GAME 56 PREVIEW TORONTO BLUE JAYS (29-28) at CHICAGO CUBS (30-25) Wrigley Field, 7.05pm CT, TV: WGN, RSN
SP *John Koronka SP *Gustavo Chacin
LF Reed Johnson CF Jerry Hairston
RF Alex Rios SS #Neifi Perez
CF Vernon Wells 1B Derrek Lee
1B Shea Hillenbrand 3B Aramis Ramirez
3B Aaron Hill LF Jason Dubois
2B Frank Menechino RF *Jeromy Burnitz
C #Gregg Zaun C Michael Barrett
SS John McDonald 2B #Jose Macias
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
It was about a month ago now that the Cubs stood at 12-17, having lost a record seven in a row under Dusty Baker. There was talk of the season being over. A month later how things have changed. The Cubs have won nine of their last ten, twelve of their last fifteen, eighteen of their last twenty-six, and they stand proudly a few games above five hundred, atop the wild card standings no less. But, just as it was wrong to be too down on the Cubs back at the beginning of May, it's just as wrong to be too high on them now. Baseball is a game of peaks and troughs, good streaks and bad, and that cocktail of a combination has a nasty habit of creating undue optimism and pessimism in near equal disproportion. These Cubs are a good team, but they certainly have their flaws and limitations. That they'll be sending out Koronka, Rusch and Mitre to face the Blue Jays over the next few days could give us an untimely reminder of that. That's not entirely fair though. Rusch has been magnificent so far this season, twice as good as even I had dared hope (no, literally! I thought an ERA around 4.00 would be an achievement for him - he currently stands at 1.96). Naturally, that kind of a figure is only going to head in the wrong direction in the long term, but hopefully he can continue his dominating form a while longer. And I am meanwhile one of Mitre's bigger fans - I see a pitcher with a plus sinker that induces multitudes of groundballs (the kind that stay in the ballpark), a decent slider and an improving changeup that get a fair if unspectacular numbers of punchouts, and acceptable enough control of all three to not walk too many. That, and his youth and paycheck, make him serviceable in the short-term, perhaps even a decent starter in the longer term once he's got some experience under his belt. Suggestions that he shouldn't be accruing that experience with the Cubs right now strike me as bizarre given the next best option, apparently, is John Koronka, a pitcher that truly doesn't belong in a major-league rotation. Indeed, it's only Koronka's turn in the rotation right now that I really worry about. Hopefully the Cubs can score some runs tonight and the bullpen be in fine fettle, because an okay fastball, a good changeup and not much else doesn't seem to get you around the lineup too many times at this level. All the same, go Koronka and go Cubs! Interleague play. There's a topic that raises debate. So, debate. Personally, I quite like it. Let's be honest, we're the Cubs, and we're not ever going to see an American League team otherwise! I don't think that'd be a good thing. The current system isn't ideal, it's unbalanced for starters, but it's better than nothing. Don't worry though, I'm not completely anti-traditionalist - the DH should go. PS. Keep an eye out tonight too for Rich Hill vs Adam Wainwright, Cubs vs Cardinals at Triple-A, also starting at 7.05pm CT
GAME 55 PREVIEW CHICAGO CUBS (29-25) at SAN DIEGO PADRES (34-22) PETCO Park, 3.35pm CT, TV: CSN, Chan4
SP Woody Williams SP Carlos Zambrano
SS #Neifi Perez CF *Dave Roberts
2B Todd Walker 3B *Sean Burroughs
1B Derrek Lee RF *Brian Giles
RF *Jeromy Burnitz 1B Phil Nevin
3B Aramis Ramirez C Ramon Hernandez
LF *Todd Hollandsworth LF Xavier Nady
CF *Corey Patterson SS Khalil Greene
C Henry Blanco 2B Damian Jackson
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
There'll be no Carlos Zambrano versus Jake Peavy, as Peavy has "an upper respiratory infection", which sounds to me suspiciously like a cold. Then again I have about as much medical knowledge as Dr Drake Ramore. Peavy's absence is both good news and bad news. Good because Peavy's typically extremely hard to score runs off, and instead the Cubs will see Woody Williams making what for all intents and purposes is his first rehab start since hitting the disabled list. Bad because Woody Williams isn't anywhere near as much of a delight to watch as the young and supremely brilliant Peavy. Is he better than our Zambrano though? Your call. Go Cubs! In other news, I have a deep and profound hatred of Jim Mecir.
Remember that TCR Round-table at the very start of the Season, where the staff all made predictions on the upcoming season? Well, neither do I. Which is why I figured that with one-third of the season complete, it's time to look at some choice selections of the questions and our answers. There isn't a lot of new commentary, below, just an edited synopsis of our answers, and a few flags for the truly ridiculous predictions (mine on Todd Hollandsworth, anyone?) and the truly inspired (Rob's on Derrek Lee.)
