April 2009

In short:

The Bulls game was great.

The Blackhawks game became compelling.

And the Cubs game...made me glad the Bulls and Blackhawks games were on.

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The Cubs open a four game set versus the suddenly popular Florida Marlins who are riding a two game win streak and are first in the NL East. They are  just 3-7 over their last 10 though and are fifth in the NL in runs scored (Cubs are 9th) and 10th in runs allowed (Cubs are 8th), so maybe the Cubs bats can start waking up.

Wittenmyer tweets that Aramis Ramirez will avoid the disabled list for at least another day and the lineup for tonight will be: Soriano, Riot, Fukudome, Lee, Bradley, Fontenot, Hill, Miles and Marshall. Also, be sure to check the left sidebar under Quick Links for Wrigley Webcams to see if the game will happen or just below that for a weather update.

The Cubs drop the finale in Phoenix and the series, finishing the roadtrip at 2-4. Hey, they won 2 games.

Why the Cubs Lost: Ryan Dempster came out of the gate rolling breaking pitches up in the hitters' eyes while generally missing the plate. He did settle down for the most part after the first inning, besides a Chad Tracy home run in the third, but the Cubs offensive funk didn't need the degree of difficulty to start the game. It looked like Dempster was done after six and allowing four earned runs, but a Mike Fontenot double play to end the top of the 7th sent him back out for the bottom of the inning. Dempster walked the leadoff batter on four straight and was promptly removed and had another run tacked on to his total. He ended the day with 97 pitches, 61 for strikes, 5 earned runs in 6 innngs pitched and a 5.10 ERA in April.

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Easy Win
W - Zambrano (2-1)
L -  Petit (0-2), Kryptonite, Mortals.

 

Things to Take from This Game

 

1.  Z. Pitches
Not so much a dominant game from Z as a comfortable game.  Zambrano walked two and K'd three, working one weakly hit ball after another.  Only in the seventh did the "scattering" of eight hits result in a serious rally, and by then the game was out of reach.

 

2.  Z. Hits
Zambrano had arguable the two hardest-hit balls of the night, with a lined shot of a double to very-deep right-center and an opposite-field home run, as well as a single. 

 

3.  Others Hit
Soriano had the first and biggest blow, a three-run homer in the third, followed by a Fontenot two-run shot in the fourth.  Koyie Hill continued his good start to the season, with three hits, and Bradley looked good with a couple of lined singles and a walk.  Soriano in particular looked locked in, just barely missing a leadoff homerun and patiently letting Petit pitch around him for a walk in another at-bat.

 

The never-in-doubt details, below.
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Ryan Keedy had three hits including two RBI doubles, but the Giants edged the Cubs 4-3 in an eight-inning Extended Spring Training game on Fitch Park Field #3 this morning. Meanwhile, another squad of Cubs blanked a second squad of Giants 11-0 in a seven-inning game on Field #2, as Larry Suarez and Carlos Rojas threw lights-out shutout ball over the seven innings. (The Giants brought their entire EXST squad to Mesa today--which is unusual--so there were enough players for two games).

I could have tried to watch & score both games simultaneously, but I opted to score only the game on Field #3, so here is the abridged box score (Cubs players only) from that game:

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Ordinarily I have little to say while the I-Cubs are on the road. My commentary usually takes the form of eyewitness accounts. But one big club is wandering the desert [both literally and otherwise] which means a long day's journey into gametime and another big club is in Nashville laying waste to PCL pitching staffs. I thought we might kill some time with a closer look at the latter.

After last night's two-homer game Jake Fox has a pile of stats like the stack of chips in front of the big winner at a poker game.

In 18 games he's hit 11 trotters and knocked in 29 runs! 19 of his league-leading 31 hits have been for extra bases. He's batting .443 with an OPS of 1.549. He already has amassed 73 total bases, just over four per game! True, he's fanned 20 times against only eight walks, but he's also played errorlessly so far at 1B.

