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Cubs-Brewers Series Just Doesn’t Have the Same Flair

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.

Even if Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers sweep the Cubs this week, they'll still be at least seven games out of first.

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.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reality Check, Cubs: Time To Let Milton “T.O.” Bradley Go

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.

I think we'd all like to see what a handshake between these two would look like today.

I think we'd all like to see what a handshake between these two would look like today.

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.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , , | Leave a comment

Closing Time: Who Will the Chicago Cubs’ Closer Be Next Season?

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.

Carlos Marmol will take over ninth inning duties in Chicago for now.

Carlos Marmol will take over ninth inning duties in Chicago for now.

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.

Sure, he's a little crazy.  But Jose Valverde would be a great fit in Chicago.

Sure, he's a little crazy. But Jose Valverde would be a great fit in Chicago.

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.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , , | 3 Comments

If the Chicago Cubs Make the Playoffs, It’ll Be a Short Stay

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.

The Chicago Cubs have been good this year, but they are not true contenders.

The Chicago Cubs have been good this year, but they are not true contenders.

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.

The Giants must be jealous that the Cubs get to play the Pirates 15 times this year.

The Giants must be jealous that the Cubs get to play the Pirates 15 times this year.

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.

Yikes.

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.

August 6, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , , | 3 Comments

At Year’s End Giants Will Be In; Rocks, Cubs Will Be Out

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.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | Leave a comment

Recapping The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline Deals

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

August 1, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | Leave a comment

The Stretch Run Is Now for the Milwaukee Brewers

While today’s date of July 21st means that there are over ten weeks left in baseball’s regular season and that division races will not heat up for about another two months, the Milwaukee Brewers’ most important stretch of the summer is starting right now.  Over the course of the next five weeks, the Brewers will face the Pirates nine times, the Nationals eight times, the Braves three times, the Padres six times, the Astros six times, the Reds three times, and the Dodgers three times.

Do you know what the similarity between all those teams is, outside of the Dodgers?

As of last night, none of them had a record over .500.

It’s an outstanding chance for the Brewers, who have the easiest schedule of any National League team, to gain ground on the rest of the division and have a solid cushion come September.

Over this span of a month and a week, the Brewers’ lackluster pitching staff will have a chance to dominate against some of the worst offenses in the National League.  The best offense they will face is the Atlanta Braves, who rank just seventh in the National League in runs scored.

The Brewers’ offense will need to come around and give the pitching staff extra run support if they want to succeed in this stretch.  In that span, they will face four pitching staffs in the top ten in ERA in the National League, but also face the Padres (15th) and the Nationals (16th).  Let’s take a look at each of the matchups the Brewers will be taking on and how they can fare.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 41-51

The Brewers lost last night’s game to the Pirates, which ended a drought of over a year that the Bucs had not come out on top.  In the remaining eight games, five will be played at PNC Park and the other three will be at Miller Park.  I believe the Brewers should be able to take three of five on the road from the struggling Pirates and should be able to sweep one of the worst road teams in baseball at Miller Park.  Six out of eight wins is easily doable for a Brewers team that has had the Pirates’ number for quite some time.

Washington Nationals: 26-66

The Brewers will play a pair of four-game series against the worst team in baseball in this span and I do not think it is a stretch to say the Brewers can take seven of these games.  There is nothing positive going for this ballclub right now and they do not do anything well.  The Brewers will send their top four in the rotation at the Nationals when the two teams meet at Miller Park.  Washington has been swept an unbelievable ten times this year and has won a series just six times all year.  Seven out of eight wins might sound crazy for the Brewers right now, but it could happen pretty easily.

Atlanta Braves: 47-46

The Braves are playing very well right now and are trying to catch up to the red-hot Phillies in the NL East.  Unfortuantely for the Brewers, the Braves will send their three best pitchers to the hill in Miller Park next week in Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, and Javier Vazquez..   Atlanta has been decent on the road this year and they are a team the Brewers have had trouble with this year.  I’d like to see two wins here but think the Brewers will come out with just one.

San Diego Padres: 37-56

Had it not been for the Nationals’ historically bad season, the San Diego Padres would be the laughing stock of the National League.  They currently sit 22 games out of first place and, despite playing average baseball at home, can not do anything on the road.  For the three games at Miller Park, look for the Brewers to come out playing great baseball against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.  Four of six games going to the Brewers looks to be a good estimate against a pretty bad Padres team.

Houston Astros: 47-46

The Astros are playing very good baseball right now and are tied with the Brewers in third place as it stands right now.  After taking four out of six games in Houston, the Brewers will play the Astros three times at Miller Park and go back to Minute Maid Park again for three.  With the ‘Stros playing good ball right now, I could see a split coming in the six games these two teams will play.  Houston pitching has been picking it up lately and will keep them in close games.

Cincinnati Reds: 44-48

The three games the Brewers play against the Reds in this span will all come at home, which should bode well for the hometown Brewers.  Milwaukee was 4-2 against the Reds at Miller Park and should be able to take two of three from the Reds when they come to town.

Assuming the Brewers are able to take one game from the Dodgers in their three game set, I can see the Brewers going 24-13 in this span, give or take a game.  Just because the talent level is down does not mean the Brewers will be able to sit back and relax.  They are playing terrible baseball at the moment and will need to pick things up if they want to have a chance.  However, when they play their brand of baseball and are on, runs like these are more than capable of happening.  24 wins over this five week span would put the Brewers at 71-59 and likely in first place.

The Cubs will play the Phillies six times, the Dodgers four times, the Rockies four times, and the (hopefully healthy) Mets three times before September.  The Cardinals will play the Phillies three times and the Dodgers seven times in that span as well.

The race should be tight because it seems like none of the three teams wants to gain any ground on the other.  But the Brewers need to strike now while the competition is not hot because in September, things heat up quickly.  In the season’s last month, Milwaukee will play 29 of their last 32 games against teams with a record currently over .500.

If the Brewers are not up at least two games by the end of August, there will be no point in watching in September.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | 2 Comments

Ted Lilly Over Yovani Gallardo an All Star Game Outrage

As I sat at my computer anxiously awaiting Charlie Manuel’s decisions on this year’s National League pitching staff, I wondered whether or not the Phillies’ skipper thought Josh Johnson would make the team.

Would Javier Vazquez sneak in? Who would he choose as the last relief pitcher? One wonder that I did not think I had to consider was whether or not Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee’s ace, would be on this year’s team.

After all, he has one of the most impressive resumes of any pitcher in the National League, has his team in first place, and has done it all under the spotlight of following in C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets’ footsteps.

I refreshed the page at brewers.com and saw that Prince Fielder had been chosen as a reserve at first base behind “The Machine”, Albert Pujols. I clicked on the link and scrolled down the list of reserves at each position.

With no big surprises in the American League, I went to the National League pitching staff only to find that Gallardo had been left off the staff while the lone Cubs’ representative, Ted Lilly, had made the squad.

Under Bug Selig’s revisions, one player from every team in the Major Leagues must be represented in the Midsummer Classic. I understand this rule completely and, while I do not agree with it, realize it is there and must be followed.

