Iowa Cubs update

Iowa Cubs skipper Ryne Sandberg got tossed from the game for arguing a called third strike in the top of the 9th inning of his team's 2-1 loss in New Orleans last night.


Right now the top two layers of the Cub organization could be peeled and tossed like a rotting onion. Maybe Castro and his band of Smokies should all come north together. Things are at a low ebb.


 

After losing 5-4 yesterday to their neighbor and nemesis, the Omaha Royals, the Iowa Cubs are languishing in the cellar at 9-14. They are a league worst 1-7 in one-run games and have now dropped nine straight to the Royals.

Whenever the Iowa Cubs finally win a game they will be the last team in the Paciifc Coast League to do so in 2010.

This afternoon they dropped their 4th straight to Nashville, 4-2, on a sunny blustery day in Des Moines. The team managed only eight runs while being swept by the Brewer wannabes.

Not as balmy as last year, but better than average Opening Day weather here last night as Des Moines tiptoes toward the Summer of Sandberg. For the record, the Iowa Cubs dropped Ryno’s Triple A managerial debut by a score of 6-3 to the Nashville branch of the Milwaukee Brewers.

For the Iowa Cubs the final tally is six dozen up, six dozen down. For Jeff Samardzija it's half a dozen of each after today's season finale at Principal Park in Des Moines.

The team finished with an even split of their gross of games in 2009 after their struggling pitching prospect lost to Albuquerque this afternoon to even his personal slate in what's been an up and down season in more ways than the win/loss ledger.

The last game of the year was clipping along at the ultimate getaway day pace through four innings. The 1st frame required only seven minutes. Both teams scored little league runs in the 4th. Albuquerque broke through in the top when Samardzija bounced a wild pitch that ended up on the concourse behind the box seats. Iowa tied it in the bottom when Matt Camp drew a walk, stole his 18th base in 21 tries and came all the way around on wild throws to both 2nd and 3rd.

In the top of the 5th Samardzija labored [lower case] and finally broke down in the face of the Isotopes' daunting lineup. The Dodgers' top affiliate parades a statistical juggernaut to the plate one through six in the persons of Tony Abreu, Xavier Paul, Blake DeWitt, Mitch Jones, Hector Luna and Dee Brown. Iowa's depleted squad looked like a high school team taking on professional athletes. 

A two-run double by Paul and a two-run homer by Jones finished Samardzija's day and season after he got in trouble with a walk and a squibber between the plate and the mound that he threw away down the right field line. I watched him trudge dejectedly from the dugout to the showers after the bottom of the 5th before I left too. He may as well have walked backwards because that's the direction his career seemed to go in 2009.

Both the organization and Samardzija himself must be wondering what exactly is in store for him in 2010 and beyond. Can he be a big league pitcher or not and, if so, is he a starter or short reliever?

The big question for me personally is whether or not his next manager might be Ryne Sandberg. As a Des Moinesian I'm banking on Ryno climbing the farm system ladder to Triple A after taking Tennessee to the Double A playoffs this year. Next year he'll replace Bobby Dickerson here before returning to Wrigley Field in 2011.

As of this afternoon his chances look better than Samardzija's.

Was it worth all the trouble?

The Iowa Cubs had a 5:00 A.M. wakeup call after Saturday's game in Des Moines. The team's traveling party chartered to Midway and bussed to Wrigley for the ultimate matinee following a night game.

As for your intrepid correspondent, my trip began a week ago today when we piled the family into two cars instead of one so I could leave them a day early and triangulate my way home from our lake vacation in Minnesota via a stopover at yesterday's "Road to Wrigley" contest in Chicago.

Epifanio [Sandy] Guerrero has a new nickname. It’s Derby, courtesy of the apprentice ballplayers he‘s been working with this season.

That, a ring and a late dinner are his rewards for being what I guess you’d have to call the winning pitcher in MLB’s slugging orgy in St. Louis on Monday night.

Guerrero was Home Run Derby champ Prince Fielder’s hand-picked soft-server. His regular gig is hitting coach for the Nashville Sounds, Triple A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Last night I talked with him while the Sounds prepared to face the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.

Paul Sullivan had a piece in the Tribune on the Fourth of July that noted the heavy lifting being done in Chicago by players who started the season in Iowa. It got me to thinking...

Pending any roster impact that Geovany Soto's obliqueness might have, over half of the Cubs' current 25 man roster came to the NL Central via the PCL American North. Granted, not all of the baker's dozen were original signees of the organization, but each of the 13 have logged significant time in Des Moines on their ways up.

Collectively, you'd have to say that they've contributed more than their fair share to this point of a teeter-totter season. Put another way, the Cubs are getting more than their money's worth from this bunch. If the same could be said for the rest of the bloated payroll, well...

Please stand when I call your name. Hold your applause until the whole group has been recognized:

The Iowa Cubs haven't scored since practically before Sam Fuld got married and that was over a week ago here in Des Moines. While Fuld's big league honeymoon continues his ex-mates have been one-upping the C-Cubs in offensive futility.

Last night the team dropped its second straight 1-0 tilt, and this one went 14 innings. Post-game fireworks displays scheduled for the next two nights may have to wake up the expected large crowds if the silly between innings sideshows can't keep them alert.

Josh Hamilton's in town but the Okey City Redhawks didn't take batting practice last night [glad I got to the park early for that]. Neither did the home team. Hey, after more than two dozen zeroes were hung on the scoreboard, I can see why neither team felt the need to do some pregame hitting.

