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A Cubs April To Forget

By bullpenbrian - May 1, 2009 - 1:06 am Leave a comment.


You hope this performance disappears with April, never to be seen again in 2009.

Cubs follow up their worst effort of the season in Arizona by registering more errors (3) than runs scored (2) on Thursday.

Failing to make the routine play is fast becoming the Cubs’ Achilles heel: errant throws on defense coupled with an abundant lack of situational hitting sums up Chicago’s (10-11) record to this point.

Three starters – Lee, Bradley and Miles – are hitting below .200. Only one batter, Bradley, drew a walk and, just five runners reached scoring position all night – none scoring, of course.

Thankfully, it’s still early in the season and the Cubs are too talented offensively not to start hitting. But, they’re digging a grave by continuously wasting quality outings by the starting pitchers.


Goose Bumps!

By bullpenbrian - August 16, 2008 - 1:51 am Leave a comment.

  • Saturday August 16th – Dolphins Stadium
  • Game (123): Marlins 2 – Cubs 1
  • Record (75-48) – 1st place NL Central

The skinny: Took in the Chicago Air & Water Show this afternoon.

Fighter jets roared above the downtown skyline while water crafts skipped along Lake Michigan’s coast.

Each time the Blue Angles buzzed North Avenue I got goose bumps!

Meanwhile, the Cubs played another typical game against the Marlins, losing 2-1.

Granted Lou rested some regulars (D. Lee, Aramis and Soto), eight hits, seven walks and 13 left on base should get the job done.

So, no goose bumps from the Cubbies.

Not a bad outing from Sean Marshall, although you’d love to see this guy last into the sixth for a change.

Obviously it’s a bummer the nine-game road winning streak comes to an end, but who ever thought the Cubs would string this many together away from Wrigley to begin with?

A win tomorrow on get-away-day and the Cubs take the series and finish the road trip 5-1, not too shabby.

W – Sanchez (2-2) – Gregg (27)

L – Marshall (2-3)

The Chicago Air & Water Show

The Chicago Air & Water Show

That's me on the top left

  • Notes: Today’s loss marks the end of Chicago’s nine-game road winning streak.
  • The Cubs averaged 8.4 runs per game over the nine-game stretch while batting (.311 avg.).
  • This was Marshall’s first start since July 6th.
  • Derek Lee went 1-for-2 in collecting his 1,500th career hit.

Going Through The Big D

By bullpenbrian - August 15, 2008 - 1:44 am Leave a comment.

  • Friday August 15th – Dolphins Stadium
  • Game (122): Cubs 6 – Marlins 5
  • Record (75-47) – 1st place NL Central

The skinny:  I could hear the cheers around Wrigleyville echoing through my apartment window before big D. Ward’s pinch hit HR fell into the right field seats.

What a huge emotional lift for the Cubs and specifically the team’s primary pinch hitter.

Prior to Ward’s at-bat, the slugger was swamped in an 0-for-13 slump, and just 4-for-20 coming off the bench all year, a far cry from his .327 pinch-hit average a year ago.

Give Lou credit for sticking with the big man–through thick and thin.

Ward is, after all, a rare catch by pinch hitting standards: professional at-bats, high contact hitter and has some power, too.

No question Ward’s game-winning blast immediately rerouted the focus from Zambrano’s poor outing to the team’s dramatic one-run win.

Although Carlso is winless in his last three starts, I’m without worry. There appears to be nothing wrong with him physically, just the usual lose nuts and bolts upstairs.

I’m simply chalking up Zambrano’s outing as a bad day. Besides, Ward’s given us reason to celebrate!

W – Gaudin (9-4) – Wood (25)

L – Gregg (6-5)

  • Notes: Tonight’s win marks the Cubs 35th come-from-behind win of the season, that leads MLB.
  • Ward’s PH dong is the 11th of his career.
  • His last hoe run came July 22nd at Arizona.
  • DeRosa’s 14th HR is a new career-high.

Make Sam The No. 5

By bullpenbrian - July 27, 2008 - 12:48 am Leave a comment.

  • Sunday July 27th – Wrigley Field
  • Game (105): Cubs 9 – Marlins 5
  • Record (61-44) – 1st place NL Central
  • 20-Games in 20-Days – (4-6)

The skinny: You have to figure Lou is going to find some more at-bats for Mike Fontenot in Milwaukee.

Since June 19th the little guy has gone (24-for-69) at the dish (.347avg.) including at least one extra base hit in his last 13 games.

