Archive for September, 2012

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Many fans and players believe in outside forces that affect a team.  Be it luck, the baseball gods, or an almighty curse, some things just defy logic.  The past 2 seasons the Cubs were in prime position to get a top draft pick then inexplicably performed better to finish each season.  On July 30th of last year the Cubs were 42-65 (.393) and lined up for the second draft pick.  They finished the year 29-26 (.527) and ended up with the sixth pick.  In 2010 the team was 50-73 (.407) on August 20th for the 5th worst record. They finished the year 25-14 (.641) and ended up with the 9th pick.  It’s been frustrating watching the team be terrible most of the year and then turn it around at the worst possible time.  This year I’ve worried about the same thing.

On September 6th the team was 5 games ahead of Colorado for the second pick in next year’s draft.   Since then the Cubs went 7-4 and have slipped to a half game lead over Colorado.  Dropping one spot wouldn’t be terrible but we’re also now only 3 games ahead of Cleveland and Minnesota.

Looking at the remaining schedules, the Cubs seem to have the easiest.  Each team has two series at home and two on the road.  The Cubs get the Cards at home – who they always play tough despite the standings;  head to Coors in a pivotal series for draft positioning; the team then travels to Arizona who are still clinging on to playoff hopes; and finish the season at home against Houston, who has only won 16 games on the road all year.   The Rockies schedule isn’t all that much tougher only facing one team over .500 – the Dodgers – but they do face Arizona for 7 games who are not out of the playoff picture just yet.  Colorado also has one more game than the other 3 teams and it’s at home.  The Indians have the most balanced schedule facing the 9th best and 8th worst teams in baseball twice each.  The Twins on the other hand have a brutal schedule with 9 of their remaining 12 games against teams fighting for their playoff lives.

If the Cubs over-perform the final weeks of the season, it could easily knock us down to 5th in next year’s draft.  But does that really matter?  In the 2011 draft we ended up with Javier Baez at 9th and he is now our top prospect, and should be in – or pretty damn close – to the top 25 prospects lists beginning next year.  This year we took Albert Almora 6th, and after the draft the Cubs claimed he was #1 on their draft board anyway.  This is supported a bit by the Cubs passing on Mark Appel who was seen as the best player going into the draft.   Those picks look pretty good right now despite the Cubs late season success.

If you looked at my study on the Success Rates of MLB Draft Picks by Slot, you would know that it’s extremely important to be in the top 5 for rebuilding teams.  It’s the smartest way to turn around a ball club.  The Cubs are all but locked in there.  Within the top 5, other than being number one overall, the results are pretty similar 2-4, with number 5 falling off a bit.  Since the Cubs have relatively no chance to catch Houston for the first pick and are locked in to the top 5, statistically speaking, I have no problem with them finishing out the season as strong as possible.  While I am less-than-thrilled about their recent and the potential to close the year with a pick worse than #2, I’d rather not have to root against the team.  And  If there are baseball gods, then don’t the Cubs deserve to be rewarded (again?) for playing hard the whole year.

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GirlieView (09/20/2012)

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The next time I write a GirlieView (Oct 4) the season will be over. Many thanks to our great commenters for keeping things interesting and amusing during this trying season!

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks)
  • Top 10 of 2012 = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims. Let’s go!

