Author Archive

Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Before a small army descends upon our happy home for food and football, I wanted to share a few random thoughts of Cub-fan appreciation. I’m sure my list will warm your heart like a Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie starring some actress you’ve never heard of. Enjoy!

  • I’m thankful that the Cubs turned to intelligent, creative leaders in the front office. Of course Theo and the Theo-ettes won’t be perfect with their personnel decisions, but I look for them to seriously upgrade the Cubs dismal roster in the very near future. I’m not Jimmy the Greek, but I will predict that there will be many more hits than misses with this group calling the shots.
  • I’m thankful for the Cubs managerial change. I never like watching somebody lose his job, but Mike Quade was not cut out to manage a big-league ballclub. The Quade hire was yet another case of square peg, round hole. I’m not sure what to make of Dale Sveum at this point, but I trust the new Cubs brain trust to push the right buttons.
  • I’m thankful for Starlin Castro. Say what you want about his defense and lack of plate discipline, but this kid is going to be a star (barring injury of course). Middle infielders with his collection of skills don’t come along every day.
  • I’m thankful for Matt Garza. Some fans are still yearning for Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer, but I’d much rather have a young, durable, talented, productive starting pitcher than prospects.
  • I’m thankful for Sean Marshall. Where would the Cubs bullpen have been without this over-achieving lefty? Now the big question is, “should he start?”
  • I’m thankful for last year’s draft. The Cubs racked up a nice haul of talent in 2011. Nice work, for a change!
  • I’m thankful for MLB Network. I never miss an episode of “Hot Stove” or “Clubhouse Confidential.”  If they would just cut down on the Harold Reynolds segments.
  • I’m thankful for Tony LaRussa’s retirement. The Cardinals have to take a step back without him, right?
  • I’m thankful for Wrigley Field. Yes it has problems, but it’s still the best place on Earth to watch a ballgame.
  • I’m thankful that Buck Martinez doesn’t announce Cubs games. As you know, I’m not a fan of Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, but they’re Harry and Steve compared to Mr. Martinez. He makes my ears bleed!
  • I’m thankful for VFTB. Good, and good for you! Maybe Jedi and Norm will sign a truce to celebrate the season? OK, maybe not.

Now if that doesn’t make your soul sing, nothing will. In all seriousness, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, even Mike Quade, Bob Brenly, Koyie Hill, Marlon Byrd, and Lil’ Darwin Barney! Who says miracles don’t happen during the holidays?

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Could He Be A Cub: Jeff Francis

Monday, October 24th, 2011

It will be interesting to see how Theo Epstein approaches the Cubs 2012 roster. Will he tear it down and completely rebuild, or will he try to piece together a possible contender in a winnable NL Central?

Whatever Epstein decides, he has to address the starting rotation. We all have painful memories of the Cubs 2011 pitching carousel. Could free agent starter Jeff Francis provide some stability?

When evaluating the career of 30-year-old Jeff Francis, it’s important to remember that he spent six seasons in Colorado. To call Coors Field a hitters’ park would be a massive understatement.

Coming back from 2009 and 2010 arm troubles, the left-handed starter was up and down for the Kansas City Royals last season. The good news? Francis was durable, making 31 starts. The bad news? A 4.82 ERA, 11 hits per 9 innings pitched, and a troublesome strike-out rate.

Francis has never blown anyone away with his stuff. He’s a control pitcher who relies on deception and changing speeds. In seven Major League seasons, Francis has walked 2.8 batters per 9 innings pitched. From that standpoint, I’m optimistic about what he could contribute in 2012. Of course, that assumes he’s healthy.

Another mark in his favor is money. Francis made $2 million last season, so the free-agent price tag should be reasonable. Would he take a one-year deal in the hopes of re-establishing himself? I think that scenario is very likely.

Garza, Dempster, and Wells would be a respectable start to a 2012 rotation. Perhaps Jeff Francis could be that “lightning-in-a-bottle” starter the Cubs will need if they have any hopes of competing next year. Even in a rebuilding year, somebody has to take the ball. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen more than enough of Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.

