Archive for August, 2006

Hapless Cubs lose sixth straight

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Today the Cubs were swept by a superior Pittsburgh team that served notice on it’s more prosperous Chicago rival. The Pirates pulled to within a game and a half of the freefalling Cubs as they pulled out yet another extra inning win, sending the Chicago faithful hurtling toward the vomitoriums once again. It’s one thing to lose because of injuries – the Cubs suffered another one today as Juan Mateo sacrificed his pitching arm to knock down a line drive. But it appears that this Pittsburgh team plays better fundamental baseball, has better hitters and, with the exception of Carlos Zambrano has better pitching.

Particularly noticeable today was the Cubs’ weakness insofar as fielding in the outfield. I am perplexed by the fact that Jacque Jones has to throw ground balls from right to second base – is his arm hurt? Supposedly this guy is a good fielder, but that’s not what I’ve seen. He has a good bat but he looks like Moises Alou in right field. Juan Pierre has a weak arm and we knew it when we signed him; Murton is a work in process in left and it appears that defense will probably not be his strong suit in the long run.

As is often the case, the Cubs found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Dusty Baker proved again that he has no baseball instincts whatsoever by going to Latroy Dempster again in the 11th. It’s deja vu all over again and Dusty will never learn. He consistently goes to the reliever that got beat the day before and always will. It’s his way of showing confidence.

This team needs a coup de grace, either that or immediate changes. Hendry needs to decide whether he wants his team to be the league’s whipping boy for a month or go in a different direction. It’s evident to me that Jim Hendry has more dollars than he does sense; his innate stubborness and inability to think on the fly will result in Cubs fans seeing the Cubs finish with their worst record since 1966.

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Five straight

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Tonight we saw two evenly-matched teams take the field ñ both play in beautiful ballparks and are comparable in terms of talent and managerial acumen. The Chicago team has the edge in terms of fan support and financing but that was not enough to keep the Cubs from losing their second straight to the Pirates of Pittsburgh. The Bucs now trail the Cubs by 2 Ω games going into tomorrowís rubber match.

Carlos Zambrano threw a good game but not a great game ñ his two defensive lapses proved to be critical on the scorecard. The ballclub scored enough runs but they werenít enough in the final inning as Ronny Cedeno double-clutched, Bynum showed us brick hands and Ryan Dempster demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not reliable as a closer in the National League.

The Cubs have now lost five straight and we are seeing what we have to see. Decisions must be made in the offseason and itís fair to say that this team is lacking in most areas. The biggest problem however lies with the person that designed this team, Jim Hendry. He has been given every opportunity to fix this mess but time after time he has proven himself incompetent. He is a cancer that must be excised if this team has any chance of a rebound in 2007 or 2008 – it is time for the Tribune to act decisively and protect itís financial interests before Cubs fans begin to vote at the gate.

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Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I think it’s kind of funny that I decided to switch from watching Cub games for the remainder of the season because of their brutal play. In return, I decided that it would be a better idea to switch to following what I thought was the more exciting team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Since then, the Devil Rays have proceeded to do absolutely nothing on offense and basically disappoint the entire second half. There lies the quandary I am faced with. Obviously both teams have taken to looking forward to next season. With limited time, I would only be able to really devote time to one team and follow the other from more of a distance. So which team has the better outlook for next season’s as well as future seasons?

When you look at the brutal result to the season, your gut reaction would be to say that there is no hope. After all, this is a franchise that is quickly approaching 100 years since their last title. However, when you look at the base of the team, there are some bright spots for next year.

Young Starting Pitchers – We’ve had a chance to see a good amount of young starting pitchers this season due to the departure of Greg Maddux and injuries to Wood and Prior. Granted, not one of them has been our version of Justin Verlander or Francisco Liriano, but when you look at what we’ve received from them, you have to be encouraged. Sean Marshall, despite limited time on the farm has shown good big league potential. Carlos Marmol, since being converted from catcher has shown tremendous upside and raw stuff. When you couple those two with the hopeful emergence of Rich Hill and perhaps a guy like Donald Veal down the road. When you combine those names with Carlos Zambrano, and some potential veterans like Ted Lilly, Barry Zito, and Wade Miller, the rotation becomes at least serviceable to decent.