I had never really cared about the rule because, for the most part, the manager of each team got it right. However, I am taking a stand this year and saying that the rule needs to be changed and that the best thirty three players in each league need to play in the game, regardless of the team they play for.

Lilly is having an average year for a Cubs team that has failed to meet expectations. Going into the year as the sure-fire favorites in the National League Central, the Cubs sit 2.5 games out of first but are barely floating above .500.

Their offense has been one of the worst in the National League this year and no one outside of Derrek Lee was going to sniff the All-Star Game. Because of the outstanding seasons Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Gonzalez are having thrown in with Manuel coaching the team, Ryan Howard was bound to get in. Lee missed out on making the team.

In the Cubs’ rotation this year, Lilly has been the best and most consistent pitcher, with no one in the bullpen being even remotely close to deserving an All Star bid. It makes sense that he would be the choice for the All Star Game.

However, the fact that Gallardo will watch the game from his television set instead of in the bullpen at Busch Stadium is an outrage and a reason why the rules need to be switched.

Because of baseball's silly rules, Yovani Gallardo will miss this year's All Star Game.

Because of baseball's silly rules, Yovani Gallardo will miss this year's All Star Game.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see how Manuel could have chosen Lilly over Gallardo as a pitcher in this year’s All Star Game. First and foremost, Gallardo’s ERA sits at 2.75, good for sixth in the National League. Only seven pitchers in the NL have an ERA under three, with four of those making the All Star Game. Lilly’s ERA sits at 3.34, which places him 15th in the National League.

In the same amount of starts, sixteen, and the same amount of innings pitched this year, Gallardo has more strikeouts, 114 to 88, a better opponents’ batting average,.193 to .242, less home runs allowed at 11 to 16, and the aforementioned ERA.

Their WHIP’s are almost identical at 1.13 for Lilly and 1.15 for Gallardo, which all but cancels out the walk differential. Gallardo has walked twice as many batters, at forty six, as Lilly.

Lilly has twelve quality starts compared to Gallardo’s ten, but Gallardo has given up three runs or less in 14 of 16 starts, while Lilly has done so in only 12 of 16 starts.

For some icing on the cake, Gallardo is batting .129 at the plate with two home runs and four RBI’s as compared to Lilly’s .083 batting average with just two RBI’s. In the field, Lilly has five errors to give him a .737 fielding percentage and 15.684 zone rating while Gallardo has zero errors and a 22.071 zone rating.

In case you were wondering, zero errors gives Gallardo a 1.000 fielding percentage.

The difference between Lilly and Gallardo is not night and day, and Lilly has done a pretty good job on the hill for the Cubs this year.

That being said, there is no way one can overlook the performance Gallardo has had this year and say it has been worse than the Chicago lefty.

Once again, the rules say that one player from every team must be represented, and because of that I know why Lilly is in the game. However, something needs to change in order for the game to be more fair.

If the All-Star Game is going to count for something as big as home field advantage in the World Series, then the best players need to be playing in the game.

It goes back to my article saying something needed to change about the game. If a player from every team is going to be represented and fans are able to vote in who they want, make it a fun game meaning nothing, but if the MLB wants this game to mean something, then Gallardo deserves a ticket to St. Louis, not Lilly.

July 5, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , | Leave a comment

Cubs-Brewers: Something’s Gotta Give

As the Brewers head out to Wrigley Field to begin a four-game series tomorrow, glaring holes on each team will match up against each other and more than likely decide the outcome of the series.

Sitting 3.5 games back of the Brewers in the standings, the Cubs will look to pick up some ground in the NL Central race before the All Star Break hits and, more importantly, get their star slugger back in Aramis Ramirez.

Until the third base slugger comes back on Monday, the day after the Brewers series ends, it looks as though the Cubs’ offensive struggles will continue.

The Cubs will enter the series batting .244 as a team, ranking 28th in all of the the major leagues.  Ryan Theriot leads the team with a .286 batting average on a team that has struggled with consistency all year.

Despite one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball in terms of ERA this year, the Cubs still sport a record under .500 at 37-38.

When trying to break down the team’s issue, all problems seem to lead back to leadoff man Alfonso Soriano. With a batting average of .230 and an on-base percentage under .300, his stats are less than stellar for the top spot in the batting order.

While he has only had eight at-bats away from the leadoff spot (1-8 as the three hitter), his struggles at the plate warrant a drop in the order that everyone but manager Lou Piniella seems to agree with.

Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome are probably the most expensive .239 and .260 hitters in all of baseball but are heading in directions as we enter the month of July.

Fukudome, who ended April with a .338 average, has seen his average dip all the way down almost 80 points, including a .169 average in July.

For what it’s worth, Bradley hit .273 in June but still has less RBI (17) than Bill Hall, Casey McGehee, and Jason Kendall.  To put his year in perspective, Aramis Ramirez had 16 RBI in his first 18 games before injuring himself.

As a team, the Cubs are batting .216 with runners in scoring position which is easily dead last in the MLB, but also rank just 23rd in at bats with RISP.

For a team that has struck out 580 times this year, the Cubs also have the worst batting average in the league when behind in the count (.173).

The woes of the offense have been exposed this year and because of financial restrictions, benching or sending down everyday players just isn’t an option.

Players like Micah Hauffpauir and Jake Fox have seen inconsistent at bats because of it and their progress has been flawed some because of it.

For as much as the North Siders have struggled on offense, the Brewers’ starting pitching has been almost as bad.  When C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets bolted for free agency, the one unit that needed to step up was the starters.

Yovani Gallardo’s time has arrived and can now be considered the ace of the staff as he sports an 8-5 record with a 2.75 ERA, 114 strikeouts, and a .193 BAA.

Unfortunately for the Brewers, Gallardo will not face the Cubs after going up against the Mets on Wednesday.

On the year, Brewers starting pitching ranks 25th in all of baseball with a 4.88 ERA and has walked 183 batters, fourth most in the majors.

After a stellar month of April and half of May that saw the starters lead the league in quality starts, Manny Parra has been sent down, Dave Bush is now on the DL and the pitching is in shambles.

Seth McClung, set to pitch the opener of the series, will make his second start since coming out of the bullpen to take Bush’s place in the rotation.

McClung was on a 75-80 pitch count in his first start this year (he ended up throwing 77 in four innings) as he works to stretch his arm out as a starter.

He has been one of the better pitchers in the bullpen this year, but questions arise whether moving him to the rotation will throw off his rhythm.

He will make his first career start against the Cubs, where as a reliever he is 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 appearances against Chicago.

While McClung has not contributed to the starting rotation’s poor stats this year, Braden Looper sure has.  Looper has been extremely inconsistent this year but has found himself pitching well against poor offensive teams.

However, Looper has struggled mightily on the road with a 2-3 record and a 6.67 ERA, compared to a 4-1 record and 4.03 ERA at Miller Park.

In his first start of the year, Looper pitched five innings of one-run ball against the Cubs in a game the Brewers would win 4-3.

It will be evident very early which Looper Brewers’ fans are going to see and, with a 6.06 ERA in June, it might not be the one they want.

Jeff Suppan showed signs of a turnaround early in June with four straight starts pitching five or more innings and giving up less than three runs.

