Monthly archives: March 2005
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part V, B - The Cardinals
Yesterday we saw that, while potentially fragile, the Cardinals' offense will still pack a punch. Will last year's surprise - the pitching staff - continue to keep pace?
A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside some bagel dog dough - that sums up the season had by one Mark Mulder last year. Is he the gentleman who went 10-2 over the season's first three months while sporting a 2.90 ERA, or is he the guy who floundered the rest of the way, going 7-6 with an ERA of 6.10? Or better yet, is he the delicious outer coating for a tasty nitrate bomb?
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part V, A - The Cardinals
Time after time, Cardinals fans reading season previews and predictions leading up to Opening Day 2004 saw one of two configurations atop the NL Central:
Two different predictions with one common thread: in the eyes of the experts, the Cardinals were a third place team.
The Cardinals would score runs, they would say, but the pitching staff won't hold up. Houston and Chicago have All-World rotations, and St. Louis only has an ace who's a shadow of his former self in Matt Morris, an aging soft-tosser in Woody Williams, and three castoffs who were lucky to be on a Major League roster.
As it turns out, the pundits were at least a little bit right on the first two points, but when it came to the supposed castoffs, it was the Cardinals who were lucky to have them. With all the hype surrounding the staffs of their division rivals, it must have been a special pleasure for the Redbird pitchers to allow the fewest runs per game - 4.07 - in all of the Major Leagues.
The only thing everyone got right about this team was the degree to which their offense would dominate, as they led the NL with 855 runs during the season, a whopping 5.28 per contest. That's an average margin of 1.21 runs per game, and as is natural with many teams that lead the Majors in this category, they won over 100 games. 105, to be exact.
The Cardinals flat-out dominated the National League in 2004, eventually making it to the World Series. But while their success was a surprise, it was very real. Luck is a part of any great season, but more than anything else, the 2004 Cardinals simply outplayed their competition.
Will St. Louis repeat their thrilling ride to the top, or is there another, less savory surprise in store for their fans?
Cubs Get Bartosh
The Cubs have acquired Cliff Bartosh from the Indians in exchange for minor leaguer Ronald "Bear" Bay. I liked Bear Bay, only because I liked saying his name. Bear Bay.
I'll get over it.
I don't know much about Bartosh, other than that he's a lefty who strikes out a lot of folks and struggled a touch with his control at the major league level last year. He'll apparently be competing with Will Ohman and Stephen Randolph for the last spot in the Cubs' pen.
Ranking the Cubs
Jay Jaffe has a new series up at Baseball Prospectus, The Hot List, which ranks the teams across baseball. Guess which team checks in at number 4 in the preseason listing?
Can't disagree with that, though I think the four-spot is a bit ambitious. Tired of heightened expectations, I picked the Cubs for dead last in the NL Central in the Toaster NL Preview. It's the new prescribed treatment for my Cubbie psychosis; just think how happy I'll be when the Cubs actually finish second or third! It'll be lollipops for everyone.
It's a week away. Seven days from now I'll hardly be able to contain my delight, as the Cubs prepare to meet the Diamondbacks in Arizona to open the season. I'm nearly hysterical today just thinking about it. As Wayne and Garth once said, "Game on!" But until then, here's some fun with bullet points.
Those of you hoping to see the final two parts of my Know Your Enemy Series, fear not, they are on their way. Life has intervened a bit of late, making it difficult for me to meet my schedule, but rest assured, the Cardinals will be previewed this week starting either Wednesday or Thursday. Also, you may notice that sidebar links are going up around the site, and we'll be following suit soon. Thanks for your patience, and until then, get ready for some baseball!
The Return of Dave Groeschner
This little tidbit was pointed out to me in the AP Story about Barry Bonds' return to the Bay Area:
Bonds, who has had two operations on his right knee in the last two months and also had surgery on his left knee in October, flew back to San Francisco with assistant trainer Dave Groeschner.Groeschner was the Head Trainer for the Cubs last year in his only season with the team; he was let go a bit suddenly and mysteriously at season's end.
Groeschner's firing was seemingly a matter of competence. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, two of the Cubs' most valuable assets, missed a lot of time last year, and the endless drawn-out drama of Prior's heel injury was a lesson in poor communication between all parties involved.
But Groeschner's name alongside Bonds' in the AP story begs the question: If he's not good enough for the Cubs, then what's he doing back with one of the most respected training staffs in baseball, charged with caring for the player whose health is more important to his team than any other?
It's the Cub Town premiere of Cubs Quotes!
Tiresome Spring Training refrain
"[The MRI] showed a little bursitis in the back of his shoulder, some mild inflammation along some of the cuff muscles, but nothing significant."
"It's just a nerve that got inflamed. As soon as we get it calmed down, I'll be fine."
"He didn't sleep well. His back is real tight so we decided not to take a chance. It's not his arm, it's his back, which he has trouble with every once in a while."
"It's just mild discomfort, nothing I can't work through now."