Derrek Lee healthy – This is a big one to look forward to. I’ll be excited to see Lee back to full strength again. I have never seen a team collapse more when a single player is injured than the Cubs did this year without Lee. It seems like a distant memory when the Cubs were actually in first place. Remember that? They were playing great baseball and were one of the best in the major leagues with getting runners in scoring position to cross the plate. Once Lee went down, the Cubs went down. Next season, with a healthy Lee, perhaps the offense can click a little better.

Dusty Gone? – There a mixed feelings I have about what Jim Hendry should do with Baker. Is he a bad manager? He can’t be, because if we was, there would not be the hype about him around baseball. Guys get reputations for a reason, they earn them. Dusty is well liked by his players, which has to say something about him as a manager. Major League players aren’t going to just sit back and give credit to Dusty when they no longer play for him unless it’s because he really did what they say. So if Dusty’s gone, in one sense, it’s a good thing. He’s obviously warn out his welcome in Chicago. But, what else is really out there? As much as the rumors out of Florida continue to tantalize and excite Cub fans, I really believe that Florida will hang onto Joe Girardi, despite the rift between him and the owner. They would be foolish to let him leave based on the tremendous job he has done with the team he was given. Aside from Girardi, are there really exciting potentials out there? No one excites me. Sure, you can look at guys with minor league success, but I want someone who is a proven winner. The Tigers brought that in with Leyland, and it’s paid off for them.

As I look toward next year, I’m not thrilled to be a Cub fan, but at least I have a couple things to look toward.

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What of Pierre?

Monday, August 28th, 2006

We’ve had almost a full season to look him up and down. Does Juan Pierre measure up?
ESPN’s sortable stats gives us a look at the league’s top performers in the leadoff spot.
I’ll use brown for indications that he’s crap, Cubbie blue to show he’s great, and White Sox black to show that the stat is largely irrelevant to me.

Pierre has scored 63 runs; 19 other leadoff guys have scored more. That’s not entirely under his control, but his lack of power, low OBP, and 17 CS drag him down.
He’s a surprising 3rd in leadoff hits. Good for him! He’s also 2nd in at-bats, so he’s been healthy.
His .332 OBP puts him 17th among the 20 qualifiers.
His .388 OBP puts him 16th.

44 steals has him in 2nd among leadoff guys, but his 17 CS gives him the #1 spot by 3.
in Pitches per plate appearance, he’s 19th out of 20 qualifiers.
He’s grounded into 5 DP, which is reasonable; middle of the pack in a tie with lots of guys.
His 9 sacrifices lead all major league leadoff hitters! Yay!
In RC/27: 15th out of 20 with 4.73.
Our boy makes contact, at least. 31 Ks is 34th on the list of leadoff guys and a lower number than 5 non-qualifiers.

Pierre is apparently bucking for a sponsorship from UPS.

Fielding measures show his value thusly:
0 Errors! Great!
4 Assists (I guess when people take bases on him as often as they do, he’s bound to throw out a few.)
He’s 17th of 23 in Range Factor (which, incidentally, ranks Korey 3rd, so must be swallowed with a grain of salt)
In Zone Rating he’s 3rd only behind Korey and Beltran. Andruw Jones is 22nd.
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of these numbers. He has a poor defensive reputation and a weak arm, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it a wash.

Intangibles? Team leadership? I have heard nothing about him taking young players under his wing or showing any great baseball intelligence. With no data, it’s a wash.

Salary? $5,750,000. He’s terribly overpriced.

My judgment:
He cannot be considered a guy who will be a contributor to a pennant contender within the next 5 years. As a placeholder outfielder occupying a hole until Pie learns to wait on his pitch, he has value at 3 to 4 million per year. However, his strengths lie in counting stats — steals and hits — not in ratio stats like OBP and SLG. He’s a below average total package and I would call anything more than a 2 year, 6.5 million dollar contract a mistake. Even there I’m sure we could find a 4A player to put up a .330 OBP and get caught stealing 28% of the time while contributing passable defense at best and no power.

So if a realistic option like Cameron, Roberts, Lofton, Brady Clark, or (dream on) Ryan Freel become available we should snatch ’em up. Otherwise I guess he’s the devil we know.

Please post your vote. Say Yes to Juan Pierre in ’07 or No?