Lizzies

  • If the bases were loaded Sosa was swinging before before the pitcher was on the mound.
  • Szczur would benefit from more power and vowels.
  • Oh Vanna…
  • I must have missed it when Vitters “started to right the ship.”
  • Chris Rusin, Rafael Dolis, Alberto Cabrera, and Jake Beliveau were all varying degrees of useless.
  • How was Soriano able to get a triple? Did someone fall over with the ball?
  • When do you think Cub reliever Joe Mather will pitch again?
  • Maybe the Cubs should market Soriano as Comeback Player of the Year.  I don’t think it would be hard to convince people he did not play last year.
  • I think that Cubs should bolt the locker room back at Wrigley, put a sign on the door that says “Closed til Spring” hanging at an angle of course, draw the shades and say good night.
  • “Lizzie Loves Geo” would be a terrific sitcom name.
  • How many people took the survey? What did you learn? Inquiring minds want to know!
  • My posts amuse me also, as do most others, even Buddys.
  • If you haven’t grown a thick skin/picked your AL favorite for the postseason yet, I suggest you get moving.
  • Marmol is the least popular Cub?!  I can’t imagine why?!
  • Surprised to see Big Z didn’t STILL make the list.
  • My wife bought beer! The simple things make life worth living.
  • Dick Hurtz
  • Castro needs 17 more hits this year to have the same number in his first three years as Pete Rose had in his first three years.
  • I wonder who Castro likes in the Florida St – Savannah St game?
  • Mr. Katie Campana
  • when I saw the newest Cub Catcher, I knew that he was a made for Lizzie dream.
  • So what happens if we make the the postseason…will Shark be available to start?
  • If he’s not too old by then.
  • Baseball, piratry, football, and some “acting.”
  • There are more commenters on this site than fans in the stands in Houston. Congrats Joe.
  • Shawn Camp is bad at pitching.
  • It’s the kind of schedule you’d get if you just auto-generated it by computer, which is exactly the level of effort Selig and his people bring to every aspect of their jobs.
  • Wrigley Field is my favorite place in the world, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been back.
  • Jackson’s big plans for next year involve avoiding misunderstandings with anyone he meets in a bar at closing time.
  • I’m pulling for the Orioles and Tigers, which probably means the Yankees and White Sox will win their divisions.
  • If you watch closely during Rizzo’s salami, you can see JJ in the bleachers.  I snagged a screen shot for you guys.
  • Fortunately the camera got my good side.
  • The Yankees need to face the Red sox at least 81 times a year just to fill the ESPN game allotment.
  • My goal is to write this recap with the same general disinterest and lackadaisical effort the Cubs’ hitters brought to Monday night’s game.
  • One time I fell asleep at the keyboard and when I woke up I had 3 pages of the letter “k”
  • One time I fell asleep on the keyboard and when I woke I found that I had written twilight.
  • One time I fell asleep on the keyboard and when I woke up I still didn’t submit a Lizzie.
  • I’ll assume our 4th best prospect arm is that RoLo kid.
  • We who care little about football will be cracking the same jokes about porn pirates and light hitting outfielders for a few months, then talking about Randy’s camp for a while, then things get real again.  It goes pretty quickly.
  • The current magic number is also a prime number….I have to get excited about something.
  • only Darwin Barney seems to have been able to keep track of his lumber.
  • Three reasons Ricketts won’t panic: Season. Ticket. Waitlist.

Lizard

  • If we play the 12U VFW team out of Downers Grove 162 times we got a shot at the playoffs.

Shout Outs

Congratulations to the following commenters who received their first 2012 Lizzie this week. Thanks for hanging out with us! We’re happy to have you here!

  • Aisle424
  • Dick Hurtz
  • Jerry in Wisconsin
  • Josephine

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson, the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around!

2012 Standings – Top 10

1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. Doc Raker
3. jswanson
4. Seymour Butts
5. Jedi Johnson
6. cap’n Obvious
7. Buddy
8. Joe Aiello
9. Chuck
10. Eddie Von White

Chit Chat

Last GirlieView in honor of the NFL’s opening week, we had a little pick’em game. I asked you to pick the winners of three games (Colts/Bears, Patriots/Titans, and Redskins/Saints.) Congratulations to Josh Cornwall who got all three correct (Bears, Patriots, Redskins.) A handful of others guessed two of three correctly (Jedi, Jarred B., me, flyslinger2, RichBeckman and Verncrowe5.) Thanks to everyone who played.

This week, in honor of it being the final in-season GirlieView of 2012, let’s play World Series. Guess the AL and NL representatives, and of course the winner! I’ll keep tabs and report back as usual. Thanks for playing along!

