The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Sunday, August 31, 2003
 

Week of Aug 25 in Review

OK, I lied, one last post before I go. Houston stayed steady this week while St. Louis increased their chances slightly at our expense. Also, a new Cubs blog was born- "Baker the Mistake-Maker". This might be good, since it should distract those who think I am too negative. I thought I had a great idea to pass along to the authors of this new blog, but apparently I am too late. That's right, http://www.firedustybaker.com has already been purchased by Dennis Coyle of Chicago, IL. Those crazy dot com entrepreneurs, they're always on top of the trends. Ah well, on to the review. I had to estimate the odds for Wednesday (since BP never posted them) and today (since they won't be posted till tomorrow.) Here we go!

The chart will be here soon, I promise.

Cubs 2-4 (20 runs for, 24 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Matt Clement, 9 IP and 1 ER against Milwaukee
Hitter of the Week: Kenny Lofton, .500 OBP and .727 SLG
The Week Ahead: St. Louis for 5, at Milwaukee for 3

Astros 3-3 (40 runs for, 27 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Wade Miller, 7 IP and 0 ER against Los Angeles
Hitter of the Week: Jeff Bagwell, .500 OBP and .895 SLG
The Week Ahead: at Los Angeles for 3, at San Diego for 3

Cardinals 4-2 (27 runs for, 22 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Jason Isringhausen 2 IP and 0 ER in two appearances
Hitter of the Week: Albert Pujols, .625 OBP and 1.053 SLG
The Week Ahead: at Chicago for 5, Cincinnati for 3


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Cubs fall, Astros fall, Cardinals don't

Juan Cruz was good but not great, and the Cubs only bid to put runs on the board was foiled with a diving game-ending catch by Jason Conti. One thing Estes and Cruz have in common is neither has ever won a game with zero runs of support. I guess we'll know Thursday if Dusty is open to reason.

I'd write more, but I have a lot of packing to do as I head off to Chicago. I will be trying to post each night, but I have no idea how my internet access will go so I can't promise anything. Dennis is still working out his schedule at the new job, but he'll do his best to post when he can. If you're at Wrigley and you see a 6'5" guy in a Hee Sop Choi jersey and he isn't Hee Sop Choi, say hi.


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Defense of Estes getting old


I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but he had good stuff like his previous start. There was a grounder between third and shortstop that got through, another through short and second and a bloop hit.


This was manager Dusty Baker's line when asked about Shawn Estes "performance" after Saturday's loss which saw the Cubs fall to one game behind St. Louis and Houston in the loss column. Baker has been spouting similar lines for weeks now. All I can say is that I hope he is not serious. Defending a player in the press is one thing - and to be sure a good thing compared to Don Baylor's motivation methods - but believing this and continuing to trot out Estes every fifth day will not help this team win the division.


The part of the quote that gleaned my interest the most was the second sentence. He talks about a balls sneaking through the infield and a bloop single. These balls might not have been hit hard, but Estes is the type of pitcher that will be especially burned on this team by such things.


First of all he strikes out right around the league average of men per nine innings but considerably less that the other Cub pitchers. When you have average corner outfielders, corner infielders known for their bats, and a backup second basemen with cement shoes, strikeouts are key because they eliminate the chance for bloopers and bleeders. Secondly, his control is downright atrocious walking almost 5 men per nine innings. The hits may or may not be bloops, but when two men are on due to previous walks, bloops become runs.


Lastly, it is not like bloops are the only thing Estes is serving up. He is giving up 1.31 homers per nine innings which is a pretty terrible number. Batters are also slugging .466 against him. With these numbers it is not surprising to find out he has allowed 5 or more earned runs in 9 of his 26 starts (approx. 35%). Yikes.

Baseball as America


Yesterday the wife and I went downtown to the Cincinnati museum and checked out the Baseball Hall of Fame's traveling exhibit Baseball As America . Check out the remaining tour schedule at the website and check it out if it comes to a town near you. The focus of the exhibit is how baseball's growth has mirrored America's growth. It also shows how baseball has affected popular cultute in America. Given the topic, there is not as much hardcore baseball memoribilia as Cooperstown, but there is enough to whet the appetite of a serious fan


They had an exhibit on race in baseball as well as women's role in the game over time. Also shown were display cases showing movies and books, presidental influence in the game, science of the game, endorsements, and others. The coolest display for me was a book showing scorecards from the early 20th century and late 19th century. It is interesting to see how keeping score has evolved over time. The common practice in the late 1800s was to only mark an O if a player was retired or a | if the runner scored. No mention of how they got on base was recorded.


I am certainly glad I checked out the exhibit and as mentioned previously, it is worth your time.



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Estes Update

Sampling the local papers, I see that Dusty actually had the courage to sit their with a straight face and say Estes was unlucky yet again. "I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but he had good stuff like his previous start,'' Baker said. "There was a grounder between third and shortstop that got through, another through short and second and a bloop hit.'' Yeah, and a homer, and a couple of walks, and a wild pitch, and then those other twenty times this year when he got hammered.

