Tuesday, August 30

Actually Happy

white flag beer
Artist's Rendering of my Kitchen Table last night (without blue velvet)

Well, after another Cub Scout pitching effort last night, I'm actually happy. That's right, the title is no lie. I'm happy we lost, and I have a million and one reasons to find relief and (hopeful) vindication despite the ESPN-broadcast hit parade.

Last night I had two options for TV viewing: the Cubs on ESPN, or that heavily-hyped, glossy FOX production "Prison Break." It seemed like a tough call, but in reality, watching either programme felt like watching the same thing: the efforts of a group of people to escape their confinements and absolve their names of all wrongdoing.

This happened last night, not only in the form of FOX, but in the performance of our team and their resultant roster moves and transactions in the hours that followed.

(It's perhaps pertinent to note that I spent most of my evening watching the claptrap on FOX, relying on periodic channel changes to witness the carnage.)

Having made this cutesy analogy, it's about time I actually get around to talking about what I wanted to talk about.

The Cubs have, in their wisdom (said without a pinch of sarcasm), begun to fly the white flag high from the Wrigley rafters, and I couldn't be more pleased. It's a much-needed change of perspective, and it actually has a positive connotation as opposed to the negativity of our mid-August postseason chase. The fact that it slipped away much like the beer in my glass was irrelevant; it was more the hope and the prayer that they could climb back into it, and as each loss piled up, that hope turned to bitterness and vitriol (at least in my case, for I can only speak for myself, despite constant efforts to the contrary). Now, having acknowledged the reality of our season's end, we can be optimistic and positive about the direction of our team, because they've made some ballsy moves in the last few days.

So, where to begin?

- Kerry Wood taking season-ending surgery
This is a smart move, as the front office has obviously realized the outcome of our season. Hopefully the extended rest until Spring Training 2006 (he goes under the knife Wednesday morning) will enable him to rehab sufficiently and take good enough care of himself in order to come back strong in '06. That sounds ominously like a broken record, because we've harboured such hopes over the course of several post-surgery or post-injury seasons, but there's no reason to feel pessimistic about this decision.

In addition to this, he was effective as a hard-throwing 8th-Inning reliever, much like Borowski has become for his new club, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (21 IP, 0 ER for TBay). His power style was well suited to that holding relief role, but it would obviously be better all round to get him back into the starting rotation that will hopefully remain intact through next year.

- Nomar @ 3rd Base, Cedeno to become SS?
On a long-term scale, I'm not sure whether this would work, but it has been said before many times that Cedeno is the "shortstop of the future." Well now, hopefully he'll be the shortstop of the present, given the injury to Ramirez. While his condition is improving (the likelihood of him coming back after 15 days is quite high), when he's healthy again, Cedeno should still get some regular time.

I've heard talk about the Braves releasing Rafael Furcal in the off-season given the progress of Wilson Betemit. Why do I mention this? Simply because he might be available, the Cubs have been tentatively linked with him on that ambiguous "interested" scale, and he could be a good lead-off man/SS etc etc. That shouldn't happen (and probably won't), so Cedeno is the way to go.

Either way, given the departure of Hollandsworth, Dusty will be forced to play his hand (and quite rightly so, in my opinion) to give some playing time to the new guys. This quote from Dusty really pissed me off:

Baker may have a different opinion on what the fan base wants. "We owe it to ourselves and to our fans to put the best team on the field and try to win," Baker said. That suggests kids like Cedeno and Murton won't play on a regular basis.

"It's too early for me," Baker said. "I haven't been in this position in years. You still owe your best to the team and to the fans and to everybody, for now."Eventually you're going to have to start thinking about that, but right now we plan to end up the best we can. We owe it to ourselves, to the paying customers and out of respect for the game."

That attitude really angers me, because there is little to no proof that putting out guys like Neifi, Patterson and Macias on a regular basis would be any more effective than giving Murton, Cedeno, Fontenot, McClain, anyone a shot. That opinion displays his vision, and I feel it's hopelessly out-of-touch: the fans are paying to see their team develop, not repeat old/failing tricks. The fans are now coming in the hopes of seeing the Cubs of the future, and not to watch aging hands trot out and do little to improve the team.

I fully acknowledge that:
a. my opinion is horribly negative
b. I should be called out for it by a number of readers
c. it's hackneyed and I've been repeating it for ages

but still, it's the way our management makes me feel at times. It's time to acknowledge our position, something we've obviously done in dealing Lawton and Hollandsworth as well as letting Wood get fixed up (moves that have undoubtedly cleared up our LF platoon and our bullpen), and so let's not make the same mistake and call up minor-leaguers to replace them on the bench. It's poor planning and detrimental to the well-being and mindsets of our promising prospects. But I digress, and I know, my song is getting old, so I'll move on.

- Todd Walker rumours
Like Lazlo mentioned, I would not like to see this happen. While we do have Neifi, Walker should still be figuring prominently in our future plans (Neifi to a lesser degree), and if Cedeno could fill the SS gap for a period of time to get his feet underneath him, Walker and Neifi would be formidable in a rotation at 2B.

Using the following rotation:
2B - Neifi/Walker
SS - Cedeno/Neifi/Nomar

you ensure yourself the versatility of having good guys on the bench to PH or PR, while having a solid infield. Give it a shot Dusty, I'm sure you will in time.

- Aramis Ramirez' injury
This was just the footnote to our roster shuffling, and if anything, it helped give the Front Office enough clarity to see our departure from the Wild Card race, and it helped to precipate the flurry of transactions, AAA callups and designations that our team should have made. He'll be back, and he'll be fine, so there's not much more to say on this one.

- Jerome Williams loves the Walk
King Rib still has some way to go. After a promising start to his Wrigley life, he's become quite a big fan of the Bases on Balls. His control is a little shaky, but it would be reactionary to yank him from the rotation. The debacle last night was just an illustration of the problem at large; in his last 6 starts, BBQ has posted the following numbers:

1-4, 30 IP, 19 ER, 5 HR, 18 BB, 20 K

It's not terrible, but it points to a larger problem in the pitching staff at the moment: the overall lack of control.

As a team, we've thrown 17 walks in our last 5 games, which seems high to me (someone correct me if I'm wrong). I don't think it's something we should be overly concerned about, but it's just another interesting stat to use as a scapegoat for our recent play.

- Trading Todd Hollandsworth to the Braves
Ok, so I'm a little sad to see him go. Who shall I poke fun at now? (Joking)

In seriousness, he was never terrible, but the Braves have snagged him I guess to add a little more veteran experience and muscle to their youngish outfield going into the postseason. Another old head might help out their Francoeurs and their McCanns, but who knows.

It definitely presented the whitest of white flags from our Cubbies, and I'm glad his departure will pave the way for our younger guys to taste the field and develop their major league skills in a major league environment.

You can say what you want about Hollandsworth, and countless many undoubtedly will. Yes, Lazlo, I do remember his .318 performance last season (57 games) on the coattails of Sosa and co. It was his best "season" since 2001 with the Rockies, where he began the year hitting .368 in 33 games before leaving the field for good that year.

He's a typical journeyman despite not having journeyed very far: he's experienced little in the way of serious fanfare during his time in the majors (11 years), but has experienced more than his share of bad luck. The numbers, unfortunately, do not lie:

This year is the first year since 1997 that he's managed more than 105 games due to various leg injuries. The last time he did, his numbers weren't much different:

106 games
73-296 (.247), 4 HR, 31 RBI, 17 BB, 60 K
.286 OBP, .368 SLG

This season:
107 games
68-268 (.254), 5 HR, 35 RBI, 18 BB, 53 K
.301 OBP, .388 SLG

I do give him all the credit in the world for his hustling approach and his effort (at times it was his effort to make the diving grabs at Coors Field that ended up with him on the DL with a litany of injuries), and his defense was always more than you could have hoped for (Career .983 FPCT, 23 Errors in 780 games), but I am honestly happy to see him go. It paves the way for a more "new school" lineup, and one that will hopefully foster great performances like so many other teams have experienced by throwing their rookies into holes caused by injury, only to watch them flourish:

Brian McCann, C - ATL
Jeff Francoeur, OF - ATL
Robinson Cano, 2B - NYY
Ryan Howard, 1B - PHI
John Rodriguez, OF - STL
Victor Diaz, OF - NYM

to name but a few. If you count guys who had limited MLB experience last season but have seen significant playing time this year, the list expands. Regardless, I'm just flogging a dead horse at this point.

I will say this: Farewell Hollandsworth, thanks for yr efforts, and best of luck in Atlanta.

More later.

Tonight's Pitchers
LAD: RHP Brad Penny • 6-8, 3.75 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 1.13 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 9-5, 3.68 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 4.26 ERA in 2004 vs. LAD

One last message:

Dear Wolf Blitzer,

Please, stop doing the Situation Room. It's crap, there's way too much going on (as if that wasn't already true of 24-hour news networks), and you can't handle it. Improvisation isn't your strong point, and showing us German news feeds is not impressive in the slightest (especially considering that we have no idea what they're saying).



Monday, August 29

Effects the Cubs have on the Body

All of these Todd Walker trade rumours are making me gassy.

When the Cubs hang 14 runs in 1 game vs. the Marlins after only managing 19 (including 10 in one game) the previous week, I get extreme bouts of depression.

Seeing Greg Maddux get less run support than a haemorroid gives me a stomach ache.

Glendon Rusch's schizophrenic pitching outings give me migraines.

When Corey Patterson strikes out, my fists hurt from being pounded against a brick wall.

Derrek Lee's offense gives me an erection.

I'm allergic to Jose Macias.

