Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: September 2007


Roster Madness
2007-09-30 16:20
by Derek Smart

Before any final decisions are made, I thought I'd entertain myself by going over some thoughts on the Cubs' potential playoff roster configuration. This is with the caveat that I may not fully understand the eligibility rules, so if you spot something amiss, please feel free to educate me in the comments, and I'll do my best to make corrections in a timely manner.
Continue reading...

Back in the Game
2007-09-29 14:47
by Derek Smart


I've been wracking my brain trying to think of ways to re-introduce myself in this space, particularly since I can understand if some of you find the timing somewhat suspicious ("Nice of you to crawl out of your hole now that it's safe, you brave, brave man."), despite the fact that my reasons for being gone and returning are purely personal and unrelated to the game of baseball, or Cub Baseball specifically. In any case, here's what I've got:

I've been away.

Now I'm back.

The end.

Pretty nice, huh?

More to come tomorrow, and during the playoffs, and in the offseason, and next season, etc, etc, and so on, but for now, savor last night, prepare for next week, and do it all knowing, whether you like it or not, I'm going to be here telling you what I think.

For a long, long time.

Celebration Thread
2007-09-29 09:18
by Phil Bencomo

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Cubs are going to the playoffs!

What an incredible ride. I didn't think it possible, but the Cubs have gone from worst in the league one year to the top of the division the next, an improvement of nearly 20 wins.

In a way, this team has acted a lot like me (not in the schizophrenic way, though; let me assure you that I am mentally healthy). I'm not one to go way above and beyond what's necessary. If I need to mow the lawn, I'll go out and do it -- but I don't often do the edging and weed-whacking, making the yard look absolutely perfect, because it doesn't need to be done very often and doing it every week would be, in my mind, a waste of my time and energy.

Likewise, the Cubs got the job done -- by being just barely better than Milwaukee -- and though 90 or more wins sure would have looked nicer, the core objective is still completed: the Cubs are in the playoffs.

And now that they're in, that's all that really matters.

Go Cubs!

Luck: The Residue Of Milwaukee
2007-09-28 11:07
by Phil Bencomo

It's hard to call the Cubs lucky. Through no work of their own, they've seen their magic number drop from four to three, and from three to two -- but all while being swept by Florida. I'd hardly call that excruciating experience lucky. Maybe in regard to the final outcome -- "The Cubs got so lucky"; as if they had weaseled their way out of something, and deserve condemnation -- but not in any envious sense.

It's as if the Baseball Gods took pity on their souls and gave the Cubs a victory, however small, even in defeat. But does any self-respecting team or person really want pity? You'd have to be in a pretty lowly state to invite it from others, a state I hope the Cubs aren't currently in.

* * * *

In essence, the Cubs finished the Florida series with the worst possible outcome -- three losses -- and still came out better in the race. Incredible, indeed.

But this reality is quite contrary to the fits of rage and panic coming from many Cub fans. Ok, the rage is perhaps deserved; after all, had the Cubs taken the series, the division would already be clinched. But panic? Not yet. It would have been nice to avoid being swept, and it would do wonders for peace of mind, but all is not lost. If the Cubs win even one game in Cincinnati, the Brewers will have to take three straight from San Diego to tie.

And at this point, I'm so tired of getting worked up over this schizophrenic team. It may sound defeatist, but if the Cubs blow it, then what happens? A new chapter gets written in the history book of Cub collapses, everyone moans about what could have been. ... Sorry, I've seen that one too many times already. Let's just have this thing done with, and if the outcome is positive, then there's some real cause for emotion. It's just too draining otherwise.

So let's all just hunker down and watch. Three games to go, and the lead is still two.

Wait And See
2007-09-25 20:55
by Phil Bencomo

Listening to the game on the radio, I caught myself thinking, "Huh?"

Is this really the same team that in three games against the Pirates scored almost as many runs as the Bears have in three games this season? Ted Lilly didn't pitch much like a 15-game winner, and the offense sputtered, with batters grounding into double plays and striking out in key situations.

But I suppose it should be expected by now. This team never does what you think it will. Which leads to a very messy paradox.

I've been pondering this exact scenario the past few days. It's great that the Cubs went on a hot streak, making the Central theirs to lose, but was it too early? Every team has hot streaks and cold streaks. It's obvious the Cubs were steaming, so the question is: Has the inevitable cool-down started? And, if so, how long before the Cubs cycle upwards again?

I'm not being pessimistic, only realistic. These are the Cubs, after all. You prepare yourself for the worst -- lessen the fall, if you will -- and when Good Things happen, the Goodness is all the sweeter. Assumption is a cardinal sin.

