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Game 57: Close Doesn’t Cut It

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Cubs 3 @ Brewers 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Bryan LaHair went deep again. His 12th homer of the season gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead in the 8th.  His current line is .311/.390/.598. Is he heading to the All Star Game?
  • Matt Garza turned in six solid innings, allowing only two runs and punching out six Brewers.
  • Koyie Hill actually got a hit and drove in a run. What are the odds?

What Went Wrong

  • The 8th inning lead didn’t last long. The Brewers tied it up in their half and then won it in the 10th.
  • Casey Coleman is still on the roster. In case you missed it, he served up the losing homer to Norichika Aoki. I know Coleman has been decent this year, but his mediocre stuff belongs in the minors, preferably for another organization.
  • Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro were a combined 0-10. Both are sporting rotten on-base percentages these days, which makes them a perfect fit for the 2012 Cubs (team on-base percentage of .304 coming into today).
  • I’m staining my deck, and it really sucks. Why didn’t I hire somebody to do this miserable job?
  • I got invited to a party in L.A., and a bunch of terrorists crashed it. They took us hostage on the 30th floor and even shot my boss, Mr. Takagi. Luckily the guy from “Moonlighting” showed up and kicked some ass. Not sure why he wasn’t wearing shoes.                          

And The Chicago Cubs Select…

With the amateur draft taking place earlier this week, I thought it might be fun (or extremely depressing) to look back at a few of the Cubs former first-rounders. Read ΄em and weep…

  • Don Schulze, 1980: Not much to get excited about during Schulze’s six-year career. However, he was a spare part in the Rick Sutcliffe deal, so I guess that counts for something.
  • Drew Hall, 1984: Selected number three overall, Drew was a huge bust. He only lasted five seasons and put up a career ERA of 5.21. And here are a few players the Cubs said “no thank you” to that year—Cory Snyder, Jay Bell, Norm Charlton, and some guy named Mark McGwire.
  • Ty Griffin, 1988: Griffin was the “can’t miss” kid who missed big time. He never appeared in the Majors and was out of the game at age 29. I still wake up with a tear in my eye over this one.
  • Derek Wallace, 1992: Wallace knocked around the Minors for eight seasons and threw only 33 career innings as a big leaguer. In 1995 the Cubs pedaled him to Kansas City in the Brian McRae trade. One for the good guys!
  • Jon Garland, 1997: Certainly not a super star, but Garland’s career has been pretty respectable—12 seasons, 330 GS, 2,083 IP, 4.32 ERA. Of course none of that work was for the Cubs, as they dealt him to the White Sox in 1998 for the great Matt Karchner.
  • Lou Montanez, 2000: How is this guy still in baseball? He must have incriminating pictures of the commissioner. Or maybe he’s mastered the Jedi Mind Trick (not that Jedi).
  • Bobby Brownlie, 2002: Another bust, Brownlie racked up 817 mediocre Minor League innings and never sniffed Chicago. He retired from baseball in 2010.
  • Mark Pawelek, 2005: I saw him throw in A ball, and he didn’t look good. He was shut down with an injury soon after. Last I heard he was pitching in an Independent League, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. Hard to believe he’s only 25.

Now don’t you feel better about this year’s haul? Here’s wishing good health to the new draft class.

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Game 38: Too Little, Too Late

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Phillies 8 @ Cubs 7

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • David DeJesus continues to get on base. He collected two more hits tonight. Hmmm, a lead-off man who gets on base. What a concept! Now he just needs to pick his stolen base attempts a little more effectively.
  • Starlin Castro tied the game (briefly) with a sac fly in the opening frame. He also smacked a solo homer in the 7th.
  • Wellington Castillo went deep in the 8th and drove in three with a bases-loaded double in the 9th.
  • Former 16th-round pick Blake Parker made his debut after six seasons in the minors. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go as planned.
  • I was smart enough to turn the channel before the 7th inning stretch. Who was it tonight, Jim Belushi? Tom Dreesen? Marilu Henner? Richard Marx? Some bench warmer from the 1990s Chicago Bulls? A Baldwin brother not named Alec? (I heard it was the Sarge, but you get my point.)

What Went Wrong

  • Chris Volstad got knocked around early and often. Before I could even finish my first beer, the Cubs were already trailing. His final craptastic line was 2 IP, 6 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs. For the record, that’s 19 consecutive Volstad starts without a win. Anthony Young would be proud.
  • As if Volstad’s outing wasn’t painful enough, I had to sit through a few innings of Casey Coleman’s batting practice stuff. He actually turned in a solid performance, but I still hate watching him pitch. The bullpen allowed four runs, which made the Cubs 9th inning comeback meaningless.