For the sake of some perspective it might be useful to note that Big Jake's competition at the top of some of the PCL's hitting categories is none other than Matt Murton. Murton's off to a .411 start with Colorado Springs but 20 of his 30 hits have been singles. His OPS is 1.133 but he has, get this, swiped five bases without being caught. Fox is 1-1 in that category, he being more of a distance runner than a sprinter.

Last year Micah Hoffpauir totaled 100 RBI in just 70 games with Iowa. Will Fox be here long enough to find out if he can equal or surpass that remarkable rate of run production?

IN OTHER NEWS:

Jason Waddell, the bullpen lefty, is pure no more. He gave up his first three runs of the season and took the loss in Saturday's road trip opener...Is Jose Ascanio being stretched out or just exiled? Last year's sometimes I-Cub closer has had four starts and leads the league with a somewhat misleading ERA of 0.54. But his innings pitched have been four, four, four and two thirds and four. The corresponding pitch counts were 55, 54, 74 and 68. Are they extending him to be a long reliever? Mission accomplished...Bobby Scales has played 3B in all three games since Aramis Ramirez was hurt on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis...MW

The Cubs dropped their fourth game in five as Arizona's Dan Haren pitched a complete game, three-hitter to beat Ted Lilly, who just pitched like hell.

Why the Cubs lost: Aside from Alfonso Soriano's leadoff home run, Mike Fontenot's eighth-inning solo shot, and Lilly's third-inning single, the Cubs could do nothing against Haren.

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The Cubs open a three game set in Phoenix tonight against a team battling their own set of injuries. For the D'Backs, it's Brandon Webb and Stephen Drew on the disabled list, although Tom Gordon should be activated for the series. So far on the season, the Snakes have scored the second least amount of runs while allowing the fifth most. I guess no better time to play them short-handed.

The Cubs go in with a two-man bench with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Milton Bradley all sitting, and its unclear if any of them can even pinch-hit. The lineup, according to a Wittenmyer tweet, is Soriano, Theriot, Fukudome, Reed Johnson (yep, batting cleanup), Hoffpauir, Soto, Fontenot, Miles and Lilly. They'll try to scratch some runs against Dan Haren and his 1.38 ERA.

In good news, Carlos Marmol's bullpen session today went fine and should be available tomorrow. Aramis, Milton and possibly Lee could all be back before the end of the series Speaking of Lee, Bruce Levine wrote earlier today that Lee has been suffering from a bulging disc that results in upper-neck and lower-back pain...a result of a home plate collision sometime within the last 3 seasons. I can't recall the incident myself, so any Encyclopedia Brown's out there that can uncover when this happened, I'd like to know. Levine then wastes a few paragraphs explaining how Lee is a warrior for trying to play through the pain while Bradley sits through his groin issues. In the same paragraphs, he says how the neck and back injuries are basically contributing to Lee's poor performance. So Levine is basically advocating that Bradley play through the injuries to hurt the team. A grand plan indeed.....


On the top right sidebar, in the "Game Results" block, there's a link now for "Organizational Results". It'll take you to FirstInning.com and the boxscores from all the Cubs' affiliates from the night before.

In a close vote to decide the Official1 TCR Nickname for our Middle Infielders, we can now announce that with 100% of the 66 votes counted, the winner is....

The Answer To Life, the Universe and Everything?

"That's a good question, really," - Lou Piniella on Milton Bradley not taking his 2-game suspension

A Massage from Chad?

"It feels real good."-  Angel Guzman(on his first win)

Cubs' Fans Have Been Waiting Even Longer for You
"Oh, finally, and the way that we won that game coming back from a
deficit of 4-1 is good for the team, and I think it's going to give us
a chance to start playing better baseball. Since 2006, waiting.
Finally. I've got the ball in my locker. I'm going to give it to my
mom." - Angel Guzman

It's Like Manny Being Manny, Just Not as Good

"Our bullpen situation is our bullpen situation." - Lou Piniella

Wes is Available

"[Saturday] was just ugly. They could've brought in anybody out of the stands to do what I did yesterday. It's one to forget about and move on."- Neal Cotts

Two more days of a lackluster offense and Alfonso Soriano is back in the leadoff spot...Soriano, Riot, Fukudome, Lee, Reed Johnson, Fontenot, Soto, Miles and Harden try to avoid the sweep today.

