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Sports Illustrated Preview, Cubs (67-95), 5th NL Central

By bullpenbrian - March 30, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Wrigley Field

Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview says the Cubs will finish (67-95), fifth in the NL Central. Writer Albert Chen does a nice job with the Cubs preview, which you can read here.

Not certain if Chen decided the Cubs final record or if that was a staff pick. But it’s in the neighborhood of where I have the Cubs finishing the season (72-90), fifth in the division.

My only true disagreement with the piece is Bryan LaHair being tabbed as Chicago’s biggest loss from last season. While he did finish the campaign second on the team in HRs (16), LaHair was a disappointment in the season’s second half, transitioning from All-Star to bench warmer.

I suspected some of LaHair’s struggles were due in part to the arrival of Anthony Rizzo in late June, which forced LaHair from first base to the outfield.

Nonetheless, Rizzo was clearly the better player offensively hitting one fewer HR (15) than LaHair and driving in eight more runs (48) in 12 fewer plate appearances and 43 fewer games. Darwin Barney, who posted an on-base percentage under .300 (.299) managed to drive in four more runs (44) than LaHair (40) as well.

Even without Rizzo the Cubs would likely be better off without LaHair in 2013. And we can fairly assume the young Rizzo will perform just as well, if not better, than he did last season.

For my money the biggest loss was Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25), who managed a quality start in 69-percent of his outings, had an ERA+174 and a 3.5 WAR. Jeff Samardzija could push for similar numbers this season, but the Cubs will be hard pressed to get Dempster-esque production from their other starters aside from Shark.

“The Cubs are headed in the right direction, with a vastly improved farm system and a promising young core in place, but nobody’s putting the champagne on ice just yet. Next year will be a different story if prospects like Soler and Baez begin making an impact earlier than expected.” –Chen SI.com

Simply put, I see two factors determining the Cubs’ season. 1.) How well they start the season in the win/loss column. 2.) What happens at the trade deadline?

If the Cubs play well in the first three months we could see fewer moves at the trade deadline, which could mean a respectable second half, and an overall record that avoids 100-losses. If not, however, we can expect another yard sale similar to last season’s July moves and the team fighting to avoid triple digit losses during the final two months.

Either way, let’s just be excited Cubs baseball back–for better or worse.

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What’s Happened With Former Cubs Ace Ted Lilly?

By bullpenbrian - February 26, 2013 - 11:00 am 2 comments.

Ted Lilly Chicago Cubs

Jim Hendry’s trade of Ted Lilly to the Dodgers in 2010 was my coming to Jesus moment–the Cubs’ organization was truly taking a turn for the worse.

Here was a quality, left-handed starter, who for my money was the staff ace since 2007, being shipped to southern California (with Ryan Theriot) for Blake DeWitt. Holy hell.

I wouldn’t go as far to say Lilly was underappreciated during his tenure in Chicago, but I do think it’s fair to say he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.

Ask Cubs fans who the staff ace was during the back-to-back division titles in 2007-08 and most will give top billing to Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster.

For certain, both guys had their moments, but neither was as solid as Lilly during his 3.5 seasons on the North Side.

From his first season with the Cubs in 2007 to the eventual July 31st trade in 2010, the southpaw managed 47 wins in 113 starts while posting a 1.114 WHIP and a sparkling ERA+ of 122.

Lilly not only proved to be a terrific ‘stopper’ when the Cubs were coming off a loss, but he was regularly juggled in the rotation to pitch in the Cubs’ most important series.

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly was the Cubs ace.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most Cubs fans remember him. Instead, it’s the memory of Lilly’s mound tantrum during Game 2 of the NLDS at Arizona, when Chris Young lit him up for a three-run HR in the second inning, prompting Lilly to slam his glove to the ground in frustration.

Granted it was the worst timing for a poor outing, but Cubs fans overreaction to Lilly’s brief loss of composure would’ve made one think he fired a ball into the stands, punched a teammate in the dugout or bumped an umpire…or any number of episodes Big Z was actually guilty of while acting in the roll of the Cubs’ staff ace (rolls eyes).

Still, nothing compares to Lilly being snubbed by Lou Piniella during the 2008 NLDS when the skipper went with Dempster, Zambrano and Rich Harden to start Games 1-3. The series was over before Lilly could throw a single pitch.

Meanwhile, since the trade Lilly has put up respectable numbers with L.A. He made 12 starts to finish out the 2010 campaign with a record of (7-4, 3.97 ERA). The following year, his first full season with the Dodgers, Lilly made 33 starts, pitched 192.2 innings and won 12 games with little to no run support. A nagging shoulder injury, however, limited him to just 8 starts last summer, although he still managed a (5-1, 3.14 ERA) record.

After three months of rehabbing, Lilly ultimately opted for arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in Sept., resulting in the Dodgers placing him on a modified throwing program this spring.

