Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: April 2008


2008-04-29 09:45
by Derek Smart

Sports Illustrated hates America and Freedom and Baby Seals, the end.

Know Your Enemy 2008 - Week 4
2008-04-29 09:05
by Derek Smart

I'm behind this week, so apologies all around.  Despite the Cubs going 4-3, only one team managed to gain any ground.  Let's take the tour.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record 16-10
    Season RS/RA 120/96
    Week's Record 4-3
    Week's RS/RA 33/28
    Games Back 0.5
    Change --

    Two splits with the Brewers and Pirates, then a series win against the Astros. Solid, respectable stuff. After their 5-1 start, that's what they've settled into - being solid and respectable as they spend week after week outscoring their opponents by a few runs here and there. If there's a looming crisis, it's in their bullpen, where Jason Isringhausen has been problematic, getting tagged for two of the losses this week. Right now, it looks like the Cards need their starters to bring their A-game every time out so there's enough of a margin by the end to support some slippage from the relief corps, and as I look at the current rotation assemblage, I can't see that happening long term.

    However, this team has been playing out it's ideal scenario - managing to get better work than could be reasonably expected out of a rag-tag group of hurlers until the cavalry can come: namely, Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter. Clearly, the rotation as is won't hold out for the entire season, so the real test of this club's relevance will come as these two men make their way back.

  2. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record 14-11
    Season RS/RA 111/102
    Week's Record 3-4
    Week's RS/RA 34/28
    Games Back 2.0
    Change -1.0

    As Jason Kendall and Gabe Kapler rejoin the rest of us on Earth, the guys who are supposed to get it done finally are. The problem is the bullpen - 300 Spartans strong - can't hold up to extended exposure at the moment, which is what it got in both the extra-inning games the club dropped this week.

    Their rotation will be alright, their offense will be alright, but this group of relievers needs to shape up (and become fewer in number), and fast, or they're going to have their season ruined by incremental assault in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

  3. Houston Astros

    Season Record 12-14
    Season RS/RA 115/115
    Week's Record 5-2
    Week's RS/RA 42/27
    Games Back 4.5
    Change +1.0

    Their only losses on the week were to the Cardinals, whom they seem genetically hard-wired to piss off. Still, it's hard not to come out on top when you've got guys like Tejada and Berkman completely destroying the ball - .394/.429/.636 and .400/.485/1.000 on the week respectively.

    It also looks as if both problem pitchers - Oswalt and Valverde - have found some semblance of a groove, so fingers can remove themselves from panic buttons, at least in the short term.

  4. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record 11-15
    Season RS/RA 116/124
    Week's Record 3-4
    Week's RS/RA 38/37
    Games Back 5.5
    Change -1.0

    Talk all you want about Johnny Cueto. Right now, I'd take Edinson Volquez, hands down. He got two starts this week, and was sick in both, overall pitching 14 innings while giving up 8 hits, 7 walks and 2 runs with 17 strikeouts. If you're wondering why the Reds didn't do better on the week, simply subtract two runs from their total allowed over the period, and spread that over the remaining five games.

  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record 10-15
    Season RS/RA 111/154
    Week's Record 3-4
    Week's RS/RA 30/37
    Games Back 6.0
    Change -1.0

    They were unspeakably bad last week, but they shaped up a bit this time around, and helped themselves immensely going forward by the simple act of punting on Matt Morris. I was never a Morris fan, what with his being a constant nemesis on good Cardinal teams a few years ago, but even so, it's been a little sad to see the way he deteriorated - first slowly, losing effectiveness incrementally over time, then finally crashing so terribly this year. Still, the Pirates did what was best for their team, which was to acknowledge the irremediable sunken-ness of his cost, and stop him from doing further unnecessary damage to their season by sending him on his way. I doubt he'll find another team, so hopefully he has a nice rest of his life.

2008-04-28 14:50
by Phil Bencomo

I didn't see John Lannan and the Nationals shut down the Cubs yesterday, and listened only sparingly, but my ignorance was probably for the best. I always end up frustrated, as I suppose any reasonable fan will, when watching a no-name like Lannan fluster the Cubs so.

But these things are cyclical. Like a lawn in the spring, the Cubs grew tall and ambitious, with blades of grass yearning to reach the clouds, only to be cut down, edged neatly and weed-whacked thoroughly for the first -- and certainly not the last -- time this year. The normal way of things is no cause for worry. Given time, the Cub offense will be clicking once more.

* * * *

I wonder: What happened to those people who said the Cubs had no room for Alfonso Soriano in a lineup that was running like a fine-tuned, high-performance baseball-playing wonder machine and that has now, as was bound to happen, pulled off the road and into a gas station -- silently cursing, in its anthropomorphic way, the pushing-four-dollars-per-gallon gas prices -- to refill the tank and clear the windshield of the splattered remains of most of the National League?

On the Homefront 2008 - Week 4
2008-04-28 08:18
by Derek Smart

Not a great week, not a bad week.  The Cubs started off continuing to score a ton of runs, but it was by the skin of their teeth, often coming through with big hits at the last possible moment.  Later on, those opportunities were still there, just with less clutchitudinal action.  I like to think this was a blip on the radar screen and that, come Tuesday, we'll see some more tallies on the board.

Game 19
Opponent: New York
Result: Win
Score: 7-1
Big Play: Ronny Cedeno's two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the eighth.  It was a close game up to that point, and after Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto both failed to get anything done with the sacks full, it looked like a potential momentum changing moment for the Mets.  That's when Cedeno stepped up, had a great at bat, and delivered the death blow.
Big Player: Carlos Zambrano threw seven innings of one-run ball, holding the Mets down after Aramis Ramirez gave him the lead in the first with his two-run shot.  Anytime Z starts, there's an approximately 95% chance he'll be the guy I talk about here.  He's been that good.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the most hard-fought six-run win the team's likely to have all season.

Game 20
Opponent: New York
Result: Win
Score: 8-1
Big Play: If the Cubs have the bases loaded in the bottom on the eighth and blow their shot to score with only one out, who else can be coming to the plate but Ronny Cedeno.  This time, it was his grand slam that broke the game wide open
Big Player: This is tough.  There's Cedeno and his 5 RBI, there's Lilly and his wriggling out of trouble all day - even if he was a little lucky at times, but since I'm forcing myself to choose, I'll go with the guy who went to the plate five times and didn't make an out - Kosuke Fukudome.
We'll talk about this game next year because: As poorly as they played in this series, and despite the brevity of the encounter, it was still the 'NL Favorite' Mets the Cubs swept, and after all the talk about the Cubs' soft schedule to this point, seeing domination on this scale was an affirming experience to say the least.

Game 21
Opponent: Colorado
Result: Win
Score: 7-6
Big Play: As important as Ryan Theriot's game-winning single was, the real moment of truth was when Aramis Ramirez found the Cubs two outs from defeat in the top of the ninth, and turned the tables with his two-run homer that gave the Cubs a brief one-run lead.  It didn't provide the final margin of victory, but without it, the win couldn't have been achieved.
Big Player: Geovany Soto went 4-5 with a double and a homer.  He's hitting seventh most days, but I'd be shocked if he didn't eventually switch spots with current sixth hitter, Mark DeRosa.
We'll talk about this game next year because: This victory was a great example of how this team refuses to give up.

Game 22
Opponent: Colorado
Result: Loss
Score: 4-2
Big Play: Ryan Theriot's bobble on what could have been an inning-ending, tie-saving double play in the bottom of the eighth.  On a day where the Cubs couldn't get anything going against Aaron Cook, everything had to go perfectly to
Big Player: Jason Marquis had his second consecutive solid start, lasting seven innings and giving up only two runs.  His performance kept the Cubs in striking distance all day, and with the way the offense has performed thus far, that's really all you can ask.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Sometimes, you just want to cry a little.

Game 23
Opponent: Washington
Result: Loss
Score: 5-3
Big Play: Wil Neives' game-ending, first Major League, two-run homer.
Big Player: No one was particularly good in this game, so I suppose you have to give it to the guy who ended it.  Bobby Howry.  Wil Neives
We'll talk about this game next year because: If you've seen a better catch than Reed Johnson's all-out sprint over roughly 3/4 of Virginia, ending in a diving, death-wish, snow-cone grab and wall collision, then it's because you've been watching film of Willie Mays.

