Author Archive

Game 57 – Extra Inning Excitement

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Cubs 8, Angels 6

Box Score / Highlights

Like Jedi, this two-game series in Anaheim was my first chance to see the 2013 Cubs in person. And while you tend to miss a lot of the game when your group includes four children under the age of four, here’s a few things I walked away with from the Cubs’ extra innings win over the Angels.

Anthony Rizzo is a cool guy; he’s trying to help you. Prior to his single in the ninth inning, Anthony Rizzo had grounded out to first in each of his four at-bats. That’s the kind of night that can get into a hitter’s head; the kind of night that makes him start pressing in the wrong places and squandering late-inning opportunities. But not Rizzo. He came up in the tenth inning with the bases loaded and two outs–the exact kind of game-changing situation so many other Cubs’ sluggers have disappeared in in the past. Instead, Rizzo offered up the biggest hit of the night–a bases-clearing double to right, breaking the tie and giving the Cubs a protect-able cushion for the bottom of the tenth. Put it this way: a lot of hitters can inspire hope. Rizzo inspires confidence. In that situation there’s no one I would have rather step up to the plate (at least while Castro’s mojo is still AWOL).

Viva la Garza. I’ve been in the less-than-optimistic camp when it comes to Matt Garza’s return to form, but he seems to be doing well so far. Wednesday wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from him, but it was better than serviceable, and therefore, better than what I expected. (Also in the better-than-expected camp: Ryan Sweeney.)

Trumbo in paradise. Much has been said already this season about the Angels’ high-priced roster of underperforming sluggers. What looks on paper to be a partial All-Star lineup has fallen far short of expectations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shakeup in the near future. One name that should be in demand is Mark Trumbo. On several other teams, he’d be one of the marquee players. For the Angels he fades into the background, despite his performance. Wednesday night he went 2-for-4 with two homers, driving in a third of Anaheim’s runs for the game and looking every bit the top-shelf hitting talent his teammates are paid to be. With a surplus of OFs and 1Bs who can hit, expect the Angels to shop Trumbo. And if Wednesday night was any indication, expect him to have several suitors.

If I could reach you, I would hit you. I cannot bring myself to trust Kevin Gregg with the baseball in his hands. Even if he’s been one of the Cubs’ most consistent relievers this season, he doesn’t inspire confidence when you watch him on the mound. In fact, he inspires the opposite of confidence. It’s an intense, concentrated worry; like the inescapable  feeling your bladder is about to explode, and you’re a great distance from shelter and a fresh pair of pants. And it’s all compounded by the still-vivid memories of his first, disastrous go-round with the Cubs. Gregg received the win for Wednesday’s effort, but the terminology is deceptive. He outlasted the Angels. Or better still: his ineptitude was overcome by theirs. (On a side note, I hit up the Portillo’s in Buena Park on the way home last night, along with what seemed to be most of the Cubs fans who attended the game. Amidst the crowd was a mildly jubilant, less-mildly drunk Cubs fan who was complaining about our shaky bullpen. He wanted me to know he was pleased we survived an inning of Marmol, even though Marmol never took the mound Wednesday. So I guess congratulations are in order for Hector Rondon, who it seems is officially the drunk man’s Carlos Marmol.)

Trip advisor. Since Southern California is a vacation destination, and there’s a good possibility that some readers might be heading out this way in the coming months, I want to give you a brief heads-up on the baseball situation in the greater LA area. Unless you’re a fan of rampant profanity, territorial aggression, drunken brawls, and a general lack of safety, I’d encourage you to skip Dodger Stadium altogether and instead head down to Angel Stadium. Seriously, the Anaheim crowd is friendly, peaceful, and into the game. None of that seems like an achievement until you’ve visited Dodger Stadium. But I strongly suggest you don’t.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Game 51 – Wrecked ‘Em? Dioner Killed ‘Em!

