Archive for July, 2005

Growing Weary of ESPN

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

When Ken Burns released his documentary on the history of Baseball back in the 90ís, I remember being left with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a genuine epic look at Americaís pastime. The photography, the music, the essence and feel of it rivaled Burnsí other masterpiece, The Civil War, in my opinion.

And yet, by the end I felt somewhat hollow by the sheer one-sidedness, the unapologetic lovefest for all things Yankees. I had taped the entire series, but in the end I gave my tapes to a friend who probably enjoyed them more than I.

As I seek to feed my insatiable hunger for baseball night after night thru the games themselves or Sportscenter and Baseball Tonight, and even analysis from Around the Horn, I find myself with similar frustrations toward ESPN. I get so tired of their obvious American League East bias I donít know what to do. No matter what other games are on the itinerary, the Yanks-Red Sox series gets first dibs. And when these two clubs arenít paired off, itís onto other match-ups, like last nightís Yanks-Rangers contest. I mean, wereít these two teams featured on Monday night as well?

There were other games I would have rather seen. The Twins-Orioles game featured two potential playoff teams and with Rafaelís recent milestone (and hot bat to boot) the game held much more interest than the one that was shown.

And what about some attention to the two clubs with the best record in baseball? Being a Cubs fan, I understand why Iím supposed to despise the White Sox but I cannot help but feel sorry for their Rodney Dangerfield status this year. Ditto for the Cardinals. Again, by law I cannot root for them but they are more deserving of consideration than the Yankees.

Given this blatant sucking up to all things Yankees, I finally figured out what ESPN stands for: Every Steinbrennerís Player Network.

Oh, you think you can do better? Fine, your turn.

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Joe on the Radio – Yet Again

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

In light of the Jody Gerut / Jason Dubois trade, I have been invited on as a guest of Life’s a Pitch to talk about the trade with some tribe fans. If you would like to listen, I will be on at 10:00pm eastern time on Thursday night, which will probably be tonight when most of you are reading this. The link for the show is www.sportstalkcleveland.com I’d love to have you all tune in and give me some feedback. If you can’t tune in live, it will be archived as always to the right in our radio appearances section. Give that a look. You will like what you hear.

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Quick Thought

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Cincinnati recalled Austin Kearns tonight. I know it’s probably due to his hot hitting in Louisville, but what if it’s so he’ll be in Cincy and can leave with the Cubs after a trade. I can dream, but that would be great.

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Baseball Is A Funny Game

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

As I watched the game last night, I was confident that we would win. The Reds just are not a good team right now and the Cubs are on fire. When Hairston led off with a double, I thought for sure Lee would get him home from 3rd with 1 out. Instead, Lee strikes out and we don’t score that inning. The following inning they again lead off with a double and again fail to score. Then, later in the game, Lee gets a 2 OUT double and they score 3 runs. What the heck is going on? I love baseball because it is never a sure bet. It changes so much from day to day. Every day you see something new.


David Pinto of Baseball Musings has a pretty cool database that you can thumb through. It has stuff like Pitcher by day logs, batting logs, etc. It’s very cool and can be found here

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Stop the Ride

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Do you ever feel like you’re on one crazy roller coaster as a Cub fan? I know I do. At the beginning of this year, I was excited about the team. There were many who decided that the team had no chance from the beginning. I was not one of them. I felt like this team was better than last year. I still feel that this team is better off than last year. I’m just tired of being on the roller coaster. I start out excited as the Cubs jump out with a 468 run outburst on opening day and then go on to, at times, seem like they are hitting with their eyes closed. It’s been up and down all year.

Now, there are rumors everywhere about who, if anyone, the Cubs will go out and get before July 31. One day we’re getting Preston Wilson, then the next day we’re not. One day it’s Austin Kearns, then it’s not. It’s enough to make a person’s head spin with confusion. One minute Corey Patterson is our leadoff hitter, then he’s hitting 8th, then back to leadoff then Iowa. It’s hard to know if we should be excited or disappointed or what. I believe this team is a team to be excited about. So, with that in mind, I want to present to you 5 reasons you can’t give up on the playoffs as of yet.

