Monthly archives: May 2004
Going to Carolina
My roommate's getting hitched this weekend in Charleston, and I'm off for the airport in an hour or so to attend. I'm worried about our cat, though a neighbor is going to pop in to make sure she's alright. I'll be away until Monday night, and might not even have TV access, let alone Web.
Before I head off, though, I thought I'd take a look at a few of the Cubs hitting prospects who, for better or worse, have caught my eye. I'm not a minor league maven at all -- I've never seen any of these players live -- so this is just a few notes based on what I can find over at Baseball America.
IOWA CUBS (AAA)
Kelton's gotten hot lately, really turning it up after Jason DuBois was called up. Nothing like seeing a teammate with similar skills pass you on the depth chart, it seems, though Kelton still needs to improve his selection at the plate.
Harris is playing second now, with a bit of shortstop mixed in as well. Brendan was injured at the beginning of the season, and is off to a slow start since returning.
WEST TENN DIAMOND JAXX (AA)
Bacon isn't considered a premium prospect (he's already 25), but he is showing excellent leadoff skills. A switch-hitting outfielder, Bacon's been great at getting on base, and has been a very effective base stealer.
With Andy Pratt having a disastrous start to his Cub career (19.00 ERA, 15 BB in 9 innings at Iowa), Lewis is the better part of the Juan Cruz trade to this point. I have no idea what his defense is like, but he has yet to commit an error in 41 games, and has shown some great pop for a middle infielder.
DAYTONA CUBS (High A)
Pie, the Cubs' number 5 prospect according to BA, isn't faring so well. He's struck out an awful lot without walking at all, and his stolen base ratio -- caught 8 times! -- is horrid. He does have age on his side, though.
Another guy low on the Cubs depth chart, Sing is showing good patience and hitting for a load of power.
LANSING LUGNUTS (Low A)
A catching prospect? Maybe. Fox has been outslugged by teammates Kevin Collins (331/404/682) and Brian Dopirak (272/346/533), but that the Cubs have a catcher who is currently hitting at all in their system is pretty exciting.
Ron Santo's successor at third? Not so much.
Even though it was just two games, the Cubs were swept for the first time this year, and only the second time in Dusty's reign as manager of the team. The other time: another two-game series, at home against Philadelphia late last July.
The Cubs also continue to be physically beat up, as Christian noted yesterday. Todd Wellemeyer is headed to the DL, and Tom Goodwin might follow. While neither player are key starters, the surprising depth that has kept the Cubs playing well to this point in the season is rapidly vanishing. Dusty Baker believes that Karma is on the Cubs side, and that Chicago's just getting their injuries out of the way early:
"Everybody's going to have injuries. Fortunately, or unfortunately -- I like to think fortunately -- we've had ours early."Fortunately, or unfortunately? I'll say "unfortunately", because despite all of our dearest wishes life just doesn't work this way. The ugly girl at school doesn't necessarily have the best personality, a bad pick at the lottery doesn't better your odds the next go round, and just because your team is suffering injuries early, it doesn't follow that your rivals will get injured later.
The Cubs, like the Twins, have managed early season success in spite of a slew of injuries. They'll have to continue to manage in the short term, because Lady Luck doesn't give equal time to each team, and not all teams spend equal time on the DL.
After last night, I'm just going to keep my big, fat mouth shut.
Cubs vs. Pettitte:
Macias: 4/10, 400/400/900, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 3B, 3 RBI
and, um... that's about it.
Astros vs. Maddux:
Hidalgo: 6/14, 429/500/500, 2 BB, 2 K
Cubs at Houston
A two-game series? What's that about? Why no game in Houston on Thursday? Actually, given that the Cubs have to play four games in three days in Pittsburgh, the day off is probably a good thing.
I (that's me, Christian, who's writing this even though the post is signed by Alex) am working on a M*A*S*H report for the Cubs' injured players -- I'll post a note when I have it completed.
Cubs vs. Oswalt:
Patterson: 8-22, 364/364/727, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 3 RBI
Astros vs. Zambrano:
Biggio: 4-13, 308/500/615, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Cubs vs. Houston bullpen:
Alou vs. Miceli: 4-14, 286/267/714, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Astros vs. Cubs bullpen:
Berkman vs. Remlinger: 2-7, 286/500/1143, 3 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 4 RBI
An "A" for "Z"; all hail Zambrano
In one short week, on June 1st, Carlos Zambrano will turn 23. This simple statement generates some controversy. There are some who believe Carlos is older, maybe even much older, than his listed age. These beliefs are generally based on some combination of the following:
What I'm more interested in is reason four above, and it's a point that hasn't been getting nearly enough play throughout baseball. Here he is, in his second full season as a Major League starter, and he's been dominating. Zambrano is currently third in the league in ERA (2.08), third in WHIP (0.92), fourth in all of baseball in Baseball Prospectus's "SNW/L" statistic, and tenth in the majors in VORP, the latter lower ranking mostly due to having pitched in fewer games than some of his peers.
And he's doing this, let's emphasize again, before turning 23.
Zambrano isn't simply pitching like an ace. He's pitching at a historically great level for his age, and isn't getting a hill o' beans in press clippings for his efforts. Take a look at the following list, ranked by Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA).
This list holds a lot of promise, as well as quite a few "Tread Cautiously" signs. Ya got your Hall of Famers (Eckersley, Pedro), your All-Stars (Tanana, Saberhagen), your coulda-shoulda beens (Gooden, Valenzuela), and your spectacular flame-outs and injury cases (Rozema, Fidrych, Burns). Oh yeah, and some Mark Prior thrown in, too.1975-2004
Which of these career paths Zambrano follows is still unknown, though Dusty and his crew would do well to ease up on the throttle if Z starts showing signs of fatigue. But my question is this: why isn't Zambrano heralded as a modern day Valenzuela? Why aren't fans lining up outside stadiums to see him pitch, like they did with Fidrych? Why isn't his rookie card the envy of the neighborhood, as were Gooden's and Saberhagen's?
