Archive for June, 2010

Game 78: Rubber Match Blues

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

 

 

First Star : Brad Lincoln (.448 WPA)

Second Star: Tom Gorzelanny (.283)

Third Star: Garrett Jones (.258)

 


 

With the wind blowing in the Cubs bats just blew.   They managed four hits and no runs against Pirates pitcher Brad Lincoln  who was 0-2 coming into this slugfest.  In all fairness Lincoln is considered the Pirates top pitching prospect.  If the rookie needed a break, the Cubs hitters were just what the doctor ordered.   He went seven strong and struck out six Cubs.

The Cubs haven’t had back to back wins since June 16-17 when they got their only series win of the month against the A’s.  Tom Gorzelanny looked good through five innings giving up no runs and four hits with three walks.  This is about as positive as I can be in regards to this contest.

Yet again, I can’t decide if this game was a pitchers duel or a battle of futility at the plate.  It seems the Cubs hitters can make just about any pitcher look worthy of the Cy Young award.  Without further ado here is The Good, The Bad , and The Ugly…….

The Good

  • In the first inning Gorzelanny made a nice pick off move to first and caught the Pirate rookie Tabata running.  He was thrown out at second on Lee’s throw down to Fontenot.  While this seems small, and it is, it was a nice start to the game and made me feel like it was setting the tone. Oh how I was fooled.
  • Aramis led off the fifth with a nice hit into right field.  When Aramis starts going the other way this means good things for him at the plate. I am not about to declare him healed of his hitting woes but he is taking baby steps.
  • Starlin Castro had yet another nice at bat in the fifth tonight.  With a man on he doubled down the right field line.  The guy doesn’t light the world on fire with his bat but he shows great promise.  He has a nice approach at the plate and he goes with whatever the pitcher gives him.
  • The Pirates bullpen.  These guys are pretty automatic against us.  Makes me sort of jealous at times.  Hanrahan got the hold and Dotel shut us down as usual.  When we are down going into the seventh against these guys you can pretty much close the book.
  • A couple guys in the crowd got creative and made signs with Soriano wearing a leather jacket and the word “aaaayyyyy!” above it with Fonzie written below. I know, I am reaching for good things at this point. 
  • Here is something good.  Tom Gorzelanny pitched very well.  He only went five inning’s but was very effective and once again made me wonder, why did we move him to the pen and bring Zambrano back to the rotation?  He had 77 pitches and 51 of them were strikes.

 

 The Bad

  • Derrek Lee got on base to start off the second inning but Aramis and Koyie were robbed on two hard hit balls that didn’t leave the infield.  That being said chalk up another spoiled chance early on in the game to put up some runs.  We had a guy on second with one out and couldn’t get the ball out of the infield. 
  • The last name Schlitter.  The recent Cubs call up (Brian Schlitter) did a fine job pitching today but that name is so bad it is awesome.  As a matter of fact, it could go in the “The Good” section but for now we will keep it here.  Say it to yourself repeatedly, it’s kind of fun.
  • Tyler Colvin striking out with 2 runners in scoring position and two outs in the fifth. As a team, we do not step up in these situations.  We will never win these close games if we don’t find some clutch hitting somewhere.  A hit there would have been clutch.  
  • Aramis Ramirez made an error on what looked like a pretty simple play for a Major League third baseman.  He ranged slightly to his left and fielded the ball but then tried to spin and throw.  Mid spin he just fumbled the ball.  It set up two men in scoring position late in the game with only one out.   Garrett Jones , the new Cub Killer, made us pay with a double off the wall. 
  • Sean Marshall walked in a run later in the eighth.  In a tight game this is unacceptable and not very Sean-like.   

 

The Ugly

  • Say it with me, five hits and no runs against the Pirates.  Does it get uglier?

 

That’s about it for me.  You guys have any other thoughts?

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Book Review: My Bat Boy Days

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The title of this book is: “My Bat Boy Days: Lessons I Learned from The Boys of Summer”. The author is Steve Garvey, and the book was published in 2008.

Until I read this book, I thought of “The Boys of Summer” as referring to the song by Don Henley. That’s the song with the line:

“Out on the road today, I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac…”

But, in the context of this book, “The Boys of Summer” refers to baseball players in general, and to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s in particular. The same ones that Tom Waits referred to in “Jitterbug Boy” (on the “Small Change” project) with the line: “I seen the Brooklyn Dodgers, playin at Ebbets Field…”

“The Boys of Summer” was the title of a 1972 book by Roger Kahn, written about how the lives of the former 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers had changed between the time he covered the team, as a reporter, and the time he tracked each of them down 20 years later.

The Garvey family was living around Tampa, Florida back then, and young Steve Garvey became a bat boy for the Dodgers (and for other teams on the Grapefruit League circuit) during Spring Training. This book is a “Back To The Future-esque” journey to the 1950’s, when Steve Garvey’s dad drove the Greyhound bus and Steve mixed with the royalty which Major League Baseball players were back then.

