The Brewers and Cubs were expected to fight with the Cardinals for the NL Central crown this season, but when the two teams meet in Milwaukee tonight to start a three game series, they’ll be battling for the right to stay ahead of the Pirates.
The Cubs have dominated the series as of late, especially at Miller Park, going 17-8 in Milwaukee since 2007 while outscoring the Brewers 125-90 in that span. This season, the Cubs have won five of the first six meetings against the Brewers, including a sweep early in April.
But a month and a half later, the Cubs (26-31) and the Brewers (23-34) are struggling to stay in contention and could very easily become sellers by this year’s trade deadline.
When the Brewers signed free agent pitchers Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, it was expected that their rotation, which ranked worst in the National League last season, would be good enough for their offense to take care of the rest. Two months later, Wolf and Davis have combined to go 5-8 and have a combined ERA of 5.57, helping the Brewers to the 29th ranked team ERA and 30th ranked WHIP.
Yovani Gallardo, who will take the hill tonight against left-hander Ted Lilly, has kept the Brewers out of the cellar by going 6-2 with an ERA of 2.64. The ace has won his last six decisions and has given up more than two earned runs just one time since April 16. The Cubs have avoided Gallardo during the first two series but will face him for the fifth time in his career, where he is 1-1 with a 5.64 ERA.
The Cubs had high hopes on the season after they brought back basically the same team with the addition of Marlon Byrd and the subtraction of hothead Milton Bradley. However, inconsistency has plagued the North Siders, who have had multiple winning streaks of four and multiple losing streaks of the same number.
Aramis Ramirez is batting a measly .168 with just five home runs, Derrek Lee is averaging just .237, and the lack of a leadoff man has made the offense a mystery every game. Byrd and Alfonso Soriano have enjoyed good seasons at the plate, but there has been little balance in a lineup that was expected to help Chicago contend. On the mound, Carlos Silva has found resurgence with the Cubs and is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA, but the rest of the rotation has failed to follow Silva’s suit.
With both team’s struggling to get to .500, the series just doesn’t have the same flair as it usually does. Both teams come in with roadtrip losing streaks (Cubs: 2-4, Brewers: 2-5) and will look to turn things around, but whoever wins the series won’t really have momentum to build off. Yes, it’s a rivalry series because of the proximity, but until either team starts making some noise in the Central, this week’s series is just another set of games in June.
1. Brandon Jennings is going to be one heck of a talent when he hones in all his skills
After only catching a couple of box scores to start the year, I was able to catch my first Milwaukee Bucks game of the season. While they handed the game away after blowing an 18-point lead in the third quarter to the Chicago Bulls, one guy stood out amongst the rest. Brandon Jennings. Wow, this kid is going to be one special talent. Because there are only a few I’ll start off with the negatives that include a little too much dribbling and some lazy defense that has him trailing off screens.
Now on to the fun stuff. Jennings’ jab shot might not look pretty but he has shot lights out with it. He works so well off the screen and his quickness makes it impossible to guard. I’m going to throw out some big superlatives in the form of players in the NBA, but this is just what his game reminds me off.
His passes have a little bit of Steve Nash to them as he loves to fit the ball in tight spaces. His drive to the lane reminds me of Chris Paul’s: a lot of dribbling and making something out of it at the end. When it comes to his jumper, Allen Iverson comparisons are the first thing that comes to mind. His size is small but his quickness is second to none, and I believe he is already one of the fastest players in the league.
He still acts like a rookie at times and gives the ball away at times, but let’s remember he has played three games in the NBA. The good has outdone the bad tenfold, and for a rookie that’s more than you can ask for. Look out for Jennings in about two or three years when he is able to hit the weight room, adjust to the offense more, and receive more coaching. A spot in the “top five point guards club” might not be too far away.
2. The Packers defense needs to shut their mouth and go play football
Rarely do I ever step out of the Green Bay Packers’ corner, but for the life of me I can not figure out why three well-respected defensive players are freaking out. Charles Woodson, Cullen Jenkins, and Aaron Kampman have all expressed displeasure with the 3-4 defense and feel “handcuffed” by it.
I realize it can be hard to enter a defense where one knows they are not going to be the focal point. In Jenkins’ defense, he would be a stud at the 4-3 defensive end spot and would have many more sacks. Same with Kampman. But Jenkins’ job is to eat up linemen and let linebackers flow in, while Kampman now has some responsibility in pass coverage.
Look, neither are going to go the Pro Bowl even though both have the talent to do so. But when everything is broken down, wins are the most important thing at the end of the day. It’s an extremely humble thing to accept and easy for me to type it out here, but it’s true.
Everything is for the greater cause and in the 3-4 defense there are many spots on the field that are important but will not show up in the box score. What will show up in the box score is the final score. Those defenders need to realize that and shut their anger up.
If they think the defense is the problem and something better could be done, keep it in house and talk to defensive coordinator Dom Capers about it. Don’t cry to the media about how coaches won’t let you loose. That’s not who the Packers are.
3. The Brewers should not trade either Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder
Rumors have swirled, more about Fielder, that one of the Brewers’ 3-4 hitters could be on the move this off-season or in the near future. I can’t believe I am hearing this and hope that it does not come true. Fielder would be more acceptable a loss because he would garner more trade value and his contract is soon up, but the Brewers need to work on an extension.
Breaking the bank for a stud pitcher will be hard to do given the Brewers’ financial restraints, but moving one of your foundation pieces surely isn’t the answer. Fielder is hitting the prime of career and Braun is right on the brink of it as well. It’s the best 3-4 in baseball and kept the Brewers in countless games all year.
Unless they can get a top five pitcher in all of baseball in return, losing Braun or Fielder makes little sense right now. In a year, if Fielder has signaled he will not re-sign then try to go get something. But right now these two players are putting fans in the seats and handing out free baseballs to those in the outfield seats.
Sucks to think that J.J. Hardy more than likely could have been had for someone like Clay Buchholz.
With just under two weeks remaining in the 2009 MLB regular season, the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers find themselves locked in a race to the finish line in the American League Central. As of today, the Tigers (82-71) have a two game lead on the Twins (80-73) with just nine games to play. Broken down, here are five reasons why the Twins have a very good chance to catch the Tigers and steal the AL Central.
Outside of the four game series the two teams will have starting on Sept. 28th, the Tigers will match up against the White Sox five more times, with two of those coming on the road and a three game home series to end the season. The Tigers are 7-6 against the White Sox this season but Chicago is sure to be up for these games. Ozzie Guillen always wants to play for something and since his team has been mathematically eliminated, this is like a mini-playoffs for him.
On the other side, the Twins will play five games against the Royals to close out the year. The twins have won eight of 13 games over the Royals this year, and while Kansas City will be trying to help Zach Greinke make his case for the AL Cy Young, there is clearly less for them to play for. Greinke will get two starts against the Twins to make things interesting, but the fact remains the Twins have an easier path.
While the Twins’ pitching staff has won more games (58) than the Tigers (57) have, it’s clear that the starting pitching edge still goes to the Tigers. However, baseball is a game of what have you done for me lately, and it’s clear that the Twins are rolling right now. In September, Minnesota pitching has sported a 3.53 ERA, good for third in the AL. On the other hand, Detroit’s September stats include a 4.66 ERA, which is ninth in the American League.
Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Rick Porcello make for an outstanding trio in the Tigers’ rotation and each will make two more starts before the year is over, but Jarrod Washburn’s status is up in the air and the back of the Tigers’ rotation is in question.
The Twins have stayed afloat with their starting pitching but their bullpen is what has really kept them close in the AL Central. Joe Nathan is as good as it gets in the ninth inning and the Twins bullpen ranks fifth in the AL in ERA from their bullpen. Minnesota has blown 15 saves this season compared to Detroit’s 23.
Baseball is a team game and it is hard for just one player to completely take over a game, but if there was one guy who was going to accomplish that, my pick would be Joe Mauer. The Minnesota catcher has been unbelievable this season after missing time to start the year, and is the number one reason the Twins are in position to creep up on the Tigers.
The All-Star has hit .378 in the month of September and, since Aug. 1st, has struck out just 15 times in 216 plate appearances. If the Twins are able to make the post season, Mauer has to be considered the front-runner for the AL MVP. Against Kansas City this year, Mauer is batting a gaudy .457 (21-46) with two home runs, ten RBI’s, and 11 walks. Look for him to have huge success the rest of the way as he leads the Twins down the stretch.
Head to Head Matchup
As important as the remaining schedule is for both teams, the fact of the matter is whoever comes out on top during the four game series is going to have the head up on the division. Three wins in the series means two games in the standings, while a four game sweep would mean four games in the standings and more than likely a division win for whoever completed the sweep.
This season, Minnesota has won nine of 14 matchups between the two teams and will look to add to that total. The series will take place in Detroit which has to help the Tigers who are 48-26 at home, while the Twins are just 35-40 on the road.
