Archive for December, 2011

GO: Chicago Restaurants

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

This was requested by one of our regular readers:

What’s your favorite Chicago area restaurant? We’d all love to hear some dining suggestions for when we’re in town!

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The Best and Worst of the 2011 Cubs – The Nominees

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Because it’s hard to find a lot of definitive good in such a rotten season, and because I generally like to hear what you (well, most of you) have to say, here are my nominees for the Best and Worst from the 2011 Cubs.  Your votes determine the winners (who in turn receive the satisfaction of winning and nothing else).

Feel free to cast your votes and write in any candidates I overlooked in the comments below.

And please, no wagering.

Best Addition

  • Matt Garza  The unquestioned ace of the staff didn’t get much run support or bullpen help this season, but there’s a reason several teams are (reportedly) eager to pluck him from the Cubs.
  • Kerry Wood  The longtime Cub returned to Wrigley for another season of mostly reliable relief pitching.
  • Keith Moreland  Nobody replaces Ron Santo.  But the former Cub has some of Santo’s easy likeability, and a good rapport with Pat Hughes.  In an unenviable position, he did better than many expected.
  • Theo Epstein  The new President of Baseball Operations is the prohibitive favorite in this category, even though his arrival came too late to make a difference in 2011.  But sometimes hope counts for a lot, and nobody brought higher hopes to Wrigleyville in 2011 than Epstein.

Worst Addition

  • James Russell, Starting Pitcher  The Cubs were shorthanded on the mound from the first week of the season.  We eventually signed a few arms off the free agent trash heap, but Russell got five starts this season despite never showing an aptitude for the role.
  • Doug Davis  Davis pitched in only nine games for the Cubs, but surrendered thirty-eight runs (thirty-three earned).  ‘Nuff said.
  • Mark Riggins  Promoted to fill the vacuum left by Larry Rothschild’s departure, Riggins’ mustache was the only thing that distinguished him this season.
  • Ian Stewart  To quote of few VFTB commentors, “If you can’t hit in Coors Field, you can’t hit.”  His defense might help at third base, but he doesn’t seem to be the right answer to one of the Cubs’ biggest questions.

Best Subtraction

  • Carlos Silva  The corpulent malcontent refused to start the season out of the bullpen, and was released before the end of Spring Training.  Nobody really missed a pitcher who looked to be ticketed for another season-shortening injury (although we sure could have used the depth he provided after losing two-fifths of our starting rotation in the first week of the season… where’s the Tylenol?)
  • Carlos Zambrano  After his ejection for repeatedly throwing at Chipper Jones, Zambrano impetuously announced to the Atlanta clubhouse staff that he was quitting the team.  The Cubs obliged, sitting him down for the rest of the season.  Most Cubs fans didn’t miss him.
  • Mike Quade  Hard to know just how much blame he should receive for the lost season.  Either you liked him or you didn’t.  Theo Epstein didn’t.
  • Jim Hendry  He helped build the back-to-back playoff teams in 2007 and 2008, but he also built the teams that have scuffled ever since then.

Worst Subtraction

  • Ron Santo  If I need to explain why the Cubs’ Hall of Famer is the only nominee in this category, you’re reading the wrong blog.

Best Game

  • September 11th, Cubs 10, Mets 6  The Cubs staged a six-run rally in the top of the eleventh inning to spoil the Mets’ 9-11 memorial game.
  • May 21st, Cubs 9, Red Sox 3  This is remembered most as the game Marlon Byrd caught a fastball with his face, but the Cubs showed unusual patience and skill at the plate in their throwback uniforms.
  • August 29th, Cubs 7, Giants 0  Randy Wells pitched the game of his career–a complete game, two-hit shutout of the defending World Champs–on his birthday.
  • July 24th, Astros 4, Cubs 5  A rare walk-off win gave the Cubs their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Worst Game

  • April 12th, Cubs 2, Astros 11  James Russell’s first career start.  Considering the deep hole caused by our lack of pitching this season, you might call this game the beginning of the end for the 2011 Cubs.
  • May 20th, Cubs 5, Red Sox 15  Part of what made the win against Boston so memorable was how bad we looked the day before.  This one stands out in particular because I recapped the game as an audition for VFTB.
  • June 4, Cubs 4, Cardinals 5  Any time Albert Pujols hits multiple homeruns against the Cubs and one of them gives the Cardinals the walk-off victory, it can be considered one of the worst games of the season.
  • July 14th, Marlins 6, Cubs 3  One of many, many Matt Garza gems the bullpen gave away late.  Carlos Marmol could not protect a two-run lead, facing five batters and failing to record an out.
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Morning News: Football, Garza, NASCAR, & Gary Busey

