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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Biggest Fixes

Naturally, Theo Epstein’s carefully measured “the biggest fixes have to come from within the clubhouse” statement has been thrown around a lot in the last few days. This is the topic you tend to talk about when your team has been a tremendous disappointment at the All Star Break, three weeks before the trade deadline.

Epstein provided quite a bit of context with that quote, the crux of which is “don’t expect any trades,” but it’s more than just that.

Here is some of that context:

“This is largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins over the last two years. There’s not a player that we can realistically bring in from the outside that can spur us to play at that level. We’re going to get to that point of playing to that level because of the guys that are here.”

Here Epstein is stating a couple of things. The main thing is “these guys have done it before, and they can do it again,” which may be true, especially in a weak division. If you are a Cubs fan and at least three years-old, being 5.5 out and in second place at the All Star Break is not so bad.

Something else can be interpreted from the second sentence in that quote though: that there are just too many holes to fix. Later in the article, Epstein is again quoted saying something that suggests this is the case:

Some years it’s relatively easy to make small upgrades or big upgrades and some years it’s virtually impossible. You can get in trouble when you tell yourself you have to force something. You can’t force anything.

At the Break, the Cubs have scored 399 runs and given up 399 runs. Their 4.53 runs scored per game is slightly worse than the league average of 4.67, and 4.53 runs given up is slightly better. This has been disappointing, but we have all seen worse. As pointed out in the previous thread, if the Cubs were to play to the potential we all identified at the beginning of the season from here on out, they should have a shot in a weak division.

But what will it take for them to play to that potential we saw back in early April? Back then the consensus was that the 2017 Cubs were most likely to pull it off based on their outstanding offense, and that there were a lot of questions surrounding the pitching. Well, those questions about the pitching have turned out to be quite legitimate, and the offense has been far short of outstanding.

For me, the weakness in the offense is best summarized in a statistic that we tend to disparage these days: batting average. The Cubs are hitting .239 as a team, good for 28th in MLB and 14th in the NL. They are doing better in other categories (power: .180 ISO, 7th in MLB; walks: 10.0%, 3rd), but it’s really hard to win at baseball if you aren’t getting the ball onto the outfield grass. As one of my bleacher companions remarked in yesterday’s 14-3 disaster as the Cubs scored their second run, “I really wish they could score other than by making an out.” I have heard a lot of discussion about the problems the Cubs are having with runners in scoring position, but I find it hard to worry about BA with RISP when the BA with the earth turning on its axis is just as bad.

The problems on the run prevention side are more obvious, I think. Obviously, the starters have all been a disappointment—they rank 18th in MLB in pitching WAR. I guess the consolation prize is that the Cubs’ off-season investment in relievers seems to have paid off somewhat. Defensively, the Cubs have kept opponents to a low BABIP (.287, 4th lowest in MLB), but they have dropped to 10th in Fangraph’s defensive runs (10.9). The remarkable feature of the 2016 team was its defense, and this year that has fallen way short of the incredible 69 defensive runs they saved last year. Still, at the current rate the Cubs might lose three wins from last year on defense alone. Perhaps more than any other single thing, the Cubs could use an actual front-line rotation starter, and that is where most of the trade fantasy chatter seems to be focused, with Justin Verlander being the primary target. I don’t think Epstein is interested, and I support that. First, Verlander has looked a lot like the rest of the Cubs current rotation this season so far, second, he is 34 and signed for $70M+ through at least 2019, and the Cubs’ cupboard is a bit bare in terms of what they can offer. Even if they were to do it, he is not going to do anything to help the team’s .239 batting average.

Overall, I think Epstein’s message is that the 2017 Cubs have too many problems that he can possibly fix, but they are in a position to be competitive with the roster they have, so he is going to stand pat, pretty much. I wouldn’t be surprised if another contending team came to him with a mutually beneficial trade offer that improved the Cubs in both the short- and long-term, but I don’t expect it.

The 2017 Cubs could still pull this off, and with some significant financial commitments coming off the books, they are in an excellent position to make some real improvements this coming off-season. I’d prefer they not add financial commitments that are unlikely to pay off beyond this season. Maybe this team got too good too soon: few predicted the sudden emergence in 2015, and perhaps now we are seeing that the team bloomed a little too early, and in particular, not having a stockpile of homegrown pitching talent. Right now things look bad, but I expect better, if not in the second half, then next year. And of course, for obvious reasons, this doesn’t feel like it did in 1985, 2004 or 2009, does it?

 

Andere Richtingen Posted: July 10, 2017 at 09:13 AM | 84 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 10, 2017 at 11:31 AM (#5490422)
I think this post counts as my mid-season assessment, although it's getting harder to see things turning around now. Still, I also can't imagine them not turning it around. So I wait.

Ditto.
   2. Man o' Schwar Posted: July 10, 2017 at 11:59 AM (#5490441)
Agreed. I think the offense will get better. I hope the pitching gets better. Having Hendricks back should only help things.

I still think they'll win the division, but up against a team like the Dodgers or Nationals, I have little faith that they'll advance far in the postseason.
   3. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 10, 2017 at 12:52 PM (#5490469)
Good post, thanks for putting something up.

Overall, I think Epstein’s message is that the 2017 Cubs have too many problems that he can possibly fix, but they are in a position to be competitive with the roster they have, so he is going to stand pat, pretty much. I wouldn’t be surprised if another contending team came to him with a mutually beneficial trade offer that improved the Cubs in both the short- and long-term, but I don’t expect it.

For the most part, I agree with everything here. Except, I still think the Cubs are going to (maybe even have to) add a SP now that'll be around for a fe years just because it's going to be really hard to add 2 or 3 good SP this offseason. Looking at next year's rotation, you can only pencil in Lester and Hendricks. Maybe Montgomery has earned a spot now, but I'd still rather not count on him quite yet. The FA class isn't great yet again, and even with an open checkbook it's hard to buy 3/5 of a rotation in FA (not to mention, they still have to be looking long term and when all these hitters are going to need to get paid*).

