Archive for June, 2010

In the News: Fergie says Cubs woes began in spring

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Hey, Cubs fans. So what stage of grief are you at? Still anger? Depression? Acceptance? As we all search for any cold comfort on what has become an ugly and listless season, here are a few news stories to peruse:

Former Cubs ace Ferguson Jenkins talks tough on the team.  Check out this video interview from earlier today (Thursday) with Hall of Famer Fergie. He believes the seeds of the Cubs highly disappointing 2010 season began in spring training. Specifically, Fergie cites Big Z’s weight loss as one reason for Carlos’ troubles. He goes on to talk tough on the entire pitching staff. All due respect, he seems to be relying a little too heavily on the pitchers’ win-loss records for my tastes. But interesting interview session nonetheless.

Two Cubs prospects to appear in Futures Game.  The 12th Annual XM Futures Game will take place on July 11 and two (we hope) bright spots in the Cubs future will be there. Outfielder Brett Jackson, who’s been tearing up Class A ball, will play for the U.S. team, while shortstop Hak-Ju Lee will compete for the world team. Both of these guys could play HUGE roles for the Cubs in a couple/few years, so they’re worth checking out.

Do you want to get a spot on the Cubs 40-man roster?  Well, now you can! No, not the real one, of course. But, for a reported $7,500, you can take part in the “Chicago Cubs Fantasy Camp at Wrigley Field.” That means taking live BP at Wrigley and meeting some of the, ahem, real players on Aug. 8. Then, on Aug. 9, when the team will be in San Fran (probably getting shut down by Tim Lincecum), you’ll play in a four-team hardball tournament at Wrigley. Former Cubs Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe and Randy Hundley will provide live instruction.

Cubs support statue for severely injured police officers.  Actually, five of Chicago’s professional sports teams are getting together to donate $50,000 for the construction of a statue to honor police men and women who have suffered catastrophic injuries on the job. The statue will be unveiled in September at the Chicago Police Memorial just east of Soldier Field.

Jake Fox update.  After being DFA’d by the Oakland A’s, former Cub Jake Fox is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Jake has played in two games for the O’s thus far and not yet gotten a hit. I know this was all weighing heavily on your mind, so you can thank me later. In other Cubs-A’s news, Oakland has also DFA’d Eric Patterson, whose prospects for continued major league employment look a little more dismal. I just wish the O’s would pick him up so he and Corey could play on the same team. Just because.

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Game 71: Take Five!

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

First Star – Cliff Lee (.172 WPA)
Second Star – Ichiro (.169 WPA)
Third Star – Casey Kotchman (.166 WPA)

Last night I represented View From The Bleachers on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight Live Blog. Well before the Cubs game started, Rob Neyer issued a challenge, asking blog participants to suggest “5 interesting things to look for in tonight’s game”.

I came up with the following 5 items of interest in the Cubs-Mariners game:

1. The Cubs will try to get a hit tonight.
2. The Cubs will try to score a run tonight.
3. The Cubs will try to find a win tonight.
4. Randy Wells will try to get through the 1st inning tonight.
5. Bob Howry and John Grabow will find new and exciting ways to give up runs.

The first batter of the game, Marlon Byrd, singled to right field, satisfying item #1 of the list, above. In fact the second batter of the game, Jeff Baker, singled also. At this point I thought the Cubs were slapping Cliff Lee around pretty good.

In the bottom of the 1st inning, the Mariners went 3 up and 3 down, thus satisfying item #4 of my “Take Five” list.

In the top of the 2nd inning Tyler Colvin hit a solo home run to right center, and things were looking pretty good for the Cubbies. This event satisfied item #2 of my “Take Five” list.

Actually, Randy Wells was cruising along pretty well through the first 3 innings. But the 4th inning was his Waterloo. The Mariners scored four runs in the bottom of the 4th, and there went the ballgame. The Mariners scored 2 more runs off of Randy Wells in the 6th, and two off of Sean Marshall in the 8th, but those runs were just icing on their cake.

The Mariners won 8-1. Mr. Howry and Mr. Grabow never entered the game.

The big story tonight was the masterful performance of Cliff Lee, pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Mr. Lee gave up only 1 run, on 9 hits, with 9 strikeouts and zero walks. And he pitched a complete game.

