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Cubs in Denial While White Sox Look to the Future

One of the many differences between White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams and Cubs GM Jim Hendry is that Kenny harbors no illusions of the playoffs this season. Could it still happen? Sure, mathematically at least. But is it likely? Hell no.

And it’s even less likely for the Cubs, of course. The division is out of reach and the wild card requires climbing over too many teams. Plus, the Cubs aren’t playing like they want it anyway.

So the White Sox supposedly send a memo to the other clubs that Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Scott Linebrink are available. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Look Now, But The Cubbies Might Just Have What It Takes

1A little over half way to the end of the season, the Cubs have finally jumped past the St. Louis Cardinals and stole the division lead.

Before the All-Star Break, the Cubs split a four-game series with the Cards. Since the break, however, the Cubs are 8-2. The Cardinals are 4-6 since the break, including losing two of three against the Phillies in their most recent series.

The Cards now go from facing the defending champions to facing this season’s best team, the L.A Dodgers, in a four-game series. The Cubs face the Astros, and have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division. Read the rest of this entry »

Are the Cubs Back on Track?

18The Cubs have been one of baseball’s big disappointments this season.

The only team that has underachieved more has been the Yankees, but since A-Rod came back, they have been on a tear, which leaves the Cubs all alone.

However, through the past five games, they have gone 4-1, which may be an anomaly in a disappointing season, but it could also start to signal change.

However, the Cubs haven’t been pulling off small, one-run wins.  They have won three of their past four wins by at least three runs. Read the rest of this entry »

Rich Harden Placed on DL

Cubs starter Rich Harden has been placed on the 15-day DL with what the team is terming a “mid-back strain”.

With Carlos Zambrano coming off of the DL, it had been expected that David Patton would be offered back to his original club, since the seldom used relief pitcher was a Rule-5 draft pick and must remain on the Cubs’ 25-man roster.

The move of Harden to the DL is retroactive to May 18. Randy Wells will start in his place Saturday night.

The site will post further details when they become available.

Why You Just Gotta Love Rich Harden

AP Cubs Braves BaseballSure, Rich Harden was acquired a year ago to help strengthen a starting rotation to World Series status, which didn’t happen, but I still have to love Rich Harden.

Off news that he pitched yesterday while under the influence of food poisoning (yea, I know the wording scared you for a second) he is quickly working his way ahead of Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

I have decided to throw together five reasons that Rich Harden is a great player who I just love.

Duh…Playing with food poisoning

I don’t know if any of you have had food poisoning, but if you get hit right, it can be just terrible. For Harden to play through that is outstanding.

Also, he pitched for four innings, throwing 63 pitches, striking out four, including former Cub prospect Eric Patterson, and allowing no runs on just three hits.

Harden lost about seven pounds after eating bad chicken salad.

He was almost as good as the supernatural CC Sabathia

Sure, Harden didn’t get nearly the press that Sabathia got for his stint, but Sabathia only got that press because he did what he did on a bad team, not one that was already good.

Although Harden didn’t turn the Cubs around any, he went 5-1 with a 1.78 with 89 strikeouts in 71 innings.

That is an outstanding stat line and one that would make any pitcher ecstatic with their play, and he’s being looked at as the possible fourth in the Cubs rotation.

His health didn’t disturb him as much last year

Although he has had frequent health problems (he has just been Mark Prior with more bounce-back ability), when he has played, he is one of, if not the, best pitch in the majors.

What should scare people is the fact that he pitched 148 innings last season, nothing amazing, but surely that would be enough to satisfy most of Chicago if he would pitch that and be ready for the post-season.

If Harden throws together a full season, other teams should be worried.

He comes cheap (relatively)

With all of his outstanding ability, Harden made three million less than Ryan Dempster, four million less than Ted Lilly and 12 million less than Carlos Zambrano last season.

This season, Harden is slated to earn seven million dollars, which is still cheaper than what Dempster, Lilly and Zambrano are slated to make.  For somebody who may be the best in the majors, thats pretty cheap.
Hey, he fits in with the rest of the team

Although fellow oft-injured pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are now long gone, he still has some other injury prone players to work with.

The most notable of these is Milton Bradley, who has missed at least 12 games in each season since 2002, however, he still thinks that he will be there to play.

