Tagged: Aaron Heilman

Good Bye, 2009

I do not want to see the 2009 Cubs succeed.  To do so would be to go against every baseball sensibility I have.  It would be to go against any sense of justice and fairness in this world.  To see the 2009 Cubs succeed would be a slap in the face of the baseball gods (sorry, Dusty Baker).  To see the 2009 Cubs succeed would validate stupidity. When a G.M. takes a 97 win team and needlessly overhauls them in the offseason with head-scratching, nonsensical moves, it should not be able to win.  I want to see the Cubs win a World Series, but my God, not this team.  Cub fans deserve better than this ill-conceived team Jim Hendry has put together and Lou Piniella has watched over.  I’ve heard people say the Cubs will actually make the playoffs because they play most of their remaining games against sub .500 teams such as the San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.  Sure.  I’m so glad that we have the MLB Extra Innings package on DirecTV so I can actually watch real baseball this September. 

Why is Milton Bradley still on this team?  I don’t care if the Cubs buy out his contract and cut him tomorrow, it is painfully obvious that he cannot remain on this team.  Hey, he even said he does not feel comfortable at Wrigley Field.  Who actually thought Milton Bradley would behave differently on the Cubs, a team that has no obvious leaders?  No, to root for the 2009 Cubs to succeed would mean Milton Bradley succeeding.  It may be juvenile, but I can’t do it.
Good luck to Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman after being claimed off waivers.  Hopefully for them, they will indeed end up someplace else so they don’t have to ride out this train wreck.
Now that the Cubs have new owners, the Ricketts family (Isn’t that the name of a disease?  Maybe it’s fitting for the Cubs), we should expect a lot of moves.  At least I hope so.  Do they really know what they’re getting into?  Will they completely sever all ties with the Tribune and start anew, or will it just be business as usual?  The new owners have a lot of work to do.  I wish them well and hope that they can deliver a Cubs World Series with a team that would live up to the image of a champion.

A Look at the Division

While the Cubs enjoy a day off, I decided to take a look at the state of the NL Central.

Who says the NL Central is a weak division.  Right now, four of the six teams are over .500.  The top four teams are separated by 3 and a half games.  As of the end of play on May 18, here are the standings.
                Milwaukee 24-14   —
                Chicago    21-15   2
                St. Louis   21-17   3
                Cincinnati  20-17   3.5
                Houston    17-19   6
                Pittsburgh 17-21   7
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The Brewers have been red hot as of late.  In their last three series, the Brew Crew took 2 out of three from the Cubs, swept three from the Marlins, and swept three from the Cardinals.  Trevor Hoffman has been lights out, converting all nine save opportunities.  The offense has been clicking, led by the Villainous Braun and Prince Fielder.  The starting pitching has been better than expected.  Will it last?  Prince Fielder is the absolute worst defensive first baseman I’ve seen at the big league level.  Having watched a lot of bad Cubs baseball over the years, that’s saying something.  The strain he puts on the pitching staff over the course of the season by giving teams extra outs is great.  The Brewers should trade him the to AL for some starting pitching.  At least there he can be someone’s DH.  Milwaukee got some bad news today when they learned they had lost Rickie Weeks for the season with a wrist injury.  Weeks had nine homers, 24 RBI, and a .517 on base percentage.
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I really don’t know how the Cubs have the record they have considering how erratic their starting pitching has been, how dreadful the bullpen has been, and how many key injuries they’ve had.  Piniella’s team has found a way to persevere.  This does give me hope for this season. Bobby Scales and Randy Wells have been pleasant surprises thus far.  Will the Cubs be able to maintain their offense during Ramirez’s absence?  Has Derrek Lee finally turned the corner with Sunday’s big performance?  Can Marmol be lights out again?  Can the Cubs really rely on Kevin Gregg?  Will Fukudome have another second half swoon?  These are some of the questions the Cubs face.
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The Cardinals came out of the gate like gangbusters.  Their high powered offense, led by Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick, was clobbering everyone.  Albert Pujols is the best player in the game right now, but things are going to get tougher for him now that his protector in the lineup, Ludwick, has gone on the DL.  They were just swept by Milwaukee in a series where they produced little offense.  Their bullpen has looked shaky at times once again.  They don’t have a true closer.  Sorry, Dad, But I think the Cardinals are beginning their slide down the standings.  Don’t forget who they play next!
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Cincinnati was my sleeper team this year.  They have a boatload of really good young talent. Could this be the Tampa Bay Rays of 2009?  Cincinnati is finding out “In Dusty, we trusty”.
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Houston has a scary offense with no pitching.  If they try hard, they could end up .500.
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The Pirates started out strong.  It looked like their young pitchers, such as Duke, Snell, & Gorzelanny had turned the corner like Verlander & Bonderman had for the Tigers in 2006.  However, they’ve slid back down in the last couple of weeks.  They still could figure in as a spoiler for the contenders down the stretch.
Extra! Extra!
Meet Jose Ascanio, the Cubs new reliever extraordinaire.
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Here are the results of the first four batters Jose faced in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Astros.
Batter 1 – Hit by Pitch (Hey, watch it!)
Batter 2 – Hit by Pitch (Ouch! That had to hurt.)
Batter 3 – Single to right, RBI
Batter 4 – Oops! Wild pitch, run scores
Someone actually figured out something Larry Rothschild hasn’t been able to, how to make Kevin Gregg, Neil Cotts, & Aaron Heilman look good.  Watch it now, these guys have got some competition.
Photo Credits:

