Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: October 2007


Redirect Examination
2007-10-23 07:33
by Derek Smart

As the Assuming the Position series chugs slowly along in the silent background here at Cub Town (contrary to what I said previously, these beasties are going to trickle out, rather than rush forth in a flood of multi-thousand-word ramblings), I've stumbled forth to redirect you yet again to a cameo of mine at another site.

This time, it's the annual blogger-fest season wrap over at the Cub Reporter, where I, and several others, opine on the pressing questions of the day like, is Carlos Marmol's slider 'nasty' or 'filthy'? Who makes the best gumbo, Mike Fontenot or Ryan Theriot? Is Mark DeRosa dreamier with or without stubble? All this, and much, much more will be answered with just the click of a link. Enjoy!

Enough About You. Let's Talk About Me.
2007-10-15 08:13
by Derek Smart

So, a gentleman by the name of Howard Rosenberg asked me to do an email interview for his site, writerhoward. Little did he know at the time that I'm a former actor, and like all folks of the ilk, am not only willing to talk about myself, but all too eager. Swing on over, and learn more about my favorite subject: Me!

Next Stop: The Future
2007-10-09 06:56
by Derek Smart

Feelings on the recent debacle? Nothing, really. Sure, there's a bit of disappointment, but if I'm truly being honest with myself, while I felt going into the season that the club was clearly improved, and that with the sad state of the division as a whole a playoff berth was certainly possible, this was not a team I looked at and thought, "Them thar's champeens!"

Like everyone else in the National League, the Cubs were and are a deeply flawed group. Decent enough, to be sure, due to some significant star power in a couple spots, but miles away from a dominating force, or even consideration as a sure-fire contender. This is, as currently constructed, a .500 team that could swing several games in either direction based on the whims and vagaries of a long season. Sticking with the status quo could result in a similar ride in 2008, one that would have the potential of another run to the postseason, or an equally likely yearlong slog in the muddy, mid-pack, March to Mediocrity.

There are things that can be done to raise this franchise from a member of the general, uninspiring, yet theoretically contending populace of the National League, into a team that can be looked on as a legitimate peer and potential foil of its upper echelon American League counterparts. However, in order to properly identify those - shall we call them "upgrade opportunities"? - I feel it's important to take a detailed look back at what the team had in stock, in tandem with a peek forward at what might parts might be available.

To that end, over the next several weeks, I'll be rolling out a series of player-centric essays on the Cubs and their future options that I like to call, "Assuming the Position." Hopefully, those of you who have seen these before are looking forward to them, and those who haven't will find them enjoyable. I want to get a few in the can before I start posting, so figure they'll start showing up sometime late next week, early the following week.

We may not be able to fix this team ourselves, but we sure as hell can put our two cents in. So, start thinking, and get ready to weigh in. We'll be rolling in no time.

Cubs-Diamondbacks Game 3 Chat
2007-10-06 14:10
by Derek Smart

Perhaps today is the end, perhaps the beginning, or even something in between. No matter what, it's baseball, and you know, things could be worse, so we may as well enjoy it.

Tribune Executives Applaud Cubs' Poor Play
2007-10-06 12:00
by Phil Bencomo
Calling Lou Piniella "the greatest manager this Earth has ever seen," Tribune Co. executives praised the Chicago Cubs in a written statement for their foresight and lackluster performances during the first two games of the Cubs' NLDS matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The statement, titled "Thank You, Lord, For Your Eternal Blessings And Lou Piniella," was released on the Tribune Co. website late Friday night, and as a full-page letter in Saturday's Chicago Tribune.

"We, the upper management at Tribune Co. who, in turn, represent the sentiments of everyone involved with our organization, would like to take a moment to thank the Chicago Cubs for being such a brilliant light amongst the dim-witted minds of traditional and lesser baseball men," the statement reads. "Those foolish simpletons believe losing the first two games of a five-game series to be the worst possible scenario, a situation so dire as to quash the hopes of even the most faithful followers."

