Archive for October, 2008

ID this old Cub Autograph

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

A reader asked me to help with this awhile back and I completely forgot until now. Please help him ID this autographed ball. The bottom one is Paul Assenmacher, but who is the top one?

Also, don’t forget to listen to the most recent episode of The Pitch. We know this: The 2008 postseason won’t be a non-competitive month of sweeps.

The Pitch hosts Joe Aiello and Brandon Rosage provide their breakdown of how the Red Sox lost their grip on the ALCS with questionable pitching management and misguided decisions in extra innings at Tampa Bay. And the discussion moves to Los Angeles, as well, where the Dodgers crushed Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer early in Game 3 to climb back into the series with power and bench-clearing anger.

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One Heck of a Year

Monday, October 13th, 2008

As many of you know, I still play baseball. In fact, Jose and I play in the same league, on a National level.

This year, was nothing like the Cubs’ year, as our mighty Lobos struggled through the regular season, myself included. We managed to win our play-in game to get into the playoffs, and then things started clicking. Of course, it always helps when your four pitchers show up each and every game. We went the full three games (each series is a best of three) in the semi finals, beating a strong offensive Diamondbacks team, and reached the Finals, last Friday. Things looked bleak when we went down by five runs in Game One, but we managed two comebacks, and won it late. Yesterday was a doubleheader, in which we were shorthanded, and just didn’t have the arms, and some seriously untimely defense. Much like the Cubs showing in the NLDS.

Although we lost, and my body is truly pissed at me today, it was one of the most exciting years we’ve had. Before this season, the Lobos had never won a playoff game. This year we won four, just not that one game that we needed in the final day.

I just want to thank the guys for yet another memorable season, and tip my hat to the Devils, which is becoming quite the little rivalry. As we’re all used to saying around these parts, “Wait til next year!”Black Dawn hd

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It Happened

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

The weather was beautiful Thursday afternoon so I took the motorcycle out for a spin. I was kind of in the neighborhood so I decided to head over to Wrigley Field to check out the vibe.

I was northbound on Clark St. and caught a red light at Addison, which gave me time to admire the edifice right in front of me. The red and white “Wrigley Field Home of Chicago Cubs” sign, all the brick work, the statues. The light changed. I passed McDonald’s on the left and the employees’ parking lot on the right. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

The ballpark itself was deserted, of course, but I’m used to that. My dad and I used to stop by the Box Office on off days and at off hours all the time. I didn’t get the “funerial” feeling that others have recently described.

I turned right onto Waveland. I noticed the bleachers cantilevered out over the sidewalk and I noticed the scoreboard on the right. On the left, a sign attached to a fence at eye level proclaimed: “It’s Gonna Happen”. The thought which immediately struck me was: “Oh Yeah, It Happened All Right”.

I turned right onto Sheffield at Murphy’s and that’s when it hit me. The question came pouring over the right field bleachers like a tidal wave covering the entire block. And it surprised me because I hadn’t paid much attention to it before. But this is what came rolling out of Wrigley Field at me Thursday.

How come nobody’s talking about the balls and strikes called for Ryan Dempster in Game 1? I understand that the players can’t question balls and strikes, and maybe the team management can’t either, but we sure can.

Ryan Dempster (or was it his evil twin Sean?) seemed to have excellent control in the top of the 1st as he struck out Rafael Furcal. But I noticed that his pitches, which were nibbling at the corners of the plate and looked like strikes to me, were being called balls. The second batter, Russell Martin, drew a walk on exactly those type of pitches. And Ryan/Sean was getting visibly more agitated with each called ball.

He started throwing some erratic pitches. The third batter, Manny Ramirez, grounded into an inning ending double play, but it was obvious that the Cubs’ pitcher was getting torqued off, and maybe beginning to lose his composure.

In the top of the 2nd Andre Ethier, the 1st batter, drew a walk but Dempster retired the next three.

In the top of the 3rd Dempster walked 2 and gave up an infield single to Manny Ramirez. No runs scored but, as I recall, the wheels were starting to come off.

In the top of the 4th Ryan/Sean faced 4 batters. Blake DeWitt got a bloop single but the other 3 were put out.

In the 5th, of course, Dempster walked 3 of the first 5 batters, then gave up the grand slam and a double. That was the end of Dempster, and that was the end of the Cubs.

After he got pulled, Dempster was shown sitting in the dugout talking to his pitching coach, and he looked pissed! It didn’t look to me like he was just trying to explain why he had had no control. And I can’t help wondering if some creative umpiring didn’t contribute to the turn of events.

