Wednesday, August 18, 2004

What can you say...

Well - another loss. That's seven of the last ten games the Cubs have given up - not something that should characterize a team in the midst of a tight playoff race (with less than 8 weeks remaining no less). That is, not something that should characterize a team that desires to continue to entertain postseason hopes. And so, as one should expect - the Cubs dropped into third in the wildcard race, 1 1/2 games behind San Francisco, and 1/2 game behind San Diego.

In any event, I can't comment on the game too much because I had to travel to Southern Illinois last night, and WGN went out around Springfield, and (due to the storm), I really couldn't pick up the game until my return trip when I was finally able to pick it up in the sixth inning somewhere in central Illinois. By that time, of course, the Cubs were down 3-1 and the anemic offense that we have all come to know very well was manifest in all of its glory. The Brewers pitcher (Victor Santos) is apparently destined for future greatness, because although he had lost his five previous starts (and he didn't even reach the fifth inning of his previous three), he held the Cubs to five hits and one run over 6 1/3 innings. When was Santos' last win you ask? Well, surprise, surprise - it was July 16th against the hapless Cubs. And hasn't this been a recurrent theme for this ball club this year? A pitcher struggles against other teams, but then looks like a Cy Young candidate when facing the boys from the Northside. So the question is - are these pitchers just ramping it up and somehow finding their A-game consistently against the Cubs - or is it the Cub offense that makes bad pitchers look decent (e.g., Jose Acevedo, Jason Jennings, Kirk Rueter, et al) and good pitchers look exceptional (Victor Santos, Chris Capuano, Doug Davis)? Now I can't be certain, of course, but the fact that this phenomena occurs so often would tend to suggest the latter possibility. And if you have time to burn - try running the overall stats from those pitchers I just listed versus their splits against just the Cubs this year. I will say this much - As long as an utterly inconsistent and generally insipid offense continues to plague this ball club, the playoffs seem more and more to be nothing more than an ephemeral pipedream - and success during the postseason only the delusional hope of the lunatic fringe. That is, unless something changes - and soon.

Dusty rants...

One of the most frustrating aspects of this season has been the undue and unbalanced reliance on solo home-runs this season. This quote from Carrie Muskat's news report after Tuesday's loss to the Brewers sums it up pretty well...

"We stranded quite a few runners out there," Baker said. The Cubs lead the National League in home runs, and rely on the long ball. Maybe too much. "We've hit a lot of home runs but we haven't gotten a lot of big hits this season, and we have to find a way to get those runners across when we have them out there," Lee said.

Gee - do you think that might because the Cubs are not effectively grouping players together in the batting order? Why is it the Cubs seem to have an unusual penchant for knocking solo shots? One obvious answer (to me at least) is because they are spacing their best hitters and inserting frequent strikeout/groundout candidates between those players who have demonstrated a consistent ability to reach base. As a result, runners are frequently left stranded, and when homeruns are hit, no one is on base. Hence, the ball club is unable to take advantage of consistently good hitters (Walker, Garciaparra, Ramirez, Lee, and Barrett) advancing other consistently good hitters. Certainly other factors could be appealed to (such as poor base running, defensive lapses, and an inept bullpen, among other team woes), but most of the blame (again in my opinion) can be laid squarely at the feet of the manager - Dusty Baker, who refuses to make the tough decisions managers are required to make because he would (apparently) rather function as team therapist (worried that he was going to lose Sammy emotionally and spiritually????) than team manager. Is it blasphemous to say that I would like to see what the tough Southside manager Ozzie Guillen could do with this team? What would a few overturned tables and visible displays of anger accomplish? Perhaps nothing in the long run, but it would probably give us fans vicarious satisifcation if nothing else.

Clement draws another tough match-up...

Matt Clement (he of no run-support ignominy) runs up against All-star pitcher Ben Sheets tonight in what could be a turning point of the season for the Cubs (one way or the other). Meanwhile, Wildcard leader San Francisco goes up against the pitiful Expos. At least San Diego is playing the Braves.

And if you want to comment about any of this - too bad because this blasted hosting service hasn't gotten back to me yet with regard to why a comments feature isn't available even though I just included it in the html.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


I've debated whether or not to add comments on the blog, and I've finally decided to add the feature. That is - if I can get the wretched feature to work. If you see comments below it works and if not...

Monday, August 16, 2004

Bullpen blows it...

O.k. - I'll admit it. I was up late Saturday night and so as I was listening to the radio broadcast of Sunday's game (via headphones and a small transistor radio) I fell comfortably into a light sleep on the couch after the sixth inning - feeling quite satisfied that Mark Prior had the game well in hand. In light of Aramis Ramirez' absence, I was surprised to find the Cubs ahead by the score of 5-2. Wake me when we have registered a W thank you very much.

Except that isn't quite how it worked out. You see, I didn't count on the Dusty factor (i.e., utterly ignore how a player is *currently* playing and insert him in the game during key situations regardless of demonstrated control problems) combined with this miserable bullpen.