Jeff Francis Career Stats

Year   Age  Tm  W  L  ERA  GS     IP  HR ERA+  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2004    23 COL  3  2 5.15   7   36.2   8   96 1.500 10.3  2.0  3.2  7.9  2.46
2005    24 COL 14 12 5.68  33  183.2  26   84 1.623 11.2  1.3  3.4  6.3  1.83
2006    25 COL 13 11 4.16  32  199.0  18  118 1.286  8.5  0.8  3.1  5.3  1.70
2007    26 COL 17  9 4.22  34  215.1  25  114 1.379  9.8  1.0  2.6  6.9  2.62
2008    27 COL  4 10 5.01  24  143.2  21   94 1.483 10.3  1.3  3.1  5.9  1.92
2010    29 COL  4  6 5.00  19  104.1  11   93 1.361 10.3  0.9  2.0  5.8  2.91
2011    30 KCR  6 16 4.82  31  183.0  19   85 1.437 11.0  0.9  1.9  4.5  2.33
7 Seasons      61 66 4.78 180 1065.2 128   98 1.430 10.1  1.1  2.8  5.9  2.13
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Could He Be A Cub: Michael Cuddyer

Monday, October 17th, 2011

So the Cubs got their man in Theo Epstein. The new GM’s long list of tasks will include addressing the dilemma at 1B, 3B, and possibly RF. Free agent Michael Cuddyer could be a fit for one of those spots.

The 32-year-old Cuddyer has been a fan favorite in Minnesota. In 11 seasons he’s put together a line of .272/.343/.451 with 141 home runs in 4,072 at bats (which is about a homer every 29 at bats). His best season at the plate was probably 2009, when he slugged 32 bombs, easily a career high. His 2006 campaign was solid as well, including a .362 OBP.

“Versatile” is a word frequently used to describe Cuddyer. Since breaking into the majors at age 22, he’s played 690 games in the OF, 210 games at 1B, 171 games at 3B, and 79 games at 2B. I know what some of you are thinking, but forget it. He’s not a 2B.

Cuddyer made $10 million in 2011, so he’s not in the “superstar” salary class. However, when the Pujols-Fielder dust settles, he may get a healthy emergency offer from a desperate GM who missed out on the big two.

How many years will he command on the free agent market? I’m not psychic, but I’d be willing to bet three or four. Would the Cubs be interested at say three years, $33 million? If so, do they settle on one position or move him around the diamond?

Cuddyer is a useful player, but is he a difference-maker in the lineup? My prediction is that Theo will pass on Mr. Cuddyer’s services and let another team overpay for him.

A surprise contender could be the Phillies. In case you missed it, Ryan Howard suffered an Achilles tendon injury on Friday.  Would the Phillies bring in Cuddyer to play 1B in Howard’s absence? If so, where does he play once Howard returns? Does Cuddyer lower his contract expectations to possibly win a title in Philly?

Under any scenario, Cuddyer looks like an unlikely fit in Chicago.

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Could He Be A Cub: Javier Vazquez

Monday, October 10th, 2011

It goes without saying that the 2011 Cubs were starting-pitching challenged. Assuming the new GM won’t get suckered into the C.J. Wilson bidding war, where can the Northsiders find help on the mound?

One intriguing option is free agent starter Javier Vazquez. 2011 was a tale of two seasons for the 35-year-old Vazquez.  His first half numbers were dreadful: 18 starts, 5-8 (if you care about record), 5.23 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.94 K/BB ratio.

I watched more than my share of Marlins games last year, and Vazquez looked like he was done from April to July.  His missing velocity returned in the second half, and the results followed: 14 starts, 8-3 (again, if you care about record), 2.15 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 6.00 K/BB ratio.

The current rumor is that Vazquez plans to retire, but could he be enticed by a one-year pay raise? He made $7 million in 2011, so it might take $8 to $10 million to bring the veteran righty to Chicago. Will that be too rich for the Cubs’ blood?

Vazquez is under appreciated in my humble opinion. Early in his career he racked up impressive “under-the-radar” numbers in Montreal. A couple forgettable campaigns for the Yankees and White Sox tagged him with the label of “choker.” Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen went out of his way to publicly rip Vazquez. Classy!

Is Vazquez a Hall of Famer? Of course not. But he’s racked up 2,800 respectable big-league innings during his 14-year career. Vazquez is a strike-throwing machine who always takes the ball (he’s never made less than 26 starts in a season). Not too shabby for a potential third or fourth starter.

The next GM has many important decisions to make. From a philosophical standpoint, he has to decide if 2012 is a complete rebuilding year or a quick-fix opportunity. If he goes with option B, a pitcher like Vazquez could be the perfect fit.