Somehow we're on television tonight. I'll tune in from time to time in the same way I used to watch horror movies as a kid: one finger on the channel change button, so when things get too scary, I can quickly escape and remind myself it's only entertainment. Have the cyanide capsules ready -- the King Rib is taking the mound. He's up against a guy who's hasn't won since June 27, going 0-6 with a 4.32 ERA since that point. We all know what that means, LB faithful: he'll hang 7 1/3 strong innings, giving up maybe 5 hits and 1 earned run while striking out a boatload. Let's hope the Rib isn't too full to handle the challenge of a Dodger scorned.

I don't have much in the way of constructive thought to offer today, possibly the by-product of a spleen-bursting weekend and a work-filled monday. Tomorrow, I'm sure, will bring something along the lines of what you've always loved - angry rhetoric with a point.

Pitching Matchup:
LAD: RHP D.J. Houlton • 4-7, 4.86 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 0.00 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Jerome Williams • 4-6, 4.74 ERA in 2005 • 2-1, 2.75 ERA vs. LAD in career

Thursday, August 25

Rest Day

Lot of work to do today, so this will be brief. It's an off-day for the Cubbies, and pretty much an off-day for me too.


- The Cubs lost the rubber game to the Braves, 3-1. It took a bit of luck on the Braves' part, with Furcal's sharp 7th Inning groundball hit powerfully enough at Lee that he couldn't make the play. 2 runs would score, and Farnsworth reminded us what we're missing by striking out the side in the 9th for his second save of the season.

- Nomar is staying off the DL after convincing everyone he's healthy. He should be in the lineup against the Marlins tomorrow.

- A-Ram left the game in the first fucken inning with a "moderate-to-severe" left quad strain. He hit into a double play and collapsed midway through the gentle trip to 1st base. If anyone thought we might still make the Wild Card, this should put an end to that uncertainty once and for all. We seriously cannot catch a fucken break. After a good game with the Braves and an important series against the Marlins upcoming, we lose our second most potent offensive weapon and everyday quality defensive 3B. So what now? Jose Macias every fucken day on the bag. Ramirez will be reexamined with an MRI on Friday, but the prognosis does not look good.

That's it for today, unless something major comes up. I need to get cracking on work matters, not to mention listening to the cricket on Radio 4 LW in England. Let's win those Ashes, boys, beat the Aussies.

Rest of the Wild Card
Philadelphia 7, San Francisco 4
NY Mets 18, Arizona 4
San Diego 7, Houston 4
Milwaukee 6, Florida 4
Washington 5, Cincinnati 3

Philly keeps winning, Houston has slid a little, and Milwaukee has been pounding the Marlins. It's all positive (except for the Phillies' progress) given that the teams ahead of us are beating each other up, but someone has to chop down Philadelphia. They visit the Mets and Nationals and host the Astros over the next week, and they need to lose a good chunk of those games.

Wednesday, August 24

High-Fives and Look-Alives?

Burnitz finally learns the secret handshake and divine secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

A slap-dash defeat sometimes gets followed with a crushing win, and last night was no different. Against slapstick starter John Thomson, the Cubs racked up 8 runs in 5 innings on the strength of Michael Barrett (2-4, 2 RBI) and Burnitz' 4th inning 2-out grand-slam. The Braves then proceeded to change up their entire lineup, using a good chunk of their bullpen to close out the final innings of a 10-1 Cubs win.

Jerome "King Rib" did us proud, serving up almost a full rack -- 7 IP, 3 H, ER, 3 BB, 5 K // 2-4, 2B, R -- and not allowing a hit until Andruw Jones' solo HR in the 5th. Novoa and Dempster wrapped things up swiftly, and the Cubs showed that they can still play when it suits them, or when no-one's watching.

However, there are more important issues surrounding the team at the moment -- the dwindling Wild Card chase, Nomar Garciaparra, and COREY PATTERSON.

We'll get to a brief discussion of our rivals in a moment (I would check out desipio.com for some hilarious thoughts on other postseasons hopefuls not named the Chicago Cubs), but right now, Nomar is the flavour of the day.

According to Cubs.com, Nomar might be headed to the DL again shortly with a lingering back problem. First it was knees, then it was shredded genitals, and now it's back spasms. On August 12, Shitbird reliever Julian Tavarez pegged him in the back during a pinch-hit appearance, and it's kept him out of the lineup sporadically over the last 10 days. The Cubs have him listed as day-to-day, but his inability to pinch-hit means he's wasting space on our bench.

So what to do?

It all depends on yr perspective as to where the season goes from here.

We could send him to the DL and quietly bid adieu to the postseason, and maybe use the extra week before rosters expand to get Cedeno some much needed playing time in the majors. Dusty has gone on record several times regarding Cedeno, citing him as "the shortstop of the future" (sorry, Buck Rogers), but he has also said that it's tough to keep Neifi out of the lineup given how well he's playing. And given Neifi's career numbers, that might well be true.

You figure that Cedeno will get his chance when his chance comes around, although it's always baffled me about the Cubs -- our farm system is formidable, and yet we treat it like a Faberge egg: look, but don't touch. And if anyone else wants to touch it, heck, that egg goes right back in the loft in its display case for safe-keeping. We have a lot of guys who need to taste the majors, because when it comes time to really shuffle up our roster in the offseason and try and build that balance of experience and proven youth for another World Series push in 2006, we can't keep that minor league nucleus together. Someone has to be used as trade bait, and it's about time other teams saw our hand a little more. When the roster expands, sure, we'll pad the roster with a good mix of AAA and AA ballplayers, but will any of them see the field, or will they wait their turn and "pay their dues" behind the likes of Hollandsworth, Neifi, Williamson and Patterson?

That is one side of the coin, if you think that our chances are done.

If, on the other hand you feel we still have a shot, then you keep him around and do whatever you can to get him healthy. He has to justify his roster spot given his condition, and it perhaps depends on how much the front office sees Nomar in our future plans over the next couple of years. Keep him around and hope he recovers soon, but you definitely risk having a thin bench for a little while. The more people in front of Macias in the pecking order, the better, and Nomar's ailment moves Jose up a slot.

Neifi gets the regular start, and games like last night definitely help, because there's no need to make those substitutions or shuffles. Keep everyone in, and everyone stays healthy so the bench gets a night off. It definitely puzzled me to see the Braves use so much bullpen last night in supposed "damage control": just leave 1 guy out there for 3 innings or so instead of bringing everything bar the kitchen sink. Let's hope it bites them in the ass today against Prior.

But perhaps the thing that's pissing me off more than anything is Corey Patterson. This man has the entire Cubs organization figured as chumps, as if he's playing a giant Punk'd on all of them. What the fuck is he playing at?

Go back to the article I wrote about him a while back (I'll link to it here when I find it) and the fact that he has absolutely no right to be leading off or getting regular playing time.

And, since he's been called back from his minor-league time, a month that was supposed to "improve his game" and help him "find his swing", he's come back to the majors and ACTUALLY PERFORMED WORSE THAN HE WAS BEFORE HE WAS SHIPPED OFF TO IOWA. He's baseball poison at this point. His month in Iowa was defined by two fortnights of contrasting fortunes: the first 2 weeks saw him perform miserably, and a late 12-22 run boosted his average up to close to .300. Apparently the front office has a 2-week memory, and based on that "performance", they brought him back.

What has he done since coming back?

In 12 games (2 vs. CIN, 4 vs. STL, 3 vs. HOU, 3 vs. COL, 1 vs. ATL), 12 games he has started mind you, he has put up these pathetic numbers:

10-48 (.208)
2B, 3B, HR, 4 RBI
2 BB, 9 K
OBP .240, SLG .333

That is just pathetic. I know we got reamed by another Cubs site (perhaps deservably so) for hammering on his offense, and that criticism on our part came right before his demotion. Well, maybe he needs another one. It's criminal that guys like Murton are simmering back in the minors, playing the interstate Yo-Yo game, and someone like Patterson, whose plate discipline makes me want to vomit on my grandmother, continues to see regular playing time in major-league baseball.

Get rid of him, now. Anyone in that dugout who is still hopeful, as I know a lot of them still are, must be thinking the same thing. His defense is the only thing keeping him around, and one of Dusty's hardest jobs as manager must be figuring out where to put Patterson in the batting order. I honestly wonder if he's ever thought of batting his pitchers in the 8 spot, because at least they're a more difficult out than Corey "Sir Whiffalot" Patterson.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio is about the same as it has been this year, his OBP is painfully low, almost as low as his actual BA (which is just plain mind-blowing - how is that possible? How can you get hits but not get on-base?)

At .229 on the year, there are more fun stats that illustrate how fucken terrible Patterson is.

MLB Leaders - Lowest BA with 80+ Ks on the season (min. 250 ABs)

1. M. Bellhorn, 2B BOS - .216
2. S. Sosa, OF BAL - .223
3. C. Patterson, OF CHC - .229
4. J. Spivey, 2B WSH - .232
5. C. Blake, OF CLE - .244

Bellhorn's in the Minors, Sosa's suffering post-steroids, Spivey's barely seeing the field, and Blake's got a Wild Card-leading team to hide his difficulties. However, it's also worth noting that all 4 of those players have significantly higher OBP and SLG stats than Corey, and that exacerbates his season-long failures.

Alright, I'm done with him for now. But I swear Corey, I'm about 10 days away from starting an anti-fan club.

Enjoy the game today. Prior on the mound, the Wrigley breeze. I like our chances.

Today's Starters
ATL: RHP Jorge Sosa • 8-2, 2.63 ERA in 2005 • Has never faced CHC
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 9-4, 3.66 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 11.57 ERA vs. ATL in 2005

Sorry for all the negativity just then - I simply needed to purge.

Quick Look at the Wild Card

Philadelphia 10-2 San Francisco
Houston 0-2 San Diego
NY Mets 14-2 Arizona
Florida 2-11 Milwaukee
Cincinnati 6-2 Washington

Updated standings over in the right sidebar.

Tuesday, August 23

Keeping up with the Joneses

Full Contact
Tagged out at home, and another 3-game losing slide

Question of the Day
How many superb outings by Carlos Zambrano will we waste before he wants to flee Wrigley Field?

