Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: May 2008


Glacier Dodging - Open Sea Edition
2008-05-30 07:23
by Derek Smart

It's the year 2708. Time travel has been perfected as a tourist activity, and most people of reasonable means have their own machines, which not only take you back and forth on the timeline, but allow you to observe invisibly, safely, without interfering in events past or future. It's a Thursday night, you're a little bored, so you climb into your Ronco MMMI Time Machine & Rotisserie Cooker and hit the button marked 'Surprise Me'.

Suddenly, you're hovering over the sea at night. It's dark but for a sliver of moonlight, and silhouetted against the pale lunar glow you see a large shape cutting through the ink. Upon closer inspection, you see it's a giant seagoing vessel, likely some sort of passenger liner judging from the size and dearth of weaponry. You hover above it for a time and marvel at the combination of stillness and motion, at how rock solid the ship seems, and how quickly and effortlessly it slices through the ocean's waves. Although the technology is ancient by your standards, it is still a marvel to behold.

While pleasant for a time, after a few minutes a deep sense of foreboding creeps in. After all, these time vehicles are not set up to be entirely random. They like big events or eras. Manual programming allows you to go anywhere, but when left up to the device you'll be sent to cavort with dinosaurs or view the Battle of Waterloo or witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So why out in the ocean trailing a huge ship?

It dawns on you what must be occurring, but you require confirmation. You guide your machine to hover beside the boat's prow. It's dark, but as expected, you can just make out the great beast's name. Titanic.

You pull back and begin gliding behind and above the legendary ship. Getting too close would allow you to make out people, perhaps even see their faces, and knowing their fate it would be too much to bear. You want to call out and warn them, you want to somehow force them to turn back, to alter course, but the machine won't let you. You try to leave, or at least look away, but you can't. The pull of history is irresistible. Now that you're here, you may as well watch.

The wait is excruciating. You know what's coming. You know what, but not when, so each moment is an eternity of anticipation. It's dark, so you can't make out the shape of death in the distance, you just know it's there and will soon be here. Despite your foreknowledge, your understanding of history, you find yourself hoping against hope that somehow they'll miss the iceberg this time. That even though this has already happened that history isn't a constant, that even with an insurmountable pile of evidence, the outcome is not sealed. Perhaps once, just this once, the preordained horror shall not come to pass. That is your hope. That is your dream. That is when the iceberg hits.

And that is what it's like to watch Jason Marquis pitch.

The good news, if any can be gleaned, is that there were, indeed, survivors on that fateful night, and much like those lucky few who escaped the murky depths, the Cubs escaped from the forces working to pull them down, cheating fate and winning what for a time was a very losable ballgame.

It's that lovely combination of a good offense - and in particular, as we also saw Wednesday night, a patient offense - and a solid bullpen that got the Cubs this win, and in many ways these last two victories wipe away the stain left from this weekend's debacle in Pittsburgh when the complete opposite was true.

What I hope going forward, is that, much like the disaster referenced above which eventually led to changes that greatly enhanced maritime safety - regulations mandating greater numbers of lifeboats and the creation of an International Ice Patrol being prime examples - that the ongoing shipwreck-threat that is Jason Marquis' season will eventually lead to changes that will enhance the safety of the Cubs' playoff hopes.

Yes, it was a good result last night, but that result came in spite of the man on the bump. I've said similar things before, and I'll keep saying them until something changes: Whether it be through trade or internal promotion (eventually healthy versions of Hill or Marshall being the likeliest sources in the near term), something needs to be done to remove the every-five-day-looming-iceberg-peril that Marquis presents.

2008-05-28 22:35
by Phil Bencomo

Perspective is a fickle master. It rules supreme, molding every thought and beloved belief. It is the difference between right and wrong, love and hate, and even the subtlest of subtleties in how we see the world. But change one variable, and the perceived world crumbles into a pliable heap that is never quite the same as it was before, be the scale great or small.

Baseball fandom is no different. But when you've spent years reading the same Cub beat writers for the same Chicago papers, and discussing your team with the same Cub fans, perspective loses its malleability.

So my eyes were pulled wide open this week, courtesy of the fine commenters at Dodger Thoughts. A quick skim through the game threads from the Cubs' three games against the Dodgers left me gaping: Do LA fans really see the Cubs that way?

A sampling:

Game One:

Brenly is such an idiot.

Bob Brenly's suck is almost as epic as Joe Morgan.

Brenly certainly isn't the best color commentator in baseball, and he has his irritating quirks (like his tendency to tie everything to his days as manager of the Diamondbacks), but I wouldn't call him awful, and by no means anywhere near the level of badness that is Morgan.

But maybe he is awful. I wish I'd logged somewhere how I initially felt about Brenly in the booth; I fear I've developed a sort of announcer Stockholm syndrome, if outsiders' remarks are so scathing...

is it because the Cubbies are so loveable that their fans seem so clueless

I don't see many ways in which lovability results in cluelessness. If you love something, would you not be more engaged with it, and thus more knowledgeable? I don't deny that many Cub fans are blinded by their love, but just as many see with eyes unclouded.

The Cubs are the best team in the NL. D-Backs are pretty good, but the Cubs will go farther in the playoffs. Barring freakish circumstances, this is their year, finally.
Good timing, too, since Sam Zell wants to sell them.

freakish circumstances. This is the Cubs. They own the all time record for freakish circumstances.

Number one pushes my superstitious line way too far, and will not be receiving comment. I agree wholeheartedly to the second, though.

As painful as the game was, listening to this ridiculous "Go Cubs Go" song is worse.

Steve Goodman fills a special place in the hearts of Cub fans, but to non-fans his Cub songs may indeed sound ridiculous. But that won't change my mind one bit.

Game Two

I hate Derrek Lee. He cant be that good on defense and offense. He and Pujols are ridiculously complete first basemen

It is comments like these that remind why his moniker is The Savior. Lee's play is so consistently superb that we Cub fans have truly become spoiled (what an odd phrase...). When Henry Blanco manned first late in a game over the weekend and couldn't make a difficult scoop, the response was not, "Tough play, nice try," but exasperation: "C'mon! You've got to make those plays!" Particularly on the defensive end, the outstanding has become routine for Lee -- more than enough to draw opposing fans' ire.

Can I ask a question, why is Soto batting behind Edmonds?

This question has no reasonable answer, and only leads to another, far more troubling question: Why is Jim Edmonds in the lineup?

Dude, it's Lou Pinella. I doubt he thinks about much at all.

One word: wrong. See here, for but one example.

Fukudome has only impressed me defensively but maybe it's a lack of knowing the pitchers.

His .406 OBP begs to differ.

What a miserable night spent in miserable weather watching my miserable team surrounded by a bunch of miserable Lincoln Park Trixies whose only interaction with the game was to make fun of my son for crying. God I hate this city and these supposed great fans.

I feel like Cubs fans have embraced their national reputation as drunken louts the same way Boston fans embraced their national reputation as losers with a chip on their shoulder. Both are annoying. sorry about your game experience.

Sigh. This could be an entire post itself. For another day, perhaps...

Game Three

from that camera angle the air in Chicago looks really healthy, I wonder if it's just the camera or what?

The things we take for granted...

Zambrano looks like an anime villain in his Gameday photo.

To which I say, your villain is my hero.

* * * *

There's plenty more for any Cub fan wanting for a shock. A fresh perspective, indeed.

