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Game 25 – Winning The Games They Should

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Darwin Barney – .231 (WPA)

Jeff Samardzija
I’m of two minds about Jeff Samardzija so far in 2013. The optimistic side of me says that games like Monday night are what suggest Jeff can be an ace before long. It’s critical for an ace to be able to fight through a game with less than his best stuff – on Monday night, Samardzija definitely didn’t have his best stuff.

The pessimist in me (wants to cannibalize the optimist) believes that outings like Monday night occur too frequently for the former Notre Dame standout to ever be truly considered an ace. Except his first start of the year, which was truly great, Samardzija’s appearances since have been somewhere between solid and bad – but the common theme is they are too short. He’s simply not pitching deep enough into games.

He needs to throw more strikes – tonight he walked 4, struck out 8 but took 5 innings to plow through 101 pitches. It’s becoming a theme, last time out it was 6 innings 104 pitches; his second start this year was 105 pitches in 5.2 innings, and the third start was it was 100 pitches in 6 innings. The only time since Opening Day that he’s pitched into the 7th was against Milwaukee where he completed 7 innings, but gave up 5 runs in the process. It’s like someone had him study game tape of Rich Harden.

It’s especially worrying because the bullpen is so terrible; I pity Edwin Jackson. He can expect zero help tomorrow night after he is pulled from the game.

Scott Hairston & Cody Ransom
The former Padres hit back-to-back jacks in the 2nd against their former team. The Cubs were buoyed all night by the bottom of the order particularly with Ransom and Darwin Barney. The 6-7-8 spots produced all the runs for the Cubs and it’s a good thing, because…

Dave Sappelt
…leadoff ‘hitter’ Dave Sappelt sucks at this game called baseball. He’s started hitting leadoff 7 times so far this season, seeing 11, 7, 17, 19, 20, 10, 10 pitches in those respective starts. So only in 3 of 7 starts has he seen more than 11 pitches. He’s jumping at pitches, hacking wildly – almost hoping it sometimes seems, that his bat will miraculously make contact. *Nate Schierholtz saw 7 pitches in one PH at-bat tonight; Sappelt saw 10 pitches in 4 PAs.

With two out in the second, on the heels of a Samardzija sac bunt, Sappelt decided to swing at the first pitch and ground into the final out of the inning; because who cares if Jeff gets a chance to collect a breath? (it’s commonplace for even a mediocre leadoff hitter to drag their feet in such an at-bat – giving their pitcher every opportunity to catch his breath and ready himself to pitch again).

He led off the Cubs half of the inning in each of his other three at-bats, weakly grounding out to the left side every time. If he was hitting the ball, the lack of patience would be less problematic; but even Ian Stewart has been heard mocking Sappelt’s ability to get a hit. And Sappelt’s swing is too long and disjointed for a guy who doesn’t posses middle-of-the-order power. He’s merely a pedestrian fielder; the Cubs can do better with his roster spot.

So as not to be too much of a downer, I’ll say the bullpen was quite good tonight – especially Gregg. That has me highly suspicious of tomorrow night, but we’ll leave those troubles for tomorrow. Also, if the recap makes it feel like we lost this game, just know that it was the combination of Hairston, Ransom, and Barney and the bullpen work that pulled out the win. The rest of the team left a lot to be desired whether it was overall impatience at the top of the order (1-4 in the lineup), Castro’s odd error, or Samardzija aforementioned uninspiring performance, the Cubs scratched and clawed for this one, and not in a good way.

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Game 21 – Finally A Weaker Opponent

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Luis Valbuena – .340 (WPA)

Darwin Barney
Defense was on display for the Cubs on Thursday night in Miami, and it all started with Gold Glove 2B Darwin Barney. He made two very nice plays here and here. The flip to Castro was sensational, that’s the only way to record an out with Pierre running in that situation, and if they miss it the bases are loaded.

Welington Castillo
Castillo’s play also came with Pierre at the plate. A poor sacrifice bunt attempt saw Castillo aggressively going after the lead runner at third base in the ninth inning. Again, if he misses this play or is a split-second late with the throw, the bases are loaded and Marmol has no outs.

Hector Rondon
Sometimes it’s just as important to be lucky. And Rondon certainly was as he snagged this liner.

