May 2009

The Cubs split versus the best team in the league and head out for a 9-game road trip, where they've played ever so well.

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CF Albert Hernandez singled and doubled and drove in two runs, and five Cubs pitchers combined to throw a two-hitter, as the DSL Cubs #1 defeated the DSL Tigers 7-3 yesterday afternoon on Dominican Summer League (DSL) Opening Day at Baseball City, near Boca Chica, DR.

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In other DSL Opening Day action, Miguel Gonzalez had three hits and drove in two runs, but the bullpen could not hold a 4-1 8th inning lead, as the DSL Orioles/Brewers co-op team took advantage of five errors to rally and edge DSL Cubs #2 5-4.

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Larry Suarez threw four shutouts innings and struck out seven, and Jose Made smacked a bases-loaded triple, leading the EXST Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the EXST Giants at Fitch Park Field #1, in one-half of an Extended Spring Training simultaneous doubleheader played this morning in Mesa under partly cloudy skies.

In the other game on Field #3, ex-OF (now RHP) Andres Quezada threw three shutout innings and the Cubs rode the extra-base hitting of John Contreras en route to an 8-3 victory over a second squad of EXST Giants.

Carrie Muskat wrote yesterday that Alfonso Soriano has been playing with a sore knee since April 23rd, when he "banged his knee against the wall" while running after what turned out to be a Joey Votto home run.

"It hasn't been the same since,"
Soriano said. "It's getting better."

Lou Piniella said athletic trainer Mark O'Neal hasn't told him that Soriano can't play. He'll take it day by day.

"Soriano is a tough kid and wants to play," Piniella said. "If it
persists, we might have to get him out of there for a few days."

In 31 games since April 23rd, Soriano, has hit .233/.266/.431/697 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS).  He has hit 7 HR, though none in his last 10 games. His current line of .253/.313/.495/807 is a season low, across all categories.

Cubs SS Ryan Theriot officially qualified for post-2009 salary arbitration yesterday, and Aaron Heilman hit five years of MLB service time a week ago, meaning that although he has two minor league options left, he can't be sent to the minors without his permission.

Also, the Cubs have released OF Richie Robnett from AAA Iowa and RHP Jesse Estrada from AA Tennessee, and have signed minor league FA OF John-Ford Griffin, with Griffin replacing Robnett on the I-Cubs roster. 

Robnett was one of two players the Cubs got from Oakland for Michael Wuertz in February. The other one (INF Justin Sellers) was traded to LAD at the end of Minor League Camp for a PTBNL (or ca$h) and is presently at AA Chattanooga. I wonder how Wuertz is doing at Oakland?

Now 28, Griffin was the Yankees 1st round draft pick out of Florida State in 2001, and was rated by Baseball America as a Top 100 prospect and one of the Yankees Top 10 prospects in 2002, and one of the A's Top 10 Prospects in 2003 after he was traded to Oakland along with Ted Lilly in the deal that sent 1B Carlos Pena and RHP Franklyn German from OAK to DET and RHP Jeff Weaver from DET to NYY.

Griffin hit 310/386/527 at Las Vegas (Dodgers AAA) in 2008, but was released by the Dodgers recently after hitting only .122 with 13 K in only 41 PA in his first 16 games in AAA in 2009. He has logged 13 games in the big leagues (with Toronto 2005-07), and he will be a Rule 55 minor league FA post-2009 if he is not added to the Cubs 40-man roster by the end of the World Series.

In addition, LHP James Russell has been promoted from Tennessee to Iowa and LHP Jayson Ruhlman has been demoted from Iowa back to Tennessee, and RHP Marco Carrillo has been promoted from Daytona to Tennessee (replacing Estrada). The son of ex-MLB closer Jeff Russell, James Russell was the Cubs 14th round draft pick of out the U. of Texas in 2007, although he got "3rd round money" to give up his college career (he dropped to the 14th round only because he was considered to be a "tough sign," because he was telling everybody that he wanted to return to Texas for his senior season). Along with 2008 draft picks RHP Jay Jackson and RHP Casey Coleman (who is also the son of an ex-MLB pitcher), Russell is one of the more-polished pitchers in the Cubs system.  

