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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Prior’

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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Chicago Cubs 5th Starter Competition A Disaster

Posted by sportsmaven on March 10, 2007

The hot competition for the Chicago Cubs 5th starter job has officially hit the level of disaster. LHP Neal Cotts was the leader for that spot, going into this afternoon, but Cotts got pounded again today against the Texas Rangers, giving up 4 unearned runs and 7 hits in 2 innings of work. That is a completely abysmal line, to the point that there is no longer a front runner for the 5th starter role. Mark Prior is scheduled to pitch in a relief role tomorrow and Wade Miller pitched 3 innings yesterday, giving up 6 hits and 1 earned run. Miller may have moved back into being the favorite for the 5th starter job, his fastball topping out at 88 mph, which is a bit scary to me.

Neal Cotts Pitches Against the Texas Rangers in Spring Training
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Wade Miller Competes For Cubs Fifth Starter Job In Spring Training
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

On a more positive note, although Kerry Wood gave up 4 runs on a grand slam to Padres OF Terrmel Sledge, he struck out 3 in his one inning of work, feeling no pain at all in his right shoulder. The Cubs have a few positions open for competition this spring, and none more highly visible than the 5th starter in the rotation. I believe that 1-4 should be solid, with Rich Hill turning in another solid outing today against the San Diego Padres. It will be safe to say that one of the three of Prior, Cotts, and Miller will be the 5th starter. Right now, my money is on Wade Miller, with Cotts going to the pen and Prior not being ready to go when the season opens. Overall, through the first 3 weeks of spring training, I have been impressed with the Cubs pitching to date, minus the 5th starter competition. Guys who have no chance of making the big league roster are pitching well, guys like Jeff Samardzjia, Sean Gallagher, Angel Guzman, and even minor league veteran Les Walrond. Surprises so far on the pitching staff: Jason Marquis, 5 IP, 6 SO, 1.80 ERA, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly giving up no earned runs so far this spring (Carlos Zambrano has also not given up an earned run this spring) and no pitchers injured or on the DL. Now, if we can only get the 5th starter resolved…….who wants it?

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Mark Prior Lit Up In Cactus League Opener

Posted by sportsmaven on March 6, 2007

The expectations for Mark Prior have never been lower than they were today. Mark Prior pitched in his first Cactus League game in forever and got lit up. For the Chicago Cubs, they were estatic that Prior finished his outing and walked off the field under his own power. For how the mighty have fallen. It was only 3 years ago that Mark Prior was labeled the next Tom Seaver. He was coming off an 18-win season and nearly took the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945. But since then, Mark Prior has won 18 games total over 3 seasons and has been on the disabled list as much as Kerry Wood, or 100 times, whichever is lower. And now this.

Mark Prior Gets Bombed In Cactus League Debut
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Cubs did beat the Seattle Mariners, 6-5, but Prior did not look sharp today, having trouble thowing strikes and getting behind nearly every hitter he faced today. He gave up hits, he walked batters, and he didn’t have any strikeouts and was pulled before he could finish his scheduled 2 innings of work. After yesterday, at least he didn’t give up any homers. It is still early in the spring, but Prior has to be a concern if you are Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild. After all, Prior is the key to the effectiveness of this Cubs rotation. When healthy, Prior has the stuff of a #1 starter. Having a #1 in Carlos Zambrano and a #1a in Prior takes tremendous heat off the remainder of the rotation. Without an effective Prior, the Cubs rotation has to pick up more slack and is more exposed. The jury is still out on Prior, but the concerns about injury and effectiveness are a constant reminder of the past 3 years for Cubs pitching….The Prior watch continues.

Kerry Wood Dominant In His Cactus League Opener
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

As for Kerry Wood, he was the opposite. He was as dominant as he’s ever been, needing only 12 pitches to complete his scheduled one inning of work for the day. He struck out one and was throwing 95-96 MPH. His line was full of zeroes today; no hits, no walks, no runs. Again, similar to Prior, it’s still early. Lets see how he handles the next few outings, but you have to be encouraged about his performance today. I believe Wood will ultimately wind up in the closer role for the Cubs, but today in middle relief, he looked very strong.