Who knows, if Harden and Bradley both stay healthy, the Cubs may be in a position to make some noise.

But all that really matters right now, with 11 days til Opening Day, is that Harden is getting healthy, and that he is working his way into a position to be one of my favorite players.

-Joe Willett

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…Rich Harden is Throwing the Towels Mark Prior Left Behind

Guys like Cubs pitcher Rich Harden can be maddening at times.

On the one hand, there’s all that undeniable talent oozing out of every pore. There are the tantalizing times when he is fully healthy and shows everyone just what he can do. And when he does, boy is it something to behold.

From 2005 to 2008, only Roger Clemens had a lower ERA than Harden’s 2.56. He was 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA last season. For his career, he is 41-20 with an 3.23 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and opponents have hit only .216 against him.

But then there are the inevitable injuries that serve as a harsh reminder that the man can’t be counted on. He has a small tear in his shoulder joint, so it is highly unlikely that he will be able to start 25 games like he did last year.

So, how many starts will Harden be good for this season? Well, no one really knows, and that’s the problem. You don’t know when the injuries will happen; you just know that they will. And you hope it doesn’t happen during a critical series or in the playoffs.

But that’s the chance you take when you have a guy like Harden. The rewards are sweet, but the downtime bitter. I hate to mention this, but having gone through the Mark Prior and Kerry Wood years, you would think this team has had enough of the uncertainty. But the temptation can be great because the upside is so great.

Yet, every day that I read about Harden not having thrown off a mound yet this spring, I can’t help but be reminded of Prior, despite the assurances that Harden is getting closer.

But getting closer to what? Call me pessimistic, but get back to me when he actually is able to throw off a real mound, to real hitters, in a game situation.

Meanwhile, if you’re Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild, how do you plan for this?

It’s clear the Cubs need a fifth starter, and it’s almost equally as clear that it’s going to be Sean Marshall filling that role, barring a last minute injury or acquisition by Jim Hendry.

But what do you do when Harden comes up lame a half hour before game time? Do you keep a guy like Chad Gaudin in the bullpen ready just in case Harden can’t go? And if so, how do you keep him stretched out so that he can actually pitch at least five innings?

Or do you send Jeff Samardzija to the minors and have him at the beck and call of Hendry, assuming you do have at least a day’s notice? And even when he can go, he probably won’t go more than five innings because of high pitch counts, which taxes the bullpen.

Those are the headaches you accept when you sign a guy like Rich Harden. If you want the talent, you had better be ready for the heartache that is packaged with it.

This much is certain: Even in a best-case scenario, the Cubs don’t expect Harden to be ready to go every fifth day all season long, even if the unlikely happens and he can actually stay healthy. In fact, part of the master plan to hopefully keep him healthy is to give him extra days of rest from time to time, as well as the occasional missed start.

Early on, it probably won’t pose a huge concern due to off days and rain-outs (dare I say snow-outs?). But as the season wears on, and other guys get aches and pains, it won’t be so easy to deal with the roller coaster that is Rich Harden.

Then again, things never come easy for our Cubbies, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja

Pitchers and Catchers Report: This Calls for a Breakdown of Sorts

I apologize for being MIA over the past few days, I’ve been having internet troubles which could hinder the posting to this site over the next few days, but once I get everything straitened out, we should be ready for regular posting.

Now, on to what this article is truly about, baseball and the Chicago Cubs.

Pitchers and catchers reported on Friday to start getting ready for the season. I figured that this would be the perfect time to break down how our pitching staff is going to play this year.

Last season, the Cubs had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, and late in the season the the trio of Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood shut down opposing offenses after the seventh, and Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden rarely let teams get the lead before that.

But that was a year ago, how are the Cubs going to fare this season? Lets start with those that will pitch the most innings.

Starting Pitching

The Cubs are one of the best pitching teams in the majors from their first through fourth pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano is a fiery player who has a ton of passion, which leads to some games where he lets his stuff get away from him, but when he is on, he is one of the best in the Majors and deserves to be the ace of this staff.

Ryan Dempster came on last season and was a real surprise last season, and re-signing him was major for the Cubs this offseason because it allowed them to stay away from Jake Peavy and save the farm system. He was strong all year and if he keeps it up, he could help the Cubs go deep this year.

