Archive for October, 2007

Sunday Morning Webtopia

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

This week we’ve got some interesting ones for you. It’s not just Cubs related either.

  • Lou Piniella is going to the Yankees? (Source)
  • Notes from the Arizona Instructional League (Source)
  • Dusty Baker interviews with the Reds (Source)
  • Why the Diamondbacks won and why the Cubs lost. (Part I / Part II)
  • The Umpartial Observer – Why umpires are getting in players faces more than ever (Source)
  • Finally, this is totally non-sports related, but made me laugh pretty hard:Every Sunday morning, we’ll highlight some good writing around the web and beyond. Feel free to send me submissions of things you run across, whether it be good youtube videos, sports related blog posts, or good columns. Send all submissions to:
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    And Then There Were Four

    Thursday, October 11th, 2007

    If I have learned anything watching the National League playoffs unfold, it is this. The New York Yankee book of How-to-Win-a-Baseball-Championship does not work. Spend your money wisely; do not simply just spend it. Case in point, Colorado, 25th in the major leagues with a $54 million payroll, eliminated Philadelphia, and Arizona ranked 26th at $52 million eliminated the Cubs, in case you forgot the outcome of that series.

    What does work is this, developing young, talented players combined with a couple of veteran leaders. (Jim Hendry, I am available if you want to talk.) This series is not exactly made in TV ratings heaven. It is a series I think will be fun to watch. Let me set the stage. The Rockies caught fire late and are hot having won 17 of their last 18 games. In that span, guess what team handed the Rockies their only loss? You guessed it, the Diamondbacks. The Rockies won the season series, 10-8, while outscoring the Diamondbacks, 86-72. However, 12 of the games were decided by two runs or less, with each team winning six. This has the making of a seven game series. Heres why:

    NLCSColorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamondbacks

    Lineup
    The Rockies are playing baseball as it should be played. Good pitching and timely hitting. They are getting hits with runners in scoring position (I am talking to you Aramis). Leading the way for the Rockies is Matt Holliday, who belted 36 home runs and led the league with a .340 average and 137 RBI. He did however struggle against the Phillies hitting two home runs and an average of .231. I have no doubt he will be big in this series, even using his face to slide into home plate if needed. I doubt Troy Tulowitzki has another series batting. 167 and Todd Helton plays well against the Diamondbacks. In 160 games against them, Helton is hitting .327 with a 29 homers, 103 RBI and 116 runs scored.

    Do not look past the Diamondbacks. When a team has Augie Ojeda hitting .444 against the Cubs, they must be doing something right. Obviously keep an eye out for center fielder Chris Young, who will, if thrown a fastball, HIT IT OUT. (Now I am talking to you Rich Hill) while Stephen Drew hit .500 with two homers and four RBI in the three games against the Cubs. Edge: Rockies

    Starting Pitching
    I have to give the starting pitching edge to the Diamondbacks. Even though Brandon Webb has a 5.77 ERA against the Rockies this year, he is still Brandon Webb and he can win twice in a seven-game series. If push comes to shove, Webb could even pitch three times. He is slated to go in Game 1, but could then return on short rest in Game 4 before starting a potential seventh game on full rest. My advice would be just don’t save him for a Game 4 while he is in the middle of pitching strongly in Game 1*. (Taken from the Lou Piniella guide to playoff pitching.) Jeff Francis won 17 games this season and I barely know his name. He is a 7-2 lifetime against the Diamondbacks with a 3.54 ERA in 14 starts. After Francis, the picture is a little cloudy with names like Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Um, who?Edge: Diamondbacks

    Bullpen
    Both bullpens are performing exceptionally well. In the ninth inning, The Diamondbacks Jose Valverde has proved to thrive on the pressure, recording the NL-best 47 saves this season. Arizona skipper Bob Melvin just has to remember not to call up Juan Cruz to early and the bullpen will be tough. The Rockies Manny Corpas was lights out against the Phillies, recording the save in all three games. Corpas posted 19 saves and a 2.08 ERA in a team-high 78 appearances this year. Interestingly enough, the Diamondbacks are just 3 for 36 lifetime against him. Edge: Even

    I predict the Rockies, in seven. If the extended days off did not damper the Rockies momentum, they are really going to be a tough team to beat. Their potential has been there all season, they just clicked at the last and best possible moment.