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Game 149: DeJesus, Cubs Stumble Late

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Reds 6 @ Cubs 5 (11 innings)

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Cubs Fight Back Behind Rizzo, Soriano, & Castro
(It’s a real good thing we got rid of Soto, Theriot, Fontenot, and any other ‘O’ that I’m not thinking of at the moment; our lineup would be obnoxious to listen to every night) After getting down early, the Cubs twice found themselves down 4 runs. It initially looked like they would roll over and let the Reds have an easy path to victory, but then they got a few guys on base and eventually the Cubs tied the game in the 8th. Castro had a huge game. Rizzo and Soriano teamed up to jumpstart the attack in both the 4th and 6th innings.

Wasted Opportunities
In the 6th, 8th, and 10th the Cubs had opportunities to put extra runs on the board, but in each instance they couldn’t find a clutch hit. In the 6th, Valbuena was picked off of second base after his hit plated Castro. In the 8th, Brett Jackson struck out…looking…with the bases loaded!! In the 10th, Castillo struck out with runners at 2nd & 3rd with 1 out; after Jackson walked to load the bases, Clevenger grounded out to first to end the threat.

DeJesus Gives The Game Away
Just not David DeJesus’ night. He was 0-for-6 at the plate and in the 11th inning he allowed what should’ve been the third out glance off his glove as he overran the catch. Brandon Phillips stood on second and an air of inevitability seemed to accompany Drew Stubbs’ following at-bat. Stubbs singled to left, Phillips scored (Soriano’s throw was late and up the line).

Other Game Notes

  • Without the Cubs turning four double plays, the Reds likely would’ve put this game away early on.
  • Barney made an excellent play to get the first out of the 11th, though on review it looked as though the runner beat it out.
  • Soriano hit his 30th HR of the year, and it was an absolute bomb.
  • Soriano in the field was less impressive on this fly ball from Joey Votto; and clearly Votto was watching because he believed Soriano was primed to boot this ball too…and Votto paid the price.
  • Official game notes: REDS LEFTFIELDER RYAN LUDWICK LEFT THE GAME IN THE TOP OF THE SIXTH INNING DUE TO TIGHTNESS IN HIS GROIN. There’s got to be a better way to say that…
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Is It Time To Panic About Attendance?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

 

Yesterday, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that for the first time since 2003, the Cubs would finish the season with a season attendance total of fewer than 3,000,000. The Cubs expect to finish the season with roughly 2,800,000 tickets sold which would give them their lowest number of fans through the Wrigley Field gates since finishing 2002 at 2,632,194.

Also in the last day or so I’ve started seeing a few “Uh oh, time to panic” posts, along with an accompanying pictures of empty seats creep into my social media feeds. ESPN’s Darren Rovell, the Jack Horner of the “empty stadium fetish” set, even got into the act on Monday, though a 3 ½ hour rain delay didn’t hurt his cause.

So, it’s time to panic right? Attendance is cratering, the Ricketts’ won’t be able to afford to invest in the team and we’re officially destined to endure another century of disappointment. Oh, and we’re just about to become laughingstocks (and regular Rovell-fodder) like the Marlins, Rays, and Pirates have been. Are you panicking? Should I be panicking? Panic?!?

Hold on folks, we’re not quite there yet. But here, do you want something to panic about? How about the fact that you’re going to see about three billion articles with headlines like “Not So Loveable” losers above photos like the one you see above (which I actually took at Miller Park when the Cubs were in town back in May) showing just how far the Cubs have fallen out of favor with fans.

