Archive for September, 2011

Game 154 – Color Me Surprised

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Cubs 5, Brewers 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Somehow Casey Coleman kept the big Brewer bats off balance. Coleman tossed six solid innings and allowed only one run.
  • Geo Soto went absolutely nuts tonight. He smacked two homers and drove in five runs.
  • Darwin Barney and Alfonso Soriano walked in the same game! Isn’t that one of the seven signs of the apocalypse?
  • The normally shaky Cubs defense didn’t commit a single error.
  • For once Mike Quade used Tony Campana correctly. He pinch ran for Soriano in the 8th and moved to LF in the 9th.  See how easy it is?

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • I had to sit through yet another Casey Coleman start. Somehow he always seems to get the ball for my VFTB wrap-ups. Is this some sort of twisted plot? In all seriousness, Casey pitched well tonight, which I mentioned earlier. I’m just sick of watching the guy.
  • Jerry Hairston Jr. bit the hand that once fed him with a homer in the 3rd.
  • Carlos Marmol struggled again and gave up a run in the 9th. Believe it or not his ERA is approaching 4.00.
  • I was slow to react and couldn’t grab the remote before the 7th-inning stretch started. The guest “singer” was some NASCAR guy I’ve never heard of. Brutal.

DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME

Don’t worry Cub fans. Our long, painful nightmare (otherwise known as 2011) is almost over.

Soon we’ll learn who the next general manager, and possibly field manager, will be. Soon we’ll enjoy the Hot Stove League and arguing about who the Cubs should add and subtract. Soon it will be Spring Training 2012.

Until then, I’m trying hard to find the positives from this ugly season. Here goes nothing:

  • Maybe it wasn’t enough for some fans, but Starlin Castro showed improvement this year. I still can’t believe he’s only 21. Not even the Cubs will be able to screw up Castro. He’s going to be great.
  • Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez provided respectable power and on-base percentages this year.
  • Sean Marshall turned in another fantastic year out of the bullpen.
  • Matt Garza overcame six months of no run support to become the Cubs best starter.
  • Jeff Samardzija shocked almost everyone and developed into a useful reliever.
  • Randy Wells rescued a completely lost season with a 3.79 ERA in the second half.
  • The Cubs had a solid draft, highlighted by Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach.
  • Bryan LaHair supplied some September excitement to desperate fans.
  • The hapless Houston Astros play in the Cubs’ division.

How’s that for optimism?

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

1st Star – Geovany Soto (.408 WPA)

2nd Star – Casey Coleman (.240 WPA)

3rd Star  – Johnathan Lucroy (.069 WPA)

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Game 153 – The Basket Giveth, and the Basket Taketh Away

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Astros 3, Cubs 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Starlin Castro led off he game with hit number 195 on the season, a double to left field.  Barring another educational benching by Mike Quade, he’s got 9 games left to get 5 more hits–not a sure thing, but very likely since he’s reached safely in the last 31 games.
  • Aramis Ramirez came off the bench in the eighth to hit a sac fly that scored Darwin Barney, giving the Cubs their second run.  At the time it looked like the beginning of a game-winning rally.  In the end, it was just another productive at-bat for a dynamic hitter who might be playing out his last days in a Cubs uniform.  I have to assume that the dominoes will start falling soon after the season for this Cubs team.  The new GM’s first moves will probably involve decisions on Ramirez and Carlos Pena.  If these really are Ramirez’s last days at Wrigley Field, I hope the Cubs fans show him the appropriate levels of love and gratitude.