Vintage Gregg

Randy Wells has had a pretty remarkable start to his career as a starter.  In two starts this year, he has pitched 11 shutout innings.  He actually has pitched 16 and a third shutout innings if you go back to his relief appearances last year.

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                                      Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / May 16, 2009

Despite his success, he has no record this year.  In both of his starts, he left the game with the lead only to see the bullpen lose that lead.  Yesterday, the Cubs led 4-0 going to the top of the ninth.  One would figure Wells would get his first big league win.  One would figure that.  Enter Kevin Gregg.

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                               Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / May 16, 2009

Let’s recap yesterday’s ninth inning.  For those of you not familiar with the work of Kevin Gregg, yesterday was “Vintage Gregg”.

Lance Berkman – Home run to right center field.
Carlos Lee – Home run to left field.
Miguel Tejada – Single to left.
    Pitching coach Larry Rothschild comes out to have a “chat”.
Hunter Pence – Single to center that was deflected off of Gregg.
Geoff Blum is hit by a pitch.

Five batters, four hits, one hit batter.  Cubs lead is cut to 4-2.  Bases loaded.  None out.  Gregg’s looking better each outing.

Gregg exits stage left.  Aaron Heilman to the rescue!

Ivan Rodriguez singles to left scoring Tejada and Pence to tie the game.  Two on and no out.  What a game!

Heilman gets Michaels and Matsui both the fly out to Fukudome.  What, is Aaron Heilman auditioning for the role of a relief pitcher?
Heilman walks Michael Bourn to load the bases.  Maybe not.

Heilman exits for Sean Marshall who gets Lance Berkman to ground out with the bases loaded.  The Cubs escape complete disaster.

In the ninth, Soriano bails out the Cubs with an RBI single scoring Bobby Scales with the game winning run.

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                              Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / May 16, 2009

And there was much rejoicing!

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      Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / May 16, 2009

I think that Alfonso Soriano needs to take Kevin Gregg out to dinner at Gibson’s just to thank him.  Hey, if Gregg wasn’t the worst closer in the National League, Soriano wouldn’t have all these chances to be the ninth inning hero.

The Cubs will have a decision to make when Carlos Zambrano comes off the DL and goes back into the rotation.  I think that they should consider keeping Randy Wells in the rotation as the fifth starter and move Sean Marshall to the bullpen.  Marshall’s had success out of the pen before.  He would give the Cubs another lefty arm out of the pen.  Marshall could also act as a long reliever on those days when Rich Harden can only pitch three innings or when Carlos Zambrano has to leave in the second inning because he decided to slide head first into first base or something.  Just something to think about.

The good news is the Cubs have won five in a row!  Today, Rich Harden will try to bring hom
e a series shortened sweep of the Astros.  I’m thinking that Alfonso Soriano may be secretly hoping that Kevin Gregg gets to pitch the ninth inning again.

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What Next?

The Cubs traded Joey Gathright to the Orioles for Ryan Freel, a player that was scratched from playing today because he has hamstring tightness.  Perfect.

Oh, by the way, the bullpen imploded again in a 12-6 loss to the Brewers.  Now Aaron Heilman can’t find the plate.  Chad Fox, whom they just called up, got hurt throwing a pitch in the eighth inning.  Derrek Lee is going to have tests done on his neck tomorrow.  He didn’t play, again.  Ramirez will be out at least six weeks.  Geovany Soto looks disinterested.  I’m afraid to watch tomorrow’s game to see what’s going to happen next.