Five games to go. The lead is two.

* * * *

Glad to see you got the memo, Lou. Geovany is pleased.

Public Service Announcement
2007-09-21 13:47
by Phil Bencomo

In 35 at-bats (through six innings of Friday's game), Geovany Soto has hit three home runs.

In 454 at-bats (through six innings of Friday's game), Jason Kendall has hit three home runs.

That is all.

There's The Hard Way, And Then There's The Easy Way
2007-09-21 07:45
by Phil Bencomo

The good news keeps rolling in:

Cubs Gain Half Game By Being Idle, Up 1.5

But there's more!

Sheets Has Hamstring Strain, Likely To Miss Next Start

The Cubs better win this thing, because losing it now would be downright humiliating, for players and fans. Although this would be pretty embarrassing, too: "And now, with a record of 84 wins and 78 losses, here are your NL Central-winning Chicago Cubs!" Embarrassing, sure, but I'd do nearly anything, even post on the Internet personal thoughts about a sports team, if it put the Cubs in the playoffs.

Hey, wait a minute...

Astros Deliver Knockout At Busch

Oh, sure, the Cardinals were effectively knocked out after the Cubs got in their licks, but what kind of Cub fan can look at that headline and not feel an immediate sense of gratification? of immense satisfaction? Probably a dead one.

Griffey Will Miss Rest Of Season With Groin Strain

The Cubs close out the season against Cincinnati -- which is now sans Griffey. The road to the postseason keeps getting easier and easier...

In Perspective
2007-09-20 07:10
by Phil Bencomo

The Dodgers lose their 73rd game, and fans begin their post-mortem examinations of the season and team, trying to find out "what went wrong."

The Cubs lose their 73rd game, and Lou Piniella merely opines: "You're not going to win every game." With their 80th win last night, against 73 losses, the Cubs moved back into sole possession of first place.

No other NL division leader has so few wins; in the AL, each leader has already won 90.

* * * *

Theoretically, the Cubs should have an easy time finishing out the season. But the Cubs have a losing record against all three remaining opponents -- Pittsburgh, Florida and Cincinnati -- though they all reside near or at the bottom of their respective divisions. I'd be more concerned about that than supposed conspiracies against the Cubs, e.g. Houston shuffling its rotation.

* * * *

1:20 game, Marquis vs. Maholm.

When Fantasy Becomes Reality?
2007-09-16 17:18
by Phil Bencomo

With four hits in today's afternoon game, Geovany Soto raised his batting average to .423.

Maybe his leaked claims and boasts aren't so far-fetched after all. ;)

But fake memos aside, I do think Soto has earned some more playing time, especially with Jason Kendall scuffing badly at the plate this month (.190/.292/.262), not to mention his recent defensive miscues...

Clubhouse Leak: Soto Writes To Piniella
2007-09-14 16:00
by Phil Bencomo


TO: Mr. Lou Piniella
FROM: Geovany Soto
DATE: 9/14/2007
SUBJECT: On Playing Time, Common Sense, And My Right To Rule Behind The Plate

Mr. Piniella,

I know that I have hardly been with the club long enough for the casual fan to recognize my name, let alone recognize my abilities at and behind the plate. And for that I am deeply disappointed. Had I been heralded as the Chicago Cubs' catcher of the future, as a prospect of a caliber above even that of the precious Felix Pie, I doubt I would have any cause to write to you today.

But that is the subject for another memo, for another of my superiors.

Instead, I implore you, Mr. Piniella: Right the wrongs committed by other, lesser men, whose eyes were blinded by foolishness, and anoint me, Geovany Soto, as the Cubs' catcher of today and tomorrow.

By now, I would have thought that you, Mr. Piniella, would have realized your folly. I understand that, initially, you were apprehensive to give me, young and inexperienced in your eyes, playing time over veteran Jason Kendall, or even in place of that consummate professional, Henry Blanco. Believe me, I understand.

But I thought you would have moved past that phase. I thought that, once my world-class and PCL MVP-winning abilities became evident (and I believe they have), you would forgo any baseless prejudices and name me your starting catcher.

Or so I thought.