Game 24
Opponent: Washington
Result: Win
Score: 7-0
Big Play: Mark DeRosa's first inning, one-out, bases-loaded single upped the Cubs' lead to a comfortable three runs.  Once the Cubs hit that margin with Big Z on the mound, they were in the driver's seat.
Big Player: Remember what I said earlier about games Zambrano starts?  Well, it's no exception here.  Tossing seven totally dominant shutout innings will do that for a fella, even when he nearly doubles his YTD walk total in the process.  This was vintage 'Good Z', where his pitches moved so much, not even he knew where they were going, and while I love seeing the 'New Z' we've had the pleasure of witnessing most of this year, I won't be upset if this iteration shows up every five or six starts, just for old time's sake.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It wrapped up in dominant fashion Carlos Zambrano's best April ever.

Game 25
Opponent: Washington
Result: Loss
Score: 2-0
Big Play: Ryan Theriot's inning-ending, bases-loaded, fifth-inning GIDP.  Anything but a double-play at least keeps the inning alive for Derrek Lee, so even if Theriot doesn't drive anyone in himself, merely making one out keeps the bases loaded for the Cubs' best hitter.  Losing this opportunity to drive in a run, or allow Lee to bat with runners in scoring position was a huge blow to the club's chances.
Big Player: John Lannan gets the nod this time, because while he didn't always stay in the strike zone, he managed to keep the ball out of dangerous parts of it, which turned out to be more important.  The Cubs put runners on base, but could never square anything up to drive the ball and get those men across the plate, and as much as I'd like to put that on the Cubs, I think Lannan's work was the real difference.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the first time the Cubs were shut out, and will be a source of discussion because of the rarity of the feat.

The Week That Was

Season Record 16-9
Season RS/RA 145/105
Week's Record 4-3
Week's RS/RA 34/19
Games Back --
Change --

The bad news is, the Cubs had three games where they scored three or fewer runs, all of them losses.  The good news is, the pitching staff had a fantastic week, with all of the starters having solid to spectacular efforts, the worst of which being either Rich Hill's five inning, two-run effort in Game 21, or Ryan Dempster's seven inning, three-run (two earned) effort in Game 23.  When those are the bad outings, something's going right.

The offense will come back around - the opportunities were there in all but one of their losses - but seeing the starting staff have such a nice week after all their early struggles makes the tight losses a little easier to take.

2008-04-24 07:42
by Derek Smart

Is everyone having fun? I sure am. As difficult as this last victory was, I'm actually thrilled to see the club show, once again, that it doesn't have to completely own a game to win it. As enjoyable as it is to have stretches like the four games previous where domination is the fashion of the day, you won't win all your games that way. Sometimes, you're going to have to fight like hell, make some mistakes, then get back in there and fix 'em to come out on top.

This is what the Cubs did last night. They had a good thing going, tried desperately to make a mess of it, then got their heads screwed on straight and finished the job. If there's one word that describes this team right now, it's the one at the top of the page, and there's nothing more entertaining for a fan than to root for a good team that plays like they were manufactured by Cyberdyne Systems.

  • Rich Hill had a very solid outing that began as a negative image of his previous start. Last time out, he missed consistently with his fastball, only getting by because he could spot his curve and Pirate batters are generous with the swinging and the hacking and the outmaking. Yesterday, he was able to control his heat very well, but for the first 3.1 innings, he couldn't get his bender over the plate if he drilled a hole in the ball and plotted it's course with a string.

    Then, after walking Matt Holliday and giving up a single to Garrett Atkins, he suddenly found Mr. Yakker hidden somewhere under the resin bag and began making folks look silly. That's when the bottom of the sixth came around, where he gave up a leadoff bomb to Clint Barmes, and summarily walked Todd Helton, managing to lose Mr. Yakker yet again in the process. I'd suggest purchasing a leash.

    This is where things get a little odd. Lou goes to the bullpen, and despite the fact that Hill had renewed issues with his curve, he wasn't missing so badly as to make one think they were irremediable. Clearly, there's a confidence gap at this point - note the difference in treatment between Hill and Lilly, when I think you could argue that Hill was having the better outing up to the point of crisis. Plus, I don't think starting to play matchups in the sixth is an ideal strategy unless you've got a guy going nuclear on the bump, which Hill clearly was not.

    In the end it worked out alright, and I don't think this particular instance was a huge deal on its own, but it's a trend that bears watching, at least when it comes to the treatment of Hill.

  • Speaking of things I don't understand, pinch-running Felix Pie for Derrek Lee in the top of the ninth was an extraordinarily strange move. Now, I get that Pie's faster, and that he has a better chance to score on a ball in the gap, but even though he's not the same base-stealer he once was, Lee still runs very well, and I think, especially in that park with its massive outfield, the number of extra base hits that Pie could score on that Lee couldn't is small enough to make any advantage gained insignificant. The only thing you get in that transaction is the ability to swipe a bag and the tie the game on a single, but since there were four pitches in the Ramirez at bat and Pie didn't look like he was even considering running on any of them, that theory goes out the door.

    I've said before that I love the way Lou is willing to pull out all the stops to get in position to win, but this seemed to take that ethic too far. Swapping out your best hitter for a fringe gain at best, in a game that you are clearly trying to play into an extra inning contest, doesn't make a ton of sense.

  • I don't think I've said much about Geovany Soto, so let me take a moment to speak up and proclaim my deep and abiding man-love for this kid. I've been wondering for years what it would be like to have a catcher who could not only hit the ball, but play the game behind the plate as well. Right now, he's looking like the total package, and while I wouldn't expect him to continue to be quite so productive as he's been, I'm imagining that regression to the mean is his case is only half a step rearward.

    Here's another thing: every time I see his face on camera, I'm reminded of Mike Piazza. Sure, he's a bit chunkier, but there's something about the facial hair and general arrangement of his features that echoes Piazza in his youth. Now he's hitting like him - .353/.451/.618 as of last night - while still managing to have, you know, an arm. I'll take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday, thanks.

    The trick going forward is going to be keeping him fresh, because folks in Los Angeles have seen what happens when you let a backstop work too much in the early going, and the Cubs can't afford to have Soto huffing and puffing his way down the stretch.

  • As a side note: the talk during the broadcast of Soto hitting for the cycle was hilarious. Even in Colorado, I can't envision a scenario where Soto hits a triple that doesn't involve an unconscious outfielder. He's just that slow.

This afternoon brings a shot at another mini-sweep, and the opportunity to match last year's high for consecutive wins, but I don't much care for the match-up. Aaron Cook is exactly the type of pitcher who historically gives the Cubs fits - hard sinker, pounds the zone - and I suspect Jason Marquis will have to be his pre-June best to keep up. Stranger things have happened, though, and at the very least I feel confident that, even if they lose, this Cub team won't go down without a fight.

Just Smile, Smile, Smile
2008-04-23 06:24
by Derek Smart

These are heady days here in Cub Town. Winning eight out of nine and five in a row can make a fella giddy, especially when the last few games have been taken in such convincing fashion. It's important to remember, though, that these moments are fleeting. Later this season, when the Cubs have lost four of five and look listless, purposeless, helpless, take the lessons of the last week and recall again, that these moments are fleeting, that like the bliss before it, this horror too, shall pass. Then smile, and enjoy some baseball.

  • I love watching the little adjustments guys make, whether it's over weeks or milliseconds, and as useful as Gameday is, those tweaks obviously don't shine through even the best non-video internet applications. So, with that knowledge in hand, it should come as no surprise that when I scanned through my recorded version of the game, I spent an inordinate amount of time viewing and reviewing the footage of Reed Johnson's RBI single in the fourth.

    It was a classic case of a batter reading fastball out of the pitcher's hand, but finding to his horror as the pill approached that it was a sweeping breaking ball. Now, I admire majestic home runs as much as the next guy, but there's something wondrous to behold about a man who only has part of a second to decide to hit a baseball, who is able in the middle of that commitment to completely alter the nature of it, which is exactly what Johnson did.