    ALCSCleveland Indians vs Boston Red Sox

    While the NLCS is highlighting the young and talented, the ALCS will highlight the 1-2 punch. The two teams in my mind are pretty evenly matched on paper, but as we all know that does not always translate out onto the field. The Indians may have a deeper lineup, but the Red Sox have Ramirez and Ortiz. The Indians may have Sabathia and Carmona but the Red Sox have Beckett and Shilling. Lets see how it plays out:

    Lineup
    Two words. Ramirez and Ortiz. Ok, that was three words but you get my point. Ortiz batted .714 with three RBIs and two homeruns in the ALDS. Manny hit a game winning shot in Game 2 against the Angels and hit .375. (Note to Soriano, Lee and Ramirez – those are what playoff statistics should look like) Mike Lowell also batted .333 against the Angels. As good as the big three are performing; the supporting cast needs to step it up. According to the Sports Network, Crisp (.200), J.D. Drew (.182), Jason Varitek (.182) and Dustin Pedroia (.154) all hit .200 or below.

    The tone is set for the Indians offense by none other than Kenny Lofton. Doesn’t it seem to be that way with every team he plays for. Lofton hit .375 against the Yankees, and was 5-for-7 through the first two games with four RBI and two runs scored. Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez both had good series and look for them to continue that. The Indians need Travis Hafner to step up his production to be able to stay competitive with Boston’s powerhouses. Edge: Red Sox

    Starting Pitching
    It just doesn’t get better than this, two Cy Young award candidates, Josh Beckett versus C.C. Sabathia. Number one versus Number two, who will win? I really don’t have enough room to write about Beckett’s post season resume but take this into consideration – in his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings; Beckett has pitched to a 1.74 earned run average. In Game 1 against the Angels, he held them to four hits with eight strikeouts in a 4-0 win. Dust off a place for your award Josh? I imagine following Beckett cant be to fun but that is exactly what Shilling will do. Say what you want about Schilling, the man knows how to pitch in the postseason.

    Although the Indians Sabathia won his start against the Yankees, he did not seem to have his best stuff and was in and out of trouble all night long. (and no, I did not forget I picked him to win the Cy Young a few weeks ago.) For his career, Sabathia is 2-4 lifetime against Boston with a 3.91 ERA in seven starts. Carmona, meanwhile, pitched brilliantly in the ALDS. He gave up just a run and three hits in nine innings, while striking out eight. If Manny and Big Papi stay as hot as they have been, it is going to be a long series for the Indians pitchers. Edge: Red Sox

    Bullpen
    Who would have though only three months after the acquisition of Eric Gagne, he would hardly be a factor in the Red Sox bullpen. That hurts. Instead, the Red Sox will rely on Jonathan Papelbon, who posted 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA this season. He was only needed once against the Angels and got the win. Hideki Okajima has also seemed to get some much needed rest and has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

    For the Indians it all comes down to an ex Cub factor. This time it is Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves despite pitching to a 5.07 ERA. (Maybe we can call it the Ryan Dempster effect, plenty of saves but plenty of earned runs too.) Borowski will most likely be called upon in a key moment of this series and you are not really sure what you are going to get. Will he give up a home run or will he get the out. (Again, that sounds awfully familiar.) Stay tuned. The Indians three set up guys, Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, have been spot on and I am exited to see Perez match up against David Ortiz.

    I predict the Red Sox in six. If the Manny and Big Papi stay hot, maybe 5 and no doubt Boston will win a game with a walk-off. The Indians are clicking but I just don’t think it will be enough. Sabathia and Carmona are good but Beckett and Shilling may just be better. Edge: Red Sox

    Jacki’s column, Seven Up, Seven Down runs every Friday and highlights top stories in the world of baseball

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    The Minor League Minute

    Thursday, October 11th, 2007

    Baseball America released top 20 prospect lists for the Southern League (AA) and the Pacific Coast League (AAA) over the past days. Here is what it looks like, with our boys highlighted.

    PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
    1. Yovani Galladro, RHP (MIL)
    2. Adam Jones, OF (SEA)
    3. Billy Butler, OF-1B (KC)
    4. Andy LaRoche, 3B (LAD)
    5. Ian Stewart, 3B (COL)
    6. Felix Pie, OF (CUBS)
    7. Carlos Gomez, OF (NYM)
    8. James Loney,1B (LAD)
    9. Brandon Wood, 3B-SS (LAA)
    10. Luke Hochevar, RHP (KC)
    11. Jeff Clement, C (SEA)
    12. Mike Pelfrey, RHP (NYM)
    13. Edison Volquez, RHP (TEX)
    14. Wladimir Balentien, OF (SEA)
    15. Troy Patton, LHP (HOU)
    16. Eric Hurley, RHP (TEX)
    17. Billy Buckner, RHP (KC)
    18. Chin-Lung Hu , SS (LAD)
    19. Daric Barton, 1B (OAK)
    20. Geovany Soto, C (CUBS)

    It’s good to see Felix rated so high. Now if we would just see that translate to performance on the field at the Major League level. As for Geo, it’s great to see him turn into what could be our starting catcher in 2008. Here is a kid that was drafted in the 11th round in 2001, and has been basically mediocre over the past years until seemingly figuring it out at the plate this year in AAA and the bigs. I’m excited to see what he can do next year.

