Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Crazy Eights
2006-05-11 08:18
by Derek Smart

The Cubs scored 8 runs, snapping their 8 game losing streak in Carlos Zambrano's 8th start of the season. I think it's fitting that the end of this string of horror coincided with Z ditching his victory goose egg, and while it doesn't give me fresh hope for any long-term positives, it at least takes some of the stink off the last couple of weeks.

  • Early on, I was afraid it would be a contest like the ones the Cubs seem to have with the Reds, where the two teams just beat each other bloody until someone goes down in a heap of hits and bullpen attrition. Zambrano had big problems finding the strike zone, and it looked for sure like it was going to eventually catch up to him.

    Yet, after walking five through four innings, Z didn't give up another free pass, and only allowed two singles in his remaining four frames. It also took him only 43 pitches to get through those last four innings, versus the 67 he tossed in the first four.

    Even so, I think the key for Carlos was the second inning, where he had men on second and third with nobody out yet managed to escape unharmed, partly because he threw well, partly because he was lucky enough to have Matt Cain around to make the first out, and partly because John Mabry and Henry Blanco combined for an excellent play at the plate for the second out.

    From then on, although there was another threat in the fourth, Carlos was a different pitcher, simply looking more confident that he could make it though the outing. Hopefully, he realizes that it's these nights - the ones where you have to work like hell just to get by, and adjust to what's working for you at the moment - that make a Cy Young pitcher, not the 20% where you've got your A-game.

  • Interesting that Dusty decided to "demote" Pierre to the two-hole last night, although I'd argue that simply swapping spots between the guys who were one and two has as much significance as changing the leg on which your swine wears its pearl bracelet. Still, it "worked" - or rather, the results changed, whatever the cause - so I'm guessing you'll be seeing the same configuration until Pierre starts to hit more consistently.

    Which brings us to the undeniable positive that Pierre did, in fact, hit the ball hard on two occasions last night, both of which resulted in hits. There's no discounting the one that bounced off Matt Cain's leg, either, because that was clearly ticketed for center field if his ankle hadn't intervened. Those are the type of swings the Cubs paid dearly in talent and treasure for, and those are the kind of swings that Pierre must have if he has any hope of being effective.

  • Speaking of Pierre, I understand that the Giants' fans were disappointed Tuesday night when Mr. Bonds' historic potential dinger was brought back into the park by the Cubs' center fielder, and there's a part of me that's even willing to cut them a bit of slack for booing that night when Pierre next came to the plate, but booing him the following game too? That's just silly.

    The man made a nice play on a hard hit ball that would have cleared the fence without his intervention, but just because it would have left the yard doesn't mean that it was entitled to leave the yard. I won't go so far as to call the booing classless (I'm still hoping it was at least a little tongue-in-cheek), but I would hope that if Cub fans were in a similar situation that they would register their disappointment in a different manner.

  • They were talking on the broadcast last night about guys on the team who maybe work a little too hard on things, and Matt Murton's name came up. I think "work" was an unfortunate choice of words, and I believe what Gene Clines (from whom this information came) meant was that Murton is a guy who will "think" a little too hard. I'll explain.

    I have some personal experience in this realm, not from the strictly baseball sense, but from the angle of "performance." When I was acting, one of my biggest issues was that I would "think" too much, meaning that rather than getting to a point where the work was done and I could let the performance happen organically, I would be constantly tinkering in the moment, listening to myself, judging the quality of line readings as they were coming out, instead of simply doing and letting it go. I was, to use a sports term, getting in my own way.

    I think there's a similar thing going on with Murton at the moment, who seems to be working so hard to get his approach and swing "right" that he's not able to settle in, get comfortable, and simply react to the ball. His brain's getting in the way of his body, and as such, the quality of his work, particularly in the area of power production, has gone down.

    Murton's got good skills, and his approach has usually been very good, so I have every confidence that if he'll simply get out of the way and let things come to him, he'll be much better off. Of course, I can tell you from experience, that's much easier said than done.

The Cubs could actually win a series this afternoon, which would be quite the switcheroo. All they need is for Sean Marshall to continue to be solid, and to somehow break the spell of Jamey Wright, who I found out, thanks to Dave Pinto's fabulous pitching comparison tool, has the fifth best ERA against the Cubs for pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings against them since 1996 (3.35 is his figure, and if you click on the link, you'll see some really interesting names). It would be a small step - a very small step - but it would, at least, be in the right direction.

2006-05-11 08:44:27
1.   JMan
I can relate on the thinking. As a current actor-in-training it's hard to get up on stage and let the tools take over. You learn so many different things from iambic pintameter to pitchi changes that it's hard to step aside and not "think" about what you should do next.
I would think Murton is doing the same thing. When he gets in certain counts he might be standing at the plate trying to remember what he has been taught on how to handle a certain count. But he seems smart enough and if he is working as much as it seems eventually the light will click and he'll hopefully go on a tear. Much like last year when he started hitting more HRs towards the end of the season.
2006-05-11 09:55:51
2.   operablogger
Tough decision - the more the Cubs lose, the greater the chance that Dust-Ball will be gone next year. In a way it's like hoping your football team will have a crappy enough season to get a higher draft pick for the following season. A veritable Hobson's Choice, as it were.
2006-05-11 11:11:05
3.   underdog
Just a Dodgers fan chiming in here (excuse the interruption) - just wanted to say I'm rooting for the Cubs today, natch, and hope the win is accompanied by Bonds' 714th. Because I'm going to the Dodgers-Giants game on Saturday and even though it would be "historic" to say I saw that home run, I can't tell you how torturous it would be to see it live as a Dodgers fan. (Though if it came in a game LA won I wouldn't feel nearly as bad.) So go Cubs! Win 8-1.
2006-05-11 11:34:41
4.   Derek Smart
JMan, where are you going to school? BFA? MFA? I'm a DePaul guy, (MFA) myself.

