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In the News: Pain, suffering and the Cubs

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Well, I’ll be honest, Cubs fans: My morale has been pretty low the last few days. Even with the series win in St. Louis, I’ve been really struggling with the very existential essence of my Cubs fandom. How do you stay motivated to follow a team when it’s 19 games under .500? (Waitaminute … that can’t be right. Is that right?) I guess I should ask a Pirates fan.

In any case, I’m going to use today’s “In the News” to get us all up to date on the pain and suffering — that is, the injuries — being dealt with among the Cubs’ players.

Derrek Lee’s bulging disc has flared up again. He received an epidural yesterday (Monday) and won’t return to the lineup until Thursday at the earliest and probably not ’til Friday against the Braves. So expect to see a lot of Xavier Nady this week.  DLee’s cranky disc has become a perennial concern, which will obviously be perennial no longer if he doesn’t return to the Cubs next season.

Carlos Silva is feeling better. He threw off the mound yesterday and will do so again on Wednesday. He’s expected to make at least one rehab start before returning to the rotation after undergoing cardiac surgery last week. And, yes, I did read somewhere that Silva will return to the rotation, not the bullpen. I guess the Cubs feel he’s earned that, even though it would be kind of nice to leave a rotation slot open for rookie tryouts.

Speaking of which, Thomas Diamond is now out of the rotation. Casey Coleman is in and will be making his first start tomorrow (Wednesday) vs. those high-flying, unstoppable Padres. Oh, and I believe either Sweet Lou or Jim Hendry has gone on record saying Jeff Samardzija will get a start in September. So we’ve got that to look forward to.

Geo will take batting practice today. He’s still on the DL, recovering from a sprained ligament in his right shoulder but apparently feeling better. I wonder whether Lou will start Koyie again tonight. If so, I’d imagine Wellington “Beef” Castillo would get another start for the day game tomorrow (Wednesday).

Aramis Ramirez is, technically, not injured (though he always seems to be hurting in one way or another). He’s also not going to be an Atlanta Brave. Bruce Levine shot down a rumor floating around that the Cubs and Braves were discussing moving Aramis down south now that Chipper Jones is done for the season. It doesn’t feellike Hendry is going to move Ramirez. He’ll probably finish out his contract next season, still playing third base.

Starlin Castro is not injured. He was just resting yesterday. And he’s still awesome. And congrats to Darwin Barney on his first major league hit.

Sorry to be a little lazy with the links today. You’ll just have to trust me on most of this stuff. Mwahahahahaha.

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In the News: Where we at?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Well, Cubs fans, I’m guessing we’ve all reached a point in the season where wins and losses really don’t matter much any more. In fact, if you really want to put a twisted spin on things, every loss from here on out ensures/enhances the team’s chances for a really good draft pick and, assuming that pick is handled well, a really good prospect. So there’s that.

As far as news goes, through no fault of his, Mark scooped most of the major stories in his game recap yesterday. Nonetheless, I thought I’d offer up a “Where We At?” post recapping the major changes of late and running down the current state of our wonderful 25-man roster. So, in no particular order, here goes:

Mike Fontenot traded to the San Francisco Giants for Evan Crawford.Turns out, I wasn’t all that far off the mark in my “In the News” post on Tuesday, wherein I joked that Fontenot had headed down to L.A. to go clubbing with Theriot. Each of the two crucial segments in the Cajun Connection will heretofore be located in the Golden State. Just remember, guys …

♪ ♫ You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave (CUE GUITAR SOLO!) ♪ ♫

Well, it was quite a run for Lil’ Babe Ruth. Acquired in the Sosa deal, called up in ’07 to very moderate success, exploding as a fantastic bench player in ’08 only to fall upon pretty hard times the last couple of seasons. Going into ’09, I had hopes that Fontenot would finally put it all together and solidify a spot as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, but that never happened. Some would say he’s not good enough, and that’s certainly possible, but I still don’t think he got a particularly fair audition. Remember, he’d spent only about a month or so as the starting 2B before being thrust into the hot corner following Aramis’ horrible injury. And since then, his playing time has been inconsistent to say the least. I’m not saying he’s a diamond in the rough or anything, but, well, you never know what might have been. In any case, I hope he serves the Giants well.

Crawford is, from what I can tell, a young version of car-jumping Cubs footnote Joey Gathright. A guy with fantastic speed who has trouble making contact with the baseball. When I first heard about the trade, I figured Crawford must be either really young or not particularly good, because it seems like the Giants really need outfielders. So I’m keeping my expectations low — if he can eventually turn into a decent fourth/fifth outfielder/pinch runner, this trade may turn out to be OK. Here’s a scouting report from Wrigley Bound.

John Grabow is done for the year.This isn’t exactly surprising, just depressing. I don’t mean depressing for our bullpen, just a little sad that Jim Hendry paid so much money for a guy who has done so little for the team. I realize it’s not exactly Grabow’s fault — his knee has probably been bothering him throughout the season, and I’m sure he wanted to pitch more and better. Still, this is where overpaying for a “veteran” relief pitcher really bites you in the arse.