Len Kasper produced the quote of the night in the top of the ninth. With 2 outs and the Cubs trailing 8 to 1, Alfonso Soriano singled to center field. Mr. Kasper observed that Tyler Colvin would now come to bat with “the Cubs still barely alive”.

“The Cubs Still Barely Alive” pretty much describes the Cubs situation at this point of the season, too.

Astute observation, Mr. Kasper.

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The OF Situation Looks Very Cheery

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

It’s tough to find bright spots with this team right now. Watching the games day in and day out, it’s easy for me to get roped into looking at the team through a microscope without stepping back and looking at it from a macro (full organizational) view. Let’s force ourselves to do that for a second and focus just on the outfield. It’s a promising and very encouraging position of strength of this organization and that has me excited. Take a look at a table of guys in the system and how they are performing so far this year.

Pos Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Colvin, Tyler* LF 24 MAJ 131 21 9 1 8 22 1 0 11 36 .299 .354 .598 .952
Snyder, Brad* RF 28 AAA 249 40 15 5 9 38 12 1 28 54 .290 .373 .530 .903
Jackson, Brett* CF 21 H-A 295 49 16 7 4 34 12 6 42 63 .297 .403 .466 .869
Spencer, Matthew* RF 24 AA,H-A 207 20 7 1 9 30 5 1 17 38 .296 .353 .489 .842
LaHair, Bryan* LF 27 AAA 225 26 16 0 7 36 3 0 20 49 .294 .360 .478 .838
Guyer, Brandon RF 24 AA 165 25 9 4 6 17 12 1 17 23 .250 .337 .493 .830
Wright, Ty LF 25 AA 297 48 19 0 10 50 4 2 13 34 .297 .338 .475 .812
Fitzgerald, D.J. LF 21 L-A 183 27 7 2 3 22 6 2 17 42 .303 .372 .424 .796
Campana, Tony* CF 24 AA 276 37 9 2 0 16 22 10 22 41 .325 .384 .379 .762
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/23/2010.

Tyler ColvinThe biggest issue I’ve seen with Tyler so far in his career is the strikeouts. He’s striking out over 25% of the time he comes to the plate, which is a little alarming. Just to compare that to his numbers in AA-Tennessee, he was at roughly 17%. Also, just to add a little strength to my argument, Ryan Howard (a guy who strikes out at record clips) averages a pace of 24.7% so far this year. Maybe increased playing time with help him get more consistent grooves working, but it might just magnify his holes even more. Time will tell, but I like how he plays.

Brad Snyder – He’s an older player, a former 1st round pick in 2003, that has never sniffed big league action. He’s getting to the point where his window is closing. He’s got to do more to get a chance to show he deserves a shot. He’s not on the 40 man roster, so it’s doubtful that shot will come even when the rosters expand in September unless some players are shipped out before then. He’s probably not a part of the future, but deserves a chance somewhere.

Brett Jackson – There were a lot of people who weren’t all that excited about him when the Cubs picked him in the first round last year. He’s done great things with the bat and is going to be playing in the Future’s game this year during the All Star festivities. He’s the guy they’re counting on to play center field for this team in the future. He’s got to get a little better in the SB dept. He’s under the usual 70% minimum success rate that is considered positive for a team.

Tony Campana – I included a note on him just because I’ve seen him play this year for the Smokies and he is lightning fast. I watched him streak down the line so fast that the Mudcat’s staff that was in the press box at the time (high school kids with a summer job at the ballpark) took noticed and ooh’d and ahh’d about his speed. He doesn’t hit for power, but his speed and ability to make contact is enough to keep his OPS close to .800, despite a slugging under .380. That’s impressive.

Yes, the future in the OF department has me feeling a little better. These bad contracts and aging veterans won’t be around forever. Thankfully it looks like the system will be able to produce talent to replace them going forward. It could be real fun to watch.

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Book Review: Once Upon a Game

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The complete title of this book is “Once Upon a Game: Baseball’s Greatest Memories / as told to Alan Schwarz”. It was written by Alan Schwarz and was
published in 2007.

I would like to quote the author’s biography from the inside back jacket cover:

“Alan Schwarz is the senior writer for ‘Baseball America’ magazine, the host of ‘Baseball Today’ on ESPN.com, and a regular contributor to the ‘New York Times’. His first book, ‘The Numbers Game’, was ESPN’s 2004 Baseball Book of the Year. He is a frequent on-air analyst for ESPN, National Public Radio’s ‘Talk of the Nation, and MSNBC.”