However, his last three starts have been just as bad, giving up 12 runs in 16.2 innings, going 0-2.  One thing going for the Brewers is that Suppan is 4-1 away from Miller Park, but is 0-2 against the Cubbies this year with a 7.45 ERA.

The Brewers are really counting on Suppan to turn things around as a second workhorse will be necessary as August and September come upon us.

The struggles for each team will collide starting tomorrow, and something is going to give for one of them.  The Brewers will look for more consistency from their pitching while the Cubs continue to try to get on the right track from the plate.

Odds say the Brewers’ pitching is more likely to come around because it has been there.

Aramis Ramirez will be a huge lift for the Cubs’ lineup, but until he comes back it will be more of the same in Wrigley.  However, if there was a series for the North Siders to get back on track, this would be it.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , | 1 Comment

My Take: The National League All Star Team to Date

The Starters

Catcher: Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants

Molina leads all catchers in the National League with ten home runs and 36 RBI’s and is one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He has commanded a great pitching staff to go along with his offensive numbers and has the Giants flying under the radar.

First Base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

This is about as big of a no-brainer as you can have here in taking Pujols. While there are other first basemen having great years, Pujols gets the job done everywhere and is putting up ridiculous numbers with 23 home runs and 58 runs driven in, all while batting .323.

Surprise, Surprise: Albert Pujols will be starting at first base for the NL All Stars.

Surprise, Surprise: Albert Pujols will be starting at first base for the NL All Stars.

Second Base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

Utley is also a pretty easy choice here at second base as no one can match his power numbers on offense (15 home runs) and amazing on-base percentage (.490). He does a little bit of everything on offense but has been a little shaky on defense this year with five errors.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

While the popularity contest is holding strong with Jimmy Rollins leading the votes here, Ramirez is putting together a great year that can not go unnoticed. I have seen him play two series against the Brewers this year and he has been unbeatable.

Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets

While his power numbers are down (just four home runs), Wright is batting .357 and has stolen a ridiculous 18 bases this year. He has been keeping the up-and-down Mets afloat so far and, in my book, slightly edges out Ryan Zimmerman for the starting nod.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Braun is quietly putting up outstanding numbers that have been overshadowed by Prince Fielder’s MVP-type first half. For the year, Braun has hit 14 home runs and 46 RBI’s while batting .318.

Outfield: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies

PED accusations or not, Ibanez has put up monster numbers and, despite going on the DL today, is a sure-fire starter in this year’s All-Star Game. The Phillies’ fans crazy voting numbers and Ibanez’s 21 home runs and 57 RBI’s are a pretty good combo to get a starting nod.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets

After Braun and Ibanez, the third spot in the outfield is up in the air. In the actual fan voting, Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino and even Manny Ramirez are keeping pace with Beltran, but it’s hard to argue against what Beltran has done this year. As always, the five tool center fielder is putting up great numbers and should start in the Midsummer Classic.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

Cain has been dominating this year with a 9-1 record and a 2.39 ERA. While his strikeout numbers aren’t great and he walks a fair amount of batters, he finds ways to get outs and win ballgames. In his starts this year, the Giants are 10-3.

Pitcher: Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

Billingsley has struggled as of late but still continues to be the workhorse for the Dodgers pitching staff. He has posted a 9-3 record with an ERA under three and also struck out over a batter per inning.

Pitcher: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks

Haren might be the best pitcher with a 5-4 record on the planet, as he boasts a 2.20 ERA and has walked 13 batters in 90 innings. His WHIP stands at 0.81 (no one in the NL has a WHIP under 1.00) and in his four losses, his offense has scored two runs while Haren has given up seven.

Absolutely no one has stopped Matt Cain this year, making him the starting pitcher for the NL.

Absolutely no one has stopped Matt Cain this year, making him the starting pitcher for the NL.

Pitcher: Johan Santana, New York Mets

As bad as his last outing was against the Yankees, Santana is still a sure-fire all star this year. He has struck out 94 batters in just 82 innings while winning eight games already. I’ve mentioned this stat before, but in Santana’s first two losses, he gave up a combined zero earned runs.

Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

Gallardo has really stepped up his game this year and has become the ace of the first place Brewers. He sports a 7-3 record with a 2.93 ERA and opponents are batting just .193 against him, good for fourth in the National League. Command has been an issue as of late but he has also struck out 85 batters this year.

Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets

K-Rod has been just as good this year as he was last year and, outside of the number of saves, one could argue he has been better. He has 17 saves on the year with just one blown and sports a 0.56 ERA in 32.1 innings.

Relief Pitcher: Heath Bell, San Diego Padres

When Trevor Hoffman bolted to Milwaukee in the off-season, the biggest question was how the Padres would replace the all-times saves leader. Well, Bell has been every bet as good as Hoffman was and earns his first All Star appearance because of it. He leads the NL with 18 saves and a 1.56 ERA.

Relief Pitcher: Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers

Despite missing the first month of the season with a rib injury, Hoffman is still at the top of the leaderboard with 17 saves and a 1.31 ERA. Despite being shaky as of late (a loss and a blown save in his last two appearances), Hoffman has walked just three batters in 20.1 innings and has blown just the one save.

The Back-Ups

Backup Catcher: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

McCann leads all National League catchers with a .325 batting average and has six homers on the year to go with 25 RBI’s. These numbers are even more impressive considering he has missed a decent amount of time with injury this year.

Backup First Baseman: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

An easy choice here as Fielder is as close to a starting nod over Pujols as anyone ever has been. He leads the Major Leagues with 64 RBI’s and is batting over .300 with 16 home runs. After Ibanez, Fielder is next in line in the MVP talks.

Backup Second Baseman: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

Phillips is enjoying a nice year just as long as he keeps his mouth closed (stated the Reds were better than the Brewers after being swept by them…) and is a solid choice as a reserve. He is batting .280 this year with ten home runs, 43 RBI’s and eight stolen bases.

Backup Shortstop: Miguel Tejada, Houston Astros

Where is this Miguel Tejada coming from? On the year, the 35-year-old veteran is batting .342 with six home runs and an NL shortstop-leading 37 RBI’s. His defense is down but his bat has all but mad up for it this year.

Backup Third Baseman: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

It would be an understatement to say Zimmerman is the bright spot on a rather dark season for the Nats. Zimmerman has hit 12 home runs this year and leads all third basemen with 42 RBI’s. Zimmerman will easily be the lone rep for Washington.

Backup Outfielder: Nate McClouth, Atlanta Braves

While he is not getting much love from the fan vote, McClouth is putting together an outstanding year. For some reason, the Pirates did not want his ten home runs, 36 RBI’s, nine stolen bases, and gold glove defense. The All-Star roster should suit him just fine this year.

Backup Outfielder: Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies

Say what you will about Coors Field, Hawpe is having a fantastic year and deserves to play in the All-Star Game. At .343, Hawpe leads the National League in batting and also has nine home runs and 47 RBI’s to go with it. His 23 doubles also lead the National League.

Everyone talks about Manny in LA's outfield, but Matt Kemp is putting together a great year.

Everyone talks about Manny in LA's outfield, but Matt Kemp is putting together a great year.

