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Game 154: If Not For Rain, It Might Have Been Ugly…er.

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Cubs 5 @ Rockies 10 (7 innings)

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs made Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa work right from the start. Dave Sappelt’s first career home run to open the contest staked them to a 1-0 lead, which they expanded on by taking advantage of a couple two out mistakes by the Rockies. After drawing a two out walk, Alfonso Soriano moved up to second on a wild pitch and then scampered home when Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge airmailed first base on a Starlin Castro grounder. Castro would score from first a batter later when Wellington Castro crushed a double to left field.

Unfortunately, the first inning was the peak for the Cubs on a cold rainy night in Denver – aside from their three runs scored, it was also the only inning in which they kept the Rockies off the board. They managed to push two more runs across the plate (a solo home run by Castro in the third and an RBI single from Darwin Barney to score Joe Mather in the fourth), but five runs would prove to be insufficient in the series opener.

Starting pitcher Chris Rusin gave up a solo home run to Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario in the second, but the wheels really started coming off for the Cubs in the third when two former Cubs – D.J. LaMahieu (whose name I still have trouble remembering how to spell) and Tyler Colvin – each tripled as part of a two-run inning. Overall on the night, the former Cubs were 5 for 7 with a combined 5 RBI against their former team.

Play was halted after 6 ½-innings and mercifully never resumed – by that time, a trio of Cubs pitchers (Rusin, Rafael Dolis, and Manny Corpas) had allowed 10 runs on 15 hits. Meanwhile, the Cubs bats had gone quiet. After seven hits in the first four innings, the Cubs were hitless in the fifth, sixth, and seventh.

The magic number to avoid 100 losses remains at 4 with eight games to go.

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Is It Time To Panic About Attendance?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game 148: Sleepwalking Towards 100, Pridefully

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Reds 3 @ Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game 142: OMG, Rizzo goes down…

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Cubs 0 @ Astros 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

I’m eschewing my traditional “Good, Bad, Ugly” format tonight because, honestly, there wasn’t really enough going on in this game to fill out such a template. The Cubs and Astros played a second straight snorefest, as the second worst team in baseball fell to the worst team, 1-0. Thankfully this game was televised, otherwise we would have no evidence that a game actually occurred as no one bothered to show up to watch it…as a marketing director for a major professional sports team, these types of games are what my nightmares are made of. No one wants Darren Rovell tweeting photos of your team’s home game attendance (or lack thereof).

One of the most amazing things to me about this game was that it took three hours and eleven minutes to play a 1-0 game, a game that featured just 10 combined hits and a grand total of two scoring opportunities (the one on which the Astros scored in the fourth and then two innings later, when the Cubs managed two hits in one inning – the only time that occurred all game). You would think a game like this would be over in two hours, but much like Monday night, the misery just continued to drag on.

Cubs starter Justin Germano certainly pitched well enough to earn the Cubs their fifth straight win, throwing five innings while striking out eight and allowing just three hits. An unearned run in the fourth, however, was more than enough for the Astros to bring the series even.

Despite the lack of action, the game wasn’t completely devoid of intense moments. As the season winds down, the biggest fear I have is that something tragic will happen to one of the young players to whom we are pinning our hopes of the future. The last thing you want to see when suffering through a rebuild is to see one of those cornerstones sidelined in a meaningless game…so when Anthony Rizzo went down in a heap in the third inning, my heart dropped to my stomach.

Rizzo was hustling down the line trying to beat out a grounder to second and took a nasty spill when he collided with a jumping Astros first baseman Brett Wallace. I was certain that he had broken his wrist (a la Derrek Lee) or had gotten a career ending concussion as his head bounced off his helmet. He left the game after the play, but luckily reports were positive and it sounds like he checked out fine, aside from some bumps and bruises.

The magic number for 100 losses remains at eight.