I also agree on the BA part, and that's where Zobrist's decline has really hurt the most. Again, every other regular is below .270 and you wouldn't have expected that. I still don't know what you do with the position players overall - is it time to move any of them and now what do you do with Happ's emergence?

*In retrospect, it almost looks now like they were hoping Heyward was good enough to opt out.
   4. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 10, 2017 at 03:19 PM (#5490544)
Zobrist was a 4.0 WAR player last year, and this year he's on pace for 0.5. He's been hurt, but picked up where he left off (terrible) coming off the DL. I think you have to see how it plays out -- he was playing more or less at his career norms through May.

I think it can happen (picking up a salary burden, maybe) but I am not seeing the addition of a SP that will make the team better in the short-term. The Cubs need real prospects. In the BA mid-season top 100 list, the Cubs have Eloy Jimenez at #5, but then you have to go all the way to #82 to find Dylan Cease. They need to continue developing what they have, unless they can turn them into something really good.

Also, the OF has been terrible. Maybe this Schwarber in LF thing will work out eventually, but it's looking to me like the OF needs a complete overhaul. This is hard to do when the guy you thought you were building around turns out to be a light hitting/excellent defensive RF, but they have to do what they can with what they have, and I have serious doubts about the rest of the OF completing that picture.

But even with all of these things going wrong, I feel pretty good about the big, long-term picture. Again, I think this team moved into the palace before the renovation job was completed.
   5. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 11, 2017 at 11:12 AM (#5491020)
I think it can happen (picking up a salary burden, maybe) but I am not seeing the addition of a SP that will make the team better in the short-term.

Replacing either Lackey or Butler in the rotation with someone closer to league average should help - maybe not a lot, but something things have compounding effects - and I'm not really interested in that type of trade anyway. Maybe you roll the dice on Cueto, but he unfortunately also looks like he's already been pitching in the Cubs rotation this year. I saw one of those third hand sourced rumors that was the Cubs offered Schwarber for Fulmer (which I think Detroit would rightly turn down), but that type of trade now would help and also make the offseason easier.
   6. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 11, 2017 at 11:12 AM (#5491021)
As for current pitchers, Hendricks had a decent rehab start in AA yesterday; only 45 pitches but sounds like it went well.
   7. Brian C Posted: July 11, 2017 at 11:28 AM (#5491049)
This team looks a lot different with a SP upgrade and Hendricks coming back healthy. Replacing 2 of 3 of Lackey, Butler, or Monty would be a huge help; I'm reasonably confident about Lester coming back to normal. Arrieta looks like he's going to alternate between being good, mediocre, and terrible every three starts, which, eh. They can get by with that.
   8. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 11, 2017 at 11:59 AM (#5491094)
Oh, I guess Brett Anderson is still a thing; he also pitched in the same game as Hendricks:

Kyle Hendricks: 3.1 IP, 2 H, R, BB, 2 K
Brett Anderson: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, BB, K (W, 1-1, 4.76)
   9. Walt Davis Posted: July 11, 2017 at 09:53 PM (#5491758)
I think it's the opposite -- they have no holes to fill except at the top of the rotation.

Cub position players overall are at 4.7 WAA, 5th in the NL. That's not awesome but it's far from problematic. They are above-average at every position except LF. They would be even better off except of course Schwarber and Zobrist have combined for 500+ PA of replacement-level production. In a thread the other day I put up the Cubs 8 potential "starters" (with a Jay/Almora platoon) and that lineup sits at about 8 WAA so far if I remember right. The Cubs may still not want to give up on Zobrist and Schwarber for this season (and quite possibly they shouldn't) but more PT for Baez, Happ, Jay and Almora pretty easily solves that problem if they want to.

Or to put it another way: 2 young Cs, Rizzo, Baez, Russell, Bryant, Happ, Heyward, Jay, Almora -- who are we going to find on the trade market that is a substantial upgrade on those guys and what would it cost us? A top CF would be great to add but the best available CF is probably Carlos Gomez (having a solid year again) but he's not that much of an upgrade. Possibly Miami would part with Ozuna but he's not much of a defender in CF (I guess we put him in LF and make Happ the near full-time CF and hope for the best).

It's about solving the SP problem ... and possibly figuring out why Baez and Almora aren't playing the excellent defense they seemed so capable of. And the SP problem will not be easy to solve. As we all know, the rotation remains a problem for at least the next couple of years as well.

I think Theo's other point is the obvious one that no available player -- or even the unavailable Mike Trout -- can turn a 500 team into a 600 team. To finish on a meager 87 wins, the Cubs now need to go 44-30, a 595 win percentage or 7 WAA. In less than half a season, even having Marty McFly go back to 1998 and grab Randy Johnson ain't gonna add 7 WAA (3.7 if you're curious). And 87 wins doesn't guarantee anything.

He's also trying to prepare the fanbase for the fact that, given what they need to do, the cost of acquiring a big name rental in the next 3 weeks simply isn't worth it. You never know if the right guy is gonna add 2 wins and those two wins would put us into the playoffs but those 2 wins can only be useful if the rest of the team cranks it up to a 5-WAA level. Nobody seems to be dangling a truly top SP rental this offseason anyway.

The Fulmer-Schwarber rumor I think at least points to the type of deal Theo might make this year. He knows the SP needs just increase next year so I assume he's primarily only interested in a longer-term solution. Guys like that who could be available are Quintana (high price, especially for a CWS-CHC trade), Paston, Gray, Teheran, Cueto (gamble).