    So there he was yesterday, out on his front foot, starting to swing at a heater, yet in that partial second still noting the ball's rotation, and seeing he'd been fooled, reprojecting the ball's flight in his mind's eye, following the newer more accurate trajectory, and finally adjusting his swing to get his bat on it. His hips had fully rotated, but as you'll hear all the time on broadcasts, he kept his hands back, which allowed him to, upon recognizing the reality of the situation, make that little change and get him some contact.

    I suppose there's a life lesson there, too. Just because you start out fooled, doesn't mean you have to finish that way.

  • With my brain still swirling from the various allergens the local foliage spewed into the air this weekend (I am now convinced, by the way, that tree pollen is composed of tiny bits of Nerf material, that then get lodged in one's sinuses to form the football you tossed around Thanksgiving morning - only now you're forced to breathe through it), I forgot to mention in yesterday's post how fun it was to watch the reaction of the guys on the bench as Pie returned to the dugout after his homer.

    Clearly, Felix was beside himself with excitement, but it was a real kick to see everyone else enjoying it nearly as much, showing great affection for a kid they all seem to like, and who they know is working his tail off under difficult circumstances to make himself a viable Major League hitter. I suppose it's just nice to see teammates rooting for each other as people.

  • Ronny Cedeno - the most dangerous man in the Majors with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the eighth. Pitch to him at your peril!

  • The funny thing is, after hitting a double and a grand slam and driving in five runs on the day, Ronny still left seven guys on base, which, frankly, is a good thing. Not because he left them there, but because they were there at all.

    Offense is all about creating opportunities, which is all about getting guys on base. Right now, the Cubs are doing that in spades, and as long as they keep it up, they'll convert enough of those chances to win. A lot.

  • I didn't review the entire game, but in what I saw, Lilly did not look sharp. It wasn't the velocity (still a bit down) or the control (still a bit off), instead it was this feeling that the physical motions he was going through were harder than they should be. I have nothing beyond my own eyes to base that on, and I'm open to the idea that I've been compromised by all the talk about what's been missing from his work thus far, but even so, he seemed to me to be laboring more than I recall. Until I see something that contradicts that impression, I'm going to remain concerned.

It's off to Colorado this evening to face the re-reeling Rockies in another of these odd little ha'series. I don't like facing teams who've just come off a bad performance. Makes me think they're hungry for redemption. Makes me think they're due. If they are, here's hoping they start collecting sometime Friday.

The Times They Are A-Changin'?
2008-04-22 08:58
by Derek Smart

It was a tight, tooth-grinder of a game for 51 outs, a real battle between pre-season division favorites vying for short-term bragging rights. In the end, the score belied how hard-fought this victory was, and does little justice to how satisfying the final result really was.

  • That's yet another fine outing for Big Z, and what a pleasure it is to watch. For a guy who's always had issues with the free pass, seeing him finally able to control the ball and consistently establish his presence in the strike zone is nothing short of thrilling. Here's where we're at: assuming 33 starts, Zambrano's on pace to pitch 222.1 innings and issue a grand total of 33 walks. This from a man who let 101 men stroll to first in his 216.1 frames in 2007. Last year, among pitchers with at least 160 innings, his projected 2008 total would put him third in the Majors behind the 25/198.0 of Greg Maddux and the 28/192.1 of Paul Byrd.

    Even making the assumption that the above rates don't hold for an entire season, this is an astounding stretch of work for a pitcher with Z's track record. Were he to double his current walk rate, he'd still end up with roughly 61 passes on the year, which I'll guarantee any one of us would have taken the over on in Vegas. If we're truly seeing the emergence of this kind of work as the standard Zambrano performance, we may well see last year's hardware prediction come true, if a year late.

  • Kosuke Fukudome is seeing 4.72 pitches per plate appearance, leading the majors by a substantial margin. The Cubs lead the National League with a .364 team OBP. If I'm asleep, I don't want to wake up.

  • Anyone seen this before? The Cubs load the bases with no one out, only to see the next two hitters, guys they can normally count on, whiff and pop their way to infamy, and who's waiting in the wings as the final chance to capitalize on this golden opportunity, but whichever player on the roster at the time who might be considered the least likely to come through - we'll call him, Punchingbag McChokesalot.

    In this case, that man's real name was Ronny Cedeno, but the label above no longer seems to apply. Not only did he have a fantastic at bat last night - fouling off a series of pitches after he fell behind 1-2, until he finally got something he could take back up the middle for a game-changing, two-run single - of late he's been consistently having PAs just like it. I never thought I'd write these words, but Ronny Cedeno is becoming a valuable member of this team. He'll need to keep it up to remain as such, but for the first time I can remember, we've moved outside the realm of pipe-dream to real possibility.

  • Speaking of goat-conversion, how about a hand for work-in-progress Felix Pie? Sure, the distance from the plate of the two pitches he took before his bomb would be better measured in feet than inches, and true, the ball he took over the wall was a yummier cookie than anything grandma could have dreamed of, but at this point, with the way he's been playing, the point is that he took the balls and drove the fat strike at all, not the relative ease of the feat. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

I don't know what to make of this afternoon's matchup. Ted Lilly was better last time out, but still has yet to put together an outing that even looks like last year's B-game. Nelson Figueroa looks like he's pitching over his head, but he's a great story, and has almost no history against these Cubs, with any of that taking place no earlier than the last time he was with a Major League club back in 2004. I'll just have to scratch my head and hope for the best.

On the Homefront 2008 - Week 3
2008-04-21 08:51
by Derek Smart

I got to thinking, here I've been doing a weekly wrap for the NL Central, and while that's all well and good, this is still a Cub blog, so it only seems logical to do something similar for the team we're all here for. So, below is my first shot at On The Homefront - Cub Town's review of the past week's Chicago Cubs action. The format is a work in progress, so any input is welcome.

But enough about me. On with the show!

Game 13
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Win
Score: 9-5
Big Play: Derrek Lee's fifth inning, three-run bomb. After the Reds had gone ahead two innings before, the blast gave the Cubs a lead they'd never relinquish.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the - owwww!!!

Game 14
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Win
Score: 12-3
Big Play: The Cubs got the lead with Fukudome's first inning, two-run double, and never stopped piling on.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Idiots threw balls on the field, then more idiots had to talk about it.

Game 15
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Loss
Score: 9-2
Big Play: Ken Griffey's seventh inning, three-run homer. While it didn't change who led, it pushed the difference from a reachable three runs, to a distant six.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Someone from Cincinnati will make us.

Game 16
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Win
Score: 3-2
Big Play: Pulling Rich Hill after 5 innings. He threw decently, but still struggled with his control. Leave him in and you could not only lose the lead, but even more of Hill's already shaky confidence.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the beginning of Rich Hill's return to respectability. I hope.

Game 17
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Win
Score: 13-1
Big Play: I'll take D-Lee's opening frame two-run shot.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Someone will want to point out that Jason Marquis isn't completely worthless. They will be right anytime before June 1st.

Game 18
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Win
Score: 13-6
Big Play: Ronny Cedeno's fifth inning, run scoring double. The Pirates had just gotten three runs in the frame previous, cutting the lead to two, but Cedeno had a great at bat after failing to get a sacrifice down - he's had a couple very nice PAs lately, which has been refreshing - and the run served notice that the Bucco's comeback was at an end.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the day the Cubs took sole ownership of first place in the NL Central for the first time in 2008.

The Week That Was

Season Record 12-6
Season RS/RA 111/86
Week's Record 5-1
Week's RS/RA 52/26
Games Back --
Change +2.0

Look at those game by game run totals up there. Three games in double-figures, and another just short - a six day outburst that lead to the club nearly doubling their offensive output of the previous two weeks. This is a good offensive team, no doubt - they've scored the second most runs in the Majors behind the surprisingly dominant Diamondbacks - but they're not that good. The club is currently on pace to score exactly 999 runs over 162 games, which is clearly beyond their base talent level. They're also on pace to allow 774 runs, which seems below their base talent level.

I think it's fair to say we'll be seeing both of those rates going down in the coming weeks. The tale will be told by which falls further and faster.

