Posted by sportsmaven on July 27, 2008
The Chicago Cubs magical first half of the 2008 season has quickly turned into a circus-like atmosphere for destiny’s team in the month of July. The Cubs began the season with few distractions, allowing the team to concentrate on playing very solid baseball, leading to the best record in baseball for much of the first half of the season.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
As of late, a rash of off-field events have provided plenty of distraction for a team already bearing the weight of lofty explanations. Those events include:
- Injuries to OF Alfonso Soriano (twice), P Chad Fox, P Carlos Zambrano, OF Reed Johnson, OF Daryle Ward, P Scott Eyre (twice), P Jon Lieber and now, P Kerry Wood.
- The ownership issue recently picking up steam, with rumors that internet billionaire Mark Cuban is the first round high bidder.
- The Cubs answering the Milwaukee Brewers blockbuster acquisition of P CC Sabathia with their own high-profile deal for P Rich Harden, then the insuing media circus around how the Cubs plan to keep the injury-prone Harden healthy.
- Eight Chicago Cubs players elected to the National League All-Star team, the most in team history, but also preventing the 8 best Cubs players from getting well deserved and needed rest.
- The Cubs receiving a $500,000 fine from MLB for not reporting the signing of a draft pick, prompting Cubs GM Jim Hendry to respond “It was just a clerical error”.
- On July 10th, an 8-year old boy was hit in the head by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs P Ted Lilly, fracturing his skull and ultimately a 10 day stay in the hospital.
- On July 24th, the Cubs Class A minor league affiliate Peoria Chiefs were involved in a bench clearing brawl with the Cincinnati Reds Class A affiliate Dayton Dragons, with 17 total players suspended and the Peoria P Julio Castillo arrested for angrily throwing a baseball towards the Dragons dugout, but instead, hitting a fan in the forehead.
- Finally, the constant and persistent daily reminders from anyone surrounding the Cubs, media, and fans that 2008 marks the the 100 year anniversary of the Cubs last World Series victory.
On the field, the Cubs have been less than stellar, posting a 9-11 record since July 1st. The off-field issues may have played some role in that record, but on-field, the Cubs have been a different team as of late. Some of the on-field issues include:
- OF Kosuke Fukudome hitting .185 in July
- IF/OF Mark DeRosa hitting .188 in July
- IF Aramis Ramirez hitting .176 in July including an 0-28 stretch between July 12-22.
- P Bobby Howry sports a 6.97 ERA in July, giving up earned runs in 3 of his last 5 appearances.
- Scheduling: From June 10th, the Cubs played for 26 consecutive days, including a rained-out affair at the Hall of Fame on June 16th, their only “day off” in that span. On June 29th, the Cubs played the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the week and then had to board a plane to fly to San Francisco to play a game the next night.
- Since June 10th, the Cubs record is 20-21. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Cubs play 20 game in 20 days.
- NL loses to the AL in the All Star game for the 11th straight year, thus securing home field advantage for the AL team, not a good sign for NL contenders such as the Cubs who are substantially under .500 on the road (22-30).
The Cubs are certainly not playing with the same energy that they displayed in amassing the best record in baseball in the days leading to the All-Star break, looking game weary while grinding out a schedule with spans of 26 games in a row and now, 20 in a row.
The Cubs seem as thought they’ve forgotten that playing baseball is fun. The hitters look less patient at the plate, swinging at pitches they took for balls earlier in the season. The once-vaunted bullpen, considered a strength of the team, is in disarray, with the injury to Kerry Wood forcing nearly every other pitcher in the pen to new roles. Jim Hendry is unsure whether to make any moves when considering that considering that when healthy, there could be more players than positions. I don’t know if this is a one week slide or if it’s a longer term issue. I don’t know the cure to what ails the Cubs. I do know that as of today, the Cubs are tied with the Brewers for first in the NL Central and both teams appear to be moving in opposite directions.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, CC Sabathia, Chad Fox, Chicago Cubs, Daryle Ward, Dayton Dragons, Geovanny Soto, Jim Hendry, Jon Lieber, Julio Castillo, Kerry Wood, Kosuke Fukudome, Lou Piniella, Mark Cuban, Mark DeRosa, Milwaukee Brewers, Peoria Chiefs, Reed Johnson, Rich Harden, Scott Eyre, Ted Lilly | 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 »
Posted by sportsmaven on June 30, 2008
No doubt, so far in the 2008 season, Chicago Cubs fans have been treated to great baseball above and beyond any fathomable expectations. The Cubs entered June with the best record in baseball and have played most of the month of June with that same label, but as June comes to a close, the Cubs are limping to a well deserved and needed break for the 2008 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in New York.
