Author Archive

18 Things Cubs Fans Won’t Hear This Season

Friday, January 11th, 2013

It still looks like winter in Buddyland, but Cubs baseball is right around the corner. As I think about the 2013 season over another cold beverage, my mind drifts to a few phrases that won’t come out of my mouth this summer:

  • “Man, that Darwin Barney can really hit.”
  • “Another great defensive play by Alfonso Soriano.”
  • “I sure miss Koyie Hill.”
  • “Ian Stewart crushed that ball.”
  • “And Carlos Marmol slams the door in the ninth.”
  • “Nice at bat by Josh Vitters.”
  • “Valbuena spelled backwards is…”
  • “I sure miss Marlon Byrd.”
  •  “You give me nine Jeff Bakers and I’ll give you the pennant.”
  • “Jeff Samardzija’s hair looks fine the way it is.”
  • “I can’t wait to hear today’s guest singer for the seventh inning stretch.”
  • “We need more political talk on VFTB.”
  • “Bring in Dontrelle Willis.”
  • “Why don’t the Cubs bunt more often? They need to play some small ball.”
  • “James Russell was underrated as a starting pitcher.”
  • “I sure miss Bob Brenly.”
  • “The fans did a super job with this year’s All Star Game voting.”
  • “That guy just knows how to win.”
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Are You In A Gambling Mood?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Many fans cringe at the thought of free-agent acquisitions (and after the Alfonso Soriano mega-contract, I sure can’t blame them). Others view the free-agent process as an opportunity to get creative and quickly improve the ballclub. Either way, this year’s collection of available players is intriguing to say the least.

How active should the Cubs be this offseason? For the purposes of our discussion, let’s agree on a couple concepts: 1) The Cubs front office is free and clear to spend a little money.  2) The Cubs will say “no thank you” to the likes of Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Michael Bourn, and Rafael Soriano.

So who’s left for free-agent tire kicking and bargain hunting? Here’s a quick list of possible fits (PLEASE NOTE, I SUBMITTED THIS ARTICLE ON NOVEMBER 3RD. SOME OF THESE PLAYERS MAY HAVE SIGNED BY THE TIME IT POSTS):

  • Dan Haren—The Cubs almost acquired Haren for Carlos Marmol, but the deal fell apart at the last minute. Instead, the Angels declined Haren’s 2013 option and made him a free agent. Haren has been brilliant at times during his 10-year career, but he battled back problems for much of the season and saw his velocity drop. Even with those question marks, Haren stands to cash in. I’d be more than willing to gamble on his health for a one-year or two-year deal, but I doubt Haren would accept those terms. Signing with the Cubs seems like a long shot to me.
  • Shaun Marcum—Another starter coming off an injury-plagued 2012, Marcum has been pretty consistent when healthy. Like Haren, he’s a strike thrower: 2.8 walks per 9 IP in 149 career starts. Marcum made $7 million last year, so his price tag should be less than Haren’s. Could the Cubs land him for something like two years, $16 million? If so, count me in.
  • Brandon McCarthy—Say hello to another interesting free agent starter…Do you see a trend? McCarthy is coming off a solid year that ended with a nasty head injury. Assuming a full recovery, he may be another cost-effective band aid for the Cubs bloody rotation. Of course pitching in Oakland helped his numbers, but McCarthy looks like a reasonable short-term investment to me.
  • Kelly Johnson, Maicer Izturis, or Steven Drew—With apologies to the Darwin Barney fan club, the Cubs could sure use some offense at 2B. And even if you don’t agree with me, Johnson, Izturis or Drew would likely be cost-effective options for a super-utility player who could provide some offense across the infield. If Barney improves as a hitter, maybe this player sticks as the starting 3B vs. RHP instead. No matter what, the Cubs should be able to get one of them at a nice price, as all three are coming off a disappointing 2012.
  • Kevin Youkilis—And speaking of 3B…How the mighty have fallen. It wasn’t long ago that Youkilis was an elite player who racked up an OPS in the .900’s. Those days appear to be gone, but the 33-year-old former slugger still has on-base value. Are the Cubs willing to overpay for a short-term 3B (hopefully keeping the spot warm until Javier Baez is ready)? How many years will Youkilis and his agent demand? If the Cubs can grab him for one year with an option, I think it’s worth pursuing. Otherwise, let another team write a big check for past performance.
  • Platoon Partners: With David DeJesus and Brett Jackson in the outfield mix, the Cubs will need at least one righty bat. Free agent options include Jonny Gomes, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones, and Cody Ross. Nothing to write home about, but then again we’re only talking about 250 PA’s or less.
  • The Bullpen—Even if Marmol stays, the Cubs still need relief help. The good news…it’s another buyer’s market for the bullpen. Before I start tossing out names, let me restate the obvious: Giving a reliever a multi-year deal is completely unnecessary and borderline insane. There’s way too much depth out there to overpay in terms of contract length. Having said that, here are a few useful arms seeking employment (I left out the pitchers who will likely be “overpay” candidates): Jason Frasor, Mike Gonzalez, J.P. Howell, Brandon Lyon, Vincente Padilla, Joel Peralta, and Joakim Soria. At least two from this list should be available via one-year, team-friendly deals. If not, there’s still plenty of water in the reliever well. Don’t believe me? Say hello to Plan B: Juan Cruz, Brian Fuentes, Jason Grilli, Brad Lidge, Kameron Loe, Guillermo Mota, Chad Qualls, and Jon Rauch.

