto is out, reserve C Koyie Hill filled in very capably, but because the Cubs don’t put Soto on the 15-day DL, they are forced to list 2B Aaron Miles and others as the backup catcher.

3B Aramis Ramirez has missed the last 11 games due to a calf injury, but the Cubs choose not to add him to the 15-day disabled list, instead forcing an out of position 2B Mike Fontenot to play third.  In last night’s game, when Piniella needed to pinch-hit for the left-handed hitting Fontenot, he needed to employ Hill to finish out the game at 3rd base!  Recently, 1B Derrek Lee missed time with a strained neck.  1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir covered Lee at 1B, pushing RHP Carlos Zambrano into the lefty pinch hitting role.  Some flexibility.  This is the flexibility that results in 14 errors and many other misplays from players playing out of position.

Not to mention the current mess the pitching staff is in right now, started by the shoddy bullpen performance out of the gate and now spreading to the once very promising performance of the starting rotation.  The Cubs bullpen mess begins with the release of  RHP Chad Gaudin a trade-off engineered to essentially keep Rule 5 RHP David Patton and  RHP Angel Guzman, a player who is out of minor league options.  Patton’s been regulary pounded, the highlight, giving up a grand slam to St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in a recent 8-2 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday.  LHP Neal Cotts not only hasn’t been able to get anybody out, he has been a bases on balls machine, walking 6 batters in 5 innings.  The bullpen picture became even more muddled when Hendry was forced to release RHP Luis Vizcaino and his $3M contract (Vizcaino was picked up in a off-season trade with the Colorado Rockies for RHP Jason Marquis) to bring up power RHP Jeff Samardzjia, who probably should have been in the bullpen in the first place.  With both Marmol and Gregg struggling, RHP Aaron Heilman has been exposed and has been used too frequently, resulting in a bullpen that can’t be trusted to get anyone out at this point, much less protect any sort of a lead.

So after 21 games, what do we make of this Cubs team?  Apparently, the early showing is that the Cubs are a team that still appear to suffer from the hangover of last season’s crushing playoff sweep.  They also can’t stay healthy.  They are also a team that can’t hit, field, or pitch.  This is a team built to struggle, and struggle they will, and I predict, for the entire season.  This Cubs team might not have to worry about a 3rd straight playoff disappointment.

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The Chicago Cubs Are Getting It Done Offensively

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The most impressive aspect of the Chicago Cubs fast start is how well the offense is producing. After tonight,s 7-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Cubs have scored the second most runs in the NL and third most runs in MLB. They are scoring a robust 6.21 runs per game so far this season, and the truly remarkable thing is that they are doing it without their top offensive threat, OF Alfonso Soriano, who has been on the 15-day DL after injuring his calf last Tuesday night, but before the injury, is off to his traditional slow start to his season.

Going back to April 7th, the Cubs last 10 wins produced the following offensive output: 10, 6, 7, 6 9, 12, 3, 13, 13, 7. In their 13 wins to date, the Cubs are averaging a whopping 8 runs per game. In 2006, the Cubs offense averaged 4.7 runs per game, 8th in the NL and 18th in MLB. Where has the offensive improvement taken place? Lets look at the key offensive stats. In 2007, the Cubs offense was average, finishing 18th in MLB in OBP (.333), 15th in MLB in slugging (.422) and 15th in MLB in OPS (.754).

In 2008, the Cubs are averaging 6.21 per game. They are 2nd in the NL and 3rd in MLB in runs scored with 118. In 2008, the Cubs offense is near the top of every category, 1st in the NL and 2nd in MLB in OBP (.366), 4th in the NL and 4th in MLB in slugging (.456) and 2nd in the NL and second in MLB in OPS (.822).

The Cubs 13-6 record in April is their best April in recent memory, fueled by the resurgent Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newcomer Kosuke Fukudome. Six starters have batting averages above .300 and the seventh is hitting .282. Seven starters have an OBP over .408, seven starters have a slugging percentage of over .408 and 7 starters have an OPS over .821. The 8th starter? OF Alfonso Soriano, who is at the bottom of the charts in all categories (.230/.290/.528). How dangerous will the Cubs be offensively, if they maintain this pace and Soriano begins to hit his stride?

