Tuesday, June 28

Zambrano lifts Cubs to 3rd in a row

Zambrano was brilliant tonight, pitching through 8 innings and not allowing a run. In fact, he never allowed a runner to reach 3rd base. The 8th inning was probably his shakiest, as he allowed a lead-off walk and and follow-up single. However, with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs, he got the pinch hitter Durrington to bunt into fielder's choice, ousting the lead baserunner. Back at the top of the order, he then got Brady Clark to hit into a double play, ending the inning.

Clearly, the Brewers had no answer for Zambino tonight, as they struck out 6 times, and registered only 3 hits and 3 walks. Dempster came in to pitch the ninth and made recording a save look as easy as playing Nickelback songs would be for Steve Howe (oh Yes, I did). Doug Davis pitched a pretty strong game for the Brewers as well, but the Cubs managed just enough offense on a Derrek Lee slapshot to left and an RBI single by Hairston Jr (Ramirez scored after walking and advancing to second on a walk, then executing a beautiful homeplate slide around catcher/former Cub Damian Miller).

Click here for more stats or the play-by-play.

Things I found interesting:
1) Corey Patterson realized that after having a decent weekend in the lead-off role, he wasn't near carrying his weight in the strike-out category lately, feeling obliged to make up for it tonight. He was 0/4 with 3 K's. Honestly, I think Corey thought that if he swung hard enough, he'd break an invisible pinata and win lots and lots of candy for the whole team! Who knows, maybe Walker wants to lead-off badly enough that he blindfolded Patterson and spun him around in the on-deck circle a few times just for good measure.

2) Barrett was bumped up in the batting order to 5, batting behind Rammy Ramirez and in pushing Burnitz down to the 6 spot. Dubois hit 7th and Hairston Jr 8th. The Cubs didn't have much offense to speak of tonight, but I don't think that is a good indication of this particular batting order because Doug Davis is a solid pitcher when he has his A game, and tonight he did. Zambrano just happened to have his A+ game.

As usual, point out what I missed or share your own observations!

Keep your eyes on tomorrow's game if you have time; Wood is making his post-DL debut against Brewers ace Ben Sheets. Should be a barn-burner if I know anything about Cubs/Brewers games! And I do!

Disclaimer: Barn-burning will only be experienced if Kerry Wood is comfortable, doesn't feel overwhelmed by the pressure of his return, and is able to pitch without his arm falling off. If these three stipulations are not met, no barns, houses, wooden structures, or tinder of any kind will be burnt.

Monday, June 27

Cubs wash the Sox, Prior shows no restraint

Cubs vs. White Sox -- June 26

The rubber game in the Crosstown Chicago series was always hanging delicately in the balance. With both teams tasting victory over the weekend, the stage was set nicely for a sunny Sunday afternoon at Comiskey, and it would take one man asserting himself to dictate just who would emerge the winner.

The man today was Mark Prior -- in his return from the DL with only simulated throwing sessions and warm-up pitching, Prior blanked the White Sox, giving up 1 hit over 6 stellar innings and giving the Cubs exactly what they needed to pull off the victory. His performance, coupled with a solo HR from Corey Patterson and a Todd Walker Sacrifice Fly, were enough to pull out a tense but terrific 2-0 win.

Jerome "Big Kahuna Burger" Williams pitched two innings of scoreless, hitless relief, and Dempster pitched out of a nervy 9th for his 11th save in a row.

Everyone knows how good Prior was yesterday -- in his 4 starts straight off the DL since 2004, he has not allowed a single run over 24 innings of work. This game was just like the rest, perplexing the potent Sox lineup with his two-seam fastball and breaking ball. Blanco called the shots, Prior fired true every time, and once again for the Cubs, things are looking up.

Taking 2 out of 3 from the league-best White Sox is no small achievement, but after a rough 2 weeks leading into this series, where the Cubs went 3-7 and were outscored 70-50, it was important for them to get a bit of momentum heading towards the All-Star break.

Not only that, but with the return of Kerry "Spaghetti" Wood, the rotation is back to full strength (I use that term tentatively). A stronger bullpen shuffles into line behind the return of its talismans, with possible moves putting Rusch back in the pen, or maybe Mitre, or both. With Dempster closing, Roberto "America's Favorite" Novoa in there for good measure, and then Jerome Williams making a case for the 5th starter role, you cannot count the Cubs out of the NL Central race or the Wild Card. The Cardinals have not been without problems, with a shaky rotation and recent injuries to vet OFs like Walker and Edmonds, not to mention Rolen's struggles coming back from an injured shoulder. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but there is still hope for this season. A lot of hope.



I could get behind that lineup, without doubt. Add a lead-off man, and the rest of the NL will be shitting their pants, me thinks.

A day off follows before yet another series with the obstinate Milwaukee Brewers in town. Enough said.

Tuesday's starters
MIL: LHP Doug Davis • 9-6, 4.44 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 4.05 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 4-4, 4.27 ERA in 2005 • 1-2, 6.19 ERA vs. MIL in 2005

Back again, here I go on the Mark Kotsay trip. According to Ken Rosenthal (again), Kotsay could well sign a new contract with the Athletics, although it will not include a no-trade clause. Therefore, Kotsay's agent has gone on the record saying that a deal is unlikely, and this makes all the trade rumours surrounding his future rear up again. It is once again a matter of interest between different teams, and like before, while the Yankees are heavily interested, the Cubs apparently are as well, and we know that the Cubs have more to offer.

Saturday, June 25

Cubs even series

Judging by the comments in the last post, everyone knows how the game today went, with the Cubs coming out on top 6-2. Maddux threw a ton of pitches early, but made up for it in his final 3 innings, only throwing 28 pitches and earning the win. Patterson was much better today in the leadoff spot than he has been, so perhaps the tides are going back out in that regard.

Some interesting things I read today after the game:
First regarding our two "big guys," as Dusy called Prior and Wood recently, Prior will be starting the final game of the series against the White Sox tomorrow and Wood will be starting on Wednesday after his third minor league rehad start went well. In order to make room for him in the starting rotation, Rusch and Mitre will most likely be moving to the bullpen. The thing that could change there is that Jerome Williams could possibly be in the bullpen instead of Mitre. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has cited a couple reasons for choosing Mitre instead of Williams for the bullpen, such as Mitre's ability to come into a game and get a ground ball out and the fact that Rothschild believes he can warm up a little quicker than Williams.

Given Patterson's struggles at the leadoff spot recently (and in general, with the strike-outs), I have often wondered why Walker wasn't leading off, since it is where he is accustomed to batting anyway. He said recently that he would like to be in the leadoff spot, but won't ask Dusty to bat there due to his respect for the seasoned coach. Dusty responded to the question by saying that he wants Walker in the sixth spot to provide protection for Burnitz and Ramirez. We all know Walker can straight up hit, and Baker says he needs that kind of consistency so that Burny and Ramirez see better pitches to drive in the runs. I see his logic here now that it's been described, but the problem that I have is that there aren't always runs for Derrek and Aramis to bring in. Neifi has been spectacular playing in Nomah's stead, but that number one spot really needs to be getting on base more consistently in order to be effective.

Anyway, that is all I have for now. Happy birthday Aramis and congrats on your grand slam!

Let's go Prior and the rest of the squad tomorrow and take 2 or 3 from the White Sox!!!

White Sox knock the colour out of the Cubs

Cubs vs Sox -- June 24
Wellemeyer's only form of relief on the field came during an unfortunate post-Piercynzski HR shat on the mound

It went from bad to worse. Like a snowball rolling slowly downhill, there was little the Cubs could do to stem the tide over a long June afternoon, one in which the White Sox stomped out a 12-2 win over their Northside rivals.

With the Cubs trailing 3-1 after 4 1/2 reasonably placid innings, Mitre lost his control and the Cubs lost any chance of winning the game. As has been their motif throughout the season, the White Sox scratched and scraped their way to 5 runs, a mix-up of sacrifice flies, RBI singles, wild pitches and graft. Another big inning followed in the 7th, where the Sox kept the bases buzzing with runners with 0 outs on the board, and 4 runs later, the Cubs had been roughly defeated.

There were few bright spots from the Northsiders' perspective. Perez, Derrek Lee, Burnitz, Walker and Barrett all went hitless, stranding 5 runners and sharing 5 strikeouts. Their only runs came from their left-field platoon, with Dubois and Hollandsworth both clubbing line-drive home runs at opposite ends of the game. Mitre (2-3) took the loss, coughing up 7 runs in 4 2/3 innings. Wellemeyer's ERA ballooned in giving up 5 more runs over the next 2 1/3, and Borowski managed a scoreless, hitless 8th, striking out 2.

The lineup is a little flaccid at the moment. While Garcia pitched well for his 7th win of the season, from top to bottom the Cubs appear devoid of energy. Despite all the recent lineup shuffles, we're learning that Corey isn't the most effective, although given 0-5 leadoff performances from both Neifi Perez and Hairston Jr over the last couple of weeks, we have little other choice. I know lots of readers have been commenting about the need to let the team work itself out of these troubles, but in all honesty, if our leadoff hitters continue to be as impotent as the trio who've tried recently, this ship could be all but sunk. I know that seems pessimistic, but I always get the bad games to try and summarize, so sometimes the negativity is overpowering.

Stats of our "leadoff" men:
Corey Patterson -- .245 BA/.279 OBP/.394 SLG
Neifi Perez -- .250/.263/.348 in June
Todd Walker -- .294/.351/.456
Jerry Hairston Jr. -- .250/.276/.321 in June

This is not good enough! Why shouldn't we be trying to trade for a leadoff man? .350 is considered, borderline at best, the lowest OBP we should be finding at the leadoff position. If Neifi's bunt singles aren't working, if Corey is striking out as many times as he is getting a hit (71 strikeouts, 68 hits this season, 28/14 in June), why aren't we in favour of trying to fix this up? If it's not coming from in-house, then surely we have to look elsewhere. I really hope this is an issue Hendry is looking to fix during this trade period. It's killing our team, regardless of having a Triple Crown contender and RBI machine in our lineup. You can't drive in runs at number 3 in the lineup if your lead-off men can't get on base, and that is exactly what is happening at the moment.

The Cubs are currently in the bottom 10 in the league for lead-off men and their OBP.

Top 10:

1. Brian Roberts, BAL (.426)
2. Brandon Inge, DET (.410)
3. Derek Jeter, NYY (.404)
4. Johnny Damon, BOS (.390)
5. Brady Clark, MIL (.388)
6. Craig Counsell, ARI (.381)
7. Brad Wilkerson, WAS (.375)
8. Matt Lawton, PIT (.374)
9. David Eckstein, STL (.373)
10. Scott Podsednik, CWS (.373)

Of the next 10, only 3 are below .300 in OBP. The Cubs' best leadoff man? OBP of .279. That would place him 21st at least on the season.