Drafted by the Cubs out of a Texas JC in 2004 but signed as a "Draft & Follow" in May 2005, the now 25-year old 6'8 300+ Estrada progressed steadily through the Cubs system over the past few seasons, and was considered enough of a prospect that the Cubs sent him to the AFL last fall, and he looked OK there. But he was not added to the Cubs 40-man roster in November, and then he pitched poorly at Minor League Camp in march with Iowa, where he was given every opportunity to nab a spot in the I-Cubs starting rotation. So instead he began the 2009 season in the Iowa bullpen, but he was demoted to Tennessee earlier this month, and he continued to perform poorly when given a chance to start at AA. 

Besides the PTBNL the Cubs are yet to get back from the Dodgers for Sellers, the Cubs are stilled owed a PTBNL from BAL (for LHP Rich Hill), one from OAK (for RHP Rocky Roquet), and another from TOR (for RHP Dumas Garcia), although I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs will get ca$h instead in all four cases (probably around $20,000, which they could use to claim a player off waivers at a time & place of their own choosing).

And Rule 5 LHP Donald Veal is still on the Pirates 25-man roster. although he has appeared in only one game in the last three weeks (and he has pitched in just five games & logged only 6.1 IP so far in 2009), although he did throw two innings in relief versus the Astros last night. 

Matt Cerda reached base three times on a single, a double, and a walk, but there just wasn't much other Cubs offense on display, as the EXST Angels defeated the EXST Cubs 3-1 in Extended Spring Training action at the Angels Minor League Complex at Diablo Park in Tempe this morning. 

Today at Baseball Prospectus (subscription), Joe Sheehan wrote about how the Cubs have become one of baseball's most home run-dependent teams and tonight, we saw, yet again, where that generally gets you.

A pinch-hit home run by Bobby Scales in the eighth inning against Randy Wolf accounted for all the Cubs' scoring Thursday night in the team's most recent, painful defeat.

RF Jesus Morelli threw a strike to catcher Matt Cerda with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, nipping the potential tying run at the plate and preserving the victory, as the EXST Cubs edged the EXST A's 4-3 in Extended Spring Training action at Papago Park Field #2 in Phoenix this morning.

As expected, Carlos Zambrano was handed a six game suspension for his antics yesterday. Unlike Milton Bradley, pride isn't an issue for Z as he said he won't bother appealing the suspension and will begin serving it immediately. He'll miss the Dodgers series and the first two games in Atlanta next week. Conveniently the Cubs have an off-day Monday, so some minor rotation juggling and Z should be starting next Thursday in Atlanta.

Some more news has trickled out on the impending sale of the Cubs and Sam Zell is hinting that the Ricketts may not be the new owner afterall (emphasis added).

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Granted, any lineup that undergoes a triple crown-ectomy is gonna be sore. But Jake Fox's promotion to Chicago leaves the Iowa Cubs really hurting.

The team hadn't even homered in Fox's last six games on the roster. After yesterday's doubleheader split and today's 9-1 matinee loss to the Sacramento River Cats on getaway day the dubious streak is at nine and counting as the team heads south for a road trip versus its divisional rivals in Memphis and Nashville.

Fox left town with 17 homers.

Today's lineup had 10 [14 if you count the four hit on behalf of the Tennessee Smokies]. And that included a DH!

A pitcher with 10 strikeouts in 22 innings+ fanned nine I-Cubs this afternoon in seven frames. At one point Dana Eveland whiffed five straight.

The defensive effort was lowlighted by Jason Dubois in left field. In the top of the 3rd he camped under a fly ball off the bat of Eric Patterson, straddling the foul line. It appeared that the ball bounced off of his noggin into the seats behind the Iowa bullpen for a ground rule two-base error! Scowling and scuffing at the chalk like a golfer tapping an imaginary spike mark after missing a gimme, Dubois returned to his post. Patterson stole 3rd on the first pitch before scoring on a sacrifice fly to, you guessed it, Dubois, who made the play of the game with a leaping catch while banging against the wall.

You just never know what you're gonna see at the old ballpark.

GOTTA HAVE HART DEPT. - Kevin Hart continued to rebound from a poor start to his season with four more scoreless innings in yesterday's nightcap. It was his second straight impressive start after 16 appearances out of the bullpen. For the year Hart has now fanned 33 in 28 innings while walking only nine...MW

An eventful afternoon at Wrigley as the Cubs take their first series in two weeks and climb back over the .500 mark.

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Robert Hernandez was clubbed for seven runs in a nightmarish bottom of the 1st inning and the EXST Giants cruised to 9-3 victory over the EXST Cubs on Indian Bend Park Field #4 in Scotsdale this morning, but not to worry too much, because Logan Watkins and Matt Cerda drove-in two runs apiece and Su-Min Jung and Toby Matchulat combined to throw six innings of two-hit shutout ball, as the another squad of EXST Cubs defeated another squad of EXST Giants 5-1 at Indian Bend Park Field #3, in a game played simultaneous to the one on Field #4. And I was able to watch both games simutaneously, too.

