View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003



September 2011



Game 153 – The Basket Giveth, and the Basket Taketh Away

Written by , Posted in General

Astros 3, Cubs 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Starlin Castro led off he game with hit number 195 on the season, a double to left field.  Barring another educational benching by Mike Quade, he’s got 9 games left to get 5 more hits–not a sure thing, but very likely since he’s reached safely in the last 31 games.
  • Aramis Ramirez came off the bench in the eighth to hit a sac fly that scored Darwin Barney, giving the Cubs their second run.  At the time it looked like the beginning of a game-winning rally.  In the end, it was just another productive at-bat for a dynamic hitter who might be playing out his last days in a Cubs uniform.  I have to assume that the dominoes will start falling soon after the season for this Cubs team.  The new GM’s first moves will probably involve decisions on Ramirez and Carlos Pena.  If these really are Ramirez’s last days at Wrigley Field, I hope the Cubs fans show him the appropriate levels of love and gratitude.

What Went Wrong

  • The Cubs only took one walk today–Castro in the eighth.  Because when you’re getting dominated by a starting pitcher and you’ve had trouble scoring runs all year long, by all means, swing away.
  • If you watched the game or the highlights, you already saw the Pena home run that wasn’t.  If you didn’t yet, what you need to know is that Pena hit a long double that appeared to be a home run, bouncing out the basket and back onto the field.  At first, the umpires adamantly ruled it a home run, telling Pena to continue on from second base, where he had stopped.  Only after the Astros ‘ manager complained did they head in to look at the replay.  Upon review, it was clear the ball hit off the front edge of the basket.  The real bummer is that they ordered Castro–who had been on first base–back to third, taking the tying AND go-ahead runs back off the board.  Quade came out to argue the call and got himself ejected from the game.  The rain delay began after Marlon Byrd flew out to end the inning and the possible rally.  I almost never leave Cubs games early, even during the worst beatings, but all that plus the hour-long rain delay might have been enough for me to hit the road.
  • Ryan Dempster lost his fifth decision in a row.  I like Dempster, but I think his best days are far behind him–or at least his best days for the Cubs.  A three-run deficit wouldn’t be nearly as big a problem for a team that scores early and often.  But for our anemic bats, it presents more of a threat.  Dempster pitched well enough for the next six innings, but it didn’t make a difference.  I can’t help but think he’d be better off with a team that could climb back from an early deficit and make a game out of it, and that the Cubs might be better off taking a chance on a young arm they could develop (you know, if we ever did that kind of thing any more).
  • Just a quick thought about Mike Quade’s ejection.  I don’t often agree with Quade, but in this case I think I would have done pretty much the same thing he did.  First of all, I’m not sure what he could have said to umpire Marty Foster to get himself thrown out so abruptly, but it certainly looked unwarranted to me.  Regardless of what he said to the ump though, his frustration resonates with me.  There’s something unsatisfyingly arbitrary about how runners are assigned to bases in those instances.  You can make a reasonable case for Castro scoring from first on the play, and an equally reasonable one for him stopping at third.  What’s frustrating is that the game came down to a judgement call like that instead of an actual play.  It would have been nice if the Cubs had wrestled the outcome back out of the umps’ hands, but we’re just not that kind of team this year.
  • And just to be clear, the basket is not to blame here.  I’ve written recently about my love for the bleachers at Wrigley, and certainly the basket is an indivisible part of the bleacher experience.  I’ve seen small children and even grown men fall into it for the sake of securing a baseball.  I once saw a drunk guy drop himself out of the bleachers and land on he warning track on his head before getting up and humorously eluding the security staff.  When I was a kid, we once reached down through the basket, trimmed off a small piece of the ivy and nurtured it all the way back to California on the dashboard of our car (back home it briefly sprouted before dying off completely).  So you won’t hear any “Let’s tear down the basket!” knee-jerk reactions from me.  Any longtime Cubs fan will tell you it results in far more home runs than it might cost us.  I love it–even if it kinda hosed us today.

The Takeaway

Castro’s race for 200 hits; the future of Old Man LaHair and the kids; and what could be Aramis Ramirez’s final days in a Cubs uniform–there’s still at least a couple good reasons to watch these last few weeks of the season.  Go Cubs!

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Mark Melancon (.388 WPA)

2nd Star – Brett Myers (.209 WPA)

3rd Star – Darwin Barney (.148 WPA)

  • Jedi

    Nicely done…and weren’t there two outs at Pena’s double? All the more reason – I can hardly conceive of a double on which Castro wouldn’t score from first with two outs.

  • Katie

    My security word was “monster”, which naturally led me to think of Boston and the Green Monster, and how challenging it is to hit home runs over that thing. We can be glad as Cubs fans that we don’t have that thing impeding our (weak, anemic, etc) hitters’ chances of home runs. Comparing the two, the basket at Wrigley is kind of pathetic, but people still complain about it and want to take it down. Do Boston fans complain about the Monster? Probably a little bit, but it is what makes Fenway, Fenway. I agree with you, Jeremiah, that it is a little bit nostalgic.

    Also, “Old Man LaHair”. That’s a good one right there.

