Monthly archives: June 2004
7-5, Balls in the Outfield
Craig Biggio paid tribute to my fielding abilities last night, missing a fly ball and allowing a couple of unearned (and eventual winning) runs to score. Actually, that's being entirely unfair to Biggio; I wouldn't have been within 40 feet of the ball if I were in the outfield.
It was a big win. Big because the Cardinals lost, big because the Reds lost, but most of all big because the Cubs won the game that featured the biggest pitching mismatch (well, the biggest mismatch until Wade Miller went on the DL after the game, leaving Mark Prior to face Peter Munro on Thursday). Andy Pettitte might not be at his strongest right now, but when pitted against Glendon Rusch has to be considered the favored pitcher.
Rusch was so-so last night, but he's really done a bang-up job as an emergency fifth starter for team, compiling a 4.33 ERA in a touch over 62 innings. Rusch was crap horrid last year, and the biggest difference for Rusch so far has been the number of hits allowed. While he gave up a staggering 171 hits in 121 innings last year, this year he's only allowed 64 in his 62 innings, a fine ratio. Some of the difference is probably just luck evening out (Rusch last year had the largest DIPS ERA-deficit in baseball), but some of it is also probably just due to pitching better.
Astros (39-36, 5th, -6.5) at Cubs (41-34, 2nd, -4.5)
[Alex:] The Cubs' brutal part of their season schedule continues, with Chicago playing host to the Suddenly Beltranned Astros. Since the Cubs' stretch of games against postseason contenders began a couple weeks ago, the Cubs are 12-8, which is pretty darn good. There are some tough pitching matchups in this series, with a "Clemens/t" duel on Wednesday the one that looks most exciting on paper.
[Christian:] I look at this as an opportunity for the Cubs to bury the Astros. A sweep puts the Cubs five games up on Houston, and depending on what the Cards to, the Astros could be as many as nine games out by Thursday, at which point I imagine they'll think about moving Beltran. Pettitte is coming off a second DL stint, and Miller has been uneven this year though he's looked better recently. Clemens is, well, Clemens.
Cubs vs. Pettitte
Macias: 4-12, 333/333/750, 2 2B
Grudzielanek is 4-for-8, all singles.
Astros vs. Rusch
Kent: 6-15, 400/500/733, 2 2B, 1 HR
Cubs vs. Astros Bullpen
Sosa vs. Weathers: 11-27, 407/452/815, 3 HR
Astros vs. Cubs Bullpen
Bagwell vs. Mercker: 8-21, 381/375/905, 2 2B, 3 HR
Berkman is 5-for-8 off Farnsworth; Everett is 1-for-8.
Pie in the Sk(ee-a)y
How much do I wish Felix Pie's last name were pronounced "Pie" as in banana cream? Alas. At any rate, after a slow start, Felix has been handling High A well. His overall line of 322/369/467 is great for a youngster in a league that isn't easy on the hitters, and he's just coming off a fan-spect-abulous game where he hit for the cycle. His line from yesterday: 5 for 6, 4 runs scored, 5 RBIs, cycle, stolen base.
Well, those White Sox fans are probably pretty happy. The Sox took two of three from the Cubs over the weekend, home-running the Cubs starters out of the games. Both Zambrano on Saturday and Maddux on Sunday had trouble with location, and both pitchers got whupped for it. Zambrano's pain came lumped in one inning, with a pair of home runs scoring five runs in the third. Zambrano threw a ton of pitches, and left after six.
Maddux's outing was more of a slow death, allowing runs in five straight innings. Singles here, a homer here, and Greg was down and out quickly. If Cubs fans are looking for a silver lining, at least Sosa is showing some pop in his bat. Dave van Dyck has a column in the Trib in which he outlines the mistakes he thinks Baker made in yesterday's game, versus the good calls by Guillen. It's an interesting idea for a column, though there are a few mountains out of molehills in the mix; describing Guillen's trip to the mound after Loiza had given up some big hits early, van Dyck says Guillen has "a golden touch." Don't coaches and manager usually visit the mound when a pitcher is struggling?