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Game 125: You Know the Outcome

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Rockies 4 @ Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights Condensed Game

The Good

Brett Jackson – There were certainly some negatives to BJax’s day today, but there were a couple big positives as well. Jackson gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead in the fourth with a wind-aided, two-run basket shot. Jackson pushed the ball to the opposite field and let the wind do the rest – either a sign that he is starting to get more comfortable on the plate or that he was slow on a fastball and got lucky with the conditions at Wrigley. The homer, his second in as many games, along with his second inning double are encouraging signs of success to come for Jackson. Of course, then there was the strike out to end the game – his 31st in 61 at-bats. We’ll keep this in the good category though be reminding ourselves that it was the second straight day that he only k’d once.

Brooks Raley – This would probably go in the “average” column if there were one, but on a day like today, we’ll label Raley’s performance as “good”.  Maybe I’m not being fair – Raley really made one big mistake in his five innings on the mound, allowing a home run by pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge in the fifth. Dale Sveum decided five innings and 80 pitches was enough for Raley though and sent him to the showers after that inning with a 3-2 lead.

The Bad

Sorry to be pessimistic today, but there was nothing “bad” today. How is that pessimism, you ask? Because I’ve dropped all of the notable negatives from this one all the way to “ugly”.

The Ugly

Double Play Balls – The Cubs entered the seventh inning tied with the Rockies 3-3, and the inning very easily could have (should have?) ended the same way. The Cubs had two opportunities to turn double plays, the first went awry when Castro’s throw pulled Anthony Rizzo off the bag on a DJ LaMahieu grounder. The Rockies scored the game winning run on another would-be twin-killing that saw Castro loft the ball towards first, hoping either Darwin Barney or Alex Hinshaw would get to first in time to receive the ball on an attempted 3-6-1or2 double play.

Caught Stealing – Starlin Castro’s pursuit for the Major League lead in times caught stealing took a step forward when he was gunned down trying to swipe second in the third inning with a runner on third and nobody out. The truly ugly CS happened much later in the game when, the seventh inning the Cubs looked to be in a position to get a couple runs back. Jackson led off with a walk, then Joe Mather singled a couple batters later to put two on with one out. One out later, Jackson and Mather decided to attempt a double steal and the potential rally was killed as Mather was out by a mile at second. I say they decided to attempt a double steal because that’s basically what Dale Sveum said after the game – of course, he followed that up by saying he wouldn’t have sent them because he liked the match-up they had with Josh Vitters at the plate (and since when is that a good match for any one but the opposing pitcher), so who knows what actually happened.

The Cubs have now lost 19 of their last 24 games and need to go 11-26 in their final 37 games to avoid eclipsing 103 wins and going down in history as the single worst team in franchise history. I’m revising my prediction downward to a final record of 57-105…I believe we’ll witness history in the final month of the season.

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They’re Still S#&@ty

Friday, August 24th, 2012

A mere five weeks ago, I referenced the major motion picture Major League in my recap of game number 88, a game that saw the Cubs win their fourth straight and 12th out of 16. Boy, that seems like a long, long time ago. That was, almost literally, a completely different team than we are watching now.  So, with that, the Major League reference comes full circle. They’re still s#&@ty.

You all know that though. We’ve told ourselves it’s fine, we’ve sold ourselves on all of the talking points.

“We expected this!”

“Theo has a plan!”

“Rebuilding takes time!”

“We’re on the right track!”

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I truly believe all of the above statements. Optimism runs high. But guess what…IT STILL SUCKS! Watching your favorite teams lose 100 games (and trust me folks, 100 losses is a foregone conclusion) is not fun, no matter how long you’ve seen it coming. IT STILL SUCKS!

