Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Cubs still may or may not put Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list.
Cubs f/x makes a good case that Geovany Soto's shoulder may still not be as healthy as we have been led to believe.
Carlos Marmol threw 22 pitches yesterday and only 5 for strikes. I have nothing in which to base this fear, but I worry that his knee isn't right yet, and he may end up overcompensating, and you know where I'm going from here...
Milton Bradley makes Rondell White look like the picture of health, so you can't ever relax regarding his health status.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are taking a bit of a beating in the news as well.
Phil Rogers and apparently some random Tribune subscriber hate Jim Hendry's moves so far, and seem about ready to start work on building that golden statue of Mark DeRosa.
Somebody named Stu Courtney at the Sun-Times asks if Cubs fans should be panicking, says no, but then proceeds to give every reason why we should be panicking.
Plus, they still have the indignity of being completely shut down by Doug Davis. Even Bob Melvin, Arizona's manager, seems shocked by how effective Davis was, "For a guy that tends to throw a lot of pitches and get himself in some jams, this stretch has been awfully good, just a little overshadowed by Danny."
So, unless the team comes out swinging a hot bat (Paging Alfonso Soriano, your lead-off homerun prowess is requested. I repeat - Alfonso Soriano, please direct a pitch to the left-field bleachers as soon as possible, thank you), I'm fully expecting some boos to start raining down from the stands.
If it comes to that, let's at least keep it clean and not give Gordon Wittenmyer any more fodder for stories about us being racist fans.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Highlights from today's Cubs game against the Diamondbacks:
- Robots did not enslave the human race.
As far as I can tell, that is the only positive thing to say. Ron Santo was unable to do much better when he named Reed Johnson the Chevrolet Player of the Game for being the only Cub to reach base twice (one walk and one hit-by-pitch).
That's all I've got. If anyone else has anything positive that can be gleaned from this pathetic excuse for a baseball game, please feel free to enlighten me.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Aisle 424 has learned from a highly credible made-up source that Jim Hendry has made a bet with Satan that the Cubs would not have to use the Disabled List this year. Apparently, if the Cubs refrain from placing a player on the DL, the Cubs will win the World Series and Hendry retains his soul.
It is unclear how the Cubs team will be affected if Hendry loses the bet (the source could neither confirm nor deny that the Cubs would experience a championship-free millenium), but he is assuredly going to have a very unpleasant eternity involving pitchforks and lots and lots of heat.
Reportedly, before the season began, Hendry received a phone call from someone claiming to be Satan, offering him the deal to assure that the Cubs would win the World Series if he could win the simple bet of leaving the DL unused. Reportedly, Satan has a 314 area code and sounds alot like Tony LaRussa.
The roster has been stretched thin with injuries to Milton Bradley, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Marmol. Alfonso Soriano has done his best to stay in the lineup after getting hit in the head with a Todd Wellemeyer pitch. He managed to double in his next at-bat and was clearly excited about the Cubs win after the game when he told reporters, "Vacuum hydrogen chicken potpie." He then drooled a little and stood on his head in his locker. When asked if he would stay in the leadoff spot for the Arizona series, he responded gamely, "Robot."
Tonight, despite Soriano's selfless heroics, the Cubs will be fielding a lineup including Joey Gathright at shortstop and Sean Marshall behind the plate. It seems the swine flu has made its way into the Cubs' clubhouse and made Geovany Soto, Ryan Theriot, Koyie Hill, and Kosuke Fukudome unavailable for the next couple of days.
"I told the guys the water in St. Louis tasted like bacon, but they just laughed," said tonight's starter, Ted Lilly, who also happens to be one of the few players to not have any injuries or illnesses. "Guess I should have smashed that waterpipe too, " he later joked.
"Look, we've got some athletic guys on this team that can play more than one position, so we are just hoping we can get through the next couple of days," said Lou Piniella. "Pinch-hitting and relief pitchers are an overrated part of game strategy anyway. Hey, on the plus side, this pig flu thing seems to have killed Nate Cotts, so you have to take the good with the bad."
The odds look long that the Cubs can continue on without using the DL, but Hendry is committed, "I am going to win us a championship any way I can. If I have to tape body parts back onto Milton Bradley, I damn well will and he will play 120 games this year. Please God, let him play again this year.... (unintelligible weeping)."
Soriano is still enthusiastic and wants to hear none of the pessimism from those that don't believe the team can carry on as currently composed. "Sandals molasses violin, " he said before taking batting practice. You could tell he meant it.
The prior post is completely fictitious in that the only actual facts are the correctly spelled names of the players and team officials.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching this particular cinematic gem, the movie title is a pretty good synopsis of the actual plot. There are a bunch of snakes on a plane, which understandably is a huge problem for the characters of the movie.
The movie starts out well enough, the plane is heading merrily on its way from Hawaii to Los Angeles with a bunch of characters as diverse as "Stereotypical Hip Hop Star," "Close-to-Retirement Flight Attendant," "Balding Douchebag Businessman," "Big-Boobed Blonde" and many others. Shortly after takeoff, a bunch of snakes are set loose from the cargo hold and begin attacking passengers.