In the season series, the Tigers have won three of five games at home and are scheduled to have Porcello and Verlander get starts in the series. If the final game of the series is an important one (it more than likely will be), then the Tigers will have the option of bumping Edwin Jackson up a day and pitch in the series finale. For the Twins, all starters but the struggling Francisco Liriano will make starts.
So many times in baseball, the team playing better baseball at the end of the season will take down a team that has more talent. The Twins have gone 14-8 in September while the Tigers have gone 13-10. That difference is less than two games in the standings but for a team like the Twins who are chasing, it means everything. For the Tigers, every loss is another day they do not pick up more ground.
Detroit has played well in the season but Minnesota is now starting to play just that much better. Pressure is on both sides, but Minnesota is playing somewhat of a Cinderella-type role while the Tigers are trying not to choke away the season. Advantage: Minnesota.
Take a look at Braden Looper’s record this season and you will see 13 wins and just seven losses. The wins constitute a career high for the 12-year veteran and also put him 12th in the National League. But to say that Looper has had a career year or even that he is in the top 20 National League pitchers this season would be misleading. In fact, it would be historically misleading.
Dig a little deeper into Looper’s 2009 campaign and you will find that his ERA sits at 5.12, he has walked 61 batters, given up a league high 37 h0me runs, and his BAA is the worst it has been his entire career. He has struggled mightily to get batters out and has had a less than stellar season. Because of the Brewers’ shallow pitching rotation, they are expected to pick up Looper’s option next season that will keep him in Milwaukee for another season.
You might be asking yourself right now, how in the world has Looper won 13 games, lost just seven, and still been able to have an ERA over 5.00?
Well, Looper leads all of baseball in run support, receiving an average of 7.05 runs in games he pitches in. The next closest in the National League is Jorge de la Rosa at just 6.39. The outburst of run support for Looper this season has included seven or more runs 12 different times.
So just how weird can Looper’s season get? Well, he is scheduled to make two more starts for the Brewers this season, coming against the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. Both teams are in line to make the playoffs and rank in the top six in runs scored this season. Looper will have his work cut out for him in both games, but it’s a safe bet that his ERA of 5.12 is likely to increase or at least stay above 5.00.
If that occurs and Looper finishes the season with 13, 14, or 15 wins and less than nine losses and his ERA stays above 5.00, he will become just the third pitcher since 1937 to do so. In 1998, James Baldwin went 13-6 for the Chicago White Sox and posted an ERA of 5.32.
Back in 1937, Roxie Lawson pitched his way to an 18-7 record for the Detroit Tigers while sporting an ERA of 5.26. The Tigers’ offense scored 935 runs that season as Lawson benefited greatly from that run support.
Since 1937, many pitchers have won 13 or more games and recorded an ERA worse than 5.00, but the vast majority (all but two) have had nine or more losses.
If Looper loses both games against the Rockies and Phillies and his ERA is above the 5.00 mark, he will be just the tenth pitcher in the last 40 years to win 13 games and lose nine or less games while having that high of an ERA.
Run support has been an amazing gift for Looper this season, but it has not hid the disappointing statistics outside of wins and losses. Looper will face the Phillies at Miller Park, where he actually pitched six shutout innings last time the two teams met. He will end his season in Colorado, where the home runs are sure to flying in every direction.
Looper has been able to produce victories for the Brewers this season and the Brewers are a respectable 18-13 when he takes the hill, but his season could put him in the record books if he is not able to get his ERA below 5.00.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the 2009 MLB season, you know that the Chicago Cubs have failed miserably to live up to expectations. If you ARE living under that rock, you have probably still heard Milton Bradley’s constant complaining and overall bad attitude that has done anything but help the team’s situation.
Bradley signed a three year, $30 million deal this off-season after completing one of the best seasons of his ten year career in Texas the season before. The switch-hitter batted .321, got on base at a career-best .421 clip, hit 22 home runs, and drove in 77 runs.
He was expected to be inserted into the lineup as the Cubs’ fifth hitter and play every day in right field. He came in saying his goal was to win a World Series and how he believed the Cubs could obtain that goal this season. Fast forward to September, and it’s obvious Bradley has been nothing but trouble for the North Siders this season.
His latest tirade occurred yesterday after the the Cubs dropped their second game in a row to the Milwaukee Brewers. Bradley led off the sixth inning with a single to right field, and then promptly took himself out of the game without saying anything. He walked into the dugout and went straight to the clubhouse without saying anything.
Bradley’s knees have given him trouble this season so many believed this was again the reason for his departure. After the game, the story picked up a little momentum and began to raise eyebrows.
Lou Piniella did not appear at his post-game press conference and Bradley walked away from reporters when they came to ask him about the self-managing he did. Then, Bradley came back to reporters and began a verbal back-and-forth battle in which he refused to ask any questions and ask the reporter “if he had anything else”.
Reporter: Why did you come out of the game?
Bradley: ”I got knee inflammation. I got two knee surgeries, and that happens when you got knee surgery, in case you don’t know. What else you got?”
Reporter: It flared up?
Bradley: ”What else you got?”
Reporter: How long will you be out?
Bradley: ”What else you got? You got anything significant?”
Reporter: An injury is significant.
Bradley: ”What else you got? What else you got?”
Reporter: Was there a problem after you came out?
Bradley: ”What else you got? I mean, you got any real questions?”
Reporter: Lou wouldn’t do a postgame; that’s pretty rare for him.
Bradley: ”If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do it, either. What else you got?”
Reporter: Trying to find out what happened.
Bradley: ”You got some baseball questions, I can answer them. But [if not] I ain’t got nothing for you.”
Reporter: So you came out because of the knee?
Bradley: ”You got anything else? I mean, broken record.”
Reporter: That was a strange scene.
Bradley: ”It’s strange? It’s strange when a guy hurt comes off [the field]?”
Reporter: Yeah, I didn’t see a trainer, didn’t see the pinch-runner go out there first.
Bradley: ”OK, it’s strange.”
Reporter: The scene was?
Bradley: ”I’m out.”
Bradley then left the locker room in disgust and has not spoken since. I am not a Cubs fan and would never wish to be, but if I was, this would be the last straw for my relationship with Milton Bradley. Not only is he failing to produce after being given a huge contract, but he is being detrimental to the team and seems to be in a constant rift with someone.
Yes, it has to be frustrating for the Cubs to have one of the highest payrolls in baseball and be below .500 without any major injuries (compared to the Mets, for example), but the way Bradley acts is uncalled for and is clearly affecting the team.
Rumors have swirled Bradley’s whole career that he is a bad teammate and that his attitude affects everyone else. He reminds me a heck of a lot of Terrell Owens, who seems to breed trouble wherever he goes. Whether it’s throwing a bag of baseballs on the field, tearing your ACL while your manager holds you back from killing an ump, trying to find a radio announcer in the press box after a game, or disrespecting a reporter trying to do his job, Bradley is plain and simple a bad egg.
He’s not making Piniella’s job any easier and it’s clear there is not enough room for two hotheads in the Cubs clubhouse. They do not mesh and when things go poorly, it’s a recipe for disaster. The Cubs need to admit their mistake (good luck with that, Jim Hendry) and move forward without Bradley.
Sam Fuld is proving that he can be a serviceable outfielder in the Cubs lineup and Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano are tied up in contracts that will keep them in the outfield. The Cubs don’t need Milton Bradley on the field and they sure don’t need him off of it, either.
In the wake of the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Chicago Bears 21-15 in Lambeau Field Sunday night, it has come to my attention that a certain question of loyalty to a city’s teams is a must in today’s sports world. Many angry Bears fans had just watched their aging defense give up a game-winning touchdown in the last 77 seconds, their savior quarterback throw more insults at his wide receivers than he did completions, and their best defensive player in the last 20 years go down for the season with a wrist injury.
That being said, Sunday night and the days following sucked for Bears fans. The season is hardly lost because one game never has and never will make a season for any NFL team, but it sure got harder for the Bears after their debacle against the Packers.
After the game, my naturally excited state of mind prompted me to go on Facebook and talk smack to Bears nation. All of the trash talking was good natured and while some of it got a little out of hand, it was nothing that lasted more than that night. However, there was one argument Bears fans were making against Packers fans that got me upset and wondering why there was an issue at hand.
Being from Illinois and a suburb of Chicago, Bears fans from my hometown chastised my Packers fanhood and called out my friend, who is a fan of all Chicago teams other than the Bears, for not being a true “Chicago fan”. They stated that if a person is from Chicago and does not root for all of his or her sports teams, that person is not a fan at all.
One upset fan even claimed that a person who did this was “less than scum”, which brings me to the heart of my argument. Does a person who comes from a particular city have to root for every team in that particular city, with no exceptions and no questions asked?
The answer is a resounding NO.
