Archive for April, 2006

Brewers 9, Cubs 0

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Man, Joe sure picked the right weekend to go to the beach. Today’s game was the worst possible follow up to yesterday’s beating, a 9-0 shutout and the victims of Chris Capuano’s complete game. Carlos Zambrano still shows no signs of breaking out of his early slump or growing up. Zambrano melted down in the 5th inning, as he was yanked without recording an out in the frame. Carlos gave up 7 runs on 8 hits and 5 walks, and totally lost the plate during the 5th. Big Z definitely needs to get his head together, if the Cubs are going to stay afloat until the rest of the rotation finally finishes pitching simulated games. There’s not much good to say about the rest of the team today either, as other than Ronny Cedeno ranging to the second base side to steal away hit, the entire effort was forgettable. By the way, what is it about playing the Cubs that makes Bill Hall look like a Hall of Famer. The guy absolutely kills us.

Month End Review:
Cubs Record after April: 13-10, 4th Place in NL Central
3.0 Games out of First Place
3.0 Games out of Wild Card

The Cubs actually got off to the good start that they wanted, the problem is, except for Pittsburgh, the entire NL Central is off to a good start. They’ve done a good job of beating up on weaker teams like the Pirates, Dodgers and Marlins, but unfortunately, we the rest of the division teams are putting up a good fight. It seems likely that Cincinnati will come back to the pack a bit, since they’ve got a team ERA near 5.00, but St. Louis and Houston both seem solid, especially since the Astros will be able to begin negotiations with Roger Clemens again tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the team’s momentum going into May:

Starting Pitching
Let’s get this straight, on this staff, there is Greg Maddux, and there is everybody else. Maddux has been superb. He has carried this team, and Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker ought to be kissing his shoes. The rest of the staff, well, they haven’t been too good. Sean Marshall has shown some promise, but it’s too early to rely on him for anything. Carlos Zambrano has been a head case, Angel Guzman showed good stuff but bad control in his first outing, Jerome Williams was sent to AAA and the less said about Glendon Rusch, the better. The good news is, Kerry Wood is supposed to return this month, but the bad news is Mark Prior and Wade Miller are likely out until June. With Rich Hill as the only other viable alternative if the Cubs need another pitcher, May looks to be tough month for starting pitching.

Relief Pitching
The relief pitching has been pretty good for the Cubs. Thus far they’ve gotten good pitching from Dempster, Eyre, Howry and Williamson, and not so good pitching from Aardsma, Ohman and Wuertz. Essentially, the bullpen has been good when given a lead, but not very good at keeping the Cubs in games if they are already behind. Part of the problem is that the starters have not gone deep enough into games. However, a look at the breakdown reveals that while Jim Hendry has done a good job building the pen in free agency, the young pitchers from the Cubs system are not holding up their end. The Cubs young pitchers are going to have to pick up the pace if the team is stay in the division race. Hopefully, the starters will go a bit deeper into games, now that they’ve had a month to stretch out.

Hitting
The Cubs are definitely missing Derrek Lee in the heart of the order, especially with Aramis Ramirez getting off to a slow start. Juan Pierre has been a terror on the basepaths, the problem is, he hasn’t been getting on base enough. Ronny Cedeno has hit well enough to earn a promotion to the no. 2 spot, while fellow youngster Matt Murton is living up to his reputation as a patient hitter. Todd Walker and Michael Barrett are both off to hot starts, and while Jacque Jones was brutal during most of April, he seems to be heating up now (.333/.368/.889 in the last week).

Defense
The infield defense has been pretty good, even after Lee’s injury. Todd Walker is holding his own at first, and Ronny Cedeno and Aramis Ramirez seem to be controling their throws better now. Michael Barrett better keep hitting, because he’s not very good at blocking balls in the dirt, or throwing out basestealers. The outfield defense has had the expected growing pains, considering that none of the OFs have played together before, and none have extensive experience at Wrigley. Juan Pierre shows good range, but his arm is enabling runners to take a lot of extra bases. Jacque Jones is still learning the winds at Wrigley. Murton has been solid.

Manager
Dusty Baker has been more proactive this year than in the past, and seems to enjoy using the team speed he now has. The Cubs are making use of the hit and run and doing a good job bunting, as well as stealing bases. Where Baker runs into trouble is his constant use of the double switch, particularly in early innings when the starters have been pulled due to ineffectiveness.

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Stinkin’ thinkin’

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Stinkin’ thinkin’ is when you make the same dumb moves over and over expecting different results. Andy Warhol once said that “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes;” Glendon Rusch had his fifteen minutes of fame in 2004 when he went 6-2 with a 3.47 ERA. Otherwise his career record bespeaks of a very poor baseball pitcher. In 1308.7 innings pitched, Glendon has given up 1517 hits and 399 walks. This is a guy who is very familiar with baserunners and this year his performance is worsening.