I have no idea where to begin with this one, but whatever direction it goes, my thoughts will be brief. There's no point beating a dead horse (or dead coaching staff) for our latest disappointments. Every other Cubs blog out there is in the same boat; we all have our theories and thoughts as to how this could be turned around this year or the next, and we all feel like we have a good grasp on immediate, plausible changes that could be made to the roster or the starting lineup.

Today, it's just not worth it. Inbetween watching National Geographic last night, I caught snatches of this game, and Chipper Jones single-handedly snatched a result from the Cubs last night. That, friends, Romans and countrymen, is the key to a winning team; in a tough spot with the game on the line, someone does something special. In this instance, the "special" was a pair of 2-run HRs, one in the 4th inning when El Toro seemed to be cruising, and another in the 9th of the relieving Kerry Wood. It was a dagger to the heart, and despite DLee leading off the bottom half with a single to left, 2 consecutive fielder's choice force-outs at second put an end to our rally.

This season, Zambrano has made 26 starts for the Cubs, and his record is so deceptive considering just what he's done. Sure, his temper has cost him a couple of games not to mention 4 starts giving up 5 runs or more, but overall, he's been outstanding. Say what you will, but it was his passion that LB tagged (early in the season, mind you) as being vital to the sustenance of this team. Whether or not this has happened is purely a matter of personal opinion.

He has thrown some incredible games and not been rewarded with the win. It seems almost criminal to look at these game lines and think "How on Earth is that not enough to win?" Call it the Clemens syndrome or the Maddux effect, but that trio (along with plenty of other good pitchers who don't get any offense) has suffered greatly statistically at the hands of batting ineptitude. Here are some of his starts that didn't earn him the almighty W, and some that earned him a loss:

May 03 @ MIL -- L, 4-1
7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 10 K
May 21 @ CHW -- L, 5-3
7 IP, H, 3 BB, 8 K
May 26 vs. COL -- L, 5-2
7 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
May 31 @ LAD -- W, 2-1 (10)
8 IP, H, R, 2 BB, 9 K
July 03 vs. WSH -- L, 5-4 (12)
7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
July 22 @ STL -- L, 2-1 (11)
9 IP, 3 H, ER, 12 K
August 22 vs. ATL -- L, 4-2
8 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 10 K

He has 8 starts with 8 strikeouts or more, and he's definitely a guy you want to keep happy. Keeping your stars happy begins with a win.

Zambrano is starting to peak this season now that our fortunes are on the line, and it's important that we get those 2 or 3 runs we need to win whenever he pitches. By the months, Zambrano's splits have been like the Cubs: up-and-down, up-and-down. However, when it's counted, Carlos has performed time and time again:

APRIL: 2-0, 4.31 ERA
MAY: 1-3, 2.40 ERA (How you can lose 3 of 5 games with that ERA is beyond me)
JUNE: 2-1, 5.79 ERA
JULY: 2-0, 2.11 ERA
AUGUST: 3-1, 1.35 ERA

Reflectively, the Cubs do still have hope - several of them were quoted after last night's game as still having some belief of reaching the postseason, but it will take a lot of good luck and ineptitude from several other teams ahead of us in the race. Perhaps Michael Barrett summed it up best:

"We're going to need a miracle now to stay in this thing. I believe in those... ... It's definitely frustrating, realizing how good a team we have and how we've fallen short. Whenever you fall short of expectations, it's really tough."

Zambrano also had a modicum of wisdom:

"We can't think about frustration. "We just have to keep on going. We have 1 1/2 months to go. The last month will decide it for us. Let's keep fighting."

I agree, Z, let's keep fighting, but you can't do it alone. I still think this season is done and dusted, but it's definitely one opinion about which I wouldn't mind being wrong.

Monday, August 22

Dispatches from Beyond the Wild Card

Scott Williamson turns another close game to dust

The 2005 Cubs, ladies and gentlemen, are finished. I'm calling a somewhat premature (but hopefully entertaining) end to our postseason aspirations, echoed in the mountains of Colorado with a 2-1 series defeat. Despite home run after home run on Sunday, the pitching just couldn't hold it together and we clattered to another unpalatable loss. You now have to search hard for news and views of our games; Yahoo! Sports' baseball page contains no information about the Cubs games, for those are now found under the embarrassing "More News" link. Even the Royals, with their string of failure, make the headlines on a monday morning.

With the game on the line at 6-5 Rockies in the 8th inning, Scott Williamson (1 1/3 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) served up a 3-run bomb to PH Jorge Piedra. Game over. The Cubs rallied against the lone Rox All-Star closer Brian Fuentes with 2 back-to-back jacks by D-Lee and Ramirez, but after 2 outs, a Barrett triple was in vain, and the Cubs lost 9-7.

The weekend started brightly with a strong performance by Prior, but Rusch came unglued on Saturday despite a reasonable outing (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 K) and Maddux served up 6 runs in 6 innings on Sunday.

So where does this leave us? Do we still have any chance?

The team is floundering in the midst of a largely frustrating season. Just when we gain some momentum, a key player gets hurt or goes cold and the team slides for a fortnight. The All-World performances from Derrek Lee have been a beacon for what we can achieve, and yet his efforts are being wasted with the week-in, week-out inconsistency across the rest of the roster. There are flashes, now and then; long winning streaks against tough opposition (anyone remember that run of 12-3 in late-May/early-June against the Astros, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres?) are superceded by dismal stretches of loss after loss against rivals and minnows alike (2-11 in July/August fortnight vs. Diamondbacks, Phillies, Mets and Reds). It's those moments that stick out the most.

Our schedule for the rest of the year is encouraging, to a point: while we cross paths with a number of hopefuls (Atlanta, Florida, Milwaukee and Houston x 2), we also have 7 games left against the Cardinals (3 in Busch, 4 in Wrigley). If we are to have any chance remaining, a chance that is diminishing with every passing day, we need to maintain our relative dominance against St. Louis. We're 6-3 against them this year, and if can keep up that ratio, who knows what could happen. However, the onus is on us and us alone to get us out of this mess, if such a thing is even possible. And, breaking it down, it seems all but done.

Of the 5 or 6 teams still slugging in that race, our records against them all are less-than-stellar:
(I'll include division leaders also in this list)

Atlanta: 0-4
Florida: 4-2
Washington: 1-5
Philadelphia: 2-4
Mets: 2-4
NL EAST: 9-19

Brewers: 4-6
Astros: 5-4
Cardinals: 6-3
NL CENTRAL: 15-13 vs. rivals

Padres: 4-3
NL WEST: 4-3

TOTAL: 28-35

Sorry guys, but that isn't going to cut it. When you look at it in this fashion, it paints a sorry picture. This late in the year, we're still hovering around .500, and there are less than 40 games left. Can we win 26 of our last 38 and hope that it's enough? At 6 1/2 games back from the Wild Card leader, even that might not be enough.

Just to illustrate why we're in this mess, let's look at the other Wild Card contenders against fellow NL contenders.

To clarify what this means, this next slew of stats will concern the previous teams mentioned above in games against one another.

Teams Involved: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, NY Mets, Houston, Florida, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, San Diego versus one another.

1 -- St. Louis - .583 (35-25)
2 -- Atlanta - .581 (43-31)
3 -- NY Mets - .533 (41-36)
4 -- Philadelphia - .520 (40-37)
5 -- San Diego - .500 (24-24)
6 -- Houston - .475 (28-31)
7 -- Florida - .457 (32-38)
8 -- Milwaukee - .451 (28-34)
9 -- Washington - .447 (34-42)
10 -- CUBS - .444 (28-35)

That's right folks. Out of the "Top 10" teams in the National League, the Cubs have the worst record against fellow postseason wannabes. It's a sad fact, and perhaps the most scathing statistic in favour of why the postseason is out of our grasp. When the game has mattered most, the Cubs have not lived up to expectation. That is what we deal with as Cubs fans, the overwhelming burden of expectation vs. result, and it haunts us still in 2005.

What can we expect?

It it tough to say. The Cubs' schedule and performance means that we can expect more of the same, that up-down feeling that has served as the motif of our year. A season with tension and hope as tight as Kerry Wood's arm tendons, as potent as Derrek Lee's offense, as bright-eyed as the Cubs rotation, and one more for the books. I'm not entirely without hope for our Wild Card, but it will take the kind of fiery run that only our opponents have mustered so far this year. While Houston has returned to life, the Cubs have coughed and spluttered.

I am looking forward to hopefully seeing some prospects coming up in September. Someone other than John "YoYo" Koronka - maybe Van Buren, Pie, Murton (again), Aardsma.... who knows. Expect that front office phone to be busy with all our minor league affiliates on speed dial.

I'm looking forward to the Braves series. If the Cubs want to keep their year alive, it begins again with tonight. As I've been saying with the arrival of every new series, it begins tonight.

ATL: RHP Tim Hudson • 9-7, 3.45 ERA in 2005 • Has never faced CHC
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 10-5, 3.07 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 4.26 ERA in 2004 vs. ATL

Let's see what the ESPN evening brings, although it will be competing with the National Geographic channel for my attention.

Quick run through the Headlines

A friend of mine, Foley, tipped me off to a solid article from the NYTimes about poor old Adam Greenberg. Available here (registration required), it paints a more lyrical picture of his first night in the big leagues.

Andy McPhail looks back on a season not-yet-done.

Losing streaks and unlucky breaks.

Even Dustbag thinks Korey is Krap, but he plays Koy for the Kameras.

Prior to go Rocky Mountain High?

Friday, August 19

Revenge is a dish best served at High Altitudes

The Rockies series is crucial for a number of reasons. Beginning tonight, this weekend set has the benefit of being loaded with importance and significance. Some of it the Rockies might not be aware of -- it has context, subtext, and Wild Card implications. But what do the Cubs need to do?

