Monthly archives: July 2008
Just Like That
A few short days ago - Saturday, to be exact - it seemed as if the sky were falling. The Cubs had played terribly since coming off the break, dropping back into a tie for the division lead - which they would have lost entirely that selfsame day had not the Astros ended the streaking Brewers victory string - and one of the club's primary strengths - it's patience on offense - had utterly deserted them, as nearly every player in the lineup slumped terribly while trying to hit nine-run homers on the first pitch they saw.
Today - a mere four days later - the division lead has grown to four, as the Cubs have taken the Brewers' three best pitchers and worked them to the bone, forcing them to constantly go deep in counts and either walk them, give them something to hit, or get an out while giving a pound of flesh. The result has been three consecutive wins in the enemy's lair where the Milwaukee starting staff has gone beyond the sixth but once, with that 6.2 frame effort by CC Sabathia requiring 124 pitches to complete.
This fails, of course, to mention the pitching the Cubs have received, which has been nothing short of spectacular in general, and during the last two games in particular. If you believe in baseball teams sending messages in July, then you have to think this one was loud and clear, "The road to this division title goes through us, and if you want it, you'll have to take it." I'm not sure I believe in that sort of thing, but it's still fun to imagine.
In other words, what we're seeing, ladies and gentleman, is the return of Cubs Baseball v2008. And not a moment too soon.
* * * * *
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time the Cubs have had Alfonso Soriano both fully healthy and productive. He was physically fine at the beginning of last year, but he didn't get his bat going until the first time he hurt his leg. While that wasn't bad enough for him to hit the DL, he was still tentative on the bases, and of course was even moreso once he hurt himself badly enough to get listed later in the year. In fact, that injury was severe enough that he was still having issues once this season started, and only seemed to be getting comfortable running at the point where his hand was broken.
Now, however, he's clearly got his legs fully and solidly under him, and the ball looks like the moon, to boot. He's getting hits, stealing bases, and for the first time in his Cub tenure, he looks like guy they signed to a franchise-record contract. This, my friends, is what Alfonso Soriano was brought to Chicago to do. I, for one, am enjoying the hell out of it.
* * * * *
Chad Gaudin, people. If the Cubs make the playoffs and go deep, and if their bullpen has as much to do with that success as I think it will have to, the answer to the question of 'why?' will be Chad Gaudin.
He has thrown very well, and in doing so, has done something of high import beyond the work itself, which is give Lou someone else he can lean on late in a game. This has the natural cascade effect of keeping the other big arms - Carlos Marmol, I'm looking at you - fresh enough to be productive. With Gaudin, the late-inning workload can be more evenly spread, allowing the bullpen as a whole to be more rested and effective, something they clearly weren't late last year. Much as I crush on Rich Harden, the trickle-down of Gaudin's acquisition is nearly as important to this team's chances of late-season success.
* * * * *
If you want to take one word and use it describe the first three games of this series, that word would have to be 'defense'. It was the Brewers' Achilles' Heel last year, and while they've done some things to attempt to rectify that issue - most notably moving Braun off of third, and getting Mike Cameron on board - it's still a massive problem this season, at least if you extrapolate what we've seen in this series.
- The Cubs got their second lead in game one because Rickie Weeks couldn't close the deal on a double-play.
- Ryan Braun clearly misjudged his likelihood of making a play on Fukudome's hit in the sixth inning of game two, turning a single into a bases-clearing triple, setting up the decisive frame of the contest.
- If Prince Fielder can catch Jason Kendall's throw last night, the Cubs exit the first inning scoreless instead of up by two.
I'm not saying any of these plays were easy, but I guarantee you if they're made they don't make anyone's 'interweb diamond' highlight reel. They were that half-notch above routine that separates being solid with the glove from being mediocre, and it's a type of play that multiple guys in Milwaukee just aren't capable of making on a regular basis right now. If the Brewers fail to make the playoffs, this inability to make unspectacular yet plus-routine plays will be a major contributing factor.
* * * * *
There's a chance to sweep this afternoon, and with Rich Harden taking the hill against Dave Bush, it's hard not to feel like a loss would be pretty disappointing. However, the fact is, taking this game tonight would be gravy. Tell me going in that the Cubs take 3 of 4, and I'm dancing like a drunken baby - which is actually three levels of coordination higher than my natural state. So, if things go awry today, just remember the deal you'd have taken four days ago, and be happy you got what you needed.
That said, boys, I'd sure looooooooove me some yummy gravy.
Why I'm Not An Oddsmaker
Before the game, I did not believe the Cubs had a chance.
Then Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a double that nearly made it out, eventually stealing third and scoring on Derrek Lee's single. Now I did think they had a chance, but a ludicrously small one.
Then Ted Lilly, after a bit of a rough time with Braun and Fielder, started to settle in and throw a nice ballgame. Now I thought they had something on the order of a 20% chance to steal a victory.
Then Alfonso Soriano drilled a shot into the left field bleachers, giving the Cubs a two-run lead. Chances of victory given by my brain leap up into the 35% range.
