Monthly archives: September 2005
Out of Left Field?
There's been talk, and admittedly it appears to have been started, if not by Garciaparra himself, then by a reporter asking a direct question about it, that Nomar could be re-signed by the Cubs and used in left field.
That was from Monday. When Dusty Baker was asked about it in the same article that discussed Patterson and Pie's situation in this morning's Tribune, his response was, "We'd consider that big-time."
I'm torn on this. On the one hand, I really like Matt Murton. I think he has a future as a solid big-league regular, and I think he's got nothing left to prove in the minors, particularly after the work he's done during his time in the Majors. My brain tells me that he should be the starter in left next year.
On the other hand, I really like Nomar. When healthy, he can still hit, and there's something about his demeanor on and off the field that I can't help but be attracted to. He's just got great charisma, and while I know that charisma and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee if you're sent back to 1950 by a rift in the space/time continuum, it still affects me as a fan. My heart wants to find a way for Nomar to be a Cub next year.
But in the end it just doesn't make sense. Murton is the future, Garciaparra is the past, and while I'd love to see Nomar in Cubbie blue next year for sentimental reasons, there's simply nowhere I'd feel comfortable playing him. His defense has slipped enough to render his infield play suspect on the best of days, and I consider the only outfield spot he'd be remotely suited to play as spoken for.
I think both sides would like to make it work, but I don't think the Cubs will allow their hearts to get in the way this time. The organization's brain has taken a back seat, or simply been asleep in the trunk, too often during the last century, and while there may be a lot of love for Nomar, sometimes when you love somebody - with apologies to Sting - you have to set them free.
I know, I know, I've been lax of late, and while some of it is due to some legitimate issues around work and time, much more of my absence can be linked to a general end of season, out of the race malaise.
However, just because there's little joy to be had in watching the Cubs stumble through the final games doesn't mean there's nothing to comment on, so now that I've had my little break, it's time to get back to it. I'll be trying for several short posts today. Let's see how it works.
The Beginning of the End?Tell me what you see here that's different:
"I'm sure Corey and I will have some chats before he goes home," Hendry said. "He would be the first to say he didn't perform up to his expectations this year, or ours. That doesn't mean he can't rebound from it. It also means he's going to have to get better."
That's a quote from an article in this morning's Tribune, much of which had to do with the possibility of Felix Pie possibly making the jump from AA to the Majors next year, and what I notice that's different, subtle though it may be, is the first overt sign I've seen (although, I might have missed something in recent days) that Corey Patterson does not have the unconditional support of the organization.
Granted, there have been less direct signals, and I've commented a bit on the unsavory tactics occasionally involved, but this is the first I've seen of Jim Hendry essentially laying down the law. Previously, the talk has been all about wanting to help Corey get better, but in this quote, he very distinctly says that he'll have to get better.
The difference is small, but I think it's important, and for those of you looking and hoping for signs that the Corey Patterson Era is nearing an end, I have a feeling this is only first of many indications that it will soon be so.
Six to Go
Part one of "Operation Putrify" was at least a partial success (although, the Cubs were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, non-news that it was), as the Cubs took two of three from the Astros and helped the Phillies pull to within one game of Houston in the Wild Card race.
In fact, it was so successful on Sunday that the poor Spacemen looked like they were infected with the same alien retrovirus that's been swimming around in the collective bloodstreams of the Cubs this season, as they made mental mistakes, blew golden chances to score, and served up yummy bullpen flavored gopherballs with the same aplomb that our incompetent little cuddle bears have done for most of 2005.
Wouldn't it be nice of the infection lasted for another week? You sure wouldn't see me crying. And now, for old time's sake, a couple bullets.
It's an off day today, with the Pirates coming to town for two starting tomorrow. Although they would need to go 5-1 to secure the "winning season" they appear to be chasing, I can't think of a better way to start the march than a quick set against Pittsburgh. Let's hope the second time they see Zach Duke goes better than the first.
Yesterday's victory over the Brewers was nice, especially since there's still the faintest glimmer of hope that The Professor can get to the fifteen win mark again this year and keep his remarkable streak alive, but the damage done in the first two games of the series has dealt a serious blow to one of the team's goals over the final weeks, which has been to get back to, then over, the .500 mark.
The Cubs must go 6-3 over their final nine just to get even, which of course means that 7-2 is the goal if they hope to breach the Maginot Line of mediocrity and have three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1970-72 - certainly a meaningless achievement beyond the obvious symbolism, but when symbols are all you have
Or are they? Thanks to the fact that seven out of their nine remaining games are against the Astros, the Cubs have a shot, finally, at playing the spoiler - they haven't had a game against a team with their playoff aspirations in question since they defeated the Marlins on August 28th.