The bottom of the inside front jacket cover proclaims:

Lavishly illustrated and handsomely designed, ‘Once Upon a Game’ is the perfect gift for any baseball fan.”

“Once Upon a Game” consists of short stories, like 1 to 3 pages short, told by 35 or so “celebrities with a connection to baseball”, including Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Kevin Costner, Bob Feller, Ozzie Guillen, Buck O’Neil, Gaylord Perry, Charles Schulz, Casey Stengel & Joe Torre, among others.

Each of these short recollections is accompanied by 1 or 2 photographs illustrating the time and place of the story. The book is very nicely done.

There is a Foreword by George F. Will in which he describes one of his most cherished baseball memories. Interestingly, that memory “involved neither a hit nor a pitch nor a catch nor a throw. It involved an act of sportsmanship…”

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the book:

  • “I knew then, and I know today, that winning World War II was the most important thing to happen to this country in the last 100 years. I’m just glad I was a part of it. I was a gun captain on the battleship “Alabama” for only 34 months. People have called me a hero for that, but I’ll tell you this – heroes don’t come home. Survivors come home.” Bob Feller
  • “Michael (Jordan) called me on the way to the arena one day after that. He said, ‘I just wanted to tell you I love doing what I do again.’ He’d gotten tired of basketball, and baseball was just so joyful for him. ‘You guys love what you do,’ he said, ‘and that rubbed off on me.’ I truly think that getting a hit in an important part of a game for the Birmingham Barons meant as much to him that year as any jump shot in the NBA.” Terry Francona
  • “But I was feeing so great. So lucky. I was getting paid to do something I loved.” Ernie Banks
  • “As he wound up on the next pitch, I could read his grip on the ball and I could tell he was going to throw a screwball. I swung and hit a line drive toward the corner of the left-field bleachers. I stood at the plate and watched the ball for fear the umpire would call it foul. It landed a few feet inside the foul pole for a grand slam.” Hank Greenberg
  • “I was only a high school kid, for crying out loud – and Ted Williams said I was going to play in the major leagues….most of all, you have to take hitting seriously – you can’t be a nice guy up there. It’s not a profession for the light approach…. Most of all, though, Ted – excuse me, Mr. Williams – taught me to believe in myself.” Mike Piazza

I enjoyed reading “Once Upon a Game”, and I can tell you that my dad, The
World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan, couldn’t put this book down. He was totally
fascinated by it. I recommend it highly.

I want to thank Houghton Mifflin Company for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review.

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Game 70: At Least We Got to Boo Milton

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

First Star – Jason Vargas (.376 WPA)
Second Star – Franklin Gutierrez (.156 WPA)
Third Star – Alfonso Soriano (.139 WPA)

I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that this team is not going to be playing postseason baseball this year. It’s been clear to me for about two weeks, but I just haven’t wanted to bring myself to admit it. In my head, I kept rationalizing a way for us to just squeek in. I did all the typical things when it comes to rationalizing, saying things like “If we just win each series” or “If we can win three out of five starts in the rotation each time”. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, this team just played game # 70. They have 92 games left and a safe bet for the playoffs each year is 90 wins. The rest of the way, over the course of those 92 games, we’d need 59 wins. That’s .641 baseball. I don’t see it happening. Over the next 10 days, the Cubs will have to show Jim Hendry that they can do it or he has to start selling before the deadline reaches and you’re left taking less for your product.

Last night, Seymour Butts was at the game and had the following to say:

Well, I saw it all from the 3rd row and it all sucked. I don’t know how Dempster looked on TV, but in person he was shaky. How can I say that when he only gave up 2 runs? well, he just did. A good team would have scored often. Highlights were Boardgame getting booed in his “home” stadium, Soto throwing the ball into left field on a 3rd strike, ALF trying to score from second on Colvins double that landed in the glove of the left fielder, and Soto being called out on consecutive pitches that appeared to be around mid calf.
Uninspiring.

That about sums it up nicely. I heard the only highlight on MLB At Bat on my Android as I lay in bed, when Gutierrez hit a home run as Pat was talking to Ron Santo on the phone about being honored for 50 years of Cubdom. Poor guy is going to die without ever seeing a World Series for the Cubs or getting inducted into the hall of fame.

That’s about it from last night. Anything you noticed?

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