The numbers speak for themselves. Any person with access to the simplest of statistics could tell you that I am, by far, the worthiest choice. The more advanced the statistic, the more convincing the argument. As a man of great knowledge and reason, Mr. Piniella, you should have long ago realized that fact yourself, or had the wisdom to seek out those already enlightened. I do not mean to belittle you -- that is far from my intention -- but I am deeply disappointed that you would let a player with talents such as mine rot on the bench for days on end, all while the Cubs remain locked in a bitter struggle for first place. I ask what I do of you not simply for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Had I been playing in regularly this season, the Cubs' magic number would have reached zero weeks ago. Of that I am certain.

Consider this, Mr. Piniella: During my earth-shattering, PCL MVP-winning 2007 season, I batted an astonishing .353/.424/.652 with 60 extra-base hits in only 110 games. While I was feasting like no other on minor league pitching -- and while I have sat idly, talents wasted, in the major league dugout -- my competitors have turned in pathetic performances on all counts. My PCL OPS was nearly two times the MLB OPS of Kendall in 2007, and that girly-man, hoping his bushy goatee will somehow make up for his all-too-apparent deficiencies as a man and ballplayer, could not throw out a base stealer even if he had a gun to his head, and the penalty for failure a messy, messy death. I, meanwhile, have thrown out a full third of all would-be base stealers.

And Henry Blanco hardly deserves a mention; the man is a broken down shell of his former self. How can one such as him even compare to the eternal greatness that is Geovany?

But wait, you say, let's not compare apples to oranges here. Minor league numbers aren't the same as major league numbers.

And you would be right; I knew you were a wise man, Mr. Piniella. But, to wit, examine these numbers: Jason Kendall has a paltry .215 EqA this season, and Henry Blanco sits at a disgusting .138.

But I, Mr. Piniella, finished the minor league season with a translated EqA of .299, which is better than any mark posted by a Cub on the major league roster with significant playing time.

In short, Mr. Piniella, you are leaving your best hitter, better even than your beloved Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, in the dugout. It makes me want to both weep and vomit.

But I know you are not one to speculate with "theoretical numbers" and "projections." You want cold, hard results. And that, too, I understand.

So look no further than my major league statistics. You have only given me, unfortunately, 17 at-bats with the Cubs, but in those 17 at-bats I have hit .353/.450/.588 for an OPS+ of 163. There is no way around it, Mr. Piniella: I am the superior player, one who is tired of the ignorance of those who make the decisions.

I will have my rightful claim to the catching throne! Nobody will stop the almighty Geovany Soto! If you will not listen, Mr. Piniella, I urge you: Step aside, lest I am forced to take my wicked bat, forged in the deepest depths of Hell, to your temple and reduce you to ash.

I hope that your sensible nature will prevent such an unfortunate incident from ever occurring, but be warned nonetheless.

your catcher,

Geovany Soto

It Will All Be Worth It
2007-09-14 09:35
by Phil Bencomo

As much as this month and last have pained us as fans -- watching the team lightly touch first place for a moment and then fall from grace soon after -- I can't honestly say I wish it weren't so. The Cubs are in a playoff race, whatever the quality of the division, and no one who calls himself a fan could want otherwise. Whatever angst the team causes along the way will be quickly excused by a playoff berth.

* * * *

It's being billed, and rightfully so, as one of the Cubs' biggest series of the season: Four games in St. Louis.

Says Piniella:

''We could basically put them out of the way -- and, hopefully, we will. We are not expecting an easy weekend series.''

The Cards have lost seven in a row, but their season has been as surprising as the Cubs'.

* * * *

Derrek Lee is expected to be back in the lineup tonight, says the Sun-Times. The Cubs hit four homers last night without him, but tonight's Cardinal starter, Adam Wainwright, has only allowed 11 home runs in 28 starts.

* * * *

Expect a strong outing from Carlos Zambrano tonight. His last outing (six innings, two hits, one run) was his best in weeks, and his away stats this season are good: 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .214 BAA. Oddly, though, those stats do seem a bit paradoxical. Carlos doesn't like fans booing him, but he has performed better on the road, in front of crowds that actively want to see him fail. Perhaps Carlos uses the hostile fans as motivation, which would explain why Carlos showed such improvement in the start immediately following the booing at home. His next home outing should be telling...

* * * *

7:10 game, Zambrano vs. Wainwright

Cubs Let One Get Away ... Again
2007-09-12 09:00
by Phil Bencomo

Really now, what more can you say about the Cubs? Another loss in a game they should have won, 15 men left on base ... the season has become frustrating enough to make even a Stoic cry out. The division title is just sitting there for the taking, but nobody in the Central seems to want it.

Oh, every team says, "We want it," but not one really means it, with the heart and soul.