1. Mark Prior
This is his first game against the Rockies since that line drive by part-time OF Brad Hawpe that left him crying in the sand and left all of us holding our breath and watching another season drift away. May 27th was, in some ways, a watershed moment (if you like to find meaning in everything, which I often do). It saw our best pitcher get hurt, our team begin an 11-3 streak over the next 2 weeks, and it brought about an odd period of consistency for our tempramental ballclub. Schizophrenic as we are, it often takes a flashpoint of misery or injury to spark our team, and since having almost everyone back (Nomar, Kerry, Williamson) from the DL on August 5, we didn't win a game that entire week.

Injuries do good things for our team, oddly enough, because it forces the kind of unity that soulless teams (cough cough *Cardinals* cough cough) cannot duplicate or fake.

2. The Colorado Rockies - breaking hearts since god-knows-when
The Rockies have little to play for at this point. With the unfortunate injury to sure-first Rookie of the Year SS Clint Barmes a couple of months ago, this team has slowly deflated like the bouncy castles at the Neverland Ranch. At a catatonic 45-76 (that's .372 for those of you who love the PCT), the Rockies are now playing that oh-so-familiar role of the spoiler.

For those of you with vitriol still lingering from last September, the Cubs have almost always fallen foul of the spoiler, that lovable loser with no hope of scoring the postseason Holy Grail. Last year's Wild Card aspirations were ticking along nicely - with a final fortnight against the Mets, Reds, Braves and Pirates, things couldn't be more rosy. However, the Cubs conspired against themselves, going 6-7 (including 2-5 in the final week while the Astros boiled and bubbled into the NLDS).

This year, we're still somewhat further out from the final week yet, but there isn't that much baseball left to play. Some 50 or so games remain on the Cubs' slate, and with a .500-ish record, we need to start picking off these hapless teams one-by-one, winning series after series against these weaker teams just to have a sniff by the time September 20th rolls around. The Wild Card race is extremely hot in the NL right now, and with ESPN not even mentioning the Cubs as being a part of it, we can slack no more. If we are to have any chance (right now we're 5.5 games out, and using Yahoo! Sports' Tom Verducci as a guideline, by his estimation you can only really be 1 game out for every week left in the season, so mathematically we're on that dangerous threshold) of the postseason, our chances begin and end at Coors Field.

3. The Rest of the Race
Phillies, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Astros, Brewers - ladies and gentlemen, the 2005 Chicago Cubs Heartbreakers.

This is our competition for the rest of the year. Forget San Diego, screw San Francisco, Pittsburgh and any other cellar-dweller. It's this similarly streaky sextet that should be our focus over the coming month. And, surprise surprise, we get to play almost all of them (Mets and Phillies excluded, against who we went 2-4 and 2-4 respectively this season, which is not entirely inspiring) before the season is finished.

It could become more complicated if the Braves sag a little, as the crown of NL East is not yet in the bag. For the sake of argument, I'll lump them into this equation.

At present, despite the current standings (displayed in the right-hand column and updated daily until the end), we're about as consistent as any of them. With a 5-5 record in our last 10 games, Philadelphia, Washington and Florida are better (7-3, 6-4, 6-4), but that can change in a heartbeat. We're actually at more of an advantage that all our major Wild Card rivals are in either the NL Central or the NL East; the removal of the NL West from the equation means that statistically, given the amount of games left to play between all these teams directly, the pack will thin out substantially over the next 2 weeks or so. In fact, in the next 2 weeks, we have the following series to watch with interest:

Cubs vs. Atlanta
Cubs vs. Florida
Washington @ NY Mets
Washington @ Atlanta
Florida @ Milwaukee
Atlanta @ Milwaukee
NY Mets vs. Philadelphia
Houston vs. Milwaukee
Milwaukee vs. Atlanta

The Phillies have the best fortnight ahead, with a mini road-trip against the Pirates, Giants, Diamondbacks and Mets at large, but it's all rendered meaningless if you don't get out of Dodge with the almighty W.

So this should hopefully tide us all over until the game at 5pm ET tonight, when Prior will take on Byung-Hun Kim in the rarified air of Colorado. I really hope MVLee and Ramirez can blast a few HRs this weekend, just because it's the most hitter-friendly place this side of Road House.
D-Lee is .349 lifetime in Coors Field including 3 home runs. Against Kim, Lee is 7-18 with 2 HRs. Let's hope for pyrotechnics tonight.

Tonight's Pitchers
COL: RHP Byung-Hyun Kim • 3-9, 5.33 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 9.00 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 8-4, 3.70 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 2.70 ERA vs. COL in 2005

Wednesday, August 17

Cubs acting like Cubs

Scrapping and clawing their way through 9 solid innings on the back of Maddux, the Cubs squeezed a win from the tightly-gripped talons of Andy Pettitte and the Astros in a 4-1 game.

Houston wasted no time in getting started - a lead-off triple from Willy Taveras and a ground-out RBI for Craig Biggio in the 1st - but the Cubs weren't about to let fielder's choices dictate this game. Maddux hit a bases-loaded, 2-out RBI single in the 2nd, A-Ram doubled to score MVLee after his single/steal in the 3rd, Rammy blasted a solo jack over the short left field porch in the 6th, and Korey rounded out the scoring with an RBI single in the 8th.

Greg pitched a superb game - 7 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 5 K - and Kerry pitched a solid 8th (H, 2 K) before Dempster notched his 17th save of the year.

A less generic post to follow today on the Wild Card situation as I see it.

Starting Pitchers for Tonight
HOU: RHP Roy Oswalt • 14-9, 2.57 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 3.60 ERA vs. CHC in 2005
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 9-5, 3.17 ERA in 2005 • 0-2, 4.86 ERA vs. HOU in 2004

Corey is 12-39 lifetime against Royo with 2 home runs, and Carlos is feeling fiery of late, so look for a pitcher's duel. Or look for a high-scoring game where both starters are chased after 3 innings. Or, look for a blowout win for one side or the other. I predict the 1st option, and maybe the rough Astros run support for Oswalt will continue - how a guy can have 9 losses with an ERA around 2.50 is just mind-blowing.

Tuesday, August 16

Old Habits Die Hard / Where are they Now?

williamson and ensberg
Cubs pitchers struggle to define their pitch location, themselves

The title of today's miscellany has a double-meaning, you know, like the things people say in sitcoms for the cheap laughs. Not only "Old Habits Die Hard" the title of the Rolling Stones' latest "single", perhaps the shittiest piece of music ever composed (and written specially for Shrek II, which never compromises yr artistry one bit), but it is the motif of our schizophrenic ballclub.

Some fools among us, including yours truly, felt that a microcosm of our season could be found in this weekend's series with Satan's Redbirds -- timely offense, potent pitching, an air of unflappability. Not only did we command and hold our leads, but we showed some punch if the Cardinals got any momentum going.

Last night's game in Houston served to undo all of that, and proved once again just who the Cubs really are: a streaky team with temperamental arms, and little reason to fight back when things get tough.

Perhaps this is too harsh, but last night gives me no reason to rethink my opinions. In Glendon Rusch's necessary return to the starting rotation, he couldn't escape the 4th inning and coughed up 5 runs on 10 hits, striking out 2 and walking 4. Walks have been the bane of our pitching staff for a while now, and last night was no different: 7 free passes for the 'Stros who also managed 16 safe trips to the bases all by themselves! Nice work Houston!

Their entire starting lineup got a piece of the action:
Taveras: 4-6, 2 R
Biggio: 1-3, R
Berkman: 1-4, RBI, R
Ensberg: 4-4, HR, 3 RBI
Lane: 1-4, RBI
Everett: 2-5, HR, 2 RBI
Burke: 1-3, HR, 3 RBI
Quintero: 1-5, HR, 2 RBI
Rodriguez: 1-3, R

Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez picked up the win despite giving up 4 runs over 7 innings; Astros run support in his starts is averaging around 6 per start. Imagine what Maddux's record would be with that kind of backup!

The closest we came was in the 4th, when we pulled the score to 5-4 on Korey's triple and score on the throwing error. Matt Murton tried leadoff and hit his first major league HR, and our other scoring came on a Hot Rodd solo jack and a Barrett RBI single.

Tonight we face Pettitte and Wednesday brings Oswalt, so I'm not holding out for anything from this series.


But enough about recent woes. Have you ever stopped to wonder how recent Cubs have been doing in their new homes far away from Chicago? Wrigley has been a revolving door over the since the beginning of 2004, much like any other team, so it was only fair to take a look at all the deadweight we've shed in our quest for NL Central subjugation.

We'll start at the top and work our way down. Way down. Here's a foursome of former Cubs.

1. SAMMY SOSA - RF, Baltimore Orioles
.226, 14 HR, 44 RBI, SB
The once-jewel in the Northside crown, his career has nosedived considerably since ending steroids, video game endorsements and trips to the Navy Pier. Sosa's ghost lingers periodically over Wrigley reminding us of his once-ubiquitous presence (I hate the word ubiquitous, and I use it begrudgingly here), but Burnitz has filled the gap admirably, learning the play of the field, the wind, and outhitting Sosa in almost every category (except Ks: Sosa has 79, JB 76). I don't miss Sammy one bit, and I'm glad that Baltimore has become the new de facto MLB retirement home, pushing the Yankees and Giants for the honor of having the most old, quickly fading players in their dugout. Palmeiro and Sosa, a double-team for the ages.

2. MOISES ALOU - LF/RF, San Francisco Giants
.328, 13 HR, 43 RBI
He gets to play for Daddy now out in the Bay Area, and good luck to him. While our LF position has been harder to fill than Courtney Love's forged prescriptions, Alou was becoming a burden rather than a help. Statistically he was steadfast for the Cubbies, hitting 76 HRs and 258 RBIs during his 3 years in Chi-town, but with his age and his contract, it was time for some young blood. I found it amusing that we'd been linked with him during the trading period as a possible acquisition, but that was not to be. Alou's kinda happy in San Francisco, although he's missed some 30 games with miscellaneous injuries. Oh, and you should have caught that foul ball in 2003 (joking!)

