Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: September 2005


Out of Left Field?
2005-09-30 08:53
by Derek Smart

There's been talk, and admittedly it appears to have been started, if not by Garciaparra himself, then by a reporter asking a direct question about it, that Nomar could be re-signed by the Cubs and used in left field.

And though it may seem like a far-fetched scenario, Garciaparra wouldn't discount the idea of moving to left field for the Cubs, if they asked.

"Whatever," he said. "If you're where you want to be and you want to be part of a great organization and a great team ... I have a hard time saying it's a sacrifice. It's just something you do because we're a team."

That was from Monday. When Dusty Baker was asked about it in the same article that discussed Patterson and Pie's situation in this morning's Tribune, his response was, "We'd consider that big-time."

I'm torn on this. On the one hand, I really like Matt Murton. I think he has a future as a solid big-league regular, and I think he's got nothing left to prove in the minors, particularly after the work he's done during his time in the Majors. My brain tells me that he should be the starter in left next year.

On the other hand, I really like Nomar. When healthy, he can still hit, and there's something about his demeanor on and off the field that I can't help but be attracted to. He's just got great charisma, and while I know that charisma and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee if you're sent back to 1950 by a rift in the space/time continuum, it still affects me as a fan. My heart wants to find a way for Nomar to be a Cub next year.

But in the end it just doesn't make sense. Murton is the future, Garciaparra is the past, and while I'd love to see Nomar in Cubbie blue next year for sentimental reasons, there's simply nowhere I'd feel comfortable playing him. His defense has slipped enough to render his infield play suspect on the best of days, and I consider the only outfield spot he'd be remotely suited to play as spoken for.

I think both sides would like to make it work, but I don't think the Cubs will allow their hearts to get in the way this time. The organization's brain has taken a back seat, or simply been asleep in the trunk, too often during the last century, and while there may be a lot of love for Nomar, sometimes when you love somebody - with apologies to Sting - you have to set them free.

2005-09-30 07:40
by Derek Smart

I know, I know, I've been lax of late, and while some of it is due to some legitimate issues around work and time, much more of my absence can be linked to a general end of season, out of the race malaise.

However, just because there's little joy to be had in watching the Cubs stumble through the final games doesn't mean there's nothing to comment on, so now that I've had my little break, it's time to get back to it. I'll be trying for several short posts today. Let's see how it works.

The Beginning of the End?

Tell me what you see here that's different:

"I'm sure Corey and I will have some chats before he goes home," Hendry said. "He would be the first to say he didn't perform up to his expectations this year, or ours. That doesn't mean he can't rebound from it. It also means he's going to have to get better."

That's a quote from an article in this morning's Tribune, much of which had to do with the possibility of Felix Pie possibly making the jump from AA to the Majors next year, and what I notice that's different, subtle though it may be, is the first overt sign I've seen (although, I might have missed something in recent days) that Corey Patterson does not have the unconditional support of the organization.

Granted, there have been less direct signals, and I've commented a bit on the unsavory tactics occasionally involved, but this is the first I've seen of Jim Hendry essentially laying down the law. Previously, the talk has been all about wanting to help Corey get better, but in this quote, he very distinctly says that he'll have to get better.

The difference is small, but I think it's important, and for those of you looking and hoping for signs that the Corey Patterson Era is nearing an end, I have a feeling this is only first of many indications that it will soon be so.

Six to Go
2005-09-26 08:55
by Derek Smart

Part one of "Operation Putrify" was at least a partial success (although, the Cubs were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, non-news that it was), as the Cubs took two of three from the Astros and helped the Phillies pull to within one game of Houston in the Wild Card race.

In fact, it was so successful on Sunday that the poor Spacemen looked like they were infected with the same alien retrovirus that's been swimming around in the collective bloodstreams of the Cubs this season, as they made mental mistakes, blew golden chances to score, and served up yummy bullpen flavored gopherballs with the same aplomb that our incompetent little cuddle bears have done for most of 2005.

Wouldn't it be nice of the infection lasted for another week? You sure wouldn't see me crying. And now, for old time's sake, a couple bullets.

  • I'll admit, I found it curious yesterday that Pettitte was yanked after six innings when he was so clearly dominating, and had only racked up 61 pitches during his time on the bump.

    I understand that he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh - Pettitte's a lousy with the stick when he's not bunting, and there was a man on second with one out - but while the result of the move was that the Astros took a 2-1 lead, the way the inning was played by manager Phil Garner, he was pretty clearly shooting for a tie with anything else being gravy.

    The frame started with a walk to Adam Everett, and next up was the offensively appalling Brad Ausmus, to be followed by Pettitte's spot in the order. I suppose I can see the reason for a sacrifice, as not only is Ausmus not likely to contribute anything of value, he's also a fine candidate for a twin killing.

    Still, I have strategic issues with attempting to tie the contest in the seventh and sacrificing a man having a lights out game on the hill in order to do it. True, I think most days the Astros win a battle of the bullpens with the Cubs, but I know that the stuff Pettitte had was going to be better than anything the Cub bullpen could toss out there, so I would have played it differently.

    To me, letting Ausmus, bad as he is, go ahead and hit in the hopes that something good happens - maybe even go with a hit and run, since Everett can move a bit - then allow Pettitte to hit or sacrifice depending on the situation, giving the top of the order at least one shot to drive in the run, makes a lot more sense.