Wellington Castillo called to replace Geo while Soto is on the DL for a sore shoulder.  I saw only about an inning or so of last night’s game, but all indications are that Castillo looked pretty good and showed off a great arm at one point. He also got his first MLB hit. His body type is very similiar to Geo’s; it’s going to be hard to tell the two of them apart. It’ll also be interesting to see whether they send him back down when Soto comes off the DL or DFA/release Koyie Hill. It’d be pretty harsh to release Koyie so late in the season, though, no? I know, I know … he can’t hit worth a damn. But Lou loves him.

Micah Hoffpauir has been called up to replace DLee, who is on the bereavement list while he tends to his ailing grandfather.  Not sure what more we can say about Micah. Seems like a great guy, but he’s not the future at first base. Welcome back … for a while … ?

UPDATE:  Carrie Muskat tweets that Derrek is expected to rejoin the team in St. Louis tomorrow.

Aramis Ramirez is nursing a sore rib cage and will be replaced at third base, for the time being, by Jeff Baker. I guess that partly explains who Fontenot was dealt and not Baker, though Blake DeWitt came up as a third baseman so, if Baker is dealt, the Cubs could put him at the hot corner now that…

…Darwin Barney has been called up.  As I tweeted last night, I was glad to hear about this. I’ve heard/read nothing but good things about Barney’s baseball acumen and solid glove. Don’t expect him to hit much; he basically profiles as a young version of Andres Blanco – the middle-infield defensive specialist we saw last year. But I think every team needs a guy like that.

Lou will return on Friday for the St. Louis series.  Comically, Tony LaRussa presumably won’t be in the dugout for the Cards as he’s been suspended for his loud-mouth shenanigans during the Reds-Cards dustup (or do you prefer “brouhaha”?) the other day.

Well, I think that just about sums everything up for the moment. So here’s where I’ve got the 25-man roster at:

Cubs 2010 25-man roster
 
Starting lineup
1. Tyler Colvin RF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Micah Hoffpauir 1B
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Marlon Byrd CF
6. Alfonso Soriano LF
7. Wellington Castillo C
8. Blake DeWitt 2B
Bench
9. Jeff Baker 2B/3B
10. Darwin Barney 2B/SS
11. Koyie Hill C
12. Xavier Nady 1B/OF
13. Kosuke Fukudome OF
 
Starting rotation
14. Ryan Dempster RHP
15. Tom Gorzelanny LHP
16. Randy Wells RHP
17. Carlos Zambrano RHP
18. Thomas Diamond RHP
 
Bullpen
19. Sean Marshall LHP
20. Justin Berg RHP
21. Andrew Cashner RHP
22. Marcos Mateo
23. James Russell LHP
24. Casey Coleman RHP
25. Carlos Marmol RHP
 
On the DL: Angel Guzman RHP (60-day), Carlos Silva RHP (15-day), John Grabow LHP (out for season), Geovany Soto C (15-day)
On the bereavement list: Derrek Lee 1B
And, forward, into oblivion, we go…
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In the News: Cubs scramble to fill 25-man after every player bails

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

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Hello, I’m Dat Cubfan Daver and this is DCD 360. Tonight we have BREAKING NEWS about the Chicago Cubs. According to unconfirmed reports, the team’s General Manager Jim Hendry was seen shrieking into his cellphone earlier today as he tried to refill the Cubs 25-man roster after every single player in uniform for last night’s depressing 4-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants asked to be placed on the disabled, bereavement or restricted list before tonight’s game.

As many of you may know, the team’s manager Lou Piniella left the team to care for his ailing mother. First baseman Derrek Lee followed suit yesterday, departing for Sacramento to be with a sick grandparent while catcher Geovany Soto hit the DL. And, of course, starting pitcher Carlos Silva is recovering from cardiac surgery.

Not to be outdone, starting left fielder Alfonso Soriano told the team that his best friend in the world — his Hummer — is suffering from severe transmission problems and needs his support immediately. Utility infielder Mike Fontenot informed interim manager Alan Trammell that he appreciated the two meaningless at-bats yesterday but, with Blake DeWitt on the team, he doesn’t have a sno-cone’s chance in hell of playing anyway, so he’s heading south to go clubbing in L.A. with Ryan Theriot. Carlos Zambrano simply got a note from his Anger Management Therapist, informed the team that his arm felt “crampy” after walking seven batters, and headed for an undisclosed location Ozzie Guillen’s place.

Left-handed reliever John Grabow was spared having to make an awkward excuse because he’s already injured and has been for the most of the season. Currently on a rehab assignment in Arizona, Grabow was expecting to rejoin the team on its next homestand — but he’s not making any promises.

