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Come to Think of It…Cubs Bring Out the Brooms Against the Padres

12The Chicago Cubs completed a three game sweep of the San Diego Padres on Thursday, as their bats came alive in a 11-3 drubbing of the Fathers. Ryan Dempster pitched well, and hit well too. He allowed two runs and three hits over seven innings and got his first and second hits of the season.

In fact, there were several big hits in the game. Bobby Scales, who continues to write a good story, drove in four runs with two ringing doubles, his first coming in a five-run fifth, following Reed Johnson’s two-run double off the wall.

The Cubs drew 10 walks in the game. It was the first home sweep for the Cubs against the Pads in 10 years.

Former Cubs pitcher Chad Gaudin, started for the Padres and was chased with one out in the fifth, having issued seven walks. He only allowed one hit to the Cubs, but was removed after issuing three consecutive walks, His record fell to 0-3 on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…The Long and Short of Cubs Pitching This Spring

The spring training home for the Chicago Cubs

The spring training home for the Chicago Cubs

Only 21 days left until Opening Day, Cubs fans. With the seemingly never-ending spring training in full bloom in sunny Arizona, now is a good time to examine the potential roster for the 25-man club that will go north with the team.

Today, let’s take a look at the pitchers, since there is a little more uncertainty there than with the position players.

The Fifth Starter’s Competition Is All But Over

While Lou Piniella hasn’t made any official announcement, it seems clear that Sean Marshall has won the derby to be the fifth man in the Cubs rotation. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be in the bullpen to start the season, due to early off-days and rainouts (dare we say snow-outs?).

Marshall has had a good spring. He pitched into the fifth inning on Friday, allowing three hits and an unearned run (caused by his own error), and he has a 0.38 ERA for the spring.

Helping to make the decision easier is the fact that the other candidates have not exactly distinguished themselves.

With three off-days in April, it might be a good idea to let Marshall stay for an extended spring training, so he is stretched out and ready to go when they need that fifth starter.

So, barring anything unforeseen (such as an injury or unlikely trade), it appears that Marshall is the chosen one.

However, one of the odd men out may be…

Chad Gaudin

Gaudin has looked awful this spring and is out of options. In 1.2 innings on Friday, Gaudin allowed five hits and four walks. He is set to earn $2 million this year, but if the Cubs release him by Wednesday they will owe him only 30 days pay.

I think it would make sense for the Cubs to release Gaudin, as he appears to have nothing. Perhaps his crazy dumpster injury from last year is still bothering him, who knows?

They could try to trade Gaudin since his contract is relatively agreeable, but a 10.38 ERA in the spring won’t make him all that coveted.

If they release him, it would open a spot for…

Luis Vizcaino

Vizcaino hasn’t been real good this spring (a 5.39 ERA), but he is likely untradeable due to his relatively hefty contract. This, combined with his having thrown a little better on Friday, makes him a likely choice to fill a role in the Cubs bullpen.

Plus, he’s been better than…

Angel Guzman

Guzman was initially drafted by the Cubs and is back for second tour of duty with the club, but it’s likely to be his last. He has allowed eight earned runs in five innings this spring.

Based on how poorly he’s thrown, it would appear that Guzman is headed elsewhere (i.e., out of the organization). He’s out of options, and at 27 is no longer a prospect, so it looks like Guzman will be spreading his wings on another team this season.

One guy who certainly isn’t going anywhere is the young and talented…

Jeff Samardzija

It is clear that the Cubs organization wants “The Shark” to be a starting pitcher, so that likely means a trip to Iowa to begin the season.

Ah, but wait, not so fast. Here are Piniella’s comments on Samardzija:

“We are going to take the best pitchers north, so if Samardzija does not get the fifth spot, he will get all the consideration in the world in the bullpen,” Piniella said. “But let’s see how the organization feels. The organization has a say in that also. We’ll come up with the right conclusion. [Pitching coach Larry Rothschild] likes the improvement of his second and third pitches. And how you improve that the most is by starting and using him more. Usually when you come into a ballgame out of the bullpen, you rely on a couple of pitches.”

Samardzija has surrendered 10 hits and six earned runs in eight innings this spring, but he could still be a candidate for the bullpen if Gaudin is released. I believe the ‘pen is the best place for him at this time anyway.

However, given that the Cubs see him as a starter, it might make more sense to keep Samardzija stretched out at Iowa, so he could come up and fill in during the inevitable times when the fragile Rich Hardin can’t go.

But this one is still up in the air for now.

One bullpen spot that is not up in the air goes to…

Aaron Heilman

Heilman has pitched decently this spring, allowing nine hits but only two earned runs in 10 innings.