GAME 52 PREVIEW CHICAGO CUBS (28-25) at SAN DIEGO PADRES (34-21) PETCO Park, 9.05pm CT, TV: WGN, Chan4
SP *Darrell May SP Greg Maddux
Someone post the lineups in the comments!
Yesterday my computer's power supply unit ground to a halt. As did the Cubs' winning streak, which at seven games was their longest under Dusty Baker. I'm back up and running now though (with a brand new flat screen LCD monitor too, even if right now it's calibrated such that reds in particular are horrendously garish!). And it's the job of Greg Maddux to get this team back up and running tonight (in the final game of the first third of our season) before we watch these offences attempt the thankless task of scorings runs off Carlos Zambrano and Jake Peavy in a pitching haven of a ballpark tomorrow. Go Cubs!
Part 1 Part 2 Trivia Question: Name two current NFL players who were once drafted by the Cubs? I'll end this look back at the Cubs drafts through the years by looking at some of the players the Cubs had a chance at obtaining or gave up too early on. This is all for fun and there are no fingers being pointed here. Just a frivolous look at who could have been Cubbies if the things broke the right way. In Part I, I introduced the all-time greatest drafted Cubs, a list of players drafted by the Cubs and their contributions as Cubs. Here's that list again to spur your memory.
GAME 52 PREVIEW CHICAGO CUBS (27-24) at SAN DIEGO PADRES (33-20) PETCO Park, 9.05pm CT, TV: ESPN, Chan4
SP Tim Stauffer SP *Glendon Rusch
SS #Neifi Perez CF Dave Roberts
2B Todd Walker 3B Geoff Blum
1B Derrek Lee LF Ryan Klesko
RF *Jeromy Burnitz 1B Phil Nevin
3B Aramis Ramirez C Ramon Hernandez
CF *Corey Patterson RF Miguel Ojeda
LF T Jason Dubois SS Khalil Greene
C Michael Barrett 2B Damian Jackson
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
The Cubs have won their last 6, and 9 of their last 11. The Padres though put us in the shade - they've won 22 of their last 28. Yikes! They did lose last night though, to the Brewers, and they're probably due a losing streak right about now given the sensational May they've had! Speaking of sensational, how about Derrek Lee? After April (.419/.490/.767), for which Derrek won the NL Player of the Month award, I implored him to keep it up. Sadly, he did tail off a bit, only hitting .313/.424/.646 in May. You're not going to win NL Player of the Month awards hitting like that (and indeed, Abreu took the honours). Obviously hugely disappointed with his slumping, Lee last night reminded us he's still alive, going 5-for-5 to start June, four singles with a three-run homer to cap it off. Should we be surprised at his present 1.000/1.000/1.600 line in June? No, of course not, Lee usually improves a lot when the summer months roll around! Keep on rolling, Cubbies, roll on. I hate these West Coast night games, starting as they do at gone 3am in the morning here, but as long as we keep winning them, I shan't complain too much!
Part 1 Trivia Question: Which drafted Cubs player, through a series of trades, eventually landed the Cubs, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg? The Cubs have had 10 general managers since 1965 starting with John Holland and ending with our current leader of operations, Jim Hendry. As you'll see, their focus on the draft and ability to evaluate, develop and exchange those drafted players into major league parts will help us evaluate their mark on this Cubs franchise. This wouldn't be one of my pieces if we didn't have a list:
MLB gave their first update on the state of NL All-Star Balloting yesterday. For everyone that had any reservations about the Neifi Write-in campaign, I have a bit of information that should remove any lingering moral scruples... Nomar Garciaparra is the top NL vote-getter at SS. The totals: 1. Garciaparra, N. Cubs 235,899 2. Eckstein, D. Cardinals 212,209 3. Furcal, R. Braves 212,160 4. Reyes, J. Mets 189,929 5. Barmes, C. Rockies 183,338 The three best SS in the NL this year, arguably, have been Barmes, Izturis, and Neifi. Neifi needs you. (So does Derrek Lee, who has less than half the votes of Pujols.)