At 37-years-old, and in the final season of his contract, this may be Lilly’s last hurrah in the bigs. Los Angeles has a crowded rotation as it is, and any setbacks in Lilly’s recovery during spring training could see him as the odd man out in what would be his 15th major league season—the best of which took place with Chicago.

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More Harry Caray Impressions

By bullpenbrian - February 14, 2013 - 1:30 am Leave a comment.

Will Ferrell | Harry Caray
Last week NBA All-Star Blake Griffin surprised the media following the Clippers win against the Magic with an impression of Harry Caray, who
was overjoyed to talk about Ryan Hollins’ 13 points off the bench for L.A.

I’ll credit Griffin with a decent impression of Caray, no worse than your average Cubs fans, and perhaps just a rung below Ryan Dempster. But the media folks, who you’ll hear cackling in the video, ate up the performance.

I’m not an NBA fan, but I became familiar with Griffin after watching him jump over a car in the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He also has numerous endorsement deals, one of which featured Griffin in a Super Bowl commercial a few weeks ago. (video below).

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Is Ryan Dempster Worth 3-Years?

By bullpenbrian - December 9, 2012 - 1:15 am 1 comment.

Ryan Dempster has turned down 2-year offers from the Royals and Red Sox. He’s wants a 3-year deal.

Teams are so desperate to sign quality starting pitching you can’t blame Dempster for holding a hard line. But it makes perfect sense why teams are hesitant to sign him. He’s already in the backend of his career and will be 39 at the end of a 3-year contract.

We saw how patient Dempster was during last July’s trade deadline. His endurance then, however, didn’t pan out as the Cubs shipped him to the Rangers instead of his preferred choice to play for the Dodgers.

A similar scenario could unfold this offseason if Dempster is stead fast in holding out for a third year. Although I believe some team will ultimately meet his demands, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fit for Dempster the pitcher.

Texas certainly wasn’t an ideal fit for Dempster. He was lit up to the tune of a 5.09 ERA in his 12 starts following the trade. By the time the Rangers coughed up its division lead to Oakland and limped into the postseason as a wild card Dempster had virtually pitched himself out of the rotation.

So maybe that partly explains why he’s turned away two American League teams. But what about the Brewers? There’s reportedly a mutual interest, the team trains in Arizona (another sticking point for Demspter) and there’s his familiarity within the National League and Central Division.

I guess that’s what surprises me most. You’d think a guy still chasing a ring and entering the sunset of his career would be more intrigued by quality vs. quantity. Signing with the first club to simply offer a third year would appear to go against such logic. That doesn’t make Dempster wrong, just some food for thought.

Based purely on speculation, here are a few places (in no particular order) I think Dempster could land–and no, the Cubs don’t make the list.

  • SAN DIEGO. The Padres still need rotation depth, they train in Arizona and have money to spend with its newly inked $1.5 billion TV contract.
  • LA ANGELS. Despite the additions of Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton, the Angels, who also train in Arizona, could use more quality starting pitching. The money is there, the team’s competitive and Dempster wouldn’t have to face his long-time nemesis Albert Pujols. Bonus.
  • BALTIMORE. The Orioles are desperate to add a quality starter. Perhaps enough to kick-in that third year. However, the O’s train in Florida and play in the always tough AL East, which is even tougher now that the Blue Jays are a formidable division threat.
  • MINNESOTA. The Twins are also spring residents of Florida, but they are closer to one of Dempster’s homes in Chicago and need to upgrade a very thin rotation.
  • CLEVELAND. The three-years and roughly $35-million it would take to sign Dempster seems unlikely for the cash-strapped Tribe. However, the Indians need starting pitching and they could view Dempster as a valuable trade piece down the line.
  • MILWAUKEE. For all the reasons stated previously and with the thought one side will cave; either Dempster settles for a 2-year deal or Milwaukee extends itself for three.

Is Dempster worth a third year? You tell me…

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Mixed Feelings On Ryan Dempster

By bullpenbrian - November 11, 2012 - 6:00 pm Leave a comment.

I have mixed feelings about the possibility of Ryan Dempster rejoining the Cubs.

I didn’t particularly care for the way Dempster handled his July trade to Texas after saying he was willing to help the Cubs get the most for his services by trading him to a contender.

“Any one of us is susceptible to being traded. For me, it’s a little different because I have the right to say ‘no.’ … Obviously I want to do what’s best for this organization. They’ve done nothing but right by me.” –Dempster

Instead, the trade deadline felt more like Dempster was pinning the Cubs front office in a corner than upholding his word to help the organization gain the most back in a deal.

We don’t know if that was exactly the case. There’s plenty of miscommunication from both ends to go around. I’m just saying that’s the way it felt to me back in July.