What Went Wrong

  • The Cubs only took one walk today–Castro in the eighth.  Because when you’re getting dominated by a starting pitcher and you’ve had trouble scoring runs all year long, by all means, swing away.
  • If you watched the game or the highlights, you already saw the Pena home run that wasn’t.  If you didn’t yet, what you need to know is that Pena hit a long double that appeared to be a home run, bouncing out the basket and back onto the field.  At first, the umpires adamantly ruled it a home run, telling Pena to continue on from second base, where he had stopped.  Only after the Astros ‘ manager complained did they head in to look at the replay.  Upon review, it was clear the ball hit off the front edge of the basket.  The real bummer is that they ordered Castro–who had been on first base–back to third, taking the tying AND go-ahead runs back off the board.  Quade came out to argue the call and got himself ejected from the game.  The rain delay began after Marlon Byrd flew out to end the inning and the possible rally.  I almost never leave Cubs games early, even during the worst beatings, but all that plus the hour-long rain delay might have been enough for me to hit the road.
  • Ryan Dempster lost his fifth decision in a row.  I like Dempster, but I think his best days are far behind him–or at least his best days for the Cubs.  A three-run deficit wouldn’t be nearly as big a problem for a team that scores early and often.  But for our anemic bats, it presents more of a threat.  Dempster pitched well enough for the next six innings, but it didn’t make a difference.  I can’t help but think he’d be better off with a team that could climb back from an early deficit and make a game out of it, and that the Cubs might be better off taking a chance on a young arm they could develop (you know, if we ever did that kind of thing any more).
  • Just a quick thought about Mike Quade’s ejection.  I don’t often agree with Quade, but in this case I think I would have done pretty much the same thing he did.  First of all, I’m not sure what he could have said to umpire Marty Foster to get himself thrown out so abruptly, but it certainly looked unwarranted to me.  Regardless of what he said to the ump though, his frustration resonates with me.  There’s something unsatisfyingly arbitrary about how runners are assigned to bases in those instances.  You can make a reasonable case for Castro scoring from first on the play, and an equally reasonable one for him stopping at third.  What’s frustrating is that the game came down to a judgement call like that instead of an actual play.  It would have been nice if the Cubs had wrestled the outcome back out of the umps’ hands, but we’re just not that kind of team this year.
  • And just to be clear, the basket is not to blame here.  I’ve written recently about my love for the bleachers at Wrigley, and certainly the basket is an indivisible part of the bleacher experience.  I’ve seen small children and even grown men fall into it for the sake of securing a baseball.  I once saw a drunk guy drop himself out of the bleachers and land on he warning track on his head before getting up and humorously eluding the security staff.  When I was a kid, we once reached down through the basket, trimmed off a small piece of the ivy and nurtured it all the way back to California on the dashboard of our car (back home it briefly sprouted before dying off completely).  So you won’t hear any “Let’s tear down the basket!” knee-jerk reactions from me.  Any longtime Cubs fan will tell you it results in far more home runs than it might cost us.  I love it–even if it kinda hosed us today.

The Takeaway

Castro’s race for 200 hits; the future of Old Man LaHair and the kids; and what could be Aramis Ramirez’s final days in a Cubs uniform–there’s still at least a couple good reasons to watch these last few weeks of the season.  Go Cubs!

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Mark Melancon (.388 WPA)

2nd Star – Brett Myers (.209 WPA)

3rd Star – Darwin Barney (.148 WPA)

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GirlieView

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Much like smoke signals a fire, the cooler weather means fall is upon us. To baseball fanatics, this grounds them to the reality that their team will either be one of the eight “elite” heading to the playoffs, or among the others that are going home for a long, cold winter. We all know where this Cubs team falls, so there’s no need to touch on that. Instead, let’s take a look back at this week in review at VFTB.

