Cubs Now!
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The first two games of the Houston series haven't gone as badly as I thought, looking at the Petitte-Rusch and Clemens-Clement matchups. I was at the game last night, but my seats are down the thirdbase line so I couldn't see the two goofy plays. From my angle, it looked like Rusch was getting squeezed. Rusch got rocked in the fourth inning but came back to pitch effectively.

Today's game was winnable, obviously. Clemens got some really generous calls on the strike zone. Clement couldn't find it and pitched 104 pitches in 4.2 innings (why is 4.2 rather than 4.666 innings, by the way?). But the bullpen pitched well overall. Hawkins gave up a homerun to Beltran. Well, that happens. He's a very good player.

But the thing that struck me was how often the Cubs pitchers are behind in the count. Lidge struggled some in the eighth, but in the ninth, he was strike one, strike two. Hawkins didn't go after Beltran, trying to get out up in the zone. I know it's true, but can anyone show me a study on the negative effect a pitcher's count has on a player's offensive production? Thanks for your help.
  Good and Cheap

Joe over at the View from the Bleachers has an interesting post on the all low payroll team. Joe says that it is full of good, young talent. That's not surprising, though, considering the structure of baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

As explained in Moneyball, major league teams have rights to players for the first seven years of minor league ball and the first six years of their major league career. Wonder why Carlos Zambrano is making a half a mill? Because for the first three years of his career, the Cubs can pay him what they want. After the third year, Z can apply for arbitration and will get a healthy, but not market based, raise.

So theoretically, the Brewers, Devilrays, or Expos could afford to pay these guys. But they'd have had to either traded for them or brought them up. It's why KC traded Beltran. It's why a lot of trades that you hear on talk radio are just pipe dreams.

What about an all pay roll team composed of players with 7 or more years of major league experience? 
Sunday, June 27, 2004
  A Little Perspective

I'm sure if you're reading this, you care enough about the Cubs to be as disappointed about the last 5 days as I am. Losing 4 of 5 to the Cards and Sox is no fun. Falling to five out in the central sucks. Houston getting Beltran (but simultaneously weakening their bullpen) is a shot to the gut, too.

But, the Cubs remain in the lead for the wild card. The Cubs obviously aren't out of anything. Sammy's about to go on a tear (2 homers today). Corey's playing significantly better (though his baserunning cost the Cubs two outs). So, I'm not too down.

But in all honesty, you'd like to see the Cubs get up for games against the Sox as much as they do. Maddux looked terrible today, giving up at least a run every inning.

So let's get after the 'Stros on Tuesday, and keep your chin up. I felt the Cubs turned the corner during that six game win streak. But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, this season's going to be a long, hard slog.  
Saturday, June 26, 2004
  More Thoughts on Zambrano

This time with a little more researchresearch. Here are Carlos's statistics from this year and last. I noticed some things that are interesting:

First, I was wrong about his home run total, but just bearly. After today, Carlos has given up 8 this year to his otherworldly 9 last season. Second, his strike outs to innings pitched are up this year as well. Third, his walks are down considerably. Finally, he's giving up less extra base hits and less hits overall.

Of course, today was a glaring exception to his stelar '04 career. Most telling were his walks today. He walked 5 guys in just 6 innings and was hit pretty hard as well. He seemed to be consistently behind the batter and always pitching out of trouble (at least the first three innings). The Sox hit a lot of homeruns, and today they got two off of Z.

Zambrano distracted himself by paying WAY too much attention to Timo Perez at first, throwing over there four or five times, even when Timo had just stepped off the base. He then served one up to Joe Crede. You have to accept that Zambrano will do some stupid things out on the mound. His year so far more than justifies a little forgiveness for today. 

Carlos didn't pitch well today, obviously. Equally obvious is that he is an all-star this season. But without having done the research, I'm not quite sure how he's been as effective as he has. Last year, he wasn't giving up homeruns. I think he's given up more this year already than he did in his freakishly good season last season. Not coincedentally, he doesn't seem to be getting as many ground outs this season. I know this is arguing with success, but it does bear watching.

Also, check in and say hi to Marcus at cubsblog.com. Marcus was kind enough to name this site his Cubs blog of the day. It looks like he's just getting started. Good luck, Marcus!  
Thursday, June 24, 2004
  Cubs Make Trade, Too

Paul Bako and Rey Ordonez for a bucket of warm spit. The Astros got Carlos Beltran in a three way trade with KC and Oakland. But the Cubs trade improved the team even more.

Seriously, Ordonez and Bako are just too bad to play MLB. Ordonez was the problem tonight, squandering two scoring opportunities with infield dribblers (one a two out grounder, the other a 1-2-3 dp). Ordonez followed up his offensive ineptitude by making a costly fourth inning error with the bases loaded, leading to a four run inning.

