Monthly archives: July 2005
Lawton to Cubs
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 Cubs.com.
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.
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.
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
Short on time.
Lucky win. I'll take it. Luck bad this year. Yesterday luck good. Yippee!
Time is tight. No bullets. Bee-bees.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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!
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
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
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.
Weekend in Birdland
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!
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!
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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!
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
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:
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
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!
Time For A Break
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
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!
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:
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.
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
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 Cubs.com:
"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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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
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
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
Cubs 0, Nats 1
Bottom of the 1st
Cubs 0, Nats 1
Top of the 2nd
Cubs 0, Nats 2
Bottom of the 2nd
Cubs 0, Nats 2
Cubs 0, Nats 2
Bottom of the 3rd
Cubs 0, Nats 2
Top of the 4th
Cubs 0, Nats 3
Bottom of the 4th
Cubs 0, Nats 3
Top of the 5th
Cubs 0, Nats 3
Bottom of the 5th
Cubs 0, Nats 3
Top of the 6th
Cubs 0, Nats 3
Bottom of the 6th
Cubs 2, Nats 3
Top of the 7th
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
Cubs 2, Nats 4
Top of the 8th
Cubs 2, Nats 4
Bottom of the 8th
Cubs 3, Nats 4
Top of the 9th
Cubs 3, Nats 4
Bottom of the 9th
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.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03
Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com