Overall this season, Fontenot is batting (.284 avg.) with 8 HRs and 28 RBIs in 52 games off the bench and 34 starts.

Put those numbers next to Fukudome’s – (.277avg.), 7 HRs and 36 RBIs – and there’s a case to move DeRosa to right field and start Fontenot at second base.

And, given the lack of offense recently, I could part with Fukudome’s superior defensive skills in the outfield, at least temporarily.

Plus, with Edmonds’ ailing knee, Fukudome could make a few starts in centerfield as well.

Granted the Cubs have only scored one or fewer runs in three of Marquis’ last four starts, but he’s still (0-4) in his last four outings.

And while Marquis has put together a decent season, his overall record is just (6-6) with a 4.69 ERA.

So, when Woody return from the DL (Tuesday), I’d give some thoughts to replacing Marquis in the rotation with Jeff Samardzija.

Besides, Jeff has climbed through the minors as a starting pitcher anyway, going (4-1) with a 3.13 ERA in six starts at triple-A Iowa.

So, it’s not as if this would be a major adjustment for the Cubs’ newest member.

Meanwhile, I’d like to see Jim Hendry deal Marquis for some bullpen help with Samardzija becoming the No. 5 guy in the rotation.

But, a move of this sort won’t come easy.

First of all, Marquis is still under contract for one more season in Chicago, including being due the hefty sum of $9.87 million dollars owed to him in 2009.

Secondly, like a used car, we’re not talking about a high-performance pitcher here.

Still, Marquis’ right-arm can be of value to a few clubs in the post season chase, perhaps even Colorado – just 6 GB in the West.

For one thing, Marquis has been incredibly durable in his eight-year career making at least 32 starts with more than 190 innings pitched and 12 wins in the last four seasons alone.

Not to mention, every club he’s played for has made the post season and the guy can swing it too (Silver Slugger Award winner in 2005).

Yet, the key to such a deal is acquiring a quality bullpen arm, and that won’t come easy.

However, whether Marquis can be traded or not, I still stand firm that Hendry must improve the bullpen, and soon.

Contrary to the Cubs’ (48-4) record when leading after the seventh inning, just look back at the last week where three of these four losses occurred.

The Cubs have entered its seventh inning at-bat with a one-run lead in three of its last four games.

Furthermore, since the All Star break the club has begun the seventh inning either leading by one-run or trailing by one-run in five of its nine ballgames.

And chances are this trend will continue facing the likes of Sabathia and Sheets in Milwaukee.

Now, let’s go a step further. Chicago finishes the season playing 16 of 22 games on the road in what can be assumed to be a tight division race against Milwaukee and St. Louis.

And to this point, Chicago is (4-10-3) in its road series this season.

Mainly, the Cubs’ road woes lie with the team’s struggled to consistently score runs away from Wrigley, thus, we can expect many of these September contests to be close games.

So, the bullpen appears to be the key to winning the division crown.

Strengthening the pen is a MUST!

W – Gaudin (6-4) – Samardzija (1)

L – Hendrickson (7-6)

  • Notes: Chicago has been tied or has lead the NL Central race for the past 11 weeks.
  • In 18 home series the Cubs are (13-3-2).
  • And, in its last 10 series the club is (8-1-1).
  • Today’s win also even the club’s record in July to (11-11).
  • Tomorrow’s starting pitcher in Milwaukee, Ted Lilly, has won his last four road starts.

Release Bob Howry

By bullpenbrian - July 25, 2008 - 1:34 am Leave a comment.

It’s time the Cubs released Bob Howry…maybe explore some trade options for him.

Nothing against Howry the person…but I’ve seen enough of Howry the setup man.

This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to today’s loss, I’ve pointed out Howry’s disappointing season for weeks now.

In the beginning, I was patient, and mostly confident, Howry would rebound from a horrific April:

  • 19 hits in 12.1 innings pitched, 3 home runs and a bloated 8.03 ERA.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened, albeit briefly, during May:

  • 16 hits in 15.1 innings pitched, 2 home runs and a very respectable 1.76 ERA.

Unfortunately, the tide turned in June:

  • 12 hits in 10 innings pitched, 1 home run and a 4.50 ERA for the month.

It’s a red flag…Howry isn’t quite right…he’s not improving…and the season, of course, is in full swing.

To this point, the Cubs’ super-charged lineup has mask Howry’s ineffectiveness.