A definite explanation for the horrendous OBP of our leadoff men is the walks. Corey, it seems, doesn't like to reach 1st base for free, preferring to work hard for his safety on the basepads. While this ethic is admirable, he needs to learns how to take base for free, because the pitcher couldn't find the strike zone. In 95 at-bats in the lead-off position, Patterson is ranked 36th of all major-league players who've batted 1st in the lineup for walks -- a paltry 6. In 277 plate appearances this entire season, Corey has walked 13 times. Yes, that's right, 13 times.

Corey Patterson draws a walk once every 21 at-bats. In contrast, he strikes out once every 4 at-bats.

This is already a lot to think about, without even analyzing the rest of our in-house lead-off candidates.

For a little bit of light-hearted relief, enjoy this awkward and discomforting photograph from the World Champions. It's hard to look at, because the body language offers up all kinds of Freudian possibilities. Look, laugh, and try hard to enjoy the game today. I'm off to Yankee Stadium to enjoy the Subway Series from a luxury suite, thanks to the efforts of a friend. Match reports from Comiskey later on today.

Red Sox Hug

Today's Pitchers
CWS: RHP Jose Contreras • 3-3, 3.83 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 1.29 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 6-4, 4.67 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 3.86 ERA vs. CWS in 2005

Thursday, June 23

Cubs split with Brewers

I hate the Brewers. They always play the Cubs as hard as any team out there, in much the same way it seems the Devil Rays have been playing the Yankees lately. These Cubs/Brewers games always make me nervous, as they historically have a tendency to be close games taken down to a few hits. This happens regardless of either team's aspirations or statistical standings.

Today the bullpen blew a lead and gave the Brewers their second straight win over the Cubs, making the series a 2-2 split. If you want the stats, I'm sure you all know where to find them. Highlights of the game of course involved Derrek Lee doing all he could for the team. At one point the Cubs had 2 hits and 3 runs. At that point, Lee had both hits at 2/2 with 2 runs, 3 RBIs and 2 HRs. And the trend continued as later in the game the Cubs had 4 runs. At that time Lee was 3/3 with 3 runs and 3 RBIs. So basically, how about if we stop relying on Derrek Lee for all of our offense. The offense got better as the game went on, but so did the Brewers'.

Anyway, I hate the Brewers, I'll let the masses continue the commentary in the comment section on this one.

Wednesday, June 22

Brewers Brat-ed by the 7th Inning Blues

Cubs vs Brewers -- June 21

The Cubs offense had a curious sense of timing last night, going hitless for 5 innings before erupting with a 4-run 7th Inning, a scoring burst that proved enough for a 4-2 win and fresh call-up Jerome "The Big Grill" Williams' (1-2) first win in a Cubs uniform.

After a Hollandsworth single with 1 out in the 1st inning, they looked subdued from then on, puttering through uneventful at-bats at the hands of Victor Santos' (2-7). Perhaps unlucky this season, the economical Santos induced groundout after groundout, looking in control, and then the errors began.

Operating in a rather symmetrical fashion, the lead-off man, Todd Hollandsworth, reached third base on an error by Geoff Jenkins in right field. Derrek Lee then slapped the first pitch over the left field wall to tie the score at 2. Almost immediately, the scenario repeated itself. Burnitz made it to base safely after a fielding gaffe at second base by Junior Spivey's ouster, Rickie Weeks. Again, with Ramirez at the plate, he crushed the first pitch faced into deep left center, falling only a few feet short of slamming the great Bratwurst water slide normally reserved for the home-team heroics.

The outburst negated an otherwise slow-but-steady performance by Santos and the Brewers, also cancelling out Bill Hall's two solo home runs in the game, his 9th and 10th of the season.

In response, Jerome Williams was in rare form, displaying the kind of command the Cubs envisioned when stealing him from the Giants in the Hawkins-for-Williams-and-Aardsma deal. With a firm grip on his sinker and changeup, Williams pitched seven strong innings, giving up 3 hits and walking four while striking out 6. Wellemeyer and Dempster pitched reasonably in relief, not allowing a hit in their 2 innings of work but walking 3 between them, and the game came to its unexpected end.

"It was an excellent debut for Jerome," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Had it not been for Billy Hall, they wouldn't have gotten any runs. Billy had a great day over there, but Jerome made the pitches when he had to and he did an outstanding job. He kept the ball down and worked pretty quickly."

Williams was not the only run-saver on the team. Hairston Jr, filling in for the "resting" Patterson in center field, made a superb catch against the wall to rob Carlos Lee of extra bases.

There was a modicum of drama in the 6th when Williams' puka shell necklace, one given to him by his mother before she died, broke on the mound, but I guarantee it's already glued together and back around his neck where it belongs.

With 6 runs off 7 hits and 2 errors, there was little else to report.

The Cubs need to make a habit of this - stealing games when they appear beaten. In the space of 5 seemingly innocuous pitches the game had come full circle; the team once in control were now finished, the team once subdued were now alive.

Chances and reversing fortunes like this would have been very helpful at Yankee Stadium over the weekend.

Tonight's Pitchers
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 4-3, 3.56 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 1.88 ERA vs. MIL in 2005
MIL: LHP Doug Davis • 8-6, 4.47 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 1.77 ERA vs. CHC in 2004

According to SportingNews.com reporter Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are more than in the hunt for Oakland CF Mark Kotsay. Along with the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Cubs are looking for his superb defense and reasonable offense. It provides a small dilemma given Patterson's play at the position, although if the trade was made, the Cubs might well move Patterson to right and Burnitz to LF, a position he has played before. Kotsay can also play in right field, but regardless of how the 3 line up, it would definitely strengthen the starting lineup and the bench.

Kotsay is batting .276 on the season with 5 HRs, 37 RBIs and 36 runs. His OBP is around .336 this year, although it hovers around .345 for his 9-year Major League career. He's a lifetime .286 hitter, and as I've already mentioned, he is a superb defensive center fielder.

Rosenthal also mentions the wonder that is the Cubs' perfectly formed farm system. Our mix of prospects and rookies is considered one of the best in the game, deep in good pitching and promising hitters (Ronny Cedeno: batting .351 at AAA-Iowa this season), and compared to the Yankees, we have more than enough minor-league weapons to outdo them in trade competitiveness. It also helps that the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs are on the list of teams Kotsay could be contractually traded to without his permission.

So what do we think? Kotsay for 2 prospects? Good trade?

Tuesday, June 21

Intrigue in Illinois

The Chicago Cubs returned to winning ways last night in a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. I didn't see the game nor any of the boxscore, but they won -- Lee hit a HR I believe, as did Ramirez, and Corey P took note of his LB battering in registering a 2-5 night with the bat. Well done Corey. I do have some interesting possible explanations for his shoddy and unenergetic form with the bat of late: my girlfriend's mother was recently talking to a friend of hers, a well-to-do woman who just moved to Chicago, and apparently is a bit of an attractive socialite. She moved into the same building as Corey Patterson, and has supposedly enjoyed spending some time with him, on a purely social level of course, even being invited to some soirees with Patterson and friends. Could he be enjoying the night life a little too much? I doubt it, but it's a funny story nonetheless.

The one highlight I did see this morning was a ESPN top play involving a diving Neifi backhanding a ball to Walker from the turf who then turned a remarkable double play. Nice work, Neifi and Hot Rod with that one.

Trade rumours have been heating up. I've been following an MLB Trade Rumour Aggregator on Pro Sports Daily (link here) that collects all the whisperings from various daily newspapers, and more and more of today's clippings concern our Cubs. Talk is escalating about The Cubs-Austin Kearns connection, a man who was batting .225 with 50 strikeouts in 52 games (although Dunn still thinks very highly of him), although the more curious link concerns a recently-departed Cubbie, Moises Alou.

Alou is apparently being dangled by the Giants as a man to trade, and the fact that he was highly regarded in the Cubs dugout means that he might well bounce back to us. This story was broken by Steve Stone and subsequently by all the other Chicago dailies, although it seems a little far-fetched.

Initial talks with Rockies OF Preston Wilson are currently faltering a little, as the Cubs are reluctant to part with the IF prospect Ronny Cedeno (someone that they covet, but keep in the minors while awful veteran IFs like Macias and Wilson clog up roster space) as part of the deal.

Other solid LF/OF players should come available, the most likely being Mets CF Mike Cameron, Athletics OF Mark Kotsay and the Devil Rays LF Aubrey Huff -- Hendry has mentioned time and again that the LF position is by far their top priority, and with every passing day, the Cubs seem more and more likely to trade for a powerful and versatile LF/OF who can fill that spot.

So what does that mean for Dubois and Hollandsworth? It's tough to say, as it's really hard to get a gauge of what these teams would want in return for one of those reasonably solid OFs. One would think pitching, and not a straight LF-for-LF swap -- I have no clue who we would offer up. I think it's safe to say that Joe Borowski is definitely on the block, although with his failing pitch repertoire, it seems unlikely that Joe-Bo would be satisfactory in return. Rich Hill? Mitre? Koronka? Patterson? Dubois? Macias?

It is all quite confusing, but that website definitely makes for interesting reading in these trade-talks times.

Tonight's Pitchers:
CHC: RHP Jerome Williams • 0-2, 6.48 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 10.80 ERA vs. MIL in 2005
MIL: RHP Victor Santos • 2-6, 2.87 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 2.31 ERA vs. CHC in 2005

Jerome "Grill n' Thrill" Williams takes the hungry Wisconsin mound tonight, and we get to hear what he's made of (except for you lucky devils with WGN and the like).

Santos was good in his first start against the Cubs in 2005, throwing 6 2/3 innings and giving up 1 earned run on 6 hits while striking out 6 and walking 3. Let's see how he fares tonight against "Mr. Grill" Williams.

Monday, June 20

Lineups and Roster Changes

While I do still welcome any comments on my previous post (or additions to the collective anger/frustration), Lazlo's comment brought up some lineup discussions in mind.

I wanted to revisit an earlier post regarding our current roster, and given that the heat is rising on the Free Agency and Trading season, what do we need to do, realistically, to improve our current standing? Nothing revolutionary, perhaps, but there are small-world, Epstein-like fixes that our front office could make.

For the purposes of easy reference and not to appear condescending, I'll list the "steady" lineup as well as our "normal" pitching rotation and "regular" bullpen (as they would appear in a perfect world). That will just help with aiding the discussion.

According to ESPN.com, our most recent lineups have shaped like this.