Naturally, things get worse and worse, just when one problem is supposedly solved, the snakes find another way to potentially kill everyone. The pilot is killed, then the plane's guidance instruments start shorting out, then the snakes start getting past a make-shift barrier constructed out of luggage, then they attack the co-pilot, then they start making their way up into the first-class lounge, then they finally kill the co-pilot. It never seems to end.
That's when I realized that this is how the Cubs season is going. The baseball gods have placed us in a cheezy horror movie formula and I'm actually kind of shocked that Samuel L. Jackson hasn't shown up yet.
First, Geovany Soto went down with an injury, but plucky Koyie Hill and a resurgent Kosuke Fukudome manage to get the Cubs by and everyone relaxes a bit.
Then Milton Bradley got hit with a groin injury. Still, the Cubs manage to win two of three when all he can manage is a singular pinch-hitting performance in each game (and an Oscar-worthy performance as an unfairly wronged baseball player who is eventually ejected for his protestations).
So the Cubs then headed to St. Louis with the end of the tunnel in sight, hoping to once again become 100% healthy within a couple of days. This is when the pace of the story picks up to a frenetic pace that surely will involve a body count.
Sure enough, within the same game, the Cubs lost both Aramis Ramirez to a calf-strain, and Carlos Marmol to a knee strain. Surely the team composed of nothing but corner outfielders and second basemen couldn't possibly sustain any more adversity, but the baseball gods were just getting warmed up.
As surely as a snake horror movie will involve a man being swallowed whole by a boa contrictor, Derrek Lee managed to hurt his neck while smacking a double.
Before the weight of that development could be fully digested, Alfonso Soriano got drilled in the head with a pitch. Under normal circumstances, Soriano probably would have come out of the game as a precaution, but since the motherf---ing injuries were all over the motherf---ing roster and Carlos Zambrano probably would have had to play left, he heroically stayed in the game.
It's hard to imagine how the injuries could possibly stack up for this team any more, but if watching Snakes on a Plane has taught me anything, it's that things can always get hilariously worse, and yet still end up with a videogame-playing fat guy safely landing the plane.
Hopefully our plucky comic relief team of height-challenged secondbasemen, mediocre middle-relievers, and curmudgeonly manager can gut out enough victories to survive and treat us all to a happy ending. But just in case, they should probably make sure there aren't any snakes on their plane to Arizona.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The good news is that the injury is not to Marmol's arm. The bad news is that any injury to Carlos Marmol is devastating to the bullpen. Gordon Wittenmyer reports that the MRI this morning revealed a grade 1 sprain of the knee.
Meanwhile, a roster composed almost entirely of poor fielding corner outfielders and diminutive second basemen is sustaining injuries to positions that have no depth on the bench. As of this writing, the Cubs have not made a DL move with either Ramirez or the seemingly perpetually injured Milton Bradley (groin).
The baseball gods are heaping heavy doses of adversity on the Cubs in the early going and we will have to see how they respond. These are the sorts of events that destroyed previous Cubs seasons, so there is a certain amount of panic that will naturally creep in.
Lou Piniella, already concerned about the lack of offensive punch, juggled his lineup to begin the series. He stuck Ryan "Slappy" Theriot in the leadoff spot in an effort to capitalize on his strong start in getting on base. He moved Soriano down to the third spot, hoping that his power numbers would be better utilized with Theriot and/or Fukudome on base in front of him.
He moved Derrek Lee down to the fifth spot in an effort to take some pressure off and rejuvenate his bat.
The results after one game were not immediately encouraging. Theriot was 0 for 5 with five runner stranded and a rally-killing double play (though the tying run to score did score on the play). Lee was 1 for 4 with a run scored, he left three men on. Soriano was 1 for 4.
So the Cubs will take the field today with Koyie Hill and Joey Gathright as pretty much the only bench players left that can still play and Snap, Crackle and Pop as the starting infield lineup. Sean Marshall will try to duplicate Ryan Dempster's feat of pitching seven innings since they have no one to bail the bullpen out from the epidemic of walks they issue.
The gods are bringing it and I would love nothing more than to see the Cubs shove the adversity right down the Cardinals' throats while the smartest fans in the world do the wave.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Lets see what some folks on Twitter are saying about Milton:
- "Milton Bradley of Chicago Cubs sidelined again with groin injury.....yes again" - @Sportsnymph
- "Yo, Jim Hendry. How's that Milton Bradley thing working out?" - @Schaumy
- "is starting to get a funny feeling about Milton Bradley. funny, like the morning after downing a pint of Clorox funny. welcome back Smardja!" - @greenbaysucks
- "I'd love to catch some cubs games. My dad disowned them but I still love em. Except milton Bradley. He sucks" - @ZackTeibloom
- "Milton Bradley you are truly worthless. Go back to wherever you came from and let some young guys who can contribute play." - @seanklein
- "Cubs lose. Milton Bradley couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat right now..." - @jpearman
Not a lot of love to be found for Milton in Cubbieland.
