Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: July 2005


Lawton to Cubs
2005-07-31 13:17
by Derek Smart

That's the word at the moment, but nothing official as of yet, and nothing about who the Cubs are supposedly giving up. If this does turn out to be the real thing, it's a deal that could make a difference to a team that has serious OBP problems, but I'll reserve judgement until all is made clear. More to come when more is revealed.

UPDATE: It appears that the deal is straight up, Jody Gerut for Matt Lawton, and while I appreciate the potential that Gerut represents, this is a deal I'd make every time. Assuming this is the deal as is, it's another nice piece of work by Jim Hendry, getting a solid upgrade without coughing up tons of treasure.

Again, I have no link to back this up (this is all coming to me from the Baseball Tonight trade deadline special), but once we've got one, I'll be sure to put it up.

UPDATE 2: Here's a link from

I'll speak to this more in depth in a later post, either tonight or tomorrow, but while this wasn't an impact move the likes of adding a Dunn or Huff, the fact that there were no impact moves speaks volumes about what the few selling teams were asking for their premium players. Short story: this is a move that makes the Cubs better, but whether it improves them enough to win the Wild Card remains to be seen.

Keystone Caper?
2005-07-29 07:42
by Derek Smart

Beyond congratulating Jerome Williams for holding down the fort despite being off his game, there's little about yesterday's contest worth commenting on. It was, for the most part, a lackluster effort at a time of year when such things are luxuries that cannot be afforded, and for the sake of my own sanity, I'd just as soon pretend it never happened.

Luckily, there are other things to discuss, as rumors have begun to surface that Jim Hendry has stuck his nose in the middle of the Alfonso Soriano sweepstakes.

The Cubs are after someone to boost their production in left field, which as we all know, has been less than stellar all season. The Reds appear to have closed their doors to any suitors interested in some of their outfield overflow, and even if they hadn't, Dan O'Brien was putting himself up there with Chuck LaMar (holder of the Golden Key of Huff-lepuff) as a GM who prefers dealing as a high-end retail store to getting down and bartering with the plebeians.

As we've all seen before, one of the positive qualities Jim Hendry brings to the table is the ability to walk away when a trade partner wants too much, then turn around and get creative to fill the need. Such is the case here, as the Cubs are supposedly only interested in Soriano if they can get assurances that he would be amenable to playing in left, which is where they would need him most.

Mention has been made of two other possibilities: that Todd Walker could be included in the deal somehow, and that since the Mets are unrepentantly panting after Soriano, a three-way deal could be swung that would get the Mets their man while sending Cliff Floyd to the Cubs. This seems like as good a time as any to go over a few numbers:


Above is a quick glance at what some of the various protagonists have achieved thus far in 2005. Several things jump out at me, the first of which is how foolish including Todd Walker in a deal for Soriano would be. Their EQAs are essentially the same, but Walker's edge in OBP trumps Soriano's power boost, particularly on a team like the Cubs that is so starved for baserunners.

Add in that, had they equivalent playing time, Walker's defense would actually make him a smidge more valuable this year (chew on that for a while and see how it tastes), and you've supplied me with plenty of reason why Soriano should only be a Cub if he's willing to abandon the infield.

And something does need to happen with left field, since Hollandsworth is still getting most of the starts, and has been, as we can see in the table, abysmal by any standards, but particularly when thinking about corner outfield spots. Soriano would definitely be an upgrade in that respect, but while you would be getting a tremendous power boost, you'd still be punting OBP, which is something I'm not sure the Cubs can afford.

That's what makes a three-way deal that nets Cliff Floyd so appealing. Granted, he has been a substantial injury risk over his entire career, and even this year he's been dealing with various small maladies that may contribute to what is, when one looks at his month by month numbers this season, a profound tendency toward streakiness.

Yet, his relative patience, solid power numbers, and left-handedness (which would allow continued balance in the lineup, and the possibility of shifting Jeromy Burnitz a little farther down the line) are distinct marks in his favor. He's also under contract for next year, and while the injury bug could always resurface, bear in mind that's exactly what Jody Gerut was procured for.

We'll have to wait and see what sort of treasure is being asked of the Cubs, assuming a deal even gets done, but this certainly bears watching as, one way or the other, there's a distinct chance the team could make itself better by the weekend.

Long On Luck
2005-07-28 08:40
by Derek Smart

Short on time.

Lucky win. I'll take it. Luck bad this year. Yesterday luck good. Yippee!

Time is tight. No bullets. Bee-bees.

  • Zambrano with 112 pitches through seven. Gave up nine hits and four walks. Some hits supposedly lucky. Didn't see myself, but intermanetawhosits said he wasn't "go back out there and break the 120 pitch barrier" sharp. Bullpen not taxed. Don't get why Z back out there. Worked out. But still...

  • Poor LaTroy. People are mean.

  • Matt Murton: Lucky Charm.

  • More Matt Murton: .481/.545/.556 - 17 balls in play, 14 on the ground. Something's got to give.

  • Bottom 9. Gerut walks to leadoff. Macias sacrifies. Gerut to second. Best. Use. Of. Macias. Ever.

  • Three games from wild card. Tied for third. I'll take it for now.

D-Backs today. No more Jose Cruz. Now Connor Jackson era. Hope he doesn't kill us.

Williams v. Halsey. I think it's a tossup. D-Backs killed us lately. Gotta, gotta, beat 'em.

Substance later. Now I go.

Mr. 3000, Not Mr. 314
2005-07-27 07:42
by Derek Smart

Rain delays that last nearly three hours before night games tend to put a cramp in my style, so while I lingered in wakefulness long enough to see The Professor reach yet another milestone, the fatigue brought on by daily life and the rigors of monkey-care felled me after the third inning.

Looks like I'm glad I let sleep win, as the Cubs failed to do so - in eleven innings, no less - taking a game that was already late well into the next morning, and dropping it by simply reversing the previous game's score of 3-2.

This has been a remarkable stretch of tight games for the Cubs, with three of the last five contests going into extras, four of them being tied going into the bottom of the ninth, and all within one run entering the final inning of regulation.

That the Cubs have managed to be so close in each of these games, winning three of them, certainly speaks well of the starting pitching they've received of late, but despite impressions to the contrary, the team has also gotten decent work out of the pen.

Although unable to hold on last night or in the first game of the Cardinals series, the work they've done as a group of late isn't half bad, posting a 2.35 ERA over the 15.1 innings they've thrown in that span.

They've allowed a few too many baserunners - 16 hits and 5 walks - but they've kept the ball in the park and kept things close, and in the two games they've been unfortunate enough to lose, one can point to opportunities the offense failed to convert as the primary culprit - leaving men on third with one out is becoming a running theme for this club - rather than any lack of competence from the relief corps. Pitchers allow runs, it's a fact of the game, and when the difference in a given contest is a skinny tally, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.

That said, the imminent approach of a healthy Scott Williamson goes a long way toward giving me greater confidence that when the Cubs are engaged in these 3-2, 4-3 affairs, they'll be able to come out on top. His addition should go a long way toward making the opposition's game shorter and giving the Cubs a far better chance when the games are this close.

Don't get me wrong, I like Michael Wuertz, but if I were given a choice between him and a healthy Williamson with men on first and second and one out in a game tied in the 11th, I'd take Williamson in a heartbeat, and I believe, have a much better chance of getting through unscathed.

He won't be a savior, and there will still be times that the bullpen gives me the yips, but when Williamson joins the club, I believe his presence will bring one of those small adjustments in performance and attitude that seem to make a bigger difference the smaller the margin of error. The kind of adjustment that could have helped make Mr. 3000, Mr. 314, as well.

Revisiting Nomar
2005-07-26 14:58
by Alex Ciepley

One year ago I was still twentysomething. My baby face still gets me carded on occasion, but only when I've tucked my bald head into a cap.

One year ago, Sammy and Moises patrolled the Cubbie corner spots, Matt Clement was an unlucky but reliable fifth starter, and Kyle Farnsworth was kicking fans up and down the aisles of Wrigley... or at least the clubhouse.

Tsunamis and London bombings and Indonesian earthquakes were still a part of the future, not the past.

One year ago no one cared about Bo Bice or Carrie Underwood... and, ummm... I suppose at least some things haven't changed.

Almost a year has passed since the Cubs brought in Nomar Garciaparra in one of the most surprising trades the Cubs have pulled off in recent history. I thought I'd take a quick glance at how the players involved in the big four-team swap are holding up this year.

Orlando Cabrera
Doug Mientkiewicz

No one is complaining in Boston, but neither Cabrera nor Mientkiewicz are still with the Sox. For what it's worth, both players have been awful in their new locales: Cabrera in Anaheim (246/300/351) and Mientkiewicz (225/310/405) with the Mets. The World Series victory forgives all, but this wasn't exactly a great haul by the Red Sox, then or now.

Alex Gonzalez
Francis Beltran
Brendan Harris

Alex Gonzalez didn't even last the season in Montreal before being shipped out to San Diego. He's now in the fourth rung of Hell, Tampa Bay, playing third on occasion and hitting a Gonzalezesque 265/324/395.

The two former Cubs prospects have had years which are putting into doubt the "prospect" label. Beltran was put out of commision earlier this spring and won't return until next year. Harris, once a hot commodity, has simpered along to a disappointing 272/319/420 season with the Nats' AAA farm club.

Justin Jones

The Twins have been very conservative with Jones, the third and best of the Cubs' prospects to be traded in the Nomar deal. He's only pitched 28 innings so far this year for the Twins' High A Fort Myers club, and has a 3.21 ERA with 10 walks and 17 strikeouts. He has a long way to go before reaching the Majors, and there's no telling how he'll pan out at this stage.

Nomar Garciaparra
Matt Murton

If you haven't noticed, Nomar hasn't exactly had a good year. He was dreadful in April (157/228/176), and then he ripped open his groin. Fun, fun. The Cubs hope to have him back soon, but I have my doubts as to his effectiveness when he returns.