And yet I come not to bury Estes but to praise his replacements. The Sun-Times and the Tribune each had different versions of what was probably the same quote from Baker. The fact that one, the other, or both got several words in the quotes says something about the reliability of newspaper quotes in general, but I digress. According to the Sun-Times, Baker responded to a question about who would pitch next Thursday by saying "It depends on who we have available." According to the Trib it was "it depends on who we have to start instead." Either way, this is encouraging news. Dusty seems to be acknowledging that the door is at least open for Cruz (who would be going on three days rest) or another minor leaguer to come up and make the start. Let's keep our fingers crossed.


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Saturday, August 30, 2003
 

The Weekend that Won the Division

That's what I think we will look back at the last three days of August as if Juan Cruz can come up with a strong outing tomorrow. Friday we got a win and picked up a game on both of our contending opponents in the Central. Today we got one of the patented horrendous outings that Shawn Estes makes look easy. Two innings, two walks, a homer, five runs, and a steal of home that according to what I have read (damned Fox blackout) was Estes' fault as well. Seven strong innings tomorrow and I have to belive even Dusty would relent. I think we have the ability to hang even with Houston and St. Louis as is. I think Juan Cruz would most likely win at least three of the remaining six starts he would take from Estes, and those three extra wins will be what puts us over the top.

Juan's opposition tomorrow is Doug Davis, a southpaw but one with a consistent reverse split over the years. Splits aside, he simply hasn't been good this year. He pitched one game for the Yankees early in the year, got shelled, and was promptly waived. He was claimed by the Blue Jays, got hit for a 5.00 ERA in twelve games, and refused a minor league assignment in July. He was eventually signed to a minor league deal by the Brewers, and was mediocre in five starts for their AAA affiliate Indianapolis Indians. Finally, he was called up to Milwaukee where he has managed three respectable starts. Even in those games though, he walked eight and struck out only ten in 20.2 IP.


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Friday, August 29, 2003
 

Streaking Brewers run into fully-dressed Clement

The Cubs shook off the last two lousy games and opened the Brewers series with a win this afternoon. Matt Clement did not walk a batter and allowed just one run en route to his 12th win. He was backed by a Damian Miller homer, a Kenny Lofton triple, and ten singles from the rest of the team.

Clement threw 126 pitches, a high total but not exactly unexpected given the events of the last two days in St. Louis. I don't really see the current situation as the crisis that I expect Dusty sees it as, but if the manager identifies a game as one in which he needs a lot out of his starter then he shouldn't feel like he needs to pull him as soon as he hits 100. I just wish that Dusty was a little more conservative with his starters in earlier, less critical games.

At any rate, if Cincinnati and San Diego can give us some help we can be right back tied up in the loss column four hours from now. The Reds will send John Bale to the mound to face Cardinal rookie Danny Haren. The two pitchers have a combined total of 14 career starts, and in a matchup like that you have to give the edge to the team that is not evil. Advantage: REDS.

In Texas, Padre ace Adam Eaton will face the ineffective but often lucky Jeriome Robertson. Robertson's been particularly lousy this month, giving up five homers in 24.1 IP and allowing a 6.29 ERA. When one pitcher's season highlight involves throwing at a Cardinal and the other one can't spell his own name, you know where I stand. Advantage: PADRES.

Some may find these breakdowns biased. Some may say I am allowing my own rooting interests to slant my analyses. To these people I say go Cubs! Here's to a lower magic number before I go to bed tonight.


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Thursday, August 28, 2003
 

Things I feel like talking about


1- The Dodgers scored four in three innings off Houston starter Tim Redding, and their dominating bullpen took it from there. The six runs was the most runs L. A. has scored since two weeks ago when they scored ten off of... never mind, I don't want to talk about this anymore.

2- What is the matter with the Braves ushers? I went to the game tonight, a 3-1 game highlighted by two homers from rookie Jose Reyes. Due to a pregame downpour, the crowd couldn't have numbered more than 15,000 (although it was annonced as being in the high 20's.) My seats were in the second deck, deep behind the left field foul pole. In the first inning, four people tried to sit in my section. They had three tickets for my section, and a fourth for the opposite section, in the second deck deep behind the right field foul poll. Despite the fact that my section had approximately 90% empty seats, the usher refused to let them sit down! They weren't trying to move to better seats, they were just trying to not send one of their party all alone to the other corner of the stadium. Its amazing how giving some idiot a nametag and a walkie talkie will make them think they aren't the tiny little person the rest of the world knows they are.

3- The games get more important with every passing day, and tomorrow's Clement/Sheets matchup is no exception. Sheets has been a good bit tougher on lefties than righties this year, but has had an even more extreme normal platoon difference in the past so it may not mean much. Like the Cubs, both other contenders are playing opponents near the bottom of the NL standings, but only the Cubs opponent is on a ten game winning streak. The good news is the Brewers will be without one of the keys to their streak, as Geoff Jenkins broke his thumb on Jason LaRue's shin guard tonight.