I'm posting now because that inning ended this game. The Cubs squandered too many opportunities with poor baserunning by Sammy and the aforementioned disasterous play by Rey Ordonez. Only Ordonez and Ramon could make me wistful for the days of Alex Gonzales. 
  How Bad Are Some Sportswriters?

Pretty damn bad. The case in point today is Phil Rogers and his expose on the all-city team. Read it and the most startling thing is his listing Mark Buehrle as the best starting pitcher in Chicago (as well as Zambrano fourth). How is that justified? Buehrle has a 7-2 record. That's it. Of course, Zambrano is 8-2, but let's put that aside.

Buehrle is getting ungodly run support this season. Look at his game log. That's about 7.6 runs per game support. What does he contribute? Well, a 4.49 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Pretty mediocre, right? How about Z? A 2.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Pretty damn good, eh?

Also note that he lists Hawkins as a set up guy. Umm, not for the last three weeks or so, Phil. Pure Hackery. 
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
  Please, Please, Get a Back-up Catcher

My fiance's not talking to me. I screamed at the television for an hour straight. It pissed her off. But I'm too angry to care right now. The Cubs, after battling back from 3-0 and 5-3 deficits, took a 9-5 lead, and the relievers couldn't hold it. You can talk about how bad Beltran was, or how the ump screwed Mercker, but that's not the worst of it. After giving up the tying run, Mercker started yapping at the ump. Barrett evidently tried to break up the argument but pissed off the ump and got tossed. What a disaster that turns out to be.

Fast forward to the bottom of the eighth, two outs and a runner on third, tie game. The Cubs bring in Farnsworth. He throws a pitch high and inside. Bako, having come in for Barrett, lets it go off his glove and a run scores. That's enough. Bako makes the last out as well.

I don't know what the lineup was at the end. It was too confusing and Baker didn't seem to know what he was doing by double switching Ordonez and Farnsworth. It looked like the ninth was going to be Ordonez, Walker, and Bako. The game was a mess after the fifth, and Baker didn't manage the game very well. He left Mercker in against Pujols, Rolen, and Sanders. Whatever reverse split Mercker might have, it wasn't good enough to get out of that inning.

The Cubs should have won this game. They didn't. Paul Bako needs to go. He's not a major league caliber player and he showed it again tonight. When you could have pounded the Cards two in a row and broken their spirits, you have to close the deal. What a disaster. Let's hope they can pick themselves off the floor for tomorrow night. More importantly, let's hope Jim Hendry realizes that the Cubs need a legitimate player as a back up catcher. 
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
  Big, Big Win

Probably said that 10 times this season, but this was a great win for the Cubs. I said I was taking a break awhile back. It was after a couple of those games when Corey was at the bottom of his funk, Derrek Lee wasn't hitting, and the Borowski was still the closer. My fiance said I was a fair-weather fan. Not true!! I watched the games. I just couldn't bring myself to say anything about the Cubs. It was so discouraging and it affected my mood. I'd go to bed pissed off.

Well, I was getting that way tonight. Not as discouraged, but just really pissed off. The single reason for this reaction was Bako (and Maddux for his insistence on having a personal caddy). When Maddux starts, you've got two outs at the bottom of your lineup. Because of Dusty's style, it also means Ramone is hitting second. I got into a discussion about Bako with Joe over at the view from the bleachers tonight about Bako. He defended starting Bako every fifth game, mainly for his defense and Maddux's preference for him. Well, Bako's "defense" nearly cost the game tonight as he dropped a rare Corey Patterson strike to the plate. It wasn't a hard play. He had plenty of time and just dropped it. I guess you can't credit him with an error under scoring rules, but it was a terrible play.

If Maddux was the Maddux of the mid-90's, I'd say "okay, Greg, you can have your caddy." But he's not. He's a solid starter, but not a stud or a stopper. He needs to do what's best for the team, not what makes him feel the most comfortable. Bako should not be playing every fifth game. His defense is non-existant and he's more or less an automatic out.

This is extremely negative in light of a big win. But it's a win that was won despite the line-up. Aramis, Lee, and Alou lifted the team to the win. For that, I'll go to bed happy.  
Monday, June 21, 2004
  Happy to Be Wrong

Not long after my post on Sunday, the Cubs came back with two in the ninth to win the game. As a commentor said, "nice to have had Walker and Hollandsworth for the ninth." Well, I admit that my complaining and second guessing were premature and that it worked out best for the Cubs on Saturday. I still don't get pinch hitting Goodwin on Friday instead of Alou, but, you know what? The Cubs took two of three from the A's, swept the Astros, and won two of three from the Angels. Why complain? The team seems to be gelling very well, and Derrek Lee is just on fire. So, it's all good in Cubs land.

