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The Beginning of the End For Cubs Manager Mike Quade

Posted by sportsmaven on April 13, 2012

If there wasn’t already enough non-baseball related drama surrounding the Chicago Cubs this week, Sunday night’s Starlin Castro fiasco on national television highlights the sad state of affairs afflicting the Cubs in 2011. If Friday’s firing of GM Jim Hendry was the culmination of bad on-field performance, ESPN’s showcase of the young shortstop Castro’s nonchalant daydreaming is the exclamation point on a Cubs culture in desperate need of positive change. With Hendry’s departure, the bullseye of this seasons poor performance is directly focused on Cubs manager Mike Quade and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Mike Quade was Hendry’s hand-picked manager, but with a volatile mixture of underperforming, overpaid veterans, youngsters up the middle, an injured, suspect starting rotation and an unreliable bullpen, the Cubs were already a disaster waiting to happen. Add to that a couple of meltdowns by Carlos Zambrano, a head-scratching dedication in playing veterans over youth while sitting 16 games under .500 and 20 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers, Quade is punching his ticket out of town post haste. Each day that Reed Johnson gets a start over a Tyler Colvin or a Tony Campana is a display of how far apart the perception of the Cubs manager is from the reality of where his team resides. Each mismanaged Zambrano outburst or Ryan Dempster confrontation or Starlin Castro maturity lapses is a stamp on how overmatched and over his head Quade appears as the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Somewhere in Reading, PA is Ryne Sandberg, thanking his lucky stars that he didn’t inherit the mess that is currently drowning Mike Quade.

If Cubs interim GM Randy Bush was smart, he would be pursuing every opportunity for waiver deals to move veterans in favor of increased playing time for the youngsters. Bush should also get on the phone and order Quade to play Colvin and Campana as much as possible so the organization can see what it has. On Sept 1st, bring up CF Brett Jackson, P Chris Carpenter, 2B/SS/3B DJ LeMahieu and possibly 3B Josh Vitters to get some major league innings under their belts. Of course Quade will continue to manage the Cubs as he has to date, thus reaffirming his eventual demise as Cubs manager. The new Cubs GM will want to start fresh somewhere. Minor League director Oneri Fleita and Scouting Director Tim Wilken are both highly regarded by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts so change will come elsewhere. The odd man out is clearly Quade and it’s just a matter of time.

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Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s Unlucky Season

Posted by sportsmaven on June 10, 2009

Short of P Randy Wells, has anyone on the Chicago baseball landscape had worse luck than Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry?  As we pass the first third of the 2009 season, it appears that every significant move that Hendry made in the offseason has stunk to high heaven.  Some of those major moves include:

(UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)

(UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)

Signing OF Milton Bradley — Hendry signed Bradley to his first ever multi-year contract, a 3-year, $30M sweetheart deal, partially to cover last season’s potential mistake of signing OF Kosuke Fukudome.  The other part is that Bradley’s a switch hitter, adding yet another left handed hitting bat to what was once a righty dominated regular lineup.  All Bradley has done this season is boycott the media, bump an umpire, earning himself a 2 game suspension, appealing said suspension while being in the midst of missing 7 games due to a hamstring injury.  Now injured with a calf strain, Bradley is hitting .208 5 HR 14RBI and struggling to stay healthy.

Trading IF/OF Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for 3 minor league pitchers — evaluating all of Hendry’s moves, this one was the most baffling.  DeRosa played at least 6 positions and was an offensive force for the Cubs, keeping a big stick in the lineup while offering rest to regular position players with no drop off in ability.  DeRosa, along with former Cubs P Kerry Wood, was the heart and soul of the Cubs 97 win team in 2008.  His 10HR and 42RBI would by far lead the 2009 Cubs in both categories.  It seems that the right handed hitting DeRosa’s only problem is that he doesn’t hit left handed.

Signing OF Joey Gathright — Gathright was an insurance policy, a way to provide speed and fielding ability at the top of the Cubs lineup.  What Gathright amounted to was a poor fit in Chicago.  Hendry traded Gathright to the Baltimore Orioles for IF/OF Ryan Freel, whom the Orioles activated from the 15-day DL to complete the trade.  Hendry’s luck continues, as three weeks after completing this trade, Freel was back on the DL

Signing IF/OF Aaron Miles — The signing of Miles was a hedge to the DeRosa trade, as Miles is DeRosa lite.  Miles plays almost as many positions, but unlike DeRosa, Miles hits with zero power.  Miles played sporatically to start the season, but as he began to receive more playing time, he earned himself a seat at the table of the 15-day DL, adding further scrutiny to an already snakebitten Hendry offseason.

Keeping Rule 5 draftee LHP David Patton on the 25-man roster — This move was a particularly tough one and a huge risk, magnified by the roster turmoil the Cubs have seen in the first two months of the season.  Patton was outstanding in spring training, making the decision to keep him a very difficult one, considering it would have to be for the entire season, due to the Rule 5 rules.  Once the season began, Patton suddenly became hittable and unreliable, which is not a huge suprise from a young player who had never played professional baseball above the Class A minor league level.  Keeping Patton tied manager Lou Piniella’s hands in two ways: first, Patton was virtually unusable in any situation outside of blowout victories or losses; second, Patton cost the Cubs a roster spot for a more reliable pitcher, or a position player, which would have been useful when 3B Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder injury.