White Sox fans have another reason to feel pretty happy, at least to feel good about the now. The Sox grabbed Freddy Garcia from the Mariners, though the price was pretty high: Miguel Olivo is having a decent year, and is young enough to still improve, but the real prize for the Mariners is outfielder Jeremy Reed, who generated a lot of chatter over at Baseball Prospectus this past offseason. If Reed turns into the type of player that Prospectus's PECOTA system thinks he might, then Seattle will have done extremely well for itself.
In other news, Remlinger is back on the DL, and the Cardinals refuse to lose, pushing the Cubs to five games out. While the Cubs managed only one win against the White Sox, the Cardinals feasted on Royal scraps, and now hold a commanding early lead over the Cubs in the division.
Beltran to the Astros
So the Cubs won't have a monopoly on the baseball Beltrans, it appears, as Houston snagged Carlos in a three-way with Oakland and K.C.
Given that Vernon Wells isn't going anywhere, Beltran is the only available centerfielder for whom I'd have wanted to see the Cubs ship off Corey Patterson. Beltran's a sweet fielder and versatile hitter, currently tied with Jim Edmonds for highest VORP among baseball's centerfielders; this despite not having quite as explosive a year as many predicted for him. Houston's going to be the better for the trade, despite losing a great bullpen arm.
Are there centerfielders available who would likely outplay Patterson for the remainder of the year? Sure. Steve Finley comes to mind, but it would be obvious tomfoolery to ship Patterson out for a 40-year old rental. Corey is still young, and it can be hard to remember that. And while Patterson's biggest fault (plate discipline) is difficult to overcome at the major league level, he need only peer over his left shoulder while in the field to see the greatest contemporary example of a wild-swinging toolsy outfielder learning mid-career to look for a better pitch. They have different skill sets, but we can still hope that some of Sosa's learning ability can rub off on Patterson.
Lugoed and Farnsworthed
In the last question of yesterday's chat on ESPN.com, Rob Neyer had the following to offer:
Farnsworth's another guy who could be a closer someday, if he could just stop throwing so many gopher balls. And why don't the Cubs go after Julio Lugo?
Um, because Lugo isn't very good? Why would the Cubs actively pursue a shortstop who this year, in his best year, is hitting 279/336/443? Sure this is a bit of an upgrade offensively over Alex Gonzalez's lines the past two years of 248/312/425 and 228/295/409, but he isn't that much better, and certainly isn't worth a question that implies an organizational criticism (Those dumb Cubs, they'd be great if only they went after Julio Lugo!). While shortstop is a hole on the current team, I would want a bigger upgrade than Mr. Lugo -- otherwise, what's the point?
And Farnsworth and home runs? Last year he gave up 6 in 76.3 innings; this year he's given up 3 in 33.3, up just a touch. But last year Billy Wagner gave up 8 bombs in 86 innings, Keith Foulke gave up 10 in 86.6 innings, Guardado gave up 7 in 65.3 innings... I just don't understand why Neyer is coming up with Farnsy being too homer-prone to be an effective closer. I don't mean to pick on Rob, who is an excellent thinker and for pete's sake was doing a chat -- hardly a research piece -- but his closing comments did seem weird to me.
Cubs (39-30, 2nd, -2.0) at Cards (41-28, 1st, +2.0)
Three more between Chicago and St. Louis, with Chicago leading the current season series 6-5. Pujols is back for this series after missing the last series between the two teams, but then again Grudz and Sosa will be playing as well. We've seen the Maddux-Marquis matchup before, but in looking up the numbers I was struck by how similar Maddux and Carpenter's years are. In addition to the similar K/BB numbers and ERA, both pitchers have allowed 15 homers so far this season.