3. KYLE FARNSWORTH - RP, Atlanta Braves
1-1, 2.53 ERA, 58 K, 20 BB, 6 SV (53 games)
After a 2-year period where he was passed around more than Houston at a wifeswap, the Farnz has finally found a home at a real contender. How he made it, I do not know, but we could sure use his fiery temperament right now on a pitching staff filled with ruddy cheeks and blank stares. Farnsworth was rewarded for his ability to live in Detroit with a first-class trip to Atlanta and a solid chance of winning the closer's chair. If he's not making the saves, he'll be more than happy to set-up in the 7th and 8th with his team actually holding a lead, as opposed to late-game innings-eating and garbage patrol.

He's been solid this season despite a trip to the DL, giving up 13 earned runs in 46 1/3 IP (as opposed to 35 ER in 6 2/3 IP in his last full year @ Wrigley). He is not the only pitcher to find success since leaving the Northside behind, I should note.

4. JOE BOROWSKI - RP, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
1-0, 2.73 ERA, 18 K, 5 BB
The Big Bearded Kahuna himself, this injury-plagued reliever returned in late-May to much fanfare, only to stifle the Cubs' success with a shit-storm of terrible pitching: 11 G, 11 IP,12 H, 8 ER, 5 HR, BB, 11 K, 6.55 ERA. That erratic eleven was enough to see him sent packing, designated for assignment and snagged by the TBay team in mid-July as a free agent.

Since then, he's undergone the kind of renovation normally reserved for TLC or HGTV makeover shows, pitching his way into Floridian hearts with 14 scoreless relief appearances for the club. His numbers are cute: 1-0, 15 1/3 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, .120 BA. Compare these with his Cubs numbers this year, and you'll be baffled as to his turnaround. Thanks, Joe, for saving your best for someone else. We do appreciate the 33 saves in 2003, and the 8.02 ERA in 2004, but it's good you've found a good home somewhere else in the dumpy confines of Tropicana Field (translation: it's not good that you've found a good home somewhere else.)

Tonight's Pitchers

CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 9-9, 4.54 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 4.61 ERA vs. HOU in 2005
HOU: LHP Andy Pettitte • 10-8, 2.62 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 8.44 ERA vs. CHC in career

I joined the Make-A-Wish Foundation and asked for a win tonight. Fingers crossed.

Astros hitters vs. Maddux:
Brad Ausmus: 14-38
Craig Biggio: 33-113
Jose Vizcaino is 4-32

Cubs hitters vs. Pettitte:
Michael Barrett: 1-4
Jeromy Burnitz: 1-8
Matt Lawton: 13-48
Corey Patterson: 3-4
Aramis Ramirez: 2-4
Nomar Garciaparra: 13-39 (12-35 since returning from the DL)

*Sigh* these numbers are so meaningless.

Dusty Quote of the Day

"At this point, you've just got to beat everybody."
- commenting on the Wild Card race

Friday, August 12

A Sign of Life

Mulder and Diaz
Well, you can't win them all, in our case you can win 73 though.

While I'm not about to drain my bank account and bet my life savings on the flea-bitten horse at the back of the pack, there is no doubt that yesterday was a big win. Significant? Perhaps. It shows that we can have the measure of the Cardinals and beat them, although when you lose games to the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Reds, beating the NL's best team a couple of time doesn't hold as much weight.

Regardless, where some players have found little comfort at the plate recently, others found their stroke again. Derrek Lee clubbed two home runs, one against Mark "Fox" Mulder, the other against Brad "Corky" Thompson. Ramirez snagged a couple of RBIs, and Corey did his best "fuck you LB" impression, weighing in with a 3-4 night, an RBI, 2 R and a walk! Holy shit, he might make the cereal box after all!

The important thing to remember is that this game could have turned out very differently. Let's not forget that the Cardinals opened the scoring with 1 out in the 1st, as Pudgels slapped a 2-run home run into deep center field. Normally, when this phenomenon occurs, the Cubs curl up into submission like Rick Moranis, preferring to wave the white flag immediately rather than fighting back. Yesterday, the Cubbies had some punch, and they rode Mulder out of the game after 4 shitty innings. Not bad from a man who hadn't lost since June 22.

Conversely, the bedraggled and hungover-looking Greg Maddux, a man whose statistics had not seen the sweet nectar of W since July 10, pitched a wobbly but steadfast complete game for the win, allowing 12 hits and 4 runs while striking out 5 and issuing no free passes. It was good for his confidence and for the team, but I would have loved to see our bullpen try and get through those last 3 innings. Greg did his homework and pitched a solid game, needing 114 pitches (87 strikes) to get through the Missouri Madams.

So what, if anything, did this game highlight, and what, if anything, can we predict about where things go from here? Also, as a follow-up question: how wrong will I ultimately be on both counts?

1. Our hitters are in fact alive.
The Cubs put up 16 hits against the miserable triplets of Mulder, Thompson and Eldred. Four doubles, 2 home runs, and 4 2-out RBIs. The 4th Inning was the turning point -- with 2 uneventful outs, Macias and Neifi notched singles before Lee hit his first HR. It's moments like that, making something out of nothing, that can make or break a ballclub, and the Cubs worked a nip of magic to forcibly wrest the game from the Cardinals' grasp.

2. Maddux has still got some gas in the tank.
I've seen many column inches in various "publications" crying about Maddux's degeneration (as if he'd just bought a condo at Del Boca Vista) and that he should consider riding gracefully into the sunset in search of cheap slots and early bird Salisbury Steak.

Before yesterday, he hadn't won in a month, but he was as much a victim of his miserly offense than his shaky control. In those 5 starts, Mad Dog put up the following numbers:

32 IP, 34 H, 15 ER, 6 BB, 19 K

In fact, to further illustrate my point, here are the game-by-game lines:

Jul. 16 vs. PIT
8 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, BB, 6 K
Jul. 21 @ CIN
5 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 4 K
Jul. 26 vs. SF
8 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Jul. 31 vs. ARI
4 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, BB, K
Aug.6 @ NYM
7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

Those are not, with the exception of the Diamondbacks game, bad lines at all. And Maddux deserves blame for giving up 2 runs in 8 innings against the Giants? I defy Randy Johnson or Schilling or Pedro or whoever else to do better. If yr team can't score 2 or 3 runs in a game, no blame should fall on the pitcher. Maddux is our best right now given the injuries and blah blah blah, and if he gets attacked as a result of our losing streak, then no-one is safe.

3. Corey Patterson and Jose Macias are not "The Answer."
Give me some credit for still finding a place to sneak criticism of this duo into every post. In fact, I'll try and make it my mission, so who knows. Regardless, sure sure Corey went 3-4 and Jose went 2-5 with a run and Corey walked once and knocked in a run and bfqqfq;ufibfpqsfjbpiuf IT DOESN'T MATTER. Great, they achieved these god-like feats in an 8-run win, but let's see them do it in the bottom of the 9th, down by 1 with men on 2nd and 3rd. Maybe this is being too harsh, but when yr kicking the shit out of a team for 9 innings, everyone eventually gets a piece. Even Nomar got a little when the Redbirds' tails started to sag a little, so let's not get out the champagne and start rebuilding out Pattercias shrines again.

It'll take more than 5 hits in a blowout win to convince me that either of them are capable of doing the everyday job.

Tonight's Pitchers:
STL: RHP Jason Marquis • 9-10, 4.24 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 3.32 ERA vs. CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 8-5, 3.30 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 1.02 ERA vs. STL in 2005

I'm buying this one on MLB.TV. I love watching the Big Z take on the Cardinals. You never know what yr getting from him on any given day: 3 disappointing innings, a complete game shutout, a shirt-tearing ejection for fighting with the reserve umpire - there's just no telling. In previous starts he's faced Carpenter and eclipsed him like Fred Durst obscured his backing group, and the Cards have learned their lesson. Instead, a somewhat timid sacrificial offering for the hungry Bull is the competent, middle-of-the-road Marquis. Not known for his mound pyrotechnics, Marquis represents the Cardinals to a tee: emotionless, calm, reserved, even-handed and plain.

Zambrano thrives off the big occasions, so maybe this is a shrewd move on LaRussa's part not to put his ace against the Cubs' ace where he can prove himself. Having said that, I'll never give LaRussa credit for anything, so I prefer to think he's scared. I'm thinking another Cubs win, and it might be a close one. I won't expect Corey to get the game-winning, 2-out RBI single.

Perhaps more during the game later, but in the meantime, anyone remember the intimate Red Sox picture I posted a while back? It showed a rare glimpse into the inner tenderness that Manny and Ortiz, Beantown's Best, share with one another. However, the Yankees will be the Yankees, and their stars Derek Jeter and Sheffield had to try and one-up their New England rivals. Which couple has more love? Which pair has the Cialis difference? Whose loving dream reigns supreme? You decide.

Boston's Entry in the Tenderness Sweepstakes
Red Sox Hug

New York's counterpoint
jeter sheffield

Thursday, August 11

I hate the Cardinals

This is not a particularly revolutionary line of thinking in my current Cubs-coddling company, but there is a trio of things pissing me off lately (most of all our hapless ballclub) and St. Louis is top-of-the-list. But perhaps not for the conventional reasons.

1. I hate the way the Cardinals play.
They can adapt to just about anything, and that versatility pisses me off. I like my baseball teams like I like my actors - one-trick ponies capable of nailing down a style and a role that becomes their forte.

Robert De Niro will always be the irked and yet charming criminal/Mobster with a sudden tendency to violence or anger, not the security guard who is recovering from a stroke and who is forced to live next door to Philip Seymour Hoffman's cross-dressing singer. Nor is he Frankenstein, the Priest or the Archbishop of Peru (he's done them all, not especially well. Seriously, check them out.)

