Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: May 2006


Cubs Acquire Nevin
2006-05-31 14:57
by Derek Smart

Today, the Cubs dealt seventh string second baseman Jerry Hairston (whom I am now belatedly dubbing "The Human Brain-Cramp"), to the Rangers for the also struggling Phil Nevin. Presumably, Nevin will be manning first base most nights, allowing Todd Walker to shift over to second base on a more regular basis. Oh, how soon we've forgotten your scrappy brilliance, Tony!

If the Cubs were in contention, this would be a very solid deal, as Hairston doesn't do much of anything for this team, and even with his overall struggles this year, Nevin has still hit lefties very well - and if there's something this club has been sorely lacking for several years now, it's a right-handed power bat off the bench. They also need someone to push the various "weak sisters of second" to the bench, and he should do for that quite nicely.

However, the Cubs are not in contention - although the message has clearly not been received in the club's front office - so while there's still nothing wrong with the deal if presented in a vacuum, when taken in context it seems extremely late, a little desperate, and without much real purpose. Nevin is certainly an incremental upgrade, a reasonable tweak, but if fine tuning and moderate adjustments were really what was called for, I'd have expected something better than the recent 5-23 jaunt through hell.

Yes, something got done, and it's a decent enough something, but it's a move the likes of which should have happened over a month ago when such a thing might have actually had meaning. As it is, it's simply a harmless excursion into the land of delusional comeback scenarios. Harmless, that is, if the front office awakens from it before the end of July.

2006-05-31 06:52
by Derek Smart

With last night's convincing 8-3 triumph, the Cubs clinched their first series victory against the Reds since their 2 games to 1 win at Wrigley on April 25-27 of last year. In the span since that series and before this one, the Cubs had gone 5-10 versus Cincy, allowing 98 runs over those fifteen games (that's 6.53 runs per game, for the calculator impaired), and scoring 75 themselves (although it's important to note that 16 of those tallies - 21.3% - came in this season's opening contest). Put another way, if you take the median runs scored for both teams over those games, you get a score of 8-4 in the Reds' favor.

In short, Cincinnati has owned the Cubs of late, so there's something particularly satisfying about both ending the recent losing streak against them, and tallying the club's first consecutive victories against an opponent with a winning record since sweeping the Cardinals from April 7-9 of this year. These have been two solid wins with little to complain about, and in this season well worthy of all the carping one can muster, that's a welcome respite, indeed.

  • I love my DVR. I didn't start watching the game until around 8:00 when I put my daughter to bed, and while I knew there was a storm raging, I also knew that I'd likely have some game to watch. So there I was, able to fast-forward through commercials, viewing what was accomplished before the rains came, but when I got to the point in the recording where the tarp went on the field, it turned out I only had about 5 minutes to wait before the game resumed. So there I was, after what was essentially a long commercial break, watching it live, all caught up. What a country!

  • When you watch a lot of baseball, by necessity, you see a lot of bad throws. Sometimes you even see two or three bad throws in a game. However, I don't remember seeing two throws by two different players in the same game sail so high and so far above the intended targets as the errant hurls from the arms of Jacque Jones in the 2nd, and Javier Valentin in the 5th. They were epic in their badness, with Valentin's toss topping Jones' only because his target was nearer, and also resulted in a run scoring.

    That Austin Kearns showed Jones how it was done in the half-inning immediately following his gaffe made the pangs all the worse. I don't know if Kearns was ever truly on the block, but watching him hit and throw makes me wonder just what the price to acquire him would have been. Something tells me if I knew, I might be more than a little sick.

  • Alright, I said earlier there was little to complain about, but I'll take a moment to mention that Ronny Cedeno can make some very nice plays in the field, but it's getting to the point that I'm starting to break into a sweat whenever there's a routine grounder hit in his direction. With his cannon arm and free swinging ways, I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to hearken back to days of yore and break out the Shawon Ron-O-Meter.

  • One more thing: the Cubs have begun to hit for the occasional extra base, and that's helping their offense tremendously, but in the sixth inning with Cedeno standing on third with no one out, is it too much to ask that Jacque Jones or Henry Blanco make a little contact? I know you can't score every time in that situation, but at least managing to put the ball in play would make me feel better about the whole thing, particularly against a guy like Rick White who's been giving out hits like he's running a pinata party.

    To be fair, though, White did a fine job at that point in the game recognizing that a) he had a pretty good curveball going and b) once donning a Cub uniform, players apparently become unable to distinguish between a breaking ball in the dirt and a fastball at the letters. I'd guess they're also completely incapable of any sort of pattern recognition, because it was clear from mid-way through Jones' at bat, that there wasn't going to be a fastball thrown by White until somebody made him. Which nobody did.

  • Now that I've ragged on Jones a couple of times, let me take a moment to praise him. Twice last night he assaulted pitches from left-handers, once driving in three with a double, and once sending a ball just over the right field fence. I'm not under the illusion that this is something we should expect consistently from Jones - hitting lefties, I mean - but his worth certainly comes from his ability to occasionally hit the ball hard, and last night he delivered on that promise in spades. Clearly, the Cubs cannot expect a high OBP from Jacque, so it's important for him to do more of what he did last night.

  • Have I mentioned that Todd Walker rocks? True, if he had another few inches on him he might have saved Ronny Cedeno an error or two last night, but he's been fantastic the last few days, and even better since he bruised his collarbone (which I imagine any of you watching last night's broadcast are now acutely aware of). Whether he's raising his trade value, or just closing his time in Chicago with a flourish, it's a pleasure to watch him hit, and I for one, will miss him when he's gone, whenever that happens to be.

A chance to sweep? Really? With Big Z on the mound? That's almost too much to ask, so as a sort of reversal of fortune, it turns out the Reds are sending Eric Milton to the hill, who has been quite good in his last three starts against the Cubs (or, perhaps, the Cubs have been awful against him. You make the call), sporting a 2.75 ERA while only giving up one homer in each game - astoundingly solid work in his world.