Hamilton went 1-7 as the leadoff DH. Tonight he'll play CF. I wonder what the Cubs did with the 50k they got for doing the Reds the courtesy of snatching Hamilton in the '06 Rule V and routing him to Cincy. The guy's been out for a couple months with a torn stomach muscle and still matches up pretty well with our man from the Pacific Rim in HR's & RBI's, though The Fuker does a much better pirouette coming out of the box. 

Freshly demoted Jose Ascanio started last night as the organization's majors/minors/rotation/bullpen cha-cha featuring he and Samardzija [Little Z?] plays on. If he was angry at all he took it out on the Redhawks. In the first three innings Ascanio fanned seven, four of 'em looking. Apparently the plate ump was the only one who could see the ball since the pitcher was in the sun and the batters in the shadows for the first few frames. Plus, Ascanio was repeatedly registering 97 on the scoreboard radar screen, the highest number I can remember seeing posted there. It's usually thought to be 2-3 mph slow.

In the 4th he tired visibly so I finally got a chance to see Darwin Barney and his touted glove go to work. First impressions were mixed. He just did get a fleet runner on his first chance, a routine grounder to short. The next batter bounced one over the mound which Barney scooped up and then threw wide of the bag. The play was scored an infield hit but wasn't particularly impressive for someone whose glove is supposed to be their calling card. Later in the inning he made a nice dig and just late tag on a steal of second before nearly sneaking in behind the runner and picking him off of the base he'd just swiped. Suddenly Barney was getting almost as much action as the catcher.

At the plate he went 1-5 in his Triple A debut. He gets bonus points because the song they play when he bats is "Gimme Some Lovin."

In contrast to Ascanio's dart and flame throwing display were the two perfect innings of work turned in by none other than El Duque. The left leg kick isn't quite as high these days but it's still fun to watch the guy pitch. He tossed everything but the kitchen sink up there, none of it faster than 85. One especially lethargic offering finally reached the hitting area putt-putting along @ 53 mph. It was taken for a strike.

Let me just tell you that last night was a beautiful one here with temps in the 70's and a northwest breeze perfuming the whole ballpark with aromas wafting from the grills on the main concourse. The sausages went very well with the goose eggs.

Finally, remember Mitch Atkins? He took Tuesday's 1-0 loss, going the route. The start before that he took a no-hitter into the 8th. For the year he still carries a 5-8 log with a 6.14 ERA. But over his last five starts he's thrown 34 innings, allowing only 23 hits while walking four and fanning 26 to the tune of a 2.38 ERA. Guess he's back from wherever he was all spring.

Oh yeah, Neal Cotts was disabled with elbow trouble and Guzman's supposed to toss the first two innings tomorrow night...MW

No official word yet as to whether or not the mysterious "fuzz machine" made the trip from Des Moines to Chicago along with Von [when there's somethin' wrong in the neighborhood who you gonna call?] Joshua. The unorthodox device is a pitching machine contraption that somehow both accelerates and decelerates a batter's swing, according to Carrie Muskat's expose earlier in the season. If Joshua couldn't get it through security at Des Moines International he may have just rented a car, thrown it in the trunk and headed east.

The Sun-Times has a piece this morning about "three Cubs to watch." In that spirit, here are three I-Cubs who currently bear a little closer watching:

He doesn't exactly pack 'em in like Wood and Prior used to.

A crowd of about 7,000 gathered last night at Principal Park. Some portion of it was there for the express purpose of watching Rich Harden tune up for his return to the big leagues this weekend.

I watched Harden warm up in the bullpen before he took the mound. From less than 10 feet away he sure doesn't look the 6'1" or the 195 # attributed to him in the media guide.

The other thing I noticed right away was that his pant legs went all the way to his shoetops. The rest of the team tucks 'em below the knee, knickers style. I'm guessing he paid for the fashion privilege with a post-game clubhouse spread before catching the first plane out of town.

He retired the first six batters he faced on only 22 pitches without topping 90 mph. The second inning required only eight.

In the 3rd his velocity rose noticeably and he struggled a bit. I'm not alleging  cause & effect there - just reporting.

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

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

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

The Iowa Cubs dropped the opener of a four game set in Colorado Springs by a score of 16-15 on Tuesday. They've won the next two by tallies of 18-4 and 17-4. 50 runs on 66[!] hits will getcha two out of three every time. Apparently there's no humidor at Security Service Field.

Jake Fox is back up to .420 with 107 total bases and 28 extra base hits in 30 games.

Lefty swinging Brad Snyder has poked five of his 11 HR's off of southpaws.

The I-Cubs started the series with a very respectable team BA of .273 and have still managed to jack it all the way up to .296 in three days!

Jeff Samardzija started last night and went four innings, giving up two runs on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Both runs came in the first. All told Samardzija threw 67 pitches, 45 of them strikes. He also stroked two hits of his own.

After tonight's series finale [featuring a fireworks promo - seriously] pitting Mitch Atkins against retread Josh Fogg, the team heads to Salt Lake City, another of the PCL's rareified launching pads. By the time the road trip ends the trainees may be hitting at a .300 clip as a team.

On a personal note, this writer's book [Far From the Trees: The Troubled Sons of an American Neighborhood; Outskirts Press], mentioned in this space during the offseason when it released in December, has today been named a finalist in the Indie Book Awards category of Regional Non-Fiction. Feel free to judge the book strictly on the basis of the front and back covers. I think you'll appreciate them both, if nothing in between. The book's available online @ Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And please forgive the shameless self-promotion. Rob said I could...MW

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