Then there is Matt Murton. The flame-haired Murton is, without qualification, the only player involved in the entire four-team deal that is having a good year. He was awesome at AA, hitting 342/403/498, and has begun flashing his skills with the big leaguers as well (409/483/455 in 22 ABs). He also has the best hair of anyone involved in the trade.

It's funny how quickly the perspective on a trade can shift. In the short term, the Red Sox won the deal, winning the World Series--though you could argue, and I imagine fairly competently, that this trade had little to do with their eventual success. But one year later, it looks like the Cubs may indeed have gotten the best player in the deal. And his name's not Nomar.

As the young players involved in the trade continue to develop (or fall by the wayside), our opinions of the winners and losers will likely shift again. But it's reassuring to note that, one year later, a bright-eyed redhead is making the deal look like a winner for the Cubs.

View From the Hill-Top
2005-07-26 08:01
by Derek Smart

It looked iffy for a bit there, but once the Giants' bullpen shenanigans got in full swing, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Cubs got the job done, and they did in the bottom of the ninth on an excellent slide by Ronnie Cedeno. Nothing like taking a well-pitched, fairly well-played game and dipping it in a vat of pure chaos, so enough intro, and on to the lead-based fun!

  • It was a solid enough outing for Rich Hill, and I imagine it was good enough to earn him another start. That curveball is flat-out cruel, and when he throws it for strikes, one can see why he's still leading the Southern League in strikeouts, despite not having pitched there since the end of May.

    He still needs to do a better job of spotting his fastball, keeping it both down and away from the hitters, as it's simply not a good enough pitch to get away with in the fat part of the zone, having neither enough velocity or enough movement to keep it from getting hit hard.

    That said, his curve is probably good enough to get him through his first time facing most teams with minimal damage, so he may be good to go for this last stretch of the season (that is, if he can stay off the basepaths). In any case, it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, Jim Hendry does in the next week now that he's got another potential hole to fill.

  • I have to admit, I felt a degree of edification on seeing Moises Alou up to his old petulant tricks, barking at umpire's strike calls, and generally looking incredibly immature. I appreciated all he did for us while he was a Cub, but my goodness, I don't miss that behavior a bit.

  • If Tony LaRussa took speed, smoked crack, and snorted cocaine, all while hooked up to a coffee I.V. laced with crushed No-Doze tablets as he was simultaneously engaged in a mind-meld with both Jim Bowden and Dan O'Dowd, he still wouldn't be able to match the frenetic and sublimely ridiculous pace of complex pitching and lineup changes that Felipe Alou went through in the bottom of the eighth.

    It was the ultimate in sound and fury signifying nothing, as the five men he brought in to get three outs still couldn't keep the lead safe. There were a couple of beautiful quotes on this fiasco. First, from Alou:

    "I brought in guys according to the ballpark. I tried to stay away from the bombs, and we did stay away from them," Alou said.

    Translation: "Mission accomplished, and we won the game. Oh, wait."

    Now, for Jason Schmidt's take:

    "If I had known it would have taken that many guys in the eighth, I would have stayed out there and tried to do it," Schmidt said. "Then we could have used just one guy in the ninth. Shoot, what are you going to do? That's baseball."


    "A very strange inning. I figured Hawkins could be lights out the whole inning," Schmidt said. "Before you know it, it seemed like everybody was out there. That's part of playing in Frisco."

    Translation: "My manager is a nutbar. Shhhhh! He'll hear you!"

    I haven't watched any Giants baseball this year so I have no idea if this sort of "strategy" is a regular occurrence, but if it is, I think the senior Alou might be over the proverbial barrel.

  • I just feel bad for LaTroy Hawkins. He deserves better.

  • If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Neifi! is intentionally waiting for the time when the one hit the Cosmos allows him per game will be most effective. At least, that's what it seems like the last two days, as in both games, Our Boy has held out until his final at bat to get his lone ding of the day, and each time it's been a game saver or winner.

    His single that brought home the tying run last night off the first pitch he saw from Tyler "Dear God, Won't Armando Hurry Up and Heal Already" Walker actually looked like a better swing than the one he put on his Grande Salami on Sunday. Either way, I'll take these final bursts of usefulness before Nomar makes his return.

The questions tonight will be which Greg Maddux shows up, and will the Cubs be able to figure out Noah Lowry. The Master of the Flood mastered the Cubs in the only time he faced them last year, so hopefully some lessons were learned in the interim.

Bull in the Pen
2005-07-25 20:05
by Derek Smart

So, the official word now is that Kerry Wood will, upon his return to the Cubs, not start another game for the team in 2005, instead coming out of the bullpen in a yet to be determined role - the logic being that, since the shoulder supposedly got more problematic the later he got into games, that going out for shorter bursts will allow him to continue to contribute to the team this season.

The implication that can be easily derived from this news is that the medical staff, coaching staff, and Kerry Wood himself, have no confidence in his ability to contribute in a starting role this season with the shoulder in its current state, and judging from how things have gone all year, moving to relief appears to be the most prudent use of Wood's talents, if he is, indeed, to be used again.

Of course, that's making the assumption that being used for an inning at a time on consecutive days will be less of an issue than throwing multiple innings on the same day, and I'm not entirely sure that's valid. However, since we've seen the results when he's used in the rotation this season, it's certainly worth a shot if he can make those appearances without doing himself further damage.

But whether the extant damage remains stable or not, surgery seems to be in the offing at season's end, and while it sounds as if the proposed procedure is very similar to what Matt Morris underwent after last season, you'll pardon me if I'm skeptical at this point.

You'll find no bigger Wood fan than me, but I'm nothing if not realistic, and unless Wood makes some significant changes to what appear to be damaging mechanics, this won't be the last time we spend an inordinate amount of energy kvetching about his constant injury woes.

The problem with the idea isn't just that making big changes in mid-career can be difficult, but I've been given little reason to believe that Wood can stuff his stubborn nature long enough to make the necessary alterations. Of course, I don't know the man, only what little I've seen of his public persona, so it's entirely possible that I've got this aspect of the issue wrong.

However, with what little information I have at my disposal, the conclusion that Wood has a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality - or, to properly address the stubbornness, mule-in-a-china-shop - and that said mentality is damaging to any prospect of him fixing what's broken, is inescapable. I hope I'm wrong, but this is a situation where faith is no longer enough - you'll have to show me. Here's to hoping he can.

Know Your Enemy 2005: Weeks 15 & 16
2005-07-25 11:47
by Derek Smart

The last conjoined entry in this series (barring personal calamity), we go over what's happened in the division since we took a break for stardom.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record62-36
    Week's Record6-4
    Games Back--

    Okay, now it might be time to worry. Not because the Cardinals might lose the division - there's as much chance of that happening as Lance Armstrong losing a Tour De France - but because the owies are starting to pile up in a way that could affect the club's viability in the playoffs. Abraham Nunez may be having the best season of his career, but no matter how good he's been so far, having to possibly rely on him instead of Scott Rolen in the postseason would be a huge blow.

    That said, the reasons this team is as good as it is have a lot more to do with the pitching staff than the offense this year, and thus far, nothing's happened to significantly weaken that unit. Yes, there's cause for concern, but the Cardinals look to have time and run prevention on their side.

  2. Houston Astros

    Season Record51-47
    Week's Record7-4
    Games Back11.0

    The Astros went 7-1 when they weren't playing St. Louis, so if the Cardinals are kryptonite to the Astros' Supermen, then the rest of the National League must be a wet paper bag. A week or two ago someone mentioned (I don't remember who or where) that they thought the A's had a great chance to be this year's Astros. Well, it looks an awful lot like the Astros might be this year's Astros, too.

  3. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record48-51
    Week's Record6-5
    Games Back14.5

    The Rickie Weeks show has officially begun, as the Brewers' future star has come out of the break hitting .286/.375/.548, driving two homers, three doubles and a triple in those eleven games. Of course, he's also struck out eleven times - most on the team in that span - so it's not like he doesn't have more to learn.

    Here's the important thing, though: noting how good Weeks is now, how close Prince Fielder is to permanent Major League status, and how J.J. Hardy appears to finally be figuring out how to hit (.283/.368/.433 in his last 60 at bats), if the Brewers finish below .500 this year, it may be the last time for quite a while.

  4. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record43-56
    Week's Record4-8
    Games Back19.5

    The only team in the NL Central to post a losing record since the break, the Bucs are falling like a stone statue of Bhudda with a rock tied to its ankle. The firing of Lloyd McClendon, which up until now has existed only in the Fantastic Media Speculation Factories of Gamma 12, should be shifting into the realm of the real before season's end.

  5. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record42-56
    Week's Record7-3
    Games Back20.0

    Joe Randa was the first to be shipped out of town, and looking back, knowing what we know about über-third-base-prospect, Edwin Encarnacion, Randa's departure was a foregone conclusion the day he signed. We'll see if this is the end of the storm, or the beginning of a flood.

Weekend in Birdland
2005-07-25 08:25
by Derek Smart

While I acknowledge that, once it was returned to its original, naturally grassy state, Busch Stadium is actually quite a nice looking ballpark, and almost certainly the loveliest of its vintage, I will cry no tears when it is finally imploded at some point during the month of October, for it has been, particularly of late, a graveyard for the Cubs.

However, despite their best efforts to the contrary, the Cubs managed to win a series in Busch for the first time since October of 1999, winning one of the two one-run games, and one of the two extra-inning affairs, beating aside their occasionally clumsy play with the heft of their sticks.

Both teams have reason to be steamed (quite literally, what with the weather) that they didn't pull out a sweep in this set, as any of the games could have turned out differently had Fate turned her head a bit in either direction. As it stands, however, our boys took the skirmish, and as a result, lead the season matchup by a skinny game.

But eleven games remain between these two, so it's far, far from over (the season series, I mean, not the division race, which I have conceded for what seems like decades, now), so in honor of the battles yet to come, let the bullets fly!

