Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: April 2006


Speculation Nation
2006-04-28 07:25
by Derek Smart

There are some thoughts, ideas, and rumor-esque rumblings rolling about regarding possible short-term patches related to Derrek Lee's absence, and now seems like as good a time as any to swish a couple around our collective mouths to see just how bad they taste.

  • Carlos Pena - Right now, he's with the Yankees' AAA affiliate in Columbus, but if he's not up with the big club by May 2 he becomes a free agent, and according to the New York Post, would likely sign with the Cubs.

    I mention this first because the idea's been around the longest, being the most obvious due to Pena's impending availability, and if the Cubs are looking for cheap, he's certainly it. Bringing him along wouldn't be a horrible move, but neither would it have much impact. For one thing, he's left-handed, and if the club really wanted to play a low-average, low-on-base, moderate-power lefty at first, they've already got John Mabry lolling about.

    Certainly, Pena's defense would be better, and that should be a consideration, but I don't think he's enough of an upgrade over what's on the roster - or different enough, for that matter - to really add much of value. Acquiring him wouldn't be a horrible thing, it would just be an awful lot like treading water.

  • Tony Clark - This is an interesting proposition. Clark has a no-trade clause, but he said yesterday that he'd be willing to waive it if a deal would help the D-Backs remain competitive. He's passable defensively, and he's a switch-hitter (his splits being basically even when it comes to average and OBP, although most of his power comes from the left side), which could be a boon both now and once Lee makes his way back to the lineup.

    There is an issue, though, which is expense. Not his salary - although the Cubs would be on the hook for a total of around $2M through next year - so much as what it would cost to acquire him. There's nothing like being over a proverbial barrel to make you vulnerable to price gouging, and I'd have to believe that since Arizona has no particular need to deal Clark that they'd be looking to get something beyond reasonable in return. If not, though, he'd be an interesting choice.

  • Jeff Conine - ugghhhhh..... His name got floated in the Sun-Times today, although it's unclear how much of that is coming from Mike Kiley, and how much is from the Cubs' brass. What does appear to be from the organization, however, is this idea that preceded the horrid uttering of The Barbarian's name:

    Hendry wants to acquire a right-handed hitter who could play first base against some lefties and serve as a backup outfielder if he's versatile enough.

    What intrigues me there is the possibility, slight though it may be, that the organization has recognized something we all knew coming into this year: Jacque Jones is helpless against lefties, and all the port-sided batting practice in the world won't change that fact.

    Of course, the other possibility is that they've all decided that since he's gone 1-18 against lefties in the early going that Todd Walker needs to take a seat when they're on the hill, an idea which I might have supported in the past, but which I'll have to vehemently rail against in the present, especially since from what I've seen Walker's been more a victim of horrible luck of late than anything else.

    In any case, the idea of adding a right-hander with some pop who can play both first and the outfield is an exceedingly sound one - I've advocated for quite some time the idea of having power on the bench from both sides of the plate - but I'll say right now that Conine ain't that guy. The Cubs are clearly not enamored with Michael Restovich either, despite his theoretically fitting the mold, so a deal would have to go down for the club to feel like they'd accomplished that goal.

You can't replace Lee, that much has been clear from the start, but the Cubs appear to be ready to try to make some marginal gains over what they've already got in house, which seems sensible. Whether these options are the best ones, however, is a topic open for debate, so fire away, good people.

Fill In The Blanks
2006-04-27 07:17
by Derek Smart

I've got nothing right now, folks. I was indisposed for yesterday's game, so I've not seen any of the lowlights, but from what I can glean from the boxscore, we learned the following things yesterday:

  1. Angel Guzman is wild, yet not effectively so
  2. Perhaps trading Ricky Nolasco wasn't such a good idea
  3. Matt Murton is a clutch god
  4. Given the chance, Dusty Baker would double-switch your mama

Anything to add, particularly items based on actual knowledge of the contest (fact-free bits are handled above, thank you very much), fire away below.

Arc de Triomphe
2006-04-26 07:37
by Derek Smart

Sure, the Cubs handed Dontrelle Willis his first career April loss (a meaningless accomplishment, if ever there was one), but the real story was the way Sean Marshall pitched. For the first time since the season started, he really had his curve going, and it was obvious how much having that pitch at his disposal opened up the rest of his game, and he just got better as the contest went along.

It's not like he's incapable of being serviceable without it - he hasn't really had it thus far, and he's managed to get by - but he's sure more effective when it's there. Combine that yummy breaker with his already established ability to hit spots with his other offerings, and you've got the reason why the Cubs broke camp with him aboard. He's still bound to struggle - he is young, after all - but even considering the favorable weather, last night was a tantalizing glimpse of the sort of work he's capable of when everything's right.

  • I loved the way Marshall handled Miguel Cabrera the last time he faced him. Marshall had been striking guys out with his curve all night, but instead of saving it for the end of the at bat, he broke it out at the beginning, getting a strike looking. Then, after getting him to a 1-2 count, a spot where he'd thrown the curve all night, he threw a change-up off the outer black that dove out of the zone and got Cabrera lunging, swinging out in front and over the top.

    You have to believe Cabrera was concerned about the breaking ball in that spot, so when he saw what he thought was a fastball he jumped at it, only to be fooled by Marshall's arm action. It was a great set-up, but even better execution, and if that's the kind of mixing we can look forward to when Sean's got his pitches going, we could be in for some really impressive outings from this kid.

  • What's not to like about the Marlins' Josh Willingham? He's been very impressive thus far in the series, hitting nearly everything square, and going 0 fer last night in great part due to the whims of weather. Both of his first two at bats against Sean Marshall would have resulted in homers had the wind been neutral, or even just a little less fierce. It's rough at this point in his career to be the second best hitter on a Major League team, but I'll bet in a couple of years if he's the second best man on his club, it'll be a helluva tough group.

  • Anyone else nearly break something when Matt Murton attempted a bunt - and a bad one, at that - with Michael Barrett at second and no one out in the seventh? My goodness, before Barrett's hit The Baron was the only man on the team to really get good swings against Willis, so using him up to move a man into slightly better scoring position - and with a strikeout artist on deck, no less - was an incredibly wasteful idea.

    Now, perhaps the play didn't come from the bench. Maybe Dusty is blameless, here. Maybe Murton did it on his own, and if he did, someone needs to tell him that while his "team first" sentiment is admirable, and everybody really appreciates his unselfish impulse, that the real "team first" play was the double he eventually hit.

  • And now that I've railed against Murton's bunt attempt, I'm going to reverse course and applaud the bunt - bad, though it was - that Jacque Jones laid down (or, more accurately, laid up).

    Again, not my favorite strategy when considered in a vacuum, but with Jones' struggles, and his only contributions at the plate thus far coming in the form of home runs that no one was capable of hitting last night, having him lay one down was a pretty defensible play, particularly if you believe, as I do, that it was done specifically to set up an opportunity for a squeeze play with Jerry Hairston.

    I'll tell ya, there are a lot of things about the way this team plays ball right now that don't necessarily make sense from an analysis standpoint, but they make for immensely entertaining baseball, and until I start seeing specific situations where the strategy costs games, I'm going to come out in favor of the stuff, because like so many of you out there, I, indeed, enjoy a bit of the fun.

The series is safely in hand, so a lot of today's game is about evaluating the current utility of Angel Guzman. He couldn't have a better situation for his first Major League start, going against what is essentially a minor league lineup, so while results are obviously important, pay attention to how he's getting them. They'll tell you more of what you need to know for the moment.

One Good Frame
2006-04-25 10:41
by Derek Smart

For seven innings, the Cub offense was worthy of the goose-egg it laid, with bad at bat piling on bad at bat, and the team's only real chance squandered in the fifth. Despite drawing four walks against Marlins' starter Jason Vargas, the Cubs were swinging early in the count and getting themselves out against a man who would have likely given them something better to hit, or sent them to first without an argument. It was maddening, it was frustrating, it was what I've come to expect from the Cubs.

Then came the bottom of the eighth, and suddenly everybody's patient. Pierre got a 2-1 count and smacked a double. Cedeno, who'd been an early-swing-offender, coaxed a five-pitch walk. Then Todd Walker, who'd been getting robbed so much on the night he had to wonder if his car was still in the lot, decided he'd be better off not putting the ball in play and got a five-pitch pass of his own.

The bases were loaded, no one was out, and up came Aramis Ramirez, which should have excited me, but instead made me mildly nauseous. See, Ramirez hasn't been good lately, and he nearly made the game a very different one with his high chopper to Miguel Cabrera.

Thankfully, Mr. Cabrera was determined to be responsible for as many runs as possible, team designations be damned, and he chucked the ball that should have forced an out at home into the dirt in front of the plate. Everyone was safe, and after Matt Murton and Jacque Jones came up big, the game was effectively over.

The team may not have deserved the win based on the totality of their play - although, I'd say that in the end, Carlos Zambrano did - but thankfully, the game's about scoring more runs than your opponent, not asserting your moral imperative for victory, so I'll take it. Now quick, you take these bullets, their hot, hot, hot!

  • Big Z had himself a nice outing by the time he got settled in. As has been the case for much of this year, take out the first inning, and he was pretty efficient too, getting through frames 2-7 in 88 pitches - t'ain't The Professor, but that's solid for Carlos - which is particularly impressive when you figure that 10 of those 18 outs were via the whiff.

    What seemed to really settle things for him was when he figured out that, while he couldn't locate his fastball all the time, he could get right-handers to swing at his sweeping slider on the outer half, a pitch that was filthy enough to deserve a Silkwood-style scrubbing all night. He'd get ahead of guys with it, he'd get back in the count with it, he'd put 'em away with it. That beast was a vicious weapon once he figured out he had it going, which is the thing with guys like Z that throw several thousand different pitches; one of them's bound to be working, he just has to figure out which one.