When my father was growing up, everyone in his family was a die-hard Chicago Bears fan. Every Sunday, the boys of the house would go to the local church and watch the Bears take on their weekly opponent. But my dad was different. Always one to go against the proverbial grain (if you know my dad, you just laughed at that and nodded your head), he decided to take up a liking for the rivals from the North, the Green Bay Packers.
Born in 1959, his career as a Packers fan got off to a fast start in the mid-60’s, but the 70’s and 80’s made it almost unbearable to watch. But the one thing my dad always said was that his father, my grandpa, told him that once he chose a team, he had to stick with it and not become fair-weathered. So there he was, watching the Packers amount to four winning seasons between 1970 and 1991, winning just one playoff game.
When I was born in 1990, my father molded me into a Packers fan from day one. I had always been a huge sports fan, and football was always my favorite sport, so naturally I wanted to cheer for the Packers. My dad and I would go to games yearly and would always share information on the team at the dinner table, sparking debates that still give my mother headaches today.
Back to the main question of all this: In becoming Packers fans despite living in Illinois basically our whole lives, did my father and I do something wrong or go against our city?
The greatest freedom that we have in out country today is the freedom of speech. We are allowed to choose our leader, speak publicly about issues, and not have to worry if our house will be burnt down in the morning. This may seem like a stretch of an analogy to some, but it really is not. The same goes for sports in that we should be able to decide who we want to root for.
For children our age who watched football growing up, how could you not love to see Brett Favre zip a touchdown to Antonio Freeman on a snowy day in Lambeau Field? The Packers were a fun team to watch and their leader had one of the most lovable personalities in all the game. It became almost impossible to root against Favre, and for some people this meant coming over to the side of cheering for the Packers on a weekly basis.
You don’t choose which sports teams you love. For the most die-hard fans, there is an actual bond between the teams we love and ourselves. Even if we wanted to root for our hometown teams and thought that we HAD an obligation to do so, we just couldn’t. There’s something about the team we chose that we love, and we wouldn’t change that for the world.
Another argument presented during the Facebook face-off Sunday night was that being a “Chicago fan” meant cheering for ALL Chicago teams, and once you cheered for another team, let alone a rival, you could no longer call yourself a Chicago fan.
Since when is there such thing as a Chicago fan or (enter the name of a city here) fan? It’s one thing if you choose to root for all Chicago teams and it just so happens to work out like that, but fan loyalty has nothing to do with where you live. What is the record of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky this season? How about the Chicago Fire? Will either team make the playoffs? Come on now, you’re a “Chicago fan”, aren’t you?
No one chooses where they are born, so the argument of fan loyalty out of the the womb makes little sense. This isn’t a dictatorship of a country where I have the potential to be shot if I wear my Packers jersey out in public. Do I have to be all for Chicago politics just because I reside in Deerfield? Why are sports any different from anything else in Chicago?
Sports are an amazing entertainment for every kind of fan who has ever loved a team. There are few things outside of sports that can ignite so much passion inside of us, make us sit in front of a TV for nine hours straight on a Sunday, and even shell out hundreds of dollars just to get a glimpse of our heroes in person.
Sports can be a getaway from the harsh realities of life, they can create futures for those talented enough to work in the business, and they can bring together a whole city, state, or country. Just ask the Yankees after September 11th or Team USA in the 1980 Olympics.
But above all these things, the best part about sports is that we get to decide on our own who we want to cheer for. We find those sports figures in our life who turn into our heroes who make us want to be the best at what we do, just like they do. We decide what jersey we put on as we imitate our favorite basketball player in the driveway.
Sports are a passion and wherever we find that passion, all that matters is that we back the team we follow, through thick and thin. It isn’t a mortal sin to cheer for the rival and our loyalty isn’t some binding contract that has to match up with our zip code.
The year was 2006 and Ryan Howard had just been awarded the National League Most Valuable Player Award. His unbelievable breakout season made him a household name for baseball fans and he has been tearing up the league ever since.
He also watched the playoffs from his couch.
The season in which Howard crushed an astonishing 58 home runs and drove in 142 runners, the Phillies won 85 games but missed out on baseball’s second season. They finished in second place in the National League East by 12 games and missed the Wildcard by just three games. Despite all this, Howard still finished first in the MVP voting and took home the award.
Finishing in second place, and not too happy about it, was Albert Pujols. The Cardinals won just 83 games during the regular season, but it was enough to bring home the National League Central Division Championship. The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series that year, but Pujols was left without the other piece of hardware he felt he deserved.
Last season, Pujols won the National League MVP despite his team finishing in fourth place in the division with a record of 86-76. Pujols hit .357 on the year with 37 home runs and 116 RBI’s, while Ryan Howard finished as the runner-up with 48 home runs and 146 RBI’s. Howard’s Phillies would win 92 games during the regular season and end up winning the World Series.
Fast forward to this year and there seems to be another question as to who will take home the MVP trophy this season. Without question, Albert Pujols is the front-runner for the award as he has smashed 39 home runs already and has drawn 91 walks compared to just 50 strike outs. His .318 batting average and .441 on-base percentage are excellent and many of his numbers match his outstanding 2006 season.
Trailing him in most hitting categories but closing fast, is Prince Fielder. With his home run in last night’s contest, he now has six long balls in his last eight contests. In that span, Fielder is 10-31 with nine RBI’s.
It seems to be perfect timing for Fielder, who is poised to make a run at the MVP if he can finish August strong and make it through a tough September. The Brewers are fading fast in the standings, and if it weren’t for Fielder it would be going even faster.
However, if the Brewers can get back within shouting distance of the Cardinals for the Central Division and enter relevancy (say, five or six games back), then Fielder talks might begin to heat up. Looking back to 2006 this far into the season, Fielder is having a better season this year than Howard was then in all categories but homers (42 compared to 33) and slugging percentage.
Pujols has posted very similar numbers up to this point in the season as he did in 2006, and if Fielder continues this tear he could give the Cardinals first baseman a run for his money. Right now, no one can stop Fielder and he is doing all he can to help get the Brewers back to where they need to be.
Pujols has Matt Holliday waiting in the on-deck circle when he bats, meaning teams are now being forced to pitch to him instead of pitching around him. For Fielder, a mix of Casey McGehee, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart has been the answer in the five spot, meaning teams are more reluctant to give Fielder good pitches to hit.
While it will be no easy task to pass Pujols in the MVP standings, the Milwaukee slugger’s recent surge at the plate has made it a competition. Combine that with Pujols’ average second half (.280, seven home runs), and Fielder could make some noise in the race if the Brewers can string together a few wins.
Even I, a die-hard Brewers fan, have to admit that I had a hard time watching Kevin Gregg’s last performance on Monday against the Padres. Sitting with three Cubs fans and watching Gregg give up the game-tying and game-winning runs was just too much to bear, so I decided to look ahead and give the North Siders some hope for next year.
Gregg is set to become a free agent, and the only way I can see the Cubs re-signing him is if he stays in the closer role and the Cubs make the playoffs. Even then, it will be a long shot. He hasn’t been liked by the fans for quite some time, and many, myself included, believe he should never have been the closer.
With Gregg blowing three saves in his last five tries, manager Lou Piniella decided enough was enough and converted Carlos Marmol to closer. Citing experience as the main reason, Marmol will go back to the closer’s role that he briefly saw last season, when he made the All-Star Game.
Piniella said he was also considering left-hander John Grabow and right-hander Angel Guzman for the spot but went with Marmol instead. Grabow is an important lefty out of the bullpen, and Guzman has been a solid middle-innings man.
Even with the move of Marmol to the closer position, it’s more of a shakeup than a permanent change. With 52 walks and a major league-leading 11 hit batters, Marmol is hardly a long-term solution. He has been wild this season and is more of a setup man than anything else. He leads the National League in holds with 27.
One thing that Marmol will bring to the table is his ability to strike batters out and avoid the home run ball. Gregg led all relievers in the majors with12 home runs allowed, while Marmol has given up just one long ball.
It’s easy to look at the schedule and believe that the Cubs are all but out of the wild card race and are quickly losing time to gain ground on the Cardinals, who stand six games ahead of the Cubs entering today’s action.
There are viable options that the Cubs will certainly take a look at to make their bullpen, ranked 17th in the majors in ERA, better next season.
The cream of the crop in free agency will be closer Jose Valverde, currently of the Houston Astros. He has just 16 saves on the season, but a lack of opportunities and injuries scattered through this year led to his weak numbers. His ERA of 2.50 is solid, and he has walked just 13 batters all year.
Trevor Hoffman will be a free agent next season, but one has to wonder whether he will hang up “Hells Bells” rather than play for a third team in three consecutive years. He did take a job in Milwaukee this year, so location clearly was not an issue. With 26 saves and a 1.80 ERA, a rejuvenated Hoffman could do wonders in Wrigley Field.