operablogger, a belated welcome from the last thread. I understand what you're saying, but much as I'd like to see Dusty gone, I have a hard time rooting for the club to lose. It's just against my nature, especially when there are still so many excuses (whether you buy them or not) for the organization NOT to fire him. If I'm going to go through the misery of losing, I want some sort of guarantee of pending action.

underdog, I understand the sentiment, and I thank you for the rooting interest. However, bear in mind that if you don't have a chance to see Bonds tie Ruth, you could instead have a chance to see him pass Ruth. I'm not sure which is more significant, but neither would be pleasant for you, I imagine. ;)

2006-05-11 11:35:26
5.   underdog
Okay, 8-2 Cubs, then! ;-) Yeah, good point. Either way, I have to watch Aaron Sele start, so it might be pleasant for me anyway.
2006-05-11 11:35:49
6.   underdog
Might not be pleasant, that is.
2006-05-11 13:45:14
7.   JMan
I'm going to a local studio, no university for me. I attend at CAS, down in Wicker Park. It's different in that there is no "homework" but if you put the work in you'll get the results. So it's for self-motivators, which is hard to find amongst the acting community.

so much for the 8-2 score going against the Giants.
I can't root for the Cubs to win but the more they play like this the more I root for Hendry to do something gutsy and remove Baker from his managerial duties. But the injury excuse is Baker's Ace in the hole.

2006-05-11 14:13:37
8.   bbomer
What I want to know is, how did Dusty win before he came to the Cubs? Were his teams just that much better than what what he has had with the Cubs? IOW his teams were so much better that no matter what he did to mismanage them, they continued to win anyway?
2006-05-14 17:30:44
9.   ABC
I fail to see any injury excuse for Dusty Baker. Were this team playing .500 ball or even just under it then, yeah, maybe. Not the way this team is playing, however. You simply cannot look at this offense that is scoring just over 2 runs per game and blame 2+ runs of offense being lost per game on Derrek Lee no matter how good he may be. That's a statistical impossibility. Nobody is that good.

It's clear as day what this team's offensive problems are at this point in my opinion. Juan Pierre and Aramis Ramirez. Pierre NEVER gets on base and when someone is in scoring position Ramirez NEVER drives him in. That's what both of them are getting paid to do...get on base for JP and drive them in for Ramirez.

The excuse Hendry may see for not firing Dusty is that his trade for Pierre has completely bombed. The guy has lost a step or 3 and is no longer beating out the plethora of infield hoppers he's used to beating out. Thus, his average drops. And his on-base, too.

I don't believe that line of thinking for Hendry is valid in any way, shape or form, but I can see Hendry sitting in his office right now and saying to himself, "Man, JP just can't get on base and I can't fire Dusty because we have a horrible leadoff hitter that I acquired." It doesn't explain the lack of production from Ramirez, Walker, Murton, and even Michael Barrett though.

Dusty Baker is not the biggest problem for the 2006 Cubs. That honor goes to Jim Hendry for fielding a team more resembling the 95-loss Cubs teams that we've seen all too often than one that can contend. This team had little chance from the beginning to contend even if all were healthy and the fact that they haven't been healthy makes it nearly impossible. It also makes it highly likely that this team fails to win even 70 games.

This team is going to get worse come mid-July if that's even possible once they trade away some of the pieces they currently have that someone else may want on their team. A 69-93 season seems hopeful to me at thsi point. 100 losses are not out of the question. If Murton continues to struggle against righties and the Cubs somehow find someone willing to take on Jones' contract and Cedeno continues to struggle, then, yeah, this is a 100 loss team.

And it only took $100 million to accomplish. $1 million per loss. Not bad.

Following Hendry on the blame chart must be the players themselves. There's no reason that a player can't get motivated to go do his job without being motivated by someone else. This team lacks the motivation and I don't believe that's Dusty's fault. I believe it's the players' fault. They have not lived up to expectations and there really is nobody to blame for that but themselves.

Dusty Baker isn't without blame. He's just actually 3rd on the depth chart. His double-switching and sacrifice bunting techniques need some serious help. Overall, I doubt he's cost the Cubs more than 5-6 runs or 1/2 of a loss with his absurd managerial style.

That being said, Dusty must go. That's what happens when teams play like the Cubs do. The manager loses his job. There's absolutely no excuse for Dusty not being fired at this point.

2006-05-14 17:35:53
10.   ABC
Sorry for the rambling...

Dusty had Barry Bonds in San Francisco. He also showed, year after year, that he could actually get the most out of the veterans that played for him. And not sure what this means to be honest, but if you look at his expected W-L records based on runs scored vs. runs allowed he almost always ended the season with more wins than was expected of his team. In fact, over the 10 years he managed in SF, if memory serves, he was +11 in that respect (somebody can recheck that if they'd like...I may be remembering something different altogether), but that averages out to more than +1 per season, which is higher than some of the best managers in history. No idea what that number indicates. I'm guessing it has more to do with bullpen strength than anything, but it is interesting. Since coming to the Cubs he's been had 2 seasons of not reaching the expected win-loss record based on runs scored vs. runs allowed. His streak continued from SF to Chicago in 2003 though and we all remember how fortunate that team was at times.

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