Today isn’t a day for dwelling on the negatives though. Nope, today was a red-letter day – one of three days remaining in the season that the Cubs were guaranteed not to lose. So, in honor of the off day we’ll push the bad thoughts aside. However, with few good thoughts to fill the void, we have only random thoughts to keep our otherwise idle minds racing:

  • What’s in Castro’s contract? We learned over the weekend that Starlin Castro and the Cubs had reached an agreement on a contract extension, worth a reported $60 million over seven years. According to ESPNChicago.com’s Doug Padilla, the deal will be announced as soon as the contract is written. So…what’s taking so long? Player contracts are written all of the time. Professional sports team lawyers can write them in their sleep. Yet, this one has taken almost a week. I can only believe this is because there are some truly crazy things being included. What do we think the Castro requests are? Here are my first two guesses: 1) Castro will not sign the contract until Sammy Sosa’s boombox is restored to mint condition, 2) Starlin was jealous of the Miami Marlin’s aquarium and has demanded a salt water tank with “extremely pretty fish” installed in his locker.
  • I’m mostly tired of hearing about Stephen Strasburg’s inning limit. All I know is this: imagine if the Cubs had put an arbitrary limit on Mark Prior’s innings in 2003. We would have all been robbed of a decade of complaining about Dusty Baker being called a no good, dirty pitcher-killer. (I know, the circumstances are different…Prior wasn’t coming off Tommy John surgery in 2003. Play along folks.)
  • When I look at the names currently populating the Cubs’ bullpen, I can’t help but think of this scene from Major League:

Board Member 1: I’ve never heard of half of these guys and the ones I do know are way past their prime.
Charlie Donovan: Most of these guys never had a prime.
Rachel Phelps: The fact is we lost our two best players to free agency. We haven’t won a pennant in over thirty-five years, we haven’t placed higher than fourth in the last fifteen. Obviously it’s time for some changes.
Board Member 2: This guy here is dead!
Rachel Phelps: Cross him off, then!

  • There are two players on the current roster that are older than me. We’re either rebuilding or I’m old. I refuse to believe that both can be true.
  • In an ongoing effort to recruit more Iowa football fans, I offer you this nugget: the Hawkeyes currently have a running back named Andre Dawson.
  • Breaking news from tonight: Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned for life. Armstrong will not appeal, saying he’s tired of fighting. Here’s what I believe; Armstrong doped. I know he passed hundreds of drug tests, but he doped. Here’s what else I believe: so did every single other high caliber person in his sport. If it is the case that 50% of major league baseball players were using PEDs during the height of the steroid era, I would surmise that 135% of professional cyclists were doping during Armstrong’s run. I’m not making a judgement one way or the other, simply stating what I believe to be true.

Friday is game day again, which by my math means we have about a 3 in 10 chance of not being disappointed by our favorite baseball team. Enjoy your weekend!

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The Theo Way: Mastering the Name Game

Friday, August 17th, 2012

 

By now you’ve certainly all heard the news that the Cubs “parted ways” with long time player personnel executive Oneri Fleita. Fleita had spent 12 years overseeing the Cubs’ minor league system and was given a four year extension last season after Jim Hendry was dismissed.

The move to send Fleita packing can’t be viewed as a complete surprise (or a surprise at all, for that matter), considering he was stripped of most of his duties in November when Jason McLeod was put in charge of scouting. Friday’s promotion of Tim Wilken to a special assistant role should have been seen as additional writing on the wall for Fleita that his days were numbered. Like most of us, he certainly knew this day was coming.

What he didn’t know…what none of us knew…was why the move was being made. Luckily we’ve received a transcript* of the final conversation he had with The Theo, which sheds a little more light on the move:

TE: Jed, get Oneri in here.

JH: Oneri, The Theo will see you now.

(Oneri enters The Hall of Theo)

TE: Oneri, I’m going to skip the bullcrap and cut to the chase here. This probably isn’t a huge surprise to you, but we’ve got to let you go. We appreciate your service and dedication, but you don’t really fit what we’re trying to do here. Obviously, you’re under contract for three more seasons, so I would encourage you to take a couple nice long vacations and clear your head. I’ll be happy to provide a reference where ever you decide to move onto next.