"I don't know how many more of these I can take, to tell you the truth... I've worked so hard to get back. I'm just going to take this as another bump in the road."
"It's like Groundhog Day. It is. It's mind-boggling."
Pentland on Sosa
"I never saw Sammy get that much bigger. He was about the same [size] every year.... I believe exactly what he said. I don't doubt him at all."
"[Sosa] might have been the hardest worker I've ever had, actually. His body, he had tremendous flexibility, not just strength. He was never hurt. He played every game. Those things tell me he wasn't on steroids, from what I hear."
"I knew there were probably some people on stuff, [but] I never ever get involved in that kind of stuff."
Why not try that all the time?
"I focus a little more when I have men in scoring position. That's what I get paid for."
"Everybody's thinking home run or whatever, but the truth is with runners on second and third and two outs, those guys may not be thinking three-run homer. They're thinking double in the right-center gap and they'll take their hit, as opposed to trying to do too much. They're smart."
Could you repeat that?
"You know what the problems are. Now you have to deal with solutions. You can go on with the problems as long as you want to; it doesn't make it any better. You have to dwell on the solutions, versus the problems."
"Potentially, they could be like Pedro and Schilling, or Schilling and Johnson. But look how long it took Schilling and Johnson to become Schilling and Johnson."
"He just has to play. There are certain things that come from playing. You get experience with playing -- you learn the game, you learn yourself."
"You know, it's funny. The other day I was pitching against the Cubs. Chris Speier was coaching third. Gary Matthews was coaching first. And when I was coming off the mound I see (Ryne) Sandberg, sitting in the dugout as a bench coach. I used to play with all those guys."
"Seeing him play all those years and seeing the type of body language he emitted on TV, I thought he'd be cocky. He was the greatest person ever. Every day he's happy. He's also a sensitive person. I joked around with him, and said, 'You're a sensitive teddy bear.'"
"[Greg Maddux] told me one time that I'm going to take his spot. So that's made me happy. It's pretty good for a young guy like me when Greg Maddux tells me that."
"[D]on't plan on being amazed. I'm not really that type of guy."
Is A Puzzlement!
I probably shouldn't go looking for trouble like this, but sometimes my wicked side gets ahold of me, so I'm going to point out this quote from Dusty Baker, buried in a piece in today's Daily Herald:
We know what he can do. A veteran guy, you go on more what heís done in the past, what he did last year...
Dusty's talking about Glendon Rusch, and why he told him not to worry about his poor spring performance leading up to his fine outing yesterday. Really, Baker was talking about how a few innings in Arizona don't mean much when compared to the weight of career accomplishments, and he's absolutely right. But then my question is, why isn't this standard applied to the roster in general?
It's a bit tiresome to continue beating the dead horse of the lackluster Cub bench, but in a sick way, I'm bothered less by the fact of some players' existence than I am by the intellectual inconsistency that their existence implies. Either a player's past performance counts for something or it doesn't, and when you say that it does, yet assemble the motley pine crew the Cubs have, then I think an explanation is owed.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part IV, B - The Astros
Yesterday we looked at Houston's offense and saw more questions than answers. Will the pitching and bench be more forthcoming with their true nature?
Where do you start when writing about a man who has his best season in six years at the age of 41? Roger Clemens was good during his five year tenure in Yankee pinstripes, but he was never really the locked-in, killer that he was at his other stops, despite his 2001 Cy Yound Award. One could be forgiven if one expected a good but not great season out of his Rocketness - solidly above league average, but nothing like his peak.
Instead, Houston was treated to one of the finest seasons by a pitcher in franchise history, made all the sweeter by its Hometown-Boy-Made-Good aspect. It easily stands out from his seasons in New York, and it's worth taking a look at how.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part IV, A - The Astros
36-10. No, that wasn't the score of Super Bowl XX - that was 46-10 - it was the record posted by the Houston Astros from August 15th, when they salvaged the last game of a three-game set with the Montreal/San Juan/Fallujah Expos, utill the end of the regular season. However, ask the Astros when their dominant streak really began, and they'll likely point to a game twelve days later.
The Chicago Cubs had been a team of spoiled children most of the season, but one of the players who had avoided petulance and peevishness was catcher, Michael Barrett. That changed during the August 27th contest between the Cubs and Astros when Barrett took it upon himself to confront Astros' pitcher Roy Oswalt over a beaning incident in Oswalt's previous start.
A hockey game nearly broke out, and when it was all through, the Astros had gotten the wakeup call they so desperately needed, catapulting them to a 28-7 record the rest of the way. Of course, one can dispute whether this incident really had the proclaimed effect, but the mere idea that a moment of ludicrous tetchiness from the Cubs could have launched the Astro juggernaut fits in so well with the story of 2004 that I refuse to refute.
Heady as those days in Houston were, this persistent success did not extend through the winter. Carlos Beltran? Gone. Jeff Kent? Gone. Lance Berkman? Out for at least the season's first month. It's like Drayton McLane made a deal with the devil that suddenly came due. And you were upset by the Cubs' offseason.