Now, I realize that I might be imagining this whole thing. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I just wanted to share the thought that came over me as I circled Wrigley Field Thursday.

Because, like I said, It Happened.

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The Big Plan

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Let me start by saying this.

The 2008 Chicago Cubs team was very, very good. This team was one of the best Cubs teams in recent history, with a very good balanced offense, a good balanced pitching staff, and a good defense. They finished with the following National League rankings:

  • BA: 2nd
  • OBP: 1st
  • SLUG: 1st
  • Runs: 1st
  • ERA: 3rd
  • WHIP: 2nd
  • K’s: 1st
  • Runs Allowed: 2nd

The Cubs clearly had the best offense in the National League, and arguably the second best pitching staff in the league.

But as we all now know, things did not work out quite as well in the three playoff games that the Cubs played. The Cubs, in the playoffs, looked bad. Their pitching staff was mediocre (and at times bad), their offense was bad, and their defense was bad.

So what does this mean? And where do the Cubs go from here?

I believe, pretty strongly, that we should not make judgments about this team based on three games. The Cubs played really poorly in those three games, but it is wrongheaded to assert that those three games are more indicative of the team’s ability than the 161 games played in the regular season. So it is important that we look at the greater picture what than the three-game let down of the NLDS.

As good as the Cubs were during the regular season, the team still has some holes, and here are what I see as the priorities to figure out. Now, I do believe that there other places that can be upgraded, both those upgrades need to be done in a way that still allow the above areas to be addressed.

  • Center Field. The Cubs were actually very productive in CF this year with the Jim Edmonds/Reed Johnson platoon. They were actually second in the National League in OPS, just .001 behind the Carlos Beltran and the Mets. But while the Edmonds/Johnson platoon worked like magic this year, it is not likely that they will be able to repeat that performance. Jim Edmonds is old and slow, both his leg and bat speed. Reed Johnson is what he is – a solid role player and can have a positive impact on the team.
  • Right Field Backdraft the movie . Right field is a mess right now. I do not think that any of us really know who the real Kosuke Fukudome is, but we know that he looked awful over the last two to three months of the season. Mark DeRosa has been able to step in and play RF, but his defense is clearly lacking in RF. And oh yea… Fukudome is only owed 36 million dollars over the next three years.
  • BullpenThe Cubs bullpen, down the stretch, started to fall apart. Eyre was gone, Howry forgot how to get people out, and no one else was reliable. Jeff Samardzija was able step up, but his inability to throw strikes limited his effectiveness.
  • Shortstop. This should be fun. I think that everyone knows my opinion on Ryan Theriot. He is one of the worse SS’s in the game – both offensively and defensively. You can read the link if you want to know why.
  • First base. Ah… Derrek Lee. I am a big fan of Derrek Lee. He defense is very good (though may have fallen off a bit), he is a smart baseball player, and a good hitter. But for some reason he lost his power. He hit 13 home runs through May, and his just seven after that. That is a problem for a first baseman.

Just My Luck movie download
So that leaves LF, 3b, 2b, C, and the starting rotation as places that don’t need Witches’ Night buy upgrades. Can they be upgraded? Absolutely. Brian Roberts would be a (slight) upgrade over DeRosa. Sabathia would obviously upgrade the rotation. But none of those places need an upgrade, especially if Dempster is resigned.

I would also say that an argument could be made that SS and 1b are not positions that need to be upgraded, and should be a lower priority.

So this is what I do.

I would re-sign Dempster and Wood. I would have Fukudome start in the minor leagues, unless the Cubs have legitimate reason (other than the $36 million) to think that he has been able to fix things.

I would go after Rafael Furcal to play SS and leadoff. I would go after Raul Ibanez to play RF. I would resign Reed Johnson, and let him platoon with Felix Pie in CF.

I would attempt to trade Jason Marquis and let Marshall, Guzman, and Samardzija fight it out for the 5th slot in the rotation. I would also look into Derek Lowe and AJ Burnett, but it would be a lesser priority.

I would try to sign someone like a Jeremy Affeldt for the bullpen, but I would be veryhesitant to spend significant money/years on a middle relief pitcher.

And, unless the Cubs can sign Mark Teixeira, I would keep Derrek Lee at 1st.

I would also let Blanco go, and have Koyie Hill be the backup catcher, while also letting Ward walk away with Hoffpaiur filling the LH pinch hit role.