OF (sobbing): I understand. I knew this day was coming…I just wish I knew what I could have done differently.

TE: It’s not you Oneri, it’s that name of yours. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

OF: It…what?

TE: Here on the Goodship Theo, we like to keep names simple. There’s no time to worry about screwing up names when you’re rebuilding a moribund franchise. No time at all. Isn’t that right Jed.

JH: Yessir, no time at all for funny names.

TE: Look at who we’ve brought in as part of our team, Oneri. We’ve got Jed here. Dale’s doing a hell of a job. We brought Jason in when we got here. Tim just got a big promotion. Not a lot of Oneris on that list are there Jed.

JH: No sir, not a lot of Oneris.

TE: Ol’ Rudy almost had it right, but how could I look myself in the mirror knowing that my staff was losing precious time trying to pronounce Jaramillo?

JH: You couldn’t sir.

TE: Damn right I couldn’t.

OF: This is just about that most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Besides – you mentioned Dale…sure that’s easy, but no one knows how to say Sveum correctly.

TE: That’s a great point Oneri. Here’s the thing – its only one syllable, you can just sort of mumble your way through that one, no problem.

OF: Well, you could just call me O, how about that?

TE: Well, O isn’t really a name now is it?

OF: I guess not…I still don’t understand Theo…I’ve got to talk to my agent, but I’m really not sure you can fire me because you don’t like my name.

TE: You’re probably right, Oneri. Ok, here’s what I’d like you to do. Go out there and punch Starlin Castro right square in the jaw as hard as you can.

OF: I’m not going to do that.

TE: Well Oneri, that sounds like insubordination to me. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go. Jed, please show him out…and grab Wasserstrom on your way back in. Way too many things going on with that one…

*Full disclosure, this transcription may not be entirely or even vaguely accurate. The truth is, when The Theo came into the mix at the end of 2011, we knew (hoped!) big changes were coming. Admittedly, many of us probably expected them to come sooner – I even put together a quick top 10 list of things The Theo needed to accomplish before the season started.

However, leadership and culture changes don’t happen overnight. The Theo seems to be a very astute leader, and clearly understood the organizational dynamics involved in taking on a job like his, and despite impatience from some, he took his time to assess the situation and see what he had before burning it all down and rebuilding it his way.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that the rebuilding has begun – veterans are being shipped out, kids are being called up and now the front office reshuffling has begun in earnest.  The Theo Way is officially underway…we the jury can start paying attention now, though deliberation is probably still a few years away.

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Game 100: St. Rizzo Day

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Cards 2 @ Cubs 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

 

Full disclosure here: I didn’t plan to watch this game too closely. I had an afternoon full of errands to run, which I expected would last until just after the game ended. I figured I’d fast forward through to the highlights on MLB.tv and piece together a recap from there that would be posted within an hour of the game ending. I don’t like doing it that way, but unfortunately life looked to be getting in the way.

Well, Anthony Rizzo and Paul Maholm had different plans for me. When I got home, I checked Twitter just in time to see that St. Tony added to his growing resume with a walk-off home run. A little more reading and I discovered I’d missed another Maholm gem. With those factors combined, I had to go back and watch…so, I got to see a great game (after knowing the outcome), and unfortunately you, dear reader, get a slightly delayed recap.

The Great (there were a lot of good things – two clutch run-scoring fielders choices to put the Cubs up early, a one-two-three inning out of Carlos Marmol to send it to extra innings  – but today we focus on the great):

  •  St. Tony Wins It – This Anthony Rizzo kid can play a little ball, eh? Rizzo went 3-4, walked once, and drove in a couple runs…a couple of extra inning, game winning runs, that is. Rizzo’s blast in the bottom of the tenth gave the Cubs the series win over the Cardinals, and by my count was the sixth time in 27 games with the Cubs that he drove in the winning run. What I’m trying to say is: I love you, Anthony Rizzo. I may suspend my rule against buying jerseys of non-retired players for you.
  • Maholm’s Gem – Certain to be overshadowed by Rizzo’s heroics was yet another gem twirled by Paul Maholm. The lefty allowed just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings against a Cardinals team that feasts on southpaws, including teammate Travis Wood on Friday. Maholm has now pitched at least six innings without giving up more than one run in six consecutive starts.