  • Zambrano's start on Friday was probably his most dominant of the year, and but for his first inning mistake to John Rodriguez, International League Man of Mystery, he might have had a complete-game shutout win on his hands.

    As it was, the Cubs failed to score in the couple of chances they managed after their lone run in the third, and an excellent performance was rendered useless. The Cubs can't afford to mix offensive incompetence with pitching excellence too many more times this year if they have any intention of staying competitive.

  • Let the record state that it was on July 23, during the ninety-seventh game of the season, that Derrek Leon Lee tied his own personal season high of 32 home runs. I've come at how impressive this improvement is a couple of different ways, but here's a new one: in 2000, when he was 24, Lee set a personal mark for AB/HR at 17.04. As of last night's game, Lee's 2005 AB/HR ratio is 11.25.

    Not only is the degree of Lee's personal betterment worth noting, but if he continues on this pace, he'll be among some elite company historically as well. An AB/HR rate of 11.25 would make Lee's season the 55th best all-time among players with at least 350 AB, squeezing him between Cecil Fielder's 1990 and Jimmie Foxx's 1938. Enjoy this, folks, because this kind of work doesn't come along very often.

  • Todd Walker went through a gradual metamorphosis in this series, being at least half of a goat in Game One as he failed to bring home tie-breaking runs from third with one out on two separate occasions; being a goat-in-waiting by contributing to the tightness of Game Two with his run-scoring error in the top of the third; and being at least a partial hero by leading off the top of the tenth in Game Three with a double, eventually being one of the four men to cross the plate on the big blast from Neifi!

    If the transmogrification continues at this pace, Walker should be busy owning Jason Schmidt later tonight, and by Wednesday afternoon he'll be hitting five or six balls on Sheffield to the delight of the Wrigley faithful, proceeding to lay waste to every record in the book by season's end.

  • Speaking of Neifi! and his bomb, part of what makes this game so much fun to watch are the times when all a manager's machinations bring the desired confrontation, only to have it backfire like a sugar-tanked Model-T.

    With all the walking and bunting it was hard to see exactly what each manager envisioned as his end game, but if after Walker's double, a little baseball fairy had come down to Tony LaRussa and given him the opportunity to let the game play out without any moves on his part, or to fast forward to a point in the inning where the score was still tied with the bases loaded, two out, and Neifi! at the dish, you have to believe TLR would have jumped at Tink's second offering like a cat on tuna.

    Of course, it would have been impossible to envision the outcome as rendered before the fact, and as it was, it was nearly impossible to envision it afterwards. The confrontation as it came was one devoutly to be wished for by the Cardinals and their fans, but while sometimes you get what you want, sometimes what you want turns into a steaming pile of dung.

  • By the way, did anyone else get a flashback to Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series home run swing when Neifi!'s bat pulled through the zone? Not so much for the magnitude of the feat, or even the drama - goodness knows, there are few plays in the history of baseball that can match that moment - but more for the mechanics of the swing.

    Like the nearly legless Gibson, Neifi! simply dragged his bat behind his body like a lead weight, completely disengaging his lower body, attempting only to make contact, yet managing to get the ball on the exact spot on the bat that would send the thing out. It was a nice piece of hitting, but a better piece of luck, and one the Cardinals couldn't hope to prepare for.

  • While I think Phil Cuzzi missed the call at second, Hector Luna's stolen base was one of those plays that no one deserved to get anything positive out of. Luna got a lousy jump, Mr. White made a lousy throw on a fairly easy pitch to handle, and to wrap it all up, the umpire blew the call. It was an artless moment for everyone, and pretty much equally so.

    Had the throw gone into center field, or Luna fallen on his way to the bag, then you'd at least have a clear winner in the race to bungle the play, but since the shankings appeared to be of approximately equal weight, I think this was one of those times where if there were do-overs in baseball, one should have been declared. We can all do better than that, boys.

Back home tonight for a series against the Bondless Giants, and it's Jason Schmidt against the young curveball specialist, Rich Hill. I'm anxious to see what Hill can bring in his second trip to the Bigs, and with Schmidt being an entirely different pitcher than the one who has routinely owned the Cubs, I have no idea what to expect, beyond the unexpected.

C'mon Get Happy!
2005-07-22 07:38
by Derek Smart

I realize I've been cranky lately, even when things were going well. But now that things are looking a little less rosy again, and with the Cardinals looming on this evening's horizon, I think it's time to take a breather from all things bummer and try to find some rays of light in the darkness. A little sunshine on our shoulders, if you will.

  • I know it's an old rhetorical method among stat types, and one I've used any number of times myself, but despite the dusty fustiness of the beast I'm going to trot it out again because...well...there's nothing quite like it. Here, for your edification, is a good ol' Player A/Player B comparison:

    Player A242.264/.346/.388.2531.94.9
    Player B279.233/.307/.394.2481.60.7

    These are two pretty evenly matched players, one getting on base a little more, while the other has more isolated power. The differences in EQA and WARP are definitely there, but they're relatively small, and in looking closely at those hitting lines, seem to be tied almost entirely to a difference in batting average.

    The VORP disparity is decent sized as well, and while some of it is due to Player B spending most of his time at a more offensively inclined position, some of it is due to the factors mentioned above, as well. If it's me, I'd rather have the guy with a little better OBP who's making better contact than the fella with the slight power advantage.

    Which, of course, is what the Cubs have, since Player A is Jerry Hairston Jr., and Player B is the gentleman for whom he was traded, Sammy Sosa.

    I don't know what's going on with Sosa, but while I would have expected to see his batting average and OBP around where they currently sit, if maybe a little higher, I'll admit I'm shocked at the degree to which his power has declined. There's still some season left for Sammy to right the ship somewhat, but as it stands, the deal that sent him to Baltimore looks a whole lot better than I thought it would in January.

  • It's only one game, and only one inning, but in light of yesterday's bullpen meltdown, the scoreless, hitless, walkless, two strikeout frame pitched by Scott Williamson on Wednesday night could be a happy sign, indeed.

    There were some similar stat lines posted by Joe Borowski before he joined the Cubs earlier this year, so I won't get too excited yet. But, then again, I don't think we saw many quotes like this when poor JoBo was rehabbing:

    "I saw him throw [in the bullpen Monday]; he is pretty close," manager Dusty Baker said. "He is throwing the ball great. I was very impressed with his location. And his velocity is good, his breaking ball is good."

    Williamson may be a ticking time-bomb of injury, but when he's healthy he's one of the nastiest relievers around, and assuming he's right when he joins the club, he'll be a better addition to the relief corps than anyone the Cubs would be likely to get in trade (okay, Billy Wagner would be better, but I did say "likely").

  • Whether you love him, hate him, want him to go, or want him to stay, any progress by Corey Patterson is good progress. Whether he's getting closer to helping the team on the field, or helping the team by raising his trade value, moving this gent forward is important to the future of this team.

    What he's done in Iowa through last night - go .250/.314/.594 in 32 at bats, with only six strikeouts and five stolen bases - isn't world shattering, but it's a lot closer to the sort of work that will make him useful to somebody. Certainly that power - five of his eight hits have been for extra bases - will get someone interested, particularly if he's able to generate that pop with a supposedly shorter swing with the potential to generate more useful contact.

    I don't think we're likely to see anything significant happen in regards to Patterson for a couple of weeks yet - after all, if he really is making a sizeable change to his swing it will take time to iron things out - but rest assured, if he continues to improve, he'll be in somebody's Major League uniform in August.

There. That's all the happy juice I can muster of my own accord for one day. It's the Cardinals this weekend in St. Louis, and things start off with a vicious pitching matchup, as Carlos Zambrano faces Cy Young candidate, Chris Carpenter. If the Cubs can pull this one out, it would be a tremendous tone setter for the series. I wouldn't lay money on it, but hey, a fella can dream, can't he?

What's In A Word
2005-07-21 07:38
by Derek Smart

For your enjoyment/information/commiseration, here are a few choice definitions of a word that's insidiously seeped into the Cub fan vocabulary this year:

stiff (stf) adj. -er, -est.

- Difficult to bend; rigid.

This one is interesting, because it seems to have two applicable meanings to the current situation. Obviously, there's the one that has to do with Kerry Wood's most recent bout of, shall we say, "rigidity" in his previously problematic shoulder, but then there's the open question of whether Wood is too "rigid" about the way he throws the ball to make the alterations in his mechanics necessary to avoid this type of injury.

I don't know what the answer is, but the fact that this problem keeps cropping up, despite recent supposed changes, serves as circumstantial evidence that more needs to be done to address the issue, and until the necessary work occurs - whatever it might be - I fear more of the same is what we have to look forward to.

- Drawn tightly; taut.

Ah, yes. I recognize this. It's the feeling in the pit of my stomach every time Wood has to leave a game early.

- Potent or strong: a stiff drink.

What I needed last night.

- Firm, as in purpose; resolute.

What the Cubs must be in order to stay in the playoff hunt this season, in spite of this recent misfortune. There's no question that a healthy Wood would be extremely beneficial to the team's chances, but if he does go down longer term, it's not the end of the season.

Glendon Rusch has been very helpful as a spot starter, despite his recent struggles out of the bullpen, and with Rich Hill on the same throwing schedule and doing good work in Iowa (last night's game notwithstanding), he's a viable option to come forward and take the ball as well. The loss of Wood might be a difficult blow to take, but it wouldn't be a knockout punch.

- Excessively high: a stiff price.

What Wood's contract is looking more like every day.

- Difficult to comprehend or accept; harsh or severe.

I've simply lost the ability to process this kind of information. I love Kerry Wood, as evidenced by my now seemingly misguided recent jersey purchase, so I want to believe that everything will be alright. That one day, it will all come together and these hours of pain and anguish will be but a memory - a misty recollection that only makes the taste of victory sweeter.

But my faith in that rosy future is being shaken to its core these days, and while it's not totally gone, it will take a lot more than some platitudes and a decent start or two to solidify, to firm up, to stiffen its sinews once more.

