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Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Howry’

…But Even More Brutal To The Chicago Cubs

Posted by sportsmaven on September 10, 2008

South Siders, you think the Sox have it bad?  You haven’t seen the September 2008 version of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered September with the best record in baseball, a 4.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division standings, and a good shot to win 100 games for the first time since 1935.  The Cubs appeared to be the best team in the National League and arguably the best team in baseball.  Then came September, the most dreaded month for Cubs fans, especially when the Cubs are contending for post-season play.  The Cubs September schedule was already brutal, but mix in a slumping offense, a huge turn of injury fate for key Cubs pitchers, and the typical unusual Cubs karma of September, and the faith of Chicago Cubs fans is being shaken, stirred, and tested like never before.  The last 18 games will be the ride of a lifetime.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The MLB schedule makers have played a cruel joke on the Cubs this season by the looks of the September schedule. The Cubs have 16 road games (9 home games) and 22 of their final 25 games with teams that are 10 games over .500 or better, i.e. the teams that are chasing the Cubs.  This is the most difficult schedule for any of the contending teams in baseball for a team that until recently, struggles on the road.  The Houston Astros have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break and are quickly moving into wild card contention.  Could they be this season’s version of the Colorado Rockies?

The Cubs have played all season in baseball’s best division, the NL Central.  The Cubs have had the best record in baseball at key moments of the season.  The Brewers have the second best record in the NL behind the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have been on the heels of the two division upstarts.  And now the surging Astros are putting pressure on all the division leaders with their remarkable run of 12 wins in their last 13 including a home sweep of the Cubs last week.  The Cubs still have 3 games to play in Houston, 2 more in St, Louis, 4 games against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium and 3 in Milwaukee to end the season.  The schedule couldn’t be any worse for the Cubs until adding strange and unusual injuries and the lack of offense in the last 10 days that is disturbing to say the least.

The schedule withstanding, the Cubs needed to enter September with a healthy roster to close out a run to the NL Central Division title that started on May 11th.  The position players appear to be healthy and ready to play, but the pitching is in disarray, due to untimely injuries to staff ace, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Rich Harden, and now RHP Chad Gaudin.  Zambrano, who historically fights ailments in August (his worst month of the season) provided Cubs management and fans a scare with a potential rotator cuff injury that cut his last start on Sept. 1st short.  After examination and an MRI, it appears the injury is inflammation of the shoulder muscle, a much lesser concern.  Zambrano is due to miss a turn in the rotation before making his next start on Sept. 13th in Houston.  Harden was being rested for two starts due to a tired arm.  Harden repeatedly told reporters that he is not injured and the Cubs are being extra cautious of his workload going into the post-season, but combined with the Zambrano scare and the timing of the precautionary moves, potentially upsets the Cubs rotation for a decisive final series against Milwaukee, or the first series of the post-season.

Adding to the injuries above is the very unusual injury of the glue to the Cubs bullpen, RHP Chad Gaudin.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gaudin said he bruised his lower back in a fall away from the ballpark, apparently sometime between his Aug. 29 appearance against the  [Philadelphia] Phillies and the next morning when he got to the park. Initial medical tests revealed no serious damage, but Gaudin hasn’t been able to pitch since.  With Gaudin out, the Cubs bullpen has been shuffled, with LHP Sean Marshall moving into the rotation, RHP Jeff Samardzija moved into middle relief and LHP Neal Cotts the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. RHP Bobby Howry has been ineffective and for all intents and purposes, unusable in games, being hit hard virtually the entire season and risks being left off the 25 man playoff roster.  The pitching appears to be a mess right in the middle of the most important stretch of the season.

If that doesn’t scare you, how about the inconsistency of the Cubs offense?  The Cubs lead the NL in runs scored and are first in nearly every offensive category that matters (batting avg, runs, OBP, OPS, SLG, BB’s) but in their current stretch of losing, their offense has disappeared.  In their current 1-8 stretch, the offense has scored 3 or fewer runs 7 times.  In their last 8 losses, the Cubs have left 67 men on base, or an average of 8.3 runners per game.  They have also hit into a whopping 12 double plays in those 8 games, including 4 in one game against the Astros.  The Cubs have also lacked timely hitting, scoring well above their 5.29 runs per game average.

