Archive for August, 2011

Observations from a Smokies Game

Friday, August 19th, 2011

On Sunday, August 14 I had the true pleasure of seeing the Cubs’ AA Tennessee Smokies play the Florida Marlins’ Jacksonville Suns at Smokies Park in beautiful Kodak, Tennessee.

Some of the names you might recognize on this Smokies’ team are:

along with perennial VFTB favorite Austin Bibens-Dirkx who was actually scheduled to pitch the game I saw except they went and sent him to Iowa. (Sheesh! My luck!) Watch for some of these names in September, I have a feeling you’ll see a few.

I thought I might share some observations from the game.

  • With the exception of the Cubs game during which Geovany Soto smiled and nodded at me (cementing our love affair for life in my mind), this minor league game was more fun than any big league game in recent memory.
  • The players on both teams were gracious and accommodating, often without being asked. The two children in our party (ages 5 and 9) left the game with five baseballs, two of them signed by many players. I have to think nearly every child in the ballpark (and a good number of adults) left with something. Attendance = 3,004.
  • Mike Quade is apparently moonlighting as the Suns’ manager. I suspect the pure exhaustion of managing both teams can explain at least a few of his bizarre managerial decisions.

  • The Cubs appear to be continuing their love affair with short scrappy guys. The Tennessee Smokies players (despite what their stats sheets say) are tiny. Being only 4’11” tall myself, it doesn’t take much to dwarf me. But even though the Suns seemed “normal sized” — some big guys and some shorties — the home boys were teeny. I thought maybe they were just too young to have bulked up yet (a’la Tyler Colvin 2009 to 2010) but that’s not it. They’re bulky. In fact I can’t imagine Jeff Stevens can find a dress shirt that’s not custom made as his shoulders appear to be nearly three times the width of his hips. They’re just short. Coming from a team who would occasionally list Ryan Theriot as 6’2″, I guess I’m not surprised. Maybe ol’ Jimmy boy thinks he’s taller than he is so he thinks he sees height in the tiny guys.
  • The Cubs are also continuing their affair with stocky catchers.
  • In what appeared to have been an unfortunate laundering incident, the Suns’ pink-ish/gray tops did not match their gray-ish/gray bottoms.
  • The MLB Cubs’ lack of timely offense is pervasive. One run on five hits for these young Smokies. One walk to seven strikeouts. On the other hand the Suns drew only two walks (on 6 Ks) so maybe minor leaguers pitch to contact.
  • I was quite disappointed that Bibens-Dirkx was scratched, even if it was due to a promotion. Not only did I want everyone here at VFTB to have a good look at our favorite country crooner, I was hoping he’d treat us to an impromptu concert mid-inning. Maybe he’ll join the big boys in September.
  • The financial differences between the MLB and AA clubs were readily apparent. While Geovany Soto and (especially) Koyie Hill wear rocket ship helmets, poor Steve Clevenger had to hold his mask on his head with an old pair of underwear. Or maybe it’s a blue jockstrap. Hard telling.

  • On the other hand, as a fan I enjoyed the benefits of the financial differences.
    — Front Row Ticket = $9.00
    — Delicious Cheeseburger = $3.00
    — Refreshing Dasani Bottled Water = $1.50
    — Ample Parking = $3.00
    — Overall Experience = Priceless

As we’ve discussed here at VFTB many times, I would highly recommend taking in a minor league game or three if you ever have the opportunity. These players are our team’s future. And even if many of them will never make the big league team, they’re playing for next to nothing with more heart than I’ve seen on the big club in many years.

Enjoy a few more photos from the game.

Blake Lalli (1B)

Nelson Perez (RF)

Anonymous Suns hands. We were right behind their dugout.