For the first time this season, the Cubs are facing adversity. The Cubs have played so well that even fickle fans have been spoiled by the lengthy and meaningful success the Cubs have enjoyed so far this season. Their season long dominance at Wrigley Field has provided a sense of dominance in the somewhat weak National League, but injuries are starting to pile up and it’s beginning to take it’s toll on the Cubs dominant run.
When RF Alfonso Soriano went down with a broken hand in the Braves series, all was not lost, as the Cubs lost Soriano earlier in the season and responded as though he was never missed in the lineup. But with this injury plus injuries to RHP Carlos Zambrano, CF Reed Johnson, LHP Scott Eyre, and nagging injuries to CF Jim Edmonds and RF Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs are finding that all is not well on the “It’s Gonna Happen” bandwagon.
During this weekend’s Sox series, the Cubs started an OF of a mis-cast RF Eric Patterson, injured CF Jim Edmonds, and just returned from injured RF Daryle Ward. The White Sox ran on Patterson all day on Friday and he has yet to see the lineup since. RHP Ryan Dempster also picked a bad time for his worst outing of the season, and P’s Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall couldn’t stop the bleeding.
The Cubs can’t seem to shake the pesky, smoke and mirrors miracle of the St. Louis Cardinals, now only 2.5 games ahead in the standings. The Milwaukee Brewers are also sneaking up, moving to 4.5 games back. The Cubs played the Sunday night prime time game on ESPN tonight and now have to fly all night to San Francisco to start a 4 game series with the improving Giants (fortunately missing on all world Giants starter RHP Tim Lincecum) and a July 4th weekend series in St. Louis with the Cardinals.
I though Cubs manager Lou Piniella actually did a great job of reminding the Cubs and the fans that although the Sox series has serious emotional hooks in a north/south divide, that this series was one of many series over the course of a full season. Piniella elected to juggle his starting rotation a little, but rested key players such as 2B Mark DeRosa, Kosuke Fukudome, and C Geovanny Soto over the weekend, with the implicit message that the season isn’t won in June by overextending regulars in an interleague matchup that is more glitter than substance.
With Reed Johnson and Carlos Zambrano due to come back this week, and Alfonso Soriano healing very quickly, reinforcements are on the way. With the All-Star break in less than two weeks, much needed rest will soon follow. Once the Cubs are back to full strength, the cream should rise to the top again in the National League. Lets not panic just yet…..
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, All-Star Game, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cubs, Daryle Ward, Eric Patterson, ESPN, Geovanny Soto, Jim Edmonds, Kosuke Fukudome, Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, Milwaukee Brewers, National League, Ryan Dempster, San Francisco Giants, Scott Eyre, Sean Gallager, Sean Marshall, Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Tim Lincecum, White Sox | 2 Comments »
Posted by sportsmaven on May 2, 2008
After yesterday’s tough to swallow loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Chicago Cubs sit 1/2 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals after setting a team record for wins in April (17 wins). The Cubs offense has been way ahead of their pitching with the exception of Carlos Zambrano, Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster, and Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Theriot in the leadoff spot and both performed very well in that role. The Cubs surged to the top of the league in virtually all offensive categories in Soriano’s absence. Both Johnson and Theriot bring a fiery presence to the top of the order. The Cubs would be unbelievably formidable in the middle of their order with Soriano batting in the 5th or 6th spot. The Cubs should make this move immediately.
2. Send LHP Rich Hill to Iowa, move RHP Jon Lieber into the rotation – Rich Hill has been a disaster this season, with tonight’s start the latest gaffe. Hill’s inability to consistently find the strike zone with any pitch has taxed the Cubs bullpen. Tonight’s 2/3 of an inning, 27 pitch outing where he walked 4 of the first 6 batters he faced has literally handcuffed Manager Lou Piniella for tonight’s game and possibly for the rest of a very key series against the Cardinals. Hill needs to work out whatever issues he has in AAA and come back ready to pitch every time out.