The Bad

  • One Bad Pitch – The most unfortunate part of this game is that it should never have gotten to extra innings. Maholm deserved a win for his efforts, but Shawn Camp denied him that joy by throwing a belt high sinker to Carlos Beltran that couldn’t have missed the center of the plate by more that an inch. That sinker ended up in the basket in left center field, ending Maholm’s chance for a win.

 The Ugly

“We can’t be playing well and come in here and lose to the Cubs,” St. Louis’ Matt Holliday said. “We can’t lose this series. But we did.” ~ Matt Holliday

I think I speak for Cubs fans everywhere when I say…well, there’s really no nice way to say it, so fill in the blanks for yourself.

 

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The Plight of the Unwanted

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

 

Three months ago, I walked into my boss’ (now, former-boss’) office in Philadelphia and told him that I had accepted a position with another company and was resigning. He looked at me, shook my hand and asked why I was leaving. I loved my job, worked for a great company, and had the pleasure of working with some of the top people in my industry. However, for a myriad of reasons, including family matters, it was time for me to go. Upon hearing my explanation, he didn’t stand in my way, didn’t push me to stay…he knew I didn’t want to be there anymore and he let me go. Fighting for someone who doesn’t want to be there isn’t worth it, they just end up being unhappy and leaving down the road…often under even worse circumstances.

More recently in Philadelphia, at the same arena that I worked at, a situation similar to mine (plus hundreds of millions of dollars) played out with much different results. For those who don’t follow hockey (which I would bet is most of you), the Philadelphia Flyers signed Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (a restricted free agent, but aren’t we all…) to a huge offer sheet. Weber indicated to anyone that would listen that he no longer wanted to be in Nashville and desired strongly to be in Philadelphia, even if the Predators matched the offer and leveled the playing field.

So what did Nashville do? They, of course, matched the offer and retained their best player…their best player who clearly no longer wanted to be there. The Predators were the unwanted, but thanks to the collective bargaining agreement, they had the leverage and could force an unhappy employee to stay under their control. This is probably a smart move in the short term, but how does it play out down the road? Will Weber simply set his personal desires aside for the next 14 years? My guess is no. The unwanted rarely come out victorious.

Take a trip south on I-95 from Philadelphia and eventually you’ll end up in (or near, at least) Orlando. If you’re on Twitter, or watch SportsCenter, or are mildly interested in sports, you know what has been going on with Dwight Howard for the past year. The Magic are the unwanted, but they control the situation. Rather than cut the unhappy party loose, they’ve overplayed their perceived trump card (control over contract and trade price) and are in the process of potentially devastating their franchise for years. All of this was done in the name of keeping someone who doesn’t want to be there. The unwanted lose again.

Here in Cubs-fandom, we’ve watched this play out from the opposite side for the past few days. The Cubs have made it clear to Ryan Dempster that they no longer want him. They’ve had conversations with him, and tried to make the split amicable, but in the end he holds the chips. He has collectively bargained rights that allow him to block the team that doesn’t want him from sending him somewhere he’s not sure he wants to be.

Quite honestly, I don’t blame him a bit (nor do I blame the Predators or Magic for their positions). Being the jilted lover is hard, and it takes time to get over being cast aside, but what is it that Dempster gets from failing to accept the fate that comes along with being a part of the unwanted? Two more months playing for a bad team? A transformation from beloved fan-favorite to scourge of the fanbase? The unwanted never win, even when they’re in control. We’ll miss you Demp, but the sooner you recognize this point, the sooner we can all move on. Yourself included.

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