Rental: Darvish who might be a guy to extend ... have I missed talk about Darvish on the market? Everybody should be talking about him.
   10. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 12, 2017 at 10:42 AM (#5492030)
Rental: Darvish who might be a guy to extend ... have I missed talk about Darvish on the market? Everybody should be talking about him.

He's basically the only star level FA this year, right? There's other good players, but he's easily going to have the most demand and I'd guess he'll end up with the biggest deal (assuming Jake doesn't revert back to 2015 Jake). Yes, he's absolutely someone the Cubs should consider if they think getting him in will make it easier to resign him. Cueto and Tanaka are more in the Jake level, IMO, and all 3 have huge question marks and are quite risky.
   11. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 12, 2017 at 10:29 PM (#5492617)
I totally accept Walt's point about the overall performance of the position players. I think it would be great if they could get a great OFer, but how exactly does that happen, and at the same time, more Happ/Contreras starts, please. The Cubs position players are indeed a feature, not a bug. Still, I think we need one or two contact monsters in the lineup. The end result is that this offense has been dysfunctional, and this shift business is getting depressing.

I would love to have Fulmer, but I think if the Cubs have offered Schwarber for Fulmer as a straight-up trade, the Tigers probably countered by asking for Schwarber and Happ. Maybe they'd settle for Schwarber and Russell. Fulmer is extremely valuable right now, and exactly the kind of player the Tigers need to build around. Daniel Norris is another story -- and Schwarber for Norris is actually a realistic and interesting idea, but it might have to be Schwarber for Norris and V-Mart.

If the Cubs are going to add SP, now or in the off-season, it is going to be difficult. Impact starters cost long-term commitments, blue-chip prospects or both. They have money to spend on the FA market but the options are not very good. I wouldn't touch Cueto or Tanaka with a ten-foot pole, unless the price is low, and I don't think it will be. I am not sure about putting nine figures toward any of the possible FAs, including Darvish. A controlled young starter would be great, but teams tend to want to hold on to those. Figuring this stuff out is where Epstein and Hoyer need to earn THEIR paychecks.

In the end, I don't want the Cubs to do anything stupid in pursuit of possibly winning the division with 89 wins. I am not interested in bringing back Ed Lynch and Jim Hendry.
   12. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: July 13, 2017 at 11:44 AM (#5492842)
Is there something about Darvish that concerns you? Based on his career, I would be happy to give him the Jon Lester contract (provided he finishes this season the way he started it). I do not expect him to actually become a free agent.
   13. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 13, 2017 at 11:58 AM (#5492858)
Obviously, the need for spending big on a FA went down a smidge today, but yeah, I'd still be ok with Davish getting the Lester deal. Considering the pool of available FA, not sure it gets done.
   14. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 13, 2017 at 01:33 PM (#5492969)
Jerry Crasnick @jcrasnick 9m9 minutes ago

There's an increasing buzz that #Rangers will listen on Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels if team doesn't pick up its play before July 31 deadline.
   15. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 13, 2017 at 06:11 PM (#5493185)
Is there something about Darvish that concerns you? Based on his career, I would be happy to give him the Jon Lester contract (provided he finishes this season the way he started it). I do not expect him to actually become a free agent.

I'm not saying he isn't worth it nor that I would be unhappy if the Cubs acquired him, just that I am wary of the idea. He's a 31 year-old starting pitcher and his K rate is down significantly (still good though, and there are no specific problems I know of). There is a cost and risk one must acknowledge. Indeed, I think Lester's contract is pretty close to what we can expect.

Considering what it would cost in terms of talent, I wouldn't trade for Darvish this year without a long-term deal connected to the trade.

Hamels seems to have come back nicely from his injury. That's an interesting possibility, but I don't see the Cubs having a competitive offer.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: July 13, 2017 at 08:32 PM (#5493248)
Someone can dig out the finer points but one nice thing about Darvish's season is that his HR rate has remained stable despite the big jump in HRs.

Darvish hasn't been as durable as Lester but he's also been a 3-WAA pitcher while Lester at those ages was a 2-WAA pitcher. I don't think there's any way Darvish goes for Lester-level money, I'm pretty sure we're talking at least $30 ... although it might be 5/$150 given the 2nd TJS deadline. (All assuming he stays healthy and effective in the 2nd half.) I don't know what else is available or where the payroll will sit relative to lux tax but, as a general principle, I think I'd do that if I was Theo.
   17. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 09:54 AM (#5493398)
Considering the pool of available FA, not sure it gets done.

There's a word or two missing in my post here, but essentially I'm agreeing with Walt - I think Darvish's deal will be bigger than Lester's, probably in total and per year. So I'd be wary of that.
   18. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 14, 2017 at 11:45 AM (#5493526)
A controlled young starter would be great, but teams tend to want to hold on to those. Figuring this stuff out is where Epstein and Hoyer need to earn THEIR paychecks.

And I guess they did just that! I'm commenting here since the main thread regarding this trade has been hijacked.

The cupboard is now quite bare, but the Quintana acquisition really puts the Cubs in a better position for success this year and afterward. He is inexpensive for 3.5 yrs, and he's durable. The Cubs remain in position to acquire other FA talent in the off-season. This is a much better option than Verlander, who I am guessing wouldn't have cost quite as much in terms of talent, but far more in $, and he's six years older than Quintana.
   19. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 01:11 PM (#5493625)
Jon Morosi‏ @jonmorosi 1h1 hour ago

Sources: #Cubs continuing to show interest in Sonny Gray, even after Jose Quintana trade. One reason: Vacancy still remains in '18 rotation.

Ken Rosenthal‏ @Ken_Rosenthal 48m48 minutes ago

Source confirms: #Cubs pursuing Gray even after getting Quintana. First reported: @jonmorosi.


Hmmm. A deal built around Schwarber?