Backup Outfielder: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Somewhat of a sleeper pick here, but I love Kemp’s game and believe that he is an All Star this year. He has put his whole repertoire in front of the national spotlight and the results have been eight home runs, 37 RBI’s, 16 stolen bases and a .316 batting average. Kemp ranks first or second in all of those categories for center fielders.

Reserves

Best of the Rest: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

Apologies to Adrian Gonzalez, but I give the nod to Howard in this case. Maybe it’s that he got hot too early in the voting or that he plays on the west coast, but I like Howard’s game more and think he deserves this spot. Howard has 19 home runs and 51 RBI’s on the year, so this selection isn’t terribly biased.

Best of the Rest: Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Every team must be represented in the All Star Game, and since Nate McClouth no longer sports the black and gold, Sanchez gets in as the lone representative. On the year, Sanchez is hitting his usual .314 with an on-base percentage of .355 with 36 runs scored.

Best of the Rest: Orlando Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers

While Hudson has cooled off somewhat, his statline this year has been very solid and has earned himself a spot on the roster. His .310 batting average to go along with a .388 on-base percentage has kept the Dodgers offense rolling without Manny Ramirez. He also sports a .987 fielding percentage, good for third in the NL.

Best of the Rest: Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs

I have become a huge fan of the North Sider southpaw and he is deserving of an all-star spot this year. At 7-4, he has led one of the best rotations in baseball with a 2.94 ERA and just 20 walks in 85.2 innings.

Best of the Rest: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

Although he has been overshadowed by Cain’s dominating stuff this year, Lincecum has done more than hold his own with a 6-2 record and 112 strikeouts in 96 innings to lead the National League.

Adrian Gonzalez might make the All Star team, but is he really better than Ryan Howard?

Adrian Gonzalez might make the All Star team, but is he really better than Ryan Howard?

Best of the Rest: Jason Marquis, Colorado Rockies

Pitching in Colorado is never easy but Marquis has stepped up to the challenge and done an excellent job. While his numbers are better away from Coors Field, he still has eight wins on the year with an ERA under four.

Best of the Rest: Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins

Johnson might be one of the best pitchers that no one talks about, sporting a 6-1 record with an impressive 2.76 ERA. The Marlins are 11-3 when Johnson takes the hill, and the tall right hander owns a 2.02 ERA at home.

Best of the Rest: Jonathon Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

Broxton has been crazy good this year with a 6-0 record to go along with 16 saves. The flame thrower has struck out 53 batters in 33 innings, meaning that over half of his outs recorded come by strikeouts.

Fan Vote-In: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton, May’s Player of the Month, has been very good this year on an average D-Backs squad. The 21-year-old is batting .308 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI’s and has scored 40 times on the year. He also has four triples and an on-base percentage close to .400 (.391).

Sorry!

Apologies To: Juan Pierre (LAD), Pablo Sandoval (SF), Shane Victorino (PHI), Adrian Gonzalez (SD), Zach Duke (PIT), Johnny Cueto (CIN), Adam Wainwright (STL), Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)

June 18, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , | Leave a comment

Each Team’s Flaws in the National League Central

As of today, the National League Central is the closest division in all of baseball as all six teams are within four and a half games of first place. Leading the way are the Milwaukee Brewers with a 35-29 record followed by the Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Pirates, and finally the Astros. As we are about a third of the way into the season, each team in the division has a flaw that will need to be fixed if they are to have a shot at winning the division.

Milwaukee Brewers, 35-29, First Place

Flaw: Starting Pitching

What’s Wrong: Yovani Gallardo has pitched very well this year and has picked up the slack that the rest of the rotation has failed to do. With a 6-3 record, the 24-year-old has the best record on the staff and has been dubbed the team’s ace.

However, after Gallardo things become extremely foggy as to who will step up for the Brewers. The rest of the rotation (including the recently demoted Manny Parra) has a 16-18 record with a 5.42 ERA. As a whole, the rotation ranks 22nd in innings pitched and 23rd in ERA. While some of the blame for the fluctuated stats can be blamed on Parra, the starters have not been good at all as of late.

Dave Bush started the year off very well and looked like a number two pitcher the Brewers could rely on, but recently has struggled mightily and not given the innings expected of him.

The Brewers’ bullpen ranks third in ERA and if it were not for their lights out performance this year, the Brewers would be a .500 team at best. Also, their offense continues to be led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who leads the National League in RBI.

How To Fix It: The Brewers sent Parra to AAA Nashville last week and, with two off days in the near future, will not need a fifth starter until June 27th. It is not clear whether or not he will rejoin the team when his turn in the rotation comes around, but he is just the beginning of the problem.

Trade rumors have been swirling all over the place involving J.J. Hardy or Corey Hart going to the American League for pitching, but that is more than likely not going to be the case. As for the starters on the team, they need to start throwing strikes and pitching longer. Their starters rank fourth in the league in walks allowed and, as said above, are not pitching late into ballgames.

Jeff Suppan will be key for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch.

Jeff Suppan will be key for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch.

Jeff Suppan has settled down after a rough start and Braden Looper is slowly becoming more consistent. It is almost a matter of time before the bullpen can not keep covering up the below-average starting pitching.

Seth McClung might be asked to move to the rotation when a fifth starter is needed, and last year he fared decently in his new role. With no option in the minors (other than Parra), it will be very interesting to see which route general manager Doug Melvin takes to fixing the fifth spot in the rotation.

Can It Be Fixed?: Fortunately, the woes of the starting rotation look like they can be fixed. Gallardo continues to impress and give the Brewers a great chance of winning every five days.

The rest of the rotation will need to continue to throw strikes and not give up free passes, something that every starter (OK, maybe not Parra) is capable of doing. If a trade were to occur, it would almost certainly fix the problems for the rotation, but Milwaukee’s top offense might suffer.

St. Louis Cardinals, 34-30, Second Place

Flaw: Offense outside of Albert Pujols

What’s Wrong: For as many years as slugger Albert Pujols has been in the majors, he has been one of the top hitters in the game. Many argue he is the best and I would be one in his corner on that argument. This year has been no different, as the 29-year-old has a .324 batting average, 22 home runs, 57 RBI, 50 runs scored, and an OPS of 1.131, all leading the team.

Manager Tony LaRussa has never had to worry about the third spot in his lineup, but the rest of the order has been an issue this year. As a team, the Cardinals rank 22nd in batting average with a .254 mark. Not counting Pujols, they have one everyday player hitting over .280 and just two players that have hit more than four home runs.

Even with Pujols in the lineup, the Cardinals’ offense has been average at best this year.

How To Fix It: From an offensive standpoint, no team in the league has been hit harder with injury than the Cardinals. Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel, two of St. Louis’ best hitters, have both missed significant time with injuries and the offense has clearly struggled because of it. Both have since returned to action but still do not seem fully comfortable in the lineup just yet.

In other spots, Troy Glaus has yet to play this year recovering from shoulder surgery and Khalil Greene has done nothing while battling anxiety-related problems. The Cardinals need to fix this problem by getting and staying healthy because, as good as their rookies have been filling in, the offense (and no offense for that matter) can not survive with all these injuries.

Pujols will continue to hit like he always has but the rest of the lineup will need to step up. This also means being more selective at the plate, as the Cardinals rank 22nd in walks and 21st in on-base percentage.

