Archive for August, 2011

Game 133 – “Wrigley North” No More

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Cubs 4, Brewers 6

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right

  • Not Much  Alfonso Soriano had a productive evening, driving in all 4 of the Cubs’ runs on a pair of hits.  Aramis Ramirez also had 2 hits to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.  Marlon Byrd had 3 hits and a nice catch in the 3rd to rob Ryan Braun of at least a double.  And Tyler Colvin stayed on the comeback trail, putting up 2 hits of his own.

What Went Wrong

  • Pitching  Ryan Dempster had one of his worst starts of the season Saturday night, giving up 5 runs in 4 innings of work.  For much of the night, it looked like he was throwing batting practice, as the Brewers hit two long home runs off him, along with 3 deep doubles and a 4th that Marlon Byrd played into a triple for Corey Hart.  Ramon Ortiz (2 innings) and Sean Marshall (1 inning) held the Milwaukee scoreless, but James Russell gave up a homer to Hart, who was a single short of the cycle.
  • Hitting  Infuriatingly, the Cubs out-hit the Brewers tonight, but failed once again to hit with men on base.  The 2nd inning was a microcosm of this season’s offensive woes–Pena led off and reached on a throwing error by the pitcher Gallardo.  Colvin followed that up with a single to center.  So with men on first and second with no outs, it looked like the Cubs might be able to counter the 3 runs Dempster had surrendered in the bottom of the 1st.  Instead, Byrd struck out, Soriano singled to center to drive in Pena, but any hope of adding on was killed by back-to-back strike outs for Soto and Dempster.  In fact, Soto struck out 3 times tonight, each time with at least one runner on base.  Forget about getting hits–I would have settled for productive outs tonight.  When you lose by 2 runs after leaving 8 men on base, a couple well-timed deep fly balls could have been the difference in the game.

The Takeaway

  • Tomorrow the Cubs will try to avoid the sweep.  If you’re so inclined, you can watch at 2pm ET/11amPT on CSN or (weirdly) TBS.
  • But if you’d prefer to watch competitive, entertaining baseball, let me encourage you to tune into ESPN at 12pm ET/9am PT for the final game of the Little League World Series.  Hoping to defend the title won last year by their countrymen, the Japanese team will face off against the US squad from Huntington Beach, CA–the hometown team of All Star VFTB commenter Doc Raker.  If nothing else, it’s a game that matters.  We Cubs fans haven’t seen one of those in a while.

 

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Yovani Gallardo (.208 WPA)

2nd Star – Corey Hart (.157 WPA)

3rd Star – Alfonso Soriano (.155 WPA)

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Game 132 – Play Tyler Colvin and Help Rodrigo Lopez Learn How to Pitch

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Cubs 2, Brewers 5

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

I’m going to try something a little different today. Instead of the usual format of what went right, wrong, etc. I’m just going to go with my notes from the game.