I'm no wetbutt23 but I do have a brother-in-law that knows someone who knows someone that has said for a few months now the Cubs were hard after him. Blah blah blah...
   20. Meatwad Posted: July 14, 2017 at 01:59 PM (#5493657)
Do they even have any prospects left that would get them Gray? seems like they would have to use some of the mlb players to do the deal.
   21. Meatwad Posted: July 14, 2017 at 02:55 PM (#5493728)
Looking over the schedule with 74 games the rest of the way the cubs only play 19 games against teams that are over .500 as of today. 10 of those games are against the brewers, it also features 10 against Stl, and Cin. they play 7 against both Pit and Atl.
   22. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: July 14, 2017 at 03:19 PM (#5493754)
Hmmm. A deal built around Schwarber?

I think that's an overpay on Chicago's end. But I still think Schwarber is a 120 OPS+ ability-level hitter.

I think it would have to be centered around a major leaguer. I wonder if they would be happy letting Happ take on CF every day(ish)? If so, Almora might be a desirable target for Oakland.

EDIT: I may need to recant that about Schwarber being an overpay. I knew Gray's ERA this season was middling on the heels of a bad year. But his peripherals are pretty strong. Trading Kyle would hurt me in the feels but I'm not sure it would be a bad move in this case.
   23. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 03:39 PM (#5493764)
I guess both teams could call it a challenge or change of scenery trade. Both teams could argue they're trading their guy at a low point in their value, and that they could have gotten more if they'd moved them earlier. They'd also then be able to talk up their acquisition as having a high ceiling, and that they're more likely to reach it in the new spot.

As purely a fan, I bought into the Schwarber hype. The Cubs have really gone out of their way to talk up Schwarber's character and leadership qualities. It would be a painful trade to swallow, especially since Gray isn't a sure thing and has had injury problems. Before this year, I wouldn't have thought of Happ as a similar bat/power prospect - and I do wonder how much of Happ so far is a fluke or the juiced ball - but if Happ is for real, and Schwarber isn't really going to be a .300BA/40HR sort of bat (I know), then Happ clearly is more valuable today and much more long term.

You never know with Oakland, they might like some of the lesser and further away prospects in the Cubs system, but I don't see how they'd find something in the Cubs minors to be enough without getting a "name" young guy back from the Cubs.
   24. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 14, 2017 at 05:09 PM (#5493819)
I can see a Gray trade if it also means clearing money off the Oakland payroll.

Maybe something like Schwarber, Lackey and two prospects*, plus essentially the remainder of Lackey's salary, for Gray and Madson. That clears off about a third of Oakland's payroll this year, plus it's Arb time for Gray and $7.7M for Madson next year.

*this is the rub
   25. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 05:40 PM (#5493827)
Yeah, I could see that, and I especially love dumping Lackey just to be rid of him. Madson also appears to still be useful, so that's nice.

Has Schwarber's value really fallen that much that it would take more prospects to get a guy also, for various reasons including injury, has also underperformed expectations? That's really trading Schwarber at a low point, and I guess Oakland would be a team that would probably value Schwarber closer to the Cubs...

...I'm guessing we never know.
   26. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 05:42 PM (#5493828)
What would a non-Schwarber deal look like? Replacing Schwarber with Happ?
   27. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 14, 2017 at 06:25 PM (#5493835)
@CSNMooney: Is Theo working on more deals after Quintana trade? "Ask Wetbutt."
   28. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 14, 2017 at 10:54 PM (#5493945)
Has Schwarber's value really fallen that much that it would take more prospects to get a guy also, for various reasons including injury, has also underperformed expectations? That's really trading Schwarber at a low point, and I guess Oakland would be a team that would probably value Schwarber closer to the Cubs...

I don't know that anyone who's really thought about it has had a good sense of Schwarber's value, from the very beginning. Whoever the prospects might be in any trade for Gray, they aren't going to be in BA's Top 100, because the Cubs just traded away the two they had. So they are going to be deep draft picks, very recent, or lightning in a bottle -- thus my asterisk. I have no idea what, if anything, the Cubs would have to give up to get Gray and Madson both, but my feeling is that it's something other than cannon fodder. Gray has not gelled as the starter he seemed to be a couple of years ago but the ability is still there. At the same time, the A's are going to want to free up payroll, and right now Madson is chrome wheel covers on a Ford Fiesta. I'll say it again: figuring this stuff out is why Hoyer and Epstein get paid a lot of money.

So far, Happ looks like 2015 Schwarber as a hitter, perhaps with actual defensive value. Who knows which guy will end up being the better player, but I'd put Schwarber on the table first at this point.

Madson is a terrific relief pitcher and I think the Cubs could use him this year and next year.


   29. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 14, 2017 at 11:07 PM (#5493952)
Darvish hasn't been as durable as Lester but he's also been a 3-WAA pitcher while Lester at those ages was a 2-WAA pitcher. I don't think there's any way Darvish goes for Lester-level money, I'm pretty sure we're talking at least $30 ... although it might be 5/$150 given the 2nd TJS deadline. (All assuming he stays healthy and effective in the 2nd half.) I don't know what else is available or where the payroll will sit relative to lux tax but, as a general principle, I think I'd do that if I was Theo.

I think I would too, with the assumptions you make. Regardless of the peripheral issues I think he'll get at least six years, probably seven, but you could be right.
   30. Brian C Posted: July 15, 2017 at 01:19 PM (#5494032)
Meanwhile, presuming Hendricks comes back healthy, who do we like as the fifth starter? Butler's been kind of decent with mediocre peripherals, Monty's been awful with kind of decent peripherals, and Lackey's been awful with awful peripherals but at least has a track record of being good as recent as a year ago. I guess Anderson is a possibility too.
   31. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: July 15, 2017 at 01:41 PM (#5494037)
Montgomery has never been a good starter. He does have a history as a good reliever, but both have fairly small sample sizes, though if you factor in Monty's minor league stats, 161 GS out of 166 games, 4.26 ERA across all levels, I'd much rather keep him in the pen.
   32. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: July 15, 2017 at 02:19 PM (#5494043)
I suppose the Cubs should stick with Lackey at #5. His HR/FB rate is crazy high at 21.2% and pretty much has to come down.