1 - Neifi Perez, SS
2 - Corey Patterson, CF
3 - Derrek Lee, 1B
4 - Jeromy Burnitz, RF
5 - Aramis Ramirez, 3B
6 - Todd Walker, 2B
7 - Todd Hollandsworth, LF
8 - Michael Barrett, C
9 - Pitcher

Our bench consists of the following:
Henry Blanco, C
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B/SS/CF
Jose Macias, ANYWHERE
Jason Dubois, LF
Enrique Wilson, 2B

Our steady pitching rotation would be:
Mark Prior
Kerry Wood
Carlos Zambrano
Greg Maddux
Glendon Rusch

On the fringe:
Jerome Williams
John Koronka
Sergio Mitre

Ryan Dempster
Will Ohman
Joe Borowski
Todd Wellemeyer
Michael Wuertz
Mike Remlinger
Cliff Bartosh

I have heard/read the following trade rumours and/or suggestions on a wide variety of media outlets involving the following players from elsewhere. Either these players have been implicitly linked with the Cubs or have suggested dissatisfaction at their current club, thus leading to the possibility that the Cubs could be interested if they were traded:

Gary Sheffield, RF - New York Yankees
Austin Kearns, RF - Cincinnati Reds
Adam Dunn, LF - Cincinnati Reds
Joe Kennedy, SP - Colorado Rockies
Preston Wilson, CF - Colorado Rockies
Kirk Rueter, SP - San Francisco Giants

There are also a number of teams considering putting players up on the trading block, all of it spun through rumors of course, and an assortment of those guys include:

Orlando Hudson, 2B - Toronto Blue Jays
Rafael Furcal, SS - Atlanta Braves
Miguel Batista, CP - Toronto Blue Jays
Jay Payton, CF - Boston Red Sox
Gabe Kapler, OF - Japan (!)
Mike Sweeney, 1B - Kansas City Chiefs
Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B/OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays

I have seen stories suggesting that the Cubs might try and unload Borowski at some point, either attempting a trade or designating him for assignment given his 85mph+ fastball and uncanny ability to give up home runs immediately upon entering a game.

So, these names, I'm sure, are merely the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious that talk like this will escalate as the season grows, so what do we think?

1. What roster moves/acquisitions/trades could we make?
2. Who from our current roster could be considered a good trade bait/expendable?
3. Which players around the League could be worth pursuing?
4. What lineup moves (without trades) could help out the team?
5. What minor leaguers do we have progressing well at the moment who could be worth calling up? I've heard people murmuring about Ryan Harvey and Corey's younger brother, Eric, but is there anyone else out there who could be tasting Wrigley before the season is out?

Please, any conjecture, speculation, rumor-churning, and insight is welcomed. Let's discuss the Cubs. Answer any and all of these questions as you see fit.

Tonight's Starters:
MIL: RHP Tomo Ohka • 4-3, 3.33 ERA in 2005 • Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 5-4, 4.68 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 5.73 ERA vs. MIL in 2005

Sunday, June 19

It's not easy being light-hearted

It's not easy being light-hearted when yr team gets swept by the most obnoxious, overprivileged assholes on the face of the baseball earth. It's not easy being light-hearted to watch each game unfold, runner left on base after runner left on base, 2-out Yankees RBI after 2-out Yankees RBI, fielding error after fielding error.

Goddamn were these games tough to endure. Not only for the somewhat larger truths they represent - that our pitching staff has taken a shitty, shitty turn for the worse in the last week, as well as the bigger fact that we're currently undoing all of that good old Hollywood Heroic stuff on the back of Prior's injury and our amazing run of form - but just because of where and when it happened.

Living in New York, reading those oily headlines, messy boxscores, yuck. Simply put -- yuck.

Another torrid one this afternoon, as the Cubs gave the Yankees more free outs and more free baserunners than Houston allowed cocks between her legs during the great Houston 501 (I wish I could erase some of the memories resultant of working in a porn/video store for 18 months in college), all of which gave the Yanks more than enough runs to put a neutered team to rest.

6 RBI singles (2 with 2 outs), 9 hits, 2 fielding errors, one runner (Jason "All-American" Giambi) reaching first safely after striking out due to a passed ball, 6 walks -- Christmas came early for the Pinstriped among us.

In contrast, we had Mussina on the ropes for all of a minute, chasing him from the game in the 7th with runners on 1st and 2nd and only one out. Tanyon "Charisma" Sturtze took the mound and hit Dubois with his first pitch, perhaps a desperate attempt on his part to remind both the Cub batter and the rest of the audience that he is still on the Yankees roster, and so Neifi "Lead-off Hero" Perez has a bases-loaded, 1 out situation, a bounty so rich that even the most seasoned Barbeque Eater would be salivating, and he promptly grounded out to the Great White Reliever, who turned the simplest double play in history (eclipsing the efforts of 2B Garth Brooks during his time at A-Tuscaloosa) to end the inning. Joy!

The Cubs half of the 8th Inning also provided turgid drama. Bases loaded with 1 out, and Todd "I was Injured for a while, thanks for the Get Well Wishes" Walker was so happy to bat that his RBI Fielder's Choice brought in one run and still kept runners on 1st and 3rd.

Enter Michael "Fantasy Baseball Team Killer" Barrett, whose strikeout to Tom Gordon ended another inning with Cubs loitering on the bases like Brooklyn schoolkids outside Tastee D-Lite.

The Cubs batted 8-34 in the game, and stranded 7 on base. Neifi, Hollandsworth, Corey and Dubois aka "The New Breakfast Club" batted an incredible .000 (0-15) in the game. Well done there.

For the series, the Cubs batted 5-30, 8-34 and 12-36, a combined 25-100 -- not a terrible output, but their penchant from stranding runners and squandering opportunities meant that even Paul "DL" Wilson or Chan Ho "85mph Fastball" Park could have pitched perfect games. Sigh.

This will end shortly, I'm being too vitriolic and sour, but perhaps deservedly so. In the past, these frantic, angered rants have coincidentally inspired great things from unexpected Cubs sources. Heck, even Hollandsworth's been player of the week this season, something Corey "Thank God my Libido is higher than my OBP" Patterson can't attest to. So maybe a healthy dose of unsubstantiated, bitter, and possibly even misguided (and drunken) ranting, the likes of which everyone's come to expect from me, can't hurt. We've seen better this season, we've certainly seen worse (losing 2 of 3 to the Diamondbacks!!?!?!?!), and that is the way it will always go.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Who was the big winner this weekend? Maybe Preston "I Hate Skiing" Wilson, maybe a wistful and woefully-injured Nomar, or maybe it was our resolve. Despite the rough run of form (1-6, outscored by an Arena Football-like 55-31, only 1 game above .500), this last week has surely tested us all a little bit. Whether our expectations, our hopes, or our eternal burning optimism, another week in the life of the Cubs has trickled slowly past, and tomorrow is another day.

Let's see it, Cubs: 4 in Milwaukee's boozy confines, and then three at Comiskey. Show us what you've got to offer.

Saturday, June 18

Offending Articles

Lazlo, thanks for the heads-up. Here is the spit-ball/Buehrle article... who is he again?

Maddux, Dempster, spitballs and Snotballs (Cubs.com)

More Cubs stories for today, pre-game:

Wonder Prior simulates pitching -- real progress (Cubs.com)

A Chicago Sun-Times Newsflash: Cubs "tough to figure out" (Sun-Times)

Lee is "an emerging star" (USA Today)

Which "on pace to" forecasts can be put to rest? (FOXSports.com)

Today's Starters
CHC: LHP Glendon Rusch • 5-2, 2.57 ERA in 2005 • Did not face NYY in 2004
NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang • 3-2, 4.44 ERA in 2005 • Did not face CHC in 2004

Friday, June 17

Apologies/The Yankees

Well hello again everyone. Apologies for the last couple of days -- since watching the Cubs/Marlins game on ESPN wednesday, I've been drinking and trying to scrub myself clean after the shellacking. And now, it's safe to say, the lingering after-effects of both have worn off, and the boring rest day is behind us, so it's back to business.

The Yankees versus the Cubs. The first time the Cubs have visited Evil Stadium since 1938, and it's been a long time coming. Unlike previous seasons, the roles are a little reversed as the Yankees play the role of the wobbly, awkward teen while the leather jacket-clad Cubs are getting all the girls to neck with in the back seat of their Corvettes.

For the Bronx brood, their pitching has seen a huge upswing after the horrendous Jaret Wright/Kevin Brown hurling oblivion of the first month. In the last week, both Mussina and Randy Johnson have thrown impressive games, giving up 1 run in 16 innings. The only reasons I know this are that my friend is a Pirates fan (and I took great relish in watching both SHOs come against his hapless team) and that the team I'm currently playing in fantasy baseball has both those a**holes (not so much relish in watching that unfold).

The Cubs, on the other hand, have enjoyed periodic blasts of offense and seen several players come to life with the bat. Slug-fests with the Marlins didn't help matters, as their pitching staff has given up 32 runs in the last 4 games (1-3), scoring only 16 in return.

Cubs: (last 7 days)
Todd Walker -- .526 (10-19), 7 R
Aramis Ramirez -- .500 (12-24), 2 HR, 8 RBI
Jeromy Burnitz -- .478 (11-23), 3 HR, 6 RBI, 8 R
Derrek Lee -- .455 (10-22), 6 2B, 4 RBI, 6 R
Todd Hollandsworth -- .421 (8-19), HR, 7 RBI

The Yankees are not without hot hitters either:
(last 7 days)
Jorge Posada -- .438, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Robinson Cano -- .409, 2 RBI
Hideki Matsui -- .391, 2 HR, 6 RBI
Jason Giambi -- .385, HR, 5 RBI
Derek Jeter -- .385

It makes for 3 intriguing matchups with a some shaken-up pitchers taking on the Yankees in their own house, while the Cubs lineup will be taking on a staff that has gained some confidence on the back of dominating pitching against some admittedly weaker opponents.

Weekend starters:
Zambrano (CHC -- 4-3, 3.19 ERA) vs. Pavano (NYY -- 4-5, 4.17 ERA)
Rusch (CHC -- 5-2, 2.57 ERA) vs. Wang (NYY -- 3-2, 4.44 ERA)
Mitre (CHC -- 2-1, 3.55 ERA) vs. Mussina (NYY -- 7-4, 3.89 ERA)

Key Players
Corey Patterson, OF
Having noticed some rather interesting predictions about Steinbrenner and Patterson from members and commenters on this very site, I thought it only appropriate to make him a key player. Against Carl "South Beach" Pavano, Corey-P is batting .571 (8-14) with an OBP of .571. Considering that the one thing deserting him at the moment is some steady time on the bases, a weekend series against the Yankees would be a prime opportunity for him to get hot again and show us why he's the great hope for Wrigley's center field.

