Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: June 2007


Parables of Faith - or the Lack Thereof
2007-06-30 07:58
by Derek Smart

At the beginning of the season, whenever there was a day game during the week I'd declare a media blackout in the immediate vicinity of my pod on the farm - where my blood and toil and half-imagined fever-dreams act as one little Ray-O-Vac in the battery casing of the beast. The idea being that I was going to watch the TVo'd version once the munchkin retired and I didn't want anything ruined. I am utterly incapable of watching an entire game when I'm already privy to the outcome.

However, this tendency has waned over the early months of the season, due in no small part to multiple instances of investing large quantities of time, attention, and emotion in three hours of struggle (okay, more like two when the fast-forward really gets to crankin'), only to witness acre upon acre of blown opportunity mount up until the weight of all the unrealized expectation crushes the team, and me, like so much bubble-wrap under foot.

One can only take that for so long before one allows Gameday to turn the searing pain into a dull throb, preventing later over-investment in a profoundly disappointing product by rendering the passion through smog and gauze, rather than its customary 1080i.


There's this guy at work that I have daily exchanges with. They are only about the Cubs, five minutes a pop, then on we go. He actually seeks me out for these little talks. Although sometimes I'll reciprocate, because I enjoy the chatter, I generally don't need to as he'll beat me to it.

All year, I've been telling him that this team sucks. I don't know that I really believe that - sure, they're mediocre, but 'suck' is likely too strong a word - but he has a tendency to get excited when things go well, so my nature is to help bring some balance to the picture. I'd hate for him to get all jacked up only to have reality set in come July or August, so I try to temper expectations. Shorten the distance of his eventual fall, if you will. I do it to myself all the time, so why not spread the cynicism?

He was starting to get very excited with the recent solid play and all, and particularly with Tuesday's show of gumption, so I felt the need to point out on Thursday that the six games that were won had been captured against competition that - how to be diplomatic here - wasn't of a quality appropriate for celebration. As this conversation took place around 3 pm, I informed him that he should enjoy himself for the next 22 hours, since once that period of respite ended, things were likely to get ugly.


I see my friend in the cafeteria the next day. It is about 1:03. I tell him he has 17 minutes of happiness left. His look gives me the bird. I smile. He smiles. It's our routine.


I get back to my desk and get distracted by a project - the beast is always hungry - and forget about the game. The thought of it pops into my head just in time for me to see that the Brewers have put up a five-spot, forcing Rich Hill to throw 40+ pitches. I also get to see Derrek Lee make an out on the first pitch he sees, ending the team's offensive half of the first having seen all of seven balls hurled in anger. I seek out my friend to see if his watch is working. He is not at his desk.


I notice later that Billy Petrick seems to be throwing well. I always like to see the youngins succeed, so it makes it easier to ponder how those two runs in the fourth aren't going to cover it. Another friend IMs that there's plenty of time left. I scoff. I work. I scoff some more.


I'm liking Carlos Marmol more and more these days. He's not a starter - I just don't see him getting that third pitch - but being in the bullpen really lets him go all out when he's on the hill, and his stuff is just ridiculous. Not like Z's was the other day - the first three innings of his game against the White Sox might have been the most dominant frames I've ever seen. I'm still nursing bruises on my chin from the involuntary tumbling of my jaw - but he's still an incredible asset in relief.

It seems nice to me that they got that third run. Makes it look close. I think, "Too bad Cordero's coming up soon, though. He'll just own 'em."


Bottom of the ninth, and I notice that there are men on first and third with one out and Lee coming up. I have to leave for a minute to deal with something. I figure it'll save me some small pangs of regret. I'm a little thankful.


I quite literally return as Gameday flashes 'Home Run' above the photos of Cabrera and Aramis Ramirez. Can't believe it. No matter what happens the rest of the weekend, I know I'll catch hell on Monday. I welcome it. This is a good way to be wrong.


Even though I know I'm not going to watch, I still record these games. It's for rare moments like these, when I'll want to come home, pour a drink, and watch a five minute sequence ten, fifteen, twenty times over with a ridiculous grin on my face. That's fun at the old ballpark, kids.