Can the Astros find the parts in 2005 to fill in for the ones they lost or broke along the way?
Dempster Trumps Rusch
Baker said Zambrano will be followed by Greg Maddux and Ryan Dempster in the first series.There goes the theory that Rusch will be judged on last season's performance and not a handful of spring tosses.
But then again, it's not exactly like Dempster's been lights-out this March: 10 innings, 18 hits, 6 walks, 10.80 ERA.
Is there a chain reaction? Does Rusch become the second lefty? Is Stephen Randolph left off the 25-man? Will Alex eat his shorts if Dempster keeps getting slotted in every fifth day?
25 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
Borowski's injury shakes a few things up on the potential 25-man roster. Here's my most bestest guess at where things stand right now:
C: Barrett, Blanco
QUICK TAKE: I can't imagine this shaking out any other way. I suppose Baker could decide to go with only 11 pitchers, opening up one spot, but it seems the Cubs could use the extra arm with all the injury questions on the staff.
LEFT OUT: Kelton and Hansen. Kelton's had a good spring, but he's been unimpressive in the minor leagues for several years running now.
MY DRUTHERS: Drop Macias, add Hansen. Drop Perez, trade for... anyone.
SP: Zambrano, Maddux, Wood, Prior, Rusch
QUICK TAKE: Rusch wins the 5th starter spot by default, because his excellence last year is more important than the 11 innings he's thrown this spring.
LEFT OUT: While Dempster and Rusch compete to have the worst spring on the Cubs staff, Sergio Mitre is sitting on the outside looking in. Mitre's only likely to start with the team if either Wood or Prior has to hit the DL.
MY DRUTHERS: 33 starts each from Zambrano, Maddux, Wood, and Prior.
RP: Hawkins, Remlinger, Dempster, Fox, Leicester, Randolph, Wuertz
QUICK TAKE: With Borowski out, the closer spot is back in flux. Dempster? Hawkins? Fox? The last three spots could go to a whole host of characters; Leicester, Randolph, and Wuertz have the shiniest ERAs, so their names are slotted in for now.
LEFT OUT: Will Ohman gets cut because... I dunno, he's not Stephen Randolph? It'll be a tragedy, but one I fully expect. Todd Wellemeyer is the most highly touted of the Wellemeyer-Leicester-Wuertz group, but has the worst track record, both in spring and otherwise. He still could make the team, as could Jermaine Van Buren.
MY DRUTHERS: Boot Randolph, keep Ohman. Keep Dempster far away from the closer role. In fact, drop him altogether, and add Van Buren.
Funny, that. I'd just written a short Defense of Borowski to a friend in an email, and out come reports that JoBo is expected to be out for about 2 months with a broken hand, having taken a line drive off it in yesterday's game against the Royals.
What a bummer. Borowski was pitching better this spring, and was an easy guy to root for. Even worse: does this make Ryan Dempster the closer? The guys at Rotoworld pontificate:
With all the discussion about whether or not he'd be the Cubbies' closer, it's been easy to forget that Dempster just isn't very good. Sure, he has plenty of stuff, but all that's left him with is a 4.99 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP in 984 2/3 innings as a major leaguer. The upside is there, but he can hardly be counted on to be successful in whatever role the Cubs choose for him.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part III, B - The Reds
Yesterday, we explored a Reds offense full of both potential and frailty. What will an extended gaze at the pitching staff and bench reveal?
I do this not to needle the BP boys - these were actually cogent observations when written - but rather, to point up how much perception and reality change over time. There was a day when Milton's three-year, $25.5M contract might have been greeted with praise, but that moment has long since passed.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part III, A - The Reds
There was an issue with this post cutting off earlier (my fault), but it has been fixed. Sorry for any inconvenience!
Snakebit. Jinxed. Hoodooed. No matter what your phrase of choice, much of the blame for the Cincinnati Reds recent foibles can be laid at the feet of plain old bad luck.
Ken Griffey Jr. was perfectly healthy when he came to town, riding a streak of three consecutive seasons with 700 or more plate appearances. In the five years since then, he's broken 600 once, and 400 one other time. Snakebit.
The year before Griffey's arrival, 1999, saw the Reds with a one game lead over the Astros in the NL Central with four to play. They lost three of those four, dropping the division by a game. However, their victory on the last day of the season put them into a tie with the Mets for the wildcard spot, forcing a single game playoff. They lost 5-0. Jinxed.
Turn the clock back one more year, and witness the amateur draft, where an 18 year-old outfielder named Austin Kearns is picked by Cincinnati in the seventh round. He has everything you could want in a corner man - power, patience, and the ability to hit for average. When he makes his Major League debut in 2002 at the age of 22, he hits an impressive .315/.407/.500 in 372 at bats. He's spent the last two years playing below expectations while battling various injuries, almost entirely of a freak nature. Hoodooed.
These are just a few examples of the multiple misfortunes that have befallen this proud franchise in recent history. Not all of their ills have been of the unpreventable, cosmically ordained variety, but enough have been of that ilk to make their fans wonder who did what to a gypsy, and how they can make it right.