3. Send Of Felix Pie to Iowa and install Reed Johnson as the starting CF – Felix Pie is struggling big time against major league pitching. He looks clueless at the plate and is hitting just above .200. Pie needs playing time and not in Chicago. Reed Johnson was one of the best spring training pickups of the season for the Cubs and provides exactly what the Cubs need – a gritty, hard nosed, all out effort performance every game he plays.
4. Move Carlos Marmol to the closer role, Kerry Wood to long relief or setup – need I say more after yesterday’s game? Wood has almost as many blown saves (3) as saves converted (4). I love Kerry Wood, he is a competitor, a gamer, never complains, takes the ball in any situation. He’s a man, but not a closer when you have Carlos Marmol and his repetoire of nasty stuff on your roster. Marmol has been virtually unhittable this season. He has come into games this season in pressure packed situations and has been completely dominant. Give this guy the 9th inning and we have at least 3 more wins this season (and 3 less losses).
5. Continue hydrating Carlos Zambrano – or continue limiting/restricting his caffeine intake. Whatever the Cubs are doing to keep Carlos Zambrano healthy, focused and dedicated, continue to do it. Zambrano has been fantastic this season, a true top of the rotation starter since Opening Day. He’s 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA this season, by far, his best start to a season. He would have been 5-1 but for yesterday’s 9th inning implosion. Zambrano needs to have a big year for the Cubs to dominate. He is well on his way going into May.
This Cubs started the 2008 season virtually the way they wanted to start, with a 17-10 record in April. Their early season success (and at times, dominant play) have raised expectations even further for the remainder of the season. With these suggested moves, the Cubs can position themselves to continue their hot start into the meat of their season.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: AAA, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Felix Pie, Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood, Lou Piniella, Milwaukee Brewers, Reed Johnson, Rich Hill, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Theriot, St. Louis Cardinals | 1 Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on April 4, 2008
The Chicago Cubs played their 4th game of the 2008 season today and already, it seems that destiny’s team is off to a slow start for the second year in a row. Cubs manager Lou Piniella stated early this spring the importance of the Cubs to get off to a strong start this season because the 2008 schedule is front loaded with early home games and light with home games in September. Four games into the beginning of this season, the Cubs have seemed to pick up where they left off last season. Lack of hitting, timely hitting, scoring runs, timely pitching, and poor execution and fielding have contributed to the Cubs 1-3 start.
Against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs salvaged the final game of the opening series, but looked overmatched by the bold, dynamic play of the youthful Brew Crew. The most surprising part of the beginning of this Cubs season is how mentally unprepared the Cubs appear.
The Cubs possess all the physical skills to be World Champions, but mentally, the Cubs have so far come across as the 90 pound weakling. P Kerry Wood imploded in his first game as Cubs closer. He hit a batter, gave up hits in a tie game, in the 9th inning. Game 2 of the season looked like something you would expect from a team just starting spring training. The defense was terrible, the situational hitting was atricious. The pitching was abominable.
Today’s game was lost by an 8th inning fielding error by Cubs 2B Mark DeRosa, booting a ball hit right to him with nobody on base, and then 2 batters later, Cubs LF Alfonso Soriano badly playing a Miguel Tejada double into a triple, on a play that should have been an error, but was gifted as a triple by Tejada, scoring Lance Berkman. In today’s post-game press conference, Cubs P Rich Hill admitted a lapse in concentration in the 4th inning, walking Mark Loretta then giving up a home run to the 8th hitter, Astros C J.R. Towles.
Mental mistakes and lapses in concentration are what held the Cubs back last season. Yes, the Cubs won the National League Central Division last season with an 85-77 record. The favored Cubs were then promptly swept out of the playoffs by the underdog Arizona Diamondbacks. For the Cubs, the series was punctuated by what we have seen so far this season: lack of situational and timely hitting, poor defense, and huge mental lapses at critical moments. The mental aspect of baseball is perhaps the most difficult of skills to master. If the Cubs do not grasp this concept immediately, next year will be 101 years of championship futility.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, J.R. Towles, Kerry Wood, Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, Mark Loretta, Miguel Tejada, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Rich Hill | Leave a Comment »