I’m certainly not smart enough to predict the future, but I’m willing to bet that the Cubs new GM won’t sit on the sidelines this off season. Prince Fielder is almost certainly leaving Milwaukee, which obviously weakens the NL Central. Albert Pujols could leave St. Louis, but I honestly don’t see that happening. The Cardinals should be competitive either way. The Reds could be in the hunt, but Dusty’s team has plenty of weaknesses. The Pirates and Astros? Well, they’re the Pirates and Astros.

In this era of baseball parity, the Cubs are unlikely to give away the 2012 season. In order to compete, they have to drastically improve the starting rotation. Signing the under appreciated Javier Vazquez to a club-friendly deal could be a big step in that direction.

Javier Vazquez Career Numbers

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS IP SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1994 17 WSN-min 5 2 2.53 11 67.2 56 0.768 4.9 0.0 2.0 7.4 3.73
1995 18 WSN-min 6 6 5.08 21 102.2 87 1.519 9.6 0.7 4.1 7.6 1.85
1996 19 WSN-min 14 3 2.68 27 164.1 173 1.187 7.6 0.7 3.1 9.5 3.04
1997 20 WSN-min 10 3 1.86 25 154.2 147 0.989 6.6 0.6 2.3 8.6 3.68
1998 21 MON 5 15 6.06 32 172.1 139 69 1.532 10.2 1.6 3.6 7.3 2.04
1999 22 WSN-min 4 2 4.85 7 42.2 46 1.430 9.5 1.5 3.4 9.7 2.88
1999 22 MON 9 8 5.00 26 154.2 113 90 1.332 9.0 1.2 3.0 6.6 2.17
2000 23 MON 11 9 4.05 33 217.2 196 119 1.415 10.2 1.0 2.5 8.1 3.21
2001 24 MON 16 11 3.42 32 223.2 208 130 1.077 7.9 1.0 1.8 8.4 4.73
2002 25 MON 10 13 3.91 34 230.1 179 109 1.268 9.5 1.1 1.9 7.0 3.65
2003 26 MON 13 12 3.24 34 230.2 241 139 1.105 7.7 1.1 2.2 9.4 4.23
2004 27 NYY 14 10 4.91 32 198.0 150 92 1.288 8.9 1.5 2.7 6.8 2.50
2005 28 ARI 11 15 4.42 33 215.2 192 101 1.247 9.3 1.5 1.9 8.0 4.17
2006 29 CHW 11 12 4.84 32 202.2 184 98 1.293 9.1 1.0 2.5 8.2 3.29
2007 30 CHW 15 8 3.74 32 216.2 213 126 1.140 8.2 1.2 2.1 8.8 4.26
2008 31 CHW 12 16 4.67 33 208.1 200 98 1.320 9.2 1.1 2.6 8.6 3.28
2009 32 ATL 15 10 2.87 32 219.1 238 143 1.026 7.4 0.8 1.8 9.8 5.41
2010 33 NYY 10 10 5.32 26 157.1 121 81 1.398 8.9 1.8 3.7 6.9 1.86
2011 34 FLA 13 11 3.69 32 192.2 162 106 1.183 8.3 1.0 2.3 7.6 3.24
14 Seasons 165 160 4.22 443 2840.0 2536 105 1.249 8.8 1.2 2.4 8.0 3.32
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Can The Cubs Actually Compete In 2012?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

(NOTE: I’m not endorsing this plan, but it’s a scenario worth discussing, especially now that the season has ended and we honestly don’t have too much else to talk about.)

Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic. Maybe I’m newly inspired by watching the Arizona Diamondbacks go from worst to first. Or maybe I just had too many beers last night. In any case, I woke up today with a powerful vision for the 2012 Cubs. Believe it or not, next year may not be a lost cause.

If you’re going to play along with my crazy idea that appeared like a bolt of lightning at 6:45 a.m., you have to accept that the NL Central won’t be particularly strong next season. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming that Pujols re-signs with the Cardinals and Fielder inks a seven-year megadeal with some team not named the Chicago Cubs. Next, let’s pretend that the Northsiders hire a competent GM and bring in a new manager who knows how to run a pitching staff and construct a lineup.

