Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: September 2008


2008-09-20 10:08
by Phil Bencomo

After one batter, the magical sheen melted away. There would be no repeat performance, perhaps not even a scoreless first frame.

After two, mortality (and reality with it, perhaps), with its infecting weaknesses in tow, reared its head, gnashed its teeth and bellowed to announce its presence.

And after three, it was clear as a clock tower's chime: an August pumpkin he was, and, after an unforgettable game, a pumpkin Carlos Zambrano became again.

* * * *

Many reasons, physical and psychological, have been bandied about as cause for Zambrano's horrific no-hitter followup. Fatigue, injury, pressure, distraction ... the list grows long. In one week, we've seen both the best and worst of Zambrano. The real Carlos stands somewhere in between, but in October toward which pole will he lean?

* * * *

The Cubs' options are myriad, but I'd give Carlos a few extra days of rest before his final regular season start, which should be time enough to work through his struggles and rest up for October. Extra rest did wonders Sunday, and could straighten Zambrano out again, if not to quite the same effect.

* * * *

The magic number sits at one. Ted Lilly's on the mound. Just clinch it, boys.

Cardinals at Cubs, 2:55 p.m.

Magic Countdown: 4 - Holding Pattern Edition
2008-09-18 06:54
by Derek Smart

While I have no affinity for losing ballgames, we've reached one of those rare points in a competetive season where the results on a particular night don't cause massive swings in my glee-to-agita ratio.  Hopefully, in a couple few days, we'll see the Cubs get enough done to make the remaining September contests irrelevant, at least beyond auditioning relievers for playoff roster spots.

And, really, if there's anything the last two nights have done to increase the weight of the impending doom I already naturally carry in my emotional napsack, it's been what might be casually referred to as "the bridge to the eighth".  Namely, that at the momemnt, there doesn't seem to be one.

Two nights ago, after Ryan Dempster pitched well through six but had to use up all his bullets to get there, Bob Howry got an out in seventh before getting yanked after a walk.  Some of that was Lou bringing in Neal Cotts to get Ray Durham turned around, but some of that was just not being willing to let Howry completely blow up.  As we've all seen, he's been terrible for weeks now, and if you're going to risk bringing him in to begin with, you have to be willing to pull him at the first sign of trouble.  This wouldn't have happened if Lou had another middle reliever beyond Marmol whom he trusted, but he doesn't, so he's left to mash up the way he did on Tuesday.

This, for me, points up the importance of getting Chad Gaudin healthy and ready to go before the postseason begins.  With Howry's long implosion, and the recent troubles of Touchdown Jesus, there's simply no one else Lou feels comfortable turning to when his starter can't get into the seventh, and understandably so.  If Gaudin comes back healthy and ready to pick up where he left off, that changes, and the pen becomes a positive again (yes, even with Wood's recent struggles - I'm honestly not concerned about it). 

If Gaudin can't come back, or can't do so effectively, Lou needs to seriously consider using Sean Marshall in that role.  I know Lou want's to be able to use him against lefties, but there's no reason to hold him out for that when he's probably you're best bullpen pitcher outside of Marmol/Wood.

But, again, that's why finishing the division race as soon as possible is so important - it's time to figure out what your best playoff roster looks like, and the sooner you guarantee your slot, the sooner you can find your guys.

Magic Countdown: 4
2008-09-17 06:12
by Derek Smart

The subtitle on the novelized version is: Cubs 2, CC 0.

The one thing the Brewers have been able to count on since acquiring CC Sabathia has been a victory on the day he pitched.  Sadly for the Brewers and their fans, the only two times that hasn't been the case have both been when they could least afford it: against the Cubs.

What I'm curious to see over the next two days is if the same sort of downward spiral occurs for Milkwaukee in this series, as occurred in the four-game drubbing they received at the Cubs' hands up north in August.  Both sets began with tight games featuring the best pitching the Crew had to offer.  Both of those hard-faught contests went the Cubs' way, and last time around, the Men of Beer folded in the aftermath.

In the end, it doesn't matter much, at least as far as the Cubs' fortunes are concerned.  Even as an ever cynical fan, always looking out for whatever possible failure lurks around the next corner, I have to admit that this thing is as good as done.  Glancing at the BP PECOTA-based playoff odds this morning, I saw the number all the way up to 99.99767, which means that the simulations had roughly 23 instances where the Cubs did not make the playoffs.  Out of 1,000,000.  Is it a for sure, for sure thing?  Mathmatically, no, but considering the machinations that would have to occur between at least four different teams - that includes the Cubs - for such a horror show to occur, and really, I think it's okay to start thinking about how the postseason lines up.