Strange Brew

Right after school yesterday, my friend Packer Pete and I headed straight up I-94 to Milwaukee to catch the Cubs vs. the Brewers.  This is certainly a blossoming rivalry now that both teams are among the better teams in baseball.  Since the Brewers moved to the NL in the 1990’s, these games were just another set of games on the schedule.  After the Cubs near World Series appearance in 2003, tickets to Wrigley Field became harder and harder to get.  So many Cub fans who could not get tickets to Wrigley, started buying up the tickets to Miller Park.  This started the rivalry.  The Brewers were not good at this time, but their fans began to resent the F.I.B.S. that started overrunning their stadium whenever the Cubs came to town.  What’s a F.I.B.?  Well, the “I” stands for Illinois.  The “F” and the “B” stand for two words I can’t print here because kids may be reading this.  Use your imagination.  Thus, the Cubs/Brewers rivalry was based more on Wisconsinites’s disdain for people from Illinois taking over their city and stadium than it was on baseball.  That has changed in the past three years.  The Cubs and Brewers are now rivals in the standings and these games have taken on a real spirited atmosphere.  I always saw the Cubs/Cardinals as a friendly rivalry.  The Cardinal fans knew their team was superior to the Cubs and the Cub fans were just happy to be out at the game and maybe see their Cubbies embarrass the Cardinals a bit.  After the game, everyone would go out together.  Yeah, I don’t see that happening with the Cubs and Brewers.  This rivalry is a lot more jaded.

So it was with this backdrop that we headed up to Miller.  I was sporting my Cubbie gear and Pete was sporting his Brewer gear.  
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He also brought the infamous goat dressed up in a Brewer uniform.  He said he brought it to “curse” the Cubs.  I’ve never heard that before.
DSC04541.jpgSee what Cub fans have to put up with?  
Going into this game, I expected the Cubs to lose.  They were starting Randy Wells, a pitcher they called up from Iowa to replace Zambrano.  Wells made his first start in the majors last night.  He actually pitched well.  He went five scoreless innings.  Sure, he got into a few scrapes, but he managed to induce a double play or something in order to get out of it.  Heck, he pitched better than some of our regular starters have this year.   When Piniella took him out after five and put Guzman in to pitch in the sixth with the Cubs leading 2-0, I told Pete that the Brewers have an excellent chance of winning this game.  Guzman gave up a solo homer to JJ Hardy.  Heilman came in to pitch the eighth.  Perhaps I had a premonition of pending poopiness about to occur in the game, but I decided to go to the restroom and then get something to drink. Yeah, I didn’t actually see the four pitch walk and the two run bomb hit by Ryan Braun.  I could just hear the explosion of the Brewer fans and the ensuing fireworks that rocked Miller Park.  I didn’t need to see this.  I’ve been seeing it all year.  Stupid bullpen.  The scoreboard after the game told the tale.

DSC04567.jpgI do have “Hells Bells” by AC/DC stuck in my head as the Brewers continue the Trevor Hoffman tradition of blasting this entire song when he comes into the game.  

The Brewer fans can gloat.  For one day, at least.
DSC04564.jpgThe goat had nothing to do with it.
Boy, things just keep getting worse for the Cubs.  In the third inning, Aramis Ramirez dove along the third base line after a ball hit by Ryan Braun and apparently injured himself.  From where we were sitting on the first base upper deck side, we couldn’t tell what exactly happened to Ramirez.  Did he get hit in the face with the ball?  Did he land awkwardly on his wrist?  We only saw Theriot sprint up to him and the trainer and Piniella sprint out of the dugout.  Ramirez stayed down for a long time.  They finally got him up and walked him straight into the clubhouse.  Not good.  I’ve always said that Ramirez is the one guy the Cubs could not afford to lose for any lengthy amount of time.  After they got him in the clubhouse, I called my wife to ask her what she saw on T.V.  She said it looked like a shoulder injury.  Sure enough, the news from the Cubs is that Aramis Ramirez separated his left shoulder and will get an MRI today.  He was placed on the DL and will be out 4-6 weeks, at minimum.  Ramirez suffered a similar injury back in 2000 with the Pirates.  He missed six weeks.
I did hear that the Cubs have traded Joey Gathright to the Orioles for Ryan Freel.  Freel will be a much needed utility player for the Cubs.
I enjoy Miller Park.  Here are some more pictures from yesterday’s game.
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The hot dog eventually won.
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It’s times like these that test the mettle of a team.  We’re going to find out a lot about the 2009 Cubs in the next six weeks or so.

Did the Cubs make the April grade?

April has come to an end.  Twenty-one games are in the books.  Being a teacher, I’m used to grading my students’ performance.  I’m going to take this opportunity to grade the Cubs players’ April performance.