Climbing To New Heights?
2007-06-28 08:45
by Phil Bencomo

I'll take a six-game winning streak any time of year, but a few words of caution:

  • The Rockies and White Sox aren't very good. The Toaster's own Mark T.R. Donohue can vouch for Colorado, and as for the Sox, the standings tell you all you need to know. If the Cubs are to contend, they should be expected to, at the very least, take two of three from sub-.500 teams. Currently, the Cubs are 21-17 against such clubs, which seems encouraging until you look at the top NL clubs' records against losing teams: Mets (26-12); Brewers (35-15); Arizona (31-19); San Diego (30-17). Should the Cubs make the last six games a trend and continue to beat up on losing teams, it will make losses to tougher opponents easier pills to swallow. And it is worth mentioning that no NL division leader has a winning record against winning clubs; a .500 record against them and domination against lesser teams should get the Cubs to the playoffs.
  • Look to the AL East. The Yankees rattled off nine consecutive wins earlier this month but have since gone into a funk, with a record of 3-8. Success really is fleeting, especially for clubs, like the Cubs, that remain under .500. This team could just as easily follow the Yankees in a spiral downwards as lift itself to the top of the Central. The next few weeks, with games against division-leading Milwaukee, and lowly Washington and Pittsburgh, should be very telling of this team's true caliber.

* * * *

Some interesting numbers from Triple-A:

Matt Murton: 42 AB, .262/.380/.476

Ronny Cedeno: 147 AB, .388/.465/.585, 7 E in 40 games

Even when Jacque Jones is traded (it's only a matter of time), Murton won't have a place to play. With Soriano in left, Pie in center, Cliff Floyd primarily in right, and the more-defensively-versatile-than-Murton Angel Pagan filling in where needed, Murton will have to do better at the plate if he has any hope of getting back to the majors. Just as Mike Fontenot has forced his way into the lineup with his bat, Murton needs to take it upon himself to do the same.

That said, should Murton start tearing up Triple-A, I wouldn't be surprised to see him traded, perhaps as part of a package for bullpen help, come July's end. Sell at a high point (however belated), because Murton looks like a fourth outfielder at best.

And as for Cedeno, I can only hope some wise and kind-hearted soul in the front office prevents the eyes of Jim Hendry from ever seeing those numbers, in order to prevent my eyes from ever seeing Cedeno again.

(Diamond)Back Home
2007-06-26 14:00
by Phil Bencomo

Whew! My two-week family vacation/journey/ungodly long car ride is finally over. The last of over 5000 miles driven on the way to and from Arizona came to an end at around 6:30 this morning, as much with a cheer as a yawn. 21 hours in the car will do that to you. We all had energy enough to unpack the car before we collapsed into our beds (and the floor of a neighboring room for one; his room was used as the cat's home while we were away, and, between the hair and the smell, it wasn't safe for human habitation).

Five hours later, and here I sit, surrounded by stacks of mail, suitcases – I've got a million things to do. One of which is to discuss last week's Diamondbacks game, as promised. So without further ado, here it is:

* * * *

Each of the last two times we've gone to visit family in Phoenix, I've made it a point to attend a Diamondbacks game, be it with uncles or aunts, brothers or sisters. So you'd think I would have taken the time to secure tickets (or even see if the D-Backs would be in town) prior to leaving home.

But I didn't.

Luckily for me, procrastinator that I am, the D-Backs were not just in town during my stay, but in town playing the Devil Rays, meaning, as with all bad, small-market and far-away teams, tickets would be plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that the Best Available Tickets cost $175 each and were located all of 10 rows or so behind home plate.

But alas, vacation money being not quite as plentiful as the massive number of tickets available, we settled for the cheaper fare of $50 and tickets just under the upper deck overhand, nestled between home plate and first base. Very good seats, considering we bought them just days before the game.



The game began at 12:40 pm; we arrived an hour or so before then. As I have each time I've gone, I still marvel at how easy it is to get to and from Chase Field by car, parking included in the marveling. A reasonably-priced parking garage across the street from the stadium makes for a far easier and enjoyable traveling experience than the hit-and-miss, slow-as-molasses driving and parking situation at Wrigley. If there's one thing that really bugs me, it's the terrible commute and expensive parking. (The restroom troughs aren't as bad as they sound.)

The last time I saw a game in Phoenix, the stadium was called Bank One Ballpark, or BOB for short, and the Diamondbacks were absolutely awful. Today, the stadium is now known as Chase Field, renamed following the JPMorgan/Bank One merger, and the Diamondbacks are actually good, battling with San Diego and Los Angeles for first in the NL West.

The night before, the Diamondbacks had put on quite a show, rallying from six runs down to win in 10 innings. It will suffice to say I was hoping for a game half as exciting.

(Aside: I didn't get tickets before the trip; similarly, I didn't bring my own scorecard, as I usually do. So we enter the stadium, and then discover, sadly, that you can't just buy a stand-alone scorecard. The only way to get one is by purchasing a copy of D-backs Insider. I'd have probably gotten one anyway as a souvenir, but it speaks volumes about the state of scorekeeping that scorecards aren't available for singular purchase.)