The Tigers will be expected to make an offer for Fernando Rodney this offseason, but the Cubs could snatch him up if they decide to get in a bidding war with Detroit.
The Atlanta Braves have two pitchers, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, who are set to become free agents next season, and both have closed games for the Braves this season. The two have formed a solid one-two punch in late inning games, but would both be plausible options for the Cubs in the ninth next year.
The Cubbies also have a few young arms in the farm system that could be potential closers in the future. Andrew Cashner and Dae-Eun Rhee are the top two prospects, and while both project as starters in the future, Cashner has the goods to be able to close. Jeff Samardzija has flopped as a starter, but with time and seasoning he could be a ninth inning option in Chicago if need be.
Jim Hendry will be on a shorter leash this offseason after his free agent acquisitions and contract extensions floundered this year.
This could mean the Cubs will have to promote from within for the closer’s role instead of going out and breaking the bank, but if they want to, the potential is there. It is a strong free agent class for relief pitchers, and some good arms will be on the market.
If the Cubs really believe Marmol can get the job done moving forward, it would be a huge relief to fans everywhere.
However, history says that too many walks does not get the job done. Looking at the top six leaders in saves this season, none of them has more than 16 walks on the season.
Marmol is a good change for the Cubs, who desperately need one, but cannot be seen as the long-term solution to the problem. With the season quickly fading, the Cubs needed to do something and went with the best option available.
However, next year will be a different story.
For the last three years, Alcides Escobar has waited in the shadows of minor league ball as he waited for his chance to shine on the big stage. In AAA Nashville this season, he hit for a .298 average while stealing 42 bases and scoring 76 runs in 109 games for the Sounds.
When J.J. Hardy was designated for assignment on Wednesday of this week, Escobar was given his chance to sign with a call-up from the Brewers. Hardy struggled throughout the majoirty of the year and could not break out a slump that saw him hit just .229 with 11 home runs.
Escobar did not make it to Miller Park in time for the start of the Brewers’ contest against the San Diego Padres Wednesday night, but once he got there he made his presence felt.
With his team down by one in the bottom half of the ninth inning, Escobar pinch-ran for Prince Fielder after the first baseman shot a single into right field.
With the Crew down to their last out, Escobar got a great jump off Heath Bell and swiped second base. Mike Cameron would foul out to end the game, but it was great to see Escobar get acclimated to the game so quickly.
In his first career start, Escobar and the Brewers got off to a quick start offensively and ended up hitting five home runs on the afternoon in a 12-9 victory.
Escobar had just one hit in four at-bats, but scorched the ball to left field on one occasion and made the Padres hustle on a routine ground out. His one hit was an infield hit and was a sneak preview of the speed Escobar will bring to the top of the Brewers lineup for years to come.
In his second start, the Brewers’ offense continued to stay hot as they crushed ace Wandy Rodriguez for eight runs in the first inning of an 11-2 victory at Miller Park.
Escobar reached base twice on the night with a walk and a single and showed more patience at the plate.
Tonight, Escobar stayed on the breaking ball extremely well that resulted in two hits. He also went from first to third on a single from Felipe Lopez in the second inning. Running on the play and never slowing down, Escobar did not even draw a throw from Carlos Lee.
He scored twice on the night, and the little plays that Escobar has produced has made things exciting in Milwaukee again. Many have said he will be a future gold glover, and he has made good on all seven chances he has had in the field.
While it will take a small miracle to get the Brewers to the playoffs this season, the whole atmosphere at Miller Park has seemed different over the last three games.
Not surprisingly, Escobar has started all three games.
Destined for the lead off spot, Escobar has hit in the nine hole during his first three starts on the team. There, he has reached base in five of 12 plate appearances, good for a .417 OBP. He has done everything right in this small sampling of game time.
While I wouldn’t have called Escobar a bust had he performed poorly in his first three games (and pinch running performance), I won’t dub him ready for Cooperstown just yet. However, it is nice to see the top prospect in the organization play well in his first starts.
Last season, he was a September call-up and had two hits in four at-bats for the Brewers. He seems much more relaxed and patient this season, as seen by his stats.
When looking at Escobar, he looks like a ballplayer that knows what he is doing out there. He has been highly touted his whole career and is now making good on all those scouting reports.
The real question is what general manager Doug Melvin will do with former shortstop J.J. Hardy next season. He will not be a free agent until 2011 because of his demotion this season, and many believe Melvin will look to trade him this off season.
One has to wonder how far Hardy’s stock has fallen with his poor season, but with Escobar taking over, getting something is better than nothing. If Escobar can keep hitting like he has and continues his perfect glove in the field, there’s no reason to believe the Brewers will have to worry about who is starting at shortstop for at least the next five years.
After another embarassing loss to the San Diego Padres, this time in the form of a 13-6 loss in Miller Park, general manager Doug Melvin made a couple of drastic moves in hopes of turning things around.
Pitching coach Bill Castro was fired and replaced with AAA Nashville pitching coach Chris Bosio while the struggling J.J. Hardy was optioned to AAA Nashville and replaced by stud shortstop Alcides Escobar.
For Castro, it was the end of an 18-year run with the Brewers that saw him as the bullpen coach for the first 17 seasons with the club. Unfortunately for Castro, he bit the bullet for a pitching staff that ranks second to last in the National League in ERA, OPS, WHIP, and the number of quality starts.
Things were not made easy for Castro as the Brewers went into the season with an average staff at best and have recently been riddled with injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan. When players like Carlos Villanueva, Mike Burns, and Seth McClung are making starts for your team, it never makes it easy on the pitching staff.
Melvin is hoping that the move can be a wake up call to the pitching staff that their play has been horrendous this year and that is has hardly gone unnoticed.
Castro’s replacement, Bosio, will have his hands full but also has some experience with the position at the big league level. In 2003, he was the pitching coach of Lou Piniella’s Tampa Bay Rays squad. In 2001, he served as the pitching coach for Triple-A Tacoma (Seattle) and in 2008 was the pitching coach with Double-A Chattanooga (Cincinnati).
It remains to be seen whether he is the long term solution as the pitching coach, but the other move that the Brewers made could very well be long-term.
For as long as he has been on the scene, Alcides Escobar has produced and flashed an outstanding glove. This season in Nashville, he was hitting .298 with with four home runs and 34 RBI’s in 109 games for the Sounds. He also has 42 stolen bases, six triples, and is getting on base at a .353 clip.
As good as his offensive numbers have been this season, Escobar is known more for his glove at shortstop. A potential Gold Glove candidate in the future, Escobar may have just unseated J.J. Hardy for good.
Hardy, who will turn 29 in a week, struggled mightily all season with a .229 batting average and just 11 home runs. He was enjoying his best season in the field, but it wasn’t enough to overlook the struggles at the plate. He was still able to be optioned to AAA, and with the third base situation still a mystery for next year, Hardy’s days at Miller Park might not be over.
The last of the Brewers’ three moves today involved sending Bill Hall down to AAA Nashville and calling up 27-year-old outfielder Jason Bourgeios.
Hall has struggled mightily ever since being awarded a huge salary extension following his 2006 campaign, hitting just .201 in 214 at-bats this season. He homered in last night’s game but it was apparent the Brewers just did not have a spot for him. Having moved from center field to third base and then back to stints in right field, it was time to move on.
Bourgeios has done very well in Nashville this season, posting a .316 batting average with two homers, 41 RBI’s, and a .354 OBP. Known more for his speed, Bourgeios should see some spot starts in right field over the course of the season.
The moves for the Brewers will completely shake the clubhouse and hopefully be a wake up call to the whole team. Hardy was a fan favorite to many and well liked in the clubhouse, while Castro had the longest tenure with the Brewers of anyone in the organization.
More than anything, these moves are a step towards 2010 when the Brewers feel they can start over and try to compete once again. Going back to my article from yesterday, Bourgeios has the potential to start in center field in 2010 if he makes a good showing the rest of the season.
Hall has probably seen his last days in Milwaukee, which is tough to deal with when you consider the money he is set to make for the Brewers this season and next. But a new leaf needed to be turned over, and whenever your top prospect enters the organizaton it definitely says something. Welcome to the Alcides Escobar era, everyone.
I haven’t completely thrown in the towel on the Milwaukee Brewers 2009 season, but it would be put nicely to say things are not looking up. At 55-56, the Brewers are 6.5 games out of both the National League Central and Wildcard and would have to leapfrog multiple teams to accomplish either feat.
No, it seems as though the season is all but over, and anything accomplished from here on out will be an extra bonus. Looking forward to 2010, the Brewers will have a lot of flexibility due to expiring contracts and the development of farm system players.
Mike Cameron’s $10 million salary will be off the books in 2010, as well as Trevor Hoffman’s $6 million and Jason Kendall’s $5 million. This $21 million will surely help the Brewers come closer to locking up two cogs to their future in Prince Fielder and Yovani Gallardo, but it will also let them look at replacements for next season as well.