I Am, I Am, I Am The Ram
2005-07-20 07:16
by Derek Smart
-Aries, Harvey Sid Fisher

That's right, folks, it was the Aramis Ramirez show last night, as the Cubs' third baseman took the team on his shoulders and carried them through a wilderness of missed opportunities to a 7-3 victory over the Reds that, thanks to a late Giants victory, brought the club within four games of the wildcard leading Braves. Yes, I'm scoreboard watching. It's an illness.

  • If you felt your ear hairs singeing at around 7:58 PM CDT, that was the acid fallout from the invective I was hurling at the television.

    See, it was the top of the sixth, and in the previous half inning Mark Prior had a battle on his hands, throwing approximately 872 pitches while giving up a run on a couple of two-out doubles and a hit batsman, and to top it all off, with two out he had the tying runs on base with the now healthy and very dangerous Ken Griffey Jr. at the plate.

    He got out of the inning by striking out Griffey on a wicked, full-count breaking ball, but it was a strenuous frame, and there's no doubt The Franchise could use as much rest as he could get before he had to take the ball again.

    So leave it to Neifi! to ground out to third on the first pitch he sees, and Mr. White to make his out after a mere two pitches. That's a grand total of three pitches of rest Prior got before he had to come to the plate himself, and you could see that his bat was practically glued to his shoulder during the first part of his turn as he tried to squeeze a little bit more down time out of the inning.

    I'm not saying that a player should completely alter his approach at the dish in order to get his pitcher a breather in every inning, but when your moundsman has a particularly difficult time of it in his previous turn, there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't watch a ball or two to stretch things out a bit - especially when that pitcher is due up.

    While it didn't seem to do any harm, as Prior was able to get out of the following inning unscathed, it's stuff like this that can really get me riled up, because more than anything else, it makes me wonder if the guys on the field are even paying attention to the game.

  • I damn near had a heart attack when Todd Walker fielded the potential seventh-inning-ending grounder, coaxed from the bat of Griffey by Will Ohman, and proceeded to loft the weakest, backhand flip, shovel-pass, winged-duck toss I've ever seen. It got the job done, and judging from the reactions of his teammates, earned Todd a bucket of good-natured guff, but it also took a half-year off my life.

  • Jody Gerut got his first at bat as a Cub last night, hitting into a fielder's choice to Joe Randa that resulted in an error. It was the first time I'd seen Gerut at the plate while I was inclined to pay close attention, and the thing I noticed on the ball he put in play was that he had a distinct downward chop on it, as if he were trying to keep the ball on the ground.

    Hmmmm. Steadily increasing groundball rate. Distinct downward swing. If I didn't know any better, I'd say we have some potential cause and effect, here.

  • The Cubs were awful all night with men on third and less than two out, and it's been a problem all during this recent run of good play, despite the increase in scoring. Five such opportunities came their way last night, and the only time it was capitalized on was when Lee doubled with men on second and third and nobody out in the fifth. The rest of the time it was strikeouts, pop-ups and double plays ending threats to tack on runs.

    Because the Cubs have been hitting the ball so well, and doing a bang-up job of run-prevention, failing to cash in on these chances hasn't been hurtful, as the games they've come in haven't generally been close enough to matter - Saturday's contest against Zach Duke being the exception. But when the Cubs have to face some better pitchers, or just play some better teams, they'll need to start making those opportunities count, because those extra one or two runs could be the difference makers.

I realize in looking over what I've written that I seem displeased. Far from it. Winning is a glorious elixir, and I am drinking deeply. However, there are some things going on in these games that strike me as potential problems when the contests get tighter, as they inevitably will, and no matter how much this team beats up on its weaker sisters, these little issues are going to take some of the shine off for me. I'm enjoying myself, to be sure, but I'd enjoy myself a lot more if the Cubs were just a little sharper.

It's the New-And-Improved-In-Some-Way-That-None-Of-Us-Can-Really-Discern-But-Gosh-He's-Looked-Good-In-His-Last-Couple-Of-Starts Kerry Wood, against the I-Really-Don't-Have-A-Long-Winded-Hyphenated-Statement-To-Put-In-Front-Of-His-Name-But-I'll-Give-It-A-Go-Anyway Aaron Harang this evening.

This one is particularly important, because a victory tonight clinches the series in front of tomorrow's start by Greg Maddux, which I fear could turn into a bloodbath considering Mad Dog's homerific tendencies in recent years. Going at least 6-2 during this eight game stretch against some weaker competition is vital in order to stay in the playoff hunt, and a 'W' tonight will achieve that goal.

Good Evening, Dr. Jekyll. Care To Stay Through October?
2005-07-19 13:55
by Derek Smart

Like a SuperBall thrown in a cobblestone room, nobody knows what direction the Cubs will go in next, but one thing I do know - I sure like that last rock they bounced off. Let's hope the next rebound doesn't pelt us all in the head.

  • Another nice outing for Jerome Williams, made only a little less nice by the long home run off the bat of the last man he faced, Rich Aurilia. Previous to that three-run seventh, he'd only coughed up one run on four hits and a walk, and I'll take that combination no matter who's on the hill.

    If there's a dubious honor to be had from last night's performance, though, it's that Williams was the starting pitcher during only the second of six games this season the Cubs have held the Reds under six runs - the other being Mark Prior's second start of the year, a 7-1 victory on April 19th. Guess who's starting tonight.

  • It looks like the new pre-game throwing routine for Glendon Rusch is helping. After giving up runs in each of his first five appearances after being moved to the bullpen, Rusch has held down the fort in his last two games, giving up only one hit in the process while striking out two over 2.1 innings.

    Last night was particularly good, as he got three of the four men he faced to hit into ground outs, and weakly at that. Glendon finally looks sharp again after struggling, not just in his relief appearances, but in the three starts he had previous to the acquisition of Jerome Williams.

    Rusch is one of those fellas who has a relatively small margin for error, relying in great part on his ability to spot his fastball low and on the outer black. Kudos to him for realizing that something needed to change in order for him to be successful in relief, and here's to hoping he can keep it up, as the Cubs badly need the Good Glendon around to help construct the bridge between the starters and Ryan Dempster.

  • Remember how the Cubs walked seventeen times during their three games in Florida? That's gone by the wayside, as we all knew it would, and the team has only taken 11 free passes in the five games since the All-Star break. So, what's been fueling this recent scoring surge?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you that harshest of offensive mistresses: batting average. The Cubs are hitting .362 since the break, and slugging an impressive .622 - and that includes the shutout at the hands of Zach Duke. That said, the club hasn't been facing the finer pitchers of the National League lately, but then they weren't exactly up against it during much of their losing streak, either.

    In other words, don't expect this type of pummeling to carry over to the Cardinals series when the occasional Major League hurler will take the bump, but still, take heart in the fact that, at least during the first few games after the break, the Cubs are smoking the gents who are ripe to be lit.

  • You're likely already aware of this, but indulge me as I point out this ridiculously fun milestone that's about to occur: Derrek Lee is two home runs away from his career high of 32. In the middle of July.

    Let me put this to you another way: assuming that Lee achieves this feat by the end of the week, he will have matched his career high in home runs - a high he set while playing in 161 of his team's games - in a mere 97 contests. No, wait - if he does it this week he'll have matched his career high by his team's 97th game - he's missed four.

    One last twist to the data: if The Saviour manages to hit two homers in the next five games, he will have matched his career high in dingers with a little more than 40% of the season left.

    That, my friends, is taking it to the next level.

It's The Franchise against Luke Hudson tonight, a spectacular mismatch on paper, and exactly the kind of game that makes me nervous. Oh, who am I kidding, they all make me nervous. Such is the life of a dangerously obsessed Cub fan.

Dubois for Gerut: Swapping Mispronunciations
2005-07-19 08:14
by Derek Smart

After last night's game (more on that later today), the Cubs and Indians made a trade of players each club liked but couldn't make fit, Chicago sending the right-handed, powerful, but defensively challenged Jason Dubois to Cleveland in exchange for the left-handed, more athletic Jody Gerut.

While I've admittedly seen very little of Gerut, my initial impression of the deal is that it's a solid one for both sides. The Indians were in search of some power from the right side, and the Cubs were looking for some defensive and OBP help from someone who could start anywhere in the outfield.

Say what you like about his power potential, but Dubois is brutal in the field, and that likely had as much to do with his being shipped out as anything. Note this quote from Jim Hendry:

"Jason's a guy who has power potential," Hendry said. "All of us felt he might be better suited to the other league."

Translation: with a glove like his, Dubois' future is as a DH. That's a fair assessment, and as much as I like his ability to smoke the ball, the side effect of having to hold my breath every time a fly goes in the air to left is an awfully steep price to pay.

The interesting thing to watch in the short term will be how Gerut is used. He can theoretically play center field, and can certainly play the outfield corners, so when he's in the lineup he'll either be taking time from current lead-off man, Jerry Hairston, or from Todd Hollandsworth. Which of those fellas sees more bench time could give a clue to what else the organization is thinking about doing.

What demands attention long term is what, if anything, happens to Gerut's power. Take a look at this handy, dandy table:


After having very nice power numbers his first year, he's fallen off dramatically, and the key to this trend is the huge increase in the number of ground balls he's hit. If you don't get the ball in the air you don't hit for power, and while I don't know why he's been rapping grounders at such a furious rate, I do know that if he keeps it up he'll continue to struggle with his pop.

There's positive news in his statline, however, and that comes from his walk rates. They've been steadily climbing over time, as have his BB/SO rates, and that's all to the good. If there's one thing this club needs it's someone with some patience, and Gerut seems to be developing that rapidly.

What I'd like to see happen is for Gerut to regain at least some of that pop without losing ground in his walk rate, and if he can start getting the ball in the air again, we just might see it happen. If the boom doesn't come back to his bat, this is a solid deal. If it does, it's a very good one, indeed.