Know Your Enemy 2008 - Week 3
2008-04-21 04:10
by Derek Smart

None of these five teams had a winning week, so with the Cubs playing well, everyone lost ground. Let's sneak a peek and see where the hurt done hurt.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record 12-7
    Season RS/RA 87/68
    Week's Record 3-3
    Week's RS/RA 27/22
    Games Back 0.5
    Change -0.5

    They start off the week winning a series against Milwaukee, and end it by losing a series against the Giants - whom they are a shocking 3-4 against this year, and perhaps thankfully, won't be facing again. Talk about conflicting sets of data.

    While it's entirely possible they could sniff it again given the current bunching at the top of the division, I can't help but think Sunday was the Cards' last day in first for 2008. A statement which, I'm sure, just bought them a 7-0 Week 4.

  2. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record 11-7
    Season RS/RA 87/74
    Week's Record 3-3
    Week's RS/RA 23/23
    Games Back 1.0
    Change -0.5

    Yesterday, Eric Gagne gave up two consecutive home runs in the bottom of the tenth, tying the game that they would lose later in the frame. The second of those home runs was to Paul Bako. Let me say this again: Eric Gagne gave up a game tying home run to Paul Bako.

    And they said the Brewers' bullpen was a question mark.

  3. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record 7-11
    Season RS/RA 81/117
    Week's Record 1-5
    Week's RS/RA 18/52
    Games Back 5.0
    Change -2.5

    Now that is what I call a brutal week. If I were feeling especially cruel, I'd plug those RS/RA numbers for the period into the Pythagorean Win Expectancy formula and see what the Pirates' projected winning percentage would be (.107) and how many victories they should get if they played six games (0.64).

    Thankfully, I'm nothing if not merciful.

  4. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record 8-11
    Season RS/RA 78/87
    Week's Record 2-4
    Week's RS/RA 26/36
    Games Back 4.5
    Change -1.5

    Adam Dunn is hitting .189, yet he has an OBP of .413, and since he's only scored 8 runs - 2 because he drove himself in with a dinger - I can't imagine that changing anytime soon. Who cares if a guy like Dunn gets on base all day when the guys behind him don't drive him in? There's absolutely no reason to pitch to a ridiculously powerful hitter like Dunn if you don't have to, and until the guys who hit behind Dunn actually hit, no one will, and this team will continue to struggle.

  5. Houston Astros

    Season Record 7-12
    Season RS/RA 73/88
    Week's Record 2-4
    Week's RS/RA 20/33
    Games Back 5.5
    Change -1.5

    If the worries about Roy Oswalt weren't enough (and, granted, he put some of that to rest with a solid seven inning, one run performance on Wednesday), now there's the concern that their new closer could be trying to out-Lidge Lidge. Add that to the fact that Miguel Tejada has a couple extra birthday presents coming, and this was a crappy week all around in Houston.

2008-04-20 14:34
by Derek Smart

It's early yet, the margin is small, and it could all go away tomorrow, but any day spent alone in first is an undeniably good one.

Enjoy it, folks!

I Gotcher Silver Lining Right Here!
2008-04-18 06:22
by Derek Smart

No, it wasn't a happy day at the balpark, but there were still some things to build on.

  • Ted Lilly was actually useful for most of his start, although it's difficult to say how much of that was him, and how much was the relative impatience of the Reds in the early going. However, he did have his velocity nearer to acceptable ranges, according to what's on Gameday, so that's something to feel positive about.

    That said, I'm not going to start relaxing until I see Ted have six or seven solid innings in at least two consecutive games. He's very clearly the guy the club is counting on to be their Number 2, and if he doesn't at least approach that billing as the season goes on, there's going to be trouble ahead.

  • The Cubs didn't do much against Edinson Volquez, but even so, I'm extremely happy with the way they went about their business. When there's a guy on the hill that you can't get your hits off of, better to make him throw a lot and either give you chances to cash in on the one or two mistakes he might make - hopefully with men on the sacks who have received their free passes - or failing that, get his pitch count high enough to force him out early.

    The Cubs did just that, getting their walks, and making Volquez sit after throwing 112 pitches over just five innings. Unfortunately, they didn't capitalize on the opportunity - and, frankly, the Cubs own staff didn't give the offense much of a shot at relevancy, anyway - but they did what was necessary to create that opportunity in the first place, and more often than not, when you give yourself a shot at four innings of the opposition's bullpen, you're going to make good things happen.

  • I can't think of a third positive thing. It just feels lame only having two bullets.

It's the Bucs in town this afternoon, looking for revenge, and they've got a helluva shot with Ian Snell taking the bump for them, and the still struggling Rich Hill serving as the punching bag for the day. Here's hoping that after spewing the sunshine up top, that this little bout of negativity will balance things out for the good and net a victory this afternoon.

Amazing, isn't it, that after all these years of telling myself that my actions don't affect the outcome of games, I still have to mix in some slag because, in my head, when I start expecting good, that's when it goes bad. Aw, screw it.

Go Cubs!

A Minor Debunking
2008-04-17 14:18
by Derek Smart

Those of you that have been tuning into the Cubs' television broadcasts lately have likely heard the explanation from Derrek Lee, delivered via the men in the booth, of the difference between his power output this year, versus what he did last year. The gist is that he feels the same physically as he did last year, but he simply hit more groudballs then, and more flyballs now, so that's the reason his power output has increased.

I can't say I have any idea why his pop has returned, but based on what's in the table below, I'm feeling confident it has little to do with a flyball disparity.


I've included this season, last season, and his breakout 2005 for comparison. As you can see, he's actually hitting fewer flies this year compared to last, and if I'd included his entire career, you'd see he's hitting groudballs at a higher rate in 2008 than he did in any other year. He is, however, getting a ridiculous number of his flies to leave the yard - well above the rate he showed in that great 2005 season, which was the best flyball to homerun conversion rate of his career by a wide margin.

Like I said, I don't know why his power's so resurgent, but Lee's explanation is simply not true. He very likely feels like it is, but like so many things we think we perceive, the facts say otherwise. In the end, though, it doesn't much matter. Whether it's because his wrist feels better, he's seeing more cookies, or having one more biscuit for breakfast, it appears in the early going that the monster of 2005 - The Savior - has returned. And his timing couldn't have been better.

(P.S. - Shouts and huzzahs to the fabulous Fangraphs that makes so much analysis like this possible.)

When Watching Isn't
2008-04-17 09:17
by Derek Smart

While I generally watch the entirety of most games (weekday afternoon affairs being the exception, since I can't stop myself from paying attention when I'm at work, and can't watch an entire contest I already know the outcome of, good or bad), it's been years since I've been able to consistently watch whole games live - one of the few deleterious effects of fatherhood.  As a result, I've become completely beholden to my DVR, which is both a good and bad thing.  Good, because it allows me to actually see all the action, and bad because it's made me a considerably less patient fan.  I can hardly sit still when I have to endure the time between at bats, or god forbid, the commercials between innings.  On the rare occasions that I do get free for the three or so hours necessary to watch a game as it happens, I'll often find myself pausing the action and doing something else for a half-hour, just so I have something to fast forward through.

Thankfully, last night's game turned out to be the ideal for the type of evening that came my way.  I'd been looking forward to sitting down and relaxing (as much as a Cub game relaxes me, mind you) all day, but certain elements conspired against me, most notably the fact that my daughter actually took a nap - a massive, three hour power nap - so my viewing, which would normally begin around 8pm, was pushed back about 45 minutes by the simple fact that bed was, shall we say, not one of her priorities.  Neither was the game. 

However, if there was ever a contest to happily fast forward through large portions of, this one was it.  After the third inning outburst, I cruised through what remained at high speed, stopping only occasionally if it looked like the Cubs might score, because, after all, it's fun to watch such things.  As a result, I don't have much nuanced observation, only the happy buzz that comes from administration of a drubbing.

This afternoon should be an interesting challenge, as the Cubs go for the sweep.  Not only is the struggling Ted Lilly taking the hill, but the club has to face a pitcher they've never seen before in Edinson Volquez.  Neither piece of information fills me with confidence, but who knows?  We might get a pleasant surprise.