Aaron has appeared in four games, three of them as a starter, but his role is likely in the bullpen for the 2009 season.

Proving it’s good to pitch with your left hand is…

Neal Cotts

Unless Marshall starts the year in the bullpen, Cotts will be the lone lefty in the Cubs pen. He has pitched well in the spring, but it remains to be seen whether he can improve upon a shaky 2008 performance.

Keep an eye on a possible trade scenario if GM Jim Hendry decides he needs another southpaw in the pen or if Cotts struggles.

The closer may be…

Kevin Gregg

The battle for the closer’s job may be won by Gregg, though no announcement has been made.

Gregg was acquired from the Marlins in the offseason. He lost the closer’s job late in the season, more due to injury than poor performance. That said, he did blow the most saves in baseball in 2008.

But several of his blown saves occurred while he was suffering from a knee injury. Otherwise, his performance was fairly solid.

He has not allowed a run in five spring innings and is a lock to start the season as either the closer or main setup man.

No matter who the closer is, the Cubs best relief pitcher is…

Carlos Marmol

Marmol raised some eyebrows by pitching in the Dominican playoffs, then appearing in the WBC. Yet, Piniella said he would keep the closer derby open until Marmol returned, and he has. Marmol gave up a triple and hit two batters, but recovered by striking out two in a scoreless inning Saturday.

In terms of pure stuff, Marmol is an easy choice over Gregg. Over the past two seasons combined, he has a 2.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 12.06 K/9 ratio.

For his part, Marmol says all the right things.

“I don’t care. I’m glad to be on the team, and be on a good team,” he told the Chicago Tribune. ” It’s not my decision, it’s their decision. I pitch wherever they put me. I want to be a closer, but if they put me in the situation where I have to pitch the eighth, I’ll go out there. I want to help the team.”

Piniella has said he will decide by next weekend.

Another guy who is being counted on to help the team is…

Rich Harden

While Harden is obviously a lock for the rotation, one move the Cubs could make is to switch him and Sean Marshall in the 4/5 slot, in order to give Harden extra time to get ready for the season. Given his injury-prone nature, that might help make him stronger for later in the season.

Projected to start fourth behind Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and Ted Lilly, the Cubs have taken a cautious approach with Harden this spring. He didn’t make his first appearance until last Tuesday, but was sharp, allowing two hits and striking out one in two innings pitched.

In his second outing of the spring today, Harden walked three and allowed three runs in a third inning he couldn’t finish against the Diamondbacks, but he said afterward that it was “probably the best I’ve felt in a long time. I probably could have thrown 100 pitches today.”

There is no doubt as to how good Harden can be when healthy, as long as you can live with the fact that you’ll only get five innings out of him. With the Cubs in 2008, he was 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He says he wants to start 30 games this year, but Hendry wisely suggests 25 starts will be his best-case scenario.

Either way, keeping him healthy will be an arduous task for pitching coach Larry Rothschild again this season. A strong Rich Harden come October would go a long way toward postseason success for the Cubbies this year.

Knock on wood (not Kerry), but one starter whose health has been strong is…

Ryan Dempster

Despite Zambrano’s reputation, it was actually Dempster who was the Cubs ace last season.

The Cubs showed their commitment to Demp when they signed him to a four-year, $52M contract as a free agent this offseason. In return, Dempster showed his commitment to the team by deciding not to play for Canada in the WBC.

Dempster turns 32 this season, but has started only 195 games in his career, so he should have a lot left in the tank.

How many guys with a career losing record and a 4.55 ERA make $13 million per year? Well, in this case, it’s probably warranted after coming off of an impressive 2008 campaign (his shaky start in the playoffs notwithstanding). Dempster was 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA.

Dempster is 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in eight innings this spring.

He is unlikely to repeat his 2008 stat line this year, so the other Cubs starter will be expected to help pick up the slack, including…

Carlos Zambrano

The Cubs so-called “ace” will start on Opening Day for the fifth consecutive season. While battling little discussed shoulder problems and well known temper issues, Z hopes to bounce back from a 2008 performance that was, for him, somewhat shaky.

He has been decent this spring, with a 3.60 ERA in five innings, allowing four hits.

The Cubs will need him to be strong this year, but there is a steady rotation presence in…

Ted Lilly

Lilly did not allow a run in his two-inning start for the Cubs this spring. Despite a slow start in 2008, Lilly ended up 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA that was boosted by his penchant for surrendering the home run ball.