Jonathan Mota (2B)

James Adduci (LF)

Jae-Hoon Ha (CF)

Jeff Stevens (P)

Josh Vitters (3B)

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Northside Archives: The Lie Perpetuating The Myth

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

You can hardly watch a national broadcast of a Cubs game without the incessant droning on about how Starlin Castro needs to tighten up his defense. For the Saturday Fox broadcast (Buck & McCarver) I think that’s the entirety of their scouting report on him. The ESPN Sunday Night team isn’t quite as bad, especially since after their montage of Castro’s most recent errors they then admit that he’s likely to become a better defender as he matures. Oh yeah, he’s 21 years old.

The Record
The Cubs are 16-24 when Castro registers an error. If Castro commits an error (even if it leads to a run) and the Cubs win, who cares? No harm, no foul.

The Losses
Of those 24 losses, 6 times we’ve been shutout. You can’t win if you don’t score, so what difference does it make if while being shutout Castro commits an error – or if his error leads to a run – we were going to lose anyway.

In 9 other losses the final score was a blowout (the Cubs lost by at least 5 runs). Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS notwithstanding, it’s basically impossible to have an error be the lone reason for such a blowout.

There are nine remaining losses of the original 24. Let’s deal with the easy ones first:

On May 11, 2010; May 26, 2010; June 26, 2010; and June 22, 2011 – in all four games Castro’s error did NOT lead to a run.

On May 10, 2010 he made three errors that led directly to one total run; the final score was 4-2. On April 24, 2011 he made one error that led directly to one run; the final score was 7-3. On June 15, 2011 he made one error that led directly to one run; the final score was 9-5. Maybe the first game ends differently, but the other two probably don’t.

That leaves only two games. The first was on June 10, 2010 – the Cubs had taken a 4-3 lead in Milwaukee, Castro’s sixth inning error tied the game at 4 and the Brewers went on to win in the 11th. The second was on April 25, 2011 – Castro made three errors in the same inning and the Cubs went from up 3-0 at Wrigley to a tie with the Rockies at 3-3; all the runs resulting directly from Castro’s errors. The Cubs lost that game 5-3.

The Damage
After nearly 250 games played, only 3 losses could be traced back to a Castro error. I’ll take that. He’s sometimes spectacular, other times he struggles with the routine plays – and no, you don’t want your defense costing you ANY games. But when you consider that he’s 21 years old and at worst his defense has cost us three games, I fail to see what all the griping is about.

Pena To The Rescue?
It’s been suggested (most recently by VFTB poster Randy) that Castro is benefitting greatly from a quality first baseman. Of course, this is essentially impossible to prove. There is no stat to track errant throws that a first baseman has corralled and in doing so prevented an error. Castro has committed 23 fielding errors, and 22 throwing errors.

His throwing errors breakdown as follows: four to Derrek Lee at 1B, three to Xavier Nady at 1B, two to Blake DeWitt at 2B, two to Jeff Baker at 1B, and seven to Carlos Pena at 1B. He also had one each to Micah Hoffpauir (1B), Mike Fontenot (2B), Darwin Barney (2B), and DJ LeMahieu (1B). What does that tell us? Not much – Castro is an equal opportunity offender. Half the time he’s fielding the ball poorly, half the time he’s throwing it away.

Of course it’s easy to watch the game and say that Pena saves the entire Cubs infield from errors that they probably deserve, and Castro is likely at the top of that list. But it’s impossible to quantify – at least until there’s a stat for “wins above replacement player as a fielder based on errant throws.” Pena’s a great first baseman, but so was Derrek Lee – and it’s not terribly fair to compare them to Baker, Nady, Hoffpauir, or LeMahieu since no one would argue that any of those guys is even an “average” MLB first baseman, especially defensively. The whole infield is better with Lee or Pena at first; to single out Castro as the primary beneficiary is to ignore that those other guys aren’t even adequate as first basemen.

But it’s certainly not as if Castro’s errors peak when the better defenders are on the bench (and even if you COULD prove that, you’d also have to allow for the possibility that Castro could be more relaxed throwing to a competent first baseman than he is throwing to some minor league backup or fill-in utility player – another valid argument which could apply to the entire infield).

