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.

16 Comments:

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

Ah, I miss that voice. He would've loved today's game. Who wouldn't love today's game? Even the Red Sox fans were still into it at the ninth when Ortiz tee'd off on Bartosh.

Keys to this game (aka, things you have to do to beat the Red Sox):
1. Hitting. Everyone hit today, excluding of course Mr. Dubois, who remains an enigma to me. Hollandsworth, Barrett, Burnitz, Lee, and Ramirez all hit big today. Those firts three are key to me. They are coming back around, I hope. Apparently that two days rest did Burnitz some good. Identify and correct. Identify and correct.

2. Pitch. We don't want to get too deep into our bullpen in any of these games. The Red Sox are a team of professional hitters. So, you start pulling out three, four, five relievers in a game, and one or two of them aren't quite on, you're going to give up some major runs, and some monster blasts. Think Big Papi vs. Bartosh type shots.

3. Keep Damon off of the bases. He's the spark to their offense. He's got a fantastic swing and runs the bases the best out of any of the Sox. You have to make quality pitches to Damon.

4. Keep everyone off of the bases, because Big Papi is always just around the corner. You do not want him to come up with men on. You can afford to give up a homer or two to him, as long as no one is on, and as long as you take advantage of the Sox less than great pitching.

Go Maddux! Than was a heck of a homer. Made me proud. He can DH for us when we go to New York to mangle the Yankees.

 
At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

What is this?!!! Who wants to watch the Cardinals and the Yankees?! The only good thing that could happen in this game is if they get into a big fight and all of the players get severely injured.

FOX is horrible. Because of their programming contracts no one else can show saturday baseball, and then they only show regional games, so I get stuck watching the YANKEES.

What a terrible Saturday. The two teams I hate most in either league are the only game I have on TV. Who's gonna send hate mail to Rupert Murdock with me?

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger DS said...

I hear ya Lazlo...I get Braves v. A's. I have absolutely no interest in this game. Guess I'll have to listen Santo online...at least they're on ESPN tomorrow night.

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger DS said...

and it's always a good idea to send rupert murdoch hatemail.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger JT said...

i completely agree guys.... they made such a big, trumped-up deal in their pregame programming about the cubs/sox being the game of the day, and then they cut right to busch stadium.... bullshit bullshit, i care as much about watching randy johnson as i do about tearing out my own eyes and then throwing them at myself.

Great game yesterday, reviews of the whole series to follow on monday when I:
a. have enough time
b. have sobered up sufficiently to type.

Cheers everyone, hawk, hypo, lazlo, jim and others, enjoy the great weekend weather.

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger DS said...

great weekend weather?!? I'm about to get dumped on from Arlene...enjoy your drunken-ness

 
At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

What happened here? The blog turned into a free messaging service for the members.

We're in the sixth inning now (I'm following on gameday), and they just brought in Wellemeyer for Zambrowski. So far the game has been somewhat dissapointing, but at least our bottom of the order guys seem to be hitting. The top three have gone hitless, but Walker, Hollandsworth, Ramirez and Burnitz have all tallied at least one hit, as well as Blanco and big Z, which is just gravy.

However, if he's going to give up three runs in the first inning, el Toro had better put those hitting shoes on. We'll have to wait to see how this one turns out. Cross your figures.

 
At 5:21 PM, Blogger JT said...

Hey Hawk, calm down! You're killing my buzz, man!

(hahaha, joking, let's go wellemeyer)

Oh, and I told you Zambino would get at least one hit! So where's my prize?

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger JT said...

Lazlo --

Zambrano seemed a little jittery out there today. Like Colon yesterday (who didn't give up the runs but had disgustingly good strikes-to-balls ratio in his outing... will dig it up later maybe), he was throwing and throwing hard, either walking or striking those BoSox out. 8 strikeouts in 5 innings, although those 1st inning walks were costly.

5-4 right now, thanks to Blanco's sac fly... did anyone see when Hollandsworth fouled the pitch off his back leg(!) and looked hurt? He's been stoic today, maybe I won't crack on him so much in the days to come, as he's obviously been taking all the LB ribbing to heart and is *gasp* contributing!

Way to go Holland, way to go.

 
At 8:28 PM, Blogger Jim said...

"The Toe" put the fear in all good Cubs fans today. I played baseball for years and slid into base every way you can think of and never once sprained a toe. How can you do that? The guy is weird!

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger DS said...

Z just seems to be pretty wreckless out there. Between trying to bare hand comebackers and this slide today, he's just asking to join Wood and Prior on the DL. I love his intensity but he's got to play smart at the same time because we definitely need him healthy.

and Jim, thanks for the Lou Brock info a couple of days ago.

 
At 9:11 PM, Blogger Jim said...

How about this Lou Brock info: In 1963, I went to St. Louis to see the Cubs take on the Cards in a Sunday double-header. They used to play lots of those back then, two for the price of one.

We left early so we could watch the two teams take batting practice. After we crossed the bridge from the Illinois side into St. Louis and were within a couple of blocks of old Sportsman's Park, I looked out the window and there was a young Lou Brock walking down the sidewalk, a big smile on his face, on his way to the park. That little experience for a sixteen-year-old kid made big leagures suddenly seem like real people.

No, we didn't offer him a ride. We had to find parking.

As for Zambrano, he reminds me of what my mother used to say: "Some people you just gotta crack on top of the head every now and again."

 
At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

I don't think there is any changing Zambrano. If you asked him to play another way, he would just look confused, say "Que?", and talk trash about you to the other hispanic players after you waked away. "They want me to take less batting practice? They want me not to run the bases so hard? They want me to use my GLOVE?!" He can't play any other way. His play is natural, so much so that it sometimes seems thoughtless.

Anyway, the Cubs got it done today, despite shaky pitching. How 'bout our middle of the order? What a change. I wouldn't be surprised to see Walker and Corey switching spots in the line up soon. Management always liked Walker as a number two hitter, and right now that sounds good to me. If Perez can get on, Walker, Lee, or Ramirez should be able to bat him in. Those guys are hitters. I love to see Hollandsworth hitting like he did today. Last year he really impressed me with very intense, very intelligent playing habits. Lets see that Holl come back again. And Aramis the RBI machine would be great too.

 
At 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zambrano is definitely weird. How do you sprain your toe?! El Toro my ass. Crazy bastard.

 
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