Both sides trade jabs for a while, and then Mr. Rooooooosevelt starts crankin' out hits like Elvis, and by the time the inning is over the Brewers have a 3-2 lead. I'm thinking 15%.
However, the very next inning, the Cubs scratch across two runs, due to equal parts patience and defensive incompetence. Sabathia is out of the game by inning's end, and the Cubs have a 4-3 lead. I start off thinking we're in the 55% range, but see Bob Howry preparing to enter the game, and quickly revise downward.
Howry makes my fear prescient, sticking a fastball right where Russell Branyan can both reach and kill it, tying the game at 4 apiece. I have now begun repeating a mantra which, I have to admit, will be spoken at intervals throughout the rest of the contest. "I'm really going to hate losing this game," I say to myself.
Quietude prevails in the eighth, and then the Cubs come alive in the ninth, showing wonderful patience, and just the right amount of timely hitting to get themselves a 6-4 advantage going into the bottom of the frame, where I anxiously await the results of "Who's Carlos This Time?" the new gameshow where contestants can win cash and prizes by correctly determining whether Carlos Marmol will be a Showstopping Badass, or a trembling, Jelly-Filled Run Machine.
Those who had 'Showstopping Badass' in the pool were mostly right, and despite walking Jason Kendall and trying like hell to get Gabe Kapler's poke over the fence, Marmol has a nice outing - probably his best in July - and the Cubs get an unexpected, heart-stopping victory.
If there's a wider point to be found, it's that this year, whenever I've truly begun to lose faith in the ability of this ballclub to keep on track for their ultimate goal of a World Series, they've found a way to restore it in spades. They did this last night by finding a way to win a game that paper gave the opposition with relative ease - by looking into the face of the man who is supposed to lift their rivals to the promised land and saying, "Not so fast. You shall not pass."
They play the games for a reason, kids. I should remember that more often. And that it cuts both ways.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Since the All-Star Break, the Cubs have been abjectly terrible on offense, save for a single outburst in Houston on Sunday, and even that was somewhat marred by the fact that this team which has been so patient all year, failed to walk once. In fact, they only walked four times as a team during the first four post-break contests.
So, one could be excused if Tuesday seemed like it might be the beginning of something, despite only plating two runs. Even though Geovany Soto and Aramis Ramirez continued their 0-fer streaks, the team started to approach things better, walking more times in that one game - five - than they had the previous four. Which, in my mind, set the stage for last night.
The headlines this morning are about how the Cubs' offense is reinvigorated by the presence of Alfonso Soriano, and while I'm thrilled to have him back, thought it was nice that he had a double in the game so he could feel like he didn't need to press going forward, he wasn't really involved in the ten-run onslaught, beyond his RBI groundout, and any speculation about how having him in the lineup allows others like Ramirez (broken 0-fer), Soto (broken 0-fer) , and Lee (first homer in a month) to relax is just that. I'm not completely discounting it as a factor - and believe me, I think the team is unquestionably better with him on it - I just can't vouch for the causality being assigned.
What I can vouch for is the fact that the Cubs walked five times again last night - three of them by Kosuke, which is especially nice to see after a long stretch of relative hackery - and that their big eighth inning was in large part sparked by two walks, as well as the two streak breaking hits by the aforementioned Soto and Ramirez.
In other words, while Soriano being around may well have contributed to a general easing of pressure in the rest of the lineup, it seems like they were headed in that direction to begin with, that the necessary change in approach had already begun. The truth is - which you all know - they would have broken out eventually whether Soriano came back or not. Because even 0-fers and homerless streaks don't last forever.
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I'm trying to be better about checking out other blogs. I had a hard time doing that for a stretch, and while I had my favorites that I continued to check out, I've been terrible about keeping up with new folks in the mix. One of those that I failed to see for way too long was Cubs f/x.
If you like learning things, and seeing the game in different and enlightening ways, then check out
So check the site out, and hopefully, I'll be able to get my sidebar straightened out over the next couple weeks and get more familiar with the rest of our little corner of the blogosphere.
Wherein Your Host Doth Let His Righteous Indignation Flow Like The Flooding Nile
This afternoon I got this email from someone named Kevin Klein:
Subject: STEVE BARTMAN, Where forth art thou?
Given your focus on the Cubs, we thought you'd
be interested in the attached press release concerning the missing
Cubs fan that interfered with the ball in Game 6 of the 2003 National
League Championship Series against the Marlins. After the game he
moved from Chicago and no one knows where he is. Until now that is. We
are offering him $25,000 cash to come to Chicago and face his fans and
sign the infamous photo. The attached press release explains everything.
I also would like to introduce you to SportsBuy.com (formerly
Naxcom.com). We are a dedicated exchange for sports collectibles. I am
the director of business development and am interested in ways that we
might work together and am using this as an excuse to extend this
introduction. If you are not familiar with our site
(http://www.sportsbuy.com) please take a minute to check it out. If you are familiar with it
and have ideas how we could work together please let us know.
Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you.
And here's a snippet from the aforementioned press release:
Where forth art thou, Steve Bartman?
29th National Sports Collectors Convention offers record $25,000 to sign one autograph
(July 23, 2008) - The most money ever offered for one autograph is on the table, literally, at the 29th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention, scheduled for July 30 – August 3 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
Show organizers and SportsBuy.com (formerly NAXCOM.com), a Sports Online Sales & Auction firm, announced today that a briefcase filled with $25,000 – that’s 250 $100 bills – is being offered to Steve Bartman on “Redemption-Reward Thursday” (July 31, 2008) at the annual sports collectibles convention.
The Bartman signing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, July 31, in the Tristar Autograph Pavilion inside the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
“No one in sports memorabilia history has ever been paid $25,000 to sign one autograph – not Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or any other athlete,” said Mike Berkus, co-Executive Director of The National.
“All Steve has to do is show up, prove he is in fact the real Steve Bartman – not some earphone-wearing imposter – and he’ll move to the top of the autograph value list,” said Wesley Hein, CEO of SportsBuy.com.
The photograph that The National organizers want Bartman to sign is, of course, the infamous image from Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. Once the picture is signed, it will be auctioned on SportsBuy.com to the general public with net proceeds being donated to a Chicago-based charity. This photo, signed by Steve Bartman, would be, arguably, the most sought-after collectible in the history of sports memorabilia.
“Steve Bartman has been a recluse for years, but we’re hopeful that he will accept our invitation and generous offer to appear at The National,” Berkus said. “We have personal security to provide to Steve at The National and to a destination of his choosing.”
If Bartman accepts the offer, he immediately will vault into an autograph stratosphere of his own. Just consider the past prices and values of former athletes for one autograph:
- Babe Ruth: $10,000
- Shoeless Joe Jackson: $7,500
- Lou Gehrig: $5,000
- Michael Jordan: $2,500
- Joe DiMaggio: $2,000
- Mickey Mantle: $1,000
First point - The Minutia: Where forth? Really?!? It's one thing to take a famous quote that doesn't quite fit your needs (Obviously, the Shakespeare is 'Wherefore art thou', and since 'Wherefore' essentially means 'why', it doesn't work in this context) and alter it to better adhere to the parameters of your purpose, but mein Gott im himmel, at least manage to have your 'fixed' version make sense. 'Where forward are you, Steve Bartman?' is one way of rewording what they've done there, with multiple other thesaurus-gleaned replacements that are equally sense-free. Another way is 'Wherefore don't we understand the basics tenets of English?' I think that's my favorite.
Of course, I've given them credit for being intelligent enough to know that the original text uses 'Wherefore' and that the meaning of the word in question precludes them from using it in their chosen fashion, when the fact may well be that they think one of the most famous lines in the Western Canon is 'O Romeo, Romeo! where forth art thou Romeo?' I have no preference between the two, for both mean that the assemblers of the above are barely literate goons. Which brings me to:
Second point - The Point: This company, and anyone who continues to work for them, are beneath contempt - disgusting creatures that, if they ever come into our Earthly Sunlight, must soon thereafter surely shrink to the chilly comfort of an alleyway garbage bin's shadow. I can think of no other type of being that would be so willing to openly, brazenly profit off the misery of others.
"But wait," they say, "we're not profiting. We're paying the gentleman in question for his time, then giving the proceeds that come from that time to a charity. What could possibly be wrong with that? Do you not like charity? Do you not wish to help your fellow man? Do you not love America and Freedom and your Mom?"
And all that would be fine if I were willing to delude myself into thinking that this were a simple transaction for charity, but this is not. Clearly not. This is spectacle. This is The Coliseum. This is $25,000 cash in a fucking suitcase.
For those who are persuaded by this stunt to attend the convention, if Bartman doesn't show - as he clearly won't - then, what the hell, there's the suitcase of money to see, and - hey! Look at all this other memorabilia available for me to purchase! And to think, if it wasn't for my wanting to come down here and gawk like a slack-jawed accident hound at some poor guy signing a photo, I wouldn't have even known or cared about this. It's almost like it doesn't matter to the company if he shows up, like the whole idea was to just get me down here in the first place so I would buy this autographed, game-worn, jock strap.
But, of course, they want him to show. For the charity.
Before even beginning to write about this I'd thought quite a bit about the idea that I'm being duped, here. That these Pimples on the Devil's Ass sent me and others an email hoping that we would get angry, praying for posts about this horrifying crap, desirous that scads of bloggers spend a thousand words or so excoriating their hateful, pitiless attempt to capitalize on another human's very real pain. I worried that in posting about this, the unfortunate result would be me providing free publicity that they would otherwise not receive, unwittingly spreading their message of degradation and abasement to those few squalid-souled individuals who might take an interest in this sort of grotesque burlesque.
Then I decided to have a little faith. I decided that the people who would read this would be like me. That those who aren't Cub fans would see how endlessly foul this whole enterprise is, and that those who are Cub fans would feel, like me, that the most painful thing about that incident wasn't the loss, but when one would imagine oneself in his shoes.