Also missing in the Castro revile is any accounting whatsoever for the hits he’s saving for our pitchers. Even if one first baseman is routinely making Castro look good (which is actually part of the first baseman’s job!), Castro routinely makes our pitchers look good by stealing balls ticketed for the outfield.

The Pattern
If there is a pattern, at least a loose pattern, it’s that Castro’s errors come in bunches. He’s had 5 errors in four days, 3 errors in five days, 5 errors in six days, and 4 errors in three days all at different points. That’s 17 of his 47 errors coming closely bunched together (thanks in part to two horrendous 3-error games).

This is probably the reason that baseball announcers at large (Len Kasper and Bob Brenly are not exempt) have an ongoing narrative that Castro’s fielding is mostly poor on the routine plays. That is a narrative that caught on early when Castro had 5 errors by the end of his 5th major league game (including a 3 error debut at Wrigley). Unfortunately for Starlin, he’s had enough similar stretches to guarantee that the myth will continue.

Since June 23rd he’s had exactly 4 errors in four different games. That’s almost two months of baseball and the Cubs won three of those four games!

The Historical Comparison
Castro wouldn’t be the only young SS to start his career with a bunch of errors and eventually figure it out as he matured (I’ve specifically picked players who started young and managed to play full seasons early in their career). Castro had 27 errors last year, he’s got 20 so far this year:

  • Cal Ripken Jr. – as a 22-24 year old he registered 25, 26, and 26 errors. He was a rookie at 21.
  • Ernie Banks – as a 23-27 year old he registered 34, 22, 25, 14, and 32 errors. He was a rookie at 23.
  • Hanley Ramirez – as a 22-24 year old he registered 26, 24, and 22 errors. He was a rookie at 22.
  • Robin Yount – as a 19-24 year old he registered 44, 31, 26, 30, 25 and 28 errors. He was a rookie at 18.

There are others to whom Castro would not compare nearly as favorably, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra both started their careers as very good defenders. And there are others to whom the comparison would be unfair, such as Derek Jeter whose range is generously described as mediocre (which in part explains his low error totals).

Why Does It Even Matter?
Maybe I should’ve started with this – even if Castro’s defense was as hideous as some have suggested, it’s not as if there’s a direct impact on the standings. This team is terrible; it’s going to be terrible whether Castro makes 3 errors or 33 errors. I’d much rather let Castro learn on the job with a crappy team, than suffer in the minors because there is some belief that his defense is inadequate. We’ve all too often left guys in the minors because of perceived shortcomings – or even sent them back down to let them learn another position. Now is the perfect time for the Cubs to have a young, supremely talented shortstop who possesses a correctable “deficiency.”

The organization is partly to blame – when your manager complains about a first inning pop-up that was bungled by your shortstop instead of focusing on the fact that the pitching was deplorable in a 9-1 loss, it kind of sets the tone for writers and analysts. If the manager is ripping him, there must be something to it, right? Uh, no…there’s not. Castro didn’t cost us that game, and his errors have largely been irrelevant to the final score.

Another Option
One final point – the Cubs have a TON of problems on the field and in the front office at this point. There’s no need to create another one, especially when there is no viable solution. Hak-Ju Lee’s departure in the Matt Garza trade left the minor league system void of anyone who MIGHT be a better defender at SS than Castro already has proven himself to be. Until Castro hits for more power, he seems ill-suited for a corner infield position. And I really hope that signing a free agent SS isn’t part of the plan for the off-season; but obviously with Hendry all things are possible, however improbable or ill-advised it might seem.

Lacking any other option, it seems foolish to suggest that the Cubs should do anything with Castro except run him out there every day to the same position and keep a watchful eye. If the defense doesn’t improve or gets worse, there might be reason for concern – in another 18 months. But the sample size is far too small, the player is far too young, and the Cubs are flush with too many other issues to worry about the one great thing they have going now.