As for the others, Montgomery is not clearly a better option and offers value in the bullpen and I'm not sure the Cubs trust Eddie Butler. Despite a nice ERA he's only being given enough rope to get the team 4 2/3 per start.
   33. Kiko Sakata Posted: July 15, 2017 at 04:04 PM (#5494059)
Meanwhile, presuming Hendricks comes back healthy, who do we like as the fifth starter? Butler's been kind of decent with mediocre peripherals, Monty's been awful with kind of decent peripherals, and Lackey's been awful with awful peripherals but at least has a track record of being good as recent as a year ago. I guess Anderson is a possibility too.


I'd lean Butler, but it's a weak preference. I think Montgomery is most valuable in the role he had at the start of the season: long reliever, either coming in to soak up 2-3 innings if the starter gets knocked out before the 5th (as happened last night - oh, wait, that wouldn't have worked) or as the last guy to throw out there to finish up a game that's gone 12 innings where you've run out of other relievers. It's not a particularly glamorous role, but he's pretty good at it and nobody else currently on the Cubs is. I suppose you could argue that Butler could probably fill the same role.

I would guess the Cubs will go with Lackey, which may be the best choice objectively, but I really dislike the guy.
   34. Brian C Posted: July 15, 2017 at 08:36 PM (#5494139)
It's nice that both Heyward and Russell are starting the second half strong. Nothing to get excited about two games in, but still, it's nice.
   35. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 16, 2017 at 09:02 AM (#5494276)
Montgomery has pretty much always had command issues. On any given day he might give you a decent start, but more often than not control lapses do him in. If you look at his first year with Seattle in 2015, he started out really well, having a terrific first month or so. But then it all kind of unraveled, and they made him mostly a reliever. At this juncture, I would continue using him in his current mixed role, as jack-of-all-trades reliever and emergency starter. The Cubs are not a team in position to be patient with him figuring his command out.

Butler is a parallel story, from the right side. The Cubs have two lefty starters now, so I would mix and match Montgomery and Butler in the fifth starter role, and see what can be done to trade John Lackey, who is being hit pretty hard fairly consistently. The difference between these three guys is not huge though, and I would let Lackey take his start on Tuesday. A couple of decent starts and maybe someone would pick him up and pay most of his remaining salary. One way or another I think he should be off the roster come August 1st.
   36. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: July 16, 2017 at 10:52 AM (#5494291)
Meanwhile, presuming Hendricks comes back healthy, who do we like as the fifth starter? Butler's been kind of decent with mediocre peripherals, Monty's been awful with kind of decent peripherals, and Lackey's been awful with awful peripherals but at least has a track record of being good as recent as a year ago. I guess Anderson is a possibility too.

I'd lean toward keeping Lackey in the rotation. Overall, he's been a worse starter than Butler or Montgomery, but his best starts have been better. Also, it's not just a question of who do you leave in the rotation. It's a question of which provides the most overall value to the team:

1) Lackey starting with Butler & Montgomery relieving
2) Butler starting with Lackey and Montgomery relieving
3) Montgomery starting with Butler and Lackey relieving.

I think #1 gives you the most overall value, as Montgomery has proven to be a valuable long relief man in the pen and I can see Butler doing likewise. I really don't trust Lackey as a reliever. When he's off, he's really off. Butler's problem is he can't last long as a starter - but that's not an issue in the 'pen.

When Lackey has an on-game, he's the best of the 3. And when he's off, well, having two guys capable of long relief makes it possible to treat him like Hammel: really really short leash.
   37. Brian C Posted: July 17, 2017 at 10:24 AM (#5494542)
Well, it's just one weekend, but it was encouraging - aside from some bullpen hijinks Friday night, the Baltimore series went about as well as could be possibly hoped. In particular it was good to see the offense come to life; true, they weren't facing a murderers row of pitchers, but still, we've seen the Cubs struggle a lot this year against mediocre pitching. And it wasn't just a case of hitting a few homers, either.

Watching Quintana yesterday was a lot of fun.

Last year, the Cubs had 38 starts of 7 IP and one or zero runs allowed. Nearly a quarter of all games, and in those games the team went 33-5. Lester led the way with 13 all by himself.

Through 91 games, the Cubs this year have ... 7 such starts. Lester has 3 this year, Arrieta 2, and Lackey and Quintana now have 1 each. On pace for 12 as a team, less than Lester himself last year. I know part of that is a conscious effort to reduce starters' innings; they have an additional 10 starts where the starter was pulled after 6 IP of zero or one runs allowed. But still, I think that's a good measure of how far the starting pitching has dropped off. Quintana got here just in time if this is going to be a playoff-caliber staff again.

Random trivia fact of the day - the Cubs are 7-19 in games that Mike Montgomery appears in, including 2-5 as a starter. He's weirdly the only Cubs starter besides Lackey (8-9) to be underwater in team W-L. Even Anderson is 3-3 and Butler is 6-5. Equally weirdly, no starter is better than 1 game over .500 - the mediocrity in the staff has been distributed very equally. The Cubs are essentially a .500 team no matter who's starting.