4- There is no number four, because I am just not in the mood to discuss Kerry Robinson's punk self. Suffice to say, he'll get his.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
 

Bold Prediction Time


I was driving home from work today, a journey that now takes 25 minutes compared to 3 just three weeks ago, and came to a startling revelation - the Cubs are going to win the NL Central. Now, as a proud card-carrying member of the Cubs Blog Army this might sound like the words of a foolish fan drunk on Baby Bear Kool-Aid. I assure you though that I am a realist first and foremost. Here's why they will win.

All of the media is talking about how the Cubs have the easiest schedule of the Central contenders down the stretch. The other day over at Desipio.com, Mr. Dolan made the astute observation, that they have the easiest schedule now, because they have had the hardest second half schedule to date. Houston and St. Louis had their chance to put the Cubs away and did not take advantage.

At the end of the first half, the Astros had a one game lead over the Cardinals and a 3 game lead over the Cubs. The Astros and Cards have both played 37 games in the second half thus far. The weighted winning percentage of their opponents (weighted by games against) is .496 for Houston and .497 for St. Louis. The Astros would be even lower if they had not played the Cubs 10 times. Contrast that to the Cubs whose 36 opponents have played .527 ball. The difference between .527 and .497 might sound slight, but it is approximately 5 games over a 162 game season.

After playing a harder schedule the Cubs have not lost ground. In fact, they have gained ground. They now stand 1/2 game behind the Astros and a 1/2 game in front of St. Louis. The other two teams in the central had their chance to bury the Cubs and failed. Now, it is time to get out of the way and let the Cubs take their rightful place at the top.

OK....maybe not

I started typing this post with the Cubs up 2-0 in the 8th inning. They decided to blow the game and lost 4-2. Wood pitched much better in this start but was not economical and had to be pulled by Dusty after 7 innings and around 120 pitches (given his recent performances, I say good move). The odd thing is that Baker managed to not only burn out a starter, but he used 5 relievers in one inning including the first two for one batter each. It takes supreme talent to burn out both a bullpen and a starting staff. Of course, it is not like he entirely chose this path. Some effectiveness from the pen would have helped alleviate the problem.

The oddest move of the evening had to be the double switch the Cubs pulled off in the 8th. They brought in Goodwin to play left, bat 9th, and brought the pitcher in for Alou. The pitcher's spot was due up 4th in the next inning. On the surface it seems odd because you lose one of your best hitters if the game goes to extra innings. The rationalization could be made that the move was for defense. If this was the case, why was O'Leary used to bat for Goodwin in the ninth? If Goodwin was such a defensive commodity why pull him here? If you decide he sucks that much at batting, why take Alou out rather than just pinch hitting O'Leary for the pitcher? It didn't matter, but Baker wasted a player. Strange.

Even though the Cubs lost a heartbreaker. I still stand by the statement I made in the above paragraph. Zambrano could do a lot towards making the prediction true with a rubber game victory against the Cards tomorrow.

Scott adds:
Dennis already covered the game, but I am so frustrated with tonight's game that I really need to type something just to get it out of my system. I watched the game during trivia night, and both ended at the same time. I drove home at a ridiculous rate with Kashmir blasting from the radio. Fortunately, my sister got the idea that I didn't want to talk and didn't try to strike up a conversation.

As far as Dusty goes, I'll give him credit for pitching Kerry tonight. From what I knew I would have skipped his turn this time, but Dusty pitched him and he came up huge on the road in a pennant race. I would have lifted him an inning sooner, but you all know the story on that. Then the eighth. I don't necessarily think I can blame Dusty for what happened, but I can say that I hate the way he used his relievers. I guess when you are in the house of the Genius, you have to play by his rules. God forbid you pick a reliever you are comfortable with and just let him pitch.

Horrible as this loss was to watch, Dennis is absolutely right when he focuses on tomorrow's game as the cure for tonight's. Tenacious Z can make this loss hurt a lot less by shutting them down tomorrow. Here's to another sub-100 pitch complete game shutout.


Update II As pointed out by people in the comments, O'Leary was actually hitting for Miller in the 9th and not Goodwin. Sorry about the flub.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2003
 

Cubs survive nervous ninth, stay .5 back

Apparently nobody told Mark Prior that pitching like Superman doesn't mean you can fly like Superman
Mark Prior pitched like he pretty much always does, and the Cubs pen held on for a 7-4 win over the arch-rival Cardinals tonight. Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez each homered in a six-run fourth that gave Prior all he would need. As hard as I have been on Jim Hendry, there is no denying that Ramirez and Simon have been tearing the cover off the ball in recent days. I still think Choi is a better bet going forward, but its going to be a lot easier to laugh about that if Simon keeps hitting this way.