Nice Win
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead when Castro drove in DeJesus who led the game with a double. Edwin Jackson pitched 6 total innings, 3 of which were good, 3 of which weren’t so good. Jackson immediately gave the run back to the Marlins in the bottom of the first…on a bases loaded walk. The Marlins tagged him for a pair of runs in the 2nd. But back-to-back doubles in the fourth from Castillo and Schierholtz plus a sixth inning HR from Schierholtz left the game tied when Jackson exited. He is credited with a quality start, only in the statistical sense however, it was a mediocre outing.

Luis Valbuena was the Cubs hero, hitting a solo HR that proved to be the final difference. It was almost another case of taking a late lead only to eventually lose when Marmol issued a walk and a single before Pierre’s failed bunt attempt.  Carlos turned it around and recorded the final two outs without incident.  Cubs Win!

Other Notes
Matt Garza is scheduled to throw long toss on Friday. That’s because he was scratched from his rehab start in Double-A on Wednesday. The Cubs are blaming the missed start on a ‘dead arm’ – and that shouldn’t be concerning at all for a guy who hasn’t pitched in the majors since last July. He’s a comebacking line drive to the torso away from being adopted by Mark Prior.

Ian Stewart is trying to find his swing in Triple-A. May I politely suggest that instead of wasting time trying to find his swing, he should steal someone else’s. Stewart is “healthy and ready to go” and we know this because he’s bashing the ball in AAA. Hitting .083 (2-for-24) I’d argue that he’s found his swing, it’s probably just best to promote him now before he goes into a slump.

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Northside Archives: Worse Beginnings

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

This season has started quite poorly for the Cubs. Be it errors, a lack of offense, or the clowns paid to sit in the bullpen and blow games, the Cubs find a way to lose nearly every day. There was a time, though, when the Cubs lost EVERY day…or at least every day they played.

Return From The Strike
The Cubs started the post-strike era with many new faces, including manager Jim Riggleman. He was brought in to replace Tom Treblehorn after the 1994 season. The 1995 Cubs were nothing to write home about, but they did have 30-30 man Sammy Sosa. Finishing 73-71 they were mathematically in the race right to the season’s final series eventually losing the Wild Card to the Rockies and finishing just behind the Astros for 3rd place in the Central. That performance helped coax Ryne Sandberg out of retirement for the 1996 season. On paper the Cubs were set to be better in ’96, but some bad breaks along the way saddled them with a 76-86 record (that Bill James says should’ve been 81-81). So the Cubs got a bit younger during 1997, mixing in youth at several positions – most notably 3B Kevin Orie.

But Terry Mulholland got the ball on Opening Day, and that should’ve been a massive warning sign. He was charged with beating the Florida Marlins, a franchise that had loaded up on free agents and turned the team over to new manager Jim Leyland. The Cubs lost that first game to Kevin Brown and the Marlins, but they couldn’t have imagined their losing would continue uninterrupted for so long. The went on to lose 4-2, 4-3, and 8-2 in a sweep at the hands of the eventual World Series Champion Marlins – they never led in the series. In fact, the Cubs would not hold a lead until the 6th inning of the season’s 4th game. They promptly gave it right back in the bottom of the inning. They’d go on to lose that game to the Braves with the help of an untimely error from the SS and a crappy appearance by the washed up bullpen. This is still 1997 we’re talking about, even though it might seem like 2013.

The Braves would finish off the sweep with wins of 11-5 and a 4-0 shutout. With the lovely MLB schedule, the Cubs found themselves then playing their home opener against the very same Florida Marlins. This time it was a 5-3 loss, followed two days later (another scheduling stroke of genius) by a 1-0 shutout. When the Braves followed the Marlins into Wrigley Field, Cubs fans wanted no part of déjà vu. But that’s what they got; a 2-1 loss followed by a 6-4 defeat leaving the Cubs with a horrific 0-10 to start the season. Yes, all the losses came to the eventual World Series Champion and the team that won the Marlins division in the regular season.

