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After a two week holiday, it's nice to be back. Or at least it would be if I wasn't coming back to the realisation that the Cubs are now tied for fourth in the division with the Cincinnati Reds (who've gone 35-25 since they fired their manager), and that Matt Lawton has been traded. Not that Matt Lawton being traded in itself is a bad thing: not at all, for while the Cubs mustered just an unremarkable pitching prospect by the name of Justin Berg, who like most pitching prospects deep in the system enjoys only the slightest chance of ever contributing at the big league level, that's a whole lot more than they'd have got had they held onto him. Had he stayed, Lawton, a free agent at year's end whose current contract rules out offering arbitration with a view to draft pick compensation as a viable option, would have walked away leaving the Cubs with nothing, and he'd have left the Cubs a million dollars lighter in the pocket between now and then too. This trade isn't a case of the Cubs' front office being cheap though, it's a case of them being sensible, if not courageous too, for it takes a big man to be at as ease with his mistakes as Hendry has shown himself to be here. That said, there is only so much praise you can heap upon someone for clearing up their own mess. On deadline day I wrote...
Whichever way Hendry tried to spin it in the press conference, this trade is a rental. Matt Lawton is entering the final months of a four year deal that's paying him $7.5m this year. And when this season is done, Lawton, whose contract includes no options, will file for free agency. With Lawton turning 34 in November, and doubtless looking for a multi-year deal all the same, this being a rental or not, it's probably best left that way. But it is a rental. And that says much for the Cubs' attitude towards this season, it says that they still clearly think they can make the playoffs. But this team right now stands at just 53-52 and is very much flawed, as this lousy homestand against lousy Western opposition [Giants, Diamondbacks] has demonstrated. Nomar, Wood and Williamson, who Hendry is viewing as mid-season pickups, will not change that, promoting Van Buren won't either, and neither will Matt Lawton, whose simply not an impact ballplayer.
The Cubs only gave up Jody Gerut, who managed just 18 plate appearances with the Pirates before succumbing to the problems with his knee that have ruined his season, but right now the Cubs' delusions of competitiveness mean that in the long-term they've exchanged him for Justin Berg, and that's just an unjustifable trade. In the short-term, Lawton gave Dusty Baker a convenient excuse to screw over Matt Murton, and the Cubs threw in a million dollars or so too. And for what? Parity with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005? I need a holiday.
GAME 130 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] FLORIDA MARLINS (69-60) @ CHICAGO CUBS (61-68) WRIGLEY FIELD, 1:20 pm CDT, TV: Fox Sports Florida, WGN
Carlos Zambrano, RHP
10-5, 3.03 ERA
159/69 K/BB, 13 HR in 172.1 IP
Josh Beckett, RHP
12-7, 3.45 ERA
128/45 K/BB, 10 HR in 140.2 IP
CF *Juan Pierre CF Jerry Hairston Jr.
LF Jeff Conine 2B Todd Walker
3B Miguel Cabrera 1B Derrek Lee
1B *Carlos Delgado RF *Jeromy Burnitz
RF Juan Encarnacion 3B Nomar Garciaparra
SS Damon Easley LF Todd Hollandsworth
2B #Luis Castillo SS Ronny Cedeno
C Matt Treanor C Henry Blanco
P Josh Beckett P #Carlos Zambrano
Go Cubs!!
GAME 129 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] FLORIDA MARLINS (68-60) @ CHICAGO CUBS (61-67) WRIGLEY FIELD, 12:20 pm CDT, TV: Fox
Greg Maddux, RHP
10-10, 4.56 ERA
104/29 K/BB, 24 HR in 169.2 IP
Dontrelle Willis, LHP
17-8, 2.67 ERA
124/41 K/BB, 7 HR in 178.2 IP
CF *Juan Pierre LF Jerry Hairston Jr.
LF Jeff Conine 2B Todd Walker
3B Miguel Cabrera 1B Derrek Lee
1B *Carlos Delgado C Michael Barrett
RF Juan Encarnacion 3B Nomar Garciaparra
2B Damon Easley RF *Jeromy Burnitz
SS Alex Gonzalez SS #Neifi Perez
C Matt Treanor CF *Corey Patterson
P *Dontrelle Willis P Greg Maddux
Maybe Dusty will figure out how a double-switch works today. Maybe pigs will fly... Go Cubs!!!