Signing RHP Chad Fox — Hendry took yet another flyer on the oft injured pitcher, and once again, it ends with what appears to be a season and career ending injury.  Fox ended last season with a major elbow injury prompting a brief retirement, only to be lured out of retirement for another go at bullpen work.  In his second appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8th, Fox threw a wild pitch and grabbed his arm in obvious pain.  He is on the DL again and it appears that this time, his injury may be career-ending.

Other issues that are not directly related to Hendry moves, but have happened under Hendry’s watch as GM this season include:

  • The Ramirez injury
  • Carlos Zambrano’s injury and subsequent 5-game suspension and $3,000 fine for bumping an umpire while vehemently disputing a call at home plate in a game on May 27th, then 6 days later blows off a team flight to Atlanta without permission.
  • LHP Ted Lilly’s fined $1,500 and nearly suspended for being ejected while arguing balls and strikes – in a game where he was not even pitching.
  • An injury to RHP Rich Harden, forcing a move to the DL that has been longer than first anticipated
  • Building an ineffective bullpen, with struggling LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Aaron Heilman, and set-up man RHP Carlos Marmol’s recent struggles
  • Early ineffectiveness from IF Mike Fontenot, C Geovanny Soto, and 1B Derrek Lee

To be fair, not all of Hendry’s moves this season been a total disaster.  Some of Hendry’s smaller, under-the-radar moves have been quite strong, mainly:

  • Bringing up Randy Wells when Zambrano went on the DL; then keeping Wells in the rotation as he has been the Cubs most dependable and effective starting pitcher of late.
  • Promoting rookie IF Bobby Scales, an 11-year minor league player making his major league debut.  Scales became the feel good story of the season so far for the Cubs.
  • Making an 11th hour decision to keep bubble performer RHP Angel Guzman as the 25th man on the roster after a horrible spring training.  All Guzman has done is become the best and most reliable reliever in the Cubs bullpen this season, sporting a 2-0 record (the first two wins of his major league career) with a 2.28 ERA, with 6 holds and a save.  Over a span of 12 games since May 8th, Guzman has been perfect, not giving up a single run.

While Jim Hendry’s moves have all backfired so far this season, to his and the Cubs credit, they haven’t panicked.   Odds are that players struggling this bad will rebound strongly and if the strong starting pitching continues, the Cubs still can boast the most talent of any team in the NL Central.  Only time will tell if this will be enough for a third straight post-season appearance.

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Do The Chicago Cubs Own Destiny? Only Time Will Tell…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 25, 2008

Hardly a day goes by before someone spouts an opinion about who our beloved Chicago Cubs should or should not want to play in the playoffs.  Just this evening, I had a conversation with my wife, her cousin, and a couple of other well informed sports theorists on the merits of each team the Cubs may have to face in the upcoming playoffs.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Like many others, I was initially caught up in the popular debate.  I originally wanted the Cubs to face the New York Mets in the NLDS, as the Mets provide a very favorable matchup for the Cubs.  Anyone, but the Philadelphia Phillies, I thought.  After the Cubs, the Phillies were the most complete team in the NL this season and played the Cubs very tough this season.  Then I jumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers bandwagon, Manny Ramirez included.  The Dodgers were less imposing, offensively challenged, and in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, the good old National League West division.  Ripe for the picking.

The Milwaukee Brewers?  Won’t have to even think about facing the Brewers until the NLCS, that is if they secure the NL Wildcard.  That bullpen, the streaky offense, did the Brewers ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets into the ground in their push to the playoffs?

Amidst the thinking of the various scenarios and how they would potentially play out, another scenario popped into my little head, like a great rush of fresh air.  It seemed almost too simple to comprehend, as though simplicity eliminated the potential of this concept to be with merit.

Really, it doesn’t matter who the Cubs play in the playoffs.  There are no Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals in the playoffs.  Every team that makes the playoffs is an excellent quality team.  Each playoff team has it’s flaws, some more than others.  The playoffs are seldom about the best team during the season, but rather, the team playing the best when the playoffs happen to be played.  It’s a crapshoot – the team with the hot hand has the best chance of going all the way, first to win 11games wins it all.  It means that the Brewers or Dodgers have as good a chance as the Cubs in winning a World Series.  It means that the Chicago White Sox or  Minnesota Twins have as good a chance to win it all as the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Network analysts, newspaper sports columnists, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal and other baseball talking heads get paid to spin their most favorable matchups for each playoff team, to analyze favorites and make predictions based on the results of a 162 game season.  It’s even vogue to pick a dark horse, playing on past runs of underdog wildcard teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games en route to a unlikely World Championship in 2006 over a 95 win Detroit Tigers team.

The team that will win the 2008 World Series will be the team that plays unified team baseball, puts it all together at the right time, catches lightning in a bottle to ride a hot streak that lasts for a month, a team that powers through the 11 wins necessary to be called World Champions.  Destiny has already chosen the 2008 World Series Champion.  The only question remaining is if destiny has chosen the Chicago Cubs, or do the Cubs have the balls and heart to go out and get their destiny?  Come October 30th, we’ll all know the answer to that question.

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…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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Welcome To The Chicago Cubs, Rich Harden

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

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.

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