Day of Rest
An off-day today, a well-deserved rest for a Cubs team that played fantastic baseball last week, and have shown that June Swoons are a thing of years past. Over the last seven days, the Cubs have been led by the (slightly unlikely) trifecta of:
Derrek Lee has been a man on fire this month, which is fully consistent with his normal month-to-month splits (ice-cold April and May, toasty June). Lee's June has been, in a word, ridulous (414/468/714 for the month). While his home run numbers have been a disappointment so far, Lee's currently on pace for 59 doubles. I doubt he's going to get close to that total; not because Lee will stop hitting for power, but because I think Lee's doubles are going to start heading over the fence.AVG OBP SLG OPS
In order to avoid slighting the pitchers, though, a few words on them. Zambrano has continued to pitch like an ace (and despite a rocky start yesterday, he was still very effective) and notched 2 wins over his 2 starts, with a 2.13 ERA. A fearsome foursome of middle relief were really the saviors, though, with Beltran, Farnsworth, Remlinger, and Mercker combining for 10 scoreless innings. Beltran seems to have slowly acquired the faith of Dusty, and Francis has rewarded his manager with a nifty season so far. If he can cut down on the walks (15 in 26.6 innings, yikes), he's going to continue to be a major force in the 'pen.
Blow it out
Today, as with the first game in the series, the Cubs and A's played a one-run game, this time with some Michael Barrett magic in the bottom of the ninth. I was a big supporter of Barrett's two seasons ago, but was a bit wishy-washy on his acquisition this offseason (thinking the Cubs had acquired a younger Damian Miller, whoopee). But you can't argue with the results so far (313/361/518): how smart has he made Hendry look to this point?
Last year, the Cubs were magic in one-run games, going 27-17. How are they faring in close games so far this year?
More of the Same, Please
What a great run! After scoring some runs late again, the Cubs have now won five straight and are one win from sweeping the Astros in a four-game series in Houston for the first time since... ever.
Maddux was great (again) last night, bringing his ERA under 4.00 for the first time this season. Greg is really starting to settle down, it appears. He's kept the ball in the park over his last three starts (he hadn't even had back-to-back starts without giving up a homer before the current streak), his strikeout-rate (6.42/9 innings) is up significantly over the past two seasons, and his ERA in June is now 2.21. And then there's the control: Maddux has now walked a total of three batters (3!) in his last 65 1/3 innings. Repeat. 3 walks. 65.3 innings.
Also, a quick shout out to Corey for that nice grab in centerfield.
In some other news, Carlos Zambrano is due for a spanking from Larry Rothschild for his rage against the night (and, apparently, Todd Walker) after the Cubs missed an opportunity to double up an Astro a couple games ago. I'm not really worked up about either side on this: I can understand Zambrano's frustration, but I can also see Walker's side. As Baker said, "If I'm tagging up at third, he's got to throw me out at home. Walker made the right play. Somebody might have been hollering, 'Second base,' but that doesn't mean he heard it." What I don't understand is why article after article is being written about the incident. So before I become hypocritical here, I'll shut up about it.
Oh, and finally, you can now eat hot dogs that sport some Kerry Wood branding. This is something I'm sure kids across America have been waiting for. The dogs are named, "Kerry Wood's Fast Ball Franks", a completely bizarre name. What, they couldn't go with "Woody's Weiners"?
Last game of the road trip tonight.
Cubs vs. Oswalt:
Patterson 10/28, 357/357/643, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR
Astros vs. Rusch:
Bagwell 7/24, 292/469/667, 8 BB, 3 HR
Jason Lane also has a homerun and a double in five at-bats against Rusch.
UPDATE (6/7, 12:45pm ET): Well, I guess Rusch needn't worry about Hidalgo; he's just been shipped to the Mets for David Weathers (!)
Three-game mood swing
Today I'm on top of the world.
But three games ago, after the Cubs had lost to Lackey and the Angels 3-2, I was pretty down in the dumps. The Cubs hadn't looked good for a while, were not far behind the leaders in the division, but were nevertheless in fourth place. I was trying to describe my feelings to a friend; it wasn't that I had given up on the team, but a couple off weeks and the year was seeming like a big disappointment. Unhappy with being just a few games over .500 in June, I was burdened with the weight of expectation, something new and unexpected to us Blue-blooded cheerers. I was feeling the malaise of the 2004 Cubs fan.