The Cubs traded Matt Lawton to the Yankees today in exchange for minor-league righty Justin Berg. Berg was a late-round draft-and-follow in 2003 and played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks (!) of the Northwoods League until he signed in May of '04. After struggling as a reliever in rookie ball, he was moved into the rotation at Class A Staten Island this year and went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA and 52/20 K/BB ratio. So the Cubs ended up trading Jason Dubois for Jody Gerut, Gerut for Lawton, and Lawton for Berg. I'll grade that as "incomplete" and wait to see how Berg pans out. To take Lawton's spot on the roster, they called up Scott McClain, the 33-year-old career minor leaguer (except for a 9-game cup of coffee with Tampa in '98) who just hit 291/358/578 with 30 homers for Iowa. He is nominally a third baseman though all in all it would be better if he left his glove in Iowa City and concentrated on being the righty bat off the bench that the Cubs need (as evidenced by Todd Hollandsworth's pinch-hit appearance in yesterday's game).
GAME 128 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] FLORIDA MARLINS (66-59) @ CHICAGO CUBS (61-66) WRIGLEY FIELD, 1:20 pm CDT, TV: WGN, ESPN
Glendon Rusch, LHP
5-6, 4.21 ERA
87/43 K/BB, 10 HR in 107.0 IP
Jason Vargas, LHP
4-1, 2.43 ERA
33/16 K/BB, 0 HR in 37.0 IP
CF *Juan Pierre CF Jerry Hairston Jr.
LF Jeff Conine LF *Matt Lawton
3B Miguel Cabrera 1B Derrek Lee
1B *Carlos Delgado C Michael Barrett
RF Juan Encarnaciony 3B Nomar Garciaparra
2B Damon Easley RF *Jeromy Burnitz
SS Alex Gonzalez 2B #Neifi Perez
C Matt Treanor SS Ronny Cedeno
P *Jason Vargas P *Glendon Rusch
Sorry about the title.... Well at least Ronny will get to play, what an interesting lineup. Nomar at third is interesting as well and I have no doubt that he could thrive there. He's got the arm and won't have to worry about covering all that ground that he can't really cover anymore at short. Of course he has absolutely no use there as a Cub in the foreseeable future. As for the game itself, Jason Vargas and his wild locks look to shutdown the Cubs as well as auditioning for my fantasty team. (See I could use one more pitcher for the stretch run). The Marlins are my pick to take the Wild Card, I love their rotation (Beckett, Burnett, Willis, Vargas, whoever) and the lineup isn't too shabby. Although their missing a few guys today that makes it not look so hot (Castillo, Lowell). Plus the high comedy of more press conferences with Jack McKeon possibly mispronouncing his own players names should be played out for a nationwide audience. The good teams seem to bring out the best in the Cubs, sure we lost to the Braves, but the losses were close games. Let's hope for more of the same this weekend. (The close games and generally well-played basesball, not the losing) Go Cubs!
Aramis Ramirez has been placed on the DL, and Ronny Cedeno has been recalled to take his spot on the roster. Of course, with the Cubs a mere 7 1/2 games out of the wildcard with five whole weeks of the season left, we can't expect Cedeno to actually play! This also explains why a third baseman (like, I don't know, Mike Fontenot, who's sporting a .374 OBP in Iowa) wasn't called up to replace A-Ram; we're going to need the veteran presence of Neifi Perez and Jose Macias at third in order to jump past Philadelphia, Florida, Houston, New York, Washington, and Milwaukee and make the post-season. Ramirez will be replaced, at least for today, by Nomar Garciaparra, making his first-ever appearance at third base. Iiiinteresting. Is it a one-off thing, or is it a way for Nomar to make himself a little more desireable on the free-agent market? Once the game starts, he will become the 103rd player to man third base for the Cubs since the Ron Santo trade.
USA Today has come out with a special section on "Baseball Announcers Yesterday & Today." Overall, it's a really entertaining package. It includes a ranking of all current radio announcing teams, and for the most part I think they get things right. Except. They rank Pat Hughes & Ron Santo a ridiculous 13th in the NL and 26th in the majors! Come on! They score along three axes, two of which are "fan rating" (the excitement and uniqueness the announcers bring to the broadcast, as well as their ability to connect with their audience) and "entertainment rating" (how well the announcers interact, the fun they have in the booth and the stories they tell, among other things) and I don't see any possible way that Pat & Ron (and especially Ron) could be rated lower than a "9" in either of these categories. They offer a feedback link, and I hope the members of the TCR community will take a few seconds to drop them an email in defense of one of the most entertaining radio teams in baseball.
Felix Pie won't be playing in the Arizona Fall League, as reported in cubs.com. Also, the nearly complete AFL rosters and a bit of a preview are up at minorleaguebaseball.com. They do a quick rundown of some of the bigger name prospects and the only Cub reviewed is Angel Guzman.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, Guzman appeared poised to become the next Mark Prior. The only thing that's resembled the Cubs ace has been an injury history. He's made just a few outings in the Arizona League, but still only 23, there's time for him to become a top flight pitching prospect again
Also, Buck Coats is designated as a "Taxi-Squad" player, meaning he'll only be available on Wednesdays and Saturdays or if there is an injury. And the Cubs will be adding one more pitcher before games begin sometime in early October.