"And we must admit, Lou and company, that at first we, too, were overwhelmed with grief and anger firmly aimed at your poor play. We asked ourselves, 'Why should we be forsaken now? This season had been filled with so many blessings -- chiefly among them the Milwaukee Brewers -- why should they stop coming now, when we need them most?'

"But then, after a good night's sleep and much thought, it occurred to us: This is Lou Piniella we're dealing with, the man who took the Cubs from worst to first in a single year. Surely he must be planning something. And how right we were. We've finally unraveled your plot, a plan so dastardly that even we would never have dreamed it up!

"By losing the first two games of the series, you haven't put yourself in the worst possible position, as the weak-minded fools would have you believe -- in fact, you've put yourself in the best position possible! By losing two games in Arizona, you'll now have to play two games at Wrigley, which means thousands of dollars, nay, millions, in extra revenue! Had you taken the easy path and won the first two, as a lesser team would, you would have only played one game at Wrigley, cutting the potential extra revenue in half!

"But you didn't stop there. You've set yourself up for one of the greatest comebacks in history -- from the brink of elimination to glory! Oh, the marketing goodness! Such a comeback would mean innumerable amounts of attention, which spreads the brand, raises TV ratings, sells more merchandise... Oh, we're shaking with excitement! What a way to spend our last year as owner -- with tons of money! And just imagine how much greater the second- and third-round comebacks will be. From three games down to victory, twice! Your names will surely be remembered for all time. Imagine the publicity, the euphoria, the MONEY!!!

"You truly are a brilliant bunch, and we all applaud your efforts. Lou, your legendary status as one of mankind's greatest thinkers is all but attained. Now, with all of that meticulous planning and the first stage of implementation out of the way, all you've got to do is win. And that should be easy, almost too easy, in comparison.


Musings On Possibility
2007-10-06 08:23
by Derek Smart

While my internet wanderings yesterday revealed that some folks in the blogosphere had begun moving on to 2008 in the wake of Thursday's disappointing performance, the majority of what I saw from the non-Mariotti world was defiance in the face of elimination. Certainly this is a bit of experience talking, as past Cub teams have had their moments on the Diamondbacks' side of the ledger, only to see that seemingly sure thing slip through their fingers. It has, in fact, a certain degree of cosmic justice to it, as Nate Silver pointed out in a recent BP Unfiltered post - the ultimate reversal of fortune.

The most recent analogy is the Red Sox experience in 2004, and while those events may not make such an outcome more likely in reality, they certainly lend an air of possibility to today's proceedings, the idea that the damned may, indeed, at any moment, be unknowingly on the brink of redemption. That perhaps they must not only confront and defeat their demons, but do so in a way that brings to mind for the newly vanquished visions of the horrors that have previously befallen those victims turned victors. It's an appealing notion, made even more so by its distinct lack of likelihood - doing the impossible is always more fun than simply meeting expectations.

Which leaves us with today, where the only weapon at our disposal is a speck of hope multiplied by the millions who possess it - on its own not nearly enough, but put them all together, and who knows? Who knows, indeed?

No one.

And so they play.

And so we pray.

Pray that all of our tiny parts may come together to form the whole that ends these years on decades of fruitless yearning. Are the chances good? No. But what's the fun in laying down and dying, when one can go out swinging and trying?

Cubs-Diamondbacks Game 2 Chat
2007-10-04 17:50
by Derek Smart

As always, a new game means a fresh start. Time to dig down deep and pull even tonight.

Disjointed Thoughts of a Sleep Deprived Man
2007-10-04 07:19
by Derek Smart

Let me be very clear: There was nothing wrong with putting Carlos Marmol in last night's game. There was nothing wrong with taking Z out after six innings. As well as the Cub bullpen has pitched for the last several months, you have to be able to lean on them at critical junctures in the game. That's what they're there for.

The fact that the tactic didn't work - that the guy with the sub-2.00 ERA and wicked stuff, who I think all of us have been thrilled to see come in just about any game of late due to his ability to relentlessly slam the door on the opposition's greedily grasping fingers - does not invalidate the strategy itself.