Smackdown in Chi-Town
2005-07-18 08:58
by Derek Smart

A lot of the baseball this weekend wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be. The Cubs flat-out bludgeoned the Pirates in three of the four games, and when a warrior bludgeons his foe, it matters little if his axe cuts his leg a couple of times - after all, what difference will a few flesh wounds make when your opponent is hacked to pieces.

But enough of these ancient and brutal tools of warfare - bring me bullets!

  • It says a lot about my opinion of Dusty Baker, and my mind-set in general, that as I was following Friday's contest via an internet gamecast, the removal of Kerry Wood after six innings and seventy-five pitches nearly got me hyperventilating.

    Why did Wood come out? Did he hurt his arm? Did he throw up in the dugout? Was he pierced through the heart by a quiver of arrows falling from a rich city-dweller's helicopter while en route to a Wisconsin archery range?

    That these outcomes all seemed more plausible than the truth - Dusty Baker removed Wood from the game because he had a huge lead and it was an excellent chance to rest him - means that a) my pessimism runs deep, and b) I'd sooner believe that weapons would fall randomly and murderously from the sky than buy into the idea that Dusty exercised good judgment with a member of his rotation.

    As a further illustration of how I'm thinking of late, I was going to go on about how this enlightened usage would never have happened if most of the bullpen hadn't spent nearly a week sitting on their duffs, but that seems like such a buzzkill, I'll just skip it.

  • The loss on Saturday was a great example of what happens when a team isn't playing terribly sharp baseball, but runs into a pitcher who demands you be on top of your game to beat him.

    The Cubs had two separate opportunities to score a runner from third with less than two outs, and had they been successful in cashing in those two chances, and had Todd Walker not made his seventh inning error that gave Matt Lawton the opportunity to drive in another run, the Cubs would have been in a tie game once Zach Duke had left, rather than being three in the hole.

    Not to take anything from Duke, who threw a very solid game, but the chances to keep the contest tight were there for the Cubs on Saturday and they blew them. Yes, they were able to win the other three games by simply overpowering the Bucs at the plate and on the mound, but it's those tight games that will make the difference between playing and watching in October, and if this weekend is any indication, the Cubs need to tighten things up to really have a shot.

  • It's not often that watching a baseball game makes me think of 1980s tennis, but that was where my head was at after Carlos Zambrano's much talked about attempt to throw out Matt Lawton through that pair of Sequoia trunks attached to his torso.

    My memory is fuzzy on this, but I think the first tennis player I ever saw make shot between his legs was Yannick Noah, his dreadlocks bouncing around so wildly you wondered if his head might bruise.

    It was an amazing play at the time, and one I don't think most people had seen before. Of course, it's almost commonplace now - one of those things that people didn't realize they could do until they saw someone else do it first. Which means pretty soon we'll be witnessing guys like Prince Fielder lumbering in on bunt attempts, only to get his man at first with a gorgeous long snap.

  • Since the break, Cub pitchers have gone 5-12 with two doubles, five RBI, and a run scored. In each of the three victories over the Pirates, a Cub pitcher came up with men on base early in the game, and in each case they came through, driving in runs and putting one of the final nails in the opposing pitcher's coffin. It's one of those things that won't last, but goodness it's fun while it's happening.

  • This is only peripherally Cubs related, and I know he's having a pretty nice year, but after yesterday, I'm willing to bet that Jeremy Affeldt would join Paul Wilson in saying that Kyle Farnsworth has missed his calling.

On to Cincinnati tonight, where Jerome Williams will square off with the man who currently holds the title of, "The Reds Best Pitcher," Brandon Claussen. Games against the Reds have been entertaining affairs the last few years, so don't let their record fool you - expect a tough battle.

Made Up Rumor of the Day
2005-07-14 07:22
by Derek Smart

I ran across this little tidbit in the Newark Star-Ledger, and it gave me a chuckle. It's a piece on what to expect from the Yankees in the second half, and among the items discussed is a list of "Three Guys Who Could Soon Be Yankees," among them, Ken Griffey Jr., A.J. Burnett, and...

Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson, who has fallen out of favor in Chicago but can at least catch the ball.

And who has, if this article can be believed, fallen so out of favor that the Cubs are willing to deal him for an "Official Brooklyn Bridge Certificate of Ownership."

I don't doubt that the Cubs will be interested in dealing Patterson at some point in the future, but for it to be the near future, there are two conditions that have to be met:

  1. Patterson must perform well enough to raise his value significantly
  2. A partner with something worth having, who is willing to part with it, must be found

I honestly doubt that condition the first can be met by the end of the month, and even if it was, the Yankees are a long way from meeting condition the second.

Not that they wouldn't be willing to part with something of value, if they had it, but there's simply nothing I can see in their organization that the Cubs would want or need without venturing into the territory of the ludicrous ("Sure, you can have Corey. That'll be one Blue-Lipped Wonder, please.").

I have no idea how much longer Corey Patterson will be a Cub, or where he will go if he departs, but there's one thing I'm certain about: he won't be a Yankee this year.

Know Your Enemy 2005: Weeks 13 & 14
2005-07-13 08:29
by Derek Smart

What's that? Nine days late, you say? Slacker, you say? A monkey could write this weekly tripe in under 50 seconds, you say?

Okay, so you've got a point. But to make up for it, I'll scrawl even more of this useless hoo-ha than you've come to expect.

What's that? That's not actually a reward, you say? Fine, then. I'll skip this feature again on Monday, rather than comment on a mere weekend's worth of action. All better? Good. On with the show!

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record56-32
    Week's Record9-4
    Games Back--

    I think I've figured out why many Cardinals fans I run across seem so unimpressed by, even worried about, this year's squad.

    Look at how they got their 105 wins last year: in the first 46 games, St. Louis posted a lackluster 24-22 record. Then the fire started, and the remainder of the year saw them go 81-35, and 65-23 when you remove their coast through the month of September.

    This year their records by month have been 15-7, 18-11, 16-11, and 7-3. Steady as she goes. No big peaks, no big valleys. Just month after month of solid, winning baseball.

    When your most vivid impression of a club is the over half a season they spent playing .739 ball, motoring along at a .636 clip can seem like wading through hip-deep mud, even if it does put you on pace for back-to-back 100-win seasons.

    Poor fellas. I'll be sure to schedule a good cry for them soon.

  2. Houston Astros

    Season Record44-43
    Week's Record11-3
    Games Back11.5

    Wow. Nothing like winning 23 of your last 31 to cure what ails you, and if you're looking for what brought this particular surge on, look no further than the offense.

    In losing 35 of their first 56, the Astros scored a measly 3.61 runs per game. I don't care how great your pitching staff is, that's not going to get you very far. What will do you good, however, is scoring the 5.26 runs per game the club has put up during this recent run of success.

    The Astro's won't continue to score at quite that high a level, but with their pitching they don't need to. What does matter is whether this scoring increase is a correction or a mirage: the former gets them a shot at the wildcard, and the latter gets them a lovely October vacation.

  3. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record42-46
    Week's Record7-6
    Games Back14.0

    Such is the life of a Major League starter. Ben Sheets has three straight starts during this stretch where he only gives up two runs, and the team comes away with wins in only two of those games. Doug Davis gives up one, three, and two earned runs respectively in his troika of turns, and the Brewers don't sniff victory in any of those contests.

    But Chris Capuano has three straight outings where he gives up four earned, and he walks away with a 3-0 record for the period. Run support is a harsh mistress.

  4. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record39-48
    Week's Record5-8
    Games Back16.5

    When you stop hitting and stop pitching at the same time, you lose games, as Nostradamus once said. But while reality has set in along the Allegheny, the good news is that there's a little more to pay attention to than what booty can be hoisted from those interested in the likes of Matt Lawton or Jose Mesa, or how quickly those afflicted with that dreaded disease, Laundry-Toe, can return to action.

    While the scale of the experiment is different than the one in Milwaukee, the Pirates are still giving their future a good long look, with Zach Duke performing impressively in his first two starts, and the so-far-less-successful Ian Snell likely to get a turn after the break.

    The key to this organization's potential future success is the solid base of young pitching they've collected. Keeping these gents healthy and productive should be the organization's priority over the next several years. That and finding a way to cobble together something that at least resembles an offense.

  5. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record35-53
    Week's Record5-8
    Games Back21.0

    Down and down they go. Where they stop, nobody knows.

    Okay, that's not entirely true. They'll stay right here in last place. The only question remaining about their season is to what degree do they sell off their pricey veterans?

    Which outfielder goes, Dunn or Kearns?

    Will they shop Eric Milton, and if so, will they find a taker who can eat most of the cash?

    Can they get a six pack of Schmidt's for Rich Aurilia, or will they be forced to buy their own?

    Such is what remains of the season in the Queen City, so if apathy starts to set in, who can blame them?

Time For A Break
2005-07-12 11:15
by Alex Ciepley

I missed Derrek Lee being interviewed on ESPN during the Home Run Derby last night, but Alex Belth thankfully informed me that he seemed like a good dude and that his goatee was still perfect. And that's all that matters.

Derek and I, along with a slew of other Cubs bloggers, have answered a few questions on the Cubs' first half over at our old haunt, The Cub Reporter.

Picking Up The Bits And Pieces
2005-07-11 10:07
by Derek Smart

When last we saw our heroes, panic and crushing depression were the order of the day. Fire fell from the skies, the rivers ran red with the blood of the innocent, and Jose Macias started the final game of a double-header while Jerry Hairston lay fallow. The end was obviously near.

Chaos and despair reigned, and if the flailings of the healthy weren't enough to hurl one into apoplexy, seeing The Savior's shoulder in need of saving would finish the job. After the mayhem rolled into its eighth day, the heads of Corey Patterson and Jason Dubois followed close behind, in a desperate seeming attempt to save careers and seasons.

Then, much to my surprise and that of countless others, a ray of light broke through the clouds, and for three days the Cubs looked like a club capable of winning more than it lost, and a season that looked to be already flushed was merely teetering on the porcelain rim.