Way to stick with it, Lou.

"We said we'd try it and we did," Lou Piniella said of Soriano, who
struck out three times on Saturday. "We'll just put him in the leadoff
spot. That's where he feels comfortable, and that's where we'll leave
him."

Even Soriano seems confused if this Twitter quote is from him: "Soriano: ''Back again? My goodness, only 2 games?'' I think that's meant to be a quote from Soriano, although maybe it's just Wittenmyer's reaction to it.

On another note, please, please win this game.

A short mention about an AP story I just read. Bohemian National Cemetery in the Chicago area has built a 32 foot red brick wall  made to eventually resemble centerfield at Wrigley once the ivy starts growing. With a stained-glass scoreboard to serve as "skyboxes" for some 288 potential eternal season ticket holders. There are some original seats and some of the old Wrigley outfield in front taken from the ballpark when they rebuilt the drainage system a year ago.

Here's the LINK if you want to sign up. The grand slam package goes for $4700, cremation is extra.

One more thing...The urns and plaques are already licensed by Major League Baseball, so they are still working it to be getting their "piece of flesh" from those who cheer for the Cubs in the life hereafter.

The Cubs drop the opener to the St. Louis Cardinals on a warm night in St. Looey. Before we get to the recap, it's a busy Saturday here at TCR, so be sure to check out the other stories on here today.

Mike Wellman's Recap from Iowa

Dr. Hecht Returns from China

Transmission Recaps Parachat Last Night

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An in-game thunderstorm preempted the traditional Friday night fireworks show and Jason Dubois [pronounced Doo-Bwah' in this organization] launched the finale with a game-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth as the Iowa Cubs dropped the curtain on their first homestand of the season by stealing one from Albuquerque.

Jake Fox clubbed his league-leading eighth homer of the year and added two singles to again pace the I-Cub attack. Bobby Scales tripled,singled and scored twice to boost his average to .370. Both Scales and SS Andres Blanco are switch-hitting infielders batting over .300, but Scales has played some 3B and even a bit of 1B besides his usual post at 2B while Blanco has been strictly a shortstop early on. If an infielder is to be recalled today, Scales may have an edge based on versatility.

Chad Fox got the win last night despite yielding his first run of the year in half a dozen appearances. A quietly emerging story in the team's bullpen is RH Greg Reinhard. He's now thrown 11 scoreless innings while walking only three to go with 17 strikeouts. Jason Waddell remains unscored upon as the team's bullpen southpaw.

The team was to leave early this morning for Nashville where they start a four-game set tonight. Still unknown is whether or not they'd be dropping anyone off in St. Louis.

This was the first home opener I've missed in 30 years.

I'm way too baseball crazy. My wife loves to travel to exotic places so when she came up with plans for a trip to China for 3 weeks the only question was when. It was either September/October or April. There went my opening day streak. Opening day is for me a religious holiday. You know, opening day is guaranteed to freeze your butt off but it's the annual reintroduction to Wrigley Field. Brown vines withstanding, the scoreboard is such a beautiful sight after a long off-season. So when I decided to sacrifice the beginning of the 2009 season (at the expense of not sacrificing the end of the season) I knew I'd be able to follow the Cubs via all the mlb and internet technology options out there. 

Not so fast, grasshopper.

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This is probably best placed below the fold, so as to protect tender eyes.

According to Gordon Wittenmyer, Lou is moving Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot for the time being and putting Ryan Theriot up there. It looks like Theriot, Fukudome, Soriano, Ramirez, Lee in the first five spots for tonight. It'll probably be some combination of Reed Johnson, Soto and either Fontenot or Miles for the last three spots.

With Soriano now in the middle of the order, the Cubs should be good for what? 7...10...15 runs a night? Sarcasm aside, Theriot and Fukudome are doing the job right now getting on-base and with Bradley out and Hoffpauir likely not playing too much more corner outfield, the middle of the order could use the power for the time being. I would guess that this won't last long enough to get any meaningful read on whether the team is better off with Soriano batting leadoff or in a more traditional run-producing spot, but it definitely won't hurt the team as long as Theriot and Fukudome keep getting on-base (there's some expert analysis for you). The best thing about all this is moving Lee down the fifth spot in my opinion.