Jim Hendry puzzled many of us when he offered a two year $6 million contract to this baseball piÃ’ata. Let’s face it, we all make idiot mistakes – but when we make mistakes do most of us go out the next day and do the same dumb things? Jim Hendry and the Cubs management need to explain to the Cubs why they insist on putting Rusch out there, this ain’t gonna get better and the Cubs cannot afford to give away every fifth game if they are really serious about contending. C’mon Hendry, don’t put losers out on the field, Cubs fans deserve better!

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Game 22 Brewers 16-2 Winners

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Box Score

Note to ailing pitchers employed by the Chicago Cubs – Rusch back!
Oh well, as Lee Smith said it’s better to lose a blowout than 1-0.

It falls to me to recap this regrettable fiasco as Joe basks in the sun and surf of whatever exotic paradise he deemed worthy to occupy this weekend. I had to watch Glendon Rusch pitch his absolute worst game since who knows when, definitely this year. I thought after his last game, a loss to the Cardinals, he would straighten up. He didn’t.

The bullpen wasn’t any help. After yesterday’s solid effort by Howry, Eyre and Williamson, the Cubs looked hapless as they tried a different trio, Aardsma, Ohman and Novoa.

The sole bright spot was the 4-4 production from backups Bynum and Restovich.

And I thought Bob Brenly made an astute observation early in the game when he relayed that Juan Pierre could pick up Doug Davis’ grip on the ball and know when he would throw an off-speed pitch, making it easier to steal third base. I never thought about that before.

Shake it off, guys. Zambrano has one more chance to notch his first win before May Day.

Note: Derrek Lee will leave the team and go to his home to heal (rehab). Watching this club on a day like this has proven more painful than the wrist.

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Game 22 Preview

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Since I’m on vacation at the beach, there is not fancy table today for our game preview. I’ll have that up and running again for Monday. In the meantime, I’ll put as much info in this basic preview as possible.

Starting Pitchers

Glendon Rusch – (1-3 6.41 ERA)
Doug Davis – (0-2) 7.66 ERA)

Scouting Report on Doug Davis

It has been a rough start to 2006 for Davis to say the least. His most recent start was his five-inning, nine-walk performance against Cincinnati on Sunday. Davis tied a dubious club record with his nine free passes, and the Brewers went on to lose the game, 11-0. One of the National League’s top authors of quality starts over the past two seasons, Davis has yet to pitch deeper than the sixth inning in five starts this year. (MLB.com)

Davis is a prototypical crafty lefthander, changing speeds and location to keep hitters off balance. His best pitches are a cut fastball and a slow curve. In Ned Yost’s catcher platoon, Davis always pitched to Chad Moeller when Moeller was healthy. The result was an ERA nearly two-thirds of a point better than any previous season, with a marked improvement in his strikeouts per inning. Most important, he was consistent, with only one rough patch right after the All-Star break.

Davis’ failings at the plate hurt his chances to post wins in 2004. He frequently was taken down for a pinch-hitter because the Brewers had a weak offense, and because he can’t hit a lick. Davis is that rare player who throws left and bats right, but he went 0-for-42 to start the season. He did manage to put down six sacrifice bunts in 2004. Davis fields his position well, and though lacking a very good move to first base, still manages to hold basestealing to an acceptable level. (Fox Sports

Weather Report

Temperature: 60 degrees
Wind: 16 mph right to left

Over / Under

Since we have two guy’s whose combined ERA is astronomical, we’ll set the over under today at 9.5 combined runs by the two offenses today.

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Game 21 Recap – Fishin’ for a victory

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Box Score
I’m starting to like this 2006 team; gone apparently are the boring days of station to station/wait for the homerun baseball. This Cubs team is showing enthusiasm both on the field and in the dugout. Some post-game thoughts after the Cubs’ 6-2 victory over nearby rival Milwaukee:
1. I liked how Maddux pitched his way out of jams, particularly the one that started the game. This is the difference between the 2006 version and the efforts that this future Hall of Famer has given us in 2004 and 2005;
2. Too much aggressiveness isn’t a bad thing – The Cubs had two baserunners picked off on a steal attempt and an apparent broken hit and run. While it’s disappointing to lose a baserunner I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed by these efforts. The Cubs willingness to gamble and steal runs is something that major league managers would be wise to look out for;
3. I really enjoyed watching Juan Pierre do what he does best – his ability to lay down bunts and get on any way he can bodes well for the Cubs’ chances in 2006. It was also nice to see Jacque Jones get three hits including a homerun – Wrigley will warm to Jones if he gets fired up and produces, and
4. Rickie Weeks swings a tree. If he doesn’t get smart and start wielding a smaller bat Cubs pitchers would be wise to start jamming him on the fists, he’ll never get around on inside pitching from a guy with a plus fastball.

