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Who Can I Blame For The Season So Far?

97635769JB032_Chicago_Cubs_One week ago the Cubs were 13-13, coming off of a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks and looked to be back on track to get the most out of their team this season.

All was well in Wrigleyville.

Fast-forward to present day and the Cubs are 14-20 and coming off of being swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates (14-19) and about to suffer the same fate against the Florida Marlins (16-17) pending tomorrow’s matinee as the Cubs try to stop their four game slide.

So one big question continues to pop up in my mind, as I always love to play the blame game. That question is… Read the rest of this entry »

News and Notes From Spring Training

chi_u_lilly_576Sorry for the three-day delay with posts, there is just very little going on. With that in mind, I will try to squeeze out whatever stories are happening and give you some updates on the Cubs.

Here are a few stories that have happened over the past few days.

Aramis Ramirez returns to the diamond

Ramirez has missed some time this spring because of a sore right tricep, but he returned on Tuesday against the Royals as a DH and went 2-3 with an RBI. He hasn’t played since March 13th, but he looked like he hadn’t missed any time in his three at bats. Read the rest of this entry »

Cubs Shortstops Stepping Up Big

mlb_g_theriot11_576Although 19-year-old prospect was sent to the minors yesterday, Starlin Castro has spent his Spring Training turning heads and creating quite a controversy as to whether or not the Cubs should give the young prospect a shot in the minors.

Although Castro turns 20 in just a few days, he has been playing like a veteran, batting near .500 and striking out just once in 26 at bats before being sent down. He caused Lou Piniella to re-evaluate whether or not he should give the youngster a shot.

“Castro had a phenomenal spring for a young player,” Piniella said. “Nineteen years old, to come in here and look like a veteran and swing the bat … he showed his athleticism. He came in here highly touted and left here even more touted.” Read the rest of this entry »

News and Notes From Spring Training

chi_a_castro_576The Cubs have completed 12 games thus far in Spring Training, and through those games they are 8-4, which doesn’t mean much, but it does mean that they have been getting good performances from a lot of people.

Here are the stories that are important so far in Spring Training: Read the rest of this entry »

An In-Depth View of Milton Bradley’s ESPN Interview

Milton BradleyLet’s take a look at an alternate universe, one where nobody ever has to take accountability, then gets to do an interview on a major network without being asked about your play.

It’s a world where, if you screw up, the world is just against you. It’s not your fault. Why should you take the blame when people are trying to hold you down?

This is the world that former-Cub Milton Bradley lives in, and he has been showing it to the world the past week, with an interview with ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez.

Let’s take a look at this interview comment by comment from Milton Bradley. Read the rest of this entry »

Bob Warja’s Thoughts From a Wacky Cubs Week

1Cubs catcher Geovany Soto tested positive for marijuana at the WBC

Let me start by saying that in my world, this is not that big a deal. Yes, the drug is illegal, but to me, it is relatively harmless, especially when compared with harder drugs.

Still, I found Geo’s explanation that this was “an isolated incident” to be borderline ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…Note to Milton Bradley, Each Inning has Three Outs

17I guess expecting Milton Bradley to show up and stay focused for nine innings is asking too much for $10 million a year. At least it was Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The oft-injured disappointment should have stayed in bed, because he had the kind of day that one would just as soon forget. No wait, he has had an entire season like that, come to think of it.

The Cubs offense was once again out to lunch during the first five innings of their 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins. But even a three-spot in the sixth inning wasn’t enough to overcome Bradley’s three gaffes. Read the rest of this entry »

There are Plenty of Excuses for Slow Start, But the Reasons are Obvious

15Before I even begin with this article, I will state what should be obvious: The ongoing battle between Milton Bradley and the Chicago media has nothing to do with the Cubs’ four-game slide.

Sorry, Windy City press, but you play no role in determining what actually happens on the field.

And this larger, so-called “locker room split” is just the media’s way of stirring things up. Chemistry is something that’s developed throughout the season.

The Cubs have played a total of sixteen games; we won’t know what kind of chemistry this team has until June or July. It’s those long 10-12 day road trips that allow players to bond together. That’s when chemistry is developed.

Now, to the Cubs’ problems.

Walks, walks, walks.