  • Buddy

    The monster also gives hitters plenty of homers, as it’s not very far from home plate. High fly balls that would be outs in other parks sail over the monster. Regarding Castro, is 200 hits really that big of a deal to Cubs fans? I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I don’t see why it’s become some magic milestone. If he finished with 199 hits would his year look different to Castro fans?

  • Randy

    Castro should have been allowed to score, the only reason he slowed at third was that the umpires called it a home run. Quade was very justified in pitching a fit, a botched call cost us the game in this case. I question pinch hitting for Campana with Barney on third and Castro on first with no outs. Seems like a perfect spot for a little squeeze. It worked out with the Ramirez sac fly, but I’d have much rather have had him swinging for Byrd two batters later.

  • Randy

    I think it’s a matter of perspective for Castro and the Cubs fans for him to reach 200 hits. Unfortunately I’m skeptical for his long term ability, he doesn’t take enough pitches, and his pitch selection is hideous. Eventually advanced scouting is going to catch up with him, and pitchers are going to figure out where he’ll swing and miss. He isn’t like Ramirez where mistake pitches get crushed and are thoroughly punished. He needs to learn a little patience, take two to three times as many walks, and drive the ball when a pitcher gives you a gift. I also don’t really like him in a lead-off role, and would much rather see him batting second.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Isn’t 200 hits one of those milestones for a good season?
    .300 avg
    30 HR
    200 hits
    100 RBI
    20 wins
    200 K’s
    Castro is still only 21…he’s made some improvements this season, and of course needs to continue to improve. but he’s hit .300 each of his first 2 seasons, and tripled his HR total this season. Let’s compare him to other young shortstops, not A-Ram…who at age 21 put up a .179/.254/.250in 56 AB’s for the Pirates.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Also, while I also believe Castro would have scored on Pena’s double, the rule is 2 bases from the time of the pitch, so they made the correct call.

  • Randy

    The comparison was between free swingers, one who has gotten away with it his entire career, and one who doesn’t have the make up to get away with it forever. I think Castro is a great talent, and he’s going to be a very good player. The problem is that his weak spots are the hardest things to teach, patience and defense.

  • Jedi

    Dusty – that would be true of a ground rule double. But when a home run is reversed to be a double, the umpires have a bit more latitude for the placement of a runner. At least that’s how I’ve heard it repeatedly interpreted.

  • Norm

    I’d disagree that Castro’s pitch selection is hideous.
    He doesn’t walk because he makes so much contact, not because he’s swinging at pitches out of the zone.
    As for his power, he’s only 21 years old. Not many 21 year old hitters have 20 home runs.
    In fact, in the last 30 years, there have been 19 times a 20 or 21 year old has hit 20 homers.
    There have been just 29 times of 15 or more homers from a 20 or 21 year old.
    He’s a special hitter that I think can get by with not walking because of his excellent contact rate.

  • Castro gives every indication of a guy who understands that he can be better and he wants to be better (and he continues to get better).

    All of my life I have heard about how difficult baseball is to learn to play. Just looking at the structure of it (how many minor league levels are there?) compared to basketball and football implies a long learning curve.

    But reading this blog one would never guess that. The guy’s 21 and doesn’t take enough walks, his future is dim. If the Cubs ever get serious about having an organization committed to player development maybe something will come of some of these young players.

    In the meantime, Castro looks like he has a shot at developing whether the Cubs make that commitment or not. I for one am happy to sit back and watch.

  • Buddy

    I agree with Norm in that certain hitters can get by with crappy pitch selection because of freaky contact ability. Vlad Guererro, Kirby Puckett, and Willie McGee are three who quickly come to mind. I also think his power will develop, probably very soon. The Cubs have a special talent in Castro, whether he walks or not.

  • Doc Raker

    Certainly a goat screw call from the baseball Gods, if the umps call it properly in the first place Castro scores. I heard it on the radio, Keith Moreland was 100% absolutely positive it was a home run. He read the home run sponsor ad and was adamant that it was a home run. I got out of the car and ran an errand came back to the car and it was still 3-2 bad guys, Keith was wrong. Maybe we get that call next year when it matters, or in 2016 when it will matter again.

  • Eddie Von White

    Nice write-up Jeremiah. As far as 200 hits go – milestones are good motivators. 200 sounds way better than 199 and in our statistic crazy world, you will never see a stat with the names of those in the 199 hit club.

  • Buddy

    I guess that’s my point Eddie. It’s arbitrary. So, do fans care about such things?

  • As soon as they called that ball yard, the play is dead. If they had called it a ground ruling off of the bat, the runners were to be at 2nd and 3rd. The reason Q rolled out all pissed off was due to the judgment that *should have sent Castro home…but that is completely up to the umps. They can only cite Pena and Castro slowing down, and going into 2nd and 3rd respectively. I can’t blame them, but Quade needed to get tossed for the ruling regardless.

  • Eddie Von White

    Probably not, Buddy. When a batter comes up to bat I look at his average, not his total hits, but we tend to pick up on what the commentators constantly remind us of.

  • Larry Sproul

    Another game that should have been a W . Maybe next year…

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Buddy, I’m not one who usually cheers for individual stat milestones, so in another season, with a different player, I’m probably right there with you.

