Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Cubs, No Problem

I have gone the last few days pretty much sans Cubs.

This was partially by design and partially due to my own accidental testing of the famous commandment: "Thou shalt NOT go swimming with your phone in your pocket, lest you wish that phone to go onto its great reward where it shall never have to suffer through the tedious transfer of the data required to tell the world via Twitter what thou hadst for breakfast."

I had no internet connection at all, so I was transported back to a time when only ESPN's scrolling scorebar provided me any information about the Cubs at all (circa 1989).  So here is what I learned while I was away.
  • I don't know if Jay Bruce hates the Cubs like Joey Votto does, but he seems to really hate the baseball after it is thrown by Cubs pitchers.
  • Mike Quade can't beat the Reds with this team any better than Lou Piniella could.
  • The Cubs have finally figured out how to hit at least some of the Pirates' crappy pitchers.
  • I really didn't miss the Cubs much at all while I was gone. I cared more about not being able to track my various fantasy teams (two of those won their matchups, and one lost).
  • I enjoy blackened seafood probably more than I enjoy fried seafood.
  • The Palm Pre may be many things, but waterproof isn't one of them.
  • I do wish I could have been there last night for the presentation of trinkets to Andre Dawson, but I understand it was a private ceremony.
  • That wasn't a private ceremony?  I guess everyone had root canals and prostate exams they didn't want to get out of.
  • It was an awfully nice watch they gave to Andre.  I couldn't even see the Bud Light logo on it.  Very classy.
  • The Cubs have fallen further back in the Race to the Top of the 2011 Draft.  If they keep this up, they may fall out of the top ten picks completely.
  • Starlin Castro now has enough plate appearances to qualify to win the batting title as a 20-year old rookie (currently 5th), thus signalling the start of his inevitable September slump.
  • A lot of people have been comparing Stephen Strasburg to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.  The problem is that those guys at least got through a full season before they had to have career-derailing surgery.  Wouldn't it be more appropriate to compare him to Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen?
  • The Cubs should recruit their stadium workers from people who live in the Florida panhandle.  Those people went consistently above and beyond what was necessary to make customers feel appreciated. So if you are ever in the neighborhood, make sure you visit:
But now I'm back and all rejuvenated and ready to have all the good feelings squeezed right back out of me as I go watch the Cubs and Pirates play a thouroughly meaningless game with a few hundred other people with entirely too much time on their hands.

I'm also back to using my old phone for now.  It might not have a touch screen, but it didn't spend an hour underwater either.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sure, NOW the Cubs Decide to Play Well

The Cubs have won three in a row in a feat so seemingly unlikely that it seems like they have won twenty in a row.  Of course they do.

Now they do when they have virtually no chance of making the playoffs.  If they win the rest of their games, they will finish 88-64.  Anybody think that will be good enough to leap over both the Cardinals and the Reds?  So while math hasn't officially eliminated them, you will see me dancing around as a lottery winner before you see the Cubs in the playoffs this year.

Now the Cubs play well when all they are doing is screwing up their chance to have a better draft pick.  Now they play well so that the fans can have their hopes raised for next season, and with them any slim chance that ticket prices will fall.

Now they play well when I won't be able to enjoy it.

I've barely enjoyed the wins since I've barely been able to pay attention with things being a bit crazy at my job, and now I will be out of town until Tuesday.  If the Cubs play the Reds as well as they played the Nationals, I won't see it.  Of course, the flip side is that if they undoubtedly turn back into a pumpkin when faced with an actual team with post-season aspirations, I'll miss that too.

I'm looking forward to the hiatus from the Cubs since they are exceedingly exasperating this year, even for the Cubs. They lose when I want them to win, and they win when losing would actually be better for them.

See you Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Googling the Cubs Latest Rookie Pitcher

Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted that the Cubs called up the 10th Cubs rookie to make his major league debut in the 2010 season.  Most Cub fans responded with an overjoyed and boisterous declaration of, "Who the hell is Scott Maine?"

Cubs fans are so stupid.  He is obviously a rookie who will be playing for the Cubs at some point in the near future. 

Luckily, my trusty research assistant, Googly McGooglequist was on the job and was also able to determine that Scott Maine is left-handed, has pitched in both Tennessee and Iowa this year and apparently has no middle name.  I need a new research assistant.

In digging deeper into the dark recesses of Scott Maine's mysterious background (clicking the next link in the Google machine's results), I found he also went to Miami (of Florida) University, so I am automatically pre-disposed to not like him.  However, their site provided a bit more filler to his background:

Named to the 2007 Roger Clemens Award Preseason Watch List ... ended the 2006 season as UM's leader in wins and innings pitched despite missing the first 10 games due to injury ... went 12-3 with a 4.57 ERA and one complete game ... will compete for the No. 1 spot in the rotation in 2007... has command of four pitches ... live arm who is expected to go very high in the 2007 draft ... a lot of movement on his fastball ... fields his position well and is tough to run on because he is so quick to the plate ... wore a protective mask while pitching for most of the 2006 season ... selected to the Cape Cod League Eastern All-Star Team in 2006 after going 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 25.0 innings ... selected in the 23rd round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies but elected to return to school ... was not enrolled in school in the fall 2005 semester while recovering from a head injury suffered in automobile accident during the summer ... steadily improved throughout his seven appearances in 2005 ... had a great 2005 summer in the Clark Griffith League in Maryland, going 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 27.1 innings for the Herndon Braves ... missed the 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in January ... considered by the Miami coaching staff to be one of the best prospects to come to school during head coach Jim Morris' time in Coral Gables ... Baseball America's No. 7 prospect coming out of high school in 2003 ... he elected to come to school after being selected in the 15th round of the 2003 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

So right there is proof that Miami runs a dirty program.  They have a Roger Clemens Award.  It also lists him at 6' 4" while Baseball-Reference.com has him at 6' 3".  Case closed.