Rich Harden was the big acquisition during last season. When he came to the Cubs, he was lights out posting an ERA of just over two and going 10-2, an outstanding second half.

Ted Lilly is a great fourth starter, his ERA was about four last season and he got a lot of strikeouts. The best part about him, his 17-9 record is fantastic for a fourth pitcher in the rotation.

The fifth spot in the rotation this year is going to be decided in spring training, but the spot is likely to either go to Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman.

Marshall has shown signs of brilliance and he has also faltered at times. However, he kept his ERA under four last year in about 65 innings.

Heilman is a new addition to the Cubs and would bring more experience and reliability to the Cubs if he were to start, but his above five ERA scares me a little bit.

Relief Pitching

The Cubs also had a lockdown bullpen last season, but they lost Wood and it has been said that Samardzija would start the season with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

However, it looks like the Cubs have two viable options for the closer this year. Although it Marmol will likely take the job, Lou Piniella has publicly stated that newcomer Kevin Gregg will have an opportunity to be the closer as well, and it will be an open competition.

If Marmol does become the close and Samardzija stays on (he should after the way he played last year) the Cubs could still have a strong bullpen with Gregg, Samardzija and Marmol as the most used pitchers.

Either way, the Cubs should still have a solid bullpen this season.

Expect the pitching staff this season to be just as strong if not stronger than last year, I like Marmol as a closer and I think that he could be one of the best in the majors within the next few years.

Our starters are also among the best in the league, and I love the way our pitchers are set up.

Look for an outstanding pitching year from the Cubs.

Come to Think of it…Cubs Take Two in One Day from the Braves

The Cubs won both ends of a twi-night doubleheader from the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, a DH necessitated by Tuesday’s rain-out.

Despite not pitching deep into the games, both Jason Marquis (5.1 IP) and Rich Harden (five IP) pitched effectively and got the win.

The game one hitting stars were Jim Edmonds and Geo Soto, while Fosuke Fukudome and Aramis Ramirez were the best in game two.

Which brings me to a question: didn’t Lou cause a stir the other day when he suggested that Kosuke would be hitting the pine more often due to his anemic hitting? So what does Sweet Lou do?

He starts Foo Man Choo in both games of the DH. Normally, even players going well get one of the games off. But no, not this time.

And it’s a good thing this happened, for Kosuke got two hits and drove in two runs in the second game.

Like Max Madsen, Lou may be mad and bad, but he’s not crazy…

With the wins, the Cubs moved ever closer to the Holy Grail of .500 on the road, improving to 28-30.

They go for the series sweep on Thursday, my birthday, with veteran lefties, Ted Lilly and Tom Glavine scheduled to start.

A win on my b-day is the only present I need, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja

Fourth Time’s a Charm for Harden?

Mike Yadgir is a new writer for The Daily Cub. He is a dedicated Cubs fan and will give good, quality analysis.

Tomorrow marks Rich Harden’s fourth start as a Chicago Cub. So far, the Harden deal has looked really great. The problem is that he has not been able to get a win.

Now don’t get me wrong, he has been lights out in his first three starts as a Cub. Unfortunately, he and his team have come up empty in the end.

Why is it that he can strike out 10 batters in each of his first three starts, and fail to get the win? One of the obvious reasons is that the Cubs hitters have not been hitting when Rich takes the mound.

There always seems to be that one man in every starting rotation that fails to get the run support. It’s just one of those things in baseball. It’s really a shame that it has to be Rich though, because I think everybody can agree that when this guy is healthy, he is one of the most dominating pitchers in the league.

Aside from the lack of run support, another reason that Harden isn’t getting the wins he deserves is because of the amount of pitches he throws. When a strikeout pitcher like Harden takes the ball, those strikeouts can actually end up hurting them because of the amount of pitches it forces them to throw.

In Harden’s case, he has only gone five innings in two of his three starts, making it very difficult for the team to give him the run support needed to get him the personal win.

Will Thursday be Harden’s first win as a Cub? We all certainly hope so. He deserves it. If he can keep his pitch count relatively low and if the Cubs offense can produce early enough for him, we just may finally see the first win of Rich Harden’s Cub career; and what a great win it would be considering it would be beating the Brewers to gain a full game in the standings.

-Mike Yadgir