Full Lineups for Tonight: Theriot, Fukudome, Soriano, Ramirez, Lee, Fontenot, Soto, Johnson, Dempster vs. Shumaker, Ankiel, Pujols, Ludwick, Duncan, Molina, Greene, Thurston and Wainwright.

A somewhat-weekly tour of Cubs' related links...

- Reader Virginia Phil spotted that infielder Justin Sellers was now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A quick peak at Baseball America shows that he was dealt for a player to be named later a few weeks back. Sellers along with Richie Robnett were acquired for Michael "2.35 ERA, Hasn't walked a guy in 7.2 IP" Wuertz over the offseason (I'll work on the nickname).

- Some video and amateur scouting of Cubs' prospects down in Peoria including Josh Vitters and Ryan Flaherty at The Hardball Times courtesy of Colin Wyers.

-  Harry at Cubs F/x graphs the loss of velocity over the last few seasons by Rich Harden. 

The Cubs dropped their first series of the year losing two of three to Dusty and the Reds. The unfortunate details after the jump.

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As had been rumored, the Cubs have gone and designated Luis Vizcaino for assignment and promoted Jeff Samardzija. Vizcaino has 72 hours to clear waivers and then the Cubs have 7 days to trade or release him. Vizcaino is owed $3.5M for 2009, some of which has already been paid by the Cubs, plus he had a $4M option for 2010 with a $500K buyout, which I believe the Cubs are still responsible for.

Muskat's article suggests that Jim Hendry was trying to deal Vizcaino - possibly to the Washington Nationals - but he was unable to finalize anything, so they decided to DFA him instead. Which makes me ask, what's the fucking rush? A Trib article that Cubnut linked to in the previous post  that I can't seem to get to work now, suggested Vizcaino got in Lou's doghouse by showing up late on Opening Day, but that's hardly enough to burn $4M. As far as I know, Jeff Samardzija bobblehead day wasn't scheduled yet, so I don't know why he needed to be called up by April 23rd at the expense of Vizcaino. And you know, Vizcaino hasn't sucked so far, say like one Neal Cotts. A matter of fact, you could say he's been good with 3.2 IP, 3 K's, 0 BB's and 0 ER. And let's not even get into the Cubs burning over $5M between Vizcaino and Gaudin (if they don't find someone to take Vizcaino's contract) and then crying poor all offseason on why they didn't want to resign Kerry Wood and had to move Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis.

But, the Cubs and Hendry have 10 days still to do something with Vizcaino so I'll save flying off the handle until the final end game is clear, but at the moment this series of moves sure looks like some of the most serious roster blundering since the day they resigned Neifi Perez.

 


The other bit of news is that Milton Bradley will sit until he's 100% and when he comes back he'll be batting 6th in the lineup. Anyone who watched the game last night could see that Bradley was still favoring his groin, so probably the right move, although the Cubs probably should have just DL'd him from the beginning to start saving themselves from that third year option that is contingent on days on the disabled list. With Bradley struggling and Micah Hoffpauir hitting, probably not a big deal in the short term. I'll be curious how this will affect the lineup though.

 

Righthander Johnny Cueto dominated Cub hitters Wednesday night, and a strong outing by Ted Lilly (7 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, just 1 unearned run allowed) was wasted as Cincinnati ended the Cubs' three-game winning streak.

Why the Cubs lost: No O—the offense produced no runs and four hits against Cueto in his seven innings. Overall, the Cub bats delivered six measly singles, two each by Soriano and Lee, and one apiece from Fukudome and Ramirez. In both the first inning and the fourth, they managed to put two runners aboard, but failed to capitalize. In total, Cub hitters only had four opportunities to hit with men in scoring position.