So how did the Cubs end up with Mr. Maine (if that is his real name)?  Remember that guy in the bullpen last year who sucked?  No, not that one.  No, not that one either.  No, try again.  No... No...

OK, maybe I should just tell you that the sucky reliever I speak of is Aaron Heilman.  When the Cubs traded away his pyrotechnic wonder to the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the non-descript players they received back was none other than Scott Maine.  Suddenly, I have a fondness in my heart for him.

Upon his acquisition by the Cubs, Matt Swain at Wrigley Bound had the following to say:

The 24-year-old was converted to a relief pitcher by the D-Backs and rose fairly rapidly through the system, reaching AAA Reno in 2009. Along the way, Maine threw 120.1 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 134 Ks and 55 BBs, including a 2.90 with 61 Ks and 22 BBs this year.

I haven't been able to dig up much scouting information on him, but R.J. Anderson at Fangraphs tells us "Maine throws from a low arm slot and has a fastball that breaks into the low-90s as well as a slurve."

Whatever he does at the major league level, he doesn't have a very high bar to clear to be better than Justin Berg, whom he replaces on the roster...or Aaron Heilman now that I think about it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cubs Enter Homestretch of Race to the Top (of the 2011 Draft)

Mike Quade begins his major league managerial career tonight in Washington as he takes over the reins from Lou Piniella.  While some may have forgotten that Quade actually was considered a managerial candidate the last time around, our friend at @CubsInsider reminds us:

#Cubs manager Mike Quade has 2,378 games of experience as a manager at the minor league level, compiling a career 1,213-1,165 mark (.510).

That included almost four years with the AAA Iowa Cubs from 2003 to 2006.  He came up to the major league roster briefly to replace Chris Speier as the third base coach after Speier got caught driving home after a night of drinking off the pain of the 2006 Cubs.

So it is Quade's team now and there isn't much left to play for and we hope he doesn't follow Speier's example, but since Aisle 424 is a happy place where we always look on the bright side...

...we have decided to put a positive spin on the last six weeks or so.

We'll be tracking the race for the top pick in the 2011 draft here at Aisle 424.  We know that looking at the Cubs on the bottom of the standings gets depressing, so we have modified the standings a bit:

As you can see, the losses are the positive part of these standings, so we have reversed the loss column and the win column to put a more positive spin on it.  Also, instead of recording the win percentage, which is quite depressing, we get the higher numbers of a loss percentage.

This is shaping up to be quite a race!  The Cubs are within two games of the #3 pick and can easily move up at least that high.  After that, they have some work to do to catch Baltimore, but Buck Showalter seems unable to keep his team focused on the prize since the Orioles keep not losing games with increasing regularity.

Also, the Cubs really have the Pirates number this year and have pulled many defeats out of the jaws of victory against Pittsburgh this year.  The Cubs have six more games against Pittsburgh, so if they can continue to lose like we know they are capable, there will be a sizable dent put in the Pirates 9.5 game lead on the Cubs.

This series against Washington is crucial as the Cubs are only 2.5 games ahead of the Nationals.  A Cubs sweep would really damage their chances in the race, so I like some of the Cubs moves heading into the series.  First, Micah Hoffpauir is back on the roster.  That in and of itself has to be worth a couple more losses.  Then, they sent Wellington Castillo back to AAA to play with a good team so that Koyie Hill can continue to look at third strikes for the Cubs.

Things are looking up!

Hopefully, Quade can keep his team focused on what is important.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bye, Lou

This morning, Carrie Muskat and Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted out announcements almost simultaneously that Lou Piniella is stepping down as the Cubs manager after today's game.  Mike Quade will be the interim manager to finish the year.

The party that BCB will throw upon hearing this news is going to make me ill.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hello Again, Derrek

Derrek Lee will return to Wrigley today as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts.  I'm sure his first at-bat will result in a nice ovation, but then his next at-bats will surely tell us a little bit more about the Cubs fan base.

Remember, Mark DeRosa got an ovation during practically every at-bat when he returned to Wrigley as a member of the Cardinals.  Lee is twice the player DeRosa is (almost literally - DeRosa has averaged .87 WAR over his career while Derrek has averaged 2.1 WAR in his) and played for the Cubs over three times as long.  It should follow that Lee would get at least the same reception that DeRosa received.

But DeRosa was traded at the height of his value and his popularity, whereas Lee was traded during his worst season since 1999 (yes, he was technically more valuable in 2006 with the broken wrist and all).  I know I'll applaud him when he bats on Saturday for the first time.

Plenty of other Cubs blogs have weighed in on Derrek's departure in the past couple of days:
I have personally been very depressed about the trade of Lee, and that comes as a bit of a surprise to me.  I like to think I have tried to view the team rationally and understood that the trade of Lee was necessary to not only save a bit of cash from his remaining salary, but to also maybe get lucky with one of the prospects that came back in return.  There is nothing left to play for this season for the Cubs, so if he wanted to go and try to win another World Series with the Braves, it is the best for all parties.