But again, the next 12 games will be big. 6 against the Sox, 3 against both the Cards and the 'Stros. Exciting times ahead.

Saturday, June 19, 2004
  Goodwin? Why Goodwin

In the last two games against the A's, the Cubs had a chance to tie up the game with a home run. They had Alou on the bench on Friday with a lefty pitching late in the game and went with Goodwin instead. Today, in the sixth, the Cubs had Lee on third with two outs with Hollandsworth, Walker, and Macias available, and again went with Goodwin. I don't understand the thinking on either of these moves.

By the way, Prior's off-speed pitches were hanging in the fourth inning. We get spoiled by his ability to throw that pitch and put people away, but after a long lay-off, it takes some time to get that pitch back. 
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
  5 Game Winning Streaks Make Me Smile

The Cubs have now won five games in a row. The keys have been strong starting pitching and clawing back in late innings to win winnable games. Players you didn't expect anything from have made the difference. Tonight it was Paul Bako with a big two strike double. Tell the truth, when he was down two strikes, you were thinking the Cubs were going to waste that scoring chance. Last night it was Ramon Martinez with a home run and a clutch bases-loaded single. The night before it was Jimmy Anderson bailing out Mark Prior after he had pitched 92 pitches. Glendon Rusch pitched a solid 5 innings to get a win to start off the winning streak.

Dusty-haters hate that he has faith in "proven veterans." I agree to an extent. Paul Bako's getting way too many at-bats for my taste. But, he wrings every bit of effort out of these guys by making them feel that they are an integral part of the team. This seems to be solid evidence that Dusty's upside outweighs his downside. Let's get the sweep tomorrow. 
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
  Bill James on Pitch Counts

I'm not a baseball guy who says "well, Bill James said, therefore, it has to be true. But Bill knows a lot more than a lot of the people bitching about Carlos Zambrano pitching 121 pitches a while back. Here's what he has to say about pitch counts and injuries.

Mike (Boston): Why is there so much emphasis put on pitch counts these days? We know that managers don't want their pitchers to get hurt, but why put a less-effective pitcher in a game that an ace has dominated just because he's thrown over 100 pitches? From the physical health point of view it makes sense, but in trying to win a game it makes none.

Bill James: Same answer I gave a minute ago. . .nobody wants to be seen as risking the health of his starting pitcher to win a game. But there is precious little evidence that bringing a pitcher out at 100 pitches, rather than 130, does anything to reduce his risk of injury.

That is what I've thought for awhile. Pitchers used to throw a lot of pitches without constant yapping from the peanut gallery. Show me evidence that there is a substantial risk of injury for having my starter go 8 innings instead of 7.

Monday, June 14, 2004
  Battle of the Titans

In fifteen minutes, the Cubs and Houston play. With Prior going up against Clemens, it doesn't get any better. Prior will need to find his out pitch. Too many times against the Cardinals, he would get to two strikes and not wipe out the batter. Besides being bad for his fantasy stats, it pumped up his pitch count and led to some bad walks.

Clemens has been untouchable, but that can't last, right? 
Friday, June 11, 2004
  Why, oh why?

Why does Maddux get to select his catcher? It's not like he's pitching like Clemens this season, but he gets to pull out Paul Bako every fifth day. That cost the Cubs the game tonight. Don't think so? Well, the Cubs were down 3-2 in the 6th inning and Derrik Lee leads off with a long double. But the next three hitters are Ramon, Bako and Macias. Come on!! This is with the DH. So Ramon bunts(!) Lee over to third. To score on the Angels outfield, you need a long fly out and Bako wasn't going to do it. You knew it before it happened. And Bako didn't even bother getting it out of the infield and Macias struck out. The Cubs did nothing the rest of the game. Think if there had been one less sure out in the lineup. But even given that, don't leave the game in the hands of Bako and Macias. It's just really not a good idea.

Maddux pitched pretty well except for the fourth inning, giving up two in that inning with a couple of shots by the heart of a pretty solid Angels lineup. But he's hurting himself and his team when he drags Bako out there every time. Maddux has been in the league for 19 years now; deal with an offensive catcher. 
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
  Just How Bad Was Prior?

Well, I was at the game. I was at the previous two as well. But today's game was about as bad as it gets. Mark was simply terrible. I don't mean just by his own standards. He was Amaury Telamaco terrible. You were wishing that Kevin Foster was pitching by the fourth. Everything was hit hard, Mark had no control, and he didn't have a "wipe out" pitch (meaning a pitch that would fool a guy with two strikes). Still, I thought he would battle out of that fourth, until he threw two pitches up to Reteria with the bases loaded. You knew he had to groove one, and he did. Boom. It was over for Prior, and more or less over for the Cubs (though they tried to battle). I hope Prior's not hurt, but that was the worst I've seen him pitch since he's become a big league pitcher.