    SOUTHERN LEAGUE
    1. Justin Upton, OF (AZ)
    2. Evan Longoria, 3B (TB)
    3. Wade Davis, RHP (TB)
    4. Johnny Cueto, RHP (CIN)
    5. Brandon Jones, OF (ATL)
    6. Reid Brignac, SS (TB)
    7. Tyler Colvin, OF (CUBS)
    8. Manny Parra, LHP (MIL)
    9. Gio Gonzalez, LHOP (PHI)
    10. Carlos Gonzalez, OF (AZ)
    11. Mark Reynolds, 3B (AZ)
    12. Chin-Lung Hu, SS (LAD)
    13. Brent Lillibridge, SS (ATL)
    14. Jonathan Meloan, RHP (LAD)
    15. Max Scherzer, RHP (AZ)
    16. Jo Jo Reyes, LHP (ATL)
    17. Diory Hernandez, SS (ATL)
    18. James McDonald, RHP (LAD)
    19. Gaby Hernandez, RHP (FLA)
    20. Alcides Escobar, SS (MIL)

    I like Tyler Colvin a lot. He’s one of my favorites in the system right now. I’ve been meaning to put together the audio of an interview with him and have just procrastinated with doing it. In the meantime, feel free to discuss this list or anything else on your mind.

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    Three Reasons To Say ‘NO’ to Mark Cuban

    Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

    I want to preface these three reasons by saying that I really like Mark Cuban as a businessman and as a person. I’ve seen him do some great things for less fortunate people and is one of the most accessible people around the celebrity ranks. He does great things with his blog and even had a TV show I enjoyed. I just don’t want him to own the Cubs.

    Reason # 1Cubes is a Pittsburgh fan. It’s not secret that he was born in Pittsburgh. In 2005, he expressed interest to join up with Dan Marino, Andy Murstein, and Walnut Capital principals Gregg Perelman and Todd Reidbord to acquire the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has also expressed interest in owning the Pittsburgh Pirates (Source). Last I checked, the Pirates are in the NL Central. I understand that they don’t often make any noise of late, but why do I want someone who is a Pirate fan owning my team in the same division? It’s a conflict of interest. I want someone who’s going to understand Chicago and what this team means to the city. Dallas and Pittsburgh are totally different than the City of Chicago. I don’t think Mark Cuban would get that.

    Reason # 2He’s obnoxious in his sideline antics. Say what you want about how he’s the “ultimate fan” and how he would bring an air of passion to the team. Baseball is not like basketball. It’s a different sport. It’s classy and has a rich history. I want a front office that is going to conduct themselves professionally. Whether you want that or not, you can’t deny that Cuban has brought his fair share of negative press to the NBA and to the Mavericks. Fights with David Stern make him look ignorant. I don’t want to see the Cubs, who have a great reputation in terms of being fan favorites, turn into a nationally hated team like the Yankees.

    Reason # 3What has he ever won? I’m not talking about as a businessman. I’m talking about championships. His teams, with all the money he’s put on the table, has never won the championship. I think we’ve learned over the past 10 years that it’s not all about the money. Look at some of the teams just eliminated from the playoffs and those who didn’t qualify. You can’t just throw money on the table and expect that to yield a championship.


    So who do I want to own the Cubs? Don Levin and Buddy Meyers. Levin and Meyers, in case you’re not familiar with them, are the co-owners of the Chicago Wolves. The Wolves have been around for a little over 10 years and have won three championships in that short time. They have eclipsed the Blackhawks in Chicago hockey popularity and have become one of the most successful minor league hockey franchises around. The two business owners have expressed interest in buying the team.

    “I’m realistic enough to know that I might not get it, “but I certainly hope that whoever gets it is local and that they have the passion to want to win, not just to play. My dream in life is to be involved in a World Series. Personally, I’d like to do it against [White Sox Chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf. He’s the only other guy who likes to win as much as I do.” ~ Don Levin

    That’s the kind of guy I want as my new owner. He cares about the city, about the team, and about sticking it to the White Sox.

