Thursday, April 29, 2004

Rantings from the Lunatic Fringe...

It came to me in a moment of clarity - let's finally end this madness about the goat, the ball, and the dork (which is how Jim Rome gratuitously refers to Steve Bartman by the way). To begin with, I never thought blowing up the ball was such a great idea. I mean, sure - it was great for Harry Carey's in terms of publicity, but what if we have peeved off the powers that be with the destruction of that ball? We may have, in fact, added to the curse - not removed it!!!!

All I know is that after the destruction of that wretched ball Mark Prior and Grudzie go down with Achilles problems - a coincidence? I think not. I am just hoping that we have not done irrevocable damage with this dimwitted act of redemption - it looks like Prior is on track to return in a month. So lest we risk further incurring the wrath of the powers that be concerning Prior's return, let me begin by being the first to officially call for the restoration of the Bartman ball. I don't even know if such a thing is possible, but we need to enlist the services of someone who knows what the heck they are doing and we need to reconstitute that ball! Bring back the Bartman ball!

Also - as I thought about Al Yellon's comments the other day I realized he was right. Just bringing the goat to the park and parading it around the field like they did isn't going to do anything. If we are serious about this - and I mean really serious - we need to not only give the goat a ticket and actually let it sit in a seat during a game as Billy Goat Sianis and Al Yellon have suggested, BUT (1) we need to make the goat sit in the bartman seat, (2) it needs to be during a Florida Marlins game, (3) Steve Bartman needs to throw out the ceremonial first pitch with the reconstituted ball, and most importantly (4) Moises Alou needs to come over and speak nicely to the goat (preferably in Spanish - stilted English isn't going to cut it) and pet it while he's out in left field. I am convinced that this is the cure for our ills. If we are really serious about getting rid of the curse of the goat, the ball, and the dork - we need to take care of them all in one fell swoop. Either that or play really consistent and tough baseball this year - but the superstitious thing seems a whole heck of a lot easier (with the possible exception of the reconstituted ball thing) and it plays well to a nearly cultic fan base.

Isn't it ironic?

LaTroy Hawkins gives up the solo blast by him whose name must not be mentioned, which then ties the game and takes away Maddux's win, and after Gonzo's solo shot in the ninth, Hawkins (who essentially gave the win away) ends up with the win. Perhaps Oliver Stone might be interested in this story...

Stop the Bleeding

After two terrible games against the Diamondbacks, the Cubs did not manage to throw away game three despite their best efforts. The Cubs hung on to win 4-3. It came down to the wire although it should not have. The Cubs could not capitalize on a Todd Walker leadoff double late in the game to tack on an insurance run. Joe Borowski gave everyone a near heart attack by pitching up a 385-foot deep fly ball to center field with a runner on and 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth – D-Backs down by one. I immediately thought JoBo just gave up the game, but alas, Corey Patterson was camped out underneath the fly.

Steve Finley

He hit three home runs last night - two off Maddux and one off LaTroy Hawkins. All I’m going to say is at least they were three solo home runs.

Alex Gonzalez

He delivered with another clutch home run. Why can’t he hit when there is no pressure or only moderate pressure? It seems like Alex only wakes up when the Cubs need a big home run. Regardless, he was the big hero last night after the Cubs squandered an insurance opportunity and LaTroy gave up the tying home run in the eighth.

Cardinals

The Cubs are headed to St. Louis on Friday for a four game weekend set. I’m looking for the Cubs to do some damage. I think I heard last night that the Cardinals are 3-8 at home this year. I’d like to make that number even more lopsided. I’m actually going to the game Sunday and will see Big Z take on resident jerk Matt Morris. Maybe Matt Morris will say some idiotic, cruel, and derogatory comment toward Mark Prior again. I can’t stand that guy and he’s on my fantasy team. I missed my draft and the stupid auto draft picked him for me. I’m trying to trade him.

Suspensions

Dusty Baker served his one game suspension last night for giving it to C.B. Bucknor after Bucknor missed a double switch. Talk about stupid! This is just ridiculous – but it doesn’t end there… Kerry Wood got a five game suspension for arguing balls and strikes after the ump clearly missed a crucial pitch that was very clearly a strike. Wood kept his mouth shut until the inning went haywire and Dusty pulled him out of the game. Wood took this as an opportunity to let the umpire know he missed the call.

Notes

The Reds gave up a nine run lead to end up losing to the Brewers 10-9. How embarrassing! Derek Jeter went 0-4 for the Yankees improving to 0 for his last 32. He is getting booed profusely (at home).

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Make that 12-0...

That's Randy Johnson versus the Cubs lifetime, with one no-decision. What happened to the Big Unit that got slammed by the Cubs in Spring Training?! Johnson was pitching brilliantly - he was ahead in the count with nearly every batter, which led to a night of offensive futility for a team that has been jacking the ball as of late (Entering Monday's game, the Cubs were second in the National League in hitting with a .289 team average - who would have thought!). On the other side of the mound, the big Z struggled throughout the night. Losses are never easy to take, but they are a lot easier to swallow after a 6 game winning streak - I was surprisingly calm during this blowout as I was listening to the game on the drive back from Chicago (normally in situations like this - drivers who happen to glance see a crazed lunatic pounding on the driving wheel and shouting at no one in particular).

Cub-fan-mania and superstition

It never ceases to amaze me the degree to which individual Cubs fans think the game turns on their own personal actions and the peculiarities of those around them. Anyway – Al Yellon has probably one of the best Cubs blogs out there – it is one of the two that I have to read every day - the other being Derek’s well written and insightful comments at the Big Red C">. Al’s superstitious eccentricities absolutely crack me up – you get a good dose of them after nearly every game. He had this gem in a recent post:

Among them were things from CurseBreaker, an outfit that's making cute little goat stuffed animals and keychains, in yet another silly attempt to break the "goat curse".

Now, I think that stuff has absolutely nothing to do with baseball. And if they really wanted to break the curse, they'd do what Billy Goat Sianis wanted to do in 1945 -- let the goat come to a game with a ticket and sit in a seat. Parading a goat around the infield isn't going to cut it.

But anyway, I took one of the keychains and put it in my backpack.

Since the Cubs won yesterday, I'll leave it in there for the rest of the season.


I think that our cult would make an interesting sociological study - we could compare how the various phenomena exhibited in the Cubs games affects fan actions with how cycles of prosperity/scarcity affect African tribal behavior. I could be wrong, but I’ll bet there would be quite a few similarities. :-)

Guaranteed a .500+ April

With four games remaining in the month, the Cubs are assured of finishing above .500, for the second season in a row no less. Any idea when the last time was that the Cubs put together back-to-back winning April’s? The 84 & 85 seasons (12-8 in '84 and 12-6 in '85) – Doh!!! Let’s hope that is where the similarities end.

Looking ahead: (From the Official Cubs web site)

The pitching matchups are set for the Cubs-Cardinals series this weekend in St. Louis. Kerry Wood will open against Woody Williams on Friday, followed by Matt Clement vs. Jeff Suppan on Saturday, Carlos Zambrano vs. Matt Morris on Sunday, and Sergio Mitre vs. Jason Marquis on Monday.

Should be good!

Baseball’s Unwritten Rules & Superstitions

These are in no particular order:

Don’t bunt for a hit when you’re team is getting no-hit (unless you’re leading off the game).
Don’t steal a base when you’re up by more than 5 runs.
Never make the first or third out at third.
Take a strike when your club is behind in a ballgame and it is late in the game.
The centerfielder is the chief of the outfield – left and right fielders yield to the centerfielder.
Don’t step on a baseline when entering or leaving the field.

And if I could institute my own rule:
Always do what the catcher says.

Change of Pace

After Matt Clement had a masterful game on Sunday - taking a no-hitter into the seventh, the Cubs decided to get hammered by Big Bird and the Diamondbacks. I found it ironic that right after Chip Caray asked how far Steve Stone had ever pitched into a game with no hits and Stoney said 7 2/3, Clement gives up a home run after 7 2/3. Baseball superstition rule #1: Don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s going on.

They've Got Our Number

Last night Randy Johnson improves to 12-0 lifetime against the Cubs. I think he and Ben Sheets should start up a "how to pitch against the Cubs" school for major leaguers, especially those in the Central division. Jason Vogelsong would probably pay good money to attend.

I didn't get to watch the game or listen to much of if for that matter, so I’m not going to comment about much. It just sounded like Zambrano had a rough night and the Cubs couldn’t hit the Big Unit’s slider (as usual). This was quite a different outing for Zambrano than the last time he pitched in Bank One; taking a no-hitter into the eight only to get interrupted by an infield hit where the runner was obviously out. The reminder of that really got me upset. I remember how angry I was at the umpire for missing the call when there were no hits.

Richie Sexson hit a 503 ft. bomb to center field – the longest ever hit in Bank One Ballpark. That guy is a veritable Cub-killer as well. Sexson, Sean Casey, and Fernando Vina could have a clinic teaching “how to be an offensive annoyance when playing the Cubs”.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Cubs are Rolling

Five in a row. That's what I like to see. The Cub's offense wasn't as explosive as in days past, but they still scored three on a home run by Sammy Sosa and a couple other timely hits by Aramis Ramirez and Ramon Martinez. That's all KW needed to tack another loss on to the Mets. The Cub's pitching staff has only allowed 4 runs in the last five days - talk about solid pitching. This is pretty amazing.

Sosa & The Big Bats

Sammy crushed a ball to left center on a day when the wind was blowing in fairly hard. That ball had no chance of staying in the park. Sammy is looking good at the plate. For some reason, he seems pretty calm up there. I suppose knowing you've got Alou, Ramirez, and Lee right behind you gets you to relax and just try to get on base. For Sammy that means he's just trying to put a solid swing on the ball and then the home runs start coming.

KW - K for Strikeout, W for Win

Kerry Wood was in great form yesterday going seven innings and striking out 9 without giving up a run. He brought his ERA down to a lean 2.60 - almost a ridiculous number for a power pitcher. Wood is really looking sharp this year. He's built off the end of last year and is looking like a very sharp pitcher, not just a very talented thrower. I think he has an excellent shot at the Cy Young award this year. If he can pitch consistently like he has this season and, given the Cubs offensive production, I think Wood has a great shot at winning 22 games.

Today

Today we're going to see the Cubs try to sweep the fading Mets by sending Matt Clement on the mound to take on a tough Al Leiter. Clement has had good stuff over his last two starts, so hopefully he'll bring that game today. Leiter is having a great year going 1-0 with a 0.52 ERA (yes, I did type 0.52). We'll see how the Cubs can handle the southpaw - usually they don't do too well with these finesse-style lefties. I'm looking for Todd Walker to screw Leiter up.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

10-6; First Place; Without Prior

Nice game today - Maddux pitched decently and we jumped into first place. The top of the third inning was a key moment - the bases were loaded, there was one out, Mike Piazza was at the plate, and I was grumbling out loud about what a lousy pickup Maddux was (that's when my wife reminded me how excited I had been when the news broke that he had signed with us - oh well, we're fickle fans - what can we say). And what happens - I almost can't believe it, but Piazza hits it back to Maddux who dishes it to Bako who throws to Lee for a double that prevents a run - unbelievable! Then Maddux strikes out Cameron (yes the same Cameron who homered in the previous inning off of Maddux) to end the inning - Whew!

It's nice to see Maddux settle down (but let's remember who he was throwing against) - but I'm pretty sure I am still going to be nervous next time he takes the mound (and having a Mitre-Maddux 2 day combo now that Woody is following Maddux isn't going to help any of us sleep well on those days these two are pitching).

Woody's Curveball rates #2

Woody's curveball rated #2 (behind Mariano Rivera's cut fastball) at ESPN's 10 best knockout pitches:

Like Nolan Ryan, the Texas gunslinger whom Wood emulates, the combination of a 95-mph fastball and a hard-breaking curveball presents a lethal combination. Not many pitchers throw an over-the-top curve anymore, as the slider has become the breaking pitch of preference. But Wood not only has the 12-to-6 break, he also throws it nearly as hard as some lesser pitchers throw their fastball. "That hard, sharp break is filthy,'' says one major league manager.


Back to the books!

As you can see my compadre Camden has been doing most of the posting as of late - I am in the midst of a doctoral seminar that is absolutely killing me! Oh well, I'll be listening to the game tomorrow on the radio as I crank away on the laptop. Let's go Woody!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Am I Dreaming?

The Cubs posted 12 runs on the Pirates last night without any of them coming from the long ball. The Cubs plated 8 runs in the first inning with at least 5 with no outs (I can’t exactly remember). This is just becoming plain ridiculous. This is so surreal for a Cub fan – just enjoy it while it keeps happening. The Cubs, Astros, and Cardinals are all having monster seasons to this point. We’re going to see some crazy series this year.

C.P.

What did I comment on yesterday? I said Corey Patterson was going to make a push for the All-Star game again. What happened? He went 5-for-6 with 2 runs, an RBI, and brought his average up to .311. I think he’s going to have a great year. I also put him on my All-Star ballot this morning when I voted online. Isn’t it ridiculous you can vote for All-Stars already?

Derrek Lee

He looks like he’s coming around. He smashed a 2-run double in that monster first inning. It was a sweet swing. It would have been out in many other ballparks, but PNC has that monstrous left-center field.

Jason Fogg

He has to be having nightmares about the Cubs. They blessed him with a chubby 17.00 ERA – something every pitcher would love to have (note the sarcasm). He’s going to have to start up an Atkins ERA Diet or something (I hate the Atkins diet, so I won’t start). Fogg fell to 0-3 with two of those losses at the hands of the Cubs giving up 15 runs in two starts to the Northsiders.

Sergio Mitre

What a solid performance from this kid! Here’s a quote from MLB.com: "I felt pretty good," Mitre explained. "There's still things to work on, but it's still early in the year so I still need to land in that good rhythm. I'll just come back and work tomorrow."

Mitre went 6 innings giving up only 4 hits and 3 walks while striking out an impressive 7 batters. His ERA is in stark contrast to Fogg’s at 2.89. We might have to keep him around when Prior gets back.

Tonight

Tonight is a big pitcher’s matchup between Kerry Wood and Kip Wells. This one should be good. Let’s look to see if the Cubs can get another early lead and kick these Pirates where the sun don’t shine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Cub Power

As the Cubs added Derrek Lee, Todd Walker, and Michael Barrett to the mix this offseason and knowing that we’re getting Corey Patterson back and still have Sosa, Alou, and Ramirez, you’ve got to expect the Cubs would be putting up decent offensive numbers this season. I must admit I wasn’t expecting it to be this explosive. The Cubs rocked the Jason Vogelsong and the Pirates last night 9-1 popping off 4 home runs (not including a 400-foot flyout bomb to the deepest part of PNC Park by Alou) without the help of the Wrigley Field wind.

I’m betting Corey Patterson is going to make another strong push for the All-Star game this year. He went deep in the first inning on a two-run homer that set the tone of the game. If he can become more disciplined at the plate and figure out the strike zone, he’s going to become an excellent hitter.

The Cubs are definitely clicking on the offensive side. Here are the Cubs ranks among all Major League teams in the various offensive cateogories:


  MLB Rank
G14
AB512
2
R85
4
H149
3
2B42
1
3B4
4
HR30
1
RBI83
3
TB289
1
BB50
14
SO92
10
SB2
28
CS2
18
OBP0.356
8
SLG0.564
2
AVG0.291
8
Avg. Rank7


If the Cubs can keep this offense up while solidifying their rotation, they will be extremely difficult to beat.

The Big Z

Carlos Zambrano had a great game last night throwing some “bowling balls” as Dave Otto likes to call them. His sinker was really on and he held the fairly decent hitting Buckos to only one run through the rain at PNC Park. Zambrano gave up seven hits over eight innings striking out four and walking two. He lowered his ERA to 1.29 – something I like to see. Francis Beltran came in throwing his smoke to finish the game off with a double play in the ninth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Hot Bats [wrapup]

The Cubs bats are ridiculous. I hope they can keep this up this year, but I was saying that same thing last year when the Cubs pounded the Reds in an early series scoring something like 45 runs in 3 games. Then we saw the Cub’s offense cool off until Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez showed up. You can’t help but be optimistic when you see the Cubs putting up 8 or 9 runs, though – especially knowing that when this rotation gets straightened out they’re going to be one awfully tough team to beat.

Finally

Derrek Lee broke out in a big way yesterday by hitting his first Wrigley Field home run as a Cub. It happened to be a grand slam too. He pretty much put the game out of reach for the Reds by tacking 4 runs on to the 3-1 lead. I’m looking for Lee to start hitting hot in the next week or so. We’ll see if he can bring the big stick to wail on the Buckos tonight.

Alez Gonzalez put up a 3 for 5 spot. He’s been hitting the ball pretty hard lately. We’ll see if he can lay off trying to pull everything and just hit the ball somewhere. He needs to take some lessons from Todd Walker. I’d really like to start getting some consistent production from SS.

Recovery

The Cubs had one whirlwind series that could have ended up very demoralizing. They got the job done on game four after they blew games two and three. Game one was one of the most exciting games I’ve experienced. I had the misfortune of only being able to listen to it, but listening to Hughes and Santo isn’t ever bad either. That game was absolutely incredible. Listening to the Cubs falling behind, then catching up, and repeating this cycle for nine innings was amazing. It culminated with a big Sosa home run to right field to tie it up and a “back-to-back jack” by Moises Alou to win the whole thing. I thought Ron Santo was going to have a heart attack. What a game!

Tonight

Tonight we’re going to see Carlos Zambrano take on Ryan Vogelsong. I'm looking for Zambrano to pitch another solid game. If he can put up a game like Clement pitched yesterday, we're going to be all-right.

Friday, April 16, 2004

A Sign of Consistency?

The Cubs bats came out again in the rubber match against the Pirates. They thumped Josh Fogg and his bullpen buddies with ten runs. Fogg gave up nine of them on eight hits. It was a beautiful day and the wind was blowing out, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a sign toward offensive consistency, but it was nice to see the Cubbies put up some big numbers while Zambrano held them down.

Walker and Ramirez

Todd Walker and Aramis Ramirez continued their assault on Mr. Rawlings. Ramirez popped another homer and is looking good at the plate. The two have put up some big numbers over the past two games going 8 for 16 with 6 runs, 8 RBI, 2 walks, 3 home runs, and a double. Hopefully they'll keep it up. Grudzielanek might come off the DL with nowhere to go.

Emotions

Carlos Zambrano started off pretty strong, but wasn’t getting some close calls from the home plate umpire. In his usual fashion, Zambrano got pretty excited and emotional about this. This can be his Achilles heal. He gets really fired up and it carries him away sometimes. Usually what happens is he ends up throwing too hard – and as a sinker-ball pitcher that is not good. However, he played it somewhat cool and started getting the borderline calls as the game went on. He finished the day giving up only one run on six hits over six innings while striking out six.

Bullpen Woes?

The bullpen pulled a typical trick by not looking sharp when pitching under a big lead. They gave up four runs in three innings – Wuertz and Beltran were the culprits. This is to be somewhat expected as these two guys are very young and pitching with a big lead can get you to not concentrate as much as you should. Hawkins and Mercker posted decent lines giving up a combined one hit over one and one-third innings.

Can Mitre Reproduce?

Sergio Mitre (0-0, 2.35) is taking on Aaron Harang (1-0, 1.50) today. We’ll see if he can reproduce his solid performance against the Braves as the Cubs attempt to leapfrog the Reds in the standings.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Streaky Bats

The Cubs decided to hit in game two against the Pirates. Todd Walker was strong going 3 for 5 with a double and 3 RBI. Aramis Ramirez was also swinging a big stick going 3 for 4 with two big homeruns. Ramirez has been hitting the ball really hard this season and he finally got a couple out of the park. He hit a solid one off Will Cunnane down at Turner Field, but Mr. Gold Glove Jones jumped and brought the homer down.

These Cubs bats are either all out or hibernating this year. I’d like to see a little more consistency – something like 4 or 5 runs a game rather than 0 runs today, 10 runs tomorrow. I’ll take whatever I can get as long as it means the Cubs win.

Clement Solid

The Bearded Wonder pitched very solidly today posting this line:

IPHRERBBSOHRERA
6.02003703.60


I'm glad to see him pitch so well. I really like Clement’s stuff. He can be just downright wicked when he’s on. The problem is his control (but who doesn’t have that problem?). I’m hoping for more outings like this. We really need Clement to put up a bunch of quality starts if we want to contend again and I think this outing was a good rebound to his first and hopefully something more like what we’re going to see throughout the season.

The Rest of the Division

The Central looks pretty interesting this year. The Astros wiped out the Cardinals with a clean sweep on a fat 11-1 rout at Busch. Bagwell and Berkman popped a couple homers to make that game hurt.

Milwaukee shut out the Giants 3-0. I like the Brewers. As much as I like to whine that the Cubs being stuck in a 6-team division while the AL West gets to bask in 4-team wonder, the Brewers have been a great addition to the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers have had some great series and I’m glad to see the Brewers playing well this year. Do I think the Brewers can win the division? No. Do I think the Brewers can finish third? Yes. We’ll have to see, but I like the Brewers chances with the Pirates, Cardinals, and the Reds.

Good Move

Andy Pratt was sent back to Triple-A where he will attempt to figure out what home plate looks like. I made some comments about his home-opener outing that I witnessed in person. This guy needs to work on some mechanics. Maybe he’ll turn out to be our Rick Ankiel and will morph into a minor league power hitter. Better yet, maybe he can fill the void Brooks Kieschnick left when we got rid of him – pitcher/pinch hitter/first baseman.

Francis Beltran filled in for Pratt in the bullpen and pitched decently. He went one inning and walked a guy and struck out a guy. I like his stuff. I haven’t had much time to watch him, but from what I saw, he definitely has the potential that everyone is talking about.

LaTroy!

I won’t say much about him today, but he rocks! He’s very sharp out there.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Home Opener

I had the privilege to attend the Cubs home opener on Monday. It was a really good time (up until the game started). My brothers, my uncle, and I took the ‘L’ in and got to the park just as the gates opened. There was definitely an amazing buzz around the park.

First Things First

The first thing we did was to go get some wonderful ballpark food. You could really tell it was the home opener – they weren’t so smooth on the “giving us the food” part. But we’ll always allow the “it’s my first day” excuse, right? We soon noticed that warm nachos and pretzels don’t hold up to the frigid Chicago wind.

Maybe He Should Get a Contract

Bill Murray was pretty funny to watch warm up. He was down in the Cubs bullpen before the game with a monstrous crowd of media on hand to see him throw some pitches to get ready for the opening pitch. He threw about 8 or 9 balls into the stands (Pratt-type control). He even wound up and threw couple behind him when he reared back to throw.

Ironically, Greg Maddux got the loudest cheers from the fans when they announced the starters and he got the loudest boos when he left the game. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that big of a turn-around. He was getting booed louder than last year’s Tony Baloney (Alf).

Remarks

I’m not going to go into the painful statistics of that game, but I will make a qualitative statement about the pitching: it stunk. Maddux couldn’t find the strike zone and I don’t think I should even get started on Andy Pratt. Check up on this, but I believe he has walked the last 7 batters he’s faced. Pratt is the Cubs version of post-season Rick Ankiel. Pratt just topped Hideo Nomo in my books for the worst major league pitch I have ever seen. Not only did this pitch hit the grass about five feet short of the dirt (not the plate, the dirt), but it also bounced up and hit the batter. He swiftly followed this up with a ball off the net behind home plate. From what I’ve seen, I’d like to renege on this trade and ask the Braves to give us Juan Cruz back.

Joe Borowski pitched equally as crappy. I’m not too worried about that as I am about Pratt though. Closers never have their stuff when they come in with either a huge lead or a huge deficit. Mike Wuertz, however had decent stuff. He wasn’t really sharp, but still OK.

The Wrong Day for Power

I was hoping to see Sosa tie Ernie Banks for the most Cubs home runs, but the wind would see that that would not happen. Sosa absolutely crushed a ball. I think that might have been the hardest hit ball I’ve seen in person and Modesi caught it well short of the warning track. We’ll have to wait another day for that. I’m hoping Sosa will tie this record before I see them down at Busch on May 2. For the record, Hollandsworth crushed a ball to the opposite field that would have been out on any other day as well. He’s looking like a great pickup.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Random Musings

Well it's the beginning of the season and the team that has been picked by a majority of sports analysts to win the world series is sitting in last place, while the Detroit Tigers, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Cincinnati Reds are in first place in their respective divisions! Maybe blowing up that ball wasn't such a great idea after all - it seems to have had a cascade effect and its realigned everyone's mojo so that we're now living in a bizzaro world.

Concerning the bartman debacle - apparently the bartman seat was empty for the home opener, although it appears that a certain mystique is developing around it - with some people allegedly making a "pilgrimage" to it. I think if anyone looks closely enough you might just barely be able to see the vague outline of a laughing billy goat in the grains of the seat - either that or an Achilles heel. Lester Van Zandt left us this pearl of wisdom after the Cubs loss in their home opener:

''They should have blown the seat up with the ball,"

Brilliant - Maybe they should have blown up Bartman himself with the ball and the seat - you ever think of that Lester?

On another note - the Cubs offense is just pathetic - same old stuff as the 2003 Cubs so far, which is frustrating to say the least. I can also say that I am now officially peeved about the Juan Cruz/Andy Pratt trade! I don't care how underachieving Cruz was - Pratt is worse than Alfonseca. At least Alfonseca could (occasionally) find the plate. I am hoping Hendry does the right thing and gives Pratt a ticket to Iowa soon. And does anyone else find it interesting that everyone was saying how the Mark Prior absence wasn't that significant because the Cubs had an easy opening schedule against sub standard teams (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Mets, Colorado, San Diego)? Well, in case any body forgot, these are still major league ball clubs, and there's a reason they still play the games instead of just chalking up the win for the better team on paper.

And on Prior - I am also now officially worried. Call me chicken little if you will, but something is rotten in denmark, and I have a suspicion something is being withheld from us. I'll admit right now that I'm a pessimist, but I usually believe that where's there's smoke - there probably is fire - especially when the smoke is coming from a reputable news outlet. Let me offer a dire prediction that I hope will not come true - Mark Prior will not pitch in a single game this year. Add the word "Achilles" to the growing Cub curses vocabulary.

I wish I could say I'm confident about Clement on Wednesday, but he has just been pitiful so far. I know he's inconsistent, so maybe he'll kick in for this win and give us a pick up so we can get back to .500. As it stands now there's only two Cubs pitchers that inspire any sort of confidence - Woody and Zambrano. And with our anemic offense, even these guys aren't shoe-ins for a win.

Thank goodness its a long season!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Former Cubs Pitchers

Isn't it wonderful to see how well at least three former Cubs have been pitching as of late? (1) Shawn Estes pitched another 3 hit gem in the Rockies 4-2 win over the Dodgers. Estes, a non-roster invitee to Colorado in Spring Training, is now responsible for the only wins Colorado has posted to date and he is sporting 1.29 ERA over 14 innings pitched. Is Estes going to repeat his 19 win season from 1997 (or even the 15 wins he posted in 2000)? Doubtful, especially since Coors field isn't exactly the place for a pitcher to revive a career, but wouldn't that be just typical? I think he has the billy goat, the memory of the foul ball, and that cursed seat on the left field line at wrigley rooting for him though, which may be all he needs to lock up the NL Cy Young this year. The next two are a bit more painful - (2) When we traded Juan Cruz, I was ambivalent. So what that he allegedly had potential - from my perspective I was always nervous when he pitched for the Cubs. So imagaine our surprise when he comes in and pitches 3 scoreless innings in the Cubs 2-1 fifteen inning win over Atlanta! It may be unseemly, but let the ubiquitous second guessing of that deal begin right now, especially when the guy we traded him for can't seem to find the plate (more on this below). My only question is this - is Cruz excelling because he's pitching against an anemic Cubs offense (which can make even mediocre pitchers like Paul Wilson look like an ace) or is his unrealized potential suddenly becoming realized? Perhaps the answer will have to wait until he faces a more potent offense, like St. Louis. All you can do as a Cubs fan is shake your head, which brings us to: (3) Antonio Alfonseca played two games against us in this three game series and he actually registered the win against the Cubs on Saturday. In the first game the six fingered wonder pitches 2 scoreless innings of relief for the Braves, and then comes back in game 2 and pitches another scoreless inning (actually 2/3 of an inning), while chalking up his first win of the season! As he waddled out to the field both times, I remembered how horrified I used to be when he entered the game as a Cub, so I was expectantly waiting for the shelling to begin - a shelling that never materialized. I think it would have if any of the Cubs had demonstrated any sort of patience at the plate - If you give Alfonseca enough rope, he will hang himself every time - but the Cubs were swinging away without reserve.

Who will be the goat this year?

With Alfonseca gone, who will replace him as the object of Cub fans derision? Anything's possible, but my money is on Andy Pratt - the kid has major control problems and he can't find the plate to save his life. For the life of me I can't understand why Dusty brought in Pratt in the 5-2 loss on Saturday! He had a bullpen full of solid relievers - Hawkins, Mercker, Wuertz, and even Tightpants for goodness sakes! Why in the world - with 2 out in the bottom of the eighth and a one run lead - do you bring in the rookie with known control problems? Mitre should have won this game - and if you think about it - even if Mark Prior was pitching, this win would have been stripped out of his hands too. Frustrating to say the least. In this regard, Derek at the Cub Reporter has some good insights on the game 2 debacle - scroll down to "Game Notes 5:Opportunities Lost." Derek also makes the good point that the time to bring in Pratt was in Sunday's game after we had run up a considerable lead - not in a one run malox masher!

Wood strong & Cubs bats come alive!

What a pleasure the game today was! Woody pitched a phenomenal game (7 straight k's!) - he made it through seven innings (105 pitches) and is now sporting a 3.75 ERA. Patterson jacked a homer in the first inning (again) right after Pat Hughes remarked that the Cubs had been held scoreless in the first inning since Patterson's first inning jack against Cincinnati. The Golden Goose (my nickname for Michael Barrett) laid a 3 run golden egg for us in the eighth that sealed the deal. Walker was 2/4 today, as were Ramirez, Barrett, and Martinez (Alou was 2/5). Good stuff all around.

Up Next - Mad Dog vs. Benson in the Cubs home opener!

More Missed Opportunities

The Cubs extended their runners in scoring position hitless streak to a strong 0 for 19 (I believe) on Saturday. It's nice to see the Cubs getting guys on base and getting at bats in these situations, but seeing them struggle to get even a Texas leaguer with a guy on second is really frustrating.

Solid Pitching

IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Mitre 7.2 5 2 2 1 3 0 2.35

I must admit, Sergio Mitre was a big concern for me going into this game, but there was a day/night difference between the pitcher I saw Saturday and the pitcher that threw in Turner Field last year when Prior was out. If this kid can pitch like that consistently, Billy Goat might have a run for his money when Prior comes back.

Not-So-Solid Pitching

Andy Pratt had a weak outing. He came in to turn Chipper Jones around and if he couldn't get Jones, he would pitch to the left-handed J.D. Drew. Pratt couldn't find the plate again and walked the two guys he came in to get and loaded the bases.

Kyle Farnsworth came in to bail Pratt out and ended up walking a patient Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to tie the game. This really ticked me off, but the next at bat really got on my nerves. Julio Franco did something I don't think I'll ever see again. He fouled pitch after pitch off from Dr. Tightpants who was mixing and matching 100 mph fastballs with 80 mph sliders. Franco finally cleared the bases with a 3 RBI double that just missed being a grand slam in right field. This was a most excellent at bat and something to be truly appreciated, but nonetheless frustrating.

Bright Spots

-Todd Hollandsworth's power - he hit another homerun and is pasting the ball.
-Derek Lee's glove
-Sergio Mitre's arm

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The life of a Cubs fab -

Isn't it just peachy that Shawn Estes pitched a 7 inning 2 hit gem and beat Randy Johnson in his Season debut as the Rockies number #1 starter?! Now that Shawn has left the Cubs, he is free to reach his maximum potential (which after watching him last year isn't much) and post as many wins as possible - Go Shawn!!! :-/

Borowski's velocity -
JoeBo apparently is down from the low 90's to the high 80's as everyone knows (it was widely reported that his fast ball was registering 88-89 mph in Spring Training). And yet even 89 mph may too ambitious at this point - In the Cubs opener he didn't throw anything above 88 mph. Yes I know he got the job done but don't forget - it was against the lower part of the order of a mediocre Reds team. I could be wrong about this, but JoeBo may in fact be Rod Beck's evil twin this year.

Yesterday's offensive futility -
We were all extremely frustrated with the reappearance of the 2003 Cubs offense yesterday and I made a sarcastic comment about Paul Wilson not being that exceptional of a pitcher. Well he's not, but on the other hand - he does appear to have the Cubs number. Prior to yesterday's game - Alou was 1/9 lifetime against Wilson, Grudzy was 1/12, Gonzo was 4/19, and Derrek Lee was 1/10. I didn't see that until after the fact, and it was an ominous portent of the day's offensive struggles.

Concerning the game today against the Reds -
Will it be another day of offensive futility? I hope not, but Sosa is 1/8 against Acevedo and Patterson is 1/7 against him. Maybe Aramis can get the bat going since at least he is 5/11 lifetime against Avecedo. I am hoping Matt Clement can snap out of his Spring Training slump. The Official Cubs web site reminded us today of Clement's horrible ST:

Clement was 0-3 with an 8.84 ERA in six Cactus League appearances, giving up 27 hits and walking 12 over 18 1/3 innings. Not exactly an impressive tuneup. But the good news is the right-hander rediscovered his slider this spring. Now he needs to feel comfortable with the rest of his repertoire.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that this Cincinnati lineup has had relative success againt Clement:

Adam Dunn has hit .353 (6-for-17) with a double, home run and two RBIs against Clement throughout his career. ... Jason LaRue has four hits, including a pair of doubles, in 10 at-bats against the right-hander. LaRue has also fanned against him five times. ... Barry Larkin has gone 5-for-16 with a home run and two RBIs against Clement.

Oy Vey!

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Well that sucked - Reds 3 Cubs 1

What a frustrating game! The breakdown:

The positives - (1) The Bullpen (!) continues to impress me. Wuertz threw another scoreless inning of relief as did Pratt. Are these guys for real or is this just an early season tease? (2) Grudzielanek 2/4 - man I am glad we re-signed him - I have liked Grudzy ever since he came on board! On a day of much offensive futility, Grudzy was one of the few bright spots. (3) Patterson 2/4 - these two gentleman accounted for over half of the Cubs hits :-( Sorry Greg Maddux - a little bit of run support would have helped.


The neutrals - (1) Mad Dog wasn't exactly great or terrible. It's tough to win a game when you get no run support (Is Paul Wilson really that incredible of a pitcher?!). We got more innings out of Maddux than we did from woody yesterday (and Maddux threw almost 20 pitches less than woody while he threw one more inning than him - boy if woody could just learn efficiency from the master). I'm not terribly disappointed in Maddux - this wasn't a terrible performance, but it wasn't great either. (2) Derrek Lee 1/4 - his homer in the 9th represented the Cubs only run and his skillful glove saved 2 errors (The Aramis line is holding steady - 0 errors on the season to date, but as mentioned, he has Rodan to thank for that). Nice to see Derrek finally get his stick on the ball (I know it's early but I'm impatient). (3) Moises Alou 1/4 - his leadoff double in the 7th looked promising until Ramirez, Lee, and Gonzo went 1-2-3!

The negatives - (1) Sammy freaking Sosa - 0/4 today; 0/4 yesterday. Is this what $16 million/year buys? I know it's early in the season, but come on man - show us what you can do. (2) Paul Bako 0/3 - This is an absolutely useless bat in the lineup. I almost put him in the neutral category due to his throw out of Jimenez trying to steal in the first - but it was a questionable call, and in any event - his utter lack of offensive prowess will probably relegate Bako to the perpetual negative category of this blog. (3) Cubs synergy (or lack thereof) - What a waste of hits and walks. When Grudzy got on, Patterson, Sammy, and Alou were worthless. When Patterson got on, Sammy, Alou and Ramirez were worthless. When Sammy got on - whoops - Sammy didn't get on. You get the idea (7 total hits and 6 batters left on base). We couldn't put anything together offensively - and that ill advised base stealing attempt by Patterson in the 4th was just representative of a day of offensive futility.

To make matters worse: (1) Houston won; (2) St Louis won; and (3) the White Sox won. Looks like the South siders were able to avoid a 9th inning meltdown like Monday's game - but I think that bullpen of theirs is going to give them as many fits this year as ours did last year.

I wish I could say I'm positive about tomorrow's game, but Matt Clement is scaring the heck out of me based on his performance in Spring Training. I have a feeling he is going to get shelled tomorrow - even against a very mediocre Reds lineup. I'm hoping I'm wrong, but I'm fearful that I will not be!

Oh well - it's a long season. Hopefully we'll come out tomorrow and grind out a win.

Up next - Fu man chu vs. Acevedo

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Nicely Done! Cubs 7 Reds 4

Well, the Cubs won their first game! It's nice to start a season with such high expectations on a positive note.

The positives - (1) the Cubs put up nice run support for Kerry, and the Bullpen held the lead - boy does that feel different from last year! (2) Corey Patterson hits a homer four pitches after Dick Cheney throws out the ceremonial first pitch - he is looking like he is picking up right where he left off from last season! (3) The Aramis line - no errors to date, and he even contributed to a nice double play with Grudzielanek & Lee! (4) The Grudzielanek line - 3/5! Many folks are predicting Grudz to have considerably less impact this year, so I'm keeping a close eye on him. (5) Moises comes through in the clutch with a 2 out base clearing double! I've been saying for a while that Alou is in a contract year trying to justify why anyone should even consider paying him $9 million Greenbacks a year - so keep an eye on him. (6) Michael "The Golden Goose" Barrett goes 2/4 - I'm hoping he lives up to the nick name I've come up with for him and continues to lay golden eggs for us. (7) Wuertz! Nice inning of relief against the latter part of the Reds lineup. (8) Lest we forget - Antonio Alfonseca is no longer a cub & what's better - the Braves picked him up! I can only hope he pays them back negatively in some small measure for all the years of anguish cubdom experienced watching Mad Dog in a Braves uniform accumulating 3 Cy Young's.

The Negatives - (1) Joe Borowski is frightening - walking the 9 spot pinch-hitter and then walking their leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth with a precarious 3 run lead is the type of stuff that produces indigestion. I'm not so sure that not fighting for a job this spring was such a good thing for Old Joe. He did pick up the save, which is what really counts - but I am nervous about the havoc a potent St Louis or Houston lineup would wreak on JoeBo. (2) The offense fizzled after the 6th (apart from Dunn's run-producing error in the 8th).

Up next - Mad Dog in his Cub Reprise!