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Conclude what you will... NL hitters with more home runs than Derrek Lee (incomplete list): Tony Clark Scott Thorman Joe Borchard Ronny Paulino NL hitters with more RBI than Alfonso Soriano (incomplete list): Rich Aurilia Joe Borchard Chris Duffy Ryan Theriot NL hitters seeing more Pitches per Plate Appearance than Mark DeRosa: Todd Helton Adam Dunn Albert Pujols NL hitters with a higher batter average with RISP than Derrek Lee: (None)
No doubt moved to action by a public effort launched by the unlikely troika of Reverend Jesse Jackson, WSCR’s Mike North and North’s station-mate, Mike Murphy, the Cubs have decided to erect a statue of Ernie Banks. Mr. Cub is one of the most beloved and historically significant athletes in the city’s history, and per this story in the Chicago Tribune and a phone interview with Ron Santo that played on WGN Radio before Tuesday night’s game in San Diego, it’s apparent that Banks couldn’t be more thrilled. In this regard, I think Ernie is a bigger man than most; I know he’s a bigger man than me. I have always been disgusted that the Cubs chose to honor Harry Caray’s carnival act with a statue near the corner of Addison and Sheffield—not to mention his caricature above the press box and the “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” abomination that John McDonough seems proud to extend indefinitely—before they did anything meaningful and permanent for Banks beyond retiring his jersey. (Jack Brickhouse, too, contributed much, much more to the richness of the Cubs franchise than Caray, but that’s a rant for another day.) If Ernie is happy, then I am happy, too. (I’m ignoring for now McDonough’s ominous warning, reported by Fred Mitchell in the Tribune, that the change in Cub ownership could delay the project.) Congratulations, #14. Those of us who saw you play were fortunate. Those who didn’t missed someone special.
As measured by David Appelman’s wonderful Fangraphs site, which calculates Win Probability Added—the methodology is explained here—the five worst and five best moments in the remarkably dramatic Cubs week that began with last Sunday’s game against the Phillies and ended with Saturday’s game against the White Sox. The Five Worst (in ascending badness): 5.) Monday v. Mets, 6th inning. Paul LoDuca doubles off Rocky Cherry, driving in Carlos Delgado to cut Cubs lead to 4-3. (Decreased likelihood of Cub victory by 22.3%) 4.) Saturday v. White Sox, 8th inning. Paul Konerko homers off of Bob Howry, giving White Sox 6-5 lead. (-24.1%) 3.) Saturday v. White Sox, 6th inning. Joe Crede homers off of Jason Marquis, tying game, 5-5. (-25.2%) 2.) Monday v. Mets, 9th inning. Michael Wuertz walks Carlos Delgado. Mets win 5-4. (-33.9%) And the #1 Worst Moment of the Week for the Cubs… Thursday v. Mets, 9th inning. Carlos Delgado hits two-run single off Scott Eyre. Mets win 6-5. (-45.7%)
Since beginning a trip to New York and Philadelphia last Friday, the Brewers have lost 5 of 6 and been outscored 35-28. Their win was a laugher (12-3) against the Mets, and they’ve also been on the wrong end of an ass kicking, 9-1, by the New Yorkies. The Cubs have lost 4 of 6 with the Phillies and Mets and been outscored 33-28. One of their wins was a laugher (10-1) against the Mets, and they’ve also been on the wrong end of an ass-kicking,  8-1, by the Mets. The big difference between the Brewers and the Cubs is that when the Brewers set off on their journey, they were 24-10 and 7 games ahead of the second place Cubs. Also, the Brewers have a slugging first baseman with a spasm-free neck. The Cubs can only dream.
Back in the first week of the season, I wrote about the apparently freakish excellence of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis in their respective Cub debuts. Well, here we are, several weeks and 13 starts later, and the two Cub newbies continue to pitch superbly. Combined 2007 numbers for Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis over 15 starts: 101 IP, 70 H, 27 R, 72 K, 21 BB Put another way, the average Lilly/Marquis start this season: 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 5 K, 1 BB !!!!! History suggests that when the new Cub owner takes his throne—this winter? next spring?—Jim Hendry will be pink-slipped, and any practicing Cub fan could contribute arguments to justify the dismissal. If Lilly and Marquis continue on the course they’ve charted so far this year, however, Hendry’s investment in the twosome won’t be among his failures.