  • The homer by Cabrera was funny looking. He hit it square, but his weight was forward and he wasn't all-out swinging, which makes me think the speed of the pitch fooled him initially. That he was able to recover and, not only make contact, but jack the thing, tells you how dangerous a hitter he is. Although, were we cursed with Ken Harrelson as an announcer, the bomb would have resulted in three consecutive hours of theorizing about the work schedules of Costa Rican ball winders.

  • David Aardsma got ahead on Chris Aguila 0-2, then proceeded to walk him. He then got ahead of Reggie Abercrombie 1-2, and took him to a full count before dispatching him with a swinging strike. In both of these instances, I felt like we were dealing with the theoretical phenomenon I posited the other day, where pitches that resulted in swinging strikes in the minors are often not yielding the same results in the Majors.

    He seemed to get it a little more with the final at bat of the inning when he got ahead of Matt Treanor and finally sat him down with an unhittable pitch low and away with the count 2-2. It's not that you have to throw strikes to get guys out when you're ahead in the count, but you have to come closer than he has in many cases, and the faster Aardsma learns that, the longer he'll stick around.

  • Matt Murton had looked lost in St. Louis, swinging at balls that he couldn't do anything with, and looking at third strikes several times. It was the first time I remember him seeming genuinely out of sorts at the plate, and I was beginning to wonder when he'd break free of his slump.

    I think we saw it last night, as not only did he do a nice job with his game-tying hit, but he was able to draw two walks earlier in the evening, not just because Vargas was particularly bad throwing to him, but because he was willing to take pitches that others on his team weren't. Finally, he seemed relaxed again, and the air of anxiousness that followed him on the road trip seemed to be gone. He's a better hitter than what he showed over the last week or so, and if he's really made that re-adjustment, he'll be good to go for a while.

The bad news is, Sean Marshall has to face the one daunting pitcher on the Marlins' staff tonight in Dontrelle Willis. The good news is, Willis hasn't been terribly sharp, only going beyond six innings once in four starts, but not so much because of ineffectiveness as inefficiency - he's thrown 107 pitches in 5 innings, 113 in 5.2, and 106 in 6 - so even if he does a nice job keeping runs off the board, if the Cubs can learn a little from last night's eighth inning outburst, they could be in the Florida bullpen early.

When Boo-Birds Attack
2006-04-25 07:04
by Derek Smart

I'll have a more standard game recap up later today, but with the post-game revelations that Jacque Jones hasn't enjoyed being booed, it inspired a bout of limerick-itis on my train ride this morning, so I'm devoting a post to them.

To be fair, I think Jones has a point - he's only been here for 18 games, and already he's being ridden like Kevin Costner's horse in The Postman, and it doesn't help that Paul Sullivan's coverage in the Tribune is purposefully inflammatory, where his colleagues are considerably more restrained - but for better or worse, this is the way it is at Wrigley these days, and judging from some of his statements about the past treatment of others and how it relates to what he's experiencing, it's not like he was blind to the possibility, unpleasant though it may be.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, and some genuine sympathy for Mr. Jones' culture shock, I give you these poor poetics and encourage your participation below.

The treatment that Jacque has received
Hath left him perturb-ed and peeved.
The boos he has gotten
Have made him feel rotten
And now he is deeply aggrieved.

Jacque has a beef with the fandom.
He feels that their booing is random.
If Corey were here,
Then Jacque needn't fear,
But sadly for Jones, the Cubs canned 'im.

Compared to his time in The 'Sota
Jacque's booing is well above quota.
Jones gives them the eye,
Then says with a sigh,
"They loved me in Northern Dakota."

"You're a bum!" "You're a chump!" they all crow,
But Jacque's doing his best, don'tcha know?
Still, swinging and missing
Draws booing and hissing
For players who make so much dough.

Know Your Enemy 2006: Weeks 1-3
2006-04-24 10:35
by Derek Smart

First, it was on unexpected hiatus during the offseason, then, its absence continued through the season's first weeks, but our short, local, period of, at worst, moderate distress is finally over. Know Your Enemy - the weekly version - has returned for the 2006 season, beginning today with a summary of what has come to pass in the season's first three weeks, to be followed by theoretically weekly stylings, scheduled to appear on Mondays.

But that's business, let's get to the pleasure.

  1. Houston Astros

    Season Record13-5
    Recent Record13-5
    Games Back--

    Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, and Morgan Ensberg are all off to ridiculous starts, leading the Astros offense on their way to scoring 5.6 runs a game in the early going, and going a long way toward masking the putrid start of Preston Wilson, who already has 22 strikeouts in 66 at bats - including one 5 strikeout game, and 13 whiffs in his last 18 at bats.

    Anyone who wagered that the Astros would pick up the unusual three-year, $24M option they worked into Wilson's deal had best start living like that money's gone. That means you, Preston.

  2. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record12-7
    Recent Record12-7
    Games Back1.5

    Teams that give up six runs a game don't maintain .632 winning percentages, no matter how prodigious their offensive abilities. The Reds are no exception to this rule, particularly since if you had to choose which would give first - the trend toward scoring 6.36 runs a game, or the trend toward coughing up 6 per contest - a peek at the club's roster would draw you inexorably toward the former choice.

  3. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record11-7
    Recent Record11-7
    Games Back2.0

    After 18 games last year, the Cardinals were 13-5 with the same amount of runs scored (88) and five fewer runs allowed (67 vs. 72), but the real difference is that in 2005 their current record would put them two games up in the division, while this iteration sets them two games back. It's a stretch to attach much significance here, but it's interesting to note that last year the division race was effectively over a month after this point, and there's been little reason in the early going to think such a thing will happen again. The Cardinals are still a good bet to take the race, but this year they'll have to fight for it.

  4. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record9-10
    Recent Record9-10
    Games Back4.5

    Yesterday, Doug Davis walked nine batters in five innings - raising his already unwieldy walk rate from 5.48 per nine to an unholy 7.66 per nine. That's the bad news. The good news is, unless he's hurt, Davis will improve, and with Ben Sheets having a much better time of it in his last outing despite taking the loss, the Brewers look to have some much better run-prevention coming their way, which should be all they need to get back into the thick of the race.

  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record5-15
    Recent Record5-15
    Games Back9.0

    The question isn't if the Pirates are awful, it's how awful can they become? Since defeating the Cubs on April 15th, the Buccos have gone 1-6 and scored 20 runs in those seven games, which seems bad enough until you remove the 12 runs they tallied in their singular victory of the span and realize that they could only manage 8 runs in their last 6 losses. They faced some tough pitchers, to be sure, but they also went up against Glendon Rusch, Taylor Buchholz, and Wandy Rodriguez and proved unequal to the task.

    That the team's young pitchers, supposedly the light at the end of the tunnel, have turned out to be the equivalent of an oncoming Japanese Bullet train hasn't helped matters. Will the Pirates be crushed beneath the engine's wheels? Can they be untied from the tracks in time? Stay tuned next week to find --- *splat* --- Um. Never mind.

Barbara Feldon Would Be Proud
2006-04-24 07:48
by Derek Smart

There's nothing like being able to link a player's statistics to popular culture, and with The Professor's ERA standing at a paltry 0.99, I can't help associating the figure with Get Smart, despite not having been around for the show's initial run.

With a last name like mine, it's not every day you see others sporting it, particularly on television, so when the show re-ran during my youth I found myself drawn to it despite the lead character's buffoonery - in fact, it was somewhat comforting that an idiot with the last name of Smart could make it in the world despite his obvious lack of faculties. Takes some of the pressure off, you know.

In any case, digressions aside, I'm in awe of the way Greg Maddux has thrown thus far. To be sure he's gotten a little lucky, but all pitchers get lucky, and for the most part, Maddux has gotten the job done by simply being better than he's been in recent years.

His stuff is crisper, if only a little bit, but that's all it takes to move him from slightly above league average to flat-out dominant. That this fourth victory came against a team he'd already seen - one with a great offensive core - makes this renaissance all the more impressive to me. Viva la Mad Dog! We need you now more than ever.

  • Not only does Greg Maddux's current ERA evoke a character from an old Mel Brooks television show, but with a little hard work and a lot of luck, he's got a chance to call forth Don Adam's ghost, too. If over his next two starts Maddux throws between 14.1 and 14.2 innings, giving up exactly one earned run in the process, he'll have an ERA of 0.86. Of course, if he gets one out or allows one run too few or too many, those of us old enough will hear Maxwell Smart grimace and say, "Missed it by that much."

  • Apparently, I have a vindictive streak, because when Jim Edmonds asked for the umpire to check the ball after a called first strike (and after about seventeen previous requests for said umpire to do the same), there was a part of me that sincerely hoped the next pitch would find Mr. Edmonds firmly ensconced on his backside.

    Luckily, while obviously angry in the dugout between frames, The Professor is less inclined toward that sort of activity, particularly when the game is still in question. After all, a plunking was likely one of the hoped-for outcomes, along with a possible loss of concentration that would bring with it a yummy meatball.

    That Mad Dog took his revenge by both continuing his shutout and helping to increase his lead in the bottom of the frame with a nifty opposite field single speaks to his ability to assess the situation on the field and deal with it as appropriate. Further proof of both his professionalism, and his ability to combat obvious and puerile attempts at gamesmanship.

  • I both love and hate Ronny Cedeno in the two-hole. I love it because he's got solid bat handling skills, has good speed, and seems willing and able to hit the ball to all fields, sometimes for extra bases. I hate it because he has thus far exhibited an overly eager willingness to sacrifice himself for what I'd view as dubious gains.

    Of course, I don't know that all of it is his doing - in fact, I'd assume he's being signalled to do so from the bench - but one of the wonderful things about the days when it was feasible to hit Todd Walker second, was that if Juan Pierre led off the inning with a double, Todd would not be expected to bunt him to third.

    That Cedeno is, and that he's not deemed capable of simply attempting to get a hit to the opposite field instead, speaks to how little the fellas in the dugout get what they're doing. If anything, with Derrek Lee on the shelf, your outs have become far more precious, and a willingness to sacrifice them for incremental basepath gains is foolish at best, suicidal at worst.