If the cuddle bears manage to post a 5-2 record in those games against the Astros - which amounts essentially to a victory in each of the two series - that would put some serious hurt on Houston, guaranteeing that the best they could do over these last contests would be to post a 4-5 mark (which would be no mean feat, since their other two games are against the Cardinals), leaving the door open for the Phillies to simply win each of their last three series against the Reds, Mets, and Nats to, at worst, force a playoff.
It's a delicious scenario, and while I'd rather have a chance to win the division or secure a playoff spot on the season's final day, without that as a possibility, the idea of quashing another club's hopes - particularly those of a bitter rival like the Astros - makes me smile a little inside.
Knowing that, there's probably something to be said about me as a human being - after all, it's not nice to derive pleasure over someone else's suffering (although it makes for a nifty word) - but I can take some solace from the knowledge that I am most likely not alone.
I think the majority of fans when confronted with the reality that their season is, for all intents and purposes, over, look for something that can lend the rest of the year some semblance of meaning, and while the "Quest For Being Not-Quite-Good-But-Almost" has been the theoretical motivating factor for the Cubs and their fans over the last few weeks, it lacks the visceral quality required to truly bring engagement in the proceedings.
Which is where the concept of "The Spoiler" comes in. As I said, it's a long way from nice, but when there's little else to put a fire in your belly, the opportunity to wreak vengeance of a sort - and really, what else is this desire to prevent the ascension of another team but a petty need to redress perceived wrongs, however slight they may be - helps to warm you on those cold winter nights.
And that's what we're left with. The hope of ruining another team's, and another fan base's, season. We could just say that we hope the Cubs can have a winning year themselves - which would guarantee, at worst, five victories over Houston - but such a thing is of cold comfort.
No, rooting for the seemingly positive in this situation simply isn't good enough. There's no blood to be found in the hope for 82 wins. What does it get you? Whether the Cubs win 82 or 75, the end result is still a lost season, and no amount of pontificating on the merits of "winning baseball" can change that.
So we hope to spoil the Astros' Wild Card aspirations, and while the side effect is likely an 82 win season, or better, it's hardly the point. Vengeance. Reprisal. Retribution. Call it what you will, but like it or not, it's what we're after.
It may not be nice, but it is baseball.
For those of you watching last night's game, thinking to yourself that Derrek Lee almost never wears a Golden Sombrero, well I was thinking the same thing (well, that and, "Dear God, did he just swing at that pitch again!"). So, as is my wont when these sort of things enter my mind, I had to take a look. Thank goodness for Retrosheet.
Below are the previous instances during Lee's career when he sank to such depths.
Little did I know anniversary congratulations were in order. Last night marked one year to the day for the last time Lee donned the Shiny Hat of Shame, and only the forth time over his entire career that he reached the dubious milestone. What we bore witness to was, indeed, a rare event in the life of The Savior.
Of course it's rare for anyone. Even the famously wifftastic Sammy Sosa only did it 13 times in 13 seasons with the Cubs, which means we can think of yesterday's glorious failure as uncommon, not just in the context of Lee's life in the Majors, but in anyone's life in the Majors.
So, welcome, my friends, to making history - the Chicago Cubs way.
Fixing a Hole
It was another night of frustration for the Cubs, and that frustration really came into play during what, to me, was the game's decisive half inning - the top of the seventh. It was, yet again, an instance where the Cubs couldn't get runners home from third, which in this case meant they couldn't score after loading the bases with no one out. To say that I'm sick of this sort of incompetence would dramatically understate my mood.
Yet, one of the things that I, quite purposefully, left out of the answers I gave in last week's Baseball Analysts piece was this issue of execution. Not that I don't believe it's a problem - anyone who has read here consistently this season should know it's an issue I think very much needs addressing - just that I believe there are, indeed, bigger fish to fry, and even if there weren't, I wouldn't have any idea of how to go about dealing with it.
Some of you would say, "Fire Dusty Baker," and while I'll admit I'm not averse to the idea, I don't think getting rid of Dusty would solve this particular problem. The Cardinals aren't a fundamentally sound team because Tony LaRussa makes them so. The players on that club came that way, either because Walt Jocketty has looked for those type of folks when he's been in acquisitional mode, or because the minor league system taught them well.
In fact, I think you could see in several of the recent games the Cubs played against St. Louis that the people who have been forced into larger roles due to the club's injury issues do not have the same fundamental soundness. This begins to make the case to me that when it comes to solid, smart play, it's more who your personnel are than how they are coached at the Major League level.