It's no wonder I didn't sleep very peacefully, because suddenly I awoke in the top of the eighth, and Kyle Farnsworth is being taken out with the bases loaded and only one away (Robin Ventura reached on four straight balls and Alex Cora was hit by a pitch!). Uh-oh.

Needless to say - all of the usual suspects made an appearance (Mike Remlinger is held guiltless in this particular instance), and a 5-3 lead suddenly turned into a 8-5 loss. The loss was sealed, incidentally, when Eric Gagne (a truly reliable reliever) came in and pitched two innings of hitless relief.

These are the absolute worst games to lose. They hit you right in the gut and are just plain demoralizing. When considered in light of the two previous series losses, this reminds one of the previous season low point after a Cardinals sweep at home in July.

Northside Report goat of the game...

goes to Kyle Farnsworth - a multiple award winner for this category. Farnsworth's consistent inability to throw strikes ultimately put the winning run (Alex Cora) on first in the eighth inning. You could probably make a case for giving a collective goat award to the entire bullpen for this debacle, but my heart tells me to give it to Tightpants. So sit back and enjoy a bud Tightpants - you made the list!

Ironically, had a poll a few weeks ago asking visitors who the most reliable Cubs reliever was. Inexplicably, Farnsworth was number #1 (followed by John Leicester). My only question is - who the heck is voting in these polls - player's relatives?

Cubs record versus N.L. playoff teams...

a troubling record should raise eyebrows for those who continue to envision postseason glory for the Cubs this year (and the possibility exists the Cubs may not even make the postseason no less). The Cubs record versus likely National League playoff teams (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Los Angeles) is a dismal 12-16. Even worse, the Cubs have lost every one of the series versus these teams (except Atlanta, in which case the Cubs hold a 2-1 series edge - but the Cubs can still blow this since there are 3 games to go). Additionally, if you throw in the teams competing for a wild card (San Diego, San Francisco, and Philadelphia) it doesn't get much better. The Cubs are 9-9 against these teams (with 6 games remaining against the Marlins) - not a record that inspires confidence.

This team just hasn't been playing like a team that is going to make any substantive noise in the postseason. The starting rotation certainly has the stuff to win a short series - but is anyone comfortable handing the last 2-3 innings to the bullpen against a team like St. Louis? Do the Cubs have enough offense to overcome the runs that the bullpen seems almost sure to give up against a monstrous St Louis attack? The way this ballclub is currently playing - I wouldn't bet on it.

The only option (in my opinion) that might inspire some hope for the Cubs during the postseason (and this assumes they make the postseason of course) is to 1) When the postseason begins - move to a four man rotation (moving Clement to the bullpen to assume either closer or set-up responsibilities), and 2) Dusty quits screwing around by managing based on reputations from the past and he begins management based on current player performance. That would entail moving Sosa down the line-up (and all the Sosa apologists can provide the same tired old refrains and excuses at this point) and grouping Garciaparra, Ramirez, Lee, and Barrett together in the lineup. Even then - the prospect of facing that St. Louis lineup in a 7 games series seems like a daunting task - especially if this bullpen doesn't show some signs of life against quality teams.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The game was over...

in the top of the fourth inning, when an uncharacteristically wild Mark Prior (having already given up four runs - all of them with two outs in the third) gave up a single to Mark Loretta, a double to Brian Giles, and then loaded the bases by hitting Phil Nevin, which put the ultimate winning run on first. Prior was finally yanked, and a comedy of errors then compounded problems (e.g., Klesko's hit to Walker with no one covering first) - which we've all come to expect this season. It looked like the Cubs might get out of the inning with only one run scored when Terrence Long hit into a 1-2-3 double play, but Ramon Hernandez hit a 3 run 2-out (!) jack that finally sealed the game. Bah!

Second guessing and recriminations...

Did Dusty leave Prior in too long? Well - that could be debated even with the advantage of hindsight. Yes, Prior was showing increasing signs of repeated control problems in the first 3 innings and especially against Loretta and Giles in the fourth, and he was carrying a frightenly high pitch count into that fourth inning as well. In fact, I was wondering whether Dusty was going to bat a pinch hitter for Prior in the bottom of the third in light of his relatively high pitch count and demonstrated control problems. On the other hand, does Dusty risk damaging Prior's confidence by yanking him after three innings as he is in the midst of making his injury comeback? Probably. I think we all need to remember that Prior is coming off an injury and is still in the early part of his season - so some bumps in the road can be expected. My own opinion is that Dusty did the right thing in this instance. We'll see if two months of pitching can return Prior to the brilliant form he displayed last season - I'm betting he will be just fine come October.

I will say this though - I am sick and tired of seeing the opposing pitcher walked and (even worse) drive in key runs against the Cubs - a phenomena that I have seen far too often this season. Come on guys!