My litmus test for this sort of situation goes like this: had the hindsight-aided plan been used, and the same result occurred, would the screamers be screaming for the plan they're railing against today? In other words, had Zambrano been left in the game and given up those two runs in the seventh, would the same individuals wailing this morning about Z getting yanked be shrieking about leaving him in, because after all, you're going to be using him on three days rest, and you've got this great back end of your bullpen, so why not bloody well use it? I think for many, the answer is 'yes', so I feel within my rights to dismiss them out of hand.

Besides, as many have already observed this morning, the club ran into a buzzsaw named Brandon Webb, so if you're looking to hand someone with responsibility for last night's outcome, he's your man. Well, Webb and the Cub lineup that failed to get to him. There were some actual hard hit balls last night, just at someone, and poorly timed. Manage to get those guys at second with no outs over to third with one, and we might have a different story.

We don't, though. The offense couldn't get it done, and that was the real issue last night. So on the question of who should have pitched when and to whom, I put to you that with the team failing to mount any significant offensive challenge, in the immortal words of Jesse Jackson, "The question is moot!"


I confess that I have an irrational fear of Doug Davis. I know he hasn't owned the club every time out, but it seems pretty darn close, and he certainly dominated them earlier this year. He's not a great pitcher, and could only be considered good under the most charitable of circumstances, but he seems to have this hypnotic power over the Cubs. He doesn't overpower anyone, just gives a side-show charletain's wave of the hand, a few mumbled words - "This is not the pitch you're looking for." - and back to the bench they go.

That said, when a little science is applied, things appear slightly less bleak. Remove the pitchers from your calculations, and the current Cub roster has a career .264/.329/.410 line against Davis in 148 plate appearances. Certainly that's not good - the team's line for the year, pitchers included, is .271/.333/.422 - but not nearly as dire as I might have thought.

The item that should be of greatest concern is the way Derrek Lee has hit against him. 24 PAs, 2 walks, 1 single, 1 double, 2 home runs, and 12 strikeouts. For those of you scoring at home, half the time Lee comes to the dish against Davis, he whiffs. He gets a homer every 12 PAs, which is certainly nice, but it's very much an all or nothing proposition. Ramirez isn't much better, getting an extra single, six fewer Ks, and a couple of sac flies over 26 PAs.

The good news is, Soriano, Murton, and Theriot have handled him well in smaller sample sizes, so there's certainly an opportunity to get men on in front of the middle of the lineup with the hope that the all or nothing produces some all. Still, I can't say I feel good. I don't feel bad, just not good. That'll do for now, but I need a little better by the end of the night. Here's hoping our boys can deliver.

Cubs-Diamondbacks Game 1 Chat
2007-10-03 16:22
by Derek Smart

I've been given to understand, that under the proper circumstances, with the appropriate application of heat and seasonings, the species Crotalus atrox does, indeed, taste like chicken.

Who's up for some vipère au vin?

Radar Busted His Hump To Get You Those Bullets, Now Go Out And Use Them!
2007-10-02 14:26
by Derek Smart

I starting thinking today about how I'm really looking forward to seeing Uncle Lou manage in the playoffs. One of the tendencies I've seen this year, and that I interpret as a strength, is his willingness to play for the moment. To see an opportunity, make the necessary move to seize it, then deal with the aftermath when and if it comes.

The most pertinent example I can think of is the May 6th game against the Nationals at Wrigley. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs are down by a run. The first man due up is Cesar! Izturis. A clear pinch-hitting situation, as the chances Izturis will reach base in these circumstances are roughly analogous to the chances that an alien will crash land on Earth, go to a 7-11, buy a lottery ticket, win the Powerball, use the proceeds from his one-time payout (because only chumps take the annuity) to purchase the necessary parts and fuel to repair his craft, fix his ship, take off for home, get struck by lightning, crash again, go to the same 7-11, buy another ticket, win his second consecutive Powerball, decide that Earth isn't so bad after all and build a house on the shores of Lake Michigan, start a farm, raise a family, become involved in the local church, live to be 150, and while on his deathbed, get abducted by a ship with one female crew member who happens to be his great-great-granddaughter via a one-night-stand consummated the night before he first left for Earth. Give or take a percentage point.