Z's failure to capture the imagination of the baseball world isn't for his lack of personality. He's fire and brimstone, in constant debate with spirits visible only to himself. An admonishing glance downward, a look skyward, an angry fist-pounding-glove. Despite his constant gesticulations, he works quickly, mixing in a healthy dose of swings-and-misses with his usual fare -- soft grounders to the keystone. Zambrano is simply one of the most exciting pitchers to watch in baseball.
That baseball has yet to really figure this out is a mystery. Sure, he's almost always listed when discussing the Cubs' great pitching staff, but it often seems he's tacked on as added value: Prior, Wood, and oh yeah, that guy Victor Zambrano [sic], too. And even with the Big Two sidelined, Zambrano has had to play second fiddle to the Sudden Rise of Matt Clement, even though Zambrano has arguably been more effective than Clement. Just last Friday, in Chris Kahrl's Transaction Analysis for Baseball Prospectus, Kahrl wrote, "Now, it isn't so much that anybody in the [Cubs] rotation has pitched flat-out bad, as much as Matt Clement is the only guy left who's pitched well." This despite Zambrano outperforming Clement (who has obviously been no slouch) in BP's own pitching stats.
Well, all this negligence has got to stop. It's time to give Big Z his due. Happy Birthday, Carlos, a couple days early. Baseball may not be aware of what it is you've got, but we Cub fans are mighty thankful you're pitching for our team.
prior, wood, zambrano
"Cancel all prior commitments, Mark Prior to pitch for Lugnuts Thursday."
"[W]e're going to do this the right way. We're going to do it in a way that when I do come back I'm ready to pitch completely healthy. We're not going to rush it so I get 1 extra start and on the flip side cost me 3 or 4 starts."
"I'm sure the first time out we're not going to go to 140 [pitches]. But I expect to go out and pitch the way I pitch. When I'm healthy, I can go out and throw 120 pitches, and I expect to be able to do that."
"Two years ago, I would have kept pitching. Maybe even last year. But things are different. We're not trying to win anything in May now. I know we have a great team and we've got guys who can step in and fill roles, as they've been doing as guys have been going in and out of the lineup. I just think it was a smarter move than I would have made in the past."
"I had a terrible problem with my mechanics my first year with him, and Larry [Rothschild] helped me a lot. I was opening my shoulder too soon toward home plate, and my arm was dropping all the time. Larry got me to stay on top. I appreciate everything he has done for me."
fountain of youth
"I feel like I'm 95 years old right now. I'm going through a tough time. The first day it happened, I knew it was serious. I was in serious, serious pain. I couldn't even stand up."
"I used to be 95. Now I'm 45. In a week or two, I'll be 35 again."
more lemon stuff
"We're not upset that it got out there; it was good to get a little air time."
"We never really defined it. Obviously, a lemon can be a bad car. Lemons are also something you can make lemonade out of. They freshen water. It can do a lot of things. So it's for each person to determine how they want to define it."
"Goody's more the leader; he's in the big chair. It's fun and a little fraternity we've got going on. We pull for each other, no matter what. But when another Lemon is playing, it's like, shoot, we want him to get a couple knocks."
"It's a pretty prestigious group; they don't just let anybody in. Had [Mark] Grudzielanek not got hurt, I'm certainly in the fraternity. I mean, I was in for two days and then out."
"Every time we hit and get on base, we look at each other and squeeze."
"Mo is my clutch man, Sammy is my star and Aramis is my RBI man."
"Yeah. You got any better choices?"
"That was one of the hardest balls I've ever seen hit."
"My teammates told me I had to do it."
"He's playing right? You're kidding me. Couldn't they find anyone taller?"
"I can see the headlines. They will say, 'Dempster throws after Prior in front of a crowd of 17 - 12 of which were on his pass list.'"
Including tonight's game, the Cubs have 13 more games against the Cardinals, having split the opening 6 games. I missed both of the first two games of the series, but am looking forward to a good pitching matchup on ESPN coming up shortly. Though the wind is blowing out, according to pre-game reports...
In one of the oddities of this year's schedule, the Cubs and Cardinals play their last game July 20th, which could turn out to be a real shame if both teams still find themselves within striking distance of the division crown in September. As opposed to many Cubs fans, I've never held a particularly strong distaste for the Cardinals, but it's undeniable that the games do seem to take on a greater intensity. As Michael Barrett observed, "They bring in a rivalry like this (with the Cardinals) and it is one of the best rivalries in the game. The Toronto-Montreal rivalry has nothing on this." Uh, yeah, Toronto-Montreal, Michael... Last year's five-game match between the Cubs-Cards late in the year was an incredible thing to behold, but these two teams won't be privy to such a late-season duel this year, at least.
The Cubs continue to be dinged up. Kent Mercker and Mike Remlinger play switcheroo, and Rem coming up as Mercker hits the DL. This is probably a net plus, but you really can't look at it that way: the Cubs want both guys in their 'pen.
Christian has the matchups below. It looks like Pujols and Renteria are starting, though Reggie Sanders is not.
Now we're having fun
Kerry Wood has been placed on the 15-day DL due to soreness in his right triceps, and the Cubs are hoping it can be made retroactive to May 12. Since Wood also dropped his appeal and served a 5-game suspension after May 12, it is still not clear whether or not he'll be eligible to come back at the end of next week, or if he'll need to lose an additional five days due to the suspension.
The Cubs DL currently features the core of a championship-caliber team, as well as several other key bits and parts.