Of course, the quicker this gets wrapped up, the quicker guys like Lee, Ramirez and Soto can start getting some extended rest.  Get this done on Thursday, and you can let Z and Harden throw two or three innings in each of their next starts, just to stay sharp and get their feet wet, while keeping them fresh.  Finish it tomorrow, and Marmol and Wood can relax a bit while you sort out the last spot or two for your playoff bullpen.  End it before the week is out, and Fukudome can get some sorely needed at bats to hopefully get right before the stage gets exponentially larger.

First things first, though, as tonight features a less than favorable matchup between Ben Sheets and Jason Marquis.  I won't say anything nice about Marquis here, because I haven't in forever and, near as I can tell, his performance has been the better for it.  So, I say unto you Jason, that your mother was a hampster, and your father reeks of elderberries.

Now, go out there tonight and make that number 2, boys!

Magic Countdown: 6
2008-09-16 05:08
by Derek Smart

Ted Lilly brushed History's cheek yesterday.  He'd always had a crush on her and hoped, this one time, she'd finally reciprocate, but the moment was awkward, the timing somehow wrong, and she said,

"Oh, Ted...I'm very flattered.  You're such a great guy.  I mean, you always carry my books, and you walk me home, and you listen to me complain about how people make fun of me repeating myself, and you always carry my books, and whenever some football player is trying to make a pass at me, you give him that look...[shivers]...and they...never...bother me again.  Sometimes they just disappear altogether........ 

But, you see, we just don't have know?  I mean, you're a great guy, and a great friend...I hope we can stay friends, you know?...and any girl would be lucky to have you....I'm just not that girl, Ted."

So, Ted settled for one awkward moment and the Astro's heads in his freezer, the end.


There's a chance, now, for the Cubs to finish this thing off in dramatic, emphatic fashion, and today's contest is the one that will set the tone - not just because you can't sweep a series without winning the first game, but also because it's "CC Day".

I think you'll see one of two things tonight:

1) The Brewers, after having been swept in Philiadelphia, falling into a tie for the NL Wildcard, watching their division rivals celebrate a no-hitter in their stadium, and seeing their manager get fired yesterday, will come out like desperate, wounded tigers and give the Cubs all, or more, than they can handle.

2) The Brewers, with all the preamble in point #1, will whither and die a sad, pitiful death.

Either way, this series could, and should, be the beginning of the end to the division race, and if the Cubs come out tonight and get the job done, I think Thursday will be cork-popping day at Wrigley.

You Knew It Would Be Him
2008-09-14 20:10
by Derek Smart

People have been saying for several years now that if anyone was primed to take the "last Cub no-hitter" mantle from Milt Pappas, it was Carlos Zambrano.  No Cub starter in recent memory has gone to the mound with ridiculous stuff more often than Big Z, so logically, it was just a matter of having a day where he had both control and filth working for him, allowing for both the prevention of meaningful contact, and the completion of nine innings in under 500 pitches.

Tonight, the stars alligned, fate smiled - whatever, pick your own hackneyed phrase.  Carlos threw his no-hitter, doing it in a nice, tight, 110 pitches, putting to rest for at least one night any lingering questions about the state of his shoulder. 

He got it done by keeping the ball either on the ground, or in Geovany Soto's mitt, forcing 13 goundball outs while whiffing 10.  It was a thoroughly dominant performance, so much so that if the Cubs were to find themselves in possession of a clinched division title by week's end, were I Lou Piniella, I'd have to think very seriously about skipping Z's final scheduled start altogether.  Certainly, if the division is, indeed, in hand by then the start will at least be treated as a two or three inning tune-up, but seeing the results garnered with extended, uninterrupted rest, the option of keeping him completely out should at least be considered.

But enough about that.  Big Z just threw a no-hitter, folks, so crack open a beverage and smile. 

Simple Math: A Programming Note
2008-09-14 18:48
by Phil Bencomo

Flooded basement = no posting for a few days.

2008-09-11 16:45
by Phil Bencomo

If every Cub played like this (skip to the 1:00 mark), the Cubs would be despised by every team in the league, but they'd win, and win often.

There's nothing to do but praise Lilly's intensity and hope his play yesterday on the mound and basepaths snaps the club out of its daze.

* * * *

As Bob already mentioned over at The Griddle, the opening two games of the Cubs' weekend series in Houston have been postponed due to Hurricane Ike.

* * * *

John Hodgman on 9/11: "I am only humbled: to be here, to be alive."

* * * *

Cubs at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m.

'That's What You Gotta Do. Period'
2008-09-10 15:10
by Phil Bencomo

Piniella vents:

"I know we're trying. I've got no complaints about with the effort. But you've got to get the job done!" ...

Here's the story from the Sun-Times, with accompanying audio.

Cub fans concur. Just win.

* * * *

Cubs at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m.

Adventures in Ineptitude
2008-09-09 16:40
by Phil Bencomo

Both mine and the Cubs' of late, that is.