As a last tidbit, I leave you with a photo I've decided is my daughter's imitation of Alfonso Soriano immediately after his hop-induced injury.  Enjoy!


2008-04-16 14:04
by Derek Smart

So, the trip to the DL we all knew was coming has become official, but the thing I know I failed to anticipate was the call-up of Eric Patterson to replace Peter Cottontail on the roster.

The only thing I can think is that Jim Hendry is more concerned with filling a spot in the order - namely, leadoff - or replacing speed, than with anything else. I suppose there's some added flexibility there as well, what with Patterson being able to play pretty much anywhere in the outfield, along with second base, but I guess I thought Hendry would go with the demonstrably better bat, which at this point would be Matt Murton.

Is there something I'm missing? Some reason why this makes sense? I'm not really up in arms, just a bit baffled. Come on, folks, help straighten me out.

The Good With The Bad
2008-04-16 06:56
by Derek Smart

In 2007, the eighth win came in game twenty-one. Here's to being eight games ahead of schedule. Still, not all was puppies and posies. Watch in amazement as the bullets reveal all!

  • Sure, Ryan Dempster wasn't at his best, but he was about what we would have expected at the beginning of the year, and there's something comforting about being decidedly mediocre and not getting utterly shelled.

    Besides, we all knew the guy who pitched in his first two outings wasn't going to show up all the time, or even half the time, or perhaps not ever again, so at the very least, it's good to see that this club can win with him on the mound, even on days where he remembers who he really is.

  • This is not the same Derrek Lee. Last year was all dull thuds and dribblers. Now it's crack!-bam!-zoom! I know he says he doesn't feel different, that he's the same guy he was in 2007, but I swear every ball he's put into play so far has twenty more feet on it with a free bucket of zaz.

  • I'm going to make the bold assumption that you're all at least a little like me, that sometimes, with players you like, you have secret little monikers - not so much nicknames as pet names, really - things you call these guys in the privacy of your own home, that you're certain would make sense only to you.

    I have a name like that for Mike Fontenot, and in honor of what was essentially a spot start, where he used both his bat and glove to fine effect, I'm going to share it with you, despite the fact that it will not only open me up to more than the usual ridicule, it just might schedule me for a back-alley beating if word somehow got to the subject.

    So, without further ado, but with all due reverence and affection, I reveal to you that on a regular basis, in the quiet of my living room as I cheer him on to do great deeds, I have been known to whisper fervently, in a voice so muffled that only I can hear, the slightly embarrassing words, "Go, Little Mikey Hotentot! Go!!!"

  • You know, I could have sworn the Cubs were a wholly owned subsidiary of Aaron Harang, Inc., but a quick glance at the numbers tells me not so much. His ERA versus the Cubs for his career is a pedestrian 4.44, and despite the 8-3 record before last night, he actually had quite a few starts that the Cubs were very much in the middle of - I count 7 of 15 where he had an outing better than the 'quality start' minimum.

    That wasn't my perception going into the contest, though, so I came away from the win feeling extra satisfied. And you know what? I'm not going to let reality get in the way of some good, good vibes.

  • Of course, not all was good last night, since it appears the club has lost Alfonso Soriano for a while. Nothing's certain as I write this, and there'll be an MRI later today to determine the extent of the injury. Needless to say, this isn't a good thing, but from where I sit, he's not the worst guy in the lineup to lose.

    In terms of a player's overall contribution and the dropoff from a possible replacement, left field is actually one of the deeper positions for the Cubs. You can call up Matt Murton if there's a DL stint, or if it's a day-to-day thing you can simply insert Mark DeRosa and LMH into the linup, or even put Reed Johnson out there.

    I'd actually say that the biggest potential loss while Soriano is healing would be defensive, since that arm of his is such a unique weapon out there. All in all, though, I'm thankful that guys like Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, and Soto have all remained healthy thus far, because as problematic as missing Soriano might be, those four are the position players this club can't afford to lose.

  • Felix Pie looks utterly helpless at the plate. It's not even that he's getting fooled, since I figure one of the basic tenets of deception entails the subject of such being capable of forming a concept in the first place that could later be proven as wrong. Not the case with Felix. He can't be fooled up there, because he doesn't even know what's going on.

    I don't mean to be cruel, just honest, because he truly appears as a man blindfolded being told to swing. Out the bat goes on command, but where it ends up is anyone's guess, and any contact made is beyond incidental, all the way to so seemingly implausible that questions arise as to the sanity of the veiwer.

    This is a very long way of saying what we've all known for a while, that Pie needs to get his act together, and fast, or he's going to very quickly play his way out of a job that should, by rights, be his.

  • Not to pile on after all these years, but there was something very satisfying about seeing Kid K K-ing the King of K.

Game 2 tonight features the riotous mismatch of Big Z versus Josh Fogg. Therefore, I will be nervous as hell, because there's nothing worse than losing games you should bloody-well win.

Know Your Enemy 2008 - Week 2
2008-04-14 08:33
by Derek Smart

A little movement and a little more data. Nothing's completely clear yet, but we've got a start. Let's see what happened.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record9-4
    Season RS/RA60/46
    Week's Record4-3
    Week's RS/RA35/33
    Games Back--

    On the surface, this looks like a halfway decent week, but if you note that two of those losses were against the Giants - two losses which could have easily become three, but for the collapse of the San Francisco bullpen on Saturday - and that those same Giants scored 21 runs in that four game series thanks to players like John Bowker, then you can start to see the facade collapse.

  2. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record8-4
    Season RS/RA64/51
    Week's Record3-3
    Week's RS/RA24/32
    Games Back0.5

    Nobody hit for the Brewers this week. Nobody.

    Okay, that's not entirely true, but it's close enough, and I think it's safe to say that absent the oddly powerful contribution of Gabe Kapler - 4 for 10 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 2 walks, and 5 RBI, providing the difference in both of the final two victories of the week against the Mets - this would have been an outright terrible week.

    They survived, though, and one of the traits that separates the good teams from the bad ones is the ability to keep afloat during those periods when you're in a collective slump. The Brewers did that this week, and it bodes well for their chances.

  3. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record6-6
    Season RS/RA63/65
    Week's Record6-6
    Week's RS/RA29/27
    Games Back2.5

    The best revenge after getting swept is to return the favor. Absent that immediate opportunity, you may as well assault the next club that comes over. That's exactly what the Pirates did after losing three frustrating games to the Cubs, completely shutting down the Reds for a trio of victories. The big dose of hope came from Tom Gorzelanny, who finally put together a solid outing after getting shelled in his first two, although Bucco fans shouldn't get too excited yet, since he still walked four and only struck out one. Still, anything positive for Gorzelanny is something to be happy for, since if this club hopes to be competitive in the next few years, their young arms have to remain effective for the long term.

  4. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record6-7
    Season RS/RA52/51
    Week's Record2-5
    Week's RS/RA25/27
    Games Back3.0

    Ouch. After starting the week well by winning two of three versus the Brewers, they scored five - five - runs in three games against the Pirates. Add in the first human outing from Johnny Cueto, and it was an all-around terrible period for the Redlegs. Wanna bet there was some looking ahead to Dusty's return to Chicago this week?

  5. Houston Astros

    Season Record5-8
    Season RS/RA53/55
    Week's Record3-3
    Week's RS/RA28/25
    Games Back4.0

    If Astros fans aren't officially panicked over the performance of Roy Oswalt, they should be. Sure, he managed to strike out six guys and walk no one in his four innings against the Marlins on Friday, but the nine hits, four homers, and eight runs allowed kinda mitigate that. For those keeping score at home, that's an overall ERA of 9.00 after sixteen innings and three starts. If a .500 week can fairly be called harrowing, Oswalt's early inability to be even mediocre is the justification.

You've Gotta Have Art
2008-04-13 19:37
by Derek Smart

Lou's the best tactical manager the Cubs have had for years, and today he brought out his best genius act in the top of the 8th.

Down by one with men on first and second, one out, and right-hander Tom Gordon on the hill, the next men up for the Cubs were Henry Blanco and the pitcher's spot, occupied at the time by Carlos Marmol. It was a situation that screamed pinch-hitter, with the only question being who to use.