It would certainly be a big shot in the arm going into the off day to both beat Milton and bring out the brooms. Let's see if our boys can't do a little spring cleaning before June comes along.

Good Wood
2006-05-30 08:09
by Derek Smart

Finally, we got to see a game yesterday where the Cubs were in control from start to finish. Admittedly, I was still wondering what would go wrong right up to the final out (and even then, I had to wonder if there was some arcane piece of administrivia that could reverse the result, like bad math on a golfer's scorecard), but there it was: a win.

My only advice: enjoy it, but don't get used to it. There's a lot of crappy baseball yet to play.

  • Take what I say with a grain of salt, because I have made no secret of my Kerry Wood fan-boy-dom, but yesterday was a heartening outing for no-longer-a-Kid K. Early on, while he didn't have great control over his fastball, it was consistently in the mid-nineties for the first time since he rejoined the club, and while that velocity tailed off as the game went on and he grew tired, that he was able to rush it up there at all is a definite plus.

    The other fun thing was that he looked to be pitching more and using his changeup to good effect, getting 10 ground-ball outs to 4 in the air. The five hits he gave up were all singles, and the runs that scored were due more to sloppiness in the pitcher/catcher exchange and the occasional defensive blip from Todd Walker, than any pitching issues from Wood.

    When he gets all his strength back, it's the sort of outing where he could easily go seven, maybe eight innings because he not only kept his pitch count down (85 over 6 frames), but also managed to not have any truly taxing innings. It's the sort of work that he needs to do consistently if he ever wants to be an effective pitcher over the long haul, because if there's one thing we've seen, it's that he's not able to withstand the workloads his old style imposed on him.

    His stuff, even in his current, depleted state, is good enough to let hitters get themselves out, and if he can do that more, keeping the strikeout in reserve as a weapon of necessity rather than the primary mode of attack, there's at least a small hope that he can have a decent career wherever he winds up after this season.

  • At some point when I get a moment this idea deserves a more extensive post of its own, but while the Cubs have been abysmal in every conceivable offensive category, I think the thing that's made this whole stretch exponentially less bearable has been the way the team has been completely unable to hit for power.

    Granted, they were never going to be a big bopping club in the first place, but the degree to which they've been horrible in this respect of late is shocking. Let me put it to you this way: Niefi! through 2005 had a lifetime ISO (SLG - AVG) of .110. In the month of May, the Cubs as a team have an ISO of .106.

    Care to get even more sick to your stomach? Neifi!'s career line through 2005 was .270/.301/.380. In the month of May, the Cubs as a team have a line of .248/.294/.354. In other words, this team would have been better off this month if it had consisted of an entire squad of Neifi!'s performing at their career norms.

  • Matt Murton needs to get the ball in the air more. Period. When he does, good things happen. He hits line drives. He hits doubles. He hits homers. I'm convinced that the issue for him is not a question of "power" in the traditional sense - he can hit the ball plenty hard - it's the way he hits the ball that affects things.

    If he can find a way to make the adjustment in his swing without necessarily altering his approach, I think he can be very effective, but adjust he must, or he'll just be a guy who should have been better.

  • I have no explanation for Tony Womack. None. In the same way that there was no reason he should have been useful to the Cardinals in 2004, there's no reason he should be useful to the Cubs in 2006, but there he was the last two days, actually being what he shouldn't.

    There are two things to curious about in this. First, how long he can keep it up, and second, how this might affect the lineup once Derrek Lee returns. I'm torn because I adore Todd Walker, but with the season effectively over, anything that might make Walker expendable in Jim Hendry's mind is probably a good thing, even it it comes in a form that will eventually explode in the club's face like a joke cigar. It might be annoying, but if it pops right it just might get some of the egg off.

Orgies of Failure
2006-05-25 08:16
by Derek Smart

One of my strengths, at least as I perceive things, is in the notation of details. I'll watch a game, see some small thing that catches my eye, then make a far bigger deal out of it than necessary with the intention of being some combination of insightful and entertaining. If I get in the same zipcode as either at least once in a post, then I figure I've done my job.

Which makes writing about this team extraordinarily difficult. The fact is, there are no details at the moment. Every issue plaguing this club is big picture stuff - not pitching, not playing defense, not getting on base, not hitting when they are on base, not hitting for power, not hitting period. Nothing is going well, and everything that's going wrong is doing so in such a Grand Guignol style that it defies commentary. There are only so many ways to say, "My goodness, he was just disembowelled."


I'm going to my first ballgame of the year on Saturday, and I'm not in the least bit excited. It's hard enough to watch these fellas stink it up through the remoteness of television, so I can't imagine what it'll be like up close and personal.

I'm going because a friend who used to live here is in town on business and wanted to hit the yard for old times' sake, and since I recently found myself a "guy" for such things, I secured some pretty good seats. I take it as par for Murphy's course that now I've found a way to nab the occasional chair at the park, doing so is akin to purchasing the soothing comfort of a three-hour soak in a tub of fire ants.


Getting back to the issues confronting this club, it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, takes the fall today after one of the more embarrassing sweeps of the last few seasons. I think the team performance over the last month would cause most organizations to start assigning blame and letting people go, but I'm unsure if we'll see it happen here.

It's not that there aren't folks deserving of a pink slip - a legitimate case could be made for firing anyone with decision making authority in the entire organization, and a remorseless housecleaning would certainly bring with it a level of satisfaction - but I get the feeling that this organization won't do it, simply because they're actually under the delusion that the club's problems will somehow heal sans intervention.

Players are allowed, even supposed to delude themselves - remarkable comebacks like the hilariously oft-cited Astros' rebirth of last season are not possible without that skillset - but those responsible for making decisions as to who is on the team and who plays when they get there are not. A cold, calculating realism is required to make those choices, and more and more it seems these folks are either unwilling to work that way, or simply incapable of it.


It appears from the ink being spilled this morning that Tony Womack will bring his special brand of apocalyptic futility to Wrigley this weekend, in an attempt to "solve" the Cubs' "problems" at "second base."