Meanwhile, one-time starting right fielder Kosuke Fukudome was spirited away in a limosine by a group of sunglasses-wearing Japanese businessmen. His tersely worded (er, lettered) statement to the team, sent via text message, was simply “BRB.” Could Kosuke’s abductors be representatives of his former Japanese team, the Chunichi Dragons, seeking to reacquire him? As Bruce Miles mentioned on his blog this past weekend, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Cubs might consider just such a deal. (Read the paragraph immediately below the lineup.)

The rest of the team made similiar excuses and vacated the team’s hotel in San Francisco, leaving behind nothing and no one besides Marcus Mateo wrapped in duct tape and wearing a princess tiara. (It’s a rookie thing.)

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the whole sordid affair is, just as the last active Cubs player cut and ran from the Sheraton San Francisco, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir and catcher Wellington Castillo came stumbling into the hotel lobby. When the two attempted a hasty retreat, Cubs GM Jim Hendry barred the lobby doors like Antti Niemi, whipping his cellphone around like a hockey stick.

Stay tuned to DCD 360 for further updates.

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In other news, if you live in the Chicago area, don’t miss the upcoming screening of famed film documentarian Ken Burns’ new project “The Tenth Inning.” This is highly anticipated sequel to Burns’ multi-part “Baseball” documentary that aired in 1994. Cubs fans will particularly enjoy a close-up look at Sammy Sosa’s historic 1998 home run chase with Mark McGwire.

A private screening will be held on Thursday, August 19th, at 6:30pm at The Bank of America Theatre (18 West Monroe Street). Tickets can be purchased by visiting wttw.com/events or calling (800) 775-2000.

And if you can’t make the screening, “The Tenth Inning” is scheduled to air September 28 and 29 on PBS.

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In the News: The Z-Man Cometh

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Happy Thursday, Cubs fans. (Or Happy Whenever You Read This.) We’ve been given a wonderful anaesthetic for the last day or so. As I’m sure you know, the Cubs blew out the Brewers in stunning fashion yesterday (Wednesday) – with Whinin’ LaTroy Hawkins and Ken “The Manager From La” Macha getting ejected to boot! And today we have a quiet off-day to rest and reflect and devise ways to enjoy the rest of the season. (Again, Starlin Castro helps!) With our minds at temporary peace, let’s sink our teeth into a few delectable news items:

I called it! Big Z is back, baby! OK, it wasn’t exactly a prediction of Nostradamusesque proportions, but I did note in Tuesday’s “In the News” that Carlos Zambrano would soon return to the rotation — and so he has. That gives us a rotation-for-the-moment of:

  1. Ryan Dempster
  2. Tom Gorzelanny
  3. Randy Wells
  4. Carlos Zambrano
  5. Thomas Diamond

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so make your own judgements. One thing that strikes me is that, though I’ve read much discussion about working young pitchers into the rotation next season, I don’t see a lot of room there – unless either or both of the Carloses are moved. I do think Tom Gorzelanny has shown enough to be a decent, younger replacement for Ted Lilly.

Big Z’s first start off the hell of the Restricted List and out of the purgatory of the bullpen will be against the Giants on Monday (Aug. 9) in San Francisco. I can’t help but wonder if Lou is hoping for a repeat of Z’s brilliant outing against Tim Lincecum last season.

Spring training complex update. Like many conquering armies, Mesa now faces the difficult decision of what to do with their conquest. That is, they need to build the Cubs a new spring training facility somewhere … but where? The leading candidate appears to be the Waveyard Water Park. I’m not sure what’s weirder – a water park in the desert or the fact that the Cubs new practice complex could rhyme with “graveyard.” That can’t be good.

Andre Dawson to be honored at Wrigley Field. There will be ceremony at the Monday, Aug. 30, night game against the Pirates. (Talk about a big seller.) What’s not clear is whether the Cubs will actually retire Dawson’s number.

Prior the Flyer. Ooh, so close. For the last couple years, I’ve been saying (well, mostly thinking) that Mark Prior’s best shot at success would be pitching for an independent league team such as the Schaumburg Flyers. Well, Prior is a Flyer, but an Orange County Flyer. I read another article on this story (uh, somewhere) that revealed Mark is pitching out of the bullpen as a setup guy. That sounds about right.

AAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnd now…another exciting installment of:

Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings

1. Joe Girardi. Oh, yes. Thanks to a flurry of media endorsements and coverage, Joltin’ Joe the G-Man has claimed the top spot! Bruce Levine posted a video interview with Joe, which doesn’t seem to be working right now. And Comcast Sports’ Dave Kaplan came out hard for Girardi in this blogpost. Even The Hawk wants his Joe! (AWKWARD!) Yeah, it’s still hard to believe he’d leave the Yankees for the Cubs, but never underestimate the effect of one’s childhood on career decisions.

2. Ryne Sandberg. He’s probably still the prohibitive favorite but, hey, I gotta mix it up a little bit. I’m downgrading Ryno a spot because, well, he likes Des Moines a little too much. He could be there a while longer if Jim Hendry decides to go in another direction.