So yes, things look bad from a fan support standpoint, but are they really? One thing to remember is that the Cubs have been benefiting from an unprecedented run of support since 1998, when Sammy Sosa and the Cardiac Kids started bringing people to the Friendly Confines in droves. Since that season, the Cubs have run off a streak of 15 straight seasons with an average nightly attendance of 30,000 fans or more. Sure, there were four playoff appearances during this streak – but there have also been six 90+ loss seasons during that time frame

Prior to 1998, they had three seasons of 30,000 or more…ever. We talk about not reaching 3,000,000 fans, but as recently as 1995, the Cubs weren’t drawing 2,000,000. Even with the Cubs’ struggles this year, they are still going to finish the season in the top 10 in the league in attendance and are currently third in the league in road attendance.  There is a long way to go before the Loveable Losers tag gets removed because the team is no longer loved (hopefully it will take less time for the “Loser” portion to disappear…but I’m not holding my breath)

Rest assured, with top 10 attendance and the third most expensive ticket in the majors, the Ricketts’ still have plenty of revenue coming in to give The Theo a healthy budget to rebuild the team with. If you really want something to worry about, start worrying about whether he is up to the task. For the record, I’m still of the belief that he can…and will. If I’m right, you better go out and enjoy the excess supply of tickets while you can.

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Minors Report – Stock Up

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Most followers of the farm system would tell you that it has improved greatly and will be way up in organizational farm rankings. My guess is you’ll see four players from the 2012 draft, two international signings, and two prospects acquired in trade (eight total) in the Cubs Top 20 next year (40%). Every team in baseball can say they added talent from the draft, so we’ll cancel that out. That leaves four extra players; one that might have been a Top 10 draft pick (Jorge Soler), one that was a Top 50 prospect going into the season (Arodys Vizcaino) and the other two no worse than equal to 2nd round talent (Christian Villanueva and Juan Carlos Paniagua) acquired in the last year.

That is a great improvement. But it doesn’t end there. These players all saw their stock go up after the 2012 season:

Logan Watkins put up career bests in just about all the counting stats (H, 1B, 2B, HR, R, RBI, BB, SB) in his AA season, but the surprise to me was the power. He hit five home runs last season, one in 2010, but nine this season. 22 years old (not “old” for the league), he saw improvements in walk rate and strikeout rate, plays good defense at 2B and SS, and his numbers were much better than the league average. His BABIP wasn’t so high that I would consider these numbers a fluke. I would guess he’ll be in AAA next year while seeing some action in Chicago, and perhaps taking over the role of the slap hitting second baseman.

“Stock up” for a player with a .264/.326/.385 line? Yup. Ronald Torreyes is a favorite of mine because he’s tiny, he rarely strikes out, and he was one of the youngest players in the Florida State League while putting up a league average line. That line is also skewed by a low BABIP that led to him hitting .224 pre All-Star game. After that? .297/.361/.450. He’s just 3 months older than Javier Baez and I think we’d be pretty happy if Baez hit .297/.361/.450 at Daytona this year. Another 2B, he’ll likely take Watkins spot in AA next season.

Javier Baez (just Peoria Chiefs Single A numbers are shown here) had a fantastic first season showing his prodigious power with unexpectedly good reviews on his defense at short and an equally unexpectedly good number of stolen bases, the product of good base running rather than great speed. He’ll likely be in most everyone’s Top 25 overall prospects and could be as high as 15. I love the power and he’ll be the Cubs #1 prospect in this man’s opinion, but I just don’t like the low BB% combined with a 20% K rate…I have more doubts than the average fan.

All bat, no speed, and very likely, no glove, Dan Vogelbach is still one of my favorites because he’s so friggin big that he would simply be interesting to watch. Everyone knew he had power, but he showed good control of the zone with good walk and strikeout rates. He won’t be a Top 100 guy in 2013, but keeping up the power and BB% will give him a great shot the following year.

The Cubs organization has second basemen growing on trees. The next middle infielder prospect in the system, Gioskar Amaya now has a line of .316/.389/.455, with 9 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 830 career plate appearances. You’ll notice he hit 8 of his career 9 homers this year, while his BB% improved at the same time. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than I like to see at the Northwest League level, but he continues to hit and get on base. I’m not sure if I like Amaya as much as I like Jeimer Candelario, but Amaya’s results are an improvement while Candelario (although he did skip the Arizona Rookie League).