What can be made of all this turmoil? My suggestion is to make nothing and remain calm, for while this could be the beginning of the long string of winning baseball we've all been waiting for, it could also be the sporting equivalent of a Targét tab that's under $100 - a welcome event that's completely unrepeatable.


Whether a permanent change or not, the Cubs' newfound patience at the plate this weekend was a breath of fresh air. To put it in perspective, the team walked 17 times during the three games in Florida, while they took the free pass a mere 18 times over the span of their eight game stretch of ineptitude. What the Cubs did in Miami? More of that, please.


I'm already loving Matt Murton. Having never seen him play before I had no idea what to expect, but now that I've witnessed his work, I very much like what I see.

The short version of my impression is, I didn't necessarily see the makings of a star, but what I think I saw in this admittedly short exposure was a player that has the ability to do several things very well without being exceedingly good at any of them.

He looks like a kid with the potential to be a solid regular - the glue that holds a team together, that fills in the talent gaps between a team's stars. In other words, he looks like he could be something the Cubs haven't had in a long time.


I feel extra bad for Adam Greenberg, because not only did his first Major League at bat leave him with a Bugs Bunny bump, but to judge from the chatter, Felix Pie is going to show up in Chi-town once his ankle bruise heals, and his addition will almost certainly mean Greenberg's subtraction.

At the very least, I hope he gets the chance to show what he can do after the break. He may not spend much time with the big club this year, but a decent showing in limited duty could not only mean some work once September rolls around, it could be the sort of thing that stays in the memory of decision makers until the spring, and that could be a good thing for both him and the Cubs.


Even with the recent run of success, I can sure use this break from the daily grind, and I imagine the same can be said for the Cubs. Let's hope that Derrek and Aramis play well tomorrow while remaining injury free, and that the time off gives this team what they need to finish the year as strongly as they finished the week.

You're All Going Down!
2005-07-08 09:41
by Derek Smart

Here's a relevant quote from the end of my post yesterday:

Here's to a solid first game victory, followed by a surprise mashing of the Braves' finest, and all in spite of a full day of rest for Mr. Lee. I know it's not Christmas, but I'll take my present early, thanks.

Looks like my present was a lump of coal. Of course, it's nothing compared to what one Mr. Corey Patterson got in his stocking:

With their season slipping away and no signs of life in the clubhouse, the Cubs began a shakeup Thursday with the demotions of Corey Patterson and Jason Dubois to Triple-A Iowa.

Dubois needs at bats, hasn't been getting them, and has looked bad of late when he has, due in large part to the league quickly figuring out that anything that's not a fastball on the inner half is nearly impossible for poor Jason to hit. So that's a simple enough move to make, and one that deserves little comment beyond a nod of the head.

The big news, of course, is the demotion of Patterson, the man who was, for such a long time, the jewel of the system, but who, beyond intermittent flashes of talent, has been a huge disappointment during his time in Chicago.

The tone of comments from the front office implies that the club is doing this to help Corey work some things out. Here's Hendry from the Sun-Times piece on the subject:

"We still think the Corey that we are going to get is still in there," Hendry said. "Right now, he's not that Corey. He is probably trying too hard. You can see in his face he's trying too hard, and it's hard to fix it in the middle of a game in the big leagues."

"When you do that in this game, sometimes it goes the other way on you. We have a good, honest relationship with him and have known him a long time. For his own good and our good long-term it seems like the right thing to do. It'll be good for him."

Do I think the Cubs really want to get Corey turned around? Of course, if for no other reason to get his trade value up to a reasonable level. It's indicative of how far his value has fallen that a player with his physical tools was able to pass through waivers, as he had to in order to be sent down.

Granted, interested teams may have had roster size issues, but it seems to me that if Patterson was actually wanted by anyone, that simply having to pay his remaining salary for the year (approximately $1.4M) would be more attractive than giving up talent. That it apparently wasn't speaks volumes.

Add in the fact that, even with his recent injury, Felix Pie's performance this season and last has begun to dramatically shorten the Cubs' decision period regarding the future of center field, and I think that Patterson's trip to Iowa is likely to be his final stop in this organization.

I don't know where he'll go, or what the team will get for him, but unless something extraordinary happens during his time in the minors, all signs that I see point to the club punting on the career of Corey Patterson.

It's a shame, and I wish it hadn't come to this, because Corey seems nice enough and he does have a lot of talent, but whether it was his own stubbornness, the organization's inability to clearly assess and teach to his needs, or some combination of the two, it's been clear for a while that the pair don't belong together.

Divorce is never pretty, but sometimes it's necessary, and I think this separation will teach both sides that they're better off apart. Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder, but in this case, I'll believe it when I see it.


As for the games themselves, I was only able to see some of the second contest, and there's only one item I have the energy to remark on at the moment, and even in that I was beaten to the punch by reader, Todd S. His comment attached to yesterday's post:

How can you miss THERE with an 0-2 pitch?!

He's referring, of course, to the spectacularly bad ball that Roberto Novoa threw to Andruw Jones in the eighth, with mashtastically unfortunate results.

The pitch can be questioned on multiple levels, the first being the obvious bad execution. Michael Barrett had set up high and inside, actually getting partially out of his crouch to receive the ball. What was thrown was over the middle of the plate and just above the knees, a fantastic spot to drive the ball. That's missing by a huge margin, and that's all on Novoa.

However, one can also question calling a fastball at all. Jones had looked bad on breaking balls all series, and it's been a good way to get him out his entire career. To not have Novoa, who has a nice slider when it's working, at least attempt to drop one outside is tantamount to malpractice.

Yes, most of the blame goes to Novoa for being unable to get a fastball anywhere near its intended target, but Mr. Barrett's bad pitch call deserves some of your opprobrium as well.


So, it seems we embark on a new era today, sans Corey Patterson, and with the hope that Matt Murton and Adam Greenberg can bring some of their energy and skills with them from West Tenn. If nothing else, they come packing hope, which I'm sure will be a welcome addition to this club which seems more and more hopeless by the day.

2005-07-08 08:07
by Alex Ciepley

I've spent the past week and change at a family reunion in Bavaria, where our German hosts regularly plotted our day along the following lines:

8:30 - wake up NOW
9:00 - eat breakfast NOW
10:00 - get in car for tour of village NOW
12:00 - eat lunch NOW
1:30 - nap NOW
3:00 - tour vineyards NOW
5:00 - buy wine in gift shop NOW
6:00 - eat dinner NOW
8:00 - sit in circle and socialize NOW

It was mentally and physically exhausting, like a family boot camp. I did have a good time, though, and managed to slip out of several tours with some cousins, suffering only briefly the mildly withering gaze of the hosts. There were some Swiss, Finnish, and British relatives there also, and they seemed to humor the German sense of punctuality a bit more than the Americans--the Brits simply ignored the "rules", scuttling into breakfast with about 2 minutes to spare each morning.

The cultural revelations didn't stop at just our differing sense of what entails a "vacation", though. It also seems that Germany is a bona fide enemy of the Chicago Cubs. Our men in blue were a miserable 0-6 while I was in Europe, and I think I can chalk up yesterday's double-headed disaster to my jet lag hangover from the trip home. If, say, the 2006 Cubs would like to set new standards of mediocrity, they should just send me to Germany for the year. They'll be bound to lose every game.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the great state of Maine, where the Cubs are 5-0 when I've been vacationing there. I love Maine. It's pretty, there's good seafood, and I like hearing locals tell me where to "pahk the cahr". Surely a truly wise Cubs fan would take note of my Maine-Cubbie winning phenomenon and would promptly buy me a summer vacation house on an island just off the coast of Camden. If any readers are so inspired to donate such real estate, please take note that my only requirements are a working toilet and a 500 square foot kitchen.


How psyched am I to see Matt Murton and Adam Greenberg up at the majors? Murton's callup was just a matter of time, as he's spent the year establishing himself as the best hitter in the Cubs' minor league system. Greenberg's promotion, though, is a welcome surprise. He's a scrappy little guy who concentrates on--hold onto your skivvies--getting on base. Last year, Greenberg discussed his potential value in relation to the 2004 team on

"They led the league in home runs, but were near the bottom in on-base percentage (11th in the NL)," said Greenberg, who has a career OBP of .384. "Keep putting more people on base and keep hitting home runs, you do the math, you're going to score more runs. If they need a leadoff hitter, that's what I bring to the table. I have to believe that."

It's worth noting that Murton and Greenberg currently had OBPs at Double-A West Tenn of .403 and .384, respectively. Those marks would be good for 2nd and 3rd on the current Cubs team. These dudes know how to get on base; now it's just a matter of Dusty figuring out how to get them in the lineup.

2005-07-07 07:35
by Derek Smart

Well, it was obvious from my rantings yesterday that I was in need of a day off, and I have to believe it was a positive thing for the Cubs as well. I know I'm feeling better for it, so let's hope I'm not the only one.

  • Speaking of days off, it couldn't have hurt The Savior to get a little rest, and thankfully, the MRI on his shoulder confirmed that rest is all he really needs. The noise from the fishwraps is that he'll sit out at least one of today's games, and probably both. He may not like it, but it certainly seems like the most prudent course.

  • I find it interesting that nearly every chance a manager has to avoid a matchup of ace pitchers when a double-header is necessitated, gets taken like he's a kid snatching free candy. I suppose it's because no one likes to get swept during a twin-bill, and the move of the ace to face a supposedly inferior pitcher increases the chance of garnering at least a split for the day.

    So true to form, Bobby Cox is moving John Smoltz out of the early game against Mark Prior and into the late game versus Jerome Williams, while Horatio Ramirez gets the call against The Franchise. That looks like a good deal on paper, but of course, the flip side is that if during the first game the Cubs offense continues to hit like team full, the day could be an ugly one, indeed.

  • Ah, yes. Ugly. Which brings me to the fact that I just got a look at the starting lineup for last night's cancelled game, and what I saw sent chills down my spine.