    Don't get me wrong, there are situations where bunting makes plenty of sense, and I'm happy to see that we have men on the roster who are capable of laying one down when the situation warrants it, but a scoreless game in the second inning with no outs, your speediest baserunner at second, and the heart of your order to follow is about as far from that situation as you can get without being in the first inning. Not to beat a seemingly dead horse, but it's another instance of Dusty thinking, and anytime that happens, only trouble can follow.

  • A news item I've yet to comment on is the demotion of Jerome Williams in favor of Angel Guzman. I'm torn here because, despite Williams' poor performance in the spring, this move smacks of panic, particularly when you see that Guzman hasn't been a whole lot better in Iowa thus far and consider his injury history.

    However, if you're looking at upside, Guzman wins hands down, and so it seems that the Cubs' strategy - something they've been geared toward more and more the last couple years - is to hope that their woes are solved by the careful laying of lightning traps. After all, once you've got that stuff in a bottle, there ain't nothin' can stop ya!

  • Ryan Dempster's scoreless innings streak got to 32 before he was hit up for two run in the ninth yesterday, but in a way, I couldn't be happier. If he's going to cough up tallies, better that they come in outings where he's only there for that work than when the game is on the line.

    Not that one can choose when such things will occur, but for me, there'll be less of a feeling of dread associated with his save opportunities if only because there's one less item on the baseball gods' list of things to which they need to restore balance. Superstitious? Sure, but I can't be rational all the time.

I hate to think of any game vs. the Marlins as being a big one, but any opportunities to beat up on the National Leagues lesser lights is one this club can't afford to pass up with things as they are. In particular, they need a good showing from Big Z tonight, since the following game is Willis against Marshall, and the one after is phenom Scott Olsen against the question mark that is Angel Guzman (he's listed as the probable on The Cubs need this series, and to get it, they need Zambrano to get it done.

Doubling My Displeasure
2006-04-22 14:29
by Derek Smart

This afternoon's loss, like any loss, was hard to take. That the Cubs are now 0-2 after losing The Savior to injury may be unsurprising, but that doesn't make it any less galling, and while there were a number of things to take issue with today - from the fifth inning walk-fest, to the club's sudden inability to capitalize on juicy offensive opportunities - I'd like to focus on a single thing that I feel illuminates some basic issues that we'll likely be dealing with for 2-3 months.

There is an art to the double-switch, but there is also a science, and the more I watch Dusty Baker implement this strategy over the years, the more I feel like I'm watching the scientific and artistic equivalent of a lab rat with a half-eaten crayon. Today, the Cubs were faced with a rough situation in the bottom of the fifth, with Glendon Rusch having lost all semblance of control, and Albert Pujols due up with the bases loaded. Clearly, it was time for Rusch to go, and Dusty called on Scott Williamson for the job, a solid choice.

The bullpen had gotten quite the workout Friday night, so whoever was brought into the game, Dusty wanted him to stick around for more than one out, which was understandable. However, the pitcher's spot in the order was due up fifth in the following inning, and for Dusty that was too close for comfort, so he decided to make a double-switch. The problem here is when you take that tool out of your box with your #5 hitter starting the next frame, you're going to have to yank either your #3 or #4 hitter to make the move worth your while in terms of distancing yourself from the possibility of having to hit for your pitcher in the middle of a rally - the whole point of the exercise.

So, what you're doing is exchanging a certainty for a near certainty, taking the almost-sure-thing of having your chosen reliever start the next inning (you could, after all, have a big enough rally to bring his spot to bat, which you would naturally be happy about), in exchange for removing the total certainty of having one of your best hitters in the lineup. This, to me, is a fool's trade, particularly when it involves removing Todd Walker for Neifi! Perez in a game that still requires your team to score to win.

This was made all the more egregious by Derrek Lee's absence, not just because if he were in the game none of this silliness would have transpired, but more because without The Savior around, one could make a pretty solid case for Walker being the team's second best hitter, or even its best if one is taking current slumps into account. Of course, that's apparently not how he's viewed by Baker, who seems to have tricked himself into believing that Walker/Hairston/Neifi! are essentially interchangeable parts, who while they may have certain strengths and weaknesses, have no outstanding qualities that should prevent him from treating them as puzzle pieces with similar shapes once the game has begun.

This is, in a word, stupid, and beyond this double-switching issue, if there's a single game during Lee's absence in which Todd Walker is not in the starting lineup, barring injury or pronounced fatigue, there should be a pitchfork and torch parade up Clark Street to bring the monster to heel. Say what you will about Walker's defensive deficiencies, but Todd is a hitter, and as badly as the Cubs needed his bat before Lee went down, that's nothing compared to the situation as it stands - a situation that, judging from his choices today, Baker has no handle on whatsoever.

That Williamson's performance in the sixth necessitated the entry of Scott Eyre in the inning and yet another double-switch - a move which brought with it another offensive downgrade in the form of Freddie Bynum (hitting in the three hole, no less) for Matt Murton - further illustrates how little understanding Baker has of how to deploy this strategy, and how badly things can go when Dusty is forced to think. Of course, with things as they are, Dusty's going to be forced to do a whole lot o' cogitatin', and if that doesn't double your displeasure, nothing will.

Anatomy of a Broken Wrist Arm - No, Really
2006-04-21 09:11
by Derek Smart

There's been some questions in the comments about the exact nature of Lee's injury, so I've done a little poking around. Here's what I've found regard fractures of the distal radius (Distal, by the way, is apparently a reference to a geographical region of the radius bone, namely the end furthest from the body), culled from this site, which I was led to by a search on WebMD:

A distal radius fracture is one of the most common kinds of fractures (a break in a bone) that can happen to the wrist. It is most commonly caused by falling on an extended hand and usually occurs in children and older adults.

The radius is a bone in your forearm. The distal radius is the end of the forearm bone that is at the wrist. When a person falls on an outstretched hand, the hand suddenly becomes rigid, and the momentum from the fall will cause both a twisting force and a compressing force on your forearm. The kind of injury these forces are likely to cause depends on the age of the person who is injured. In children, and in older adults, such a fall is likely to result in a fracture of the radius.

That gives us an idea of the force involved in the collision with Furcal. If this is an injury usually suffered by falling oldsters with fragile bones and falling youngsters whose bones are still growing, I'd imagine there would have to be quite a bit of energy displaced when such an injury occurs to a grown, very healthy man. They say speed kills, and you have to figure in this instance, Furcal's speed was a contributor to the injury's severity.

In any case, here's some additional information from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website:

When someone falls on their outstretched hand, they sometimes get a "broken wrist." The bone that is usually broken is called the radius. It is the larger bone on the upper side of the photograph above [see link provided]. The end toward the wrist is called the distal end. The medical term for "broken bone" is fracture. Therefore, the medical term for the most common type of "broken wrist" is a distal radius fracture (that is, the larger forearm bone is broken near the wrist).

This kind of fracture is very common. In fact, the radius is the most commonly broken bone in the arm. The break usually happens when you fall and land on your outstretched hands. It can also happen in a car accident, a bike accident, a skiing accident, and similar situations. Sometimes, the other forearm bone (the ulna) is also broken. When this happens, it is called a distal ulna fracture.

Again with the high impact, high force situations. That Lee's ulna was also involved gives us another data point about how violent the collision was. Semantically speaking, it's also notable that what's breaking here are technically bones in Lee's arm. I don't know if there's any difference beyond the semantics, but I'm just enough of a nerd to find the possibility interesting.

Anyway, that's what I've gleaned from cursory surfing. Anything to add, plug away in the comments.

Bad As It Looked
2006-04-21 06:46
by Derek Smart

The word came down last night, and by now you've likely already heard the news that The Savior has been laid low with a fracture of the distal radial and the distal ulna bones, which will put him in a cast for approximately six weeks, and could keep him out for as long as three months.

Honestly, I'm still processing this, although I'm actually feeling less depressed than I did after the injury to Nomar last season (which a diary over at Bleed Cubbie Blue eerily notes, occurred on the same day, if you're in the right time zone), which is odd because this one figures to be so much worse in terms of it's overall impact on the team.

That's where I think expectations come into play. Last season, I expected the Cubs to be in the mix for a playoff spot, and this year I don't, despite their hot and entertaining start. Not that I came into this season believing contention wasn't possible, I just didn't convert that belief to expectation the way I've done the last two years. I still had hope, just as I did in previous seasons, but without the added weight that comes with presumption of destiny.

And that's where I'm at, even today, even in the glaring light of this undeniable setback. When I look at this team, I don't see a group that should contend, but I still see one that could. Granted, the Cub's already razor thin margin of error has become mere atoms thick, but this was always a club that was going to rely on run prevention to get them where they were going, so this aspect of their game merely becomes a greater imperative. That the overriding goal is less easily achieved is starkly true, but difficulty does not preclude accomplishment.

So, I'll leave you for now with this advice: If you've had expectations for 2006, temper them. The team's prospects for success have been dealt a severe blow, and nothing can change that. No team is good enough to endure the loss of a player of Lee's caliber for half a season without suffering profound ill effects. The Cubs are clearly a significantly worse team today, and any assumptions you've held regarding their performance should be altered accordingly.

Yet, I implore you, do not lose hope. It may be a thing for fools and dreamers, but what's life without a healthy dose of daffy romance? Expectations based on false assumptions or misapprehension of facts can, indeed, cause great pain, but hope is a sustainer, and if ever there was a group of baseball fans in need of sustenance, it is us. So hope, my friends, hope and live, and if our hopes become flesh, then so much the better.

Injury to Insult
2006-04-20 07:14
by Derek Smart

So, apparently, it wasn't enough for Rafael Furcal to spurn the Cubs contract offer this winter, he had to start a play that took down both the team's best lefty reliever, and the club's MVP. Of course, it wasn't his intent to directly or indirectly cause injury to Derrek Lee and Scott Eyre, but it's difficult to refrain from mentioning the connection after all the angst spilled over his signing with the Dodgers.