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Game 148: Sleepwalking Towards 100, Pridefully

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Reds 3 @ Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

“These guys are trying to stay away from 100 losses, and that’s their goal. The Cincinnati Reds, mathematically, they have it locked up. … These guys are just trying to stay away from 100 losses, and there’s a lot of pride in that.” – Dale Sveum

Well, at least they have a goal. That said, the Cubs looked a lot more like a 100-loss team that sat through a 3 ½-hour rain delay one night earlier and decided to hit the snooze button for a few extra hours on Tuesday than one whose collective heart was set on avoiding the century mark.

The Cubs’ bats disappeared after Monday night’s rain delay and it appears they didn’t turn up in time for Tuesday’s series opener against the Reds. In fact, only Darwin Barney seems to have been able to keep track of his lumber. After notching two singles on Tuesday, the Cubs’ second baseman has out hit his teammates 4-2 in the last two days. Singles by Steve Cleavenger and Bryan LaHair were the only other base knocks by Chicago against Dusty Baker’s soon to be crowned NL Central champions.

Justin Germano pitched the first five innings like a man that didn’t wait up to see if his teammates had won the night before, allowing just three hits and shutting the Reds out through five. Out of sympathy for his sleep deprived teammates, he decided to fall asleep on the mound to start the sixth inning and walk the first three Reds batters – right as Len Kasper finished praising the Cubs recent starting pitching quality- earning him a quick hook from Sveum. A two-out bases clearing double by Ryan Hanigan was all the Reds would need, and indeed all they would get the remainder of the way.

The Cubs tried to mount a one-out rally in the eighth, as Barney singled and was doubled in by a pinch-hitting LaHair. That was all the pride they could muster though and went away quietly in the ninth.

Cubs 100-loss Magic Number: 5. Just five more wins to accomplishing their goals. Good luck guys, we’re pulling for you.

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Enjoy it While it Lasts

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are turning colors, and football season is in full swing, unfortunately though, that can only mean one thing; baseball season is all but over.

When a team like the Cubs have struggled all season long, for many fans the fall has become a welcomed sight. No longer are day games and blowouts the only sports options to watch on TV. Saturdays bring a bevy of college football games and Sundays are filled football pregame shows, the early games, postgame shows, the late afternoon games, more postgame shows, a Sunday night football game, and to top it off, Mondays are spent completely dissecting what happened over the weekend as well as hyping up the Monday Night Football matchup.

It is easy this time of year to stray away from our love of baseball because of the daily force feeding of the NFL and college football. We become less and less likely to watch the highlights of a Cubs vs. Reds game in favor of watching a show that will tell us how to improve our fantasy football chances for the week.

Before we give up completely and turn our focus to other sports, remember that baseball will not return until next April. Sure, we’ll have the tease of pitchers and catchers reporting in February and Spring Training beginning in March, but nearly six month will go by without the chance to watch a game on TV or inside the friendly confines. If you consider just how cold it can be in April and early May, it may be close to eight months until it is pleasant enough to sit in the stands without freezing.

Nine of the 15 remaining games for the Cubs this season are at home, with plenty of tickets still available for matchups with the Reds and Cardinals this week as well as for the final series of the year against the Astros during the first week of October. This time of year boasts some of the best weather for an afternoon baseball game and night games give you the opportunity to bundle up in your favorite Cubs jacket or hoodie.

In a 162-game season it is easy to stray away from a team that is playing poorly. Players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Jeff Samardzija have given us hope for the future and reasons to keep watching but ultimately we all stray.

In these final 15 games, make a point to check-in and catch a little more of the game than you normally do. Marvel at the beauty of a clear blue sky during an afternoon game as it paints the perfect backdrop to one of the games most beautiful stadiums. Embrace Cubs culture and sing a long with the seventh inning stretch and try to make it to Wrigley Field for one last glimpse of the 2012 season, because before you know it, we will all be counting down the days until that Spring Training opener in March.

