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).




At 10:51 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Cubs win! Cubs win!

It's too long between times when we can say that.

The kid, Cedeno, looks ready, as does Murton, and it was great to see Scott McClain get his first Major League extra base hit. I can't figure why this guy hasn't been playing for somebody somewhere.

Here's my dollar to the hole in the donut bet: Todd Hollandsworth will get a game winning hit in the playoffs.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger JT said...

I was so happy, like this post suggested, to see two young guys firmly in the starting lineup. Looking at our roster (that will obviously be changing today), we only have 3 in the OF (Hairston still listed as an IF), so Murton will get a ton of play (I hope), and if Corey continues like he is, maybe we could see someone else out there in center before too long.

McClain's hit was an added bonus, but let the guy run! Bringing in CP was a good attacking move, but I was sad to see him come out right after that big moment.

Blanco's RBIs were welcome too -- we're playing the spoiler pretty well so far!

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Dusty reportedly stated that he'd like to see CP play winter ball, which is a great idea.

Back in '84, I remember Ryno being interviewed in the locker room in Philly after a Cubs win--I was a reporter for a small newspaper and radio station in those days--and Ryno was commenting to Tribune and Sporting News writer Jerome Holtzman about the importance of the time he spent playing winter ball.

I always thought playing winter ball was just another way to earn extra money, but the players who do it seem to have a real edge, especially when they do it early in their careers.

By the way, I once rode an elevator with Ron Cey. The Penguin is really a small guy. You'd never think a guy his size could have been such a power hitter.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Joe said...



At 4:47 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Only saw the last three innings of today's game (August 31) but it looked like no one on the team expects to be back next season. It appeared that there were twenty-five players expecting and even hoping to be traded as quickly as possible.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger JT said...

Jim, it was pretty sad. Jerry the Lesser got the only hit of the game on a single, and it came leading off the bottom of the 1st. The rest of the time, it was the Derek Lowe show.

Notice how Dusty benched Murton and Cedeno were both right back on the bench at game time today.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger JT said...

Also, CP is apparently not keen on the winter league.

That delusional b*st**d should take the chance to keep on playing with open arms -- who knows, could it be a last gesture from the Cubs to try and fix his problems? The longer he goes around being allowed to start and not produce, the longer he thinks he can fix himself. That month in Iowa did him no good, as he's back to his old tricks -- 3-35, R, BB, 11 K in his last 10 games.

2003 - .298 BA/.329 OBP/.511 SLG (83 games)
2004 - .266/.320/.452 (157 games)
2005 - .224/.262/.364 (100 games)

2003 - 15 BB, 77 K
2004 - 45 BB, 168 K
2005 - 19 BB, 97 K

Where will this end?

I feel sorry for him, but I seriously can't find a way to justify his roster spot, and certainly not his virtually guaranteed place in the starting lineup. I know I've been beating this drum relentlessly, but with good reason: this guy is struggling, and he owes it to himself to do whatever it takes to fix it. Maybe winter ball could help this, as a month in Iowa obviously didn't.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

JT, where did you find out that Corey is not keen on the idea of playing ball this winter? I haven't heard that. Not that I've heard anything to the contrary.

Anyway, Corey should take a hint. He should go to Venezuela and play winter ball. Also, he should take a slew of personal offensive, defensive, running, and bunting coaches with him. He needs constant attention until he gets his game worked out.

For now, I say bench him until his swing looks how it should look. Short, choked up, body moving toward the plate/the mound/left-center field.

I like Corey, but no one is priveleged so much as to be allowed to endure a year-long .220-.230 slump without at least changing some technique.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

Also, Cedeno and Murton have looked good. Both are building consistency. I also like that they used their speed, which may not last. You've got to use what tools you have while you have them. Take a lesson from Sammy, Ryno, or even Jose Conseco- just cause you can hit doesn't mean you can't run (while you're young).

I like Cedeno at short. I'm torn as to whether I want to see Garciappara back next year. I think that it is a risk to let him go and rely on your unproven rookie, but I have no idea if Garciaparra will be healthy or not.

Also, an interesting note-
With the organization no longer paying $13 million to baltimore for sammy next year, the cubs have some extra dough on their hands. Where should this money be spent? I'm looking at outfield, starting pitching (if anyone is on the market), or bull pen.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger JT said...

Lazlo --


It doesn't exactly say that he's not keen on it, but he is quoted as being very non-committal. He wants to do "whatever's best for him," but he offers little to no indication as to what that means.

As for benching him, Dusty has said he wants to play him as much as possible (in the same article and countless others from cubs.com and the Sun-Times) in order to help him find his swing. In my opinion, Dusty should be concentrating on helping him find his swing in a less high-stakes, high-pressure, high-visibility environment so as not to damage his confidence. As if it were not bad enough.

Not only that, but I will admit that I am guessing on his displeasure a little -- about 3 years ago, he played a half-season of winter ball, but extremely begrudgingly. He was not happy one bit, and hated the idea from the minute it was proposed.

Dusty and Hendry need to tread lightly on this one, because Corey is skating a very thin line at the moment.

I like him to, to a point, but this performance cannot be justified. Palmeiro, a man with more than enough problems other than his swing, got benched for his sub-.230 average. 2004 postseason star Mark Bellhorn got sent to the minors pretty much permanently for his sub-.230 average. Phil Nevin is batting around that mark -- it was enough to get him booted from San Diego and surely the plug on him in Texas will be pulled soon. So why does Corey continue to play?


I'll try and put up some kind of more substantial and meaningful post today, but I have some heavy deadlines at work.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger JT said...

Lazlo -- I'm not sure who will be available this off-season. Early indications suggest the market might be a little thin, but our priority should definitely be an antsy Johnny Damon. He's coming up for free agency, and he's been quoted in the press as saying that he wouldn't mind a move to Wrigley. I hope we have the foresight to jump on that before other teams get too involved in the race.

As for pitching, a good 3rd or 4th option would be nice, but I'm not sure who would be out there. I wonder if Florida will try again to trade AJ Burnett, but we would most likely have to take Mike Lowell too. He's a bust, but I wonder if he could play OF? Either that or we try to ship him along as soon as he arrives in Chi-town.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger JT said...


That same article hints slightly that the Cubs might not pick up Nomar's 2006 option, and Hendry is quoted that the club feels Cedeno would be a much better option for the future. I hope that this sort of objective thinking prevails, and that the traditional management style of blind loyalty and allegiance takes a back seat.


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