Someone will win, but if the current level of divisional play is maintained -- and, though the Brewers have played better lately, mediocrity is likely to reign -- my eyes, already aching, will explode by season's end. And that, as they say, will be that.

I know I'm being too reflexive. The Cubs are still a single game out. But a sense of anxiety surrounds this team. Lou Piniella shuffling his rotation, Alfonso Soriano swinging from his heels every at-bat, batters pressing, even the media dissecting Piniella's beard -- everyone is on edge, looking for something.

Whatever it is, I hope they find it soon.

* * * *

7:05 game, Rich Hill vs. Matt Albers.

UPDATE: Milwaukee lost to Pittsburgh this afternoon. The Cubs can tie for first with a win.

A Few Things To Ponder
2007-09-11 08:35
by Phil Bencomo

I'm short on time this morning; it has been and will be a busy week. A couple things to discuss until this evening, when I should have something more substantive up.

* * * *

"Where's that been? That was a thing of beauty. We hit the ball for power. We hit the ball in the gaps. We hit the ball with men in scoring position," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "A game like this can really get you going."

* * * *

It seems to me that the Cubs are like rechargeable batteries. They sit dormant for a while -- charging -- then burst back onto the scene -- fully charged! -- before fading into dormancy again. See: April and May --> June and July. See also: Dodger and Pirate series --> yesterday.

Sleep, Then Make Like A Mirror
2007-09-07 12:05
by Phil Bencomo

I was tempted last night, after arriving home from the ballpark, to write an angst-filled, short-sighted and inflammatory post that had no purpose other than to serve as a venue for my frustration with last night's game. It was not going to be pretty.

Needless to say, it didn't get written, to the benefit of all mankind.

The Dodgers don't appear to be a significantly better team, at least as far as statistics are concerned. Pythagoras says the Dodgers should be 73-67; the Cubs should be 73-66. Their middling offenses are nearly identical: Los Angeles has scored one more run this season than the Cubs, and the Cubs' team OPS is a mere .003 higher. Cumulatively, the Dodgers have a slightly better pitching staff; the bullpen makes up for the starting staff's deficiencies.

And therein lies my frustration. The Cubs may be the lousiest first place team around, but so lousy as to lose three of four to LA? Or five of seven on the season? Are they really so much worse?

Perhaps. The optimist in me says the Dodgers got lucky, that the Cubs played well below their capabilities and gave away wins, as the Dodgers feasted on a Carlos Zambrano meltdown in the first game and poor bullpen work in the second and fourth games. Zambrano's due to snap out of his funk any time now, and the Cub bullpen had been doing well -- Ryan Dempster had not blown a save since June!

But the Cubs did lose three of four. Whether this series was indicative of fatal flaws in this club, or that the Cubs just had a poor series, a simple matter of unfortunate happenstances that really mean nothing, I cannot say for certain. I'm inclined to believe that the Cubs really are better than this series would indicate. Ryan Dempster will not blow every save opportunity, nor will the other relievers lose every lead.

It's all cyclical: Like a bug stuck to a bicycle tire, the Cubs -- or any person, for that matter -- spin wildly around and around on the Wheel of Life. For a brief moment, they sit on top of the world, at the peak of it all; everything is going great. But then the wheel turns, and before long the bug is crushed between pavement and tire. Sometimes you get squashed badly, bug juices oozing from your maimed body, and death would seem a comfort; but sometimes you manage to squeeze between tire treads and escape the devastation of the lowest low.

The Cubs may not have made it to safety this time, but the wheel always keeps turning.

Clinging To First
2007-09-05 10:30
by Phil Bencomo

Steve Trachsel did his part; the rest of the club did not.

With a quality start in his first outing as a Cub since the 20th century, Trachsel filled the fifth slot in the rotation admirably. He kept the Cubs in the game, leaving with only a one-run deficit, but the Cubs would get no closer.

I went to the game with my dad, and he commented, on several occasions in the late innings, that the team looked resigned to defeat, that the players had given up.

And I couldn't help but agree. Where's the spark, where's the life? What happened to that we-cannot-lose mentality that we saw just last weekend? Instead, the Cubs hit into five double plays. The scoring opportunities were there, but the runs did not come.

And then there was the bullpen that has coughed up six runs over the last two games. I suppose it's a simple matter of regressing to the mean; after all, before this series the broadcasters were touting the Cub bullpen's miniscule ERA over the last 15 games.

And so the lead is now down to half a game. I think Dodger Thoughts commenter D4P last night astutely summed up the current state of the Cubs with this remark I discovered this morning: "The Cubs make a pretty lousy first place team."