Left on the bench at the time were three men: Geovany Soto (R), Daryle Ward (L), and Felix Pie (L). Here were the immediate options, and some thoughts on their utility:

  • Let Blanco hit for himself


  • Bring in Ward to hit for Blanco

    You're certain to see a lefty, which causes you match-up problems, nullifying a lot of the advantage gained by using Ward in the first place. Go that way, and essentially, you're wasting one of your better pinch-hitters in a game where you can no longer afford to do so.

  • Bring in Pie to hit for Blanco

    You're certain to see a lefty again, and Pie's been so completely awful against southpaws that it's an utterly untenable situation unless you're intending to bunt, which could be a legitimate thing to do if you're intent on not going into extras, although it's not a strategy I'd be terrifically keen on.  It's also possible that Gordon stays in to stave off the possibility of using Soto to hit for Marmol.

  • Bring in Soto to hit for Blanco

    This looks initially like your best option, but while it's true that doing this gets one of your better hitters in the game, Gordon's still a tough match-up for a righty, especially for one who hasn't seen him before. This makes sense, but with this likely being the best opportunity to tie the score you'll get, you'd prefer to engineer a better situation.

And engineer is exactly what Lou does. He's going to bring Pie in to face Gordon, but doesn't actually intend for him to hit. What he wants, more than anything, is to force his opposite number to bring in a lefty so he can get his best bench bat - Soto - the most advantageous match-up in what is nearly certain to be the Cubs last best chance to tie the ballgame. This is a great example of what, to me, is Lou's best trait as a manager: his ability to understand at what point in the game it's time to go all in. Plenty of other managers don't make these moves, first because it involves the only other catcher around, and second, because if Soto doesn't hit into a double-play, by the time this is all over his bench will be completely burned. What Lou understands, and is willing to act on, is the fact that it won't matter if you've got another guy available on the pine if you leave him sit there and lose.

Still, this is not my favorite part of the whole exchange. While I think there are plenty of skippers who wouldn't be willing to engage this strategy, there are, indeed, some who would. What elevated Lou's execution from standard but effective, to outright art, was the theatre of it all. First, there's a bit of a wait - although, I'll admit, this might have been due to some scrambling for helmets, etc - but the second, and I'm convinced, completely intentional part, was Lou sending both Pie and Ward out at the same time to warm up.

Lou doesn't want Jimy Williams to look at Pie, consider his struggles, and decide to leave Gordon on the mound just in case Lou has Soto hit next. He wants all his cards out on the table. He wants Williams to feel in his bones that Soto won't see action because Lou wants to keep his catcher for an emergency. He wants Williams to feel the threat of Ward right now, and to move that threat from the hypothetical, to the palpably real. He wants Williams a bit confused, unsure what to do, because if he's unsure, he'll do what The Book says, and The Book says to bring in J.C. Romero. Above all else, he wants to make sure, in no uncertain terms, that Geovany Soto will get his tasty lefty treat.

It was, truly, a gorgeous thing to watch, and all the more so because one could see the duping unfold. Once both men came out, the grand gesture made, it was obvious to me what Lou wanted - and who knows, it might have even been obvious to Williams - but Lou knew - he knew - that it's nearly impossible for a Major League manager to resist bringing in a lefty to face a lefty late in the game, let alone face two in a row. He knew if he showed his opponent what he wanted to see, that he'd react accordingly. He played Williams like a fiddle. And Cub fans danced.

Sometimes, A Cigar's Just A Cigar
2008-04-11 06:02
by Derek Smart

Pitcher wins are funny things. They're theoretically meant to document which pitcher on the winning team was most instrumental in bringing a victory to fruition, but more often than not, as is the complaint of those such as myself who enjoy using more objective measures when employing statistics, the pitcher win is simply an accounting tool reflecting the hurler most proximate to the final lead change.

We have recent examples of this phenomenon to choose from, most recent being Kevin Hart's win on Wednesday - a complicated 'got it', 'lost it', 'got it again' scenario that I won't do you the disservice of recounting here. That game clearly featured a superior performance by Ryan Dempster, who got no statistical satisfaction from his performance after his bullpen mates lost the lead. In that case, Dempster deserved the win, but did not get it due to the vagaries of accounting, and each season is rife with examples of similar doings, many of them stories of relievers getting victories they not only didn't earn, but whose performance actively worked against the greater goal - triumph turning to defeat, but for the largesse of the offense surrounding them.

Occasionally, though, due to some combination of luck and timing, the right reliever gets his due, and both wins notched by Jon Lieber have been earned in every respect. But for his work in Games 1 and 3 of the Pirate series, the Cubs could very well be 4-5 instead of 6-3. We and the Cubs owe Jon Lieber a debt of thanks for his early performance, and he's earned every bit of it.

Revisiting Revising History
2008-04-10 09:16
by Derek Smart

A game like last night's can really wreck havoc with a fella like me trying to write as I go. I makes things like this happen:

After Reed Johnson's Aramis Ramirez' Felix Pie's game-winning hit, I was happy to see Ryan Dempster Kevin Hart Kevin Hart get the win.

Still, I can't really complain in the face of victory, even when it sends my blood pressure to lofty climes. So, enough with what could have been, and on to what was. With a bullet!

  • For various reasons which I shall be kind and spare you details of, last night was the first game I've been able to sit down and watch from start to finish all season. In fact, I've only seen highlights of most games, since I've been primarily forced to follow on MLB's Gameday - both regular and mobile. Here's my question: was Fukudome's spinning, whiligig of a swing against Zach Duke in the forth the single, worst cut he's had all year? I'm thinking it had to be, what with him looking like a seven-year old who got into Mommy's "pep pills", but then, as I said, I've not been privy to them all.

    Of course, there were several other swings in the game that were bad in the same way, without necessarily bringing the same level of cartoonish hilarity, and I find myself wondering if he is, perhaps, bailing out a bit against lefties when they come inside? He does, after all, practically have his toe on the black as he waits for the ball, and is essentially beginning his run to first as he swings - which given where he stands would be necessary for him to do on pretty much any ball inside if he wants to get around on it. I'll be curious to see if this was simply a weird night, or if he does, in fact, have a more exaggerated move toward first when he swings at southpaws.

  • I can't say I expected the level of pitching we've seen thus far from Ryan Dempster. I doubt anyone has, including Dempster himself. Not only did he have very good control - which he'll need for continued success - but the Pirates just never looked comfortable up there, and never seemed to have any idea what the pitch was as it approached the plate.

    What I wonder here, is, how much Dempster's mitt flapping is distracting hitters? I know he's basically doing it to help disguise the nature of the pitch by keeping his grip secret (apparently, his glove was flaring as he prepared to throw his splitter, etc), but the way the Bucs looked at the dish I have to wonder if it was making it hard for them to pick the ball up out of his hand - not because it was physically obscuring it, but because of the hitter's eye being naturally drawn toward the unusual motion.

    We won't have any way of knowing unless an opponent makes a specific statement, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that were the case, and if the second time around teams are able to adjust.

  • Game One went into extra innings because of defense, and so did Game Two. But for all the various Cub errors in the opener, the contest gets easily settled in the requisite nine, yet last night it was both the same and totally different, since this time around it was the Cubs very good defense - specifically the fine play made on a pop bunt by Derrek Lee - that pushed the contest beyond standard bounds.

    Of course, assigning causality to Lee's play is a bit revisionist, since we're making assumptions about the remainder of the inning for Carlos Marmol and the game in general beyond that, but I think it's safe to say that, with the way Marmol was throwing, both runners on base at the time of the bunt would have eventually come around to score, and possibly more than that. He was that off. So, kudos to The Savior, on a night when he couldn't get his bat going, at least he brought his glove.

  • I was, actually, very pleased to see Felix Pie come through in the fifteenth. There's nothing fun about having the other team walk a guy to get to you, and when they do it twice with the game on the line, I can imagine you really want to make them pay. It was easy to see from the replay on the broadcast - the way Pie was thumping his hands together (yes, thumping, not clapping) and the look on his face told the whole story - that it meant a ton to him to get the job done in that situation. Hopefully, that can act as a catalyst for him to perform a little better, because as useful as Reed Johnson's been so far, Pie's the long term solution in center if he can only give Lou a reason to play him.