I've commented on it before, but Dusty really ought to quit using Mike Remlinger as a lefty specialist. He does it on a regular basis, but tonight it was Tino Martinez that was the designated lefty to get. Martinez singled to left before Remlinger retired two righties (Miguel Cairo and Chris Widger) to end the game. This shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to Dusty, since Mike Remlinger is better against righties. This year he is allowing lefties a .782 OPS and righties a .703. Last year it was .632/.528. The year before that it was .913/.562. I cannot fathom an excuse for either not knowing or not caring about this simple but important fact, and I can't help but worry that it may yet come back to haunt us.

In Houston tonight, the Dodgers jumped on top 3-0 in the top of the first. Sadly, Odalis Perez gave two back in the bottom half, lost the lead by the fourth, and didn't leave till the Dodgers trailed 10-3. The score is 15-4 in the 7th as I write, and I can't imagine the impotent Dodgers will do anything to make it worth coming back to update so I'll leave it at that. The good news is the Phillies and Marlins both lost today, allowing the Cubs to move to within a game and a half of the wild card. Given the cluster of other teams competing for that slot the odds of the Cubs ending up with it are low, but it would be better than nothing if we can't manage to secure the division.

Of the three games in this Cardinals series, the opener looked like one we should win but the other two looked much tougher. Mark Prior did his job, and now attention turns to Kerry Wood. The reports on Kerry's back and his rough performance last time out make me think allowing him to skip this start might be wise, but I'll trust Dusty's judgement that he is ready to go. His opponent will be Woody Williams, a 37-year old righty who suddenly became a good pitcher a couple years ago. Williams hasn't been any tougher on righties than lefties this year, and actually had a reverse split in each of his previous three seasons, so perhaps our right-handed lineup will have some success against him.

Kerry took plenty of abuse from the foaming at the mouth sports talk radio crowd after his last start. Here's to a strong performance, a win, and shutting the mouths of a few of those callers.


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Monday, August 25, 2003
 

Week of August 18th in review

I am going to start reviewing the past week and setting up the next one on Mondays the rest of the way. Its kind of the Cubs pennant chase complement to the "Decade in a Box" from the original Historical Baseball Abstract. I'll include a chart showing how each team's odds at winning the division have changed over the seven day period. Its kind of nice to be able to see the ups and downs and how much is riding on each game. The data is from BP's Postseason Odds Report. It may look funny to have the Cubs as favorites given the fact that we trail the other teams, but the BP data accounts for schedule difficulty and the fact that we haven't won quite as often as our players' performances would indicate. Comments are welcome as always.

Chart will go here soon.  Possibly very soon.  Almost certainly between now and the next time the Cubs win the World Series. You know, the chart would be here already if my buddy Todd weren't taking his sweet time about answering his email.  Not that he is a bad guy or anything- I mean, without him, I wouldn't have a place to host the picture in the first place.  Still, you would think he would realize what a nice guy I am and how important it is to me that he check his email and post this picture right away.  I wonder what the maximum number of characters the ALT tag can handle is.  I've probably written too much already.  Heck, I've written more here than in the entire rest of the review.  I sure hope Todd gets it posted soon so not too many people have to read this.  Hurry up, Todd!Cubs 3-3 (28 runs for, 38 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Carlos Zambrano, 9 IP and 1 ER against Arizona
Hitter of the Week: Aramis Ramirez, .520 OBP and .850 SLG
The Week Ahead: At St. Louis for 3, Milwaukee for 3

Astros 3-3 (31 runs for, 27 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Ron Villone, 5 IP and 1 ER against Chicago
Hitter of the Week: Richard Hidalgo, .518 OBP and .857 SLG
The Week Ahead: Los Angeles for 3, San Diego for 3

Cardinals 4-2 (31 runs for, 34 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Brett Tomko, 6.1 IP and 0 ER against Philadelphia
Hitter of the Week: Scott Rolen, .522 OBP and .727 SLG
The Week Ahead: Chicago for 3, At Cincinati for 3

Also, make sure to check out And Another Thing for another more detailed look at the schedules the rest of the way.


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Sunday, August 24, 2003
 

Contenders all win, division remains tight

The Cubs escaped with a 5-3 win in the rubber game with Arizona this afternoon to remain just a half game behind Houston and St. Louis. Matt Clement came up with a strong peformance, and despite some scary moments in the ninth Joe Borowksi managed to close it out. The Cubs managed thirteen hits and five walks, but could only score five runs as they left 15 men on base. Ex-Pirates Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon each had three hits to lead the way offensively.

That's all I've got for now, but Monday around noon look for "The Week in Review," something I am going to do each Monday the rest of the way. I'll try to break down the contenders and look at what lies ahead. I guarantee it won't be any more boring than closing your browser and doing some work would be.

Oh, and the line for Juan Cruz in Iowa today: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 5 K. Any chance we could use that in place of Estes Friday?