I'll go out and say that I'm still rooting for him though. I'm not going to get on him for having a bad stretch, especially when the umpires don't seem to be giving him any calls. If someone had come to me and offered me $30 million over three years to play right field for the Cubs, I would have signed my name and asked questions about the decision-making that resulted in such an event later. I bet most people would probably do the same thing, so I'm not going to fault him for signing his name on a contract that Hendry was delusional enough to offer him.
We can't unsign Milton Bradley. We can't magically turn him into Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, or Raul Ibanez. All we can do is hope that he starts making some contact with the bat when he is actually healthy enough to stand in the outfield for nine innings.
Hopefully that starts to happen when the Cubs are down in St. Louis. If that happens, he'll have a happy homecoming. Otherwise, its going to be like Jacque Jones never left town.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Then there were the other instances we seem to have seen before. A cat (which was NOT black) came scampering out from somewhere in left field and ran around a bit before a member of security corraled it. Of course, everyone in the ballpark started playing the mental video of Ron Santo being circled by a black cat at Shea in 1969.
Then a high foul ball twisted and curved and came down ominously close to the Bartman seat, and a fan caught the ball, thus taking away the .000001% chance that Soriano had of making the catch. The crowd erupted in a chorus of boos that grew louder when the next pitch was hit into right for a single.
I wasn't sure what would happen next. I half expected to see a ball go between Lee's legs at first, or have Steve Garvey or Will Clark come out of the Reds' dugout to pinch hit.
Now, there was a lot of debate on Bleed Cubbie Blue about exactly how much the foul ball actually had in common with the Bartman incident. There were many arguments that the ball was actually two or three rows further up the line, that the situation was totally different, that there was a good chance that Soriano wouldn't have caught the ball even if there was no wall or fans within twenty feet of him, etc.
All of which brings to mind the question: Who f---ing cares!?
I don't care if the ball was a frame-by-frame re-enactment of the incident down to the headphones and Alou hissy-fit. What the hell does it matter?
I hear people talk all about how they can't believe how badly they feel for Bartman and that it wasn't his fault the Cubs imploded in 2003. But there was a whole stadium full of people booing a guy who may or may not have done something that resembled the Bartman play.
I don't like passing blame onto one individual when a collapse on the magnitude of Game 6 occurs, but if one person has to take the blame, it is Dusty Baker and not Steve Bartman that should take the heat. Leave Bartman alone for once and for all.
When the eighth inning started in Game 6, Dusty sent his rookie pitcher to the mound after 95 pitches to protect a three run lead. Nobody was warming up in the bullpen. Those of us in Aisle 424 pleaded for Dusty to get Farnsworth up in the bullpen - just in case. We had seen much larger leads dissolve in the past. We had been witness to the near-collapse of a five-run lead to the Giants in 1998. Stuff happens in baseball, and never more so when a team is on the precipice of history.
Apparently Dusty was unconcerned, as Farnsworth sat out in the bullpen as the inning began. We all know what happened next. Prior gets an out and gives up a double to Pierre. He is now about to face the middle of the Marlin order after 105 pitches, and Castillo is doing his thing by fouling off pitch after pitch. He then sends that ball towards Bartman, yada yada yada... Alou stages a nutty, the fans are throwing beer and cascading boos down on the guy, and every Cub fan in the world braced for impact.
One would think that at this point, Dusty would come out, gather the infield and say something to the effect of, "Dude, we still got this game. Get the out, and then get one more. Don't worry about what could have been. Get the job done." This would have allowed Farnsworth some time to get ready (he was finally up) AND maybe calmed the whole team down a bit and allowed them to re-focus. It would have been SOMETHING other than sitting in the dugout and doing NOTHING.
Dusty chose to sit in the dugout and do nothing.
Maybe if he goes out there, Prior doesn't proceed to walk Castillo, maybe he doesn't give up a hit to Pudge, maybe Alex Gonzalez doesn't bobble the grounder (I still don't think he turns two on it - but one would have been nice), maybe Farnsworth is ready to face Derrek Lee instead of a rattled Prior with 118 pitches on the night. Maybe.
It might not matter, but we'll never know. Dusty just sat and watched it all unfurl and never even tried to change the momentum, and eight pitches after the Bartman ball, the lead was gone.
He was completely unprepared for anything other than Prior continuing his dominance. He was completely unwilling to accept that the team might need to hear a word or two from their leader when things went bad. There is only so much that a manager can do, but he didn't even attempt to change the course of the game.
There were all sorts of events conspiring to defeat the Cubs that night, but Dusty's complete inactions in that inning were, in my mind, the single largest contributor to the Cubs defeat.
Oh - and when Seat 106 yelled to his beer vendor buddy: "Hey Steve, I'll see you at the World Series!" That didn't help anything either.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Neither team is considered a serious contender for the championship in their respective league. The Bulls weren't even favored to get out of the first round against the Celtics.
Nevertheless, both teams have been quite impressive in their opening round series.
The Bulls have given the Celtics all they can handle, and the Celtics have to feel a bit relieved to be tied 1-1 in the series, instead of down 0-2 and heading to Chicago. Granted, the Celtics are without Kevin Garnett, but this is a very talented team that has an improved Rajon Rondo who is worlds ahead of where he was last year, plus they are the defending champions.
