Archive for August, 2010

Game 122: Operation Shutdown

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Four home games, four straight losses. Such is life in Wrigleyville these days.

To be fair, I predicted a Latos shutout. If you look at it from that angle, the Cubs overachieved, right? OK, maybe not.

It was business as usual today as the extremely wild Carlos Zambrano gave up a Padres run in the top of the second. Despite six walks in six innings, Big Z was somehow able to keep the game within reach.

The Cubs battled back in the bottom of the sixth on RBI doubles by Byrd and Ramirez. The lead was short lived however, as the fading Sean Marshall surrendered four runs in 1/3 of an inning. The “offense” managed a meaningless run off closer Heath Bell in the ninth. Final score: 5-3.

A few bright spots from today’s game:

1)      Mataeo and Cashner threw two nice innings of relief

2)     Blake DeWitt was on base twice

3)     The weather was pleasant

4)     Nobody died

5)     Nobody was arrested

6)     Mike Ditka didn’t sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”

I’m afraid my glass is less than “half full” these days.

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In the News: DLee, The Day After

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

 
chicago-cubs-photo-day

Greetings, Cubs fans. I’m in a marginally better mood today. Well, sorta. I still find myself looking ahead to each new Cubs game with a cornucopia of mixed emotions. Kind of like when you seen an ex-girlfriend who you’re not really sorry you broke up with but you still kind of miss her and you want to be nice because you still want to be friends but you’re also bitter and disappointed and can’t believe things turned out this horribly after having such high hopes and yet she’s still cute and sometimes funny and you share all these memories and you know you’re never going to be able to completely cut off contact with her so you better not say what you really want to, which is…aw, geez, this metaphor has gotten completely out of control. Let’s get on with the news:

Derrek Lee was traded! (← Click on that link for a really cool narrative of the deal by Fox Sports’ Ken “Robothal” Rosenthal.) Once again, Mark was in the right place at the right time with his game recap yesterday. He got to break the story that, indeed, the Chicago Cubs have traded first baseman Derrek Leon Lee to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Robinson Lopez (the good one!), Jeffrey Lorick (the LOOGY) and Tyrelle Harris (the other guy). One minor point of clarification: The Cubs did not get to dump all of DLee’s $3.4 million salary — they agreed to pick up $1.7 of it.

That could turn out to be a wise choice as I’ve read generally positive reviews of the trade from all of the pundits I’ve managed to engage on the topic. Our own benevolent benefactor Rob Neyer says:

I can’t really fault the Braves for doing this deal. But unless Lee helps get them into the playoffs, the trade might look really, really silly in a few years.

And, when I posed the simple question of “How excited should Cubs fans be about Robinson Lopez?” to prospect expert Kevin Goldstein on Twitter. He replied back with:

“[I’m] shocked [the] Braves gave him up for [a] late rental.”

Basically, the deal here is that Lopez is a 19-year-old kid with great stuff and a ton of upside – we’re talking starting rotation upside. As intimated above, the other two dudes are more than likely bullpen candidates – Lorick probably winding up a lefty specialist and Harris due to become a middle reliever (at best), if not part of a future trade package. But Lopez could turn out to be a real steal from a Braves system known for its pitching, and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward.

All in all, it appears Trader Jim has done a good job getting prospects back for DLee as well as Ted Lilly and the Cajun Connection (great garage band from the 60s). I don’t think any of these trades are spectacular, but teams 21 games under .500 (sweet merciful pete) rarely make spectacular trades. Nonetheless, any of them could turn out to be quite fruitful if the Cubs get a solid, cheap, cost-controlled starting pitcher or if the Joey Gathright guy we got from the Giants turns out to be the second coming of Lou Brock. He’s on Twitter, y’know.

And should we mourn the loss of Derrek Lee? Well, yeah, of course. He was, overall, a great player for the Cubs – and one of the best first baseman in their long history. Derrek also appears to be a fine human being and one of the “nicer guys to ever play the game” as the cliche goes.

But, as I’ve probably written here before, it was time. His contract was just about up and the Cubs need to start plugging new and preferably young pieces into this team where spots are available. I thank Derrek for all the times I’ve screamed/typed/tweeted “DEEEEEEEEEEEEELEEEEEEEEEEEEE” after he jacked one into the bleachers or dug out one of Ryan Theriot’s dying goose throws. And I wish him all the best in the future — yeah, even with the Braves.

So what else is going on? Well …

Tyler Colvin is taking ground balls at first base.  So I guess we should have this debate. Good idea? Bad idea? I’m still not crazy about it for a couple reasons: 1) We still don’t know whether Colvin’s remarkable slugging this season is for real or whether it would hold up for a full season, and 2) It’s still a big detraction from Tyler’s value to turn a guy who can play all three outfield spots with pretty solid defense (at the corners at least) into a first baseman.

Then again, I think much depends on whether the Cubs can deal away Fukudome during (presumably) the off-season. If Kosuke must finish out his contract, maybe you give him back his starting job in right field and put Colvin at first base next season. They could presumably still move Tyler back to the outfield once Dome’s deal is up. Crazy? Kinda. But it would maximize payroll flexibility. Remember, when it comes to first basemen, The Big Three (Pujols-Gonzalez-Fielder) head to free agency in 2012.