I was just being a drama queen, of course. Angst is a common emotion among baseball fans, and springs up with every 3-game losing streak, every .500 homestand, every tweaked hamstring. I allow myself my moments of Cub angst, but in the back of my mind I figure that it'll all work out one way or another: either the Cubs will tank, and I can relax and concentrate on some individual performances (as was common in the Sosa boom-boom era), or the Cubs will stay in it the whole season and contribute to an exciting division race.
Three games later, three days after Friday, and I'm riding high. The Cubs have won at least three in a row for the first time since mid-May, and somehow -- miraculously -- find themselves in second place, only two games behind the division-leading Cardinals. A couple nice wins in Anaheim, then the sweetest of victories last night, a smash-job on the Rocket. I could fall back into a melancholy state just as easily as I've come out of it, but I'll enjoy the feeling while it lasts.
Mark Prior was outstanding again last night. Score that: two great starts, one crap one, but mostly a general feeling that all is right with the world. You know how you never realize how much you miss something 'till it's gone? For me, I didn't really realize how much I had missed Mark Prior until he returned. This is fun stuff.
Apparently having scouted the Cubs and noticing the quick (and entirely unsurprising) demise of Jose Macias (263/263/400), Ricky Gutierrez has signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. Ricky played ball, and played ball well, with the Cubbies in 2000 and 2001, but he's really struggled since leaving Chicago, due in large part to an ugly neck injury. Gutierrez was really bad with the Mets in a short stint this year (175/257/206), but he'll ply his trade down in Class A Daytona and see how much, if anything, he has left.
10 runs here, 2 runs there
Nate Silver, a young, cool, whip of a man, had a great column over at Baseball Prospectus last week concerning offenses that produce inconsistent run totals throughout a season. The impetus behind the column, apparently, was the 2004 Cubs. Silver, a Cubs fan (or follower, at least), has been struck by how the Cubbies seem to score a good deal of runs in one game, then a pittance in the next, over and over again, game after game. I'd say this is something we've probably all noticed. Nate was more curious, however, with whether or not the Cubs' homer-or-bust offensive construction was to blame for these inconsistencies. Would a team that builds its offense around OBP, or speed for that matter, be more consistent?
What isn't clear is that the inconsistency of the Cubs offense, purported or real, has much of anything to do with its power-heavy composition. Contact offenses, power offenses, plate discipline offenses, speed-and-sacrifice offenses--all of these offenses are subject to about the same degree of inconsistency in their run scoring output.
Nate went on to find that, perhaps surprisingly, there is no correlation between the type of offense and its consistency. It's pretty much just, well, random. There's little reason to think that the Cubs offense will continue to be so maddeningly inconsistent (as we've seen in the two games since Nate's column, with the Cubs scoring 2 runs Friday, 10 yesterday), but then again, there's no reason why they can't continue to be bizarrely split-personalitied.
One other thing I found interesting in the column, though, is that the Cubs' offense is currently on pace to score about 760 runs over the course of the season. That's not bad! At least, that's not bad considering that Sosa's been out for a bit and that prognosticators predicted that the offense would score a good deal fewer runs. The Alou Resurrection has been the greatest contributor to the overall offensive bump, and any eventual decline (it'll happen any day now... um... right?) that can be expected from him will hopefully be offset by adding Sosa back in.
I don't want to give the impression that all's okay with the Cubs offense, however. It isn't. 760 runs is an okay total given the Cubs pitching, but it's still not great, and the Cubs would do well to search out some more offense. Centerfield and shortstop look like the obvious holes in this year's lineup, so I'll take a look at some possible options a bit later this week.
105 comments and counting? Here's a new place to continue your comment posting until Christian or I have enough time to post something more cogent.