    A team that has been conspicuously unable to score runs over the last week, that sustained an injury to their first baseman that necessitated starting their regular second sacker at first, and has seen backup second baseman Jerry Hairston act as their only effective leadoff man all year was going to start Jose Macias at the keystone. And bat him second.

    You reap what you sow, folks. You reap what you sow.

I'm ready to have a good day if the rest of you are. Here's to a solid first game victory, followed by a surprise mashing of the Braves' finest, and all in spite of a full day of rest for Mr. Lee. I know it's not Christmas, but I'll take my present early, thanks.

That's Not a Mouldering Corpse. That's My Team!
2005-07-06 08:06
by Derek Smart

I'll admit it: I'm running out of varied and interesting ways to document the suck. I'm also getting short on patience, which I think I've shown in abundance through what has thus far been a spectacularly disappointing season.

It's to the point where there's very little for me to analyze during the course of a game, in part because the Cubs' play has been so lackluster, but also because it's difficult to see the interesting details of a contest when one is blind with rage.

However, if nothing else, I have a sense of duty, and who knows, maybe firing off a few rounds will make me feel better. Lock and load!

  • There's nothing quite like starting the game off with men on first and third and no one out, then having your best hitter whiff during an at bat where he also aggravates a shoulder injury, and winding the frame up with one of your supposed 'RBI men' hitting into a double play.

    It's the sort of sad scenario that's been practically writing itself over the last week, and anyone who didn't see nearly every last bit of it coming must have had their eyes plucked out immediately before game time by a flock of ravenous crows (something I'm considering trying before this evening's contest).

    Here's a quick dictionary definition for you all:


    A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view

    When thoughts that could normally be described as "pessimistic" ("This is a good scoring chance, so naturally, nothing will come of it.") become mere statements of truth, it means that things are going badly. Very, very badly.

  • There was an interesting statistic flashed on the screen during the broadcast last night that helps to illustrate how the Cubs recent stretch of "almost but not quite" quality of play has not been the sole domain of the offense.

    Going into last night's action, 18 of the 27 runs the Cubs had allowed during their then five game losing streak were scored with two outs. After last night, that ratio increased to 22 of 32. That's 68.8% of the opposition's runs that crossed the plate when getting one last, measly out would have ended the threat. It makes the veins pop out of my forehead just thinking about it.

  • Lately, Greg Maddux has had at least one inning per start where he loses the ability to keep the ball out of extremely hittable areas of the zone, and the degree to which he is successful during a particular turn has been almost entirely wrapped up in the ability of the other team to take advantage of the lapse.

    Even in games where he has done well overall, this has been the case. I think specifically of the recent game against the White Sox where, had Todd Hollandsworth not stolen a home run from Joe Crede, the result might have been vastly different.

    The Professor had no such savior last night, as with two outs in the fifth he began to toss up hittable pitch after hittable pitch, coughing up four runs when, again, one out would have ended the rally. Maddux wasn't even the one to get that last out, as Dusty Baker correctly guessed that Andruw Jones would attempt to steal second, calling a pitchout that allowed Henry Blanco to nail him at the bag.

    I love Maddux. Love him to death. But the Cubs need him to figure out how to avoid that one disastrous frame that he's been victimized by of late. The team is in a big hole right now, and the opposition's largesse cannot be counted on to save the club every fifth day.

Let's see, what do we have on tap for this evening?

The Cubs' worst hitter leading off? Check.

The Cubs' best hitter either out with or hobbled by a shoulder injury? Check.

The Braves best starter taking the mound? Check.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say the Cubs are totally screwed. Let's hope I'm as wrong as I usually am.

The Zen of Lee
2005-07-05 11:01
by Alex Ciepley

When I was a wee lad, I once played sick from school, then begged my way into going to see a matinee performance of Karate Kid, Part II with my father.

I totally dug the movie. Not in the way most young boys liked the Karate Kid movies. I thought that kids who pranced around imitating martial arts maneuvers while screaming "hi-yaaa" were an excruciating embarrassment to children everywhere. I also wasn't so into Morimoto's faux wisespeak, the poor man's Yoda.

But I did think that Japan looked freakin' awesome in the film. Pick me up and drop me in that small fishing village with its old school belltower and Bone Dance rituals, and I'd be a happy little camper.

I thought Japan was cool, a place where the good guys were always calm and rational, and where lovers sat around a table and did neat things with teacups while a hurricane brewed outside. I was a quiet kid, eager to please, and the simplicity of emotions shown by Kumiko, Daniel LaRusso's smokin' babe, was appealing. Girlfriend was hot, and girlfriend was Zen.

Derrek Lee isn't exactly Kumiko, but there has been a certain Zen-ification of Lee during his scorching 2005 season. Searching for an answer to how he went from Derrek Lee to DERREK LEE, writers are looking at the three years he spent in Japan as a youngster.

Sports Illustrated ran a story on Lee in the June 20th issue. They weren't too heavy on the Zen-ification, but they can't help but drop in the backstory of the Rising Sun when discussing Derrek's character:

[His] demeanor was shaped in part by the time Derrek spent abroad, where he soaked up the Japanese players' selflessness and devotion to the game.

ESPN The Magazine, in a July 4th cover story on Lee, took it to a whole new level.

All this maturity and self-confidence are thanks in part to the three years he spent in Japan.

...Lee's apparent Zenlike serenity, his ability to stave off the inevitable spikes and drops of a 162-game span, is seen as the most admirable trait a ballplayer can possess.

The kicker in the ESPN article is actually the first line, which reads like a description of The Matrix groupies surrounding a cardboard cutout of Neo: "The seekers approach the tall man with reverence. They touch him, hoping for a tactile transmission of his success."

Maybe Derrek Lee's secret is too simple. Wax on. Wax off.

Part of Lee's Japanese transmogrification comes from his bloodlines. His father Leon was a huge success in the Japanese leagues, and his uncle Leron played well there, too. It doesn't help that Dusty Baker nicknamed him "Rodan", after the giant flying dinosaur in Japanese horror films. But I also think part of it is because the real explanation for his success this year is, well, not such a good story. He seems to be hitting inside pitches better this year, but not much else has changed.

Lee, in the SI article:

People ask me what's different, and I've been trying to come up with a good answer for that question. I didn't change my stance. I'm using the same bat. My workouts in the offseason were the same as always. All I can say is, everything just seems to be in slow motion when I'm at the plate now.

Sometimes good things happen to good ballplayers. Have his ties to Japan suddenly erupted into a Zen-enforced display of hitting ability? Or is he just having the proverbial career year, with a little bit of luck on his side?

I still haven't been to Japan, other than a few stops through the Tokyo airport. I somehow doubt the fishing village of my dreams really exists, or that Kumiko is waiting patiently to pour me a cup of green tea. The serenity that could be found in my Japanese fantasies is still appealing, just as it is tempting to regard Lee as having tapped into some mystical Asia-infused powers. I'm just not so sure the reality of the situations match the fantastic storylines.

Hope Springs Eternal.....stupid hope
2005-07-05 07:12
by Derek Smart

Well, then, so much for the magic of the shirt.

The entire weekend, the whole four days that I was treated to, made me suddenly sympathetic with all those mules the world over who follow floating roots around in the hope that some how, some way, despite all evidence to the contrary, they will catch that damned vegetable apparition that taunts them so, and finally glory in its delicious orangeness.

That's the tricky thing about hope: living without it is damn near impossible, but then again, hope consistently raised yet constantly unfulfilled does its own degenerative work on the human spirit, gnawing at nerves ever more raw until finally, the subject rejects hope on its approach because the prospect of numbness is preferable to the likelihood of promise unrequited.

It's never fun to be beaten, but after the last four days I can tell you that I'd rather endure the beatings than the constant losing. Beatings one can distance oneself from. The result is knowable from an early stage, so it becomes possible to emotionally divest oneself from the proceedings, saving one's energy for the day to come.

Losing is altogether different. It hits you in the gut because it's personal. The other guy isn't doing anything to you that can't be overcome, you're simply failing in your efforts to do so. Getting beaten is about the other guy's excellence, losing is about your mediocrity.

That's what the last four days have been about - the failure of the Cubs to do, at any level, what was necessary to emerge victorious from winnable games. Some particular aspects are more to blame than others - I'm looking at you, offense - but that doesn't leave the others guiltless.

This has been a total team effort, and of course, the irony is that the one thing that hasn't been lacking from the equation is effort. There has been an awful lot of trying on the part of the Cubs, and despite the lack of results their exertion cannot be faulted.

What's missing is the execution, and without that final ingredient, all the striving the Cubs can muster will get them little beyond a few more whiffs of the air between the carrot and the asses' mouth.

LiveBlog - Cubs vs. Nats
2005-07-01 10:22
by Derek Smart

It's short notice, but since I don't have much to say about yesterday's game and I'm home today anyway, I figured I'd blog this afternoon's contest. It should be a good matchup, with Prior facing Livan Hernandez, so come on back once the game has started and join in!

Top of the 1st

  • Prior's got the easy cheese going today, blowing away Brad Wilkerson and Junior Spivey with fastballs on the outside corner. Of course, he was able to get Wilkerson because he got around too fast on the ball Prior threw him down the middle on 1-2 - a lucky break to say the least.

  • The luck runs out when Prior throws a heater right down the pike to Jose Guillen. He just crushed it, as a Major League hitter should do. The Franchise got it back together for Vinnie Castilla - whiffing him to strike out the side - but with Livan Hernandez up for the Nats, that mistake could be costly.

    Cubs 0, Nats 1

    Bottom of the 1st

  • I hope Prior gets the call that Hernandez did on his 2-1 pitch to Corey Patterson. It was a good breaking ball, but low and inside if ever I've seen such a thing. That's the sort of call you hate to see Patterson be a victim of. It's not like he needs the encouragement to swing.

  • Soft hit balls by Neifi! and Lee finish out the frame. This could shape up to be a very frustrating afternoon.