Friday, December 30th, 2011

 

Four Days of Football, Part 1 – between now and Monday night’s kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl there will 32 football games (16 each college and pro). Most of the NFL games are at least marginally compelling, but the regular season finale between the Giants and Cowboys should be highly entertaining – whoever loses will have choked away a trip to the playoffs and a home game in the first round against the Lions; in other words, a trip to the second round. And of course there’s Tim Tebow; either the Broncos or the Raiders are going to the playoffs, and actually the Chiefs probably have more to say about the situation than anyone (they are Denver’s opponent on Sunday).

Four Days of Football, Part 2 – some of the notable bowl games should be quite entertaining, but it’ll be hard to top last night’s Alamo Bowl (the Baylor-Washington game, not the FSU-ND slapfight). Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and the Bears played a game worthy of the arena league, burning up the turf for a 67-56 win over the Huskies – in regulation! The highlights are worth a look, unless you love defense because there was absolutely none in this game.

Obligatory Garza Notes – some sources seemed to think trade talks were heating up over the last couple of days, specifically with the Blue Jays. But everyone agrees Theo and Jed are asking for a lot in return; seems like the Cubs are slow-playing this option at the moment but their potential trade partners are trying to speed it up. It might have something to do with the fact that Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda are the top free agent arms remaining. Don’t expect the rumors to stop anytime soon.

NASCAR – my only comment on this story; it’s hilarious that THIS is where Kasey Kahne draws the “nasty” line. I would think that for a NASCAR driver who probably sees more plumber’s crack in one day at the garages than most of us will see in our lifetime; who literally works within sight of rows of Andy Gumps; and whose die hard fan base includes a high percentage of people who think “hygiene” is nothing more than a two word phrase they use to greet their friend Gene – I would think he would be able to handle this situation with a bit more indifference. However, the woman who most vehemently chided him is completely crazy as well.

Gary Buseythis seems like a fairly terrible idea, but apparently it’s just the type of crap that TV producers are looking for.

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Northside Archives: The Greatest Pitcher in Cubs’ History

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

June 12, 1990 – The Cubs were floundering in mid-June, having just won four games that probably provided a sliver of hope to the most optimistic, they needed to continue that roll against the New York Mets. The first of three games in two days pitted Dwight Gooden against Mike Bielecki. A year earlier this would’ve been a marquee matchup, but on this date both pitchers were struggling to find their top form.

Bielecki started the game and did not last long at all – pitching 1.1 while giving up 8 runs (6 earned). Kevin Blankenship followed Bielecki with 2.2 innings; Dean Wilkins and Joe Kramer then got the Cubs through the first 8 innings at Wrigley. By the time the top of the ninth started, the four pitchers had coughed up 19 runs and each had been tagged at some point by the 4th place Mets. Even with the offense fighting valiantly, the score was an impossible 19-6. (I always had a certain disdain for those late-80s Mets, especially for some reason, Dave Magadan and Kevin McReynolds – and those two were absolutely battering the Cubs on this day).

And then Don Zimmer discovered the best pitcher in Cubs history. Doug Dascenzo didn’t start the game in the field that day (he only started 54 times for the Cubs that year) but when Zimmer raised up his left arm, Dascenzo answered the call. The consummate fourth outfielder, the 5’7″ Dascenzo was skilled as a defender, and terrible with the bat. On the mound against the Mets, Dascenzo threw 8 pitches while facing only three batters (with the help of a Tim Teufel double-play) and even recorded a strikeout.

His time as a reliever was such a success (and the Cubs were so terrible) that Dascenzo would get 3 more chances to pitch for the Cubs the following season. Each time the Cubs were on the wrong side of lopsided scores and Dascenzo helped preserve the bullpen for the following day. He never surrendered a run in four appearances.

Dascenzo’s career stat line as a pitcher was 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 2 BBs, 2 Ks, against a total of 18 batters. He never became more useful than a 4th outfielder though, finishing his playing career with short stints in Texas and San Diego.

In 2006 he became a manager in the Padres’ farm system. After stops in Eugene, Fort Wayne, and San Antonio, Dascenzo is now part of the Atlanta Braves organization with the title “Minor League Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator.” Perhaps along the way he’ll give a bit of pitching advice to a struggling outfielder.