The one-two punch of Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood rarely leaves the pressure on Howry to protect late inning leads.

But given the Cubs’ collective funk offensively this month (July)…Marmol’s lack of command…and Wood’s trip to the DL…Bob Howry’s ineffectiveness has been exposed.

Regardless of Marmol’s recent struggles, however, Lou simply can’t throw Marmol (or Wood) every game.

So Lou’s left with the consistently bad Bob Howry to protect late inning leads. Not good.

Howry’s results for July:

  • (1-2) record, 13 hits in 11.1 innings pitched, 3 more home runs and a 7.15 ERA.

Obviously, the Cubs can’t rely on Howry any longer, and especially with the Brewers making a run. The backend of this bullpen needs reinforcements…like immediately!

Howry turns 35 in August…is in the final year of a three-year $12 million dollar contract: no better time to cut the string.

I’d hate to see Howry’s career as a Cub end this way…but what other options are left for a guy who’s allowed 62 hits in 50 innings pitched, 9 home runs and sports a 5.22 ERA?

  • Notes: Howry’s career ERA is a respectable 3.62.
  • In 2007 Howry allowed 76 hits in 81.1 innings pitched all season, including just eight home runs.
  • In the Cubs’ five losses since the All Star break, the lineup is 2-for-15 with RISP.
  • Jeff Samardzija made his major league debut: 1-run, 2-hits in 2-IP, and is not the answer to replacing Howry.

Fish Fry

By bullpenbrian - July 24, 2008 - 1:20 am Leave a comment.

  • Thursday July 24rd – Wrigley Field
  • Game (102): Cubs 6 – Marlins 3
  • Record (60-42) – 1st place NL Central
  • 20-Games in 20-Days – (3-4)

The skinny: Don’t underestimate the importance of this win tonight for the Cubs.

Attempting to defeat the Florida Marlins has been a serious chore for Chicago since April 26th, 2006, the Cubs’ last victory against the Fish.

In fact, entering tonight’s contest the Marlins had defeated Chicago in 10 straight games, marking the longest active winning-streak against a single opponent in the Majors.

Of course, the Marlins are forever linked to the Cubs’ collapse in the 2003 NLCS, including the Bartman game and that dreadful eight-spot during the eighth inning in game 6 of the series.

So, say what you will about the Marlins, but I love the front office efficiency of this club: 15 full seasons in the league, two pennants and two world championships.

Not to mention, the majority of the club’s success has come while operating on a shoestring budget.

Thus, it’s shameful how frequently the Cubs, playing in the game’s third-largest market, have struggled during the Marlins’ entire existence in professional baseball.

Anyway, I think you have to be pleased with Soriano’s return to the lineup.

Wednesday, he goes 1-for-5 with the game-winning RBI and helps rejuvenate the team’s offense to the tune of 10 runs.

And this evening, Fonsy doubles, walks, scores a run and avoids striking out.

Also, it’s obvious the whole Soriano-in-the-leadoff-spot drives many Cubs fans nuts and even more so when he swings away at the first pitch!

But consider this; Soriano is (15-for-35) when putting the first pitch he sees in play, that’s good for a (.428 avg.).

Look, the guy is comfortable in the leadoff spot, so there’s no question in my mind Lou is making the right move by keeping Alfonso penciled into the one-hole.

And more, Henry Blanco continues to show his value as Soto’s backup.

Including Hank White’s sixth inning blast tonight, the veteran backup stopper has hit safely in 12 of his 14 starts this year.

Overall though, the Cubs’ lineup top-to-bottom took a nice, patient approach, against Scott Olsen as well.

Despite the Marlins’ lefty jumping out to a (4-1) record to start the season, he’s struggled since then posting a (1-3) record and 4.88 ERA entering tonight’s start.

And I can’t say enough about Big Z’s performance either, on the mound and at the plate!

The right-handed ace posted his sixth consecutive win at Wrigley, including an ERA of less than 2.00 in his last four home starts.

Plus, he continues the starting staff’s string of nine-straight games of lasting into the sixth inning or longer.

And get this, when Zambrano pitches seven innings or more this year his record is (8-0) with a 1.73 ERA. Awesome!!!

On the other hand, Marmol’s three ninth-inning walks put the Marlins right into its comfort zone: the Fish rank 2nd in the league in walk-off wins (9).

Admittedly, I began preparing myself for Carlos’ ninth-inning collapse.

Although, thankfully, he avoid such a setback.