Scott Rolen. Jim Edmonds. David Eckstein. Did these men all suddenly acquire the Magic Understanding Of The Right Way To Play upon donning Cardinal red? Certainly not. Just like Jerry Hairston, Corey Patterson, and Michael Barrett didn't get dumber while under the influence of Baker. In each of those cases, you got what you paid for, and like it or not, they're almost certainly going to stay the way they are.
So now that I've said that, I suppose I do have a partial solution. When Jim Hendry is retooling the team during the offseason, as he's certain to do, he needs to pay attention to which players on his radar bring that innate understanding, that instinctual ability to do the right thing at the right time.
It's impossible to quantify, and so I'm a little uncomfortable with suggesting it be a factor. But in my observations this year it's become clear to me that this club has precious little of this quality, and while I may not be able to tell you what an optimum amount is, or how far from it they are (unfortunately, ballplayers don't come with a built in "funda-meter"), I don't believe the nebulousness of it negates its impact. It just makes it difficult to measure.
Nor am I saying this "fundamentality" should be the sole criteria for inclusion on next year's squad - I have no interest in scrappiness or instinctual ballplaying for their own sakes; the Bo Harts of this world need not apply - but it should be part of the process, at least as a tie-breaker of sorts, and I suspect it's been given little to no weight of late.
I want to see a team that can get people out with their arms and their gloves, that can score runs with their bats, brains, and legs. I want to see a team that capitalizes on its opportunities more often than it squanders them. I want to see a team that, when it goes down to defeat, can look itself in the mirror and say, "We were beaten," rather than, "We beat ourselves."
I'm not asking for perfection, here. I'm just asking for a good team. A solid team. One with the potential to compete at the highest level, not just because they are loaded with talent (although, I certainly want that to be part of the equation), but because they are able to tap into that talent and get the most out of it.
But most of all, I just want to be able to hold my head high and proudly say, "I am a Cub fan," without fear of ridicule. To know that I root for a team to be feared and respected; a team that will beat the other guys unless they play the game of their lives; a team that is, without equivocation, a winner.
Was That a Tree?
My day began as a series of cosmic whirlpools pulling me into an abyss where available time and the demands upon it are permanently separated by fire and demons and fiery demons and ten foot tall spiders, their legs covered with poison hair, filling the air with the putrid stench of their breath like rotting flesh as they forever recite Joyce's Ulysses in the voice of Anna Nicole Smith after a seven month TrimSpa/Cristal/morphine binge.
So, I'm a little busy.
However, I doubt you all care much, so I'll leave you with this: the Cubs not only won the season series with the Cardinals this year, but they also succeeded in winning or tying all five individual series with the Redbirds, and since June 23 have been the only team to win a series from St. Louis. And they've done it three times.
Of course, all of this begs the question: if the Cubs make the Cardinals fall in the proverbial deep, dark woods of a lost season, does anyone hear it? Does anyone care?
Analyzing the Cubs
This morning, the fine gentlemen over at Baseball Analysts have put together a piece called, "What Went Wrong," highlighting (or lowlighting) four teams - the Twins, Mets, Dodgers, and Cubs - who entered the season with high hopes, but wound up on the postseason scrapheap after coming around the turn.
Along with Aaron Gleeman, Ricardo Gonzalez from Metsgeek, and our own Jon Weisman, I was honored to be asked to put in my two cents on the Cubbie Horror Picture Show. So swing on over and have at it, folks!
Shoulda Woulda Coulda
Another contest the Cubs should have won that ends with a blue flag flying over Chicago. It's a crying shame, particularly since Jerome Williams threw such a solid game, but it's just another data point in the argument that this club is getting what it deserves. Well, you know, if "ifs" and "buts" were candies and nuts....
The year's final series between the Cubs and Cardinals begins tonight with the unpleasant but likely prospect that the boys from St. Louis will be celebrating their division clinching at some point during the next couple of days. The only thing that could make the prospect easier to stomach would be a victory this evening which would clinch the season series with the Redbirds. The Cubs may not be the better team, but at least they have a chance to say they beat the Cards head to head.
Better Late Than Never
I've been home all day today with a sick little girl, and while I haven't been directly involved in her care at all times posting has been impossible up to now, because to call our home internet access of late "intermittent" would be like referring to the visits of Halley's Comet as "occasional." Sure it's true, but if understatement were cash I'd have enough to buy both Bill Gates and Donald Trump, stick them in a zoo cage together, and see if their collective hair breaks free to start a civilization of its own.