    Of course, the counter-argument goes something like, "What do you have a bullpen for if you can't use them the way Houston did?" There's a point to that, but I just don't see Adam Everett getting a leadoff walk as the offensive opportunity you pinch hit for a man throwing an easy two-hitter over.

    Not that I'm complaining.

  • There was a lot of praise being tossed Corey Patterson's way over the snow-cone catch he made in the eighth that turned what would have, at the very least, been a second and third, one out situation into a man on first with two outs. I can't begrudge Corey the plaudits - it's not like they've come his way freely and easily this year - as it was a lovely feat of athleticism. However, this play seems to wrap up Patterson's problems in a neat little package.

    At this point in his career, all he's got going for him is that athleticism, and it's come to be the thing he relies on to get him out of trouble - something he has desperate issues avoiding. In this case, the trouble came because, not only did he seem to misjudge the ball with his initial jump, but he failed to recognize until very late in his run that the wind was going to move the ball back toward left field.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it was an easy play, and I think many outfielders would have had problems with it. However, that doesn't mean Corey didn't make the play more difficult than it had to be. If he was better at reading flies, if he was better at understanding the affect the given environment can have on balls in the air, he wouldn't have had to rely on his athleticism to bail him out.

    He did, though, and when he makes those plays, it might even do him a sort of disservice - reinforcing bad habits because he was able to make something positive happen in spite of his game's flaws. Having that great physical ability should be a safety valve, not the core of your play. If Patterson ever turns it around, it will be because he understands and implements that idea.

  • Speaking of Patterson and disservices, it was widely reported over the weekend that the Cubs are exploring the idea of sending Corey to a sports psychologist. Of course, there's a little catch:

    Patterson...hasn't been approached by the Cubs on the subject. Baker stressed that so far it's nothing except talk as the Cubs seek a solution to Patterson's seasonlong travails.

    "Everybody is looking for answers and clues," Baker said. "I got to talk to him first. I can't comment on that."

    I'm not trying to come down on Dusty for this, because from everything I've read it looks like he was approached by reporters and asked directly about it. In fact, I'd say it sounds like he's not terribly comfortable discussing it since he hasn't actually had the conversation with Patterson yet.

    Still, someone within the Cubs' organization is letting this information get out, and to me, that this sort of thing gets into the papers before the player in question is even consulted speaks to a spectacular lack of class. The Cubs pretty consistently use the press like a political organization, leaking information to gauge public opinion before making a move, or dropping hints of possibly unpopular moves in the works so that people get used to it beforehand.

    That's all well and good, and I can see little harm in using reporters that way, but when you decide to launch a concerted campaign to a) strongarm an employee into "voluntarily" undergoing what amounts to a form of psychological treatment, and b) to cover your collective asses if he doesn't "volunteer" and continues to struggle ("We asked Corey to seek some help, but he refused. We've done all we can."), well, I don't know if calling it craven and tawdry goes far enough.

    If the Cubs really want to help Patterson reach his potential, they sure as hell have a funny way of showing it.

It's an off day today, with the Pirates coming to town for two starting tomorrow. Although they would need to go 5-1 to secure the "winning season" they appear to be chasing, I can't think of a better way to start the march than a quick set against Pittsburgh. Let's hope the second time they see Zach Duke goes better than the first.

2005-09-23 09:44
by Derek Smart

Yesterday's victory over the Brewers was nice, especially since there's still the faintest glimmer of hope that The Professor can get to the fifteen win mark again this year and keep his remarkable streak alive, but the damage done in the first two games of the series has dealt a serious blow to one of the team's goals over the final weeks, which has been to get back to, then over, the .500 mark.

The Cubs must go 6-3 over their final nine just to get even, which of course means that 7-2 is the goal if they hope to breach the Maginot Line of mediocrity and have three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1970-72 - certainly a meaningless achievement beyond the obvious symbolism, but when symbols are all you have…

Or are they? Thanks to the fact that seven out of their nine remaining games are against the Astros, the Cubs have a shot, finally, at playing the spoiler - they haven't had a game against a team with their playoff aspirations in question since they defeated the Marlins on August 28th.

If the cuddle bears manage to post a 5-2 record in those games against the Astros - which amounts essentially to a victory in each of the two series - that would put some serious hurt on Houston, guaranteeing that the best they could do over these last contests would be to post a 4-5 mark (which would be no mean feat, since their other two games are against the Cardinals), leaving the door open for the Phillies to simply win each of their last three series against the Reds, Mets, and Nats to, at worst, force a playoff.

It's a delicious scenario, and while I'd rather have a chance to win the division or secure a playoff spot on the season's final day, without that as a possibility, the idea of quashing another club's hopes - particularly those of a bitter rival like the Astros - makes me smile a little inside.

Knowing that, there's probably something to be said about me as a human being - after all, it's not nice to derive pleasure over someone else's suffering (although it makes for a nifty word) - but I can take some solace from the knowledge that I am most likely not alone.

I think the majority of fans when confronted with the reality that their season is, for all intents and purposes, over, look for something that can lend the rest of the year some semblance of meaning, and while the "Quest For Being Not-Quite-Good-But-Almost" has been the theoretical motivating factor for the Cubs and their fans over the last few weeks, it lacks the visceral quality required to truly bring engagement in the proceedings.