Seriously, this Cubs team needs help in the backend of the pen; Wood is out until who know when, Howry has been off his game all season and Marmol continues to squirm with what appears to be some mental demons.


It’d be one thing for the reliever to straighten out their struggles if the Cubs were leading the division by eight games, but the Brewers have shaved the lead down to just one game.

Strengthening the bullpen can’t wait in 2008.

Besides, one only has to remember back to the 2003 NLCS to realize a weak bullpen was the Cubs demise against Florida.

W – Zambrano (11-4) – Marmol (4)

L – Olsen (6-5)

  • Notes: The Cubs are the first NL team to reach 60 wins.
  • Chicago has not lost consecutive games at Wrigley since dropping the first two games of the season against Milwaukee: March 31st, 4-3 & April 2nd 8-2.
  • The Cubs now have three starters with 10 wins or more this season: ‘Z’ (11), Dempster (11) and Lilly (10).
  • The season of 1998 marks the last time the Cubs had three starting pitchers with 10 wins or more on its staff: Kevin Tapani (12), Kerry Wood (11) and Steve Trachsel (10).
  • Chicago has now plated double-digit runs in 11 games this season, already surpassing its total from 2007 (10 times).

The Large-Market Florida Marlins

By bullpenbrian - December 5, 2007 - 5:37 am Leave a comment.

Billy the Marlin

Winning in baseball has more to do with running an efficient organization than it does operating a team in a large-market.

The most recent example of this observation surfaces with the blockbuster trade of former Florida Marlins Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to Detroit for six top prospects in the Tigers’ organization.

Looking at the bigger picture, both Florida and Detroit have shown us historically that choosing efficiency over small-market excuses pays in the win column.

Although the Marlins’ and the Tigers’ organizations run an efficient front office, these two clubs couldn’t be farther apart in its successful business philosophies. While the Marlins shape its roster by penny-pinching, the Tigers splurge in molding its roster.

This trade explains why the Marlins justify parting with a 24-year-old hitting sensation and the always coveted top-of-the-rotation left-hander. Both Cabrera (.320, 34 HR, 119 RBIs) and Willis (career 3.78 ERA) were arbitration eligible and both looked to receive large pay raises before next season.

Now, it’s the Tigers who will foot the bill for these two All-Stars. Then, after the 2009 season Detroit can look forward to forking over another large chunk of money if it intends to keep the services of both players. Meanwhile, should any of the new Marlins prospects develop into major league talent, Florida will certainly reward them with league-minimum salaries.

Is one of these baseball business philosophies more right than the other? That’s debatable. What is not up for argument is the efficiency at which both organizations achieve winning success on the field of play.

Winning ways in Florida

The Marlins went from expansion team (1993) to World Champions (1997) in a matter of five years. Then, they repeated the entire process over again completing the transition with another championship in 2003. Yet, the baseball world recognizes Florida (Miami) as a small-market.

After learning of the recent trade, even Dontrelle Willis suggested in an interview with ESPN that he and Cabrera’s talents are largely overlooked in Major League Baseball because they play in small-market Florida (Miami is the sixth largest market in the MLB).

Despite conventional baseball wisdom, Miami is and will continue to be a largely populated US market.

The fact that the Fish draw about 10,000 fans per game (well below the league’s attendance average) is a direct result of the organization’s decision not to spend money on retaining its star players.

This is not to say the Marlins are a mismanaged operation, rather they are a frugal organization. The Marlins front office works efficiently through its good scouting system and player trades that have led to two World Championships in the last ten years.

Teams such as the Dodgers, Mets and even the Yankees have tried to buy championships but failed in their attempts.

However, the Marlins turned this trick before the 1997 season signing the game’s top free agents like Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Darren Daulton and manager Jim Leyland. They ultimately won (purchased) the World Series only to quickly dismantle the ’97 World Championship team and begin warehousing talented young players headed by Miguel Cabrera.

Under GM Dave Dombrowski, the team was active in the trade market swapping veteran players for multiple prospects (Kevin Brown for Derek Lee and A.J. Burnett for Al Leiter), developed young pitchers like (2003 World Series MVP) Josh Beckett and not surprisingly put themselves in position to win another championship.

So let’s review. Not only did the Marlins win by effectively piecing together a very expensive veteran star-heavy club but, it also developed a young, talented and cheap championship team as well.