Glendon Rusch, SP
With Prior and Wood still a short while away from returning, Go-Go-Gadget Glendon needs to regain the form that eluded him against the Red Sox on Sunday. Facing perhaps the weakest (although still capable) starter over the weekend series, Rusch needs to reassert himself as a solid #4 man in the rotation and put that one bad start behind him. Despite last sunday's outing, he is 5-2 with a superb 2.57 ERA and a BAA of .259. The Yankees (hopefully) won't know what hit them.

Carl Pavano, SP
"Credit Card" Carl Pavano has been perhaps one of the biggest enigmas in the Yankees rotation this season. Coming off a Marlins all-star season, big things were expected from Carl P, and while the man has won 4 games in 14 starts, he has also lost 5 games with a less-than-All-Star 4.17 ERA. Big starts have been contrasted with disastrous ones, and while June has been fair to ol' Carl (8 ER in 17 1/3 IP, not bad compared to 20 ER in 35 IP in May), he is always prone to an awful outing.

The best example of Pavano's pitching schizophrenia is shown in the 2 starts made against the Seattle Mariners in mid-May. Only 6 days apart from one another, he managed these two baffling lines:

May 11: 4 IP, 10 H, 9 ER, 4 HR, BB, 6 K (88 pitches)
May 17: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K (133 pitches)

Against the Cubs this evening, we are all hoping for a May 11 instead of a May 17.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Alex "Moneyballs" Rodriguez, despite being one of the best hitters/sluggers in the American League, has not been especially brilliant of late, saving up his HRs and RBIs for one or two games every 10 days or so. I would know given that he's the unfortunate anchor of my fantasy team and this week, he's not been all there, batting a respectable .292 but giving me only 3 RBIs, 2 extra-base hits and 4 strikeouts. Granted, he has been far from terrible this season (a team-leading .321 BA, 19 HRs and 56 RBI), but a big weekend from him might push the Yanks over the top despite a strong Cubs opponent in town.

I, like Yahoo! Sports' baseball correspondent and legend Ryne Sandberg (of course, he may be a little biased) think that the Cubs will take 2 of the 3 this weekend, most likely roughing up Credit Card and Wang.

UPN friday night for me (although there is a killer free Brooklyn concert right across the street -- Bad Plus and Charlie Hunter!), FOX saturday afternoon and YES sunday. Stay tuned, and a series round-up will most likely follow on monday (aka when the whisky wears off). Enjoy the weekend everyone, and let's go Cubbies!

Tuesday, June 14

Surreal Sergio Strikes Again!

In his last two starts, Sergio “who needs the outfield” Mitre has been brilliant. If his outing against Toronto was miraculous then I don’t know how to describe tonight. Epic? Biblical? Anyway, he went the distance forcing 16 groundball outs and allowed only five hits. He only threw 99 on his way to his first complete game. His opponent, Josh Beckett, gave up four runs before pulling himself in the sixth. After giving up a line drive homer to D Lee and nearly shattering Burnitz’s right knee cap with a wild pitch, Beckett decided to tend to his blisters (not only did blisters take him out of this game, they’ve put him on the DL five times in the past few seasons, somebody needs to toughen this guy up) in the clubhouse.

Not only did Sergio hurl a great game but our bats were LITERALLY on fire. MV Lee singled, doubled twice and went deep once while Ramirez hit two out (how hot has this guy been lately?). Barrett added insult to injury with a three run dinger in the 8th. Burnitz, Walker and Hollandsworth also had multi-hit games. When it was all said and done, there were fourteen runs on the board coming from eighteen hits.

So our offense was great but how about the defense? Well, when the pitcher serves up 16 groundballs it’s a bound to be pretty easy night. Of course, Neifi! “so what if my ass is huge, that’s no reason to keep me out of the all-star game!” had a great game at short gobbling up several groundballs and assisting in two double plays. As for the Marlins, their defense only helped us put up fourteen runs. On multiple occasions, the outfield fumbled around with the ball at the wall before casually getting it back to the infield. I’m not sure how to describe their performance other than “drunk looking.”

So what’s there to complain about after a 14-0 blowout? How about Corey’s 0-4 performance? Other than that, I got nothin’.

In other Cub news, Kerry “mechanics mechanics mechanics” Wood’s rehab is going well. In his first of what looks to be three outings in Iowa, he threw 46 pitches and “felt good.” Prior’s also coming along and threw off the mound for the first time since his “incident.”

So tomorrow afternoon we’ve got Maddux (5-3, 4.11 ERA) up against Burnett 3-4, 3.09 ERA). My money is on Maddux especially if we get half as many hits as we did tonight.

D-Train derails D-Lee and co.

ESPN Boxscore

Dontrelle "Imagination" Willis pitched 7 stellar innings of down-the-pipes fastballs and sliders last night, becoming the first 11-game winner in the Majors and besting his 2004 win mark of 10 in the process. Giving up just 1 ER on 7 hits while striking out 5, Willis kept the Cubs in check and allowed the Marlins to sashay back to the hotel as 9-1 victors.

Aided by a big 7-run 4th Inning, the likes of which Koronka could not escape, the Marlins slapped 11 hits (8 of them singles) on the board, including a solid batting outing for Dontrelle himself: 2-3, RBI for the pitcher, a line that bested any Cub in the lineup on this particular evening.

The Cubs shouldn't look too heavily into this one, and neither should we; Willis is a better pitcher than he was last season (10-11, 4.02 ERA) and the Cubs were still a little light in the loafers after an emotional Boston @ Wrigley weekend.

Tonight may well see more of the same, with Josh Beckett stepping to the mound in Marlins white (7-4, 3.13 ERA), although Mitre is more than a match for the league's top hurlers, having faced Clemens, Eaton and Halladay in his 3 of his 4 season starts (with the Cubs winning 3 of his starts, and we all remember how well he pitched against Halladay on an ESPN Wednesday afternoon).

Monday, June 13

Cubs take the series from Boston; Boston takes home some respect in Game 3

It was not to be an entirely perfect weekend at Wrigley Field for the home team. After two huge victories, confidence was high, and Sunday saw struggling knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound. By the time the dust had settled, it was Wakefield the winner, and the Cubs the bamboozled.

Looking back on the series as a whole, we should be extremely happy. We outscored the Red Sox 22-20 and took 2 of the 3 games against the World Champions. The bats stayed hot, matching the Red Sox and their high-scoring ways, hit-for-hit. 20 hits on Friday is nothing to be scoffed at.

Friday: Cubs 14, Red Sox 6
Arroyo (4-3) never got comfortable on the mound and the Cubs shellacked him early, jumping out to a 7-1 lead after 3 innings. The sluggers kept up that torrid pace, and everyone contributed:

Starting Lineup
Perez: 2-5, R
Patterson: 2-5
Lee: 2-4, 2B, RBI, 2 R
Burnitz: 3-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI
Ramirez: 3-4, RBI, 3 R
Walker: 2-4, 2B, 2 R
Hollandsworth: 2-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI
Barrett: 3-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI
Maddux: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 5 K // 1-2, HR

You can't say enough about the effort. Despite 2 Home Runs from Ortiz and a solo shot from Bellhorn when the game was out of reach, the Cubs were more prepared and more up to the task.

Saturday: Cubs 7, Red Sox 6
Hawk covered this one. Nice one, Hawk.

Sunday: Cubs 1, Red Sox 8
Rusch fell to 5-2 in his worst outing of the season on ESPN. Nothing horrible to watch, just a little frustrating; Glendon just couldn't put his pitches where they needed to be. 17 hits for the Red Sox yielded more than enough offense to beat the Cubs, against whom Wakefield pitched an excellent game -- 7 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 K, 86 pitches.

The high-pitch counts early in the game came back to haunt Rusch, for whom the 6th inning was more than difficult; after loading the bases and allowing in a run on a fielder's choice, he couldn't get the second out, getting Damon to 1-2 and then giving up a bases-clearing triple, a 5-0 Red Sox lead and a lead the Cubs wouldn't threaten. As if to irritate even further, Rusch came out after the triple and it took Borowski one pitch to the end the inning, a Renteria fly-out to center field.

Nothing much more to say about this one - the Cubs couldn't get their offense firing against the knuckler, and Rusch was a little off-target today.

The Marlins are now in town, and the pitcher with one of the best records in the Majors right now, Dontrelle Willis (10-2, 2.13 ERA) goes up against Jon Koronka. This should be an entertaining series, one that I'll preview a little later today.

To finish off the historic Cubs/Red Sox series, I'll take a quick look at the 4 guys I pegged to be key players for the two teams.

Derrek Lee, 1B -- 4-11, 3 2B, RBI, 3 R
Carlos Zambrano, SP -- 5 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 8 K (ND)

Red Sox
Johnny Damon, CF -- 5-12, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI
Tim Wakefield, SP -- 7 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 K (W)

Sunday, June 12

Cubs Grind Out Second Win Against BoSox

ESPN BoxScore

This will be short as I'm sure most of you already know what happened this afternoon but I'll hit on a couple of things anyway. After getting down 3-0 in the first, the cubbies came back to win this afternoon and it was truly a team effort. The middle of the lineup came through in a big way and took some of the responsibility off the usual suspects (Lee and Perez were hitless while Hollandsworth had three hits). While the majority Boston's runs came via walks and the long ball, the cubs put their runs up with singles, doubles, sac flies and assertive base running. This would have been an entertaining one to be able to see live but alas, fox sucks (see comments under the previous post). At least Ron Santo provides hilarious commentary on the Internet radio feed.

Zambrano was out after five due to a sprained toe. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, he jacked it up sliding into second. It's always something with him...first it was Internet elbow and now a sprained toe. What's next? Hangnails? Ear infection? Whatever the case, as long as he stays off the DL (it's been reported that he should be fine for his next start) I'll gladly put up with all this weird stuff.

So we've taken two in a row from the reigning champs and tomorrow night's matchup looks like it could lead to a sweep. We've got Rusch ((5-1, 2.07 ERA) against Wakefield (4-6, 5.13 ERA) who's really been struggling lately. But, as we all know, anything can happen. One thing we'll need to do tomorrow night is run the bases well. With Wakefield, we can count on at least a couple wild pitches/passed balls. If we can capitalize on his errant knucklers, we should be able to put up plenty of runs and let Rusch roll to his sixth win.

Friday, June 10

Well well well, today is a special day

After the boredom and tedium of thursday, the first off-day the Cubs have tasted in 20/21 days, the Boston Red Sox are in town. Last year's team of destiny and this season's makeover kings (did anyone see that Queer Eye episode? I am please to say that I did not...), the Red Sox are ahead of the Yankees again and looking to build off their win over the Cardinals on Wednesday. Like the Cubs, they dropped 2 of their last 3 in that series, and the Cubs find themselves meeting for the first time since 1918.

