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Cubs are Hurting Zambrano by Sending him to Bullpen

The Chicago Cubs announced Wednesday that pitcher Carlos Zambrano would no longer be in their starting rotation. Instead, Big Z will be placed in the bullpen as an eighth inning pitcher, an area that the Cubs have greatly struggled with this season. Prior to Wednesday’s game, the bullpen had already blown four of seven saves this year.

The Cubs were pressed to make a move because starter Ted Lilly is coming off the disabled list Saturday. Instead of moving Carlos Silva into the bullpen, which was the expected move, Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella decided Big Z would be the better fit. I’m not too sure this was the right move. Zambrano has been a hot head in the past, and I think that even though he has kept his cool so far it won’t be long till explodes once again.

Some Cubs fans have already been celebrating the news that Zambrano, who disappointed them last year and so far this year, would no longer be in the starting rotation. But I don’t think this was a good move. For one, Zambrano always gets off to a slow start. If he is only going to be pitching as the eighth inning guy, he doesn’t really have much room for error. This will inevitably lead to Cubs fans hating him more than they already do. Second, Zambrano is used to working on a starter’s schedule and having four days off between starts. Now he’s got to be ready to pitch everyday, although it’s unlikely Piniella will use him that frequently. Lastly, the Cubs are diminishing the value of Zambrano. As of right now he has a huge contract ($91.5 million, $17.9 of which is for 2010) and if the Cubs can convince Zambrano to waive his no trade clause, there is no team in their right mind that will pick up and eighth inning guy for that type of money.

Either way, Zambrano is the one who will suffer for this move. His value is greatly diminished by sitting him in the bullpen, and the Cubs fans will eat him alive if he starts to suck in that setup spot too. Zambrano ended his press conference by saying “I will be back.” I don’t know about that Big Z, if you blow this one, you might want to get far away from the Windy City.

Sources:
Cubs Move Carlos Zambrano to Bullpen [Chicago Breaking Sports]

Wrigley Field Ruined by ‘Upgrades’

As we all know, the Chicago Cubs have brand new owners this year — the Ricketts family. And boy, do they have big ideas for the Cubs and historic Wrigley Field. When I say big, I mean eight 19′ x 14′ photos of current players and manager Lou Piniella hanging outside of the ballpark right next to the classic “Wrigley Field” sign.  What are they thinking?

Let’s me start by saying this: that red sign is classic. It’s a baseball icon, and it’s a classic in Chicago and especially for Cubs fans. Putting anything around it just seems disrespectful even if they are pictures of Cubs players. Why on earth did they think this was a good idea? They are practically defacing a 100-year-old building. Part of Wrigley Field’s charm is that it is historic. People who aren’t Cubs fans or who aren’t even interested in baseball go there to soak up some history, not to see obnoxious giant photos surrounding the infamous red welcome sign.

All I can say is that I hope that this is just part of their opening week celebration. If they plan on keeping those giant photos in their current location then we may have a riot on our hands. Chicago is a city that is very passionate about its teams and its architecture. What are they going to do next? Take out the classic scoreboard? Remove the ivy from the walls? If you’re going to mess with Wrigley Field you might as well just knock it down, because this feels like the equivalent of doing so.

Sources:
Wrigley Field renovations [Chicago Tribune]

Lou Piniella Screwed Up Yet Again; Mismanaged Playoff Rotation

Last year at this time I was criticizing Cubs manager Lou Piniella for his decision to yank Carlos Zambrano after six innings in Game 1 of the NLDS with the score tied 1-1, while Arizona elected to stick with ace Brandon Webb for another inning. At the time I criticized Piniella before the series ended, saying he was wrong for getting ahead of himself; he wanted Zambrano to be rested for Game 4, forgetting you must win a game in order to get to Game 4. Well, it struck me that the same mentality in this year’s playoffs doomed the Cubs yet again. It all would have been worked out had they listened to me last year when I said such a move was a fireable offense.

Anyway, Piniella ordered his rotation for the NLDS against the Dodgers to go Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Rich Harden. Now I’m not about to blame Piniella for his team booting the ball around the infield and not hitting for a few games, but I will blame him for not throwing his top two aces in games 1 and 2. To me, it is ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE to not throw Carlos Zambrano in Game 1 of a playoff series if you’re the Cubs. Plain and simple, end of story, no questions asked — you ALWAYS throw your ace in Game 1 of a playoff series whenever possible (and it was possible). Secondly, if your number two pitcher happens to be Rich Harden, who is filthier than Zambrano but just not as much of a “Cub” as Big Z, you have to throw him in Game 2. No questions asked once again. I don’t care how amazing Ryan Dempster was this year, I don’t care what his home splits were at Wrigley Field. If you have Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden in your rotation, you throw them in Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs respectively, unless your three other starters happen to be named Josh Beckett, Johan Santana, and Tim Lincecum. Last time I checked Lou’s other options were Dempster, Lilly, and Marquis.

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A Chicago-less World Series Now?

I don’t remember the World Series hopes of teams taking bigger hits than what both Chicago squads went through this week. Sure, the Rays losing Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria in a span of a few days was bad, but those guys at least were on schedule to return before the playoffs began (Longoria more so than Crawford). You could hear the panicking from Cubs fans across the country as Rich Harden had a start pushed back to rest his arm. If that wasn’t enough, Carlos Zambrano had an MRI that revealed rotator cuff tendinitis and inflammation. Neither pitcher is in the rotation at the moment, and the Cubs have lost six in a row. And to top off the bad news in the Windy City this week, Carlos Quentin, who had missed games with a forearm injury, was scheduled to have surgery that will probably end his season. That’s a lot of difficult news for one city to digest in a short amount of time.

While the White Sox are losing their biggest bat and Quentin no longer will win the MVP award (he was my top candidate), they can still live on without him. They’ll need Paul Konerko, Nick Swisher, and Ken Griffey Jr. to step up while he’s out (how much better does Kenny Williams look now for bringing Griffey in?). They’re taking a hit, but they can withstand it. As for the Cubs, the natural reaction is to panic. But look at the big picture here: you’re still going to win the division, and your top line starters will have plenty of rest to be fresh for October. I wouldn’t be worried. Josh Beckett had to miss two starts for the Red Sox, see Dr. James Andrews about his elbow, yet he returned to throw a shutout against the Rangers on Friday. If he rebounded and did fine, Harden and Big Z should be able to regain top form. Things in Chicago may have looked bleak this past week, but I wouldn’t sweat it — both teams still have just as good a chance as any to make it to the Fall Classic.

Obama Takes a Jab at Cubs Fans

Presidential candidate Barack Obama recently sat down with ESPN’s Stuart Scott for an interview that will air next week, I’m led to believe. There was one particular clip from the interview that can be construed as controversial. Eamonn Brennan at the brand new blog over at MOUTHPIECE SPORTS (we’re on strict order to capitalize the name, and make sure to bookmark the page), shares Obama’s remark:

Scott: “Who would you root for?

Obama: “Oh, that’s easy. White Sox. I’m not one of these fair weather fans. You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer, beautiful people up there. People aren’t watching the game. It’s not serious. White Sox, that’s baseball. Southside.”

I like people who speak their minds, especially when the remark has truth to it. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the demographics of Cubs and Sox fans, but his description fits in with the common stereotype. While I appreciate the honesty, Obama’s not exactly doing himself any favors in terms of gaining the popular vote — everyone knows there are many more Cubs fans than Sox fans. Not sure if the remark was worth the street cred he gained.

(via Chicago Sun-Times)

So Jeff Samardzija Throws Pretty Hard

To understand how I feel about Jeff Samardzija, all you need to know about is one play. Does 20-17 say enough to you? In case it doesn’t, here’s a refresher. Anyway, it’s pretty incredible to see the guy go from balling on the football team at Notre Dame to pitching for the Cubs in only two years. As much as I couldn’t stand the guy, Samardzija was a darn good receiver for the Irish. It’s not too often that you see college-level D-I athletes playing more than one sport and playing well at it.

Anyway, after getting drafted in ’06 and going on to pitch in A-ball, Samardzija split his time between A and AA ball last year. This year, Samardzija got promoted from double-A to triple-A ball and even got called up after Kerry Wood went on the disabled list. I don’t know about you, but it pretty much blows my mind to see this guy pitching in the majors leagues so shortly after his college football career came to a close. This is a guy who could be in training camp right now and instead he’s already made the majors. Though he gave up a run to the Marlins in relief and blew the win for Ryan Dempster, the kid looked good humming between 97 and 99 mph. I don’t think he’ll be able to get by on speed alone at the majors (we already saw him get burned by Jorge Cantu), but I think it’s pretty amazing that he’s this talented at two sports. Makes you wonder, why wasn’t he playing quarterback instead of Quinn?

In Billy Beane, the A’s Should Trust

I learned my lesson (for the 82nd time) this year, that you can never underestimate Billy Beane. After he traded away Dan Haren and Nick Swisher leading into the season, I said the A’s had conceded 2008. They’re happily in 2nd place in the AL West, well over .500. What the **** do I know. Anyway, I think the Rich Harden trade definitely was one worth making for the Cubs, and was probably smart on the A’s part as well.

At first glance, the A’s got completely ripped off. Which probably means Beane got a steal. Sure, Beane was fleeced on the Tim Hudson deal after Dan Meyer decided to suck upon being dealt to Oakland, but there’s no doubting Beane’s track record — he’s awesome. Beane’s already received at least equal value in both the Haren and Swisher deals, and most of the prospects haven’t even come close to blossoming yet. So let’s break this trade down on both ends.

For the Cubs, they’re getting an ace who’s capable of pitching seven pretty unhittable innings in a ballgame. Rich Harden is one of the harder-throwing starters in the game, also possessing a devastating change up that he mixes in frequently. The dude needs a milk IV pumping into his bones not to mention a bubble to sleep in so he can be healthy, but he’s dominant when he’s out there, however infrequently it may be. The Cubs are essentially getting Mark Prior once again, and everyone knows how frustrating that can be. They’re rolling the dice and taking a gamble that can have a huge reward, and one that probably makes them the favorite at the sportsbook. If it doesn’t pay off, they’re not going to be hurt too much by losing the players they traded away. If it does pay off, they could be looking at winning a World Series. It was definitely a gamble worth taking.

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