Will 2005 be the year the Reds lose the calamity and gain some kismet?
One of my secret little lustings, tucked away in the cookie jar in my kitchen, was that the Cubs would have a shot at signing potential 2006 free agent Lance Berkman to a deal after the season.
Sadly, that cookie's been eaten. The Astros inked Berkman to a six-year, $85 million contract. Can I take solace in thinking that the Astros overpaid a bit for Berkman? Not because he isn't worth that much money (at least in the first few years of the contract), but because given his current injured state I would've figured Houston could have locked him up for a little less.
If the Cubs do want to go out and sign a name left fielder next year, then a couple options include Brian Giles, Larry Walker, Jacque Jones, and Dmitri Young. Two oldies-but-goodies, one overrated Twin, and one DH. Giles for a couple years would probably be a nice addition, but none of the choices qualify as Lance Sexy.
Of course, the Cubs might not need a new left fielder this season or next... or anytime in the near future. Not if mister DuBois keeps hitting. His spring training, salts-of-grain, line through Monday morning:
I'll take them suger-coated cookies any day of the week.JASON DUBOIS
Alomar's career line against the Cubs (thanks, Rich!):
I don't have many specific memories of Alomar against the Cubs, but I do have a more general memory: Alomar, when he came up, was the player that in my mind was heir to the Sandberg throne as the best second baseman in baseball.ROBERTO ALOMAR
Looking back, I guess Craig Biggio (who will be at least as deserving of the HOF but will, I imagine, have a much tougher road to acceptance) could have had a few tough words for me and my canonization of Alomar, but what the hey--I've never been a fan of those Houston bums.
Biddin' For Cubs
Did anyone else, when first introduced to the term "fantasy baseball", get a bit red in the face? I tend to associate the word "fantasy" with... ahem... other extracurricular activities, and had no idea what it was doing in front of the name of my favorite sport.
I guess "rotisserie baseball" is equally confusing to the uninitiated, though for different reasons. Would you like more sauce on your barbecued leather and twine?
At any rate, I do a couple fantasy leagues every year (One year I did eight. Kill me if I do that again.), but today is Draft Day for my favorite and most competitive league. We have some weirdo categories--doubles and triples for the hitters and GIDP for the pitchers--but it's bushels of fun, better than Cats.
We're also doing an auction format for the first time. I'll let you know if the bidding leaves me laughing and crying--if it too is better than Cats.
The Cubs have some draftable dudes, but I'm finding that a lot of the players don't make my "bullseye target" list.
Just to set an example, ya know.
Update: And I got my two Cubs: Barrett for $8 and Lee for $20 (less than half the price of Pujols or Helton, though not less than half their value).
I also picked up another Cub in one of the steals of the draft, I think: Nomar for $16!
Vive les Cubs!
Pardon My French
Bonjour, Monsieur. Est-ce que vous puevoir, errr... Est-ce que je peux parlez le francais... uhhh, une...un moment... Est-ce que je peux parler anglais avec vous?
Can I speak English with you? I must've stumbled through that phrase a thousand times in my just-finished vacation to France. I'm still a bit in French mode. Yesterday, my first day back, the word "Merci" slipped out when ordering a slice from a little Italian joint, much to the bewilderment of the chubby New York deli dude behind the counter.
As far as the Cubs go, it seems I stepped directly off the plane from Paris into the summer of 2004. I didn't check my phone, email, or the sports pages once in the week I was gone, so knew nothing about the 2005 Prior-Wood Tagteam Injury Spectacular.
I'd become paranoid, of course, that something horrible had happened while I was incommunicado--an illness in the family, my apartment being robbed, my DVR failing to record American Idol--but I hadn't really considered that the worst would be that the Cubs pitching staff was already in shambles. As far as life trials goes, it isn't so bad, but it does suck as a baseball fan.
A couple quick thoughts as I work my way back through time zones, newspaper articles, and my email inbox.
Living in Hysterialand
It feels like my brain is looking for things to be upset about.
Greg Maddux had another one of those Madduxian spring outings yesterday, throwing five innings while giving up four runs on seven hits. Not terribly disturbing by itself, after all, it's only March. But am I the only one made a little uneasy by this statement from The Professor?
If you have to give up four runs you should at least feel good about it. They hit some good pitches.
I'll admit, I'm overreacting a bit - I think the ongoing Wood/Prior soap opera is starting to get to me - but here's how I'm thinking of this:
Good pitchers give up hits and runs when they make mistakes, or when they just don't have their stuff. Fastballs aren't located, breaking balls don't break, and as a result a normally tough pitcher has a rough day.
Bad pitchers go out there with their best stuff and still get rocked. The put their heater right where they want to, and their slider has all the bite they can muster, but despite it all they get smoked like Fidel's cigar.
I'm not saying Maddux is a bad pitcher, shoot, I'm not even saying there's something to worry about. I just think there's little comfort to be had in a man you expect to throw 200 of your innings saying that he feels good about his outing because the opposition hit his good pitches.