The scenario may seem doom and gloom to the pessimistic Cubs fans, and after 100 years of futility, the disasters of 1969, 1986, and close calls of 1998, 2003, and 2007 who would blame anyone if a bit of cynicism set into Cub Nation.  But consider this:  The Milwaukee Brewers, the team closest to the Cubs in the standings have picked up exactly 0 games in the standings during the 1-8 stretch.  The Astros have won 12 of 13 and are still 8.5 games behind the Cubs.  The Cubs are 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place wild-card team (Philadelphia Phillies).  Even Steve Stone said on AM670 The Score this afternoon that the Cubs will make the playoffs, just a question of where.  Just my prediction — The Cubs finish the season 13-6 and win 99 games.  They win the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row.  Anything beyond that — your guess is as good as mine.

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What’s Wrong With Carlos Marmol?

Posted by sportsmaven on July 13, 2008

Sitting in the left field bleachers for today’s Cubs game against the San Francisco Giants, I, along with 41,554 other people, am wondering what exactly is wrong with Carlos Marmol? After witnessing Marmol completely implode (with a little help from Cubs SS Ryan Theriot) the enormously feeble Giants offense completely exploded for 5 runs in the 9th inning of this afternoon’s game.  Five runs is a good week for the Giants lately, so pardon my utter shock when Marmol made the Giants lineup look like the 1929 Yankees.

Marmol clearly didn’t have it today and the Giants knew it.  For the last 3 weeks, Marmol has been unable to get his slider consistently over the plate for strikes.  Because of that, fewer batters are swinging at his slider, preferring to sit on his fastball, which he’s also struggled to locate.  Up until 3 weeks ago, Marmol was garnering considerable attention from the national media labeling him as possibly the best pitcher in baseball this season, but his stuff has all of a sudden become hittable, his ERA bloating from 1.93 to 4.13 after today’s appearance.

At one point in the 9th inning, Cubs trainer Mark O’Neal came out to the mound to inquire about a potential injury.  After a couple of supervised practice pitches, Marmol shook everyone off and proceeded back onto the mound to continue his disasterous performance.  I don’t entirely blame Marmol for his horrific outing afternoon.  Cubs manager Lou Piniella left Marmol in 4 batters too long in this game, most likely due to the unavailability of closer Kerry Wood for today’s game.  A manager’s first responsibility in this situation is to secure the victory and Piniella seemed to be willing to let Marmol try to put out the fire he created, in hindsight, not the wisest of moves.  ESPN had a great quote on their website today, highlighting the recent struggle of Marmol describing an outing in Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago against the Rays:

Another hitless wonder dept.: Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol, June 19 vs. Tampa Bay: 0 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2 HBP.

Marmol’s claim to fame: Marmol has been unhittable all year, but a lot of good it did him in this game. He was the first pitcher in the past 53 seasons to give up no hits and only two walks in a game, but still allow four earned runs — thanks to a Carl Crawford grand slam on the second pitch after Marmol departed, off a reliever (Scott Eyre) who hadn’t allowed a home run in more than a year.

So Cub fans ask as we wander out of Wrigley this afternoon with a huge sigh of relief, “What exactly is wrong with Carlos Marmol?”  You can believe that Cubs GM Jim Hendry, Piniella, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are wondering the exact same thing.  With the All Star break next week and two more weeks after that until the trade deadline, Hendry is in a peculiar position.  He has watched his vaunted bullpen, considered a team strength, barf up a few leads in the past couple of weeks.  The stuggles of P Michael Wuertz, his demotion to AAA Iowa yesterday, the callup of P Kevin Hart, and Hart’s ieffectiveness in giving up 2 runs this afternoon is a tell tale sign.  Adding to the concern is the inconsistency of Neal Cotts, Bobby Howry getting hit harder than normal, and the yet to be defined role of Sean Marshall.  Does Hendry need to make a trade for some consistent bullpen help?  My senses tell me that’s the new hot item on Hendry’s list, although I would still love to see a Brian Roberts trade as the cherry on top of this stud Cubs lineup.

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Sportsmaven Invades St. Louis

Posted by sportsmaven on September 28, 2007

The Sportsmaven decided to venture into enemy territory two weekends ago, following the Chicago Cubs to new Busch Stadium for the 4 games in 3 days series against the arch rival (literally!) St. Louis Cardinals. Having never been to St. Louis, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the city, the fans, or from the baseball world in general, but I will have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much St. Louis is a small town dressed up as a big city. The downtown area, where the Gateway Arch, our hotel (the Adam’s Mark Hotel, which I highly recommend), and Busch Stadium are located, was very quaint, with all the aforementioned points of interest within walking distance of each other. We started our trip on Friday afternoon at The Feisty Bulldog Bucket Shoppe and Billiards for lunch and a few pre-game beverages and then worked our way to Busch Stadium, via a detour through Mike Shannon’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant, infamous for the bar that supposedly over served Cardinals P Josh Hancock the night that he died in an automobile accident on April 29th of this year. I have never been to old Busch Stadium, but the new Busch is a terrific venue to watch a baseball game.

