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 From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.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)
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.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles, Albert Pujols, Angel Guzman, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, David Patton, Derrek Lee, Florida Marlins, Geovanny Soto, Jason Marquis, Jeff Samardzjia, Jim Hendry, Kerry Wood, Kevin Gregg, Koyie Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers, Lou Piniella, Luis Vizcaino, Mark DeRosa, Micah Hoffpauir, Mike Fontenot, Milton Bradley, Neal Cotts, NLDS, St. Louis Cardinals | Leave a Comment »
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)
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.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Bobby Howry, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Jeff Samardzija, Milwaukee Brewers, Neal Cotts, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, Steve Stone | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on July 27, 2008
Somebody should have warned Rich Harden that life with the Chicago Cubs
was about to get maniacally interesting for the pitcher from Victoria, British Columbia. Western Canada is about as far away philosophically, as well as geographically, from the world of the Cubs, yet Rich Harden’s
performance in America’s Pastime has been nothing short of spectacular — with maddening results.
Cubs P Rich Harden
Harden was acquired on July 8th, along with P Chad Gaudin for Cubs P Sean Gallagher, OF Matt Murton, IF Eric Patterson, and C Josh Donaldson. Harden was Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s answer for the Milwaukee Brewers acquisition of P CC Sabathia the day before, and he was everything advertised and more.
After today’s start, Harden has been spectacular. Three starts, 17 1/3 innings pitched, 30K’s 8 hits, 2 ER, 1.04 ERA, 0-1 record. The Cubs are 1-2 in his 3 starts. Harden is 5-2 with a 2.04 ERA overall. The Chicago Cubs have wasted performances that have been absolutely dominant, so much so that they match up substantially to Sabathia’s performance as a Milwaukee Brewer.
Sabathia’s numbers are: 4 starts, 33 IP, 20 hits, 6 ER, 31K’s, 1.36 ERA, 4-0 record. Four wins for Sabathia, none for Harden. The Chicago Cubs have 59 games left in the season after today. Harden will likely have 12 more starts if he stays healthy. The Chicago Cubs badly need to take advantage of Harden’s dominance. Only in Chicago, could a pitcher post the numbers that Harden has put up and have no victories to show for it.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: CC Sabathia, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Eric Patterson, Jim Hendry, Josh Donaldson, Matt Murton, Milwaukee Brewers, Rich Harden, Sean Gallagher | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on July 10, 2008
Who would have thought that Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti was a budding baseball GM? In his Tuesday column titled “CC This: After bid deal, all eyes turn to Hendry”, Mariotti wrote about the importance of a Chicago Cubs response to the Milwaukee Brewers pickup in reigning AL Cy Young Award winning pitcher CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians. Mariotti writes:
Job One should be Rich Harden, he of the 5-1 record, 2.34 ERA, 91 strikeouts and nine consecutive impressive starts until recent speed bumps. The Oakland righty is healthy, and while a hefty talent package will be extracted by A’s dictator Billy Beane, the Cubs should have enough youthful pieces to make a match.
Impressive? You would think that most anyone with baseball sense could have picked then Oakland A’s pitcher Rich Harden as the next logical target, if one truly believed that the Cubs were actually in the CC Sabathia sweepstakes. I believe they were in, but were not serious contenders because they lacked the necessary pieces that Cleveland desired for a difference maker with the stature of Sabathia, by far the best pitcher available in what is quickly appearing to be a bear market for impact players. The Cubs didn’t pursue Harden as openly as Brewers stalked Sabathia. Who even knew that Cubs GM Jim Hendry and A’s GM Billy “Moneyball” Beane were even seriously talking? But less than 24 hours later, the deal was complete, Harden was a Cub along with an important insurance policy,”throw-in” P Chad Gaudin. The inclusion of the 25-year old Gaudin is what makes a very, very good trade a great trade.
Jay Mariotti not only reveled his sound baseball logic, but he also predicted the huge amount of talent the Cubs would have to give up for Harden (although I thought the Cubs got off easy in that regard, with the only painful departure being RHP Sean Gallagher). Mariotti also nailed the timing, although that may have had more to do with being lucky than being good. But he was good with the rest of the story. You might not like Jay Mariotti, and believe me, there are many that don’t, but you can’t say that he wasn’t on top of his game on this one. Kudos. Jay. Maybe Jim Hendry does read your columns after all.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Billy Beane, CC Sabathia, Chad Gaudin, Chicago, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Jay Mariotti, Jim Hendry, Milwaukee Brewers, Rich Harden, Sean Gallagher, Sun-Times | 2 Comments »