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Game 124 – The Dirty Dozen

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Cubs 3, Astros 4

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right
Geovany Soto – with a hot streak or two, he might see his average creep above .250 before the end of the season. He hit a home run that temporarily gave the Cubs back the lead.

Aramis Ramirez – it seems now as if the only question is whether the Cubs will pick up his option, or whether both parties will work out a different arrangement for longer deal or a reduced price. If he gets to 30 HRs, the reduced price won’t be an option for the Cubs. I like Aramis, but I fear another multi-year deal.

Stolen Bases – isn’t this why you put young guys on the roster? Barney, Castro, and Campana all stole a base. I’d like to see more of it…who cares if we occasionally run into a rally killing out? I’d rather have them learn the art of base stealing on a team with no playoff potential, than to find in 3 or 4 years that we are again lacking a single player capable of swiping a base.

What Went Wrong
RISP – it’s a common refrain for these Cubs, 0-for-13 in the game with runners in scoring position. This included a bases loaded no out situation in which Soto, Byrd, and Soriano couldn’t muster but a single ball in play!  We left 12 men on base!

Casey Coleman – it’s going to be a rough 6 weeks for him if it takes 85 pitches to get through 3.2 innings. I’m not sure he can ever develop into even a backend of the rotation starter – but no one is going to find out unless he can reduce his pitch count. Even if he’d gotten out of the fourth, I’m not sure that he would’ve started the fifth; although you never can be sure what the Quade’s criteria is for removing a starter.

The Takeaway
I almost put the bullpen down as something that went right. But holding this ramshackle bunch of Astros hitless over 4.1 innings shouldn’t be celebrated. They’re a bunch of AAA guys who have been promoted by default, only a couple of them seem to be real MLB talent. At least the Astros are getting a look what they have in their system.

I Thought Our Bullpen Was Tired?
Today we asked the bullpen for 4.1 (potentially 5.1) innings of work; conversely last Friday we couldn’t permit them to do even 4 innings – and the bullpen is far less rested today than it was on Friday. In case you can’t tell, I don’t trust Quade’s management of our staff. Oh right, it’s the off-day tomorrow, that’s why it was all hands-on deck today (Grabow, Ortiz, and Samardzija is who we bring in when we want to keep that score from ballooning? – and good thinking to be sure our staff was well rested for the Astros).

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

1st Star – Aramis Ramirez (.518 WPA)

2nd Star – Matt Downs (.206 WPA)

3rd Star – Darwin Barney (.153 WPA)

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Chet’s Corner: Many questions still unanswered…..

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Up ’til yesterday the Ricketts Administration has been less then refreshing.  Many people,  myself included, thought the change of guard would immediately show it’s worth.  Now, I understand it takes time for these things to show up in the win column, but at least give us a sign that change is on the way!

When the Rickett’s family took over ownership of the Cubs two seasons ago they noted that team strength was going to come from Player development.  Gone were the days of dumping money into free agents.  Many educated baseball fans were inclined to think this would be a new day dawning on the north side.   After a year and half wait, there is finally some substance to the promise.  

The draft is one of the best ways to develop your system as a whole.  The baseball draft works out much differently then the NFL draft.  Just because you draft a player doesn’t mean he will eventually sign.  In many ways, drafting the player is kind of like asking a girl out on a date.  Just because she accepts doesn’t mean she won’t cancel between now and the actual date.  High school baseball players have more then one option when it comes to their baseball future.  If a player is good enough to be drafted they more then likely have a college scholarship offer hanging out there too.  If you draft a player and he goes another route instead of signing by the deadline, then the player goes back into the draft for the following season for another team to grab.  Up until this season, the Cubs weren’t exactly killing it with their draft picks.

Tim Wilken, the Cubs Scouting Director, acted as though he tripped in a rabbit hole and ended up in some sort of prospect orgy.  You see, yesterday was the deadline to sign the recent haul from this years draft.  The Cubs signed 34 of their top 50 picks.  This is a good result.  Even better, they signed 20 of their top 22.  Go here to see previous draft results (some of the 2011 results are not updated yet.) 