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Cubs lose first game in battle for last place

Monday, August 28th, 2006

The Cubs lost their fourth in a row tonight to the Battling Buckos of Pittsburgh, losing 11-6 in what might be described as a “must-lose” game. This team reminds me of the 1999 and 2002 Cubs – it looks as though they are just going through the motions. It’s not that they’re not trying; rather they are playing without purpose. Were I the manager I would be preaching in the clubhouse about “playing for respect,” i.e. trying to instill some sense of competitiveness in a season that was over in late May. Instead, the Cubs must listen to talk about hate letters from a man who “sometimes” feels welcome in his own home ballpark.

Hendry has said repeatedly that he intends to finish out the season with Baker but I think it’s now time to pull the plug. Not because Dusty has done anything wrong, it just doesn’t make any sense for the Cubs or for Baker. There is about a month left in the season and the Cubs can use this time wisely to make some decisions about players and coaches. Barrett, Ramirez, Lee, Jones, Zambrano, Marshall, Eyre and Howry are locks for next year but decisions have to be made about players like Theriot, Pagan, Murton, Bynum, Guzman, Hill, Marmol, Mateo and Aardsma.

I would also like to see the Cubs give Mike Quade a month’s audition at the helm of the club and see what he can do; it’s a wonder that Dusty Baker can sleep at night and I’m sure he dreads getting up every morning. Now is also the time to part company with Larry Rothschild and let one of our minor league pitching coaches come up. There’s no doubt in my mind that one of them could do as good if not better of a job than Mopey Larry.

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Playing the race card – again

Monday, August 28th, 2006

I remember growing up in suburban Chicago, as a kid we read short stories by Flannery O’Connor, we were exposed to writings from James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I distinctly recall seeing newsclips of southern protests being broken up with fierce dogs and water cannons. I vividly remember my father making a wrong turn and driving into the Hough section of Cleveland after Dr. King’s death and I can still smell the pall of smoke as I did on that cool April night in 1968. My recollections include transferring to New Orleans in 1974 and seeing police wearing riot gear in the halls of my new high school, after a standout black running back was refused an honorable mention despite scoring 24 touchdowns. These images are vividly etched in my memory and are not to be taken for granted.

In today’s Chicago Sun-Times Jay Mariotti questions Dusty’s use of the “race card;” at first I was a bit reticent as I began to read the article but, the more I read the more Mariotti seemed to make sense. The continued references to racist letters paint a picture of the city of Chicago as being somewhat intolerant – while Chicago as a whole is not as diverse as a city such as New Orleans or even Nashville I would certainly not refer to it as a “white city.”

So I have to agree with Jay and question Dusty’s continued use of the race card. What is he trying to accomplish? Will Dusty use racism as an excuse for being fired if Hendry doesn’t bring him back? Will Baker use racist attitudes for his decision not to come back if he’s offered a contract that’s not to his liking?

I cannot and will not condone the unacceptable bigoted behavior of a few crank fans, nor will I say that they dishonor Cubs Nation, because they do not speak for Cubs Nation. But I will suggest that it’s time for Dusty to start turning the other cheek and begin to file the offending letters in the circular file. Given his performance as a Cubs manager it’s fair to say that Dusty would be receiving hateful mail regardless of his skin color. It’s time to move on, in more ways than one.

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Good teams find a way to win

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

And bad teams find a way to lose. This Cubs loss and series sweep was a team effort. Despite winning the season series, our Cubs were again outclassed by the Cardinals as they lost in climactic fashion 10-6. From an organizational standpoint the Cubs aren’t in the same league as St. Louis. Year in and year out, despite injuries and even deaths, the Cards find a way to compete. But our Cubs are hapless, they surely are losers but they are no longer loveable.

Fortunately the season is almost over and the Cubs will transition into the part of the season they are best at. The offseason, when hope springs eternal, when fans can truly be optimistic because they don’t have to be reminded on a daily basis how bad their team really is.

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Just following instructions, boss

Friday, August 25th, 2006

I have to assume that Chicago ballplayers read the newspapers like we do, so they probably saw today where Dusty said that he doesn’t like his ballplayers “clogging up the basepaths” with runners. Well tonight they responded by doing an excellent job of staying off the bases; in nine innings the Cubs had ten baserunners and stranded them all.

Juan Mateo wasn’t dominating but he didn’t pitch a bad game either. He lost because the Cubs didn’t score enough runs. Why? Because they didn’t have enough guys on base to be driven in when the hits *did* happen. Farmers know a simple rule – if your hens lay enough eggs, pretty soon you’re gonna have more chickens. Not enough walks + not enough hits = not enough runs.