Are you with me so far? If you haven’t left this page in disgust, here’s a quick and inexpensive blueprint for next year’s contending team (NOTE—I don’t have spellcheck when I’m dreaming. Apologies in advance!):

  1. Sign a backup catcher who can actually hit a little bit, thereby keeping Geo Soto fresh and reviving his tired 2011 bat. One-year (and potentially cheap) options include Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, and Kelly Shoppach.
  2. Bring back Carlos Pena on a one-year deal and platoon him with Jeff Baker. The key here is limiting Pena’s exposure to lefties and Baker’s exposure to righties. For those of you scoring at home, here are Pena’s 2011 numbers vs. RHP (as of this writing): .261/.390/.516. He’s only 33, so a repeat season isn’t out of the question.
  3. Do everything in your power to develop D.J. LeMahieu and give him a chance to win the 2B job. I know Darwin Barney plays solid defense, hustles, gives to charity, loves animals, sings in the church choir, and keeps America safe for democracy, but he’s not an everyday player. Nice guy to have on your bench however. If LeMahieu can’t hit any better than Barney, it’s time to make a deal or grab a free agent on a one- or two-year deal. Kelly Johnson would certainly be worth a shot, and he shouldn’t break the bank. Maicer Izturis would be someone to pursue via trade.
  4. Take a breath fans…pick up the option on Ramirez. I know some Cub followers think he’s the devil in pinstripes, but Ramirez is still a very productive player. The Cubs have no in-house options for 3B, so one more year of Ramirez is the way to go if at all possible. Plan B would be another one-year free agent. Wilson Betemit perhaps? Plan C is to pull a fan out of the stands at random and let him play 3B for a day. OK, maybe not.
  5. No need to talk about SS other than to say Thank God for Starlin Castro!
  6. The OF puzzle is a little messy, but I woke up with a slightly odd model that just might work. First, take advantage of the Marlins very public battle with Logan Morrison and make a deal for the talented Twitter addict. The Marlins are rumored to be interested in a RH hitter, so how about Marlon Byrd with Andrew Cashner, Campana, and maybe a prospect tossed in for incentive? The Cubs may have to pay part of Byrd’s 2012 salary, but LoMo is worth it in my book. As far as CF goes, I’m hoping Brett Jackson is ready for the bigs. If not, free agent Coco Crisp would be a reasonable fit (again, on a one- or two-year deal). He’s 31, a switch hitter with a decent idea of the strike zone, and blazing fast. For the other corner OF spot, I’m really hoping Bryan LaHair steps up and takes this job. This would be another platoon situation, maybe with Reed Johnson. Or maybe he splits time with an available lefty thumper like Cody Ross or Jonny Gomes. And now we come to Alfonso Soriano. Here’s the cold, hard truth…Soriano is untradeable. However, that doesn’t mean he has to play LF every single day. Play him against lefties. Play him against select righties. Play him when LoMo or LaHair need a break. Hell, try him at 2B now and again if you’re desperate. He’s on the payroll no matter what, so use him in a way where he can actually contribute offensively. As you probably guessed, Tyler “only the mailman walks” Colvin is not in my 2012 picture. Deal him if you can. Maybe the Marlins will take him in the LoMo trade.
  7. This year’s rotation was a mess, and the Cubs have to fix it to even have a prayer in 2012. Garza is solid, and I think Dempster and Wells have potential to be league-average pitchers next year. For the next two spots, the Cubs should pick two from the following list of cost-effective free agents: Javier Vazquez, Joel Pineiro, Jeff Francis, Chien-Ming Wang, and Brad Penny. Not to sound like a broken record, but these will only be one- or two-year deals. Do you see a pattern here? And as for Big Z, do what you can to show him the door. I’m not sure how that will work logistically, but he can’t return to the Cubs under any circumstances.
  8. The bullpen looks like a potential strength with Marshall, Marmol, Wood (re-signed), the Shark, Russell, and Carpenter. If you missed it above, I have Cashner going to the Marlins.

So how might the Cubs’ 2012 lineups look?

VS. RHP:

Crisp or Jackson CF

Castro SS

Morrison RF

Ramirez 3B

Pena 1B

Soto C (spell him often!)

LaHair/Soriano LF

LeMehieu/Barney/????? 2B

Pitcher

 

VS. LHP:

Crisp/Johnson/Jackson CF

Castro SS

Ramirez 3B

Soriano LF

Morrison/Ross/Gomes/Johnson RF

Soto C (spell him often!)

Baker 1B

LeMehieu/Barney/????? 2B

Pitcher

Is this the best offense in the National League? Of course not. But it should be much better than 2011, and it has the potential to be top five. LoMo and Castro are the keys. Both could break out big next year.

Now, how about this starting rotation?