If you watched the Celtics during the games, you can tell they are shocked that the Bulls are giving them such fits. They have been awed by Derrick Rose in Game 1, and by Ben Gordon in Game 2. They have work ahead of them to steal a game back when they come to the United Center.
The Blackhawks are still a very young team, but they have fought back from deficits to win the first two games against a much more physical opponent. Their two stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were pre-teens the last time the Blackhawks were in the playoffs, and the rest of the roster is a bit thin in playoff experience.
But there they were skating circles around a slower Calgary team that can't keep up if they can't slam someone into the boards. Calgary took a game last night on their home ice with Patrick Kane sitting out, combined with some good old-fashioned, survival instinct desperation on their parts.
We'll see how these series finish (personally, I think the Hawks will win theirs and the Bulls will lose), but I couldn't be prouder of the two teams for showing up and making their opponents earn the victories against them. Neither the Bulls nor the Blackhawks have given anything away so far.
Which brings us to the Cubs...
If the Cubs had lost their last nine playoff games despite bringing their "A" game, I could live with it. If I had simply seen an opposing team(s) outplay the Cubs, despite their best efforts, I would be crushed, but I would be able to have a ray of optimism that the next time would be better.
Instead, we watch pitchers walk batters left and right, fielders messing up routine defensive plays, batters swinging for the fences for the big homerun instead of working the count and just hitting the ball hard somewhere, constantly leaving men on base, etc., etc. They have handed the games away - pure and simple.
There was talk last year about how the atmosphere at the ballpark was different for the playoffs. It was a more corporate crowd. Well, welcome to the side effects of every player out on the field being a multi-millionaire, and as a result, having playoff seat prices jacked up into the stratosphere. But I was at Game 1 last year and the only difference I felt was due to there being nothing to cheer about.
DeRosa hit the two-run homer to put the Cubs up (which was the last good thing to happen for the Cubs in the series) and the place was as loud as one could expect in the SECOND INNING OF GAME ONE. I'm not sure how many boisterous crowds would remain ever faithful and enthusiatic after watching the horrow show that unfolded before them in the innings that followed.
The simple fact of the matter is that whatever team that was on the field wearing the Cubs uniforms, they were NOT the same people who I had watched all season long. For some reason, despite not having won anything of any significance for 100 years, the Cubs went into the series with some sort of sense that they were destined to win it. When it went sour, they were incapable of imposing their will on the series to turn it back.
They need to figure that out. I know Lou read some books over the off-season. If Milton Bradley is still in one piece come playoff time, his presence in the lineup should help on a couple of levels. Hopefully, Lou and Jim will have a cohesive competent bullpen by then. That should all help.
But seriously, guys, watch the Blackhawks and the Bulls. They'll show you how to approach a playoff series.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
"Crain's has learned that Mr. Ricketts — scion of the TD Ameritrade Inc. fortune — is trying to raise $100 million or more through the sale of preferred stock to wealthy individuals. Money raised from investors would reduce the amount the Ricketts family would have to borrow from banks to finance the Cubs deal.
The preferred shares would represent an ownership interest in the team but confer no voting privileges or other rights of control. Investors would be entitled to a 6.5% dividend on their shares, according to people familiar with the terms.
They also would get front-row seats at Wrigley Field, opportunities to hobnob with players and a place on an "advisory board" that would meet regularly to discuss the team's future. After 15 years, they'd get their original investment back without sharing in any appreciation in the value of the franchise over that period.
People close to the Ricketts group say Mr. Ricketts hopes to find five to 10 investors willing to put up $25 million apiece."
This is the best news I have heard in a long time. I have recently come to the conclusion that I would never be able to own the Cubs. But now, being able to own a portion of the Cubs for a mere $25 million? That is still achievable!
I'm one Mega Millions victory away from the dream. So the question is which is more likely: a Cubs World Series or me winning the lottery?
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The bullpen seems to have the thickest cloud of impending doom hanging over it and I was curious how our group fairs against the rest of the league.
Most of the numbers so far aren't that bad. They certainly aren't great, but they are in the top ten for ERA, Batting Average Against, OPS against, and Strikeouts per nine innings.
The concerning number is the Strikeout to Walk ratio. That is the one stat where they are awful, and that is going to have to change going forward or some of the other peripheral numbers are going to start heading south as well.
Granted, the season is only ten games old and these stats are capable of changing wildly with every game played, but overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much worse things could be in the bullpen
The other aspect I looked at was how much work we are asking an average/above average bullpen to get done. The Cubs bullpen has pitched 33 innings which puts them right in the middle of the pack, tied for 16th most with the Mets.
So, our starters haven't abused the bullpen, but our starters are supposed to be the strength of this team. We are asking a group of guys who are mostly failed starters, failed closers, or kids with no experience to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the 6th and 7th innings where the starters should still be pitching.
That is simply asking for trouble and we pay our starting rotation too much to constantly leave games in the hands of someone like Angel Guzman, Neal Cotts, or Aaron Heilman.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
It seems that 99% of the ushers' job description at Wrigley is to make sure that people aren't trying to sit in the wrong deck. Once someone has assured an usher that they do indeed have an upper deck ticket, the ushers' job is over and that person can go sit wherever the heck they want.