Baez and Vogelbach were the key signings,  both are power hitters who occupy corner infield spots.  Sounds like something the Cubs need, yes?  There was also an interesting pickup in the 14th round of Dillon Maples,  projected as top two round talent but with a hefty price tag, many passed.   He had a solid scholarship offer from UNC and was leaning that direction. …. $2.5 million changed his mind.   

As noted in Norm’s game recap (you know, the game where Marmol basically re-affirmed  he had gone from inhuman to sub standard over the course of a season) the Cubs spent over $12 million to lock up the draft day haul.   One caveat however, the draft is anything but a gaurantee.  All of these players are prospects until proven major leaguers.  That being said it comes down to what we do with the prospects from here that matters.  This is an area where Hendry and company have failed miserably in the past.  Did the owner just dump $12 million for nothing?

So, are we finally seeing a new direction under the new regime?  Is the Rickett’s family slowly but surely making an effort to turn this once proud franchise around?  The money spent in this draft definitly confirms their commitment to build through player development.

We are going to learn a lot about this new ownership in the months to come.   Tom Rickett’s is suppose to address the media in the next few days regarding the club and it’s future.   Key decisions, whether it be standing pat or letting some people go, will be made from top to bottom.  Decisions that will effect the future of this club for the next ten years and beyond.  Will it be another press meeting like the one earlier this year, when he gave unwavering support to Jim Hendry and Mike Quade?  The draft is a nice start, but the hard work, the dirty work as they say, needs to be done.  I have this funny feeling that the masses won’t be satisfied.   The draft signings might be it, and that falls short, as some heads need to roll. 

That being said, I have one question for the readers….

If you are Tom Ricketts, and you can only replace one person from the following list going into the 2012 season, who would it be and why?

A) Jim Hendry

B) Mike Quade

C) Crane Kenney





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Game 123 – Don’t count your chickens…

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Cubs 5, Astros 6

Box Score / Highlights

I think this image is appropriate in the top spot today. Carlos Marmol ruins what could’ve been the easiest game recap in the history of game recaps. Cubs played flawlessly for 8 innings, but since it was a save situation, Quade brings in Marmol who goes on to give up a walk off pinch hit grand slam to Brian Bogusevic.

What went right:

  • Cubs started the game with three straight singles and scored two runs in the first inning. Tyler Colvin and Aramis Ramirez would add home runs to extend the lead. (Why would you ever throw Colvin a fastball?) Carlos Pena was on base four times as he hit two deep doubles to go along with two walks.
  • Ryan Dempster had another quality start as he threw seven innings while giving up four hits, two earned runs, three walks and seven strikeouts.  Kerry Wood threw a scoreless inning of relief.
  • No errors!
  • Sam Adam’s Octoberfest beer is in stores now.

What went wrong:

  • Look at the game graph. Going into the 9th inning, the Cubs had a 98.6% chance of winning the game. Marmol went wrong.


Cubs made a splash in the draft and I don’t understand people saying they “overpaid” for someone. The draft is the best place to get talent at a good price. What is $1.275M for Shawon Dunston Jr. going to do to hurt the organizations future? Nothing! Nothing at all. Get the talent in the organization and see what happens. You can’t develop a player unless he’s in the organization, and if you’re going to let a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of that, you need to think about how many millions are wasted on bench players and relief pitchers that don’t help the team at all.

Albert Pujols is a free agent this offseason, are you going to pay him for what he’s done the last few years or are you going to pay him for what you think he’ll produce for your team over the duration of the new contract? The same answer should apply to those you draft.

Back to the Cubs haul…the Cubs spent $12 million on this years draft, validating Tom Ricketts talk of pouring money into scouting and development. The biggest surprise was Dillon Maples in the 14th round for $2.5M, the largest bonus ever given to someone after the 2nd round. Baseball America ranked Maples as the 46th overall prospect going into the draft and he’ll slide into the Cubs Top 10 for 2012.