One theory why the Marlins are so tight in the wallet is the thought that this organization is trying to under spend on its roster as a ploy to get a publicly financed stadium built in Miami.

And, I have to say that while the Marlins shout small-market excuses it appears baseball fans believe them. Those poor, small-market Marlins, how do the Milwaukee Brewers (baseball’s smallest market) even exist?

Sure, the Marlins could only benefit from a new stadium. I don’t think another baseball ballpark is more football friendly than Pro Player Stadium, not even the Metrodome in Minnesota.
Dolphins Stadium
If anything, Miami is an awesome market for baseball. The climate is warm, it has a large Latin population that can identify with the many Latin professional ballplayers, and it’s a heavy corporate and media market. Besides, the Marlins would not campaign for a new stadium if they thought the market was hopeless for baseball.

Also, the idea that the Marlins can’t compete against the college football crazies of the south is baloney. The Miami Heat survive as does a winless 2007 Dolphins organization. Even the no-name Panthers of the NHL live well in Miami.

The Tiger way

While the Marlins pretend to be small-market, the Tigers are currently rebuilding from being small-minded. Poor front office decision making kept the Tigers in a losing rut for 12 straight years (1994-2005), not its market size.

As the eighth largest market in the MLB, Detroit finally righted the ship with the hiring of former Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski (prior to the 2002 season). Under his watch the Tigers jumped from rock bottom in the standings (119 losses in 2003) to AL Pennant winners in four years.

Again, the Tigers resurrection in the win column has everything to do with its change in baseball philosophies and not its market size.

What this eight player deal between the Marlins and Tigers show us is that no matter what baseball market your team plays in it can win with front office efficiency.

Yes, it’s true that larger market teams have a financial advantage over smaller market clubs. Teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers have considerable more money to spend on players than Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee or Kansas City.

Conversely, none of these small-market teams listed above have even shown a minute amount of front office efficiency with the revenue sharing money they’ve received in the last decade. Only Cincinnati and Kansas City have recently begun to shy away from calling small-market fowl.

I believe this financial advantage allows large market clubs to recover more quickly from a poor front office player decision than it does guarantying a world championship or even a winning season. This is how the Yankees can afford to take on tremendous salary at the July trade deadline whereas a small-market team can not afford such moves.

Nonetheless, if market size solely dictates the win columns, how are successful small-market teams such as Cleveland, Oakland, Minnesota, Colorado and Milwaukee explained? Simple really, they get the most bang for their bucks

How “small-market” Florida wins with efficiency

• Outstanding scouting system (Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera)

• Smart trades such as: Acquiring Willis in 2000 from the Cubs in exchange for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement.

• Sending Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston for Hanley Ramirez (the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year) and Anibal Sanchez (he threw a no-hitter against Arizona).

• Excellent use of the reserve clause (paying players the league minimum salary before they’re free agents).

• At one point the Marlins had a roster that included star players Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera, A.J. Burnett, Carlos Delgado and Josh Beckett all for less than 11 million dollars.

Delgado for example, signed a four-year deal worth $52 million in 2005. However, the Marlins structured the contract so that Carlos was paid only $4 million the first year with the salary increasing in each of the following years.

Following the 2005 season, Florida dealt Delgado to the Mets for three prospects and in doing so saved them from having to pay the high end of his salary. Again, another smart move by the Fish.

• The one glaring weakness I see in the Marlins’ efficiency was firing the 2006 Manager of the Year, Joe Girardi.

Relationships spell efficiency in Detroit

When Tigers owner Mike Ilitch finally decided to change organizational philosophies, he hired GM Dave Dombrowski. The success Dombrowski had with Florida was no fluke. And, it’s no surprise he’s had continued success in Detroit.

I give a lot of credit to Dombrowski for maintaining his relationships. MLB is still a good ol’ boys league and the more friends you have the further you’ll go.

Take a close look at the current Tigers roster and you’ll see a couple of players Dombrowski has already shared a relationship with during his stay in South Florida, including manager Jim Leyland, Edgar Renteria, Ivan Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield.

The Tigers have also put more emphasis on scouting which in turn has produced players such as Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson.

Detroit also spends money to make money. By occasionally overpaying to keep its star players and free-agents, the Tigers organization has shown its players, free-agents and more importantly its fans that they’re in it to win it.

And as a result, fans have flocked to the beautiful Comerica Park to watch the talented bunch on the field.
Tiger Stadium
Large market failures like the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs should take notice. Money talks, but efficiency walks in professional baseball.


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