From the moment of that play, the outcome of the game became irrelevant, because a win or loss of this single contest pales in comparison to the impact a serious injury to Derrek Lee would have on the Cubs' chances for even a semblance of competitiveness in 2006 (the broadcast team announced in the bottom of the ninth that they were calling Lee's wrist injury a sprain, but that x-rays were inconclusive and he'd be flying to Chicago for further tests, which cannot possibly be a good thing. It could be neutral, but I see no way to positively spin it), and while losing Eyre for a long period wouldn't be nearly as bad, it would still be a strong negative that would weaken what has been a good bullpen thus far.

Perhaps it's all some sort of karmic payback for the tremendous good luck the Cubs had offensively last night, with bloops, blunders, and bobbles having a part in all of their five runs, and if that's the case, then let me be the first to say the price exacted was too high, even if the payment method turns out to involve little more than hair loss and agita (or perhaps the runs were reimbursement for the injuries, in which case, we'd better be on an installment plan).

Still, although the injuries effectively ruined what was an otherwise exciting game, the Cubs did win the thing, and since it doesn't do any good to mope, particularly with so little information to go on, we may as well comment on the proceedings. It is, after all, what we do here.

  • During the first two innings, the time between Sean Marshall's pitches passed as quickly and pleasantly as hours spent in line at an unairconditioned Chicago DMV office in mid-July. The pitches themselves weren't much more better for a while, and when Jason Repko took Marshall deep in the second, it looked like we might be in for a night that was longer than it already seemed.

    But then, in the third, something remarkable happened. Marshall, who had looked terribly uncomfortable up until then, throwing 46 pitches to get 6 outs, settled down and started taking care of business. His last three innings of work were perfect, taking only 40 pitches to complete, and featured four groundouts and two strikeouts.

    It was, in many ways, more encouraging than if he had gone out and had stellar stuff the whole time. It's one thing to come out of the gate with your A-game and own the place, and it's quite another to have serious issues at the start and work your way back from the abyss. Any pitcher can do the former, but not as many can do the latter, and the fact that it appears Marshall is fully capable of rescuing himself from himself is a huge positive.

  • How can Sandy Alomar Jr. still be playing? He's been one of the most injury-plagued players I can recall in recent years, yet he's forty years old and still at the most demanding position on the diamond. Think of it this way: In 2001, Sandy hit an abysmal .245/.288/.345 in only 220 at bats for the White Sox, while his younger brother, Roberto, had an MVP-type season for the Indians. Really, now, at the end of that year, who did you think would retire first?

  • In the bottom of the sixth, while David Aardsma (did you know that when listed alphabetically words that start with a-a-r-d get listed before words that begin with a-a-r-o? Shocking!) was busy scaring the crap out of me before he coughed up the lead, the Cubs' broadcast kept showing shots of the conversation that was taking place between Sean Marshall and Greg Maddux, and it was utterly fascinating.

    I couldn't tell what was being said exactly, although I could pick up occasional words like "fastball" from reading Maddux's lips, but the interest in watching the exchange wasn't so much in what was said, as in how it was said. It was abundantly clear from his manner that The Professor was really teaching Marshall something, that it wasn't just a casual conversation, or a youngster quickly picking a veteran's brain, it was a full-fledged lesson in the art of pitching, and attendance was mandatory.

    We all know this, but it bears repeating: the Cubs are extremely lucky to have Greg Maddux on their roster, regardless of his performance on the field. His knowledge of pitching and the game in general is an invaluable tool, and if what I saw last night is any indication, he's busy helping other Cubs use it.

  • Speaking of Aardsma, a lot was made as he entered the game of his not having walked a batter in his 7 AAA innings this season and the 11 whiffs that were part of the mix, but in watching him work last night, I have to wonder how much of those good results in the minors were because of how well he threw, and how much was because of the quality of hitter he faced.

    On at least two of the at bats that resulted in walks, I think it's reasonable to believe that minor league batters would have swung and missed at some two-strike offerings that the Dodger hitters were able to take for balls. In Iowa, it's a K, in L.A., it's a walk. We'll see going forward if this is the case, or if he was simply a little off his game, but either way it bears watching.

  • Someone who wasn't off his game, and seemingly hasn't been for months, is Ryan Dempster, who broke the relatively modest club record for consecutive successful save opportunities last night, with his 23rd in a row. To be honest, that doesn't impress me, but what is impressive is the number of consecutive scoreless innings he's thrown (31.1), and how good he's looked doing it thus far in 2006.

    I haven't been screaming about Dempster's contract being a terrible signing because I never thought it was all that bad, but I was certainly lukewarm on it. Giving big money to a man for the best 60 or so innings of his life is never a good business decision, and his performance doesn't change that.

    However, I'm beginning to believe that, despite the somewhat faulty reasoning that went into the deal, it has a good chance of ending up a tremendous bargain. It may be a very small sample size, but Dempster's been flat-out excellent in the early going, and for me, his presence is turning into a tremendous source of comfort at the end of ballgames.

  • Back to the Lofton vs. Maddux thing from a couple of days ago: I had a suspicion that the error wasn't necessarily on the part of the Cubs' broadcast team, but it took me a couple of days to locate the information I needed to back myself up. Finally, I was able to find the Dodger Press Notes from that game (if you have an login, you should be able to view the link), and sure enough, right in the middle of the very first page is this ditty:

    NO, IT'S NOT A TYPO - Believe it or not, Kenny Lofton has never faced Cub right-hander Greg Maddux at any point in his big league career. Lofton came into the league in 1991 and Maddux first appeared in the bigs in 1986. Though much of their careers have been in opposite leagues, Lofton has played five years in the NL, where Maddux has spent his entire career.

    I'm not trying to belittle the folks who put these press notes together - they obviously work hard to make them, as there's a ton of information there, and really, I wish I remembered to peruse them more often - I just wanted to be sure in the interest of total accuracy that the origin of the error was clear.

A day of rest and worry lies before us, as the Cubs will spend the day preparing for their weekend series in St. Louis, and we shall sit and wait for further word on our fallen hero. Think good thoughts, everyone.

What Goes Around Comes Around
2006-04-19 07:55
by Derek Smart

What Greg Maddux did to the Dodgers over eight innings on Monday night, Derek Lowe did to the Cubs in seven innings last night, darting his sinker all over the place, keeping the Cubs' hitters guessing, befuddled, and generally ineffective. That he was followed upon his exit by a graduate of the Japanese School for Oddly Deceptive and Barely Legal Deliveries, just made the evening progress from bad to worse.

The Cubs were simply outpitched. It's not pleasant, but it happens, and in this case I think a tip of the cap is in order. Lowe and Saito got the job done.

  • Speaking of Saito, while he didn't have a lot on his fastball (it appeared to top out at 89, and live more in the 86-87 range), he clearly gets a lot out of the way his delivery effects hitters' timing. Nearly every Cub batter who faced him had a pitch to hit, but they were so completely unable to figure out when the ball would actually arrive in the hitting zone, leading the encounters to result in late whiffs.

    It just goes to show you, there are a lot of ways to get hitters out, and with the way Saito seems able to disrupt batters' internal clocks, along with consistently throwing strikes, I'd expect him to do pretty well the first time around the league. However, his fastball looks pretty hittable, so once guys get a bead on him, he could be in for some rough outings.

  • Let's do a list of good things and bad things about Z's outing:


    1. He walked five men in six innings
    2. He only struck out three
    3. It took him 112 pitches to get 2/3 of the way through the game


    1. He only gave up four hits
    2. He only gave up one run
    3. He had at least two distinct opportunities to have a meltdown, but kept himself composed

    I'm actually encouraged by this. The three bad things are all related to the kind of stuff he had last night, which was alright, but not his best. That he was able to work through it and have success is perhaps the most positive thing we've seen from him all year. Factor in that the one run he did allow came to be due to an unusually positive result on Rafael Furcal's truly awful bunt, and that's one more thing to be happy about.

  • Will Ohman's outing goes to show you that just because probabilities are stacked a certain way, doesn't mean the actual outcomes will match them (it's why they're called "probabilities" and not "facts").

    Jose Cruz Jr., a switch hitter, led off, and has been significantly better against lefties over the last few years. He grounded out to short. Rafael Furcal, another switch hitter, has been essentially even in his splits. He struck out swinging. Kenny Lofton hits exclusively left-handed, and has been significantly worse against lefties over the last three seasons. He walked. J.D. Drew is still good against lefties (.837 OPS from 2003-2005), but not nearly as good as he is against them starboard fellas (1.002 OPS). He had the game winning hit.

    In other words, the guys whom Bob Howry probably should have stayed in to face were the ones Ohman handled without issue, and the ones Ohman should have been (and was eventually) called upon to get out, fixed his wagon but good. Probabilities ain't facts, kids, probabilities ain't facts.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Cubs are in a tough position tonight, sending Sean Marshall to the hill against Brad Penny. I don't think we can expect a Maddux-esque performance out of the youngster, so it'll be up to the offense to win the series, which gives me significant pause. All appropriate paired appendages will be crossed, since I'd figure the fate of not just the series, but the road trip as a whole, rests on tonight's outcome.

Superlatives Fail Me
2006-04-18 07:11
by Derek Smart

I don't have enough big, happy words for the work Greg Maddux turned in last night. To be sure, he was lucky a few times that he was in Dodger Stadium, as he made a some mistakes to the likes of Olmedo Saenz and J.D. Drew that would have left most other yards, but they didn't, and the rest of the time he was efficient and sharp, and best of all, in the game for eight innings, giving the bullpen some much needed rest.

It would be foolish to expect Maddux to keep this up, but he's clearly been one of the best pitchers in the league over his first three starts, and I would have said it was foolish to expect that much back in the Spring. Maybe The Professor can make fools of us all by year's end? Wouldn't that be fun?

  • The Cubs' broadcast team made a big deal about last night being the first time Kenny Lofton faced Greg Maddux, and it even appears in the game notes of the AP recap on the ESPN site, but a quick trip to Retrosheet puts the lie to the notion. Sure, they've never matched up in the regular season, but they didn't qualify their statements with "regular season," and that's where the issue resides.