As the inside front jacket cover tells us:

“’My Bat Boy Days’ is his moving collection of indelible memories, fascinating profiles, and lessons learned – about the game and about life – from heroes such as Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Mickey Mantle.”

It was a very different time, and his stories are of that era.

I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the people profiled in this book: “served in the Navy in World War II”.

In describing this long ago world, Steve says: “Dad emphasized the need to be respectful, to not get in the way, and most important, to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’.”

Mr. Garvey quotes Roy Campanella, the MVP catcher, who said to him: “If you practice hard and listen to your coaches, maybe someday you’ll be a Dodger.” Then Mr. Campanella brought the discussion around to schoolwork. He advised Steve’s dad: “Joe, if Steve studies hard and practices, maybe someday he’ll be a Dodger!”

The author discusses Pee Wee Reese and his role as “Captain” of the team, saying: “They made him the ‘Captain’ because of his ability to lead the Boys of Summer like no other ever had and no one ever would again.”

It was Pee Wee Reese who told Steve Garvey: “… the key to baseball, whether you’re batting or fielding, is to never, ever take your eye off the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s mitt. Sounds simple, but it’s sage advice for a kid learning the game.”

Mr. Garvey discusses the dignity of Gil Hodges, who never wound up in the Hall of Fame: “… in Brooklyn, none of the others was as popular as Hodges…. when the flight to the suburbs began to affect Brooklyn, Hodges stayed at home…. He circulated in the community, dining and shopping and running errands. He was visible. He was accessible.”

The author quotes Carl Erskine, reminiscing about one great Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Captain Joe Dowd, who had taken the Dodgers and their families around the harbors in tugboats: “Captain Dowd was nearly ready to retire and he geared his whole life around the retirement years when he could go to Ebbets Field every day, not just on his off day. The year he retired was the year we moved to Los Angeles, and it sort of typified the heartbreak of the Dodger fan for me to talk to Captain Dowd. He was broken-hearted and he never forgave the team for causing him to devote his life interest to them, and then without even asking him, they just left.”

Speaking about the passion which Jackie Robinson brought to the game, Garvey describes how Robinson: “… would analyze every aspect of the pitcher’s stance, his windup, and his delivery. He was a great student of the game. I would sit next to him and he would predict every single pitch…. by the time I was twelve he had taught me to predict pitches. It was truly one of the greatest mental baseball skills I ever learned. To this day I do it as a parlor trick while watching a game, to the amazement of those around me.”

It was Jackie Robinson who advised young Steve Garvey that baseball was “a pretty miserable way to make a buck”.

Mr. Garvey explains how he feels, rubbing elbows with his idols: “These days, when I am in Yogi Berra’s presence, like all the other greats, I pretend I belong, like I’m one of them, but to tell the truth I still feel like that bat boy honored and humbled to be in the presence of such greatness.”

The author mentions that: “…when asked what he’d want on his tombstone, (Mickey Mantle) said, ‘A great teammate’, which is what was engraved there.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “I have written this book to honor my heroes. They taught me about the game and how it should be played and lived. Those lessons were learned years ago, but they are timeless.”
  • “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
  • “’Our roots there weren’t as deep as they were in California,’ Snider wrote, ‘but they were just as strong’.”
  • “…the Dodgers lost but Koufax won.”
  • “’It took a Hall of Famer to keep me out of the major leagues,’ Tom Lasorda likes to say when explaining why he was sent back to Triple-A Montreal when Koufax was activated.”
  • “If I have a weakness in my elbow, it is only reasonable to conclude that it is part of the same overall construction that gives me the ability to throw a ball hard…”
  • “‘A big-league ballplayer, who knows he can hit and has hit well before, must never let himself lose faith in his ability to hit well again – regardless of how long any slump may last. For me and every other major leaguer who takes his baseball life and work seriously, confidence is a secret strength’.”

I enjoyed reading “My Bat Boy Days”, even though it was written by Steve Garvey, and I recommend it very highly.

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Game 77: Options for Dealing With Ted Lilly

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

First Star – Ted Lilly (.330 WPA)
Second Star – Ryan Doumit (.225 WPA)
Third Star – Alfonso Soriano (.202 WPA)

A very nice win last night, despite the usual Ted Lilly run support showing. He’s been a tough luck loser this year, and you have to feel bad for the guy. We’re basically a month away from the trade deadline and teams have Ted on their radar, notably the Mets. I’m not sure what the market value for a guy like Lilly is, but it’s clear that Jim Hendry has a decision to make. I’d like to give you a breakdown on his options.