:-| 3. Joe Torre. There seems to be a slight groundswell among Cubs fans in favor of the current Dodgers manager. I still don’t see it – Torre is on the brink of retirement and probably wouldn’t want a high-pressure gig like the Cubs job to send him into his golden years exasperated and disappointed (as Lou must be to a certain extent). Also, the Cubs just went with an old school, “legacy” choice as manager. Presumably, it’s looking for a fresh perspective. But … I guess you never know.

:-( 4. Alan Trammell. Tram is back again thanks to his three-day stint as Lou’s replacement over the past weekend. Suffice to say, based on the results of those games, this should-be Hall of Famer may be plummeting off the power rankings rather quickly. Not that he should be blamed for those losses, of course, but they did conjure memories of those awful Detroit Tigers teams he managed.

:-o 5. Ozzie Guillen. That’s right, Ozzie freakin’ Guillen! A certain Tribune reporter tweeted that Jim Hendry (apparently) has a good relationship with Guillen and could hire him as Lou’s replacement if Ozzie finally pushes his luck too far with the Sox. Hey, I guess that would finally put the theory that Guillen could “control” Big Z to the test. Tim McGinnis over at the Tales from Aisle 424 blog wrote an intriguing post about the idea here.

——————————————–

:-| Suspicious debut

:-( Tragic reappearance

:-o Shocking debut!

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In the News: Caught in a rundown

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Hey, Cubs fans. Would you like another ice pack? Y’know, to apply to the various psychological and self-esteem-related bruises you presumably suffered watching the Milwaukee Brewers issue an epic beatdown to our beloved team last night? In what’s become a recurring theme here on “In the News,” I’m a bit pressed for time today, so I’m going to give you a simple rundown of some of the major (and not so major) news items affecting the team:

Carlos Silva goes to the DL. As Lizzie noted in a couple places here, the Comeback Kid Carlos Silva(known to a certain VFTB bigwig as “Batman”) has gone on the 15-day DL to monitor his cardiac condition. Either Thomas Diamond (more on him below) or Casey Coleman was called up to take Silva’s roster spot. The other takes Ted Lilly’s spot (sniff, sniff).

I figured Carlos Silva would take at least one DL stint this season, and it’ll be interesting to see whether and how this affects the other Carlos (i.e., Zambrano). I’m still predicting that, by season’s end, Silva will either still be on the DL or in the bullpen, and Big Z will be back in the rotation - if for no other reason than to boost his trade value going into the off-season.

Thomas Diamond goes tonight. As I’ve probably mentioned here in the past, I was impressed by Diamond when I saw him (on TV) throw in spring training. And I’ve been hoping he’d get a shot at pitching out of the bullpen all season. Maybe that would’ve been a smarter move than bringing back Bob Howry. In any case, as you may know, Thomas “No Nickname Necessary When You’ve Got a Last Name As Cool As Diamond” Diamond will start against the Brewers tonight (Tuesday). Click that link for a statistically minded word of warning. The right-hander’s Triple-A numbers may not be as impressive as they first appear, and we could be due for another cheese-laced shellacking tonight. Then again, baseball being baseball, maybe Diamond will shut down the Brew Crew for seven or eight innings. You just never know.

Is Jim Hendry done trading this season? Probably. But the always entertaining MLB Trade Rumors has a post up about NL Central waiver trade candidates. They pick Kosuke as the most likely to be moved. I still doubt it happens. (And, as a sidenote, I thought another tragic element of last night’s game was that Dome looked noticeably happy to be out on the field and playing. Anyone else fell that way? Maybe it was just me.) Xavier Nady, perhaps the most disappointing power bat since Cliff Floyd, could also go.

Enjoy some schadenfreude.We don’t have much to cheer about, but I think we can savor the fact that most of Los Angeles seems to be really upset about the Lilly/Theriot trade. Check out this LA Times article. For what it’s worth, I still feel pretty good about the deal. From what I’ve read, the Cubs got a decent, reasonable return in two minor league arms for the 34-year-old Lilly and, quite frankly, a pretty damn great return for the 30-year-old Riot in the 24-year-old Blake DeWitt.

The Yankees will play at Wrigley Field next season. That sound you hear is business owners and restaurateurs in the five-mile radius around the Friendly Confines shrieking with joy.

A couple random articles to check out:

  1. The always awesome Bruce Miles wrote a nice, historical follow-up piece to the Derrek Lee trade rejection story. (Hint: It involves Ron Santo.)
  2. Remember Bobby Scales? You know, the Feel Good Story of 2009? Well, he’s still at Iowa and he’s still a great guy. Check out this profile by Sun-Times writer David Hoekstra.

That’s it for today. My advice for the rest of the season: Think of every game from here on out as an exhibition. The wins are nice and the losses don’t matter. Enjoy Colvin’s sweet swing, everything Starlin Castro does and let’s keep an eye on Blake DeWitt. Oh, and I’m going to need Andrew Cashner to start throwing a few more strikes before I get back to being excited about him. Hey, I think Carlos Marmol is still on pace to set a K/9 record, so we’ve got that going for us, too. It’s not much, but it’s something.