Geez, where's my paper bag.
Fistfull of Deuces
It looks like Andy Sisco is mortal after all. Yesterday he got tagged for his first runs of the spring, giving up two of them on two hits, two walks, and despite his apparent struggles in his inning of work, two strikeouts. His line for the spring now looks like this
That's still awfully nice, small sample size caveats and all, and it's especially galling when one considers that the Cubs aren't exactly awash in good left-handed bullpen options.
Not that they would have been likely to use Sisco in that capacity had he been protected on the roster, but you have to believe that if he was at least given the opportunity to pitch in Cubs' camp that he might get some consideration, especially with the way the other options have performed thus far.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part II, B - The Pirates
Yesterday, we saw that the Pirates starting lineup looks like a low wattage outfit. Can their pitching staff and bench provide enough spark to make up the difference?
When discussions began with the Padres in 2003 over a possible deal for Brian Giles, the name that seemed to keep surfacing on the Pirates' wish list was Oliver Perez. And why not? Young, left-handed strikeout pitchers don't just grow on trees, and while he was scuffling during the time the trade was negotiated, his potential was undeniable. When San Diego finally capitulated, Perez came over to Steeltown and continued to have growing pains, and it appeared as if Pirate fans might have to wait to see all that potential realized.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Pittsburgh, the wait is over.
I hate to breathlessly follow the ongoing saga of our boys, Wood and Prior - an epic I can only think to call Arm-ageddon - but I find myself unable to resist. Here's the latest from Larry Rothschild on today's side work:
The report on Kerry sounds very positive, and it seems like he's on track, but it looks like they're going to shut Prior down for the next two days to let him complete his course of meds.
I know there's still a lot of time, and the good news from way back is that The Franchise has experienced no actual damage to his elbow or component parts, but every time I hear news that isn't entirely positive about his situation I start thinking of Radiohead's Paranoid Android:
The panic, the vomit
Maybe I need to start keeping a bucket next to my desk.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part II, A - The Pirates
There's a common thread of futility woven between the cities of Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Neither club has had a winning record since 1992. Since then, the Pirates have gone 835-1,040 for a .445 winning percentage, while the Brewers have gone 825-1,051 for a .440 winning percentage. Both teams have either traded stars or allowed them to leave in recent years to save money - the Pirates sending Brian Giles and Jason Kendall away, while the Brewers let Jeromy Burnitz go and dealt Richie Sexson.
These similarities, though, are all rooted in the past. When looking at the future, it's a very different story. One can see the day coming when the Brewers will challenge for the NL Central title, thanks to a bevy of young, star-quality players that should be reaching maturity within a year or two of each other. Not so with the Pirates, unless you're gazing at the future through the Hubble telescope, or a crystal ball.
Futility, Pittsburgh style, may be the most infuriating variety. The last three years have seen win totals of 72, 75, and 72 respectively. Bad without being awful, never hitting bottom, yet failing to move forward. It is purgatory, like forever treading water without sinking, but never seeing the shore. This is the life of a Pirates fan in recent years, and I envy it not.
Will 2005 see progress, or will these Pirates remain unable to either sail or scuttle their ship?
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part I, B - The Brewers
Yesterday, we looked at the Brewers still questionable, but improving offense. Today, we wrap up their preview with a look at the Crew's starting pitchers, bullpen and bench.
In yet another case of the damning with the fainting and the praising (glavin!), Ben Sheets entered the 2004 season as the unquestioned ace of a Brewer pitching staff that looked as flammable as a man sweating gasoline at a Zippo convention. In previous years, Sheets was simply a young pitcher with a lot of potential who would occasionally show you the goods, only to revert to being right around league average.
Last season changed that, and unfortunately for the rest of the division, the transformation looks permanent. I think it's nearly impossible to exaggerate the magnitude and totality of the improvements he made. Here's a little breakdown of his career just to prove the point.
The fun thing about this is that you can see the seed being planted in 2003 when he cut his walk rate by over 40%. He was then able to consolidate those gains, even improve on them a bit, and take the rest of his game up a notch as well. The only number in 2004 that isn't a career best is his home run rate, but as long as he gives up less than one per nine, who really cares?
Second Verse Same as the First
Those of us hoping for a quiet, uneventful spring can put that wish on the next flight to Nowheresville.
First there was Kerry Wood's shoulder, now it's Mark Prior's elbow.
The good news is an MRI showed no damage to the ligament or nerve. Here's a quote from Cubs' trainer, Mark O'Neal:
The best-case scenario is that in two or three days, he'd start playing catch and it's completely relieved and we move forward.
Fantastic. Just what I wanted to hear. Except, that leaves out the last sentence in the quote:
That's just purely speculation.
So, let me get this straight. He's fine, except for the pain, and he should be throwing soon, unless it still hurts, and there's not a thing to worry about, unless it doesn't go away.
Stock in Pepto Bismol just went up 20 bucks.