The first piece of information that you have to know is that Ted Lilly is not only scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, but he’s projected to be a Type A free agent. If you’re not familiar with that concept, the short of it goes like this. Each year, players are ranked, free agent or not, and the top 20 % at each position are designated as Type A guys, while the next 20% are designated as Type B guys. The system is designed to compensate teams that lose these guys, provided that they were interested in keeping them in the first place. When a team loses a Type A guy, they are awarded the first round pick of the team that signed him in the June draft as well as a sandwhich pick between the 1st and second round. Essentially, it’s two prospects in return. The key statement was the fact that the team had to be interested in re-signing the player in the first place. To show that commitment, they must be willing to offer the player arbitration. Should that player accept the offer, then they will retain the player. Should he decline, the compensation kicks in.

I think the Cubs would like to keep Lilly, provided that the price is right for their budget. That being said, there is definitely the option to let Lilly ride out the season and then offer him arbitration. If he accepts, that’s great, and we’ll work out an extension with him or go to arbitration (try to avoid it if possible) and have Lilly back with the team for 2011. Should he decline, we’re awarded a couple of draft picks to continue to bolster the farm system.

The other option for the Cubs is to look seriously at the suitors for Lilly and move him before the deadline. You’d have to imagine that as the clock ticks, the value for him declines ever so slightly simply because you’re getting fewer starts for your investment if you’re the team that decides to bring him in. If it’s a move that is going to be made, it’s one that we need to make sooner rather than later. The key is to weigh the offers you’re being given and speak with guys like Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilkin and the scouts to decide if the package being offered is more valuable than guys who would be drafted in June.

Ideally, I think I’d like to see Lilly come back to pitch for us. I see him as being a Jamie Moyer type pitcher that still has plenty of good baseball left in him. I’d be willing to invest in another three years of baseball for Teddy. Thankfully, it’s not my decision, because it’s a tough one to make.

Other notes from a sleepy game of baseball:

  • Big ups to my boy, Koyie Hill, for getting me a hit in Beat the Streak. If you’re not playing with us, shame on you. What better time to start than today?
  • Guess who took the most pitches last night? Ryan Theriot. No hits for him, but a walk was present and accounted for.
  • Derrek Lee seems to be hitting the ball hard lately. It’s just not translating into many hits.
  • You have to believe that Carlos Marmol will not be available in the series finale, considering he’s appeared the last three games. Better score some runs so we don’t need him.
  • Not sure if anyone is interested or not, but I made an appearance on ESPN 1700 out of Des Moines on Monday to talk about the Zambrano situation and the team as a whole. It’s about a 20 minutes segment. If you want to listen, especially because of the fact that I defended Jim Hendry, you can download it here. I’d love some feedback or debate on what I had to say. Feel free to tear me to shreds.
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The Calm After the Storm

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Hurricane Carlos struck again this past Friday, blowing through the Cubs dugout and tearing apart the lackluster play of any teammate stepping in its way.  While it didn’t cause any physical damage, like the ’07 version did on the small but proud town of Michael Barrett, the mental fallout was severe.  It’s whipping winds were bad enough to flare up the tempers of a normally easy going vacation spot known as Derrek Lee; a town where the elder’s go to relax and live out their final years.  

Seriously, I laughed.  As a true fan this event shouldn’t make me laugh but it did.  The sight of a major league pitcher giving up a three run homer to start off the second chapter of a cross-town rivalry, then ripping into each of his teammates and their performance upon entering the dugout after the disastrous inning was comical.  Who was he really yelling at? 
 

Welcome to Planet Carlos!

Apparently Carlos was trying to fire up the troops with this tirade.  I think his heart was in the right place but his brain already hit the showers.  This isn’t the first time this has happened on Planet Carlos.  In the past he has shown signs of sharing the same dysfunctional solar system as Milton Bradley, Manny Ramirez, and Barry Bonds. 

Big Z’s massive meteorite of passion often collides with his stupidity and immaturity leaving a huge crater.  It happened a few years ago and the team gave him the benefit of the doubt.  Instead of shipping him out of town they traded the guy who was on the receiving end of his punches.   

Up until the last season his temper and emotions on the field were so volatile those watching sat and wondered when Mount Carlos would erupt.  Over time it became obvious that the physically durable, yet emotionally fragile Zambrano was his own worst enemy.  He would often stalk the mound after an error, shouting expletives into his glove like a man possessed, all the while staring down the guilty culprit.  Showing up a teammate after an error is typically frowned upon not to mention lacks professionalism.  After a while this became so normal it was his expected response.          
   
Until this recent incident at Cellular Field, Carlos, the human natural disaster, has been somewhat dormant.  He even seemed at times jovial and at peace letting some previous bad performances slide off his back.  I guess his cup of passion just spilled over at an inopportune time.  Will he apologize to his team and if so will it matter?

 
What is a leader?