Can It Be Fixed?: Last year’s Cardinals team was pretty much the same and ranked 12th in runs scored, so the ability to score runs is there. Ankiel and Ludwick need to start hitting and get the Cardinals back to last year’s form.

As good as the Cards’ pitching has been, the lack of support from the offense has kept them from pulling away in the division. Glaus, who hit 27 home runs and drove in 99 runs last year, could be the X-factor in the lineup when he eventually comes back.

Cincinnati Reds, 31-31, Third Place

Flaw: Hitting for average

What’s Wrong: On paper, the Reds have a very good ballclub and were the darkhorse to contend for the NL Central this year. However, very little of that potential has carried over and the Reds stand at .500, a place that they should be very happy to be at. Their pitching has been outstanding this year as they hold a 3.89 team ERA, but the offense has struggled mightily.

As a rookie, Jay Bruce enjoyed a fantastic season hitting 21 home runs and driving in 52 in just 108 games last year. This year, the story has been much different as Bruce is batting just .213 with an on-base percentage of .298. While he has 15 home runs already, the Reds were expecting him to be more than an Adam Dunn replica (Bruce has 49 strikeouts in 60 games).

Paul Janish and Ryan Hanigan are the only position players batting above .275, but neither have an on-base percentage over .400. If the pitching falters even just a hair in games, the Reds have a tough time staying in ballgames.

How To Fix It: The main problem for the Reds has been the loss of second-year first baseman Joey Votto. On the year, Votto is hitting .357 with 45 hits in just 32 games. However, he has missed the last 15 games for the Reds while he battles stress-related problems.

Because of the seriousness of his condition, there is no timetable for his return and the Reds have moved on without him for now. At the time of his injury, he led the National League in hitting and was a huge key to the Reds’ success. Without him, their offense has struggled mightily and will continue to do so until he comes back.

The Reds have to hope that Jay Bruce can turn things around and that leadoff man Willy Taveras, who is mired in an 0-32 slump, can begin to hit again and help a pitching staff that has carried the team thus far.

Once Votto comes back, the lineup should be manageable and the number in the hit column should increase.

Can It Be Fixed?: Unlike the first two teams, it doesn’t seem like the Reds are ever going to hit for average. They place in a big-time hitter’s ballpark, so power numbers will always be up.

Unfortunately, for a team batting .243 on the year, it doesn’t matter how many home runs they hit. If the pitching continues to be stellar, they might be able to stay in the NL Central race, but I am not counting on it.

Chicago Cubs, 30-30, Fourth Place

Flaw: Offense

What’s Wrong: Heading into the year, the Cubs were the sure-fire frontrunners to win the NL Central. Not only did they score more runs than anyone in the National League, but they were also bringing in a big bat in Milton Bradley that was only going to add to the offense.

The North Siders are wondering where Alfonso Soriano's bat has gone.

The North Siders are wondering where Alfonso Soriano's bat has gone.

Fast forward two and a half months and the Cubs’ hitting coach has been fired, the Cubs rank 26th in batting average, 28th in runs scored, 21st in slugging, and 8th in strikeouts. Not exactly what fans pictured entering the year to say the least. The Cubs’ starting pitching has been as good as anyone’s over the last month but the offense has failed to give them any help.

The Cubs have a 2.08 team ERA in the month of June and their record is 5-6…something is wrong with that. No starter on the Cubs has a batting average over .285 and Derrek Lee leads the team with 27 RBI.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder had 31 RBI in the month of May. Simply put, the team is not hitting and until they do, they will struggle as a team.

How To Fix It: Like Cincinnati, the Cubs are also missing their best hitter in Aramis Ramirez. When he was injured May 8th against the Brewers, he had a team-high .364 batting average with four home runs and 16 RBI’s in 18 games. He is expected to miss time up until the All-Star Break and a week or two after that, but the Cubs desperately need him back.

Leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano has seen his batting average drop to .229, Kosuke Fukudome’s is down to .266, and Geovany Soto, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is batting just .223.

There really is no remedy or something that the Cubs can be doing to improve their hitting other than putting the ball in play. Soriano will come around soon enough and Lee has heated up in a big way to keep the offense alive.

Fukudome should see his numbers stay around where they are right now and as for Soto, the sophomore slump has hit him extremely hard.

The Cubs proved that they are not deep enough to survive an injury like Ramirez’s and until he comes back, the offense will struggle. When he comes back, hopefully the protection he gives to hitters in front of him will pay off.

Can They Fix It?: The Cubs offense is not getting any younger and it seems like their offense’s window of opportunity is closing faster than general manager Jim Hendry expected it to. Slumps will happen over the course of a 162 game season but there might be reason to worry in Chicago if this constant struggle continues.

A re-evaluation will be necessary when Ramirez comes back, because the offense is completely different with him in it.

Pittsburgh Pirates, 30-33, Fifth Place

Flaw: Batting for Power

What’s Wrong: Most of the time, a team that whose main problem is hitting for power would not seem like a huge deal. However, with the Pirates it is a definite problem and one that needs to be addressed.

On the year, the Pirates have hit just 36 home runs as a team and are slugging .392 as a team. They actually rank 15th in the league in extra-base hits, but power is still an issue. Adam LaRoche leads the team with eight home runs and only one other player, Freddy Sanchez, has hit more than five homers.

The Pirates also recently traded away their best power hitter in Nate McLouth who has nine home runs on the year. While it seems that the Pirates are below average in just about every category, their inability to hit the long ball makes it very hard for them to come back in games when they trail.

They rank 11th in the majors in batting average but just 18th in runs scored.

How To Fix It: For a team that is having trouble hitting for power, trading away your team leader in home runs was an interesting start. As always, the Pittsburgh front office explained how they were trying to build a championship team and not a .500 team.

Nate McLouth was the Pirates' best option for power.

Nate McLouth was the Pirates' best option for power.

After a while, fans get tired of hearing this because nothing ever pans out for the Pirates. A way to fix this power outage would be to make a trade at the deadline that would provide a big bat in the middle of the lineup, but it seems like there is no way that happens.

It’s hard to think of the last time the Pirates were buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

Can They Fix It?: Pittsburgh ranked 21st in home runs last year with 153 round trippers, but that was also including McClouth’s 26 homers.

Last year’s rank does indicate that there is room to believe this team can start hitting for more power, but the question is whether or not that will be enough to compete in the NL Central. There are more flaws here than just power that also need to addressed.

Houston Astros, 29-32, Sixth Place

Flaw: Age

What’s Wrong: The Houston Astros, at 30.4 years old, have the oldest team in the major league. While it might be confusing to see this as a flaw, it’s more of a problem than a flaw.

Year in and year out, the Astros have a great team on paper with a lineup that includes Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, and Hunter Pence. Even Michael Bourn has done an excellent job this year and stepped up into a lineup that should produce. In the rotation, Roy Oswalt is always a reliable starter and Wandy Rodriguez has finally broken through as a top lefty in the game.

However, the pitching staff ranks 23rd in innings pitched and, outside of Michael Bourn, they have stolen just 21 bases.

How Do They Fix It: It’s impossible to fix being the oldest team in the league without trading for younger players, but that is what the Astros have been rumored to be doing. Tejada has been rumored to a few teams including the Cardinals, who have some of the best young players with a ton of potential.