Know Your Enemy 2005 - Part I, A - The Brewers
On July 1, 2004, after defeating the Colorado Rockies by an anti-gravity aided score of 10-9, the Milwaukee Brewers found themselves sporting a 41-34 record, putting them a mere 3.5 games behind the first place Cardinals and a half game back of the Cubs. It was the first time the franchise had been at least seven games over .500 since May 2, 1998, and the first time they had been at least seven games over on July 1 or later since they finished the season 92-70 in 1992.
Much to the surprise of most observers, what was happening in Milwaukee wasn't entirely a mirage - the team was only a couple games over their Pythagorean projection - so Brewers fans could be forgiven if they began entertaining the possibility that their team might end the season with their first winning record in over a decade.
But then, like a 400-pound man performing a trust exercise with an ADD-afflicted hummingbird, the Brewers came crashing to Earth. Despite their relatively fast start, the team finished with only 67 victories, going 26-60 from July 2 onward, capped by an August that saw them win only 6 while losing a grizzly 21 games.
As the record would imply, this rapid descent into massive failure wasn't attributable to one weakness: it was a total collapse. Where the 41-34 Brewers scored an average of 4.59 runs per game and allowed only 4.31, the 26-60 version could muster only 3.37 runs per game while allowing the opposition to score an average of 5.05 times. A nearly two run swing to the bad in your daily run differential will necessarily do grievous harm to your win total, as well as serving clear notice that there are issues in need of addressing.
Have the Brewers begun to cure what ails them, or should fans in Beertown get fitted for their annual mourning shroud?
A Little Town Business
You may have noticed that all you've seen of Alex so far have been the two fine installments of his interview with Len Kasper. Well, there's a reason for that. He's out of town. And state. And country.
Due to the joys of wacky timing that life occasionally brings us, Alex had a long scheduled trip to France, and as these things are bound to go - at least in the mind of someone like me - when you're preparing to start a new website, and you're leaving the country on Wednesday, the site will, by cosmic necessity, launch early Thursday morning.
This is how it was, but much as I know he wanted to be around when we first went live here at Cub Town, when given the choice of handing the keys to your writing partner for a week, or forgoing the pleasures of Paris in order to hunker down at the keyboard, the choice is easy as, "Nomar or Neifi?" You go to France.
So, it's all on me for the next little bit, but fear not, I am feeling up to the task. My previews of the other NL Central teams - a series called "Know Your Enemy" - will start on Monday. Besides, Alex will be back late next week, and then we'll really get this party started.
Now, a few observations for the day:
I'll have my first chance to see more than an inning or two of Cub baseball this afternoon, and I couldn't be more excited. I hope to have some observations of the contest later on, but even I don't, make sure that you take the chance to get a little taste of the game today. There's nothing like a ballgame to take the edge off the lingering winter days.
Cub Town Interview: Len Kasper (part two)
Yesterday Kasper and I discussed his role as announcer with the Cubs. Today we turn our focus to the team itself.
CT: I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs are better year this year than last, but I have a sneaky feeling that any gain in the standings will be mis-attributed to Sammy leaving and not to improvements in other areas. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus put this very well in a column a while back:
"What the Cubs have done is set up their storyline for '05. They should be better just by getting full seasons from Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra, and they could well win a division in which they have the most upside of the three real contenders. If that happens, it will, like the Rangers' success in '04, be sold as the positive result of dealing a superstar. In fact, this trade doesn't make them a better baseball team: They're not saving any money, and they've downgraded their talent base."To me the Sosa trade seemed like manager appeasement. While I thought Hendry in the past has done a decent job of balancing Dusty's wishes with the best interests of the team, he seems to have gone full tilt in the direction of making Dusty happy.
LK: I don't have any inside info, but I really don't think this deal came down to "Dusty doesn't want Sammy = Get rid of Sammy."
I think the Cubs as an organization decided it was just time to move on. With all the money and everything that's riding on this move, you can't conclude that the Cubs rid themselves of Sammy simply because Dusty didn't want him. Every factor had to be taken into consideration; mainly, "What makes us a better team?"
And as far as the team maybe winning and then claiming it was because Sammy was dealt... well, I hope that situation presents itself! At that point, bring on the debate as to "why," y'know?
CT: Okay, so I was oversimplifying. Of course the decision to move Sosa was complicated. It does seem, though, that the Cubs' roster has become more and more "Dusty's Squad" since Baker took over.
You could argue that there's nothing wrong with it, but I just tend to think that a manager like Baker (who seems to put such a high regard on personal histories) can be sometimes blind to a player's strengths and weaknesses just because he's one of the manager's "guys".
LK: If Burnitz is solid AND if Jerry Hairston contributes at a couple different spots and sports a .370 OBP, it's possible that Sammy's bat won't be missed that much.
I don't know, maybe it will be. But that's the beauty of the discussion. I just know I've seen teams deal away superstars, and you say to yourself, "How could they do that?" And in the end, the team gets better. That's all that really matters, right?