Friday night, we found ourselves in section 139, on the first base side. Carlos Zambrano was pitching for the Cubs and hurled a great game, the Cubs taking a 5-1 lead into the 9th inning. It was important for the Cubs to set the tone early in this series, and they did just that. Ryan Dempster, in a non-save situation, gave up two homers and a couple of other hits before being relieved by Bobby Howry, who gave up a hit, but secured the 5-3 win for the Cubs.

On Saturday, for the early game of a day/night doubleheader, we had seats in the left centerfield bleachers, near the Cubs bullpen. As our luck would have it, we were sitting a row in front of the two most absolutely obnoxious Cardinals fans. One thing I do want to note about the Cardinals fans, in general is how absolutely wonderful they were to the Cubs fans overall. I was expecting Cardinals fans to be loathesome, some of which we experience in our fan encounters at Wrigley Field. I was very surprised to discover that 99% of the Cardinals fans we met in St. Louis were totally awesome and treated us with respect. They were friendly, considerate, and a great time to hang out with, except for the two jokers in the bleachers. They were obnoxious, insulting loudmouths that wouldn’t shut up. For seven innings, we listened to these guys, as the Cubs were down 2-1, until Alfonso Soriano came to the plate in the 8th inning with a man on base. The obnoxious twins were going at it full bore, jabbing their red foamed fingers into every Cub fan’s face……with one swing, Soriano parked that ball into the left field bleachers and all of a sudden the dynamic duo went silent. Soriano hadn’t even touched home plate when we turned around and discovered two empty seats where the loudmouths were sitting. That was just pure justice for those cretins.

After the day game, we strolled out the front gate of Busch Stadium and made the short stumble to Paddy O’s, a small bar with an outdoor tent right outside Busch Stadium. Paddy O’s had cold beer, vodka cranberry for me, and a cool mixture of Cub and Cardinal fans drinking together in harmony. It was their version of Murphy’s Bleachers, and it was pretty awesome.

The night game found us quickly, as our seats were on the first base side of the stadium again, this time in the Redbird Club section, which by the way, were quite nice. We were definitely the only Cubs fans in our section and felt like Custer facing the indians at Little Big Horn. The seats were padded, the section was awesome (was able to catch parts of the Nebraska-USC game in the Stadium Club) and the Cubs opened an early lead, but with shoddy base running (2 men thrown out at home plate) and fielding (2 errors by Jason Kendall), the Cubs ended up losing the nightcap, 4-3.

Our wakeup call on Sunday morning came early, at 4:45am. We had a 7:30am flight back to Chicago as we needed to get back to town for the Chicago Bears-Kansas City Chiefs football game. The Cubs ended up taking the final game of the series, 4-2 thus winning the series and essentially putting an end to a miserable season for the Cardinals.

So, our experience with the new Busch Stadium is that every seat seems to be a great seat, with a great view. Even the bleachers were a nice seat, not quite Wrigley Field bleachers, but close and pretty fun. For the baseball, we took 3 of 4 from the Cardinals and never looked back. It was a great weekend, we closed the door on the Cardinals, got to experience new Busch Stadium and made it out of town in time to catch the home opener for the Bears. All and all, a great Chicago sports weekend!

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Chicago Cubs Are An Early Season Disaster

Posted by sportsmaven on April 23, 2007

I was going to refrain from writing about the Chicago Cubs early this season, but after this weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals and watching tonight’s come from ahead loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, I can no longer hold my tongue or my typing prowess any longer. I have watched this Cubs team in person for 5 games now (1-4 record for the games I’ve attended) and watched pretty much every other game this season on TV and I have come to the conclusion that the Cubs are an unmitigated disaster.

Carlos Zambrano Loses to BrewersCubs Lose to Brewers 5-4 in 12 innings

(Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo)

Lets look at some of the numbers, just to make sure the assessment is not without empirical evidence. The Cubs are 3-8 at home. They are 0-3 in extra inning games. They are 0-5 in one run games. They are 0-3-2 in series wins at home. They are 1-4-2 in the 6 series they have played this season and are down the first game of the 7th series of the season. The Cubs are 7-12 overall for the season, 5 games behind the division leading Brewers and fading fast. To highlight how bad it has become for the Cubs, only the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals have worse records than the Cubs (both are 6-13) and both teams have actually been on an upswing as of late. If you take out the performance of Rich Hill, projected to be the 4th starter this season, the Cubs have only 4 wins this season. Four.