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In the News: DLee’s Decision Divides Cubs Fans

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Hey, everybody. It’s that time again. Well, sorta. To be honest, with the trade deadline looming, there’s not a ton going on with the Cubs right now. It’s sort of like there may or may not be a storm gathering that will bring thunder, lightning and torrents of rain comments when ____________ is traded. In fact, probably the biggest story over the last 24 hours or so is about who almost certainly will not be traded. I refer of course to:

Derrek Lee’s decision to reject Angels trade offer.  As widely reported yesterday, DLee decided to invoke his 10-and-5 rights and stay with the Cubs after, apparently, Jim Hendry spoke to him about a proposed deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And it’s here that I’d like to point out that any hand-wringing over Jim Hendry giving Derrek a no-trade clause is a waste of time and energy because, under a collective bargaining agreement with the players, any guy who has been in the league for 10 years and spent at least five years with his current team has the right to reject a trade. Having said that, I would agree that Hendry deserves some criticism for giving NTCs to guys such as Kosuke Fukudome (who was never a sure bet to succeed spectacularly in America) and Jeff Samardzija (who’s … well … Jeff Samardzija).

DLee’s decision has provoked a wide array of, shall we say, interesting reactions from Cubs fans - including a few right here on VFTB in Daniel’s post yesterday. Although I’ll admit it would have been nice to add something to the farm system for Derrek, who may be gone after this season and will almost certainly be out of the picture within the next two or three, I don’t quite understand the violent reaction some people are having. It’s unlikely any of the prospects that the Cubs picked up for DLee would’ve been difference makers in the next couple of seasons -  if ever. The Angels are a good baseball organization, but their farm system is generally ranked in the middle of the pack. Now if the Rangers really had been interested (which they weren’t), that’s another story. But, in any case, Derrek will be 35 this year and is having a down season (as we all know). How much trade value do you really think he has?

And as for those of you who think his decision is somehow an indictment on his willingness to win, I’d say, “Win where?” With the Angels? They’re in third place right now – 8.5 games out. And, yeah, they make the playoffs a lot but haven’t made it to the World Series since they won it in 2002. Obviously if he went there he’d have a chance at playing in the postseason – a 4.1% chance, according to coolstandings.com. This isn’t the Yankees were talking about here.

Derrek told reporters yesterday that he “agonized” over this decision, and I believe him. He’s got his reasons and none of us fans know what they are. His decision probably does involve his family, which, as far as I can tell, does live here in the Chicago area most of the year. And we should all bear in mind the tragic situation with his daughter. Or perhaps he simply wants to finish the contract with the Cubs that he agreed to. I’m OK with that, too. He’s been one of the greatest Cubs first basemen in the team’s history. And his bat wasn’t a problem in the ’07 and ’08 playoffs. So let’s say our goodbyes while we can  – and respect the man’s choice.

Ted Lilly update: Still here.  Wait, wait … let me check Twitter. OK, yeah, Ted Lilly is still here. But, as I type this, it appears the Oswalt-to-the-Phillies is mere minutes from going through. Once that happens, we could soon be deluged with renewed Lilly rumors.

According to Joel Sherman, the Mets are out. And, presumably, the Phillies would be, too. But other teams, including the Twins and Dodgers, could still be in play. I suggested a while back that LA could be a landing spot for Ted because, well, they need starting pitching depth desperately. But I’d also reiterate that Randy Wolf, a very similiar pitcher to Ted, threw well for the Dodgers last season. He’s been straight-up awful for the Brew Crew this season. Mwahahahaha. All in all, my gut still says Ted will be traded, but I wouldn’t mind watching him finish out his Cubs contract either. 

On Jim Hendry: Just sayin’.  I know it’s fashionable to bash Jimbo these days. And I know there’s a lengthy discussion on His Hendryness here. But just a passing thought that’s fluttered through my head in the last couple days: Jim made a couple non-moves in the last year that have turned out well:

Exhibit A: One Rich Harden, who’s currently on the DL (shocking!) and made on 13 starts for the division-leading Rangers this season. His numbers are also horrific: 5.68 ERA (6.31 FIP 5.72 xFIP). Oh, and his strikeouts are down.

Exhibit B: One Reed Johnson, who many fans clamored for Jimbo to bring back and perhaps platoon with Sam Fuld in center field. (Not a bad, low-cost idea on its face, but I think we can all agree Marlon Byrd has been fun to watch at least.) Well, he’s on the DL with back spasms (second time this season). RJ is also hitting .291/.316/.386 (.303 wOBA) in only 135 plate appearances. I know, I know … Xavier Nady hasn’t been much better. In fact, he’s been worse. But, hey, Tyler Colvin has been awesome!