There's no reason to bore you with a long analysis of why this is silliness in the extreme, particularly since it's obvious to anyone with pretensions of sentience that Womack is merely an older, more defensively and offensively challenged version of Jerry Hairston. Tony's likely arrival on the club only makes a blighted present exponentially drearier.

As for the future, I look forward to nabbing Aaron Miles two years after the Cardinals are through with him.

Notes From Under The Bag
2006-05-22 08:00
by Derek Smart

Up until the top of the eighth yesterday I was all set to write about my profound sense of embarrassment, both at the team's conduct, and the results on the field. That I was saved from my own all-out rant by some late-inning heroics is actually a relief. This is still a bad team, but at least on Sunday they salvaged a small percentage of what they'd already lost on the weekend.

  • None of this weekend's pitching performances were in the least bit surprising. Maddux, great as he's been this year, is still prone to having the occasional disaster outing, Rich Hill knows nothing but disaster in the Majors (hence, his demotion), and Carlos has been great to solid all month long.

    Despite the four runs he gave up, Zambrano was dominant, striking out nine in seven innings while giving up only four hits. Of course, the hits were all big ones - three solo homers, and an RBI double - but the fact that Z only walked three (low for him these days) and gave up no other baserunners meant that each of those big blows was only worth a single run.

    In fact, those hits looked to be the only mistakes he made on the day, so that they each turned into runs was a bit of bad luck. That the luck was returned in its more beneficent form in the top of the eighth only served to even out the breaks.

  • I am required by the Blogging Code of Conduct to comment on this Saturday's violence, so here we go:

    The operative emotion for me was disappointment. I like Michael Barrett - he has an energetic quality combined with a degree of flakiness and vulnerability that I've always been able to identify with - so seeing him sucker punch a guy, even a guy who seems to be widely acknowledged as a, saddened me. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior, even if provoked, and I think anyone finding genuine provocation in the preceding play or its aftermath is looking to rationalize a highly irrational act.

    That said, I was heartened by Barrett's post-game comments, and his comments before and after Sunday's game, as he appeared genuinely remorseful and embarrassed - two extremely appropriate sentiments. It reinforces my belief that he's a good guy who had a very bad moment, and if he does the right thing by accepting whatever punishment is meted out by the league without appeal, my opinion will be all the more justified.

  • On a related note, if the Cubs manage to reel off a few wins and look good doing it, and in particular, if they somehow manage to work their way over the next couple of months to the positive end of the contender/pretender continuum (at which point, I will gladly eat my hat on a bed of mesclun and spiced walnuts), there will likely be a lot of talk about how Barrett's fit of pugilistic pique was a catalyzing agent for their sizzling streak. This will be, in a word, a load (I leave you to creatively decide for yourself just what the load is composed of).

    I'm not saying that it's impossible for teams to find a missing spark from emotional moments like the one instigated by Barrett, but I think a bigger boost was derived from the free out given Sunday by Paul Konerko's odd lack of extension on Juan Uribe's errant but catchable throw, and the resulting big hits against an off-his-game Neal Cotts, than from any carry-over from a fight.

    The issue of late hasn't been a lack of gumption so much as an inability to create opportunities, or to cash in on the few that have arisen, and I could imagine that finally doing so might help the club to relax a bit and perhaps play more like the .450 team they are at the moment.

    Add in the Cubs' opportunity to gain confidence and solidify their momentum over the next couple of days against one of the few teams in either league demonstrably worst than they are, and any hot-streak's family tree pointing to a Saturday afternoon right-cross as its progenitor smacks of lazy, post hoc reasoning.

  • There is a price to be paid for yesterday's victory, and it is this: if the organization in general, or Dusty Baker in particular, were actually experiencing a moment of sanity and considering finding a platoon partner for Jacque Jones, you'd have to guess that his hitting the game winning homer off a lefty, even one who doesn't seem to have a particular statistical advantage over his like-handed brethren, would give Jones at least 30 or 40 more craptacular at bats (he's had 21 thus far) without fear of reprisal. It's sad, because it's true.

Off to Florida tonight, and a decent chance to win the second of their last three series. It's not often a team on the rocks gets to play two worse-off clubs within a week, so here's hoping the Cubs can take advantage.

A Deficit Of Reason
2006-05-19 07:12
by Derek Smart

While a manager's lineup may essentially be the allotment of playing time, I challenge you to find me a guy in the Majors making out a lineup card today who a) believes that and b) allows it to inform his process. For big league skippers, what the arrangement of his hitters represents is a combination of role allocation and the result of some mystical spinal tap of a player's psyche. Aramis Ramirez might have a skillset identified as ideally suited to hit fourth given the talent surrounding him, but during his 18 at bats in the fifth spot he's seemed more "comfortable," so that's where he goes for now.

None of these factors, not a one, can justify yesterday's placement of Neifi! in the sixth spot in the batting order. Not only was he the worst hitter in the lineup not sprinkled with magical leadoff dust, he's arguably the worst hitter in the lineup any day he plays, assuming Freddie Bynum's on the bench.

Niefi! wasn't hitting that high in the order because he deserved more playing time, he wasn't there because he's a six hole "RBI man," and he wasn't there because he loves hitting in the spot (going back to 2003, he's batting .190 in 58 at bats when hitting sixth, his worst performance in any spot in the order for which he's had more than 5 at bats). He was there because Dusty Baker couldn't recognize that, no matter who else was starting for his team that day, Neifi! didn't belong there.

If I were to guess at theories of justification they would have something to do with Cedeno needing to remain in the eighth spot so that he can "get comfortable" and break out of his recent struggles without encountering too much "pressure," while John Mabry was relegated to the seventh spot because he has "sucked." Both of these concepts make sense in a world where Aramis Ramirez is in your lineup, and he, Barrett, and Jones can divide the work of the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots amongst themselves.