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D'Backs rout Estes

The writing is on the wall for anyone who cares to read it. Shawn Estes has got nothing. Juan Cruz is tearing up the PCL, but even if you put no stock in that a random pitcher would still give us a better shot to win than Estes. Of course, Dusty's take on the game was "Shawn had as good as stuff as he's had all year. He was throwing in the low 90s with a good breaking ball. Balls they hit at 'em last night found holes today." Yeah Dusty, the only difference between Carlos Zambrano and your boy Shawn is luck.

Anyway, he Cubs were routed 13-2 last night, with Estes surrendering seven in 4.1 and Alfonseca giving up six more before escaping the sixth. St. Louis came from behind to beat the Phillies but Houston fell to Cincinatti, so the Cubs are half game back of the twin Central leaders. Today, Matt Clement (10-11, 4.29) faces Brandon Webb (8-6, 2.50). Webb, the best rookie pitcher in baseball (sorry D. W.), has been strong all year long. His worst month was July when he was 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA. He absolutely owns right handed hitters, allowing only a .442 OPS as opposed to .740 against lefties. We beat him three weeks ago by outlasting him and pushing a couple across after he left the game, so anything is possible.

US U-17 run comes to an end
The US has just finished their game with Brazil in the quarterfinals of the U-17 World Cup. It will be on Galavision on tape delay at 10 a.m., so I'll hide the text in case you are planning to watch it. Highlight to read: Brazil whomped us, 3-0. While it would be nice to win, it doesn't really come as a shock that Brazil still has more talent than us. The Eurosport announcers praised the US, particularly Adu, Spector, and Curfman, but its obvious we aren't quite the world soccer factory yet. Soon though, soon...
Fun on the farm
I drove to Chattanooga last night with the local SABR chapter to see the Lookouts take on the visiting Mobile Bay Bears. Mobile staked starter Chris Rojas to a 5-0 lead early, and he thrived with the lead taking a no-hitter into the fifth before a single off the glove of the second baseman broke it up. When Rojas was removed though, the floodgates opened, and the home team scored six in the eighth. They took the lead on a double by league OPS leader Stephen Smitherman, and closed it out with a perfect ninth for the win.

The minor league zaniness portion of the evening's festivities was provided by the Zooperstars, a troup of giant inflatable characters who hammed it up between innings. Cow Ripken, Ken Giraffe, Jr., and Ichiroach Suzuki were loved by one and all, but the highlight was clearly Clammy Sosa (picture from their website, but representative of what I saw.) Clammy's schtick was gobbling up a ball thrown by the bat boy. All was well and good until the bat boy decided to fake Clammy out and not throw the ball. Clammy responded the only way he knew how, and swallowed the bat boy whole.

Harry Canary came out and sang the seventh inning stretch, but chaos ensued when he made his way through the stands afterwards. A horde of Olsen Twin devotees stormed toward Harry, overwhelming the 5'6", 250 lb man with the "Sheriff" t-shirt that tried to stop them. Harry made his way to the Mobile dugout, and the flood of children washed over all the patrons in the lower box seats on the third base line. This led to the gentleman to my left getting in a shouting match with the mother of one of the children, and was wrapped up with the following scintillating exchange:

Woman: I'm sorry my daughter caused you so much difficulty... ASSHOLE

Man: (Long pause) Why don't you teach her to spell it?!

Aren't people just the best?


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Saturday, August 23, 2003
 

Cubs bounce back with win

Sosa provides offense as Cubs again move closer

Zambrano comes up huge, goes all the way in win

Have you ever noticed that the headlines for the game recaps here are pretty darn simillar to each other? I mean, they'd be a lot easier to write if the team would show some variety. Sosa mauled the opposing starter for two homers including one for a major milestone. Carlos Zambrano piled up yet another strong performance. Dusty put a horrendous hitter with an even worse OBP up near the top of the lineup. I half expect Sonny and Cher to come on the radio with "I've Got You, Babe."

There were a few subtle differences today. For one, Carlos took a no-hitter to two outs in the eighth before first base ump Bill Miller (although one post-game report said his name was Kevin Kelley) choked and called Hillenbrand safe on a marvelous throw by Aramis and stretch by Simon. It was the worst blown call at first base since the kids from Texas were robbed in Williamsport Thursday. For another... no, that was really the only difference.

So anyway, with the Cardinals and Astros both falling the Cubs move back to within a half game of Houston. Tomorrow we'll need a miracle from Shawn Estes (7-9, 5.48) as he takes on Miguel Batista (7-7, 3.06). Batista is consistently tougher on righties and is in the midst of a career year, so he'd be tough to beat even if we weren't starting one of baseball's worst pitchers. I'll be on my way to Chatanooga, Tennessee, to check out the Lookouts and the visiting Mobile Bay Bears, so its up to you guys to root us to the upset win.


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Thursday, August 21, 2003
 

Kerry doesn't have it; Cubs fall to 1.5 back

The Cubs loaded the bases with no one out in the second but failed to score, and it was all downhill from there as the Cubs fell. Kerry got hit hard, surrendering five runs on six hits, two walks, and a homer in just four innings. At least we got those 141 pitches out of him back in May against the Cardinals, huh? I don't know what there is to do about at this point, but if disabling Kerry for a start or two has a shot at fixing what ails him, we need to do it before its too late.