On the flip side, Dempster’s return would improve the Cubs’ chances to be competitive in 2013–if the money is right.

The Cubs need at least two more starting pitchers and Dempster was exceptionally good with Chicago last season, and arguably is just as good, if not better, than most of the mid-level free-agent starters the Cubs are targeting this offseason. That’s pretty good incentive for Chicago.

Meanwhile, Dempster’s incentive to resign with Chicago would be two-fold. First, it would provide an opportunity to heal the damage done to his once glowing reputation in Chicago before the trade debacle. Two, he would likely be given another chance to join a contender next July via trade.

My guess is Dempster is well aware he lost in the court of public opinion among Cubs fans last summer, which I believe would be of concern to a guy who was so heavily involved in the community with his Dempster Family Foundation.

‘‘I built a home here [Chicago]. I’ve been here almost nine years. The thought of leaving, no matter where it is, is a tough thing.’’ –Dempster

It could be just the sort of thing that trumps what are sure to be better financial offers for Dempster to pitch elsewhere next season, not to mention his preference playing for a team that holds spring training in Arizona where he keeps an offseason home.

Ultimately, however, I think TheoJed will do whatever is in the best interest of the Cubs organization. If that means reuniting with Dempster–assuming trade scenarios are agreed upon far in advance of July 31–so be it.

Otherwise I’m just fine watching Dempster play somewhere else and letting his career with the Cubs pass as water under the bridge.

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Former Cubs In The 2012 Postseason

By bullpenbrian - October 16, 2012 - 3:45 pm Leave a comment.

Not much going for former Cubs players in the postseason this year.

Aside from the threesome of Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot & Xavier Nady in San Francisco, the rest are out of the playoffs.

Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto, deserving or not (depending on your Cubs perspective), couldn’t fend off the A’s in Game 162 for the AL West title. Dempster blew an early 4-run lead and was shelled for 5-ER in 3.0 innings. It forced Texas into the AL play-in game, which they lost 5-1 to Baltimore.

Meanwhile, it’s a shame Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson & Jeff Baker couldn’t advance past Atlanta’s play-in game vs. St. Louis. It would’ve been enjoyable to see Maholm make his first-ever postseason start coming off the best season of his career. And who doesn’t root for Reed Johnson?

The same can be said of Mark DeRosa, whose Nationals fell to those same Cardinals in the division series. DeRosa never appeared in the series, but Chad Tracy appeared in all 5-games, going 0-for-4. And Tom Gorzelanny pitched just 0.1 of an inning, allowing one hit.

Sean Marshall appeared in 3-games for the Reds and shined in his 4.0 innings of no-run, no-hit baseball. But the Reds, of course, squandered it 2-0 series lead to lose 3-straight at home against the Giants.

Pagan is arguably having the best postseason for former Cubs while his Giants have advanced to the NLCS. He’s tied with Buster Posey with a team leading 2 HR & 5 RBI through two rounds, in addition to several defensive gems in the outfield.

Theriot and Nady have each appeared in 4-games: The Riot is 1-for-4 with 2 RBI (coming on a bases loaded single in Game 2 of the NLCS) while Nady is hitless in 4 at-bats.

I’ve never particularly enjoyed rooting for Theriot, especially after his back handed comments about the Cubs, and then his world championship spent with the Cardinals.

Pagan, however, has been a pretty good player since leaving the Cubs and joining the Mets before heading to San Fran this year. Go figure the Cubs never found enough playing time for Pagan during his two seasons spent on the North Side (2006-07).

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Cubs Best Starter 2012

By bullpenbrian - October 11, 2012 - 12:45 am Leave a comment.

-Jeff Samardzija: (9-13, 3.81). Pitching far better than his record indicates, Shark led the team in starts (28), innings pitched (174.2) and strikeouts (180).

Had it not been for the club’s decision to cut Samardzija’s season short in September it’s likely he would’ve finished the 2012 campaign with 30-starts, close to 200.0 innings pitched and double-digit wins.

In his first full season starting, however, the soon-to-be 28-year-old proved he can be a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm entering his sixth season with Chicago.

Honorable mentions: Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91) and the departed…Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25) in 16-starts, Paul Maholm (9-6, 3.74) in 20-starts.

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Ryan Dempster’s Bad Trade Karma

By bullpenbrian - October 4, 2012 - 5:15 am 2 comments.

I received some closure from the Ryan Dempster trade after watching the former-Cub blow his chance to pitch the Rangers to an AL West division title on Wednesday.

Despite an early 5-1 lead, Dempster couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. He departed with no outs, runners on first and second and the Rangers clinging to a 5-3 lead.

Derek Holland came on in relief but allowed both of Dempster’s base runners to score. The Athletics finished the inning having plated six-runs and never looked back winning 12-5 while capturing the AL West crown.