Well, that’s really all I’ve got for today. I could mention that, as noted last time, Big Z is expected to join the team in Denver tomorrow and offer a full and heartfelt apology -  which still should’ve happened before the ESPN interview, Carlos! It’s not like they couldn’t have set up a camera in your hotel room over the weekend! Four freakin’ days to show your teammates some respect, my man! Four freakin’ days!

Ahem. Good luck and God bless.

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In the News: Carlos, Carlos, Carlos …

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Hello, Cubs fans. The time has come and the time is now – for some delightful Cubs news items. But before I get to that, let me just recount for you the general vibe at Wrigley during Sunday night’s game against the Cardinals (which I attended … thus the recap … did you see my Twitpics?).

It was a dark and stormy night. Ha, quite the opposite, the weather was absolutely perfect. Warm during the day and pleasantly cool once the sun went down. And, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that, once the sun did go down, a full moon rose spectacularly over the Miller Lite sign in right field and made its way up and down (?!) the right field line as the game progressed.

As for the game itself, well, you know how it turned out. (Or do you? I can’t seem to find a VFTB recap here.) Badly. But, believe it or not, I still feel like I saw a great ballgame. There was a little bit of everything – decent-though-not-dominant pitching (Carp v. Demp),  good defense (Byrd and Castro), a home run by the future HoFer King Albert (the sound off his bat was … well … ’nuff said) and just some really, good, tense back-and-forth between the two ancient rivals.

I’d particularly like to note that seeing Tyler Colvin live has upped my respect for the young lad. He’s just a good-looking (and I mean that in a manly way) athlete with a bit of the rock star in him. He really played up tossing the ball into the bleachers after between-innings warmups. Bottom line: He seems comfortable playing at the major league level and at Wrigley Field. Now if he can just lay off that inside breaking junk they keep throwing him and get his OBP up a bit (while maintaining his power, of course), he’ll be well on his way. That’s not too much to ask is it? Well, is it?

As for the crowd, it was quite peaceful in the left field bleachers. There was a quite visible Cards fan presence, which surprised me somewhat on a Sunday night. I figured most of them would’ve headed back to St. Loo for work the next day. (Yeah, I know there are Cards fans who live in the Chicago area. We will find you!) There was a fight somewhere around the centerfield section, but I don’t consort with those ruffians anyway.

All right, all right. Enough of my nonsensical recollecting. On with the news!

Carlos Zambrano apologizes to the nation and the world.  Big Z sat down with an intrepid ESPN reporter yesterday and let us all know that: 1) he was just trying to fire up his team, 2) he’s REALLY sorry, and 3) he’s working on his anger management techniques. Now I have no problem with what Z said – it’s pretty much what I expected and he seemed fairly contrite and subdued in his remarks. My problem with Carlos is that he really should’ve held off on this public display of contrition until after he met with his teammates in Denver later this week.

Why? Because it really doesn’t matter what we, the fans, think of Carlos Zambrano. What really matters is that his teammates know that he really is done with these embarrassing freakouts and that he’s going to do whatever it takes to help the team for the rest of the season. (Not that I have much hope for this season, but there are still games to be played and, given Big Z’s contract, he may very well be around next season with many of those same guys.) Lou Piniella seems to agree with me as his reaction to Z’s interview, quoted in this Carrie Muskat article, is as follows:

I saw a little bit of [the ESPN interview]. I’m sure he’s contrite, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to coming back, but the important thing remains that he talk to his teammates.

To me, the fact that Lou saw fit to bring up the teammate issue says a lot. That same article notes:

Zambrano spoke to ESPN because he was frustrated that he could not speak to the players.

Oh, I see – so he couldn’t control his emotions enough to wait a few more days and a plane ride to Denver. Great. That really bodes well for the future.

One last bit of ammo: I asked Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald about the timing of Z’s response. You can read his response in the comments of this blogpost.

That’s really all I have to say about Carlos Zambrano for the moment. There are no innocent parties here. The Cubs have treated him like crap, he’s treated his teammates like crap, and the band plays on.

Geo rules, but Geo is hurt.  In case you missed it during last night’s game, Geovany Soto fouled a ball off of his foot and spent the next inning or so trying to shake it off. He was eventually replaced by Koyie Hill and the news soon followed that Geo has a bad bruise and will likely miss tonight’s (Tuesday’s) game against the Astros. Get well soon, Geo – your OBP still makes me very, very happy.

Aramis plans to stick around.  Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez has a player option on his contract that gives him the right to stick with the Cubs in 2011 or dive into the free agent market. Aramis is “guessing” that he’ll stay in Chicago but still leaving open the possibility that he and his agent could decide otherwise. His devastating April-June slump may have sealed his fate – and ours.

Y’know, I’m OK with that. It’s not like the Cubs have a hot third base prospect waiting in the wings. And his 1.147 OPS over the last 28 days does much to restore my faith that he may have at least one more decent year in him. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2012 at the hot corner, as I don’t think the now-injured Josh Vitters would’ve been ready by then anyway.