    I’d also agree that coming up one or two shy of the 200 mark wouldn’t make me think any less of Castro.

    And I don’t expect the chase to 200 hits means as much to every Cubs fan–especially not the ones who don’t like Castro.

    But it’s been a long, long time since we played a meaningful game, and I’d like for there to be more to take away from this season than just the firing of Jim Hendry. If it takes 200 hits to get Castro some more national recognition, then 200 hits is what I’ll root for.

  • You find me a Cubs fan who doesn’t like Castro; I’ll find you someone who is not a genuine Cubs fan, and not a genuine fan of baseball in general.

  • Noah

    Also, it’s fairly likely that Castro will walk more as he develops more power. After hitting 2 HRs in his first 400 PAs so far, Castro’s hit 7 in 276 PAs since the break. As a result of that, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Castro in the 15-20 range next season. He’s also walked in 6.2% of his PAs since the break compared to just 4% of PAs prior to the break. 6.2% isn’t great, but it’s definitely survivable for someone with Castro’s contact skills.

    I must say I’d also be curious if you could slice up Castro’s year defensively, how much of his negative defensive numbers (-1.6 dWAR from BR, -11.6 UZR/150) stem from the first month or month and a half of the season, and how much has resulted from after that point. I just don’t know anywhere to find defensive splits.

  • Buddy

    I’ll be thrilled if Castro ever gets his walk rate to 10 percent.

  • Pretty sure Dunston was walking roughly “a” percent in the mid 90s. Things could be worse.

  • chris in Illinois

    Agree with Norm here, Castro doesn’t really swing at a lot of bad pitches and makes great contact. Where I think he’ll improve is letting some borderline strikes pass him by (some strikes still aren’t good pitches to hit), waiting for a pitch/mistake to hit hard. I also would like to see him walk at least 10% of the time as well which I think will come once he hits 15 homers or so…
    I think he could end up with a Molitor type career—-look it up.

  • Buddy

    I loved Shawon at the time, but looking back he really wasn’t very good. That guy was an out-making machine if there ever was one (career onbase of .296).

  • Jedi

    Having someone behind Castro in the lineup who is an accomplished hitter might help him snag a few more walks too…Barney isn’t scaring anyone.

  • 1st Star – Left Field Basket (.787 WPA)

    2nd Star – Mark Melancon (.388 WPA)

    3rd Star – Brett Myers (.209 WPA)

  • Jedi

    jswanson – nice.

  • chris in Illinois

    “Having someone behind Castro in the lineup who is an accomplished hitter might help him snag a few more walks too…Barney isn’t scaring anyone.”

    Jedi, please explain??

  • Jedi

    Well I’d rather have Castro up there hacking and making contact (and forgoing a walk) than having him be extremely picky and relying on Barney to get a hit behind him in some situations. If Barney was instead an accomplished hitter, I’d want Castro to be more picky about what he swings at (also because he’d see better pitches too – he could afford to be more picky).

  • Jedi

    I’ll state it another way Chris, so I’m not misunderstood.

    I’d like to have our best hitter’s swinging the bat…if we had MORE good hitters in the lineup, Castro could afford to let a good pitch pass every now and then because he wouldn’t just be seeing one good pitch per plate appearance. Take more pitches – better chance at walks.

    Right now, looking behind him in the lineup, I don’t blame him for swinging away.

  • As of late with Campana in the two spot, Castro is probably swinging freely under the assumption that the batboy is following him in the lineup. I get it.

  • Buddy

    Interesting thoughts from writer Tim Dierkes…

    “For the 2011-12 offseason, will we see a return to the crazy money of 2006-07? We’ve got a trio of $100MM locks with Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Sabathia. As with the better $100MM contracts in baseball history, these three are current superstars. However, three additional players could tip the scales and give us as many as six $100MM deals this winter: Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, and Yu Darvish.”

  • Buddy

    Who would win in a fight between Campana and a Cubs bat boy?


    Yu Darvish is coming to America? I thought he was intent on staying in Japan? Is he a FA or will he be posted?

  • Buddy

    I think that’s a Neil Diamond song.

  • Noah

    My understanding is that Darvish will be posted.

  • chris in Illinois

    Jedi, thanks for the explanation….wasn’t trying to be snarky, just was wondering where you were coming from. For my part, I want all of our guys to swing at good pitches and let the bad ones go by, I don’t want Castro hacking at borderline pitches just to see him 5-4 everyday. Outside of late-inning situations, I think better statisticians than I have established that it doesn’t really matter who bats behind you (unless it’s the pitcher).

  • Jedi

    Chris – my deliberateness wasn’t meant for you…sorry to have implied that. Just trying to avoid general argument contortion and twisting…

  • Buddy

    Agreed Chris. I also put no stock in the “lineup protection” theory. Good hitters protecth themselves with knowledge of the strike zone.

  • Norm

    Agree with both of you on the lineup protection…
    Chris, agree again, take the borderline pitches until you need to protect against strike 3, swing at all the ‘good’ pitches.
    Seems like most of the team swings at any strike, even if its a “pitchers strike”.