Cubs (31-28, 4th, -3.0) at Angels (34-25, 2nd, -0.5)
Alex: Tonight's game is the first of the Cubs' interleague schedule. Bleh, I could do without it, especially this year. The Cubs, with only 12 interleague games this year, nevertheless have one of the toughest AL schedules of any team, facing three strong candidates for the postseason in Anaheim, Oakland, and the White Sox.
In addition to those three teams, the Cubs have seven games against Houston and three against the Cardinals, all between now and July 4th. Strap in, this is the most brutal part of the Cubs' schedule.
Christian: The Cubs head west to face the only team which might be more beat up than they are. Despite losing their starting center fielder (Garrett Anderson), DH (Tim Salmon), third baseman (Troy Glaus), first baseman (Darin Erstad), key set-up man (Brendan Donnelly) and, just last week, closer (Troy Percival). They got Anderson and Salmon back this week, but also lost the recently-acquired Raul Mondesi. Throughout all of this, they managed to stay at the top of the AL West until a recent five-game skid coupled with a 5-game Oakland winning streak.
Chone Figgins and Jeff DaVannon have stepped in and joined Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen as the primary offensive weapons, though their biggest strength is their bullpen, with the trio of Kevin Gregg (1.32 ERA, 9.44 K/9), Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez (1.36, 14.45) and Scot Shields (2.66, 10.18) protecting Angels leads.
The pickings are pretty slim in head-to-heads and bullpen match-ups:
Cubs vs. Lackey
No one has more than 2 PAs.
Angels vs. Maddux
Guerrero: 11-53, 208/263/340, 2 HR
Cubs vs. Angels Bullpen
Walker vs. Ortiz: 4-12, 333/385/333
Angels vs. Cubs Bullpen
Guerrero vs. Anderson: 4-9, 444/500/889, 1 HR
I'm glad Mondy's on the DL -- he's 3-for-10, with three home runs, off of Farnsworth.
That Felt Good
Fourth Inning. Two Out. One run already in.
Nine straight hits, 9 more runs in.
And Patterson's already walked twice!
Mister Ken over at Will's place has a humorous post dotted with his current annoyances. Ken is feeling less creative lately, resulting in him being left with only his annoyances. For me, I don't get annoyed when I'm not feeling creative, I just get boring. On the other hand, I do get annoyed easily, though certain things tend to trigger states of annoyance especially quickly.
1) lack of sleep
Trigger number three is why I didn't post about Monday's game. Christian summarized my frustrations very succinctly yesterday; one of the great benefits of co-authoring is that sometimes the other guy can write when you're too annoyed to do so. Macias has had a few surprisingly nice games for us, so I'll give him a pass. Or rather, I'll just redirect my anger towards Wendell Kim.
Look, it's nice to have a little feel-good bundle of smiles on the team, but Kim has proven time and again that he is an awful third-base coach. He is tangibly negatively affecting the outcomes of games for the Cubs. He hurts.
Trigger number one, above, is why I missed last night's game. Recognizing that I was in a state of perpetual annoyance because I was really, really tired, I took a nap as soon as I got home and plum slept through the game. I didn't even discover the team had won until this morning; after waking from my nap last night, I refused to check the score to the game, lest I would be up all night because of Trigger Three -- a close loss.
No fear. According to reports, Clement pitched well, the Cubs escaped more Rolen madness, and Derrek Lee continued his hot June. Lee is now hitting 333/379/593 this month, powered by 4 doubles. Over the past three years, June has been Lee's best month (1.005 On-base Plus Slugging), so hopefully this surge will continue. Despite what appeared to be early woes in Cubbie blue, Lee actually performed at virtually the same level in April and May that he has in the past few years:
So there! Not much has changed yet with Lee. He's been a slow starter for a while now, so I'm expecting some ship-shape numbers shortly.2001-2003 2004
Aces are wild in a few hours, with Prior and Morris battlin'.
Cubs Pick Johnson
As projected by Baseball America last week, the Cubs have picked Notre Dame righthander Grant Johnson with their first pick of the 2004 Draft, at pick number 66. There was some speculation that the Yankees were going to pick Johnson in the first round, but he fell to the Cubs on draft day. What's that saying about never having too much pitching?