So anyway, we just lost the showdown series with the team we're chasing, Choi is in Iowa, and Tony Womack is in Chicago. Seems pretty depressing, right? Well buck up, soldier. The Cubs have had a torturous schedule for the last two months, but have survived it and stayed in contention. We are two weeks from being done with the last .500+ team we'll face all year, and our remaining schedule ranks as the easiest in the majors according to Baseball Prospectus. I am not happy with lots of things about the way this team has been put together, but I hope I speak for everyone when I say that a World Series title would make it a lot easier for me to forgive and forget.

Chicago bound
Thanks to everyone who posted suggestions for things to do in Chicago next month. I'll only be there from Monday morning till Wednesday evening, but I'll be working my tail off trying to see, do, and eat as much as possible. Here's to a ten game win streak that locks up the division and takes the stress off before I get there.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2003
 

Prior leads Cubs again

It was a good day for Jim Hendry's recent acquisitions and a good day for the Cubs as they gained back the game they lost to both the Cards and the Astros yesterday. Prior was hitless through five and managed to make it through seven before giving way to Dr. Tightpants (there, I said it) and JoBo to close out the shutout. Aramis was 1-3 with a homer and a walk, Simon was 2-4 with a homer, and Tony Womack was 3-4 with a triple. Just so Tom can't say I never say anything nice, I am pleased to see Tony exceed Lenny Harris's 2003 multi-hit game total in his first Cub start. It will take a few more games like that before I'll get on the Womack-wagon though.

All eyes now turn to Kerry Wood (11-9, 3.62). If Kerry's back is all right he can give us seven strong innings and the division lead. If it isn't, or if he is otherwise off his game, we'll leave Houston 1.5 back. His opponent will be Ron Villone (4-2, 3.20), a southpaw who has been pretty tough on everyone he has faced since being called up from New Orleans in June. Historically he has been hit pretty hard by righties though (.869 OPS allowed from 2000-2002), so there's reason to think our heavily right-handed lineup's got a shot to score some runs off him.

A: Tony Womack and Scott Lange
Q: Who are two people on their way to Wrigley Field who have never had an OBP over .335 in the majors? (Sorry.)

It looks like I am going to make it to Chicago on September 1, 2, and 3! My cousin is having his bar mitzvah (should that be capitalized?) in New York on the 6th, so naturally I have decided to take the opportunity to swing through Chicago on the way. The Cardinals will be in town for a five games series that week, so I'll have to bust out my very best Wrigley mojo (I have a lifetime 1-0 record at Wrigley and it was a 10-5 win over the Cards. I've only been to Chicago once and that was for about 48 hours, so if you have any tips for tickets, restaurants, attractions, or anything else, send me an email or leave a comment.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2003
 

Cubs drop opener

Matt Clement struggled through four innings en route to his worst start of the year and a 12-8 loss. Its frustrating to have the pitching cave in right when the offense manages to put up some runs, but such is life. Noted liar and con artist Jeff Kent was the ringleader again with an RBI single, a two-run double, and a three-run homer for a six RBI day.

The matchup will favor the Cubs tomorrow night in a game the Cubs must win to avoid falling 2.5 games behind Houston. Jared Fernandez (1-2, 5.27) will try to sneak his knuckleball past Cubs hitters after failing to do so five days ago. He'll face our man Mark Prior (11-5, 2.65) who is coming off back-to-back complete games and a trip to the DL two weeks ago. We can't win without Mark, Kerry, and increasingly Carlos healthy, so here's hoping.

Can I have a steak and eat it too?
On a personal note, my office is having our quarterly appreciation luncheon tomorrow. As far as I am concerned, I would appreciate having someone pop in my cube every now and then, look at what I am doing, and tell me it looks good. That doesn't seem to be in the cards though, so I guess if they can't bring themselves to tell me they love me then they might as well do it with free food.

Anyway, our quarterly luncheons are usually held at the kind of generic, boring restaurants at which corporate functions are often held- places that are more expensive but not any better than your typical Fridays/Applebees/Chilis establishment. I've made my share of derisive remarks about these places, but I had to eat my words when I heard that this quarter we are going to one of my favorite restaurants- Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. In the place of my usual sarcasm, I've been talking up the really wonderful steaks we would be having to anyone who would listen.

Imagine my surprise then, when I found that we would be selecting our meals from the "Corporate Banquet" menu. Not only is it not any cheaper than the regular menu, but it is missing certain common entree options, namely STEAK. That's right, my company is shelling out for the whole office to go to Ruth's Chris STEAKHOUSE but we are not going to be able to order STEAK. I don't want to sound ungrateful- I mean a free meal is a free meal- but going to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and not being able to get steak is like going to Arby's and finding they have no roast beef. Which happened to me once. But that's a story for another time...