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Morning News: Sketchy Medicine, Bloody Thieves, and 2011 in Review

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Strike One:  We can rebuild him.  We The Germans have the technology.  Alex Rodriguez followed sports medicine pioneer/guinea pig Kobe Bryant to Germany for Orthokine therapy on nagging injuries in his right knee and left shoulder.  While the therapy–which involves separating a specific protein from the patient’s blood and injecting it into the injured area–is performed in the United States, Bryant and Rodriguez elected to break free from the constraints of their HMO plans because the German doctor is the “top in his field.”  Do you believe this Bavarian super doctor is performing miracles, or are you like me and think there might be some extracurricular medicinal hanky-panky going on?

Strike Two:  A clerk at a cash-for-gold store North Carolina punched out a would-be thief and then forced him to scrub his own blood off the floor.  The security camera video is well worth your time.

Foul Tip:  Priest Fight! Highly UN-Orthodox.

Strike Three:  It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for every newspaper magazine, and website to publish their “Best of” and “Worst of” lists for 2011.  Grantland.com published their retrospective lists for movies, TV, and general sports just yesterday.  No need to go into copious detail, but across those and other general interest categories, what are some of your bests and worsts from the last year?

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Chet’s Corner: Patience Darlin’, Patience….

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Imagine you just sat down at your local poker game and were informed that the rules have changed.  Tonight you are not allowed to fold.  Each player must play out his hand, bluffing or playing coy to the very end.  Get a pair of aces off the draw, no problem.  Get a pair of tens…problem.  

Theo Epstein just sat down at this table and he is the guy with the tens.

With little to no farm system and so many holes in the roster it makes Swiss cheese jealous, Theo is limited in what he can truly do.  From the start of the Theo Epstein regime I wondered what direction this team would go in order to improve.  I wondered if they actually had the cojones to intentionally suck for a while, yet build for the future.  It is this writers preference, but many can’t stomach the thought of yet another lost season.  I say, what’s another year?

The previous regime concentrated on putting the best possible product money could buy on the field for the coming year.  Notice, I did not say the best possible product, I said the best possible product money could buy at the that time for the coming year.  Hence, we never got the best product, we as Cubs fans got whatever the free agent market provided the off season before. 

With the recent trade of Sean Marshall I see brilliance at work.  We all loved Sean and his remarkable reliability.  Plus we sort of grew with him, he became a staple out of the pen.  We also loved him because he was relatively cheap.  Let’s be honest, if we paid a lot for Marshall year in and year out we would have wanted more.  However, this is exactly where Sean is headed. 

Marshall is approaching thirty, which in baseball years is the beginning of the end.  My friends and I used to say thirty is the new twenty, but in baseball it is slowly becoming the new forty.   He has a year left on his contract and then he will most likely do what many lefty relievers do, get a free agent deal that makes him titanically over paid. 

*a side note…..I always said if I had boys I would tie their right hand behind their back at birth and make them operate solely with their left.  If you can hump a baseball up to the plate at 77 miles an hour and throw lefty, you will always have a job in the majors and get paid very well.

Theo traded Marshall for a young starter with upside and two minor leaguers.  Bingo, slowly but surely we are a rebuilding team.  Yup, I said rebuilding.   

My expectations would leave me to believe that we will see Soto, Marmol, and maybe even Byrd (if anybody needs him)leave the building.  I wouldn’t draw the line there either.  The remainder of the roster is expendable at this point.  The talk about Garza staying on board is just that….talk.  I think they would trade him in a second if we were getting anything back that was major league ready with prospects sprinkled in. 

Now, I know what you are thinking, Theo said he wants to build around a player like Garza.  He did NOT say build around Garza, he said a player LIKE Garza. 

All that being said, if Garza doesn’t move by the start of spring (and I will be shocked if he doesn’t) then even better.  His trade value to a contender needing a starter will be higher at the all-star break!  That may be the same for Marlon Byrd.  We may actually see more action at the break then before spring if you can imagine that.  One thing is sure, we will be selling until we have a good base below us.   A base that gives us a future. 

Why, might you ask, do I know this will all work out?  

I have no factual basis for my answer other then to say he has done it before, as has Jed Hoyer.  They have done nothing but improve teams.  They leave them in better shape for the future.  This, and of course the fact that the bar has not been set very high.  Would it really be difficult to improve on previous northside regimes?  