Gonna Fly Now

I’m a Philadelphia fan. The city, that is. I saw Paul McCartney play at the old Vet on my 21st birthday, the food is tremendous, and of course it’s Rocky Balboa’s hometown. Aren’t there some historical attractions, too? In all seriousness, what’s not to love about Philly?

I’ll tell you what…the sports teams, and here are a few annoying reasons why:

  • Steve Carlton: Certainly a great pitcher, but generally regarded as a weird, cranky pain in the backside. And I really got tired of watching him stick it to the Cubs during the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Pete Rose: Charlie Hustle wore a Phillies’ uniform from 1979 to 1983 and was given credit for “teaching them how to win.” What a bunch of crap. Rose played 1B for Philly, a position that demands offense, and turned in slugging percentages of .430, .354, .390, .338, and .286.
  • Lenny Dykstra: I hope you didn’t invest any money with “Nails.”
  • Ricky Bottalico: He singlehandedly ruined my 1998 fantasy team: 1-6, 6.44 ERA, 27 K’s, 6 saves
  • Allen Iverson: Yes, he played his tail off in the 2004 Olympics, but otherwise he was everything bad about professional athletes, in my humble opinion anyway. To be fair, I still enjoy watching his “we’re talking about practice” press conference on YouTube. Let’s call this one a push instead.
  • Michael Vick: Sorry, I like dogs.
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Game 25: Another Lead, Another Loss

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Cubs 3 @ Reds 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • The Bryan LaHair hitting show rolls on. LaHair smacked home run number seven in a losing cause.
  • Geo Soto went deep for only the second time this season. Starlin Castro touched ‘em all as well.
  • Ryan Dempster tossed eight shut-out innings. He certainly deserved a better fate.
  • No errors for Castro! That’s always good news in my universe.

What Went Wrong

  • I know this is shocking to read, but Carlos Marmol crapped the bed and gave up another lead. I’m not sure what else to say at this point. I didn’t enjoy watching Marmol pitch at his very best, so the 2012 version is like a swift kick to you know where. I can’t imagine another team has any interest in Marmol, which means it’s going to be a very long year.  I guess it was going to be a long year anyway, but you get the point.

Looking For Silver Linings

Do the 9-16 Cubs have you singing the blues? Fear not! Here’s a half-full glass of positive energy for you to choke down:

  • As of this writing, no Cubs have been killed in action.
  • Marlon Byrd is playing for another team. If that doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will.
  • To the best of my knowledge, Dale Sveum hasn’t used the words grit, grinder, gamer, moxie, clutch, or chemistry.
  • Giant chunks of Wrigley Field haven’t fallen on unsuspecting fans this year.
  • The towel drill is now a distant memory in Chicago.
  • Joe Carter isn’t a member of the broadcast team.
  • I haven’t heard Mike Ditka, Jeff Gordon, or Ozzy Osbourne sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” yet.
  • Koyie Hill isn’t the Cubs backup catcher anymore. Another fine example of addition by subtraction.
  • Bryan LaHair is slugging .821 (not a typo) through May 3rd.
  • James Russell is finally being used properly, which means only as a situational lefty reliever.
  • Lil’ Tony Campana got permission from his mom to attend the field trip to the zoo. I hope he remembered his milk money.
  • The Cubs don’t own the rights to Delmon Young or Carl Crawford.
  • The Houston Astros are still members of the National League Central, so last place isn’t a lock.
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Game 13: It’s Not Getting Any Easier

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Cubs 3 @ Marlins 5

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Not very much. Darwin Barney drove in three runs, which probably hasn’t happened since Little league. Geo Soto and Ian Stewart each picked up two hits in a losing effort.
  • Starlin Castro didn’t make an error!
  • The bullpen did a nice job mopping up for the Shark.
  • I was stuck in the office today, so I didn’t have to watch this mess.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Jeff Samardzidja looked more like the pitcher I remember. Five walks and eight hits in 3.2 IP led to an early shower.
  • The offense continues to struggle. If you’re playing along at home, the Cubs have scored just 43 runs and hit only five dingers in 13 games.
  • Marlon Byrd…What else can I say?