Next up is Rusch vs. Doug Davis – two pitchers with comparable results this year. Don’t let Davis’ 7.66 ERA fool you though, he’s a better pitcher than his record indicates. Tommy will be doing the post-game tomorrow and I will post the Sunday night wrap-up around 8:30 after I watch the recorded game. Let’s go Cubbies!

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Regression to the mean

Friday, April 28th, 2006

The Cubs stand at 13-8, which made me wonder if they were playing over their heads. Perhaps it was just a small sample size blowing a good stretch out of proportion?

I’m going to look player-to-player with the assumption that the overwhelming majority of the time, bad starts or good starts will go back toward the kind of season we can expect from that player. Hopefully this approach will tell us what we might expect the rest of the way.

Catching
Michael Barrett
At .313 OBP/.550 SLG, Barret’s playing somewhere near his actual value (.335/.450). This one’s a draw.
Henry Blanco
18 at-bats and a .380ish OPS. We can expect an improvement, but his limited play results in a basically negligible impact.
Result: No big change

1B
Derrek Lee
Duh. Given that his injury happened just recently and that wrist injuries affect a hitter when they return, Derrek’s MVP bat overall will be sorely missed the rest of the year.

Todd Walker
.431 OBP, .530 SLG. Expect a slight decline to .380/.475 levels. Not bad for a backup.

John Mabry
His .318 average hides the fact that he has 0 walks and 0 extra-base hits. Overall I think everything will level out. No major change.

2B
Jerry Hairston
.333/.321. Expect an improvement.
Neifi Perez
.176/.235. Hard to imagine, but somewhere Neifi’s gonna get on one of those 9 game hot streaks and end up somewhere around a .275 OBP/.375 SLG. Still crap, but a slight improvement.
Overall: Walker will be able to play second when Lee eventually comes back, and improvement from the other two means we can expect more out of this position.

SS
Ronny Cedeno
.370/.522. Expect Ronny to crash, and hard, at some point in the season. Expect a significant decline.

3B
Aramis Ramirez.
Improve.

LF
Matt Murton
No significant change. Some ups and downs, but that’s what I expect. This guy’s a perfect non-Cub; gets on base, no flashy numbers, but contributes to lots of wins. We need more like him.

CF
Juan Pierre
.297 OBP, .345 SLG. Slight Improvement to .335/.375 levels.

RF
Jacque Jones
.281/.500. His OBP will rise, his SLG will fall. It surprised me to see that he posted a .500 SLG so far. Overall, fewer outs and a slight improvement.

SP
Maddux
Significant decline. I expect 15-10, 3.50 ERA. But I hope he keeps pitching like he has been.

Zambrano
Significant improvement. By season’s end I expect him to be in the race for Cy Young.

Prior/Williams/Guzman
I’m linking the fate of Jerome and Angel to Prior’s return. With that assumption in mind, expect significant improvement, assuming Prior ever pitches again.

Wood/Marshall
Mostly Marshall, I’ll assume. Slight decline to a combined 34 stars, 4.6 ERA (5 for Marshall, 3.75 for Wood, 2/3 of starts to Marshall)/

Rusch
Slight Improvement

Bullpen
Slight decline, as they’ve been very, very good so far.

All in all, that’s a slight improvement for the team! That surprised me. I was expecting an overall decline. Even if the rotation features Prior & Wood for only half the season and Lee gets back, the Cubs should be able to get close. With some breaks, they’ll still make the playoffs.

And then anything can happen.

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Editor’s Note

Friday, April 28th, 2006

No Game Preview today because I am swamped with work before going to the beach this weekend. If I get time before the game, I’ll replace this with something meaningful.

Greg Maddux vs. David Bush

Over / Under
Per a request from my good friend Rob, the over under today is set at 2.5 earned runs given up today by the Professor.

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The Follies of Being Young

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Delmon Young, that is. Can you say “Bad career move?” I know he can. Nice pic, Delmon. Nice smile. Hope to see it again, soon.

From the Associated Press.