However, this was not the scenario yesterday, and the situation screamed for a different approach than the one taken. Instead, we were left with two late inning, two-out scoring chances where the success of the opportunity rested on Neifi!'s ability to not make an out. After a foul pop-up in the seventh, and an unsuccessful bunt attempt (!!!!!!) in the ninth, the true nature of his talent had shown through, and the club was left with men on base and a game-ending deficit.

Now, I'm not saying that another hitter would have been any more successful in those situations, or that there was any way to predict that those particular situations would arise, but if you put your worst hitter directly behind your most productive hitters, there's a better chance that you've set up a sequence of events that will end badly than if you had a more competent player in that spot.

The Cubs gave away scoring opportunities yesterday because Baker doesn't understand the talent on his squad, and if that's not a damning indictment of his managerial skills, then managerial skills simply don't exist.

My Crappy Team Is Better Than Your Crappy Team
2006-05-18 08:29
by Derek Smart

Look above for what I'd say if a Nats fan asked me what I'd learned from the past couple of games, particularly last night, when Sean Marshall wasn't locked in, yet still managed to yield only one hit in his six innings of work.

Some of it was Marshall managing to keep the Nats hitters off balance with pitch selection, but mostly it seemed that the opposition was simply unable to capitalize on the multiple occasions when Marshall was unable to execute his plan. Not that Marshall didn't pitch decently - he did - but a better team would have been able to cross the plate at least a couple times last night.

Offensively, the Cubs were helped tremendously by the Nats infield defense, which was lousy again, with the worst offender being Damian Jackson at short. When a guy makes you pine for Royce Clayton, he's not exactly doing his job.

Add in Ryan Zimmerman's run-scoring error in the first, and the multiple times when a well-positioned mitt-tree dropping its fruit at random intervals would have outplayed Jose Vidro, and you've got a large portion of the explanation for the relative offensive explosion the Cubs have been enjoying over the last two evenings.

Again, life intervenes and I must cut short, although I'm hoping for a little more time later on, as I do have some specific observations I'd love to get out here. However, the hope for such a thing looks slim, so keep your fingers crossed that Aramis is good to go, and let's enjoy the fact that one of the wounded returns today.

Wins Are Nice
2006-05-17 09:47
by Derek Smart

Last night was no exception to the statement above, and while there were some further reasons for pessimism, there were also some reasonably positive developments. Whether the good or the bad wins out beyond last night remains to be seen (and goodness knows, I'm not in the business of betting on the former after the last few weeks), but I suppose I'm just sick enough to watch.

  • It was another excellent outing by Z, in what has been a really fantastic May. In the 23 innings he's pitched over his 3 starts in the month, he's allowed only a single run, and while his strikeout and walk rates both remain high, the real difference maker has been his ability to limit the opposition's hits.

    What has been a relative strength of his in his career was actually an issue in April, as he allowed a .256 batting average to opposing hitters, which isn't horrible on the surface, but when his high walk rate is factored in it becomes a problem. May's been a different story, however, with Carlos only allowing a .165 average against, which has helped to mitigate the walks he's given up.

    Last night, though, was an example of everything working on all cylinders, with only two walks on the evening (one of which while he was obviously tiring in the eighth), and all of the four hits he relinquished being singles. There was, in fact, never a time when the Nationals had a legitimate threat going beyond, perhaps, the eighth, when what little problem existed was extinguished by Ronnie Cedeno's fine double play off Zambrano's deflection of Nick Johnson's ball up the middle. It was, all in all, an exemplary effort, and of the type the Cubs will need regularly if they want to even have a shot this season at removing the label of laughing stock.

  • The offensive performance last night was misleading on a number of levels. First, there's the simple notion that the club scored 4 runs, therefore the hitters managed an acceptable output, if only barely. This belies the fact that the three men who scored in the fifth inning were all on base due to the largesse of the Nationals' defense (although extra kudos go to Big Z for hauling down the first base line on a grounder many pitchers would have loafed into an out).

    However, it's still not that simple. The Cubs had a lot of good luck going for them in that frame, but they also had a lot of bad luck in that inning and others. Multiple times during the contest they hit balls extremely hard that happened to be right at a Nationals defender. There was Ronnie Cedeno's ill-fated liner that thanks to one of this year's worst baserunning plays ended the inning and robbed the club of a run. There was Michael Barrett's potential run-scoring smash up the middle in the fifth inning that Livan Hernandez expertly fielded and turned into another double-play. There was even Jacque Jones liner ripped up the right-field line, also in the fifth, that would have scored Aramis Ramirez had it not been laced directly at first baseman, Nick Johnson.

    The club's approach even seemed to evolve as the game went on, at least while Livan Hernandez was in the game. Early on, it was the same old story, with everyone taking early hacks and making quick, easy outs. Later on, though, everyone seemed to get the idea that they could actually work the occasional count and get themselves something to hit. It didn't happen universally or consistently, but it happened enough to be at least moderately encouraging.

I'm going to cut it short, because I've got daddy-duty all day today, and I've barely been able to get this much done during the moments when the munchkin has managed to occupy herself. Hopefully, we'll have more to cheer about tonight. I'm not counting on a long winning streak at any point this season - the Dusty Baker Cubs have yet to win more than 7 in a row - but two in a row and a guaranteed series win, especially before Kid K's season debut, would be a drop of salve on this sucking chest wound of a season.

With Apologies to Mr. Geisel
2006-05-15 07:20
by Derek Smart

My Lack of Plan
A Poetic Rumination on One Fan's Frustration

That Hendry-Man!
That Hendry-Man!
I do not like
that Hendry-Man!

Do you like
my lack of plan?

I do not like it,
I do not like
your lack of plan.

Would you like it
road or home?

I would not like it road or home
or anywhere that I could roam.
I do not like your lack of plan.
I do not like it, Hendry-Man.

Would you like some
speedy hacks?
Would you like a
lack of jacks?

I would not like some speedy hacks.
I do not like a lack of jacks.
I would not like it road or home
or anywhere that I could roam.
I do not like your lack of plan.
I do not like it, Hendry-Man.