Which is where the concept of "The Spoiler" comes in. As I said, it's a long way from nice, but when there's little else to put a fire in your belly, the opportunity to wreak vengeance of a sort - and really, what else is this desire to prevent the ascension of another team but a petty need to redress perceived wrongs, however slight they may be - helps to warm you on those cold winter nights.

And that's what we're left with. The hope of ruining another team's, and another fan base's, season. We could just say that we hope the Cubs can have a winning year themselves - which would guarantee, at worst, five victories over Houston - but such a thing is of cold comfort.

No, rooting for the seemingly positive in this situation simply isn't good enough. There's no blood to be found in the hope for 82 wins. What does it get you? Whether the Cubs win 82 or 75, the end result is still a lost season, and no amount of pontificating on the merits of "winning baseball" can change that.

So we hope to spoil the Astros' Wild Card aspirations, and while the side effect is likely an 82 win season, or better, it's hardly the point. Vengeance. Reprisal. Retribution. Call it what you will, but like it or not, it's what we're after.

It may not be nice, but it is baseball.

Nice Hat
2005-09-21 13:05
by Derek Smart

For those of you watching last night's game, thinking to yourself that Derrek Lee almost never wears a Golden Sombrero, well I was thinking the same thing (well, that and, "Dear God, did he just swing at that pitch again!"). So, as is my wont when these sort of things enter my mind, I had to take a look. Thank goodness for Retrosheet.

Below are the previous instances during Lee's career when he sank to such depths.

DateSOABOpposing TeamOpposing Pitcher
4/23/199844COLPedro Astacio
8/6/200444SFNJason Schmidt
9/20/200445FLACarl Pavano/Nate Bump

Little did I know anniversary congratulations were in order. Last night marked one year to the day for the last time Lee donned the Shiny Hat of Shame, and only the forth time over his entire career that he reached the dubious milestone. What we bore witness to was, indeed, a rare event in the life of The Savior.

Of course it's rare for anyone. Even the famously wifftastic Sammy Sosa only did it 13 times in 13 seasons with the Cubs, which means we can think of yesterday's glorious failure as uncommon, not just in the context of Lee's life in the Majors, but in anyone's life in the Majors.

So, welcome, my friends, to making history - the Chicago Cubs way.

Fixing a Hole
2005-09-21 09:02
by Derek Smart

It was another night of frustration for the Cubs, and that frustration really came into play during what, to me, was the game's decisive half inning - the top of the seventh. It was, yet again, an instance where the Cubs couldn't get runners home from third, which in this case meant they couldn't score after loading the bases with no one out. To say that I'm sick of this sort of incompetence would dramatically understate my mood.

Yet, one of the things that I, quite purposefully, left out of the answers I gave in last week's Baseball Analysts piece was this issue of execution. Not that I don't believe it's a problem - anyone who has read here consistently this season should know it's an issue I think very much needs addressing - just that I believe there are, indeed, bigger fish to fry, and even if there weren't, I wouldn't have any idea of how to go about dealing with it.

Some of you would say, "Fire Dusty Baker," and while I'll admit I'm not averse to the idea, I don't think getting rid of Dusty would solve this particular problem. The Cardinals aren't a fundamentally sound team because Tony LaRussa makes them so. The players on that club came that way, either because Walt Jocketty has looked for those type of folks when he's been in acquisitional mode, or because the minor league system taught them well.

In fact, I think you could see in several of the recent games the Cubs played against St. Louis that the people who have been forced into larger roles due to the club's injury issues do not have the same fundamental soundness. This begins to make the case to me that when it comes to solid, smart play, it's more who your personnel are than how they are coached at the Major League level.

Scott Rolen. Jim Edmonds. David Eckstein. Did these men all suddenly acquire the Magic Understanding Of The Right Way To Play upon donning Cardinal red? Certainly not. Just like Jerry Hairston, Corey Patterson, and Michael Barrett didn't get dumber while under the influence of Baker. In each of those cases, you got what you paid for, and like it or not, they're almost certainly going to stay the way they are.

So now that I've said that, I suppose I do have a partial solution. When Jim Hendry is retooling the team during the offseason, as he's certain to do, he needs to pay attention to which players on his radar bring that innate understanding, that instinctual ability to do the right thing at the right time.

It's impossible to quantify, and so I'm a little uncomfortable with suggesting it be a factor. But in my observations this year it's become clear to me that this club has precious little of this quality, and while I may not be able to tell you what an optimum amount is, or how far from it they are (unfortunately, ballplayers don't come with a built in "funda-meter"), I don't believe the nebulousness of it negates its impact. It just makes it difficult to measure.

Nor am I saying this "fundamentality" should be the sole criteria for inclusion on next year's squad - I have no interest in scrappiness or instinctual ballplaying for their own sakes; the Bo Harts of this world need not apply - but it should be part of the process, at least as a tie-breaker of sorts, and I suspect it's been given little to no weight of late.

I want to see a team that can get people out with their arms and their gloves, that can score runs with their bats, brains, and legs. I want to see a team that capitalizes on its opportunities more often than it squanders them. I want to see a team that, when it goes down to defeat, can look itself in the mirror and say, "We were beaten," rather than, "We beat ourselves."