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Are you kidding me?

Because if you are, I'm not laughing. Tony Womack, the man with the .608 OPS in Arizona and the .415 OPS for the Rockies, will make the Chicago Cubs his third team of the season after he was traded for a minor leaguer today. We get rid of patience/power machines like Hee Sop Choi, and we acquire sink holes like Tony Womack. If we win this division, it will be in spite of the best efforts of our front office.

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Monday, August 18, 2003
 

Missed opportunity as all NL Central contenders fall

The Cubs lost no ground yesterday but they did miss a chance to take first place back as they fell 3-0 to the Dodgers. The Cubs did manage to draw four walks against Nomo, but the big hit never came as nine were left on base. Dusty sent his message to Hee Sop Choi loud and clear, as Simon got the start (1-4, single, strikeout, error) and Karros got the call to pinch-hit against the right-handed Gagne in the ninth (strikeout). As I have said before, there are things I like about Dusty but his mishandling of Bellhorn and Choi borders on criminal.

We are off today before starting another critical series with Houston. The good news is the Cubs say Kerry will make his start and that Estes will be skipped for at least the one turn. Kerry mentions that his back forced him out of a game against Montreal a couple years ago. Looking over his history, I think that may be his April 9, 2001 start in which he went just three innings against the Expos. He bounced back with ten strikeouts six days later, so hopefully he can do something simillar this time. These three games at the erstwhile Enron Field are our last chance to do some damage to Houston head-to-head, so here's for taking at least two of three.


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Sunday, August 17, 2003
 

Freddy strikes again

The local soccer bar wasn't open at 8 a.m. this morning when the US U-17's took on Sierra Leone, so I found myself sitting in front of my computer reading play-by-play descriptions from fans in an IM chat room and from the Matchtracker on the U.S. Soccer site. Its a shame I missed it, because Freddy Adu once again provided one of those magical moments that seem to just happen to certain people.

Early on Sierra Leone was dominating the match, at one point leading the US in shots 10-1. A half hour in the dam broke as one of their strikers beat a defender in the corner, dribbled down the goal line, and centered to a teammate for a 1-0 lead. The US picked it up in the following minutes, failing to get a penalty called when a trip of Adu went uncalled (that's foreshadowing). Just seconds later though, the Uzbeki ref had to blow the whistle when Eddie Gaven was hacked down by the goalie, and the penalty made it 1-1 at the half.

In the second half, the pace slowed down to a more manageable level as Sierra Leone was apparently tired of running through our midfield all game. The US began holding some posession and creating some chances, but when Sierra Leone responded by hacking US players down the referee began to look the other way. In the 63rd minute Freddy was forearmed to the ground in the box without a call. In the 73rd, Corey Ashe was hammered down and although the foul was called, Ashe was handed a yellow for dissent. In the 85th minute, Freddy got chopped down and had to be stretchered off. To the referee, that merited a yellow... to Adu! A brief interlude:

In 2003, a crack goal scorer was yellow carded by an Uzbeki ref for a crime he didn't commit. He promptly returned to the field to bury the game winner and break the hearts of his opponents and the crooked ref. Today, still wanted by FIFA, he survives as a soldier of fortune. If you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire... the A-du.

Freddy came back on with a slight limp, and was immediately hammered to the ground in the penatly area without a call. A minute later Freddy was shoved to the ground as the ball arrived, this time miraculously drawing a whistle. And then, at the critical moment, this 14 year-old warrior broke through. Jamie Watson sent a header onto Adu's foot, he rounded the keeper and hammered home the game winner against all odds. As Matchtracker put it, Sierra Leone's error was not having anyone who could catch up in time to foul him.

Wow. Just wow. We play Spain on Wednesday afternoon, although with two wins in the first two games we are already assured of a berth in the quarterfinals. Freddy has two yellow cards now, which apparently is one shy of the number that would force him to sit out a game by the U-17 rules. I am not a big beliver in "clutch," particularly in baseball, but every time this kid steps on the field he seems to produce another miracle. Perhaps we might try him at second while Grudz is out. Did I mention "wow"?

In Adu We Trust. Go get 'em, Freddy.


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Saturday, August 16, 2003
 

Cubs acquire Randall Simon

The Cubs traded minor league outfielder Ray Sadler to the Pirates today for Randall Simon. Simon is best known for being John Rocker's best pal in Atlanta as well as being the guy who took a swing at the sausage in Milwaukee a few weeks ago. Simon is a left-handed righty-mashing first baseman. As such, he is presumably meant to take first-base at-bats against righties away from current left-handed first baseman, one Mr. Hee Sop Choi. Let's go to the numbers:


PlayerYearAgePA vs LeftOPS vs LeftPA vs RightOPS vs Right
Simon20012647.780224.788
Simon200227143.599356.852
Simon20032836.602285.738
Choi20032422.552210.823
First, over 200 appearances around his peak age, Simon hasn't shown an ability to hit lefties. Choi has yet to get a major league opportunity against lefties though, so just to give Simon the benefit of the doubt let's call that category a draw. Against righties, Choi is out OPS'ing Simon by about a hundred points this year. Simon did manage an .852 last year but only .788 the year before that. All in all, I see no reason to think Simon is a better hitter than Choi against righties right now. According to the scouting report on espn.com, Simon is short with poor footwork and a poor arm, while Choi has received good reviews for his defensive work, so let's give Choi an edge there.