Would you watch them
in a box?
Would you watch them
with the Sox?

Not in a box.
Not with the Sox.
No speedy hacks.
No lack of jacks.
I would not watch them road or home
or anywhere that I could roam.
I would not watch your lack of plan.
I do not like it, Hendry-Man.

Would you? Could you?
In a bar?
Drink up! Drink up,

I would not,
could not,
in a bar.

You may like it.
You will see.
You may like it
(for a fee)!

I would not, could not for a fee.
Not in a bar! You let me be!

I would not watch them in a box.
I would not watch them with the Sox.
I do not like your speedy hacks.
I do not like your lack of jacks.
I do not like them road or home
or anywhere that I could roam.
I do not like your lack of plan.
I do not like it, Hendry-Man.

A roof! A roof!
A roof! A roof!
Could you, would you,
on a roof?

Not on a roof! Not for a fee!
Not in a bar! Jim! Let me be!

I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with the Sox.
I will not watch your speedy hacks.
I will not watch your lack of jacks.
I will not watch them road or home
or anywhere that I could roam.
I do not like your lack of plan.
I do not like it, Hendry-Man.

In the park?
Here in the park!
Would you, could you, in the park?

I would not, could not,
in the park.

Would you, could you,
on a goof?

I would not, could not, on a goof.
Not in the park. Not on a roof.
Not in a bar. Not for a fee.
I do not like it, Jim, you see.
No speedy hacks. Not in a box.
No lack of jacks. Not with the Sox.
I will not watch them road or home
or anywhere that I could roam!

You do not like
my lack of plan?

I do not like it,

Could you watch our
broken arms?

I could not watch your
broken arms!

Would you watch our
barren farms?

I could not watch your broken arms.
I will not watch your barren farms.
I will not watch them on a goof.
I will not watch them on a roof.
Not in the park! Not for a fee!
Not in a bar! You let me be!
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with the Sox.
I will not watch your speedy hacks.
I do not like your lack of jacks.
I do not like them road or home
or ANYWHERE that I could roam.

I do not like
your lack of plan!

I do not like it,

You do not like it.
So you say.
Try it! Try it!
And you may.
Try it and you may, I say.

If you will let me be,
I will try it.
You will see.

[Swills Blue Kool-Aid]

I like your lack of plan!
I do! I like it, Hendry-Man!
And I would watch your broken arms.
And I would watch your barren farms.

And I will watch them on a goof.
And in the park. And on a roof.
And in a bar. And for a fee.
They are so good, so good, you see!

So I will watch them in a box.
And I will watch them with the Sox.
And I will watch your speedy hacks.
And I will watch your lack of jacks.
And I will watch them road or home.
Yes! ANYWHERE that I would roam!

I do so like
your lack of plan!
Thank you!
Thank you,

Crazy Eights
2006-05-11 08:18
by Derek Smart

The Cubs scored 8 runs, snapping their 8 game losing streak in Carlos Zambrano's 8th start of the season. I think it's fitting that the end of this string of horror coincided with Z ditching his victory goose egg, and while it doesn't give me fresh hope for any long-term positives, it at least takes some of the stink off the last couple of weeks.

  • Early on, I was afraid it would be a contest like the ones the Cubs seem to have with the Reds, where the two teams just beat each other bloody until someone goes down in a heap of hits and bullpen attrition. Zambrano had big problems finding the strike zone, and it looked for sure like it was going to eventually catch up to him.

    Yet, after walking five through four innings, Z didn't give up another free pass, and only allowed two singles in his remaining four frames. It also took him only 43 pitches to get through those last four innings, versus the 67 he tossed in the first four.

    Even so, I think the key for Carlos was the second inning, where he had men on second and third with nobody out yet managed to escape unharmed, partly because he threw well, partly because he was lucky enough to have Matt Cain around to make the first out, and partly because John Mabry and Henry Blanco combined for an excellent play at the plate for the second out.

    From then on, although there was another threat in the fourth, Carlos was a different pitcher, simply looking more confident that he could make it though the outing. Hopefully, he realizes that it's these nights - the ones where you have to work like hell just to get by, and adjust to what's working for you at the moment - that make a Cy Young pitcher, not the 20% where you've got your A-game.

  • Interesting that Dusty decided to "demote" Pierre to the two-hole last night, although I'd argue that simply swapping spots between the guys who were one and two has as much significance as changing the leg on which your swine wears its pearl bracelet. Still, it "worked" - or rather, the results changed, whatever the cause - so I'm guessing you'll be seeing the same configuration until Pierre starts to hit more consistently.

    Which brings us to the undeniable positive that Pierre did, in fact, hit the ball hard on two occasions last night, both of which resulted in hits. There's no discounting the one that bounced off Matt Cain's leg, either, because that was clearly ticketed for center field if his ankle hadn't intervened. Those are the type of swings the Cubs paid dearly in talent and treasure for, and those are the kind of swings that Pierre must have if he has any hope of being effective.

  • Speaking of Pierre, I understand that the Giants' fans were disappointed Tuesday night when Mr. Bonds' historic potential dinger was brought back into the park by the Cubs' center fielder, and there's a part of me that's even willing to cut them a bit of slack for booing that night when Pierre next came to the plate, but booing him the following game too? That's just silly.

    The man made a nice play on a hard hit ball that would have cleared the fence without his intervention, but just because it would have left the yard doesn't mean that it was entitled to leave the yard. I won't go so far as to call the booing classless (I'm still hoping it was at least a little tongue-in-cheek), but I would hope that if Cub fans were in a similar situation that they would register their disappointment in a different manner.

  • They were talking on the broadcast last night about guys on the team who maybe work a little too hard on things, and Matt Murton's name came up. I think "work" was an unfortunate choice of words, and I believe what Gene Clines (from whom this information came) meant was that Murton is a guy who will "think" a little too hard. I'll explain.