Micah Owings took the mound for Arizona having gone four straight starts without allowing more than three runs, and more than two months without a loss. James Shields entered the game as the talk of the American League, with his surprising 3.04 ERA and lauded stuff. A solid matchup, a pitcher's duel in the making.


Continue reading...

Cubs Send Barrett To Padres
2007-06-21 09:10
by Phil Bencomo

Sorry everyone, but I've got to hit the road again. Feel free to discuss in the comments, and I'll update this post with my own thoughts on the trade when I've got the time.

Also, I'll have a post (with pictures) about Wednesday's Arizona-Tampa Bay game within the next few days. It was my third game at the ballpark formerly known as BOB.

Until then... Go Cubs!

A Great Big Hole
2007-06-18 09:15
by Phil Bencomo

While the Cubs bustled about, fists flying, in their ongoing attempt to climb to the top of the deep and dirty hole that is the NL Central, I was busy checking out the Hole of All Holes:


Continue reading...

Quickly Now
2007-06-14 06:55
by Phil Bencomo

I'm on the road with limited Cub game and internet access, but here are a few quick bits to chew on for the moment.

* * * *

7-4 over their last 11 games, the Cubs are slowly creeping towards .500 and Milwaukee. At 29-35, they're six games below and 5.5 back...

* * * *

Can this really be the same Sean Marshall that struggled so mightily at many times last season? After dazzling in spring training, Marshall made a huge leap upwards through the organization. Such on-the-job training last year, and surely the astute counseling of Greg Maddux, seems to be paying dividends this season...

* * * *

C Koyie Hill started for Michael Barrett, who had a rough night on Tuesday. Barrett had a lively discussion with starter Rich Hill after the top of the fourth inning on Tuesday -- less than two weeks after a fight with Carlos Zambrano that left the catcher with a black eye and six stitches in his lip. Barrett later mishandled RF Jacque Jones' throw as Jose Vidro scored the go-ahead run. Yahoo Sports.

Can anyone explain why Barrett is still on this club?

* * * *

Carlos Zambrano is trying hard to redeem himself, but his actions are pretty hard to excuse. If he remains dominant over the course of the season, I'll probably let it go. That being said, if the Cubs are out of contention despite Zambrano's best efforts, he could net quite a bit of talent at the trade deadline...

* * * *

That's all for now. More when I've got time.

Notes On A Beanball
2007-06-11 08:15
by Phil Bencomo

I've never really understood beanball wars, even as a kid playing in Little League, Pony and Colt leagues. It just seems so childish to me, you know, something a couple of immature elementary school kids would do.

Kid 1: Hey, what'd you pull my hair for?
Kid 2: You looked at me funny!
Kid 1: Did not!
Kid 2: Did too!
Kid 1: Fine, then. Eat this! (Throws dirt at Kid 2.)

Etcetera, etcetera. It must make the players feel better inside, or something. Then they spout a bunch of gobbledygook to the media about "protecting each other." C'mon guys, didn't you ever learn the Golden Rule? As the Cubs found out when Ted Lilly was tossed in the first inning (after striking out the first two batters, nonetheless), trading beanballs really accomplishes nothing, and only hurts the team.

But perhaps it's just One Of Those Things that you don't really understand unless you're involved in it. Like NASCAR.

* * * *

Say what you will about run differential, but the Cubs really are playing to their record. They'll be so dominant one day, then just plain pathetic the next. A 9-1 win followed by a 9-5 loss... this team has been up and down all season. It's maddening, really. You think they've turned the season around, finally put everything together, but things fall apart again and again.

* * * *

I said it when he was signed, and I'll say it again now: Jason Marquis isn't a very good pitcher. Since his complete-game shutout May 9, he's been wholly inconsistent. His walk total is piling up, and his strikeouts are not – a sure recipe for disaster. Sunday's 1.2-inning, 6-run outing was just further confirmation. Yep, two and a half more years of Marquis sounds like great fun.

* * * *

The Cubs start a week-long homestand tonight with a makeup game against one of the four NL teams worse than the Cubs, the Houston Astros. Depressing (or uplifting, maybe?), I know, but even with the Cubs at seven games under .500, three of those four teams are in the Central.

Clubhouse Turmoil?
2007-06-05 09:10
by Phil Bencomo

Barrett and Zambrano aside, of course (though the two have apparently patched things up). From the Sun-Times:

It's too early and too much of an overstatement to suggest Lou Piniella is losing the clubhouse a mere two months into his first season as Cubs manager.