Yes, it is funny, but I am typically not one to go the route of blind faith.  For some odd reason, I have this faith in Epstein and company.   The immediate future may hurt a little.  We may lose 100 games in 2012.  We may have to wait for Theo’s magic to set in.  I have this feeling that someday, when his time is done on the northside, we will be in better shape than when he arrived.   It’s the waiting that will be the tough part.

In the immortal words of Wooderson (from the movie Dazed and Confused), “Patience darlin’, patience.”

 

 

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Morning News: Contracts, Injuries, and Footwear-Induced Violence

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Strike One: Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey has been asked by the team to cancel his charity climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The team sent Dickey a letter informing him the last year of his contract can be voided if he injures himself in the climb.  GM Sandy Alderson appears to have preemptively adopted the “mom” stance, saying the team doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but they can’t stop him.  From the Mets’ perspective, this is basically an insurance policy guarding them against the slim possibility Dickey could injure himself while they’re on the hook for $4.5M.  On the other hand, if you’re Dickey, wouldn’t an ugly tumble down the mountain be worth it to escape another season with the Mets?

Strike Two: The Vikings announced on Monday that Adrian Peterson suffered ACL and MCL tears in his left knee, and it could be between 8-10 months before he returns to the field.  His is just the latest in a rash of season-ending injuries to franchise players this season in the NFL.  My beloved Bears’ season ended when Jay Cutler broke his thumb (unleashing the blitzkrieg of Caleb Hanie interceptions).  Peyton Manning’s neck injury ended the Colts season before it began (although some would say it only made a bad team worse).  What was the most costly injury in the NFL this season?  And what was the worst one your team suffered?

Strike Three: Last Friday, Nike released a new pair of Air Jordan throwbacks.  The shoes cost $180 a pair, and were the reason for lengthy lines at shoe stores across the country.  Although each store carrying the shoe only had 150 pairs, crowds numbering in the high hundreds–even exceeding a thousand at some stores–swarmed to purchase the limited edition shoes.  In many cases across the country, those crowds turned violent when the stock ran out.  Do you know anyone who braved the angry, Black Friday-esque crowds and picked up a pair of retro Jordans?

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Going Selling – Part Two

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

For Sale

While I doubt I gave Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer the idea to trade Sean Marshall sooner rather than later, I do have to start this post by noting that the rumors of  Sean Marshall’s trade to the Reds for left handed starter Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and infield prospect Ronald Torreyes started in earnest just after part one of this little two part series, I have to at least say it is nice to know that great minds think alike.

This week, though, I am going to examine players I think the Cubs are unlikely to receive peak value for this offseason.  I am not saying that the Cubs should not trade these players if they are able to get good value in return, but instead that I do not think they are likely to get that value at this time.  These are also players who I think are unlikely to lose significant value this season, barring injury.  As a preliminary note, I will not be discussing Carlos Zambrano, largely because I already discussed this issue as it pertains to him in early November.

Geovany Soto- A couple of weeks ago, FanGraphs’ Dave Campbell tweeted that Rafael Furcal may be the most inconsistent player in player.  He has a point.  Since signing with the Dodgers prior to the 2006 season, Furcal has posted the following wOBAs each season in chronological order: .357, .311, .440 (albeit in very limited duty), .316, .366 and .288.  If Geovany Soto has a good year next year, he could compete with Furcal for that title.  In his 2008 rookie of the year campaign, he posted a .371 wOBA, followed by a .310 in 2009.  In 2010, he surpassed his rookie season with a .385 wOBA, and then sank back to a .316 in 2011.

With Soto’s inconsistency, you might think other teams would look on a hot 2012 from the Cubs’ catcher with some skepticism.  But you should also remember how bad most MLB catchers are at the plate.  In 2011, only five catchers with at least 300 plate appearances posted a wOBA higher than .350, three of whom posted unsustainable BABIPs of .344 or higher.

Catchers who can hit are a rare, valuable commodity, and Soto does have a history, at more than one point in his career, of being one of the better hitting catchers in baseball.  If Soto has a strong first half of 2012, some teams would be willing to part with significant prospects to pick him up for the last year and a half of arbitration for a potentially dynamic hitter who is also at worst a serviceable defensive backstop.

Marlon Byrd- My philosophy for putting Marlon Byrd on this list is different than my philosophy for Soto because Marlon Byrd is not a mystery.  Rather, Byrd has been quite consistent over the past three seasons.  He does not walk, but he also does not strike out a lot while hitting for above average power for a slightly above average defense center fielder.  Also, while a cursory glance at Byrd’s 2011 may make it look like he declined, that was largely caused by an awful September largely caused by a miserably unlucky .185 BABIP that pulled his season numbers down significantly in part because he missed nearly two months of the season after getting hit in the face by a fastball.  He is also signed to a reasonable contract, as he will make $6.5 million in the final year of the three year deal he signed before the 2010 season.