So when the Rockies came to town on April 15th, the Cubs were happy to see a new opponent; and possibly register their first victory. Instead they got a 10-7 defeat followed by a 4-0 shutout. Another new opponent would be needed if the Cubs were to win a game. But the Mets came to town and brought rain with them; the rainout provided the Cubs an extra day to mull over their 0-12 start. It also was the opportunity they needed to finally record a victory. But the Cubs lost the first game of the series 6-3 and the first game of the re-scheduled doubleheader 8-2. At 0-14, the Cubs went into the nightcap with very little hope and even fewer fans. Only a paid attendance of 18,484 saw the Cubs score 2 in the sixth and 2 in the seventh on their way to beating the Mets and Dave Mlicki 4-3. There would be some anxious moments when Turk Wendell couldn’t find the strike zone, surrendered two runs, and ended only closed out the game when the tying run stood at second base – but it was a victory nonetheless.

It took 20 days to lose 14 games and get that first win. Over the following 20 days, the Cubs would go 9-10. After the initial losing streak ended, that team went 67-80 the rest of the way, so just remember there’s a lot of baseball still to be played.

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Game 16: Bevy of Errors Buries Cubs

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Hiram Burgos – .179 (WPA)

Soriano’s error. Alfonso was running almost straight in to corral a fly ball that he awkwardly lunged for as it glanced off his glove. Plays like this happen a few times each year when you employ a fielder of Soriano’s caliber.

Castro’s error. I’m probably the only one, but I am actually pleased with the type of errors that Castro has been committing this year. He hasn’t been out of position, absent-minded, or even mechanically lazy. But his errors this year are consistently coming at the worst times. Saturday’s was no different, after Soriano’s blunder, a walk and two groundouts (the second of which gave the Brewers the lead) – Castro fielded a slow groundball but couldn’t transfer it out of his glove. He never made a throw, another run scored.

Beyond Hideous
Jackson’s error. Chris Bosio visited the mound along with the entire infield after Ryan Braun’s leadoff single in the 6th. With a runner on first, the pitcher checks with his middle infielders to see who will be covering the bag on a comebacker. No replay showed Jackson making that clear with Barney and/or Castro; so it might’ve happened during this meeting on the mound. After striking out Rickie Weeks, Jackson got that comebacker – he turned toward second ready to start the inning-ending double play…double pumped, and chucked it into CF well over Barney’s head. By a lot.

Not Good Enough For This
Yesterday it was a 3-run bomb in the first, today it was 4 free and needless runs GIFTED to the Brewers. This team isn’t nearly as bad as they’ve looked – but they also aren’t good enough to keep overcoming big, early deficits, extra outs, or unearned runs. Any one of those errors wouldn’t have been so bad – but combined, it gave the Brewers a huge lead they didn’t earn. I’d say that our starting pitchers deserve better, but I just watched Jackson chuck the ball to DeJesus again.

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Game 14: Bullpen Proof

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Carlos Villanueva (.197 WPA)

Starting Reliever
The 2013 Cubs have a former reliever, now full-time starter, who is carving up the league’s best teams with great efficiency. Sure Jeff Samardzija’s been good – but I’m talking about Carlos Villanueva who has been spectacular. Villanueva has now faced the World Champion Giants, MLB’s best the Atlanta Braves, and one of baseball’s most potent lineups over the last 3-4 years the Texas Rangers. He emerges from that gauntlet with an ERA of 1.29 and three very good starts. On Thursday he was efficient as well, throwing only 87 pitches in 7 innings of work. By comparison, Alexi Ogando lasted merely two-and-a-third while delivering 71 offerings.

Free-Swinging Walker
Part of Ogando’s problem is that he couldn’t throw a strike to Cubs SS Starlin Castro. Cubs’ fans know just how hard that is to do…Castro hadn’t walked once all year, but Ogando threw him 8 straight balls and Castro didn’t even take the bat off his shoulder until the fourth inning after Ogando had been removed. As a point of reference, Castro walked two times in a game only once last year (and one of the two in that game was intentional). Not since June 16, 2011 had Castro walked twice in a 9-inning game without at least one of the walks being intentional.

Not only did Castro get his first walk, but Alfonso Soriano notched his first HR of the season. And even better, it followed a 2-run HR from Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs went back-to-back in the third, and Schierholtz hit a long foul ball after Soriano’s HR that nearly found him trotting around the bases as well. To say that the Cubs had an easy time with Ogando would be putting it mildly.