[UPDTE 4:50 PM:] Christian checking in here to say that according to Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations (that's quite a title, by the way), Wood's suspension (and appeal) will be reinstated, allowing the DL assignment to happen retroactively to 5/12.
Sweet win yesterday. I caught the beginning and the end, leaving the TV with the Cubs down 1-3 and returning when it was 3-3. While I did see Zambrano give up a couple runs, he certainly didn't look bad to me -- he just wasn't getting as many grounders as usual. How did he look towards the end of the outing? He hadn't thrown all that many pitches when he left after the seventh, so I'm fairly surprised he didn't continue pitching into the eighth.
Moises Alou smacked a high change into the left-field stands to give the Cubs the victory in the bottom of the tenth. The coverage of the game has generally spun the story into a "Prodigal Son Returns to Defeat Father", with Moises beating the team his daddy manages. This obscures what is one of the most interesting stories of the Cubs offense in the early going, a story which goes, "Prodigal Son Returns... to being Productive".
Almost any way you shake it, Alou has been a bit of a disappointment with the Cubs. His 2002 was downright bad, and his 2003 was successful mostly because he was surprisingly durable -- he wasn't one of the league's better left fielders, ranking only ninth in VORP at his position in the NL. This wasn't the same hitter we'd seen in Houston, and park effects don't even begin to account for the huge difference in value between Alou's 1998-2001 and his 2002-2003. Some decline with age was to be expected, but I don't think the Cubs were hoping for Piles of Average when they signed him to a three-year contract.
This year, however, is different. Alou's stats after the first month and a half of the season bear a nice resemblance to the younger, more productive Moises.
G AB H 2b HR BB/PA AVG OBP SLGThere are two things that jump out at me here. First, Alou's walk rate is dramatically down this year, almost half of what has become his established level of about 1 walk every 10 plate appearances. This isn't good, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Alou pick up the walks just a bit, especially if pitchers start to be a bit more wary of him given his early-season success.
The other thing? Power. Alou hasn't shown this much power in several years -- and his isolated slugging percentage (SLG - AVG, a good measure of power) is currently higher than it's ever been throughout his career. Will this continue? I doubt it, but even if Alou only held onto a modest bit of his newly-recovered power, he would be giving the Cubs offense a huge boost.
Day game today, with a classic Maddux-Hermanson matchup. Okay, so maybe only one-half of that matchup can really be described as classic...
Giants at Cubs
The Barry show, with a dash of Ray. And that's it, really, though Grissom is also playing well so far. To top it off, both Bonds and Durham are banged up a bit, so neither are guaranteed to play all three games. These aren't your mother's Giants, or last year's for that matter.
Giants vs. Cubs Bullpen:
Hammonds vs. Rusch: 9-17, 529/579/941, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR, 4 RBI
Cubs vs. Giants Bullpen:
Sosa vs. Rodriguez: 5-8, 625/727/2000, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 HR, 6 RBI
"Greg Maddux told me yesterday, 'Boy, you are overqualified for this job.' You think I'm proud of that comment? You bet I am."
"I'm not hitting off him -- no way."
"Not too hot. He threw me the nastiest curve I've ever seen."
"Me personally, I get in trouble when I think too much."
"The No. 1 thing is learn the strike zone. Most of the time when they get him out, they don't get him out with strikes. Most of the time it's balls. When that happens you're getting yourself out."
"I can't say enough about our bench guys. They call themselves 'The Lemons.' It just shows you how important it is to have a good bench."
"It's more of a friendly thing. It sounds like it's a bad thing. The bench guys are bored sometimes and we labeled ourselves 'The Lemons.' It's kind of caught on. The coaching staff drops 'The Lemons' on us."
"'Walk' [Todd Walker] can't be a Lemon. Look at what he did last year. Ramon is a Lemon, but now that he's starting every day he's shied away. He might be like a Lime, graduate a little."
"We had a blast out there. It was a new league record as far as number of 'Lemons' in the game together. Everybody had a chance to contribute."
"[Carlos Zambrano]'s not even close. None of the starters are lemons."
"When you've got a chance to get a guy like that, why not?"
"I've struggled all year. I think Dusty doing what he did the last two weeks and giving me extended rest was maybe what I did need. It's still in progress but I'm seeing the results and starting to feel more comfortable."
"Looking back, I should have come [to Chicago] in a heartbeat, but I didn't know then what I know now."
"It would be better if I would've hit off the wall or we had a fight with somebody, but geez."
Cubs 6, Padres 1
I was pretty worried that my pre-game ruminations yesterday were going to jinx Greg Maddux, and that he was due to give up 8 runs or so in a couple innings. But no cause for concern. Maddux was brilliant last night, throwing his best game as a 21st Century Cub, and some late thunder helped Chicago ease to victory in their first game at Petco.
It was a game of mini-milestones: Sosa hit a huge bomb that tied him with Mike Schmidt for ninth on the all-time homer list.
Broadcast dude Chip Caray kept mucking up another milestone. Maddux struck out batter number 2800 for his career (not bad for a supposedly "finesse" pitcher, eh), and while this did not put him past Cy Young on the career list, as Chip insisted, it did bring him within a couple of the old-timer.PLAYER HR
Though to be fair to Caray, Young's total is in some dispute. Besides the 2799 total for Young Caray had at his disposal, I've also seen a total of 2802, while 2803 seems to be the "official" number. Whatever. The point is, congrats to Maddux, he threw a great game, and is a few Ks away from entering the top 15 all-time in the category. He should end up number 13 by the end of this year, and has an outside chance of catching Fergie Jenkins at number 11 during the course of his current contract.PLAYER SO
The other guy with a big day was resident 25th man, Jose Macias. Macias had back-to-back triples, the second of which cleared the bases in the late innings. Hey, I think Macias is as big a scrub as the next guy, but you don't complain when your scrub has a couple nice hits.
