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Position Breakdown: Starting Pitching

Randy WellsThis is going to be the first in a four part series breaking down four positions for the Chicago Cubs.

Part one is going to be break down the Chicago Cubs’ pitching, after this article I will be taking on the infield, outfield and bullpen.

The Cubs have been known for having solid starting pitching, and this season should be no different. Here is the expected rotation:

1. Carlos Zambrano
2. Ted Lilly
3. Ryan Dempster
4. Randy Wells
5. Tom Gorzelanny
Others who could start games: Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Silva. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Cubs Quick Hits: Lilly, Dempster and Ryan

1According to Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan, the Cubs’ lone All-Star is likely heading to the disabled list.

“Oh gosh, we were just talking about getting [ Ryan] Dempster back,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We were happy about that, and all of a sudden, the Lilly situation [comes up]. It seems like every time we get a player, we lose one. But let’s see what the MRI says on Theodore, and we can go from there.”

Lilly has been the most consistent Cubs starter this season, going 9-7 with a 3.59 ERA. Read the rest of this entry »

Cubs Take First Game in Series With Brewers

Brewers Cubs BaseballThe Cubs were able to get out of their offensive woes against Seth McClung and the Brewers, as they took down the NL Central division leaders 9-5.

Derek Lee lead the Cubs with a career-high seven RBI’s on two home runs, going 2-4 on the day.

Ryan Dempster had a decent start, allowing just three earned runs in six and 2/3 innings, tying a season high with nine strikeouts. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Inconsistency Could Lead to a Dissapointing Season

17The Chicago Cubs came into this season with the expectation of at least contending for a World Series title.

However, they have struggled mightily this season and they have been unable to live up to the high expectations that accompanied a seemingly unstoppable pitching rotation and batting order.

As of late, the Cubs have been even worse, as they have gone 3-5 in the month of May.  What the problem has been for the Cubs is an inability to be consistently strong.

When they have great offensive days, they have been accompanied with great pitching days, and bad offensive days have been accompied with dismal pitching.

In the Cubs three wins this month, they have scored 7, 10 and 11 runs in each game, but in their five losses, they scored 0, 1, 3, 2 and 2 runs.  Compare that to the 2, 3 and 3 runs allowed in the three wins and the 3, 7, 4, 8 and 7 runs in the losses.

The Cubs need to be able to put together more wins, and that starts with both sides of the ball being held responsible when both sides are dismal in the same game.

One of the main reasons for the Cubs woes so far this season is the awful offensive production by players who were looked at as people who needed to contribute for the Cubs to be strong.

Mark Bradley, who was brought in to give the Cubs a strong left handed bat, isn’t averaging a hit for every 10 at bats, and has hit just one home run in a Cubs uniform.

Derek Lee is hitting just .200 with only one home run so far this season, he also has just 10 RBI’s and hasn’t stolen a base this season.

Last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto, is batting just .111 and hasn’t hit a home run.  This adds to the fact that he has missed five full games this season and has accounted for just five runs (2 RBI’s, 3 runs).

But their hitting isn’t the only problem for the Cubs this season, their pitching has been just as bad, if not worse, than the hitting.

More Cubs have an ERA over 6.00 than one under 3.00 (four to two).

And, the Cubs vaunted starting pitching, which was supposed to be one of the best starting fives in the MLB hasn’t lived up to the hype.

Every starter has an ERA over 3.00 and the Cubs top two pitchers are pitching the worst in the lineup.

Despite a quality start last night, Carlos Zambrano’s ERA is 4.64 and Ryan Dempster’s is 5.40.  This is the opposite of what you want from what was supposed to be one of the best starting lineups in all of baseball.

The two “quality pitchers” in the Cubs bullpen, who were in the heated closing competition all spring, are both having dismal seasons.

Carlos Mamol’s ERA is 6.75, and Kevin Gregg’s is 6.23.  Who knew that Neal Cotts would be having a better season than both of these two.

The only pitcher with over 10 innings pitched and an ERA under three is Aaron Heilman, who has a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings of work.  He also has as many wins as Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly, and more wins than Ryan Dempster.

The Cubs need to finally get their stuff together, and they need to start playing up to their full potential.  The Cubs are a team that needs a lot of production out their power spots in the lineup, and they just haven’t gotten that this year.

Without the pitching to make up for it, the Cubs may be in line for a mediocre season without much winning.

Then again, there are 142 games left for the Cubs, and anything can happen.

-Joe Willett

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…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

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.