So, since nobody who actually works there is interested in herding the rookies to their proper seats, please feel free to pass along this handy chart of how seating at Wrigley works:
As you walk towards the field from the walkway, the seats numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. are on you right. The seats numbered 101, 102, 103 are on your left. This is why when you look at your ticket, it says what Aisle, Row and Seat you are seated in. Its really not hard at all. No matter what Aisle you are in, whether you are in the Club Boxes, Terrace Reserved, or the top corner Upper Deck reserved seats, the chart holds true.
Personally, I find this system to be much easier than having a "Section" where there are two ways to enter each seating section, from either the right or the left. Which aisle is closest to your seat? It is hard to know for sure until you pick an aisle. Then, you undoubtedly find yourself climbing over ten people to get to a seat you could have accessed from the other side without climbing over anyone.
At Wrigley, if you go to the designated Aisle on your ticket, you will be as close to your seat as you can be and will step on the bare minimum number of people who are already seated.
I wouldn't have to be this condescending about a fairly simple process if the Wrigley ushers were useful in the slightest. The Cubs like to compare themselves to the Boston Red Sox when they raise our ticket prices every year, but you know what the Fenway ushers do? They show you to your seat and they have a towel to wipe it off for you.
I have sat about 15 rows back halfway between third and the Monster - the usher was right there. I have sat a few rows behind the Peske Pole - the usher was right there. I sat in the bleachers behind the bullpen and a couple of college kids had tried to sneak in to yell at the opposing team - the ushers asked the kids to leave and apologized to us for the delay.
I would fall over and die of a heart attack right then and there if I even received half that level of customer service at Wrigley.
Am I really asking for too much when our seats are costing $60 each to expect that I wouldn't have to get into an argument with some drunken, Horry Cow shirt-wearing asswipe who is trying to act all tough in front of his girlfriend, the lovely Ms. Coinslot McBoobjob? When that happens, the ushers are nowhere to be found.
Yet I get hassled by an usher on the ramp to the upper deck as many as three times to prove I have a ticket for the upper deck.
Maybe this wouldn't be pissing me off so much if the Cubs bullpen could throw anything resembling a strike, the offense would stop finding new and interesting ways to not score a runner from third with less than two outs, and our starters could ever go longer than six innings without having to throw 200 pitches.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The rain fell steadily throughout the morning and led to many debates in the bars and on Twitter whether the game would actually get played. Those of us at the bars kept one eye on ESPN or WGN for pre-game baseball news, while the other was kept on the Weather Channel's radar, hoping that the big green mass of rain over Chicago would move on and let us get down to business at Wrigley.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Not that I have anything to bitch about, unless you consider that the first week of the Cubs season included the following:
- Derrek Lee batting .080 in the #3 spot
- Milton Bradley batting .059 in the clean-up spot
- Geovany Soto out of the lineup with an injury after the second game
- Kevin Gregg with a 12.00 ERA and a blown save
- The entire pitching staff giving up 26 walks
If someone had told me a week ago that these facts would be accurate, I would be assuming that I would be preparing to watch a team that would have to consider itself lucky to be coming home 2-4 from their opening road trip.
The fact that the Cubs are 4-2 after taking two of three from both the Astros and the Brewers is a bit astounding right now.
A week ago, I figured the biggest problem this team had as the season started was Fukudome. It turns out that I was reading those particular tea leaves upside down.
So, here I am preparing myself for tomorrow's Opening Day annual arctic freeze that awaits me up in the windblown upperdeck of Wrigley, and I have absolutely no sense of what to expect other than frostbite.
Ted Lilly will get the start, which makes my girlfriend happy. If Ted ever even said hello to her, she would quickly forget that I ever even existed.
The good news for me (and anyone else who is only interested in Ted's pitching ability) is that he is 1-0 and he is one of three Cubs pitchers yet to walk anyone this year (David Patton and Luis Vizcaino, who have combined to face nine batters, are the other two).
The bad news is that he has an ERA of 9.00 and he gave up four homeruns in his last outing. He also was last seen in Spring Training making Mark DeRosa look like Josh Hamilton in last year's Homerun Derby. Basically, Ted has been having a hard time keeping opposing players from hitting the ball 500 feet. When they don't, he tends to get them out, so that's something.
The Cubs will also most likely be fielding a team that is without Geovany Soto (still) and Milton Bradley, who managed to hurt his groin during the one point of the fourth inning tonight against the Brewers where he needed to run instead of trot from one base to another.
Still, they are 4-2 and trailing the hot Cardinals by only a half game. Could the baseball gods actually be intervening to help the Cubs this year? Were they the ones that gave Reed Johnson that boost to help him catch the would-be game-tying grand slam off the bat of Prince Fielder? Are they guiding all of those Theriot slap-shots to open field? Did they really return Kosuke's mojo?
If this was any other team, I would swear that someone upstairs likes them, but since I know that is probably not true, I'm anxious to see if a nice long homestand will at least help the quality of their actual play so that the wins seem more earned than they have so far.