Now the naysayers and optimists of the world are saying “C’mon SportsMaven, the Cubs have played only 19 games this season. It’s too early to write them off.” Well maybe so, but the signs are not encouraging to say the least, and when you spend in excess of $300 million in the offseason, 7-12 is not satisfactory at any point in the season.

Just to point out some of the weak points in the Cubs season, you don’t have to look very far:

1. The Cubs outfield situation is a mess. LF Alfonso Soriano gets hurt 12 games into the season (slight tweak of his left hamstring). Felix Pie is called up play CF. That leaves LF and RF for a combination of Matt Murton, Cliff Floyd, and Jacques Jones — until Soriano comes back and management says that he will play LF to protect his hamstring injury. Cubs management also says that Felix Pie will play as well, in CF for the Cubs. That leaves the Cubs with 3 RF’s and a messy rotation in the OF. Pie will eventually be sent back to Iowa leaving the original mess that started the season.

2. The Cubs setup men are a disaster. LP Scott Eyre, with a 15.00 ERA after tonight, giving up the tying runs in the 8th inning on a HR by Brewers 1B Prince Fielder ( a left handed batter) and a couple of hits by left handed batters to score the second run. RP Bobby Howry has given up key hits in the late innings to blow leads and ultimately to lose games. Factor in LP Will Ohman’s 40 ft. curveballs, and walking in two runs in an inning against the Cincinnati Reds to lose that game, the set up men in the Cubs bullpen are losing games at an alarming clip.

3. The Cubs defense and baserunning are atrocious. Soriano has been picked off 3 times in key situations in the last 9 games. Apparently Ronnie Cedeno overuns second base on a WALK and gets tagged out. The Cubs have committed so many baserunning gaffes this season (and mind you, it’s only 19 games into the season) they have already had to dispatch baserunning instructor Bobby Dernier to get this fixed. The defense has been terrible as well. Sure handed SS Cesar Izturis commited 3 errors — in ONE GAME. 2b Mark DeRosa drops a sure out infield popup, allowing an inning to keep going and for the eventual winning runs to score later in a loss to the Reds. Jacque Jones still can’t hit a cutoff man.

4. The #1 starter (Carlos Zambrano) with 16 walks/16 strikeouts and a 7.77 ERA entering tonight’s game and the #5 starter (Wade Miller) with a 10.54 ERA giving up a whopping 24 hits in 13 IP this season. Zambrano will come around, so not as concerned about his early season struggles, but it may be time to move RP Angel Guzman (2.45 ERA) into the #5 slot in the rotation.

5. The Cubs have been killed by lack of clutch hitting, as noted by the one run and extra inning record noted above. Latest case in point — tonight’s game. The Cubs had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 7th and failed to score. Had the go ahead run on 2nd in the 8th and 10th and failed to score. Had a runner in scoring position in the 11th and failed to score. Had the tying run on base in the 12th and failed to score. That’s a lot of failure in the clutch. And that’s just ONE game. This has been a trend in most of the games this season. The hitting, the clear strength of this team, has been a no-show for most of the season.

6. RP Mark Prior is finally having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder…..

Amazingly, the Cubs are losing in the midst of some very strong performances by key question marks, specifically:

1. The “weak” spots of the starting rotation have come up big time: LP Rich Hill leads MLB in wins (3) and ERA (0.41) and batting avg. against ( .192) LP Ted Lilly is the hard luck pitcher in the rotation, 1-2 record with a 2.42 ERA. His 2 losses were a 1-0 decision against the Cincinnati Reds and a 2-1 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals. Lilly is leading the NL (and 5th in MLB) in strikeouts (30). RP Jason Marquis is having an outstanding season so far, with a 2-1 record, 1.88 ERA, including 7 shut out innings against the Cardinals last Saturday.

2. 1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez have been in the NL Top 10 in batting average all season long, both starting the season hot with Lee hitting .360 and Ramirez hitting .340. SS Ryan Theriot has also been on a tear, hitting .340 as well.

3. RP Michael Wuertz has been completely lights out unhittable….in the Will Ohman walking in runs game against the Reds, Wuertz enterted the game with the bases loaded with no outs and proceeded to strike out the side. Wuertz has a 0.00 ERA, 13K’s in 11 IP. Masterful.

4. The Cubs have scored the second most runs in the division (87) and given up the second fewest runs in the division ( 77) and are still in last place….go figure.

So, 19 games into this wonderful season and the Cubs are on pace for a 56 win season, 10 less than last season’s drive to the basement. Makes you pine for the salad days of Dusty Baker…… the old saying goes “you can’t win a championship in April, but you can certainly lose them in April. If that holds true, we will be in year 100 of the latest 5 year rebuilding plan by Memorial Day.

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