I think we all agree that the Cubs are still a few years away from serious contention. But a handful of strategic free agent signings could help bring the Northsiders back to respectability while Theo and the Theo-ettes continue to build through the draft. Yes, it’s possible to do both.

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Looking For Silver Linings…Again

Friday, October 19th, 2012

I love Cubs baseball as much as the next guy, but wow, this was a LONG year! What can fans hang their hats on when their favorite team dumps 100+ games? Let’s take a look back, and forward:

  • Jeff Samardzija came through with a successful conversion to the starting rotation. Admit it…you thought this experiment would explode in our faces. I certainly did. The Shark wasn’t exactly Justin Verlander, but he turned in a solid campaign as a starter: 174.2 IP, 56 BB, 180 K’s, 3.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. What amazed me most was his improved command—2.9 BB per 9 IP. I honestly don’t know what to expect next year, his age-28 season. Can he build on this success and become a 200-inning horse? Absolutely. Can he revert back to his wild self and earn a demotion to the bullpen? That wouldn’t surprise me either. My fingers are crossed for scenario #1. And a haircut.
  • The Cubs found a lead-off man vs. RHP. In case you missed it, here’s what David DeJesus did against righties in 2012: .289/.365/.432. OK, so he’s not Rickey Henderson. Still, DeJesus’ offensive performance was more than acceptable, and he’s a solid defender as well. Whether he plays CF or RF, here’s hoping Dale Sveum leads DeJesus off against RHP in 2013. Now the Cubs need to find a reliable platoon partner (that’s your cue, Reed Johnson fans).
  • Anthony Rizzo is on the road to becoming the player many prospect evaluators thought he would be. Yes, the sample size was small, but the future looks bright for the Cubs’ 22-year-old 1B. Here’s what he did in 2012: 87 games, 337 AB, .285/.342/.463. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch Rizzo’s continued development next season.
  • Starlin Castro was….well, I’m not sure. On the one hand, I’m thrilled with what he has accomplished at such a young age, particularly considering the position he plays. It’s not easy find shortstops who are productive offensive players. On the other hand, I was rooting for greater improvement from Castro this year. I was expecting better plate discipline. I was expecting a significant reduction in errors. I was expecting 20-ish homers. No such luck. So the question I keep asking myself is, “Are my expectations for Castro too high at this point?” I think the answer is “yes,” but I’m still on the fence. What say you?
  • Alfonso Soriano has a pulse! In all seriousness, Soriano silenced a few critics by finding his power stroke in 2012. His 32 homers easily led the team, and he just missed the .500 slugging percentage mark. Many fans and announcers raved about his improved defense as well. Assuming they’re right, perhaps the soon-to-be-37-year-old Soriano will have real trade value this offseason, even with $36 million left on his deal.

Yes, there were other positives this year. Darwin Barney’s defense, Wellington Castillo’s improvement at the plate, James Russell’s reliability, and Carlos Marmol’s second half come to mind. So what can we expect from the 2013 Cubs? Can they reach respectability? I’ll have more on that topic next time…

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Game 156: Rock Bottom

Friday, September 28th, 2012

What Went Right

  • Anthony Rizzo dialed up his 15th homer.
  • The bullpen did a nice job of mopping up today’s mess.
  • Cub hitters made some noise in the final frame, but it was too little too late—again. Starlin Castro’s 9th inning K with runners in scoring position and nobody out was a crushing blow.