With that in mind, I'll keep things quick and light:
Jerome Williams will continue to pitch for his job in 2006 tonight. I hope he does well. I like the kid, and while him being a legitimate option next year may make the decision process more complicated, that's the kind of complication I'll gladly take.
Welcome to the Machine
After his first start against them this year when the Cubs forced him to throw 94 pitches over five innings, getting nine hits and scoring four runs in an eventual 8-7 victory, Aaron Harang has had three consecutive solid outings, giving up a total of eight runs over 24.1 innings while throwing only 312 pitches in that span.
Cincinnati has won all three of those games, and now that they've won the last six in a row and clinched the season series, the Little Red Machine That Usually Can't has declared their head-to-head ownership of the 2005 Cubs in the same inexplicable way that the Cubs seem to have done the same to the Cardinals (although there's still time for joint ownership of that item).
That this team has only managed 11 runs in the last four games they've played against what is arguably the worst pitching staff in the Majors speaks well to my point yesterday about this club not being up for a miracle run. If you can't get it done against a team like this, you won't get it done at all.
If there's a game the rest of the season that the Cubs should dominate, at least on paper, it's tonight's matchup of Eric Milton versus Carlos Zambrano. Of course, Milton took it to the Cubs in his last outing against them, and as I mentioned earlier, the Cubs of late appear to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Cincinnati Reds Mediocre Baseball, Inc. It's time to save a little face, boys!
The headline refers more to me as I return here and to my place of work from vacation than the Cubs - although this nice little run of acceptable baseball from the club might make those of you impossibly inclined toward optimism start bubbling forth with anticipatory glee, buying bottles of champagne and priming industrial strength insults to sling at any Astro or Marlins fans you might meet on the street after overtaking them with a victory in Houston on the season's final day.
Sure, that's an appealing scenario, and I wouldn't refuse it if offered, but thinking the Cubs are about to get back in the Wild Card chase is pie in the sky at its pie in the face best. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I won't be, and you won't see me jumping on the bandwagon until it's already run past me and into the postseason. Again, not that it isn't possible, just that this team isn't the one to make it happen. Hopefully, that's what next year is for.
Speaking of teams the Cubs need to consistently beat, the Reds come to town tonight, and for some inexplicable reason the Cubs have had trouble hitting them lately. That's kind of like Stephen Hawking waking up one morning and being unable to balance his checkbook. Here's to the Cubs being able to do some simple math tonight.
During a recent Cub broadcast, it was mentioned that when Derrek Lee hit his fortieth homer of the year that he would be the first player in Cub history to have 40 homers and 40 doubles in a season. He reached the milestone the other night, and while it's an impressive feat, I was struck by how, well, arbitrary this particular 40/40 designation was. He may be the first to get this particular combination of numbers, but there are ways to get more value without having those specific figures in those specific categories.
I began thinking about it, and to my mind the important combination of numbers was 40 or more home runs along with a total of 80 or more extra base hits (See, 40 + 40 = 80. Note my spectacular math skills.). Since I think we can agree that a home run or a triple has more value than a double, anyone in Cub history with at least those same 40 dingers that The Savior has, and a total number of extra base knocks over 80, has had a season that's at least as valuable in the power category as Lee's 40/40 year.
So, in the spirit of science and pointless fun, I put together a list of Cub players who have had at least 40 homers and at least 80 extra base hits, listed from highest to lowest extra base hit totals.
That's some pretty good company. Ten seasons between four men, eight of them split evenly between Sammy Sosa and Ernie Banks, with Sosa clearly the most productive power hitter in the history of the franchise (not exactly news, but there you are).
At this point, Lee pretty easily projects to be only the third player in the history of the franchise to have over 90 extra base hits, and while it's a longshot to say he could get up in the rarified air of "Sosa 2001," it's not entirely out of the question. Still, he's not likely to break the 50 homer barrier, let alone the 56 or 64 that Wilson and Sosa put up in their most productive years, so it's worth taking a look at this another way: Total Bases.
I'm going to choose a nice, round, arbitrary cut-off that Lee will reach in his sleep. Let's say a Cub player would need 350 total bases on the season to make this list. What does it look like?
A couple new names show up, but for the most part, it's the same guys in nearly the same spots. Lee will break this top ten in the next week or two, and if things go right, he could break the top five. However, I think those top four seasons by Sosa, Hornsby, and Wilson aren't quite within reach. Lee's been wonderful this year, but he has yet to break into the realm that those men inhabit.
My point? Nothing, really. Just that mention of essentially made-up milestones riles my contrarian instincts. That Lee is the first Cub to hit 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same season is a fun piece of trivia, but as great as his season has been, and as impressive as this particular accomplishment is, trivia it remains.