Aaaaaaaand now, back by popular demand (that’s a lie!)…

Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings

- 1. Ryne Sandberg. Holding steady at the top spot, Ryno is still the man to beat. Andre Dawson’s Hall of Fame induction (you heard about that, right?) has only stirred up the stirring memories of No. 23′s own induction not too long ago. Oh, and the Iowa Cubs are playing quite well this season thank  you very much.

:-( 2. Bobby Valentine. AUGHHHH!!! My worst nightmare come true. He was in the booth for Sunday night’s Cubs - Cards ESPN game, and his ingratiating comments have rocketed him up the chart. Let’s hope he’s a one-hit-wonder a la Toni Basil.

3. Joe Girardi. Climbing to No. 3, the former Wildcat is on everyone’s respective minds, lips and keyboards as the savviest choice. Sadly, most of us agree that the Bronx Bombers will likely spirit him away to a Manhattan hotspot for a contract extension.

*4. Pat Listach. Wait, who? He’s currently the Nationals (man, have they dropped like a rock or what?Strasburg starts tonight!) third base coach and managed for several years in the Cubs minor league system. He confirms his interest in the position in this Washington Post article. Personally, I like him because his last name rhymes with the word “moustache.”

5. Bob Brenley. Hey, he’s right there in the booth – he’d be an easy interview. But he seems to have wisely gone mum after his Score interview last week.

*Hotshot debut!

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In the News: Off-day quickies

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Greetings from the Thunderdome, Cubs fans. I’m feeling a little woozy today. Not sure why. I don’t think I’m getting sick, but I was flat-out exhausted last night and am a little discombobulated at the moment. So I’m going to treat you to some off-day quickies. No, not that kind of quickie. Just some short and sweet news briefs to keep you in tune and on track for this weekend’s barn-burning series against the always hated St. Louis Cardinals – which I’ll be attending. Yup, looks like I’ll be going to Sunday night’s series closer. Anyway, on with the quickies:

Tigers in on Lilly. Theriot? Not so much. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports (scroll down to “Tigers have eyes on Cubs’ Lilly”) that trade talks between the Cubs and Detroit for our beloved left-hander Theodore Roosevelt Lilly continue and could soon heat up. The Tigers rotation currently lacks a southpaw and His Holy Tedness fits the bill. Go down a little further in Morosi’s post and you’ll see that he’s reporting the Detroit team does not have any interest in Ryan Theriot, who has really killed his own trade value this season with a (as of this writing) .283 wOBA (WAY below league average) and negative WAR (-0.2).

Big Z pulls another disappearing act. Exiled (starting?) pitcher Carlos Zambrano was supposed to pitch for the Iowa Cubs yesterday, but manager Ryne Sandberg (haven’t read his name enough lately!) says Z had to “take care of some business” (♪♫ every day! every way! ♪♫) and would return to the team today (Thursday) to pitch out of the pen. I’ve learned from sources that Iowa TV news reported that Big Z actually flew back to Chicago, so maybe he had some sort of family issue. I believe the plan is to get Carlos in pitching shape to join the team on its upcoming road trip, which begins in Houston on Monday night.

In other Carlos news, Silva has been pushed back. Len Kasper emphasized on Tuesday that Carlos is not injured but merely working on some tweaks with Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild. This change to the rotation order means I’ll be seeing a Ryan Dempster start on Sunday – which is really weird because I’ve attended precisely one game in each of the two previous seasons and both were Demp starts. The good news is the Cubs won both games.

A couple other bullpen updates noted in that story:

  • John Grabow isn’t close to returning to action.
  • Brian “Shoulda Learned a Splitter” Schlitter threw one-third of an inning for Iowa yesterday (Wednesday), giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one.

Ryan Dempster holds star-studded charity event.Here’s an ABC News video with Demp before the event, which took place last night and benefited The Ryan and Jenny Dempster Family Foundation. Al Yellon over at Bleed Cubbie Blue posted some amusing pics of Cubs players in attendance.

Cubs Next Manager: Power Rankings

And now in a new and occasional feature on “In the News,” here’s how I’d rank the gentleman jockeying for a position to be the next manager of YOUR Chicago Cubs:

1. Ryne Sandberg. He’s in Cooperstown (literally) and the first name out of everyone’s mouth. In this on-field interview, Ryno even admits it would be his dream job.

2. Bob Brenly. His Score interview rocketed  him up the chart. I wouldn’t mind seeing him manage the club for a season or two for the ass-kickings alone.

3. Alan Trammell. Classy as always, he ain’t talkin’. But it’s nice to see his name mentioned.

4. Fredi Gonzalez, Joe Torre (tie). Hey, ESPN has mentioned both Gonzalez and Torre, so anything’s possible. The former will probably fade from the chart quickly when it’s clear he’s going back to the Braves. And the latter would really just be a retread of the Lou Piniella approach, and it’s hard to believe the Cubs would go down that road again. On the other hand, Ryne Sandberg as bench coach to Joe Torre for a couple seasons is interesting.