    I have some personal experience in this realm, not from the strictly baseball sense, but from the angle of "performance." When I was acting, one of my biggest issues was that I would "think" too much, meaning that rather than getting to a point where the work was done and I could let the performance happen organically, I would be constantly tinkering in the moment, listening to myself, judging the quality of line readings as they were coming out, instead of simply doing and letting it go. I was, to use a sports term, getting in my own way.

    I think there's a similar thing going on with Murton at the moment, who seems to be working so hard to get his approach and swing "right" that he's not able to settle in, get comfortable, and simply react to the ball. His brain's getting in the way of his body, and as such, the quality of his work, particularly in the area of power production, has gone down.

    Murton's got good skills, and his approach has usually been very good, so I have every confidence that if he'll simply get out of the way and let things come to him, he'll be much better off. Of course, I can tell you from experience, that's much easier said than done.

The Cubs could actually win a series this afternoon, which would be quite the switcheroo. All they need is for Sean Marshall to continue to be solid, and to somehow break the spell of Jamey Wright, who I found out, thanks to Dave Pinto's fabulous pitching comparison tool, has the fifth best ERA against the Cubs for pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings against them since 1996 (3.35 is his figure, and if you click on the link, you'll see some really interesting names). It would be a small step - a very small step - but it would, at least, be in the right direction.

Next Talisman, Please
2006-05-10 07:31
by Derek Smart

Right. So it wasn't the coaster. Check.

  • Here's the thing. Rich Hill wasn't awful, but neither was he good, and his outing merely reinforced my previous opinion of him: he needs to get a third pitch he can rely on, and he needs to learn to spot his fastball.

    The heater's the biggest issue, in my opinion, as it's neither fast enough nor slippery enough to allow him to get away with being all over the place with it, a la Kerry Wood. He also cannot, cannot, cannot let it be anywhere up in the zone. It can be up out of the zone, but he can't throw it above mid-thigh for strikes unless he wants to get pasted to the center field wall.

    I still don't understand the organizational fascination with this kid. When he can throw it for a strike, his curveball's fantastic, but there's no reason for a Major League hitter to do anything but sit and wait for him to either walk him or get a fastball up in the yummy zone, and unless Hill can fix that, he's going to yet another story of promise unfulfilled.

  • Not that the National League needs more certain ways to eliminate Cub-related offensive threats, but if I were the manager of a club about to face the Cubs, and I had a pitcher on the mound who threw anything like a decent changeup, I would fine him into the ground if he ever threw anything but that pitch to Jacques Jones.

    I know Jason Schmidt's something of a unique case, because his change is truly vicious, but note the way he used it against Jones last night versus the way he used it against the rest of the lineup. For everyone else, it was fastballs with changeups mixed in - a complimentary flavor; for Jones, it was change after change after change - the lamb shank as main course - and Jacques was completely unable to adjust to it, swinging over the top every single time. Why throw a fastball when he looks that bad?

  • Before the season began I wrote about a theory I had relating to Juan Pierre and his hitting style. Baited by some quotes in the paper, I posited that, due to his low walk rates and low rate of pitches seen per at bat, that he was likely screwing himself out of opportunities to take the occasional free pass or get better hitter's counts by swinging early at the first good pitch he saw. Well, now I've had a chance to see quite a lot of his work, and my opinion has altered accordingly.

    What Pierre does instead is get himself in the hole right off the bat. Here's the quick breakdown:

    First Pitch Result
    In Play

    That's 58.5% of his at bats where he starts off 0-1, and exactly 70% where he either starts 0-1 or puts the ball in play. For comparison purposes, Todd Walker starts off 0-1 45.6% of the time, Michael Barrett 47.1%, Aramis Ramirez 45.8%, Matt Murton 41.3%, even Ronny Cedeno's at 49.1%.

    Clearly, Pierre is getting himself in trouble early in at bats by taking strikes, and from my observations, I don't think it's because pitchers are throwing him less hittable pitches than they're giving to his teammates. In fact, I think this little bit of data backs up my thought that Pierre is actually letting a lot of decent first pitches go, which are being thrown to him because a) he's not very aggressive on that first ball, and b) even if he was, he isn't much of a threat to do anything but hit a grounder through the hole.

    So, since Pierre can't do much about b), I'm going to advocate something I never thought I would: Pierre needs to be more aggressive about putting decent first pitches in play. It's clearly not helping him to sit back and wait for something better, and it seems to me if you want to occasionally get ahead in the count, you have to give the pitcher a reason to be careful with you, and always sitting back and letting that first ball go isn't going to get the job done.

    And now, a pause, whilst I go shower.

At this point, all I'm doing is crossing my fingers that Z has really figured it out, and that Matt Cain has the same sort of outing he's been having all year. Maybe then, this club can squeak out a 2-1 victory, and when that's what passes for hope, ya ain't got much.

2006-05-09 14:16
by Derek Smart

Heretofore unknown levels of desperation and hubris have set in at my patch of the cube farm. Allow me to explain:

Before the start of the season, I purchased some disposable coasters with the Cubs' logo on them. I tend to have beverages in the afternoon that have ice in them. Said ice then causes the tumbler to sweat, which then coats my desk in libation perspiration, and since perspiration is a sign of trepidation in the population (a manifestation of destabilization, if you'll allow my generalization), and also implies a certain acceleration of desiccation, there's an expectation that this emanation of hydration will be brought to cessation without hesitation.

Point being, when I looked down at the coaster today I realized that it was the same one I'd been using since sometime in February, that there it had been, sans relief, day after day, week after week, absorbing the detritus of my daily swillings, all the while becoming more worn and beaten with each setting sun.

It then occurred to me that perhaps there was some sort of "mojo" in these coasters, that this "mojo" could be passed on to the Cubs with use, and that each coaster only had a certain amount to give before it was through - a state that would be clearly communicated by visual cues usually associated with the product having outlived the purpose for which it appeared to have been designed.

So, I have thrown out the old coaster and replaced it with a fresh one, which brings us to desperation and hubris: the latter, because apparently I am capable of believing that, of all the possible contributing factors to the Cubs' recent run of horrid play, the most relevant is the condition of a piece of cardboard that I was apparently "destined" to own; the former, because when one starts looking for metaphorical causation and concrete solutions from mass-produced paper products, desperation is really the only appropriate word.