The ‘Stros need some youth and rejuvenation to their team that they clearly are not getting with their current lineup. Until they do that, they will always be in the mix but run out of gas at the end of the year.

An old team will do that to you and that is exactly where the Astros stand.

Can They Fix It?: The Astros realize that, despite being just 4.5 games out of first place, they probably are not contenders in the NL Central this year.

Because of that, they are looking to get younger by putting Tejada on the trading block in return for some youngsters. If they can hit on a few draft picks and develop some young pitchers, the outlook is bright for them.

As for this year, Tejada has been their best hitter so getting younger will come with a price in that sense. Still, depending on who they get back it might give them that energy that they need to make a push.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | Leave a comment

Final MLB Mock Draft 1.0

1. Washington Nationals: Steven Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State

Pretty much a consensus here as the pressure is now on Strasburg to become the next big thing and not the next big Mark Prior.

2. Seattle Mariners: Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, North Carolina

Rumor is Ackley isn’t a sure thing here because of his signability issues, but it would be hard for the Mariners to pass on him here.

3. San Diego Padres: Donovan Tate, CF, Cartersville H.S. (GA)

Tate is the sure thing in terms of signing but RHP Aaron Crow is a potential option here, with signability again being a factor.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Aaron Crow, RHP, Fort Worth Cats (MO)

Crow was the ninth overall pick in the Rule Four Draft for the Nationals last year but decided not to sign.  If he asks for more than he did last year, he will be very hard to sign but is worth it if a deal can get done.

5. Baltimore Orioles: Zach Wheeler, RHP, East Paulding H.S. (GA)

The Orioles have been high on Wheeler for a while now and will most likely be the pick here.  He has a few pitches above average and probably has the best “stuff” of all high school pitchers.

6. San Francisco Giants: Tyler Matzak, LHP, Capistrano Valley H.S. (CA)

Matzak is probably my favorite pitcher in the draft and has a chance to be very good in the pros.  He already has a four pitch repitoire and has all the mechanics that big league ballclubs are looking for.

Don't be surprised if Tyler Matzek is the next big thing.

Don't be surprised if Tyler Matzek is the next big thing.

7. Atlanta Braves: Alex White, RHP, North Carolina

White has been linked to the Braves on multiple occasions and is a safe bet to go here.  White relies on his off-speed pitch too often and will have to have more confidence in his fastball as he progresses.

8. Cincinnati Reds: Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Fresno State

Sheppers is the biggest red flag in the draft as injury concerns linger with the 6’4″ righty.  However, if the Reds take him and he avoids injury he could be the steal of the draft.

9. Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner, RHP, Westminster Christian Academy

Like White to the Braves, Turner has been linked with the Tigers for a while.  They are also looking at Sheppers, but he is gone in this mock draft.  Turner probably has the best fastball in the draft.

10. Washington Nationals: Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt

Minor is the next biggest major-league ready pitcher after Strasburg, and the Nats have to be happy to leave the top ten with two pitchers that can be ready to go in probably a year.

11. Colorado Rockies: Matt Hobgood, RHP, Norco H.S. (CA)

This might be a little early for Hobgood, but Colorado is looking at pitching and likes Hobgood here.  He is one of the biggest pitchers in the draft and has powering stuff for a high school kid.

12. Kansas City Royals: Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College

The Royals are looking at a bunch of names so this pick is really up in the air, but Sanchez is the best catcher this year and is a position that they need to upgrade.

13. Oakland Athletics: Grant Green, SS, Southern California

Some think that Green will move to third base and this would make sense for the Athletics as he could be the future there.  Even so, he is a great bat anywhere that he plays and makes sense for the Athletics here.

14. Texas Rangers: Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State

Leake is a value pick here for the Rangers who are looking at a bunch of players.  It has been reported that if Crow or Sheppers fall due to the concerns, Texas could be a landing spot for either of the two.

15. Cleveland Indians: Eric Arnett, RHP, Indiana

Arnett is a long pitcher that used to be a basketball player for the Hoosiers.  His name has been linked in Cleveland and is not too far away from the majors.  Cleveland will definitely look at a pitcher here.

16. Arizona Diamondbacks: Bobby Borchering, 3B/OF,Bishop Verot H.S. (FL)

Borchering has been linked to the D-Backs for a while and gives them a good bat at the hot corner.  With back-to-back picks in the first round here, they can get a couple of quality players.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks: Tyler Skaggs, RHP, Santa Monica H.S. (CA)

Skaggs is an interesting that has a lot of upside for the D-Backs if they choose to take him here.  They are also looking at a lot of other players with this pick, so it is a mystery who will be taken.

18. Florida Marlins: Chad James, LHP, Yukon H.S. (OK)

James has been linked to the Marlins but there is a rumor that he will demand a large signing bonus that could scare off teams.  There are a couple of lefties still available that the Marlins could take a look at if James isn’t their guy.

19. St. Louis Cardinals: Rex Brothers, LHP, Lipscomb

It is well known that the Cards are looking for a lefty pitcher in the draft, and Brothers has as much upside as any pitcher.  He throws a mid 90’s fastball with a very good slider that he can get over the plate.

USC shortstop Grant Green might be moved to third base in the big leagues.

USC shortstop Grant Green might be moved to third base in the big leagues.

20. Toronto Blue Jays: Kyle Heckathorn, RHP, Kennesaw State

Toronto will more than likely go for a value pick here and I think Heckathorn is the best pitcher left in the draft.  He needs to work on command and control but has the body to be a workhorse and already throws two good pitches.

21. Houston Astros: Chad Jenkins, RHP, Kennesaw State

Teammates go off the board back-to-back here as the Astros go with Jenkins.  He has been taken earlier in other mocks but I think right here fits him well.  The ‘Stros have not been linked to any players and might go with a position player if a value pitcher is not there.

22. Minnesota Twins: Kyle Gibson, RHP, Missouri

If Gibson’s medicals clear, Gibson will be a steal here for the the Twins.  They have selected a high school outfielder two years running so look for them to go with a pitcher this year in the first round.

23. Chicago White Sox: Everett Williams, CF, McCallum H.S. (TX)

Williams is small but has a lot of upside to him that the Sox will take a good hard look at.  They might go with a college arm but the better bet is that they take the potential pick with Williams.

24. Los Angeles Angels: Drew Storen, RHP, Stanford

Storen might be able to become a starter despite being a reliever for the Cardinal, and with back-to-back picks in the first round, the Angels will likely take a pitcher.

25. Los Angeles Angels: Reymond Fuentes, OF, Fernando Callego H.S. (PR)

Fuentes is going to be a boom or bust pick but has all the upside in the world.  Despite his small frame, the nephew of Carlos Beltran has a chance to be something special if he gets a little bigger and hits for some power.

Reymond Fuentes, the nephew of Carlos Beltran, could be a special ballplayer one day.

Reymond Fuentes, the nephew of Carlos Beltran, could be a special ballplayer one day.

26. Milwaukee Brewers: Mike Trout, CF, Millville H.S. (NJ)

The Brewers would really like to get some pitching here, but there is a bit of a dropoff at this point in the draft.  Trout is very good value here for the Brewers who will look to build their farm system.  He excels at the plate and is good enough for now in the field.