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    Closure Part 1

    Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

    I know that we all want to move on as quick as we possibly can but I want to take a two part series to vent and reflect about the season and post season that was. It might certainly be therapeutic. I would encourage you as readers of the site to take a moment to add your comments, venting and remembering over the next two weeks. Feel free to jump in on the comments page and add your two cents. It is always interesting to hear other people’s views and reminds us that other people are reading and tracking with what we write. This week I will write reflective ranting about the postseason…maybe I will leave Dick Stockton alone (Although in the final game he referred to Doug David as Ron Davis)…and maybe I will not. But this is my therapy, I will rant and I would encourage you do so as well. Next week I will write about my memories from this season, good and bad. I would like to hear yours as well next week. The Cubs came a long way this season, I’m not talking one season to the next, I’m talking opening day to end. Trivia question: Who was the first reliever that the Cubs called in from the bullpen this year? Try Neal Cotts….remember?

    There were many mind numbing things from the playoffs that tell me that the team might need to do some big retooling this off season. I don’t think the problem was merely a failure to gel.

    I mentioned this before, but for days and days prior to the beginning of the Arizona series against the D-Backs I heard expert after expert talking about how making Brandon Webb work was an absolute necessity in order to even have a chance of beating him. Am I wrong? Did you not hear that exact scouting report numerous times for days leading up to the series? So it almost made me drive my car into a pole when Alfonso Soriano swung at the first pitch to begin the series. What would get through to him? I am pretty sure that the Cubs know that he cannot be their leadoff hitter next year. On Comcast, following their elimination, the host asked Dan Plesac whether Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot, or someone else should/would lead off next year. Plesac said “It has to be B or C.” He’s right. I know everyone quotes Soriano’s lead off numbers versus other numbers, but talk to me about his post season numbers. Talk to me about why Joe Torre wound up dropping him in the line up during the playoffs. Talk to me about his numbers against the quality pitchers of rotations. We don’t need guys who get fat stats during the year, but can’t fill their role on a playoff team. It takes a team to win a World Series…guys filling their roles…just ask the Yankees. It seems to me that teams are being built smarter, out of necessity, than they used to be. It is not just getting the big stars.

    How badly hurt was Soriano? How many times did he pull up short on balls that dropped in front of him? Why is he paralyzed once he steps onto the warning track? What does he think the wall will do to him, forcing him to be unable to move laterally along the wall to be in the proper position to catch a fly ball at the wall?

    Did you scream when Soriano got his first hit in the playoffs and watched it fly instead of running? Winding up with a single instead of a double? Is he hurt or lazy?

    The playoff series seemed to expose every weakness that we had going in. We have one strong starter, and one guy who is a good number two but had a career year and was not strong down the stretch. We have a three, who began the year as a four, and was hot and cold almost the entire second half. We have abysmal (and that is putting it mildly) defense in the outfield. Did Jim Hendry think that would not matter? We cannot bunt…thus forcing our manager to allow our pitchers to swing away in obvious bunting situations. We cannot hold runners on, and our catchers cannot throw runners out. Our leadoff hitter is a showboat who hops before catching fly balls, can kill fastballs but looks real bad on other pitches, has a killer arm but probably costs you more runs than he saves you. Which of these things surprised you? And if we all say we knew all of these things going in, why do we keep going in like that? Aren’t these things obvious? And one final note, why do we keep basing important parts of our team building strategy on reclamation projects?

    It was nice to see the rise of Geovany Soto. Did everyone smile when Michael Barrett dropped the play at the plate in the Padres and Rockies play in game Monday night? It made me think, did he ever catch a play at the plate? There are rumblings that Soto was benched in game three because he called Ted Lilly out for calling him off so often during game two. I am pretty sure those rumors are false, but I didn’t hear Soto call him out. Is that true? What did he say? Compare Soto’s numbers from all of his previous years in the minors to this year. There is a staggering difference…almost suspiciously so. I’m not someone to accuse, but I do wonder how much the Soto of this year will be able to be relied on in the future.

    With regards to the future, why do we have few developed played who are talented? Look at the Rockies and D-Backs and Indians and even the Phillies (Chase Utley and Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard??). National League teams that win seem to build smart teams from within their system. Think about this, who is the NL Central front runner for next year. If the Brewers went out and shored up their bullpen, how would you answer that question? Probably the Cubs…but where are our young players. Why can’t our young guys do fundamental things well? Why does Felix Pie flail at the plate? Is there a systematic problem with development? Many times teams trade young talent to win at the moment, but how many of our younger guys are any good around the league? Maybe Dontrelle Willis, but not so much anymore. Jon Garland, but he improved in the White Sox system, there are no guarantees that we would have been able to develop him as well. I am probably missing some, but I can’t remember any. Why is that?

