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It’s been a long and trying season for Marlon Byrd.
In addition to dealing with the Cubs dismal record, he’s faced the huge challenge of returning from a six week stay on the DL recovering from multiply facial fractures after suffering a beanball to his left eye on May 21 in Boston.
Just watching that happened made it seem unlikely Byrd would return at all this season. True to his positive character, however, Byrd returned 39 games later to take his spot in center field.
Ryan Dempster is quietly putting together another strong season.
He made his 30th start on Wednesday night against Cincinnati, is on pace for 200-plus innings (176.2) and has fanned 169 batters vs. 64 walks.
If there’s any glaring weakness at all, it’s having issued 20 home runs. Otherwise, Demps is earning every bit of his $13.5M salary.
Despite going winless over his last five starts, Dempster is pitching better than his (10-11) record indicates.
He’s allowed 3 ER or less in seven of his last eight outings, but has fallen victim to the staff’s worst run support–4.32 runs per game. That equals two runs or less of support in nearly half his starts (14), which is tough on any starter.
With four more starts this season Dempster can match his total from last season (34). Although his 15 wins from a year ago is out of reach, give him two wins in his last four starts and he finishes the campaign with 12 victories.
Not bad for a starter whose team is on pace for 90-plus losses.
The Cubs gave a glowing example of yesterday’s post–Cubs Win With Patience–during its 4-2 loss against Cincinnati on Tuesday night.
Chicago’s lack of plate patience allowed Reds starter Mike Leake to reach a single game career-high of nine innings pitched, doing so on just 91 pitches.
The Cubs, impatient as usual, were first strike swingers all the way. Leake never tired, of course, and set the Cubs down one by one, inning after inning.
Leake needed a touch over 80-pitches to reach the eighth inning unscathed with the exception of Alfonso Soriano’s second inning single. Otherwise, Chicago never threatened offensively.
Until pinch-hitter Bryan LaHair reached the plate in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs had hardly worked Leake into a hitter’s count all night.
Lo and behold, after Castro reached on a weak infield single, LaHair got ahead 2-0 before crushing his game-tying 2-R HR deep into the right field bleachers, ruining Leake’s bid for his first career shutout, and sending the game into extra innings.
If only the Cubs would learn to work the count sooner…
A lack of plate patience has been yet another on-going problem for the Cubs this season.
Chicago’s free swinging and overly aggressive approach does a lot to explain why the Cubs stink at hitting with runners on base.
When you don’t have a lineup that’s collectively working the count, you don’t work the opposing pitcher. When you don’t work the opposing pitcher, you lesson his chances for making a mistake. And hitting the mistake pitch is often the difference maker in winning and losing games.
As much as we talk about the Cubs’ lack of clutch hitting, adding speed to the lineup should be another point of emphasis this winter.
Speed is so valuable on both sides of the ball helping to create runs and taking them away. It’s a pressure point that rattles the opposition, forces mistakes and wins games.
While speed never seems to be undervalued, it’s often over-looked and underused, at least offensively. The good news, however, is as baseball further departs the steroid era the more the running game is being resurrected, which is exciting for baseball overall.
The Cubs stole four bases on Sunday leading to a 6-3 win against Pittsburgh. But it’s not very often we see the Cubs swiping bags. Chicago ranks 27th in stolen bags. Not very good.
Let me go back to what I’ve already said about Carlos Marmol–he’s not the closer many Cubs fans believe him to be.
Saturday’s blown save is Marmol’s 9th of the season–the most in the NL. He’s 31-for-40 in save opportunities, that’s 77%, which is well below where you want your closer to be.
Marmol’s stuff is clearly closer worthy, his slider unquestionably one of the best in all of baseball. But his continuous lack of command and overall inconsistency doesn’t suite him well for ninth inning duties.
With two years left on his deal and the Cubs paying him handsomely through 2013–$7M next year and $9.8M the following–that’s a lot of dough for a guy who’s gotten worse, not better, at shutting the door.
Here’s a quick look at where the Cubs stand by the numbers heading into the season’s final month of September.
Overall Record (59-78) – Fifth place NL Central
-By Month: April 12-14, May 11-16, June 11-18, July 9-17, August 16-13
-Come from behind wins: 32
-Losses after leading: 38
-Games won in last at-bat: 16
-Games lost in last at-bat: 13
-High water mark: 1 over .500 at 9-8
-Low water mark: 23 under .500 at 42-65
-Scoring first: 33-25
-Scoring 4 or more runs: 47-28
-Scoring 4 runs or less: 12-50
-One-run games: 21-23
-Extra inning games: 7-3
-Errorless ball: 31-36
-Committing at least one error: 28-42
The Cubs’ first winning month of the season, (16-13) in August, puts them in position to catch Pittsburgh for fourth place in the NL Central.
Of course that’s not going to save Mike Quade’s job or make the season any less miserable, but it would give Chicago a shred of respectability placing ahead of the always dreadful Pirates and the major’s worst club, Houston.
Reality finally settled in on Pittsburgh in mid July after reaching a season-high seven games above .500 to go along with the division lead as of July 19. But the Pirates have simply collapsed since posting a mark of (11-30).
They’re now 12-games sub .500, 18-games back of Milwaukee, and just three wins better than Chicago. A harsh reality, indeed.