April 2009

Marlins Make it Rain

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.

Cubs Wilt in Desert Heat

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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Game 19 Recap: Cubs 11, Diamondbacks 3

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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Cubs Split EXST Games with Giants at Fitch Park

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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What the Fox!?

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.

Cubs' Worst Game in, Oh, About 48 Hours: D-Backs 7, Cubs 2

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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Desert Storm

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.

Cubs' Quotations of the Week

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

Soriano Back to Leadoff

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."

You've Waited 100 Years Without a Pennant, How about Eternity?

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.

Of Frenchmen and Fireworks

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.

The Slow (Internet) Boat to China

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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Tonight's Lineup...Sort Of

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.

TCR Friday Notes

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. 

Vizcaino DFA'd

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.

Cueto Quiets Cubs: Reds Win at Wrigley, 3-0

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.

Ex-Cub Watch

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.

Fox Out-Foxed By Retreads

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.

(Cubbie) Blue Dominates Red Once Again

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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Red Dawn

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.

TCR Donation Drive for $25 Million

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.

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A PCL Pitchers' Duel!?

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.

Release the Hounds! Friday Night Foxhunt...

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.

Biting My Blue-Pinstriped Tongue

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.

Cubs Bullpen is No Relief in Thursday's Loss

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.

Wall Street Journal Lucky That Tony LaRussa Didn't Have to Kick its Ass

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.

Soto Returns; Ramirez and Bradley Sit

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.

Name That Double-Play Combo!

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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