1. Jim Hendry Has A Role Model

Until recently, the Cubs battle plan has been that of John Daly, “grip it and rip it”. They have relied on the longball in a time where GM’s are beginning to rely more on the sabermetric approach. While I am not sold on the Sabr mindset, things like seeing a good amount of pitches per at bat and drawing walks can’t hurt a team, can they? If you take a look at the last 9 World Series winners, you find that the average OBP put up by the winning team is .351, which is an average rank of 3 in their league. Right now, the Cubs have an OBP of .329, good for 11th in the NL. Not too good!!! However, with the additions of guys like Matt Murton, Adam Greenberg, and Jody Gerut, Hendry appears to be buying into the philosophy of fellow GM Theo Epstein, whose Red Sox boast a .357 OBP, which is tops in the American League. If Hendry truly does have a new approach on how to to build a team, it’s something to be excited about for this trade deadline as well as other deadlines to come.

2. The Pitching Staff

It’s still true that the Cubs have one of the deepest and most talented rotations in the business when they’re healthy. As of right now, they are all exactly that. Since the All Star break, which I know only consists of 5 games, the Cubs lead the league in team ERA with an astounding 1.60. They also have the only team WHIP under 1, with a remarkable 0.80. This is a staff that seems to have consistency problems due to health concerns, but if they’re all healthy down the stretch, can you really bet against a rotation this deep? After all, we have 2 guys in our pen that could easily be # 3 starters on a lot of teams.

3. Derrek Lee

Just think about the numbers that Lee could have put up if he had Hairston and Walker hitting ahead of him all year. Now that Dusty has figured out that having guys on base seems to help when your sluggers come to the plate, I look for the team to score runs consistently. With Lee as hot as he is, I look for him to go on a monster tear down the stretch and seriously contend for that Triple Crown.

4. Former Red Sox Return

This one sounds strange, but the Cubs are anxiously looking forward to help from two former Red Sox. Nomar, whose target date for return is August 1st, will be a HUGE lift for the Cubs. He doesn’t really see a lot of pitches, but he just knows how to flat out hit. He should provide some lower part of the order help down the stretch. I say lower part because I really do not want to see him batting in the 1 or 2 hole where he’d be expected to run a little. By hitting him lower in the order, you’re not looking for a SB, you’re looking for a key base hit, which is what he can give you.

In addition to Nomar, the Cubs are also awaiting the return of Scott Williamson, who was a low risk signing that could prove to be a huge reward if he works out. Williamson who was signed with the hope that he could come back from Tommy John surgery appears set to go on a rehab assignment in the next few weeks. ESPN had this to say on the issue…

RHP Scott Williamson threw in the bullpen on Monday in Cincinnati. Williamson is recovering from his second “Tommy John” surgery and is getting close to a rehab assignment. “We don’t know what the timetable is,” manager Dusty Baker said after watching the session. Williamson will go on a rehab assignment soon. …

If he can return to the form he appeared back on the way to showing in Boston, the Cubs would get the help they need in the desperate pen.

5. Best of the Rest

Are the Cubs better than the Cardinals? No!!! However, at this point, the Cubs are working to get in the playoffs via the back door known as the Wild Card. In terms of teams in the hunt, I believe the Cubs are the best of those teams. Sure, some may argue that teams like Florida and Atlanta are extremely strong and the Cubs will have a hard time catching them. But, when you look at it, one of those two is going to win the NL East. The Nationals are not going to hang on all year. It’s not possible. Which means, the Cubs do not need to be better than both the Marlins and the Braves. They only need to be better than one of them. That gives me hope.

Conclusion

Is it a sure bet that the Cubs will go on to win the Wild Card and make a run like 2003? Nope, but since I have these 5 things to cling to, as well as the fact that I have prepaid for the year for the MLB Extra Innings package on Dish, I’ll be watching till the bitter end in October, even if the real end is in August.

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So Long Mr. DuBois

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Well, I have gone on record as saying that Jason DuBois’ future was probably with an American League team(out on a limb, I know), and as of tonight, his future will be with Cleveland. The Cubs shipped DuBois to the Indians for Jody Gerut (read about that here). Looking at his career, Gerut had a good rookie season, batting .279/.336 with 22 homers. His batting average was a bit lower (.252) in 2004, but if we’re looking for silver linings, he raised his walk total and lowered his strikeouts. He tore his ACL late last season, so he only returned in the middle of May this year (which seems to me like a fairly quick turn around from that type of injury). Gerut is off to a pretty good start in ’05 hitting .275/.357, although his slugging is very low (.377), and most of that production came during a hot May.

Analysis
This doesn’t appear to be move that does anything for the Cubs in 2005. Gerut is a decent, young outfielder, but I doubt that he’s fully recovered from his ACL injury. I’m not sure what the Cubs immediate plans are, but right now it looks like Jody will be sent to AAA, unless the Cubs decide to go with 11 pitchers, in which case he’d be a reserve. Beyond that, he’ll likely get a shot at winning a starting or reserve outfield spot on the 2006 club.