The other possibility is that, statistically, maybe this deal turns out to be a wash for the Cubs. Maybe what they gave up and what they got will balance out. If that happens, it's a good deal considering the personalities, no?
I have a hard time with the "intangibles" people talk about because you can't measure them. But I admit those things exist--I saw it with Florida and Jack McKeon in 2003 and I have to think the Sosa soap opera would have, in at least some small way, had an effect on this team.
CT: Speaking of Burnitz...
LK: He's obviously a huge strikeout guy, but his power is consistent and he's a good outfielder.
CT: I don't mind the strikeouts; he just doesn't get on base enough for my tastes.
LK: His career OBP is .351--which is fine--though his walk totals the last few years haven't matched his 80 and 90+ seasons in Milwaukee from 1999-2001.
I'm also not so worried about his home/road splits with the Rockies. Other than Todd Helton and Larry Walker, there aren't many (if any) guys who become Rockies and have really good road numbers. It seems like you go there and this happens: you're great at Coors and bad everywhere else.
CT: I certainly agree with the notion that Colorado seems to mess with hitters -- I think someone at BP did a study along those lines.
LK: The other thing about Burnitz is his platoon splits aren't bad. He's basically an "average" big league hitter versus LHP and above-average against RHP. In essence, he's an everyday player, not a platoon guy. That might surprise some people who see his violent swing and assume, "God, there's no way this guy can hit lefties."
CT: Burnitz should be "okay"; I guess I'm just a bit less optimistic than you regarding how he'll fare offensively. You know, I just have an Aubrey Huff fetish, and anything less than Mr. Huff in the outfield is like a burnt cookie to me.
LK: I LOVE Aubrey Huff. One of those guys nobody really knows because of where he plays.
CT: Baker obviously does some aspects of the managing job extremely well. Players seem to love working for him, and veterans tend to perform well with him.
It's just so hard to measure the things Dusty does well, while his flaws (bullpen management, breaking in young hitters, protecting pitcher's arms) are easy to pick at.
How much of his success in San Francisco was due to having Barry Bonds? How much in Chicago has been due to the Cubs' starting pitching?
I don't doubt he's a good manager, but in what ways is he good, and how good is he?
LK: I think Dusty is one of the great motivators in the game. The most important job of a manager may be his ability to motivate his players and keep them loose.
I think his record in SF proves how good a manager he is. His in-game maneuvers get criticized, in part, because that's how it works with all managers. That stuff is easy to second-guess when it doesn't work.
I remember growing up following the Tigers. Sparky Anderson was known as Captain Hook and everyone I knew knocked him for pulling his starters too soon. Well, the Tigers were one of the best teams of the '80s and Sparky was a terrific manager. It comes with the territory. I think the Cubs have one of the best skippers in the game.
Cub Town appreciates the time Len Kasper took to conduct this interview, and is greatly looking forward to seeing him call games for the 2005 Cubs.
If there's anything we can label a head-to-head skirmish this spring, it's David Kelton vs. Jason Dubois. Not exactly The Rumble in the Jungle (The Slam in Ho Ho Kam?), but it's what we've got. Of course, there really shouldn't be a question here, as Dubois is the superior player, but with Kelton out of options, it looks like the Cubs are going to give him every chance to win a spot with the big club so they don't have to expose him to waivers.
So, where does the conflict stand after this afternoon's game?
If nothing else, this is illustrative of why you should ignore rate stats with such small sample sizes. Turn two of Kelton's failed at bats into dingers, and he's hitting .333/.917, and you don't need me to tell you he won't do that over 50, 100, or 500 at bats, just like you don't need me to tell you that Dubois won't hit .385/.846 over any length of time.
What this does tell us, though, is that if anyone in Mesa has brought their brain with them, Kelton needs to start turning it on to have a shot at that 25th man job. I can't bring myself to root against him, though, despite not thinking he deserves the job (he's still a Cub, even if he's of the species Ursus Iowus), so I'll just have to root for Mr. Dubois to keep the bar raised high.
RSS - Your Ticket to Cub Town
Thanks to the Swedish Chef, we now have RSS feeds. If you want to add Cub Town to your reader, here's the feed URL:
This will be on the sidebar tomorrow, but just thought some of you might want the heads up now.
If you want feeds for any of the other fine blogs here on Baseball Toaster, head on over to Fairpole, where the Swedish Chef has them all laid out for you.
Cub Town Interview: Len Kasper (part one)
The 2005 Cubs not only feature a new right fielder; the broadcast booth has had a makeover, too. Chip Caray and Steve Stone are out, Len Kasper and Bob Brenly are in.
Brenly is well known among baseball fans both as a manager and announcer, but Kasper is a relatively fresh voice. Len began his trade working for a local station his senior year in high school, and he gained further experience in college, calling basketball games at Marquette and interning with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Baseball is his true love, though, and he broke into the biz in 1999 by filling in on air for the Brewers. In March 2002, he got the Marlins' play-by-play gig, and now a mere 6 years into his big league career, he'll be calling games for the Cubs.