Friday’s display was one more example of Zambrano’s inability to grasp the leadership role.  It is definitely the leader’s job to ignite a fire under his team when they are struggling but there needs to be a method to the madness. Some people just aren’t cut out for it.  Just because you give a player a massive contract and name him your ace doesn’t mean he is a natural leader of men. 

Leadership is a common commodity on championship teams.  Very few, if any, advance their play to the pinnacle lacking this quality somewhere in the clubhouse. This is true with any sport, company, or organization for that matter.

Friday’s occurrence didn’t shock me.  This team has not displayed any real leadership in years and it shows.  On a team looking desperately for direction the last thing they needed was to find out that one of there elder statesman, an eight year veteran and an assumed leader, was more of a distraction then anything else.   

Leaders lead by example not just words.  When they choose to use words timing and delivery are crucial.  Carlos failed in all of the above and has been suspended until after the All Star break.  Once again, an extremely expensive contract will ride the pine useless for a good chunk of the season, as some are predicting August as a return date.   Lou has already gone ahead and noted that Big Z will find a seat in the pen when he returns, that is, if he returns.

Is he finished?

Apparently Zambrano will get some counseling while he is away.  I am not sure if I want to watch him toil in Cubbie blue anymore.  Even if he comes back healed what’s to say he doesn’t relapse again in the future? 

While I hope the best for Carlos, I am not sure it is productive to hold a spot on this team for him any longer.  It already appears that he has a long trek back to the starting rotation and he was not much more effective as a reliever as evidenced earlier in the season. 

Last season there was talk that Carlos may want to exit baseball after his contract with the Cubs runs out. When Carlos throws his last pitch I wonder how fans and baseball will remember him?  Will it be for the no hitter in 2008, the many displays of hard nose power pitching that led this staff for a few seasons, or the two dugout fights and endless temper tantrums on the mound?  While the sand in Big Z’s hour glass seems to be running out, one has to wonder, is there enough time and opportunity left for Carlos to make his mark on something other than a teammates face?

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In the News: We’re Z-Free and Lovin’ Every Minute of It, Jerry!

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Good day, fellow followers of the Chicago Cubs National League Professional Baseball Organicacion. I would like to start off today’s news broadcast post with a simple and clear statement: I will not be discussing Carlos Zambrano. For that, I suggest you mosey on over to Joe’s game recap and have at it. I am the king of the castle, the master of my doman – and I’ve decided to make this a Z-Free post. Uh, unless some shocking development takes place regarding Carlos and then I’ll probably just cross all this out and go ahead and cover it. Oh my God! He’s been traded to the Yankees for A.J. Burnett! Ha, just kidding. Let’s get on with the Z-Free News:

Grabow blows out knee, two familiar faces called back. Those of us who were foolish/unfortunate/masochistic enough to watch last night’s game witnessed the slightly cringe-inducing sight of John Grabow re-injuring the knee that’s been giving him trouble all season. It’s not like his leg exploded or anything, but it’s always a little dismaying when you see an obviously hurt pitcher essentially take himself out of the game. And if you thought that was bad, check out what could be the demise of Detroit Tigers fireballer Joel Zumaya last night. Brutal.

To replace Grabow and that other pitcher who’s been placed on the restricted list, the Cubs have called up two dudes we’ve seen before. Jeff Stevens barely got settled in his swingin’ Des Moines bachelor pad before he got the call and headed back to Chi-Town. And lefty James Russell, whom I liked in theory but put up some scary bad numbers in his 21 innings pitched this season (3.00 HR/9!!!), is back as well.

The John Grabow signing, dubious to begin with because of the large number of dineros going to an average pitcher who’s not even a starter, is looking worse and worse. The Cubs could wind up getting less than nothing out of Grabow this season – he has a negative WAR as it is – and he still has a whole season left on his deal.

Ted Lilly to the Mets? That was the rumor ignited by New York Post writer Joel Sherman yesterday. Lilly’s bounceback outing in Seattle confirmed that he remains one of the Cubs better trading chips heading into what’s becoming more and more likely to be a sell season. And the Mets – and other teams – may see Ted as a little more gettable than Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee.

In other trade rumor news…well, there really hasn’t been any that I’ve found. Various blogs and sites, including Fangraphs, are screaming for the Cubs to trade anyone and everyone, but I honestly have no idea what Hendry is up to.

Cubs honor Ron Santo. In case you missed it, here’s the official article and vid clip of last night’s honoring of ol’ No. 10. Too bad the current players couldn’t have “honored” him with a win. I think Ron’s making a wise choice in cutting back his road broadcasts. Maybe it’s just me, but he seems a little more energetic since making the decision and, based on the team’s current road record of 15-24, he doesn’t need all that groaning in his diet.

Mark Prior attempts 4,495th comeback. Ol’ No. 22 will work out for an expected multitude of major league scouts tomorrow at the University of Southern California. Can he refashion himself as, presumably, a big league reliever? I wish I could bring myself to care.