It promises to be a highly-charged and emotional affair. I already purchased my MLB.tv one-day subscription so I can watch instead of the normally sublime experience of Ron Santo's agonized voice. For any other game, Santo and Hughes would be more than enough. But today, my eyes need to see that first pitch when Maddux strolls to the mound against Johnny "Frozen Caveman Lawyer" Damon takes his stance.

So what can we expect? The two teams have a lot in common based on this season to date:

--- Injuries
Both the Cubs and the Red Sox have performed admirably well given injuries to key players. The Cubs have soared in the absence of Prior and Wood, and the Red Sox have squeaked through despite the DLification of Schilling and, for a month or so, the beery David Wells.

--- Bullpens
The Red Sox 'pen is not what it used to be, although the faces are more or less the same. Foulke's early-season struggles are not entirely behind him yet, and the set-up duo of Embree and Halama has been shaky at best.

Compare this with the Cubs couple of Hawkins and Leicester, one of whom has taken flight for warmer waters, and we know that these matchups are not as stable as perhaps they once were. It will be interesting to see how they perform, for this series could go one of two ways -- riding the steady arms of the starters, or late-inning bullpen duels that stretch to bonus baseball.

--- Departures
Both teams suffered the losses of once-talismanic performers - the Cubs waved farewell to Moises Alou and Sammy "Let's leave Early" Sosa, while the Red Sox teared up at the long lonely exit of Pedro Martinez.

Again, these losses have not affected the overall performance of the teams - the Cubs are close to the top of the NL in run production and Home Runs, while the Red Sox are still winning - although any Bostonian would agree that having Martinez instead of spot-starters like Wiki Gonzalez would be a better thing.

--- Shared Shortstops and Starters, and Second Basemen
Clement returns to Wrigley wearing the Boston brogue. Nomar will watch from the sidelines as his two teams duel. It's just another storyline to an endless procession of hype and spin surrounding the series, so let's leave it at that.

In the 2003 postseason, Todd Walker was the Red Sox's best hitter. Mark Bellhorn is a former Cub. The list goes on!

EDIT: I forgot Andre Dawson and Bill Buckner on that list.... oops, and Jimmie Foxx. D'oh!

Moving on to statistics, the two teams have weapons that their opponent will find it hard to match.

One of the key factors might be something as trivial as the great NL/AL divide: here, in Wrigley, the absence of the DH. Ortiz will more than likely see time at first base in lieu of the slow-starting Millar, but the chemistry of the Red Sox has in the past relied on their 9-batter lineup from top to bottom. Francona will have to be creative with substitutions and pinch-hitting to erase this seemingly insignificant differential.

Who will be the key players this weekend?

-- Derrek Lee, 1B
He needs to continue his torrid streak in order to keep the Cubs afloat. Being one of only two Gold Glovers in the lineup, the Red Sox's pesky speed from top to bottom (of course I'm not counting Molasses-like Manny and Doritos-D'Ortiz) will test the arms of the infield and keep them all on their toes. Lee's glove will be scooping up all the throws at that corner, so he needs to be sharp.

His bat is equally important - the NL's most impressive player to-date will have all Boston eyes on him with every trip to the plate. He is a career .306 batter against the Red Sox, bested only by Ramirez on the Cubs' lineup (.333), and a danger to any pitcher.

-- Carlos Zambrano, SP
Among the NL's best so far this season despite his record and relatively low number of decisions, his is a stingy pitcher, ranked 3rd in the NL with opponents batting a woeful .188 against him. He ranks highly in strikeouts and innings pitched, and the Cubs will need that kind of steady, composed 7+ inning performance from him against perhaps the weekend's weakest Red Sox starter, Wade Miller (2-1, 4.73 ERA)

-- Tim Wakefield, SP
Having lost his last 5 starts, the longest-serving current Red Sock needs to reassert himself as the dazzling knuckleballer he is capable of being, and in an already tight and tense series, his presence might prove the difference in a lost or won series. He hasn't pitched 6 full innings since May 15, and hasn't allowed 3 earned runs or less since May 9 . Going against either Rusch or Koronka, he has the chance to show that he's still good at what he does -- against the Cubs in his career, he is 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA, although at Wrigley he's 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA.

As the veteran in a pitching staff ranked 28th in ERA ahead of only Tampa Bay and Kansas City, he has a lot to prove.

-- Johnny Damon, CF
Damon is the lead-off guy and believed by Peter Gammons to have been the "best acquisition in the majors in the last 6 years", and will cause the Cubs trouble all day long. With his speed on the bases and the field, as well as his powerful bat (31 RBI this season), Damon's ability to get on base is essential to the Boston fortunes. His OBP is .387, good for a lead-off man, and the Red Sox's patience at the plate will make the Cubs work for their outs.

The Red Sox are 3rd in the league in runs scored, and Damon's lead-off work is a cornerstone of that success.

The game is on, let's go Cubbies. Updates later.

Thursday, June 9

The New Guys/Headlines

Another solid Mitre outing, Wood and Prior pitching and throwing again - the rehab renaissance continues. It seems that, after all the call-ups and promotions from the minors, that the pitching is as strong as ever.

The rotation, albeit patchwork, is holding together well for the time being - Zambrano, Rusch, Maddux, Mitre, Koronka - and the bullpen is steady now that it's Hawkins-free.

So what about the guys we received in exchange for Lucky LaTroy?

While I'm not making any predictions as to whether any of them will see major-league time this season, I just wanted to bring everyone up to speed on their progress in the minors. Both came over with significant upsides (as previously analyzed in a LB post), "pitching prospects" who came at a desperate time. Both are, it appears, progressing well so far, so without further ado...

Jerome Williams
The Hawaiian Franchise Barbeque impresario of the Bay Area, Williams has found a decent home at AAA-Iowa. In 2 starts so far, he's a king rib-like 1-0, giving up 4 ER in 12 IP (11 H, 3 BB, 7 K). Dusty is pleased with his progress, so we could expect JW to get some Wrigley time in the near future.

David Aardsma
His two starts in AA-West Tenn (can anyone explain what a "Diamond Jaxx" is?) have yielded similar numbers: 11 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 8 BB, 7 K. His walk totals are a little troubling, but it's hard to read too much into it given his current playing level and mound appearances at AA. Touted as the future closer for the Giants, Aardsma was converted to a starter because of his erratic control on the mound, and it looks like that is still following him around despite being in the comfy confines of West Tennessee.

Some interesting analysis comes from the highly-respected and widely-read Lake County Record-Bee (CA) and their resident baseballist: he thinks the Cubs got cheated a little, but the Giants (1-11 in their last 12 - go Hawkins!) weren't smart given the recent trades of other high-profile and perhaps better relievers.

Check the article out here, and wonder why the Record-Bee isn't in your daily reading material.

Whatever the Bee says, Dusty sees it otherwise. According to a recent Sun-Times article (possibly on a par with the Record-Bee), Baker wants to bring Williams up soon regardless of Wood and Prior's progress. Does he know something we don't? Is he a mad genius like many of us suspect? Or does he just want coupons to the Aloha Rib-Shack buffet?

"Williams is on the way but not in tip-top pitching condition yet,'' said Baker, who was asked if the Cubs might bring up Williams in the next two to three weeks. "We hope so. He is working toward it.''

The Cubs love Utah - drafting 4 Utahians/Utahish/Utahiors/whatever this week. Our top pick, pitcher Mark Pawelek loves Led Zeppelin. Great! Check out the No. 1 Cubs here.

The Cubs also love selecting pitchers in the draft - 11 in 18 rounds, check some of them out here.

Cubs and Cats, Cats and Cubs - Barrett loves the felines

Dusty to cut down on Koronka's TV time - starring on it, that is

Cubs wives write Wrigley words for Wee'uns

Injury Update and the "New Whipping Boy"

The cubs have a much needed day off today (need to be at 100% to sweep Boston to redeem ourselves from the 1918 series) so I'm going to talk a little about our pitching situation. There's a blurb ESPN's cubs page about the status of our two injured pitching superstars. Both Wood and Prior seem to be making progress. Wood has pitched a "simulation" game and will probably head to the minors soon for some rehab work. Prior is able to play catch and recently threw about ten pitches. Neither has a return date yet. Here's a quote from the ESPN piece:

"He [Wood] threw 45 pitches, facing hitters Jose Macias and Enrique Wilson. Wood was unsure if he was going to throw another simulated game before going to the minor leagues on a rehab assignment. He reported no pain throwing any of his pitches."

Not only does it sound like Wood is making progress but it seems as if someone is trying to build up his confidence having him pitch to Macias.

So, our "big guns" are making progress but with the way our young guys are stepping up, I don't think we need to rush them back (by the way, I have to agree that Mitre is the guy to keep up when Wood gets back). Give Wood and Prior as much time as they need and make sure that when they do return, they can have a decent outing. The last thing I want to see is Wood start a game then have to leave in the third because he's not fully rehabilitated.

Corey Patterson. Some fellow Cubs bloggers have really been hard on CP as of late. Granted Corey has partially brought this on himself while talking big (saying he should be the number three hitter) and sporting a huge ego while not producing. More than a few are declaring calling CP the "new whipping boy" since LaTroy is gone. Well, until Patterson single-handedly blows multiple games for us, I'm not going to promote him to whipping boy status. Like so many other cubbies, CP has had some "WTF!" moments but also some streaks of brilliance (of course, I'm referring to his errant throw in the fifth on Tuesday and then gunning down Toronto's Wells in the eighth). He's also been sporadic at the plate (slumping actually). In the past week he' batting a meager .174 but his season average is still hovering around .260. I can't help but bring up Ramirez here. A couple of weeks ago Aramis was really struggling at the plate but he's found his swing again and has been hot in the past ten days. What am I getting at? Corey will shape up (maybe add to his ridiculous solo HR count of ten) and we'll have a new "whipping boy" in a couple of weeks (Macias perhaps?).

That's all I have...thoughts?

Wednesday, June 8

Mitre is Miraculous!!

Sergio Mitre earned this alliteration today. So after I point Mitre out as the worst start of the week amongst a slew of great starts last week, he turns up the intensity a notch just to show me up. I'll take it, and enjoy the power we here at LB hold. 7.0 innings of 2 hit baseball! Ya can't ask for much more than that, even Halladay had a great start (7.0 IP, 2 ER), but it wasn't enough to hold up next to Mitre's gem. Mitre also swung the bat fairly well, driving in the first Cubs run of the game, which accounts for half of the runs scored. (I think... I had to get my calculator but it looks like the math works out.)