Starting with the former:

Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto has been named the August recipient of the National League Rookie of the Month Award presented by Gillette.

In 24 games in August, Soto hit .355 (27-76) with 17 runs, five doubles, a triple, three home runs and 21 RBI. ... [link]

Again proving my late-2007 predictions markedly wrong about Soto.

In my defense, I must add that, prior to his breakout 2007 (his third season at Triple-A, mind), Soto had never posted better than a .750 OPS in any minor league season. I still say my doubts were justified.

But being wrong sure feels nice.

* * * *

Funny how losing seems so foreign after five months of greatness. If nothing else, the recent poor play is a bitter swig of reality. Are the Cubs infallible? No. But they're still a damned good team. It's time to right the ship, boys, and remind the league why you've got 86 wins.

* * * *

I've no idea if there's even the slightest interest in this, but I'm going to start 'em anyway, if only to keep me posting something every day during the season: Game threads.

Discuss to your heart's content.

Cubs at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m.

Given and Taken Away
2008-09-08 16:30
by Phil Bencomo

If lacked any sort of self-control, I'd spill hundreds of furious words lambasting the paradoxical Ronny Cedeno -- so good at times and maddeningly bad at others.

But, lucky for you, dear reader, I've got my temper in check. Yesterday was another story, but today it's sitting chastised in my mental backyard. And where does that leave me? Scatterbrained, really.

For one, I can't get this vision out of my head of Cedeno as some sort of wrath-filled and mythic god: He giveth and He hath taken away. Appease him, and fear his vengeance. It's comical in a way, but I feel wrong, masochistic almost, snickering as the Cubs stumble on October's doorstep.

* * * *

But for all the blame Cedeno deserves, don't forget who loaded the bases before the shortstop's gaffe.

* * * *

I try to read the Cub news from all of the big daily papers, if only to get a fuller picture of games I couldn't watch.

Case in point (though I did see this game), which is entirely nit-picky, and hardly worth mentioning, but caught my eye nonetheless:

... Cedeno misplayed a tough-hop bouncer toward second that should have been a game-ending double play.

That's how the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer described Cedeno's torturous ninth-inning miscue.

"Tough-hop"? Anyone who watched the game will tell you: Cedeno should have made the play, and it wasn't any "tough-hop" grounder that prevented him (as Wittenmyer implies) -- it was Cedeno, in a typical mental miscue, thinking about stepping on second and turning two before the ball even settled into his glove.

Bruce Miles, though he stopped short of rightfully calling out Cedeno, provided a far more apt description in this Daily Herald piece:

Wood walked Javier Valentin to load the bases. Pinch hitter Chris Dickerson then bounced one up the middle. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno reached up, got his glove on the ball but couldn't make the play as the ball skittered away.

Originally, the play was scored an error that allowed 2 runs to score, but the scorer later changed his mind and generously gave Dickerson a double.

No mention of a tough hop. Why? Because that's how Cedeno, trying to avert blame, described it in the aforelinked Daily Herald article:

"I think it's a really tough play; it's a tough hop," Cedeno said. "I'm not trying to do too much, because if I get to the ball, it's going to be the same. It's going to be a tough out, too.

End unnecessary rant.

* * * *

More tomorrow.

Take It Easy
2008-09-03 07:55
by Phil Bencomo

A four-game skid isn't something you welcome with open arms, but it isn't the end of the world either.

Every team has its ups and downs -- what team, during the 6-month-long season, doesn't? The Cubs are not alone. The team has not drifted into uncharted seas. For that matter, it's already sailed these rough waters this season, during the second half of June.

Beginning June 17 against Tampa Bay, the Cubs lost eight of 12 games. The club was twice swept in a three-game series, and for the first time in 2008 lost four consecutive games. But it wasn't a sure sign of impending doom then, and it isn't now. Since June, even with the recent losses, the Cubs have gone 35-21. There's no reason to believe they won't straighten themselves out again.

* * * *

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano will be examined on Wednesday after leaving his start because of soreness in his right arm.


"He told our pitching coach he wasn't feeling good," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after Tuesday's game. "He went up with the trainer, and he'll see Dr. [Stephen] Gryzlo tomorrow, and we'll know more by then."


"If he can pitch, he'll pitch, and if he can't, we'll put [Sean] Marshall in the rotation and go from there," Piniella said. "That's the end of it."

Nothing more from the Cubs this morning.


Rich Harden's next start won't be until next week when the Cubs travel to St. Louis, an extended break that general manager Jim Hendry said was planned for when they acquired the right-handed pitcher.

With the Cubs sitting pretty, there's no need to push Harden or Zambrano. It would take a monumental collapse for the Cubs not to make the playoffs. Even a 12-11 record over the last 23 gives the team 97 wins. Maybe it costs the Cubs a few regular season wins, but I'd like the Cubs' power arms healthy and rested at month's end.