IT SOUNDED BETTER IN MY HEAD

I think most of us agree Miami Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen outdid himself with the recent Fidel Castro comments. Instead of rehashing the past, here are a few handy statements he might consider next time around:

1)      I eat breakfast 300 yards away from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me.

2)     I’m taking my talents to South Beach.

3)     (Singing) The rhythm is gonna get you.

4)     We’re talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. Practice.

5)     I know it was you, Fredo.

6)     I’m going to turn this team around 360 degrees.

7)     Coming up after the ballgame, it’s “Red Sonja” on “Dinner and a Movie.”

8)    Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin. Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin. Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin.

9)     To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit.

10)  Did anybody catch “Mad Men” last night? I just love that Don Draper.

11)   Pete and Repeat were sitting in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?

12)  There’s only one other place I’d rather be…French Lick.

13)  (Crying) He’s my teammate. Sniff, sniff. He’s my quarterback.

14)  Soon I defeat real champion. If he dies, he dies.

 You stupid *%$@#*$% writers can just #$@!*&#$*%#!!!! Also, I don’t like dictators. Never have. No sir, not me. USA, USA, USA!

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Game 7: And Then There Were Two

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Brewers 0 @ Cubs 8

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • The third inning. Steve Clevenger led off with a double. Reed Johnson followed with an RBI single to make it 1-0 good guys. After a one-out hit by David DeJesus, Darwin Barney drove in the Cubs’ second run with a knock to CF.  Starlin Castro came through with another single to make it 3-0. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third. Alfonso Soriano broke it open with a two-run blooper to RF. He even managed to steal second! Ian Stewart brought home run number six with a single the other way.
  • Matt Garza took advantage of some rare run support and cruised to his first win. Garza went 8.2 innings, punching out nine Brewers. By the way, did you see his throw to 1B in the ninth? Yikes!
  • DeJesus covered a ton of ground and made a fantastic sliding catch down the RF line. Did I mention how much I like the DeJesus acquisition?
  • The Clevenger show continued in the fourth as he collected his second double of the game. An odd play between 1B and 2B allowed DeJesus to reach and Clevenger to score the Cubs’ seventh run. Barney actually drew a base on balls (not a typo), and Zack Greinke’s day was done. Castro greeted reliever Manny Parra with an RBI single to make it 8-0.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Very little. Not even Len and Bob could mess up this day. However, they gave it their best shot with a painful discussion about “the Strasburger.” The Dickey Simpkins seventh-inning stretch didn’t help much either.

DOIN’ IT THEIR WAY

Many of my Cub fan friends hate the Milwaukee Brewers. For some reason I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Brew Crew of yesterday. Maybe it’s just another nostalgic leap back to the 1980s (kind of like when I watch reruns of “WKRP” and listen to Loverboy “Get Lucky” on cassette).

Of course we all remember Yount, Molitor, Cooper, and Oglivie. However, my Milwaukee favorites tend to be less celebrated. Here’s a snapshot of “old pals:”

  • Moose Hass, 1976-1985 (as a Brewer)—You gotta love a guy named Moose. OK, his real name is Bryan, but what’s fun about that? In 1983, the Moose racked up a 13-3 record with an ERA of 3.27. The Fonz would be proud!
  • Rob Deer, 1986-1990—And you thought Alfonso Soriano struck out too much? In 1987, Deer whiffed an astounding 186 times in 474 at bats. The good news…he hit bombs. Deer was the text-book definition of “all or nothing.”
  • Greg Vaughn, 1989-1996—Another power hitter, Vaughn was fun to watch and frustrating to watch, often in the same game. He would club a light-tower homer in one at bat and look completely over-matched in the next. His best season (50 home runs in 1998) came in a Padre uniform. I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for the Padres (see NL playoffs, 1984).

Jeff D’Amico, 1996-2002—D’Amico’s injury-plagued career lasted only 784 Major League innings. In 2000, he was reasonably healthy and went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA. I have no idea why I rooted for this guy. Maybe he pitched for my Diamond Mind Baseball team back then. Maybe I’m just a sucker for players with odd names. Maybe he’s a distant cousin. Maybe he owes me money. Maybe they’ll bring back “Saved by the Bell.” Maybe Twitter is just a fad. Maybe Oswald acted alone. Maybe aliens have planted some sort of mind-control device in my brain. Maybe it’s time to end this article.

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A Few To Forget

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

It’s OK if you’re feeling optimistic about the Chicago Cubs. I know I am. The fact that current leadership actually understands the value of on-base percentage is like a gift from the gods.