    At this point some will bring up Ryan Theriot as a young prospect. He was great this year. However, he did fade at times in the end. Will he improve now that he has a full year under his belt, or have a sophomore slump? What do you think?

    Did you know that, according to WSCR, the salaries for the nine D-Backs on the field when the game ended Saturday night was 14 million dollars? It seems to me like having less money makes you work harder and think more. Isn’t it refreshing to not have to hear as much about how economics of baseball are unfair, and so only some teams have a shot. Now we see that teams with smart GM’s who work hard and have a good plan have a shot…except for maybe in the AL East. But this could be changing as well. The Yankees are getting old, you know.

    Any fan that thinks this series was lost when Zambrano was pulled in game one is mislead. Were the Cubs going to score any runs because Zambrano was removed from the game? The seventh would have been his last inning anyway. So it stood to reason that Marmol could do the same job as Zambrano in shutting them down. He didn’t and so there are questions. But don’t you think that looking at the offensive numbers throughout the series you would come to a realization that we were probably not going to score? Leaving Zambrano in does nothing to better our offensive numbers. It is apples and oranges. It didn’t work, but it makes sense.

    On a side note:
    Lou,
    If we get there next year. Don’t plan for game four in game one. We might not have a game four.
    Thanks

    The response to the Zambrano thing gave me a realization that Terry Boers on WSCR hit the next day. Fans in Chicago always like to blame a manager as opposed to blaming a player. How is Lou supposed to fix the truth that the big money clutch guys drove in nobody and did not get on base? People say stupid things. One guy said that Lou lost the Cubs this series because he did not call a meeting after game one to yell at the guys for not playing better fundamental baseball. HUH? I bet that would have done it. The old “Guys you are getting paid millions of dollars to do your job. Which is to be a baseball player. And that is what you have been preparing and practicing for decades. And by the way, we are in the playoffs so you should try to do a good job now” speech. If these are the kind of players you have you will never win. Which, by the way, is why I am sick of hearing how much guys make as if salary is a guarantee for hits and performance. It assumes that the wealth allows guys to call on some reserve strength, or something, to make them more equipped to get a hit in a clutch situation. The guys who perform get paid more, but getting paid more does nothing to guarantee future performance. Do we think A-Ram should take AB’s more seriously and try harder than Ryan Theriot because he makes so much more money? Or would we hope that they are trying just as hard? We expect all of our guys to work hard, regardless of salary.

    The other thing that is absolutely true of the Chicago fan, and maybe all fans, is that we never lost to a team that is better than us. I got so sick after the Bears lost to the Colts last year with everyone talking about how the Bears should have and could have won…but who was the better team? Yes, we could have played better, but we all knew who was the better team. Sometimes the lesser team pulls out an upset, but usually the better team wins. The Diamondbacks’ on paper roster does not look as good as ours. However, they won 90 games. The most in the NL and in a much harder division than the Cubs played in…they had three teams that could have made the playoffs up until Monday of playoff week. They also had beaten the Cubs 4 of 6 times. I know a big deal was made about the fact that the D-Backs were outscored by their opponents this year, but doesn’t that speak to strength as well as weakness? What must be working well in order to get 90 wins and still be outscored by your opponents. We were out pitched, out hit, out thought, out managed, out run, out hustled, out clutched, in every aspect out played. And maybe we should have seen it coming. Matt mentioned earlier this week, did you ever get a feeling of something magical and dominant from this team? I don’t think I did…even though I began to love them as a team and group of guys.

    Please, please stop with the curses and one hundred years stuff. Do you realize that the 100 years does not make it any more likely that we will win ever. Every year is a new start and new chance to build a team strong enough to win. There is nothing random about it. There is no promise that eventually chance will determine that this is our year. 100 years means nothing about our chances…it just means that we have endured much misery. And curses are just bogus.

    Why, why, why would Ted Lilly throw a fastball to Chris Young in that situation? It was something that EVERYONE knew was a bad idea, why do our guys think they defy baseball logic? And then to follow it up, why on Earth (That’s as harsh as I get) would Rich Hill begin game three by throwing the same Chris Young a fastball? I think the two balls passed in flight. Why would he ever be thrown a fastball in the series again? It is nice to be down a run one pitch into a must win game. It defies logic, but our guys seem to do that often.

    On a good note, getting beaten so badly exposed the weaknesses of the team. I am pretty sure that the management team sees that there is much work to be done. Hopefully, they will do it.

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