Strike Two, HBP
The weird play of the day goes to Luis Valbuena, who swung at a pitch that also hit him in the second inning. Actually he tried to check his swing, but it was still a strike – which turned out to be a good thing for the Cubs when Valbuena eventually singled to drive in the first run of the game.

Quiet Bullpen
James Russell and Carlos Marmol – or two imposters wearing their jerseys – combined for six consecutive outs, three of which were strikeouts. Something tells me Jeff Samardzija won’t find as much help if/when he’s removed from his start on Friday.

Don’t Panic
Before most of the night games had started on Thursday, the Cubs had a better record than the Angels. A better run differential than either version of the Marlins (Toronto or Miami) or the high-priced Dodgers and Phillies. They’ve given up fewer runs than the vaunted Cincinnati Reds pitching staff (albeit in one fewer game), and scored more than the Dodgers or Tampa Bay. By night’s end they could find themselves a scant 2.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. It’s a really long season and the Cubs have been playing some really good teams…I expect the mood around here will be much better over the next couple of weeks.

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Game 13: Baker Contributes To Another Cub Loss

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Derek Holland (.483 WPA)

Jeff Baker
No stranger to Cub losses, Jeff Baker helped hang the L flag again at Wrigley on Tuesday night – this time as a member of the opposing team. Baker’s run-scoring double to CF for the visiting Rangers created what felt like an insurmountable 1-0 lead.

Derek Holland
Insurmountable because Rangers starter, Derek Holland was absolutely dealing. Seven innings, 2 hits, 6 Ks, no walks – really Holland’s only trouble was slight inefficiency (and that wasn’t even terrible, a pedestrian 108 pitches in 7 innings). He made Cub hitters look foolish all evening.

Dave Sappelt
Dave Sappelt knows what it is to look foolish; this guy is not a major leaguer. Isn’t the point of a platoon to get a better matchup in the lineup? The other half of Sappelt’s platoon must be a blind midget. He looked uncomfortable, guessing at pitches all night. The Rangers threw him a steady diet of off-speed stuff that he seemed incapable of recognizing, let alone making contact with. He’s not even a great fielder, he just needs to be sent back down.

Roster Moves
And with all the roster moves the Cubs made on Tuesday, it’s a minor miracle Sappelt wasn’t involved. Someone here made a crack when the Dodgers waived Kevin Gregg last week about his career being over. Only it wasn’t…at least not until he’s had another turn in the Cubs’ bullpen. The Cubs first signed him to a minor league deal, and then promoted him to the big league club on Tuesday. They also added reliever Kameron Loe to the bullpen; putting DFA’ing Hisanori Takahashi on the DL and demoting Rafael Dolis.

They also DFA’d Spring Training sensation Brent Lillibridge. His replacement was a waiver pickup, Cody Ransom. As put it, Ransom “can help at third base as the Cubs try to find a bat while Ian Stewart rehabs from a strained left quad.” Because the panacea for a team with right-handed role players who can’t hit is a left-handed role player who can’t hit.

Some Perspective
Maybe this will tamp down Chuck’s exuberance at the current pace of 49 wins for the year. The Cubs sit at 4-9 right now. Last year after 13 games, the Cubs were merely 3-10. So for all this talk of underperforming and frustrating results, Dennis Green isn’t surprised.

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Northside Archives: Streaking

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

If you don’t follow basketball, you may not know the Miami Heat are kind of a big deal at the moment. The reigning NBA Champions just had a 27-game win streak snapped in Chicago by the Bulls last night. The Heat were attempting to break the NBA’s record of 33-straight wins put up by the 1972-73 Lakers. If you’re saying to yourself, “the Cubs might not win 33 games the entire year!” – just remember, it’s only March. No need to be so pessimistic; they’ll probably get at least 43.

Longest Streak Ever
The Cubs longest win streak is an impressive 21 games. More impressive, they’ve had two DIFFERENT 21-game win streaks. Less impressive, the first streak came before Adolf Hitler was born; the second came before most of the world realized he was a pretty bad guy.