Because I Need The Distraction
2006-05-07 19:26
by Derek Smart

I suddenly remembered a little bit ago that Kerry Wood was making his first rehab start in Peoria tonight. Here's the boxscore, but for those of you in the click-averse community, here's all you need to know:


I think somebody's feelin' frisky. Shoot, even though the work above was only against A-ballers, if Angel Guzman's flight to Des Moines isn't booked already, I have to imagine the brass at least have their eye on something leaving the morning of the 17th.

I know that, despite the chaos in the rotation, pitching is the least of this club's concerns, particularly after the last week or so, but my inner fanboy's out in full force, and you can count me among the people anxiously awaiting Kid K's return.

Yo, D! The Hell You Been?
2006-05-05 20:42
by Derek Smart

May 4, 2006 - 7:40 AM

I'm sitting in front of the White House

Okay, so I'm sitting on a bench in the park in front of the White House, but since they don't tend to let you hang out, writing in a tablet in the Rose Garden, I think the assertion's as accurate as possible for a member of the general public.

I've been here since late yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, being called here for a conference, and after an airport day that included four unscheduled gate changes and three unscheduled flight changes, I'm just happy to have gotten here in the first place.

Except I'm not. I don't realize how much I rely on the internet in my life until I don't have it, and thanks to a combination of a hotel business center that charges by the minute and a work-issued laptop that doesn't so much as turn on, I'm left with nothing but a legal pad and my trusty fountain pen, which isn't so bad in the end (as a side note, I learned long ago, the hard way, that if your pen has an ink cartridge loaded that it's a bully idea to ensconce it in a Ziplock bag, as changing pressure on flights tend to cause leaks that are nothing short of catastrophic when allowed to run amok).

What is bad, though, is missing my family. Admittedly, I'm not much for traveling in the first place, so it follows that my first time away from my daughter (which this is) would be difficult. I'm used to putting her to bed and waking up to her smile, and while there are some amenities I'm lacking at the moment, nothing compares to the hole left by her absence.

* * * * *

May 4, 2006 - 8:37 AM

Not only have I been without any sort of computer-related stimulus, but my attempts last night to catch even one pitch of the Cubs game were maddeningly futile.

The hotel bar is small and has but two televisions, one of which was tuned to the Wizards playoff game, and the other.....well, I don't even know what it was on, but I'm sure it wasn't even on their own town's baseball game, and that being the case I figured the Cubs game was an unlikely concession, if it was even a possibility.

So I went in search of a local sports bar. One was supposed to be in the hotel, but I was told by the concierge that it had gone out of business (I later learned from a local that the bar, which was also a steakhouse, was owned by a local football hero, who also liked to have one night a week where he gave free dinners to veterans, particularly veterans of the recent conflict. Well, the hotel didn't much care for exposing their clientele to the sight of recently maimed folks eating free beef, so they asked them to stop the practice, which they rightly refused to do. Now they're locked in a court battle while the space remains unused. Charming.)

I tried to scope out the neighborhood, but the only place I could find was one that doubled (or trebled) as a billiard hall and "gentleman's club," and since full grown women on my lap tend to get in the way of my view of the TV, I thought better of it.

In the end, lacking any real knowledge of the area, I was left with the tried, true, and decidedly un-local ESPN Zone. Surely, I thought, in a place with several million televisions at least one would be tuned to the game I wanted to watch.

Well, as has happened thus far with everything else on this excursion, that which was promised did not come to pass, and despite staff assurances that the game would be on one of the main bar feeds, the television that was supposed to carry the Cubs was instead showing the Nationals. Reasonable on its face, but with the three other feeds carrying that contest, it seemed excessive from my end. In any case, with the late start and unlikelihood of getting to see what I wanted to in the first place, my mission, sadly, was aborted.

* * * * *

May 5, 2006 - 10:17 AM

I'm weighing the option of going to a Nationals game this evening. Here are the pros and cons as I see them:


  • I have nothing else to do.
  • I have nothing else to do.
  • It is, after all, baseball.


  • It's not even noon and I'm tired already.
  • Football stadiums make lousy baseball stadiums.
  • It may be baseball, but it's still the Nationals. And they're playing the Marlins.

* * * * *

May 5, 2006 - 8:32 PM

I wound up skipping the ballgame. In the end, I was a little too tired and unwilling to commit to any one activity for that length of time, and when that was coupled with the realization that I was close enough to the National Mall to walk to it from my hotel, I decided that, being a history buff on his first trip to D.C., it would be nearly inexcusable to not see at least a few of the landmarks.

I stuck to the area around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, as it held the perfect combination of interest and proximity. I saw the aforementioned presidential tributes, both impressive, as well as the World War II and Vietnam Memorials, both of which were striking in completely different ways.

The World War II Memorial is both solemn and exultant, recognizing the sacrifices of those who made victory possible, while celebrating that victory and the world it endeavored to preserve. It is meant to attract people from the street, to both stand up on its own and integrate into the bigger picture presented by the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and it does so beautifully. It's extremely well done, and something that I hope the descendants of those who fought in that conflict can be proud of.

The Vietnam Memorial is, in contrast, pure poignancy. I had only seen photographs and video, and the thing that had never been communicated effectively was just how much it is evocative of a grave - less so from the beautifully engraved names than from the extended tombstone quality its design and placement gives it.

Where the WWII Memorial is designed to draw you to it, the Vietnam Memorial is meant to be found as you wander, like the resting place of a misunderstood uncle who died too soon. It is short, it is small, yet in that tiny space is held immense sadness. It's a thing that is not fun to view, yet it is necessary. If you haven't seen it and you find yourself in our nation's capitol, I would almost consider it your duty as a citizen to go.