Primarily using his fastball and curveball, Mitre dominated to Blue Jays today to avoid the 3 game sweep. He was undermatched, but stepped up to the challenge, giving up only 2 hits and pitching his way out of the small number of jams he got into. It was only the Cubs' third shut-out of the year, and the first time Roy Halladay lost a decision to someone not playing for Baltimore.

The Cubs offense was pretty good today, but they did squander some additional scoring opportunities. They had 9 hits and had the bases loaded at least once with two outs, but couldn't score anyone. However, two runs was enough to get the job done today, so I'll take it.
Ohman came in and pitched a solid 8th inning, and Dempster recorded his seventh save in as many tries, striking out the side and giving up one hit and one walk.

That's about all I have for now, go Cubbies!

I'll be out of town in the sunny Virgin Islands for the next 9 days, so if there is a computer I'll try to post once in a while, but you guys gotta take care of stuff while I'm gone. The fate of the world depends upon it! The public deserves to know what LB has to say!!! Let's hope I get back to find the Cubs on a 9 game win streak! Peace, for now...

A few headlines...

Well the cubs dropped their second to the Blue Jays last night. Rather than review, I'm going to be lazy and just post a few links.

ESPN BoxScore
Game Summary
more of an inning by inning summary

General Cub News:
Future Cubs Talent
More Cubs related draft news
D Lee's Star Status
--JT and I were discussing this exact thing just yesterday saying how Pujols is leading all-star voting and Lee is a new kid on the block for most people...

So what's everybody think about this afternoon? Predictions?

Here's the pitching:
Mitre (0-1, 6.88 ERA) v. Halladay (9-2, 2.45 ERA)

Those are depressing numbers. How can a guy have eleven decisions a third of the way through the season? Anyway, we know Mitre is capable of performing. I'm just hoping he can get through the first couple of innings safely and keep his composure. If Mitre can keep his head, we have a good chance this afternoon (gotta stay optimistic). GO CUBBIES!!

Oh yeah, and hopefully the black cats stay away from Wrigley this afternoon...

Tuesday, June 7

Cub of the Week -- Pitcher's edition

This week the choice for our "Cub of the Week" was very difficult since so many people performed well last week. It's also getting a little boring putting Derrek Lee's name over there and updating his previous week's stats. Jeez, Derrek, give someone else a chance to win. We were going to pick Jose Macias since he struck out in his only at-bat in the last game against the Padres, but decided to go with the whole Cubs team instead since they had such a great week.

The 6-1 road trip could not have been completed with such success if it weren't for the pitchers stepping it up last week, as well as the hefty doses of offense the Cubs had been prescribed. Everyone played as good as we could have expected, with the exception possibly being Sergio Mitre's start on Friday night, during which he gave up 5 runs in 4.2 innings. However, that being said, Maddux was maddening, Rusch was right-on, Koronka was killer, and Zambrano was... zippy? That's right, even the rookie John Koronka -- who was called up from the minors for his major league debut -- pitched so well against the dodgers that he is now worthy of alliteration. This week also saw Glendon Rusch pitch a complete game shutout against the NL-West leading Padres.

Our bullpen was frightening as well, only giving up runs in games where the Cubs had a big enough lead that it didn't matter, and holding the close leads for victories. I even thought I heard Dempster yell in a Stewie-esque voice "Victory is mine!" a few times after big outs. Oh, that silly Dempster and his diapers. Ok, so without any further insanity on my part, here are the pitching stats for the week, broken down between starters and the bullpen.

Starters - 45.2 IP, 12 runs total, ERA: 2.36
Bullpen - 17.1 IP, 6 runs total, ERA: 3.12

Now that is getting it done, boys. I hope we have to pick the whole team as the Cub of the Week every week! Now let's get them Blue Jays!

Gustavo goes "Zambrano" on the sleeping Cubs

Gustavo Chacin, this is your life.

Signed in 1998 by the Blue Jays as a non-drafted Free Agent, you drifted through the minor leagues, including impressive pit stops at AA-New Hampshire and AAA-Syracuse, before making yr debut against the Yankees (a debut you won, 6-3, thanks to 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 K).

And now, on June 6th, you continue to impress, blanking the lifeless, listless Cubs in a 4-1 wash. It wasn't a heavy defeat numerically, but listening to the game, it seemed as if 4 runs were actually more like 400, given the Cubs' inability to a. use their men on base and b. bring them home.

With 8 hits to Toronto's 6, it adds fuel to the adage "it's not what you've got but what you do with it." The Blue Jays finished scoring for the night in the 2nd Inning after an Aaron Hill RBI single and Reed Johnson 3-run Home Run, giving the Cubs their target for the following 7 innings.

What followed was not steady inroads into the 4-run deficit, but rather a dull and insipid attack that saw plenty of opportunities and plenty of unfortunate plays. With bases loaded in the 2nd inning after Koronka (6 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) drew a 1-out walk, JH jr. promptly grounded into a double play. With runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out in the 9th, Macias did the same, bringing a tame rally to an end following Ramirez' lead-off home run in the inning. Chacin picked up the win after tossing 7 shutout innings (5 H, 6 K), and the Cubs limped into the clubhouse with the realization that despite their threatening talent, work must still be done to get the win.

The bullpen pitched well - the trio of Wellemeyer, Borowski and Remlinger threw 1-hit baseball for 3 innings (0 BB, 4 K) between them, and we can definitely take heart with Koronka's ability to regain his composure and not implode after yielding 4 runs in 2 innings. On offense, Barrett and Macias picked up 2 hits apiece, but it wasn't enough to beat a competent Toronto team with lots to play for in the AL East.

And so we come to today, where Adrenaline Rusch gets a crack at Josh "Fawlty" Towers. Rusch is and has been the best Cubs starter, so let's see if we can rally behind his arm and even up the series at 1-1. (The Cubs have won their last 4 series dating back to the Astros)

Tonight's Starters, Statistically:
TOR: RHP Josh Towers • 5-4, 2.48 ERA in 2005 • Has never faced CHC
CHC: LHP Glendon Rusch • 5-1, 1.96 ERA in 2005 • 3-1, 3.67 ERA lifetime vs. TOR

Monday, June 6

Player of the "Week" --- Offense Edition

The Cubs have been unstoppable of late. Over their last 19 games dating back to the Pittsburgh Pirates series, the Cubs are 14-5, which has to be the best or close to the best mark in the league over the same period of time. Their offense has been clicking a lot more than in the first 36 games of the season, with many slumping players finding their strokes and other unsung heroes being given a chance to shine. The Cubs team is definitely player of the week for their exploits last week (6-1 road trip with series wins over the Dodgers and NL West-leading Padres), and I wanted to track back a little further to look at some of the stats since their rise from a dismal 16-20 to a monumental 30-25.

Offensively, it's hard to pinpoint one player above all others who has been the best. Derrek Lee has of course enjoyed big games down this stretch, but big games from all the major players - Ramirez, Neifi, Corey, Burnitz, Barrett - have emerged when D-Lee is not firing on all cylinders. That's what makes a good team: if yr star is not performing, the rest have to get it done. And get it done they did.

As a team, the Cubs scored 79 runs over the last 19 games, averaging 4.16 per game. Ironically, given the rest of the stats I'm about to unleash, that figure is down from their previous 36 games, where they scored 175 at an average of 4.86 per game.

I'll throw these in a list, and analyze them a little bit when I'm done.

Hits: 199 (10.47 per game; 8.94 per game before)
Doubles: 39 (2.05 per game; 1.92 before)
Home Runs: 22 (1.16 per game; 1.33 before)

79 runs scored, 57 runs allowed

Fielding: 8 errors in 19 games (26 in previous 36 games)

Analysis of these statistics is pretty simple. On the whole, the Cubs are performing more competently on offense. Their pitching staff is being given solid leads to defend, and with sharper fielding all round, our performance in 1-run games and close games has been vastly improved. Over the 19 games, the Cubs are 4-0 in 1-run games, and 2-1 in 2-run games. Those errors which cost us dearly in early-season close games have been reduced, and therefore those games become wins instead of tough defeats. It also points to an offensive balance. While Derrek Lee is still hammering out the offense with every at-bat, including some ridiculous feats (last week: 10-10 at-bat streak in 3 games, with 7 singles, one home run and two walks), everyone else has been performing as expected.

Looking at the team as a whole:

Neifi Perez -- .325, 7 HR, 26 RBI
Michael Barrett -- .275, 5 HR, 23 RBI
Jerry Hairston Jr -- .272, 24 R, 5 SB
Aramis Ramirez -- .270, 11 HR, 29 RBI
Jeromy Burnitz -- .266, 8 HR, 34 RBI
Corey Patterson -- .266, 10 HR, 20 RBI, 30 R
Jason Dubois -- .265, 5 HR, 20 RBI

While the first portion of the season could be characterized as "Year of the Lee", the team has more balance now. With offensive pressure off Lee's shoulders a little, he is free to hit and bat without having to worry about providing the lion's share of the runs. Perez has been a stunning substitute for a groiny Nomar, and everyone else's improving production yields a dangerous lineup.

Pitching to come via Hypo, the strike n' ball king.

Sunday, June 5

Cubs Steal 3 of 4 From (previously) Hot Padres

Another Cubs victory today will lead to the Northsiders heading back to Chicago tomorrow after a very successful 6-1 west coast road trip. Peavy was unable to start for the Padres today as his start was pushed back to Wednesday due to a upper respiratory infection which apparently started spreading around the Padres team. Woody Williams got the start instead, fresh off the 15-day DL, and the Cubs took advantage.

They strung together 11 hits for 4 runs in this one, in 4 separate 1-run innings. The scoring was pretty spread out through the lineup. Check it:

Neifi Perez - 3/5 2 runs
Derrek Lee - 3/5 1 run, 1 RBI
Jeromy Burnitz - 2/3 1 run, 1 RBI
Aramis Ramirez - 1/4 1 RBI
Corey Patterson - 1/4 1 RBI

Other Cubs had hits too, I just included the Cubs who had a part in the scoring there.

The Big Burly Cub of the day had to be the great Zambino today, though. He pitched through 7.0 innings and gave up a big fat zero runs. His performance took some pressure off of the bullpen, where Ohman pitched the 8th and Dempster finished the game off for the V. I didn't get to watch the game, but I saw that Zambrano got himself out of a good number of jams, so kudos to Z and all the Cubs pitchers in this series in holding the second-leading-scoring Padres to a fairly low run count in almost all of the games we played against them.

Let's hope we can keep the bats hot and pitching smooth in the upcoming home series against the Blue Jays as interleague play continues, starting tomorrow.