Joe Sheehan, over at Baseball Prospectus, jumpstarted the Derrek Lee For MVP campaign today with a few words on what he sees as a two-man race (Lee v. Albert Pujols) in the National League for the award. Using a handful of the geek-out stats, Sheehan concludes that Lee is, as of now, the rightful winner but unlikely choice:
Lee's edges in power and glovework translate to a WARP [Wins Above Replacement Player] edge of more than a win and a half [over Pujols]. Even if you care to grant Pujols extra credit for being part of a successful Cardinals' team (or, as I prefer to think of it, penalize Lee for not working under better management), I don't see how you make up more than a win on bonus points. Derrek Lee has been the most valuable player in the National League, and that argument should be enough to carry him to the top of most ballots.
Lee's not going to win, Sheehan argues, because the Cubs haven't been winning. The writers will pick a player from a team at the top of the standings. This means Pujols may end up winning--and he wouldn't be a bad choice at all--but Andruw Jones might as well--which wouldn't sit as well with me. Sheehan actually crunched a few numbers in his article and concluded that Jones wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team, let alone the league.
I've been resigned to Lee not winning the MVP for so long now that the article actually took me by surprise. In my funk over the Cubs' miserable fade, I'd forgotten that he was having the best season in all of baseball.
If you're a believer that the MVP award should simply go to the best player in the league that year (a stance I take for the most part), then Lee should be sitting atop the ballot. I think Sheehan's right, though, in recommending that I don't hold my breath waiting for that award to go to its rightful owner.
If we're being honest with ourselves, we'll trace the origin of Glendon Rusch's troubles, not to his move to the bullpen, but to the three starts before the transfer in which he posted a 6.62 ERA, while giving up 27 hits over 17.2 innings. In my mind, it was this initial stretch of trouble that made it acceptable to essentially demote him once Kerry Wood made his first ill-fated return from the DL, and leave him where he was when Wood was disabled again.
Since necessity moved Rusch back into the rotation in mid-August he's been just awful, posting an 8.84 ERA over four starts, the worst of which was his latest one where he threw a mere two innings but gave up seven runs on seven hits and two walks. He hadn't looked good for nearly three months, and his appearances in ballgames, whether as reliever or starter, were cause for nervous stomachs for Cub fans everywhere.
It was in this spirit - that of a man determined to right a season gone horribly wrong - that Rusch took the mound last night, and for the majority of his time out there he was thankfully, gleefully at his absolute best, spotting his fastball beautifully and using his off-speed stuff masterfully to keep the Cardinal hitters thoroughly off balance.
I don't know if his work last night brought him a sense of redemption - certainly, in those first six innings he was on his way to earning it - but at the very least I hope it gave him the idea that he can, indeed, still be successful. Rusch is one of the guys I've developed a soft spot for during his time in blue, so when he takes the hill I end up rooting just a little bit harder. Nice job, Glendon. Let's see some more.
I'm currently on vacation, and although I'm spending it at home (traveling with a seventeen month old is about as far from a vacation as one can likely get without violating the Geneva Convention), it's still been the cause of a dearth in posting of late. I'm going to try to pick up the pace over the next couple of days, but if posting is still sporadic the rest of this week, know that it's because I'm playing with my little girl at the park.
Number 9, Number 9
There's not much going on this morning, so here's a link to a little puff piece in the Daily Herald about Scott McClain. While naturally designed this way, the article makes him seems like a good guy who's happy to be where he's at, and content with himself in general. Makes me want to root for him all the more, which is what pieces like that are supposed to do.
I can't just leave it at that, though, and in the spirit of further inquiry (and wasting time on a Friday morning) I thought to myself, "If I were to purchase a 2005 home jersey with McClain's number on it, and no name, what other former Cubs might people think I was associating my fandom with?"
Well, I looked around, and McClain is wearing number 9, so thanks to baseball-almanac.com I was able to compile a (hopefully complete) list in reverse chronological order of players who had worn that number since 1932 (the last year they have jersey numbers for).
There are a couple of good names on there - Randy Hundley, Bobby Thompson, Hank Sauer, Gabby Hartnet, Rogers Hornsby - but for the most part, it's a rogue's gallery of unfortunates and "who's that?"'s, which is due in part to the fact that over much of that time the number 9 was used almost exclusively for catchers, many of them second or third stringers.
So, good luck with your new number and new home, Scott. And if you're going to emulate one of your similarly integered predecessors during your stay, take a look at the list above, and please, choose wisely.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com