  • After Game 8, the Cubs are now two games over .500, a distance from even they did not achieve last year until Game 84 on July 5th. Games 5-8 are their first four-game winning streak of the year, with a streak of similar size not coming until Games 25-28 last year. This doesn't mean much of anything beyond the psychological lift one gets from starting off relatively well - it's a matter of timing and luck, in many ways - but we've seen this team have enough issues out of the gate in years past, that it just feels nice to not be in a hole.

There's a opportunity for the Cubs to get their first series sweep of the season tonight, and extend their overall winning streak to five games. Human Punching Bag, Matt Morris, gets the nod for the Bucs, so as long as whomever of Marquis or Hill takes the mound tonight can keep the offense in the hunt, I like our boys' chances.

I Request Your Interpretive Powers
2008-04-08 06:20
by Derek Smart

Here's this little ditty from the normally excellent and completely comprehensible, Bruce Miles:

"You know what? I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty," Piniella restated following the 4-hour, 47-minute game.


Once again, the Cubs looked bad in the field, with 3 errors, including another late-inning bobble by second baseman Mark DeRosa.

The Pirates helped to paint a mustache on this one, too, as their pitchers walked 11 batters, with their fielders committing a pair of errors.

Emphasis mine, of course. Honestly, I don't mean to be critical, but I truly don't know what that means. Is it that all things are uglier with a mustache, all things are uglier with paint, or that a painted mustache is the ugliest thing of all? Was it the color of mustache that was problematic, or was it perhaps the style (for example, I could see friendly mutton-chops being an issue)?

It would be one thing if I were a wee bairn new to these fancy talking ways, but I'm getting a little too old to be uninitiated to widely distributed colloquialisms. Please feel free to tell me what I'm missing, and why exactly it makes me stupid.

Know Your Enemy 2008 - Week 1
2008-04-07 07:30
by Derek Smart

Another season has begun, and with it, the need to look back on the week that was in the NL Central. Six or seven games isn't enough to draw conclusions on, but that can't stop intrepid folk like me, so read on and enjoy, as I set myself up for acres of future mea culpas.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record5-1
    Season RS/RA25/13
    Week's Record5-1
    Week's RS/RA25/13
    Games Back--

    Good Morning boy and girls. I'm so glad to see you here. Do you like learning? Of course you do. Do you like words? Naturally. Would you like to learn today's word? I knew you would. Let's say it together, shall we: un-sus-tain-able. Would you like to learn what that means? Absolutely! If you say something someone is doing is unsustainable, that means there's no bloody way in hell they can keep it up. Shall we use it in a sentence?  Say it with me, boys and girls: "The Cardinals' performance is un-sus-tain-able." Very good!

    Seriously, folks, the offense is about where it should be - they're on pace for 675 runs for the year, which is a bit low, but not tremendously so - but where they are clearly playing over their heads is in the realm of run prevention. At their current pace they'd allow 351 for the year, which would be, let's say, unprecedented, and I'd place a rather large wager that you could retroactively hand pick your pitching staff at year's end and still not come close to that figure.

    This is all a very long way of saying that the Cardinals had a fantastic week, and if you see them experience such a thing again in 2008, there's a very good chance they played the Giants.

  2. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record5-1
    Season RS/RA40/19
    Week's Record5-1
    Week's RS/RA40/19
    Games Back--

    Speaking of the Giants, at first glance Milwaukee's RS/RA for this week is some pretty impressive stuff - at least until you realize that 25 of those runs were scored against those hapless Jints. San Francisco is so clearly the worst team in baseball right now that I'd like to propose that going forward in 2008 all losses to San Francisco count double in the standings, and all victories count half. Of course, by tossing this out there I've essentially guaranteed that the Cubs go 0-6 against them, but thus is the curse of my hubris.

    In any case, I digress. I'm going to go out on a limb and say, based on what I've seen early on, that the talk of a "weak NL Central" is sorely misplaced. Granted, the Brewers aren't quite this good (anyone care to wager on the likelihood of Jason Kendall hitting .467 all year?), but good they are, and if they get a full season out of an apparently healthy and clearly effective Ben Sheets to go with the natural boost received by replacing nearly anyone of their back three with Yovani Gallardo, this club's offense can do the rest.

  3. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record4-2
    Season RS/RA27/24
    Week's Record4-2
    Week's RS/RA27/24
    Games Back1.0

    Dusty-ball has begun, and not only are they winning, but Johnny Cueto's arm remains attached, so all looks sunny. In fact, the Reds scare the pants off of me. They should be able to put runs on the board, and with the addition of Cueto and Edinson Volquez to back up Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, actually have a chance to consistently keep them off for the first time in recent memory. The two young'uns might not be as good all year as they were this week, but they just might be good enough to keep this team in striking distance.

  4. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record3-3
    Season RS/RA34/38
    Week's Record3-3
    Week's RS/RA34/38
    Games Back2.0

    You don't need me to tell you this team isn't good, but as long as we've spoken of the word of the day, let me mention that this team won't score 5.7 runs a game all season if Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche have career years, but they even sniff 3.7 a game if these two continue to sport OPS figures of .597 and .303 respectively.

    Naturally, both those men will improve, but sadly for Bucco fans, not enough to matter. This team is still deeply broken, and it's going to be a long time before the fix is done.

  5. Houston Astros

    Season Record2-5
    Season RS/RA25/30
    Week's Record2-5
    Week's RS/RA25/30
    Games Back3.5

    It's bad enough when you finish your first week 3.5 games out of first, but there has to be a sinking feeling for this club when they look at the early season performance of Roy Oswalt. Sure, it's only 2 games, but this is a guy who over the last four seasons has held opposing hitters to a batting average in the low .260s and an OPS of roughly .700, and so far in 2008 he's making everyone he faces look like an MVP candidate with their collective .389/.404/.574 line.

    On it's own I suppose there shouldn't be reason for panic - as we've seen with Big Z the last couple of years the quality of your start doesn't necessarily foreshadow the quality of your finish - but add in the fact that Oswalt failed to strike out a single Cub in his 6.2 innings on Saturday, and I say this bears watching. If the Astros have any chance to compete in this division, Oswalt has to perform up to his rep. Fail that, and this club will be at the bottom of this page all year.

Fukudome Fervor
2008-04-06 10:45
by Phil Bencomo

Their Japanese is rudimentary at best and, at its worst, implicitly insulting. Heck, half of them can't even pronounce his name correctly, much to the chagrin of parents forced, I can imagine, to either steer their children through minefield-like crowds of fans -- some inebriated, some not -- who stumble over vowels in unfortunate ways, or else bring pairs of earplugs to protect the sanctity of their children's virgin ears. But Cub fans do love Kosuke Fukudome, in a way unfelt by any Cub right fielder since Sammy Sosa.

If fans' bows and flamboyant, overtly stereotypical costumes come off as irreverent, that is far from the intention, as Fukudome must by now realize. Wearing traditional Japanese headbands (hachimaki) emblazoned with Fukudome's name and number, the fans in the right field bleachers love not a verb but a proper noun. Formerly where vitriolic cries made clear that the only love in those bleachers was a love to hate the Cubs' latest attempt at a productive successor to Sosa, right field could not be more different today.

I spent Thursday in those bleachers, basking in the warmth of the endearment (which, by the way, is a poor replacement for thermometer-registering warmth). A 20-something man, garbed in an uwagi, hakama and Fukudome hachimaki, wandered from aisle to aisle, bowing incessantly to Fukudome, fans, security personnel -- sometimes to no one in particular. A brave (foolish?) group of young men stood shirtless with FUKUDOME spelled across their chests; these painted fans lasted two-thirds of the game out in the harsh wind before retreating to the relative warmth below the stands.

It's a strange feeling, after so much Jacque Jones bashing, to be surrounded by endless cheering and adoration -- pure positivity. But it's even stranger when the object of it all surpasses even the grandest of expectations. Last spring, for example, fans greeted Alfonso Soriano with the loudest of ovations, but his April was one to forget: Two weeks of mediocrity, an injury, and another middling week left fans thirsting for more. Fukudome will slow down after a torrid week, but his first will remain memorable.

