Game preview

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.
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!
GAME 48 PREVIEW COLORADO ROCKIES (14-33) at CHICAGO CUBS (23-24) Wrigley Field, 1.20pm CT, TV: CSN
SP Sergio Mitre SP *Jeff Francis
SS Clint Barmes 2B Jerry Hairston
2B Luis Gonzalez SS #Neifi Perez
1B *Todd Helton 1B Derrek Lee
CF Preston Wilson 3B Aramis Ramirez
RF *Brad Hawpe LF Jason Dubois
LF Matt Holliday RF *Jeromy Burnitz
3B #Desi Relaford CF *Corey Patterson
C JD Closser C Michael Barrett
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
Jeff Francis has strange splits this year...
IPHHRBBKERA
Coors Field24.222210142.92
Everywhere else27.034317196.67
He's young though, and he'll learn. Hopefully he'll only start learning tomorrow though. A note for the readers of the Cub Reporter Thank you for your patience while our comments have been closed. The disturbances we've suffered are all the work of two individuals. Please be assured that we are working hard and making great progress towards the day when they will no longer bother any of us. In the meantime, we are going to re-open the comments in today's two posts, albeit with a few conditions - you must flood them with positive, constructive comments, you must ignore their disruptive posts (have faith that one of TCR staff will be along shortly to delete any), you must be on the lookout for those using fake names, including the names of TCR staff and regular posters, and, most importantly, you must show them, once and for all, that two bad apples won't ruin things for you. This is your community, now go out and claim it! Yours, The Cub Reporter Staff
GAME 46 PREVIEW COLORADO ROCKIES (14-31) at CHICAGO CUBS (21-24) Wrigley Field, 1.20pm CT, TV: CSN, Fox Sports RM
SP Mark Prior SP *Joe Kennedy
SS #Desi Relaford CF Jerry Hairston
2B Luis Gonzalez SS #Neifi Perez
1B *Todd Helton 1B Derrek Lee
CF Preston Wilson 3B Aramis Ramirez
RF *Brad Hawpe LF Jason Dubois
LF Matt Holliday RF *Jeromy Burnitz
3B Garrett Atkins CF *Corey Patterson
C #JD Closser C Henry Blanco
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
Todd Walker, freshly back from the disabled list, is never one to shy away from giving his opinion. At the start of the year, for instance, he pronounced that the 16 runs the Cubs scored against the Diamondbacks in the season opener was reliable evidence that the offence wasn't as bad as everyone had feared. Er, okay. He's changed his tune a bit. From today's Tribune...
Even if you're a Tony Gwynn, he's not going to hit here what he hit in San Diego because of the tall grass. You hit balls in the gaps that land in front of the outfielders, and it's a single not a double. It doesn't kick and keep going. If you stand at home plate here, and you stand at home plate at Coors Field, there's a major difference in the outfield as a whole. I'm sure there's a purpose for [the Cubs keeping the grass long]. But here's my point: You either need home-run guys or speed guys. If you're a great hitter--like Nomar [Garciaparra]--he hit .290 [in 2004] instead of .320. A lot of balls Nomar hits for base hits go through third and short. And from what I noticed, those were being caught. Maybe 40 years ago they were hitting the ball around [Wrigley was a hitter's park]. But over the last few years, and especially the last two years, if you don't hit home runs, you have to have guys who bunt and steal and do the small ball thing--not two [players], but more like six or seven of those guys.