This would give the Cubs a lineup looking like this:
Furcal
Lee
ARam
Ibanez
Soto
Soriano
DeRosa
Johnson/Pie
Pitcher

And a rotation that looked like this:
Zambrano
Harden
Lilly
Dempster
Marshall/Guzman/Samardzija/Burnett/Lowe

A bench that looked like this:
Theriot
Johnson/Pie
Hoffpaiur
K. Hill
Fontenot

And a bullpen that looked like this:
Wood (closer)
Marmol
Affeldt
Guzman
Samardzija
Wuertz/Hart
Gaudin

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Shame on me…

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Why we need to do something…maybe even big:

The old saying goes “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” though President Bush butchered it when he tried to use it. The gist being that when something catches you off guard twice then you have to look at yourself to blame. The sad end to the Cubs 2008 season has left people scratching their heads and even questioning their allegiances. Two years in a row of a quick and quiet exit. Two years in a row of futility, silent bats, and ineffective pitching. Last year was understandable with the Cubs fighting their way into the playoffs only to travel to Arizona and face Brandon Webb. This year was supposed to be different. The best team in the National League wins home field advantage where they have been ultra dominant only to go away really bad and really fast. It doesn’t make sense. But it is the second time and so you must consider a different road.

I know it is difficult to consider a different road because multiple winning seasons and playoff bound teams in a row is a nice situation. It is certainly much different than we have been accustomed to over our lifetimes. Yet the goal is winning championships and the last two years we haven’t been close. We can analyze everything that happened and why Lou did what he did and why the players didn’t seem to show up and why the Dodgers might have been the better team at that time but this gets us nowhere really. The thing is that we didn’t even contend, we didn’t battle, we barely showed up. The most competitive thing we did the entire month was bust up some plumbing in Dodgers Stadium after losing the series. We did beat ourselves with walks and errors but even without those we probably still lose three straight because we couldn’t hit. The series showed some fatal flaws that must be addressed or we will continue this cycle.

To make things clear I believe that the Cubs will still make the playoffs next year even as constituted. They will make moves but a rotation of Zambrano, Lilly, Harden, Marquis, and Marshall probably goes to the playoffs. The defense and bats remain pretty much the same with the addition of Pie in Center. The bullpen would move Carlos Marmol to closer and would be serviceable. I think as constituted the Cubs would still win the Central because I doubt that the Brewers will resign Sabathia and still have no bullpen or defense. The Cardinals and Astros are OK but fading for now. The Reds are a step away. The Pirates are the Pirates. Of course we will not stay as constituted but my point is that they would still win the division. However, the goal is not just to win the division. Which is why we must do something because winning the division and being easily bounced from the first round is not going to cut it.

Why it will be tough:

The Cubs contract numbers are frightening from a business sense and they make you wonder if they will even be able to afford to field a 25 man roster next year. Jim Hendry built the team with back loaded contracts believing the team would win a World Series and that the team would have a new owner to deal with the payroll…wrong and wrong. So the contracts are beginning to blossom into a nightmarish garden of trouble for the future. Look at these numbers:

  • Secret Passage release Carlos Zambrano will make 2.75 million more in 2009
  • Aramis Ramirez will make 1.65 million more
  • Alfonso Soriano will make 3 million more
  • Ted Lilly will make 5 million more
  • Kosuke will make 5.5 million more
  • Jason Marquis will make 3.5 million more
  • Rich Harden will make 2.5 million more

This is an additional 24 million dollars on the payroll for next year. This does not include new contracts for Ryan Dempster and potentially Kerry Wood.

So the Cubs will consider trading some guys but that will not be easy either. The Cubs have given no trade clauses or no trade protection to Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano (Whose contract is ridiculous…I think Jim Hendry also promised him a piece of Lake Michigan), Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, and Kosuke.

This means that any off season plan will be tricky and take the work of a magician. This leaves the Cubs in a really tough place to try to win a World Series.

What should we do?

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas download

If you’re thinking trade you might want to begin by looking at one of the big 3 bats. Soriano and Ramirez did not show up in the playoffs again. While Derrek Lee had very good numbers in the playoffs his numbers on the year were down slightly and he plays in one of the most wealthy offensive positions in baseball. The Cubs need a powerful left handed bat and Lee plays at the most likely position to find that, although there are no guarantees that you can. I think you need to at least kick the tires on trading one of these three. Ideally, it would be Soriano but trading that contract will be almost impossible. It will be hard to trade any of them with the no trade clauses but you start here. Two of the three didn’t perform and the most money will be gained here. They are stars who would demand a sizeable return…if anyone would be interested.

The trouble with Sori

As has been said in the past few days a big deal was made about Alfonso Soriano being a mistake hitter. He pounds the mistakes other pitchers make and hits well against the other team’s third, fourth, and fifth in the rotation. The thing is I saw mistakes that were thrown to him in the Dodger’s series and he didn’t hit those either. He has been on really good teams and not one has won the World Series. His fault? Maybe not. But it can’t be completely unrelated either. When he played with the Yankees, Joe Torre wound up dropping him in the order for the playoffs due to lack of production. This is not a coincidence.