Gordon Wittenmyer tweets that Jeff Samardzija will be called up before Thursday's game and get this, Neal Cotts is NOT in danger of being moved. Paul Sullivan says pretty much the same thing as well. Both think that Luis Vizcaino is on the hot seat and could be DFA'd, although you have to believe that it would just be to buy some time for the Cubs to complete a trade as there has been interest in some of the Cubs' relievers and I don't think DFA'ing a reliever with zero earned runs is anything resembling a smart move.Contrary to earlier reports, Samardzija will go to the pen and Sean Marshall will stay in the rotation.

Wittenmyer also says Milton Bradley will be back in the lineup tonight and batting cleanup.

Lineup for Tonight: Soriano, Fukudome, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, Soto, Theriot, Miles, Lilly vs. Taveras, Hairston Jr., Votto, Encarnacion, Bruce, Phillips, Hernadnez, Gonzalez and Cueto.

A quick tour of some of the Cubs that have been recently vanquished by Jim Hendry and the Hendry-nots

Michael Wuertz -  He entered today with 7 scoreless innings, no walks and 9 K's plus a win and a hold. He was called upon today in a tie game with a runner on versus the Yanks and the runner got caught stealing but Wuertz's scoreless streak came to an end with back-to-back doubles followed by back-to-back singles to give the Yanks a two-run lead which the A's subsequently erased to get Wuertz off the hook for the loss.

Felix Pie - Playing left fied mostly for the Orioles with a few stints in center...he's sporting a 135/220/216 line so far with a a home run and 11 K's versus 4 BB's in 42 PA's.

Rich Hill -  Expected to begin a rehab assignment later this week that should last the full 30 days.

Luis Montanez - Just got called up by the Orioles to replace the DL'd Ryan Freel. Montanez had a 29-game streak of reaching base in the minors dating back to last year and an OPS at 1.000 so far this season. He went 1-for-5 with a double and a strikeout in his first game back.

Jake Fox may be ready to take on big league pitching but last night he was silenced by a trio of ex-big leaguers as the Iowa Cubs fell to the Albuquerque Isotopes in a 7-0 yawner at Principal Park.

Eric Milton tossed six impressive innings on his way back from TJ surgery. Jeff Weaver and Tanyon Sturtze preserved the shutout with tidy work of their own. Each took at least one turn hosing down the blazing Big Jake.

Fox went hitless for the first time in 2009 and finally fell off of his unsustainable RBI pace of two per game. He grounded out to end the dreary affair and send everybody home to bed before a noon matinee today that is forecast to be played in good weather breezing through Des Moines on its way to Chicago. Look for the C-Cub crowd to be dressed a little more comfortably on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley.

Even though they only managed a combined two for eight, the Albuquerque highlights for me were Isotope veterans Valentino Pascucci and Chin Hu. I love the 1B with the name of an opera singer and it always makes me smile to know Hu's at SS.

I hope to get to the ballpark in mid-game today and plan to be there tomorrow night for Jack Snow, er, Jeff Samardzija's next start...MW

The Cubs won their third in a row and take the opener versus the Cincinnati Reds on a cold and windy night at Wrigley. Rich Harden and Aramis "Two-out RBI" Ramirez did the heavy lifting with some assistance from Micah Hoffpauir and Chris Dickerson's glove.

Why the Cubs Won: From what I was able to watch, Rich Harden rebounded quite nicely from his last start, needing just 92 pitches to get through six innings while fanning eight. If the Cubs weren't already up by five, you have to think he could have easily come out for the 7th inning. The mid 90's velocity still isn't there as he sat in the 89-92 range (topping out at 93 mph), but he dazzled the Reds with his lethal fastball/change combo. There was a bit of a scare in the fifth when  Wily Taveras hit a sharp grounder up the middle off Harden's glove that ricocheted to his right. Harden scampered to try and make the play but his cleats failed him and he landed face down in the grass, groin and shoulder still in tact though.

Aramis came through with the big hits tonight, a two-out RBI single in the fifth - an opportunity that was only afforded to him thanks to Chris Dickerson dropping a Derrek Lee flyball two at-bats earlier. Then in the 6th, he picked up Reed Johnson who struck out with the bases loaded to drive in two more - once again with two outs - which pretty much put the game away. Hoffpauir kept up his torrid start with his first home run of the season in the second and then hit a sac fly to center before curiously being pinch-hit for in the sixth.