By the way, I returned from St. Louis this evening where I read a very eye-opening piece by Bernie Miklasz that reveals that Albert Pujols is good at baseball. I guess Bernie thought the smartest baseball fans in the world didn't already know that? Rick Telander probably thought it was very well researched.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
"The crash took place only hours after the 22-year-old pitcher played in last night's Angels game.
Police say the driver of a minivan ran a red light in Fullerton and struck two cars, killing three people in a Mitsubishi and critically injuring a passenger.
Police Lt. Craig Brower says the minivan driver fled the crash scene and was captured a short time later. The driver was arrested and booked for investigation of felony hit-and-run.
Police say the van ran the red light early Thursday and struck the gray Mitsubishi, which then slammed into a light pole. Two people in the Mitsubishi died instantly, and a third died at a hospital a short time later.
A fourth occupant was in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange."
TMZ.com was running the story before most news outlets and included a line that I have not seen in any other stories:
"We're told one of the other men killed in the crash was also affiliated with the Angels organization."
(UPDATE: According to CNN/SI, the Angels have stated that no other members of the organization were involved in the crash.)
Coupled with the news that a 27-year old man was killed after a fight at the Angels Opening Day game, the organization has to be absolutely reeling.
I can't imagine a member of the Angels trying to stay focused and playing baseball after such a tragic turn of events darkened what should have been a time of hope and optimism.
I remember the feelings of shock and grief exhibited in the ballpark the day that Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room before a Cubs/Cardinals game in 2002. The Cardinals were shattered and the Cubs were equally shaken. Joe Girardi could barely deliver the brief statement through his tears to the hushed stadium that the game would be postponed due to a "tragedy in the Cardinal family."
Baseball teams have a bond that can be as strong, or even stronger than family ties. Losing a teammate like this has to feel like losing a brother.
My thoughts and prayers are with everyone associated with the victims' families, whether they are bound by blood or baseball.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
"'I kind of over-exposed my shoulder a little bit,' Soto said. 'There was a little discomfort in my shoulder. I felt some weakness in it, and I felt I didn't have a shot if somebody else [tried to steal]. I need to keep up my exercises, and we'll see how it is in a couple days.'"
Cubs fans, always ready to roll with whatever obstacles that come up in a season, have started to react fairly predictably. Some people are already blaming the WBC for this turn of events. There are comments on message boards bemoaning the loss of Henry Blanco over the off-season.
Personally, I blame Len and Bob for awaking the baseball gods by pointing out during the broadcast that this was the first time since 1986 that the Cubs did not have someone on the disabled list to start the season. By the way, that team made it all the way to April 21 before Lee Smith went down.
Hopefully, and most likely, this is nothing more than the minor irritation that Soto is making it out to be. But as Cub fans, we usually have to deal with worst-case scenarios just so we are prepared and we don't kill ourselves when it turns out Soto is having season-ending surgery.
I wrote yesterday about how difficult a job Piniella and Hendry have in front of them in figuring out the Fukudome issue. If it does turn out that Soto is out for any significant period of time, it makes the Fukudome offensive blackout even more of an emergent problem.
Hardly any team has depth at catcher. It's just a luxury that most teams can't afford, so there is usually a precipitous drop-off in quality from the starting catcher to the back-up catcher. The Twins are without Joe Mauer and they have to turn to Mark Redmond. If something happens to Russell Martin in Los Angeles, the Dodgers will be seeing more of Brad Ausmus. In Atlanta, somebody named Clint Sammons is backing up Brian McCann until the great David Ross is healthy enough to join the team.
The only time that there isn't a huge dip in talent between starting and back-up catchers on a roster is when they suck equally. The Cubs managed to make it to the playoffs with a three-headed monster consisting of Scott Servais, Sandy Martinez, and Tyler Houston behind the plate in 1998, so if we can't agree that Koyie Hill can match Hank White's output, can we all at least get on board with the idea that he probably can't get much worse than Tyler Houston?
So the problem going forward is not so much that we now have a hole in our lineup at catcher. Most teams have a hole in their lineup at catcher, so that is nothing catastrophic.
The problem now becomes that we have TWO holes in the lineup because Fukudome is pretty much an automatic out at the moment. Couple that with the pitchers' spot and we have one third of our lineup as a non-factor offensively, with Alfonso Soriano sitting in the middle of the gaping hole and never ever seeing a fastball to hit as a result.
Jim, Lou - I just want to tell you both good luck, and we're all counting on you.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Unfortunately, the problem of Kosuke Fukudome's inability to adjust back against a league that figured him out last May doesn't seem to be fixing itself. This is where Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry earn their money.
The best solution to this would be for Fukudome to start playing at a level that even comes close to the guy they thought they were getting last year. When the Cubs signed him, the positive comparisons abounded:
"Cubs assistant general manager Randy Bush has likened him to Steve Finley for his fluid style, and an anonymous National League talent evaluator calls him a 'poor man's Carlos Beltran.'
From everything that Chicago manager Lou Piniella hears, Fukudome is sort of an Ichiro Suzuki-Hideki Matsui hybrid. Like Ichiro, Fukudome is fleet afoot and has a strong throwing arm. Like Matsui, he's a power threat. Although his individual tools in each area aren't quite as pronounced as his two Japanese peers, he provides a more well-rounded blend than either."
Now, forget about Carlos Beltran and Ichiro, we would be thrilled to death if he pulled off numbers that could be likened to Mike Cameron. That's not the level of expectation you want from a guy who is due $38 million over the next three years.
The heat is getting turned up to give Reed Johnson more playing time over Fukudome, and some even having a preference for car-jumping Joey Gathright.
The Cubs won last night, so the fact that Fukudome had four basically useless at-bats can be glossed over, but I'll bet all the money I have in my pockets that the heat would be ten times worse today if the Cubs had lost that game.
So how long can Lou go with Fukudome in center field, and how long can he put him in such a crucial spot in the batting order when he is not producing, nor showing any signs of improvement?
From Hendry's vantage point, it is actually easier if Fukudome continues to suck, because then he at least knows he has a hole in his roster that needs immediate attention. Hendry is the guy that managed to get useful pieces in exchange for Todd Hundley, so some move is not out of the realm of possibility if he deems it necessary.
But what does Hendry do if Fukudome starts hitting again for a couple of weeks? Then what? Do we believe that everything is fixed and that he will continue as a viable hitter for the rest of the season? Or does Hendry take the opportunity to sell high on him with the belief that another god-awful slump can't be far away?
Let's face it, Lou has put Fukudome in the best possible spot in the lineup. His inclination to take pitches gives Soriano some running opportunities when he is on base, so he will see a higher number of fastballs. Even when Soriano isn't on base, teams aren't going to want to walk Fukudome in front of Lee, Bradley, and Ramirez, so again, he will see a high percentage of fastballs.
If Fukudome can't get it together in that environment, he simply isn't going to succeed at all at the major league level anymore. He has been given the batting order equivalent of the old Must See TV slot between "Seinfeld" and "ER." If "Caroline in the City" can get ratings, surely Fukudome can get an occasional hit.
So, would this hypothetical turn-around be a function of Fukudome's talent level, or a function of the role he is asked to play on this team? Is Fukudome more like "Friends," that got a jump-start in a sweet time slot, but was more than capable of carrying its viewers on its own merits? Or is he "Caroline in the City?" Worse yet, what if he is "The Single Guy?"
Jim, Lou - I just want to tell you both good luck, and we're all counting on you.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Speaking of predictability, the major media baseball experts have, by and large, jumped on the Cubs blue bandwagon - at least for the regular season.
The Chicago Tribune experts all picked the Cubs to win the Central Division. So did all nine experts on the MLB network. ESPN found four people out of twenty-one to not pick the Cubs to win the Central: Matthew Berry, Eric Karabell, Peter Pascarelli, and Chris Singleton all picked the Cardinals instead of the Cubs. I have never seen expectations for this team higher than they are right now. It scares the hell out of me.
It is hard to deal with lofty expectations as a Cubs fan. You see the team on paper compared with the other teams in the division and you almost have to go with the Cubs. It is sitting there as plain as the football being held in place by Lucy for Charlie Brown to kick.
This leads to the inevitable question: When does the football get yanked away? How will it happen this year?
We've had two great regular seasons in a row followed by monumentally staggering displays of baseball ineptitude in the playoffs. Will the baseball gods follow the same formulaic script? Will they pull out new twists and turns? Perhaps whatever pod people got ahold of Fukudome last year will end up replacing other members of the Cubs with perfect likenesses, minus any baseball talent.
On the other end of the spectrum, could this possibly be the year that the planets align, hell freezes, and the Cubs overcome the weight of a failed century? It certainly is possible. Of course, it’s possible that I’ll be hit by lightning while being attacked by a shark after winning the lottery.
When I wrote for my college newspaper back in the day, I used to volunteer to fill space in the sports section with baseball predictions. I look back on them now and realize that either I am an idiot, or that the game of baseball can be mercilessly unpredictable.
That said, I can make one prediction that I know will come true no matter how the season works out: I will be losing a lot of sleep this summer.
I can't wait.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
As I sit on my couch pondering the marathon that is now before the Cubs, snow is coming down and it hardly seems like baseball season is really truly here.
My brain seems to be creating all kinds of reasons to not believe that the new season is here. This is probably a direct result of the Cubs playing in New York like the playoffs never ended. Bad pitching, brutal defense, and lack of anything resembling an offense - these are the things I remember from the end of 2008, and sadly, that is what was on display over the weekend against the Yankees.
I may rue the day I complained that Spring Training was too long. I may find myself quickly wishing the games didn't count again.
Maybe I wouldn't be getting so anxious if the Cubs had managed to do anything well at all over the weekend. Lilly and Harden were throwing batting practice. Fukudome continued to do nothing to show that he even deserves to be on the team, much less its starting centerfielder. The defense caused me to look for the Chico's Bail Bonds sponsorship on the backs of their uniforms.
Yet, despite the horrors of the weekend, this is supposed to be a time of renewal and of hope. Ideally anyway. So, since the Cubs did absolutely nothing tangible to encourage us into thinking this year will be any different than the previous 100 years, I'll have to look for the rays of sunshine myself.