I hate seeing actors referred to as "versatile", and watching the Cardinals, that word has taken on an even more nauseating tone.

I have counted at least 5 occasions over the last month where the Cardinals have been scoring runs with the suicide squeeze. I hate that play, hate it. I hate seeing ickle David Eckstein scampering home from third like a paper-delivering Boston Terrier or So Taguchi wielding his bat like it's a cotton swab or guitar, parallel with the ground and prepped to "lay one down".

Conversely, I loathe watching them switch gears and become the big-swinging, BBQ-filled hit parade, slamming home runs and scoring boatloads of runs like they're the video-game team you wished you could control (9 wins scoring 7 or more runs in the last month, 1 loss scoring at least that many).

I hate their flexible, injury-absent pitching rotation, their reliable bullpen, their clean defense (38 errors in 114 games, compared to the Cubs' 77 in 114), their bench depth in the face of injuries to Rolen, Sanders and Edmonds this season, and just about everything else.

Like I said, I know this is not so revolutionary, but a good old-fashioned Drill Sergeant-style rant was long overdue.

2. What is going on with our team?
Perhaps this should have been top of the list, but the situation has transcended despair in favour of the much-more painful woe.

Based on current form, we are the second worst team in baseball. With a season-high 8-game losing streak, going 1-9 in our last 10 games, the only team with more to cry about currently is the Kansas City Royals.

A quick note about the KC Royalty: (all Stats are Team Statistics)
BA: .261 (T-21st in MLB; Cubs are T-9th with .270)
HR: 91 (28th; Cubs are 6th with 139)
Hits: 998 (25th; Cubs are 7th with 1065)

ERA: 5.56 (29th; Cubs are 18th with 4.39)
K: 661 (T-24th; Cubs are 1st with 876)

What does all this translate to? WE SHOULD HAVE NO COMPARISON WITH THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS. We outhit them, outbat them, outscore them, outpitch them, and yet we find ourselves aligned in current form. While the Royals have lost 12 straight, we have lost 8 in a row and there are currently no signs that point to anything different in the foreseeable future. With the Cardinals in town for a 4-game extravaganza, will this abhorrent run of form continue?

3. Corey Patterson
Why are you back? What are you doing back from Iowa so soon?

Fair enough, so you went 12-22 in your last few games to lift that tepid average from .217 to .297. You can still hit the solo Home Run better than anyone around, and yet your strikeout totals continue to astound. Not even the finest specialist leadoff coaches could help, as you constantly swung at every pitch regardless of location. 86 Ks in 85 MLB games this year is proof-positive that you will not be seeing the front of a Wheaties box anytime soon.

So we called you back only given the elbow woes of Hairston (our new CF, thank you very much, and I hope you don't get too comfortable because when he comes back from the DL, I hope to see you go back down the highway to AAA), and you promptly celebrated with an 0-3 performance and 2 Ks against ERIC MILTON, the Cincinnati Red HR fodder, a man managing only 90 Ks and a 6.48 ERA in 140 1/3 IP this season.

Whether you lead-off, bat second or prop up the lower-order, it doesn't matter. Once a K man, always a K man. It would be excusable if you could bat like Adam Dunn, Richie Sexson and Pat Burrell (122 K, 122 K, 112 K respectively this year), but you don't. In fact, out of the top 50 K Kings in the major leagues, you have the ignominy of owning the lowest BA of everyone, a paltry .231. The only funny thing about this fact is that the next worst BA in the Top 50 belongs to everyone's favourite Wrigley ghost, Sammy Sosa.

So, to summarize, f*ck off back to the minors. Please.

4. Kerry Wood
The Kerry Prankster himself, Wood's career has seen more missed chances than the Roxbury guys, Steve and Doug Butabi.

After Dusty went on record as saying Kerry might replace Rich "Walk n' Talk" Hill in the rotation, it's now been revealed that this will not happen. Instead, he will remain the late-inning damage-controller, as our team doctors don't want to risk further injuries to him this season. If indeed this season is well and truly over, he might take the early shower and get his surgery soon, so he can have plenty of rehab for another frustrating year in 2006.

I feel bad for him, more than anything. Tabbed by everyone and their uncle to be a future All-Star and regular Cy Young contender, Wood's career stats fall more closely in line with Chan Ho Park than Nolan Ryan.


Before I get back to work, one more parting shot before the Starters for tonight.

Taken from "Cubs Notes" on Cubs.com:

Taking care of business:
Cubs second baseman Todd Walker has said that if there is a lack of effort, the players would take care of it. Baker was asked if the Cubs police themselves.
"They police themselves, but they don't police themselves the way we used to police ourselves," Baker said.
And what did Baker's boys do?
"We used to jack guys up," he said, which means a physical confrontation.
Is there an effective way to do so?
"Probably not," Baker said.

Tonight's Go-Getters:
STL: LHP Mark Mulder • 13-5, 3.79 ERA in 2005 • Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 8-9, 4.57 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 4.58 ERA vs. STL in 2004

D-Lee might get his game back on-track tonight: he's 7-7 (all 1Bs) against Mulder for his career.

The Player-by-Player Massacre will begin on Monday, with plenty more rambling between now and then. So for now, comment away and tell me how wrong I am.

Wednesday, August 10

Mongols in the Outfield

Another grim day in Cubs lore. Another heavy defeat to a miserable Reds team, and we have several people to thank.

Rich Hill -- no me gusta, Richie, no me gusta. 3 turgid innings, 4 hits and 4 walks. Failing to register an out in the 4th, his pitching ineptitude paved the way for a 7-run inning that put us all to bed.

Murton, Patterson, Burnitz-on -- the trio manning the vast Wrigley expanse batted an irresponsible 0-11 today, grounding into a double-play, striking out three times, and generally reminding us why we're in this mess. Corey celebrated his quiet return to the major leagues with 2 strikeouts, wasting no time in getting back on his abyssmal OBP pace for the season. Dusty's right, Corey is ready for the majors.

Awful awful awful. I have nothing more to say on this issue. Well actually I do, but it's waiting until tomorrow morning, when I lift the Cubs yoke back on my shoulders for some good old-fashioned acid-spitting. Part I is coming tomorrow given my book stuff (and CBT -- this book will not be available in yr neck of the woods for a while, which I'll explain) and whatnot, so in the meantime, do something other than despair tonight. Read a book, check out some websites, throw a ball around in the park. Heck, if you do it in Chicago, maybe you'll get to fill a roster spot sometime soon. I can't wait for the penny to drop in the team front-office, as we'll get to see a big-old minor league call-up jamboree on the Wrigley grass.

Tuesday, August 9


The anger will spill over the next 3 days, with Pt. 1: The Regulars, coming tomorrow. Other posts might come today, mainly dealing with the here-and-now and how the Cubs are looking deader than James Dean.

It's frustrating to watch us get clearly outplayed by teams that are clearly not that much better than us, to see it on television all week, and to know that we've gone from having our destiny in our own hands to a much weaker position whereby we're going to have to rely on the shortcomings of all our opponents in order to have any chance whatsoever. Gah, I need to get to work, and apologies for the sporadic posts - my first book goes to print tomorrow (it's not as exciting as it sounds, but it's still a fact nonetheless) and it's taking up a lot of my time. However, my mother (and countless mothers before her) once said 'if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," so is it any wonder that LB has been oft-silent?

The Morning-After Vitriol
Pt. 1: The Regulars
Pt. 2: The Pitching "Staff:
Pt. 3: The Bench, the Coach, The GM

In a related note, where have my LB brethren gone?

Unleash the Vitriol

If I were running a Brewers blog or a Mets blog or a Phillies blog or even a Reds blog, I would be pretty fucken happy right now. After all, all of those teams have profited greatly from the spiralling, gunpowder-and-soap joke that is currently the Chicago Cubs. While three of those teams have no doubt received a boost in the Wild Card battle, Cincinnati just has something to smile about. After all, it's not every day that yr 3rd starter, a man with a CAREER 5.50-ish ERA will throw 7 scoreless innings despite walking 5 batters.

So where do I begin? This team is fucking awful. Awful. It's part of that post-All Star Break pattern that sometimes befalls us but always dismays us. We're 1-6 in the month of August, and we're showing no evidence of a turnaround. Everyone, I repeat EVERYONE, on the roster is to blame for this, and I'll get to them later. There are more pressing matters on hand.

Dusty Baker.

I was screaming and frothing at my television set on Sunday night when the nationally-televised Cubs-Mets game kicked off. First, our lineup. A starting Outfield consisting of TWO LEFT-FIELDERS AND A UTILITY INFIELDER. They allowed a run to score FROM FIRST on a SINGLE TO RIGHT-CENTER FIELD. Macias stumbled slowly to field the ball like Johnny Five on a scotch-fuelled rampage. Hollandsworth did his best Weekend at Bernie's impression, managing to be beaten to the ball by Jose, and the runner kept on running. That is fucking inexcusable. Inexcusable. There is no proof on Earth that such a play should be possible. But that's the coaching wisdom of Dusty - go with your beloved ones and fuck the rest.

I don't know what he sees in Macias and Hollandsworth that allows them to find their way into the Cubs starting lineup on a regular basis. Macias, a supposed IF option with speed, never beats out double plays. EVER. Hollandsworth grounded into at least one that I could count on Sunday night, while Matt "I am hitting .400 in the major leagues so far" Murton and Jeromy "I'm the guy you got to replace Sosa" Burnitz were busy getting manicures from Jerry Hairston Jr. It's pathetic, and I honestly don't care what bullshit Dusty has to say in interviews, but the lack of instincts and effort should push a great deal of our 25-man roster into minor league oblivion. It's all words, Dusty, because no matter what justification comes out of yr mouth, it never ever gets backed up on the field. The sum does not equal the hot air of its parts.