####

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Game 76: Zambrano’s Future and Another Loss to Pittsburgh

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

First Star – Paul Maholm (.445 WPA)
Second Star – Randy Wells (.248 WPA)
Third Star – Jose Tabata (.235 WPA)

Before we begin, we gotta address Zambrano. Jim Hendry came out and said that Z will be on the restricted list and will need to go through some medical aspects to his rehab before being reinstated. It’s a good move for the Cubs and I would even guess that there is a chance we don’t see Zambrano back until as early as August.

Kevin Millar chimed in on MLB Network on the situation:

Millar on Zambrano’s outburst during Friday’s game against the White Sox:

I spoke with him the other day, after the games on Saturday and the main thing he wanted to get across was that at times guys like Carlos, they don’t know how to handle or how to fire up a team. …There wasn’t one play that made him mad, it was just the whole team and the way they’ve been playing made him mad and then he was frustrated, he said, after his inning and came in and was basically trying to pump all the guys up.

…He told me a week before that he wanted to get Carlos Silva to do something to the team because he’s doing well and Carlos Zambrano said that he knew [Silva] wasn’t the right guy to do this at this time because of his struggles. … I told him straight up, I said… ‘You can’t say the team’s playing like girls … You can’t say that this whole team that’s not clicking for some reason’ or ‘We’re not playing hard’ because he’s a big part of that problem. He understood that … and that’s what he was trying to get across. It wasn’t a personal thing with Derrick Lee – obviously Derrick Lee took it personal, and [Zambrano] felt terrible and we obviously see what happened in the dugout. We see the way he’s reacted and this is the second time. [In 2007], he went out and fought Michael Barrett and beat up Michael Barrett, well then they end up trading Michael Barrett thinking that, ‘Ok, we’ll get rid of him but something has to be done.’ Now him [Zambrano] going to anger management counseling…I think this is the new fad that we’re trying to show that at least there’s an effort there.

That was basically his view, that he shouldn’t have done it, he wasn’t the right guy to do it, he wanted Carlos Silva to do it last week. It wasn’t one play, it wasn’t the Derrick Lee play that caused this whole scene. He ran in the dugout and was yelling at the whole group.

Millar on whether Zambrano wants to remain with the Cubs:

I think he wants to heal the situation, whether he remains a Chicago Cub or not. Who knows if the wounds are too deep? Who knows? That’s Jim Hendry’s job. But see this is the problem: we give huge contracts to players and now we think ‘Oh, that equals leadership,’ or, “If a guy’s doing well, that equals leadership.’ That’s not the case. You create these monsters through organizations and Carlos Zambrano’s Carlos Zambrano. I think they knew this was an intense guy, I think they knew this guy who dances to a different beat at times, but he’s not a bad human being by any means.

It’s getting harder and harder to look to the positive each and every game as we watch this team piddle away games that are winnable. Last night marked the ninth straight series in which we lost the opening game. You can’t win the majority of series you play in when you continually drop the opening frame. It just puts too much pressure on the team. It reminds me a little of the USA World Cup run. Just about every game, the team put themselves in an early hole and had to battle back to scrap out a tie. You can’t keep going to that well and expect it to have water. If the Cubs want to make this season a respectable one, and that’s certainly still a possibility, they have to “Strike first! Strike hard. No mercy, Sir!” (Anyone know what movie that is from? On to the notes:

  • If you didn’t watch the game, Randy Wells was not as good as his line reads. He did give us a quality start, but he was behind in the count all night long and found himself struggling to manage his pitch counts. He had thrown 80 pitches after the 4th inning. That can’t happen if you’re going to work into the 7th and 8th innings. If you compare his 1st pitch strike % and his over strike %, even his pitches per plate appearance, this year looks basically identical to last year. It just doesn’t look the same. He doesn’t seem as sharp this year.
  • The Bobby Crosby / Lastings Milledge collision was very scary. If you didn’t see the play, Crosby left the game early after colliding with Milledge on a ball in the 2nd that basically fell beside them. He took an elbow / shoulder to the side of the face and you could see his head slap similar to the way it does when a boxer takes a clean knockout to the face. Bob Brenly had a pretty funny quote about the situation, considering that this is the second time this has happened over the last few days for the Pirates. He said “It might be worth the money to buy a few cowbells for the infielders to wear around their necks” It doesn’t seem as funny as I type it, but it made me laugh at the time.
  • We saw a rare issue for Tyler Colvin in the field as he misplayed a ball in RF and came in too far. The ball went over his head and allowed Andrew McCutchen to get an easy triple. Those mistakes are going to happen every now and then. Colvin has played well out there and I’m willing to forgive. I do go back to my constant argument that plays like that should be scored an error.
  • How is Ronny Cedeno on a ML roster? Seriously, look at his numbers.
  • Len Kasper mentioned that in the 9th inning, it would be great to have a guy off the bench that can be that pinch runner, but that it’s a luxury to carry that guy on the roster. I disagree and would argue that if the Cubs wouldn’t carry 12 pitchers, it would allow them to have a guy like Sam Fuld or a player of that ilk to fill that role. A 12 man staff is so stupid, in my opinion, especially when you have starters that work deep in the ball game on a consistent basis.
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Series Preview: Cubs / Pirates (Again)