His playoff numbers are poor and maybe abysmal. They are based on a large sample size and are not fluke. 179 playoff at bats, only 7 extra base hits, only 14 runs scored from a guy who was leading off most of the time, 18 rbi, .213 batting average, .263 obp, .299 slugging. Really bad numbers.

It is amazing because no one has taken the team on their back the way Soriano has at times the last two years. But he has proven an inability to perform in the playoffs. You can’t have a lead off hitter who goes one for the playoffs every year. I am finally ready to say that Alfonso Soriano cannot lead off if the Cubs want to go to the World Series. This means that he cannot lead off during the year either. I think ideally the Cubs would love for someone to take Soriano from them. That probably won’t happen. Which means their only other option is to drop him in the order and it has already been reported that this decision had been made.

At the top

One interesting free agent of note is Rafael Furcal whom Jim Hendry wooed a few years back only to be jilted when he went to the Dodgers. He is a lead off or number two hitter who can get on base and can hit from the left side. He plays one of the few positions that can easily be replaced on this team. While I like Ryan Theriot I still wonder if he has the stuff to be more than a nice gritty guy. Adding Furcal would help you at the top of the order and add a consistent bat that can hit from the left side. Furcal had a .459 obp this year. With this addition you could drop Soriano and bring Lee, Fukudome, or DeRosa to number two. OR…

Another spot that you could easily switch up is second base. This brings up the potential of the rumored Brian Roberts deal again. If you were pursuing Roberts in this scenario you would have Theriot, Cedeno, Fontenot, and all of your other pitching and hitting prospects at your disposal to try to get him. While other teams will go after Roberts as well it remains to be seen if the Cubs have the horses to win that race.

This is a realistic scenario. You have to pay for Furcal but you have the money. You have to trade for Roberts but you have the guys to do it. This is not convincing guys to forego their no trade. This is not adding multi million dollar players who are not available or won’t come. This scenario could change everything. Imagine Roberts and/or Furcal at the top of the order in front of Lee, Ramirez, Soto, and Soriano.

Outfield

Assuming that Soriano will be here you have question marks at the other spots. I think a first step is re-signing Reed Johnson. He is a platoon guy who can play all three outfield positions when needed. I would think you would have Pie on the roster again. If you do have Roberts at 2B you can then use DeRosa in right field if Kosuke does not work. If Kosuke is hitting he could be an option in CF- nobody questions his defensive ability. You would have Soriano, Johnson/Pie in CF, DeRosa/Fukudome in RF. This is not saying that DeRosa and Fukudome will platoon.

Offensive Roster

I think a reasonable (and potential World Series winning) roster on offense would be:

  • Geovany Soto
  • Henry Blanco
  • Derrek Lee
  • Micah Hoffpauir
  • Brian Roberts
  • Rafael Furcal
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Reed Johnson
  • Kosuke Fukudome
  • Mark DeRosa
  • Either Felix Pie, Mike Fontenot, or Ronnie Cedeno

We know that DeRosa can play many positions and give you depth in many places so he can rotate out of the outfield as needed.

Pitching staff

You would start with the contracts of Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood. I would attempt to re-sign both guys depending on what they were asking. I think Dempster is more vital than Wood but if you don’t re-sign Wood you will need another quality right handed arm in the bullpen. Jeff Samardzija looked good at times and looked spotty at other times. He is an unproven commodity. Chad Gaudin should be more effective next year as he should be recovered from injury by then. The Cubs need another left hander. Sean Marshall has been a valuable resource because he could spot start but he might be a trade focus and isn’t really a bullpen guy anyway. The Cubs need to get a strong lefty out of the pen.

As of now I have only mentioned one free agent pursuit (aside from a bullpen arm or two). But I think there is another realistic possibility out there. I would like to see the Cubs pursue Ben Sheets. I know he is injury prone, but when he is good he is an ace. You will be able to get him much cheaper than other guys and if he stays healthy he is a stud. The good thing about this is that he would be coming in as a number five. With Harden and Sheets people might say that is like counting on Wood and Prior. It is completely different. Wood and Prior were counted on as one and two. Harden and Sheets would be four and five. Imagine a rotation of Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, and Sheets. What do you do with Marquis? Would it really matter?

I think these thoughts are somewhat possible and would answer a lot of questions. Perhaps in this scenario we would not have to find out what “Fool me thrice” would bring.

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