CUBS 9 DODGERS 5
Recap | Box Score | Play-by-play | Game Chart
W: John Koronka (1-0) L: Derek Lowe (4-5)
The Cubs are playing in my neck of the woods, so I thought I'd try one of those running diaries that is all the rage. I'll try and update every half inning or inning as long as the twins cooperate. Pre-game You know it's your first major league start when the L.A. Times list the matchup as Derek Lowe versus Jeff Koronka. At least the picture was right, I think. I've actually never seen Koronka. Top of the 1st The great Vin Scully lets us know the Cubs haven't swept a series in Dodger stadium for 10 years. He also says Ramirez turned an ankle yesterday which explains his absence. Scully can't explain why Enrique is batting second.... Neifi doesn't waste any time, singling on the first pitch. Neifi doesn't waste any time getting thrown out at second either. Lee singles but Mr. Burns ends the inning. Bottom of the 1st Scully says Koronka is a "southpaw all the way"...what the hell does that mean? Someone told Koronka to stay away, away, away. Scully says Koronka has surprisingly had trouble versus lefties in his career and on cue, Drew singles. Replay shows it was a bad call though, third day in a row Lee makes a throw while on his butt.
GAME 51 PREVIEW CHICAGO CUBS (26-24) at LOS ANGELES DODGERS (26-25) Dodger Stadium, 9.10pm CT, TV: ESPN2, FSN2
SP Derrek Lowe SP *John Koronka
SS #Neifi Perez SS #Cesar Izturis
3B #Enrique Wilson 3B Antonio Perez
1B Derrek Lee CF *JD Drew
RF *Jeromy Burnitz 2B Jeff Kent
2B *Todd Walker 1B Olmedo Saenz
CF *Corey Patterson RF Jayson Werth
LF Todd Hollandsworth C Jason Phillips
C Michael Barrett LF Mike Edwards
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
The Cubs' system is chock-a-block with pitching. Yet filling in today for the Mark Prior as the Cubs try to run the streak to a season-high six with a first sweep of the Dodgers in LA for a decade will be a real non-prospect making his major league debut. Koronka's not yet 25, but he's already into the eighth season of a minor league career over which he has a 4.41 ERA. If that doesn't say it all for his talent, his fastball doesn't reach the nineties, and his only quality off-speed offering is his changeup. The Cubs' decision to add him to the 40-man roster last November was then at best rather bizarre. Their decision to actually use him in a major-league game today probably borders on capitulation (of course, now that I've forecast him getting tatooed left, right and centre, watch for him throwing shutout ball). Strangely the decision makes some sense though. Besides Sergio Mitre, of all our prospects only Angel Guzman and Jerome Williams are refined enough to comfortably handle the jump to the majors. The diagnosis on Guzman though is a strained right forearm, and at best he'll only throw his first pitches since the spring in a few days' time. Jerome Williams meanwhile has struggled terribly of late, and the decision to place him for a while at Iowa, where he last night threw six solid innings (2 runs on 8 hits, 1 crushed home run that was only just fair, no walks and 4 strikeouts), is entirely the correct one in my view - he needs some confidence running through his veins again. Behind Guzman and Williams lies a whole host of talent, led by Renyel Pinto, Ricky Nolasco and Rich Hill from West Tennessee. Calling them up would though represent really throwing them in at the deep end, sink or swim, since not one of the three has a successful inning at Triple-A under their belt. Is that the wisest way to treat prospects? It's debatable. Of the more experienced options, the Cubs' decision to leave Todd Wellemeyer and Ryan Dempster, who've both started games this year, in the bullpen where they seem to have found a groove is probably wise. Though he only throws in the mid-eighties, Raul Valdez, signed out of the Dominican Republic last year, throws a wide variety of pitches at a wide variety of speeds from the left side, but he would be going on short rest today and he'd require someone being kicked off the forty. Jon Leicester meanwhile started a previous emergency start, but he was roughed up a bit by the Mets in that game and he's lost Dusty's faith. And that really leaves just Koronk-urgh. It's not ideal, but for today, it'll have to do. Hopefully the offence shows up, hopefully Valdez or Leicester can start next time around, and hopefully Mark Prior gets well soon. Roll on, Cubbies, roll on. [UPDATE Rob G.] I'm going to try and do a running diary of the game (twins permitting), updating every half inning or so.
Trivia Question: Which player drafted by the Cubs, went on to have the most illustrious Cubs career(that should be easy), who would you rank #2 and #3 though (considering their Cub career only)? Tell me if this sounds familiar. The games wealthiest clubs, particularly one in New York, were outspending the more financially constricted ballclubs to sign available players. Salaries (actually bonuses) escalated out of control and something needed to be done to restore competitive balance. Proposals were introduced, arguments were made and rules were changed. And in 1965, the amateur draft was introduced, now known as the First Year Player Draft. On June 7th of this year, the 41st baseball draft will be conducted and the Cubs first selection of the day will be at the 20th spot. This is a rather low pick historically for the Cubs, whose first pick from year to year on average is around the 10th or 11th pick. Considering draft slots are selected in reverse order of win/loss records, this is a dubious distinction indicating the organization's futility over the years. All those upper round picks though should have been the fruits of a better tomorrow, but as you'll see, the Cubs drafting has been nearly as disappointing as their play.