Jake Fox and his 17 PCL home runs are on their way to Chicago for today's game. To make room on the roster, Aaron Miles will be put on the disabled list with a sore shoulder that has apparently bothered him since spring training. Miles is barely good enough to play major league baseball when healthy, he certainly didn't need to be struggling through an injury all this time.

Fox - even with all his defensive misgivings - was putting up a line that he probably hadn't put up since his days in the Pony League: .423/.503/.886 for a 1.389 OPS.

Bruce Miles also says that Neal Cotts could be on his way out, possibly to Iowa as he states that Cotts still does have an option left. Arizona Phil and other outlets have been saying he's out of options, so we'll see what the loophole is here if the roster move does indeed happen. And if he did have an option left, what the fuck was the hold-up on sending him down?

UPDATE: Muskat says lefty Jason Waddell and infielder Andres Blanco are at the park as well and also says that Cotts should be looking for a Des Moines apartment.

UPDATE #2: Fox, Blanco and Waddell called up, Scales and Cotts optioned to Triple A.

The Cubs end their eight game losing streak with a 6-1 rain-shortened victory over the Pie-rats.

Why the Cubs Won: The offense continued where it left off yesterday with a six-run outburst in just five innings of play. Fukudome started the fun with a home run in the first, his first home run in May after four in April in what should be his only other start this homestand besides Friday against Chad Billingsley as south-paws are scheduled to face the Cubs the rest of the month. Sean Marshall then came through in the second with a single to score the Cubs second run and and a Hoffpauir double to deep right netted the Cubs third run in the first three innings. They tacked on three rather meaningless runs in the bottom of the fifth and then the clouds opened up to ensure the win and end this rather dreadful losing streak.

Marshall on the mound was effective as well, including a few defensive gems to help himself out. He finished with the easy 5 inning pitched complete game with 6 K's and just one run allowed.

Fun Stat: 5.14 Runs per game at home for the Cubs, 4.04 on the road.

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Taking a cue from his counterpart in the big leagues, Iowa Cub manager Bobby Dickerson held a pre-game meeting yesterday in the team's clubhouse at Principal Park in Des Moines. The team had made 10 errors in its previous three games.

After the meeting the troops went out and made three more in the process of losing 5-3 to the Sacramento Rivercats.

The battle of capital cities was also a battle of pitching prospects as former Cub Sean Gallagher opposed current hotshot Jeff Samardzija.

Gallagher rationed 89 pitches over seven strong innings to get the win. Samardzija labored while throwing 102 in just four plus and took the loss.

Jake Fox did manage to extend his hitting streak to 17 games with a single in his last at-bat, but be advised that he's also gone a season-long six game stretch without homering. He was also brushed by a pitch for the eighth time, another of the many categories in which he leads the league.

Samardzija is clearly working on stuff other than his fastball. After the first inning he seemed to start most batters with some kind of breaking pitch. All told he threw first pitch strikes to 15 of the 24 hitters he faced, but the Rivercats reached him for eight hits in his short, pitchy stint.

In the Sacramento 3rd, he came a little undone after CF Sam Fuld approached a routine single like it was a rattlesnake for a two-base error. Samardzija issued a four-pitch walk and then wild-pitched a run home, cussing his way back to the mound in his best Zambrano impression after the ump called the runner safe on a close play at the plate.

Between the starting pitchers and I-Cub reliever Vince Perkins the scoreboard radar gun was registering in the mid to upper 90's throughout. Perkins comes near the century mark.

Jeremy Blevins, the chip that brought us Jason Kendall a couple years back, relieved Gallagher in the 8th and surrendered a run in less than an inning; right in keeping with his ERA of nearly seven.

Leading off for the Rivercats and playing CF was Eric Patterson who managed two hits and a run scored. Patterson also swiped his 19th base in 23 tries. I-Cub catcher Chris Robinson leads PCL catchers in fielding percentage but he, Mark Johnson and Jake Fox have combined to catch only seven out of 48 base stealers this year. The Cub organization doesn't seem to put much premium on either efficient pitch counts [how many years running have they led the NL in strikeouts?] or the holding of runners.