[UPDATE:] 3rd round: Cubs pick catcher Mark Reed, brother of White Sox prospect Jeremy Reed. Baseball America says, "he's expected to demand a large bonus to prevent him from following his brother's footsteps and attending Long Beach State."
[ANOTHER UPDATE:] 8th round: We got another Patterson to boo! Eric Patterson, Corey's younger brother, was selected by the Cubs in the eighth round. He supposedly fell primarily due to contract demands. The scouting reports on him (from Baseball America) may sound familiar: "A 60 runner on the 20-80 scale who consistently gets to first base in 4.0-4.1 seconds, Patterson still doesn't trust his hands to produce his power, so he strikes out too much, hits too many fly balls and flies open trying to pull the ball. He has made more consistent contact since getting rid of his toe tap. Clubs that think he can adjust will get a good runner, average defensive second baseman and potential leadoff threat."
Oh, and speaking of speed, the Cubs snagged the player considered the fastest in the draft in the fifth round, Puerto Rican Adrian Ortiz. BA says, "Scouts compare his tools to those of Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre. He has excellent center-field range but a below-average arm. Lean and skinny, he has no power."
Cards at Cubs
The Cubs catch a mini-break as the Cardinals come to town, with Albert Pujols reportedly unlikely to play in the series. Of course, the Cubs are still missing their best hitter, number one starter, starting shortstop, starting second baseman, and - now - closer, so no one's shedding any tears for the Redbirds.
a sad tale
a sadder tale
Borowski to the DL
Borowski hasn't seemed right all year, so it's with some relief that he takes some time to figure out what's wrong. There have been no definitive reports yet on what that something could be that's buggin' him, with Baker saying it's "not muscular" but is definitely "physical". Okaaay...
Rubber Game, again
FRIDAY: PIRATES 2, CUBS 1
I debated whether or not to actually watch this game, or just check the score from time to time. It was a slow summer Friday at work, I had MLB.tv at my disposal, and it was Mark Prior's first start of the year.
As I've mentioned before, I have a lot of trouble watching Prior pitch. I get fidgety, slightly nauseous, and am generally weird to be around when he's on the mound. Part of me didn't want to jinx Prior by watching him, and part of me, of course, wanted to watch him pitch more than anything else at that moment.
I let the first inning go by unwatched, and then I couldn't resist. Picking up the game with Prior on the mound, freezing a batter with a sweet breaking ball, I realized that my worries were for naught. Prior was awesome, awesome, awesome on the mound, and I don't think his first start back could have gone better. He did look pooped at the end of his outing, but this was to be expected. And in addition to being dominating, Prior was pretty efficient, throwing 85 pitches to get through six innings.
Couldn't have gone better, except for the end result. My subconscious was eating at me as the game went on and the Cubs still hadn't scored. Even after the Cubs went up 1-0 I had a bad feeling, so I left work just before the top of the ninth (it was now after 5:30, and I had dinner guests coming). Bummer, that bullpen.
I remember thinking that the bullpen was going to carry the greatest grief for this loss, but it was a game that showed the weaknesses and strengths of the Cubs all rolled into one package. Starting pitching, amazing. Hawkins, awesome. Rest of bullpen, shaky. Offense, a problem.
Joe Borowski has quickly transformed from folklore hero to Alfonseca's Heir. Christian had a great discussion of Borowski's save situation/non-save situation splits, asking the question, "Are the Cubs using their best relief pitcher at the right time?" Without doing any research, I'd say that it's pretty obvious that La Troy Hawkins is the best reliever on the staff, and that he is being used pretty well. I'd hate to see Hawkins moved into the closer role, not because I don't think he'd be effective at that, but because I think it would lessen the impact he's had on the bullpen. My question is, "Does Joe Borowski deserve to be on the staff at all?" For now, the answer is "yes", based on the last two years' performance, but I think he needs be dropped down in the pecking order. Like, way down. Like, Cubs winning 6-1, in the top of the ninth...