* * * * *

May 6, 2006 - 10:25 PM

I'm home now (boy, is it good to be home with my wife and my girl. I had a lousy travel day, but that all melts away once the hugs and kisses come), and am watching Big Z throw a terrific game against the Padres (although he looks to be helped along by a Padres offense that's nearly as inept as our own). It figures that while he looks like he's finally putting a long, excellent outing together, that he's doing it while the club appears completely incapable of scoring for him.

Judging from the boxscores I've seen I was somewhat blessed to be unable to view or comment on the most recent proceedings. I know it shows a degree of hubris, and that in reality my movements in time and space have nothing to do with a sports team's performance, but here's hoping that my return home coincides with a righting of the ship, because, despite a lowering of expectations, I don't know how much longer we all can stand this sort of horror show.

On Time Delivery
2006-05-02 08:39
by Derek Smart

The Cubs needed great work out of Sean Marshall last night, both for the chance to win, and to rest the weary bullpen, and Sean delivered as ordered, going 7.1 innings and only giving up one run before clearly tiring. In fact, he looked beat while giving up the run in the seventh, and despite the good work he'd done to that point and his relatively low pitch count, I was surprised to see him back out there in the eighth.

Perhaps it speaks to some desperation for innings on Dusty's part, but I don't think so. Seems to me, it was a show of confidence, and a well-earned show at that. Marshall was more in control of last night's game than he's been in any other game this year, giving up only one or two hard hit balls all night. I don't know how much longer he'll be able to continue this run of excellent work, but he seems smart enough to make adjustments, so I'd say there's hope, which is all we can ask for at the moment.

  • Aramis looks bad out there. Actually, that's not specific enough: he looks horrible at the plate. In the field, he's still moving very well and seems far more comfortable than he has since he's been a Cub (he has yet to commit an error, and while it's still very early, his RATE is 119, meaning that his current defensive play would be expected to save 19 runs above average over 100 games, which is mighty impressive). At the dish, though, he looks completely lost.

    I'm not sure if he's trying to do too much, his timing's off, he's not seeing the ball well, or some combination of those and other factors, but as we've seen in the last few games, with the offense configured as it is, his bat is critical. Good Aramis in the middle of the order equals a mediocre offense; bad Aramis in there equals a horror show, and Maddux and Marshall can only pitch every fifth day.

  • I love how Ronnie Cedeno goes the opposite way. He practically looks for pitches on the outer black that he can poke up the line, and it's a skill he's obviously cultivated. It's a particularly nice feature for someone hitting in the two-hole to have, since that ability makes him an easy guy to hit and run with.

    Still, what I'm waiting for is the day when the National League figures out that Ronnie wants them to throw out there, and instead starts busting him hard inside. When that starts happening, it'll be Cedeno's first opportunity to make a big adjustment, and our chance to see how much of the good we're seeing now can be expected to continue into the future.

  • People Jacque Jones owes something to in descending order of importance:

    • Jack Wilson - his error (scored a hit) in the eighth kept the inning alive for Matt Murton. He gets a coke.
    • Matt Murton - his RBI single gave the Cubs the lead, and eventually the victory. He gets a steak.
    • Sean Marshall - his fine performance made the most out of slim pickings from his offense. He gets a freakin' car.

    Honorable Mention: Victor Santos, for his first inning error; Bob Howry and Ryan Dempster for shutting the Pirates down late; and Juan Pierre and Ronny Cedeno for being fast and stuff.

    Now, I say all this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because there's no guarantee that if Jones had not been doubled up in the fourth the Cubs would have scored - it may have been bases loaded, one out if he hadn't strayed, but it still would have been Sean Marshall and Juan Pierre coming to the plate next.

    That said, had the Cubs lost the game, particularly if they'd gone down by a single run, Jones would have been the goat, deserving or not, simply by virtue of having made the most obvious mistake and already being the fans' designated whipping boy. Therefore, for having been spared the opprobrium of the faithful, he owes, and owes big.

The offense needs to get cracking today, especially since Angel Guzman's contribution is a wildcard at best. A victory today means a winning homestand, and a loss means a .500 one, so there's a little extra at stake with a long road trip on the horizon.

Done Waiting
2006-05-01 07:09
by Derek Smart

After three innings on Saturday the scenario I envisioned went something like this: Glendon Rusch goes the to bullpen, Rich Hill gets called up to take his spot in the rotation, and David Aardsma gets a chance to hang out with Michael Wuertz in Des Moines.

I still think that's what's going to happen, although that exact scenario coming to pass depends somewhat on how the next couple of days go with respect to bullpen usage. If Marshall and Guzman can each go at least six, then nothing beyond what I presented above will likely go down, but if either or both struggle, I'd expect another move that brought Wuertz back up to the club, if only to get a fresh arm in there. In fact, if a move like that is necessitated, I'd expect a revolving door of sorts: Aardsma goes down in the next day or two in favor or Wuertz, who then goes back down himself in favor of Rich Hill.

However, all that maneuvering skirts the real issue, which is that if one takes his performance since, say, July of last year into account, Glendon Rusch needs to be shown the door. He has a 6.67 ERA in 89 innings since that point, allowing a startling 117 hits, and while that includes his horrendous start to this season, his recent numbers should be fuel for his release rather than a mitigating factor. Anytime a pitcher gives up 11 home runs in 22.1 innings, it's time to reconsider not just his role, but his place on the roster.

Let me put this another way: At the end of play this weekend, Albert Pujols, on an amazing tear to start the season, is sporting a .346/.509/.914 line - just vicious stuff. The line allowed by Glendon Rusch in his first five starts has been .348/.438/.841, turning entire teams into vast armies of Pujolses. Glendon seems like a awfully nice fella, and I appreciate all he did for the club in 2004, but that Glendon isn't coming back, and it makes no more sense to wait for him.

UPDATE: Somehow I missed this bit in the Sun-Times this morning which implies that my first scenario is coming to pass. It's not official, in that no announcement has been made, but what Mike Kiley reports sure looks like a done deal - Aardsma down, Hill up and pitching on Thursday, and Rusch to the bullpen.