The Cubs 1st round pick, Javier Baez, signed for $2.7M and you’ll see him at the top of some Cubs prospect lists next year with Brett Jackson remaining at the top of others. He was a shortstop in high school but will probably move to third base in the future.

My favorite is already Dan Vogelbach, 2nd round, who some scouts say had the most raw power in the entire draft. He’s a 1B in a DH’s body who won a home run derby which included a 508 ft bomb.

By spending so much in the later rounds on prospects that dropped due to bonus demands, Tim Wilken felt the Cubs pulled in 8 or 9 players that would have went in the first three rounds on talent alone. This is how a large market team should operate. Actually, that should be how all teams operate. Otherwise you’re the White Sox who spent just over $2M.

For more on the draft, here’s an interview with Tim Wilken from the Daily Herald’s Bruce Miles.

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

1st Star – Brian Bogusevic (.817 WPA)

2nd Star – Ryan Dempster (.217 WPA)

3rd Star – Aramis Ramirez (.178 WPA)

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Game 122 – Houston, YOU Have a Problem

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Cubs 4, Astros 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game


  • Darwin Barney worked a 1st inning walk against Astros starter Henry Sosa. Aramis Ramirez followed with a single, sending Barney to 3B. Carlos Pena plated them both with a double to deep CF.
  • Geo Soto gave the Cubs some breathing room with a two-run double in the 6th.  He ended the night with three hits.
  • James Russell put out a fire in the 6th and preserved the Cubs advantage. The rest of the bullpen followed his lead and blanked the Astros.
  • Reed Johnson made a great diving catch in LF to keep a run off the board.
  • Marlon Byrd walked twice in one game. The end of the world must be near!
  • Denny Walling, Bill Doran, and Jose Cruz didn’t suit up for Houston. Instead, Brad Mills ran out a AAA lineup vs. Lopez and the Cubs.  I know this year has been disappointing for us, but at least we’re not Astros fans. Who are these guys anyway? Is Jose Altuve even five feet tall? Will they call up Frodo Baggins next? Oh well. Maybe the Texans will be decent this year.
  • Not related to tonight’s Cub game, but congrats to Jim Thome on home run number 600.


  • Tyler Colvin continues to swing the bat like a drunken lumberjack. He also threw the ball away to give the Astros their first run.
  • Soto brain cramped on the bases and ran into an easy out in the 5th inning.
  • Starlin Castro booted another ball at SS. That’s his 20th error if you’re scoring at home. His miscue and a Lopez walk opened the door to a pair of Astros runs.
  • I had to listen to another “visit with Cubs legend Steve Trout” promo. Steve Trout is a legend? Really?


On August 15, 1980, the Houston Astros battled for 20 innings to knock off the San Diego Padres. Rookie RHP Dave Smith pitched the final four innings and earned the victory. Yes, that Dave Smith.

For those of you who don’t remember, the Cubs signed the Astros closer on December 17, 1990. Smith was completely awful for the Cubs in 1991, to the tune of a 6.00 ERA in 33 innings. One year later, his career was over.

Smith had a nice run in Houston, racking up 199 saves and an ERA in the mid two’s over 10 seasons. Unfortunately, the Cubs picked him up at the end of his career when the tank was empty. Sound familiar?