SATURDAY: CUBS 6, PIRATES 1
About a week and a half ago I wrote an ode to Carlos Zambrano and his excellence. He promptly went out and fouled up a game that evening. That made me feel like an ass. After yesterday's performance, though, all is right in the world. Zambrano was up to his usual tricks, despite allowing more fly balls than grounders. Most of the game was another nail-biter, though, and things looked bad in the top of the seventh when Jason Bay dumped one in the basket. Christian's little note prior to the game, "Jason Bay is 4-5 again Big Z with two doubles and two homers", turned out to be prophetic.
The Cubs then scored the next 6 runs, thanks to a sloppy throw home from Randall Simon and a big homer by Derrek Lee. In watching the highlights, I chuckled seeing a fan in the stands behind Derrek jump up and down just as the ball left Lee's bat. You'd have thought it was a walk-off homer, based on this fan's reaction. It was a big blast, though. In the bigger scheme, the Cubs desperately need Lee's lumber to wake up. And on a smaller scale, it put the nail in the coffin on the game, allowing Dusty to go with the easy decision of replacing Zambrano with Francis Beltran in the ninth.
Beltran is a work in progress, but it's pretty obvious why he's considered a good relief prospect. He's nasty out there, striking out guys in bushels (10 K/9 ratio), and he's difficult to hit as well (peeps are hitting .183 off him). The problem areas are unfortunately equally obvious: five home runs in only twenty innings, eleven walks. Still, the results have been pretty good to this point, and Beltran's fantasy stats (3.05 ERA and 1.16 WHIP) are looking nice. Unless he stops with the free passes and dingers, he'll have some problems, but he's looking like a keeper to me. By the end of the year, he may be a bigger piece of the Cubs bullpen than we imagined.
Maddux-Vogelsong this afternoon. The matchups are below.
Pirates (23-27) at Cubs (27-25)
Enough with the Pirates, already, dontcha think? There are worse teams that you can face with such regularity when you're a bit in the dumps like the current Cubs are, but I imagine the team is still reeling from last weekend's drubbings. I'm actually considering referring to them as the Pie-rah-tees this weekend, but that has everything to do with my initiation into a Yoga-ish exercise, and nothing to do with the actual subject at hand.
Of course, a Mark Prior appearance fits with the Pirates like nude bicyclists go with the Netherlands. Prior started the first two games of his career against Pittsburgh, recorded his first career victory against them, and the Pirates are the last team he's faced in a regular season game. He's been their Big Unit, their Atilla the Hun, their David Tidmarsh. Prior holds a lifetime 5-0 record against the Swashies, with a nifty 2.30 ERA and 55/10 K-to-BB ratio.
Break a leg, cheers to you, good luck, Mark. Nice to see you back.
And now we come to my favorite press release of the year: the inaugural All-Star ballot update. "Cubs among ASG voting leaders", Cubs.com crows, with Astros.com proclaiming similar good tidings. Look how popular our teams are! Adam Everett is getting justly rewarded!
These early polls are, of course, virtually meaningless. They reflect the punch-card ballots from a few stadiums. Considering that each Astro regular currently sits in the top three at all non-outfield positions, and all three outfielders are in the top seven at that position, I'm thinking Houston's gotten some of their ballots in early.
Same thing, pretty much, with the Cubs:
That Grudz and Gonzo, both of whom aren't even playing, are currently fourth at their positions tells you everything you need to know about the significance of this vote.NL ALL-STAR VOTING UPDATE
That said, there are three guys that, if the game were held right now, I think could be given serious consideration (among hitters only): Barrett, Ramirez, and Alou. Ramirez's inclusion would probably depend on if they took three third baseman, but he's also the Cub hitter I think has the best chance to be added to the roster after the votes come in. But I still think it is too early to be thinking about these sorts of things. Plenty of folks are going to have hot or cold Junes, completely changing our perception of their seasons.