Batter AB H HR RBI BB K AVG OBP SLG
The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
A TALE OF THREE PITCHERS
Of course, we can play this game forever. You can find a four-start streak of effectiveness on most starters' resumes, but it is an encouraging grouping nevertheless. Maddux ain't dead.LAST FOUR OUTINGS
"The MRI on his elbow showed posterior inflammation, kind of right underneath the triceps, which is where he was sore. He also has some mild tendinitis, which Yocum says an MRI would show on most pitchers the day after they pitch. The doctor was pleased, and Kerry was kind of relieved to see the results."
Still breathin', it would seem.
"Mark Prior may have had his return date pushed back, but his progress has been steady. Prior pitched three strong innings in a rehab start, going 45 pitches. He mixed in some breaking balls and for the first time, pitched from the stretch. He was very upbeat after the outing and--while the date has changed in the past, I admit--it appears that the June 3 target is all but set in stone for his return."
Steady pulse? You betcha.
Cubs at Padres
I've rambled on about it before, but I really dig the new Padre colors. Especially the road unis, both regular and alternate. I find the sand color to be, for whatever reason, pretty flattering on the players. Unfortunately, we'll just get to see the tidey whiteys. Get it? Tidey -- like the wave theme the new team has going on... like the ocean... OK... nevermind...
As far as the new ballpark goes, the one and only Score Bard has a great column on it. Maddux gets a chance to try on the stadium that was long-rumored to be a future home for him. Given his homer-happy ways this year, and Petco's homer-sappy ways, methinks he'll like it just fine.
You've gotta be kidding me
I just had to leave the room, since I almost threw my laptop through the T.V.
Matt Clement has just given up four consecutive infield ground balls. The first one was a wimpy dribbler by Paul Lo Duca. Then, a bad call by the ump on a ground ball back to the pitcher, in which Clement softly lobbed to first and Bradley was incorrectly called "safe". Then a booted grounder to Aramis (later called a single, a call I disagree with) off the bat of Shawn Green, followed by another misplayed soft grounder in Ramirez's direction. Two "earned" runs score, and Clement doesn't throw a single bad pitch. He doesn't even give up a single hard-hit ball. Talk about tough luck.
But Karma's a bitch, or so they say. So the Dodgers should watch out, 'cause it would appear they have some bad stuff coming their way.
[UPDATE: 12:30 AM] Oh well, there goes that Karma bit. Alex Cora (AKA, you gotta be kidding me, part 2) has a 10,000-pitch at bat against Clement that ends in a two-run homer. I'm going to bed.
I had relatively few feelings towards the Dodgers before this game. Right now, though, I have a few choice four-letter thoughts swimming around in my mind.
So after surviving some chili-induced vexations, I decided to fight fire with fire last night, steaming up a batch of shellfish for dinner. New Zealand cockles, a smallish type of clams, were on the menu, and my slightly-insane plan seems to have worked. Order has been restored to my kitchen, and a good night's sleep was had.
The Cubs didn't fare as well, unfortunately. They got whipped by a whipping boy, scoring only twice off of Jeff Weaver through eight innings. Sosa looked especially bad, striking out three times against Weaver. For his part, Jeff felt some consistency in his mechanics are helping:
"Just knowing my mechanics are set and I'm releasing the ball where I should, I'm confident throwing to both sides of the plate," said Weaver. "I'm back on top and getting the pitches down in the zone."
The big story, though, was Kerry Wood, and his departure from the game before the third inning. He felt some tightness in his tricep and didn't want to push it. Wood's removal is currently being characterized as more precautionary than anything else, but more should be learned today. A selection of quotes on the matter:
"They asked me how I was feeling, and I said it was kind of tight. That was it. We didn't want to take any chances. It wasn't something that was killing me and I couldn't throw. I felt my velocity was close to where it was."
"I just didn't feel comfortable and didn't feel right. There are times when things don't feel right. I've had a surgery in the past. I'm not ready to do that again."
"We asked him and he said it was just tight. (The Dodgers') doctor came over and analyzed him and said it was the tricep, and that's all we know. It's kind of a downer right now. We're thinking it's more precautionary than anything."
"We're always concerned. The tricep starts in your shoulder and goes down to your elbow. We want to make sure we cover all our bases in the exam. Woody's strong, his shoulder is strong, his elbow is strong. He doesn't have any pain in either of those and that's a good thing. We have to wake up (Wednesday) and see how he feels. I'm sure he'll have some stiffness and soreness there."
Needless to say, this was not a good start to the Dodgers series.
Cubs at Dodgers
Cubs visit L.A. the next three days. All three matchups look good for the Cubbies, on paper at least. Of course, the chili I ate for dinner last night looked good as well. It wasn't.
Hi, everyone. This is Jon Weisman, normally of Dodger Thoughts, doing the Manic Monday switcheroo with your dependable leaders, Alex and Christian.
I jumped at the chance to write for The Cub Reporter because 1) itís a great site and 2) the Cubs are my stepbrother team. The Dodgers come first, but I have a brotherhood with the Cubs that comes from my fatherís first marriage with baseball - he lived in Chicago until the age of 16 and rooted for the Cubs from the start.
Interestingly, the Brooklyn Dodgers were Dadís No. 2. He moved to Los Angeles in 1951 and the Dodgers followed in 1958, cementing his alternate rooting interest. Just today, when my father and I talked baseball, it was about the Dodgers not bringing Eric Gagne in during their eighth-inning crisis, not about the Cubs. But I was thinking today and realized that while I see Dad in a Cubs hat many a time, I canít recall him wearing an LA cap.