To me the trade represents an interesting change in philosophy for the Cubs. Their offense has been dependent on power hitters for the last few years, and they now appear to be trying to move to a more diversified attack. DuBois was the Cubs best power hitting prospect, and he’s now been traded for a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter, who is proficient at working the count. This move coupled with the promotions of Murton and Greenberg, and the demotion of Patterson shows that Jim Hendry may be serious about obtaining more players who are willing to take pitches, walk when they can, and are not strikeout prone. I for one, hope that this is the case.

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Toasting A Pro

Saturday, July 16th, 2005

Harry called him ìPalermo.î Often. His friends call him ìRaffy.î Maitre Dís and concierges call him ìMr. Palmeiro.î I call him the most underrated ballplayer ever to suit up. Finally, he is getting the respect he deserves. Too bad it took Rafael Corrales Palmeiro becoming just the fourth man to ever hit 500 home runs and collect 3,000 hits, which he did last night in Seattle. Ever since he was drafted by the Cubs in 1985, Raffy has gone out and done his job and done it with class and unmistakable proficiency.

After hitting over .300 in 1988, GM Jim Frey mortgaged the future in an effort to win in the short term. Palmeiro was traded along with Jamie Moyer (6th round/1984) and Drew Hall (1st round/1984) to the Texas Rangers for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson and 2 guys who never made it to the bigs.

Rafael

Good Company
Hits & HR
3,771 755 Hank Aaron
3,283 660 Willie Mays
3,255 504 Eddie Murray
3,001 566 Rafael Palmeiro

Escaping Castroís totalitarian regime when Raffy was six, the family made their way to the freedom and opportunities afforded by the United States of America. According to reports, his father wouldnít let him watch television unless he would strengthen his hands by squeezing tennis balls and the like.

Palmeiro seems a cinch for Cooperstown. After 19 years of consistently producing, 19 years of contributing, 19 years of being a team player instead of a whiny pouting egomaniac, it is appalling that there are STILL those out there (and Iím sure Iíll hear from a couple of them) who contend that Rafael Palmeiro is NOT Hall of Fame material. Skip Bayless, I guess, is one of them.

“He is a Hall of Famer,” insists the Braves’ Julio Franco, an old teammate of Palmeiro’s with the Rangers. “If he’s not, I don’t know who is.”

Let me beat the detractorís to the punch. Palmeiro’s critics argue that he’s never been an MVP, never led the league in hits or home runs, never even been the best player on his team. He’s been to only four All-Star games, won just three Gold Gloves and, many believe, he’s never even been the best player at his position during his career. He’s played in only three postseasons, too, and he’s never made it to the World Series.

So what?

It’s true that Palmeiro’s long career has lacked the flash of many in the Hall. Instead, it has been a silent study in consistency at the highest level. Since becoming a regular with the Cubs in 1988, Palmeiro has played in an average of 154 games a season. He’s averaged 31 homers the past 17 seasons. He’s driven in 100 runs 10 times. The numbers go on. The numbers don’t stop.
To deny Rafael Palmeiro his honored place in history with a plaque hanging on the wall in the beautiful New York countryside would be a greater injustice than Ron Santoís omission. Worst of all, it is a sign of disrespect to even have to have this argument.

Raffy

I hope he keeps going. After a slow start, heís having a very good year, and the pressure of the last week hasnít slowed him down. In his last five games heís hitting .470 with 3 homers, 10 rbiís and 5 runs. Heís doing what heís always done. Help his team. With a little luck the Orioles just might make the playoffs and the World Series. And 600 homers is within sight, like next year. (34 shy). That will really put him in exclusive company.

“If anyone told you that they were going to hit 500 home runs and have 3,000 hits back when they were 19 or 20, they were just dreaming. You don’t think about those things. You just want to establish yourself and try to make a career,” Palmeiro recently told Mike Finney of
The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal.

And what a career it has been. Congratulations, Raffy. Enjoy the applause. You deserve it.

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Thru Cub Eyes: Larry Bowa

Friday, July 15th, 2005

The Cubs have made a lot of dumb trades over the years but they got one back when they dealt with Philadelphia for a shortstop and a throw-in named Sandberg. The primary acquisition for the Cubs at the time was this weekís feature player, Larry Bowa. This excerpt is from Carrie Muskatís compilation Banks to Sandberg to Grace.