Durham Bulls outfielder and top overall 2003 draft choice Delmon Young threw a bat into the chest of the home plate umpire after being called out on strikes in the first inning of Wednesday night’s game at Pawtucket.
Young took a third strike on a 1-and-2 pitch. When Young delayed leaving the batter’s box, the umpire ejected him. Young then flipped his bat underhand. It sailed end over end and hit the umpire in the chest.
Pawtucket catcher Corky Miller said he didn’t hear Young say anything to the umpire. “I heard the umpire say, ‘You better get going,’” Miller said.
“It was hard to say what was going through his mind. Guys have emotions. But you try to learn how to control them. I’m sure as the bat left his hands he knew it was a bad decision,” Miller said.
Young left during the game and wasn’t available for comment afterward. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays said they would have no comment until they review the situation.
Replacement umpires have been working all minor league games this season because the regular umpires are on strike. Bill Wanless, a spokesman for the Pawtucket Red Sox, said minor league teams are not releasing the names of umpires while the regulars are on strike.
“It’s an unfortunate incident and there should be no place for actions like that in the game of baseball,” the umpire said in a statement released by Pawtucket. “Any official should not be treated like that. He embarrassed himself and his teammates.”
Young, 20, is the younger brother of Detroit Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young. He was voted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ minor league player of the year last season and the 2005 minor league player of the year by Baseball America.
“It was unfortunate and until I speak with the organization and see what they have in mind, maybe I can comment on it later,” Durham manager John Tamargo said. “It’s a tough situation right now.

Note From Chris:
I’ve seen the video of the incident now, and the newspaper accounts don’t do it justice. I thought Young flipped his bat from a couple of feet away, but it was a lot worse than that. Check out the video at MLB.com

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Game 20 – Two outta Three ain’t bad

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

BOX SCORE – When you think about the fact that the Cubs were throwing two guys will next to no big league experience in this series, winning two out of three games is a great way to go. The bummer is that today’s game was definitely a game we could have won. Angel Guzman, who made his major league debut in this one, pitched pretty well considering the nerves were probably getting to him. If he was just a regular prospect, there wouldn’t be as much riding on the start, but because he was supposed to be a savior in 2003, the fans have waited awhile to see him in action. I think those nerves had a good deal to do with the 4 walks he gave up. Coming into the game, he had been averaging 4 K’s per BB. Today he didn’t have that.

Roberto Novoa came in and did a nice job in the 6th and the 7th, including wiggling out of a little jam caused by Pierre and Jones not having a clue whose play it was in right center that allowed a triple. One of the things I hate about the way baseball is scored by the official scorer is the fact that errors are not given on plays like that. Essentially, if you do not get to a ball, regardless of it you should have, you are not credited with an error. I think that mental errors like today or retard errors like Adam Dunn makes in the OF should be credited as errors in the scorebook. All you’re doing by not giving an error is hurting the pitcher and rewarding a bonehead play by the fielder.

Matt Murton had another big clutch hit in the 8th. It’s a shame it wasn’t a hit that led to a come from behind win by the Cubs. He is .294 on the season and I really think he’ll be a mainstay in this lineup for years to come. Just imagine what he’ll look like when his power develops.

Aramis Ramirez looked good today. He was patient at the plate and reaped two walks as a result. He hit the ball hard both hits he got. One went out and one was a rocket line drive to LF. Hopefully he’s starting to get locked in because we could sure use a big series from him against Milwaukee this weekend.

I’m not one to harp on guys that are struggling, and I’m not even sure the answer to my own question, but how long do you stick with a struggling Jacque Jones in RF? I think it’s too early to bench him at this point, but if you were Dusty, how long would you wait to get someone else out there? Pie is not an option because you are not going to simply bench Jones for the remainder of the year and that is what it would take for Pie to get the call because he needs to play everyday to continue to develop, especially from a plate discipline standpoint.

I was really surprised to see Scott Williamson struggle as bad as he did today. He’s been great all year to this point. Hopefully he’ll shake it off and come back strong because he was brutal today and it really cost us the win.

Is it just me or are you really glad to see Miguel Cabrera leaving town? He wasn’t outstanding this series, but to me, it seemed like he was on base or doing something tremendous all week. Good Riddance Miguel!!!!

So, to go back to the title, winning two games in this one is acceptable. Let’s use the day off to rest and regroup and come out ready for battle with a division rival this weekend.

Notes from Chris:
What’s with Jerry Hairston’s Jeckyl and Hyde routine? He seems to immediately follow up a good play (last night’s suicide squeeze bunt, beating out a double play ball today) with a really bad mental error (getting picked off first base with 2 outs, a steal of 3rd with 2 outs). I expect a little more mentally from a guy whose father was a pretty good ballplayer.

Joe floats the idea above of possibly benching Jacque Jones. So I was wondering, who does anyone see a better option? There’s no timetable for Pagan’s return, Michael Restovich has been a AAAA player his whole career and I think that Felix Pie needs some more time at AAA. I’d say we’ve got to ride it out with Jacque, what do you all think?

Farm Report

Felix Pie – went 1 for 3 with a single and is hitting .320 in AAA Iowa.

Rich Hill – pitched 6 innings of 2 hit baseball giving up 1 run and striking out 10 hitters. He has an ERA of 1.44 for AAA Iowa.

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