Streak #1
In merely their 5th year of existence, the Chicago White Stockings, as managed by Cap Anson posted an incredible 21-game win streak from June 5 through July 8, 1880. Silver, Cap, Joe, Tom, Ned, Abner, George, and King were the regulars. Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith were the pitching staff – between them throwing all but 28 of the 775 IP during the season. Corcoran was 43-14 with 1.95 ERA and 536.1 IP; but really what does that tell you, pitching wins are overrated. At the end of the streak, the Cubs record was 35-3. They had a rough July (because ya know, they were still the Cubs) and would finish with a record of 67-17, NL Champs and 15 games clear of the 2nd place and since defunct, Providence Grays.

Streak #2
On September 2, 1935 the Cubs sat in third place in the NL. First place STL was 2.5 games up on the Cubs, with the Giants in between the two rivals. At 79-52 the Cubs had a very good record to be sure, but 1934 had ended with those three teams in exactly that position with comparable records. By the time the Cubs lost again (on Sept. 27) they had a whopping six-game lead over their rivals and were headed to the World Series. Even after losing the final two games of the season, the Cubs posted an impressive 100-54 record before losing to Detroit in the Fall Classic.

Other Fun Facts

  • The Cubs longest win streak of 2012 was a measly 4 games – a feat they accomplished 3 times.
  • In 2011, they actually won 7 in a row. Don’t remember it? Probably because it came after a horrendous 8-17 stint.
  • Not since 2001 have the Cubs sported a winning streak of 10+ games. That year they won 12 in a row…after they’d lost 8 in a row!
  • However, 12 in a row is better than 6 different teams have EVER managed.
  • In fact, only 1 team boasts a streak longer than the Cub record of 21. The San Francisco Giants won 26 in a row back in 1916.

This Year?
What your prediction for 2013? More than the 4 game streak in 2012? Less? As for me, I expect our longest losing streak to be longer than our longest winning streak…for a fifth year in a row.

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Morning News: One Week To Go

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Seven Days Away
Next Monday the Cubs take the field in the season opener against Pittsburgh. Dale has Castro penciled in as the No. 2 hitter. And Rafael Dolis was eliminated as a contender for the final bullpen spot; that is now down to Zach Putnam, Cory Wade, and Hisanori Takahashi.

Not A Good Sign…
Your high-priced 1B is in a steep decline. Your high-priced 3B is embroiled in yet another PED scandal. Your high-priced SS is old, has no range, is coming off a broken ankle, and you are forced to trot him out there until he willingly quits. Your high-priced CF was hurt in his first spring game and probably won’t return until May (or later). Your closer, returning after a year off from injury, is 42 years old and in his final season. So what do you do Brian Cashman? Acquire the AL’s albatross, Vernon Wells. What’s amazing is that the move probably makes the Yankees better, at least until Granderson returns. If I was a betting man, I’d expect Girardi to retire in late-July/early-August only to be replaced by a hairless no-name who likes to bet the ponies.

Brackets Busted
Did you know that Florida Gulf Coast was younger than you (well maybe most of you) – established in 1997? Did you have them in the Sweet Sixteen? They are the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. For good measure, there’s a 12 (Oregon), a 9 (Wichita State) and a 13 (La Salle) all crashing the tournament’s second weekend as well.

Useful Shot That
Play the ball where it lies; and Sergio Garcia did exactly that…after he climbed the tree, located his ball, and hit it back into the fairway while facing the wrong direction and hitting one-handed.

Spectacular Wreck
I think it’s totaled.

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Morning News: March Madness Is Here

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Cubs Recently
The ladies haven’t been digging the chauvinism so Dave Sappelt provided a long ball but the Cubs lost. And the ladies still don’t dig him…

Nate Schierholtz hit a blast of his own, his trot around the bases gave us time to remember that I comes before E. But the Cubs lost that one too.

NCAA Basketball
The collective productivity of the nation’s employees will once again face a sharp decline this week. The NCAA Tournament starts this week. Brackets are out.

NFL Rule Change
Bears RB, Matt Forte is one of many NFL players – past & present – who believes some of the new rule changes in the NFL are beyond stupid. It almost seems as if the change will guarantee ball carriers are more off-balance when they absorb a hit; they’ll certainly be more upright and easier to bring down.
*(If you can’t wait for the NFL, enjoy some Rugby League from the NRL. Guys hitting each other at full speed WITHOUT pads!)

Arena League Wants Tebow
The Arena League desperately wants to be cool again.

Crazy Woman Dies
Apparently the real woman who inspired the crazy lady in The Natural died this weekend.

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