So I'm posting this, and I'm asking you to take notes. See that name - SportsBuy.com - and remember that this is a company that traffics in sorrow. That they will cater to humanity's worst instincts for the chance to sell you a signed baseball. That they deserve your curses, yet feel no shame.
And as a final statement to those who are so quick to make a buck from another's nightmare, and those who are so willing to give that buck, I say to you in the words of a man whose pen trembles with posthumous rage at having his work associated with this abomination:
'A plague o' both your houses!'
You'll have to excuse me, friends and family, if I appear unresponsive for the next few days. It's by no fault of mine, and certainly not my intention. I really do want to hear those sounds -- wonderful, wonderful sound -- coming from your wildly flapping lips and slightly frowning ... no, make that full-blown scowling mouth. I wish I knew what you're saying, but my lip reading skills just aren't up to par.
I can tell from your clenched fists that I haven't made myself clear. Please, let me explain, before that frustration of yours -- and believe me, I'm frustrated, too -- boils over into something rash.
If there's anyone to blame for my temporary loss of hearing, it's this man.
* * * *
OK, so perhaps the roaring of the masses wasn't that loud, but it was as close to deafening as I've experienced in ages. The wind was howling in for two-thirds of the game, turning even the hardest-hit balls into shallow fly outs. If not for the wind, Daryle Ward's 7th-inning double would have been the icing on a two-homer-day cake.
But the wind shifted late, blowing across from right field to left. There was only one place -- left field -- where Aramis Ramirez could have hit it out, and that's where he hit it.
The crowd was ready for it, and my brother, sitting at my side at Wrigley, was quick to call it. And so the roars began, and only Aramis' curtain call appeased us. The numbers easily bear out what is plain to any fan (but, oddly, not to the Giants): Aramis is The Guy you want at the plate in any clutch situation, as he proved yet again.
In late and close situations this season, Ramirez is now batting .432, with an other-worldly OPS of 1.521. Derrek Lee is no slouch himself, but Bruce Bochy must have the numbers. Again and again, Ramirez comes through. Why Bochy put the game in Aramis' capable hands is beyond me.
* * * *
Well, that's enough tip-typing from me. To the TV and Rich Harden's Cub debut I go!
Wuertz Down, Hart Up
Via the Daily Herald.
Mike Wuertz is streaky - that I will not deny. He goes through periods where he's very effective, and then turns into a pumpkin at a moment's notice without much reason - the problem being that he doesn't just turn into the pumpkin for a single game, but seems to stay at least partially gourdified for days at a time.
That said, he had a generally nice June, had a bit of a rough patch against Baltimore and the White Sox at the end of the month, but came back and pitched a good inning against the Giants on July 3rd. He was then shelved for a week, and waddyaknow, when he was asked to hold down the fort yesterday, he blew up. In fact, if you eyeball his gamelog from this year, it appears that he has trouble after he's been sitting for an extended spell - a not uncommon ailment among relievers.
Here's my point: It seems very much like this move is a reaction to yesterday's performance, which to my mind, should have been at least somewhat expected given the circumstances. In fact, the previous three victories gave ample opportunity to give a guy like Wuertz some much needed work, rather than continuing to use the all-too-often-used Carlos Marmol three days in a row with leads of 5, 6, and 4 runs.
The Cubs have been pretty smart this year, but there's been some stubbornness on the part of Lou when it comes to bullpen usage, and he clearly has lost any trust he might have had in Mike Wuertz, despite his being a useful, if occasionally maddening, bullpen part. This move is more about giving Lou someone he'll use with a 5-run lead instead of Marmol - essentially, appeasing an irrational unwillingness to deploy perfectly reasonable in-hand options - and that's a shame. Wuertz deserves better.
And Then I Said A Bunch Of Things That Didn't Mean Much Because That's All I Can Do On A Friday
So, what is it about the last game of a series against the Reds? In the six non-final contests they've had between them, the Cubs have allowed an average of 2.83 runs per game, sporting a 5-1 record. In those three series-enders, they've let in 9, 9, and now 12 runs, while not coincidentally, dropping each tilt. I see no causality, just an odd bit of timing that I can't refrain from pointing out.
* * * * *
Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
I have a friend I met this year through my daughter's preschool who has season tickets, and occasonally has an open seat to offer. In fact, he was kind enough to provide a list of dates where, if the appropriate permission slips could be obtained, there would be an available spot should I be so inclined. A few weeks ago, he reminded me that one of those dates was approaching, so we made tentative plans to attend.
At first glance, we were going to a relatively non-descript game, nothing you'd look at the schedule and circle, but a chance to head to the ballpark is always welcome, and being lucky enough to have someone offer you an opportunity to go to a game without having to pay a broker or sit in the farthest reaches of the upper deck is a rare and cherished thing indeed.
Here's the thing. That game's tomorrow. Saturday. Rich Harden's debut.