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Baseball should be back tonight from its two-day unscheduled and scheduled hiatus, as the Cubs start a stretch of 20 straight. Rich Harden gets the nod and says it's the best he's felt in a long time. We'll see how good he's feeling after pitching in 30 degree temperatures and a light drizzle, although that's probably picnic weather in Victoria, B.C. It's also the first night game of the year for the Cubs, where they went 20-8 last season.

Milton Bradley will sit again, bad weather and a bad groin never being a good mixture. The lineup from Wittenmyer's twitter feed is Soriano, Fukudome, Lee, Hoffpauir, Ramirez, Fontenot, Soto, Theriot and Harden. They'll oppose Micah Owings and the 7-5 Reds (5-2 on the road) and of course, thy former Cubs manager - sir Dusty Baker.

To hold you over until game time, some fancy plate disclipline trend charts from Harry at Cubs F/x. I also wanted to mention the "Cubs' Bullpen Usage" table on the right sidebar below the first ad, a nifty little shorthand to see who might be available out of the pen each night and a countdown to Carlos Marmol's inevitable arm injury.

I'm not sure if I should be worried about this piece of news, but supposedly soon-to-be new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is trying to raise $100M in capital from private investors.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Tom Ricketts is looking for five to 10 people who could each come up with $25 million.

For that, they’d get front row seats at Wrigley Field, a chance to
rub elbows with players and be on an advisory board that would meet
regularly to discuss the team’s future.

After 15 years, they’d get back their original investment.

Alright, those seats would be kind of sweet and I think close to 100 people donated last time we had a donation drive. You are going to have to raise the ante though this time to about $250,000 each. You can just go ahead and paypal me the money or send a check to Nigeria.

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Below are the sixteen finalists from last week's Name That Double Play Combo contest.  If your submission is not on the list, it likely:

It's a shame there weren't more people there to see it because duels of legitimate pitching prospects like the one that played out last night at Principal Park are rare in the homer-happy Pacific Coast League.

 The mundanely named Bud Norris and your own fighting Irishman with Samardzija scrabbled on his mail fought each other to a 2-2 standoff before Round Rock eventually prevailed 7-5.

For his part, Samardzija looked every bit the big leaguer in waiting as he carved his way through the Texans' lineup to the tune of six innings, one walk, five strikeouts, less than six dozen pitches and a lone hit, that unfortunately being a two-run homer by Reggie Abercrombie who would later blast an encore that put his team ahead to stay.

Samardzija offered first pitch strikes to 12 of the 21 hitters he faced and 49 of his mere 71 pitches were strikes.

His inning by inning pitch counts broke down thusly: 11,13,9,9,18, and 11. Abercrombie's homer followed a two-out walk in the 5th.

Samardzija hit more batters [2] than hit him.

The prodigious Jake Fox smote a tying two-run blast beyond the center field wall in the bottom of the sixth to swell his RBI total to 20 already in only 10 games. That finished Norris, Houston's #2 prospect, who appears as tenacious and hard-throwing as his counterpart. Both were throwing in the low to mid 90's and one can imagine them opposing each other in Houston and Chicago before much longer.

Between the 6th and 7th innings I spotted a very high-ranking Chicago Cub official in the seats directly behind home plate and wandered down to see if I might pick a little at his large brain. I introduced myself by name and affiliation.

"After the game," he said, "I'm working right now." as though he were a player and I an autograph hound. I said I didn't mean to interrupt; just thought I could ask a couple quickies between frames.

"Whaddaya wanna ask?" he gasped as his eyes rolled.

"Does Jake Fox have a big league future with this organization? Are other teams interested in him?"

"That's none of your business." the wheeler-dealer said. "Do you expect me to tell you what teams have asked me about him?"

"No," said I. "I just wondered if there's interest in him."

"Jake Fox is a big league hitter." he declared in summation.

