Monthly archives: May 2006
Cubs Acquire Nevin
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.
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.
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.
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.
Orgies of Failure
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
My Lack of Plan
A Poetic Rumination on One Fan's Frustration
Do you like
I do not like it,
Would you like it
I would not like it road or home
Would you like some
I would not like some speedy hacks.
Would you watch them
Not in a box.
Would you? Could you?
I would not,
You may like it.
I would not, could not for a fee.
I would not watch them in a box.
A roof! A roof!
Not on a roof! Not for a fee!
I would not, could not, in a box.
I would not, could not,
Would you, could you,
I would not, could not, on a goof.
You do not like
I do not like it,
Could you watch our
I could not watch your
Would you watch our
I could not watch your broken arms.
I do not like
I do not like it,
You do not like it.
[Swills Blue Kool-Aid]
And I will watch them on a goof.
So I will watch them in a box.
I do so like
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.
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
Right. So it wasn't the coaster. Check.
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.
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
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?
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:
* * * * *
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
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.
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.
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.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
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06 05 04 03 02 01
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com