Indeed, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
* * * * *
Sometimes, even with a team as good as the Cubs, there are games you kinda expect to lose, where the pitchers facing each other seem so mismatched that no other conclusion seems viable. This afternoon offers just such a matchup, with my favorite whipping boy, Jason Marquis, squaring off against the man who a few short days ago taught the Cubs how to be owned, Matt Cain. If the storyline holds to the talent levels, we'll have a two-game losing streak on our hands.
Still, I happened to notice what was, perhaps, an even more eggregious mismatch on the books a couple days ago, yet lo and behold, Glendon Rusch and the Rockies defeated Ben Sheets and the Brewers, despite the projected outcome. The moral being, just because something is likely, doesn't mean it's assured.
Prove me wrong, boys. Happily, happily wrong.
The Internets Said I Had To Write This
Other folks have been breaking down the Harden deal all yesterday, into the night, and all day today, so in some respects, I feel like there's not much I can add. Yet, despite the plethora of comment already flooding the worldwideaols, it is my duty as an internetarian to weigh in, needed or not.
My tendency when deals come across the wire is to look initially for the things that I hate. As the reality first began to sink in yesterday evening, I was having atypical trouble coming up with a list of items that caused me agita. As evening wore into night, and night to morning, I was still unable to come up with anything truly distressing. I feared I was missing something.
I've perused many takes on this deal. The Cub fan perspective is one of nearly universal orgasm. The verdict from national writers is mixed and decidedly more cautious, the concerns going something like this:
1) Sean Gallagher might turn into a very good pitcher.
2) Rich Harden might turn into a hospital patron.
The thing is, I don't disagree with either of those statements. Both are very real risks assumed by the Cubs in this deal, and there's nothing I'd do to attempt to refute those as basic facts and legitimate concerns. Yet, I still have no problems with this trade. Here's why:
A) Sean Gallagher might turn into a very good pitcher, but chances are decent that he'll become something closer to a serviceable #3 or #4 guy. That certainly has value, but in terms of play on the field, it's reasonable to think that even if Gallagher blossoms into solid #2 starter, he and Gaudin should essentially be analogs of each other for several years, with Gaudin likely being better in the immediate future. The Cubs will pay more money for the privilege, but they have it, so who cares?
B) Rich Harden might turn into a hospital patron, but if he doesn't, and he remains healthy, he's a more dominating pitcher than Carlos Zambrano. Yes. I just typed that.
Not only is he more dominating than Z when he's right, he's more dominating than Sabathia, and he's the only pitcher available that can come close to making that dual claim. He is an Ace's Ace if he's healthy, a living trump card, and the chance to have that kind of weapon at your disposal is one you have to take, even if he might just as easily snap in two as deliver on his promise.
If one assumes that Gallagher and Gaudin are a wash, then the cost for Harden was two guys the Cubs didn't need who can't hit well enough for their usable defensive positions, and an A-ball catcher who's blocked twice over who has yet to hit at all. Make Eric Patterson a second baseman and that changes the equation a bit, but I'm not sure the offense makes the defense defensible.
Even if you don't think Gallagher and Gaudin cancel each other out - which is, I think, where most of the issue lies with those who are less than sanguine about the Cubs' end of this - the fact that Gallagher is the only non-fungible, unblocked part of the deal means that the Cubs have acquired a roughly league-average pitcher and a poker hand which could turn into a massive jackpot, for some spare parts and a pitcher with an above-average, but not star-caliber, upside.
In years past, the Cubs haven't even seen fit to step into the casino, let alone approach a table. Now they're all-in, and for the first time in my lifetime, they have a hand that could win the damn pot.
Cubs Acquire Harden and Gaudin - Blogger Faints
Seriously, that's all I've got, other than being completely thrilled that the Cubs pulled off a deal for the only other true ace-level pitcher available. Yes, he's fragile, so this is high-risk, high-reward, but to me, a pitcher of a healthy Harden's caliber is what is required for this team to reach the next level.
I'm a little giddy right now, so I'll have to come back and look at this with some perspective later (I'll definitely miss Gallagher - I think he's got a bright future), but for now, I'm just going to swim in this buzz.
Time is short, so I'll be quick:
Yes, a sweep would have been nice, but over a weekend where it was theoretically possible to lose the division lead altogether, coming away a little farther in front of the Cardinals is still a positive outcome.
Derrek Lee looked bad for nearly two months, hitting .256/.317/.408 combined through May and June. He's now hit .500/.519/.731 over his last 26 admittedly small sample size at bats, and finally looks locked in again.
I've seen a decent number of bytes spilled in Cub-blogdom regarding TLR's inflammatory remarks about Jim Edmonds, and while I'm a million miles away from reading everyone's stuff, everything I have seen took the comments very seriously and spent a goodly amount of time mentioning the various degrees of degenerate that LaRussa must be to take Edmonds statements - clearly meant as a way of asking the media to just let him play ball - so personally, and as such, to make such a tremendously large deal out of them.