A Not-So-Simple Question
2008-05-23 07:45
by Derek Smart

I've seen a number of folks around these here internets mentioning that, rather than concerning themselves with a middle-order lefty bat, the Cubs should be after a top-flight starter.  Considering that the current staff consists of Carlos Zambrano and several third or fourth guys, and knowing how things went down in last year's postseason, I'm in agreement with the sentiment.  Of course, the problem is, such items don't seem to exist in available forms, and if they did, it would be doubtful the Cubs could put together an appropriate package to make the acquisition. 

With that in mind, I've had this thought and I'd like to put the question to the masses:  If he goes, let's say, five or six more starts without any physicial issues while performing up to his established level, and having done this, his current team makes him available (which there's no guarantee of), would you want to make a deal for Rich Harden?  If so, what would you be willing to give?

If he stays healthy through October, you've got a guy who can pitch you to a championship.  If not, well, we've all seen the high-risk, high-reward scenario play out poorly in these parts. I suppose the root question is what you'd be willing to part with for the shot, and to go with that, how willing you'd be to deal with the psychic drama that, with the Cubs' recent history being what it is, we've all experienced too much of already?


A Moment
2008-05-21 09:03
by Derek Smart

My daughter had one of those nights last night - those of you who have/had a four year-old will know what I mean. She's tired because she'd been up late the night before, and she's hungry because she's four and often just decides that playing is more fun than eating, so she's got what's known in the business as a hysteria hair-trigger. It's the sort of thing where the difference between hot cocoa and chocolate milk can cause an emotional Chernobyl. In case you're wondering, these sort of shenanigans are exactly why children evolved to be cute: it's nature making sure they survive.

During one of her bouts of passion, she had taken a basket full of her various hair dressing items - hair bands, combs, little scrunchie things - and one-by-one flung them about the hallway as a statement of general displeasure. We've learned that the best way to handle these situations is to just walk away and let her complete her cycle of rage. Approaching her merely inflames things, both because it reminds her who she's mad at, and because it gives her the belief that, having clearly engaged us in the process, she is mere moments of psychological assault away from getting what she wants.

As time has gone on, and our ability to ignore the fireworks has become more robust, these fits have become shorter, simply because she's not gotten the attention she so clearly wants from them. True, in the beginning she's really angry, but as the show winds down, you can hear her trying to keep it going, pushing herself to cry just a little bit more in the hopes that someone will come and give her reason to ramp up again. Eventually, she comes to you and apologizes, or at least asks for a hug.

Of course, there's often a post-apocalyptic mess to deal with, like there was last night, and one must make the delicate decision as to whether she will be made to do the deed as is her just dessert, or whether you'll be sucking it up and handling it later in the interest of Peace In Our Time. It's a critical decision, one that has the potential to make or break your entire evening, so it's important to stay level-headed, important to keep your wits about you so that you're able to assess the situation on the ground and make a clear call about the relative likelihood of beginning the cycle anew; because the truth is, we've found there's little or nothing to be gained in the way of a 'life lesson' by cracking the whip when the child is this young, and despite the apologies and affection, the fact is they're often still waiting for any reason to re-light the flamethrower.

Such was the case last night, and after taking an appraisal of the damage, both physical and spiritual, realized that the pile in our primary walkway was best dealt with by a neutral party after all was fully quiet, that enforcing a level of responsibility would not so much instill a sense that actions beget consequences, as reintroduce fuel to a mound of smoldering kindling. These are the hard choices that come the way of parents. You want to teach your child to be a good citizen, but sometimes they're simply not open to the lesson. The trick is being able to strike that balance and sense when you can teach, and when you should back off. Last night was very clearly the latter.

So once we'd put her to bed, I began watching my recording of the ballgame, and by the time the third inning was complete, it was safe to assume that she was asleep and settled. I paused the DVR, went into her room to retrieve the basket meant for the items in question, and got to tidying.

It's in moments like these, where I'm essentially alone, performing some relatively mundane task, that I'm most likely to begin talking to myself. In full sentences. Out loud. In fact, I am so committed to this mode of thinking with volume that my ideas come out in a conversational tone that implies I will eventually answer in kind, perhaps to agree, perhaps to offer a counter-point. Either way, it's likely disturbing to stumble upon.

No one did, however, and on this occasion the single-sided-exchange turned to what could be expected in the 4th inning. I noted that each team was starting their second time through the order, and each would send their 3-4-5 hitters to the dish. The more I thought/spoke, the clearer it became to me that, much like the moment I had faced earlier, the outcome of the game very likely rested on what happened in these next few moments - specifically, over the next six outs. Each team was sending their best hitters forward, each having seen what the opposition had to offer, and whomever emerged from this battle with the fewest scars would likely be victorious.

Not in the least bit earth-shattering as conclusions go, but as it turned out, undeniably true. While the Cubs got their pound of flesh in the form of an Aramis Ramirez two-run bomb, the Astros got the walks the Cubs failed to draw throughout the evening, and when Hunter Pence got a hold of a tasty offering from Ryan Dempster, they had two pounds and the game well in hand. Although the free passes set up the Salami, it was that one pitch, that one mistake, that sealed the deal.

Sometimes the kid can clean up her mess, and sometimes you have to do it for her. Sometimes you escape the loaded bases, and sometimes you give up a Slam. It's all about the choices you make and the things you do, and how well you recover when they turn out to be mistakes. Last night we gave my daughter a pass and got a nice evening in return. Ryan Dempster let a fastball come back over the plate and gave up four runs. Tonight, something different will happen, because it always does, and when it does, here's hoping that we all make the right choices, that we're up to the challenge, and that everyone gets a nice night out of it.

On the Homefront 2008 - Week 7
2008-05-19 07:57
by Derek Smart

I sure like weeks like this.  More, please.

Game 38
Opponent: San Diego
Result: Win
Score: 12-3
Big Play: Alfonso Soriano's 2-run shot in the Cubs' big fifth inning that gave the team the lead for good.
Big Player: Nearly everyone chipped in here, but Soriano put the team over the top, and had both a homer and double in the game, scoring and driving in two.  If you've watched any Cubs baseball this week, I think you're about to spot a trend.
We'll talk about this game next year because: I'll talk about it because it was my first trip to the park in 2008.  You'll talk about it because this was officially Game One of Alf's Big Stick Week.

Game 39
Opponent: San Diego
Result: Loss
Score: 4-3
Big Play: Khalil Greene's game-tying, three-run homer during Jason Marquis' Designated Implosion Inning.
Big Player: I'll go with Greene here, since I didn't see anyone else really step up.  Honorary Mention goes to Michael Wuertz, who threw three solid, scoreless innings at the end of the game to save the bullpen and keep the Cubs in striking distance.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Despite the Cubs having the most productive offense in the league to this point, they could only score three runs against Shawn Estes.  No, there isn't another Shawn Estes.  It's that Shawn Estes.  Let the shame wash over you and cleanse your soul.

Game 40
Opponent: San Diego
Result: Win
Score: 8-5
Big Play: Geovany Soto's fifth inning, two-run bomb re-established some distance between the Cubs and Padres after Ted Lilly and a succession of weird plays allowed San Diego to get withing a run during the previous half-inning.  Getting that breathing room was a big deal in a game that had suddenly become close.
Big Player: Alf or Geo?  Geo or Alf?  Geo and Alf?  Harold and Maude?  Hell, I don't know, it was just fun to beat Jake Peavy even if in hindsight he was probably hurt.
We'll talk about this game next year because: They scored more off of Peavy than they did off of Estes.  I guess that's why they play the games.