Our team is playing with less passion that I thought possible. Even in my wildest nightmares, I'd imagine the team trying somewhat to right their 1-6 wrongs, but frequently the highlights consist of powerless groundouts and aloof, indifferent fielding.

Barrett's gaffe last week was just a small part of that. Three times in that game, including some of our most "veteran" and "seasoned" pitchers, failed to back up at first on ground balls in that zone. 3 outs became 3 infield singles, and runs were scored from there.

So now it comes to the individuals themselves. No hiding here, boys, no hiding.

Friday, August 5

The Three Horsemen of the Apologist

To briefly touch last night's game, well, it was over in the 1st Inning. Abreu's grand slam with 0 outs put the Phillies ahead, and despite 2 Cubs rallies (1, bringing the Cubs to 4-2 in the 4th, 2, bringing the Cubs to 5-4 in the 5th), they could not get back all the way. Todd Pratt and Utley hit solo HRs for the Phillies, Neifi went 3-4 with an RBI, and E-Ram bagged another two RBIs in the loss. Prior took the loss -- 4 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 7 K -- and the bullpen pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

So, moving on, we find ourselves in Queens and Shea Stadium for a weekend series with the Mets. This, in normal circumstances, might just be another banal set of matches lost amidst the hubbub of close division races. However, it's important for one reason (well, make it three): the triumphant return of three DL'ed Cubbies to the active roster.

Kerry Wood
Nomar Garciaparra
Scott Williamson

are these the missing links between the Cubs and a sustained record above .500?

I, for one, am excited. I can't wait to see our starting lineup in the New York sunshine. Nomar's return not only brings another bat to the lineup, but adds another dimension of leadership to a team that desperately needs its icons. Neifi was Nomar's equal defensively, and it's good to know there will be no dropoff in that department.

Kerry has a lot to prove. He's struggled, an enigma on a roster of reliables, a mystery in a rotation of bedrock.

Williamson was always steady -- the former Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox pitcher has enjoyed a solid career, and one that resumes on Friday night in Queens.

269 G, 10 GS
371 1/3 IP
25-24, 55 SV, 2.98 ERA
208 BB, 429 K

Picked up on the cheap from Boston given his arm injury, Williamson will provide stablity to a bullpen that has slowly turned itself around over the last week. It is a small augmentation on paper, but having a set-up man for Dempster (or for Wood, as initial reports suggest he could close) is vital. You can never have too many late-inning options. It's worked so far for the White Sox (Marte, Hermanson, Vizcaino, Cotts), the Nationals (Cordero, Majewski, Ayala) and the Athletics (Duchscherer, Street, Calero) and it can work for us too.

However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Jerry Hairston Jr. left the game on Wednesday while making a diving catch, and MRIs have revealed a torn ulnar ligament in his elbow. He should miss 10 days to 2 weeks, and will most likely visit the DL in the meantime. Gah, we can't catch a break!

However, let's see how it goes. I'm busy with work today so further analysis will have to wait, but I'll be watching tonight as the Cubs face off against the New York Mets. There is still some fun to be had today, as the Great Who Will Be Replaced On The 25-Man Roster While All 3 Stars Get Activated Sweepstakes. Place yr bets: who will take the chop as the Horsemen return?

Tonight's Pitchers
CHC: LHP Rich Hill • 0-0, 3.78 ERA in 2005 • Has not faced NYM in 2005
NYM: LHP Tom Glavine • 7-9, 4.50 ERA in 2005 • Has not faced CHC in 2005

Thursday, August 4

Hands up! The Cubs find new and exciting ways to lose

Hands up if you love to see bizarre, walk-off, game-ending plays that haven't occurred since 2000?

Well, if your hand is currently waving in the air, you're in luck! Michael Barrett's strange miscue in the 9th inning sent the Cubs to their 53rd defeat of the season, 4-3 against the Phillies.

Phillies and Cubs, Rollins
Wuertz watches Rollins make his move.

After a reasonably tepid game, one that saw the Phillies jump out to an uneventful 3-0 lead in the 3rd and one tied by the Cubs in the 7th on a 2-RBI PH Hollandsworth double (a ball Abreu could have caught), this game went right down to the wire. Wagner pitched a perfect top half of the inning, and it fell to Mike "Fuck-up" Remlinger to keep the ship steady as we sailed gently towards extra innings or, as Michael Kay of YES would say, "bonus cantos." Indeed.

In true aging lefty fashion Rem coughed up a lead-off double to the pesky Jimmy Rollins. He induced the groundout from Kenny "Infant" Lofton that moved Rollins across to third, and then intentionally walked the oh-so-dangerous Chase "Dick Dastardly and" Utley and Bobby ".271 BA, 4 RBI since the All-Star Break" Abreu.

Next up, Pat Burrell.

With a full count, Burrell struck out swinging on a toe-height sinker that Barrett couldn't handle. Brilliantly, although probably unbeknownst to that lunkhead PB, he took off casually for first, and even though the bases were loaded, Barrett scrambled to recover the ball and, temporarily blinded by the bright lights of the big East Coast city, or perhaps momentarily distracted by the vendor's call for Cracker Jacks and Dunce Caps, Barrett threw to third. Rollins was 20 feet from home by this point, thinking the ball went further than it did, and instead of holding it, Barrett tossed it to an incredulous E-Ram, allowing Rollins to skip home for ice cream and cookies.

For those historians of you following at home, the official scoring was "P Burrell struck out, J Rollins scored on passed ball", the first time such a thing has happened since 2000.

Great stuff.

King Rib pitched reasonably well, going 4 innings (his PH Macias opened the Cubs scoring with a Sac Fly), allowing 5 hits and 2 ER while striking out 1. Why Dusty pulled him so soon, I do not know - perhaps he reckoned that the 3-0 hole he was in might be too big to climb out of? Thankfully, Rusch has been reading LB again and straightened up his act, pitching extremely well against a punchless Phillies order, as did the rest of the bullpen (excluding "The Garbageman" Remlinger).

Rusch, Ohman, Novoa and Wuertz tossed 4 1/3 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 8 K. Rusch threw 2 innings and struck out 5 batters faced. Five strikeouts! That's positively Santana-esque!

Lawton picked up another hit (he's 3-9 with a run scored in Cubbie blue - Gerut went 2-4 with an RBI in his Pirates deboo), while the more interesting element is Lee's slow (and quiet) decline. While it's unreasonable to expect the man to bat .380 all season long, he's been gently coming back down to Earth, going 8-36, 2B, 2 RBI, 4 R, 10 BB, 7 K in his last 10 games, dropping his average from .367 down to .359. Since the All-Star Break, Lee has suffered slightly less than Abreu: .275 (22-80), 5 HR, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 10 K. His hot streak might be slowly winding down, but there are more than enough sparkplugs in the rest of the lineup to compensate.

However, I'm done with talking about last night. I'm going to take a trip in the old time machine to yesterday, and Hypo's animated reverie about the lineup. I'm also going to take a trip back to my initial stance on this and say that the lineup still sucks. I'm also going to agree with him, but maybe for different reasons. But why? Let me grab my safety goggles and bunsen burner and get to work.

Well, partly inspired by something off-colour on Desipio, the lineup must change. We all know Dusty's fondness of the right-left-right-left lineup, partly because the man loves patterns (especially those Magic Eye posters, you know, the one with the sailboat?), but our lineup really is an opponent's wet dream.

Take a look -
Hairston Jr
Rod, Tod, this is God
Catchy Barrett

It seems reasonable, but it just doesn't work. Take the St. Louis game last week. Lee went 0-1 with 4 walks. Why? Well, because in situations with runners on bases, the RedBirds were more than happy to give Lee his free pass in exchange for the strikeout Eden that is Jeromy Burnitz (69-44 K-to-BB, BA .268). Pitch around Lee, the chewy, crunchy outer shell, in order to get to the creamy interior. Pitch around E-Ram to get to Walker, or pitch around Walker to get to Neifi (OBP .286, BA .263, more like we expected over the course of a season).

There are too many situations in the batting order for an opposing pitcher to give out free passes like it's the last day of school, or a live taping of "Later with Carson Daly".

Given that the Cubs are less than regular visitors to the bases themselves, it either makes for an easy double play with a guy like Burnitz or Neifi at the plate, or any other kind of out that leaves a runner on base.

Don't let Lee lose out on his possible Triple Crown by giving the other team more reasons to pitch around him than pitch to him. Shoving Ramirez right behind him gives that schmuck on the mound no choice but to suck it up, take it like a man, and pitch to Lee. If you walk him, you should be punished with a Aramis line-drive double or HR instead of a soft Burnitz fly-out to shallow center field. Even looking at the two, you can see why. Burnitz looks like a feather that escaped the pillow, while Aramis looks like the mattress. It's no difficult choice, Dusty.

Similarly with Walker. He's a patient hitter, willing to wait for a hittable pitch (Corey, watch and learn) or quite happy to draw the walk. His OBP of .347 backs up this observation. However, at 6, what good does a walk do when you have Neifi "I hit into as many DPs as I turn in the field" Perez or Michael "I'm being wasted at 8, but JT will address this in a minute" Barrett?

It makes no sense. With Lawton being a good contact hitter and Walker showing such plate discipline, stacking them will have that lump-in-your-throat effect on any opposing pitcher. If Lawton gets on and Walker walks, do you pitch around Lee and give Ramirez a bases-loaded situation, or do you take yr punishment like a man and let Lee have the RBI chance? There's no escape.

With Dusty's lefty-righty-lefty-righty-loosey-goosey approach, he inadvertently ends up with a lineup that goes: strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak. It's no wonder we leave so many runners on base.