Now, I'm not saying LaRussa isn't capable of being foolish and hotheaded in this manner - he's shown that he certainly is - but it seems to me that he's just as capable, and just as likely, to be laying into Edmonds through the press as a way to get into the head of a player who must already be putting a tremendous amount of pressure on himself to perform, given the situation. I have no way of knowing if that was his intent or not, but since I hadn't seen that possibility presented, I wanted to make sure it was out there. Certainly, if it wasn't part of his intent, it had that effect
The Brewers' impending trade for C.C. Sabathia is a big enough deal that I'd be shocked if the Cubs didn't follow up with a trade of their own within the next two weeks. Of what's available, the two that meet the criteria of 'significant upgrade' and 'not entirely unaffordable' are A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard. There's a report in the Sun-Times (which I saw via MLB Trade Rumors) which has the Cubs getting after Rich Harden like nobody's business, but I can't see the pieces being there to make such a thing fly. I fear it will come down to one of two guys who, while talented, both appear to have issues in the physical and mental realms of the game. Which still puts them about 17 light-years ahead of a healthy, sane Jason Marquis.
Off day today, and around here it looks like we're just going to get pounded with rain, with reports of possible flooding downstate once again. Hope everyone stays safe, and that come Tuesday, we can continue the successful march forward into the All-Star Break.
It's Always the Quiet Ones
I couldn't do it anymore. After the top of the fifth in what to that point was a game remarkable only for its lack of anything to remark upon, my body was no longer able to support the 5 hours of sleep meme of the past couple days, and so I trundled off to bed, confident that whatever the remainder of the contest might hold, it would be of far less interest to me than the extra hours of rest I was going to oh-so-generously bestow upon myself.
Cut to this morning, where I fire up the computer only to see that anything that could be deemed the least bit entertaining happened directly after I ceased to be conscious. Murphy: Your Law. Your Law: Murphy.
From what I can tell, the good things were as follows:
- The Cubs won. Next.
- Jim Edmonds broke out of his mini-slump and gave the team some cushion with his sixth-inning dinger. Plus, when Soriano returns the Cubs will likely be deploying the lineup I still have no doubt they envisioned from the moment they acquired Edmonds - Soriano, Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez, Edmonds, Soto, DeRosa, Theriot. The only difference between what I wrote and what the Cubs are doing/have done, is that they prudently waited until Jimmy proved he could still get it done before putting the configuration in play. Sometimes, I have to admit, I don't give the team enough credit, and this looks to be a fine example of that trait.
- Geovany Soto is showing signs of breaking out again. He went through a tough adjustment period in May and part of June, but he's been hitting .311/.378/.486 since June 10th, and .391/.462/.652 over his last 23 ABs, so it's reasonable to hope that he's entering a stretch of sustained productivity. I tell you what, once everyone's back, this Cub lineup is going to be sick.
- Kerry Wood gave up a triple with two out to put the tying run on third, but turned around and whiffed Fred Lewis looking on a flat-out nasty strike-three breaking ball. Mistakes will always be made, men will get on, sometimes for extra bases, but what Wood has shown in the last month or so is a seemingly newfound ability to compartmentalize game events and immediately get back to the business at hand. While that's a useful skill as a starter, it's not critical to success, because even if you get mad enough on the mound to lose your focus and give up a couple runs, you've got more innings at hand to cool down and get the job done. Do that at game's end, and more often than not you're finishing on the wrong side of the ledger. Early in the year, this looked to be an issue for Wood, as three bad outings seemed to have been directly related to his inability to refocus after hitting the leadoff man, but those days are gone. Now, if you want the game back from Woody, you're going to have to take it, and with the way he's been throwing, you'll need a freakin' army. And some nukes. And some alien bugs.
The bad things - well, there's really only the one. Carlos Marmol, who has been such a lock all year is going through a - what shall we call it? Let's be diplomatic and say "rough spell." There's been no word on causality, other than the reports of mechanically oriented side sessions, and there may actually be none. The broadcast team was mentioning something in the early innings about the possibility of going to the All-Star Game getting into his head, but that seems patently ridiculous on the surface. Much more likely is that, with his super-heavy usage thus far, he's going through a period where he's tired, and consciously or unconsciously doing something with his mechanics to keep his velocity up, accidentally sacrificing control along the way.
Whatever it is, while I'm reflexively loathe to give an overabundance of credit to relievers, Marmol was a huge part of this team being able to take the division down the stretch last year, and has been a sizable contributor to this year's success. Take him out of the equation and the Cubs are still a good team, but they're clearly not as good, and without the starters managing to pitch an extra inning per game across the board, the trickle down effect in the bullpen could be problematic.
While I wholeheartedly endorse the concept of Carlos Marmol on the All-Start Team, if he doesn't get selected, I might just dance a little jig, because if there's a guy on the club who needs a rest, and needs it like nobody's business, it's Marmol.
So, the split is ensured, and all that's left is the slim hope of squeaking something out against the ridiculously filthy Tim Lincecum for a series win. Aramis should be back, so while I won't say anything can happen, who knows? Maybe something will. It did while I was asleep.