What Went Wrong

  • Another rotten performance by a Cub starter. Here’s Chris Volstad’s line: 3 IP, 10 hits, 7 ER, 2 HRs allowed.
  • Rockies’ 1B Jordan Pacheco came up with a nice pick on a ball in the dirt to end the game. The Cubs were this close to tying it up, but that and a dollar will get you a cup of McDonald’s coffee.
  • The Cubs left 11 men on base. The Rockies left two.

Those Were The Days

Whenever I think of the Colorado Rockies, I think of their inaugural season. It was 1993, and the expansion Rockies were led by the one and only Don Baylor.

The fans showed up in force that year (4.48 million of them to be exact), but the on-field product wasn’t much fun to watch. Baylor’s Boys finished 67-95 and allowed a whopping 860 earned runs.

A few other tidbits about the 1993 Rockies…

  • Can’t-miss pitching prospect David Nied missed. In 16 starts he racked up an ERA of 5.17 and a WHIP of 1.62. Injuries ended his career before it even began. He was out of baseball (the Majors anyway) by age 27.
  • Andres Galarraga found new life in hitter-friendly Denver. After two terrible years in Montreal and St. Louis, the Big Cat exploded in 1993: .370/.403/.602. He went on to play 11 more seasons and make three more All Star teams.
  • Former Braves star Dale Murphy finished his great career with 42 not-so-great at bats for the 1993 Rockies.
  • Three Colorado starters (with at least 10 starts) sported ERAs of 6+: Butch Henry, Kent Bottenfield, and Greg Harris.
  • Rockies baserunners led the N.L. in caught stealing with 90. Way to take advantage of your home park by running into outs.

It wasn’t pretty in Denver, but fans didn’t have to wait long for a contender. The 1995 Rockies made the playoffs, only to be bounced by the powerhouse Atlanta Braves. By the way, the 1995 Cubs finished two games over .500. Trivia alert…Two Cubs had seven triples that season. Can you name them?

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Game 137: Another Game, Another Beating

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • The Cubs got on the board early with a 1st inning homer by Anthony Rizzo. He ended the night with three hits.
  • Two triples (one by Starlin Castro and one by Lil’ Darwin Barney) accounted for the Cubs second run.
  • The benches and bullpens cleared after a shouting match between coaches Bo Porter and Jamie Quirk. It was a weird situation that was more entertaining than the actual game. The bad blood started again in the 6th, this time with more intensity. I didn’t see any punches thrown, but it was hard to tell for sure.
  • My wife bought beer! The simple things make life worth living.

What Went Wrong

  • Justin Germano. I know it’s shocking, but another Cubs starter got clobbered by the Nats. How many home runs did they hit in this series? It felt like 100.
  • The bullpen poured a little more gas on the fire after Germano’s early departure. The last three innings took forever.
  • The Cubs defense didn’t exactly shine. Two more errors brought the season total to 88. David DeJesus and Brett Jackson did make a couple nice plays in the OF, however.
  • The lineup produced seven hits and one walk. Yes, one.
  • After doubling in the 9th, Jackson made the last out on the bases. Ugh.
  • I had to watch Luis Valbuena bat three times. If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.

How ‘Bout Those Nats

Six months ago, the Washington Nationals were a trendy pick to make the postseason, but I wasn’t buying it. While I certainly agreed the Nats were on the rise, the team appeared to have too many holes. It’s a good thing I don’t make predictions for a living.

Even with the Strasburg shutdown, Davey Johnson and company (85-52) are in great shape for the stretch run. How are they doing it? We all know the big-name players, but let’s take a quick look at a few unsung heroes:

  • Ian Desmond, SS—The on-base percentage is low, but you gotta love a SS who slugs .507. Desmond has racked up 21 homers and 26 doubles in 447 plate appearances coming into tonight’s game.
  • The Bench—Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, and Chad Tracy (yes, that Chad Tracy) have been solid contributors in 450-ish combined plate appearances.
  • Ross Detweiler—How about these numbers for a “5th starter:” 140 IP, 123 hits, 9 HR, 39 BB, 3.15 ERA.
  • Craig Stammen—In 78.2 relief innings, Stammen sports an ERA of 2.52. Sean Burnett and Ryan Mattheus have been productive out of the pen as well.

How far can this team go? I’d sure feel better about their chances if Strasburg was in the playoff mix. However, a rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detweiler doesn’t look to shabby. And who wouldn’t love to have Tyler Clippard on the back end?

For me it comes down to Washington’s offense. Can Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth carry the load in October? I’m betting against them, but I’d love to be wrong. This is a fun team to watch, even when Harper spikes his helmet, pimps a homer, talks smack, and generally acts like a kid, which is of course what he is (I don’t even want to think about all the stupid stuff I did at age 19).

Anyway, the future looks very bright in Washington, even if they get knocked out in the first round this year. Bring on the playoffs. And tell Bo Porter to keep his mouth shut.

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Game 130: Slugfest

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • The Cubs anemic offense (currently 15th in runs scored) did some serious damage. David DeJesus reached base five times, Luis Valbuena collected three hits (not a typo), Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo picked up two hits each, and Brett Jackson added two doubles and two walks.
  • Believe it or not, Cub batters walked 11 times. I’m playing the lottery tomorrow!
  • K-Rod took the hill for the Brewers in the final frame (thank you). In case you missed it, he and his fellow mound mates racked up 205 pitches.
  • Anthony Rizzo came through with a double in the 9th to tie the game. Alfonso Soriano followed with the winning knock.
  • James Russell and Carlos Marmol didn’t allow an earned run.
  • No errors for the defense.

What Went Wrong

  • Four Cub pitchers basically threw batting practice today. The Brewers pounded out 17 hits, seven for extra bases. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy and the great Cody Ransom were especially lethal.
  • Darwin Barney went 0-5, dropping his on-base percentage to .295.
  • I didn’t get to see the first six innings. Bummer.

Not Exactly Nostradamus

Every March I get together with a group of fellow baseball freaks to make our official predictions for the upcoming season. Now that September is upon us, I thought it might be fun (or maybe embarrassing) to look back at my spring training random thoughts, gut feelings, crystal ball interpretations, etc. Here’s how I saw it a few months ago…

NL Central: Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston

For some strange reason I believed in the Brewers pitching staff. As of this writing, Milwaukee is 13th in ERA. Good call!

NL East: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, Miami, NY Mets

The Nationals were a trendy pick, but I wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. Wrong again. At least I got the Marlins implosion right.

NL West: SF, Arizona, LA, Colorado, SD

Who would have guessed that Tim Lincecum would post a 5+ ERA? Can the Giants hold off the new-look Dodgers?

NL Wild Cards: Atlanta & Cincinnati

Looks like Dusty’s Reds will make the playoffs one way or the other, which still isn’t fun to say/type. Here’s hoping they get knocked out early.

AL Central: Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, Chicago, Minnesota

I couldn’t have been more wrong here. Cleveland was my “out of nowhere” contending team for 2012, and I thought the White Sox would be completely awful. Kudos to Chris from Illinois, who picked the White Sox to win the AL Central way back in March. Detroit may still bring home the division crown, but Robin’s crew isn’t going away.

AL East: NY Yankees, Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Baltimore

I doubt even Buck Schowalter’s wife picked the Orioles to be competitive in 2012. Meanwhile, the Yankees keep rolling along.

AL West: Texas, LA/Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle

If the Angels can straighten out their bullpen, I may actually get this division right!

Wild Cards: Boston & LA/Anaheim

I really thought the Red Sox had too much talent for even Bobby Valentine to screw up. That’s what I get for thinking. By the way, the Angels were my pre-season pick to win it all. That prediction doesn’t look great right now, but of course anything can happen in the playoffs. If they make it.

Who was your World Series champ before the season began? Who would you pick now?

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Game 91: Down Go The Marlins

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Paul Maholm threw eight innings of one run baseball. Only one walk as well. It’s amazing what happens when a pitcher throws strikes.
  • Alfonso Soriano swatted home run number 18. I still don’t think he’s tradable, but I’d love to be wrong about that.
  • Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Lil’ Darwin Barney each added two hits.
  • The Cubs are 14-5 in their last 19 games.
  • No errors for the good guys.

What Went Wrong

  • Carlos Marmol gave up a run in the ninth, and yes he walked a batter.
  • Starlin Castro didn’t get a hit or draw a walk. That lowers his 2012 on-base percentage to .308.
  • The Cubs didn’t win 24-0.

Is It Just Me?

I’ll say it again…I really dislike the Miami Marlins. Their uniforms are hideous. The new ballpark is worse.  I can’t stand Ozzie Guillen. And then there’s Carlos Zambrano. The Marlins subpar 2012 has been enjoyable to watch, especially after they flushed millions of dollars down the toilet in the offseason.