  • The Brewers are now 48-16 at Miller Park, which is the best home record in all of baseball. If anything, Prince Fielder really did his team a service by helping the NL win the All Star game. If they get to the World Series they could be hard to beat.
  • I’m about fed up with the platoon concept when it comes to Tyler Colvin. You traded Kosuke Fukudome to see if Colvin had the skills to play every day and then you coddle him against left handed starters and give him the night off. I could see doing it against really tough lefties, but Randy Wolf isn’t that guy. I like Reed Johnson a lot, but at this point he’s not part of the future and we need to find out if Colvin is. The only way to do that is to run him out against the lefties and see what happens.
  • Starlin Castro hit a leadoff home run to deep left center field. It was the first time the kid has done that in his career. It reminded me of the Soriano leadoff days where we’d see that on a fairly regular days.
  • It’s been awhile since I’ve written any thoughts on this team so I don’t know if I’ve gotten my #FireMikeQuade jabs in there. This team is not going to move forward with him at the helm. When he was hired, I felt like it was the right call, but as things progress day after day, we continue to see him in over his head. To see him say he didn’t see the play where Castro had his back to the play as a pitch was being delivered and then bench Castro after listening to Bobby Valentine, it’s clear he’s clueless on what he’s doing. I don’t believe he has the respect in this clubhouse and he needs to be replaced when the new GM in put in place. My question is who makes that call? Normally that would be the decision of the GM, but I can’t imagine that responsibility would fall to Randy Bush since Ricketts has made it clear that he is simply a stopgap until we hire someone. Does Ricketts then make that call on Quade’s future?
  • They flashed a stat on the screen somewhere in the middle innings that hitters against Rodrigo Lopez had a .259 batting average the first time through the order, a .273 average the second time, and then .460 the third time around. We saw that come into play yesterday when he fell apart. What that tells me is that he’s not a starting pitchers. Guys can figure him out after seeing him twice. One of the reasons why, and I hate Bob Brenly for pointing it out because it makes it seem like I just took it from him, is that he shows the grip on his pitch for a split second during his windup. I have to believe guys figure that out and get used to seeing it by the third at bat. At that point, they can pick up the grip and at least know if it’s fastball or breaking ball should they be paying attention. He needs to work on correcting that and needs to be used in the pen should he be a member of this team moving forward (crossing fingers that he’s not).

Stars of the Game
Base on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Ryan Braun (.251 WPA)

2nd Star – Randy Wolf (.139 WPA)

3rd Star – Jeff Baker (.110 WPA)

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Game 131 – Good Golly, Garza!

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Cubs 3, Braves 8
Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right:

  • Pena – Carlos, Carlos, Carlos. He has been pretty impressive of late. Today he had 2 hits, one of which was a bunt single! Impressive. Then with Johnson batting, Pena stole second! Len and Bob made a bad joke about Pena looking like Campana on the base paths. I guess if you were 1 foot taller and had 100 lbs on somebody, someone might find a resemblance there somewhere, but I just wasn’t seeing it today. Maybe I need to get my eyes checked. Pena also had a diving, head first slide into first for a single as well. Maybe being taken off waivers gave the guy a confidence boost. I approve.
  • Youngsters – What was impressive about the youngsters today? Tyler Colvin’s triple. That boy has wheels! Hopefully he can find his swing soon so that he can steal bases for us. Castro got his 167th hit of the season in the 1st inning and stole second. Why Quade doesn’t have him attempting to steal more baffles me. He has speed. He gets on base. We have nothing to lose. See what the young guys can do! Maybe somebody will want to take one (or four…) of them off our hands. Everyone needs 52 outfielders, right? No? Oh, maybe that’s just us.
  • Samardzija – Wait, what? Yes. Jeff Samardzija has actually been not bad lately. I never thought those words would find their way into a sentence, but they have. Today, he posted straight 0’s across his frame. He has a 0.71 ERA in the month of August. Maybe he isn’t so bad after all. Maybe.
  • Ramirez is still hot. He ripped a 2 out double in the 8th inning to extend his streak to 14 games.

What Went Wrong:

  • Garza and Grabow- Matt had an uncharacteristically bad game today. 6 runs on 8 hits with 6 Ks and an error in 5 innings. I was really excited to watch this game today, because Garza is usually so great to watch. Boy, was I surprised when he dished up that 3 run shot to McCann in the first, and then never really settle into a groove. He was more shaken than D.C. after that ‘quake.
  • Grabow was himself. Most of the damage had been done at that point, so handing a round-tripper to McCann was nearly unremarkable. Just another day in the life of ol’ John.
  • Errors – The Cubs had four (four!) errors today, which consequently led to 4 unearned runs. Remember kids, actions have consequences. In the case of the Cubs, those consequences are 103 years of bad, bad luck. Be careful.
  • Blake DeWitt was put in to pinch hit. I thought we were done with him.

The Takeaway:
The Cubs fell back to their same habits today: errors, bad pitching, little offense. It was disheartening to see them struggle today, especially because I had to recap a bad game. It has been nice that the Cubs have been doing pretty well lately though. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come next year.