Getting Owned - Step By Step Instructions On How To Be Thoroughly, Completely Dominated
I got it in my head last night to take inning-by-inning notes. Which meant I stayed up for the entire game. Which means I'm exhausted. Which means I'm just going to let you read what I scrawled in the moment.
Top of the 1st
- It looked for a moment like Cain might give a little to start the game, but the double-play ball Daryle Ward hit was as tailor made as you could ever hope to see. He hit it hard, and right at the second baseman, but even taking that and his considerable girth into account, it was still shocking to only see him get into the camera's field of vision as the ball hit the first baseman's glove. Maybe he wasn't running at full speed, but even so, that's a big, slow man.
Bottom of the 1st
- The broadcast team informs us that Jason Marquis has never lost to the Giants, which immediately begs the question: why has Marquis never pitched against San Francisco?
- The shocking news, of course, is that he has. Five times, four of them starts, and he's 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA against them. With the first two men getting on, it looks like he's hell bent on correcting this glaring anomaly.
- I'm not sure what to say about Fred Lewis stealing home. It was a good play on his part, but I'm trying to think of what the Cubs could have done to prevent it. Honestly, with guys at first and third, I'm surprised we don't see plays like that more often, especially with a right-handed hitter up who might at least partially block the catcher's view.
- Marquis looked remarkably bad in that frame. I can't help thinking that a better lineup scores a couple more runs. I suppose the good news is that no one really crushed the ball, so if he's able to stay in the zone a little more, he might be able to right the ship.
Top of the 2nd
- Edmonds walks with one out, and now's as good a time as any to reflect on how spectacularly wrong I was about the relative merits of bringing him on board. He's been solid in the field, and after an initial adjustment period, has been very productive at the plate. I can't say that it's ever going to stop being at least a little weird that he's in a Cubs uniform, but he's done just about everything possible during his time in Chicago to make me appreciate the fact that he's here.
- Speaking of me being wrong, any shiny happy statements I made about Ronny Cedeno in April? Never mind.
Bottom of the 2nd
- Marquis went full to Vizquel, but overall, an uneventful and encouraging inning for our moundsman. I'm not ready to say he'll end up logging a quality start, but a quick trip like this one goes a long way toward keeping the possibility alive.
Top of the 3rd
- As Fukudome takes ball one, the Cardinals lose to the Mets. When we wake up, the Redbirds won't be any closer, and that's always a good thing.
- Matt Cain hasn't looked especially dominating, but other than the moment before Daryl Ward's GIDP in the first, there's yet to be a true threat mounted. We'll see how things look after a second full turn through the order, but this is shaping up to be one of those quiet games where you keep putting up gooseggs and wondering what the hell happened.
- For those of you who watched this on local Chicago television, those Steve Stone Hyundai spots are about as excruciating as anything I've seen. Bad production quality, terrible copy, and Stone looking about as excited to be there as a man in a lion's cage wearing meat-soaked underwear. Not a pretty sight.
Bottom of the 3rd
- I just watched at least five solid seconds of Ted Lilly laughing and smiling. I won't sleep for at least a week.
- That's the second straight 1-2-3 frame for Marquis. Get a few runs, and this thing just might work out.
Top of the 4th
- Like I said. Quiet gooseggs.
Bottom of the 4th
- Let me put it this way: Marquis threw 24 pitches in the first inning. He's thrown 34 in the three innings since. Sure, he's doing a better job since the Top of the the game, but make no mistake, the Giants are hacking like nobody's business.
Top of the 5th
- Not to pick on Cedeno too much, but he's taken some ridiculous swings in his last few starts. All any pitcher has to do for the rest of the year is chuck the ball at the upper outside quadrant, and he'll corkscrew himself into the ground on consecutive offerings.
Bottom of the 5th
- And that's four consecutive perfect innings for Marquis. I have no idea how to reconcile that information with my world view.
Between Inning Note
- Both teams will see the top of their order to begin the sixth, marking the third time through the order for both clubs. I think we might be looking at the game's most critical juncture. Something's going to happen.
Top of the 6th
- Kosuke looks really bad tonight. I don't know if he's not seeing the ball, or what, but even though Cain is pitching very well, Fukudome's the only guy besides Cedeno who looks like he has absolutely no idea what's going on up there.
- That ball by Lee was scorched. He hasn't been fooled tonight, but so far it's mattered not a bit.
Bottom of the 6th
- Welcome, Fred Lewis, to the first extra base hit of the night. Remember what I said about something happening in this inning?
- And there's the first RBI of the night, courtesy of Randy Winn. This is making me look smarter than I really am.
- Marquis gets a strikeout to end the threat, and I have to admit, I thought I was going to write something about his second walk of the inning to load the bases, but he came back from being down 3-0 and got himself an out and an escape. That said, it certainly looked as if the Giants collectively realized that Marquis wasn't all that good, and that if they waited long enough they'd either get something to drive or win a free trip to nearby sack.