And don't look now, but Arrieta has gotten his ERA+ above the 100 mark (now at 101). He's been ... not bad for the most part lately. It'd be nice if he could be a consistent MLB-quality starter the rest of the year instead of the headcase he was for most of the first half. Amusingly, he hasn't allowed a stolen base in his three starts since the Montero game.
   38. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 17, 2017 at 11:01 AM (#5494553)
Personally, I'm ready to be done with Lackey, but I doubt the Cubs are there yet (and probably they're right as my hate for him is as irrational as it gets). I don't think Lackey makes any sense in the bullpen - he's gotta be the worst of the Cubs starters when it comes to allowing runs in the first inning - and I doubt he'd accept that. So until the Cubs trade for Sonny Gray or decide they're ready to cut bait with Lackey, he's probably in the rotation. For now, I agree with that reluctantly, mostly for how Dag lays it out in 36. Though I wouldn't be surprised if Butler just goes back down to AAA to continue starting there and stay stretched out in case of emergency.
   39. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: July 17, 2017 at 11:15 AM (#5494557)
Seems to me the biggest fix is to have the Cubs face Orioles pitching the rest of the season. Man, what a dreadful staff.
   40. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: July 17, 2017 at 01:54 PM (#5494694)
he's gotta be the worst of the Cubs starters when it comes to allowing runs in the first inning

He's allowed 13 runs in the first inning in 17 starts.

That is, believe it or not, only 3rd worst for a Cubs starter so far this year.

It's a tick better than Jake Arrieta (15 runs in 19 first innings). Jon Lester has allowed 22 runs in 19 first innings.

Actually Brett Anderson is even worse than Lester, but he's not around anymore.
   41. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: July 17, 2017 at 01:57 PM (#5494699)
Jon Lester has allowed 22 runs in 19 first innings.


Which breaks down to 10 in one game, and 12 in the other 18.
   42. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 17, 2017 at 02:14 PM (#5494721)
I refuse to believe any stats that don't confirm my incredibly low opinion of Lackey.
   43. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 17, 2017 at 05:31 PM (#5494873)
Fun with utterly and not intended to be meaningful selective endpoints:

Schwarber since recall: .273/.360/.682 (7ks in 25PA)
Heyward since coming off DL: .321/.387/.536 (4ks in 31PA)
Contreras since Montero DFA: .377/.421/.679 (12ks in 57PA)
Zobrist since coming off DL: .194/.242/.323 (3ks in 34PA)
Rondon since he blew the game against the Cards: 15IP, 2.40ERA, 15/5 k/bb
Arrieta since Montero DFA: 3GS, 19.1IP, 1.86ERA, 12/7 k/bb, runners 0 for 1 in SB attempts
   44. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 17, 2017 at 08:24 PM (#5494967)
@smokiesbaseball: Final stat line for @kylehendricks28
5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K


I'd call that a successful rehab start. Guess he's back soon.
   45. Walt Davis Posted: July 18, 2017 at 04:13 AM (#5495078)
Actually Brett Anderson is even worse than Lester, but he's not around anymore.

Yikes! I hope you knocked on wood when you wrote that.

That is, believe it or not, only 3rd worst for a Cubs starter so far this year.

For the record, 7.02 ERA overall in the first although I guess that got a bit better tonight. The 4th is doing us no favors at 5.34 and the 9th doesn't look so rosy at 4.66 -- Davis has pitched fairly well so clearly our pen is not taking things seriously when we trail in the 9th. :-)

Strangely the NL as a whole stinks in the 1st at 5.13 ... or maybe that's not strange, maybe it's usually like that. The Cubs aren't even the worst, the Mets are at 7.08 and the Padres are also at 7.02. A Cubs-Nats playoff could be fun as they're at 5.54.

Still very little chance (knocking on wood) of catching the 2000 Rangers at 7.89, a full half-run worse than the 96 Rox and the 98 Tigers. The 2017 Mets currently sit 10th all-time. The pre-sillyball record was the 91 O's at 7.06.
   46. Walt Davis Posted: July 18, 2017 at 04:21 AM (#5495079)
If we ignore the 1st, the Cubs have a 3.71 ERA which would be 3rd in the NL, an ERA+ around 114. I hereby move that we ignore the first inning for the pre-AS part of the season and re-do the standings.

Actually the deficit isn't that bad -- the Cubs have only been outscored in the first by 71-61. That don't do that much to our pythag.
   47. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: July 18, 2017 at 08:34 AM (#5495102)
Strangely the NL as a whole stinks in the 1st at 5.13 ... or maybe that's not strange, maybe it's usually like that.

Yes. There are always more runs scored in the first than any other frame. That's when the top of the lineup is always up. And the 2nd is always the fewest runs per inning, because the wrong part of the lineup often off. The rest of the innings are fairly similar in run scoring.
   48. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 18, 2017 at 04:53 PM (#5495566)
Unsurprisingly, Butler to AAA for Lackey to come off the DL. Forget he was on the DL when I said Butler would go for Hendricks.
   49. Brian C Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:17 AM (#5495880)
So Lackey didn't suck tonight. That's nice.

Is Willson Contreras rapidly climbing anyone else's list of favorite Cubs? That guy's fun to watch anyway because really athletic catchers like him are fairly rare. But when he's hitting, he's on another level of fun to watch.
   50. Meatwad Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:24 AM (#5495883)
Surprised butler went to AAA, means monty is going to the pen when Kyle comes off the dl. Also these games since the break feel more like last years cubs. They are getting me excited again.
   51. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 11:36 AM (#5496064)
Is Willson Contreras rapidly climbing anyone else's list of favorite Cubs?

My problem last year was that there were too many favorites. Still a problem this year, but less-so. His bat is making it hard for Joe to get him the rest he definitely needs - supposedly Joe was thinking about sitting him yesterday; he is off today but that's obvious with such an early start after the late, late one last night.

As for Lackey:
John Lackey doesn’t see a future with himself in the bullpen. At least not until the calendar turns to October.

“That ship’s sailed. That ain’t gonna happen,” Lackey said. “There’s two places for me to be: starting or at home. Except for the playoffs. In big games we can compromise.”