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Notes of Interest

  • Tonight’s game against Maholm is the 11th game against a lefty this month (We’re 6-4 so far so cross your fingers as that looks good.
  • On the other hand, we’ve lost the opening game in a series for the past nine straight series. (So much for that win we hoped for)
  • Cubs pitchers have a 3.62 ERA (236 ER/587.0 IP) from the second inning and later this season, but have posted a 6.72 ERA (56 ER/75.0 IP) in the first inning
  • Steve Stone mentioned that he thinks the Cubs should consider shifting Carlos Zambrano to 1B to backup Derrek Lee (Source). I have to wonder if that’s just Stone being a jackass like he has been since leaving the Cubs organization.
  • Brett Jackson has been promoted to AA-Tennessee. I’ve been impressed with Jackson this year and I’m anxious to see how he does with the promotion because he tore up A ball in a tough Florida State league to hit the baseball. To make room for him, Ty Wright was promoted to AAA Iowa, which is also exciting based on how he’s hit this year. (Source)

Probable Pitching Matchups

Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21 ERA)

Maholm would like to forget absolutely everything from his last outing, one which lasted a career-short one inning. The left-hander was missing with all his pitches, and when he wasn’t walking hitters, the pitches were right down the middle. He faced just 15 hitters. Four of them walked and seven got hits. Still, the outing was an anomaly for Maholm, who has been the Pirates’ most consistent starter all year. Prior to Wednesday, he hadn’t allowed more than four runs in any of his first 14 starts this year. Maholm is 6-1 with a 6.29 ERA in 11 career starts against the Cubs.

Strength – His best attribute is his razor-sharp command of a deep arsenal of pitches. Can throw his fastball, change-up, curve and slider for first-pitch strikes. Is a workhorse and a leader.

Weakness – Would be better if he cut down on the number of base-runners he puts on via either hit or walk. Lacks a dominant pitch and right-handed bats have an easier time against him.

Wells is looking for his first win since April 30. The right-hander is coming off a loss to Seattle in which he gave up six runs on 10 hits over six innings. He has gone winless in May and June, serving up 20 earned runs in 61 1/3 innings in those two months so far. He’s 0-1 in two starts against the Pirates, including a loss May 6 when he gave up six earned runs on five hits in two innings.

Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.60 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.28 ERA)

Karstens battled through 5 1/3 innings in his last start, but was denied a third win when the Pirates’ bullpen couldn’t a two-run lead. Karstens wasn’t lights out, but given that he was facing baseball’s hottest team at the time, he did well in limiting Texas to two earned runs on seven hits. Karstens continues to be a stabilizing force in the Pirates’ rotation and has not allowed more than four runs in a start since returning to the rotation on May 24. Karstens has made five previous appearances (four starts) against the Cubs. He is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

Strength – Is versatile enough to start or relieve as necessary. Has proven capable of pitching effectively in the rotation in the minors.

Weakness – Is far too hittable at the major-league level and also lacks the ability to strike batters out with consistency.

Lilly did not get a decision in his last start June 24 against the Mariners. He gave up one run on five hits over six innings. He has only one win in his last 11 starts. The lefty is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA in three games against the Pirates this season.

Brad Lincoln (0-2, 6.00 ERA) vs. Tom Gorzelanny (2-5, 3.41 ERA)

Lincoln’s outing Friday was his fourth start of the season. His performance — six innings, three earned runs, eight hits — was similar to his others and only lowered his ERA from 6.50 to 6.00. Lincoln’s fastball command was off early in the game, and he said he didn’t attack the strike zone like he’s capable of. He threw 107 pitches, 63 for strikes.

Strength – Is a consistent strike-thrower who is usually around the plate. Does well in pitching to contact. Has a winning mentality when on the mound.

Weakness – Lacks ideal size for a pitcher. Has trouble with the long ball and is a bit too hittable, overall. Hitters are a bit too comfortable at the plate against him.

Gorzelanny will replace Carlos Zambrano in the Cubs rotation. Zambrano was bumped after inappropriate comments and a tantrum last Friday. Gorzelanny began the season in the rotation but was moved when Zambrano didn’t like his relief role. Gorzelanny has made six relief appearances, including last Friday when he went 3 1/3 innings after Zambrano was pulled. He’ll be facing his former team for the second time this year. He did not get a decision in a loss May 14.