The bullpen can’t find the strike zone, and this is a recipe for disaster. Gregg has walked five in nine innings, Cotts has walked five in four, and Patton has walked six in six.

As a whole, the ‘pen has walked 28 batters in 46 innings. Ironically, the only relief pitcher without a walk is Luis Vizcaino, who is no longer on the roster.

Offensively, the Cubs have been dreadful as of late, scoring four earned runs in the past 36 innings. It’s not as if they haven’t had chances; it’s just a matter of poor at bat after poor at bat with guys in scoring position.

It all starts with plate discipline. The Cubs have drawn a total of six walks in the past four games. That won’t get the job done. The offense has also abandoned the opposite field, becoming very pull-happy.

One of the most telling (and worst) at-bats came from Ryan Theriot last night. Down 3-2 with the bases loaded and nobody out, the typically very patient Theriot did not wait back on the Wainwright breaking ball and hit into the tailor-made 6-4-3 double play.

I don’t mean to pick on Theriot, who is off to a solid start, but he’s too smart to not understand the situation. Wainwright was trying to work the outer part of the plate and Theriot tried to pull the ball. I know it’s easier said than done to lay off, but it all starts with plate discipline.

And on to management. Lou Piniella has done a very poor job during the early going this season.

First, the Cubs decided not to disable Geovany Soto. Have they not noticed Soto isn’t healthy? We are in April, not October. It’s nonsensical to keep him active.

The case is the same for Bradley, who was injured two weeks ago; he’s started just one game since his injury. The 15-day DL made sense back when he got hurt, and it makes even more sense today. But by choosing not to disable Bradley, the Cubs have found themselves very short handed.

And besides that, the on-field decisions by Lou have really left me shaking my head.

Who is the closer?

Lou says Gregg, but he also goes to Marmol. Sounds like a “Bullpen by Committee.” Way to keep both guys guessing, Lou.

And along with his poor handling of the ‘pen, Piniella’s shuffling of the lineup is plain silly.  Soriano, who has thrived in the one-hole this year, now finds himself batting third. It’s way too early for a shakeup, especially when your top two spots in the order have been your strength.

I’ve always been one to compliment Lou for making solid decisions, but I will also call him out for making poor ones. During Saturday’s game, Piniella decided to pitch to Brian Barden with one out and first base open with the pitcher on-deck.

Lou must not have seen enough of Barden last week, when he went 5-for-9 with two homers against the Cubs. He proceeded to burn Chicago again with a two-run single on Saturday.

It’s early, and the Cubs will eventually take control of this division. But they must play better. They’ve struggled defensively, offensively, and their bullpen can’t find the plate.

Lou Piniella must do a better job. There’s a reason he is one of the highest-paid managers in the game, and he must get more out of his players. This type of baseball won’t be tolerated.

-Pat De Marco

Thoughts on the Chicago Cubs

111It’s Easter, and the Cubs will be playing in about an hour in the rubber match against the Brew Crew.

Fresh off of a Blackhawks shutout over the Detroit Red Wings (I had to watch hockey today with my family) the Cubs will try to add another win for Chicago tonight.

I have been pretty dormant lately and I figured I could offer a few thoughts on the Cubs through the first five games of the season.

We are only 3-2 and the start has not been that impressive

Sure, we could easily be 4-1, but that will be talked about a little later. This Cubs team can look amazing (see the eight run first two innings against the Astros) but they haven’t been able to put together a full game yet.

I am a little scared that we haven’t been able to pull together a dominant performance even with the stout pitching and amazing hitting we have on paper.

Milton Bradley may only have one hit, but he has been impressive

If you look at Bradley’s raw hitting, it isn’t too impressive, but when you take into account each time he has walked to the plate, he still almost always finds a way to get get on base.

Despite being one for 16 at the plate, Bradley has an OBP of .318 thanks to five walks and a hit by pitch. He also has scored three runs thus far this season.

Oh, by the way, his one and only hit was a solo home run.

Besides Lilly, the starting pitching has been fantastic

Cubs starters continue to put up quality start after quality start thus far this season.

Carlos Zambrano has started two games this season, pitching 12 inning, allowing four runs, for a 3.00 ERA. Ryan Dempster’s last outing was strong, with six innings pitched and just two runs scored, he had a very successful showing in his season debut.