Garza

Dempster

Vazquez

Wang/J. Francis/Pineiro/Penny

Wells

This bunch should be light years better than the 2011 staff that included turds like Zambrano, Coleman, Lopez, and Davis. Two big questions will be 1) Does Dempster still have gas in the tank?  2) Which Wells will we get in 2012?

OK, so it’s not up there with Paul McCartney dreaming “Yesterday,” but it’s the vision I woke up with, and it really doesn’t seem too farfetched. How good could this “dream team” be? I’m guessing around 85 wins with reasonable health and good old fashioned luck. Given the potential state of the National League Central in 2012, that just might be enough.

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Game 154 – Color Me Surprised

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Cubs 5, Brewers 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

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

WHAT WENT WRONG

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

DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME

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

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

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

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

How’s that for optimism?

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

1st Star – Geovany Soto (.408 WPA)

2nd Star – Casey Coleman (.240 WPA)

3rd Star  – Johnathan Lucroy (.069 WPA)

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Game 147 – Cincy Slugfest

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011


Cubs 12, Reds 8

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Starlin Castro actually walked! However, it was against Dontrelle Willis, so it probably shouldn’t count.
  • Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs an early lead with an RBI double in the 1st inning. Alfonso Soriano plated the Cubs second run with a single to left. Run number three came home on a fielder’s choice grounder from Geo Soto.
  • The Cubs added two more in the 3rd inning via a Jeff Baker homer and a Soto double.
  • The slugfest continued in the 4th. The Cubs knocked out Willis with three more runs on doubles by Castro and Soriano.
  • Castro flexed his muscles in the 5th inning with a two-run poke to left-center.
  • Ramirez smacked home run number 25 in the 6th.
  • The Cubs made it an even dozen when Reed Johnson singled in a run in the 8th.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Lopez gave up a monstrous home run to Reds 3B Juan Francisco. I think that ball is still travelling. After Willis rifled a single to right (he can’t pitch anymore but he can still hit), Brandon Phillips tied the game with a two-run bomb. Phillips got Lopez again with a solo blast in the 5th.  Rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco added another Reds homer in the 6th.  Despite throwing batting practice for most of his outing, Lopez got the ugly win.
  • Len Kasper spent what felt like forever giving us the heights and weights of Reds’ players. Maybe tomorrow he’ll tell us the color of their eyes.
  • My fantasy football team lost the season opener. Time to fire the GM!

WISH LIST

Is it too much to ask for the Cubs to find a 1B like Joey Votto? OK, it probably is, but I’m asking anyway.

With the Reds playing sub-.500 baseball in 2011, much of the country has ignored Votto’s MVP follow-up season. Through September 12th, Joey has ripped up the league to the tune of:

  • .320/.427/.553
  • 28 home runs
  • 35 doubles
  • 100 walks

Votto won’t even sniff the 2011 N.L. MVP award, but he’s having a similar season to his winning campaign (I won’t bore you again with my rant about the terrible job sports writers do with annual awards). Votto just turned 28, so he’ll be punishing opposing pitchers for quite some time.

Back to the Cubs. I know that many VFTB readers want Bryan LaHair at 1B next year, but let me ask you this…What if the Cubs decide to make him a corner OF? Or, what if LaHair turns out to be the next Michal Hoffpauir? Is there another 1B on your radar screen? Please share your thoughts and ideas for 2012.

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

1st Star – Brandon Phillips (.198 WPA)

2nd Star – Starlin Castro (.162 WPA)

3rd Star – Aramis Ramirez (.142 WPA)

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Game 135 – Big Bats In The Bay

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Cubs 7, Giants 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs used the long ball to support Randy Wells and hang a loss on two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.  Is this the same sorry squad that got swept in Milwaukee?

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Randy Wells turned in his first complete game. He featured an outstanding changeup and kept the Giants hitters off balance all night.
  • Starlin Castro had two impressive at bats, lining a pair of opposite-field doubles off Tim Lincecum.
  • Carlos Pena walked three times against Lincecum. Sadly, he was stranded each time.
  • Alfonso Soriano put the Cubs on the board with a solo shot in the 5th inning.
  • Geo Soto broke out of his slump and gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead with a solo homer in the 7th.
  • Three batters later, Blake DeWitt sent Lincecum to the showers with a three-run bomb down the RF line.
  • Pena greeted Giants reliever Steve Edlefsen with a home run the other way.
  • Marlon Byrd drove home a 9th-inning run to make it 7-0.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • The Cubs defensive woes continued with a bad throw by Aramis Ramirez. Fortunately, he made up for his error with a nice diving catch in the 5th.
  • Tyler Colvin is lost at the plate. After going 0-5 on Monday, Colvin checks in at .147/.200/.311.
  • The huge Chicken McNuggets sign behind home plate made me extremely hungry for junk food.