Evaluating the Offseason: Breaking Down the Cubs Biggest Offseason Moves

Just about a day away from pitchers and catchers reporting, it’s time to start looking at the Chicago Cubs and what they are going to be doing next season.

However, to move forward, you have to look backwards as well. The Cubs have had yet another busy offseason as they try to finally avoid a first round sweep (last year by the hand of the Dodgers, you gotta hate Manny being Manny).

First lets start with some of the moves that I disagree with. Just to get this out in the open and out of the way, I have to disagree with Jim Hendry on these few moves.

Letting Kerry Wood go was a big mistake in my opinion. The move hurts the Cubs bullpen which was finally getting strong. They could have kept the shutdown rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood, along with another reliever who will be talked about in a better section.

I just hate losing Mark DeRosa this offseason. He was a great player who everybody loved. The middle of DeRosa and Ryan Theriot just made every Cubs fan warm and fuzzy inside, although I don’t hate his replacement, I still love the player.

Now that we got that out of the way, time to look at some of the better moves to help pump up the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Re-signing Ryan Dempster was ginormous (the only word I can use to describe his impact) in keeping the Cubs a World Series-caliber team. He creates a triple threat almost unrivaled, and he gave them a great third starter without having to give up everything but the kitchen sink (sorry Jake Peavy…I know you’re reading this).

Another pitching move to help the team is the addition of Kevin Gregg. He is going to allow the Cubs to move Carlos Marmol into the closer spot while keeping a good reliever to help as a set-up man. This still allows the Cubs to be set by the seventh inning.

Making up for the loss of Mark DeRosa, Aaron Miles will be a pivotal part in helping the Cubs offensively this season. He is a guy that can get on base consistently, as shown by his .317 batting average last season, higher than any player last season for the Cubs.

Now it’s time to get to the big signing of the offseason. Two years ago it was Alfonso Soriano. Last year it was Kosuke Fukudome. This year it’s Milton Bradley.

Bradley is going to have to keep his temper in check, which is the same for a lot of major parts of the Cubs team this season (I’m looking at you Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella). With all of these moving parts, the Cubs could implode at any point in time this season.

However, we could just as easily make it all work and have a dream season. Who knows, if the Red Sox can do it, so can the Cubs…right?

But anyway, the 2009 Chicago Cubs are looking to become the first team to pull it all together. Nobody likes waiting 101 years for a championship, but these new parts could be ready to pull it all together.

At least, lets hope so, I don’t want to jinx anything this early.

Be ready for the new Daily Cub, and hopefully, be ready for the new Chicago Cubs.

Pitchers and catchers report Friday, and I know that we are all excited, are you ready for some baseball?

-Joe Willett

Ryan Dempster Finally Loses at Home

Kevin Graczyk is a new writer for The Daily Cub. He is a writes avidly about the Cubs and will be published often on this site.

The Giants handed Ryan Dempster his first home loss with 4-2 victory Sunday in Chicago.

Dempster pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs on seven hits while striking out six and walking three. With the loss, Dempster fell to 10-4 on the season.

The Giants got on the board first in the top of the third when Tim Lincecum hit his first career triple that drove in Omar Vizquel. They added two more runs on a Ray Durham single that drove in both Fred Lewis and Lincecum to give them a 3-0 lead.

The Cubs scored one run in the next inning when Jim Edmonds doubled to drive in Mark Derosa.

With the Giants leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh, they were able to add an insurance run on a triple by Lewis that gave them a little bit more breathing room.

In the top of the ninth, the Cubs managed to put up another run on a Geovany Soto single that drove in Edmonds to put them within two at 4-2, but Reed Johnson was left stranded at third and Brian Wilson shut door to pick up his 25th save of the season.

Lincecum, who started for the Giants, pitched eight solid innings allowing just one earned run on six hits while striking out nine and walking only one. With the win, he improves to 11-2 on the season.

The Cubs finish the first half of the season with a 57-38 record and an astonishing 37-12 home record—but a 20-26 road record, something they will have to work on in the second half. In the National League Central the hold a 4 1/2 game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers and a five game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Next up, some of the Cubs players will participate in the All-Star game on Tuesday—chosen to participate are Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, and Alfonso Soriano, who has been replaced. Carlos Marmol has also just been announced as a replacement for Kerry Wood.

After the All-Star break, the Cubs will start off the second half as they travel to Houston to take on the Astros for three games starting on Friday July 18th.

-Kevin Graczyk