Monday, August 09, 2004

Peter Gammons on the mind...

Check out this interesting tidbit from Peter Gammons at ESPN with regard to Nomar Garciaparra:

Will he sign with the Cubs? Probably. He can take a contract with them that he could not have reconciled himself to taking with the Red Sox.

I like the sound of that. I'll admit - the fact that Garciaparra turned down 4 years @ 15 million per year had me skeptical the Cubs could resign him - but then again they didn't create the extreme animus with Nomar that Boston did - so perhaps he can be signed by the Cubs. We can only hope.

In other news...

Three-time Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez will join about 9,000 people in U.S. citizenship ceremonies this week. Ordonez, who defected from Cuba in 1993 and has played for three major league teams, will be sworn in Wednesday at the Miami Beach Convention Center. "It was time to become a citizen since this country has given us the ability to improve our quality of life," Ordonez said Monday. Ordonez was cut by the Chicago Cubs last month and is not sure if he will play again. "Sports is a career in which you can be productive for a while and, at a certain time, your career just ends," Ordonez said. "Right now, it looks like it's ending."

We can only thank the high heavens for that!


Mike Comar of the Cubs Pundit is apparently upset over some people in the Cubs Blogger Army who have been slamming poor old Sammy.

Mike - no one doubts he is a hall of famer. No one doubts he has been incredible for this franchise for many years - but right now he is hurting this team batting in the 3 or 4 spot - and until he gets his old rear end closer to the plate and starts striking the ball more consistently - he needs to be moved down in the order where his strike-outs will be less likely to strand base runners. How low will his BA & OBP have to slump before you and Dusty Baker wake up and smell the coffee?

Blind loyalty might endear you in the hearts of some but it will send this franchise straight down the dumper.

Well I'm back...

I haven't posted here in over two months (at least my co-blogger Camden has put up a few thoughts in this time span) because I've been immersed in an intensive 8 week Summer German course for my PhD work. And let me tell you - it was crazy-insane! Nothing but 15 hours a day of memorizing German vocabulary words and translating graduate level German texts for 8 weeks straight. The first 3 weeks of this German course is allegedly equivalent to 2 years of college German, while the last 5 weeks focused on translating specialized graduate level texts in my discipline. Fortunately I passed my proficiency exam (!), and so my summer of German immersion is finished! In any event, my desire to publicize my thoughts on the Cubs has had to be fulfilled by posting comments on Ivy Chat and The Cubs Pundit - and I'm sure the authors of those blogs are happy to have me back on my own blog.

So - what's transpired since I last posted? As everyone knows, the Cubs picked up Nomar Garciaparra - and he has been nothing short of spectacular. Although I must say it's been frustrating to see many of his hits and walks wasted because he bats between Patterson, Alou, and Sosa (the 16 million dollar man in case you forgot). As we get closer to the end of the season, I plan on calculating how much each of Sosa's hits is costing the Cubs this year per dollar by dividing them according to his salary (we'll throw in the strike-outs for free) - and I'm guessing they're not coming cheaply.

Based on the line-ups Dusty cobbles together day after day and his strategy of giving essential players days off during key games against teams competing for a playoff spot - I confess that I have concluded that Dusty Baker is either a genius or a certifiable idiot - and I'm leaning toward the latter (although what do I know - he's the one making the big dollars to manage - and I'm just some schlep with a blog).

In any event (and hindsight is always 20/20) - I feel pretty confident saying that letting Kenny Lofton slip away was a major mistake. Lofton - unlike the wildly inconsistent Patterson - always found a way to get on base and create offensive havoc once he was on. Can you imagine if the Cubs had Lofton still leading off, with Garciaparra batting second?! I'd like to see Baker find a way to put Garciaparra, Ramirez, and Lee together in the line-up, because those three have consistently proven themselves capable of getting on base and advancing runners. For what it's worth, here's my ideal lineup (w/ respective batting
average's and OBP):

1. Todd Walker (.288/.372)
2. Nomar Garciaparra (.357/.367)
3. Derrek Lee (.300/.370)
4. Aramis Ramirez (.326/.375)
5. Moises Alou (.274/.334)
6. Michael Barrett (.289/.338)
7. Corey Patterson (.271/.324)
8. Sammy Sosa (.262/.346)

I say to heck with Grudzielanek (.271/.312) - Walker was an excellent leadoff batter - he worked deep into counts and he generally found a way to get on base as well. The Cubs need to quit screwing around with who was starting last year and yada yada yada and award starting jobs to people who are producing now. Also - and I know this sounds terribly ungrateful after all Sosa has done for this ball club - but to heck with him as well. “What have you done for me lately” might seem Machiavellian, but when you haven't won in nearly a century - that's the unfortunate circumstance we find ourselves in.

Well anyway - those are my rather disjointed thoughts for today. I heard Dusty say he's resting Ramirez for Tuesday's game against San Diego - which has me pulling out my hair, but at least I've come to expect it with him.