So I root for the Cubs when itís not in conflict with the Dodgers. There are other fans like me in Los Angeles - many more, I suspect, than there are Chicago fans that have a passing affinity for Los Angeles. Thatís just the way it works out in a country of westward migration. But you know, if you can send a positive thought the Dodgersí way in your spare time, we could use it.
Anyway, given this priceless opportunity to address The Cub Reporter legion directly, I thought Iíd share the defining moments the Cubs have had in my life.
1) My father attended the last appearance by the Cubs in the World Series, as a 10-year-old in 1945. This simple fact does no less, I feel, than validate him as a human being. I can assure you I take no small pride in being only one degree of separation from a Fall Classic in Wrigley Field.
2) Cubs outfielder Rick Monday rescuing the American flag from being lit on fire by protesters in 1976. As a kid in that bicentennial year, I thought it was pretty awesome. Today, it's still quite something to ponder, though I have always wondered with sincere curiosity what it was those protesters were protesting.
This incident played some role, I believe, in the next ...
3) In January 1977 the Dodgers traded Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the Cubs for Monday and Mike Garman. I was nine years old and fairly new to the idea of trades, the idea that Dodgers werenít Dodgers forever - although Joe Ferguson had been traded for Reggie Smith the year before. More significantly, this was the first time in my life that I had a bad feeling about a trade. Buckner, I already knew, was a heck of a hitter. And, despite Mondayís home run to win the 1981 National League Championship Series, I was right. Iím subconsciously reminded of that trade each day I hear Monday drone on as the weakest link of the Dodger broadcast team.
4) That 21-inning game played over two separate days in Wrigley Field in the summer of 1982, won by the Dodgers after Ron Cey was ejected in the 20th inning or so, forcing Fernando Valenzuela into the game as an outfielder. Jerry Reuss won on Day 2 with four innings in relief - then won a second game that same day with five innings as a starter.
5) In 1989, shortly after graduating college, I arranged to travel with various members of my family to several major league parks: Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, the Skydome, and in the end, a Sunday at Wrigley Field. While I have fond memories of my only visit to a ballgame in Chicago, they are inexorably intertwined with the dinner we had Saturday night, at which without a doubt the single ugliest fight my family ever had broke out.
6) Uh, didnít you guys beat us 20-1 or something kinda recently. That was pretty memorable.
Anyway, none of this probably matters to those of you who are worried about more pressing matters - such as the upcoming series between your team and mine in Los Angeles beginning Tuesday. To compensate you for reading the above, you deserve some on-target analysis. So here it is: The Cubs are the Dodgers' most significant test of the season to date. That is the stature of your ballclub. You qualify for the litmus category, and you donít even have Mark Prior back. You have all the romance of being the Chicago Cubs - plus all the promise of being a championship team. Itís a great time to be a Cubs fan.
Which means, from what I know about Cubs fans, that you must feel lousy right about now.
Thanks for letting me spend some time with you. Looking forward to a fun series this week.
Quotes coming to you a day early this week.
"When I played here, we didn't play any night games. That was one of Chicago's main weapons -- places don't close until late and you've got to get up early."
"I've never had it before. It could be the beds. They weren't heavenly."
"I (stunk). I have (stunk) before and I'm sure I will (stink) again."
"What I'm learning is how easy the game looks from up here. 'How could that guy pop that pitch up?' But I was popping up that pitch, too. So I'm not as critical of physical mistakes. I will get on players for mental mistakes or not playing the game right."
the big o
"You've just got to swing your way out of it. It's not like we're striking out, we're just not hitting the ball as hard as we were and finding any holes. You're not worried about it, you just don't like it. I know these guys can hit."
"When you rely on the home run, you're going to have some ups and downs. It's like having a basketball team with a bunch of three-point shooters."
"I talked to Tom Seaver the other day and he said his [pitch] limit was 140. Go look at Nolan Ryan's pitch count. I bet he was 150-160 sometimes. I saw David Cone throw a 150-pitch shutout."
"When the bonus baby gets hurt, heads fly. Look at what happened when Kerry Wood got hurt. Remember that? There were people ducking everywhere."
"I always thought baseball needed to have a consulting group. There's some good minds out there that may not have the energy to coach or manage, but they have the mental expertise to teach. That's what I'd like to do, be a consultant. ... I'll talk about something for $5,000 an hour."
"It hit me so hard that the umpire thought it was a foul ball. I explained to him, 'Maybe you can take a look at my wrist?' and realized what he probably heard was my bone breaking instead of the bat."
"Sooner or later, Joe is going to blow one, and then what happens? Is this what everybody is waiting on? He's tired of hearing what he's not doing."
"I don't know if I'm honored, but it's kind of cool. The only thing is now I really don't have a choice, I can't get rid of it."
Arias and B-Movies, Cubs Win
I went to the Tribeca Film Festival in lower Manhattan last night, invited by my best friend to see a B-movie horror flic called "Satan's Little Helper". I love movies (who doesn't), and even took a 6-week course in filmmaking a couple years back. But I'm not a film groupie or festival-hopper, so the hoopla surrounding the screenings was new to me.
Pretty much anyone willing to stand in a line can attend. My friend and I were tagging along with a pair who apparently "knew people", so we were moved (literally) to the front of the line. That was pretty sweet; one of those rare moments in New York City were a Joe Average like me gets to feel a bit special, regardless of how banal that specialness really is.
I'd never met the two guys we were with, so all the requisite personal trivia was shared while we waited for the doors to open. Where do you work? How long in the city? After all that, my best friend quickly spilled the dirt on me. Alex is a big baseball fan! This seems to be a novelty, or at least curiosity, among a group of gay men (such as we were), kind of like declaring to your meat-eating, Midwestern-rooted family that you've decided to become a macrobiotic vegan. They don't know what to do with the information, but they'll politely play along.