I'm not asking for perfection, here. I'm just asking for a good team. A solid team. One with the potential to compete at the highest level, not just because they are loaded with talent (although, I certainly want that to be part of the equation), but because they are able to tap into that talent and get the most out of it.

But most of all, I just want to be able to hold my head high and proudly say, "I am a Cub fan," without fear of ridicule. To know that I root for a team to be feared and respected; a team that will beat the other guys unless they play the game of their lives; a team that is, without equivocation, a winner.

Was That a Tree?
2005-09-19 09:24
by Derek Smart

My day began as a series of cosmic whirlpools pulling me into an abyss where available time and the demands upon it are permanently separated by fire and demons and fiery demons and ten foot tall spiders, their legs covered with poison hair, filling the air with the putrid stench of their breath like rotting flesh as they forever recite Joyce's Ulysses in the voice of Anna Nicole Smith after a seven month TrimSpa/Cristal/morphine binge.

So, I'm a little busy.

However, I doubt you all care much, so I'll leave you with this: the Cubs not only won the season series with the Cardinals this year, but they also succeeded in winning or tying all five individual series with the Redbirds, and since June 23 have been the only team to win a series from St. Louis. And they've done it three times.

Of course, all of this begs the question: if the Cubs make the Cardinals fall in the proverbial deep, dark woods of a lost season, does anyone hear it? Does anyone care?

Analyzing the Cubs
2005-09-16 06:46
by Derek Smart

This morning, the fine gentlemen over at Baseball Analysts have put together a piece called, "What Went Wrong," highlighting (or lowlighting) four teams - the Twins, Mets, Dodgers, and Cubs - who entered the season with high hopes, but wound up on the postseason scrapheap after coming around the turn.

Along with Aaron Gleeman, Ricardo Gonzalez from Metsgeek, and our own Jon Weisman, I was honored to be asked to put in my two cents on the Cubbie Horror Picture Show. So swing on over and have at it, folks!

Shoulda Woulda Coulda
2005-09-15 11:54
by Derek Smart

Another contest the Cubs should have won that ends with a blue flag flying over Chicago. It's a crying shame, particularly since Jerome Williams threw such a solid game, but it's just another data point in the argument that this club is getting what it deserves. Well, you know, if "ifs" and "buts" were candies and nuts....

  • Say what you like about the bullpen's inability to hold the Reds down late in the game - and truly, I couldn't feel worse for Rich Hill, forced to enter a game that late and that tight after not having pitched for over two weeks is unfair to any pitcher, let alone someone as young and inexperienced with relief work as Hill is - but the game was lost in the bottom of the eighth.

    Once again, the theme of the club's inability to get runners home from third with less than two out came up in that fateful frame, and while I wasn't listening to the game on the radio, I can only imagine the heights of apoplexy reached by one Ronald Edward Santo.

    It's a maddening issue, and one I'm entirely at a loss as to how to plan the fixing. I just know it needs to change, because while there are certainly deeper issues that require addressing in the offseason, there aren't many other problems this club has had where you can point directly to specific plays in specific games throughout the year where the lack of execution has led directly to a loss.

  • What is it with warning the benches these days? I know I'm going to sound like the grumpiest of grumpy old men when I pontificate on this issue, but last night made two games in a row where the home plate umpire warned both benches after a hit batsman that I can't even begin to imagine as intentional.

    Sure, last night you had Ryan Dempster hit a man with two outs in the inning directly after Michael Barrett got hit in the head, but it was also a tie game in the top of the ninth. Dempster's a little insane, but I doubt he's so crazy as to drill someone who represented the winning run. Of course that pales in comparison to Tuesday night's warning issued to Eric Milton.

    In both cases, there seemed to be a rote response to a situation where one batter from each club got hit during a game: once the second plunking occurred, the finger got pointed, and no use of logic was going to stop anyone.

    I wouldn't go so far as to align myself with all of Ye Olde Tyme Base Ball Men who would rather see a sort of frontier justice out on the field, but there has to be a happier medium where the men can play the game and the umpires can keep the peace without having to infringe so deeply on what can and cannot happen between the lines. I'm not saying the balance isn't difficult to achieve, just that it's a long way from being there.

  • If one can be a fan of a Supreme Court Justice, then I was one of the venerable Justice John Paul Stevens even before last night. But after seeing him throw out the first pitch at Wrigley, then talk to the men in the TV booth about his baseball and Cub fandom, all while proudly wearing the Cub jersey he'd been given for the occasion, I'm a bigger fan than ever.

    We rarely get a chance to see men like that as people, and what those of us watching the telecast were treated to was a lovely old Chicago gentleman with a good heart and warm sense of humor who still got a thrill from being at his favorite park watching his favorite team, just like he did as a boy during the 1932 World Series when he saw Babe Ruth "call his shot."

    Knowing about Stevens' baseball leanings brings my personal Supreme Court connections to a nice finish, for not only do I share a favorite team with him, but the man he replaced - the even more venerable, William O. Douglas - is the most accomplished graduate of my alma mater, although perhaps not the most famous.