Johnny B helps the Cubs’ opposition by handcuffing the players with bad decisions and poor direction. We need a manager that understands and teaches the fundamentals of the game, not one that focuses on trying to look smart during press conferences.

Update: The Cubs again did a great job of not “clogging up the basepaths” as they were limited to one walk, three hits and one run in their second low-scoring loss in as many days. You have to feel sorry for the two young starters. The Cubs’ batters were free-swinging as usual, hacking away at pitcher’s pitches and Cubs’ hitters only let the St. Louis pitchers throw 107 pitches in nine innings. This is Dusty Ball.

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Still crazy…

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while since I posted, and I apologize. To tell the truth, the Cubs haven’t provided much inspiration (at least to say anything good) lately, so I’ve been holding my tongue (and boy is it dry). So first, I will react to the Neifi trade. Well, it was nice that we traded him and don’t have to pay his salary and even got a decent prospect, but I’m more bothered by the fact that there are still 3 guys on the team who are WORSE(Bynum, Cedeno and Izturis) than Neifi!

mp3 andru donalds all out of love
That out of the way, I will now provide you with the real reason I jumped into action and posted today: Dusty Baker said something stupid. Yes, not usually news, but it got me so aggravated that I needed to get it off my chest. Actually, before the main event, here’s something to get me warmed up:

“I’ve always said since I started managing that I’d like to have a team full of young guys and young players who you can teach to play the game the right way,” Baker said.

All I’ll say is that if somebody can go back through various newspaper archives and find any quote from the beginning, middle or end of Dusty’s managerial career in which he expressed the idea that he wanted to teach and manage young players, e-mail it to me, and I will send you one of my cats as a prize.

On to the main event, asked about the club’s need to improve it’s NL low .318 on-base percentage, Dusty said this:

On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage,” Baker said. “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me. The problem we have to address more than anything is the home run problem.”

While Baker is right about the team’s power outage, he has once again brought up the insane idea that there is something wrong with walks, that they “clog” the bases. I do not understand this concept. Not at all. Here’s the way I see it. If a slow guy(say Aramis Ramirez) gets on base via a walk he is clogging the bases, because if a fast guy(say Juan Pierre) comes up after him and hits a ball that could be triple, Juan will only get a double, because Aramis will be too slow to score. But isn’t it still better to have men on 2nd and 3rd than just a man on 3rd? What am I missing here? Please, if you think you can adequately explain to me what is wrong with clogging the bases with walks, e-mail me said explanation along with your name and home address, so that I can tell your local mental health professionals where to find you.

Okay enough of Dusty. Hopefully he’s not going to be around next year anyway. September is approaching, and with the season over since July, what do you hope to see from the Cubs in the final month? Do you want to see a big winning streak? Maybe you want the team to be overtaken by the Pirates so they get the top draft pick? Here’s what I’d like to see in September:

1. Felix Pie: I know he’s probably not ready for the show yet, but remember, in September, a lot of teams are playing AAA players, and there are no great teams in the NL anyway, so I’d like to see what Pie can do in the bigs. Frankly, I’m curious to see the kid play, and after sitting through this crapfest, it’d be nice to see somebody with some promise on the field.

2. Ryan Theriot: I think I’ve made it known that I don’t particularly care for Ronny Cedeno. He seems like a nice kid who plays hard, but he lacks in two areas: hitting and fielding. The Cubs said earlier that they planned on playing Cedeno and Izturis at SS and 2nd next year, perhaps in some twisted quest to field the worst hitting middle infield since the deadball era. No, I want to see Ryan Theriot at 2nd, for the rest of the year. He shows patience at the plate, and actually has a track record of hitting in the minors and also seems to be able to catch the ball. And if he can stick in the majors, that’s one less spot to fill for 2007.

3. Carlos Zambrano rested: He’s one of my favorite pitchers, but the guy is being ridden too hard during a season that means nothing. I’m not saying bench Zambrano (who’d want to tell him that?), but maybe he doesn’t need to throw 120 pitches every outing. The once promising Cubs staff now lies in a twisted wreckage of broken arms and shoulders, and while we all want to believe that Carlos is some sort of freak of nature, the truth is that if you put enough weight on anything, it eventually breaks.

Those are the top 3 things I’d like to see in September of 2006. What are yours?

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