I'd say it was worse than any other performance he's had. 5 BB, 1 K? Come on. Here's his games from last year. He had a couple of bad games but nothing quite this brutal. How about his rookie season? Well, maybe there were one or two games that he was comparably bad, but he never had such an awful K/BB ratio before. The absence of the wipe out pitch from Prior cost the Cubs huge today.

Well, let's hope Z can salvage a split tomorrow. 
Sunday, June 06, 2004

My jumping ship immediately resulted in two games from the Pirates. In both of the games, the Cubs actually came back from 1 run deficits late in the game. Nice pitching the whole series but come on, the Cubs look lost a lot of the time and are praying to get just enough every game.

An interesting note. Wonder how long the media had their Ronald Reagan is dead package ready? Well, the Sun Times gave a hint with their edition today that included several items by Steve Neal. For those not familiar with Illinois politics, Steve Neal knew more about what was going on then anyone else in the state. Steve killed himself late this winter.  
Friday, June 04, 2004
  What's It Take

Not sure what it takes to make your starter a winner. Mark Prior pitched an excellent game (6IP, 2 hits, No BB, No Runs, 7K) and the Cubs offense did nothing to give him a win. The game's still going on right now, but I'm pretty tired of the bases loaded, less than two outs and no runs. Everyone seems to be looking for someone to step up. Well, do it on your own. This would be a terrible game to lose. I'm taking a prolonged break from the Cubs if it happens.

While I'm here, though, say hello to Todd at end the drought. Let's get some runs.
Update: Well, I'm really sick of the Cubs right now. I don't know what to tell you. My man Hollandsworth blew a chance with the bases loaded and one out, but later redeemed himself with the RBI. LaTroy Hawkins came through big time in the eighth and then Joe just gave up rope after rope. The Cubs in the ninth lead off with the unlikely heroics of Jose Macias's double, decide "hey, let's not let Walker try to drive the ball to right" but make him bunt. Dusty leaves the game in the hands of Lee and Patterson. Think about that for a second. The two most disappointing players in the lineup. Two pop ups later and I'm sick of watching this team. What's the point of watching the ineptness of this offense and the pure awfulness of Joe Borowski? Joe's not even a long reliever anymore. There's no more excuses for Joe about being effective in save situations. That statistical anomoly is gone. Terrible, terrible, terrible. I'm not going to be writing about the Cubs for awhile. It's just not fun.  
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
  Long, Angry Rant

I went to the game this evening. Glendon Rusch was pitching. Okay, you're hoping he goes 5 innings, keeps the team in the game, and let's see. Well, he did that. He gave up 2 dongs (one of them, to Bagwell, looked wind blown). The Cubs got 3 homers. You'd think that would be enough.

Well, it didn't work out that way. It's hard to describe how frustrating that game was. The Cubs (as you know) had the bases loaded with no outs, two f*!$#ing times. The first time, Corey struck out and Ramon hit a dribbler to the mound for the 123 double play. The second, Derrik (or however he wants to spell it) Lee hit a weak pop to shallow right, Corey struck out and Ramon did nothing worth note. Incredible. The Cubs then lost due to a sad play/call at first with a poor throw from Todd Walker.
Captain Tighty Whitey gave up a two run double to Mr. Lamb, and you knew it was over. Corey managed to get a hit in the ninth but it didn't matter.

I can't explain how sick of Corey I am. You hear him on the radio, and he's not dumb. In fact, I think he's pretty smart (putting aside the fact that he's a pro-athlete and he thinks Gal Fischer's the best he can do). He is also extremely talented. Sometimes we forget how hard it is to play professional baseball. Corey could be really good, and he showed it for a decent stretch last year. But he probably has the dumbest baseball mind I've ever seen. Shorten that f*$!!#ing swing when there's need for contact. Use your speed. Go the opposite way. Hit a chopper. Bunt in the proper context. Make contact at any cost. He doesn't seem to think about this.

One of the ironies of this season is that Corey actually has drawn more walks than he has ever before. But these at bats seem to be an exception; maybe he thinks about things for a short period of time and then forgets them. I don't know because the rest of the time he's hacking at some terrible pitches (one of those strikeouts included a swing at a pitch in the dirt).

As I have said, Todd Hollandsworth is fast becoming my favorite Cub. He continued it tonight, going 1-1, with a homerun, 2 walks, and a HBP. He can play center field.

What makes you mad is that this team is scrapping to stay in the hunt despite everything they've gone through. Moises has been incredible. Glendon Rusch has done everything anyone could hope of the guy. Scrap, scrap, scrap and then blow a winnable game because your top homegrown position player has his head up his ass and you just want to scream.

Okay. Time for bed. Breathe...breathe...breathe. 
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