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Chicago Cubs Uneventful Spring Training….NOT!

Posted by sportsmaven on March 7, 2008

Just when we thought the Chicago Cubs could have a quiet, productive, uneventful spring training…..reality sets in and proves once again that spring training is anything but ordinary for a franchise entering into the Golden Anniversary year of it’s last World Series championship. Off-field drama has dominated the Cubs camp, beginning with Day 1 posterboy, 3B Aramis Ramirez and allegations of cock fighting in the Dominican Republic and the majestic entrance of RF Kosuke Fukudome and the entourage of Japanese baseball reporters. Day 2 opens with news from winter blitzed Chicago that the Cubs are suing a rooftop owner who is refusing to pay his fair share of rooftop revenue. The Cubs have threatened to block said owner’s rooftop until payment is made. By the end of the first week, 2B Mark DeRosa leaves camp in an ambulance for a non-baseball heart procedure. Welcome to Days of Our Cubs.

lou-piniella-in-spring-training-3-5-08.jpg

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

For the encore, lets take a look at the next few days issues:

  1. RHP Jose Ascanio was sent to the hospital to be examined for injuries suffered in a one-sided fistfight at a Scottsdale convenience store
  2. Sam Zell warms up to Cubs fans by announcing that the Wrigley Field naming rights are open to the highest bidder
  3. Sam Zell warms up to the City of Chicago by announcing that he wants to renegotiate more night games and concerts for Whateverit’scalled Field
  4. State of Illinois makes pitch to buy Whateverit’scalled Field by dissing the City of Chicago’s landmark status and suggestions of hijacking tax revenue from revenue generated from stadium improvements for the next 30 years or so

So what about the real baseball issues, you ask? Well, those are just as outrageous:

  1. 3B Aramis Ramirez starts camp with his annual injury, nursing a sore shoulder that keeps him out of early game action
  2. RF Alfonso Soriano breaks a finger, sidelining him for 3 to 5 to 7 to who knows how many days.
  3. RHP Ryan Dempster makes a bold prediction that the Cubs will win the World Series in 2008
  4. RHP Jason Marquis boldly states that if he is not a starter, he wants to be traded
  5. Manager Lou Piniella pitching the Tribune Company to extend GM Jim Hendry’s contract while simultaneously dropping hints for his own contract extension
  6. Lou Piniella blows a gasket over Jason Marquis is-guided comments, losing early, meaningless spring training games, and the details of the pitching staff work schedule
  7. The on again, off again, on again, never happening trade talks with the Baltimore Orioles for 2B Brian Roberts that will fuel the rumor mill for the remainder of spring training to the July 31st trade deadline

Seriously, there are some on-field baseball issues to resolve, right? You bet:

  1. Who will be the 4th and 5th starters and where will Jason Marquis be pitching in 2008?
  2. Is Alfonso Soriano really leading off again?
  3. Who will be the Cubs closer?
  4. Can Kosuke Fukudome really hit?
  5. Do we have a CF on our roster that can actually play?
  6. Can Lou Piniella write 100 different lineups by the end of spring training?

Well, at least the entire Cubs organization from top to bottom, knows how to keep it entertaining for the rest of us. And to think that RHP Carlos Zambrano is the voice of reason in this year’s spring camp…..wait until the Cubs acquire a new owner? Mark Cuban, where are you?

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Chicago Cubs Lose Soriano and to Mets — What’s Next?

Posted by sportsmaven on August 6, 2007

So, Chicago Cubs fans, have we seen this before?  The Cubs got out of the gate playing horrible baseball this season, topped off by an on the air dugout brawl between their best pitcher (Carlos Zambrano) and their since departed emotional catcher (Michael Barrett), followed the next day by a tirade by their new manager, Lou Piniella, over a play that was called correctly.  All this vaulted the Cubs from a low-water mark of 8 games under .500 to a high water mark of 8 game over .500 in the span of 2 months to contend in the weak NL Central division.  Just when the tide is turning, the Cubs become human again, going 3-4 against the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, and now this.