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

White Sox 3, Cubs 9

Box Score / Highlights

The Good  Cubs’ backup catcher Dioner Navarro had the kind of day we dream about as children. He hit three homers and walked once, scoring every time he came to the plate Wednesday and driving in six of the Cubs’ nine runs. It was a simply remarkable day at the plate, especially for a guy who came into the game hitting .200 with only three homeruns in fifty-five at-bats.

The Bad  Hard to find anything bad with the game, but potentially bad for the season is Scott Feldman’s ongoing campaign to be this season’s Paul Maholm. Feldman continues to over-perform, holding the White Sox Wednesday to two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts over six innings (my favorite stat–no walks). Is Feldman a long-term building block? Obviously not. But when the Cubs decide to move him and his cheap contract before the trade deadline, he Cubs will be a less interesting, less enjoyable team to watch.

The Ugly  With a seven-run lead in the eighth inning, Carlos Marmol made an appearance in the only situation I can trust him in these days. And while he didn’t completely melt down, he did manage to give up a double, a pass ball, and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. He’s the poster boy for the Cubs’ leaky bullpen, which took another hit Wednesday when the team announced that Kyugji Fujikawa needs Tommy John surgery.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Bleacher Bums

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

I’m in the early stages of fighting off a cold, and so far I’m losing spectacularly. As a result I won’t have much to say today, but I’m counting on you guys to pick up the slack.

By now you have probably seen the highlight of Travis Wood’s homer this past Sunday. If so, then you probably also saw a woman pour most of a beer over a man’s head after his failed attempt to catch the ball on its way over the left field bleachers.

If not, you can see the video and read the story here.

Normally the inebriated antics of the Bleacher Bums wouldn’t interest me, but I’ve met these two. I don’t know them well, mind you–in fact, I’ve been struggling for the last couple days to remember their names. I do know they are both longtime Cubs fans and season ticket holders. And in the short time I spent with them, this little episode seems totally in-character for this husband and wife team.

I met them last year at the season ticket holder entrance in right field, and we started talking before the gates opened. I wound up sitting with them (same seats as you see in the video, which is apparently where they always sit) while I waited for a friend who never showed up. Instead, I was treated to a barrage of bleacher anecdotes, Cubs chatter, and friendly ribbing with the other season ticket holders and regulars in their section. These are the kind of people who have never met a stranger, and as a new Cubs season ticket holder, I was welcomed with open (metaphorical) arms.

The next day I had another friend in tow, and we arrived at the game just before the first pitch. There weren’t many open seats in the bleachers by then, but my new friends had saved us a couple in case we showed up. And while I usually prefer to sit closer to the field, these two do have a pretty good spot if you’re looking to catch a homer. I wound up misplaying one that second day in the stands. At the time I was a little embarrassed for missing what should have been an easy catch. Now I’m just glad she didn’t dump a beer on me.

Let’s hear about the memorable characters you’ve met at Wrigley. Ronnie Woo-Woo does not count.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Game 40 – “Let’s Get Some Runs!”

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Rockies 3, Cubs 6

Box Score / Highlights

If you’re like me, you usually appreciate the optimism of the Harry Caray-instituted post-seventh inning stretch cry, but you readily acknowledge that it’s probably misplaced. This season in particular, I don’t get the sense that these Cubs are prone to late-inning heroics. I spent most of Tuesday afternoon in driving to and from LAX, and didn’t get to hear much of the game. I did manage to stream a few minutes, but when I heard the Cubs were down 7-1 late in the game, I knew there was little reason for hope. Sure, they managed to tack on a couple late runs, but they never really threatened to get back in it.

That same pessimism shows up when they let an opponent hang around too long, like it seemed there were doing Wednesday evening. After a lead-off homer from David DeJesus in the first and a two-run bomb from Jeff Samardzija–a surprising show of power for the Dread Pirate–the Cubs nursed a two run lead through the early innings. And while Samardzija looked strong for most of the evening, I never got the sense they were going to put the Rockies away (they did load the bases with two outs in the fifth inning, but that little rally was over before it began). A pinch hit homer for Reid Brignac (who?) in the sixth did nothing to calm my fears.