Now all we need is a major Ozzie Guillen meltdown to complete the set. I’m talking about a tantrum that would make the “Real Housewives of Orange County” turn the channel in disgust. If history has taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time.

In case I offended any “Fighting Fish” fans, here’s a little Florida/Miami trivia: Who is the Marlins’ career leader in doubles?

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Game 82: Over Before It Started

Friday, July 6th, 2012

What Went Right

  • The Cubs were good a few years ago? Seriously, there wasn’t much to write home about tonight.
  • Geo Soto connected for his sixth homer (crickets chirping).

What Went Wrong

  • Matt Garza was completely awful tonight. There really isn’t much more to say, but I’ll give it a shot. I was drinking an adult beverage with some friends right before the game started, and I found myself defending Garza to a room full of Garza detractors. A few minutes later, it was 4-0 Atlanta. The Buddy curse continues.
  • Castro went 0-4, lowering his on-base percentage to .312.
  • The Cubs walked twice tonight. Twice. How did they even score three runs?

Mound Memories

OK, Matt Garza got his brains beat in tonight. Life goes on. If you really think about it, the last 15 years have seen some pretty impressive arms in Chicago. Of course we all cheered for the likes of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano (early in his career anyway), Matt Clement, and Jon Lieber, but let’s go farther back and look at a few less-celebrated names:

  • Frank Castillo—Castillo’s Cub career wasn’t that exciting, but he did mix in a solid season or two. In 1992 he tossed 205.1 innings and racked up an ERA of 3.46. Not bad for a 23-year-old pitcher in his second year. Things went downhill from there, but Castillo bounced back in 1995 with 188 innings and a 3.21 ERA.
  • Mike Morgan—Signed by the Cubs in 1991, Morgan was a workhorse for two years. His first season in Chicago produced 236.1 innings and a 2.78 ERA. He followed that up with 240 innings and a 2.55 ERA. He came back to Earth in 1993 and 1994, and moved on to one of his many teams the following year. I had completely forgotten this fact, but Morgan pitched until he was 42, compiling 2,772.1 career innings.
  • Mike Bielecki—After battling injuries and generally underachieving in Pittsburgh, the Cubs caught lightning in a bottle with Bielecki in 1989. The former first-rounder made 33 starts and helped lead the Cubs to a division title. Predictably, he never duplicated that success in Chicago again. A little trivia…Who did the Cubs trade to the Pirates for Bielecki? The one and only Mike Curtis.
  • Jeff Pico—Just kidding. I couldn’t stand watching Jeff Pico.

While the pitching cupboard looks a little bare in 2012, I remain optimistic for next year and beyond. After all, you never know when lightning will strike again.

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Game 63: What Can You Do?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Tigers 5 @ Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Not much, but here goes…
  • Lil’ Darwin Barney collected two hits in a losing effort.
  • Travis Wood didn’t crap the bed, allowing three runs in 6.2 IP.
  • I had a great lunch today. Of course, even the worst meal I ever had was pretty good.

What Went Wrong

  • Justin Verlander didn’t get lost or abducted by aliens on his way to the ballpark.
  • I didn’t expect the Cubs to score many runs today, but they walked ZERO times against Verlander and Jose Valverde.
  • It’s frustrating to lose to the Tigers when their 2-3-4 hitters go 2 for 12, but that’s what happened.
  • Austin Jackson was a wrecking machine, picking up three hits and three RBIs.
  • Little elves didn’t come over and restock my fridge with beer. I keep waiting and waiting. Not sure what the problem is.

He’s Not Human

This just in…that Justin Verlander guy is pretty good. Many of you know that my wife is a lifelong Detroit fan, so we catch a lot of Tigers baseball via the MLB Package. I’m not sure how many of Verlander’s 213 career starts I’ve seen, but it’s a bunch. For me, he’s the most enjoyable player to watch in all of baseball.

Verlander’s stuff is undeniable, but the way he competes every single time he takes the mound is always a sight to see. My only fear is that Jim Leyland will break the seemingly unbreakable Verlander.

Hopefully Verlander is this generation’s Nolan Ryan, because the Tigers ride him like a mule.  For those of you who care about the Hall of Fame, here are some of Verlander’s comps at age 29:

  • Mike Mussina
  • Ramon Martinez
  • Barry Zito
  • Jack McDowell
  • Mark Mulder

If he stays healthy, Verlander should pile up career numbers better than anybody on that list, even the very underrated Mussina.

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