Outfielders
Alfonso Soriano, B
        He’s personally won at least two games this year.  His batting average has started to
        dip.  I’s now .284.
Reed Johnson, C+
        Outfield play has saved Cubs on a number of occasions.  Great attitude and seems to
        be a great team guy.  He is hitting only .216, though.
Kosuke Fukudome, A
        Solid start to season with his .338 average.  He leads team with 15 RBI.  We’ve seen
        this before, however.  Can he extent the hot hitting after the All-Star Break?
Milton Bradley, F
        Should be an incomplete, as he hasn’t played much.  His attitude and distractions
        earn him an F.
Joey Gathright, INCOMPLETE
        One hit in nine at bats.  The jury is still out.
Micah Hoffpauir, B-
        .303, two homers, nine RBIs.  Sloppy defense at times.
Infielders
Derrek Lee, C-
         Good defense.  Some timely hits, but still hitting only .189.  Time to move down in the 
         order.
Aramis Ramirez, B+
         When he’s in there, he’s the Cubs most dangerous hitter.  .358 with 14 RBIs.  Has
         battled injury issues thus far.  The Cubs CANNOT afford to lose him for any extended
         length of time.
Ryan Theriot, B+
         Hitting .317.  Plays hard and is dependable.  Base running gaffes are a weakness.
Mike Fontenot, B-
         Hitting only .232, but has four homers and ten RBIs.  A good team guy.  His defense is
         better this year.
Aaron Miles, C+
         Cubs are getting what they should have expected from this light hitting infielder.
Catchers
Geovany Soto, F
         This saddens me.  Slow start, hitting .109 with only five hits on the season.  Is he
         still hurt?  Can’t throw out any base stealers.  A Cubs Rookie of the Year off to a slow              
         start the following year.  Anyone remember Jerome Walton?
Koyie Hill, B
         A solid backup.
Starters
Carlos Zambrano, C+
         Can be inconsistent.  Still will let his emotions take over at times.  4.64 ERA.
         36 hits allowed in 33 innings along with 13 walks.
Ryan Dempster, C
         29 hits allowed in 30 innings along with 14 walks.  5.40 ERA.
Ted Lilly, C+
         2-2 with a 3.80 ERA.
Rich Harden, B
         If you take out the awful game I saw him pitch against Colorado, he’s probably been the 
         best of this bunch so far.  2-1, 3.86 ERA.
Sean Marshall, B-
         3.32 ERA is best among the starters.  He keeps the Cubs in the game.
Bullpen
Aaron Heilman, C+
         I was actually ready to give him an A- before todays game because of his 0.82 ERA.
         I’m so mad after tonight, I’ve downgraded him.
Angel Guzman, C-
         His 3.97 ERA now actually looks good in this bullpen.  Sad.
Kevin Gregg, F
         11 hits in 9.2 innings pitched and a 5.59 ERA is not going to get it done as a closer.
Davis Patton, F
         Threw a home run derby pitch to Pujols with the bases loaded.  Has a 9.35 ERA.
Carlos Marmol, C+
          Mr. Reliable started out strong.  Even he has struggled of late, even before his injury.
          6.00 ERA.
Neal Cotts, F
         Only because there isn’t a grade lower than F.
Jeff Samardzija, F
        You see Jeff Samardzija, I see Kyle Farnsworth.  6.75 ERA.
The Overall Grade = C
The Cubs finish April at 10-11.  They are a very average team right now with a lousy bullpen.  
They’ve scored 97 runs and given up 104.  They are 4-5 at home and 6-6 on the road.  The Cubs face a challenge right now.  They trail St. Louis by five games right now.  St. Louis has three more games against the woeful Washington Nationals this weekend.  The Cubs have three more games against the first place Marlins.  The Cubs don’t want to start digging themselves too deep of a hole.  There’s an old baseball adage that says while you can’t win a pennant in April, you can lose a pennant in April.  Thank God it’s May.
         

What is it they say about April Showers?

Where to begin?  The Cubs’ weaknesses came to the forefront tonight in an extra inning loss to the Marlins.  Weak, inconsistent offense and a bullpen that may be the worst in the National League right now allow the Marlins to win 8-2 in 10 innings tonight at Wrigley.  The Cubs led this game 2-0 until the seventh thanks to back to back homers by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot in the fifth.  The Marlins, as they’ve done all year, chipped away with a run in the seventh and a run in the eighth to tie the score.  Carlos Marmol looked terrible again in allowing the tying run in the eighth.  It remained 2-2 until the top of the tenth when Aaron Heilman came in to pitch.  Heilman came into the game with a 0.82 ERA.  He had been the bright spot in the Cubs bullpen.  No one else in the Cubs bullpen had an ERA under 4.35, so Heilman was definitely a bright spot.  Well, maybe he wanted to fit in with the rest of his bullpen mates and bring that ERA up.  Six runs later, five of them earned, Heilman left with an ERA of 4.91 and a 8-2 Cubs loss.  The Cubs do not have a bullpen right now.  Every game it seems like someone different implodes.  Yesterday, it was Marmol.  Today, it was Heilman.  Who will it be tomorrow?  Larry Rothschild has his work cut out for him.