    Without waxing too romantic, this is one of the special things that baseball does for so many of us. It connects us to the rest of the world and helps us see those who we may think of as objects or functions as the humans they are. So my thanks to Justice Stevens for allowing us to see a little more of who he is. It was a pleasure, sir.

The year's final series between the Cubs and Cardinals begins tonight with the unpleasant but likely prospect that the boys from St. Louis will be celebrating their division clinching at some point during the next couple of days. The only thing that could make the prospect easier to stomach would be a victory this evening which would clinch the season series with the Redbirds. The Cubs may not be the better team, but at least they have a chance to say they beat the Cards head to head.

Better Late Than Never
2005-09-14 15:22
by Derek Smart

I've been home all day today with a sick little girl, and while I haven't been directly involved in her care at all times posting has been impossible up to now, because to call our home internet access of late "intermittent" would be like referring to the visits of Halley's Comet as "occasional." Sure it's true, but if understatement were cash I'd have enough to buy both Bill Gates and Donald Trump, stick them in a zoo cage together, and see if their collective hair breaks free to start a civilization of its own.

With that in mind, I'll keep things quick and light:

  • The Cubs left 15 men on base last night, and while that sort of failure to finish the job seems to be a running theme for the season, winning games in which this level of incompetence springs up is not. Luckily, the Reds left 10 men of their own, and while the Cubs have usually found themselves down a skinny run when they've been this unable to complete the circuit, since they were able the manage a tie they were in a position to finally handle things late.

    There have been a lot of tangible things wrong with the club this year, but one thing they've seemed to have a spectacular lack of is good luck. For once they caught a break last night, and while I'd rather see them play better than that a starving man can't pass on a burger in the hopes that a Porterhouse is on the way.

  • Every day, in every way, I love Matt Murton more and more.

  • After Derrek Lee hit his impressive shot in the first, there was a part of me that hoped that there would be at least three more Cub homers early in the game, all by someone other than The Savior. Why, beyond the obvious, because homers score runs?

    Because if Eric Milton gave up three more non-Lee dingers in that game, he would have given up more round-trippers during the year than Lee has hit. It's not that I have anything against Milton, just that I find little things like that hilarious. I'll admit it's not nice of me, but I think we've reached the point in the year where nice can have a seat every once in a while.

Jerome Williams will continue to pitch for his job in 2006 tonight. I hope he does well. I like the kid, and while him being a legitimate option next year may make the decision process more complicated, that's the kind of complication I'll gladly take.

Welcome to the Machine
2005-09-13 08:19
by Derek Smart

After his first start against them this year when the Cubs forced him to throw 94 pitches over five innings, getting nine hits and scoring four runs in an eventual 8-7 victory, Aaron Harang has had three consecutive solid outings, giving up a total of eight runs over 24.1 innings while throwing only 312 pitches in that span.

Cincinnati has won all three of those games, and now that they've won the last six in a row and clinched the season series, the Little Red Machine That Usually Can't has declared their head-to-head ownership of the 2005 Cubs in the same inexplicable way that the Cubs seem to have done the same to the Cardinals (although there's still time for joint ownership of that item).

That this team has only managed 11 runs in the last four games they've played against what is arguably the worst pitching staff in the Majors speaks well to my point yesterday about this club not being up for a miracle run. If you can't get it done against a team like this, you won't get it done at all.

  • Plunk or walk. It doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned, but what is clear to me is that if Greg Maddux faces Javier Valentin again next year he needs to do one or the other to the Reds' catcher rather than throw him another hittable pitch.

    Don't get me wrong, Valentin is having an excellent year - hitting a career best .296/.382/.570 in 207 PAs - but if you remove the mere 11 PAs he's had against The Professor, his line becomes .278/.367/.470, which is still good, but the fact that he's made that much of an impact on his season's numbers with 5.3% of his plate appearances tells a lot about how much he's tamed Mad Dog.

    Plunk or walk. Do what feels right, Mr. Maddux, but please do one of those.

  • A few years from now, when he's throwing mop-up middle relief for the Devil Rays, emptying the hotel room mini-bar on road trips and crying himself to sleep while infomercials for hair-replacement clubs flicker on the Magnetbox, will Sergio Mitre look back on last night's outing and say to himself, "That's the night I became an ex-Cub"?

    It's hard to pinpoint these things - it's not often in baseball that you get the equivalent of capturing Ralph's heart breaking on film - but after a couple years of, at best, showing flashes of adequacy, and at worst, featuring long stretches of combustibility (how anyone has a GB/FB of 3.61 yet gives up 11 dingers in 56.1 innings is beyond me), it's difficult to believe that the Cubs are anything but through waiting for Sergio to fix what ails him.

    Last night may have been the final straw, or it may have come earlier in the year (giving up the triple to John Mabry that led to winning run in the extra inning Zambrano/Carpenter game couldn't have helped), but whether it zoomed by earlier or later Mitre's moment has, indeed, passed, and any time he spends on the Cubs' roster beyond this season is time and roster space wasted.

  • Matt Murton's bringing the power on, hitting a homer in his second consecutive game last night. As I've said before, this is the only thing the Cubs haven't seen consistently enough as of yet to consider giving him the left field job next year, but a little more of what we've seen in the last two games could make the argument against him baseless.