    In the 1995 World Series while playing for the Indians, Lofton faced Maddux in this game and this game, and in the 2003 Division Series he faced Maddux in this game while a member of the Cubs. Overall, he went 3 for 11 in those meetings, all of the hits singles, stole 4 bases, scored 3 runs, and didn't walk or strike out once.

  • The Cubs have clearly been more aggressive in the way they're running the bases and in the use of things like the hit and run, the first of which is a symptom of added speed and baserunning instincts on the roster, and the second having a little to do with the legs, but more to do with the perceived bat handling skills of the guys at the plate.

    I say perceived because, while it's true the club is next to last in total batter strikeouts in the NL, and fourth in strikeouts per plate appearance behind the Giants, Dodgers, and Cardinals this season, 2005 wasn't much different. The team was third in fewest batter strikeouts and lowest K/PA, despite the perceptions we might have lodged in our brains (the ratio of K/PA now is .146 vs. .149 for 2005, which isn't much of a difference).

    To be sure there were some folks you simply couldn't use in a hit and run situation, but it was an individual issue rather than a team one, so anytime you hear someone affiliated with the Cubs say that they're doing more hitting and running because finally they have folks on the roster who can make contact, you'll know they're working off of perception rather than fact.

    In any case, this is a long way of getting around to the fifth inning hit and run executed by Matt Murton on the bases and Ronny Cedeno at the plate. It was, indeed, some very nice bat handling by Cedeno as he reached outside the dish to punch the ball through the hole left by Murton's forced evacuation of the right side of the infield. You can say the hit and run isn't a good percentage play, since it can make big innings more difficult by potentially giving up outs, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, and since this club has been anything but fun the last couple of years, I'll gladly take it.

  • It took me a minute to realize that the Cubs had abandoned their early season mini-platoon of second basemen and inserted Todd Walker into the lineup with Greg Maddux on the mound. Walker's been so good with the stick lately, I imagine Dusty felt like he couldn't justify leaving him out, and not only did he make Baker look like a genius with a first inning, opposite field homer, he held his own defensively, too.

    In fact, Walker made multiple nice plays to his right, ranging fairly far to get the balls, and getting off good, strong throws despite having his momentum moving him away from the play. They weren't just catchers he got, either, as some of the faster men on the Dodger roster were nailed by Todd. If he keeps hitting anything like he has, and can defend the way he did yesterday, Todd will go a long way toward making the mini-platoon a distant memory.

  • The bad news is, once Brett Tomko left the game, the Cub bats went silent. The good news is, it was three innings of work by Franquelis Osoria that did the damage, and with an outing that long, it's doubtful we'll see him again during the series. He really had the Cubs messed up, so while I understand why Grady Little left him in the game to give his team a shot at coming back - the correct decision, if you ask me - I'd still like to thank him for rendering Osoria inoperable tonight and tomorrow.

  • To this point I've not said anything about the work of Ryan Dempster, mostly because I don't want to jinx it, but what I've seen of him so far has been very impressive. His offspeed stuff has been what's made the difference, as both his slider and splitter have been great pitches for him all year. I'd say he looks better than he did at the end of last year, although my memory is fuzzy on that point. There's still a lot of season left, so no reason to get too excited, but it's safe to say that thus far I'm a happy man.

This is a big start for Carlos tonight. He's been shaky most of the year, and failed to keep himself together when things haven't gone his way, so it's an opportunity to ditch those problems and just get the job done. It's also a key game in this series, since tomorrow night features Sean Marshall against the Dodgers' best starter thus far, Brad Penny, which figures to be a tough one for the Cubs to pull out.

Your Cub Town Post-Weekend Brain Dump
2006-04-17 08:37
by Derek Smart

I'll cop to some trepidation on the eve of the Cubs' weekend series with the Pirates. Not because the Buccos are such a fearsome group, or because the Cubs don't have a record of success against them of late (they certainly do), but rather due to the fact that they were sending their three most theoretically vulnerable pitchers to the hill on consecutive days.

It was a potential recipe for disaster, but surprisingly enough, all three of the Cub starters came through with solid performances, with the irony being that the best of the bunch resulted in a loss for the club and Jerome Williams.

The Pirates' performance on offense may not strike fear into the hearts of men like the work of their marauding namesakes, but it's nonetheless still encouraging to see this trio get after it and give the club an opportunity to win, and but for an unfortunate error by Ronny Cedeno, the Victory Bunny may have come thrice rather than twice.

So, good work you three. Keep it up, because chances are, the harder the decisions are once pitchers start coming off the disabled list, the better off the team will be.

  • Aramis Ramirez looks like he's finally coming around. There had been some quotes in the paper about his little bum strain helping him to refrain from overswinging, and whether it did or not, the results have been better of late. I'd imagine the larger factor was just getting a couple of days to clear the cobwebs and get out of any mental rut.

    If staying in the lineup when things are going well helps you ride the wave to further success, it only makes sense that sitting out when things are rough can help break the cycle of failure, and in this case, it at least appears that the time off did Aramis good.

  • Boy, Todd Walker looks good. He's still the same defender - while the Cubs were able to turn a couple of nice double plays yesterday, they were helped more by the sloth of the runner than by the speed of Walker's turn or the strength of his throws - but he's just locked in at the plate right now.

    I might have argued that Walker was more valuable in the two-hole before yesterday's game, but he did just fine hitting fifth, and with both Bynum and Blanco in the lineup, it was probably the right choice. In fact, and I know there's a sort of heresy in saying this, Dusty Baker has been pretty sharp so far. He's made strong choices with his pitchers, and for the most part, has constructed solid lineups, even when he's been forced to improvise a bit of late. It's been quite the pleasant surprise.

  • One of the things I've been particularly pleased about with Baker's choices has been his willingness to have relievers go for two innings. Some of that has been dictated by the fact that Cub starters have failed to go deep into games, but Dusty could have just as easily sent three or four guys out there every day, ensuring that nearly the entire bullpen was less than fresh, but instead he's choosing to use pitchers who are throwing successfully beyond the standard single inning, which has been both theoretically correct, and practically effective.

    As much as I get on Dusty when I think he's wrong, it's only fair that I point out when I think he's doing something right, and more often than not, that's been the case so far this season, which I'll admit, is a bit of a shock. A happy shock, but a shock, nonetheless.

  • I was sad to see Angel Pagan come up lame Saturday night, and the fact that he was so distraught that he was unable to speak to the press afterward tells me he understands the significance all too well. While he had a great spring, and offers some value off the bench because of his defense, speed, and ability to switch hit, he is far from indispensable, and the truth is, he's the type of player who can lose their shot at a career with an ill-timed injury such as this. It may not be fair, but it's reality, and for his sake and that of the club, I wish him a speedy recovery.

  • Now that I've had a chance to see Freddie Bynum play a little, I can see why the A's couldn't find a spot for him. Sure, he's fast, and he has defensive flexibility, but he's looked overmatched in nearly every plate appearance thus far. Some of that might be some anxiousness in trying to prove himself to a new club, but I fear most of it is just the level of his skillset.

    That said, one could do worse for a 25th man. As long as he stays out of the lineup, and doesn't hit in critical situations, he should be fine, and outside of the necessity dictated the last couple of days, it looks like he's going to be used as a pinch runner/emergency replacement type, which is as it should be.

  • It's becoming clear the more I see him work that we're going to have to take the good with the bad for a while when it comes to Ronny Cedeno's defense. There's mention here of Chris Speier working with him on his throwing mechanics, so I'd expect an adjustment period while it becomes second nature, and in the meantime we're still seeing some of his throws go off the mark.

    However, he's still getting to balls that most fellas can't reach, and managing to make plays on many of them because of the cannon affixed to his right shoulder, so fixing his throwing motion will be some yummy icing on an already tasty cake. Once he's more consistent getting the ball to its destination, I think we'll be treated to one of the better defenders around.

  • After Friday's blow-up, Michael Wuertz finally got the boot in favor of Roberto Novoa. If Wuertz had shown any ability to get people out in the spring I might cry foul, but he's been out of whack all year, and until he figures things out, he's better off in Iowa. It was only Novoa's Valley Fever and the trade of Todd Wellemeyer that made room for him anyway, so it's not surprising he was on a short leash.

  • A bit off subject here, but I have to tell you all about this: My daughter received a new set of alphabet blocks for her birthday. She already has several sets, but apparently there's a section of the Grandparent Code of Conduct stipulating that when giving gifts to a grandchild, one must be certain to eventually give all possible iterations of the gift-type, lest one version be preferred over another, the withholding of which may serve to permanently damage the child and stunt their development to the point of forcing them to live off the charity of the State for the remainder of their natural lives. But I digress from my digression.

    The new set is, indeed, very nice. They're made of wood, with two opposite sides of the cube having a letter of the alphabet on them - one upper case, one lower case - and the remaining four sides decorated with pictures of people, places, or things that begin with the corresponding letter, with the word itself spelled out above. Now that the scene is set, here's what happened:

    Ella was playing with the blocks this weekend when she picked up the one with the letter "U" on it. She turned it around, studying the pictures, when she came to one that depicted, of all things, an umpire. It is a side view of an official working behind the plate, crouching to see the pitch, with mask and padding all in place.

    In other words, a two year-old without a corresponding frame of reference might not recognize that the picture is supposed to be of a human, but in spite of that understanding, I was still convulsed with laughter when, with her eyes lit up, she pointed excitedly at the picture and said to me, "Monkey! Monkey! Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!" She may not be able to pick Joe West out of a lineup, but she can recognize his species just the same. That's daddy's girl!

  • Word came down last night that David Aardsma would be taking Pagan's place on the roster, meaning the club is now carrying twelve pitchers again. In principle I don't like the twelve pitcher thing, but there aren't any obvious position player candidates to replace Pagan (bringing up Pie at this point would be a huge mistake), and since Aardsma's been throwing very well, and the starters don't seem able to get beyond six innings, the extra arm actually makes sense. The question is, does this arrangement stick through the summer, or will the Cubs go back to eleven pitchers at some point? I'd hope they would, but I wouldn't count on it.

Off to Los Angeles tonight to face one of the few teams around that can relate to our medical issues. It's a chance to keep the road trip going well, and since the following series is against a Cardinal team that's likely to be out for blood, it's all the more important to take the series.

Anatomy of a Meltdown
2006-04-14 08:23
by Derek Smart

Here's the sequence of yesterday's edition of Big Z Freakout Theatre, as I think it happened:

  1. He starts the third walking David Ross on five pitches. He's been adamant about trying to reduce his walks this year, as he sees it as the final piece to the puzzle of his greatness, so this is likely a bit galling. Not enough to make him completely nuts, but it's the first push on a boulder sitting at the cliff's edge.

  2. Eric Milton lays down a bad bunt, and Carlos pounces on it, throwing Ross out at second. Now, here's where I think things start to unravel for Carlos: his throw, while good enough to get the lead runner, is high, and while it's a reach to say the play could have resulted in two outs with a better toss to Cedeno at the bag, I'd be willing to bet that Zambrano thought he could have gotten the DP if he hadn't rushed his throw, and now he wants to erase the runner from the paths at all costs, which brings us to....

  3. The inexplicable decision to attempt a pickoff throw to first with the pitcher, Eric Milton (aka: Portside Lightning), standing at the sack. Not only was Lee not covering the bag, leading to Z's eventual throw being called a balk, but even if Derrek was there, Milton is barely a threat to go to second on a homer, let alone steal a base. I have to believe that making that throw was a manifestation of the frustration that had begun to mount as early as the walk to Ross - an impairment of both judgment and concentration due to the overwhelming power of his emotions.

  4. From here, it's nothing but downhill, as Carlos has gone from having his emotional state make him stupid, to having it undermine the physical nature of his work, resulting in the immediate plunking of Ryan Freel, and culminating in the horrible pitch on a 3-1 count that Felipe Lopez rightly banished from the yard.

And there's the ballgame. Certainly, other mistakes were made - Bob Howry didn't help matters with the bomb he gave up to Austin Kearns in the eighth - but this contest boiled down to Zambrano's inability to retain his focus, and his tendency to let little things snowball into gigantic issues through the sheer force of his emotional immaturity.

Z talks a lot about wanting to reduce his walks and sharpen his concentration to reach the next level of pitching excellence, but more and more I get the feeling that what he really needs to do is simply grow the hell up.

2006-04-13 07:31
by Derek Smart

Yes, Virginia, it is possible to have a normal score at the end of a Cubs/Reds game. I was beginning to wonder, knowing how last season's confrontations trended, and after seeing the result of Tuesday's game (which I missed entirely due to work and preparations for my daughter's birthday party. Of course, the thing I've taken from the experience is that I should do my best to miss each start by Glendon Rusch, if only to keep my blood pressure in the "non-explosive" range), I was beginning to wonder if a more typical baseball score would ever come out of this match-up again.

Leave it to The Old Man, Greg Maddux, to return a modicum of sanity to the proceedings. Good 'Ol Mad Dog has looked fantastic in both of his starts, but I'd argue yesterday's work was even better than his first go-round, what with the less offensively suppressing weather conditions, and the more explosive nature of the lineup faced. It's always a stretch at this point to say Maddux has looked like his old self, but the last couple of outings have been as close to such a thing as we're likely to see over the remainder of his career, so enjoy it, and enjoy the win.

To the Firing Line!

  • I only watched the first few innings of yesterday's game, as I'd been birthday partying all day (Grandmas and Goodies and Gifts, Oh My!), and by the time I got to my recording I only had enough energy to make it through three innings before I felt the need to check the internet for a final result and hit the hay. From what I've seen of the recap, though, I caught nearly all the relevant action, and I had a favorite pitching moment, to boot.

    In the third, Javier Valentin led off the inning for the Reds, with Maddux taking the mound as a fully owned subsidiary of JV Home(r)s, Inc., having given up 4 free round trips in 10 at bats against Valentin. So when Maddux made him look flat out bad striking out on four pitches, it was a moment of vindication - at least for me - and a sign of the level The Professor was working at yesterday. Winning is great in general, but beating guys who regularly beat you is extra sweet.

  • Michael Barrett's having himself a dandy start to the year. Not only does he have a .385/.393/.808 line going to start the year, but he's tied for the Major League lead in RBIs with Andrew Jones at 13 - and he's done it in 13 fewer plate appearances. I know RBI are team dependent and all that, but it's fun to see someone like Barrett be up among the league leaders for a while, an honor that goes awfully well with the Clutch God Legend he's been building himself over the last few days.

  • Finally, we got a look at the reason why the Cubs were so anxious to acquire Juan Pierre in the offseason. Twice in the first three innings they had Pierre at second with Lee at first, and twice they were able to easily pull off a double-steal, both instances eventually leading to runs. Not only were they positive plays in the context of the game, they were just flat-out fun to watch, and the fact is, I can't remember the last time there was a Cub player who was a consistent threat to steal third.

    I don't think one can realistically make the case that the Cubs' team speed was a direct cause of the Reds' five errors on the day, but it would be foolish to discount it completely as a factor - certainly, the need to quickly get a throw off contributed to Valentin's run-scoring error on the double-steal in the first. I think the speed factor is over-valued in Old School thinking, but gets short shrift from many statheads - myself included - so I'd suggest going forward that, while we should take with a grain of salt (or two) the constant prattling about the Cubs' basepath swiftness that will come with any success, we should also acknowledge that it's an undeniable part of the spectrum.

On the surface, I like today's pitching match-up between Carlos Zambrano and Eric Milton very much, but if the wind's blowing in, things could easily even out. Let's hope they don't and that all goes swimmingly for our boys, because while the next three games are against the Pirates, they also feature the Cubs' three worst starters, and that, as we all know, could end quite badly.

Lee to Sign Tomorrow
2006-04-10 18:29
by Derek Smart

According to ESPN, Derrek Lee will be signing a five-year, $65M deal with a complete no-trade clause that will be announced at a press conference tomorrow. The terms are to be effective this season, replacing the last year of the deal he had signed during the Spring leading up to his first season as a Cub.

Considering what the market looks like at the moment, this contract seems plenty reasonable to me, and I have to believe that he could have made a killing on the open market, especially since both the Yankees and Red Sox could have been expected to make big plays for The Savior.

Sure, he might not be worth the money at the end of the deal, but he's a much better bet to be close than his nearest free-agent comp this offseason, Paul Konerko. Lee is extremely durable, and is a superior athlete, which gives us reason to believe that he'll age pretty well. As a rule, I'm not fond of five-year deals for anyone, but if you're going to give out such things, Lee's one of the better bets you'll find.

Congratulations to both the Cubs and Derrek. I look forward to seeing terror in the eyes of National League pitchers through 2010.

Broom Style
2006-04-10 05:09
by Derek Smart

The long-awaited (actually, it hasn't been long, it only seems that way) debut of Sean Marshall has come and gone, and as is true with most situations like this, he was neither savior nor bringer of disaster. Rather, it was mostly out of his hands, despite his helping keep the game close, as the savior turned out to be Michael Barrett (if anyone of you had a better weekend than him, I'll gladly walk the proverbial mile in your shoes), and the toter of woe turned out to wear Cardinal red.

How swee-p it was, my friends. On to the bullets!

  • Marshall looked solid enough for most of the game, and until the fifth, his only mistake had been a terrible pitch to Scott Rolen that the Cardinal third baseman rightly escorted out of the joint ("I'm sorry, but riffraff like yourself cannot be allowed into this Cathedral of the National Passtime. Good day, sir!" SMACK!). He did what he failed to do in Las Vegas, which was keep the ball down, although in the early going he did it a little too much, and from the looks of ESPN's K-Zone ("The Umpires' Best Friend!"), was getting squeezed a bit down there.

    He and Barrett made the adjustment in the next inning, and while he still mostly worked low, he started to at least show the ball high occasionally to change some sight angles, and it worked very well until he just seemed to lose steam in the fifth. He hadn't thrown a lot of pitches - he'd tossed just 65 when he was removed - but he looked gassed and flustered, and once he plunked David Eckstein to juice the bags, he was clearly done, and Dusty did the right thing getting him out of there.

    That the man he turned to was Michael Wuertz made my skin crawl, but Mr. Wuertz looked much more like his good self, despite the RBI single he gave up to Albert Pujols and the infield single to Rolen that followed. He had his slider, which is critical, and the strikeout to Encarnacion was a game-saver in retrospect. Nothing was hit hard off him, and while he allowed two inherited runners to score, it was a solid enough fireman's job, and a sorely needed one, at that.

  • Wuertz might not have allowed any hard hit balls, but Jerome Williams sure did, and while the outing was a success overall due to the two-inning, scoreless nature of the beast, it didn't inspire me with confidence. His first inning saw him fall behind a lot, and he was potentially saved some grief by John Rodriquez' anxiousness in swinging at the first pitch he saw with men on first and second. Fail to get the double play, and up comes Pujols, which despite Williams' odd dominance of him (Prince Albert came into the game with a 1 for 11 mark against Williams in his career), would have been a fright, indeed.

  • I swear to you, this is how it went down in my head: in the fourth, with the Cubs down two, Derrek Lee having just hit into his second double play of the night, and Aramis Ramirez now standing at first after an infield single, I said to myself, "What would really be fitting here is for Barrett to get on and have Jacque Jones come up and have his first hit as a Cub be a three-run homer. Yeah, that'd be fun."

    Ask and you shall receive, I guess, because Jones got a hold of one, taking the pill out to straight-away center, and the Cubs had their first lead of the night. Up until then, Jones had looked terrible - I'd go so far as to call his early work "Pattersonesque" - pressing like crazy, swinging at pitches he had no right to swing at, and missing balls he should have been able to do something with.