But what’s the fun of living in Cubblieland if you can’t share some misery? Recently I was knocking back a beverage or two with some fellow fans, and we stumbled upon the subject of our least favorite squads.

The master list of crappy Cubs teams is long and legendary, but here are a few of our stomach-turning favorites:

  • 1994 Cubs, 49-64, 5th place: The only good thing about the 1994 baseball strike was that we didn’t have to watch this team for 162 games. Led by Tom “Cubs Tree” Trebelhorn, the ’94 Cubs were especially unlikeable. Catcher Rick Wilkins followed up a 30-home-run campaign with a stat line of .227/.317/.387. Automatic outs like Derrick May and Tuffy Rhodes got way too many at bats. Mike Morgan turned in an ERA of 6.69. Willie Banks and Anthony Young made 42 starts. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ryne Sandberg announced his retirement (for the first time).
  • 1997 Cubs, 68-94, 5th place: Nothing wrecks an offense like tons of playing time for Scott Servais, Rey Sanchez, and Brian McRae. Throw in Shawon Dunston’s usual out-making antics and a .300 OBP season from Sammy Sosa, and you’ve got a team that can’t score runs. The starting rotation committed its fair share of sabotage as well. Kevin Foster, Steve Trachsel, and Frank Castillo were especially awful in ’97. And who can forget the “contributions” of Mel Rojas? If you did, you’re lucky!
  • 2000 Cubs, 65-97, 6th place: This season was so painful that it actually makes me laugh. I swear, this part isn’t made up…Damon Buford in CF, Willie Greene at 3B, Joe Girardi at C, Ruben Freakin’ Quevedo  in the rotation (to the tune of a 7.47 ERA), and Rick Aguilera closing. The final kick in the nuts? Don Baylor at the helm. No wonder I drank so much back then.
  • 2006 Cubs, 66-96, 6th place: In Dusty we trusty? No thanks. Hard Bake ran the Cubs ship into the ground, and he did it with authority. His final year in Chicago saw lots of injuries, craploads of at bats for rotten baseball players, and the usual array of excuses (the heat, the park, the fans, the media, killer locusts, etc). The Cubs were 15th in runs scored and 14th in ERA that year. I’ve never been so happy to see a season end.

This little trip down catastrophe lane isn’t mean to take the air out of our current balloon. Rather, it’s a nice lesson in perspective. 2012 likely won’t be a great year for the Cubs, but no matter how bad it gets, it can always be worse!

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No Time To Waste For New Year’s Resolutions

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Every sports website on planet Earth has a New Year’s Resolution column, so why not VFTB? Here’s my annual list of promises that I have no intention of keeping.

This year I will…

  • Go to Wrigley Field more often (on my list every year)
  • Be patient with talented but frustrating players like Starlin Castro and Carlos Marmol
  • Ignore knucklehead fans who call radio shows and say the Cubs are losing because they don’t play “small ball”
  • Work out more and eat/drink less (dare to dream)
  • Turn down the volume on the TV when Len and Bob are broadcasting
  • Take the time to fully appreciate the positive contributions of Marlon Byrd and Darwin Barney (OK, this one is complete bullsh*t.  I could barely keep a straight face while typing.)
  • Truly enjoy every single loss by the Cincinnati Reds
  • Not get frustrated by awful All Star Game selections and the entire “now it counts” structure
  • Draft a better Diamond Mind Baseball team (again, on my list every year)
  • Read for enjoyment more often
  • Eat/drink more and work out less (I’ve changed my mind!)
  • Not injure myself when fans or broadcasters use wins to evaluate pitcher performances
  • Pay closer attention to Cubs prospects (even the crappy ones who are completely overvalued)
  • Use the words moxie, grit, hustle, chemistry, and clutch every single day, even when I’m not talking about sports (“Good morning, Mr. Smith. I really hustled to finish that report you wanted. With a little grit and moxie, I think my clutch recommendations will improve our office chemistry!”)
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Crystal Ball II – The Wrath Of Buddy

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The New Year is right around the corner, which means Spring Training can’t be far behind. With that in mind, it’s time to do a bit of forecasting for 2012. I promise to get it right this year!