Game 41
Opponent: San Diego
Result: Win
Score: 4-0
Big Play: Ryan Dempster's fifth inning RBI single.  It put the Cubs on the board, and gave Mr. Canada all the support he needed.
Big Player: Dempster was the best he's been in a Cubs' uniform, throwing 8.1 dominant, shut-out innings, striking out a career-high 12 Padres on the way.
We'll talk about this game next year because: We'll likely never see Dempster be this good again.

Game 42
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Win
Score: 7-4
Big Play: Alfonso Soriano's second inning, three-run homer.  It gave the Cubs a six-run lead, and effectively ended the game.
Big Player: Soriano hit two bombs in this one, and clearly owned the joint throughout.  I can think of few players more fun to watch than Soriano when he's in one of his hot streaks, and this is about as hot as I can remember seeing him.
We'll talk about this game next year because: This win made the Cubs 7-0 against the Pirates on the season, and winners of ten in a row dating back to 2007.

Game 43
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Loss
Score: 7-6
Big Play: Nate McClouth's two-run, go-ahead homer in the top of the ninth off Carlos Marmol.  Lucky for the Bucs, Carlos had just given up an infield single, because a one-run lead with the certainty of Soriano coming to the plate in the bottom half would be a thin margin, indeed.
Big Player: Alfonso Soriano went 5 for 5 with two homers, a double, and a couple singles.  That's a couple bases better than The Cycle, friends, even if it's not as aesthetically pleasing.  He so completely dominated this game that, had the bases been loaded when he came up with the Pirates up by more than one, it wouldn't have shocked me to see an intentional walk.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Not even Soriano's God act could save the Cubs from a heavy dose of Bad Z.

Game 44
Opponent: Pittsburgh
Result: Win
Score: 4-3
Big Play: Kosuke Fukudome's steal of third in the bottom of the fourth put him in position to score on Reed Johnson's sacrifice fly that gave the Cubs the lead.  On a day where the Cubs couldn't hit Phil Dumatrait, but could take the free pass, being able to get in a position to score on an out was critical.  I'll go out on a limb and say Cliff Floyd couldn't have done that.
Big Player: Fukudome's steal, and his RBI single that gave the Cubs the extra cushion they needed win him the honors on for this contest.
We'll talk about this game next year because: The Cubs wrapped up their first 8-2 homestand in 30 years (of course, not only do you need to play very well to do this, but you have to have a home stand of exactly 10-games, so I understand the red-herring aspect of the thing).

The Week That Was

Season Record 27-17
Season RS/RA 255/184
Week's Record 5-2
Week's RS/RA 44/26
Games Back --
Change +2.0

It was a very nice week where the Cubs got good performances from the offense, defense, and pitching alike.  They were able to open up a small lead in the division, and that's extremely important as they head into Houston tonight to face the suddenly very solid Astros and the only human on the planet who can legitimately say he's been hotter than Alfonso Soriano of late - old nemesis, Lance Berkman.  The Cubs play 19 of their next 29 on the road, and it's important to set a tone now, after a dominant homestand, that the road is no different than the Friendly Confines.

Blame Not The Puppet, But The Puppeteer
2008-05-16 11:15
by Phil Bencomo

It's been hard to think clearly about Jim Edmonds, what with the sound of the collective gnashing of teeth roiling through the city. The constant rumbling of it, as if IDOT had decided to simultaneously repave all of the pothole-ridden roads in town, threatens to stifle reasonable thought, and drown out any worthwhile ruminations.

Edmonds, strange as it sounds, is a Cub. That cannot and will not be changed -- for the moment, at least. And since he is a Cub, and a Cub whose play will directly influence the outcome of games to come, I have little choice but to support him.

Generally, you see, I prefer to see the Cubs do well, no matter how despised any of the team's players may be. I've long railed against Ronny Cedeno, for example, but does that mean I hope he falls flat on his face every time he walks onto the field? Certainly not; rather, I've been thrilled with his rejuvenated career. In such situations, I'd much rather be wrong about a player, no matter the odds against success, because for all the gratification of a correct prognostication, Cub victories are far, far sweeter.

Jim Hendry, defying all sorts of logic, signed Edmonds, undeniably a creaking, hollow shell of his former self. He may turn in an outstanding game or two, but his Cub career is, by any reasonable indicator (none of which need be repeated here), doomed to swift failure. But why blame Edmonds for Hendry's folly? Edmonds is no fool; he'll take a job where he can get one. I see little sense in savaging a man when fans have all the incentive in the world to see him succeed. It's unreasonable, I know, but I hope, despite my dire expectations, that Edmonds rediscovers the spring in his step and pop in his bat, because it would benefit a greater good -- the Cubs, of course.

But I'd also like to buy an arboretum, fortify the perimeter with electric fencing and robotic guards -- men are too easily corrupted -- and then watch in wonderment as money starts sprouting from the trees. Sure, it sounds wonderful, but it's beyond impossible, much like an Edmonds more valuable than even Felix Pie and his meager output.

The issue is not with Edmonds, who is the broken-down player he is. The issue is with Hendry. He is acting the fan, playing my part, in hoping unreasonably for production that is all but guaranteed not to come. That is what fans do, but it is not the role of the general manager. A GM does not make deals founded in remote possibilities; a GM evaluates and forges rational expectations. Either Hendry has eschewed expectation for hope, or he truly believes Edmonds a valuable player. In both cases, the Cubs have a problem.

This experiment, I think, will not last long, and Pie, clearly Edmonds' superior, will return, while we fans frantically wash our hands of the foulness brought upon by a fouler decision.

Winning: It's What's For Dinner
2008-05-16 06:39
by Derek Smart

That's 6 of the last 7, folks. Home is where the wins are, I suppose.

  • There's never been a question about Ryan Dempster's stuff. Sure, he's not a mid-90s guy, but his pitches have always had tremendous movement. The concern has been, not that they weren't nasty enough, but that he couldn't put that nasty in a useful place - that the filth would either move itself right out of the zone, or directly into the sweet-spot of someone's bat, leaving a terrible smudge on some poor bleacher fan's hands.

    Neither scenario occurred yesterday, as Ryan threw what was clearly his best start of the year. I'll play wet blanket for a moment and note that while striking out 12 men is always impressive, doing so against an offense as terrible as the Padres removes some of the shine. Still, the fact the Dempster's been this good early has made the entire Rich Hill debacle easier to swallow, as Ryan's essentially performed at the higher levels of expectation one would have had for Hill, and outperformed any reasonable expectation for himself by a sizable margin. They have, in effect, switched places for a time.

    He can't keep it up all year - last I saw his BA allowed on balls in play was unsustainably low - but even if he settles into a level that's 85% of where he's at right now, that's still a very solid pitcher, and still better than any prognostication I'd have made.

  • It was good to see The Savior get a hit in a big situation yesterday. My impression has been that he's scuffling, and when I checked what had gone on during the six games previous, it turns out he's been hitting .200/.200/.480, has grounded into two double-plays, and left 17 men on base. I think that passes scuffling muster.

    In fact, he's been terrible the entire month, hitting .207/.258/.345 over his 62 PAs. The good news is, the middle ground between his April (1.118 OPS, .364 BAbip) and May (.603 OPS, .208 BAbip) is still going to be good, and if nothing else, we can expect a turnaround soon based on that May BAbip number.