Joe Sheehan over at BP has discussed this volatility some in the past few days. In an article today, Sheehan writes the following in regards to first base in the AL:
This position is a good example of why basing All-Star status on first-half stats is silly. By the end of the year--hell, maybe by the All-Star Game--[Rafael] Palmeiro and [Carlos] Delgado will probably be outperforming [Ken] Harvey and [Tino] Martinez. The shape of a season shouldn't dictate honors.
I understand Sheehan's point, and think it has some virtues, but I don't really sympathize with it. I like the fact that some Sam Schmoes make their way into the All-Star game, whether by a hot couple months or because their team needed a representative. The way I look at it, a person's view of All-Star game selections is a matter of perspective. If you see it as a game run by the winner of the "Fantasy GM" contest -- that is, where you get to handpick the best players in the game, no matter how they've performed thus far -- then Sheehan's idea of the All-Star Game makes sense. I don't think I've ever thought of it that way, though; I see the ASG as a reward for playing well in the first half, so it doesn't bother me when schmucks are elected because of playing well in the first half.
And I actually really like having each team represented. Sure, it pisses on my parade from time to time when someone crap gets selected in lieu of a more deserving player, and I'm sure I will moan on at length when Player X is selected by Joe Torre or Jack McKeon in a month or so. But I also remember watching the All-Star Game as a kid. I didn't really have a very good grasp on who was more "deserving" of a berth at that time; all that was important to me was to watch every Cubbie in the game. I wanted Ryne Sandberg to hit a home run in every at-bat, and I held my breath before each Lee Smith pitch. And yes, I rooted equally hard for Shawon Dunston when he was an All-Star -- not because I thought he was the best at his position, but because he was a Cub. If you had taken my Cubs out of the game, you would have taken me out of the game. I think baseball has enough problems with marketing to youngsters, and it doesn't need to remove any chance of a kid seeing a local boy.
Does all this lessen the meaning of "All-Star"? Probably, but again I think this is a matter of perspective. It should cease to be seen as a "Hall of Fame resume-builder", as it has so often in the past. Too many players get a chance to be All-Stars for it to be a representative honor, and as Sheehan points out many of those All-Stars are really only "hot two month" stars. But in my opinion that doesn't mean the game has to be any less fun, or any less engaging, or any less competitive. It just is what it is -- a midsummer review of the season's first half.
So the Cubs had some ups and downs while I was away. I'm extraordinarily happy that I didn't watch any of the games on Friday night -- I think neither the T.V. nor my stomach would have survived the night. While in Charleston, I read a two-paragraph blurb in the local Post & Courier about the double header Saturday morning, my only peek at Cubs events the whole weekend. The bit on the games hardly captured what must have been a pair of devastating losses. Something like, "Craig Wilson hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning after Rob Mackowiak tied it in the ninth, giving the Pirates a two-game sweep of a double header against the Cubs."
Reading that bummed me out, but I had to dig into the boxscores to see the real heartbreak behind the night. Blown saves! Back-to-back! I didn't check the news again until I returned to Brooklyn last night, assuming the worst, nervously firing up my wired laptop.
The Cubs have fared better the past two days, and it was especially sweet to beat Oswalt a week after he handed the Cubs their tooshies on a platter. Maddux pitched well enough for the win, and left in the seventh with what was reported as a muscle strain in his right side. It doesn't appear to be worth getting too concerned about, though, as Maddux said after the game, "I'm OK. There's nothing wrong. I've done it lots of times. It's not why I came out of the game."
I'm guessing he's totally fine, and the conspiracy theorist in me notes that Maddux's side flared up just after he was entering the Astros lineup for a fourth go round. As Christian has noted before, Present-day Greg rarely seems to work through an opposing team's lineup more than three times before calling it quits. I'll have to check some game logs from the past few years to see how true this impression is.
Tonight's game features a weaker pitching matchup between Brandon Duckworth and Glendon Rusch, though Rusch has pitched well while in the rotation so far.
Astros vs. Rusch:
Hidalgo 5/17, 294/429/765, 2 home runs
Cubs vs. Duckworth:
Rey Ordonez 4/10 400/400/600, 2 doubles
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03
Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com