Todd Walker is off-base. There's little evidence to suggest that the grass is any tougher on hits (or doubles in particular) than other ballparks, at least according to ESPN's park factors. Perhaps part of the reason for that is that, though when the ball rolls it quickly slows, on the bounce the ball can really scoot. It'll come as news to nobody that Wrigley doesn't quite play like Coors, but I think that's the first time anyone's made the point that the grass is the difference between the two. Thin air at altitude, anyone? As for his comment regarding Nomar, he should be aware that Nomar hadn't hit .320 in Boston for a good few years until the first half of last year, and that even then the words small sample size are somewhat fitting. A more plausible excuse for "only" hitting .290 might also be found in Nomar's Achilles injury. Walker's unlying tone throughout (or at least the tone suggested by the way the piece is written by, er, Paul Sullivan) is that the grass is responsible for all our offensive woes. He's wrong. He's also wrong to come to the conclusion that, the grass supposedly being the problem, the Cubs have to have players up and down the lineup capable of bunting and stealing a base. If the grass really is causing so many extra outs on balls in play and as a result so many fewer baserunners, is the solution really to give up more outs (or risk more outs) whenever you have a rare baserunner on? I somewhat doubt it. It'd strike me as more fitting to instead find ways onto the bases that don't involve subjecting the ball to the grass. Take a wild swing at what I'm talking about. And then, with bases clogged, hit your homers if you will. That is, of course, if the problem is the grass. And it isn't. It's our offence.
GAME 44 PREVIEW HOUSTON ASTROS (15-30) at CHICAGO CUBS (21-22) Wrigley Field, 6.05pm CT, TV: ESPN, CSN
SP Greg Maddux SP Brandon Backe
CF *Orlando Palmeiro CF Jerry Hairston
RF *Todd Self SS #Neifi Perez
2B Craig Biggio 1B Derrek Lee
LF #Lance Berkman RF *Jeromy Burnitz
1B *Mike Lamb 3B Aramis Ramirez
3B Morgan Ensberg 2B *Todd Walker
SS #Jose Vizcaino LF Jason Dubois
C Brad Ausmus C Michael Barrett
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
The Cubs go for their longest winning streak of the season, their first three game sweep and a return to .500, and they'll be doing so with Todd Walker back in the lineup a full six weeks after he went down injured. Onto the disabled list to make room for him goes Mike Remlinger, who protests he could start a game tomorrow. Go Cubs!
GAME 43 PREVIEW HOUSTON ASTROS (15-29) at CHICAGO CUBS (20-22) Wrigley Field, 7.05pm CT, TV: WGN, Fox Sports SW
SP Sergio Mitre SP Roger Clemens
CF Willy Taveras CF Jerry Hairston
RF *Todd Self SS #Neifi Perez
2B Craig Biggio 1B Derrek Lee
LF #Lance Berkman RF *Jeromy Burnitz
1B *Mike Lamb 3B Aramis Ramirez
3B Morgan Ensberg C Michael Barrett
SS Adam Everett LF Jason Dubois
C Brad Ausmus 2B #Enrique Wilson
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
Compared to Brandon McCarthy and Wandy Rodriguez, Sergio Mitre is pretty much a proven veteran - he has a whopping 60.1 major league innings under his belt. On the whole they were relatively useless innings, carrying a 6.86 ERA, but Mitre can at least fall back upon a couple of good starts and the excuses that his peripheral numbers deserved better and that he genuinely wasn't ready for the opportunity that fell to him with Mark Prior's injury. A year on though and he's refined his changeup to go with a decent slider and a plus sinker that he throws in the low-nineties and with which he induces a multitude of groundballs, groundballs which have the useful habit of never leaving the park for home runs. That, combined with good control and a decent strikeout rate has made him an extremely effective starter in the minors. The changeup though represents the key to translating that to the big leagues - if he can figure out how to get left-handers out, though he'll never be an ace, he'll find himself a job chewing away innings somewhere in the majors. Somewhat sadly, since I'm a big "Meat-tray" fan, that job probably won't be with the Cubs, since this is his final option year and no long term pitching vacancy seems, well, vacant. In the short term though, these upcoming weeks until Wood returns and tonight in particular, going against Roger Clemens, the most proven veteran in all of baseball, Mitre has a chance to help himself, and the Cubs, by showcasing his talent to any prospective buyers. Ben Grieve has been sent down to make room for him, which is sheer idiocy given we're currently carrying an eight-man bullpen (and that Grieve has over his career really hit Clemens). If he didn't come across as such an, er, disagreeable person, shall we say, I could almost find it in my heart to feel sorry for old Roger, who right now probably is wishing he hadn't settled for just $18m this year. Clemens has started 9 times this year and thrown 63 innings of 1.29 ERA ball. The Astros' record in those 9 games? 