27. Seattle Mariners: A.J. Pollock, CF, Notre Dame

Just like the Brew Crew, the Mariners are looking for a college pitcher ready to go but there are no good fits here.  Pollock is a good pick here that gives good value and a polished position player as the second first round pick for them.

28. Boston Red Sox: Max Stassi, C, Yuba City H.S. (CA)

The Red Sox ultimately would like to get some help in the outfield, but the crop of college talent will more than likely be gone at this point, leaving the Bo Sox to take the next best option, which is Stassi.

29. New York Yankees: Slade Heathcott, CF, Texas H.S. (TX)

Heathcott has been scouted by the Yankees very hard and is a likely bet to come off the board here.  He has great tools but off the field concerns might scare some teams away.

30. Tampa Bay Rays: Jiovanni Miller, SS, Bonita H.S. (CA)

Like the Red Sox, they hope an outfielder is available but will go with the next best option as well.  Miller could go earlier in the draft but if he makes it to the Rays, there is a shot they swipe him up.

31. Chicago Cubs: Brett Jackson, OF, California

Of the players the Cubs are interested in, Jackson is only possibility to be left when the Cubs pick at 31.  Jackson has shown flashes of potential and with some coaching could be a good pick here for the Cubbies.

32. Colorado Rockies: Randal Grichuk, OF, Lamar Consolidation H.S. (TX)

After taking a pitcher with their first selection, the Rockies go ahead and take a position player with some good upside in Grichuk.  He has been having good workouts for teams and could find his name slip into the first round if he is lucky.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, MLB Draft, St. Louis Cardinals | , , | Leave a comment

What Was Lou Piniella Thinking Last Night?

Last night, the Chicago Cubs fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field for their eighth straight loss.  Ryan Dempster, Chicago’s starting pitcher was roughed up for six runs in just four innings of work.  In the bottom half of the inning, Bobby Scales pinch-hit for Dempster and flew out to right field.

That’s where things got interesting.

Relief pitcher Jose Ascanio came in to pitch the top of the fifth inning where he was due up fourth in the next inning. Ascanio had a rough inning, giving up three straight one out-hits before getting out of the jam.

Lou Piniella probably should have done more managing than arguing last night.

Lou Piniella probably should have done more managing than arguing last night.

In the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs up one, Micah Hoffpauir walked to lead off the inning.  Piniella then had Ryan Freel, batting in the seven spot, sacrifice Hoffpauir over to second for the out.

What that says is Piniella had confidence in Aaron Miles and all 204 points of batting average to get the job done and drive in a run.  He was batting a survivable .263 against lefties but is just 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position this year.  Five pitches later, Miles was heading back to the bench with a big “K” next to his name in the scorebook.

Next up, relief pitcher Jose Ascanio. Wait, what?  During the game, there was a rumor that starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano was supposed to bat but for whatever reason did not.  Seriously?

With healthy players Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome on the bench, Ascanio walked up to the plate for the second at-bat of his career.  Two pitches later, Jack Wilson had a can of corn in his shopping basket and the inning was over.

But that’s not the worst part.  Coming out to pitch the top of the sixth was lefty Neal Cotts.  So let’s get this straight.  Jose Ascanio was allowed to bat with the a man on second but not the pitch the next inning.

The ONLY reason a manager with a brain would ever let a relief pitcher even hold a bat would be if they were scheduled to pitch the next inning.  I agree, Ascanio should not have pitched the sixth inning.  Cotts was the right man with four of the next five batters in the Pirates’ lineup being lefties.  Guess what?  Don’t let him hit then!

The fact that Tom Gorzelanny, a lefty, was in the game did not matter either.  Fukudome and Fontenot are both left-handed hitters but I would guess they are both better hitters than Ascanio.

Cotts wound up giving up three runs  in the top half of the inning to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead heading into the Cubs’ half of the sixth.

Fast forward to the bottom of the seventh inning with the score now 10-7 Pittsburgh.  The Cubs struck for a run after a two out-RBI single by Ryan Freel and, after an Aaron Miles hit, the pitcher’s spot was up again.

Pinch-hitting for the Cubs, pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Huh?  Let’s stop for a moment and break down Carlos Zambrano as a hitter.  He is a career .239 hitter with 17 home runs.

He also has 184 whiffs in 553 career plate appearances.  What that means is Big Z strikes out once every three times he steps to the plate.  He also has just six walks in those plate appearances, meaning there was a 92:1 chance that Zambrano would load the bases for leadoff man Alfonso Soriano.

Most of the times Zambrano comes to the plate, he is a starting pitcher batting ninth in a tough lineup.  He is going to pretty much get straight fastballs because no pitcher wants to walk the pitcher to get to the leadoff spot.  This was a situation with two men on and two men out in a two-run ballgame.  A little different, don’t you think?

In reality, Carlos Zambrano is no more than a below average pinch-hitter.

In reality, Carlos Zambrano is no more than a below average pinch-hitter.

Once again, Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome were still on the bench waiting to be used.  Hell, Koyie Hill could have been used if they wanted to roll the dice on that.

Zambrano struck out to end the seventh and the Cubs went on to lose the game two innings later.  When he comes into the game, Zambrano gets the crowd going and is fun to watch.

But when it comes to getting tallies in the win column, Lou Piniella made a couple of flat-out dumb moves last night that may have cost his team their first win in eight tries.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , | 9 Comments

Cubs and Brewers: All That Different?

Alright everyone, get your payroll jokes and your “Where’s your World Series Championship trophy?” jokes out of your system before you start reading.  Yes, since the Milwaukee Brewers came to be in 1969, they have not won a World Series and have won just a single pennant in that span.  And of course, living north of Chicago, we all know the Cubs are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  “Wrigley North” is a cute little joke for Cubbies fans who drive up to Miller Park to watch the Cubs play, even though they are jealous that we have a giant “TV” in center field that most 21st century stadiums call a jumbo-tron.  But enough on that and the jokes that Brewers fans take when they talk to Cubs fans.  My question is this: are the Brewers quickly closing the gap on Chicago’s loveable losers?

The Cubs opened the 2009 season with the third highest payroll in baseball at $134,809,000, good for second in the National League behind the New York Mets.  The Brewers on the other hand, began the year with a payroll of $80,182,502, good for 8th in the National League and 16th in the Majors.  So much does does $54,626,498 buy?  Apparently not a whole lot.  I went ahead and broke down each position from both teams to see where this $54 million is being spent.

Catcher

Cubs: Geovany Soto, .188 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 0-5 SB, 4.84 CERA, $575,000

Brewers: Jason Kendall, .222 BA, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 4-17 SB, 4.19 CERA, $5,000,000

Geovany Soto is by far the better catcher than Jason Kendall and comes at a cheaper price.  The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has not done much at the plate this year and has failed to throw out a baserunner, but odds say that he will come around as the season progresses.  Behind the plate, Kendall gets the easy nod.  Talked about as one of the best catchers to pitch for in the league, Kendall calls a great game and has really improved his defense.  Still, based on the belief that Soto will turn things around, he gets the easy nod over Kendall. *CERA = Catcher’s ERA

First Base

Cubs: Derek Lee, .194 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 0 E, 2.948 ZR, $13, 250,000

Brewers: Prince Fielder, .273 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 0 E, 2.957 ZR, $7,000,000

Prince Fielder has become a much more complete player this year.