Then followed an even briefer, but no less pleasant, discourse about young Mr. Samardzija's progress after which I thanked him for his time and left him to enjoy what remained of what I like to call the "I think my husband's home" race in which contestants scramble to dress themselves in a uniform ASAP and lunge across a finish line in pursuit of a gift certificate for a free oil change.

I hope the high-powered observer enjoyed the 7th inning stretch, by which time Samardzija had showered and I was on my way to a late showing of "State of Play". Russell Crowe also looked very sharp...MW

Ahh, opening night at the ballpark. The aromas of the stadium grills. The energy of the gathering crowd. The intense greenness of the diamond. The excitement in the PA announcer's voice. The flowers in the restrooms!?

Even the national anthem singer last night at Principal Park in Des Moines couldn't wait to get the Iowa Cubs' home season started. She zipped through a snappy rendition in a minute or so and away we went.

Alas, once the game was put in the hands of professional ballplayers it ground nearly to a halt right out of the blocks.

A nearly 40-minute first inning saw both starting pitchers walk in a run and get paid a visit from their respective dugouts on the mound.

When the I-Cubs finally got to hit, leadoff man Sam Fuld popped one foul down the third baseline and headed for first. A hustling batboy sprinted from the home team's dugout and grabbed at Fuld's bat, by then in the grip of Round Rock's catcher. Only the catcher wouldn't let go. The confused batboy looked up at him pleadingly and the catcher pointed his attention to the stands where the ball had landed. Fuld was on his way back to the batter's box and wasn't yet done with his bat.

The first inning might never have ended had the sizzling Jake Fox not swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into a fielder's choice that broke up an otherwise monotonous, if profitable, stretch of four straight walks by Round Rock's impostorous southpaw hurler.

Later on Fox would fire a run scoring single and launch a towering solo homer to maintain his per game RBI average at precisely two and the I-Cubs eased to an 8-3 win in front of an unusually large and comfortable opening night crowd of nearly ten grand.

By the second inning the renewed joy of baseball had already worn off for many and the scoreboard was inviting children to the playground under the first base grandstands. Such are the times we live in.

First game kinks were fairly minimal. There were a few pitches clocking in on the scoreboard radar screen at 50 mph, but the whole operation was otherwise in mid-season form.

I'll be back there tonight to have a look at the Notre Dame receiver turned thrower. If, that is, I can keep myself out of the playground. Tonight's promo is an earmuff giveaway; they shouldn't be necessary if the weather holds. Tomorrow afternoon is Samardzija jersey-shirt day. I'll check to see if they spell it right...MW

I encountered a number of Cardinals fans heading for Chicago Union Station during this evening's rush hour. I thought about making a smart remark or two in their direction, but I held back.

It's the middle of April, there are two games left in this series, and they're still in first place.

Besides, those Saint Louis-bound fans were going to be dealing with Amtrak for the next five and a half hours.

A person should only be subjected to so much grief in a single day.

Freaky Stat of the Day: The four Cardinal pitchers—Walters, Miller, Boggs, and Perez— combined to fan 13 Cubs this afternoon. That's the highest number of strikeouts by Cub hitters in a nine-inning game in which they beat St. Louis going back to 1954, when Baseball-Reference's Play Index data begins.

The Iowa Cubs will play their 2009 home opener tonight after completing a 5-3 road trip with an 8-7 win yesterday in Albuquerque.

Early on the story is the booming bat of Jake Fox, who's filling the shoes of Micah Hoffpauir and then some. So far he's hitting a robust .516 with a video game OPS of 1.676. Extrapolations of Fox's torrid start over a season's course, always fun in April, lead to some numbers of federally stimulating proportions. Were he to maintain his soul-sold-to-the-devil paces and NOT be recalled, Fox would rack up, for instance, 70 homers, 280 R'sBI and, gulp, 595 total bases.

I can't wait to get to the ballpark tonight and see how his road show plays in Des Moines.

Jake isn't the only Fox off to a fast start. Chad has racked up four straight scoreless outings out of the bullpen and recorded a save in yesterday's win.

Jose Ascanio is transitioning nicely from relief work to the rotation with two scoreless starts, each lasting four innings, as he stretches out to higher pitch counts. Ascanio has issued just one walk against eight strikeouts.