But his managing style has worn on some veteran players, many of whom spent most of the first two months trying to figure out his lineup patterns and some of whom bristle at his willingness to publicly criticize mistakes -- issues heated to the boiling point by an underachieving start, Monday night's 7-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park notwithstanding.

But even privately, players stop well short of suggesting the two-time Manager of the Year is losing the clubhouse, and most characterize it more like ''growing pains'' as a clubhouse full of first-year Cubs gets used to a first-year Cubs manager.

The players can "bristle" all they want, but they remain public figures – entertainers – who are subject to public scrutiny and criticism. If an actor turns in a terrible performance, critics will make it known, and the same holds true for a baseball player.

That being said, I've got to side with the players. Does a director publicly demean his actors? He may do so privately, but if the performance was bad, it will surely be made known by many people – the press, viewers. The last thing an actor or baseball player needs is for his director or manager to add to the public scrutiny. I'm from the school that says coaches should offer constructive criticism, not just fits of fury. After a bad game, does the manager saying to the press, "He was awful out there, and I'm fed up with his mistakes," really do anything but make the player feel worse about himself and his play? The player already knows it, and he doesn't need his manager joining the public critics. If a player is scuffling, the manager should help him out or point him to people who can. That's the manager's job.

These players are people with emotions, just like you and me, who deserve to be treated as such, particularly by the coaching staff. If not even the manager's on your side, what does that do for your morale?

* * * *

The Cubs have looked good the last two days behind a resurgent Alfonso Soriano (10 for his last 15 with three home runs), but at seven games under .500, they're still far from praiseworthy.

* * * *

Jim Hendry is actively trying to trade Jacque Jones, says Fox Sports. With Felix Pie now installed in centerfield after showing better plate discipline at Iowa, either Jones, Cliff Floyd or Matt Murton will have to be moved. Jones, with his -2.7 VORP, is the obvious choice, but with $9 million left on his contract isn't an easy guy to peddle.

* * * *

7:05 game tonight on WGN. Lilly vs. Vargas.

Embarrassing: Cubs Lose Sixth In A Row, Lou Erupts
2007-06-02 16:53
by Phil Bencomo

I've got no words to spill today on this sorry team other than the purely emotional. And nobody wants to read about what we're all feeling.

* * * *

Oh, and Bob, unless you will the Cubs to win by about 15 tomorrow to start a 10-game winning streak, I think you're going to have to stay far, far away from Chicago. Your presence is just too destructive. ;)

But I jest, of course. Or maybe we should just send you and your aura of horror on a Midwest tour as punishment, starting in Milwaukee, then to St. Louis...

When Frustration Boils Over
2007-06-01 19:30
by Phil Bencomo

By now, I'm sure anyone near a TV, radio or computer has heard:

The big action at Wrigley Field on Friday was in the Chicago Cubs' dugout.

Pitcher Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett shoved each other and had to be separated in the fifth inning of the Cubs' 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta had just scored five runs in the top of the fifth to increase their lead to 7-1.

The futures of both Zambrano and Barrett, free agents this winter, were already questionable before the game. Zambrano with his 5+ ERA and increasing volatility, Barrett with nonstop blunders in every facet of the game... Today's events only sealed their fates.

At least one of the battling teammates is all but guaranteed gone by weekend's end. Neither will be back next season, and I have no desire to see them return.

The Cubs won't get much of value in return, and Hendry should be content to net a serviceable starter for Zambrano and middling prospects for Barrett. Let that be a message to the rest of the team: If your play or behavior is deemed unacceptable, you're gone, no matter the net loss.

It's pains me to say it, as a fan of Zambrano for so long, but even if Carlos miraculously overcomes his emotional problems, I doubt he'll ever achieve the same level of success that we saw even as recently as last season. Amid reports that his velocity and arm angle have dropped, corresponding with poor stats in nearly every pitching category, will we finally see the bitter fruits of his massive pitch counts and inning totals? Is Carlos doomed to become another Ismael Valdez, Dave Boswell or Jim Nash? The Cubs had better not be the team to find out.

More later, but for now, I'm just disgusted, with Zambrano, Barrett and whole pathetic squad.

UPDATE: Lou Piniella's postgame response:

"You don't want to see people fight one another on your own team,'' Piniella said, his voice escalating. ''At the same time you don't want to see some of the silliness going on on the field. I only have so many players I can play. You know? And it's about time some of them start playing like major leaguers! Or get somebody else in here who can catch the damn ball and run the bases properly! All right? That's all I can say!''

If the Cubs don't turn around soon, it sounds like Lou will want to see some big changes...