At any rate, one of the guys began to compare opera with sports. I know, I know, opera -- sometimes stereotypes are true. "You follow certain singers just like you follow a sports team. You cheer for them to give a great performance, and when they don't... trust me, you boo." I know nothing about opera, but what he said seemed to make some sense.
In addition to his comments, my impression is that opera fans admire the genre's deliberate pace and the sustaining of emotion throughout all the acts. I'm not particularly keen on musical analogies to baseball, but baseball, at its best, shares some of these qualities. Game two of the Arizona series was a decent example; a well-played game in which fans withstood eight innings of expectation, leading up to a bases-loaded, 2-out, do-or-die situation. But often the games aren't as dramatic, or structured as neatly as a staged performance. The climax can come early, the denouement can last six innings. Yesterday's game, for example, was baseball not at its best, but at its most usual: some early drama, then a Derrek Lee-led fifth-inning bonanza that quickly turned it into a laugher. Which is fine and dandy by me; I'm not criticizing baseball for its freeform structure, just acknowledging that comparisons aren't easy to come by.
Matt Clement started rough yesterday, but quickly turned it around and was dominant yet again. Clement's early heroics are pretty exciting, especially given Prior's absence. Clement currently ranks second in the league (behind Wood) in Average Game Score with an awesome 63.3, and is fourth in the NL (seventh overall) in Baseball Prospectus's gauge of a pitcher's value, VORP. He's also doing well by traditional measures, with a 5-1 record and 2.29 ERA. If Mattie keeps it up, he'll be a surprise Cubs pitching addition to the All-Star game.
A final non-baseball note: Last night ended with a bit of dry humor, appropriate to a night out in the City. After the screening, we hopped on a shuttle bus that took us from the theater to our subway stop. It was one of those two-decker tour busses, complete with guide. In this case, our guide was a middle-aged artsy woman named Ellie -- a twenty-five year veteran of New York film and stage, and she came complete with a slight German accent.
We were sitting up front with Ellie as she told the commuters about the buildings in Tribeca. She peppered our journey with tidbits, but soon gave up. Her audience of hard-core NYC filmies was having none of it. "Over there to your left," she gestured, "is one of the most eco-friendly buildings in New York. They recycle all their water, and... oh nevermind, none of you care about any of this anyway." The travellers concurred, and with that she turned off the mike.
Cubs-Rockies, coming up in just a bit...
Alex is out
No, no, not this Alex; you're stuck with me hangin' around these parts for a while. A much more important Alex has been knocked out of the Cubs plans, with Gonzo predicted to miss six weeks due to a broken bone in his wrist.
I'll be curious to see how the Cubs management reacts to this. Gonzalez was already reportedly on the outs with the decision makers (whether or not these reports were true is another matter), and his absence now will only add fuel to the trade rumor fires. A little Orlando to go with your Aramis, anyone?
Knuckled and Daigled
The Cubs offense has gone splat the past couple games, managing its only runs thanks to a Sosa 3-run job on Steve Sparks' last pitch on Tuesday night. The game against Sparks was just one of those things; every once in awhile, Sparks and his knuckleball are working, and game one of this series was such an instance. While it is frustrating to watch, a knuckleball pitcher who is throwing superbly can beat anyone -- I imagine the Yankees (at least pre-Aaron #&*%& Boone) would tell you as much based on last year's playoff matchup with the Boston Wakefields.
Last night's game was a shame, from the bits I saw. I arrived at the TV set late, after Wood had already left the game, and couldn't believe that the Cubs had failed to score off Jenny Finch's worse half. Was Daigle looking good, or was this another case of the Cubs awarding a Cy Young to an opponent scrub pitcher?
Things were looking up in the bottom of the 8th, with Urinetown Alou at the plate and the bases loaded. Alou had a great at-bat, taking some pitches, fouling off the close ones, and looked like he was ready to break out of his current mini-slump. And he did... almost. A crushed ball was hit just a bit too up-the-middle, and ended up squarely in season-series nemesis Steve Finley's paws.
Dusty Baker had an interesting observation after last night's game; an observation I'd been suspecting and that people had been talking about some in the comments on this site:
One thing for sure, this team is going to hit. You know when you rely on home runs, you're going to have some ups and downs. This is the team we have. We don't have a lot of speed. We have a lot of bangers - guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark.
This is a pretty accurate description of the ball club, though I would change the phrase "this team is going to hit" to "this team better hit, cause it sure as hell can't get on base any other way". The Cubs offense is completely reliant on the home run, more so than any other team in the majors:
The chart above shows a couple things: the number of bombs and runs scored, the runs scored rank overall in MLB, and the percentage of runs accounted for by individual home runs (i.e., I'm not counting 3-run homers as "3 runs scored by home run", just as 1 run).TEAM HR RUNS RANK % HR
Now, I don't really know what this means other than that the Cubs depend on dingers, but it isn't encouraging that the teams listed above are generally in the lower-half of runs scored in the majors, and include three of the worst offenses (Expos, Phils, and A's) to this point in the season. I suppose there are much worse things to be solely dependent on than the home run, but Baker's roller-coaster description of the offense seems like it is apt.
(UPDATE: my Excel file was screwy, temporarily listing the Devil Rays in the top-10 even though they weren't really, so I fixed and updated the entry)
Hee. Seop. Choi.
I tried to find it online without luck, but there is a nice tidbit by Jayson Stark in the current edition of ESPN: The Magazine on Hee Seop Choi's adjustment to the Marlins this season. One look at his stat line for the year (269/395/672, 9 hr) tells you that he's doing just great on the field. According to the article, part of his early success is due to feeling more at ease in Florida. Manager Jack McKeon, to Choi: "I want you to relax. It's your job."