It’s hard to see the Brewers being in a situation to bring back Mike Cameron next season, leaving a void in center field. Some believe Rickie Weeks might make the transition to the middle outfield spot, but I believe his true position is at second base, despite his less than stellar defense there.
Jody Gerut has turned out to be nothing more than a below-average bat on the bench despite his good defensive play and Frank Catalanotto can not play every day in right field if Corey Hart was to make the move to center.
Tony Gwynn Jr. is looking good right about now, but the fact of the matter remains the Brewers must look elsewhere to fill the need. Prospect Lorenzo Cain has struggled over the last two years in AA Huntsville and is probably another good season away from being called up to take over the reigns.
Blessed with tons of speed and a cannon for an arm, the Brewers could sign a veteran to a one-year contract if they feel Cain will be ready for 2010. One option that the Brewers should look to is veteran center fielder Randy Winn, currently of the San Francisco Giants.
In 2006, Winn was given a three year extension that paid him $23 million over the course of the contract. With his contract expiring after this year, the Giants might be looking to go in a different direction depending on how they fare this season.
Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz are the future of the Giants’ outfield and, at 25 and 27, are relatively young compared to Winn (35). While the Giants’ farm system does not boast many outfield prospects, the Giants have invested big-time money in Aaron Rowand over the next three years and Fred Lewis will come very cheap over the next three years.
Winn has played 15 games in center field this year, but as said before Corey Hart is probably capable of making the transition to center if needed. He is a switch hitter that can bat anywhere in the Brewers lineup and would provide speed to a team ranked at the bottom of the league in stolen bases. Even at 35, Winn has stolen ten bases this season and has been caught just once.
He has seen a drop in his numbers this season, but a new team and an easier ballpark to hit in could do a lot for Winn, who I believe has a lot left in the tank. He would be cheaper than Mike Cameron and would give more offense to a team that has struggled to rally around Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder this season.
If the Brewers are looking for a longer-term solution and do not want to bank on Cain being the go-to guy any time soon, two names to look for are Rocco Baldelli and Marlon Byrd.
Baldelli, 27, has never caught a break in his major league career but has a ton of potential if he can stay healthy. Medical testing in the spring before the 2008 season showed that Baldelli had a disease that gave him muscle fatigue even after the smallest workouts.
Knee injuries and hamstring pulls have hurt Baldelli over the course of his six year career, but most of his issues seem to be behind him now. In the star-studded outfield in Boston, Baldelli has appeared in just 44 games, starting 27 of them. He is batting .261 on the year with five home runs and 17 RBI’s, and would come very cheap to the Brewers next year.
In Milwaukee, he could start in center field and see consistent playing time that would surely make his numbers increase. He would also come at a very cheap price and could have many games played-incentives in his contract.
The case for Byrd would be a more expensive option but would also give the Brewers a powerful threat in the outfield and a great glove in center field.
For the Rangers this season, Byrd is batting .285 with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. He also has 34 doubles, which ranks fifth in the American League. At just 31, Byrd still has some good years left in him and if given the right offer, might part with Texas.
The Rangers are pretty much set in center and right field with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, and David Murphy is capable of playing left field but projects as a designated hitter. However, the future of Chris Davis might lie in the same position. The Rangers still have two very solid young prospects in Engel Beltre and Julio Borbon, who are both far from the majors but are interesting prospects.
Obviously Mike Cameron is still an option next year, but the Brewers will not pay him even close to the $10 million he is receiving this year. His best years are clearly behind him and it looks like all of his good years are behind him as well.
The farthest position from Cameron on the baseball field, catcher, is another position that the Brewers will need to address next year. Jason Kendall has done an outstanding job calling games for Brewers pitchers and the intangibles he has brought to the team were second to none, but his time in Milwaukee is done.
He will be a free agent next year and, at 35 years old for a catcher, he isn’t likely to see too many offers from teams. Unlike the outfield situation, the Brewers have a few options to fix the void behind the plate from within the organization.
Mike Rivera is the front-runner for the position next year if the Brewers stay within, and would make a fine starter. He has seen his workload increase this season, already passing his games played total (24) from last year (21). As hard as it is for a player to make starts off the bench once every five or six games, it’s twice as hard at the catcher position.
If Rivera is given a full year behind the plate, he will see his offensive numbers increase as well as his decent play behind the plate. He isn’t going to make anyone forget about Yadier Molina, but he is a huge upgrade from Kendall.
Waiting in the shadows of Nashville is current Sounds catcher Angel Salome. Standing at just 5’7″, the 23-year-old power hitter is the best prospect the Brewers have behind the plate and could make a case for starting in 2010. He is still very raw in all aspects of the game, especially behind the plate, and there are question marks over whether he can handle a pitching staff for a whole year.
Jonathon Lucroy is still a couple of years away, but he could battle Salome for the future backstop position. He has shown more talent than expected and is more disciplined as a catcher.
If the Brewers feel their two prospects are not ready and do not think Rivera can handle the responsibilities all year, there are a few options for the Brewers in free agency.
Bengie Molina is the biggest name in free agency, but looking at what he has done with the Giants pitching staff and bullpen leads me to believe he will cash in on a huge payday from San Francisco.
Other options include Rod Barajas, Jason LaRue, Jose Molina, and Greg Zaun. Those four options would come cheap, but the reality of it is that they are all suited better as back-ups. It is not easy to come by a good catcher in the Majors these days, which is why the Brewers will be hoping Salome will be ready to go on Opening Day in 2010.
The Brewers will probably have to part ways with the two veterans in Kendall and Cameron but can make the team both cheaper and better by important signings this offseason. My pipedream would be for Salome to come out of the gates firing and bringing in Byrd to play center field and bat sixth.
Today, it was announced that the waiver claim that the Chicago White Sox put in to get outifelder Alex Rios went through, and the 28-year-old will join the team for their series in Seattle.
After starting the year off very sluggish, Rios can come around to raise his batting average to .264 and has produced 14 home runs and 62 RBI’s to go with some stellar numbers in the field.
The main issue with the deal involving Rios was his contract situation. Signed before the 2008 season, Rios is set to make up to $77.5 million on a contract extension that has the potential to ride through 2015. Due to the waiver process, the White Sox will pick up all of the nearly $62 million remaining on the contract while the Blue Jays will pay nothing.
For the White Sox, they pick up a 28-year-old right fielder who was desperately looking for a change of scenery. After spending the first five and a half seasons of his career in Toronto, Rios has struggled the past two years to match his numbers from 2007 that warranted his huge contract.
Whether the pressure of the contract became too much for Rios or whether the pitching of the AL East became too much, he was running on borrowed time and a whole lot of money. He will now join a White Sox team where he will not be the focal point batting in the third spot, but rather sharing time with a banged up outfield and getting rest in between starts.
Rios has the capability to play all three outfield spots and chances are he will see action everywhere. In left field, Carlos Quentin has been nicked up all season long and could sure use some days off in between starts. After coming off the disabled list from plantar fascitis, it is now being reported that Quentin has been experiencing pain in his knee.
In center field, Scott Podsednik is enjoying his best year in a starting uniform but is still the least talented of other three outfielders in the equation and will probably see reduced time when Rios enters the lineup.
The biggest question mark is in right field where Jermaine Dye currently sits atop the depth chart. A fan favorite, Dye has been one of the more underrated players in all of baseball this season. To date, he has hit 24 home runs, driven in 67 runs, and has an on-base percentage of .344. His numbers are not through the roof, but he seems to fit perfectly in the Sox lineup.
His contract is up after this season, with a mutual option between Dye and the White Sox for 2010. Before the Rios deal, it wasn’t even a question as to whether that option would be picked up, but now it looks as though the Sox will go with Rios as the future in right.
It’s hard to argue with the move as Rios is a very similar player to Dye with seven less years of wear and tear on him. Letting Dye go after this season will be a tough PR move for the Sox, but with the money they will pay Rios over the next five years, it only makes sense.
Jim Thome is a free agent after this season, but it would not make much sense to let Thome go, keep Dye, and rotate four outfielders between the three outfield spots and designated hitter. Rios will help give Thome days off this season (another reason the trade made sense for the Sox), but doing it on a regular basis would be much too costly.
Other free agents for the White Sox next year include Jose Contreras and Octavio Dotel, and in all the White Sox could dump up to $40 million in salaries after this year. With bring young stars coming up through the system that includes Gordon Beckham, Gavin Floyd, Chris Getz, and John Danks, the Sox were in a good financial situation that they could afford Rios’s contract.
As for now, Rios is another solid bat that will help the White Sox contend for the American League Central race against the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. The money is a hefty price to pay, but with Dye leaving and Rios a more than solid replacement, the trade made sense for the Sox.