Then in the bottom of the seventh, the bats woke up again. With Darwin Barney on third base (after a walk, a steal, and a Samardzija sacrifice) and DeJesus on first (HBP), Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo both singled to right, driving in runs and chipping away at the Rockies’ hopes. After a pitching change, Alfonso Soriano grounded into a run-producing fielder’s choice to widen the lead. And although Colorado managed to push across a late run in the ninth, the game was basically over after the seventh (and yes, I’m temporarily sidestepping my misgivings about Kevin Gregg’s closing abilities).

Did the Cubs respond to the “Let’s Get Some Runs!” cry? Of course not. In fact, my guess is the players regard that particular bit of optimistic groupthink as little more than a repetitive nuisance.

But in a game that depends so much on good timing, it was a pleasure to see the Cubs have it working on their side Wednesday night. And it seems like more and more lately, this team has been a pleasure to watch. Stick around–they might surprise us yet.

Parting Shot: And speaking of good timing, here’s another semi-annual reminder that Soriano has a gun.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Rivalries and Playoff Runs

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Last Thursday night some friends and I sat in a tiny restaurant in Burbank* and happily watched the Chicago Blackhawks advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the booth next to us sat a cab driver named Elmer who grew up on the south side of Chicago. Over the course of the game, he and I chatted about the Blackhawks’ playoff chances, how much the team has improved this year, and the other Chicago teams we root for (Elmer was a Sox fan, but he didn’t seem to harbor any malice for us Cubs fans). Mostly we discussed who we wanted to face in the next round and why.

*The restaurant is called Taste Chicago, and it’s owned by actor and Chicago native Joe Mantegna. The story goes that he and his wife couldn’t find a place to get good Italian Beef or Chicago-style pizza, so they opened their own. It’s not much more than a hole in the wall, but the restaurant serves as an unofficial gathering place for former Chicagoans. I stopped by in December for the Bears’ last game, and the place was packed to the rafters, with Mantegna in an orange and blue Bears wig leading the singing of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” after every touchdown. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a stop.

Elmer was eager to march through the San Jose Sharks and face off against the Anaheim Ducks on the way to the Cup Finals. He was looking for revenge–the Ducks went 3-0 against the Blackhawks this season. His contention was that Anaheim had lucked out by facing us when we were dealing with injuries, and that they needed to be put in their place during our playoff run. And while I agree that we probably should have been able to handle them in a seven-game series, I honestly wanted no part of the Ducks in the postseason. In my book, the sooner they were out of the playoffs, the better.

Fast forward to this past Sunday night when I gleefully watched the Detroit Red Wings stomp to death the Ducks’ postseason hopes. And while I’m thrilled the Blackhawks won’t have to deal with pesky Anaheim, they’ve exchanged one potential hurdle for another.

The Red Wings are one of the most consistently skilled, smart, and well-constructed teams in the league. They often play with a freakish efficiency, and they rarely seem to struggle to fill spots in their roster with more top-flight talent. And as the Blackhawks’ oldest rival, they hold a 389-313-84 advantage in the all-time record against Chicago. I’m not sure the Blackhawks won’t have a tougher time against them than they might have had against the Ducks.

But I do know that this series will matter in ways a series against Anaheim never could. I know that the history between these two franchises is inescapable, and that regardless of who comes out on top, the victory will be all the sweeter because of who they’ve beaten.

And maybe that’s where this connects back to baseball. Given the historic lack of postseason success on the Northside, maybe we shouldn’t be picky. But if when the Cubs make their next playoff run, would you want it to go through St. Louis? Would playoff glory be that much sweeter against the Cardinals? Is it better to stare down and conquer your greatest foe, or would you rather take on the pesky team that’s bothered you all season?

If he had his druthers, I think Elmer would have chosen both.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: