Wednesday, May 24, 2006

not there yet

yesterday this page asked whether or not this cubs team had hit rock bottom. the answer, received last night, is a resounding "not yet".

the game represented another weak effort by the cub offense, who touched scott olsen -- a rookie lefthander who had issued 21 runs in 17.1 innings over his previous four starts -- for four runs in five innings. the cubs managed just one walk and drew just 72 pitches -- both season lows for any olsen outing. nonetheless, the cubs led when he exited, 4-3. the offense then allowed a combination of yusmeiro petit, randy messenger and logan kensing -- three pitchers this page had never heard of before -- to throw four innings of perfect baseball with six strikeouts.

and that was unfortunate, as it turned out. kerry wood's erratic control and diminished velocity -- rarely registering as fast as 93 mph -- combined to limit him to five innings on 86 pitches, allowing three runs on five walks and two home runs. this page had hoped that wood could use these starts to showcase himself for a trade as the july deadline approached, understanding his no-trade clause to be a negotiable item with just a few months left on his contract. however, wood has demonstrated little velocity, little movement on his fastball, little control and is experiencing shoulder pain that scared the team out of his side sessions. he frankly looks every bit a 5+ era pitcher right now, and while one might hope for better to come it would seem here that few if any contenders would be willing to adopt this set of contingencies.

scary moments from scott williamson came to nothing, and will ohman, bob howry and scott eyre negotiated the late innings to get the game to closer ryan dempster with the lead intact. but dempster's control difficulties are clearly still a major consideration. florida, a very patient team for one so young, laid off dempster's slider in the dirt, and without the help of the young marlins dempster was left with nothing. two walks, two hits -- which surely should have been three, but for a stunning and temporarily game-saving play by todd walker at first base -- and two runs later, and dempster had blown his second save opportunity in the month.

a fine april has been followed by a may in which dempster has allowed 13 baserunners in 8.2 innings, compiling a 6.23 era. this page has long considered him to be an explosive variety of closer who may well be trading on a small sample size as a claim to success. comments such as, "dempster was given way too much money and time to revert to the mean -- dempster is going to surprise people, i think, with how inconsistent he is in 2006, and by that i mean he won't be closing all year," have peppered this page for months.

in truth, dempster has done a remarkable job for a pitcher with such a shady past between leaving the rotation for good in 2003 and the end of 2005 -- his component era over that stretch of 82 innings was just 3.04. but an eye-popping spring in which he walked 8 to contribute to 17 baserunners in only 9.2 innings rang alarm bells regarding his volatility yet again, and his recent struggles seem to justify that alarm. closers are by the nature of their sample volatile -- in any given inning, a pitcher can implode, and one need look no further than the great billy wagner to demonstrate it. but dempster, with his lack of control and one-pitch dependence, may be more so than most. this page has compared him to, instead of wagner, francisco cordero and danys baez. sadly, it still feels quite justified in that comparison, and would expect dempster to continue on a roller-coaster ride through 2006 with numerous thrills and spills.

today sees the cubs try to avoid a sweep at the hands of the (second?) worst team in the national league. greg maddux will face detroit castoff brian moehler, a groundball control pitcher in the maddux mold who has settled down somewhat from a screamingly awful april. with pitcher-friendly paul emmel calling balls and strikes, it figures to be a fast, low-scoring affair. here's hoping the cubs can eke out of one of the more embarrassing series sweeps in team history.

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