That's a message Choi never got in any language last year with the Cubs. His ballyhooed rookie season fizzled into a .218/8/28 disappoinment. "I don't think anybody game him any confidence there," says Lenny Harris, his teammate now and then. "He was playing in fear that if he didn't hit, they'd send him down." This team, Choi says, "makes me feel more comfortable."
I never thought that the Lee-Choi trade was a bad trade, and I still don't think so (Lee's early season struggles are nothing new). But I do think that it was unfortunately a necessary trade, as it was clear that Dusty Baker wanted no part of developing Choi. Baker, in fact, was lobbying for the Cubs to re-sign a platoon of Randall Simon and Eric Karros for this year, which would have been utterly ridiculous.
You have to take the good and bad with Baker, and realize that Baker simply isn't patient with youngsters, having really guided only one young position player that I can think of (Rich Aurilia) successfully in his entire managerial career. I'll never stop rooting for Choi, one of my favorite Cubs in the past few years, but I will always wonder what kind of career he could have had in Cubbie blue.
Ground Rules at Wrigley
In his most recent column on ESPN.com, Rob Neyer discusses quirky ground rules found in some of baseball's stadiums. He talks a bit about Wrigley's ivy, and the "ground-rule double" that results from a ball being stuck there:
[I]f the ball lodges in the vines, the fielder can raise his hands in surrender, even if he can see the ball perfectly well, and the batter is limited to a double.Isn't this incorrect? Doesn't the ball have to be not visible for the fielder to throw up his hands? I think this happened earlier in the year, with a Cub batter having hit the ball (was it Bako or Barrett, maybe?), and Adam Dunn staring at the ball in the ivy. Junior rushed over and grabbed the ball, because it was in fact "in play." Am I remembering this correctly?
D'backs at Cubs
The Cubs should feel very good about three things entering the home series against the Diamondbacks:
As Dusty Baker said yesterday, "darn."
My Achilles hurts. I'm not kidding. It's one of those I-don't-know-how-I-got-it injuries, and it's not keeping me from doing anything, but I'm definitely feeling it.
Now I find this to be pretty humorous, of course, being a Cubs fan, and feeling like this gives me some sort of special bond with my injured Cubs brethren. "Hey, Prior and Grudz have messed-up Achilles, I'm just joining in on the fun!" And the thought has actually crossed my mind that I might have some mystical mind-meld transplantation power, and that my desire to see Prior healthy has actually caused his injury to move to my foot! Wouldn't that be awesome? Christian may be having wet dreams about Prior, but I'm the one willing to take it for the team.
Maddux won number 291 yesterday, and had a nifty stolen base to boot. To say he "stole" it is a bit of an understatement; Maddux was practically in Egypt by the time Marquis even delivered the ball. Sosa and Lee both hit two-run homers, though I managed to miss both of them (@&%#! MLB.tv!) and never did see a replay of the Lee bomb. Was it as long a drive as Sosa's, who hit it a mile?
Questions with Christian and Alex
While Christian was away on business last week, I dropped him a line with a few questions, and he responded in kind.
If forced to give a name, I'll say Jason DuBois.
Now a couple for you:
1) Should the Cubs plug Glendon Rusch into the #5 rotation slot, or keep giving the ball to Mitre?
I also think he's a bit of a contrarian. Dusty seems to like to turn questions on their head or give an "unexpected" answer. So when a writer approaches him and says, "Hey, what do you think about all those walks those Moneyball teams talk about", I think Baker's instinct is to counter, "Let me tell you something those wise guys don't know."
Oh, and you wouldn't have me hanging out with the Yankee dudes, would you?
And once again, it comes down to patience at the plate. Sure, it was a Rolen single that drove in the winning run in the 10th, but it was another case of bullpen wildness -- and a Cardinal willingness to exploit that wildness -- that led to the winning run.
Walks for walks sake is not what I'm talking about, and it's easy to get caught up in overemphasizing the end result (walks) over the process (patience). It's the process that is most valuable to a hitter: a patient approach, waiting for your pitch, working the count in your favor. And this is exactly what the Cubs offense is so poor at doing.
Matt Morris and Carlos Zambrano threw equally dominant games, but Morris lasted nine innings, Carlos seven. This discrepancy despite Morris throwing ten fewer pitches that Carlos overall in the game. Zambrano has always been prone to higher pitch counts, due to a combination of going for strikeouts and fits of wildness, but Z doesn't create these high pitch counts in a vacuum.
Consider this picture of the two team's offenses last night:
The Cardinals drew six more walks than the Cubs last night, and saw an average of half a pitch more each time they came to the plate. But the first column is equally important: the number of times an at-bat ended on the first or second pitch. Cubs hitters slapped at the first or second on five more occasions than the Cardinals, managing three meager singles (and one double-play) in the twelve times their at-bats ended so quickly. More egregiously, the majority of these quick at-bats happened towards the end of the game, when Morris would theoretically be a bit more vulnerable in a long at-bat.1st/2nd #P/PA BB
Last night it was a waiting game, and the Cardinals didn't blink, pulling out a victory where the only difference in performance was a bit of patience. I know Dusty gets righteously (and rightfully) indignant when his pitchers walk too many batters. Why can't he and Sarge see the flip side, that fostering patience in your hitters is just as valuable as teaching your pitchers to avoid the free pass?
By The Hair Of His Chinny-Chin-Chin
"I'm not offended at all that [the Cubs other starters] are all signed and I'm not. I'm not totally resigned to the fact that there isn't a chance I'll be back here. I don't know what that chance is. All I can do logically is make it a tough decision for them."