    The kid has good speed, a solid glove, and a great approach at the plate, so the only reasons not to give him his place at the table are a lack of pop - which hasn't been a problem in the minors - a slightly below average arm, and his youth. The pop seems to be coming, the arm doesn't bug me (that's what left field is for, after all), and I'm all for youth.

    If there's a potential issue coming it's when Jim Hendry feels the need to get a veteran fourth outfielder "in case" Murton falls on his face, which essentially gives Dusty license to hose the lineup on a daily basis (anyone remember a couple guys named Choi and Karros?). Hopefully, Murton will be good enough to make even Dusty love him.

If there's a game the rest of the season that the Cubs should dominate, at least on paper, it's tonight's matchup of Eric Milton versus Carlos Zambrano. Of course, Milton took it to the Cubs in his last outing against them, and as I mentioned earlier, the Cubs of late appear to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Cincinnati Reds Mediocre Baseball, Inc. It's time to save a little face, boys!

Catching Up
2005-09-12 10:02
by Derek Smart

The headline refers more to me as I return here and to my place of work from vacation than the Cubs - although this nice little run of acceptable baseball from the club might make those of you impossibly inclined toward optimism start bubbling forth with anticipatory glee, buying bottles of champagne and priming industrial strength insults to sling at any Astro or Marlins fans you might meet on the street after overtaking them with a victory in Houston on the season's final day.

Sure, that's an appealing scenario, and I wouldn't refuse it if offered, but thinking the Cubs are about to get back in the Wild Card chase is pie in the sky at its pie in the face best. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I won't be, and you won't see me jumping on the bandwagon until it's already run past me and into the postseason. Again, not that it isn't possible, just that this team isn't the one to make it happen. Hopefully, that's what next year is for.

  • I see in the Daily Herald that both Glendon Rusch and Neifi! would like to come back next year. Somewhat conditionally, that is:

    Rusch: "I'd love to come back here, yeah," said Rusch, who has a $2 million player option next year with incentives for games started. "I'd love an opportunity to start. I don't know if that's a possibility here or not. It's something we'll have to research when the year's over. I really like starting."

    Neifi!:"My body tells me I can play every day," Perez said. "I might be looking for a starting job for somebody. I feel happy here to play for a manager like Dusty Baker. I want to come back. I don't only play shortstop. I can play second base."

    I think Rusch is gone. I'm fairly certain the Cubs won't guarantee him a starting slot, and really, they shouldn't be using him out of the bullpen anyway, as he's simply been less effective there during his time as a Cub. Besides, he's done well enough in the rotation that another team will give him a little more cash and assurances of the fourth or fifth slot to coax him away.

    As for Neifi!, perhaps he should get an opinion from his skillset and leave his body out of it. After all, my body tells me lots of things too, but if I took its opinions to heart I'd end up in jail or the hospital.

    I'll say this now at risk of having it thrown back in my face in 2006: Neifi! will not start for the Cubs next year. He might be on the team, particularly since I doubt even the most idiotic of clubs would promise him more than one or two starts a week, but he won't be the primary guy unless there's an injury situation similar to this year.

  • I was sad to see Ronny Cedeno go down the other day. There's still no word on his status, but he'll be seeing a hand specialist today here in Chicago. I won't make any guesses until we hear something definitive, but I'd love to see him play again this season. It's particularly bad luck since I get the distinct feeling that Jim Hendry is trying to convince Dusty Baker that Cedeno deserves to start on one side or the other of next year's middle infield.

    Not that Hendry should have to convince a man who theoretically works for him to do something, but I think we've all seen that Dusty needs to buy into an idea completely if it's to be properly implemented, and seeing Cedeno have success right now would give him a much better shot at getting a solid chance to start next season.

  • Assuming the Cubs stay at least this close the rest of the way, we're all going to look back at the thumping they took at the hands of the NL East and ask, "What if?". Sure, the Cubs went 6-9 during interleague play (no shame in that, with the schedule they drew), but they're four games over even against the West and ten games over versus the Central.

    It's that twelve games under against the East that's killed them, and had they been able to simply break even, they'd find themselves at the top of the Wild Card standings this morning. Of course, the issue there is that the East is the best top to bottom division in the NL, and the main reason they're so tightly bunched and mediocre looking is that they're evenly matched and beating each other up.

    It may not be realistic to think this Cub team could have held serve against the five solid teams of the East, but they'll have to be able to consistently beat them next year if they hope to have a shot.

Speaking of teams the Cubs need to consistently beat, the Reds come to town tonight, and for some inexplicable reason the Cubs have had trouble hitting them lately. That's kind of like Stephen Hawking waking up one morning and being unable to balance his checkbook. Here's to the Cubs being able to do some simple math tonight.

40/40 Club?
2005-09-08 13:19
by Derek Smart

During a recent Cub broadcast, it was mentioned that when Derrek Lee hit his fortieth homer of the year that he would be the first player in Cub history to have 40 homers and 40 doubles in a season. He reached the milestone the other night, and while it's an impressive feat, I was struck by how, well, arbitrary this particular 40/40 designation was. He may be the first to get this particular combination of numbers, but there are ways to get more value without having those specific figures in those specific categories.