OTHER ODDITIES: After Richie Robnett tripled in a run in the bottom of the 2nd Dickerson ordered a squeeze bunt on consecutive pitches; both were popped foul and glanced off the glove of Sacramento's diving third baseman...eerie similarity: even though it was almost completely rebuilt as recently as 1992, Principal Park has chunks of concrete falling off just like Wrigley Field! Three small areas of the place have been closed to the public for the duration of the homestand which ends on Thursday...Fox was out from here to Chicago trying to go 1st to 3rd on a single to right - it appeared that the bad idea was Dickerson's in the 3rd base coaching box...Fox has now played 29 games @ 1B, two @ DH, one @ 3B, one in LF, and two @ catcher...Dickerson loves to bunt - in Sunday's game the team loaded the bases on three straight and yesterday's attempted squeeze[s] came after two successes earlier in the week...MW

Monday night's game seemed otherworldly from even before the first pitch.

A Wrigley Field home game on a holiday at night? It made scheduling sense, given that the Cubs had to fly all the way east from San Diego following Sunday's game, but it still felt wrong.

Then the lineups were published and owing to a combination of illness, injuries, and an opposing lefthander, we saw Reed Johnson hitting cleanup and an infield of Freel, Theriot, Miles, and Hoffpauir. In other words, the stuff of split squad spring training games.

Playing in front of his family visiting from South Korea, 18-year old bonus baby Hak-Ju Lee ripped a three-run inside-the-park home run to key a four-run 7th, but the Cubs couldn't hold the lead, as the EXST Angels rallied to tie the EXST Cubs 5-5 in Memorial Day Extended Spring Training holiday action at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning. in hot & sunny Mesa, AZ.  

The Cubs finish off the road trip a perfect 0-6, scoring a grand total of five runs in those six games and are now 21-21 on the season. $140 million doesn't buy what it use to in this crazy world.

Why the Cubs Lost:  Because God hates the Cubs and all their fans.

Ted Lilly pitched...not particularly good or bad, but he pitched, giving up five runs in his 6.1 IP. Aaron Heilman came in to try and bail him out in the seventh with a man on third and one out and struck out Scott Hairston. This would be when I remarked in Parachat that he'll still end up letting the run in and after intentionally walking Adrian Gonzales, Heilman hung a slider to Kevin Kouzmanoff and three runs later, the game was completely out of reach.

The offense sputtered along once again with no baserunners until a Mike Fontenot single in the fifth with two outs. They manage to mount a few rallies in the upcoming innings that predicatbly fizzled out including a sharp two-out grounder by Ryan Theriot up the middle that Chris Young kicked to the second baseman that would have scored a run. Reed Johnson did knock a meatball into the front row in left field for the Cubs only two runs and the Cubs come home with their tails between their legs and hoping the Friendly Confines live up to their name.

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This last week was about as fun as mistaking Icy Hot for a tube of KY Jelly...painful and unsatisfying for all the parties involved.  Clearly my absence from TCR of late has greatly affected the morale of the Northsiders, so I'll suck it up and watch the game today. A loss would drop the Cubs back to .500 on the season, with just over a quarter of the season done.

Lou's desperation is showing batting Reed Johnson third versus a righty. If things get ugly again today, I recommend Derrek Lee taking a swing at Chris Young again just for good measure.

(Looks like a late lineup change, Hoff in, Johnson dropped to 5th)

Soriano LF Eckstein 2B
Theriot SS Hairston CF
Hoffpauir 1B A. Gonzalez 1B
Bradley RF Kouzmanoff 3B
Johnson CF Hundley C
Fontenot 2B Headley LF
Soto C D. Macias RF
Scales 3B Wilson SS
Lilly P Young P

Join the crew in Parachat today, let's stew in our misery together.

After losing to the likes of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Jake Peavy earlier in the current losing streak, the Cubs fell Saturday night at San Diego to young Josh Geer, who came into the game with a 5.61 ERA and no victories in five starts.

Seven Cub pitchers combined to throw a five-hitter, as the EXST Cubs and EXST Giants played to a 1-1 12-inning tie before a Memorial Day Weekend packed house at Fitch Park Field #3 in Mesa this morning.

Reader Osiris flagged this bad news by way of Paul Sullivan in the Tribune:

The Cubs placed Rich Harden on the 15-day disabled list with a back strain on Friday, and inserted Randy Wells into the rotation for Saturday's game.

This will allow the Cubs to activate Carlos Zambrano without having to make another roster move, i.e., demote Wells. Harden felt "a twinge" when he pitched last Sunday against the Astros.