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

1st Star – Micah Downs (.299 WPA)

2nd Star – Geovany Soto (.274 WPA)

3rd Star – Kerry Wood (.176 WPA)

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Roundtable – Favorite Movies

Monday, August 15th, 2011

What are your five favorite movies

Katie Cernek

  • The A*Team
  • Transformers
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Batman Begins/Dark Knight
  • Benchwarmers

Dustin Godsey

  • Major League
  • Top Gun
  • Bull Durham
  • Big Lebowski
  • Anchorman

Jedi Johnson

  • Fletch
  • Hoosiers
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Godfather I & II (it’s one movie, don’t argue)
  • Fletch Lives

Rachel Wisinski

  • The Hangover
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • The Lion King

Jim “Buddy” Burwitz

  • JFK (even thought Oliver Stone’s premise was nuts)
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Spy Game
  • The Dark Knight
  • Inception

Brandon Vickrey

  • Little Big League
  • The Sandlot
  • This Old Cub
  • Mr. 3000
  • The Bad News Bears

Mark Strickler

  • Apocalypse Now
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Casablanca
  • Sleuth (old version with Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine)
  • Murder By Death

Chet West

  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Rudy
  • Love Actually
  • The Natural
  • Gladiator

Dave “CubbieDude” Moresi

  • The Blues Brothers
  • The Godfather Trilogy
  • Scarface
  • BIRD
  • Anything by Warren Miller

Jeremiah Johnson

  • The Blues Brothers
  • Tombstone
  • A Mighty Wind / Best in Show (a double feature by necessity)
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
  • The “Mitchell” episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000

Joe Aiello

  • American Beauty
  • American History X
  • Life in Beautiful
  • A Time to Kill
  • Pulp Fiction

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The Chat That Didn’t Happen, Part 2

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Today VFTB doesn’t visit with Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly. We hope you enjoy this in-depth interview with “Fake Bob.”

BUDDY: Good morning, Bob. Thanks for giving us a little of your time.

FAKE BRENLY: No problem, dude. As long as I can practice my guitar scales while we chat. I’ve got a big gig coming up at the Minooka VFW Hall.

BUDDY: No problem. Let’s talk about the 2011 Cubs. What are your impressions of this team?

FAKE BRENLY: I’m a musician, man. I don’t do impressions.

BUDDY: I meant, what are your thoughts about the team’s performance? Are you disappointed?

FAKE BRENLY: A wise man once said, “All gave some, some gave all.” You know what I mean?

BUDDY: Not really. But I think that’s a Billy Ray Cyrus song from the 1990s.

FAKE BRENLY: Are you accusing me of ripping off a fellow artist? I would never do that! We bleed for our craft! Do you understand?

BUDDY: Let’s move on to Mike Quade. How would you grade his first full season as Cubs manager?

FAKE BRENLY: I don’t do the grade thing, but I love Mike’s haircut. He looks like the guy from Smashing Pumpkins.

BUDDY: So you’re pleased with the job Quade has done?

FAKE BRENLY: Have you ever spent time in an infantry unit, son? Ever served in a forward area? Ever put your life in another man’s hands? Asked him to put his life in yours?

BUDDY: Are you doing Jack Nicholson from “A Few Good Men?”

FAKE BRENLY: That’s twice you’ve disrespected me you rotten punk! You wanna step outside?

BUDDY: Worse than you know, but let’s try this one more time. How does it feel to be one of the voices of the Chicago Cubs? You’re in some legendary company.

FAKE BRENLY: It’s truly an honor. Every day I get to open up my soul and really connect in a meaningful and spiritual way to music fans all over the world.

BUDDY: What about baseball fans?

FAKE BRENLY: Sure. They’re allowed to listen to music, too. That’s why I give so many tips and suggestions about new bands, great albums, and can’t-miss concerts. My fans love it, and I love them. In fact, I’ve written a song about our magical bond. Do you want to hear it?

BUDDY: I’m afraid that’s all the time we have today. Thanks to Fake Bob Brenly for taking a few minutes off my life.