I began thinking about it, and to my mind the important combination of numbers was 40 or more home runs along with a total of 80 or more extra base hits (See, 40 + 40 = 80. Note my spectacular math skills.). Since I think we can agree that a home run or a triple has more value than a double, anyone in Cub history with at least those same 40 dingers that The Savior has, and a total number of extra base knocks over 80, has had a season that's at least as valuable in the power category as Lee's 40/40 year.

So, in the spirit of science and pointless fun, I put together a list of Cub players who have had at least 40 homers and at least 80 extra base hits, listed from highest to lowest extra base hit totals.

Sammy Sosa200134564103
Hack Wilson19303565697
Sammy Sosa20003815089
Sammy Sosa19992426389
Sammy Sosa19982006686
Ernie Banks19573464383
Ernie Banks19552994482
Ernie Banks195823114781
Billy Williams19703444280
Ernie Banks19603274180

That's some pretty good company. Ten seasons between four men, eight of them split evenly between Sammy Sosa and Ernie Banks, with Sosa clearly the most productive power hitter in the history of the franchise (not exactly news, but there you are).

At this point, Lee pretty easily projects to be only the third player in the history of the franchise to have over 90 extra base hits, and while it's a longshot to say he could get up in the rarified air of "Sosa 2001," it's not entirely out of the question. Still, he's not likely to break the 50 homer barrier, let alone the 56 or 64 that Wilson and Sosa put up in their most productive years, so it's worth taking a look at this another way: Total Bases.

I'm going to choose a nice, round, arbitrary cut-off that Lee will reach in his sleep. Let's say a Cub player would need 350 total bases on the season to make this list. What does it look like?

Sammy Sosa2001425
Hack Wilson1930423
Sammy Sosa1998416
Rogers Hornsby1929409
Sammy Sosa1999397
Sammy Sosa2000383
Ernie Banks1958379
Billy Williams1970373
Billy Williams1965356
Hack Wilson1929355
Ernie Banks1955355
Andre Dawson1987353
Kiki Cuyler1930351
Ernie Banks1959351

A couple new names show up, but for the most part, it's the same guys in nearly the same spots. Lee will break this top ten in the next week or two, and if things go right, he could break the top five. However, I think those top four seasons by Sosa, Hornsby, and Wilson aren't quite within reach. Lee's been wonderful this year, but he has yet to break into the realm that those men inhabit.

My point? Nothing, really. Just that mention of essentially made-up milestones riles my contrarian instincts. That Lee is the first Cub to hit 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same season is a fun piece of trivia, but as great as his season has been, and as impressive as this particular accomplishment is, trivia it remains.

2005-09-07 14:43
by Alex Ciepley

Joe Sheehan, over at Baseball Prospectus, jumpstarted the Derrek Lee For MVP campaign today with a few words on what he sees as a two-man race (Lee v. Albert Pujols) in the National League for the award. Using a handful of the geek-out stats, Sheehan concludes that Lee is, as of now, the rightful winner but unlikely choice:

Lee's edges in power and glovework translate to a WARP [Wins Above Replacement Player] edge of more than a win and a half [over Pujols]. Even if you care to grant Pujols extra credit for being part of a successful Cardinals' team (or, as I prefer to think of it, penalize Lee for not working under better management), I don't see how you make up more than a win on bonus points. Derrek Lee has been the most valuable player in the National League, and that argument should be enough to carry him to the top of most ballots.

It's not going to be, though.

Lee's not going to win, Sheehan argues, because the Cubs haven't been winning. The writers will pick a player from a team at the top of the standings. This means Pujols may end up winning--and he wouldn't be a bad choice at all--but Andruw Jones might as well--which wouldn't sit as well with me. Sheehan actually crunched a few numbers in his article and concluded that Jones wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team, let alone the league.

I've been resigned to Lee not winning the MVP for so long now that the article actually took me by surprise. In my funk over the Cubs' miserable fade, I'd forgotten that he was having the best season in all of baseball.

If you're a believer that the MVP award should simply go to the best player in the league that year (a stance I take for the most part), then Lee should be sitting atop the ballot. I think Sheehan's right, though, in recommending that I don't hold my breath waiting for that award to go to its rightful owner.

Perfect Enough
2005-09-07 05:13
by Derek Smart

If we're being honest with ourselves, we'll trace the origin of Glendon Rusch's troubles, not to his move to the bullpen, but to the three starts before the transfer in which he posted a 6.62 ERA, while giving up 27 hits over 17.2 innings. In my mind, it was this initial stretch of trouble that made it acceptable to essentially demote him once Kerry Wood made his first ill-fated return from the DL, and leave him where he was when Wood was disabled again.

Since necessity moved Rusch back into the rotation in mid-August he's been just awful, posting an 8.84 ERA over four starts, the worst of which was his latest one where he threw a mere two innings but gave up seven runs on seven hits and two walks. He hadn't looked good for nearly three months, and his appearances in ballgames, whether as reliever or starter, were cause for nervous stomachs for Cub fans everywhere.

It was in this spirit - that of a man determined to right a season gone horribly wrong - that Rusch took the mound last night, and for the majority of his time out there he was thankfully, gleefully at his absolute best, spotting his fastball beautifully and using his off-speed stuff masterfully to keep the Cardinal hitters thoroughly off balance.