Speaking of money, the Blue Jays dumped a whole lot of it when they basically gave away Rios to the White Sox. When they gave Rios the contract in 2007, they thought the then 26-year-old was coming into stardom and the foundation of the future Blue Jays.
A year and a half later, his salary is finally off the payroll and his memory is all but gone. Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi claims the move was not a complete salary dump, but common sense says it was. All Star Roy Halladay was on the trading block during this trade deadline, as he is expected to make just under $15 million this season and just under $16 million next season.
Toronto started out hot this season but could not compete with the Beasts of the East and went back into rebuilding mode. The future looks brighter as Adam Lind and Aaron Hill are having career years and youngster pitchers Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil look to be in the future plans.
With the money the Jays will save getting rid of Rios, the Jays can now afford to go after a big time free agent next season or lock up Roy Halladay to a long term deal.
The deal also opens up a spot for future star Travis Snider, listed as the Blue Jays top prospect in 2009. He struggled in his first stint with the team this season and was sent back down to AAA Las Vegas where he will get everyday at-bats, but at just 21 years of age, his future looks bright.
Overall, both teams did a nice job securing something for the future in this trade. The White Sox have their future right fielder for the next five or six years while the Blue Jays get much needed cap relief by unloading his contract.
As of last night’s games, the Chicago Cubs stand in a percentage points lead for first place in the National League Central, and subsequently two games out of the Wild Card race.
Based on head-to-head schedules, as well as remaining schedules for both the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, it is my prediction that the Cardinals will come out on top of the division victorious.
Despite the two teams being stuck together in the standings, the Cardinals’ sailing has been much smoother on their way to a 59-51 record. They have been consistent all year in a division that has not seen any team take advantage of the other’s struggles. Their longest winning streak and longest losing streak on the year is five in both categories, and they have not had many negative headlines.
One question mark that arose for the Cardinals early in the year was the question of who would protect slugger Albert Pujols in the batting order. Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel have not been up to the task of doing so in trying to repeat their breakout performances of last year.
To ignite the offense and protect the best hitter in baseball, the Cardinals added a couple of veteran pieces that are sure to help mightily during the stretch run. First, Mark DeRosa was acquired for a couple of mid-level prospects, and he has done a solid job batting in the two spot.
After starting his Cardinals career out 0-for-15, DeRosa has batted .242 since with seven homers, 12 runs batted in and an .891 OPS. He has batted all over the lineup, anywhere from the two spot to the seven spot, and he has shown his versatility by playing first, second, and third base in the field while still having the capability to play outfield.
For as average as DeRosa has been since coming to the Cards, Matt Holliday has picked him up and then some. Since putting on a Cardinals jersey, Holliday has batted a blistering .477 with three home runs, 11 runs batted in, and an on-base percentage of .549 in just 11 games.
Along with the new and improved offense, the Cardinals’ starters have been outstanding this year, and the defense has been superb. The Cards’ starters rank tied for second with the Cubs in the National League in ERA at 3.67, and they have walked just 192 batters, which is good for third in the majors.
Ryan Franklin has been about as shut-down of a closer as there is possible, and the bullpen, while having an average season statistically, has thrown the second-least amount of innings this year, which is always important for a stretch run in September.
But enough about that. It’s time to focus on the North Siders.
That team with the “C” on the helmet that has been tricking you and deceiving you for the past 106 games. Oh, don’t worry Cubbie fans. You will probably make it to the postseason this year for reasons that we will go over in just a second.
But once you are there, it’ll be the third year in a row that you don’t even sniff the “W” column during the second season.
In case you haven’t heard, the National League Central is one of the the worst divisions in all of baseball. As a division, it has a .485 winning percentage and is the only division in baseball to have four teams at .500 or below.
It has the lowly Pirates, who are setting up to look really good in 2014. It has the Reds, who seemingly fell off the map without anyone noticing.
It has the God-awful starting pitching of the Milwaukee Brewers and the ever-fading Houston Astros.
Yes, for the Chicago Cubs, it’s almost too much fun to be in the National League Central and get to feast on some of the worst teams in the league this year. And feast they have, as we get to the first reason why the Cubs’ record and production is tainted.
They have played 55 games against the National League Central this year and will wind up playing a total of 80 against the worst division in the NL. In those 55 games, they have gone a solid 32-23, and the 32 wins are the most by any team against their own division in all of baseball.
Sounds pretty good, right?
But realize that the Cubs are 11-12 against the other top two teams in the division, Milwaukee and St. Louis, as opposed to the 21-11 record they sport against the cellar dwellers of the Central in Houston, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
Even better, they still have nine games left against Pittsburgh and a combined six against the other two teams at the bottom. Tell me those numbers won’t end up looking good on a playoff resume. I hope the Cubs can pull the Pirates or Reds in the NLDS.
Meanwhile, over on the West Coast, the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies are slaving away as they battle in the deepest division not named the AL East. With three teams as legitimate contenders to make the playoffs, including the best team in all of baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers, times are not easy over there.
Thus far, the Rockies and Giants have had the 16th- and 17th-toughest schedules in the majors, while the Cubs have relaxed with the 24th-easiest in all of baseball.
If you think that kind of stuff always evens out at the end of the year, think again.
To end the year, the Cubs will play 38 games against teams with losing records and just 19 games against teams with winning records.
To put that in comparison, the Giants will play 28 games against teams with losing records and 26 games against .500 or better teams.
The Rockies have it even worse, playing 27 games against teams with losing records and 30 against teams with winning records.
Simply put, there is a very good chance that the Cubs get into the playoffs while the Giants and Rockies beat each other up. San Francisco and Colorado will play each other 10 times before the end of the year in what will either decide the Wild Card race or let a Central team in.
Let’s say, for a moment, that the Chicago Cubs make the playoffs as the National Leauge Wild Card representative. Let’s say that the easy schedule was just easy enough and that the Giants and Rockies could never pull away from each other. In all honesty, there’s a good chance it happens.
San Francisco will get the Dodgers nine times before season’s end, and the Rockies get to face them six times.
Now the real question: Would the Cubs stand any kind of chance in the playoffs against, more than likely, the Los Angeles Dodgers?
The simple answer to this question is no, but because it’d be a lame ending to this article, I’ll explain why.
This season, the Cubs have played 18 different ballclubs. They have played every team in the National League other than the Mets (14) and have played four American League teams as well.
The Cubs have played 27 games against the top six teams on their schedule and have won just 10 of those games. The middle six of their schedule has seen the Cubs go 24-21. And right on cue, the Cubs are 22-13 against the worst six teams on their schedule this season.
Against teams with winning records this season, the Cubs are a dismal 19-29, which is good for a .395 winning percentage. Compare that record against other clubs’ results against .500 or better teams such as the Cardinals (.545 win percentage), the Giants (.528), the Rockies (.490), and the Dodgers (.566), and you see a huge disparity.
The numbers don’t lie, and what they show is that the Cubs do not fare well against good teams but do very well against the lower-tier teams. Because they are in one of the worst divisions in baseball, that trait is magnified, and it makes the Cubs look better than they really are.
The Giants are 16-11 against teams in the Central, and the Rockies are 17-8 against those same ballclubs.
In reverse effect, the Cubs are just 8-9 against the National League West this year. This clearly shows how much easier it is to play in the National League Central and indicates that the Giants and Rockies have outperformed the Cubs this year by more than the two games the standings say.
Other indicators that spell doom for the Cubs if they make it to the playoffs are the bullpen woes. The Cubs have the fourth-most blown saves in the National League with 16, and their bullpen has walked more batters than any other team in the NL. Walks might fly against the Astros and Diamondbacks, but when it comes time to play against the big boys, you’d better not give up any free passes.
When thinking about teams in the National League getting ready to make their stretch runs, the word “aggressive” came to mind this year. The Phillies went out and got Cliff Lee, the reigning Cy Young award winner and new ace for the next two years.
The Giants obtained Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko to add some good solid bats to help support the best pitching staff in the league.
The Dodgers helped their shaky bullpen out by getting one of the best, if not the best, lefty specialists in the game in George Sherill.
The Cardinals traded their top prospect and other first-round draft picks in order to get their hands on a guy that could drive in Albert Pujols instead of stranding him on second.
With the Cubs and their acquisitions of John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny, you didn’t get the sense that they were making that “push” to reach the pennant or beat out the Cardinals. They got what they needed in another lefty arm, but it didn’t put them over the edge.
The sale of the team hurt them, as Jim Hendry was advised not to increase payroll, but something a little more spicy would have been nice. Grabow is an average arm in the bullpen, and Gorzelanny does not give the Cubs anything that Kevin Hart was not already giving them.
With the best record in the National League, it’s all but set that the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to obtain the top seed in the National League playoffs this year. It will be an award well-deserved, and there is no doubt they will honor that title and back it up as best as can.