Here comes Slammin’ Sammy.  No, not Sosa, though he does give a lengthy interview in the September issue of Chicago Magazine. (Details here.) I’m talkin’ about the Sammy who slams into walls. Fuld, that is. Short guy. Really smart. He’s been called up instead of Hoffpauir, because, as you might recall, Micah can’t be recalled until Monday due to an MLB rule calling for a restriction on recalling a player recently called up. Call me about it. We’ll talk.

They’re playing musical statues at Wrigley. The Cubs have announced they’ll be unveiling a Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams statue at the corner of Addison and Sheffield. Sweet. Problem is, that means they’ll have to move the Harry Caray statue to the bleacher entrance, which has upset the Caray family.

Much like the Toyota sign brouhaha, this statue snafu does not inspire much passion in me. What’s the big deal? Didn’t Harry pretty much pass himself off as a “drink a Bud in the bleachers” kinda guy anyway? Wouldn’t he want to be heading up to bleachers to knock back a few cold ones and get a little crazy? And, y’know, let’s not forget Billy Williams actually played the game — and played it rather well, I might add. Check his stats: Billy freakin’ raked. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Move it or lose it, I say.

OK, that’s the news for today. D’oh — I guess I should turn on the game. It’s just starting as I finish this. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be at the game vs. the Braves on Saturday, so keep an eye on my Twitter page for some Twitpics and such. It’ll be awfully weird seeing DLee on the other side.

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Why Not Me: An Open Letter to Jim Hendry

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Dear Mr. Hendry (or whoever has his job in a few weeks),

With Lou Piniella’s upcoming retirement, your proud franchise will need a steady hand behind the wheel in 2011. I am officially offering my services.

True, I’ve never managed in the major leagues, or the minor leagues, or college, or high school. But hey, that didn’t stop Arizona from hiring A.J. Hinch (OK, bad example). Since I don’t have a won/loss record to impress you with, let’s take a closer look at what I bring to the table.

First, I promise to perfect my clichés. I have no problem telling curious reporters that “we’re going to turn this ship around,” or that “we have to take ‘em one game at a time,” or my personal favorite, “we need to learn how to win.” I’ll be a headline-writing machine for your ballclub.

Second, I vow to immediately bench any player who bunts in the first inning. Can your current color commentator and future managerial candidate make such a claim? Mr. Brenly gives away outs like my neighbor gives away tomatoes from his backyard garden. (NOTE: If you like tomatoes, I’d be happy to put in a good word for you.)

Third, my radical plan for the bullpen will take the league by storm. I have no problem using my best reliever in the 7th or 8th inning. It makes no sense to bring in your third best righty to face Albert Pujols with the bases loaded and hope that you still have the lead later. The garage is no place for a sports car (I’ll come up with a better analogy for my first press conference).

Last but certainly not least, Jeff Baker and John Grabow will never see the field on my watch. I’m sure Jeff and John are nice guys who love animals and volunteer time at the local youth center, but they are really bad at baseball. Let’s paint Koyie Hill with that brush as well.

You may take some heat for hiring a 40-year-old fan with no managerial experience, but as my good friend Pete Rose likes to say, “You have to bet big to win big.” Worst case scenario, you’ll knock Ozzie Guillen out of the Chicago news. I’ll even brush up on my Twitter skills for you.

Sincerely,

Buddy

(P.S. My Diamond Mind Baseball team is currently in first place. I have no Cubs on my 25-man roster.)

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Game 121: Hapless Cubs lose third straight to Padres

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Today’s game was over in the top of the first when the Padres scored two runs. It doesn’t take much these days to beat the Cubs and Matt Stairs’ double off the ivy proved to be the decisive hit as the Padres won 5-1 over the North Siders. Today’s highlights:

  • Top 1st: Coleman starts out shaky but Castillo fires out of the block and cuts down Venable. Coleman looking real shaky now after walking the next two and hitting a batter. Stairs knocks in two with a double off the left field ivy. Headley thrown out 4-2 at the plate two outs, Coleman gets out of the inning.
  • Bottom 2nd: Soriano doubles past Gwynn man on second one out. Richard ignores Soriano at second, Soriano steals third with one out (Cubs are last in the league in stolen bases.) Baker doubles to left center 2-1 Padres. Stairs robs Coleman with a diving catch to keep the lead at 2-1.
  • Top 3rd: Gonzalez lines a solo to the left field bleachers, 3-1 SD.

The rest of the scoring was icing on the cake as the Pads took a 3-0 advantage in this four game series. The Cubbies took a long look at prospects today – Barney started and led off and went 1-4 for the day. Castro had a walk and a hit; Wellington Castro went 0-3 but had a nice throwout at second catching a decent base stealer in Venable. Coleman looked ineffective again, I’d like to see him finish out the rest of the season in Iowa (where the I-Cubs are embroiled in a playoff race 2.5 games ahead in their division.) Likewise with Diamond and Mateo, who have ERAs of 7.20 and 12:46 respectively. Since the Cubs have nothing to lose why not take another look at Samardzija, Mitch Atkins and a first look at Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who sports a 5-0 record and a 1.97 ERA for Iowa.