I don't know if his work last night brought him a sense of redemption - certainly, in those first six innings he was on his way to earning it - but at the very least I hope it gave him the idea that he can, indeed, still be successful. Rusch is one of the guys I've developed a soft spot for during his time in blue, so when he takes the hill I end up rooting just a little bit harder. Nice job, Glendon. Let's see some more.

  • Perhaps the most amazing part of Glendon's outing to me was that Mr. Rusch - a man who welcomes contact, who wants groundballs - got as deep as he did without giving up a hit despite having Nomar at third (normally, I would mention Todd Walker in that expression of wonder, but Rusch throws so few balls that get hit to the right side, Walker was hardly a factor while the Perfecto was intact).

    Actually, Nomar's looking more and more comfortable at the hot corner, and that could be a big deal for him as he looks for work this winter. I'd anticipate his biggest problem being on balls hit deep in the corner to his right, when he'll be forced to plant and throw to first. He made one play like that last night and looked good doing it, but Nomar's always been more comfortable and more accurate when throwing on the move, and those type of opportunities are harder to come by at third than at short. With his skills as a shortstop slipping, making that adjustment could add significant time and cash to the end of his career.

  • The broadcast team already made plenty out of it, but cheers and jeers to Jeromy Burnitz and Matt Morris respectively on Burnitz' infield single in the third. It should have been an easy out at first, but thanks to the hustle of Burnitz and the odd nonchalance of Morris, what should have been a routine defensive play became a safety for the Cubs' right fielder.

    The mistake didn't cost much - another batter or two, a few more pitches, but no runs - yet I have to admit, not only was it nice to see a Cub player hustle on a play like that (although, to Burnitz' credit I don't think I've ever seen him not bust it), its nice to see another team, particularly the usually sharp Cardinals, make one of the mental errors that the Cubs appear to manufacture like they were printing funny money in the basement of 1060 W. Addison.

    However, the error that Hector Luna made in the fourth wasn't so harmless, as his failure to catch Neifi!'s typical first pitch foul pop-up - which, more than anything else appeared to be a breakdown in communication between him and Mark Grudzeilanek - allowed His Neifi!ness to stay alive and eventually line a double up the right field line to score Jerry Hairston.

    It's difficult enough for a team to overcome these type of problems when there's a pitcher on the hill who's dealing, but with Morris struggling mightily, throwing a lot of pitches and having to go deep in counts in a ton of at bats, even the mistakes that don't result in tallies can be another nail in the coffin.

  • During an evening full of good moments, perhaps my favorite was in the bottom of the sixth, when Corey Patterson collided with Jerry Hairston as he was making the catch to end the inning and preserve what was still at the time a perfect game. As they both jogged toward the dugout, Hairston ran over and gave Patterson a hard but playful shove, and both men shared a laugh at their fielding folly averted.

    It's something I've rarely seen during a baseball game, this sense of humor and tension release after narrowly avoiding a potentially disastrous situation, and while I can only imagine that much more of that mode of expression exists outside of our view, it's just a lot of fun to see the sentiment so overtly displayed on the field. As they say, these are men playing a boy's game, and I guess I like knowing that they're having fun.

I'm currently on vacation, and although I'm spending it at home (traveling with a seventeen month old is about as far from a vacation as one can likely get without violating the Geneva Convention), it's still been the cause of a dearth in posting of late. I'm going to try to pick up the pace over the next couple of days, but if posting is still sporadic the rest of this week, know that it's because I'm playing with my little girl at the park.

Number 9, Number 9
2005-09-02 07:18
by Derek Smart

There's not much going on this morning, so here's a link to a little puff piece in the Daily Herald about Scott McClain. While naturally designed this way, the article makes him seems like a good guy who's happy to be where he's at, and content with himself in general. Makes me want to root for him all the more, which is what pieces like that are supposed to do.

I can't just leave it at that, though, and in the spirit of further inquiry (and wasting time on a Friday morning) I thought to myself, "If I were to purchase a 2005 home jersey with McClain's number on it, and no name, what other former Cubs might people think I was associating my fandom with?"

Well, I looked around, and McClain is wearing number 9, so thanks to I was able to compile a (hopefully complete) list in reverse chronological order of players who had worn that number since 1932 (the last year they have jersey numbers for).

Paul Bako
Todd Hundley
Damon Buford
Benito Santiago
Scott Servais
Matt Walbeck
Damon Berryhill
Butch Benton
Larry Cox
Tim Blackwell
Joe Wallis
Steve Swisher
Randy Hundley
Cuno Barragan
Jim Hegan
Del Rice
Bobby Thompson
Gordon Massa
Bob Lennon
Hank Sauer
Rube Novotney
Chico Hernandez
Hank Leiber
Frank Demaree
Gabby Hartnet
Mark Koenig
Rogers Hornsby

There are a couple of good names on there - Randy Hundley, Bobby Thompson, Hank Sauer, Gabby Hartnet, Rogers Hornsby - but for the most part, it's a rogue's gallery of unfortunates and "who's that?"'s, which is due in part to the fact that over much of that time the number 9 was used almost exclusively for catchers, many of them second or third stringers.

So, good luck with your new number and new home, Scott. And if you're going to emulate one of your similarly integered predecessors during your stay, take a look at the list above, and please, choose wisely.