  • The other guy who's been slipping of late has been Geovany Soto, hitting .190/.292/.333 during this recent run of team goodness. He's been playing a ton - starting x out of y games so far this season - so you have to wonder if the workload is getting to him a bit, and with that in mind it was good to see him rest yesterday. Hopefully, with Soriano on a tear, Lou will feel more like he can sit Geo every so often. He's been such a rock, I'd hate to see him get Martinized and essentially lose his late season/playoff productivity for the sake of a few extra first-half starts.

  • There's been so much ink spilled around the situation that I'm sure there's only so much more you can read without losing faith in humanity, so I promise this is the last thing I'll say about this guy that isn't directly related to his play on the field: You know how there are some players that just don't fit in certain uniforms, men who put on a particular jersey, and in so doing, make your entire worldview quiver to its core? You look, you stare, you gawk, and even though you so desperately want to turn away, you can't. It's a car accident, a clown suit, the slasher pic kill viewed between finger slits. Like it or not, no matter how much anyone tries to make it go away, I'm going to feel that way so long as Greg Maddux is a Padre.

Mr. Gallagher - or Starboard Sean, as I've decided to call him - has a chance to solidify his spot in the rotation today. Assuming he does - and based on the potential ripple effect of good work from him, good work from Hill, and more of the same horror from Jason Marquis, it is a thing devoutly to be wished - the only thing I'd ask is that someone, somewhere, do something about his profile picture. Seriously. What must his mother think?

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other
2008-05-15 07:44
by Derek Smart

These two things happened last night:

The Cubs beat Jake Peavy.

The Cubs signed Jim Edmonds.

One was good.

The other was not.

My mission today is to not let Thing 2 ruin the happiness of Thing 1.

When Jimmy Comes To Town
2008-05-13 17:44
by Derek Smart

Nothing will be solidified until sometime tomorrow, but based on all the ink spilled on the subject, come Wednesday night, or Thursday afternoon at the latest, there will be a Jedmonds in our midst.

I'm trying to find positives, trying not to just spew obscenities, and it's absolutely killing me. Here's what I'll do instead. I'll outline what I believe the club is thinking, and then we'll see if I want to call in an airstrike when I'm done. The chain of events should move something this:


  • Edmonds will be signed and added to the 25-man roster (there shouldn't be a move with the 40-man, since my accounting shows 38 at the moment).
  • Pie will be sent to Iowa, where he will work on the corrections the club wants him to make to his swing, while getting daily game action to transfer those corrections from conscious action, to unconscious reaction.
  • Edmonds will start in center field.
  • Edmonds will hit fifth.
  • Fukudome will hit second.
  • Theriot will hit eighth.

That's six separate things, and judgment on the first item - the addition of Edmonds in the first place - needs to be reserved until the other pieces are assessed. We're left, then, with five items requiring comment. Let's start with the easy stuff.

Fukudome will hit second, and Theriot will hit eighth.

To me, these moves are undeniable positives. Fukudome is the perfect prototype for a Major League two-hole hitter, so much so that it makes one wonder at the collective sanity of a club that heretofore has refused to put him where he so clearly belongs.

I understand the reasoning - the Cubs want to break up the right-handers in the middle of the lineup and either gain some late game platoon advantages, or force their opponents to spend their bullpen chits in quick succession to gain the advantage themselves - but I remain unconvinced that this use of Fukudome and his skillset is a net positive when compared to what's gained by hitting him higher in the order - namely, more PAs for Fukudome, which based on his OBP would mean fewer outs in general for the club, and more RBI chances for Lee and Ramirez. What the Cubs hope is that the acquisition of Edmonds will allow them to both have and eat their proverbial cake.

Then, of course, Ryan Theriot becomes displaced by Fukudome's move, and since it makes no sense to put him in a traditional RBI spot, is migrated to the bottom of the order. Despite his early hotness, Theriot is pretty clearly the worst hitter in the lineup most days, so treating him as such by placing him just before the pitcher is optimal even when he's performing well, and will become a near necessity once his descent to mortal climes commences.

Still, despite all the sense it makes, the only reason any of this is happening is because....

Edmonds will hit fifth.

For Fukudome to move, there has to be another lefty to take his place in the 5-hole, and in order for that lefty to viably do so, he needs to be someone who has some power and ability to drive in runs. This is something that Edmonds brings to the table. Assuming, of course, that he can drop a year or three on his way to town.

There is a root issue with the ploy, and it goes like this: Jim Edmonds is no longer a good hitter. He hasn't been since 2006, and he hasn't been truly dangerous since 2005. It is a tremendous leap of faith to assume that a 38 year-old who is two years removed from his last productive season, and two years removed from the last time he was a legitimate power threat, will jump into your lineup and bring the game he had in days of yore when dragons feasted on the flesh of men and damsels yodeled helplessly from the tallest local tower.

Sure, there's an outside chance that Edmonds can put together a solid month or so and be of use during his stay, but more than likely, he'll be so bad as to unplayable, or he'll injure himself yet again because....

Edmonds will start in center field.

As bad as Edmonds is likely to be at the plate - and considering the number of RBI opportunities he'll have because of the guys hitting in front of him, his badness could be especially damaging - he might be even worse in the field. It won’t just be Edmond’s area that’s affected, either. When a center fielder’s range has become diminished to the point that Edmond’s has, that necessitates the men on the corner playing tighter to center, leaving the lines vulnerable. Later in the game, if the lines are being guarded, the gaps become larger. The entire outfield defense is affected, domino-like.

The good news is, Wrigley's relatively small, so some of his foibles will be masked. The bad news is, eventually the team will go back on the road where the pastures will be considerably less kind, and once they do, I fear the combination of terrible hitting and worse defense will be too much to bear. Especially since....

Pie will be sent to Iowa.

This is something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, despite the lack of concrete results, I think Pie's looked better at the dish lately, more like someone who has an inkling of what to do than a hopeless heap, and I'd love to see him get enough playing time let the changes he's made fully take hold.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for following what I'll call The Rich Hill Model, where you send a guy down with every intention of bringing him back the minute he shows that he's internalized and deployed the lessons he's meant to glean on the farm. Certainly with Hill, it was an absolute necessity. With Pie, I don’t believe that’s the case, although I can see the argument that by giving him a couple pressure-free weeks in Iowa, Pie will more quickly digest his intended learnings. Of course, in the end my thoughts are irrelevant because….

Edmonds will be signed and added to the 25-man roster.

It’s looking inevitable, and if I do a straight tally of the five items above, I’m coming out about 2.5 pro and 2.5 con. While that implies I might be able to live with this arrangement for a time, if I think about how the above might be weighted, how I might prioritize these various parts, I think it’s more important for me to not have an obvious piece of dead weight on the roster than it is for me to see some marginal gains from lineup reconstruction. Edmond’s likely contributions on offense and defense could be so damaging as to not only wipe out any gains from the batting order changes, but be a major net negative if allowed to go on for any length of time.

I won’t be phoning for bombers if this deal does, indeed, get done, but if the experiment goes as I think it will, and lasts beyond the month of May, rest assured I’ll be calling for the cavalry.

Repeat After Me: The Cosmos Does Not Care
2008-05-13 07:38
by Derek Smart

I don't get to go to a lot of games. Tickets are hard to come by, not to mention the time involved. Not that I don't watch the contests anyway, but there's a big difference between hanging out with your family until your four-year-old is safely stowed in her dream factory then catching up via the DVR, and leaving the house at six to get home at ten-thirty when everyone's asleep - and that timeframe's assuming a relatively speedy resolution.

So, because I don't go often, I find myself approaching such an outing with no little trepidation, my assumption being that the rarity of my attendance will somehow set the Gods' tempers ablaze, with the wreaking of vengeance the only possible food for the hungry flames. The Gods must eat, and my pain will feed them.

Naturally, it doesn't help my mentality when I spend the morning of my adventure writing a short but ardent paean to the brilliance of that evening's scheduled starter. It's one thing to tempt the Gods' palates with the fruit of my ballpark presence, but quite another to sauce it with hubris.

Therefore, it was to my surprise and undying pleasure that my presence and praises were consequence free, and despite all my unintentional efforts to the contrary, I was treated to a night at the ballpark (thanks to a parent of one of my daughter's classmates who happens to be a season ticket holder with an occasional spare) that not only featured victory, but emphatic triumph with oomph to spare.

With Big Z on the hill the game looked well in hand before it began, but I was all too aware of my earlier mention in this space that he had but one outing on the season that saw him give up more than two runs, and when Jody Gerut, of all people, launched one to right to give the Padres a 2-1 lead, I feared I'd scotched the whole deal with my ramblings.

This, of course, was silly. I don't have that kind of power. Never have. No one does, despite all our protestations to the contrary - our shifting of couch positions to gain perceived advantage, our closed lips while a no-hitter gestates. Yet, there I was, worried that my influence on the universe was so profound that a few scribblings in the Ether could alter the course of history.

Not so, and happily.

The Cubs laid it on thick in the fifth, then went on to remove all doubt in the sixth, following this season's tried and true offensive formula of waiting for good pitches, and ripping them when they came. Sure, Z wound up having only his second outing of the year where he gave up more than two tallies, but if allowing three runs in seven innings is Zambrano's B-game this year, it's going to be a helluva fun season.

If nothing else, I've learned that there's nothing I can do to knock these boys off course. I knew that intellectually, but the history of this team makes one a bit more susceptible to superstitious silliness - or, at least, it does me. Whatever I say, whatever I do, they're going to play well or not based entirely on what they bring on a given day, and right now, what they're bringing is profoundly fun to watch.

The Cubs had a rough patch, now they're through it, and the time has come for them to take control of their destiny - grab those proverbial bull horns - and create some space between themselves and their divisional rivals. The lead is ripe for the widening, and I can say that now because not only will my words have no negative effect, but because this team is simply good enough to get it done.

Know Your Enemy 2008 - Weeks 5 & 6
2008-05-12 11:18
by Derek Smart

Looks like life made me skip a week, so we'll just put the last 14 days in the old compressor and pretend it's the same damn thing as it's always been.  Agreed?

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Week 5

    Season Record 20-12
    Season RS/RA 148/119
    Week's Record 4-2
    Week's RS/RA 28/23
    Games Back --
    Change +2.0

    Week 6

    Season Record 23-16
    Season RS/RA 177/154
    Week's Record 3-4
    Week's RS/RA 29/35
    Games Back --
    Change -1.5

    They claimed first as their own in Week 5, then opened a 2.5 game lead on the first day of Week 6.  That's all gone now, as they lost 4 of their last 5, winding up with a split of a four-gamer in Colorado, and losing two of three (fourth game of the series to be played tonight) to a Milwaukee team that was on a six game slide before the Cards rolled into town.

    If I had to guess (and, really, what else am I here for if not to completely fabricate reasons for the week's events?), I'd say this looks suspiciously like a relatively easy early schedule coming home to roost - a quick glance at the club's Strength of Schedule puts them 29th out of 30 MLB teams - but there's still time for them to prove otherwise.

  2. Houston Astros

    Week 5

    Season Record 16-16
    Season RS/RA 152/144
    Week's Record 4-2
    Week's RS/RA 37/29
    Games Back 4.0
    Change +0.5

    Week 6

    Season Record 21-17
    Season RS/RA 185/166
    Week's Record 5-1
    Week's RS/RA 33/22
    Games Back 1.5
    Change +2.5

    Whenever I hear an announcer or some such beast make mention of "the surging insert team names" I can't help but snort a little, and yet here I am confronted with what the Astros have been doing, and nothing else comes to mind but "the surging Astros".

    The thing is, it's not like they're blowing people out of the water.  Those run differentials are solid, but not terribly impressive.  What they are getting, though, is solid pitching from starters and bullpen, the trio of Lee, Pence, and Tejada playing to their very nice expectations, and Lance Berkman blowing up like a bucket o' dynamite.  Offensively, everything but Lance should actually remain about the same, but even when Large Presley comes down from his .500/.574/.891 high of the last 12 games, this team should still be scoring enough to cause problems.  The real worry comes from the pitching staff, where after Roy Oswalt, things are still incredibly murky.  Sure, they'll be getting Wandy Rodriquez back soon, but the fact that his return is a net positive should be concerning. That, and if you think Shawn "No Decision" Chacon is going to be sporting anything like a 3.53 ERA in two months time, then I'd very much like to order what you're having.

  3. Milwaukee Brewers

    Week 5

    Season Record 16-15
    Season RS/RA 142/152
    Week's Record 2-4
    Week's RS/RA 31/50
    Games Back 3.5
    Change -1.5

    Week 6

    Season Record 18-19
    Season RS/RA 158/179
    Week's Record 2-4
    Week's RS/RA 16/29
    Games Back 4.0
    Change -0.5

    In today's issue of "You Know Things Aren't Going Well When...", we'll be talking about the juxtaposition of two weeks of one team's work, both of which resulted in 2-4 records, both achieved (if that's the word) in different ways.  First, there's Week 5, where the pitching staff got whupped and good, but the offense still managed to be respectable.  Then there's Week 6, where the pitchers made a comeback, but now the offense disappeared.  Not being able to put the good together in one package isn't necessarily a sign of anything other than bad luck, but it is one of those odd looking things that's fun to note. Also fun to note, is the fact that all four of their wins in the last two weeks have come against the teams directly on top of them in the standings, so at least there's that bit of good for Crew fans to hang their hats on.

  4. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Week 5

    Season Record 12-19
    Season RS/RA 151/181
    Week's Record 2-4
    Week's RS/RA 40/27
    Games Back 7.5
    Change -1.5

    Week 6

    Season Record 17-19
    Season RS/RA 179/196
    Week's Record 5-0
    Week's RS/RA 28/15
    Games Back 4.5
    Change +3.0

    Lose 3 of 4 to the Nationals, then do what you're supposed to against the Giants.  There's no predicting what's going to happen in baseball, but I do know this:  the Pirates are near their ceiling in winning percentage and in the standings, and one would think that impending road series with the Cubs and Cards next week would be likely to disabuse them of any contrary notions.

  5. Cincinnati Reds

    Week 5

    Season Record 12-20
    Season RS/RA 132/164
    Week's Record 1-5
    Week's RS/RA 16/40
    Games Back 8.0
    Change -0.5

    Week 6

    Season Record 15-23
    Season RS/RA 162/191
    Week's Record 3-3
    Week's RS/RA 30/27
    Games Back 7.5
    Change +0.5

    I made some statements early in the year about how I was concerned with the Reds as a potential contender in the NL Central.  I am, officially, not very bright.

On the Homefront 2008 - Week 6
2008-05-12 07:11
by Derek Smart

The week began in a disappointing way that was quickly becoming the norm.  Nothing like a little home cookin' to fix what ails ya.

Game 32
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Loss
Score: 5-3
Big Play: Adam Dunn's moon shot in the third that, even if it didn't put the game out of reach, certainly made the task exponentially more difficult.  Oh, and the seventeen errors were big, too.
Big Player: Johnny Cueto wasn't flawless, but he was very solid, and was the best guy on the field that day.  Unless you're talking about Ryan Dempster, who'd likely be the guy here if anyone could have caught the ball behind him.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It was this team's worst defensive game of the season.

Game 33
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Win
Score: 3-0
Big Play: Ronny Cedeno's fourth inning, two-out, two-RBI single that gave the Cubs some necessary breathing room.
Big Player: Carlos Zambrano shut out the Reds for 8 innings, giving up only three hits and three walks in the process.  He's not striking out as many, but he's still getting his share, and since he's not giving out free passes like they, the need to erase guys without contact isn't as acute.  This start lowered his ERA to 1.80, and if you take out his start in Philadelphia - the only one of his 8 starts where he's given up more than 2 runs - it drops to 1.10.  I do believe this is the guy we've been waiting for.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It's another spectacular data point in the best season to date of Zambrano's career.

Game 34
Opponent: Cincinnati
Result: Loss
Score: 9-0
Big Play: Sending Jon Lieber to the bump.  We all had such high hopes, but the only thing higher were the pitches he threw that sailed over the fence.
Big Player - Pitching Edition: Edinson Volquez, who is owning the joint in spectacular fashion in 2008.
Big Player - Hitting Edition: Joey Votto, who clubbed three dingers on the day.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Any pitcher's outing that makes you long for Jason Marquis deserves a few minutes of couch time.

Game 35
Opponent: Arizona
Result: Win
Score: 3-1
Big Play: Ted Lilly's two-out RBI single to tie the game in the fifth off one of the best pitchers in the league.  The D-Backs rightly walked Reed Johnson to get to Lilly, but he made them pay, and paved the way for Soriano's tie-breaking double that followed.
Big Player: Ted Lilly struck out ten men, and after giving up a first inning bomb to Chris Young, shut down the team that embarrassed him in last year's playoffs.  Good Ted has returned, and it looks like he'll be staying for a while.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It broke the pattern of the previous four series, and served as a huge confidence boost for a team seemingly on the ropes, particularly coming against the team that had the best record in the Majors at the time, and had so thoroughly owned the Cubs last October.

Game 36
Opponent: Arizona
Result: Win
Score: 7-2
Big Play: Alfonso Soriano's seventh inning RBI double that gave the Cubs their margin of victory.
Big Player: Soriano went 4-5 with two runs scored and an RBI, serving notice that the slump that was his year-to-date is now a thing of the past.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It will, hopefully, be the day that Soriano began one of his patented hot streaks.

Game 37
Opponent: Arizona
Result: Win
Score: 6-4
Big Play: Daryle Ward's go-ahead double in the bottom of the eighth to give the Cubs the lead for good.
Big Player: I'm going with Daryle again.  Sure, he was only in there for 30 seconds, but seems to me when you get the game winning hit, that's all you really need.
We'll talk about this game next year because: The Cubs swept the team that's likely to be their playoff nemesis, should we all be so fortunate to be there in the first place.

The Week That Was

Season Record 22-15
Season RS/RA 211/158
Week's Record 4-2
Week's RS/RA 22/21
Games Back --
Change +1.5

It wasn't a great start to the week, but it sure was a hell of a finish, sweeping a team in the Diamondbacks who not only throttled them last October, but has had the Cubs' number since 2004 - Arizona was 17-8 in the regular season versus Chicago from 2004-2007.  Beating up on them and making it stick, all while recapturing a share of the division lead is a big deal, even this early in the year.

Breaking the Pattern
2008-05-09 06:02
by Derek Smart

Has anyone else noticed how this downturn has manifested itself? Allow me to illustrate:

WAS GM 1 - Loss
WAS GM 2 - Win
WAS GM 3 - Loss
MIL GM 1 - Loss
MIL GM 2 - Win
MIL GM 3 - Loss
STL GM 1 - Loss
STL GM 2 - Win
STL GM 3 - Loss
CIN GM 1 - Loss
CIN GM 2 - Win
CIN GM 3 - Loss

That's right, folks, the Cubs are currently in a pattern where they infallibly win the middle game in a series, while equally infallibly dropping the other two. The good news is, they don't get swept. The bad news is, if you win at a .333 clip long enough, the good news becomes moot.

Obviously, nothing good can happen relative to the season as a whole until they break that pattern. Naturally, they have to try doing that today against the best team in the Majors. Of course, if they can manage such a trick - in a positive way, I mean, realizing that getting broomified would also count as pattern alteration - it would, at least seemingly, have a lot more meaning than doing so in, say, the coming Pirates series. That said, remember that the sweep of the Mets was supposed to prove something, and this stretch of horror is what immediately followed.

Really, all I want are some wins, and some good play to build on. My schedule's clear. What say we do it now?

Campaign Season
2008-05-07 07:16
by Derek Smart

So, is it time for the 'Free Ronny Cedeno' movement yet? I swear, I never thought I'd write those words - that is, unless Cedeno were wrongly accused of a crime that I'd been a witness to, seeing it wasn't he that pulled the trigger, knowing with my eyes and heart that it was, in fact, the one-armed-man who'd done the deed. Ask me at the beginning of the year, and the fantastic scenario above would have been rated at approximately 217% more likely to spur a liberty campaign on Ronny's behalf than his play on the field.

Yet, here we are, a week into May, and I've come around to thinking that Ronny Effin Cedeno needs to be in the lineup everyday until he plays his way out of it. Next thing you know, I'll be buying Clay Aiken albums and putting ketchup on my hot dogs.

It's not just the results, either, it's way he's gotten them. His approach at the plate is so different as to call into question his identity. He's not a masked man, but perhaps someone with discipline and bat control has made himself a lovely Ronny Suit. Stranger things have happened. Last night's two-out, two-run single is an excellent example:

Down a strike, Harang throws Cedeno a breaking ball, but coming out of his hand it doesn't necessarily look like one. It's a pretty nice pitch, so it initially appears to be a fastball on the outer half, at least judging by Cedeno's reaction. Based on what he's seeing he has to swing, because he can't reasonably sit on a pitch that looks like a good one to drive up the line and let himself get down two strikes. Up to this point, what we're seeing is exactly what we'd see in years previous. What's changed isn't the choice to swing, but rather, the choice of how to swing.

Think back to days of yore - 2006, to be precise - and imagine a similar situation. Men on second and third in a one-run game, two-out, and Ronny Cedeno is at the plate. He sees what looks like a good pitch to hit hard up the line and - zoom! - out go his hands, his bat flies over the ball, and around on his front heel he spins, wondering why that pill done moved so much.

This time around, instead of letting his hands lead, he starts to shift his weight but keeps his grab-nabbers back because he's down 0-1, and with Harang having already tossed a slider for a strike, he might just come with another. What this does is put him in position to punch a fastball into right - because his weight has shifted, the most time consuming part of the swing - while giving him the time he needs to react to the flight and spin of the ball. Watching the replay, Cedeno clearly sees as his weight shifts that it is not, in fact, a fastball - you can see as you view the footage a little hitch in his swing, a small delay as he holds back to time the pitch he now sees is a breaker - adjusts accordingly, and dumps the ball into right.