- Milton Bradley is not hurt.
- Milton Bradley has not attacked any fans, teammates, coaches, umpires or reporters.
- The last time Carlos Zambrano faced Houston, he threw a no-hitter.
- Derrek Lee has not hit into any double plays in the 2009 season.
- The Cubs' Home Opener has not been postponed (yet).
That's what I have come up with so far. A Cubs victory over Mr. Oswalt tomorrow night will probably help me feel better. Time to go to work, boys.
I'll probably be sending some Twitter updates tomorrow as I watch the game. If you are interested at all in my moment by moment ramblings, feel free to follow me at https://twitter.com/Aisle424.
Friday, April 3, 2009
It has got a funky groove and I've always liked it, even if it really has nothing to do with intimidation of an opponent, which is ultimately what you would like from a reliever's theme song. There is at least some implication that Carlos is the Rubberband Man because of his great arm (I guess). Seems like a stretch to me (rim shot). In retrospect, this probably should have been the theme song for Terry Mulholland in 1998, but I digress.
As the song played and I tried to visualize myself hearing it at Wrigley in 10 days, I realized that the Cubs have a new closer, and he probably also needs a theme song. I believe there is a subsection buried deep within the baseball rulebook that says:
"8.03a - When the reliever so designated as the Final Reliever (Closer) enters to pitch (either between innings or during an inning in progress), the stadium crew for the Home team shall play a pre-chosen song recording over the stadium sound system for the duration of said reliever's entrance and prepatory pitches."
So after all of the hoo-ha about who actually deserves to be the closer for the Cubs, we have nearly forgotten that Kevin Gregg has no theme music! Thank God I was here to point that out! And thank God you were here to read about it!
I know nothing of Kevin Gregg's taste in music, but I'm going to say here and now, for the record, that the song should NOT be "Welcome to the Jungle" again. I say that not out of loyalty to Kerry Wood, nor because I am trying to break away from the traditions of the failed 2008 season. I am saying that because I hate that f---in' song.
I wanted to stick my Cubs pencil through my ears, into my brain, and swirl it around every time Kerry came in to pitch at Wrigley last year. What the hell does Kerry Wood have to do with a jungle? When has Wrigley Field ever been likened to a jungle? Isn't it about Axl Rose going to Los Angeles? Can we at least try to find something that makes a certain amount of sense instead of going with the first hairband opus we think of?
For the amount of sense "Welcome to the Jungle" made, we might as well just say Gregg's theme is Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and be done with it. Its catchy, it rocks out in an 80s kind of way, and drunk people like to sing along to it. Those seemed to be the major qualifications that went into choosing "Welcome to the Jungle."
Personally, I would get away from the cliche metal theme song. Its been done. Many times. If it were up to me (which, sadly, it is not), I would kick it more old school and let the venerable John Williams set the mood with an orchestral score.
My first choice would be the Imperial March from Star Wars - any song written to musically indicate Darth Vader coming onto the screen (before we found out he was a whiny mama's boy) has got to be good enough for a Cubs closer.
My second choice would be the Theme from Jaws - Jaws snuck up from below and killed you when you weren't suspecting it (except when he was in 3D, when he tried to eat Dennis Quaid by breaking into an underwater complex). I have to believe that Gregg's current reputation isn't of someone opponents fear on sight. The surprise some batters feel that they have been retired by Gregg at the end of a game may be the baseball equivalent of a shark bite.
Plus, the Cubs marketing department could start using the tag line, "Just when you thought it was safe to play the Cubs at Wrigley..."
See? This is the kind of post you get when Spring Training lasts eight million years. Two more fake games to go and then it gets real.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
"Since we are entering the 2009 season as favorites to win the NL Central, we feel we need to take extreme measures to keep our players on the roster healthy and productive," said Team President, Crane Kenney. "We are very confident that the bubbles will ensure the best of health this season, and we will be able to make a very serious run at the World Series."
"Look, there's no getting around that some of these guys have a hard time staying healthy. Sometimes we need to take some extreme measures to keep guys like Rick and Melvin on the ballfield," said Lou Piniella, apparently referring to Harden and Bradley.
General Manager, Jim Hendry made it clear that the bubbles would be used team-wide, and not only on Harden and Bradley. "We know that D-Lee, A-Ram, and Big Z are starting to show some signs of age. The wear and tear on their bodies can't be ignored. We think the bubbles will really help these guys maintain their high level of play throughout the season."
The New York Yankees have reportedly been in contact with Kenney in hopes that the bubble technology can be used for their own team.
"I would absolutely store C.C. Sabathia in styrofoam peanuts if I thought it was feasible. The bubbles just make sense for everyone. I just wish we had been able to implement the bubbles before losing Alex," said Hank Steinbrenner.
The technology did not come without costs, however. "Unfortunately, the first bubbles did not allow proper ventilation and we lost Ryan Harvey and Mark Pawelek, who suffocated to death while testing them," said Kenney. "We would have tested them on monkeys or bunnies, but we figured nobody would miss them the way they were playing."