Again, if you got to watch the game, post your comments on what struck you as exciting!

7 wins in 8 games!!

In the WGN pre-game, one of the commentators (can’t remember if it was Bob or Len) said the Cubs shouldn’t have any trouble tearing up May. I optimistically nodded in agreement and the game began…

First inning: After a Hairston groundout, Neifi went deep for the seventh time this season. This was especially memorable because the ball went directly into Harry the Heckler’s mit. By the way, Harry, lose the Padres throw back. Last time I checked you’re not a celebrity or a hip hop star so there’s no excuse for that kind of gear. Anyway, Harry, being the rambunctious bastard he is, threw it back before Perez could get to second. Also, Ramirez got his first of three hits in the game which proves he’s bat is definitely back in action (as if anyone was still questioning whether or not he’s slumping).

I want to interrupt myself for a second and comment on the cubs overall hitting as of late. On the whole, our guys have been very patient. They’re getting into hitters’ counts and forcing pitchers to throw strikes. This is leading to loads of offense and is one of the key reasons we’re winning some many games.

The bottom half of the first was pretty ugly for the Cubbies. Maddux threw a wild pitch to advance Blum to advance to second and Burnitz botched a ground ball in the infield to let Blum score easily (Blum’s luck ran out in the 5th when he failed to track down a DuBois fly ball in shallow right) .

Fast forward to the fifth: This is where the Cubs blew it wide open. May got pulled and in came the middle relief. Double, single, single, double, intentional walk to start the 5th. At this point, it’s 6-1, nobody out with the bases juiced. Barrett delivers with a ground rule double to make it 8-1. Maddux even got in on the action with a single which brought in Patterson (9-1, still nobody out). Hairston was next, and what do you know, he drops one into left center. By the time the Cubs’ hit parade ended, the score was 11-1. So…fifth inning recap: Cubs go through the entire order and then some getting eight hits putting seven runs on the board. That’s the most they’ve put up in a single inning this season. Oh, and the Padres went 1-2-3.

The Padres chipped away at the Cubs’ lead with two in the sixth and two in the seventh, but in the end, the Cubs rolled to their seventh win in eight games. Let’s hope we can get out of San Diego taking three of the four. Overall, another great performance by the Cubs tonight. Maddux got his fourth win of the season and six Cubs hitters had multiple hits.

Finally, here are some other interesting things I picked up while watching the game tonight: the Padres are passing around an upper respiratory infection (hence Klesko’s absence tonight), Len (WGN announcer) LITERALLY got shit on by a pigeon today while walking around San Diego and the winning word in the 2005 national spelling bee was ‘appoggiatura’ (a melodic tone).

Friday, June 3

Dear Anonymous:

Original comment by anonymous:

"Good blog. (Damn right, good blog, thanks! -- Hypo)

One thing however I would like your opinion on. A lot of the rather puerile Chicago media are anti-dusty, I believe particularly because he tangled with the one of their own, Stone, and turned the tables on him. Why has Perez, Karros, Gruds, Rusch, Estes, Borowski, turned around their careers and other young payers such as Prior, Zambrano, Patterson, Aramis, Lee, Weurtz, Wellmeyer become such superstars? Dusty perhaps? "

Thanks for your comment, and here's my thoughts, everyone else feel free to share your thoughts as well!

I'm going to start off by acknowledging the fact that I have already said in the past that Dusty has made some pretty questionable decisions in the past. That being said...

Dusty wins more approval from me with each passing win. Of course this is easy to say when the Cubs are winning, but listening to Eric Karros talk about playing for him last night was pretty cool. Dusty instills a sense of confindence in every player on the team, which is something that you can't teach a manager to do. He will stay behind his guys when times are rough too, so players absolutely love playing for him. Look how long he stuck behind Hawkins as the closer for crying out loud.

He really does know what he's doing as a manager, and when the players under him start to buy into his plan and his mentality, this is when really special things start to happen. Case in point: a 7 game win streak, a young SS playing as good as we would expect of Nomar both on offense and defense, a pitcher who two years ago was 1-12 now is 5-1 with an ERA under 2.00, a record of 28-24 when Karros said himself that the Cubs should be 10 or 15 games under .500 with the injuries they've sustained.

A lot of these things are a team effort that wouldn't happen with just one guy performing well or even a few guys performing well. It takes different guys stepping up every day to give the team that spark. And in order for different guys to do that, they need confidence and the right mentality, which is what they get from playing for a manager like Dusty. After the way things have gone recently with the injuries and this win streak, I gaurantee no one on this team will give up for the rest of the year. They will play their hardest and believe that they will win by doing so, and that is something special if you ask me. It's also something I attribute to Dusty, a characteristic which he possesses that could be more important than a knack for crunching the numbers in the dugout.

I'm going to attempt to quote something Karros said last night, but this is from memory, so it's really not a direct quote. "Dusty will say, 'believe in me, believe in what I'm doing, even if you don't understand it. Believe that I know what I'm doing and put all of your trust in that. If I tell you to jump off a cliff, you don't have to understand why, but just do it. Trust that if I tell you to jump off a cliff that I'll have a parachute ready to catch you.' "

Rusch Wins! Rusch Wins!

With such a cute smile, how could you NOT love this guy?

Glendon Rusch has done everything the Cubs have needed him to do so far this year and more.

Starting the year in the bullpen, he was our go-to guy for long relief, as well as pitching some single-inning or shorter outings. Sure, he had a few games where he gave up a few runs, but every relief pitcher does, and he hasn't yet been charged with a loss in a single relief appearance. The only criticism you could make of his pitching in these games is that he seemed to have a habit of letting a couple guys on base each inning. However, he has consistently shown his ability to get out of a jam, and his ERA as a relief pitcher for the Cubs this year is an impressive 2.38.

Rusch as a starter for the Cubs has been even more impressive. His first start of the year was the only start in which he didn't pitch for the 5.0 innings needed to qualify for a win. This start was also the only game of the season after which Rusch recorded a notch in the 'L' column. It was against Philadelphia, and even though it has been his worst start thus far, he only gave up 2 runs in his 4.2 IP in that game. Even top tier pitchers like Pedro Martinez or Johann Santana can't say that their worst game of the year so far was that good.

He hasn't given up more than 2 runs in a single appearance so far this year, which includes his 6 starts. So even though he has a respectable 3-1 record in as a starting pitcher, you could easily argue that his record would be even better if he had had some run support. Here's another breakdown of Rusch's starting statistics: In his one loss and two no-decisions, he gave up 2 runs per game in an average of 5.1 innings pitched. This makes for a pretty decent earned run average, but you could make the argument that a starting pitcher should be getting into the later innings of a game. However, in his last 3 starts he as earned the win each time. He has done this by pitching 8.0, 7.0, and 9.0 innings respectively, and gave up a total of 2 runs those 3 starts (1 run 3 starts ago, 1 run 2 starts ago, and of course, that CG SHO last night). You can't ask more from any starter in the big leagues right now, no matter who it is, so this leaves all of us in Cubdom with a nice tingly feeling inside!

Rusch still seems to have a bit of a habit of allowing a few extra guys on base than what you'd expect from a pitcher who's season ERA is 1.96 (!), but as was evidenced in the game last night he is pitching well enough to get out of his jams, and the defense has been fantastic lately, which of course helps. Rusch has even made some impressive defensive plays himself, such as his behind the back snag of a line drive last night, or gloving a trickler up the 1st base line and tossing it to Lee with his glove hand for the out.

So here are this feisty Cub's starting stats... have a bandaid handy, cause these numbers are sharp:
In 6 starts this season - 39.2 IP, 31 hits, 9 ER, 14 BB, 29 K.
The Breakdown - K/BB=2.07, WHIP=1.15, and the all-important, most used pitching stat of all.... ERA=1.84

Amazing stuff! Two other noteworthy notables which I will now note: Glendon is the team leader in wins (5) and also has only given up 1 homerun in all 6 starts combined! In fact, I just checked again, and he's only given up 1 homerun all year, relief appearances included!

So, Glenny ole buddy ole pal, without further adieu, on behalf of Kerry Wood and the rest of us here at Lingering Bursitis: WE SALUTE YOU!!!

The Padres are Glen-done

What a game. Having exchanged animated phone conversations with Hypo shortly after the final pitch, it seemed appropriate to strike while the iron was hot.

Perhaps the best way to summarize this game is to demonstrate the power and momentum of the Cubs on a player-by-player basis, as for the 7th straight game, everyone contributed to provide another confidence-boosting victory. From 1 to 9, the lineup was potent and the stats of the winning streak are worth sharing:

- Neifi Perez, SS: 1-5, several excellent defensive plays, extended his hitting streak to 11 games (BA .312)
- Todd Walker, 2B: 1-5, solo HR in the 7th
- Derrek Lee, 1B: 3-3, 2 R, 2 BB; batting .389 for the season, is 10-10 in the last 2 games (incl. 2 walks) and 11-13 in his last 3 outings
- Jeromy Burnitz, RF: 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI, R
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B: 1-5, RBI
- Corey Patterson, CF: 1-4, made superb leaping catch at the wall to rob Khalil Greene of a HR
- Jason Dubois, LF: 1-4, RBI
- Michael Barrett, C: called an excellent game for Rusch behind the plate

And so we come to Mr. No. 9, and the rotation leader in wins, Glendon "Red Rocker" Rusch. Pitching a complete game that was as dominating as we have seen all season, and against one of the NL's most impressive offensive teams to date, Rusch allowed only 4 hits through his outing, walking one and striking out 7 in the process. Using an effective mix of his changeup, slider and fastball, Rusch retired 17 of his last 19 batters faced, including 5 1-2-3 innings. Backed by a number of impressive defensive plays from Perez, Patterson, and an incredible groundball gloved toss by Rusch to Lee for an out, the Cubs dominated.

The win streak has seen some incredible numbers. For the first time since 1961, the Cubs have managed to accrue 10 or more hits in 7 straight games. For the first time since 1991, the Cubbies have won 6 straight games on the road. As if team accomplishments weren't enough, Derrek Lee's 6th Inning single gave him his 1000th career hit. Not bad for a guy who has toured the Major Leagues for while, beginning his career somewhat interestingly with the San Diego Padres in 1997, playing 22 games before being shipped to Florida for Kevin Brown. (We all know who is having the better career as it stands now).

And to top it all, our closest rivals are losing. The Cardinals lost 8-6 to the Colorado Rockies, as closer Jason Isringhausen blew a 2-run 9th inning lead to pick up the loss. Milwaukee also capitulated in Los Angeles, squandering a 3-0 cushion in the 3rd inning to lose 6-4.