It's these sort of adjustments, along with the fact that he's been able to both foul off tough pitches all year, while managing to draw his share of free passes, that make me think he's finally turned a corner. Probably not to the tune of .373/.458/.549, but certainly enough to justify putting him in the lineup every day. Perhaps even at shortstop. Perhaps even - hold onto your hats when I say this folks - in the leadoff spot. He's seeing a lot of pitches, he has good speed, and he seems to have mastered the art of bat control. More and more, he's looking like someone that, at least in the short term, you can put in that top spot and get a boost out of, which again, I can't honestly believe I'm saying.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to run to the store. I think I'm out of ketchup.

On the Homefront 2008 - Week 5
2008-05-05 06:53
by Derek Smart

An odd combination of exhilaration and searing pain this week.  Let's relive some glory and pick some scabs.

Game 26
Opponent: Milwaukee
Result: Loss
Score: 10-7
Big Play: Mike Cameron's seventh-inning, two-out, two-RBI single.  The Brewers were already ahead, but that was the blow that essentially put the game out of reach on a night when no one seemed able to pitch.
Big Player: Cameron again.  3 for 5 with a walk, two RBI and two runs scored.  His presence was the spark that got the Brewers' offense to ignite.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It will be nail n, where n + x = Total nails needed to seal Jason Marquis' coffin.

Game 27
Opponent: Milwaukee
Result: Win
Score: 19-5
Big Play: Geovany Soto's first inning, three-run homer capped the six run inning that finished the game almost before it started.
Big Player: All Geo.  Two three-run homers will get you some love any day of the week, even when your six RBI account for less than a third of the offense.
We'll talk about this game next year because:  Who doesn't like to talk about being on the good side of a rout?

Game 28
Opponent: Milwaukee
Result: Loss
Score: 4-3
Big Play - Micro Version: Alfonso Soriano's misplay that became Gabe Kapler's ninth inning double that kicked open the door Kerry Wood had already left slightly ajar by plunking Craig Counsel.
Big Play - Macro Version: The fifth inning defensive play where, as we all found out after the game, Yovani Gallardo blew out his ACL.
Big Player: Ryan Braun, who was 3 for 5 with a homer, a double, and three RBI, the double being the hit that gave them their final lead.
We'll talk about this game next year because: The Cubs may have lost the game - and in dramatic, disappointing fashion - but the Brewers lost one of their best starting pitchers for the rest of the year.  As painful as the loss was, I'll take the Cubs' side of the bargain.

Game 29
Opponent: St. Louis
Result: Loss
Score: 5-3
Big Play: When Rich Hill was deservedly yanked after recording only two outs in the bottom of the first, the course of the game was set.  Although the Cubs came close to winning, once the game went into extras, and the need to deploy Chad Fox arose, the loss became all but inevitable.
Big Player: Hit a game winning homer in extras, you're the player of the game. I think that's the rule I learned first in Weekly Recap 101, so Skip Schumaker, this one's yours.
We'll talk about this game next year because: It will either mark the beginning of Rich Hill's return to usefulness via a vigorous search through the cornfields of Iowa, resulting in the eventual relocation of his Ding-A-Ling, or whatever it is he's lost, or it will be the start of Jon Lieber's permanent return to the rotation.  Perhaps both, depending on what x equals.

Game 30
Opponent: St. Louis
Result: Win
Score: 9-3
Big Play: Mike Fontenot hit the first homer of the year off of Kyle Lohse, a three-run job, giving the Cubs a 6-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
Big Player: Little Mikey Hottentot, hoppin' through the forest, scoopin' up the Cardinals, and boppin' 'em on the head.
We'll talk about this game next year because: After his third solid start in a row, it was the day we could finally breathe easy about Ted Lilly. 

Game 31
Opponent: St. Louis
Result: Loss
Score: 5-3
Big Play: The fourth inning, two-out, two-run double from Albert Pujols that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.
Big Player: Adam Kennedy, who got on base every time up, and drove in two runs to boot.  It was his walk with two out in the fourth that brought Albert Pujols to the plate.
We'll talk about this game next year because: Everyone likes to cry in their beer sometimes.

The Week That Was

Season Record 18-13
Season RS/RA 189/105
Week's Record 2-4
Week's RS/RA 44/32
Games Back 1.5
Change -2.0

Those RS/RA figures are incredibly deceiving, considering the distribution of the Cubs' scoring this week.  The Cubs outscored their opponents 28-8 in their two victories, and were outscored 24-16 in their four losses.  Depending on your outlook, it can either be a source of profound frustration, or a silver lining, that the Cubs really only seemed to be out of Game 26, and even that one had some suspense.  In every loss this week you could make a case that a play here and there would have altered the outcome, and while it may make the results hard to take, the fact that the margins were so slim should be taken as a hopeful sign of an impending turnaround.

Get Well Soon, Rich
2008-05-03 13:03
by Derek Smart

Here's the rather expected news that Rich Hill is on his way to Iowa, with Sean Gallagher taking his place on the roster, although not in the rotation. That slot is going to Jon Lieber, which despite what I wrote earlier, really makes the most short term sense. The club can't afford to wait for Marshall to stretch out, and Lieber's been too good to not give him the ball so he can take those innings that've been falling to the bullpen of late.

The big thing here is the hope that, out of the spotlight, Hill can figure out what the problem is, which near as I can tell, is almost entierly between his ears. I probably have more to say on this - I know a little something about overthinking during public performances - but I need some time to gather my thoughts. However, the short of it is, I think Hill has ceased to truly believe he can pitch. When asked, he says he believes in his ability, and he might even be fooling himself well enough that his conscious mind is in on the act, but it's obvious when he's throwing that he's feeling the stares of his detractors every time he makes a mistake, and that's something a Major League player cannot afford to do.

Hill needs to spend some time in Iowa, have the success he's almost certain to have, and regain control of the little demon in his head - the one that's whispering the false tale of his incompetence with every pitch. He needs it. The Cubs need it. Best of luck, Rich. We're rooting for you.


Light or Train? I'll Choose Light, Thanks
2008-05-03 09:00
by Derek Smart

If I may be so gauche, I'd like to take a moment to quote myself.

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.

That was written on April 23rd. Seem like a lifetime ago? Well, that's what I was talking about, I suppose. It's an incredibly long season, and there are wonderful moments and terrible moments woven throughout. Joyful times, and sad times. Stretches of glory, and stretches of infamy. Now, after a lovely period of the former, we're immersed in the morass of the latter, which means it's time to remember, once again, that all things come to an end, and that as quickly as it all went sour, that it shall soon enough turn sweet again. I feel confident that this is a good team playing poorly, rather than a bad team showing its true colors, and that being the case, the reversal will arrive in due time.

So in that spirit, and since we're all too familiar with exactly what went wrong, I'd like to recount some positives from last night, speak a bit of things that went right, if only to remind us that even now as we slog through the mire of disappointment, it's not all bad.

  • Jon Lieber continues to be a rock during times of crisis, so much so that despite the fact that Rich Hill clearly needs to go somewhere else for a while and get his head on straight, I'm not sure Liebs is the guy to take his place. Apparently, neither is Lou, as his post-game noise was along the lines of putting Marshall in the rotation, especially since Scott Eyre is nearly ready to return and take over the lefty-killing duties that have thus far belonged to Sean.