    After the homer, though, he looked like a new man up there. Not that he turned into Albert Pujols, mind you, but his entire demeanor at the plate changed, and it was clear that a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, the removal of which carried through to the rest of his bat-work for the night. Unfortunately, I think this is part of the package with him - long stretches of blistering incompetence, followed by a burst of extreme usefulness. Thus far, his timing with this tendency has been pretty good. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it holds.

  • Ronny Cedeno continues to look excellent at the dish, going 4 for 4 last night with a hustle double in his first effort. A couple of his hits were lucky though (the double was a chopper than made it over Scott Rolen's head, and another ball got over Rolen's glove after a bad hop), so while I like the confidence he's playing with at the moment, he's likely to come back to earth soon, both because of the luck involved, and because of adjustments pitchers will be making on him soon. Whether he keeps his job or not will have to do with a combination of how quickly he re-adjusts after the league does, and how patient Baker is during the process.

  • The checked-swing third strike called on Juan Pierre to end the seventh, leaving men stranded on first and third, wasn't a horrible call only because it was wrong. For the second time in two days a Cub was rung up unjustly by the home plate umpire, making a call he simply didn't have the angle on, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why neither official asked the man up the line for help.

    What's really scary, though, is that Joe Morgan, of all people, made me think of the situation a little differently than I had before (thus, making me feel like a spectacular idiot in the process). He mentioned after Pierre was sent to the pine that these situations were somewhat unique because if the catcher doesn't like the call (ie: the home plate umpire says the batter didn't swing), he can appeal to the ump up the line, but the hitter doesn't have a similar recourse if the situations are reversed.

    That line of thinking had never entered my head, and try as I might, I couldn't think of a good reason not to allow the hitter that right of appeal. At the very least it would serve to put the few disputable calls of this sort in the hands of the person most capable of making an equitable ruling, and I can't think of any negative repercussions. What's fair is fair, and if the defense can ask an official in better position to reverse these sort of verdicts, I don't see why the offense shouldn't have that same right.

  • The story for the Cardinals in these last two games has been their bullpen, or rather, their lack thereof. After Saturday's game where Tony LaRussa turned the contest over to his relief corps' lesser lights and got burned for his trouble, he made a somewhat avant garde but completely correct decision in the eighth, bringing in his best reliever to face the Cubs' best hitters in what was sure to be the game's critical juncture.

    That it didn't work out for him wasn't the point, because it makes imminently more sense to do what he did than to bring in, say, Josh Hancock (he who gave up Barrett's game-tying blast on Saturday). What's brings the tinge of irony on board is the fact that Tony LaRussa, more than any other man outside of Jerome Holtzman, is responsible for the current model of closer usage where you save the man who is ostensibly your most effective relief pitcher for the final three outs, game situation be damned. Wouldn't it be kind of wonderful if this man, who led baseball's conventional wisdom into the wilderness on this issue, was the one who led them out of it?

A day to rest, and bask in the glow. Enjoy it now, for you never know when these things will turn on you.

So Far, So Good
2006-04-09 11:54
by Derek Smart

It's been a good weekend thus far, so I'm in the mood to comment.

  • Greg Maddux was solid on Friday, working a very efficient 6.1 innings and allowing only 4 hits and 2 walks, with the lone run coming on a homer to right by Jim Edmonds. He did make a few more mistakes than the one Edmonds lost in the crowd, but thanks to the big wind blowing in, they didn't result in damage.

    Actually, I think it's interesting that it was the Cardinals rather than the Cubs who were hitting towering but ultimately harmless flies into the teeth of the howling gale. This has been a favorite activity of Cub hitters over the last couple of seasons, and while it's still very early in the year, it's nice to see them at least have the potential to abandon that as a style choice.

  • I'll absolutely buy into the idea of sitting Todd Walker when Greg Maddux is on the hill. Defense becomes the priority in that situation, and with Walker's deficiencies in that area, it makes good sense to have a better glove man in the game. I'll even buy into the idea that in Friday's case, Neifi! was a better choice than Jerry Hairston, since Hairston had a pretty extensive record of bad work against the Cardinal starter, Jeff Suppan (he's 2 for 19 in against him in his career).

    However, I will not under any circumstances buy into Neifi! hitting in the two hole. Anyone who says that Neifi! going 3 for 4 renders the strategy defensible is engaging in the worst kind of ex post facto reasoning. There was no cause before the game to believe the King of Exclamation Points would go 3 for 4, or 2 for 4, or even reach base at all, and with the tremendous issues the club had getting men on ahead of Derrek Lee last year - issues that Mr. Perez had no small part of - you'd think a lesson had been learned. Okay, maybe not, but a fella can hope.

  • Don't know about you, but I'm going to say that Derrek Lee has found his timing. The two homers he's hit at Wrigley thus far have been no-doubt jobs, which is particularly impressive considering the conditions. I'm going to guess that this evening's game will not feature a pitch to The Savior belt-high on the inner-black.

  • Saturday's contest presented us with a familiar scenario: the Cubs and their opponent locked in a fierce duel between two starting pitchers, both featuring their best stuff. One team takes a slim lead and looks to be in a controlling position, but the starter tires after six hard-fought innings, and when the relief corps are called upon, they quickly relinquish the lead and the game. We've seen this untold times, but the twist yesterday was that for once, joy of joys, the Cubs weren't on the business end of the bullpen blowup.

    In fact, the bullpen has been excellent over the last two games, particularly the work of Bob Howry, who has thrown 2.1 innings, giving up a lone hit and striking out four men in the process. The shame of it is, that although Howry's been excellent, he's also one of the slowest pitchers I've ever seen, which makes watching him pitch slightly less entertaining than the 3 AM Saturday morning offering on C-SPAN2. I'll take it as long as he remains effective, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy the aesthetic.

  • Speaking of pleasing aesthetics, the difference between yesterday's Carlos and the man we saw on Opening Day was twofold. First, he was able, for the most part, to hit his spots. Or rather, he was able to put the ball in the vicinity he chose, which meant that he was actually able to execute a gameplan and keep hitters off-balance. Second, his pitches started in the zone and moved out, rather than starting out of the zone and moving in, which meant that if he made a mistake it resulted in a ball, rather than a line drive.

    The only unfortunate part of the day was the way he seemed to lose his concentration among the onslaught of errors that resulted in the Cardinal runs in the top of the sixth. It looked like another instance of Big Z letting his emotions get the best of him, and points out that there's still a lingering issue for him in this regard. Certainly, he's better than he used to be, but if he wants to be the Cy Young pitcher he's openly expressed a desire to be, he needs to find a way to channel those feelings in a positive way.

  • More than any position player on the club, Ronny Cedeno needs to prove himself in the early going. That he's gotten a hit in each game thus far and even equaled his total of doubles (3) in nearly six times fewer at bats is excellent news for him, although his two errors yesterday were not. Luckily, his reputation is as a defender, so unless he consistently shows issues with the glove, he'll be given a pass for that.

    If there's a worrying thing I've noticed, it's that Ronny looks like he's having consistent issues getting the ball out of his glove. Perhaps it's a weather issue, or simply a fluke, but until I've seen him work more I can't be sure. Hopefully, we won't see this type of thing going forward, because even with his good play in the first four contests, his hold on a job remains the most tenuous among the non-pitchers.

Beyond the simple fact of winning two in a row, the very positive result of the last two outings is a likely reduction of the pressure on tonight's starter, Sean Marshall - as much as one can ease the burden of a kid making his first Major League start at Wrigley Field versus the Cardinals on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Those basic stresses are bad enough, imagine if the series rested on his shoulders?

Thankfully, it doesn't, so here's hoping Marshall can bring the stuff he brought for most of the Spring and end this thing broom-style.

2006-04-07 11:06
by Derek Smart

The last time Greg Maddux started the Cubs' home opener was on April 12, 2004, a day I remember well because it happened to be, through coincidence or providence, the day my daughter was born. If that wasn't a strong enough sign of her destiny, she officially arrived at 1:15 PM, five minutes before the first pitch. Clearly, she is daddy's girl.

The game that day was none too special, as it featured Maddux going a mere 3.2 innings against the lowly Pirates while giving up 8 hits and 6 runs (5 earned), in addition to coughing up a whopping 5 free passes - 15.2% of his walks for the year in only 1.7% of his innings.

The Cubs went on to lose the game 13-2, but I didn't care much, as not only was I now a little girl's father, but that girl was laying in the neonatal intensive care unit, intubated, with a machine helping her breathe. That during the night she ripped the tube from her throat was a sign, not only of her excellent prospects for full recovery, but of her inherent stubbornness and tendency toward the contrarian.

We had her home after a week-long course of antibiotics, and she has never shown any sign of lingering issues from her rough beginning. She is still stubborn, and still contrary, which are tendencies exacerbated by her impending second birthday, but she is also a delight which I cannot begin to describe.

I've never been much of a sentimentalist, and before I had a child I'll admit that I never understood what the big deal was. Sure they were cute and all, but they were also noisy and messy and all sorts of other things that were patently unpleasant. Yet, despite how I might have felt pre-parenthood, things are different now, and it's in large part because of this: There is a smile that a little girl gives to her daddy alone, and only experience can teach you its glory. I never knew it before she came, and I didn't feel any worse for the lack, but now that I've basked in that glow, life without it is unimaginable.

Nearly two years ago, the Cubs opened their season with Greg Maddux on the hill. They lost the game, but it didn't matter because I was given a gift that day, one that I get to enjoy every morning when I wake, and every moment I spend with her. I hope the Cubs win today - it pains me when they don't - but if victory is not in the offing at least I know I have a ready salve in a little girl's grin, and the twinkle of love in her eyes.