The Wizzies

  • Colvin brought his average up with 2 hits and Campana got the start in center (even though he has Aunt Mable’s arm).
  • By the way, does anyone else see LaHair’s career arc and think about Micah Hoffpauir? I sure do…
  • When they score 12 or more, they’re pretty good. That should be on a t-shirt for next year.
  • Starlin Castro actually walked! However, it was against Dontrelle Willis, so it probably shouldn’t count.
  • Len Kasper spent what felt like forever giving us the heights and weights of Reds’ players. Maybe tomorrow he’ll tell us the color of their eyes.
  • No $100M contracts to anyone this offseason. Rebuild, rebuild, youth, youth, get money off the books, get money off the books then fill your hole. Not your pie hole either.
  • Watched the Sunday night game on ESPN Deportes…in Spanish. I thought it was last year and Joe Morgan was having a stroke on air.
  • The Reds broadcasters were commenting on how they were surprised Tyler Colvin wasn’t in the line up with his 4 HR’s off of Leake. That’s bad when the opposing broadcasters understand your foolishness.
  • The Reds broadcasters also commented on allowing Dempster to hit late in the game. Maybe Quade is mentally fatigued from this season of hell. I know I am.
  • Yeah let’s blow out Dempster’s shoulder/elbow. Both to try to get him 200 IP…a meaningless stat in a meaningless season. Bye Quade, don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.
  • Reds reliever Sam Lecure’s mustache was fantastic…a real thing of beauty.
  • The secrets of hitting with runners on base is as mysterious to this Cubs team as the mechanics of time travel, the meaning of the Sphinx, and the Colonel’s eleven secret herbs and spices.
  • Vogelbach is going to weigh nine hundred and seventy three pounds by the time he is ready for the league…and that is before Unos and Old Style.
  • Vogelbach has John Kruk’s body before he has any of John Kruk’s accomplishments…I’m not holding my breath.
  • From what I remember, Quade was a fine third base coach – he’s a horri-awful manager.

Top Wizzie Contributors

Buddy-30

Doc Raker-27

jswanson-25

Doug S.-20

PackerCubBull-20

Seymour Butts-19

Aaron-17

Chet-11

Jedi-8

Larry Sproul-8

Rich Beckman-7

Eddie Von White-7

Poll of the Week

How do you feel about the end of the 2011 season?

a) Good riddance. Bring on the football.

b) Glad to see it go, but going to miss baseball.

c) Look forward to watching the other teams in the playoffs.

d) Wish this season could last forever (haha…)

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Game 152 – Win #4,000

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Cubs 2, Astros 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right:

  • Starlin got hit #194 today. For those of you who don’t want to do the mental math, that’s just 6 more hits to reach #200. He has also hit safely in 30 straight games.
  • Tony Campana managed to manufacture a run out of a walk. Ramirez moved him over to 2nd base, then he stole third, and then he scored on a throwing error. Man, I sure wish he would do more for the Cubs. Being fast and turning walks into home runs (in theory) just isn’t good enough.
  • Lopez pitched pretty well! I was surprised, but it was good to see him go 7 innings and strike out 7 batsmen. Given, it was the Astros, but hey, a K is a K, no matter which way you flip it.

What went wrong:

  • The Cubs had 2 errors today. Ramirez had a throwing error (Pena should have been able to pick it up) and LaHair just misplayed a seemingly harmless ball and turned a single into a double.
  • The Cubs left 9 men on base, and were 0-8 with runners in scoring position. The runs we did get were a homerun by LaHair and a run scored on an error. What is wrong with our hitting??
  • Quade keeps playing the old men. Given, Montanez got to play for a little while, but still, why have Soriano and Ramirez be prominent players at this point? There is nothing to play for. The young guys need to show everyone what they are capable of doing.
  • Marshall was kind of scary in the top of the 9th, when he intentionally walked J.D. Martinez to load the bases. By some stroke of luck, he managed to get out scot-free, but if he would have done that against any other team, he wouldn’t have been so fortunate.

Notes:

Bryan LaHair hit is 2nd home run in the Bigs, which translates to his 40th of the season in both the Minors and the Majors. That’s pretty good. He and Rodrigo Lopez did their parts to help the Cubs win their 4,000th home game. Maybe this will help Lopez’ popularity increase a little bit. I mean, helping the Cubs to their 4,000th home win is worth something, isn’t it? Maybe not when your team is one of the worst in the Majors.