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Game 120 – Picking Up the Pieces

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Cubs 8, Braves 4

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right

  • Hit Parade  The Cubs put up 14 hits tonight.  Castro and Barney both had four, and Tyler Colvin had two – a triple and a double.  Even Campana got in on the action, with a hit in his only at-bat.  Looking back over that list of players, tonight was perhaps a glimpse of what many Cubs fans hope to see for years to come.  I won’t get ahead of myself, but it was a good night for the Cubs’ youth movement.  We’ll see if it lasts.
  • Starting Out on the Right Foot  Hey, look at that–Randy Wells got out of the 1st inning without giving up a run!  He did allow Dan Uggla to extend his now 33-game hitting streak, but that’s a minor thing compared to some of the deep holes he’s been digging for the Cubs in his early innings of late.
  • Calling in the Cavalry  Most of the Cubs’ relievers pitched pretty well tonight.  Ortiz and Russell each surrendered a run and a pair of hits–and Russell in particular had a rough night, loading the bases before Marmol came in for the save–but Samardzija, Marshall and Marmol all held the Braves scoreless and hitless.  Not a great overall night for the bullpen, but solid enough to hold on for the win.

What Went Wrong

  • No Free Passes  I realize that you never want to walk the lead-off hitter, but Dan Uggla’s at-bat to start the bottom of the 4th was still pretty frustrating.  He reached base every time he came up yesterday–including 2 homers–and he had a single in the first tonight.  So while his solo homer tonight didn’t do too much damage in the long run, it was enough at the time to tie up the game.  In fact, we weren’t able to retire him at all until the 7th.  All I’m saying is that the intentional walk can be a useful tool, and might be one we’d like to use sometimes against hitters as hot as Uggla.
  • No Need to Nitpick  There were other small miscues here and there–we left 9 runners on base, Marshall’s error at first–but I’m inclined ignore the little things with all that’s happened in the last day or so.  In light of the major off-the-field distractions, their performance on the field tonight was fairly admirable.

Game Notes

  • The Paul Sullivan Choir sings “Ding Dong Big Z is Dead”  I said this in the comments section from yesterday’s recap, but I’ll say it here again.  I for one am sorry to see what’s almost sure to be the end of Zambrano’s tenure with the Cubs.  He’s got no one to blame but himself, but he also doesn’t seem to have any allies–not on his team so far, and certainly not in the press.  This is the explosion sportswriters have been predicting for years–in fact, the dominant storyline about Z has been when, not if he would lose his head again.  Most of them couldn’t be happier, and their delight over the ashes of his Cubs career means we might not ever get the full story of what happened last night.  Zambrano’s said all season, and often in previous seasons that he wanted to be a Cub for his entire career.  Something had to set him off last night–something serious enough to make him walk away from the team he’s been with since he was (reportedly) 16 years old.  I doubt very much that that’s a story many writers will put much work into any time soon.  Right now, they’re too busy high-fiving each other.
  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like Zambrano?  Jim Hendry must be absolutely giddy.  Zambrano’s contract–while certainly not the biggest albatross Hendry’s brought to the Cubs–was a significant problem for the team.  So significant in fact that he was begging the Yankees to take Z off our hands as recently as the last couple weeks.  Zambrano was also one of the first players Hendry put on waivers this August.  Now that problem is temporarily off his back–with Zambrano on the Disqualified List for the next month, the Cubs don’t have to pay him and can use the time to find a solution to the problem Z presents.  Jim Hendry’s career might soon be crushed under the weight of the bad contracts he’s given out.  Zambrao’s outburst seems to have bought him a little breathing room.
  • From the Non-News Files  Earlier today, MLB Trade Rumors linked to this tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, saying that the Cubs would keep Jim Hendry on as GM unless there is a “change of thinking.”  Which has basically been true since Ricketts offered Hendry his vote of confidence earlier this year in the now-infamous press conference when he said the Cubs’ only problem was injuries.  So congratulations Bob Nightengale for giving me a momentary heart attack but no real news of any substance.  And here’s hoping the Ricketts’ have a “change of thinking,” and that it leads to a Hendry change of employment.

The Takeaway

The young guys performed tonight.  They need to keep doing it.  They are, in the words of Princess Leia, our only hope.

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Dan Uggla (.201 WPA)

2nd Star – Darwin Barney (.196 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Pena (.184 WPA)

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