    If that action were taken, though, I'd expect we'd see something of a tandem start during Marshall's first few turns, since he's nowhere near being stretched out enough. Between Marshall and Lieber you'd be able to get a solid, long start's worth of work, and by the fourth turn or so Marshall would be able to handle five or six frames on his own, and Lieber could return to more normal bullpen duties, or else be stretched out enough himself to supplant what will by then likely be the all-too-horrible-to-bear work of Jason Marquis.

    I think the other hope inherent in this plan is that by the All-Star Break, Hill has cured himself by taking the waters of Des Moines, and that there's a difficult decision to be made regarding which solid starter Hill's re-emerging talent forces aside. A bit pie-in-the-sky to be sure, but not so unreasonable as to be deemed utterly ridiculous.

  • Kudos to Bob Howry. My first thought when he entered the game was a sort of dismissive, 'there goes the neighborhood' notion, but he proved me wrong. Sure, a run scored, but since he had to get six outs in one inning to escape, he can be forgiven if a tally came to pass. Throwing as poorly as he has early on, it was nothing short of a herculean mental effort to keep his wits about him and stay focussed on the job at hand, but that he did, and in spades, following that work with yet another scoreless frame. Had the Cubs pulled out this victory, however undeserved, Howry's effort would have deserved substantial credit.

  • Kudos also to Chad Fox, for while he gave up the winning run, he did manage to keep the team alive during the previous frame, and for a man in his situation, that's all that can be reasonably asked, and even that's a stretch. He has, indeed, made it back to the big time, and while I'd imagine he's unlikely to be there for long, what with the likelihood that his arm could explode and take out the surrounding countryside at a moment's notice, it's difficult not to root for a guy who's gone through so much. Here's hoping he's as successful as possible in the pursuit of his dream, and that whatever the end result, his efforts contribute positively to the club's greater goals.

Another match-up I don't like today, with Kyle Lohse - who's gotten it done this year with smoke and mirrors - versus Ted Lilly, who until his last start had only wished for such theatrical efficacy. I could be wrong - and often am - but I'm not looking at this game as the beginning of the turnaround. It'll come, I just don't feel it today.

The Cure For What Ails Me
2008-05-02 06:55
by Derek Smart

I realize there are another 134 games yet to be played, and that even if the Cubs were to pile up 100 victories and make the question of who might win the division moot by September, that there will, indeed, be other losses like yesterday's. Still, I find myself in need of a bit of therapy this morning, so I'm going to confront my emotional demons by listing some of the reason's why this particular defeat is so hard to bear.

This loss smarts because:

  • It was a loss to the Brewers
  • It looked like a win for so long
  • It knocked the Cubs out of first
  • Now the Cardinals lead the division
  • Fukudome was safe
  • I doth, methinks, unhealthily adore Kerry Wood
  • They all smart, dammit

You know, I don't actually feel better. I do, however, have a bucket of fear about this series against the Cards. The Cubs have played them extremely tough the last couple years, and all indications are this St. Louis club plays with a real chip on their shoulder. Add in that there's not one pitching matchup in this series that I like (although my trepidation about Sunday has less to do with facing Todd Wellemeyer than it does with sending Marquis to the bump), and I'm basically going to be an anxiety puddle for the next three days.

The thing is, I intellectually understand how silly this is - compare the team's current situation to last year's, and I'll take what's going on now hands down. It's the psychological effect of a tough loss beating me down - I get that. Had the game been one where the Brewers scored four in the first, with the Cubs striking back with three in the bottom of the frame and that score holding for the remainder of the contest, it would still be unpleasant, but not nearly as painful, despite the scores and results being identical.

So here it is. I know what I need. I need Rich Hill to throw a great game. I need the offense to wear down Adam Wainwright. I need tonight to be a psychological eraser, and I'd imagine the Cubs do to. We know what we need, boys, so let's go out and get it done.

Just Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
2008-05-01 12:40
by Phil Bencomo

It was improbable, all but inconceivable, really. Who, other than a certain group of blue-pinstriped men or a supernaturally prescient being, would say otherwise? But, incomprehensibly, Ryan Dempster has proved me very, very wrong: He has been a very good starting pitcher.

It was just a clever ploy masterminded by Jim Hendry, I told myself. Hendry would hope and pray that Dempster the starting pitcher would mow down the lackluster spring competition, and then leverage those mostly meaningless stats into a pre-season deal. Surely Hendry had no intention of letting Lou Piniella actually send Dempster to the mound every five days to start a game -- every five days out of the bullpen would have seemed more fitting. This, after all, was a pitcher whose career ERA as a starter bordered on five, who had not started a significant number of games in more than four years, and who is now on the wrong side of 30.

But there was no trade, no return to the bullpen, no spring training meltdown. And fantasy baseball owners snapped up Sean Marshall and Jon Lieber, just waiting for Dempster's inevitable failure and the subsequent hot-swapping. Perhaps they wait still; I hate to dampen this wondrous April, but regression to the mean is an inescapable foe. But fear not, dear owners: Jason Marquis, at least, remains a tried and true time bomb, ticking onward to mid-summer and his subsequent devolution into a pumpkin with arms.

I remain bewildered, though. How does a man go from essentially league-average as a reliever one year (99 ERA+) to stud starter the next (136 ERA+)? Maybe there's more to all that running up Camelback Mountain than we thought.

(Aside: One of my uncles lives in Phoenix, and for many years hiked the mountain regularly without water, no matter the blazing temperature. He still does his hikes, though less frequently and, so I'm told, with fluids in tow, after years of insistence from my aunt. Why he would need any encouragement to re-hydrate in such heat remains a mystery, though, much like how he always returned home alive, not shriveled.)

Or maybe it's something else. Dempster's not throwing more strikes, averaging, as he did last season, 1.7 strikes per ball. His strikeouts are down by more than two per nine innings to 5.35, and his walks are up half a walk per game to 4.62. Somehow, though, he's keeping batters from hits and home runs at, for his career, unprecedented rates. The key, I think, is this: more than 55 percent of all balls he allows in play are groundballs, almost matching the rate from his stellar 33-save 2005 season and up from 51 and 47 percent in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

That's an encouraging trend, if one that's highly dependent on the Cubs' infield defense. And from what I've seen, Dempster's been keeping the ball down -- it's unsurprising, then, that he's getting more grounders -- to great success.

I'll end with a question: Do any of you, dearest readers, have access to, or know where to find, Dempster's Pitch F/X data from last season? I'm curious to see the differences between this season and last.

Home Cooking
2008-05-01 05:15
by Derek Smart

I'm sitting at Reagan National waiting for my flight home. I had half a mind to go to a National's game last night, see the new stadium and all that. Then I realized that the Cubs would actually be on ESPN, and since I also happened to still be waiting for my ears to pop from the flight in, feeling suitably nervous about blowing a drum on my return (I took Benadryl about an hour ago, and I can tell it's working because I'm typing this on three phones with six hands), I took the less adventurous road and settled in for some hopefuly comforting TV.

That's exactly what I got. Other than the top of the first, the outcome was never in doubt, providing a perfect tonic for what ailed me. A nice, joyous romp, with Everyone's New Favorite Cub, Geovany Soto, flat out owning the joint. More please.

Gotta finish my Dunkin' Donuts coffee (which I truly don't understand the appeal of) and board my flight. More later, folks, and thanks for bearing with the silence of late.