Bowa

We worked a lot together. There are a lot of people out there who think Ryno happened to be a good player. He worked at his trade. When he first came over, they didnít know if he was going to play second, third, – Dallas [Green] had him in center field for a couple of games in spring training.

People donít realize that he was a good athlete. You can golf with him, heís outstanding, go bowling with him, you can play basketball. Everyone called him ìThe Naturalî because of how easy he made things look on the baseball field. He was a natural but he worked at it. He was as big an instigator on our team as anybody, but he did it in a very quiet manner. Rynoís one of those guys, he didnít let too many people into his world, but once he got to know you, he was a lot of fun to be around.

In spring training we were supposed to be there the 20th and we were there like the 5th. Him and I would go out and have somebody hit us ground balls, ground balls, ground balls. I think he had a good work ethic when he came to the Phillies and he realized how hard it isand how important the work ethic was when we went to Chicago together. Even when I had retired and I came over with the Phillies, Iíd watch him and his work ethic was the same. Heíd take his ground balls, work on the double play, heíd work on bunting. He did everything.

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More Mid-Term Madness

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

Here’s the final installment, the pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano: 5-4 3.85 ERA B
Zambrano hasn’t been quite as good this year as last, but he’s still been solid, and you can count on him to go to take the ball every five days, which is a big deal when you consider the track record of most of our other starters. At the beginning of the year, Carlos looked like he was going to be as crazy as ever, getting ejected from two starts, but it looks like he’s settling down. I wish he’d work on conserving his pitches though.

Mark Prior: 5-2 2.68 ERA A-
Prior would earn higher marks from me if he’d make all his starts. Still, he missed only a couple of turns because of the spring training set backs, and there wasn’t much he could do about the line drive that hit his arm. In between all that, Prior was mostly outstanding, with his only really bad start of the first half coming against Houston.

Kerry Wood: 1-2: 5.30 ERA C-
Like clockwork, Kerry Wood went on the disabled list early this season due to shoulder pain, likely caused by his mechanics. I don’t like to lower a guy down because of injury, but Wood’s injuries seem to in part due to his own unwillingness to even experiment with his delivery. Then there’s the fact that Wood hasn’t been very effective when he has been able to take the ball this year, and it doesn’t add up to a good grade for Kerry.

Greg Maddux: 7-5 4.87 ERA B-
I think we know what to expect from Maddux at this stage. He’s going to make every start, and most of the time give the team 6 solid innings. He’ll be occasionally brilliant, and he’ll have a few starts where he gets absolutely rocked. He’s gotten rocked a few more times than I’d like so far, but grading him at mid season seems almost futile, since he’s been such a good second half pitcher the last few years.

Glendon Rusch: 5-3 3.35 ERA B+
Rusch has done a good job pitching both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. Frankly, I think he’s better as a starter, since it seems to take him a bit to find a rhythm out of the bullpen, and I don’t feel comfortable seeing him come in to pitch with men already on base. He’s a good long reliever, though, and between Wood and Prior’s injuries, Zambrano’s ejections and Maddux’s occasional self destructions, that could prove invaluable to this team.

Ryan Dempster: 2-3 4.15 ERA 12 saves B+
Dempster’s been two different pitchers this season. He was announced as the closer in spring training, then was pushed into the starting rotation due to injuries. He wasn’t great a starter, but since being handed the closer’s role, he’s saved 12 straight. As closer, he’s done it all, pitching the 8th and 9th, pitching out of jams, and keeping his cool no matter what. He gets an A, as closer and a C as a starter, with bonus points for being a good soldier and not complaining when he was bounced between the bullpen and rotation.

The Rest (Wuertz, Remlinger, Wellemeyer*, Novoa, Hill*, Hawkins**, Bartosh*, Mitre, Fox#, Ohman, Borowski^, Leicester*) D+
It seems like it’s been a cast of thousands in the bullpen this year, and the whole crew seems to swing from being lights out one week, to absolutely terrible the next. I’ve heard some people blame Dusty Baker, because his seemingly random use of his relievers means they don’t know what their role is. However, I can’t blame Dusty for that, as none of these guys has stepped up his performance enough to seize a particular job (setup man, long man, LOOGY) for himself. The good news is, all these guys have shown at some point that they can pitch. The bad news is, they rarely show it two outings in a row. The worst news is, the Cubs season may hinge on their performance.

* sent to AAA Iowa
** Traded to San Francisco Giants

^ released

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