Yet, I'm still sad.  Someone said on Twitter that it is the end of an era.  I kind of laughed at first since his era included a two week collapse at the end of 2004, death march seasons in 2005, 2006 and now 2010, and zero playoff victories.  In a way, however, it is the end of an era.

Upon Lee's arrival after the near-miss in 2003, the expectations of the Cubs were to be contenders.  Sure they usually weren't, but even 2005 and 2006 seasons were greeted with hopes that Wood and Prior would be healthy enough to power the Cubs to victory.  After the 2006 disgrace of a season, the Cubs were clearly not contenders, but then Hendry opened up the wallet and bought Piniella, Soriano, Lilly and Marquis and expectations rose again. In 2008, they were national favorites to win the national League Central and compete for the World Series, and then again in 2009.  Even though the team was starting to crumble, people felt that the 2010 team could compete if certain players like Soto and Soriano could even get close to where they should be.

Most of the hopes of all of those years centered around having Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the middle of the Cubs lineup.  The infield defense was not considered a horrible monstrosity because Lee was anchoring first and keeping throwing errors to a minimum.

Now all that is gone.  In reality, the era was slowly dying throughout the year after it became apparent that Lee just hasn't been right all along, but the trade to the Braves was the final pillow over the face.

So as much as I knew the day was coming and that the end was probably a good thing, the final reality still gets me a bit down.  Thanks again, Derrek.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bye, Derrek

The area behind the visitors' dugout is now designated as a hard hat area.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ricketts Ignore My Advice and Go the Other Way

Yesterday, I had a brainstorm that I felt could really help the Ricketts family out in the public perception arena.  I don't have any vested interest in helping them out, but I'm a nice guy and if nothing else, the Ricketts seem like nice people, so what the hell.

Shockingly, the Ricketts chose not to take the advice of a random blogger to nominate a member of their family to sound like a typical sports-radio caller.  I get it.  I'm not offended.  I know it's a radical idea, but I'm convinced it would work.

Instead, the Ricketts kind of went the other way.  Their plan involved welcoming home a team that has gone 5-15 in their last twenty games, committed 94 errors on the season, allowed 77 unearned runs, and lost 29 one run games by serving them caviar in the clubhouse.

Needless to say, this has not played real well with Cubs fans.

One of my podcast partners, Julie DiCaro wrote a letter to the Ricketts on her site:

"Dear Tom Ricketts,

I understand your desire to make things "first class" up here on the North Side. However, what Cubs fans want is a FIRST-CLASS BALL CLUB. Not a first-class clubhouse, or first-class, bathrooms with first-class troughs, or even first-class food. We want a winning ballclub. Period. And frankly, rewarding a pathetic performance over the course of the season with a delicacy that most Chicagoans would never buy for themselves, especially in a recession, is not going to endear you or this team to anyone.

Stop with the gimmicks and focus on baseball, for crying out loud."

That sentiment pretty much summed up most of what I heard from the guys sitting behind me last night in Aisle 424 as news of the caviar spread in the stadium.  It also mirrored a lot of what I saw on Twitter.

But it isn't just us crazy bloggers and social media geeks that didn't like the caviar shtick. It also gave easy fodder to Paul Sullivan to poke fun at the organization in the Tribune:

"No one was blaming the caviar for the Cubs' 9-5 loss to the first-place Padres on Monday, but the mere idea of serving caviar to a fifth-place team that began the day 17 games out of first place was akin to the chairman of BP going yachting during the height of the Gulf Coast oil spill disaster."

And Gordon Wittenmyer also got in a couple of shots in the Sun-Times:

"With no champagne in sight this year, the Cubs were treated to a taste of caviar in the clubhouse kitchen Monday after their first series win of the month over the weekend...

... Then again, they might be looking at Spam and Cheese Whiz today after another collectively poor effort from the young pitchers the Cubs are hanging some of next year's hopes on."

But aside from the small minority of fans who get their information about the Cubs from major newspapers, sports talk radio, and blogs, I think it played really well.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Ricketts Family Needs a Loose Cannon

Last week, I wrote about how the Cubs will sell us on the concept of hope in the offseason and how I think it will actually work if they do it right. One commenter known as DB chimed in:

"I'm not buying hope. I'm fed up. If any Cubs marketing gurus are reading this (fat chance), note well, I've considerably lowered my expectations of the Ricketts. I.e., they'll suck just as much as the Tribune and we'll never win. At least not if Tom continues the way he has been, doing a big fat nothing and continuing to rely on has-been Hendry."

DB is not alone in her discontent over the Ricketts' handling of the Cubs so far, especially now after the news that the Rangers' new owners have reduced food, beverage, and parking prices.

A fellow blogger known as @talkchibaseball on Twitter posted this sentiment:

"Meanwhile in Chicago, Tom ricketts probably will bump ticket prices this offseason."

That comment was retweeted several times and seems to be reflecting the belief that Tom Ricketts is, at best, a distant cousin of Satan.  This growing discontent over the Ricketts family and their desire to make profits over winning baseball games could put a real damper on the whole selling of hope thing they have going.

As fans, we would like to see an owner spitting fire over the poor performance of the team.  We want 1970s George Steinbrenner.  We want how we imagine Mark Cuban would be if he was the owner of the team.  We want someone affiliated with the team to scream and yell and froth at the mouth over the Cubs and their crappy play.  When Paul Sullivan asks a question about how it feels to see the latest baserunning gaffe, bobbled grounder, overthrown cutoff man, bullpen implosion, or inability to hit with runners in scoring position, we want someone to grab him by the neck and scream, "HOW THE FUCK DO YOU THINK IT FEELS TO WATCH  THAT SHIT DAY IN AND DAY OUT?"

But Tom can't do that.  He is measured.  He is restrained.  He is a big picture kind of guy.  He can't go flying off the handle every time a Cubs pitcher walks in a run.  And so the populace begins to think that the Ricketts family only cares about profits and raising revenues.

Of course, the Tribune was always accused of exactly that sentiment and maybe there was some truth to it.  They wanted a winner (winners sell easier than losers), but they went about it as cheaply as possible.  Until the end, they didn't use their huge advantage as the only major market in the NL Central to their advantage.  Their front office was practically a skeleton crew.  As long as they had a star or two to market, they seemed content to fill in around that star with players like Leo Gomez and Damon Buford.

The problem is that the Tribune was a largely faceless organization.  The villians rotated in and out.  The GMs got the biggest name recognition, but how many casual fans even remember Ed Lynch, much less hate him?  I bet I could ask twenty random fans at the game tonight to give me their opinion of Larry Himes and I would get a blank stare in response from at least ten of them.

But if I asked about Tom Ricketts, everyone would have an opinion, and I bet most of those opinions would be unfavorable.

So what can he do?

He can't burn the roster down and start over by dumping Fukudome, Zambrano, Ramirez, or Soriano. The Cubs are going to be paying these guys to play baseball whether it is for the Cubs or for someone else, so it might as well be for the Cubs so they don't also have to to pay their replacements.

They can't trade Marmol, Marshall, or Byrd since they need some light for the fans to focus on.  If they traded any of those guys, despite how smart and savvy a baseball move that might be for the longterm, they would get hammered by the fans in the form of unsold tickets next year.

They can't really lower concession prices since hardly anyone's reasons for not showing up to games, or not walking up to buy a ticket do not involve the price of beer.  Basically, all that would happen is the Ricketts would bring in less revenue than they already are.  The Rangers are trying to build fan loyalty so that they can make bigger profits off the fanbase in the future.  If you think they are knocking a few cents off concession prices out of the goodness of their hearts, you are insane.  They can spin it however they want, but they are eyeing larger future profits by sacrificing a few dollars this year.

The Cubs don't have any more loyalty they can buy.  The season ticket waiting list is still 100,000 deep and will probably be at least 60,000 deep after this round of turnover in the season ticket holders (and declines by people currently at the top of the list).  Cubs fans are about as loyal as they are going to get, so reducing concession prices will do nothing but reduce revenue from a team that needs all the revenues it can get right now.

They may have to explore reducing ticket prices slightly for next year.  There is ample evidence that they overshot the true demand price for tickets, so a correction may be in order, but it won't be dramatic.  They'd also sell it as an apology to Cubs fans, but really, all it would be is a market correction.  My guess is they simply won't raise prices this offseason.

So what can they do?

If I were Tom, I'd have a conversation with my siblings to see which one of them wants to be the angry sibling that speaks his/her mind when it comes to the Cubs.  Give the fans what they want: a member of the Ricketts family that is as pissed off as they are.

It doesn't matter who it is as long as it isn't Tom.  Tom needs to be the sane voice of reason that holds everything together.  Tom needs to be the one who reigns in the rantings of his sibling(s).

Pete, Todd and Laura can draw straws to see who complains about Lou's crazy lineups, the fact that Cashner is in the bullpen instead of starting, that Soriano hops when he catches balls, that the bullpen sucks or any of the other seemingly unending list of problems with this team.  I'd nominate Todd since he is the youngest and can be easily painted as the impudent one, but if none of them wants to be the "crazy sibling" all the time, they can just take turns.

Fans would love whoever it is.  They would be comforted knowing that at least one member of the Ricketts family cares as much as they do.  They would identify with the anger and not feel as resentful as they handed over large sums of money to an owner they no longer trust.

Nothing at all would actually be different, but the fans would have a voice.  They would have someone that has their backs as they pay for their Cub fandom in both money and emotional scars.  That's really all Cubs fans demand to keep their dreams of unicorns and a Cubs World Series alive.  Seriously, Tom, you'll be amazed how fans' attitudes will change with a Ricketts family member dropping a few f-bombs when discussing the Cubs' season.

You're welcome.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Play of the Day: Castro is Good at Baseball

Pat Burrell had put the Giants up by a seemingly insurmountable four runs by doing a right-handed imitation of Will Clark facing Greg Maddux in the 1989 NLCS, so most Cubs fans wrote off the game right then and there.

But the Cubs didn't want to go quietly and Starlin Castro came to the plate with the tying run at third.  There were two outs and he already had three hits on the day.  What were the odds this 20-year old would come through again?

100% as it turns out.

Castro got his fourth hit and tied the game at seven.  He also raised his batting average to .320.  Right now, he is still 23 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title, but he is getting closer everyday.  If he qualified as of today, he would be in second place behind Carlos Gonzalez at .322.

Keep in mind that Castro has managed to get his numbers without the benefit of facing Cubs pitching.  He's good.

The Cubs lost later by one-run.... yada yada yada... who cares.  Castro is good and he's only twenty years old.  That is what gets me through the day.

Prior is Back (Not With the Cubs Though)

Mark Prior has returned. Sort of.

Last week it was reported that Prior had signed with an Independent League team in Orange County.  Last night he made his debut.

According to Bruce Levine:

Prior, who was signed by the [Orange County] Flyers last week, worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out the next two batters to get out of the inning. He struck out the side in the sixth.

That's a pretty good outing, especially when you consider he hadn't thrown a pitch in a professional game since before Lou Piniella was manager of the Cubs.

Now this is one outing and I'm not ready to say that Prior will ever be able to climb back to the major league level to be effective and healthy in any capacity.  But let's suppose he can.

Wouldn't it make a great story if he returned to the Cubs?  He could start out as a set-up man to complement Marshall and Marmol, and then when Marmol inevitably loses the ridiculous bite on his breaking ball while still not being able to locate his fastball, Prior can step in as closer.  How perfect.

The problem is that scenario is all but impossible.  If Mark Prior comes back, I'll put money on him coming back as a Cardinal before he comes back as a Cub, just so he can stick it to the Cubs.  I'm sure all the years that the media and the fans called him a pansy as his arm was falling off has not been forgotten.  I'd be a little pissed if the Cubs media relations team did nothing to protect him and his sore arm as everyone piled on.

I'm not innocent here either.  I've made more than one towel drill joke over the years.  Now it looks like I could end up paying for my crimes.

Of course, I am assuming that the Cubs media relations team wasn't helping to push along those sentiments of Prior's alleged wussiness.  It's not like they are above that sort of thing.  *cough* Sosa *cough* Zambrano *cough* Bradley.

It isn't like the Cubs didn't have a reason do go and assassinate Prior's character.  I remember sitting at the convention shortly after the Cubs had tried to trade Prior to the Orioles for former MVP shortstop, Miguel Tejada and upcoming lefty pitcher, Erik Bedard.  As it turns out, the Cubs didn't really miss out on much since Tejada had all but stopped taking the steroids and Bedard has ended up being a left-handed version of Prior with all the injuries, but at the time that was a huge bounty in return for Prior (and I'm fairly certain the Cubs knew his arm was coming off.

Cubs fans were not impressed.  I think the only reason they weren't more upset about Hendry trying to trade Prior is because they were still pissed as hell that he was also trying to trade Todd Walker.  You would have thought they had tried to trade a 500+ homerun hitter for the worst Hairston ever and a garden gnome (oh wait... we were all OK with that trade).

So the Cubs could have easily trashed their own player (or at the very least allowed the trashing to go on without intervention) so that the eventual dumping of Prior would be more palatable to the fan base.

However it happened, I can't imagine that Prior would be eager to return to a fanbase that was so willing to mock the physical pain he endured while trying to apply the craft he was practically bred for. 

Prior coming back could have made a nice story.  It may still... just not in Chicago.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Play of the Day: Castro Knocks Out Lincecum

Last night's Cub game should be Exhibit A in the argument that people who bet money on baseball games would be better off just putting their wallets in a blender and hitting "liquefy."

The Cubs faced Tim Lincecum with a lineup containing Micah Hoffpauir batting third plus Kosuke Fukudome and Koyie Hill in the lineup.  Short of Alan Trammel taking a page from Jody Davis' playbook and actually not fielding a team at all, that was about as close as the Cubs can come to just forfeiting a game to the Giants.  I would have figured placing a bet on the Giants last night would have been a safer bet than betting that water is wet.  It turns out that water may, in fact, be dry.

When the game started, some pod person in Tim Lincecum's uniform went out and started throwing batting practice. The inning was capped by a two-run homerun by none other than Mr. April, Mr. Fukudome himself, to make it 4-0 before the Giants fans even knew what was going on.  As much as I would like to make his McCovey Cove blast the Play of the Day simply because Kosuke doesn't have that many good days when the calendar changes to summer, I have to choose another moment a bit later on.

You see, the Cubs are still the Cubs and while they provided Ryan Dempster with a surprising amount of offense, the defense was busy being the Cubs we have come to know and giving up extra outs and unearned runs.  Soon it was 4-2 and Lincecum was looking like Lincecum again and the Giants were starting to get confident.

Then more miracles occurred with two outs in the fourth inning.  Koyie Hill got a hit.  Then Ryan Dempster got a hit.  Then Tyler Colvin drew a walk.  Suddenly the Cubs had a threat, but there were still two outs and this smelled of yet another Cubesque moment of coming really close but accomplishing nothing.  Then Starlin Castro stepped up.

He took a Lincecum fastball back up the middle to score two to re-establish the four run lead.  Lincecum finished the inning by retiring AAAA sensation, Micah Hoffpauir, but he was then done for the night.  The momentum had been swung back to the Cubs in a way we haven't seen for weeks. Score a TKO for Castro.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Play of the Day: Plays at the Plate Are Cool

There may have been plays last night that had more to do with the outcome of the game than this one, but I don't care.  Plays at the plate are cool.

Andres Torres ripped a line-drive into right field and Tyler Colvin tried to make a sliding cutoff to keep the ball from going to the wall.  He succeeded in keeping from going to the wall, but he kicked it a bit and that was enough for the Giants' third base coach to to send Travis Ishikawa around third to try to score the winning run.

Colvin recovered, hit the cutoff man, Mike Fontenot, who then relayed a strike to Koyie Hill, and Ishikawa was out at home to extend the game another inning.

I actually pumped my fist as the umpire signalled the out call.  First time I've felt any emotion other than depression while watching a Cubs game in I don't even want to know how long.

Also, Carlos Zambrano managed to navigate through five innings in his return to the rotation, part deux.  He walked seven, but got a couple of double plays and kept the damage to two runs allowed and gave the Cubs' offense a chance to win without his best stuff.