Top of the 7th
- Now we have the Cubs first extra base knock of the night, as Daryl Ward leads off the frame with a double. We're absolutely at the point in the game where some action is necessary to have any shot of pulling this out, so the timing couldn't be better.
- Boy, Edmonds put a charge in that fly-out to center. Off the bat, it looked like he might have added to what's becoming the ever longer list of reasons why it's okay to root for Jimmy, but Aaron Rowand made a nice play to haul it in - even if he did seem to somewhat gratuitously crash into the wall.
- In the end, the only good thing to come out of this inning was pushing Cain over the 100 pitch mark. With the way he's throwing, I doubt that's enough to get him out of there for the 8th, but a fella can hope, can't he?
Bottom of the 7th
- Theoretically learned lessons remain unapplied, as the Giants see eight pitches despite sending four men to the dish. I guess this is what's it's been like to play against the Cubs' offense the last few years.
Top of the 8th
- Cain's just owned the Cubs tonight, and even if Castillo hadn't made the play he did on Mark DeRosa's grounder (and, really, with how out of control his body was, that his throw didn't end up either buried underground or bouncing into the Cove is beyond explanation), I'm confident he would have escaped unharmed. There's just never been a moment when he seemed truly in danger, and that mostly because anything good you got felt a little lucky anyway.
Bottom of the 8th
- Nice job by Bob Howry tonight holding the line, even after Ray Durham's leadoff bloop
single double triple double. With Cain coming out for the Giants' closer, staying within two instead of seeing the deficit expand to three could potentially be huge. Not that it isn't still an uphill climb.
Top of the 9th
- Lee rocked that thing into the gap, and while the Giants aren't likely to pay any attention to him over at third, that he's there at all could potentially be a distraction. Of course, it would help if Daryl Ward did something useful, too.
- Which popping out is not.
- There's one in, as Geo comes through with a solid single to center. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no one's getting fooled much by Wilson tonight.
- Edmonds missed his pitch, so the game belongs to Little Mikey Hottentot, who after two pitches is sitting pretty at 2-0, and doing a nice job of not pressing in this at bat.
- Hottentot swung at ball four, but lucky for the Cubs he put it in an awkward spot for Ray Durham, and Mikey's speed got him safely to first. Now, the game's in Haymarket's hands.
- A valiant at bat by Theriot, but he was finally overpowered. All you can ask in that situation is that your guy doesn't do anything to get himself out, and in fact, Ryan stayed afloat very well in an PA where he was pretty clearly overmatched.
And that's your ballgame. Despite the Giants not being a good team, this is a loss I can live with. The Cubs stuck to their game plan all night, making Cain work even though he clearly had his A+ game, but when a good pitcher has his best stuff, sometimes you just have to tip your hat, and this was definitely one of those times.
Tonight is a big game, because Thursday has a chance to look an awful lot like last night, with arguably the best pitcher in the league taking the bump, in Tim Lincecum, so any realistic shot at a split hinges on this evening's results. Let's get that thing done, boys!
The Miracle Elixir
Last night was a soothing balm for what ails a fella. It was the first game after the last game of interleague play - which is, for me, always the most surreal and ridiculously stressful point of the season - it was a contest taking place in one of the most beautiful settings in baseball, and it was, after a week-long period of exceedingly poor play, a rock solid game for the Cubs from top to bottom, and on the road to boot.
If there was one blemish on the face of fun, it was the horror of the West Coast Start Time, which leads poor souls in later time-zones down a bleary-eyed path from which those of us over the age of 30 will likely not recover for a series of weeks. Even ditching the game early, as I did, results in a failure to retain useful consciousness for days on end.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I made the ultimate rookie mistake - staying up late enough to feel the pain of my actions, without actually getting through the entire game. There's a point of no return that I had clearly passed well before I abandoned watching after the top of the seventh, but the constant nodding of my head and the day's early wake-up call - my daughter rose at 5:15 yesterday, having slept straight through the night after conking out in the car 12 hours earlier - made it all seem like a good idea at the time. Therefore, I missed what was essentially the fun of piling on when Mark DeRose hit his second bomb of the night.
What I didn't miss was a great all-around game by the team, and the bit of wipe-my-brow relief that the Cubs didn't make a full-throated pursuit of Barry Zito two winters ago. I'd anticipated being able to handle him ably, considering this year's blissfully realized patience, but I have a hard time seeing any team failing to take the free passes he was offering.
If it wasn't clear enough from his performance what a mess he is, his demeanor on the mound would tell the entire tale. I'd have to confirm with an A's fan, but my impression of Zito has never been of a visibly frustrated, at his wit's end individual, but he was that in spades all night long, and justifiably so. He clearly hasn't a clue how to fix his issues, and while I haven't seen him pitch often, the strain looks to be showing in a big way.
But that's all to the good for us in the blue and red. Now we just need a little good work from the offense against Matt Cain - who's likely to be a damn sight better than last night's draw - along with something resembling usefulness from Jason Marquis, and we'll have a clenched split on our hands. I'll take that baby step in a heartbeat.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com