ONE AND DONE

I can’t watch a Cubs-Giants game without recalling the one-game playoff from 1998. In case you don’t remember, the Cubs hosted the Giants for a one-and-done contest to determine the N.L. wild card winner. The Giants started veteran righty Mark Gardner, and the Cubs countered with Steve Trachsel. I was already an “assume-the-worst” Cubs fan back then, so I figured Barry Bonds and the Giants would absolutely clobber Trachsel.

To my astonishment Trachsel held the Giants scoreless for six-plus innings. Meanwhile, the Cubs put five runs on the board against Gardner and reliever Jose Mesa. The Cubs took a 5-0 lead into the final frame and then decided to make us sweat.

The Giants scored three runs and had the tying run at the plate against rubber-armed closer Rod Beck. But “The Shooter” came through again, retiring Joe Carter and propelling the Cubs into the postseason. We won’t talk about what happened in the following playoff series vs. Atlanta.

A few random thoughts about that heart-stopping 1998 contest against the Giants:

  • Gary Gaetti hit a big two-run homer off Gardner.
  • Matt Karchner and Felix Heredia actually got someone out.
  • Barry Bonds went hitless and walkless.
  • The Cubs pitching staff racked up 169 pitches to the Giants 128.
  • Orlando Merced pinch hit for the Northsiders. I completely forgot that he was part of that team.
  • Do you remember the Cubs total attendance figure for the 1998 season (with an extra game tossed in)? 2.62 million. Do you know the Cubs attendance number through August 28, 2011? 2.57 million.

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

1st Star – Randy Wells (.368 WPA)

2nd Star – Starlin Castro (.126 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Pena  (.109 WPA)

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Game 122 – Houston, YOU Have a Problem

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Cubs 4, Astros 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Darwin Barney worked a 1st inning walk against Astros starter Henry Sosa. Aramis Ramirez followed with a single, sending Barney to 3B. Carlos Pena plated them both with a double to deep CF.
  • Geo Soto gave the Cubs some breathing room with a two-run double in the 6th.  He ended the night with three hits.
  • James Russell put out a fire in the 6th and preserved the Cubs advantage. The rest of the bullpen followed his lead and blanked the Astros.
  • Reed Johnson made a great diving catch in LF to keep a run off the board.
  • Marlon Byrd walked twice in one game. The end of the world must be near!
  • Denny Walling, Bill Doran, and Jose Cruz didn’t suit up for Houston. Instead, Brad Mills ran out a AAA lineup vs. Lopez and the Cubs.  I know this year has been disappointing for us, but at least we’re not Astros fans. Who are these guys anyway? Is Jose Altuve even five feet tall? Will they call up Frodo Baggins next? Oh well. Maybe the Texans will be decent this year.
  • Not related to tonight’s Cub game, but congrats to Jim Thome on home run number 600.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Tyler Colvin continues to swing the bat like a drunken lumberjack. He also threw the ball away to give the Astros their first run.
  • Soto brain cramped on the bases and ran into an easy out in the 5th inning.
  • Starlin Castro booted another ball at SS. That’s his 20th error if you’re scoring at home. His miscue and a Lopez walk opened the door to a pair of Astros runs.
  • I had to listen to another “visit with Cubs legend Steve Trout” promo. Steve Trout is a legend? Really?

MR. SMITH GOES TO CHICAGO

On August 15, 1980, the Houston Astros battled for 20 innings to knock off the San Diego Padres. Rookie RHP Dave Smith pitched the final four innings and earned the victory. Yes, that Dave Smith.

For those of you who don’t remember, the Cubs signed the Astros closer on December 17, 1990. Smith was completely awful for the Cubs in 1991, to the tune of a 6.00 ERA in 33 innings. One year later, his career was over.

Smith had a nice run in Houston, racking up 199 saves and an ERA in the mid two’s over 10 seasons. Unfortunately, the Cubs picked him up at the end of his career when the tank was empty. Sound familiar?

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

1st Star – Micah Downs (.299 WPA)

2nd Star – Geovany Soto (.274 WPA)

3rd Star – Kerry Wood (.176 WPA)

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