"I might have put a little more energy than I needed to in that Piazza at-bat. [Who is Karim]Garcia is a good hitter and I threw him what was supposed to be a four-seamer and it came back a little over the plate. He did what you are supposed to do with a pitch that comes over the plate -- he crushed it."
"Four-seamer and slider. I stuck with it. I was getting groundballs from the get-go. I messed up the first play of the game with Womack. After that, I was just trying to get groundballs and get [them] out by out."
"That's shows you what spring training means - nothing. His command of the strike zone is great. His rhythm is great. Boy, what a game under those conditions."
"Since the Atlanta game, his command has been an issue. He has thrown well on the side. The other day he threw great beforehand in the bullpen and then went out and walked three of the first four hitters. It wasn't like he was bouncing them up there. He was throwing 93 [mph]."
"He is probably putting a lot of pressure on himself. He felt he had a big chance right away and then felt he disappointed himself and disappointed me and disappointed his father."
"We're optimistic he will figure it out."
"Hey, I'm pulling for Hee Seop [Choi] to do great. And I know Derrek is going to do great. When the year started, you had a better idea what Derrek could do than what Hee Seop could do."
"There are always going to be questions on a trade. You can't control that. We got a long year, a long way to go."
"Darren is following him and knows how many home runs he has hit. That's my son's favorite player. But sometimes you got to do what you got to do."
Amphetamines (aka Alex Likes Out-Of-Context Quotes)
"Speed creates problems, mistakes. Speed creates better pitches for guys hitting and nervousness on the other side. I love speed."
"Does that set a precedent that every time I argue at home and they throw stuff on the field that I incited them? I'm trying to figure out where I got this power."
"Maybe the mail's slow."
"Being injured has made him grumpy. That's a nice way of putting it. I wouldn't want to be married to him right now."
Alex Belth has commented to me on Matt Clement several times in the past few weeks, including a short email late last week sent for no apparent reason other than to inform me that "that kid's stuff is nasty!" Alex, my dear, you are correct.
Clement had his fourth great outing in a row, and the furrowed brows and beads of sweat he caused a few short weeks ago are long forgotten. He had a craptabulous spring, but since his first miserable outing ("See! He's lost it!", cried Cubbie nation) he's been practically flawless.
That kind of dominance will get you going places. Clement's been unhittable; his k/bb ratio is up over 3, he's feeding the dirt with a slew of grounders, and he's given up only one (no-hitter-breaking and heart-breaking) home run the entire season. Overlooked as a potential championship pitcher when the season began, he's overlooked no longer.DATE INN HITS ER BB K HR GB FB ERA
I'm especially wowed by Matt's effort last night, chugging through eight beautiful innings of baseball while the rain was doing its best to kick him off the field. His slider may not have been quite as deadly as it was in his previous game, but it was wicked enough, as ground ball after ground ball -- and three double-plays -- attest.
I was actually shocked that after the 6th-inning downpour the game wasn't at least delayed, if not called, but no harm done. Z's up next, and the Cubs face off against ace Matt Morris, though Morris has hardly pitched to his reputation so far this year. I'm rooting for Carlos to bring it something fierce, in the hopes that I'll get another message of surprised adulation in my inbox. That big Venezuelan dude, he's freakin' vicious!
New Cub Glendon Rusch has been called up from AAA, and Michael Wuertz was sent down. Despite rumors that he'd replace Sergio Mitre as the temporary fifth starter, that doesn't appear to be the case (for now) -- he'll be a second lefty in the Cubs bullpen.
I liked the acquisition when the Cubs picked him up, and I think he'll make a fine go of it in the Cubs 'pen. He's been pitching lights-out in AAA (1.89 ERA) and even had a big two-homer game while in Iowa. While Rusch has spent most of career as a mediocre starter, he had a good run of it as a reliever (after the world's worst start to the year) towards the end of last season with the Brewers, posting a low 2.35 ERA out of relief for Milwaukee.
Rusch's greatest attribute as a pitcher is his control. And after last night's game, I think we all can agree that a few fewer walks in the Cubs 'pen is nothin' but a good thing.
That wasn't much fun at the end, was it? LaTroy Hawkins walked in the winning run last night, and the Cardinals won the game 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. This was one of those games where just enough things went against the Cubs -- most notably, a Michael Barrett foul ball that was this close to being a home run -- and St. Louis was able to squeak out a victory. Brian over at Redbird Nation has a great post about all the close calls found in the game.
I don't know what was more embarrassing; that the Cubs lost by walking in Mike Matheny (!) with the bases loaded, or that the Cubs lost after Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa asked both Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to bunt runners over in consecutive at-bats. As infuriating as Dusty can be as a manager, I have to imagine that being a Cardinals fan can be even more frustrating. At least Dusty's occasionally-lame tactical moves are understandable, given his "old school" manager mentality. LaRussa comes across like Dr. Frankenstein, a once-sharp man who has lost it, and whose bizarre experiments with run-scoring and relief strategies are an unfortunate combination of senility and hubris.
Back to that walk-in run. Doesn't it seem like that's happened an awful lot with the bases loaded this year? Well, I checked April's game logs to see just how often the Cubs have been wild with the bases loaded, and was horrified to see that Cubs pitchers walked in a run a whopping six times in the month of April, including twice in a game against Pittsburgh.
DATE CONTEXT WHAT HAPPENEDMaybe the Cubs pitchers are trying to teach their manager a lesson. As TCR reader Josh pointed out in the comments, there is now great irony to be found in Baker's gem of a quote, "[Y]ou ainít going to walk across the plate. Youíre going to hit across the plate." Indeed, Dusty.
Clement goes shortly against Suppan, which on paper is probably the game that favors the Cubs the most in the series. Let's hope the Cubs offense can kick it back up a gear, and that the Cards don't load the bases at any point in the game.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com