Cub fans are a fickle bunch, though, and I have to wonder: How much patience will they have for Fukudome when he inevitably returns to the ground from his cloud walking?

* * * *

A compelling reason, I'd say, why the name "Wrigley Field," sans any sort of presented-by label, is not long for this world:

Tribune Co is at risk of defaulting on its debt in as little as 18 months if the newspaper business deteriorates further, and it fails to unload more properties. ... Tribune has nearly $4 billion in debt and interest payments due by the end of 2009, according to Gimme Credit analyst Dave Novosel, making it all but certain that the company will be forced to sell more marquee properties and make deeper cost cuts to avoid violating debt covenants.

* * * *

Reader joejoejoe passes along this article previewing the Daytona Cubs. Enjoy.

First Alert
2008-04-04 07:02
by Derek Smart

There were multiple firsts yesterday, so why not take a tour?

The Team's First Win:

And the Northside exhaled. What was most interesting to me between Wednesday's and yesterday's games was the number of posts on these here internets telling me not to panic, which it seems to me is something one says both to reassure those currently in a tizzy, and to save oneself from a similar fate. Say it enough, and it will be true. Of course, it is true - no one's going to hyperventilate when the team drops two in a row in July, so what sense does it make to do it now? - but the fact that it had to be said is telling in itself.

Ryan Dempster's First Win:

I wish I could say I was confident this was the first of many, but even so, it was a very nice outing. Any time Dempster can walk half a guy per inning or less, I think you're likely to see a pretty solid performance, and he only walked two in six yesterday. He's got good stuff - that's never been the question - it's just a matter of whether he can put the ball where he wants to consistently enough to be effective.

Yesterday he did, and the result was six very good innings with only 91 pitches thrown. Once he's more stretched out, he should be able to easily go seven on a day like that, and I'll take seven strong from my starter any day.

Fukudome's First Error:

For those of you who didn't see this at some point, head over here for a moment and click on the video clip down the page labeled "Brewers Score Twice". I'll wait.

That, my friends, is a tough error. I don't know that it could have been scored anything else given the outcome - the extra run has to be accounted for, and you can't exactly call it an 'O (Obliteration) - 2' - but I'd wager that most of the time that throw would be relatively unremarkable, and that in fact, the comment would be that it was impressive for its strength, but was just a bit too far up the line to be truly effective.

All it would take to alter the result would be a runner with slightly less/more speed, or for Soto to be planted in a different spot. Change any of that and you're looking at a run in with a man on third, rather than clear bases and a pair of tallies. As it was, Geo was right there in the basepath, trying to make it a little harder for Weeks to score, and he got his team an extra run in the hole, and himself a couple bruises for his trouble. I don't honestly think there was a mistake here. Just an unfortunate conflation of events and accounting needs.

First Stolen Bases:

Not the first for the team as a whole, as that honor belongs to Mike Fontenot on Wednesday, but four other players - Soriano, Theriot, Fukudome, and Pie - swiped their first bags of the season yesterday. I don't honestly remember a Cub team that had this kind of speed throughout the lineup - imagine what this would look like if a Roberts deal eventually came to pass - and while I'm not a guy who generally gets all worked up about the usefulness of that sort of potential, at least as far as larceny goes - sure, a couple of the steals increased the immediate likelihood of scoring, but not one of yesterday's moments of thievery lead directly to a run - there is something undeniably fun about a team that has this many players capable of taking an extra base at any given moment. Of course, three of those four would do better to concentrate on actually reaching a base in the first place, but that's picking nits, isn't it?

First Hits:

Both Soriano and Ramirez got their first hits, and both drove in runs with them, although the knocks themselves couldn't have been more different. Soriano still looks a bit lost up there, and his hit didn't do anything to dissuade that notion, being a little dink that happened to drop in no man's land. Maybe it will help him relax a bit to clear the 0-fer, but nothing about the hit itself would lead one to conclude that more were on the way.

Ramirez, on the other hand, absolutely launched one, and on a pitch that, truth be told, wasn't half bad. Of course, when I say the pitch wasn't bad, that's an evaluation in a vacuum. Put it in context - a ball low and tailing in, just staying on the plate, to a man in Ramirez who probably asks for pitches like that when he wants to put holes in neighboring buildings during BP - and it starts to look more like a mistake.

Soriano's First Walk:

It only took three games, and came in a situation where I would have fully expected some anxiousness to lead to a less than inspiring outcome. However, there he was, after the two hitters before him had blown their opportunities to do something good with the bases loaded (and yes, I know one of them was Dempster, but that doesn't change the level of pressure), and he comes through with a four-pitch RBI walk. I certainly won't expect that sort of thing from Soriano going forward, but I suppose the surprise is part of what makes it fun (Note to Alfonso: if you'd like to take some of the fun out of this by showing more patience, I wouldn't object).

Wood's First Save:

First this year, first of his career, and great to see after his rough outing in the opener. One of the things people question when someone is new to the closer role is whether or not they can handle the pressure in game, and rebound from the failures that are sure to come. Seems to me that with the combination of Monday's implosion, the pressure to bring home the season's first win, and the difficulty survived at the end - coming back from a 3-0 count to strike out Jason Kendal with the tying run at the plate - that the question of Wood's Closer-centric-intestinal-fortitude has been, if not fully addressed, at least been made considerably less urgent.

The Team's First Winning Streak?

Waddya say we make that happen today, boys?

All Better Now
2008-04-02 07:55
by Derek Smart

I'll cop to being a little mopey yesterday.  After being as jacked up as I was for things to start - and if you could have seen me at 2:00 on Monday jumping up and down in my living room in my Big-Red-C-Hat and Kerry-Wood-Fanboy jersey, giggling as giddily as a cartoonified nitrous oxide victim, you'd have a much better idea of the goon you're dealing with here - it was difficult to rebound from the day's ultimate disappointment.

Well, I've recovered and feeling excited again - after all, it's a brand new month, the horrors of our winless March washed away like so many melted snowflakes - and while it's a little late to be doing such a thing, I do have a couple observations from the opener I feel compelled to get out there.

  • Known quantity here, but Ryan Theriot clearly doesn't belong in the leadoff spot.  This isn't even a conclusion needing input from this season for viability, last year's performance in general being reason enough.  Still, even discounting the pathos of Monday, consider this:  There's a decent possibility that against left-handers the leadoff man will be right-handed Reed Johnson, and Ryan Theriot will be hitting in the eighth spot.  This, despite the fact Theriot himself is right-handed.  If you can't even hold down the gig when going against a pitcher you should have a platoon advantage against, that just means the gig shouldn't be yours to begin with.

  • Encouraging Thing #1: Apparently, Fukudome is actually pronounced SOO-per-man.

  • Encouraging Thing #2: Z was completely on, and in a game situation where he has typically had issues that one could relate to a state of over-excitement.  The key here was not just that he was throwing strikes, but that he was keeping the ball down.  Yes, he had very few ground balls, but he also only got hit hard twice - during Cory Hart's first at bat when Felix Pie needed to get acquainted with the center field wall to make the out, and on Bill Hall's double.

    From what I've seen, Z's problems come when he gets the ball up in the zone, moving more side to side than up and down, allowing the hitters more of an opportunity to get square on him.  I didn't see anything wander into that danger zone all day, and when that's the case - mark my words - it's going to be a long day for the opposing offense.

  • Encouraging Thing #3: Carlos Marmol had a lackluster spring.  It took one pitch to make that information moot.  Not only did Corey Hart look like he didn't know what was going on, despite the fact that the ball he was thrown was right down the pike, the other three hitters Marmol faced looked equally overmatched.  Assuming the other two gents at the end of the bullpen can get themselves straightened out post-haste, this team has a chance to have a lot of 6 inning games.

I'm getting all jumpy-happy for today's tilt, although not being at home, I won't be looking or acting as silly.  Hopefully, though, some of you still are.  This should be a fun year, and we should all be ready to enjoy it to the fullest.