I attended my first game of the season Wednesday night and saw the latest episode of Jason Marquis’ serial drama, “I’m Gonna Prove That All You People Didn’t Know What The Hell You Were Talking About,” co-starring Larry Rothschild as The Mentor. It was a joy to behold, so much so that I was almost oblivious to the fact that one of our hitters left nine of his teammates out on the bases. Anyway, I got home too late to post anything. Now, I’m at the keyboard and in the interim, Carlos Zambrano went out and struck the latest blow in his battle to become our fifth starter. As the game report at points out, opponents are hitting .361 against Zambrano in their first-inning at-bats, and Z has yielded 13 first-inning runs in 8 starts. To date, the chief suspect has been arm angle, as in, Carlos’s has been too low or too all over the place.
The Cubs have now beaten two of the game’s most pitiable teams five times in a row. Even though our favorite team has hardly been a juggernaut this season, since the now 9-22 Nationals came to town Friday, I felt like I was like rooting for the bully to steal the innocent kid’s lunch money. It’s fun to be on the side of the bully sometimes. With another innocent kid coming to town on Tuesday, lunch money in hand, the prospects of the Cubs extending their win streak to six, seven or eight appear good. Sadly, the schedule gets more challenging after the Pirates leave Wrigley, with three games in Philadelphia, four games at Shea and three games against the White Sox in the Cubs’ future. According to the MLB RPI Rankings at–which weigh the quality of a team’s opposition–the Cubs currently rank 16th in the Major Leagues, 14 spots behind the division-leading Brewers. The series against the Mets and White Sox will give the Cubs the opportunity to move up. In the meantime, let’s concentrate on stealing a little more lunch money.
The sad story of Josh Hancock’s crash Saturday night conjured the inevitable comparisons to Darryl Kile’s death at the Westin Hotel in Chicago in June, 2002. It also reminded me of an item which appeared in Jon Weisman’s Dodger Thoughts last week, a link to an L.A. Times story about the family of Tim Crews, who died along with a Cleveland Indians teammate during a spring training boating accident 14 years ago. The piece, written by Bill Plaschke, is quite good and quite sad. The gist of it is that for all of the teammates and all of the baseball officials who gathered around the family at the time of Crews’ death, none have kept in touch or helped keep the Crews children connected to a game that their father loved and played for six Major League seasons. (Crews was a Dodger from 1987 through ’92. He signed with the Indians as a free agent in January of ’93, dying before he ever actually played in Cleveland, thus the story’s relevance to the L.A. Times.) As for Josh Hancock’s team, the Cardinals, it seems unlikely they will be able to regain their focus anytime soon. On the other hand, the same seemed true of the ’02 team which had to deal with the loss of Kile, a veteran who was, by all accounts, a beloved teammate and part of the emotional center of the squad, not to mention a major contributor on the field. At the time of Kile's death, the Cardinals stood at 40-31, two games ahead of Cincinnati. Over the rest of the year, they went 57-34, finishing first in the NL Central and winning their Division Series against Arizona, before they were beaten in the NLCS by Dusty Baker’s Giants.
A compelling aspect of Wednesday’s Cubs-Brewers game, apart from the fact that the Cubs actually won, was Lou Piniella’s decision to start Ryan Theriot at short. As Lou explained:
"We need a lift. We need somebody who hopefully can get us going a little bit. I've been trying to figure out where to play him. He's been getting work at shortstop. We'll put him out there at shortstop and let him play."
Theriot, naturally, was elated to get the opportunity and said he wasn’t intimidated about moving over from second.
"The only [difference] is the throw. It takes a little getting used to. Two years ago, that's where I was every day. It's something I'm comfortable with and excited about."
In fact, during minor league stops at Daytona, Lansing and West Tenn, Theriot played a fair amount of shortstop, 189 games total, handling 777 chances successfully, but making 40 errors. That adds up to a woeful .951 fielding percentage. For comparison’s sake, National League shortstops had a combined .972 fielding average last season and the Cubs haven’t had an everyday shortstop who fielded anywhere near .951 as far back as I had the energy to check. Could be because shortstops with .951 fielding percentages soon cease to be shortstops. Theriot clearly gives the Cub offense a boost that Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno are incapable of providing. But to justify his place in the lineup Theriot is going to have to dramatically improve his glovework. Or be one helluva hitter.
If Carlos Zambrano can pitch 21 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings tonight--striking out 17 while walking four--he’ll have the same pitching line in ’07 as he did five appearances into 2006: 3.94 ERA, 33 K, 20 BB, 25 Hits Allowed. You remember 2006...when Carlos got off to such an awful start.


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