Standing in their way, if they get there, will probably be the Chicago Cubs.
If the Cubs win the National League Central and the Wild Card comes from the National League West, or if the Cubs win the Wild Card, they will visit Chavez Ravine to start the playoffs.
Not only do the Cubs struggle mightily on the road with a record of 24-30, but the Dodgers are a National League-best 35-19 when playing in “Mannywood.”
Clayton Kershaw has a 2.06 ERA at home this year, Jonathon Broxton has allowed just one earned run all year there, and a ridiculous eight Dodgers are batting over .265 when at home.
When looking at the schedules of all contenders in the National League, the Cubs have a very good shot at contending with other squads in the Wild Card race. As easy as their schedule is, the Cardinals have an even easier schedule, as St. Louis will play the Padres seven times, the Pirates six times, and the Reds six times.
However, the Cubs’ inconsistent and struggling play against the good teams this year is that will be their downfall in the playoffs. It’s no secret that whoever comes out of the Central will have a tough time competing, but that statement applies even moreso to the Cubs.
Heading into tonight’s action in the National Leauge, it has become apparent that just six teams are left in the league that have a shot at competing for the playoffs, and ultimately the NL pennant.
The Pirates, Reds, Brewers, and Astros really have no shot at winning the Central this year. The Astros and Brewers are within reaching distance but trends say they are out of it.
In the East, the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves are both inside seven games of the Philadelphia Phillies, but with the acquisition of Cliff Lee to the pitching staff, I will go ahead and say the Phillies are rolling to the playoffs.
In the West, the Diamondbacks are too far out of it and the Padres have officially begun to rebuild and stand no chance in what is easily the toughest division in the National League.
With those ten teams all but out of any race heading into the stretch run of the season, six teams remain that include the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco Giants, and the Colorado Rockies.
To get the easy stuff out of the way that really does not even need to be broken down, the Dodgers will win the division because they are the deepest team in the league and have one of the best managers in the game.
Joe Torre has his team absolutely rolling on all cylinders and the team is taking care of both the weak competition and the tough. What’s amazing about the Dodgers best record in baseball is that they also have had the toughest schedule to date in the National League, with an opponent’s win percentage of .510.
Against teams with a winning record, the Dodgers are are an NL-leading 34-26 in those games. They have scored the second most runs in the NL, behind just the Phillies, and have the second best team ERA in all of baseball. The bullpen has been shaky and is the one question mark that the team has, but the trade deadline acquisition of George Sherill looks to be huge for them.
They showed no signs of slowing down even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games and his presence back on the team has brought them together even more. He has struggled as of late but the young stars in James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier have picked up the slack.
The other ballclub that has won their division by default (at least in this article) is the Philadelphia Phillies. They have won 20 of their last 28 games and have opened up a safe cushion on both the Braves and Marlins. Even more importantly, they made the trade of the year in acquiring starting pitcher and reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from the Indians.
They gave up a decent amount of minor league prospects but this year’s team was left completley alone. He joins what now looks to be the best starting rotation in all of baseball that is poised for another run deep into the playoffs.
The Phillies have a pretty average looking schedule the rest of the way compared to the other contenders, with 25 games left against teams with winning records and 32 left against losing records.
The Phillies rank fifth in runs and sixth in slugging percentage this year, which is always a good thing when playing in the ballpark they play in. Combined with a now excellent pitching staff and the potential of Pedro Martinez, and the Phillies have great pitching that will get plenty of run support every time one of them takes the mound.
The one division that has not been decided and likely will not be decided until the last week of the year is the National League Central. Going into tonight’s play, the Cardinals and Cubs were tied for the best record in the division. Based on percentage points, the Cubs held a slight advantage over St. Louis.
Looking at the stretch run for both teams, the schedule seems to favor the Cardinals moreso than the Cubbies. Both teams will play 38 games against teams with losing records, but the Cubs will play four more games (19 compared to 15 for the Cards) against teams with a winning record.
Making it even more difficult for the Cubs, 15 of those games against teams with winning records will come away from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are 24-29. The Cardinals will play nine games at home against +.500 teams and just six on the road.
My money is on the Cards taking the division, and no it has nothing to do with my staunch Brewers homerism. The Cardinals have added their pieces in Mark Derosa and Matt Holliday, and Albert Pujols is more than capable of taking them to the top. They have an easier stretch than the Cubs and overall play better ball.
The Cubs will have a tough time competing just because of their struggles on the road. The stat of having 15 of 19 road games against winning-record teams is a huge disadvantage, but what’s worse is that they play almost half of their remaining games on the road (28 of 57).
As of right now, the National League Wildcard seems as if it will be a three team race, with the San Francisco Giants leading the way, followed by the Colorado Rockies and the loser of the National League Central.
Numbers point to the Giants being the front-runners for a few reasons, with the main one being their unbelievable pitching. They have the best team ERA in the Majors and have two bonafide aces in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They are pretty much guarenteed two quality starts every five days.
The Giants finish their season with 28 games against teams with winning records and 26 games against teams with losing records. The majority (16) of their winning-record opponents will have to come to San Francisco to play them.
With the addition of Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko to a less than stellar lineup, the Giants look to be in good position to take home the Wildcard.
What will be important is not getting into a slugfest with the Colorado Rockies so that the Cubs or Cardinals sneak right in and both are left out. The Rockies and Giants will meet ten more times before the year is over, and the odds are that whoever comes out on top in that span of games will also meet up with the Phillies in the first round.
The races in the National League, while not featuring the best teams in the world, will be exciting and should come down to the final games of the year.
The always interesting Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went at 3 p.m. central time today as some big names were added to contenders and stellar prospects will now call someplace else home. Since the Matt Holliday trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics, there have been ___ trades. While some of these deals can not fully be evaluated until it is seen how prospects pan out, we’ll go ahead and try to do it anyways.
Trade: (July 27th) Cleveland Indians trade Ryan Garko to the San Francisco Giants for Scott Barnes
Who Wins: The Indians officially began their firesale by shipping away their starting first baseman to the Giants who were in much need of a replacement for Travis Ishikawa. Garko gives the Giants a solid fifth hitter in the lineup as they make a run at the NL Wildcard this season. His contract is up at the end of the year but the Giants are expected to at least make an offer to him.
Barnes was 12-3 with a 2.85 ERA for Class A San Jose and was ranked by Baseball America as the Giants’ ninth best prospect in 2009. The lefty has an excellent changeup and projects to be a number three starter in the big leagues.
If Garko re-signs with the Giants it would be a great deal for the them but I believe Barnes can be something special. Still, the Giants got what they needed and take this deal by a small margin. WINNER: GIANTS
Trade: (July 28th) Boston Red Sox trade Mark Kotsay to the Chicago White Sox for Brian Anderson
Who Wins: It was clear that Brian Anderson’s time in Chicago was up as he had been optioned to Triple A and was not in the plans for the future of the White Sox.
He demanded a trade and was given his wish by trading places with the veteran Kotsay. Clearly the Red Sox felt as though they had enough outfield depth on the team and could spare Kotsay to pick up a potential player in Anderson.
Kotsay will be great off the bench for the White Sox as they make a run at the AL Central this year. WINNER: WHITE SOX
Trade: (July 29th) Seattle Mariners trade Wladimir Balentein to the Cincinnati Reds for Robert Manuel
Who Wins: Neither of these players project as much in the big leagues but give both teams some added depth at a few spots. Balentein has more Major League experience and has a better shot at contributing in the near future. WINNER: REDS
Trade: (July 29th) Seattle Mariners trade shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Ben Prebanic, Brett Lorin, and Nathan Adcock to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell
Who Wins: This is a very interesting trade for both squads because the Pirates were in a no-win situation with the two players they gave away. Wilson had already denied a contract extension with the team and Snell was very unhappy with his situation in Pittsburgh.
What they got in return was about as much as they could have asked for, including slugger Jeff Clement.
Cedeno was thrown in the deal because the Pirates will need to fill a void at shortstop but is hardly the long-term solution. Clement has a great bat but does not have a true position, seeing time at catcher and first base. He projected as a designated hitter but now will not have that chance in the National League. Pitcher Nathan Adcock sports a great curveball and could be a starter in the future.
Seattle is buying for the future and got one of the best defensive gloves in the game in Wilson, as well as a pitcher with a ton of skill in Snell. While the results have not been there, Snell has potential if he can stay focused and work on his problems.
It’s tough to say that the Pirates could have won this deal because they were dealing with two disgruntled players, so I’ll give this one to the M’s. WINNER: MARINERS
Trade: (July 29th) Pittsburgh Pirates trade Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants for Tim Alderson
Who Wins: Sanchez adds another much needed bat to the lineup and puts the Giants in great shape to find a spot in the National League playoffs. Along with Garko, Sanchez improves the offense with a .300+ batting average and some power to go around.