Finally, I wanted to point out that Felix Pie went 3-5 today with 2 runs scored and an RBI. I would love to see Pie in CF this season with Alfonso Soriano moving to RF and for the Cubs to move Jacque Jones. If it doesn’t happen this season, it will by next season, no doubt, but in my opinion, it can’t happen sooner if it happens now, and if I were Jim Hendry, I would be shopping Jones tomorrow morning, regardless of what Pie does for the rest of spring training.

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Early Thoughts From Chicago Cubs Camp

Posted by sportsmaven on March 4, 2007

The spring games have started and it seems like developments are becoming more apparent as the early games begin. Some of my thoughts on the Chicago Cubs in the early going are:

1. Looks like the Cubs are going to hit and score runs this season. The batting order looks solid with some questions around who will hit in the #2 hole (early leader appears to be Matt Murton when he’s playing, although Murton is getting some time hitting lower in the order.) With Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Murton, Michael Barrett, and Jacque Jones, there aren’t a lot of spots in the Cub order to pitch around. If Mark DeRosa hits like he did last year, sprinkle in a healthy Cliff Floyd, this lineup of hitters are the best in the National League Central Division.

2. On the other hand, defense may be an issue. Cesar Izturis is a Gold Glove caliber player. So is Derrek Lee. After that, it gets quite sketchy. Mark DeRosa appears to be solid and if he indeed is the starting second baseman, playing one position will help him, defensively. Soriano in CF is an unknown at this point. Ramirez can play defense if he wants, and Pinella will demand that he does. Barrett needs work, especially with baserunners and limiting his passed balls. Jones and Murton are ordinary. Most of the defensive lapses from the Cubs through the first three games of Cactus League play are from guys that are probably not going to make the team (like Scott Moore, Ronny Cedeno, and Mike Kinkade) but clearly, Lou Piniella is not pleased.

3. Speaking of Lou Piniella, looks like he will be more demanding from the players both publicly and privately, than Dusty Baker ever was with the Cubs. I like that. Lou calls it like he sees it. He’s not blunt, he’s honest. I look forward to more of that in the upcoming season. This will be refreshing, informative, and certainly entertaining.

Tomorrow is Cubs-White Sox in Mesa, Rich Hill vs. Jon Garland. Monday, is Mark Prior’s scheduled debut in Cactus League play and Kerry Wood is also scheduled to pich. It’s starting to get more interesting……

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Mark Prior Is Key To The Chicago Cubs Season

Posted by sportsmaven on February 27, 2007

I’ve been holding off on writing posts on spring training baseball, mainly because I believe the early part of spring training is mostly eventless and I don’t want to write on eventless matters just to fill space (of course Kerry Wood changed that a bit for the Chicago Cubs this spring) and that everyone is an eternal optimist (especially Cubs fans) when it comes to the first week of spring training, so I didn’t want to take that approach either. After careful and plentiful reading about the Chicago Cubs chances in 2007, my thought is that the success of this season comes down to the effectiveness of the Cubs starting pitching, and the effectiveness of Cubs starting rotation is dependent on essentially one person, RHP Mark Prior. Given that it is difficult to put the burden of team success on any one individual, if every other player on the Cubs performs in the manner in which he is capable of performing, success is really dependent on the wildest of all wildcards, the most unknown of the unknowns, Mark Prior.

Mark Prior in Spring Training
(AP photo by Morry Gash)

Mark Prior can be anywhere from the #2 starter to the #5 starter, to no place on the team, that’s how wide a gap his potential has for this coming season. If Prior pitches closer to his 2003 form, where he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, the Cubs would have a very solid top of the rotation in RHP Carlos Zambrano who is a leading Cy Young Award candidate and a good bet to post his first 20 win season of his career. Oh, by the way, he is in a contract year, if he needs any extra motivation. Slide in a continually improving LHP Rich Hill, who I think is the sleeper of this staff and LHP Ted Lilly, the top 4 starters look very solid. Mix in a rehabilitated RHP Jason Marquis and this appears to be a rotation that has great potential. The Cubs have improved the offensive production of their everyday lineup and their bench looks deep and strong, the Cubs bullpen looks outstanding with the addition of LHP Neal Cotts, and RHP Kerry Wood (who could be the best 50 pitch pitcher in MLB this season) and a rejuvinated and motivated closer Ryan Dempster, so we’re back to where we started….the potential of the starting pitching lies with the right arm (or the right shoulder) of Mark Prior. Prior is scheduled to pitch the second or third Cactus League outing of his entire life on March 5th, so for me, that is when this Cubs season starts.

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