Jeff Samardzija had a lackluster two-inning stint out of the pen in the season opener but followed that with four shutout frames in his first start of the year later on the trip. He'll start again over the weekend and I plan to be there for a good look. He says he's throwing three sorts of fastballs now, along with his slider and a changeup that's the big work in progress. Samardzija reports throwing it several times in his last outing for strikes and says it's coming along. He threw 62 pitches last time out and will be rationed to about 75 on Saturday night en route to a routine workload in excess of 100.

Mitch Atkins has struggled in his two starts thus far, allowing 15 hits and 14 runs in just nine innings.

At the plate, CF Sam Fuld has played the best supporting role behind leading man Fox out of the leadoff spot.

April 17th sounds just about right for a midwest opening night and, sure enough, it looks like the I-Cubs have caught a break from the weatherman for a change. Afternoon highs in the low 70's are expected to give way to a comfortable evening. Unlike Ascanio and Samardzija, I think I have a good shot at going the distance my first time out...MW

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Like the Cub hitters who failed to come through in the clutch, the Cub bullpen left its fingerprints all over Thursday's loss to the Cardinals.

From the Cubs.com game story:

The bullpen...is not in sync. Aaron Heilman, who came on in relief
of starter Sean Marshall, served up Greene's homer on his third pitch.
Rookie David Patton (0-1) took the loss, giving up Yadier Molina's
tie-breaking RBI single in the seventh. Albert Pujols was intentionally
walked, but the other two Cardinals who were walked both scored.

"All we can do is preach," Piniella said. "That's all we can do is say what's good for the individual."

Heilman says there's only one thing they can do.

"Pitch better," Heilman said. "There's no other way to get
around it. There's no real magic formula that you can say, 'Do this,
this and this' and everything's going to click. Sometimes it takes
days, sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes it takes longer to figure
out. We have to keep going out there, be aggressive and keep pitching,
and things will fall into place."

Game by game, here is how the Cub bullpen has fared so far in 2009.

On their regular sports page Thursday, the Wall Street Journal takes a look at some of baseball's arguably "bad ideas." Included is the strategy of having the pitcher bat eighth, which a certain St. Louis Cardinals manager routinely did the past couple years but this year has said he will do more sporadically.

This afternoon at Wrigley, when Rich Harden goes up against former teammate Jason Marquis, Geo Soto will make his first start since last Tuesday in Houston, and while Lou Piniella says Aramis Ramirez's back is getting better, he adds "one more day [of rest] won't do any harm."

As for Milton Bradley, Paul Sullivan reports:

Bradley is still projected back by the weekend,
though Piniella said Bradley told him he's feeling better, "though he
still feels (the groin strain) somewhat."

On the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League debut 62 years ago, Bradley is also the subject of a long piece by Gordon Wittenmyer about the sad history of race-baiting by Cubs fans.

Cubs fans, an opportunity presents itself that we cannot afford to ignore.  The starting middle-infielders on our team are:

  • Short
  • Skinny
  • "Scrappy"
  • Teammates since college
  • Own last names that rhyme with each other
  • Are generally just sort of adorable

And, someone surprisingly given Hendry's penchant for gathering unto the Ark two of every no-hit utility man, these guys are, most importantly

  • pretty good baseball players!

It's time to give Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot their own nickname.  Something that, after the Cubs win the World Series this year, will echo throughout the marbled halls of Cubs lore like "The Daily Double." 

More important, it should be something we can slap on a T-shirt and hawk outside of Wrigley, allowing the yet-unknown Adam who names this new creature in the Cubs garden to take home a generous 3% cut of TCR's profits on the venture.1

Of course, there already is a nickname in circulation, "The Cajun Connection."  That nickname however

  • is the name of several businesses
  • sounds like it could be a Sourthern escort service
  • is a bit of a mouthful
  • seems to have first been used by Paul Sullivan in a 2007 article
  • hasn't yet caught on to the point where it's cemented as their nickname

Follow me below the fold, wordsmiths, to discuss nicknames for our mighty middle infielders.

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