Rich Harden was lights out in his debut, allowing just one earned run on three hits in six innings.  Harden even struck out a ton, as usual, fanning 10 in an impressive start.

The only bad outing has been thrown by Ted Lilly, who was backed up by 11 Cubs runs, allowing him to avoid the L despite allowing five runs in five innings.

Kevin Gregg scares me as the closer

Listen, he had a great Spring Training, and I am trying to take nothing away from his ability, I just don’t trust him to hold down the fort in the ninth inning.

He has already blown one save this season as the Brewers were able to tear him apart in the ninth inning two nights ago, and the fact that he led the majors in blown saves last year is a big red flag.

I think that Sweet Lou should start throwing Carlos Marmol in the ninth and moving Gregg into the eight inning, everything would probably go a lot smoother and everybody would pitch better under those circumstances.

Kosuke Fukudome anybody?

The man was looked at as a possible major liability to this team, with a monster contract and seemingly not enough talent, the Asian Sensation was seemingly done in the MLB.

Then, something crazy happened, he had a great spring. Then, unlike Gregg above, he brought that momentum into the regular season.

Fukudome is batting over .400 with two home runs, three RBI’s, and one stolen base. More good news for Fukudome, Piniella just announced that he will no longer be lifting the surprise player for defensive purposes.

-Joe Willett

Come to Think of It…Cubs With Decisions to Make; Jeff Samardzija Going Down to Iowa

a1Today is “Earth Hour”, where people are encouraged to shut off their lights for one hour in a symbolic act to conserve energy. But in Arizona, there is nothing symbolic about the decisions Lou Piniella, Larry Rothschild and the gang have to make.

In the bullpen, only four spots are set. The closer will either be Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg, with the slight edge going to Marmol at this point. However, Gregg has pitched very well this spring. Either way, one will pitch in the eighth and one in the ninth.

So, with two spots belonging to Marmol and Gregg, that leaves Aaron Heilman as the sixth and seventh inning man. Next, there is the lone lefty in the pen, Neal Cotts. That makes a total of four.

If they go with 11 pitchers, that leaves two remaining spots. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Bruce Levine of said this morning that the Cubs have decided to send Jeff Samardzija to Iowa, where he can be stretched out in case another starter is needed.

Samardzija has an excellent fastball and a splitter that he doesn’t always command well. He needs to work on his command and another pitch if he wants to be a starter. He would be better in the bullpen, where two pitches are all you need.

I would have groomed him to be a closer from the start. He has the heater and the makeup, as a former Notre Dame football player, to do that job. Alas, no one from the Cubs asked me for my opinion.

Among other bullpen candidates, a couple are out of options and one, David Patton, is a rule 5 draft pick so he would have to be offered back to Colorado for $25,000 if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster.

And Patton has looked good this spring. Rothschild is impressed by his poise and has said he has the best curve ball he has seen all year. Since he has never pitched above Class A, however, it would be quite a story if he did go north with the team.

The two veterans who are out of options, Luis Vizcaino and Chad Gaudin, would likely be lost if they fail to make the team. Both have guaranteed major league contracts, too.

Vizcaino is set to make $3.5 million and Gaudin was signed for $2 million. You can expect Jim Hendry to be trying to trade one or both of these pitchers. Gaudin has looked better since struggling mightily early on, while Vizcaino’s control has improved somewhat.

Other candidates include Angel Guzman, who has the fastball pumping in at 95 MPH, but continues to struggle with his command.

41-year-old lefty Mike Stanton is in camp, but he’s certainly a dark horse candidate to make the team. Another old veteran, Chad Fox, is back in camp once again, and has pitched well. But with his history of injuries, it’s likely they could sneak him through waivers if they wanted to hang on to him.

Guys like Jeff Stevens and Kevin Hart haven’t pitched well this spring, but they still have minor league options remaining. I haven’t heard much regarding the chances of Jose Ascanio, though he also has options remaining.

On the position battle front, in an ideal world, center field would be split between Reed Johnson and the speedy Joey Gathright. But economics dictate that Kosuke Fukudome will likely get the lion’s share of the at-bats early on, since he will start against right-handed pitchers.

The backup catcher will likely be Paul Bako, though Koyie Hill has looked good, making a remarkable recovery from a gruesome injury. Former White Sox catcher Mark Johnson is also in camp.

April 6 can’t happen soon enough, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja