Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Someone Help Us

The Cubs came into last night's game batting a Major League low .233 during night games - not something to be excited about. Roy Oswalt helped the Cubs maintain there prominent standing among the bottom feeders by helping hold the Cubs to a paltry 3 hits.

Oswalt did have hot stuff, but how many times have we seen this year that a struggling pitcher suits up for the Cubs and just happens to have "hot stuff"? It's becoming a strange coincidence (or no coincidence at all). Jeff Weaver was a good example. He was just plain stinking it up when the Cubs faced him a few weeks ago. He came out and just made the Cubs look silly. Randy Johnson did the same thing when he was on his skid early in the season and was lights-out against the Cubs.

Roy Oswalt had not won in seven starts, but just wait... the Cubs are in town. Hey! Oswalt got his stuff back! We need to not back off these struggling pitchers and take them seriously. So let's get some momentum back and win tonight before heading into Pittsburgh.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Congrats to Borowski...

It was the bottom of the eighth and while the Cubs were going down 1-2-3 and taking a precarious one run lead into the ninth, I was pacing in a rather agitated state and pleading with Dusty not to put Borowski in against the absolute heart of the St. Louis line-up - Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. I was reasoning with Dusty - "Please Dusty - don't put Joe in - not against these beasts. Leave Hawkins in - he's been fantastic, and this game is too important. Save Joe for those save situations where we have a 3 run cushion because he's sure to give up at least 2 runs - Dusty please!!!." No matter what reasoning I brought to bear (and I was profuse with the reasons for not putting Joe in) - Dusty just wasn't listening - and sure enough - in the top of the ninth JoeBo strides in and I pulled out my laptop to begin typing a post blasting Dusty for giving up the game by pulling Hawk and putting in Borowski. As my computer was warming up, Pujols hit a shallow fly to left that was caught by Alou - one away. I raised my eyebrows as I pulled up my text editor, still ready to blast Dusty for the poor managment decision that was surely going to cost the Cubs the game. Just as I am ready to type the first few words of this post, Edmonds strikes out - two away. Hmmm... is it possible that Joe Borowski is going to retire Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen 1-2-3, restore some confidence in Cubdom in his closing abilities, and register a well earned and impressive save? I sat back in my chair and while chewing contemplatively on a straw - Borowski induced Rolen to fly out with a long shot to center - game over - Cubs win! Congratulations Joe! This was an impressive save, and I personally will refrain from trying to influence Dusty concerning not putting you in during tight save situations. He wasn't listening to me anyway - and my wife was looking at me strangely for reasoning with no one in particular.

Northside Report Player of the game...

The game ball goes to Matt Clement for a fine game tossed against the Cardinals. He pitched 7 strong innings and allowed only 3 hits (2 of them homers) and 3 walks, improving to 6-3 for the season with this victory. One or two folks from the Cubs blog Army have been imprudently talking about trading Clement in the last few weeks (probably thinking that the Cubs can't or won't resign him due to the fact that he is likely going to command a hefty salary after this season) and I think that would be an absolute tragedy. Clement has been rock solid this year - and he and Zambrano have kept the wheels on this enterprise in the absence of Prior and now Wood. I think Clement is a key part of this lineup, and I'd do everything possible to keep this rotation together - they are going to win a lot of games together if we can just keep them together.

The next month is crucial...

The next month (May 25th - July 4th) is absolutely crucial for the Cubs - here's how 31 of the next 38 games shapes up: 12 games against the Astros (24-19), 7 games against the Cardinals (23-21), 3 games against Anaheim (29-15), 3 games against Oakland (25-18), and 6 games against the White Sox (25-18). Every single one of these games is going to be difficult - and it will be interesting to see where the Cubs find themselves in the standings by the 4th of July. This is the critical juncture of the season and a playoff berth may either be seriously helped or hindered in the next month. Hopefully Woody, Prior, and Sosa will be back from the DL for most of these games because they are going to be desperately needed. The bad news is that Woody felt some soreness in a simulated game early Sunday and is doubtful for this Friday's doubleheader against Pittsburgh. Hopefully he will be ready by the St Louis series Monday June 7th - I would rather have him pitch against the Cardinals than the Pirates anyway - let Maddux, Rusch, and Mitre (hopefully matched up against either Fogg or Vogelsong) pitch against the Bucs.

Camden - We're counting on you buddy...

I may be out of commission for the next two weeks since my family and I are taking a vacation in Florida and I don't know how much access I''l have to the internet. Hopefully my compadre, Camden, will pick up the slack and keep up at least semi-regular posts - although he is getting married on Saturday June 4th - so I'll understand if he can't get around to posting. So if we aren't posting anything, check back after June 4th when I return.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Nice day at Wrigley…

Well my first day at Wrigley this year turned out to be a real pleasure! I planned ahead for both heat and cold and dressed in layers – and I brought a rain jacket just in case. As it turned out – it did rain, but we had fantastic seats in the terrace reserved section (Aisle 231/Row 14) just behind first base and so we were sheltered completely from the rain by the terrace above. We were sitting behind some Cardinal fans who remarked in the eighth (with 2 down and Dr. Tightpants in to relieve Rusch who received a well deserved standing ovation as he left) how much they remembered and appreciated Kyle Farnsworth a couple of weeks ago in Saint Louis when he threw far more balls than strikes and essentially lost both games for the Cubs in that first series. This time Farnsworth was the model of pitching efficiency, however, and he threw one pitch and retired the batter on a weak infield grounder, and the inning was over!

Northside Report Player of the Game…

I’ll admit - I was grumbling and complaining before the game about my belief that Glendon Rusch was likely going to get shelled and that the Cubs were probably not going to put up many runs against even a struggling Woody Williams – but again I was wrong, and again I was pleasantly surprised! Rusch pitched a great 1-2-3 first inning (although the blast by Renteria in the first gave me quite a fright), and the Cubs dropped 4 runs on Woody in the bottom half of the inning – what a great way to start! Glendon Rusch pitched fantastic – I can’t say enough about what an impressive game he pitched. For most of the game (and especially the first 4 innings) he stayed ahead of the hitters, and he held a potent Saint Louis offense to 1 run through 8 innings. For that fine performance, Glendon Rusch gets the Northside Report player of the game!

Great hustling Todd…

I also want to say that I appreciate the effort Todd Hollandsworth makes to hustle out to the outfield while he’s subbing for Sosa – He charged out to right field at the beginning of the game just like Sosa does every game. And while he doesn’t exactly look particularly graceful galloping out at full throttle, I appreciate the effort he’s putting into it. He also did an excellent job at the plate today by drawing two walks and jacking a 2-run homer off Williams in the third.

Year of the injury…

This is getting frustrating. Mark Prior has been on the DL for nearly two months (Achilles), Woody went down last week and has been placed on the DL (strained right triceps), Sosa has also just been placed on the DL (sprained ligament in his lower back), Grudzielanek has been out the entire season (Achilles), as has Remlinger (off-season shoulder surgery), Alex Gonzalez has joined the ranks of the infirm on the DL (broken wrist) – and now Kent Mercker has been placed on the 15 day DL with a lower back strain.

I can remember saying a number of times before the season started that the only thing that was going to possibly derail a Cubs pennant this year were injuries to key players. It is hard to believe that the Cubs are sitting so close to first place (at the writing of this post – Cincinnati jumped ahead of Houston 8-6 in the bottom of the eighth – a Houston loss would move the Cubs into a three-way tie for first with Houston and Cincinnati) with this many key components out! Nevertheless – I don’t know how long we can sustain this type of competitiveness without the absolute heart and soul of our lineup (Woody, Prior, and Sosa). Apparently the Astros are keeping close tabs on the injury situation in Chicago and they are hoping to capitalize on it and gain a lead in the division:

"Whenever a team can battle through injuries and problems and still stay close, when they get back and healthy, you know they're going to be a tough team," Lance Berkman said. "You hope to build an advantage when they're on the ropes from an injury standpoint but we really haven't been able to open much of a gap. It's certainly disconcerting when you have a team that doesn't even have some of their best players and they're still right there with you."

The good news is that Mike Remlinger rejoined the team on Saturday and is allegedly ready to go. Let’s hope he can display the same effectiveness out of the bullpen he had last year.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Cubs Pull it Off

Carlos Zambrano looked a little weak in game two against the Giants last night. The Cubs were trying to come off an embarrassing shutout at the hands of Jason Schmidt who just eats up the Cubs. The Cubbies really needed this one to keep pace with the Astros.

Zambrano was throwing a lot of fly balls, which is never a good sight from him, but he still pitched well. When you see him going out there consistently giving up less than 3 runs, you wonder a bit when the Giants score three by the end of the third – especially when that includes a home run by Michael Tucker. Yes, Carlos Zambrano who has only given up two home runs all year gave up a homer to Michael Tucker – the very Michael Tucker that used to wear the Cubbie blue.

Sosa is still out. He’s going to go on the DL with a bad back, so the Cubs needed some extra pop from their lineup. Corey Patterson not only saw a pitch he liked (about 90% of the pitches thrown to him), but he was able to put a charge into it and took it out to right field. He brought the Cubs to within 1 run.

It was getting late in the game when Corey walked in the 7th and moved to third on a Ramon Martinez single. Jason DuBois sacrificed Patterson in with a fly to right on his major league debut – not a bad performance. I was worried it wasn’t deep enough, but Patterson is quick and the throw was horrible.

Pedro Feliz was thrown out at home in the top of the ninth when Jeffrey Hammonds grounded to Aramis Ramirez. Feliz ran over a yard off the third baseline trying to get in the way of Ramirez’s throw to the plate, but Ramirez threw a bulls-eye to Michael Barrett who made the easy tag. Feliz would have been called out anyway for running out of the baseline.

Moises Alou decided to end the game in the bottom of the tenth with a shot to left off a high fastball that missed it’s mark by a good two feet. It was a great ending to a “nervous” game for me. I did not want to see the Cubs fall to this poor team again and lose more ground to the Astros. The Cubs need to stay afloat until they can get their big guns back. Hopefully these injuries won’t be our proverbial Achille’s heal.

Notes:

The Farns was sharp - retiring the side. LaTroy wasn't terribly dominant, but he got the job done. Joe Borowski is looking better, although he wasn't locating his slider.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I was almost right...

(Note: The following post has been necessitated by an infelicitous prediction of a Padres sweep over the Cubs made last Thursday by yours truly): Before the three game series with the Padres began I expressed concern that the Cubs might get swept due to the combination of questionable pitching (Maddux, Mitre, & Rusch) and anemic run production - and I want to point out that I was [partly] right - there was a sweep. Before the finger pointing and recriminations begin (from the 2 authors/readers of this blog), let's not overlook this important fact - a sweep did occur just as I predicted! And if you stop to think about it, how many people successfully anticipate a series sweep and have the boldness and temerity to actually put such a prediction in print? Not bloody many - and the reason is obvious - such bold predictions have a way of coming back to haunt unsuccessful prognosticators. But lest we forget - I called for a sweep, and just as surely as I am holding a broom right at this very moment, a sweep occurred. If you think about it, in an important sense I was right! Yes, I predicted a sweep and a sweep did indeed occur - I just happened to have the teams reversed - but why let a minor detail like that smear a successful series sweep prediction?!

Actually - I was simply dead wrong on this one, and I just wish that every other error in judgment felt as satisfying as this one. The amazing thing about this is that had I known the lineup that Dusty was planning on fielding during the series - I would have been even more adamant about the prospect of a series sweep by the Padres! Macias & Martinez were in while Walker and Sosa were out! I don't know what kind of voodoo Dusty has been working - but with Macias hitting .533 against the Padres and Rusch putting up 1.93 ERA against them he needs to keep it up! Anyway as great as that was - let's ditch the voodoo magic thing for our home series against the Giants and Cardinals and get Walker, Sosa, and Wood back where they belong!

I'll be at the Cardinals game on Saturday - let's hope the Cubs bats give us something to cheer for!

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Is the streak about to end?

What streak you ask? The Cubs now have gone 59 consecutive series without getting swept, and they are taking this streak into San Diego Friday, but the streak is in serious jeopardy due to at least two factors. (1) Most importantly, look who we have scheduled to go to the mound for this series:

Friday: Greg Maddux (2-3, 5.06 ERA) vs. Ismael Valdez (2-1, 3.43)
Saturday: Sergio Mitre (1-2, 5.01) vs. Adam Eaton (1-0, 4.50)
Sunday: Glendon Rusch (1-0, 7.36) vs. David Wells (1-2, 4.32)

The only thing anyone needs to know is that we are sending Maddux, Mitre, and Rusch to the mound for a three game series - none of whom inspire confidence. I will go so far to predict that each one of them is going to give up a minimum of 4 runs (at least) through 5 innings in each game. Which then brings us to the second problem (2) The Cubs offense has been utterly pathetic as of late - and will probably be unable to surmount the runs that these pitchers are going to give up in each game. Currently, the Cubs are 15th in the league in run production (6th in the National league) - which is right around the middle of the pack - but these stats are somewhat skewed by the runs the Cubs ran up against the hapless Pirates (41 runs in 4 games - which accounts for 24% of the total Cubs runs this season!). If you just take the month of May (which excludes the Pirates games), the Cubs fall to 18th in the MLB, and 9th in the NL for run production - but even these numbers are skewed by the runs the Cubs hung on a hapless Rockies team (20 runs in 3 games). If anyone wants to know how effective Cubs bats have been this season - you only need to know two facts: Antonio Alfonseca and Jeff Fassero have each pitched 2 consecutive shut-out innings against the Cubs this year - that is how bad the Cubs bats have been. The Cubs bats make average pitchers look like Cy Young candidates.

At least Dusty has moved Patterson out of the 2 slot (thank-you!), but Damian Jackson and Ramon Martinez aren't the type of batters you want hitting in your 1-2 slots if you're hoping to get runners on base and put runs on the board! Anyway - I think there is a good chance the Cubs get swept at San Diego. I hate to say it, but look at who we've got pitching and look at the anemic offense we've put together - it is not a good combination.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple weeks. I've been busy... more excuses... etc.

Ok, now for an entry - and a frustrating one at that. The Cubs played horrible baseball last night. Todd Walker had a stupid attempt to backflip a ball to Ramon Martinez tyring to turn an impossible double play. They ended up getting nobody out. Sammy Sosa dropped the ball three times in a single play letting a number of runners advance well past where they should have stopped. The Cubs made Jeff Weaver look like a superstar on the mound - they were getting some runners on, but they were getting eaten up by his tailing fastball. Finally, Corey Patterson continued to excel at getting himself out by swinging at terrible pitches.

To top the bad night off, Kerry Wood left the game after 2 innings with tightness in his right triceps. Dusty Baker had this to say: "It's kind of a downer right now," Baker said. "We're thinking it's more precautionary than anything." [cubs.com]

At first I thought this could have been an elbow thing (before they announced what the problem was), but after hearing it was triceps tightness, I was somewhat relieved. The triceps are something that usually don't turn into nagging injuries for pitchers. I think Woody might miss his next start, but I'm not looking for him to have continued problems. His velocity wasn't down at all, they just took him out as a precaution. It wasn't like he was pitching really dominant anyway. He gave up two home runs - one to Grabowski, his first career shot.

It's starting to look like the year of the injury for the Cubs, though. At the beginning of the year, I was being asked who I thought would win the NL Central. I kept on saying it was between the Cubs and Astros and the deciding factor would be injuries. When I said that, I was thinking the Astros would be the ones with the injuries, just look at their lineup - they're getting old. I didn't imagine the Cubs would be going through such a heap of injuries so early in the year. And looking at the way the Astros are playing, it's going to be pretty tough over the next few months.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

More Disappointment

Can someone please stop Steve Finley? This is just getting to be ridiculous. What is it now? 6 home runs this year against the Cubs with only 8 overall? That's great for the Cubbies - giving up homeruns to middle-aged men you aren't hitting them off any other club.

It's starting to become a trend: Kerry Wood pitching a phenomenal game only to incur zero run support and a no-decision or a loss. It truly is a terrible thing to waste great starts. And what happened to the Cubs bats we were looking at a few weeks ago? They haven't been hitting squat. Two days ago looked like 1999 again with Sosa hitting a 3-run bomb late in the game when it didn't matter anymore. I'm starting to wonder if Gary Matthews is the man for the hitting coach position. I know it's early, but look at last year. They had some decent bats in the lineup, but they just looked futile many days. They've added some serious offense this year and they're beginning to look just like they did last year.

We saw the same early spout of explosive offense last season during that monster series against the Reds. I remember thinking it was going to be different and that I was looking to see the Cubs score 5 or 6 every day. It has been deja vu all over again this season. We saw the Cubs pound in run after run against a weak team early in the year and it raised our expectations. I caught myself saying "the Cubs have great offense this year, it's going to be great". But now I'm remembering I sang that same tune early last year.

I know offense comes in streaks - even at the team level. I'm not expecting the Cubs to hit like this all year, but I'm hoping we can keep these droughts to a minimum.

My $0.02 for the Cubs hitters: maybe you should take a pitch once in a blue moon

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I Don’t know whether to smile or cry…

O.k., so we split the series with St. Louis, but there is conflicting cause for both optimism and pessimism after this series. Should we be happy that our starting pitching effectively stifled a very potent St. Louis offense, or should we be ashamed that what has been (prior to this series) a pitiful St. Louis starting rotation stymied the Cubs offense? After all, their two aces - Woody Williams and Matt Morris respectively had a 6.00 and 4.50 ERA in April - but they looked great against the Cubs - which raises the question - were the really pitching well or did the Cubs bats just make them look good? I won’t even go into our bullpen problems…

Speaking of which, I can’t wait to get Remlinger back – let’s just hope and pray he returns to form after his rehab – he was our most consistent reliever last year and it will be nice to have him and LaTroy in the bullpen on a nightly basis.

Was that a bunt attempt?

I am still fuming over the pathetic excuse for a bunt that Alex Gonzales laid down in Friday’s game – the one where he got doubled up while he was just standing around and watching Mike Matheny play the game of baseball (It's fun to watch isn't it Alex). Needless to say - it was then painful to see Michael Barrett hit a double right after that which would have scored Lee :-/ And we lost that game by one run no less! I am just curious - has Alex been taking bunting lessons from Corey Patterson?

At least the Reds beat Houston tonight, which leaves the Cubs in a tie for first place. What can we expect from Mitre tomorrow? I don’t know, but I always have an uneasy feeling the day he pitches. Last time Mitre faced the Diamondbacks he got hammered for five runs on six hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings. Let’s hope he can turn it up a notch tomorrow!