Kasper has his pulse on all aspects of the game--from the clubhouse to the broadcast booth, from the pages of Baseball Prospectus to the baseball blogosphere. He and I have emailed some this offseason, and he was kind enough to respond to my peppering of questions.
Greetings, and welcome to Cub Town, the new home of Alex Ciepley and Derek Smart here at baseballtoaster.com!
We think you'll like it here - at least, we hope you will - and not only will you be getting the same good stuff you always do from Alex and I, as well as the rest of the Toastmasters, but the Toaster itself will be growing and expanding throughout the coming months with new and exciting features that it's safe to say you won't find anywhere else.
Having said that, please bear with us at the start. This site is still in beta mode, and there are likely to be some buggy moments in the beginning, as well as some ongoing changes. We would ask two things of you: a) please be patient, as Swedish Chef, Ken Arneson, is working hard to take us from buggy to brilliant, but even so, there are going to be bumps along the way, and b) let us know when you see something that's amiss, or even just something you wish we had that we don't. This site is for you. We want to make it the best baseball experience on the internet, and your input will help immeasurably in reaching that goal.
That's it! Look around, see the sites, let us know what you think, and most of all, just enjoy! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go make some toast.
NL Central Preview
I participated in a roundtable discussion on the NL Central with Rich Lederer, Bryan Smith and the Red Reporterís J.D. Arney. The roundtable takes place at Rich and Bryanís new site, Baseball Analysts.
The concensus was that the Cards and Cubs are the teams to beat, but we touched on all the teams and discussed a few larger issues as well. Take a gander if youíve got a sec.
The Cubs begin their Cactus League season with a contest against the A’s at 2:05 CST. Carlos Zambrano takes the hill to start, followed by Sergio Mitre and a cast of thousands. This is one of the games carried on WGN radio, so if you’re in the area, tuning in to 720 AM will get you the game. If not, just go here for the live,
Relax. Enjoy. Discuss.
Justice Gets Lost En Route to Cooperstown - Blames Joe Morgan's Directions
Itís happened again. Ron Santo was not elected to the Hall of Fame. Both he and Gil Hodges received 52 votes, 8 shy of the total needed for induction. I wasnít expecting him get in - the Veteranís Committee as currently arranged isnít exactly designed to add more members to the club - but that doesnít mitigate the disappointment.
It would have been lovely to see both Santo and Sandberg at that podium in July, but weíll have to settle for Ryno sans Ronnie. I suppose the Cubs will have to fill the void for Santo the only way they can - win that ring, baby.
Another Chance for Santo
Jay Jaffe has some great analysis over at Baseball Prospectus regarding the candidates available to the Veteran’s Committee choices in today’s Hall of Fame balloting.
While Ron Santo is a easy pick among Cubs fans, Jaffe’s study—in which he compares the candidates to current Hall of Famers—shows that Santo’s current spot outside Cooperstown should be considered a crime by all baseball fans:
Santo ought to be a slam dunk, especially at such an underrepresented position. His JAWS score is higher than about three-quarters of the enshrined hitters, and among third basemen, only Boggs (103.0), Mike Schmidt (102.8), Eddie Mathews (90.9), George Brett (90.2), and Paul Molitor (85.3) score higher. His peak score is astronomical; in fact only seven hitters reached more lofty heights: Babe Ruth (70.6), Ted Williams (69.0), Willie Mays (64.7), Rogers Hornsby (63.2), Mickey Mantle (62.6), Joe Morgan (61.9) and Boggs (61.6). You may have heard of them.We’re rooting for you, Ronnie. Results announced later today.
An Antidote For Fluff
What’s that? You’re sick of reading newspaper puff-pieces? Then head on over to All-Baseball alum, Rich Lederer’s, new digs, and read parts one, two, and three of his wonderful interview with Bill James. Others in these parts have linked to them, but they deserve a spot in this space as well. Go read and enjoy, and congrats to Rich on getting the famously taciturn James to give such a long and fascinating audience.
The Cubs have done a remarkably good job of squeezing all the money they can out of Wrigley Field, based on the circumstances. Wrigley is a beautiful park, but it’s also old and small, and based on capacity alone it would be understandable if the Cubs saw it as a liability.
But those wicked crazy Cubs fans don’t care about spotty loos and falling bricks—heckaroo, this team can even get away with scalping their own tickets. Cubs fans keep on paying big bucks for seats, and if current plans meet with the final approvals, fans will have a few more seats to choose from:
After four years of negotiations, the team and the city agreed on a plan to add 1,790 seats to Wrigley Field, the National League’s oldest ballpark.That $3.75M total in fees in donations got you down? It shouldn’t: the Cubs would only need to charge about 26 bucks a seat to make up that part of the expenses in one year. And do you really think those tickets would only cost $26?
As long as the profits go to making the product on the field better, I’ve no problems with Wrigley expansion. Then again, I rarely get to Chicago and have less romantic attachment to the ballpark than many Cubs fans. What do the bleacher bums make of this news?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com