Go home for all I care. He better not be on a postseason roster.
   52. McCoy Posted: July 19, 2017 at 11:53 AM (#5496082)
Eh, he's 38, has 3 rings, and has made over 150 million dollars. At this point he's earned the right to voice his opinion of what he wants to do doesn't mean the Cubs have to listen.
   53. McCoy Posted: July 19, 2017 at 11:57 AM (#5496084)
The remarkable thing about the Cubs this July is that basically the only ones not hitting are Zobrist and a handful of pitchers. Something like 10% of their PA have gone to blackholes for the month July. Hears to hoping they keep that up but I will say a 878 OPS is awfully hard to maintain for a team over a full month.
   54. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:21 PM (#5496109)
No omnichatter up, but Bryant just jammed a finger trying to advance to 3rd on a pitch in the dirt. He was out, and he either jammed into into the bag or the glove. Let's hope it's just a jam, he went straight to the dugout after taking his time getting up...
   55. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:22 PM (#5496112)
Ok, the foot. Looks like his ring finger. He left the game. Oh ####### #####..
   56. Spahn Insane, stimulus-funded BurlyMan™ Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:37 PM (#5496127)
Of course, the commenters on bleedcubbieblue are all melting down in typically hysterical fashion, which doesn't provide us much info. People speculating a broken finger on his glove hand?
   57. Spahn Insane, stimulus-funded BurlyMan™ Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:39 PM (#5496131)
Eh, he's 38, has 3 rings, and has made over 150 million dollars. At this point he's earned the right to voice his opinion of what he wants to do doesn't mean the Cubs have to listen.

In this particular case I'd say his position and the Cubs' interests probably align, for reasons people have already discussed. Lackey is not my idea of a bullpen solution for anything resembling high leverage spots.
   58. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 12:44 PM (#5496135)
Yes, left hand. Based on KB's immediate reaction, and the way he was holding his hand, I'm not optimistic it's minor.
   59. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 01:38 PM (#5496207)
Sahadev Sharma‏ @sahadevsharma 25s26 seconds ago

Sprained left pinky for Bryant. X-rays negative. Day to day.
   60. McCoy Posted: July 19, 2017 at 01:50 PM (#5496220)
Sounds like he'll be on painkillers for awhile.
   61. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 19, 2017 at 03:23 PM (#5496366)
Sahadev Sharma‏ @sahadevsharma 48s48 seconds ago
Cubs are 6-0 to open up 2nd half. Outscored opponents 44-17 in that span. Offense hit .339 w/ RISP. Last five games starters have a 0.85 ERA


Cubs are fixed.
   62. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 20, 2017 at 03:35 PM (#5496985)
Bob Nightengale @BNightengale 25m25 minutes ago

The #Tigers next trade chip to fall will be catcher Alex Avila, and no team has expressed stronger interest than the #Cubs. It's perfect fit
   63. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 20, 2017 at 08:55 PM (#5497219)
Perfect fit? It might be if a Schwarber trade is on the horizon.
   64. Spahn Insane, stimulus-funded BurlyMan™ Posted: July 20, 2017 at 09:18 PM (#5497223)
Did Caratini take a dump on Maddon's desk or something? He's probably as good as Avila right now, and doesn't cost anything.
   65. Spahn Insane, stimulus-funded BurlyMan™ Posted: July 20, 2017 at 10:06 PM (#5497249)
Ok, I didn't realize Avila was having such a good year, but it seems pretty far out of line with his norms, so I don't know how sustainable that is.
   66. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 21, 2017 at 10:12 AM (#5497380)
Like Montero, Avila is a pretty good three true outcomes guy, and I would say the BA component of his hitting is not sustainable (he's currently hitting .286). So also like Montero, he's deceptively valuable at the plate even when he's hitting .240. The Cubs brought up Caratini when they DFA'd Montero, but I think they view him as more of a bat-first kind of catcher, with developing defensive skills. Avila's catching skills, on the other hand, are highly thought of.

I don't know what Avila might cost the Cubs, but the more I think about it, the more I see Rosenthal's point. A guy like Montero (EDIT: this should have said "Avila") -- a good hitter with good defensive skills -- would be pretty nice right now backing up Contreras (who himself continues to do well in Fangraphs defensive runs) and allowing him to play some LF. So to some extent, it also covers for a potential trade of Schwarber for pitching.

So there is a pretty good rationale here for acquiring Avila, with the cost of it being the big question. He's only making $2M this year, and he's a FA after this season.

   67. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: July 21, 2017 at 10:21 AM (#5497384)
Wait, we're saying Montero has good defensive skills now?
   68. Covfefe Posted: July 21, 2017 at 10:32 AM (#5497389)
Cubs are fixed.


No jinx, but I am starting to feel a lot better about the team. Back at the high water mark (4 games over), finally something that can be called a legitimate 'winning streak' - albeit against less than stellar opponents...

I refrained from weighing in on the Quintana trade because all I really had to offer was ######## about it (I was Choi for Lee level fuming when I read it initially, but I suppose I should have remembered how that turned out, too)... but now I'm back to just trusting Thed.

Maybe we're gonna be alright...
   69. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: July 21, 2017 at 10:47 AM (#5497409)
No jinx, but I am starting to feel a lot better about the team. Back at the high water mark (4 games over), finally something that can be called a legitimate 'winning streak' - albeit against less than stellar opponents...

I'm ready to start believing if they don't follow this up with a four-game losing streak.
   70. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 21, 2017 at 02:46 PM (#5497667)
Wait, we're saying Montero has good defensive skills now?

Depends on what you're counting. I don't think he was good at blocking pitches and he couldn't throw me out trying to steal. But I think the Cubs liked his game calling and how he worked with pitchers; I also think he's always been a good pitch framer.