Prince Fielder has become a much more complete player this year.

I know Cubs fans love their man Derek Lee, but the fact of the matter is Prince Fielder has overtaken him in line behind Albert Pujols for the next best first baseman in the Central.  Lee has been awful at the plate this year and, at 34 years of age, this might be a sign more than a slump.  As for Fielder, he is finally putting some batting average to add to his early season RBI total.  He ranks third in the National League in RBI’s and, surprisingly enough, has had better range than Lee in the field.  Fielder has trimmed some weight down and become much faster as well, and the results have showed. *ZR = Zone Rating, (The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive “zone,” as measured by STATS, Inc., via ESPN.com)

Second Base

Cubs: Mike Fontenot/Bobby Scales: .252 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 2 E, 4.16 RF, $430,000

Brewers: Rickie Weeks: .282, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 6 E, 4.77 RF, $2,450,000

A no-brainer here as Rickie Weeks has finally broken out this year for the Brew Crew.  After five years of mediocre play, Weeks has finally defined himself at the plate thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum and Willie Randolph.  Fontenot has been cold as of late and Scales is more of a fill-in than anything else.  One of the two will be optioned to AAA when Aramis Ramirez comes back, but either way Weeks is the easy choice here.  His defense is still shaky at times but he has made more great plays in the field and has covered a lot more ground then he did in the past. *RF = Range Factor, ((PO + A) * 9 divided by innings)

Shortstop

Cubs: Ryan Theriot: .297 BA, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 4 E, 3,32 RF, $500,000

Brewers: J.J. Hardy: .224 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 3 E, 4.02 RF, $4,650,000

Ryan Theriot might be the most important player in the Cubs' lineup.

Ryan Theriot might be the most important player in the Cubs' lineup.

Theriot is probably having a career year right now, while Hardy is breaking out of an early season slump (to put it nicely).  If Lou Piniella had a brain, Alfonso Soriano would be batting third and Theriot would be on base for him, rather than the other way around.  Theriot is a great slap hitter and while his defense is shaky and he doesn’t have a huge arm, it gets the job done.  Hardy is batting .359 in the month of May after a .156 April and has started to turn things around.  Both of these players are perfect for their lineups and I give this matchup a push due to Theriot’s numbers at the plate and Hardy’s performance in the field.

Third Base

Cubs: Aramis Ramirez: .364 BA, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 E, 9.279 ZR, $16,650,000

Brewers: Bill Hall: .278 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 3 E, 8.0 ZR, $6,925,000

While Bill Hall is having one of the best years of his career both in the field and at the plate, it’s hard to deny the best all around player on the Cubs the win here.  Ramirez, on the DL currently, was playing great baseball for the Cubbies and was keeping them afloat in the NL Central.  The loss of his bat in the lineup has been huge, but hopefully they can regain it sooner rather than later.  Willie Randolph has worked with Bill Hall in the field and it has really paid off for him.

Left Field

Cubs: Alfonso Soriano, .271 BA, 11 HR, 23 RBI, 4 A, 13.862 ZR, $17,000,000

Brewers: Ryan Braun, .322, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 1 A, 14.228 ZR, $1,032,500

Sorry Cubs fans, Braun is becoming one of the best left fielders in the game and it has showed this year.  It’s hardly a knock on Soriano who has had a great year thus far, but it’s hard to argue the numbers against Braun.  Both are pretty good in the field, with Soriano having more assists and a better arm but Braun having better range getting to balls.

Center Field

Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome, .340 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 2 A, 2.58 RF, $12,500,000

Brewers: Mike Cameron, .304 BA, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 2 A, 3.13 RF, $10,000,000

If I am going to give Geovany Soto the benefit of the doubt on improving, I have to do the opposite with Fukudome.  We have all seen this story before: Fukudome comes out on a tear and hits everything in sight.  If Fukudome keeps this up, I will retract my statements but I just don’t see it happening.  As for Cameron, he is having a career year at the plate and has played Gold Glove defense.  Cameron takes Fukudome in every stat but batting average, but Cameron’s .303 average is pretty good.  Advantage goes to Cameron here.

Mike Cameron is having a career year for the Brewers.

Mike Cameron is having a career year for the Brewers.

Right Field

Cubs: Milton Bradley, .194 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 1 A, 14.594 ZR, $7,000,000

Brewers: Corey Hart, .264 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 0 A, 14.293 ZR, $3,250,000

Something that wasn’t put in the stats was the fact that Hart is sixth in the National League with 27 runs scored.  Hart played 156 games last year and has only missed one game this year, due to rest.  Bradley has had a terrible start to the year and has already missed 14 games this year.  While he is currently riding a seven game hitting streak, Hart has done just fine and is playing better than Bradley.  Even if Bradley picks up his game, Hart will put up similar numbers.

Starting Pitching

Cubs: Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, $48,200,000

Brewers: Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Braden Looper, $22,340,000

Cubs: 16-8, 4.13 ERA, 188 SO, 73 BB, 1.29 WHIP

Brewers: 13-10, 4.24 ERA, 166 SO, 79 BB, 1.31 WHIP

There’s no question that the Cubs have the better starting rotation and it is the Cubs best argument to why they are better than the Brewers.  Gallardo is pitching the best of the ten starters mentioned above, but after that the Cubs probably take the next three or four starters before mentioning Dave Bush.  The Brewers lead the league in quality starts, and by no means have the Brewers starters been bad, but rather that the Cubs live and die by their starters.

Ted Lilly is enjoying an excellent start on the mound this year.

Ted Lilly is enjoying an excellent start on the mound this year.

Relief Pitching

Cubs: Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol, David Patton, Angel Guzman, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg

Brewers: Mark DiFelice, Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, Mitch Stetter, Carlos Villanueva, Trevor Hoffman

Cubs: 4-6, 5.21 ERA, 97 SO, 67 BB, 1.58 WHIP

Brewers: 8-4, 3.87 ERA, 87 SO, 46 BB, 1.31 WHIP

As good as the Cubs starters are compared to the Brewers, the opposite can be said when it comes to relief pitching.  Part of the reason the Brewers have been so good this year has been the work of the bullpen.  Mark DiFelice has been unhittable and Trevor Hoffman has eight saves on the year with a 0.00 ERA.  On the other hand, the Cubs two main bullpen pitchers have been less than stellar.  Carlos Marmol has a 4.24 ERA and has 17 walks in as many innings.  Kevin Gregg, the team’s closer, has been average with a 3.86 ERA and just six saves.

What It All Means

As much smack talk as Cubs fans would like to talk about the Brewers and how they will never compete, the fact of the matter is that Doug Melvin has assembled a team that is full of young, talented, and experienced players that are ready for the long haul this year.  The Cubs have a shot to win the NL Central, just as the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers do.  They are still one of the most talented teams and have one of the best rotation in the National League.  But the Brewers are putting the pieces together and seem to have finally arrived, and if they can stay healthy, a Division Championship is not out of the question.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , , | 2 Comments