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Prospect Spotlight: The Top Pitchers in the System

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

None of the contenders for the Cubs’ top prospects are pitchers. However, while Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have not added pitchers with surefire top of the rotation potential, they have greatly improved the Cubs’ minor league pitching over the past three months. In particular, they’ve focused on pitchers with elite stuff.  The following are the three pitchers I view as the best in the Cubs’ system.

Arodys Vizcaino

2012 statistics: (Did not play due to Tommy John Surgery).

Vizcaino was the biggest piece the Cubs’ received in their mid-season sell off, and was the headliner of the trade to Atlanta for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. Vizcaino, who won’t turn 22 until November, has electric stuff with a mid to high 90s fastball, power curve and a change up he’s had success with. But he’s undersized and a full effort guy, so he might be prone to injuries like the elbow he blew out in spring training.

The question is if he can hold up to a starter’s workload. Vizcaino has never thrown more than more than 114.1 innings in a season as a professional, and that was last year. At the minimum, he should be a good closer. But, if he can hold up to the workload, he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Cubs’ organization and could be a top of the rotation sort of pitcher.

I expect the kids to treat Vizcaino with something of kid’s gloves next season. Not only do I expect them to have an innings limit for Vizcaino, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Vizcaino start the season in the more pitcher friendly Double A Southern League instead of the launching pad of the Pacific Coast League. However, I would not be surprised at all to see Vizcaino finishing the 2013 season in the Cubs’ bullpen, with plans for him to join the rotation in 2014.

Pierce Johnson

2012 statistics
Arizona Cubs (Rookie League): 3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.87 FIP, 6.00 K/9, 0.00 BB/9
Boise Hawks (Short Season A-Ball): 8 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.33 FIP, 13.50 K/9, 3.38 BB/9

The Cubs picked Johnson with the 43rd pick in the 2012 draft, with the compensation pick they received for Aramis Ramirez. I covered Johnson the day after he as picked, so I’ll just briefly recap the info I covered there. Johnson has three good pitches, a low to mid-90s fastball, a power curve and a solid change up, and probably would have gone in the mid to late first round not dealt with a forearm strain while pitching for Missouri State this season. Johnson should start the season in Low A Peoria, but could move quickly up the ladder.

Juan Paniagua

2012 statistics
Arizona Cubs: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 9.82 K/9, 2.45 BB/9

The Cubs spent $1.5 million, much of their international amateur signing limit, on Paniagua. Previously, Paniagua was best known for having contracts voided twice because MLB has been unable to verify his age. The Cubs, however, have waived that concern and as such the contract cannot be voided.

Paniagua reportedly has a low to mid-90s fastball along with a sharp slider that sits in the high 90s. The change up reportedly needs work, but the stuff is pretty elite. And as long as he’s somewhere near the 22 years old he claims to be, the age is probably not a big concern.

Like Johnson, he will probably start in Low A next season and could move pretty quickly.

Others to Watch: Dillon Maples, Ben Wells, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Anthony Prieto

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Game 147: Waterlogged Cubs Dry Up

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Pirates 3 @ Cubs 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

My goal is to write this recap with the same general disinterest and lackadaisical effort the Cubs’ hitters brought to Monday night’s game. The fourth tilt of their series against the Pirates was preceded by a rain delay of more than three and a half hours, and it showed. By the time the rain stopped and the field dried off, there were only a couple thousand fans in the stands–including less than ten in the upper deck. When it was all over, I’m sure most of them regretted hanging around until almost 2am. Or at least they will regret it once they’ve sobered up.

The Cubs pitchers actually threw a pretty nice game, collectively striking out fifteen Pirates on the evening, while surrendering only five hits–including yet another triple to Starling Marte. However, that was enough for Pittsburgh, as Kevin Correia and their other pitchers held Cubs batters to only two hits on the evening. All the pitchers in the game owe at least some of their success to home plate umpire Laz Diaz, who showed early on that he had a wide, workable strike zone, and that he was eager to get the game in quickly.

I’d say more, but I am literally falling asleep as I write this. If there is something I overlooked, feel free to add it in the comments section.

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