The gist is, pinch-hitting for Izturis is an unassailable strategy if all you're worried about is increasing your chances to score, but the problem is that Ryan Theriot, the only other man on the roster at the time capable of playing short, was already in the game at second, and Mark DeRosa, the only other regular second baseman on the roster, who also happened to be that day's starter in right field, had already been lifted in the sixth during a double-switch. So while your chances to win the game in the ninth are better when using a pinch hitter, the complications that arise defensively if a mere tie is achieved make the decision fraught with danger.

If I may take a moment to speculate, when I first began thinking about this situation I felt like this would be exactly the sort of deal that carried a high probability of making Dusty Baker's brain hemorrhage. Then I thought some more, and began to come around to the idea that maybe this type of thing was actually quite simple for him to handle because, to his way of thinking, his hands would be tied. He couldn't ask someone to play out of position defensively, so he must allow the horror that is Cesar! At The Bat, even though the most likely result is that he never gets to play short during the top of the tenth because his out helped finish the club's chances that day.

If there is, for me, a key difference between the in-game management of Baker and Piniella, it is the phrase "But, what if....?" For Baker, it was the query that ruled every decision, echoing in his head whenever a choice was to be made, paralyzing him with greater efficacy than a five gallon drum of curare. Piniella, on the other hand, acts as if he's never heard such a thing in his life. There is a freedom in his decision making that can only be achieved by dealing with one problem at a time. With the situation outlined above, I envision an exchange like this if I were in the dugout:

    Me: What do you need?

    Lou: I need runs.

    Me: What's the best way to achieve that?

    Lou: Pinch hit Cliff Floyd for Izturis.

    Me: What will you do defensively if there's a tie?

    Lou: Shut up, kid. Let's score that run first.

What's not to like about that? Lou did, indeed, pinch hit Floyd for Cesar!. Cliff walked, Ward followed with a single, and Theriot later drove Jason Marquis (Floyd's pinch runner) in to tie the game. Then, confronted with a defensive need in the middle infield, Lou did the only thing he could: move Theriot to short, put Alfonso Soriano in at second, and drop Ward in left.

Optimal? Hell, no, but it gave the team a better chance to win, because it gave them a better shot at coming from behind in the ninth. It took courage, guts, and most importantly, the understanding that saving something for later doesn't matter if later never comes. The Cubs went on to win that game, but even if they'd lost, the decision was the right one, and exactly the type of call a manager has to make in the playoffs, where there aren't another 100 games in your satchel if you're feeling conservative that day. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing him work these games. Because I know that, even if the Cubs don't make it, Lou will make sure all the ammo's been spent.

My, How Far We've Come
2007-10-01 05:03
by Derek Smart

A year ago this Saturday, Marc Normandin put my post-mortem of the Cubs' 2006 season up on the always excellent, Beyond the Box Score, which I reproduce here in an effort to help us all appreciate our current situation. Enjoy.

CSI: Wrigley

Open on a dark room. There are small areas where light pierces through the gloom, and we can see stainless steel cabinets and green tile walls in the surrounding glow. It feels like any sound will echo in the hard emptiness, a suspicion that's confirmed when a man's footfalls are heard, first at a distance, then slowly closing the gap until his shadow overcomes the frame.

The click of a sticky switch fills the space, and the resulting burst of light reveals a table overflowing with what is apparently a corpse - the body of a giant, blue-clad bear, its sickening corpulence spilling everywhere, searching out the shortest path to gravity's source like a mountain-born stream.

Another click pounds the silence, this time a signal that the microphone we see suspended above the mass of mottled fur has been brought to life. The man whose steps we'd heard ringing in the hallway moves into the light, his face pale from years spent too close to the dead, as if he, like his subjects, has been exsanguinated, albeit at an infinitely slower pace. He surveys the damage, then mutters to himself:

What the hell happened here?

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