Miscellaneous:

  • Len and Bob had a brief interview with Jimmie Johnson. He asked Len and Bob if they could really tell what pitch that was thrown from all the way up in the booth. I chuckled. What a down to Earth guy.
  • Mike Flanagan passed away this week at the age of 59. I never got the opportunity to hear him call a game, or see him pitch, but word has it that he was a funny guy and a great pitcher and teammate. His death was ruled an apparent suicide. Some say it was caused by the depression he experienced after being blamed for the Orioles’ recent struggles. I am deeply saddened by this news.

Stars of the Game
Base on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Brian McCann (.262 WPA)

2nd Star – Freddie Freeman (.122 WPA)

3rd Star – Martin Prado (.121 WPA)

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The Case For Jim Hendry

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Jim Hendry since I first began writing for View From The Bleachers.  I’ve trashed his record, mocked his intelligence, and painstakingly pointed out a variety of his failings.

So you can imagine my elation at the news of his firing last Friday.  To me it felt like Cubs fans everywhere had been pardoned and released from prison.  We were finally free from Hendry and his toxic tenure at the helm of our beloved team.

And then Hendry gave this press conference.

Through his tears, he talked about his time with the Cubs, the deep relationships he’d formed with players and front-office staff, his respect for Tom Ricketts and many of the other men he’s worked with and for, and most importantly, his understanding that this was the right move for the team*.  He didn’t make excuses for the poor performance on the field these last couple seasons–in fact, he accepted the blame.

*A couple quotes: “Better guys than me have lost their jobs in professional baseball.”  “That’s all you can ask for in life: opportunity, not security.”

What struck me most about Hendry’s comments was his genuine love for the Cubs.  Certainly he was feeling a variety of mixed emotions, but the one that came through most clearly to me was disappointment, primarily in himself.  He owned up to his shortcomings, and despite what I’ve previously said about him in this space, I respect him for that.

No matter what it might have looked like, I always tried to be relatively fair in my criticism of Hendry.  I couldn’t tear into him for all his short-sighted moves and bad decisions without at least acknowledging his successes, too.  And now that he’s gone and the Cubs are looking for a fresh start, I think it’s appropriate to look back at those successes once again.

It’s worth pointing out that Hendry left the team with a winning record, albeit by a one-game margin (749-748).  I’m not sure that could have been planned, but it works out well for a guy who would otherwise still go down as one of the Cubs’ most successful GM’s.

His legacy with the team is forever tied to the Cubs’ three trips to the playoffs in 2003, 2007, and 2008.  He was also in charge during their first back-to-back winning seasons (’03 &’ 04) and their first back-to-back-to-back winning seasons (’07, ’08, & ’09) in seemingly forever.  If nothing else, he’ll be remembered as the guy who helped bring hope and the expectation of success back to Wrigley.

Does he deserve all the credit he’s received for those winning seasons?  Probably not–at the very least, it’s debatable.

What isn’t debatable are the contributions Hendry made through clever trades for Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, shrewd free-agent signings like Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa, and profitable gambles on scrap-heap players like Ryan Dempster and Reed Johnson.  He was in charge of the farm system that developed Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Geovanny Soto, Carlos Marmol, and Starlin Castro.  And by bringing in two potential Hall of Fame managers in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, he sent a message to Cubs fans and the rest of the league that he expected to win.

What is abundantly clear in his departure is that Hendry wasn’t just another executive.  We can discuss some other time whether or not it’s good for a GM to form close relationships with his players–either way, Hendry was that kind of GM.  He was a guy players like to play for, and he fostered a family environment around the club.  The players, coaches, and even members of the press corps that follow the team were legitimately sad to find out about his dismissal last Friday–how often does that happen?