Barrett, similarly to E-Ram and Walker, is a man who can get on base. A .331 OBP, a .269 BA, and batting .301 in July can attest to that. However, putting him right in front of the pitcher means that he will almost certainly end up out at second or stuck on base when the pitcher fails to get a hit. Yes, Hypo, I know we do have some of the better hitting pitchers in the league right now, but if we're looking to that for help in the run-scoring department, surely there's something we can do elsewhere in the lineup to make things happen.

I would like to see us try this sort of lineup:
Hairston Jr

When Nomar comes back in one day, this will all change of course, so perhaps:

Hairston Jr

Other teams stack their lineup: the Cardinals bat their weakest in the lowest spots (J. Gall LF, A. Nunez 3B, M. Mahoney C in 6-7-8 last night), as do most other teams. Dusty is not being clever by "saving" a good batter to sneak them in the 8 spot and hoping no-one notices. He's jeopardizing our run-scoring abilities and opportunities by not letting the good hitters hit in RBI situations.


Today, another Phillies/Cubs extravaganza.

Starting Pitchers:
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 7-3, 3.26 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 1.13 ERA in 2005 vs. PHI
PHI: RHP Brett Myers • 9-5, 3.21 ERA in 2005 • 0-1, 2.25 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC

Two respective aces take the mound. I'd pick Prior in this one, although Myers is capable of magic too. While striking out 135 in 140 IP this year, he's also coughed up an Eric Milton-esque 18 HRs, and Citizens Bank Park is a hitter's delight. Let's see some long-ball pyrotechnics and a Cubs series win.

These are the important series: with back-to-backs against Philly and the NY Mets squadron, some of our biggest Wild Card rivals, a series win here could turn into an end-of-season tiebreaker. WE NEED TO MAKE IT HAPPEN TODAY AND THIS WEEKEND. I don't think I can say it much more succinctly than that. Maybe Gore Vidal could find a more erudite way of phrasing it, but I doubt it.

Interesting Stat to Back up My Point of the Day:
Derrek Lee has received 2 intentional walks in a single game on 3 separate occasions this season.

Thanks for reading all of this while bored at work, and feel free to comment until yr Cubbie blue in the face.

Wednesday, August 3

Well let me tell you what I think...

And I will. Firstly, I apologize for being one of the creators of this blog and not contributing my thoughts more often. Or maybe you are thanking me for that. At any rate, I don't have the same amount of free time as our apparently bedridden friend JT, left to his own devices chugging Balantine's and Bukowski all day long.

OK, so here is my beef with the Cubs lately. The batting order(s). If you've read before you know how much I love Dusty Baker, so I won't go into praising him here, just let it be known that he has my respect and appreciation as our club's manager. That being said, why the hell is Burnitz protecting Lee in the lineup??? I've had this question floating around in my head for a little while now, and I actually attended the Phillies/Cubs game tonight and got to witness the results firsthand.

I know Dusty likes the lefty-righty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty-lefty thing he gets from the Lawton-Hairston Jr-Lee-Burnitz-Ramirez-Walker-Perez order. I also know they've been trying to convert Burnitz into more of a contact hitter since he's been with the Cubs, and I am exceedingly happy with his numbers so far this year. But he's put up most of the positive numbers when he was batting behind Ramirez, not in front of him. Ramirez has been (both this year and last) one of the most clutch hitters the Cubs have had on their squad, so if teams are going to intentionally walk Lee or throw him pitches he can't successfully hit, then make them pay for it by facing Ram-Ram next!

Case in point, the game I saw tonight: After Lawton got on base in the 8th and was sacrificed to 2nd, the Phils intentionally walked Lee. Burnitz then drew a walk to load the bases (which I know doesn't exactly make my point but...) and Ramirez was the one who came through in the clutch with a single to left that scored the only two runs for the Cubs of the night. Then in the 9th, we had men on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs and the Phils once again intentionally walked Lee. So Burnitz, with the bases juiced and 2 outs, promptly struck out. I love Burny and I'm not knocking him, and maybe Ramirez would have whiffed too, but at the beginning of the at-bat I found myself wishing that it was Ramirez up, and not Burnitz.

On to point tsvi. Now that we've attained a lead-off man in Lawton, why move Hot-Rod Walker to the 6 spot? Walker is a great veteran hitter who has always hit well towards the top of a lineup. So why move him to 6 in favor of Hairston Jr?

So for one more moment on my soapbox, this is what the better part of my lineup would look like: Lawton, Walker, Lee, Ramirez, Burnitz, Hairston, Perez (As of this coming Friday I would put Nomah at the 3 spot and move everyone else down one). And look -- you still have somewhat decent alternation in lefty-lefty-righty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty. What do ya'all think? Lend me your thoughts on this one.

Either way, Zambino had his A-stuff tonight, as he has had for a while now, and would have pitched the 9th inning, too, if his toe wasn't bothering him. Man it was great to watch him pitch...

So regardless of the batting order, the Cubs pulled out the win tonight, and I was as happy as the authors of the Puberty Press at the All Good Festival to be there (yeah, look up that reference, I DARE ya! Eat it, JT!). Now, on to MY bottle of Balantine's!!!

Tuesday, August 2

Some assorted Thoughts and Rancour

1. Rafael Palmeiro is a really big jackass.

Sorry Kid Havana, I did like the style of play over yr career, not to mention the passion with which you attacked the whole Steroids Congress shenanigans. Compared to Sosa (who sat blithely behind his translator), and the teary, pathetic McGwire (who was so moved to tears he could only plead the 5th in his speech), you really showed a roomful of politicians and a nation full of believers that maybe we shouldn't be so cynical. Fingers waving, mustache ruffling, you gave the speech all 5 ballplayers should have given. Sure, you did become a Viagra spokesman, like Bob Dole before you, but the acclaim and accomplishments you reached in yr career have now become a little less glossy. And that kind of fall-from-grace really pisses me off.

Normally, I enjoy falls from grace. The two Coreys, Messrs. Feldman and Haim, C. Thomas Howell, Ice-T, Paula Poundstone (although I wouldn't call where she fell from "grace" necessarily), Macaulay Culkin, Brady Anderson, Lars Ullrich (that f*ck), the Spice Girls, Sting (post-Police), New Coke, Jerry Bruckheimer, Newt Gingrich..... the list goes on.

Palmeiro's, however, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Selig assured the country that his testing policies would work, and now they've snagged perhaps the biggest fish of all. Maybe if Mark McGuff would just 'fess up, maybe Raffy could still get on with his career. But until then, RP is the biggest stain on baseball. Kiss goodbye to that first-ballot HOF selection - you might still make it yet, but it'll take some time (or further steroid-outed players).

2. I'm still a touch skeptical about our lineup.

Yesterday (or the day before) I was blindly optimistic, like Bukowski at Oktoberfest. However, the trade is sinking in, and while it was arguably the most significant move of the trading period thanks to tight-ass GMs still clinging to delusions of the postseason (San Francisco -- a full Bonds-less year and a shitty season so far doth not a Wild Card make), it still leaves us with a few holes that have to be filled, and in-house at that.

Sorry to anyone who thinks otherwise (I'll get to this in a minute), but Corey Patterson's staying down for a while. This means that unless we do snare Damon as a Free Agent, a rumor I've bathed in since first hearing it, the other 3 OFs we use regularly will have to form one super-player. Murton, Hairston Jr, Hollandsworth -- fight to the death.

Honestly, that's not as much of a concern as our bullpen. Sure, I know, we have K-Err-y Wood and Scott "Tommy John Surgery" Williamson coming back, but that still doesn't address the problem. Over the last month, the bullpen has, for the most part, not been as tight as they were over the first 2 months or so.

Last 7 Days:
18 IP, 23 H, 14 ER, 14 BB, 24 K

Last 30 Days:
68 2/3 IP, 72 H, 44 ER, 44 BB, 64 K

That has to change. Currently, we have a reasonable mix in the 'pen:
(last 30 days)
Dumpster: 3-0, 2 SV, 2.31 ERA
Novoahh: 1-2, SV, 3.18
Remlingering: 0-0, 3.86
Bum Rusch: 0-1, 5.73
Bad to Wuertz: 0-0, 6.14
Meat Tray: 0-2, 6.30
Oh Man: 0-0, 6.35

When Williamson and Wood enter the fray, who will get the chop? Personally, I think Rusch should be one of those to get the midseason demotion. He's been struggling since leaving the rotation, perhaps acting more in line with his career stats than he was before (the expectations, always sky high in Chi-town). Who else? Maybe Mitre -- he's not a reliever, he's a starter, and I think he's suffering from the same shellshock as Glendon. Good in the rotation, not good in relief. It's understandable, as both situations require completely different mentalities and thinking. As a starter, you have a bit more room for error as yr the horse who drags yr team through the game. In a relief role, yr there to do a specific job. You're either a LOOGY or a 2-out, bases-loaded, relieving-the-struggling-starter-because-I-can-get-the-easy-groundout, or yr the closer. You don't have the same luxury, and that's why I'll be watching Kerry closely to see if he can muscle his way through the 7th or 8th inning.

3. Corey Patterson still sucks.

Sent down to AAA-Iowa for some R n' R, some time to visit a few Midwestern Renaissance Fairs and perhaps catch up with his watercolour painting, C-Pat has not seen the return of his swing, the resurgence of his patience, or the re-energizing of his batteries.

His batting is flaccid: 15-70 (.214, the lowest of any Iowa Cubs), 3 solo HR, 7 RBI, 9 R, 5 BB and 15 K. From what I understand, he has been getting regular playing time against the gargantuan likes of Cha Seung Baek (7-6, 6.60 ERA) and Justin Hampson (3-11, 6.55 ERA), and has yet to show why he should be right back at Wrigley.

4. Things to Come.

a. a look at most of the prominent minor-league prospects in the Cubs' farm system.
b. Today's Game: Cubs @ Phillies, 7.05pm ET.
c. More discussion of Matt Lawton?
d. Lunch-time.