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Cubs Legends & Hall of Fame Snubs

Monday, June 28th, 2010

It’s tough to stay positive about the Cubs at the moment. Thanks to a weak NL Central, they’re barely staying in the hunt, even though they can not seem to win a 3 game series against anyone. It’s times like this that us life long Cubs fans must close our eyes and let the humid Chicago breeze take us back to older days.

If you were born in the 80’s, you instantly had reason to be a Cubs fan. The Ryno, the Hawk, the pennant races- there was plenty to be excited about. But the Cubs history goes well beyond that. Yes, even further back than Ernie Banks & Billy Williams. As a matter of fact, right toward the end of the dead ball era, two players (among many, many others) came along who delivered particularly exciting seasons in Cubs’ uniforms.

Hack Wilson played 850 games, roughly two thirds of his career, with the Chicago Cubs.  Of course, everyone should at least know his name, thanks to his memorable season in 1930, when he belted 56 home runs (an NL record until the Steroid Era) and tallied 191 RBI’s, which remains the Major League single season record. If the MVP were awarded in 1930, Wilson would have been an obvious shoo-in to receive the honor by a huge margin.

Hack was only 5’6”, but had a stocky 190 lb. build and roved center field from 1926 until 1931 with the Cubs. A career .307 hitter, Wilson led the NL in home runs four out of his six Cubs seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

Gabby Hartnett, a lifetime .297 hitter, caught over 100 games for 12 years. A six time All Star from 1933-37, Hartnett was named the NL MVP in 1935 with 13 home runs, 91 RBI’s, and a stellar .344 BA in 116 games. He played 19 of his 20 professional seasons with the Cubs, amassing over 1900 hits, almost 400 doubles, and 236 career homeruns.

What solidified Hartnett as an elite player was his strong defense. With a career .987 fielding percentage, including an unbelievable .996 mark as catcher in 1934 and 1937, Hartnett also frequently led the league in runners caught stealing, throwing out 54% of attempting base thieves on average.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous “Homer in the Gloamin”- a shot hit by Hartnett into the left field bleachers against the division leading Pirates on September 28, 1938. Hartnett connected while down 0-2 in the bottom of the ninth, as darkening conditions threatened to render the game meaningless*. According to Gabby, the player/manager at the time: “A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did- maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew the minute I hit it…I don’t think I walked a step to the plate- I was carried in.” They Cubs would go on to overtake the Pirates and win the pennant, their fourth in ten years.

Hartnett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

HOF Snubs:

Jimmy Ryan’s 2500 career hits and lifetime .306 is comparable to HOF inductees such as Jim O’Rourke (Ryan’s career 118 HR’s doubles O’Rourke’s total of 56) and surpasses George Kell in HR’s and hits by a considerable amount, while tying him in lifetime average. So why are they enshrined, while Ryan’s left out? The right fielder was equally effective on defense, playing numerous positions and even pitching in 24 games.

Ryan played 16 of his 18 pro seasons with the Cubs, from 1885-1900. He had one particularly exciting year in 1888, when he led the NL in Hits, 2B’s, HR’s, SLG., and TB’s (182/33/16/.515/283, respectively). Ryan hit for average and power, stole bases and drew walks. The leadoff hitter for the 1880’s dynasty fell one home run shy of being the first Cub to have over 2000 hits, 100 HR’s, and a .300+ BA, a feat that would not fully be accomplished until 1999, by a fella named Mark Grace. It’s a little late now, but if his campaign were revisited, would he have your vote?

Stan Hack is the slightly lesser known Cubs snub at 3B. Like Jimmy Ryan, Hack also amassed 16 impressive seasons with the Cubs, from 1932-1947. He was a fixture at third base as well as a very productive leadoff hitter, scoring over 100 runs seven times. Also like Ryan, Smilin’ Stan compiled over 2000 hits and maintained a .300+ career batting average, while posing a consistent threat on the base paths with 165 career stolen bases.

On defense, Stan Hack was a shining star for the Cubs at one of the toughest positions in the game. In 1942, he played 54 consecutive games without committing an error while posted at the hot corner, a record at the time. If gold gloves were awarded during the 30’s and 40’s, Hack’s fielding stats indicate that he would have been honored at least four times, which would have matched his All Star appearances.

To further the case, Stan Hack batted .348 over four World Series. He may never have had a truly breakout season, but his consistency gives him a strong case to join the legion of legends. And yet he has only ever received 8 votes toward the Hall of Fame (8 more than Jimmy Ryan). Hack was undoubtedly an above average ballplayer, but was he one of the best?

All stats and excerpts courtesy of baseball-reference.com and Doug Myers’ encyclopedic Essential Cubs, published in 1999. A fantastic read and reference for any Cubs fan.

*According to Doug Myers in Essential Cubs, games that were suspended due to darkness or rain during that time period were played all over again as part of a double header the next day, making the original game meaningless.