3-6. Clemens' own record reads just 3-2. He's not going to vulture another Cy from anyone with just three wins to his name, particularly not when his ERA rises a few points, as it inevitably will, starting tonight we hope. Actually, the Cubs have historically hit Clemens better than most (they have a 3.89 ERA against him), and they beat him in the matchup of the 300-game winners in late April, so perhaps that hope's not entirely unfounded. Then again, Enrique Wilson's starting tonight (Corey rides the pine, a scratch because of a sore left wrist from his collision with Burnitz yesterday). Is there a rule that says all terrible infielders have to switch hit? As for Bruce Levine, he's been terribly and suspiciously quiet all day. He did though get around to explaining that, while he didn't have the names, the big trade involved another National League club, with four players leaving the Windy City (an outfielder, a reliever and two prospects) and two new Cubs (a power-hitting left-handed corner outfielder and a middle reliever). The departing outfielder, he clarified, was not Corey Patterson, which is strange given that he says he doesn't have the names. Anyway, this has me wistfully day-dreaming about Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu manning our pinstripes (do we still play in them?), so if you could just leave me in peace... Oh, and go Cubs! [Update] Bruce Levine has just rudely interrupted my day-dreaming. How inconsiderate. The team involved in this supposed trade, he says, is the Mets, which fits with a New York Post speculation that they're interested in LaTroy Hawkins. By my estimation that makes the power-hitting left-hander outfielder reportedly heading our way Cliff Floyd. The prospects they're scouting are, apparently, from Peoria. Hands off Eric Patterson! In fact, hands of LaTroy if all you're offering is Cliff Floyd, whose second home is the disabled list. We're not so short of outfielders that we need to sacrifice the pitcher that remains our best reliever plus a whole plentitude of other talent for Cliffy and a Mets reliever. Or maybe Levine has sources no better than, er, mine.
GAME 42 PREVIEW HOUSTON ASTROS (15-28) at CHICAGO CUBS (19-22) Wrigley Field, 7.05pm CT, TV: CSN, Fox Sports SW
SP *Glendon Rusch SP *Wandy Rodriguez
CF Willy Taveras 2B Jerry Hairston
LF *Todd Self SS #Neifi Perez
2B Craig Biggio 1B Derrek Lee
1B #Lance Berkman 3B Aramis Ramirez
3B Morgan Ensberg RF *Jeromy Burnitz
RF Jason Lane LF Jason Dubois
SS Adam Everett CF *Corey Patterson
C Brad Ausmus C Michael Barrett
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
They're like buses - you wait ages for one, and then two come along at once. Rookie opposition starters that is. Yesterday the Cubs got Brandon McCarthy, but they didn't manage to actually get to him. In fact, McCarthy was very impressive, striking out the first ever major league batter he faced (Hairston) and pitching a very solid five and a third innings before Guillen very cautiously lifted him. Today the Cubs get Wandy (yes, Wandy) Rodriguez, who starts in place of Andy Pettitte, and hopefully they'll at least give one of these two rookies a major league welcome to make them wish they'd never been promoted. Rodriguez doesn't have the same prospect calibre of McCarthy though, nowhere near - he's a 21, no, 25, er 26 year-old soft-tossing lefty out of Venezuela with a fastball, changeup, curveball arsenal that he throws for strikes, and at best he projects as the lefty out of the 'pen that makes up the numbers. He's going on just three days of rest and will be looking to end a five-game Houston losing streak. [Update] According to Bruce Levine at least, the Cubs are about to pull off a big trade, but that's all he's saying! Talk about keeping us on tenterhooks! Anyway, speculate away amongst yourselves. All I have to say is that I hope that Corey Patterson, whose name seems to be getting bandied around quite a bit, isn't involved. This is no time to give up on him.

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