I am extremely happy with our performance at the moment. The entire team is finding some way to contribute whether with bat, ball or glove. Every night, someone steps up and provides the spark necessary to get the win, and Dusty's understated managing of late is giving the guys confidence with every at-bat, every out notched.

I'm not trying to get too far ahead of myself, as it's obviously only the first week of June. That being said, I've been railing a number of guys, Dusty included, over the season to date as well as lamenting the injury fest that is our roster, so it's about time I was able to be a little happier and get some satisfaction from our recent run of form. This weekend will be a little difficult, facing Eaton and Peavy in the next 3 days, although I was moaning about our difficult month of June(!) only last week.

As it stands, nothing is to be feared, nothing is to be overanalyzed. The Cubs have a massive amount of heart and optimism, so do I, and so do all of us here at LB and further afield.

Thursday, June 2

Cubs dodge defeat, Dodgers can't hide from the sweep

The Chicago Cubs, ladies and gentlemen, hottest team in the Major League. Owner of the best current streak at 6 games (the Padres, Rangers and Indians lost, giving us sole position of #1) and 9-1 over the last ten games, the Cubbies rode a tremendous performance by rookie John Koronka in inhospitable waters to sweep the LA Codgers in the series and 9-5 tonight.

John "Duracell" Koronka, called up from Iowa (that short, short drive, as Jim so rightly pointed out) to fill in for Prior, pitched 5 innings, allowing 3 earned runs and striking out 4 through 98 entertaining pitches of work. He nullified the normally dangerous lineup, allowing only a JD Drew RBI double and Olmedo Saenz 2-run HR in his outing, and giving us further reason to believe that this season is not lost. As the commentators pointed out, the reboundability of the Cubs from injury has to be troubling to the rest of the NL - no matter how many important injuries (5 key pitchers, 1 starting infielder) we suffer, we still stick around. Imagine our potential with a full lineup! There are few teams with these woes that can still boast of a record over .500, and it's proof that there is life in the Northsiders yet. I know this is all rose-coloured glasses stuff from me, but hey, until the wheels fall off entirely, it doesn't matter how many flats the car has.

Other standout performers:

Neifi Perez and Derrek Lee -- we should send these guys flowers. Or a trophy. Either way, they've kept the Cubs afloat with timely hits and downright scary power, and tonight was no different. The two combined to form one megahuman, batting 9-10 with 2 HRs, 7 RBI, and 5 runs. The duo were nasty, also combining for several defensive plays, and did one basic but important thing: took advantage of having chances and runners on base. Last night, Neifi did the trick with the winning RBI single, and tonight the pair made the most of having 7 hits from the rest of the team. Lee's 8th Inning 3-run HR (with 2 outs, slamming a 2-1 pitch to left field) was the difference, ending a Dodgers rally from 6-3 down in the previous inning.

Bacon! -- Hollandsworth, as Jim rightly pointed out, deserves a bit of praise. The streaky outfielder went 2-3 tonight with an RBI, a run and a walk, putting up solid numbers and shutting up critics like myself. He also stole a base, proving he is a threat at any place, any time. Nice work, Bacon, nice work.

Sorry to Hypo, whose decision to start Derek Lowe in his fantasy team came unstuck - 5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 6 ER, 3 K -- but you will definitely take solace in yet another impressive win.

Tomorrow night, the Cubs go to San Diego for further West Coast chivalry against one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Padres recorded 20+ wins in the month, and their lineup is a little disgusting: we can look forward to facing Giles, Klesko, Nady, Nevin and Khalil Greene with the bat, not to mention econ-mizers like Peavy and Eaton. Further reports on the upcoming series on their way tomorrow.

Also, in hilarious news, poor old LaTroy Hawkins quickly ended his honeymoon in the Bay Area, picking up his 5th loss of the season in relief. The beleaguered reliever tossed an ugly 8th inning, giving up 4 runs to the Philadelphia Phillies after having watching his team even the score at 6 in the top half of the inning. The Giants lost 10-6 after Hawkins served up a sour pinch-hit Grand Slam to East Pennsylvania's favourite 2nd baseman, Chase "The Face" Utley, and the result leaves us Cub fans slightly relieved to see the Hawkins we knew for lo those many years.

Cubs win!

Wednesday, June 1

Right Now/The Challenge has been Issued

Well well, things are certainly heating up on the West Coast.

4-3 in the 5th Inning at the moment, thanks to some excellent, timely hitting by Perez (3-run, 2 out HR) and some stellar defense (Corey diving catch in the 4th). Not to mention rookie pitcher John Koronka; despite a shaky 3rd Inning, he's performed about as well as could be expected, definitely as well as Mitre pitched last week against the Rocketeer -- 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K through 4 innings so far tonight in his first start up from AAA-Iowa.

The offense looks impressive - through 4 1/2 innings:

Derrek Lee -- 3-3, R
Hot Rod Walker -- 2-3, RBI, R
Neifi Perez -- 2-3, HR, 3 RBI

The hits keep on coming, and the runs keep on coming - 5-3 with bases loaded and 2 outs as I write this sentence.

Also, a huge welcome to new readers, Carlos especially - we appreciate your support and readership, and we hope to keep you entertained and up-to-date as the season goes on. Thanks for commenting!

Also, it seems I've been issued a mini-stats challenge of sorts by Jim and Hawk. I think I can comment quite safely on my hunting, as it seems the answer is not as cryptic as one might think. As far as I can tell (and believe me, I'm still researching), the owner of the record for most solo Home Runs falls to the obvious candidate, Mr. Hank Aaron, for whom exactly 400 (53% of his total) of his 755 HRs were solo shots. I will continue to look through the stats, but it looks like this total might be hard to beat.

You can praise me later for my efforts. (Joke)


Zambrano doesn't believe in Charity

Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs' miser, tugged them through 8 unbelievable innings of work, allowing just 1 hit and striking out 9. This would have been a complete game shutout, if not for a couple of incidents in the 3rd Inning:

- Hee Seop Choi striking out and making it to first on Blanco's misfield
- Izturis' bloop single scoring Choi from first after it slips through the outfield, with Izturis making it to second

That was it. The rest of the game, the pitchers were in control. Wuertz allowed a lead-off walk in the 9th, and then promptly struck out the side, running through the top of the order (Drew, Kent, Ledee). Having squandered runners on 2nd and 3rd in the top of the inning, this was crucial, as it may have seemed to some that the tide was turning. We were not going to see the Bull get the win, and in the 10th, perfect execution saw the winning run. It always helps when yr lead-off man gets on base, and after a neat bunt by Todd "Bacon" Hollandsworth, Neifi singled to left field, allowing Barrett to crawl home from second base.

Dempster kept me on edge in hitting the lead-off man Perez with a full count, and then a bunt sacrifice saw him move to second. This may have looked bad, but against the bottom of the order Dump looked like an all-star, inducing an easy fly-out and a routine ground-out to end the game.

5 games in a row, gentlemen, 5 games. Milwaukee is losing out west, St. Louis couldn't win in Colorado, and the Cubs are, at the moment, one of the hottest teams in baseball going 8-2 over their last 10 games. (The only teams equal or "hotter" are Cleveland at 8-2, and Texas at 9-1). This is good to see, and we're slowly closing the gap against a complacent Cardinals side who might surely win the NL Central over time, but seem intent on phoning in their performances. If they had heart like the injury-plagued Cubbies, they may have put up more of a fight in the World Series. Ouch.

Some wonderful stats to entertain you this afternoon, and they all involve team performance in comparison to the rest of the league. They are a reasonable explanation as to the team's fluctuating success, and show just how underrated our team is nationwide. Most news reports seem to focus on the injuries, and this is a clearer guide: our pitching keeps us in the game, and despite high slugging percentages (thanks to the likes of Lee and Burnitz etc) and high Home Run totals, there's never anyone on base to take advantage of it. Low walk totals and less patience at the plate means the runs are down and if it wasn't for our incredible pitching performances time and time again, the season might be a lot more lost than it is now.

Batting Average: .266 (16th in MLB)
OBP: .325 (20th in MLB)
R: 223 (18th in MLB)
HR: 65 (4th in MLB)
SLG: .442 (3rd in MLB)
BB: 136 (27th in MLB)

Team ERA: 3.84 (9th in MLB)
BAA: .241 (3rd in MLB)
K: 401 (1st in MLB)
K/9: 8.07 (1st in MLB)
K/BB: 2.17 (11th in MLB)


I know I haven't been as game-focused as I was before, as the LB staff has been doing a tremendous job of keeping us all up to date with our day-to-day brilliance of late - winning streaks, and Zambrano with a 1-hitter through 7 so far tonight (game tied 1-1, Top 8th).

I'm trying to dig up things to talk about, and I found another excellent Dusty quote regarding new Cub, and scheduled starter this evening at AAA-Iowa, Jerome Williams.

When asked about Jerome "Baby Back" Williams' chances of seeing the majors sometime soon, Baker mused for a while about his various mechanical issues - arm strength, pitch quality, pitch selection - before moving onto the touchier subject of JW's weight. Simply put, he's a little too heavy for the Wrigley mound at the moment, although last time I checked Borowski was hardly the sprightliest man on the bump either.

"We've got to keep him away from the fast food," was Dusty's tactful remark, making a sly dig at the fact that Williams has made some investments in Bay Area and Hawaiian barbeque franchise restaurants.

Koronka gets the spotlight tomorrow night, and should we see Williams in the dugout anytime soon on a sudden call-up, Hendry needs to make sure those sunflower seeds are unsalted and fat-free.

In an update of our other fresh face on the roster, David Aardsma acquitted himself extremely well last night in a start for AA-West Tennessee in a 5-2 win against some team from somewhere near there. Pitching 5 strong innings, D-Aard gave up 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 5 although allowing 5 walks in the process.

So who might we see on the Northside first? Honeymoon or The Big Save? And are Williams' restaurants any good?

EDIT: Williams is a partner in the L&L Drive-In franchise, owning a chunk of the chain's 100th franchise in Union City, CA near the Bay Area. The restaurant sounds alright: Hawaiian barbeque and other Islander delicacies. Apparently Seahawk TE Itula Mili is a part-owner of a Honolulu branch, as are other pro football players who went to school with Mili at Brigham Young. This concludes the "Useless Information" segment of the evening.

One last quick thing on this: the owners of the franchise make any investors/part-owners/call-them-what-you-will come out to the landmark restaurant in Hawaii for "training". This includes food prep and a whole host of other potentially dangerous lessons. Mili allegedly missed training sessions due to lacerating his finger while cutting chicken. Has Williams already done his stint, or might we see him flying out to protect his investment?

Wouldn't that be something....