Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
The Times They Are A-Changin'?
by Derek Smart
It was a tight, tooth-grinder of a game for 51 outs, a real battle between pre-season division favorites vying for short-term bragging rights. In the end, the score belied how hard-fought this victory was, and does little justice to how satisfying the final result really was.
That's yet another fine outing for Big Z, and what a pleasure it is to watch. For a guy who's always had issues with the free pass, seeing him finally able to control the ball and consistently establish his presence in the strike zone is nothing short of thrilling. Here's where we're at: assuming 33 starts, Zambrano's on pace to pitch 222.1 innings and issue a grand total of 33 walks. This from a man who let 101 men stroll to first in his 216.1 frames in 2007. Last year, among pitchers with at least 160 innings, his projected 2008 total would put him third in the Majors behind the 25/198.0 of Greg Maddux and the 28/192.1 of Paul Byrd.
Even making the assumption that the above rates don't hold for an entire season, this is an astounding stretch of work for a pitcher with Z's track record. Were he to double his current walk rate, he'd still end up with roughly 61 passes on the year, which I'll guarantee any one of us would have taken the over on in Vegas. If we're truly seeing the emergence of this kind of work as the standard Zambrano performance, we may well see last year's hardware prediction come true, if a year late.
Kosuke Fukudome is seeing 4.72 pitches per plate appearance, leading the majors by a substantial margin. The Cubs lead the National League with a .364 team OBP. If I'm asleep, I don't want to wake up.
Anyone seen this before? The Cubs load the bases with no one out, only to see the next two hitters, guys they can normally count on, whiff and pop their way to infamy, and who's waiting in the wings as the final chance to capitalize on this golden opportunity, but whichever player on the roster at the time who might be considered the least likely to come through - we'll call him, Punchingbag McChokesalot.
In this case, that man's real name was Ronny Cedeno, but the label above no longer seems to apply. Not only did he have a fantastic at bat last night - fouling off a series of pitches after he fell behind 1-2, until he finally got something he could take back up the middle for a game-changing, two-run single - of late he's been consistently having PAs just like it. I never thought I'd write these words, but Ronny Cedeno is becoming a valuable member of this team. He'll need to keep it up to remain as such, but for the first time I can remember, we've moved outside the realm of pipe-dream to real possibility.
Speaking of goat-conversion, how about a hand for work-in-progress Felix Pie? Sure, the distance from the plate of the two pitches he took before his bomb would be better measured in feet than inches, and true, the ball he took over the wall was a yummier cookie than anything grandma could have dreamed of, but at this point, with the way he's been playing, the point is that he took the balls and drove the fat strike at all, not the relative ease of the feat. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
I don't know what to make of this afternoon's matchup. Ted Lilly was better last time out, but still has yet to put together an outing that even looks like last year's B-game. Nelson Figueroa looks like he's pitching over his head, but he's a great story, and has almost no history against these Cubs, with any of that taking place no earlier than the last time he was with a Major League club back in 2004. I'll just have to scratch my head and hope for the best.