Moreover, Hendry deserves a lot of credit for keeping his firing a secret for a month.  It’s hard to tell yet if the secret was worth keeping, or if his willingness to stay on was the right move.  Regardless of the outcome though, I think it speaks to his love for the team and his respect for Ricketts that he didn’t throw a fit or storm out in disgust.  He stuck around to do what he thought was best for the Cubs, and held onto a devastating secret–one he even kept from his own sons–to fulfill his remaining responsibilities.

Based on how well-liked Hendry is throughout the league, I have no doubt he’ll find another job in baseball.  While he may have contributed to the Cubs current mess, he also had to do a whole lot right long before he ever became our GM.

For my part, I’m not going to dance on his grave.  Instead, I’d simply like to say thanks for the good times, the happy memories, and for doing what may well have been the best job he was capable of.  And I’d wish him well wherever he lands next.

Unless it’s with the Cardinals.  Or the Brewers.  Or really anywhere in the NL Central.  Or the Mets, Braves, or Phillies.  Or the Dodgers.  Or…you know what–maybe I’ll hold off on those well-wishes for the moment.

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Game 130 – Randy Throws a Dandy

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Cubs 3, Braves 2

Box Score / Highlights

The Cubs end a three game losing streak behind Randy Wells best pitched game of the year, beating the Braves 3-2.

What went right:

  • Randy Wells pitched his best start of the year, going 6 2/3 while giving up only 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks to go along with 6 strikeouts. He’s taken a step back this year and is likely going to have to fight for a spot in next years rotation.
  • Aramis Ramirez stayed hot, getting on base three times.
  • Alfonso Soriano hit a homer for the second night in a row.

What went wrong:

  • Mike Quade’s decision making continues to be questionable. Randy Wells showed signs of struggling in the 6th inning, but got out of it. He came up in the bottom of the inning with Soriano on second and two outs. That seemed like a good chance to pinch hit for him and thank him for a night of good pitching. He got the lead off man in the seventh, Freddi Freeman flew out to the wall, and then Chipper crushed one over the center field wall. He was removed at that point.
  • Geovany Soto had a rocket in the 8th with the bases loaded and one out that was caught by Chipper who touched third for an easy double play. Tyler Colvin did the same thing on the first base side and later scorched one to deep center, but Michael Bourn was able to grab it. Tough luck, that’s baseball for ya…Tyler could’ve got that OBP over the .200 mark!
  • Reserved for Carlos Marmol note

Notes:

  • Carlos Pena was claimed off waivers by the Yankees (I guess they’ll do anything to keep Jesus Montero in AAA). The Cubs would still be on the hook for the $5 million deferred payment in his contract next January, so it doesn’t sound like they are all that anxious to move him. I don’t see why not. Let the Yankees take him and save $1 million or try and work out a trade and get something for the farm system. The Yanks won’t resign him, so if he’s still on your wish list, he’ll be there in free agency (along with Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, who they have to at least talk to, right?). The timing of the GM change was a mistake on Ricketts part.
  • Bud Selig was in the booth talking with Len and Bob. One subject to come up was the idea of an international draft and hard slotting for draft picks. This is a great idea if he wants to lose the best athletes to other sports. The 2011 draft had the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, and Mariners as the top four spending teams with Toronto and Tampa Bay collecting the most players that signed for over $500k. What’s wrong with the way it is? You get what you pay for and if the Nat’s, Pirates, and Royals are the top three spending teams, I’d venture a guess that any team can take this strategy.
  • Aramis Ramirez is about as hot as a hitter can get. This has brought a lot of discussion about the Cubs picking up his option for next year. My opinion is absolutely. It is a mutual option, so Ramirez can decline and become a free agent. With the weak third base free agent class, he’s sure to get a multi-year deal from someone, so he’d probably decline. Then the Cubs could offer arbitration, which he’ll decline again, and be able to collect two extra draft picks. If Ramirez decides to accept the option and come back next year, the Cubs have one of the top handful of third basemen on a one year contract.


Stars of the Game
Base on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Randy Wells (.279 WPA)

2nd Star – Alfonso Soriano (.177 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Marmol (.172 WPA)

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