Alfonso Soriano Leaves Cubs Injured

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

It appears that OF Alfonso Soriano will miss 2-4 weeks due to a strained quad muscle, the same injury that sidelined 3B Aramis Ramirez for the last 5 weeks of the season in 2005.  Furthermore, the back of our rotation, needing to step up significantly, appears to be stepping BACKWARDS with horrible performances.  RP Kerry Wood saw his first action since being reactivated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday and looked impressive, striking out

Last night’s game was a prime example — SP Jason Marquis wasn’t sharp again, giving up 5 earned runs on 9 hits (including 4 doubles) and 3 walks.  The Cubs were still in the game until the suddenly flammable RP Will Ohman came in and put the game out of reach with his horrid performance.  The New York Mets are clearly the best team in the National League.  That was a proven point in this weekend’s series.  You can’t give a team like the Mets 23 baserunners and expect to win.  You can’t walk 7 guys and expect to win.  You can’t lose arguably your best hitter for a month and expect to win.  You can’t have your #3, 4, and 5 starters go less than 5 innings and expect to win.  You can’t have your bullpen lefty relievers take close games and put them out of reach and expect to win.

The Cubs have 51 games left in the regular season.  Do they compete despite the loss of Soriano, or do they fold in August like many a past Cubs team?  Only time will tell, but I do know one thing, history is certainly not on the Cubs side…..

Tom Glavine Wins 300

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

On another note, the Sports Maven does want to congratulate Mets P Tom Glavine on his 300th victory last night.  Tom Glavine is surely the best left handed pitcher of my generation, and it was a treat to watch him pitch another masterful game.  Not only is he an excellent pitcher, he is also one of the game’s all around good guys.  Congratulations, Tom Glavine!

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Mr. Hendry, Your Bullpen Flat Out Stinks

Posted by sportsmaven on May 17, 2007

I usually try to wait until after the emotions of a particular event subside before writing about that event, but today, I simply can’t wait.  I just finished watching the Chicago Cubs enter the bottom of the 9th inning against the New York Mets with a 5-1 lead and with closer Ryan Dempster on the mound.  Starting pitcher Angel Guzman pitched a heck of a game and has battled for over two years to get his first major league victory and was in line to do that today until that Cubs bullpen in typical format, gives up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th to give away yet another game and lose in walk-off fashion, 6-5.

Cubs Lose A Heartbreaker to the Mets 6-5

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Now I realize that every man in that bullpen is working hard and trying to get outs.  Nobody is trying not to win, but this is just unbearable to watch.  I mean, I recall a bitter game on July 28, 2002 against the St. Louis Cardinals on an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when Antonio Alfonseca and others gave up a five run lead to lose a game by 1 in the ninth inning (Cards were losing 9-4 in the bottom of the ninth; Edgar Renteria hit a three-run homer to top off a 6-run comeback to win the game for the Cards, 10-9) and today’s game brings back memories of that painful night.  The Cubs went on to finish that season 67-95.

The end of today’s game was completely crushing for Cubs fans.  Yes, the Cubs are 3 games under .500 for the season, but this seems like a team that is going nowhere fast.  There is no consistency on this team, unless you count the fact that they are consistently inconsistent.  One day it’s the offense not hitting, going 0-16 in bases loaded situations until Aramis Ramirez’ grand slam homer on Tuesday night, one day, it’s the defense not making plays or making errors.  Most every time, it’s the bullpen blowing leads, giving up runs in mop up duty.  The bullpen has clearly been the achilles heel of this team, racking up a 2-12 record so far through the not so young season.  This is quickly turning into another lost season unless something is done now.  Better get some new bullpen guys and fast.

So, for $300 million, we get this?  The new ownership can’t get here fast enough, in my opinion…..

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