5. Joe Girardi. The fans are certainly talking about him, but I can’t see Jim Hendry getting anywhere near the former Cubs backstop until after the season. And the way the Yankees are winning, their season won’t be over until late October/early November.

Shameless self-promotion: I wrote this commentary yesterday (Wednesday) on what might bring Girardi to Chicago. My insane theory might surprise you.

For the time being, I’m leaving Bobby Valentine off because I haven’t seen any news reports of him even being asked about the job – and I’d like it to say that way.

OK, in retrospect, these news items really aren’t any shorter than I usually write them, so perhaps they’re not quickies. But I already wrote the lede and came up with the title and I’ve got to get back to work, so I’m just going to leave it as is.

Daver out.

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In the News: Should Cubs fans brace for a PED scandal? (Oh, and Lou announces his retirement!)

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Greetings from the VFTB Newsroom, Cubs fans. Just ignore that guy behind me. He’s not really looking at porn – just shopping for a bathing suit for his girlfriend. There are a number of interesting items coming across our teletype machine, so let’s get right to it:

Marlon Byrd takes supplements. Now, that in and of itself, probably isn’t news. I’m guessing almost every baseball player takes vitamin supplements of one sort or another. But that Yahoo! sports article by Steve Henson from today reveals that Marlon’s supplements come from a controversial (and rather shifty-looking, if I do say so myself) gentleman by the name of Victor Conte. The article also reports that, a little over a year ago, Byrd was called to New York to discuss his supplement use by Major League Baseball. Apparently, neither the trip nor an agreed-up follow-up phone call ever happened.

Now Marlon is an All-Star having a remarkable – and I mean, really remarkable – career year for our Chicago Cubs. And though Henson’s article makes no accusations, it does come with a worrisome undertone that this story won’t end here. Could we see Byrd’s 2010 season go down in the fiery flames of controversy? Could we see Marlon finally lose his cool if a couple of our tactless local beat writers pick up the story and start running with it? I guess we’ll have to see.

It would seem absolutely ridiculous for any ballplayer to dare indulge in a banned substance in this day and age. But, as Jane’s Addiction famously sang, “Nothing’s shocking.” I hope Marlon is in the clear. If there’s one thing Cubs fans don’t need more of this season, it’s disappointment.

In other controversial news, the Cubs have gone to war with Time Magazine. At issue: Time’s portrayal of the team’s baseball training facility in the Dominican Republic. A writer for the venerable news publication criticized the Cubs compound for cramming prospects into small dormitory rooms. Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita vociferously denied the accusations and offered clarifications to the story. In addition, the Time writer allegedly showed up unannounced and made no effort to get the proper credentials.

Big Z in the AZ. In case you didn’t hear, Carlos Zambrano threw one inning of scoreless baseball yesterday, striking out one hapless AZL Royal on three pitches. (“I’m Carlos Zambrano and you’re frakkin’ out!”) Big Z’s anger management therapy apparently worked, too, because he was all smiles and chummery in the dugout. (I’m pretty sure I just made up the word “chummery.”)

Fearless prediction:We’ll see the Cubs’ two Carloses switch places in the not-too-distant future. Carlos Silva will, eventually, go to either the DL or the bullpen (or both), with Carlos Zambrano (again, eventually) reassuming his place in the rotation. And, barring a trade of either, we start the whole dance over again in spring training next year.

Speaking of the bullpen, something is going to change … soon. Multiple mainstream media sources are reporting that the Cubs will make a roster move today to bring a fresh arm up for its ailing, addled bullpen. You could really take your pick of Atkins (who’s pitched only seven innings under difficult circumstances), Berg and Russell at this point. I might give Berg a little more time as he seems to be striking out a few more batters this time around and hasn’t given up home runs to quite the extent that Russell has. The Cubs could also simply release Bob Howry, who’s had a few decent outings but looks remarkably old all of the sudden. Oh, and let’s not neglect to mention that his overall numbers are just ungodly bad.

I wonder whether we’ll see a resurfacing of the Jeff “The Shark” Samardzija. For the season, Samardzija is 6-1 with a 2.85 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched. Are the Cubs ready to give him yet another shot? Or maybe it’s Jay Jackson’s turn? We’ll see. Getting back to Samardzija, check out this interesting football piece on whether he might just return to the gridiron after all once his Cubs contract is up.

UPDATE: Carrie Muskat tweets that Mitch Atkins has been sent down and Jeff Stevens recalled from Iowa.

And finally today … the Cubs’ first round draft pick kissed a girl. Or maybe Hayden Simpson got mono some other way but, bottom line, the diminutive and much-maligned hurler won’t be playing baseball this summer. That should keep his arm fresh for his September call up next season.

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Cubs manager Lou Piniella officially announced his retirement today. Here is the Cubs official press release on the matter.

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