However, Alderson is showing a ton of potential and could be an outstanding pitcher in the near future. In three seasons of professional ball, he is 20-6 with an ERA just over three. He sports an excellent curveball and was projected to be a back-end starter in the outstanding Giants’ rotation that includes Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and number one prospect Madison Bumgarner.
Sanchez is a great hitter and an average fielder that puts the Giants in contention. The Pirates were in a no-win situation with Sanchez who, like Wilson, refused to sign a contract extension. What they got is a 20-year-old starter with a ton of potential. WINNER: PIRATES
Trade: (July 29th) Cleveland Indians trade Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson
Who Wins: The Indians are clearly in selling mode and traded away their second straight Cy Young Award winner to the Philadelphia Phillies who are all of a sudden huge contenders in the National League.
What they got in exchange was a ton of young and talented players that are sure to make a splash in The Bigs in the future.
For the Phillies, they filled up their starting rotation by adding Lee, who is 9-7 this year with an even 3.00 ERA. He will go to a staff that was desparately looking for good pitching and becomes the ace.
They did not have to give up their two best pitching prospects in Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ, which they would have if they had gone after Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay.
For the Indians, they get two very solid pitchers in Knapp and Corrasco as well as good position players in Donald and Marson. Baseball America ranked the Indians’ return players as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 10th best players in the Phillies’ farm system.
Still, the Phillies become legitimate contenders with this move and win the deal as well. WINNER: PHILLIES
Trade: (July 30th) Baltimore Orioles trade George Sherill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Josh Bell and Steve Johnson
Who Wins: The one knock on the team with the best record in baseball was that the bullpen was extremely shaky. Outside of Jonathon Broxton, no one really had the makings up someone you’d like to rely on late in games. Enter George Sherill and that is no longer the case.
Sherill gives the Dodgers a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen and they did not have to give up much to get it. Bell is a solid prospect at third base and projects to be a starter in the big leagues one day, but the Dodgers are completely in win-now mode and were going to do anything possible to pick up a reliever. WINNER: DODGERS
Trade: (July 30th) Pittsburgh Pirates trade Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison
Who Wins: This trade was probably one of the fairest deals of the deadline and it is hard to pick a winner.
For the Cubs’ sake, they received a much needed lefty arm out of the bullpen in Grabow. Gorzelanny had a great 2007 but has not showed much since and is pretty comparable to Hart.
The Pirates free up more cap room and get a decent young pitcher in Kevin Hart. Time is against him as he is already 26 years old, but if he can keep up his solid numbers he will be a steal.
Ascanio still has a lot to prove and Harrison was stuck behind Josh Vitters at third base in the minors so it isn’t a huge loss for the Cubs.
I’ll give the Cubs the win on the trade because it helps them right now (Grabow) and potentially in the future (Gorzelanny) but both sides come out on top here. WINNER: CUBS
Trade: (July 30th) Detroit Tigers trade Josh Anderson to the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations.
Who Wins: No, cash considerations is not a player on the Royals. This trade occurred to shore up a little bit of money before trading for pitcher Jarrod Washburn, so the Tigers make out well here.
The Royals get an average prospect in the outfield that has seen some at bats in the big leagues. For a team to not get a player in a trade makes it hard for them to win the trade, so the Royals get the nod here. WINNER: ROYALS
Trade: (July 31st) Seattle Mariners trade Jarrod Washburn to the Detroit Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles
Who Wins: Both of the prospects that the Mariners received in return have pretty low ceilings and do not project as much in the future.
French is 23 years old and has not produced much, with a 35-43 record as a pro. Robles has more upside than French but is still a pretty big project as he is just in Single A.
Many Tigers fans seemed to be upset to have to part way with Robles, especially with Washburn being a three month rental. Washburn’s contract is up after this season so the Tigers are clearly making their run at the division right now.
If Robles becomes something big, the Mariners will have the advantage but for now it looks as though the Tigers came out on top. WINNER: TIGERS
Trade: (July 31st) Oakland Athletics trade Orlando Cabrera to the Minnesota Twins for Tyler Ladendorf
Who Wins: The Twins must feel that they are contenders in the AL Central by trading for a rental at shortstop in Cabrera. Batting .280 and playing solid defense, Cabrera will help the Twins fight for the top spot.
They gave up very little in Ladendorf who has potential but is struggling in Low A ball. I have always thought that Cabrera was underrated and believe the Twins come out big winners here, especially if they can pull off the upset of winning the Central. WINNER: TWINS
Trade: (July 31st) Milwaukee Brewers trade Vinny Rottino to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Claudio Vargas
Who Wins: Vargas was seeing very little action with the Dodgers but will now be thrown into a Brewers starting rotation that is badly looking for starters who can throw a lot of innings.
His second stint with the Brewers will hopefully see him throw those much-needed innings and keep the Brewers in contention in the NL Central.
Rottino was the starting catcher on Italy’s team in the World Baseball Classic, but at 29 years old was stuck in Double A. With Angel Solome considered to be the future of the Brewers behind the plate, Rottino was expendable.
Both teams made out well on this trade but it will definitely help the Brewers more. WINNER: BREWERS
Trade: Boston Red Sox trade Justin Masterson to the Cleveland Indians for Justin Masterson, Bryan Price, and Nick Hagadone
Who Wins: Martinez is a huge addition to the already powerful Red Sox and probably put them as the front-runners to win it all. He will play first base and enter a very dangerous lineup.
Martinez is signed for this year and has a club option for next year that will most surely be picked up. After that, the Red Sox will obviously have enough money to re-sign him and he should be the first baseman of the future.
He did not come cheap, however. Masterson is already Major League-ready and the other two prospects have a ton of upside.
Hagadone, when healthy, has great stuff and should see the Majors sometime soon. The one question mark is that he is coming off of Tommy John surgery and, as is always the case, he might not stay healthy.
Price is further away in terms of progress but is also younger.
Martinez was sad to leave Cleveland but all the wins he will soon rack up in Boston should put a smile back on his face. Huge win for the Bo Sox. WINNER: RED SOX
Trade: (July 31st) Cincinnati Reds trade Jerry Hairston Jr. to the New York Yankees for Chase Weems
Who Wins: I researched Weems and he does not seem to be a huge talent and Hairston Jr. will provide some good outfield depth and is a good bat off the bench.
He has never been much in the field but has a little bit of pop in his bat. For the Reds, they get rid of some cap room and have a young catcher in the minors potentially for the future. WINNER: YANKEES
Trade: (July 31st) Boston Red Sox trade Adam LaRoche to the Atlanta Braves for Casey Kotchman
Who Wins: I am having trouble figuring out why the Braves would want any piece of this deal. Kotchman is four years younger than LaRoche and has a ton more upside. Past that, he is playing better baseball at this point and is the better player.
The Red Sox somehow dumped a player and got better. For the Braves, they get LaRoche for the second time and now have a decent glove and a power bat to compliment Chipper Jones.
In the end, Kotchman has a ton of upside and is only getting better. WINNER: RED SOX
Trade: (July 31st) Washington Nationals Joe Beimel to the Colorado Rockies for Ryan Matheus and Robinson Fabian
Who Wins: Beimel will help the bullpen out for a Rockies team that feels as though they have a legitimate shot at winning the wild card this season.
For the Nats, it’s more prospects that are more than likely going to fade out. Neither have a ton of upside and do not project as big leaguers. WINNER: ROCKIES
Trade: (July 31st) Cincinnati Reds trade Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart to the Toronto Blue Jays for Scott Rolen
Who Wins: I am a little confused by this deal as Encarnacion is really coming into his own as a big leaguer right now. His stats do not really tell the story, but he is batting .276 in July after coming back from injury.
The Reds are not contenders for anything this year and would have been wise to keep Encarnacion around for a while.
Rolen is having a pretty good year both with the bat and, as always, in the field.
The two prospects that the Reds gave up are both big league material, so this trade is a tad bit confusing. WINNER: BLUE JAYS
Trade: (July 31st) San Diego Padres trade Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox for Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter
Who Wins: Poreda and Richard are two very highly-rated prospects and Richard has already burst on to the scene. Both are young and talented and should be in the Padres’ rotation for quite some time.
Russell and Carter also have some upside, so it was a lot to give up for the White Sox.
However, if they truly believe that they received one of the best five pitchers in the game today (which I do), then it was the right trade to make.
Peavy will be making boatloads of money over the next five years but the White Sox have a lot of money to spend. He will anchor the rotation and move Mark Buehrle back to the number two spot, with Gavin Floyd going third.
Kenny Williams always seems to be making deals, and this one is a huge one, but I believe he made out good on this deal. Peavy had been stuck with a terrible offense for so long but will now get the chance to truly shine.
Poreda and Richard have superstar potential, but any time a talent like Peavy is being dangled in front of you, it’s hard to pass up on it. WINNER: WHITE SOX