Just Couldn't Do It
2006-04-06 06:10
by Derek Smart

I TiVo'd yesterday's game, as not only was it during the afternoon and thus conflicting with my work schedule, but being at an off-site training session all day, I wouldn't be afforded the chance to follow along on the periphery. My plan was foiled, however, by my inability to keep from checking the game's score during a break, and once I saw the Cubs had what I now consider to be a typical game against the Reds (score enough to win, yet fail utterly to control the Cincinnati attack), my appetite for viewing the atrocity disappeared. So, what I give you now is a couple of boxscore related observations, to be taken with the appropriate amounts of salt.

  • Three walks in one inning. That's what the Cubs got out of Jerome Williams' relief appearance yesterday, and naturally, it led to what one could argue were the game's decisive runs. Out of his 28 pitches, he only got 12 over for strikes, and two of those were on the base hits he coughed up (double and a dinger, so no dribblers here). I'm neither a proponent nor opponent of Williams' as a rotation staple, but this type of outing is one he can't afford to have if he wants to pitch for the Cubs beyond sometime in late April/early May.

  • Of course, Glendon Rusch didn't help matters any, as from what I can see from the game record, his two walks actually diminish the effect his lack of control had on the game. Throwing 85 pitches in four innings is no way to keep your club in the game against an offense like the Reds, especially when you only get about half of them over the plate.

    Assuming there is a time when Wood, Prior, Miller, Zambrano, and Maddux are all healthy at once (a big assumption, I know), Rusch would clearly be heading to the bullpen or out of town once this thing devoutly to be wished came to pass. While Glendon is unlikely to alter his fate with his performance, what more work like this will serve to do is make his departure from regular duty tear-free.

  • It's always good to see Lee and Ramirez both go deep, even if they were their only hits of the game. Did they look good the rest of the time, or were those bombs their one moment to shine? Since I didn't see for myself, let me know, eh?

  • John Mabry isn't a brilliant ballplayer, but he's a nice part to have on your bench, as I said back when the Cubs acquired him. One of the things the Cubs have sorely lacked in recent years has been power off the bench, and while Mabry's clearly the only source available, that's still one more source than the club has sported of late, and it came to bear in yesterday's seventh when he hit a two-run homer to pull the club within a run. It's a small improvement, but improvement it is.

It figures that my schedule is totally wacky in the season's first two weeks. More consistency after mid-month, I promise.

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair
2006-04-04 04:32
by Derek Smart

I love baseball. It is the great passion in my life, outside of my wife and daughter, and like so many of you, I've been anxiously awaiting its return, almost from the moment of last year's final out. The winter can be cruel enough with its dreary chill, but with baseball removed from the equation, it is a truly painful time.

So, I find it ironic that now the time has come to enjoy this thing I adore so deeply, it greets me with an excruciating experience like yesterday's game. Yes, the Cubs won, and yes, that's good, but there was nothing entertaining about this contest beyond the top of the first, when there was at least some excitement from a Chicago fan's perspective.

It was an incredibly poorly played game by all involved, with errors in the field, and the inability to throw strikes ruling the day - which has the effect of not only being aesthetically displeasing, but of extending the agony of it all, making the proceedings ugly, dull, and looooong. Like I said, I love baseball, just not when it looks like that.

  • The President of the United States was at Great American Ballpark to throw out the first pitch, and as such there was a tremendous amount of security in place, and at one point before the game, we saw a shot of what I believe was the high plateau above the batting eye in center, where there were several men, dressed in black, all toting rifles with what looked like very powerful scopes attached. Like I always say, there's nothing that says baseball as loudly and clearly as snipers stationed on the stadium roof.

  • A baseball game can turn on a dime. The top of the first was looking like an abject disaster for the Reds, especially after Adam Dunn made a lazy play on the ball Jacque Jones hit toward him with the bases loaded and nobody out. What should have been, at worst, a sacrifice fly that resulted in two men on and one out with the score 2-0, was instead the same score with no one gone and the bags juiced.

    That's when Michael Barrett came up and smacked what was, to that point, the hardest hit ball of the day - harder than Pierre's triple, harder than Walker's double - which instead of worsening the Reds' plight, made it considerably sunnier, as the pill went right to Edwin Encarnacion who caught it on the fly and doubled Aramis Ramirez off second. The Reds needed but one more out to escape the inning relatively unscathed.

    Of course, it didn't turn out that way, as Aaron Harang had Matt Murton at a 2-2 count, when he made a mistake that The Red Baron launched out to center. Dunn's error came back to haunt them after all, and things looked dark for the Reds. But that was before the Cubs' starter, Carlos Zambrano, took the hill.

  • We saw two varieties of "Bad Z" yesterday. First, it was the version that overthrows and consistently misses up. This iteration doesn't give up a lot of hits, but he does walk a ton, and his downfall usually comes after he's allowed a lot of men to freely stroll the bags, the final culmination being either a mistake by Carlos, or a bad break in the field. In this case, that he escaped the first with only one run allowed was a near miracle, curtesy of Matt Murton's glove.

    The second edition showed up in the third, featuring the ability to get good movement on his pitches, coupled with further wildness - except this species of Zambanoscis Horribilious is less wild out of the zone than he's wild in it, the result being events like the no-doubt three-run bomb by Scott Hatteberg in the third, and the even more doubt-free blast by Adam Dunn in the fifth.

    In the end, it took 105 pitches - only 58 being strikes - for Zambrano to limp through a mere 4.2 innings of work. In a way, it was a good workout for the team, since there's an off day tomorrow, and the entire bullpen saw time in this game, except for Michael Wuertz (he was warming up in the fifth, but the fact that using Scott Eyre for two innings was preferable to putting Wuertz in with a six run lead speaks volumes about his standing at the moment). Besides, it's not these sort of bad performances that give me pause - everyone has them - it's the looming possibility that even the good days will end after 120 pitches and six frames in the books.

  • In the top of the first, the broadcast crew made a big deal of the fact that the scoreboard graphic had Derrek Lee's first name spelled incorrectly (or from my perspective, seeing as it was missing the extra 'r', the way it should be). But pointing out other's foibles in this fashion can come back to bite you, as the Cubs' defensive half featured a television graphic introducing the Cub fielders that, instead of showing a double-play combo of Walker and Cedeno, implied that Hairston and Neifi! were up the middle.

    Look guys, we Cub fans went through a lot of angst this offseason about the horrific possibilities for the Cubs' middle infield, and it looks for the moment like the right decision has finally been made, so don't go messing it up with a graphical faux paux. We're fragile enough as it is.

  • Before some other deals were consummated that made the possibility extremely remote, there were at least some rumblings among Cub fans about it being a good idea for the club to attempt to acquire Adam Dunn from the Reds. He'd still look positively yummy in the middle of the Cub lineup, but if you were an advocate of such a deal and got a chance to see much of this game, you might be thinking he'd be much more attractive as a DH.

    It was butchery of the highest degree all day long. Even the good play he made during Jacque Jones second at bat looked like something he stumbled into. It was as if someone imbued Dunn with the defensive ability of Jason Dubois, then gave him a bottle of absinthe and an arm full of smack. It got so bad that he was booed when he came to the plate in the sixth. On opening day. Naturally, he struck out.

  • As an aside, if you didn't see the BBTN Opening Day crew, count yourself lucky. The worst of it was poor Tino Martinez, who didn't just look nervous, he looked like his family was tied up off-camera and being physically menaced while he spoke. I hope he can relax and be more natural, because I always liked him, even when he was a Cardinal, and watching him be so twitchy and anxious was extraordinarily painful.

  • Teams are going to be much more cautious with Derrek Lee this year. The Savior didn't look right at all, seeming just a little behind everything, but in spite of that he was being worked extremely carefully, and managed to coax three walks to go with his "double" (Adam Dunn Strikes Again!). I mention this as a means to temper expectations, as I think we're likely to see Lee need that first week or so to make up for the turns he missed this spring. His timing's simply not there yet.

Because the baseball gods are cruel, and that which they giveth they can also taketh away, we'll be forced to wait another day for the resumption of hostilities. Nevertheless, it's impossible to deny that baseball has, indeed, begun. Hopefully, we'll be treated to many similar results, but with far more engaging contests.

Let It Begin
2006-04-03 06:37
by Derek Smart

Not a lot going on as we await the opening pitch, but I've got a couple quick things for you:

  • I watched most of Saturday night's loss to the Padres, wherein we were treated to knowledge that we already had: that Sean Marshall is human. Not only that, he's a young human, and it shone through clear as a prairie morning.

    As was noted in the newspapers, he had issues putting innings away, getting to two outs in each frame before allowing runs to score, but the really big issue was Marshall's inability/refusal to get the ball down. From the very start, he spent so much time living high in the zone I could have sworn he'd bought a condo there.

    He doesn't have the stuff to work consistently above the belt - his fastball simply lacks the zip - and if he wants to avoid having the middle of the Cardinal lineup hand him his head on a platter Sunday night, he'll need to move out of that condo in the clouds and buy a nice, quiet place in the valley.

  • There are a couple pieces this morning about the Derrek Lee contract extension talks, with the Sun-Times saying something might get done today, and the Daily Herald less aggressively optimistic, but fairly certain something will happen soon. Myself, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a finished deal by the end of the week. If there's one thing Jim Hendry doesn't mess around with, it's contract extensions, and I'd guess this will be a fairly smooth process.

  • Taking a look at how Carlos Zambrano matches up with the Reds, I'm not seeing much to be afraid of. The thing he really needs to do against them, which he needs to do in general, is cut down on the free passes. If he can do that, he's got a shot to make quick work of this afternoon's game. Otherwise, all it takes is an ill-timed mistake to ruin the day.

I'm sitting at home today, just waiting for play to begin. To be honest, when I look at the club I see only small reasons to hope, yet here I am all jacked up about the season that begins this afternoon. That's the beauty of the thing, I suppose, that no matter how dire things look as the games approach, when the time comes there's always room for a little dreaming.

Everywhere But Here
2006-04-01 11:25
by Derek Smart

The Cub Reporter is running a pre-season roundtable series this weekend, and they were kind enough to ask me to lob a few bombs, along with many of the finest the Cubs Blog Army has to offer. Head over here to take a peek, if you haven't already.