It took some time for a lot of the pitchers to get comfortable with Willson - that's probably a lot on the pitchers and their stubbornness and/or fragile mental states - and I at least can understand why the Cubs would value having a veteran guy on the team as well. I wouldn't read too much into that as it comes to Caratini's future with the team. He probably didn't work a ton with the major league pitching staff in ST and hasn't seen most of them in months. They talked about this a lot when Willson first came up, but he also has always had very high marks when it came to learning, etc. I haven't heard/read nearly as much positively with Caratini.

---

I'm not sure how Schwarber being traded or not really impacts the PT for the backup catcher. The Cubs can still fully stock their OF if they moved Schwarber - Zobrist and Bryant also can play out there, giving Javy and LaStella more IF time. Almora could play more, Jay can become a semi-regular.
   71. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 21, 2017 at 04:20 PM (#5497793)
Christopher Kamka‏ @ckamka 2m2 minutes ago

#Cubs starting pitching since all-star break (7 games):
2.14 ERA, 42.0 IP, 27 Hits, 35 K, 9 BB, 0.857 WHIP
   72. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 21, 2017 at 06:03 PM (#5497907)
Wait, we're saying Montero has good defensive skills now?

Oops: no. That should have said Avila. Although other than his terrible throwing arm, I think Montero's still pretty good at the other stuff.

It's always hard to say with catchers but Avila seems to be pretty good and I have no reason to question that.
   73. Covfefe Posted: July 21, 2017 at 07:26 PM (#5497950)
I'm ready to start believing if they don't follow this up with a four-game losing streak.


I am clearly a ####### jinx and will go back to STFU.
   74. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 21, 2017 at 08:01 PM (#5497959)
Let's see how the rest of the series goes before making such a proclamation.
   75. Meatwad Posted: July 22, 2017 at 01:48 AM (#5498066)
We can all agree to blame zonk if things go bad right?
   76. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: July 22, 2017 at 01:48 AM (#5498067)
Yeah, #### zonk.
   77. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 22, 2017 at 09:36 AM (#5498105)
I'm not sure how Schwarber being traded or not really impacts the PT for the backup catcher. The Cubs can still fully stock their OF if they moved Schwarber - Zobrist and Bryant also can play out there, giving Javy and LaStella more IF time. Almora could play more, Jay can become a semi-regular.

Acquiring Avila impacts the PT for the backup catcher, and provides an option for resting Contreras. Trading Schwarber opens up a way to get some of that PT back for Contreras in a less physically demanding form.

Right now giving Contreras a day off from catching means taking him out of the lineup or starting Caratini behind the plate. I think Caratini is a fine prospect but right now I can see Maddon's reluctance to do that, so he is starting Contreras behind the plate virtually every game since Montero was DFA'd, just as the weather is getting hot. I'm not complaining about this, but it's not sustainable. Unlike Caratini, Maddon will start Avila, or bring him in late in a game. Trading Schwarber opens up PT for Contreras in a low stress position, as well as Baez, Almora, Jay, etc.

I don't think this is a reason to trade Schwarber: acquiring high quality player(s) that make the team better now and in the future is a reason to trade Schwarber. But acquiring Avila, whom Maddon will play as much as he can as long as he keeps hitting, provides a replacement for Schwarber's bat.

   78. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: July 22, 2017 at 10:52 AM (#5498129)
I suppose I'd be ok with it if Avila comes really cheap, but you know what costs nothing? Telling Dust--er, Joe and the special snowflake pitchers to get over it and give Caratini some playing time.
   79. Voodoo Posted: July 22, 2017 at 12:52 PM (#5498164)
I don't want to see Schwarber traded under any circumstances (at least this year).
   80. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 22, 2017 at 02:12 PM (#5498186)
I have no idea what it will cost to get Avila. My guess is that it would come in a 4+ player trade -- the Cubs don't have a lot left to give up.

I'd much prefer to have Avila over Caratini for the rest of the year. If the Cubs didn't have a terrific 25 year-old starting catcher, or if Avila were an all defense/no bat kind of player, then I might feel differently.
   81. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: July 22, 2017 at 02:30 PM (#5498193)
Caratini is about to turn 24 in a few weeks. If the Cubs don't trust his defense enough to give him spot duty in July then they should shop him before the AAAA tag sticks.
   82. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 22, 2017 at 02:59 PM (#5498198)
I think it's very early to use the term AAAA. Caratini is in his first year in AAA and has been young for every league he's played in.

At the same time, it's pretty clear that Maddon wants nothing to do with him. I thought his performance in the last game before the ASB would win him a start, but that didn't happen until Wednesday. And I would not be surprised if the Cubs traded him.
   83. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: July 22, 2017 at 03:51 PM (#5498212)
I don't want to see Schwarber traded under any circumstances (at least this year).


The Cubs are in a really weird position with Schwarber. His only real position is 1B, he's been injury prone, and a lot of the hubub about him is two years old now. It would be bad to trade him right now, I agree, but he's got nothing left to learn in AAA and no place to play in MLB in order to try to rescue his horrid start. The team is too close to a third straight playoff appearance to go goofing around with him in the outfield just for the sake of getting him reps, but past performance indicates that he's too good to just let rot on the bench. What is a team to do? Trade him at the nadir of his value? Let him rot on the bench? Stick him in the outfield and let him miss fly balls in hopes that he hits a few more 450 footers and entices an AL team or a team with no good 1B into paying full freight for him? Demote him to AAA and let him destroy inferior pitchers for the rest of the year?
   84. Andere Richtingen Posted: July 22, 2017 at 04:49 PM (#5498236)
I'm not so sure that the nadir of Schwarber's value really applies. No doubt that if he were having a good year things would be different, but you still have a guy who is 24 and has basically completed the equivalent of a full season (158 games, 627 PAs if you include the off-seasons) and he has 35 HR. Schwarber's shortcomings are obvious, but so are his considerable abilities.

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