Carlos Zambrano turns 24 today. So here's a birthday wish to our favorite web-surfing, muttering, gesticulating, switch-hitting, complete game-throwing, goateed behemoth of a perpetual-Cy Young Award contender. We Love Ya, Z. For some birthday reminiscences, how about these.... Remember when we wondered who would be better, Zambrano or Cruz? Remember the first time we discovered Z was a switch-hitter? Remember Z retiring Barry Bonds in an especially tense series in 2003, Z getting all excited, and Barry sulking about it? Here's a question: what should we get Z for his birthday? (photo from http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/mlb/photo/photogallery/2003_2nd_half_moments)
CUBS 2 DODGERS 1
Recap | Box Score | Play-by-play | Game Chart
W: Michael Wuertz (4-2) L: Yhency Brazoban (2-1) SV: Ryan Dempster (6)
Looks like I'm stuck doing the Game Review. My First One. I don't like doing them. So this will be the stripped-down version. Things to know about this game: 1. There was a very bad "Batter's Interference" call against the Cubs. In the seventh inning, with Corey running, Dubois struck out, and the catcher, recent call-up Mike Rose, pulled a Reggie Miller and drew the contact with Dubois on the throw down to second. Ed Rapuano called interference on Dubois, and thus Corey is out at second when he had stolen the base, cleanly. It was good to see Dusty get up and argue a call. 2. Zambrano was nearly unhittable. One hit, in fact, over eight innings. 3. With a runner on first and nobody out in the ninth, tie game, Gagne on the mound, Dusty asked Burnitz to bunt. Burnitz has one sacrifice bunt since 1999. He bunted hard to the third-baseman, forcing the runner at second base. Let me quote to you from the delightful children's story and excellent allegory, The Little Prince:
"If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?" the king demanded. "The general, or myself?" "You," said the little prince firmly. "Exactly. One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform," the king went on. "Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable."
Bob Brenley came dangerously close to questioning Baker's decision, using The Little Prince-style logic. We'll see if Baker is allowed on the plane back to Chicago. 4. With runners on second and third, two outs in the ninth, facing Gagne, Dubois ropes one down the left field line, just foul, before striking out to end the inning. Interesting that Baker let Dubois hit, with the Proven Veteran Left-handed Bat Off The Bench, Hollandsworth, left sitting on the bench. Personally, I would have let Dubois hit, too. 5. Ed Rapuano had a terrible, inconsistent strike zone. 6. NEIFI!!! with the go-ahead single in the tenth, run scores when the left-fielder boots the ball. 7. A shout-out to all the people in Parachat, who were going strong at a Dusty Baker's dozen, in an extra-inning game that started at 7 pm on the West Coast. I'll put on the coffee, in the morning. 8. Dempster hit Antonio Perez in the batting helmet with a Curveball to start out the bottom of the tenth with a run one lead. Perez wasn't pleased, but nothing happened, and he stayed in the game. 9. Dempster recovers to get a sacrifice bunt, pop-up, and 6-3. Game over, one-hitter. And so the Cubs, for all the drama and disasters and disabled-list trips, finish May on a five game winning-streak, and two games over the .500 mark.
GAME 50 PREVIEW CHICAGO CUBS (25-24) at LOS ANGELES DODGERS (26-24) Dodger Stadium, 9.10pm CT, TV: WGN, FSN2
SP Brad Penny SP Carlos Zambrano
SS #Neifi Perez SS #Cesar Izturis
2B *Todd Walker RF Jayson Werth
1B Derrek Lee CF *JD Drew
RF *Jeromy Burnitz 2B Jeff Kent
3B Aramis Ramirez LF *Ricky Ledee
CF *Corey Patterson 3B Antonio Perez
LF Jason Dubois 1B *Hee Seop Choi
C Henry Blanco C #Mike Rose
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
The Cubs have seen the best and worst of Zambrano so far this year - he's been brilliant and unhittable in some starts, wild and certainly fallible in others. And throughout he's of course been ever emotional. Which Z will it be tonight though?
From Al Yellon's Bleed Cubbie Blue, way way down at the bottom of the post, after his review of the new Star Wars movie:
Finally, the usual "reliable sources" tell me that further trades may be on the horizon, which may include one or more starting players. Beyond this I cannot comment without compromising my source, and I'd like to keep the information flow. Stay tuned.
That, my friends, is one of the best cases of burying the lede I have ever seen in my life. So who's it gonna be? Speculators, mount up!

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