One assumes that Micah Hoffpauir will be brought up for yet another cup o’ coffee with the Cubs – Micah has 22 homeruns for Iowa but it’s hard to consider him as a prospect any more. I’m more interested in seeing what Brad Snyder and Bryan LaHair will do when it’s time for September callups. I’m impressed with the young San Diego team – they find ways to score and they don’t beat themselves. This is where I’d like to see the Cubs in 2013; tomorrow the Cubs get a look at 2006 eleventh round draft pick Mat Latos who presently sports a 2.32 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP.

In other news it is generally reported that Derrek Lee is on his way to Atlanta for something other than a top prospect. Lee will reportedly accept the trade because it’s evident that the Cubs’ 2010 chances are over and the Braves are in the thick of it. While the Cubs are not likely to get much in return it does save them $3 million in salary which counts for something if you are the general manager or the owner. My best wishes to Derrek on the rest of his career; he is the third-best first baseman the Cubs have had since I began rooting for the team in 1968 (behind Mr. Cub and Mark Grace.) It remains to be seen as to whether or not the Cubs have finished trimming salary, my guess is that they are not.

Update:  According to MLB.com the Cubs have received right-handed pitchers Robinson Lopez and Tyrelle Harris and left-handed pitcher Jeffrey Lorick in exchange for Derrek Lee, who will be in uniform for Atlanta when the Braves come to Wrigley on Friday.  Lopez is 3-8 with a 4.41 ERA for Class A Rome, he has 70 strikeouts and 43 walks in 92 2/3 innings pitched.  Harris appears to be the centerpiece of this trade – the 6’4″ righthander has struck out 60 in 49 2/3 IP and carries a 2.90 ERA with three teams this year.  He’s held opposing batters to a .210 batting average.  Lefthander Jeffrey Lorick also plays for Single A Rome; despite his 3-6 record he sports a 2.24 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings pitched.  In summary, not a bad haul for a player the Cubs had no intention in bringing back for 2011.

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Book Review: Coach

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “Coach – Lessons on the Game of Life”. The author is Michael Lewis. It was published in 2005.

Michael Lewis, you may remember, is the author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” among other titles.

I have to admit, I have not, as yet, read the book. Instead I listened to the audiobook version, “Read by the Author”.

As Mr. Lewis explains it in this book he, as a 43 year old, looks back at a man who changed his life. That man, Billy Fitzgerald (aka “Coach Fitz”), was his baseball coach back when he, the author, was a 14 year old boy “who could pass for 12 years old”.

The action in “Coach” takes place in New Orleans, where Michael Lewis went to school, and where a somewhat unusual situation is occurring. Former students (and their parents) think the world of Coach Fitz. But many parents of current students want Coach Fitz fired.

The collective memory of students seems to be: “Fitz changed my life”.

On the back cover of the CD jewel case are printed these words:
– “The coach’s message was not simply about winning, but about self-respect, sacrifice, courage, and endurance. In some ways, and even now, thirty years later, Lewis still finds himself trying to measure up to what Coach Fitz expected of him.”

Names with which you may be familiar, who are mentioned, quoted, or referenced in this book include:
– Sean Tuohy
– “Pistol Pete” Maravich
– Rusty Staub
– Lou Piniella
– Rollie Fingers
– Catfish Hunter
– Peyton Manning
– Archie Manning
– Aesop
– Mark Twain

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “There were the written rules, and there were the rules.”

– “Success, to Fitz, was a process.”

– “Privilege Corrupts”

– “All this is about a false sense of self-esteem.”

– “What’s fun to you is death to me.”

– “He was teaching us how to cope with the two greatest enemies of a well-lived life: fear and failure.”

– “You never give up on a team, just like you never give up on a kid.”

There are some names in my life who had an effect on me similar to that of Coach Fitz in the life of Michael Lewis. Each deserves a story all his own, but for now I’ll simply list the names here in chronological order of their appearance in my life:

– Mr. Terrance Willison

– Coach Sam Brunswick

– Coach “Crazy Ed” Mitchell

– “Coach” Dobrath

– Coach Herb Hassenburg

– Coach Jack Rapper

– Sensei Shojiro Sugiyama

Listening to the audiobook was very easy and I recommend it to everyone. It consists on one (1) CD, one hour in length. Because the audiobook is so short, I was able to listen to it a number of times.

Nowhere on the CD cover does the word “unabridged” appear, so it is possible that the audiobook leaves out some segments of the printed version. On the other hand, the audiobook is read by Mr. Michael Lewis himself, so that adds its own cachet.

I recommend the book “Coach” by Michael Lewis very highly to anyone and everyone. I enjoyed listening to it. I’m sure that either the audio or printed version will prove to be worth your while.

This recommendation does not apply only to boys, nor does it apply only to jocks.

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