At 33, Lilly actually appears to be getting stronger, as evidenced by his strikeout rate, which was a career-best 8.09 per nine innings last season.

Other notable spring performances

Chad Fox, a 1.80 ERA in 5 innings; Jose Ascanio, no hits in 4 innings; Jeff Stevens (acquired from the Indians in the Mark DeRosa salary dump), seven hits in 4.2 IP; Kevin Hart, a 9.00 ERA in 5 IP; Mitch Atkins, a 10.50 ERA in two starts.

-Bob Warja

Come to Think of it…Chicago Cubs Bullpen Better Used in Moderation

The Cubs bullpen just isn’t good enough to support starting pitchers who can only go 5-6 innings per start. If a Cubs pitcher goes seven innings or more, and Wood is healthy and throwing well, the combination of Marmol and Wood can usually get it done.

But when a pitcher doesn’t go deep into the game, as was the case today with Rich Harden, there is no way our pen can hold the opposing team down.

First of all, it seems every time Howry comes in he gives up at least one run, usually a home run. Maybe they released the wrong guy in Eyre today. Perhaps it should have been Bob Howry.

Of course, add to the misery the fact that Carlos Marmol went through a really bad stretch from June through mid-July.

And Kerry Wood had been unable to pitch since July 11 because of a blister, until today.

Even Chad Gaudin has been unreliable. So who is left?

Well, the answer is few bullpens are good enough to support a short staff. Here’s how the Cubs rotation has performed over their last 10 starts:

* All Cubs starters have averaged just over 6 innings per start, except Rich Harden who has averaged exactly 6 innings since joining the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano, who has averaged just less than 7 innings per start.

But when a starter goes less than six is when we notice the problems in our bullpen.

Here’s how Cubs relievers have performed over their last 10 appearances:

* Bob Howry has been scored upon in five of his last 10 appearances
* Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and Chad Gaudin each have been scored upon in three of their last 10 appearances
* Sean Marshall has been scored upon in six if his last 10 appearances
* Neal Cotts has been scored upon in only two of his last 10 appearances

Incidentally, Scott Eyre, released today, had given up runs in four of his last 10 appearances, in case you were wondering. Couldn’t they have sent Marshall to Iowa and kept the veteran Eyre? It’s obvious Marshall isn’t pitching well anyway.

Well, at least the Cubs won today, though once again a relief pitcher (Howry) got a win he didn’t deserve. Of course, Harden can’t just blame the bullpen today as he wasn’t at his best, forcing more from the pen than what they are capable of. Come to think of it, some things are better in small doses.

-Bob Warja

Marlins-Cubs: Cubs take care of Marlins 9-6

Sorry I did not give a game recap for Saturday’s game, I was out town and did not have access to a computer. Well anyway on Saturday the Cubs lost 3-2 in 12 innings as Jeremy Hermida homered twice to lift the Marlins past the Cubs.

Rich Harden put in five innings of work he struck out 10 once again and allowed just one earned run. The loss however went to Chad Gaudin who gave up the game winning double in the top of the 12th which won the game for the Marlins. The winning pitcher for the Marlins was Justin Miller as Kevin Gregg picked up his 22nd save on the season.

Now onto Yesterday’s game, the Cubs took care of the Marlins 9-6 after trailing most of the game the Cubs scored four in the bottom of the seventh to take a 9-6 lead and which lead to an eventual win. Derrek Lee homered while Mike Fontenot hit a three-run double that scored Edmonds, Derosa and Ward.

Starting pitcher Jason Marquis went six innings allowing six earned runs on nine hits while striking out six and walking three. He however took a no decision as Chad Gaudin picked up the win and improved to 1-1 with the Cubs. Jeff Samardzija pitched two innings where he struck out three and allowed no hits to pick up his first save as a Cub.

Marlins starter Rick Vandenhurk pitched 3 2/3 innings allowing five earned runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking two. However the loss went to Mark Hendrickson who pitched three innings allowing three earned runs on three hits.

In the game all of the Marlins runs came via the home run as Mike Jacobs hit two home runs the first a three-run homer in the second the second was a two-run homer in the third. The third home run of the day for the Marlins came off the bat of Dan Uggla who hit a solo shot in the top of the fifth.

The Cubs trailed 5-0 after the top of the third but added two in the bottom of the third and added another three runs in the bottom of the fourth as Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run home run to tie the game at five.

The Marlins regained the lead in the fifth but the Cubs would take the lead in the seventh for good thanks to Lee and Fontenot.