But at the end of the day, plays at the plate are cool.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cubs Know Hope Sells

Shortly after the All-Star Break, George Ofman and Dave Kaplan were fielding calls on the WGN post-game show from lots of people who were very upset that George and Dave were being such Negative Nellies about the Cubs chances to rebound in 2010.  These were the people who fervently believed that a run like the 2007 Rockies or this year's White Sox was possible for the Cubs.

These are people who really want to believe that the Cubs have just run into some bad luck, and some unfortunate injuries.  They wanted to believe that Tyler Colvin is the next coming of Albert Pujols.  They wanted to believe that Carlos Silva could continue winning at the rate he did before the All-Star break.  They were in denial that Ted Lilly would get traded.

I don't understand how they could have those beliefs as Cubs fans, but there they were calling in and blasting George for suggesting that the Reds and Cardinals would not fall apart down the stretch, and that the Cubs aren't that good anyway.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Cubs have done their best to figuratively hold the believers' heads in the toilet while tearing off their fingernails with pliers and beating them with a sack of oranges.  I can't imagine anyone believes this team can even win as many as four in a row against the middle-aged members of the Cubs Fantasy Team camp, much less the run of actual contending teams that face the Cubs in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, the Cubs still have to find ways to get people interested in the team.  Not only are they losing ticket and concession revenue, but people aren't even bothering to watch them on television anymore.  Lower ratings means lower ad revenues in the future. 

Luckily, the Cubs front office is on the job and Aisle 424 was able to get some exclusive footage of one of their closed door meetings:

In the end, the Cubs will sell what they always sell in the absence of actual good product on the field: hope. 

That is all there is left.  I haven't actually been in a strategy meeting (and neither do I expect I would ever be invited to one), but that is how they will get season ticket holders to renew.  That is how they will get the tens of thousands to come out to Wrigley in February to buy single game tickets.  That is how they convince people to open up forty browsers on their machines to get through the virtual waiting room.  That is how they will get people to pay 20% above face for a chance to buy tickets a little earlier than everyone else.

But how?  How is that possible after the repeated groin kicks of the 2010 season?  Ted Lilly is gone!  Our plucky, not-terribly-bright-but-cute-as-the-dickens second baseman is also gone.  They can't get anyone out because even when the pitchers get someone to accidentally hit a pop fly or weak groundball, the defense manages to screw it up.  It doesn't matter anyway since the offense scores runs about as frequently as I win the lottery.  How in the name of all that is holy will they get people to have hope again?

We will hear lots of talk about a revitalized minor league system that is starting to bear fruit.  There will be an insistence that Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are just the beginning.  They will leave out that pretty much anyone who has a realistic chance of helping out in 2011 is already here.  We also won't hear much about Justin Berg.

We will hear about the new attitude being brought in by whoever the new manager will be.  It doesn't much matter who it is.  The talking points will be the same.  Just fill in the blanks with the appropriate names and imply that Lou was at fault all along:

"We are very pleased to have ____________ join us with the Chicago Cubs.  He is the right man for the job as can readily be seen with his success with _____________ and ____________.  We were looking for someone who can handle the major media market of Chicago, the egos of a veteran ballclub such as ours, and can interweave the burgeoning young talent from the farm system into the existing team.  No disrespect to Lou Piniella, but we believe that _________ is the right man for the job right now and we are looking forward to celebrating a World Series title with him in the near future.  Let's all welcome ____________!"

Aramis Ramirez will uncharacteristically show up at the Cubs Convention and talk about how painful his thumb injury was, but that it was no excuse and he will be ready to return to his former self in 2011.  No one will mention that a thumb injury doesn't usually make one swing at pitches over one's head or that Ramirez hasn't really been the model of good health when he was younger than his 2011 age of 33 years old.

Carlos Zambrano will be shipped out of town and there will be lots of talk about how disruptive having a situation like that dragging out over the course of the year can be.  The consensus among players will be that the locker room will be much more relaxed in 2011 and they will be able to concentrate on the job at hand.  They will leave out the fact that the Cubs will be paying about 90% of Zambrano's salary to play for someone else and that they used that script last year when Milton Bradley was sent on his way.

If the entirety of Cubs history can be likened to a compost heap (and I think that it can), then the concept of hope is the biggest weed growing out of it.

But it will work because Cubs fans can be convinced just about anything is possible if you spin it the right way.  We WANT to go there.  We want so desperately to believe in unicorns and the possibility that THIS IS THE YEAR! that we will gladly believe whatever the Cubs machine decides to feed us. Then we get out our wallets.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Play of the Day: Evan Longoria Breaks Up Morrow No-Hit Bid

The stadium was rocking and the fans were on their feet.  People were making sure they had held onto their tickets to prove they were there.  The excitement level had reached a crescendo.

Then Evan Longoria found a hole between second and first.  Aaron Hill made a diving attempt, but could not glove the grounder.  Alas, Brandon Morrow had given up his first hit.  He struck out Dan Johnson next for his 17th strikeout of the game and the final out, but that sneaky Longoria hit kept him from completing the no-no.

What?  You wanted a Play of the Day from the Cubs game? You're sure?

OK, ummm... how about Miguel Cairo grounding into a forceout in the 1st inning?  That may have been the only time in the game where someone might have thought the Cubs could win.  Maybe.  I don't feel like doing a screenshot.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Play of the Day: Aramis Manages to Suck a Little Less

The bottom of the order somehow started a rally where they managed to coax three walks and a hit-by-pitch to get the bases loaded with the Cubs down 4 to 2 in the bottom of the ninth with only one out.

Sandwiched in between strikeouts by Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd, Aramis Ramirez managed to also walk to force in a run.

Tune in tomorrow when the Play of the Day will be Mike Fontenot not choking on a sunflower seed while sitting in the dugout.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Play of the Day: A Cubs Runner Reaches Third Base!

The closest the Cubs came to scoring occurred in the fifth inning.  New guy, Blake DeWitt, led off with a single, and then the eighth hitter in the lineup, OPS team leader, Geovany Soto, followed with a single.

Unfortunately, the problem with batting your best hitter eighth means that when he gets on base, the pitcher is up next.  With Tom Gorzelanny batting, Bronson Arroyo uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the runners to advance to second and third with nobody out.

So that was it.  The wild pitch.  That was the best thing to happen to the Cubs today.

Carlos Silva to Have Heart Procedure

Bruce Levine is reporting that Carlos Silva will undergo a procedure on his heart on Monday:

Chicago Cubs right-handed pitcher Carlos Silva will have a cardiac catheterization on Monday to determine if he needs a cardiac ablation, the team announced Friday.

I have no idea what any of that means except that they are going to cut him open and tinker with his ticker and that is not good news at all.

The bright side is that the Cubs have a decent recent history involving heart procedures.  Jim Hendry completed one of the greatest free-agent signings in the history of the Chicago Cubs when he signed Ted Lilly from his hospital bed before under-going angioplasty surgery.

Also, Bruce reminds us that the Mighty DeRosa came through a similar procedure in 2008:

The ablation was performed, and the irregular heartbeat was adjusted. DeRosa returned to playing baseball within 10 days.

So let's wish good things for Carlos Silva and hope he eventually can resume his career. 
Carlos, as a word of warning, I wouldn't try to break DeRosa's record for returning to action.  For one, there is no reason at all to risk your health to rush back onto the field to play for this team.  For another, Mark DeRosa, as we all know, is more God than man.  One should not enter lightly into a contest with such a being.
Get well soon.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Play of the Day: Good Job, New Guy!

The Cubs looked to be well on their way to another loss to another crap team.  Dempster was walking the pitcher on four pitches. Jeff Baker was trying to throw the ball into the outfield instead of second base.  Soriano was letting the ball get by him to go all the way to the wall.  Santo was babbling about how he couldn't believe it, leaving us to wonder why he couldn't believe it since this was as regular an occurence as the sun rising in the east.

Then in the bottom of the 6th inning, the Cubs put together what looked like another one of their patented Tease Rallies.  These are the situations where the Cubs put themselves in a position to tie a game, or take the lead by getting just one more hit (or even a fly ball into the outfield).  They then mystify everyone by not only not scoring, but finding a new and inventive way of not scoring.

Geovany Soto had pulled the Cubs within a run and put the tying run on third with only one out with an RBI single that made the score 3-2.  Soriano promptly stepped in and struck out.  Of course, the next batter would hit the deep fly ball that would have been useful just one batter sooner.

But that isn't what happened.  Newly acquired Blake DeWitt (who apparently hasn't finished reading the team playbook) singled on an 0-2 count to tie the game.

The Milwaukee bullpen then continued its implosion that led to the eventual final score of Cubs 15, Milwaukee 3.  But none of it would have happened if the new guy had followed the basic Cubs blueprint for this season.  He also added a 3-run homerun to cap off the scoring in the 8th.

Way to go, new guy.  Way to not know how to read.  Nobody teach him.

Play of the Day: Starlin Becomes a Real Cub

You know how Yankees fans don't consider some of their best players "real Yankees" until they pass the clutch test a few times?  Alex Rodriguez was putting up unreal numbers when he arrived in New York, but a few high-pressure pop-ups or groundouts led to grumblings that he was not a real Yankee.  The same thing happened to Mark Teixiera and any number of other players who have worn the pinstripes in the Bronx.  To be a real Yankee, you better damn well hit a few walk-offs on national TV, or you are just a poser who doesn't deserve to wear the NY on the cap.

The Cubs have an opposite situation going.  New players can't really be considered part of the rich history of embarassingly bad baseball until they have that moment when they do something so off-the-charts ridiculous, you wouldn't believe it actually happened except for the fact that it happens all the time to the Chicago National League Ballclub.

Some players become real Cubs almost instantly.  Milton Bradley got ejected after striking out looking in his first at-bat of the season after returning from an injury he sustained in an at-bat in which he walked.  Here's your Cubbie patch, Milton.

Some Cubs take awhile to realize they are Cubs.  Mark Prior didn't become a real Cub until he injured himself plowing into Marcus Giles while running the bases.  Here's your Cubbie patch, Mark.

God bless him, Starlin Castro tried his damndest to hold off becoming a real Cub, but he became a Cub in his ninth inning at-bat against the Brewers on Tuesday.  The play started well enough.  He singled up the middle to drive in Mike Fontenot to bring the Cubs within one run.  He then saw a slight bobble in the outfield by Jim Edmonds and decided to try to stretch it into a double. 

That is when things went horribly wrong.  He ended up channeling his inner Theriot and stumbled as he tried to accelerate halfway between first and second, and he was caught.  He got run down and ended up being tagged for the second out as he tried to sprawl around Rickie Weeks.

Welcome to the club, Starlin!  You're a real Cub today!  Here's your Cubbie patch.

Someone kill me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hire Ozzie Guillen

The death march has begun.

The Cubs have traded probably the only tradeable pieces that they are willing to trade.  There may be some rumors about Fukudome or Nady as the waiver deadline approaches, but I expect that the moves would either never come to fruition or do nothing more than clear a roster spot.

The Cubs have slipped into fifth place in the standings and have some work to do to get to last, but that may end up being the biggest story when it is all said and done.

We will get to see a parade of pitchers who are clearly over-matched on the major league level.  Casey Coleman may be a third generation major league pitcher in his family, but the Cubs might as well have sent his grandfather out there against the Brewers last night, and he's been dead for 13 years.

Brian Schlitter is so terrible that I think he may actually be part of a plan to make fans beg for Jeff Samardzija to get another chance.  He makes us wish John Grabow a speedy recovery.  He makes us pine for the services of Bob Howry again.  He makes us wish we could get our hands on some cyanide capsules.

There is almost nothing interesting left about the 2010 season, so there is almost nothing left but to wildly speculate about 2011.  So, what if Ozzie Guillen were the next manager of the Chicago Cubs?

See, if I had said that yesterday you would have thought I was just an insane, wreckless blogger living in my mother's basement and stirring up trouble.  But today, Paul Sullivan provided this conjecture:

So I am not the one throwing the insane, wreckless ideas out there.  I am just sitting here in my mother's basement and commenting on it.

I'm going to come out and say this is a fabulous idea and I throw the full weight of Aisle 424 behind this initiative.

Let's face it, the Cubs are probably going to blow pretty hard next year too.  Everyone will be a year older and on a veteran team like the Cubs, that isn't a good thing.  There isn't any money to improve via Spendin' Jim's preferred means, so the caravan between Iowa and Chicago will be adding a few departures to keep up with demand.

What would keep us interested in 2011 after the disappointment of 2009 and the journey to oblivion in 2010? 

Ryne Sandberg?  I know he's become a walking firestorm that gets kicked out of games every other day now, but it is still Ryne Sandberg.  The quiet guy who kept his head down and played "the right way."  I love Ryne, but we also have to remember that when stuff got tough at home, it followed him onto the field and he eventually quit before his skills left him.  That was his choice and something he felt he needed to do, but it doesn't make for a quality I would want leading the Chicago Cubs where adversity is around every corner.

Joe Girardi? If he is the next manager of the Cubs it is because the Yankees didn't want him badly enough to hold onto him.  That's not good.  Add in that he was fired from his Florida Marlins job after winning Manager of the Year, and we have what appears to be a very good manager, but one with some quality that nobody wants around very long.  That could be interesting, but it hasn't made for real good copy since whatever it is about Joe that people don't like must happen behind closed doors.

But Ozzie on the north side?  That would be entertaining as hell.  Half of the fan base would hate it to the core of their being.  You thought bringing in Jim Edmonds was a tough sell?  I would almost rather try to convince people that BP is an environmentally friendly corporation.  So there would be that shitstorm which would be fun in and of itself, but then you would also have the media dredging up every anti-Cub, anti-Wrigley, and anti-North Side thing Ozzie has ever said.  Think of the backtracking and the new Ozzieisms that would spring from such an exercise. 

On top of THAT, the only reason Ozzie would even ever be available for the job would be because he and Kenny Williams' irreconcilable differences will become unlivable and the split probably won't be amicable.  If you thought reading how big a dumbass Kenny Williams is in "Moneyball" was fun, just wait for the first press conference Ozzie has when he is asked about his feelings about Kenny.  That is an hour-long ESPN special waiting to happen.

So I am 100% on board the Ozzie-to-the-Cubs Train.  It gets hard to write about the Cubs every damn day, but I bet Ozzie would make it a whole hell of a lot easier.

Oh, and he won a World Series with a team that had Geoff Blum and Scott Posednik on it that was second only to the Cubs in futility.  So there is that too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Play of the Day: Remember That Catch in the First Inning? That Was Pretty Good

The Cubs are really making me work to come up with a Play of the Day.  Seriously, guys?  18 to 1?  Anyone want to have a guess at what the team that showed up this evening has in common with the 2003 Detroit Tigers that lost 119 games?  Alan Trammel as manager.

Of course, this game and the two horrible games before this one can't be used to prove that Trammel should not be the new manager of the Cubs next year, but they aren't something he will want to add to his resume either.

Anyway, we should be talking about the Play of the Day, so I'll go with the running, leaping-into-the-wall catch by Tyler Colvin in the first inning to rob Ryan Braun of extra bases.

Any play that takes something away from Mr. Shiny Shirt is worthy of notice, so good job, Tyler.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Play of the Day: Alfonso Comes Close, But No Banana

It was looking like the Play of the Day would be Alfonso Soriano striking out with the bases loaded in the first inning since that was looking like the best chance the Cubs had of doing something good in their final game against the Rockies.

Instead, as the Cubs clawed back to make it interesting, Soriano came up with a chance to tie the game with Marlon Byrd on third and the Cubs down 8-6.  He drove the ball to deep right center field and almost accomplished the feat of bringing the Cubs all the way back.  Instead, Dexter Fowler made a leaping catch up against the wall that ended up knocking him out of the game.

It didn't look like the ball would have made it over the wall on its own for a homerun, but it would have put a runner at second for sure, and probably at third since Fowler hurt himself on the play, with only one out.

This would have practically guaranteed that new arrival, Blake DeWitt, would have had a chance to make his legend grow beyond human comprehension in a fifth at-bat after going 3 for 4 already in the game.  Instead, there were two outs and nobody on, and Jeff Baker struck out to end the game and complete the series sweep by the Rockies.