There's no denying the truth in that statement. But first place is first place, and I'll take a trip to the postseason no matter how lousy the regular season record.

* * * *

Another night game: Ted Lilly vs. Eric Stults at 7:05.

A Journey Through Time And Bad Catchers
2007-09-04 12:10
by Phil Bencomo

Cub catchers of the past who caught Steve Trachsel during his first stint with the team, as found on Trachsel's pitching split stats page:

S Servais - 80 G
R Wilkins - 29 G
T Houston - 27 G
B Santiago - 20 G
T Pratt - 9 G
J Reed - 8 G
M Parent - 6 G
J Kmak - 4 G
M Hubbard - 4 G
M Walbeck - 3 G
S Martinez - 2 G
J Molina - 2 G
B Dorsett - 1 G

Molina coaxed the lowest opponent OPS out of Trachsel (.648) by a fair margin over Walbeck (.699).

But what's most sad about that list is not the Cubs' abundance of bad catchers in the mid-to-late '90s, but that I remembered most of the players' first names -- Baseball-Reference has them listed like above, with only a first initial and last name.

So I ask: How many bad catchers do you remember?

Carlos, Carlos, Carlos...
2007-09-04 09:39
by Phil Bencomo


When he walked off in the fifth to a rising chorus of boos, Zambrano removed his cap and pointed at his head. Afterward, he explained his gesture.
''I don't accept the fans booing at me,'' he said. ''I thought these fans were the greatest in baseball, but they showed they just care about themselves. That's not right. When you're struggling, you want to feel support. I'll remember that. I know there will be great moments in my career [to] come.''

Everybody makes mistakes; it's a part of being human. For that reason, most mistakes are forgivable, especially if the person who made the mistake has courage enough to admit to his follies.

Carlos Zambrano made a mistake. He disregarded third base coach Mike Quade -- who, preposterously, is being blamed for the incident on a site that shall remain unnamed -- and ran through what was clearly -- to everyone else, anyway -- a stop sign. Zambrano had no chance at the plate, and was tagged out easily.

But Carlos -- who, with every season, gives credence to my fears that he may have some sort of mental illness -- couldn't leave the mistake in the dugout, and threw one of the worst games of his career, during the worst season of his career.

And then to talk down to paying fans who, rightfully, booed him off the field following a terrible all-around performance? You do well, you get cheers. You don't, and you get booed. Cub fans, in general, tend to take a "What have you done for me lately?" attitude with them to the park. Yesterday was a clear example of this mentality, as is Jacque Jones. Further back: Sammy Sosa, beloved for so many years, was just about hurled from the city.

Carlos just signed a monstrous extension, which will be paid for in part by the fans, and this is how he responds?


* * * *

A caller on WGN last night made an interesting comment: Perhaps the booing will spark Carlos, what with his me-against-the-world mentality.

An interesting theory. And if that's the case, then perhaps we should just boo him every start...

* * * *

Steve Trachsel makes his Cub debut tonight. One can only hope yesterday will not mark the beginning of a September swoon.

Sometimes, Monotony Is Good
2007-09-03 08:10
by Phil Bencomo

Two out of three, two out of three.

It seems the Cubs have proclaimed their mantra, focusing on winning one series, and then another, and another. And for the last few weeks, they've done just that. Sounds like a good strategy to me; at that pace the Cubs will finish out the season with 18 wins in 27 games, for an 88-win season.

And keeping that pace hardly seems out of the question. The Cubs only have two series remaining against contending teams, the first beginning this afternoon with Los Angeles, the second mid-month against St. Louis. The rest of the season unfolds nicely, with a total of six games against Pittsburgh, six against Cincinnati, three against Houston, and three against Florida.

* * * *

On the acquisition of Steve Trachsel, and the displacement of Sean Marshall: Trachsel has pitched better in August than Marshall, and in September, Trachsel has historically out-pitched his career numbers for an ERA a shade under four. Trachsel is not an outstanding pitcher, but he is a serviceable arm, and I'd rather see the Cubs with too many capable starters, instead of too few.

* * * *

Jacque Jones is a far better center fielder than most give him credit for. His .920 Revised Zone Rating in center would rank second in the NL, if Jones had enough innings to qualify.

* * * *

Ryan Dempster must feel more comfortable pitching with a one-run lead. He entered the Thursday's game up by two, but gave up a run before closing it out. The same thing happened Saturday.

But yesterday, Dempster went 1-2-3 after the Derrek Lee gave him the slimmest of margins to work with -- a one-run lead.