BBTIA.com “Ryan Dempster was bad, lasting just three innings in a must-win game (and, in the process, failing to generate much excitement about any additional post-season starts he may end up making).”

All totaled, Dempster was charged with 5-ER in 3.0 innings…a big-time disappointment in a big-time start.

I hardly had mix feelings about Dempster before he snubbed the Cubs on what appeared to be a lucrative trade with Atlanta this past July. Until then he was, unquestionably, one of my favorite players.

However, Dempster’s decision to veto the trade made it seem he had reneged on his word to help the Cubs out in the best way possible at the non-waiver trade deadline.

Ultimately, Dempster got what he wanted, the chance to play for a contender and pitch in meaningful games. But what was best for Dempster left Team Theo scrambling just minutes before the trade deadline with virtually zero leverage and fortunate they were even able to land two mid-level prospects in return from Texas.

If the way Dempster played matters at the trade deadline makes me bitter, so be it. A man’s only as good as his word…and from my perspective, Dempster sidestepped his promise to the Cubs.

Now, I wouldn’t go as far to say I was rooting against Dempster yesterday, but I didn’t feel badly for him, either. If anything, it feels as if I can close the door on the late July trade-drama and move on.

The Dempster trade will certainly have a longer lasting effect on the Cubs than Demps’ recovery from failing in the clutch with Texas, but while Dempster got what he wanted on July 31st…I felt like he got what he deserved on October 3rd.

How’s that for some trade karma.

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Dempster’s First Big-Game Start Since Oct., 2008

By bullpenbrian - October 3, 2012 - 3:30 am Leave a comment.

The last time Ryan Dempster made a big-game start was October 1, 2008 against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field.

As many of you remember, Dempster didn’t fare too well. He appeared riddled with early-game jitters and his overall performance actually felt worse than his pitching line: 4.2 innings, 4-ER, 4-H, 2-K…7 walks.

James Loney’s fifth-inning grand slam off Dempster erased an early 2-0 Cubs lead and sent Chicago spiraling towards a 7-2 loss–and eventual series sweep at the hands of Los Angeles.

Now four years later, Dempster has his chance at redeeming his big-game poise when starting at Oakland later this afternoon (2:35pm CST). He has not faced the A’s this season.

Meanwhile, having dropped two-straight against the Athletics, Texas is on the brink of wasting what was once a 13-game lead over Oakland. The two clubs enter Game 162 tied atop the AL West division.

Officially, it’s not a playoff game, but it might as well be given the circumstances. And now, more than ever, the Rangers need Dempster to deliver a gem or risk facing a one-game playoff in the wild card round to advance in October.

Dempster’s been as good as advertised since joining the Rangers at the trade deadline (7-3, 4.64), but he’ll have his hands full against a red-hot A’s club that’s won 5-straight and sends AJ Griffin to the mound who’s (7-1, 2.71) over his last 14-starts.

For Cubs fans there’s plenty to root for, and against, depending on how bitter you are from Dempster’s fallout with Chicago after he surprisingly turned down what would have been a lucrative trade with Atlanta this past July.

However, this is exactly what Dempster was holding out for…a chance to play meaningful baseball in October…and a chance to right his playoff misfortunes with the Cubs in 2007-08. Batter up…

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Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm Update

By bullpenbrian - September 27, 2012 - 3:15 am Leave a comment.

Ryan Dempster allowed 16-earned runs in his first 17.1 innings with the Rangers. Since then, however, he’s won six of his last seven starts improving to (7-2) with a 4.48 ERA with Texas.

In 10 starts with the Rangers Dempster’s allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s also pitched into the sixth-inning six times, reaching seven-innings once, and once more in an eight-inning effort. Only twice has he failed to reach the six-innings mark (4.3 & 3.1).

Including 16 starts with the Cubs this season, Dempster is (12-7) overall with a 3.07 ERA. He’s scheduled for two more regular season starts–at home against the Angels on Friday and at Oakland next Wednesday in the season finale.

Bottom Line: Dempster hasn’t dominated AL lineups the way he had in the NL, which was expected, but all things considered he’s been as good as advertised since Texas acquired him at the trade deadline.

PAUL MAHOLM: The former Cubs lefty evened his record with the Braves to (4-4) after tossing 6.2 shutout innings in a 3-0 win vs. Miami last night.

In 10 starts with Atlanta Maholm has allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s pitched six or more innings seven times, three times managed at least seven-innings and recorded one complete-game shutout.

Including his 20-starts with the Cubs this season, Maholm is (13-10) overall with a 3.71 ERA. His win-total is a career-high surpassing his 10-win season with Pittsburgh in 2007. He can be expected to make one final start this regular season coming at Pittsburgh on Monday.

Bottom Line: Maholm has pitched better than his record in Atlanta while adding solid rotation depth for the Braves’ postseason run. It’s turned out to be a career-year for the southpaw.

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