  • Ian Stewart will be a useful hitter vs. RHP, but will struggle against southpaws. Fortunately, new Cubs manager Dale Sveum will limit his at bats against LHP, which is something Mike Quade wouldn’t have figured out.
  • David DeJesus will become a fan favorite and lead the team in on-base percentage.
  • Matt Garza will continue to pitch well, but this year he’ll actually receive some run support. As a result, his win total will increase, but uninformed fans will think he’s a much better pitcher, even when his other numbers stay basically the same as 2011.
  • Starlin Castro will hit the 20-homer mark for the first time in his career.
  • Geo Soto will bounce back from a disappointing 2011.
  • Darwin Barney and Marlon Byrd will continue to make outs at an alarming rate.
  • Alfonso Soriano…Nevermind. I just can’t talk about this guy anymore.
  • Carlos Zambrano will be traded to Miami for 10,000 copies of Don Johnson’s 1986 album “Heartbeat.”
  • Carlos Marmol will torment me for yet another season.
  • The Cubs will draw 3 million+ again, but for some reason many fans will still talk about “attendance problems” at Wrigley.
  • Bob Brenly will say lots of annoying things.
  • Len Kasper will say lots of annoying things.
  • Buddy’s head will start hurting during Len & Bob’s first 2012 broadcast, and it will continue to hurt through their last 2012 broadcast.
  • Prince Fielder will sign with the Rangers.
  • Prince the artist will continue to make crappy music.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers will survive the loss of Fielder and win the N.L. Central.
  • The Cubs will finish with 80 wins and trim some serious dead weight from the roster along the way.
  • Justin Upton will win the N.L. MVP award. Miguel Cabrera will bring home A.L. honors.
  • The Angels will win the A.L. Wild Card and go on to become World Series champs. The sports media universe will give the credit to Tim Tebow.
  • VFTB users will finally stop posting political comments. Forget that one. It doesn’t have a shot in hell of coming true!
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Lights, Camera, Action!

Monday, December 12th, 2011

If a revisionist-history tale of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s can pull people to their local movie theaters, “Cubbieball” is bound to be a massive hit.

I’m currently working with Aaron Sorkin to finalize the script, but basically it takes viewers through the topsy-turvy 2011 season. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss two hours of your life goodbye.

With a target release date of Christmas 2012, there’s still much work to be done. In the meantime, I thought you’d enjoy a quick peek behind the curtain. The following is a list of Hollywood heavy-hitters, and a few unknowns, who have already signed on for this once-in-a-lifetime project. Can you say “Oscar?”

  • Christopher Nolan, Director—His original vision was to tell the story backwards, but I think we’ve convinced him to go a more traditional route. No truth to the rumor that he plans to incorporate unused Heath Ledger-Joker footage.
  • Bruce Willis to play Cubs Manager Mike Quade—Bruce is a superstar’s superstar, but he actually wanted to read for this part. Classy guy. After five minutes of warming up the wrong reliever and filling out the worst possible line-up, we knew we had our man. Plus, they share the same hairstyle.
  • Kevin James to play GM Jim Hendry—Kevin has way too much personality for this role, but the mid-section resemblance is uncanny!
  • Benicio Del Toro to play Carlos Zambrano—We were extremely fortunate to get Mr. Del Toro for this important character. He put on 25 pounds to play Big Z. You won’t believe your eyes when you see him throw a tantrum in the Cubs movie dugout. If Benicio isn’t nominated for an Academy Award, I’ll eat my printed copy of the script.
  • Adam Sandler to play Ryan Dempster—Adam worked out with former big league pitcher David Cone for six months to get ready for this role. And, he does a great Harry Caray impression. The downside is that Dan Patrick’s “Danettes” are now trying to weasel their way onto the set.
  • Tristan Wilds to play Starlin Castro—I’d never heard of this guy, but apparently he was on “The Wire,” so that’s good enough for me. Do you think that’s his real name?
  • Billy Anderson, my neighbor’s 12-year-old son, to play Darwin Barney—They’re the exact same size, and they have similar power at the plate. Perfect casting!
  • William H. Macy to play Bob Brenly—They both have ridiculous moustaches, they both love crappy music, and they both annoy the hell out of millions of Americans. What more could you ask for?
  • A tree stump from my backyard to play Alfonso Soriano—OK, this suggestion hasn’t been approved yet, but they cover the same amount of ground in LF.

Filming begins in January, so stay tuned for more details. I have so many people to thank, I don’t know where to begin!

Thank you to my greedy agent for trying to milk one more dollar out of this project. Thank you to my limo driver who always swings by Steak N Shake at 3 a.m. Thank you to Casey Kasem who taught me to reach for the stars…

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