The Astros lost their 100th game of the season. They’ve never lost 100 games in a season in the 50 year history of the franchise. They’re the first team to 100 losses this season, and will most likely be the only team to reach that number this season.

The Takeaway:

The Cubs are bad. We have a lot of work to do this off-season, but we have to figure out which players to keep, and which players to ship out. I could give a few helpful hints, but people get paid a lot of money for that, and I don’t want to give out my expertise for free. But one thing I will share: play the kids.

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

1st Star – Rodrigo Lopez (.277 WPA)

2nd Star – Clint Barmes (.229 WPA)

3rd Star – K. Wood (.172 WPA)

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!…Or Do They?

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “The Curse: Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” It was published in 2010, and was written by Andy Van Slyke with Rob Rains.

I have had this book in my possession for over a year, and I didn’t get around to looking at it until now. I’d like to explain why. It’s because of the words “The Curse” in the title. I’m tired of hearing about “The Curse”, and that’s why I didn’t pick up this book until now.

I am, however, glad that I did pick it up. I enjoyed reading Mr. Van Slyke’s book.

First, a word about the authors. When I first picked up this book, I thought I might have heard the name Andy Van Slyke, but I really couldn’t place it. So I did some research. Andy Van Slyke was born (in 1960) and raised in New York State (Utica and New Hartford, respectively).

Andy Van Slyke was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979. He played for the Cardinals from 1983 to 1986. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1987 and played for them from 1987 to 1994. In 1995 he played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies.

During his playing years Mr. Van Slyke won five Gold Gloves and was a three-time All-Star selection.

He coached for the Detroit Tigers from 2006 to 2009, and co-authored “Tigers Confidential, The Untold Inside Story of the 2008 Season”.

Co-author Bob Rains is the sports editor of St.Louis Globe-Democrat.com, an online daily newspaper.

So, it is clear to me that neither author has any direct ties to Chicago or to the Chicago Cubs.

It has been said that Andy Van Slyke was as well known for his wit as for his baseball ability. With that in mind, here are a few quotes from and about Andy Van Slyke:

– “Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”

– “I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, ‘Oh what a relief it is’.”

– “My biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can’t figure out how to spend forty-three dollars in meal money.”

– “They wanted me to play third like Brooks (Robinson) so I did play like Brooks – Mel Brooks.”

Without giving too much away, I could describe this book: “The Curse – Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” as existing within the category of “sports fiction”, and as being about the Cubs finally breaking their 100+ year drought and playing in the World Series.

This might be a good book for the Ricketts family, Crane Kenney, The new GM, et al, to look at.

I do think it’s worth asking: Why would two guys with strong ties to St. Louis and no ties to Chicago, write a book about the Curse of the Chicago Cubs?

One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading: All of the fictional bad guys in this book have Italian surnames. And none of the fictional good guys have Italian surnames.

Also, the authors attempt to establish a familiarity with Chicago by dropping the location names “Wrigleyville” and “Rush Street” repeatedly. As a fourth generation Chicagoan, my feeling is that this only establishes their “UNfamiliarity” with my home town.

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

– “He grinned when he thought about the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, who wanted to know one time how come she was paying people – scouts – when all they did was watch baseball games.”

– “The players came and went, but the fans remained.”

– “It’s easy to cheer for a winning team. Try coming to games and finding a reason to cheer when the team is 30 games out in August. Let’s see who has the best fans then.”

– “I figured if they were younger than 25 and already in the majors, chances are they will be protected. If they are older than 32, chances are we don’t want them, or we will be able to look at them separately.”

I enjoyed reading “The Curse….”, even with the aforementioned reservations. And as I also mentioned previously, this might be a good one for the Ricketts family and Chicago Cubs organization to look at.

I thank Joe Aiello and Ascend Books for providing me with a copy of “The Curse…” to read and to review.

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