You may vomit as you see fit.

Let the autopsy report on this ghastly series read: three games, two runs, 14 hits, three losses.

Lou Piniella made a lineup change on Thursday night, sliding Mike Fontenot from third base to the more familiar ground at second and starting the seldom-used Ryan Freel at third. The moves paid dividends...to the Cardinals:

Jericho Jones had three hits, reached base all four times he batted on two singles, a double, and a HBP, stole a base, and drove in a run, but the EXST A's rallied to score the tying run in the 8th and the game-winning run in the 9th en route to a 5-4 victory over the EXST Cubs in Extended Spring Training action at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning in warm & overcast Mesa, AZ. 

With Carlos Zambrano expected to be reactivated from the 15-day DL tomorrow, the Cubs will need to make an acompanying roster move.

Here are the three most-likely moves:

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that the White Sox, not our Cubs, are closing in on acquiring the Padres ace.

The sickening details are here.

Tuesday night in St. Louis...

Joel Piniero, coming off three consecutive losses, recorded the Cardinals' first complete-game shutout of the season. He faced only 28 hitters, threw only 28 non-strikes (never reaching a three-ball count), only allowed one man into scoring position, and dispatched the Cubs in 125 minutes, the Cards' fastest game in almost three years.

Rookie Colby Rasmus, who had just two singles in 25 AB against lefthanded pitching this season, bashed a 2-run homer off of Ted Lilly.

And the Cardinals, who lost three straight to the Brewers in their just concluded series and overall had lost 10 of their previous 14 games, won.

Glad we could help.

Out-of-town scoreboard note: Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who pitched one shutout inning Tuesday night, now has an ERA of 5.71; former Cubs closer Kerry Wood, who pitched just two-thirds of an inning Tuesday night—and a rollicking two-thirds of an inning it was—now has an ERA of 8.31.

Two things of note from the Iowa Cubs' road win in Salt Lake City yesterday:

1. Jake Fox played catcher after a game at 3B earlier on the trip. Is his versatility on display for potential trade suitors?

2. Kevin Hart threw three innings of perfect relief highlighted by five strikeouts in easily his most encouraging outing of the season.

In more routine news, Fox also slammed his 17th homer of the year, drove in four more runs and was named the PCL Player of the Week for last week. Ho-hum...MW

It had been days since we'd heard a new reason why the Cubs-to-Ricketts deal still hasn't been closed, but then on Monday, Crain's Chicago Business ended the wait:

Matt Cerda drove in three runs on an RBI single and two sacrifice flies, leading the EXST Cubs to a 7-5 victory over the EXST A's in Extended Spring Training action at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning in Mesa.

Not since some bright guy invited Stephen Colbert to the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinners, have we been able to witness a more uncomfortable public verbal flogging.

Hat tip to Big League Stew for the link.

Logan Watkins had three hits and scored twice, leading the EXST Cubs to an 8-3 victory over the EXST Angels in a pre-planned ten-inning Extended Spring Training game at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning in hot & sunny Mesa, AZ.

The Astros and Cubs meet in a 12:05 game at Wrigley following yesterday's washout.

The pitching matchup is a reset of what was scheduled Friday, with Roy Oswalt opposing Randy Wells. Oswalt (1-2) fell to the Cubs on Opening Night and didn't notch a win until his most recent and eighth start of the year, versus the Padres.

From mlb.com:

Oswalt, mainly a fastball-curveball pitcher, admitted he's using his
slider more, for no other reason than "I don't know what I'm doing
right now. I've kind of lost my mind."

Wells is coming off his first Major League start, in which he completed five scorless but event-filled innings against the Brewers. In his brief Major League career, spanning 5 games and 10 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays and Cubs, the 26-year-old righty is still unscored upon.

With Wells going today, Sean Marshall moves into the bullpen until Thursday, when he will go against the Cardinals.

About the Theriot story...I'm no great fan of Rick Telander, but I think he's dead on when he says that MLB owners and players have wrought a situation in which any and every player can find himself the subject of suspicion simply for displaying a sudden power surge or otherwise seemingly uncharacteristic jump in performance.

For the record, Telander said he was pretty sure that the notion was Theriot was a steroids-user was "ludicrous," but that's just the point: none of us, not the fans, not the reporters can be certain any more about anybody. And for that, we can thank Mr. Selig, the owners, Mr. Fehr, and the members of the players union who have opposed testing.

 

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