Aramis Ramirez left today's game early after straining his left quadricep muscle. On a sure double play grounder to short, Ramirez did his best attempt at hustling and then clutched his upper left leg before collapsing while crossing first base. It wasn't even a close play. It was the right quad that he's been nursing lately although apparently he has strained the left quad as well this season. After the game, trainer Mark O'Neal had this to say:
"We didn't feel a significant defect in the quad itself. Obviously, you're looking to make sure you don't have any major muscle disruption like Nomar [Garciaparra] had [with his groin], and we didn't find anything like that.
Well they did the MRI and came out with an official press release saying:
The results of the MRI indicated a moderate to severe strain of his left quadricep muscle. Ramirez will be re-evaluated on Friday.
Hard to decipher how long he'll be out, but there's just no good reason to risk anything at this point. Normally in these situations and considering how remote the Cubs chances at the playoffs are at this point, you'd bring up some lil' Cub who may have a future with the ballclub and see what they can do. In this case it would be Mike Fontenot who normally plays second base but has experiemented with third base a bit. But this is the Cubs and Dusty and I'm sure they're still suffering from delusions that a huge winning streak is just around the corner, plus you got to reward Macias and Neifi for the great years they're having. Thus I fully expect Nosferatu to man the corner spot for as long as Ramirez is out and now I think 70 wins might be a reach. This also may be a crushing blow to any chance Lee had at the Triple Crown as their is just absolutely not one good reason to pitch to him anymore with people on base. What a season!
It's bullet-point Wednesday! * I saw exactly one at-bat of last night's game. I turned it on in the 4th to see the score, watched Jeromy Burnitz hit his granny, and then turned it off and went to sleep (I was tired!). Therefore, I have a completely skewed concept of what last night's game was all about. I was happy to wake up and see the touchy-feely stories about Jerome Williams and his dad, sad (but not surprised) to see the latest in the shortstop saga, and psyched when I remembered that it was Prior's turn to pitch. I should be able to get home in time for the end of the game (one advantage to living in the Eastern time zone), and that might be the last baseball I see for a little while as I am headed to India on a business trip at the end of the week. * When the Cubs signed Greg Maddux, I was happy because I felt that a talented young picher like Mark Prior would have a lot to learn from him. I didn't think that one of the things he'd learn would be how to give up home runs. Maddux's HR/9 rate skyrocketed upon his return to Chicago -- it was 0.53 for the first 18 years of his career, and is 1.39 over the last two seasons. In his first three seasons, Prior gave up 43 homers in 446 2/3 IP. That's .87 homers per 9 innings. This year, he's given up 21 in 125 1/3 IP, a rate of 1.51 HR/9. Is it something to be worried about? Probably not, but you know me. * Why did the Braves take Jorge Sosa out of the rotation in the first place? Oh, right, because injured starters Mike Hampton and John Thomson were on their way back. Here's what Sosa did during his 12-game stint in the rotation: 12 GS, 5-2, 2.77 ERA, 65 IP, 59 H, 47 K/26 BB Here's how Hampton & Thompson have done since their return: 5 GS, 1-3, 6.64 ERA, 21 2/3 IP, 43 H, 12 K/7 BB And Hampton is, of course, back on the DL, with Sosa starting in his place this afternoon. * I have nothing to do with the "Cardinals are birds of prey" add that has popped up in the Blogads in the right-hand column (though I do appreciate the profane typo). Bring back Rachel Wacholder, I say! * I don't have any problem with backup catchers -- every team has to have one -- but a problem arises when two of your starters prefer to throw to hm. Instead of throwing away that spot in the order once a week (14% of the time, roughly), you're throwing it away 40% of the time. If your backup catcher is as craptastic as Henry Blanco, that's a real problem. The solution? Get a better backup catcher or get your starters comfortable with the front-line guy. Meanwhile, on to today's game: GAME 127 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] ATLANTA BRAVES (71-55) @ CHICAGO CUBS (61-65) WRIGLEY FIELD, 1:20 pm CDT, TV: WGN, FSS, DTV 734
Mark Prior, RHP
9-4, 3.66 ERA
140/41 K/BB, 21 HR in 125 1./3 IP
John Thomson, RHP
8-2, 2.63 ERA
64/45 K/BB, 10 HR in 92 1/3 IP
SS #Rafael Furcal LF *Matt Lawton
2B Marcus Giles 2B *Todd Walker
3B #Larry W. Jones 1B Derrek Lee
CF Andruw Jones 3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Julio Franco RF *Jeromy Burnitz
RF Jeff Francoeur SS Neifi Perez
LF *Ryan Langerhans CF *Corey Patterson
C *Brian McCann C Henry Blanco
P Jorge Sosa P Mark Prior

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