With the victory the Cubs’ now sit at 61-44 as they hold a one game lead on the Brewers who they will play next. Pitching for the Cubs on Monday will be Ted Lilly who is 10-6 with a 4.49 ERA as C.C. Sabathia will go for the Brewers who is 4-0 with the Brewers and has a 1.36 ERA. Game time is set for 7:05 pm ct.

-Kevin Graczyk

Come to Think of it…Cubs Trade for Harden is High Risk, High Reward

The temptation, Cubs fans, is to jump up for joy at the prospect of Cubs GM Jim Hendry counterpunching the timing of Milwaukee’s move with a move of his own.

After all, we desperately needed another starting pitcher. And, let’s face it; after getting Sabathia from Cleveland, the Brewers 1-2 punch of Sheets and CC certainly looks impressive.

And we acquired a young pitcher, only 26, who was 5-1 with a sparkling ERA of 2.34. He has struck out 92 batters in 77 innings. Perhaps just as importantly, he is not a free agent after this season, unlike Sabathia.

When he’s healthy, Harden has filthy stuff. Nasty. As good as anyone in the game. Ah, but there’s that caveat again: when healthy.

For as much as Rich Harden reminds people of Mark Prior in his ability to take over a game, Harden also reminds people of Mark Prior in the fact that he just can’t stay healthy.

There’s the high risk, high reward scenario. Not that I blame Hendry. Oh no, quite the opposite. He had to make this trade and I am glad he did. Just inserting a little realism into the optimism.

Heck, as Hendry himself said on WGN radio tonight, Harden wouldn’t have been available if he didn’t have health concerns. Because when he does pitch, he is dominating. But…

He has been a regular on the disabled list, laid up for long stretches with various strains, pulls and sprains. In fact, Harden has been on the disabled list six times over the past six years. Ouch. (Literally).

But he’s been healthy lately. He has taken his turn in the rotation 11 consecutive times.

So the question then becomes, which Rich Harden have the Cubs acquired? Has he finally turned the corner and gotten past the breakdowns? Or, is he simply on his longest consecutive start streak since 2005, a call to the medics waiting to happen? It’s worth the effort to find out I guess.

For this unhittable but injury prone righty, this mystery wrapped up in an enigma, the Cubs sent righthander Sean Gallagher, outfielders Matt Murton and Eric Patterson and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson. Gallagher is likely the biggest loss here, long-term.

The Cubs also get righthander Chad Gaudin, 25, who can start or relieve. He’s 5-3 with a 3.69 ERA this year.

Well, regardless of what ultimately happens, perhaps the best result of this move is that it shows the team, the fans, and the opposition that the Cubs are serious about wanting to win. Now.

Come to think of it, there are no guarantees in life or in baseball trades. So you might as well go for it while you can. That’s just what Hendry did.

-Bob Warja

BREAKING NEWS: Rich Harden Becomes a Cub

I was watching SportsCenter today and I saw something that made me grin. Rich Harden had just been traded to the Chicago Cubs.

This is such breaking news that it isn’t on ESPN’s website, which I just checked to write this article.

At this point, the article was up exactly 10 minutes ago, so I must be getting to this early, now, on to the trade specifics.

Here is what each team gets in the deal before going over what this means for the Cubs.

Cubs Get:

Rich Harden SP

Chad Gaudin RP

A’s Get:

Sean Ghallager SP

Matt Murton OF

Eric Patterson OF

Josh Donaldson C

What this means for the Cubs

Just a few days ago, the Brewers acquired C.C. Sabathia who has a 3.83 ERA and 123 strikeouts. (Sabathia makes first start today)

Now the Cubs make a move that seems even stronger than what the Brewers did, not only helping their rotation, but also adding another solid reliever.

Despite Sabathia’s strong numbers, Harden has an ERA about 1.5 less than Sabathia, has a stronger record at 5-1, a better WHIP, more strikeouts per nine innings, and a nearly 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

There was talk of the Brewers having the best 1-2 punch in the majors, but the Cubs blew past them with this acquisition, especially when you make it a 1-3 punch adding Ryan Dempster the way he has played.

The addition of Gaudin adds another strong reliever with Carlos Marmol in the bullpen to help get to Kerry Wood in the ninth.

In addition to Gaudin’s help as a reliever, he is also available to step in as a starter, as he has done the job before.

He has 15 appearences this season where he has not allowed a run, and has six starts this season as well.

In his last seven appearances, he has just a 1.7 ERA, which bodes well for the Cubs. This gives them a possibility to put him in the rotation at the fifth spot or keep him as a reliever where he has thrived.

I see this making a huge impact on the race and this could catapult the Cubs into the best team in the majors yet again.

Let me know what you think of the trade.