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Game 75: Kumbaya

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

I’ll be honest. I was counting the minutes until this series ended. It’s bad enough when your team can’t win. It’s even worse when your team can’t win in your nemesis’ ballpark, full of their obnoxious fans (not giving a pass to Cubs fans either, there are plenty of obnoxious Cubs fans around as well). And it’s even way worse than that when your “ace” (HA!) explodes on his own teammates within the first hour of the series, ensuring your team is the laughingstock of the neighborhood all weekend long. Can’t end quickly enough for me. Please don’t think I’m putting the Cubs down. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m more a fan of them this weekend than I have been in awhile. I think it’s the hurt puppy dog syndrome. I feel bad for them. They’ve hit rock bottom.

True to form, the Cubs did absolutely nothing offensively early in the game. Also true to form, the opposing team took advantage of a shaky first inning from Dempster and the Cubs found themselves down two by 1:30CT. Dempster has a 5.40 ERA in first innings this season, 3.25 in subsequent innings. This in itself really wouldn’t be that bad, except that this year it’s hard enough for the Cubs to win any games, let alone those in which they find themselves down by a few runs early in the game.

And then, something happened. The tide turned somehow. Probably had something to do with Tyler Colvin’s three run homer, that didn’t hurt. But they looked different to me all day. I saw them laughing in the dugout. I saw them NOT trying to hit a home run on every pitch. Some took walks. Some just gave us a little single. Some came through in bigger ways. And it all added up to a win.

My commentary after past wins, particularly recently, has not always been favorable. I had gotten to the point where I was almost disappointed when they would squeak out a win on the third game of every series because I thought the only way things would ever change is if they got even worse. But this game was different, at least for me. This game gave me some hope. I don’t think this is the beginning of the road to the playoffs. I’m not drinking kool-aid. My hope for the Cubs for the rest of the season, is that they can play respectable baseball, recover from whatever angst they’ve been suffering, and complete the season with teammates who support each other when things go well, as well as when things go badly. If we can have that, I will be happy, and we’ll move on. I understand this will probably cause the competitive folks among us to cringe. But sometimes, the atmosphere is important too. I want them to hold their heads up and know they did their best. Regardless of whether the above-mentioned obnoxious fans think they did or not.

Enough holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Here are some of my game notes.

  • Really great game for Tyler Colvin (not to mention he was my BTS pick and I’m now sporting an impressive score of 1! Yay me!) Colvin went 3 for 5 with 4 RBIs and it was his 3-run homer in the 3rd that gave the Cubs their first taste of positivity in some time.
  • Geovany Soto also had a good game offensively (3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored) after going 0-3 yesterday.
  • Alfonso Soriano was also impressive. He went 1-for-2 with an un-Soriano-ish two walks, scoring twice and driving in one run. I also saw him hustle more than once in the outfield. Pair this with yesterday’s two doubles and that amounts to two straight days of hustle. Even a hater like me has to give a pat on the back to that. And I’m not kidding. He’s really doing well among a group of others who aren’t.
  • Not so great game for Jeff Baker. Three strikeouts and a double play. He’s probably glad this day is over.
  • Interesting play in 2nd inning which reminds me that CubbieDude is going to teach me about obstruction in one of his columns sometime soon. :-) Dempster’s first inning woes may have continued into the 2nd had it not been for Gordon Beckham standing in Soto’s way as he attempted to throw out Alexei Ramirez stealing second. Ramirez was safe on the play but called out because of Beckham’s interference with the play. Dempster owes that guy a beer!
  • Xavier Nady, along with contributing next to nothing offensively this series, plays a tentative first base. I like Nady, a lot, and he’s a serviceable backup at first, but he always looks like he’s afraid he’s going to get stepped on or hit. He whips his foot off that base like it shocks him or something and it always looks uncomfortable to me.
  • Marmol went ahead and made himself a mess to get out of, giving up 3 runs on 2 hits and 3 walks and giving Cubs fans everywhere a collective heart attack before finding the strike zone.
  • Was kind of hoping Brian Schlitter would get into the game. One of the saddest bits of fallout from the whole Zambrano debacle involved Jeff Stevens, who ended up being sent down not because he deserved it, not because he pitched badly, but simply because they needed an arm that wasn’t tired. Brian Schlitter was the beneficiary. And in my typical fashion of trying to find the humor in any situation, I got myself a good little laugh thinking about the announcers while they tiptoe around Brian’s name. Have to admit when I first saw it in print I really had to give it a good look to see that mid-stream L in there. Heh.
  • Did any of us REALLY want that BP cup anyway? Glad they have it. Maybe by next year it will find itself another sponsor and then we can win it back!

Have a good night. :-) And buck yourselves up for Pittsburgh tomorrow. No pun intended!

Win Probability

First Star: Tyler Colvin
Second Star: Carlos Quentin
Third Star: Ryan Dempster
Honorable Mention: Derrek Lee

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