I just do not believe teams give up equivalent value during the offseason for 33 year old center fielders who do not have histories as elite players.  I can, however, all but guarantee you there will be a team with playoff hopes in spring training who will lose their center fielder for several months due to injury by the end of April, and there will be a team contending in July who has a below replacement value player somewhere in their outfield.  In that situation, Marlon Byrd could be worth a fair deal more to a team contender as the season progresses.

I would like to note that I do not think Byrd will ever have elite trade value the way Soto could if he comes close to replicating his 2010 numbers.  However, right now I do not think the Cubs would get much more for Byrd than they got for Kosuke Fukudome last July, which were a couple of organization guys with upside they are very unlikely to meet.  Considering Byrd’s ability to play center field defensively and hit fairly well for the position, I think a desperate team might be willing to give up someone who is a real prospect for Byrd as the season rolls along.

You may notice that I did not mention Alfonso Soriano in either list.  The reason for that is simple: he has essentially no trade value now, and I think the odds of him gaining any real trade value with his contract are somewhere between slim and none.

Are there any players you think I missed on either list?  Is there anyone on either of my lists you think I am dead wrong on?

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Morning News: Pitchers, Coaching Staff, NFL Playoffs

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

 

The Cubs signed two pitchers MondayManny Corpas and Andy Sonnanstine. Corpas has been a reliever for five seasons with the Colorado Rockies. He missed all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Sonnanstine has played five seasons all with Tampa Bay. Since the middle of 2009 he’s been a reliever. Both signed non-guaranteed split contracts so they might not be part of the team that leaves Mesa bound for Chicago at the end of Spring Training.

New coaching staffthis item is a bit old, I’ve been intending to include it as part of the news for almost two weeks now; and I’m pretty sure we’ve neglected to mention it. Dale Sveum named his new coaching staff, the most notable changes being bench coach, pitching coach, and first base coach. Jamie Quirk takes over for Pat Listach as bench coach. Listach returns to a familiar position for him, the third base coach’s box. The Cubs tabbed former Cardinal first base coach Dave McKay to replace Bob Dernier. And Chris Bosio is successor to Mark Riggins as pitching coach – no word on if he’ll attempt to out-stache his predecessor. Bosio and Quirk are longtime friends of Sveum from his playing days; McKay is a baseball lifer well-known by all, and a former coach of Sveum’s. The Cubs retained Rudy Jaramillo as hitting coach and Lester Strode in the bullpen. Minor league staffs were announced too, lots of changes there.

NFL Playoffs – There’s one week to go, the Colts have put some intrigue back into the Andrew Luck sweepstakes; but for the NFL’s best there is still a lot on the line this upcoming weekend. In the NFC the Packers have secured the No. 1 spot; the 49ers, Saints, Lions, and Falcons are all in; and either the Giants or Cowboys will join them. It’s a winner-take-all affair on Sunday night at the Meadowlands. The AFC is a big mess. There are several oddities; the Titans, for instance, need Cincinnati to lose and the Jets to win plus either Oakland or Denver to lose – unless they get the Jets to lose which would mean they’d need both Oakland and Denver to win. Denver, division leaders, can only win their division, no wild card possibility. But the Raiders, in second place, can win the division OR a wild card spot. Pittsburgh could be the No. 1 seed, or the No. 5 seed; same for the Ravens (and either team could also be the No. 2). It’s sure to be an eventful final regular season weekend in the NFL on New Year’s Day no less. Perhaps Bill Maher will resolve to find something nice to say about Tim Tebow regardless of his playoff fate. Stay tuned.

What is in the works? Theo has been strongly hinting that he has quite a bit left to do this off-season. I’m guessing that two of the changes he’s alluding to are 1) resolution to Matt Garza’s future, either an extension or a trade and 2) trading Carlos Marmol. Once Kerry Wood is officially back in the fold, we’d have 3 guys not named Marmol (Wood, Cashner, Samardzija) who could easily close for a bad team (i.e., the Cubs). Judging by the return on Marshall, I think Marmol is definitely gone no later than the July 31 deadline and quite possibly before Spring Training. What do you think/hope Theo and Jed are exploring as the calendar turns to 2012?

Christmas gone crazy.

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