    Cubs 0, Nats 1

    Top of the 2nd

  • I keep forgetting Wil Cordero is still in baseball. He's only 33, but he's got 14 years of MLB experience! Yikes!

  • You can't fault Prior on the double to Schneider, as he simply yanked the thing off his shoetops and up the first base line. A nice piece of hitting. Tip your cap. The thing you can fault him for is the straight fastball, up in the zone, and right down the middle that he threw to Jamey Carroll for his RBI single. Carroll isn't much of a hitter, but even guys like him can get at a ball like that.

    Cubs 0, Nats 2

    Bottom of the 2nd

  • Nice at bat by Todd Walker. Hernandez tried to get him to go fishing multiple times, throwing balls just off both the inside and outside of the plate, but Todd wasn't having it and took his free base. It puts men on first and second with no one out, and should give us an idea of whether this will be a good day or not - score at least one, and you've got a shot, but blow this chance, and things look awfully grim.

  • And there's the double play from Hollandsworth, right on cue. I'm reaching for my air sickness bag as I type this.

  • When Jose Macias is justifiably hitting seventh, I think it's a sign of the Apocalypse. He grounds harmlessly to second, finishing off what looked like a promising inning. Going scoreless after getting men on first and second with no outs = hosed.

    Cubs 0, Nats 2

  • Prior took the breaking ball out of its packaging this inning, and too great effect. Note that he started Guillen with it this time around, albeit out of the zone low. He got Guillen to go well out on his front foot 2-1, which allowed him to bust a fastball inside on the next pitch that Guillen had no chance to get his hands in for. That's some nice work, folks.

    Cubs 0, Nats 2

    Bottom of the 3rd

  • Blanco with a clean single up the middle to lead off the inning. I type this after my wife applied smelling salts.

  • Despite striking out, Patterson's at bat wasn't so bad. He took the first pitch for a strike, and rightly so, as it was a ball up and on the inside corner that he would have almost no chance to put in play in a positive way. The second ball he fouled off - a decent pitch to hit that he simply missed. Then for strike three, a ball that started heading toward his knee and, if you're feeling extra generous, wound up over the inside corner for a "strike". It was a rough at bat, and one I hope he doesn't take to heart.

  • Most of the time you'll send a guy home from second on a fairly soft single up the middle, but with The Sloth on the paths, a fine, quick throw from Wilkerson, and Derrek Lee on deck, holding the runner at third was the right play, even if it didn't work out in the end.

    Cubs 0, Nats 2

    Top of the 4th

  • Lousy pitch to Marlon Byrd on 0-2. Fastballs shouldn't be thrown in hittable spots when the hitter is down so far in the count. There's no need for a strike there, so coming that close is simply inexcusable.

  • It winds up costing Prior when *ugh* Jamey Carroll actually puts a very nice pitch into the outfield for another RBI single. Making mistakes like the one to Byrd take out the margin of error later in the inning - you have to figure that guys are going to hit your good pitches sometimes, so coughing that type of hit makes it that much more likely that the good plays the opposition makes actually hurt.

  • Prior's pitch count is getting well up there, at least when taking into account how far he's likely to be allowed to go today. Contrary to his last start, I wouldn't be surprised to see Prior done at the end of five.

    Cubs 0, Nats 3

    Bottom of the 4th

  • Hernandez threw what looked an awful lot like an eephus pitch to Jeromy Burnitz, just like his half-brother will do on occasion. It started at Jeromy's head and looked like it was headed for the dirt, all at the blazing speed of 60 mph. Burnitz popped it up to first, and the only thing I kept thinking as I watched Cordero camp under it was, "What the hell did he think that thing was?"

    Cubs 0, Nats 3

    Top of the 5th

  • They showed some footage of Nomar taking fielding practice before the game, moving laterally and picking up grounders. He looked very careful out there, but my goodness, the fact that he's moving at all is a sight for sore eyes. He's supposed to start hitting the ball soon, so keep your fingers crossed, and maybe we'll get to see number 5 on the field again in time to have an impact.

  • Prior did a nice job of setting guys up this inning, managing to avoid the mistakes in the zone that led to all his runs, striking out the side in what looks like his last inning of work today. Too bad he couldn't do that more consistently earlier in the game, but even then, the Cubs would still need to score.

    Cubs 0, Nats 3

    Bottom of the 5th

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the thing that will make Corey Patterson an above average Major League hitter, if he will let it. If he can learn to bunt well and manage to use it in appropriate situations, he'll set up opposing fielders to give him more hits when he swings away. Of course, we've seen this before and nothing has come of it, so color me dubious until some consistency is introduced into the picture.

    Cubs 0, Nats 3

    Top of the 6th

  • Not that it's hard to do, but Glendon Rusch sure made Vinnie Castilla look bad striking out. After throwing three straight fastballs he broke off a big curveball that Castilla nearly swung at twice. That's how you set 'em up, boys. Nicely done.

  • Rusch has seemed less comfortable out of the bullpen than when he's started, both this year and last, so it's nice to see him enter the game and get the job done with relative ease - two-out singles notwithstanding. The Cubs definitely need him to be able to work well in relief, since so much of the rest of the pen has been highly inconsistent this season.

    Cubs 0, Nats 3

    Bottom of the 6th

  • Derrek Lee does it again, unfortunately with no one on base. It's an example of what we can look forward to for the next month or two, as the National League stops throwing him balls inside altogether, and Derrek adjusts by driving the ball to right. This one was far from a no doubter, but perhaps all the more impressive because of it - must be nice to be able to get under a ball a decent amount and still send it out.

  • Zap! There goes a shot off the bat of Todd Hollandsworth, hit so hard I doubt it dropped more than a foot or two from the top of its arc. Hyperbole, I know, but he drilled it. Again, too bad no one was on base, and even more importantly, too bad that Prior was somehow unable to retire Jamey Carroll.

    Cubs 2, Nats 3

    Top of the 7th

  • Between innings they promoted the broadcast of the upcoming series against the Braves. Am I the only one who finds the insistence on referring to the largest city in Georgia as "Hot-lanta" deeply, deeply annoying? Can't wait for that road trip to Frisco.

  • When you start to pull close to the opposition after spending the whole game lagging behind, there's little that's worse than giving back some of what you got in their very next turn. It looked like the Cubs might be able to avoid that ignominious fate after Rusch got Junior Spivey to ground out to short with Wilkerson on third and only one out.

    Then in comes Roberto Novoa - the human coin toss - and after walking Jose Guillen, lost a fastball inside to Vinnie Castilla - a man who would give back half his salary if he could see one of those per at bat - for an RBI single. Novoa shakily limited the damage to one run, but this is not a day when such failures can easily be tossed aside.

    Cubs 2, Nats 4

    Bottom of the 7th

  • This is the third time today Henry Blanco has led off an inning. That's like starting three straight days by falling out of bed onto a field of upturned nails.

  • Corey Patterson hits a triple to center, and it's the hardest ball I've seen off his bat in a long time - harder perhaps than his homer against the White Sox on Sunday. Neifi! couldn't get him in with two out, but it's still encouraging to see Corey get a hold of a ball that well, while having bunted earlier in the game.

    Cubs 2, Nats 4

    Top of the 8th

  • Another unsightly, but thankfully, uneventful inning for Novoa. As much as we could see during his work on Saturday why teams would keep him around, today's frustrating inconsistency is a point in the other direction. Taking 44 pitches to get four outs isn't the sort of thing that recommends you for further duty.

    Cubs 2, Nats 4

    Bottom of the 8th

  • This is a lousy team to be down to late, particularly with Hernandez pitching. Not only do you have to work like crazy to get him out of the game, but then you've got to face what's been one of the best bullpens in the National League this year. If you want a reason why this team has done so well despite some pretty obvious holes, look no farther than that corps of relievers.

  • Maybe a little luck for the Cubs, as Jose Guillen plays Derrek Lee's easy fly-out into a sun-aided triple. Keep your fingers crossed.

  • What was once a homer by Burnitz was called foul (I couldn't even see the ball on TV), but instead of sitting around and crying Jeromy lines a double up the third base line. Work, mojo, work.

  • A horrible, horrible play for Jeromy Burnitz, getting picked off at third with one out. Kudos to Brian Schneider on the throw, but Burnitz should have never been in position to get pegged like that in the first place. Just inexcusable.

  • Ramirez came in to pinch hit - exactly the right time to use him, by the way - but nothing came of it. It's a shame, between the barely missed home run (a replay just showed it was clearly foul) and the extraordinarily bad baserunning play, this was a game that likely should have been tied. Assuming this one goes down as a loss, it's sure gonna sting.

    Cubs 3, Nats 4

    Top of the 9th

  • Sergio Mitre got two men, but didn't look great doing it, giving up a single and a walk in the process. I have a bad feeling that, much as I might wish it otherwise, he simply isn't going to work out as a reliever - or a starter, for that matter. Cub fans had best hope he helps the team get another bat in trade before the deadline, because I honestly think he's going to wind up being a tweener - too good for AAA, just not good enough for consistent exposure in the Majors.

  • Brian Schneider hit himself in the head with his stick while preparing to face Ryan Dempster. The man doesn't have the bat control to refrain from socking his noggin, but he still goes 3 for 5 on the day. Phthtttttttt, I say!

    Cubs 3, Nats 4

    Bottom of the 9th

  • It's Hector Carrasco instead of Chad Cordero, since he's thrown a ton lately. Perhaps a break?

  • If the strikeouts of Barrett and Cedeno are any indication, the answer is no. The pitch that got Cedeno looking was a little low, but it was close enough he should have been swinging. It's now up to Corey Patterson.

  • An easy grounder ends it, and that's the bitter taste of defeat that's in your mouth, friends.

    Cubs 3, Nats 4

    The inability of the Cubs to retire the bottom of the Nats order was what really sealed the deal today, along with the inexcusable basepath blunder by Burnitz (ooooh! alliteration is fun!). Better luck tomorrow, boys, and hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday weekend.