So we have two guys. The question you are faced with is do you trade a minor leaguer and take on salary in order to replace one of them with a guy who is at best an equal hitter, is an inferior defensive player, and is four years older?

To me, this is a no-brainer. Simon would be a nice enough pinch-hitter to add to the bench, but if he takes playing time from Choi as I suspect he will it will hurt us defensively and in the wallet in 2003 and it will hurt us on the field for years to come.


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Cubs split first two, reach first but give it back

Last night Sammy Sosa drove in both Cub runs and Mark Prior went all the way as the Cubs beat L.A. 2-1. The win, coupled with losses from Houston and St. Louis, put us back in first place. I missed the game because I went with some folks from the local SABR chapter to see the low-A Rome Braves face the Augusta Greenjackets. Its kind of nice to sit fifteen rows from the field for a tenth the normal price and enjoy a nice baseball game.

Sadly, I should have stayed away as watching the game on Fox this afternoon brought us. Aramis Ramirez popped two home runs to keep us in it early, but Kerry had nothing and three of the four Cub relievers gave up runs as well. The end result was a 10-5 thrashing at the hands of an utterly impotent Dodger lineup. Houston beat the Reds, sending us back where we were yesterday.

I am starting to worry a bit about Kerry. On July 1 he had a 2.90 ERA and was walking 3.8 men per nine innings. Since, his ERA has been 5.33 and he is walking 5.9 per nine. As exciting as our play has been for the last two weeks, I can't see a way to win the division without Prior and Wood performing at an All-Star level. We've been fretting about the pitch counts racked up by Prior, Zambrano, and especially Wood, and I can only hope they aren't catching up to him.

Its Carlos Zambrano versus Hideo Nomo tomorrow. Nomo has been equally tough on lefties and righties this year, but actually had a significant reverse split over the last few seasons. Carlos is on the best run of his short career and we (yet again) need him to bust out another strong performance.


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Thursday, August 14, 2003
 

Slowly but surely

After fumbling away a strong start from ace pitcher Kerry Wood to open a critical series with the division leaders, the Cubs have come off the deck to win three straight, take the series, and close to within just a half-game of the division leaders. Today the hero was Alex Gonzalez, who buried his slump under a single, a double, a homer, a walk, and three ribbies in a 7-1 Cubs win. Matt Clement was not as sharp as he has been, but Dusty managed to get him out in time and the bullpen held the Astros scoreless over the final 3.1 innings to secure the win.

The Dodgers gave us a break today, using Kevin Brown on three days rest when Andy Ashby came down with the flu. As a result, right-hander Masao Kida will face Mark Prior tomorrow. Kida was ineffective in relief for the Tigers a few years back, but worked hard to catch on with a major league team again, even trying out with the Cubs in Mesa two years ago. He finally got a shot in the Dodger organization, and is 2-3 with a 4.48 in eleven starts and six relief appearances for AAA Las Vegas this year. We've won 13 of 19, and this is a golden opportunity to keep the good times rolling.

You know who
After two years of hype, I finally saw Freddy Adu play today. It took fifteen minutes for him to produce perhaps the best US goal I've ever seen. From the fifa.com match report:

Full ahead Mr. Adu, maximum warp.
(The US conceded an own goal early, but) far from letting their heads drop, the Americans hit back straight away with consistent danger man Adu leading the charge. Following some foraging early work, the youngster collected the ball 45 yards from goal, turned brilliantly and ghosted past four flat-footed Korean defenders with a stunning burst of speed. Rounding keeper Cha Ki Seok with ease, the prodigy slotted home with his left foot to send the US team into wild celebrations.

You have to see it to believe it. The best comparison I can come up with is to the overtime touchdown run Michael Vick had last year, the one you probably saw on the Espys about a million times. Like Vick, Adu was simply faster than the defense could comprehend. There were players in position to stop him, but he simply ran by them before they could react. I guess the difference is he did it dribbling a ball with his feet rather than carrying one in his hands. The finish was clinical, but anticlimactic after that phenomenal run with the ball. I don't have a video link, but catch it on Sportscenter if you get the chance.

Oh yeah, and he scored two other goals for the hat trick while the team annihilated pre-tournament darling South Korea 6-1. That's right, six goals for the US, while allowing no goals to Korena players. With the exception of yellow cards to three key American players and an iffy performance from keeper Phil Marfuggi, it simply could not have gone any better. Next up is Sierra Leone, early Sunday morning (7 a.m. EDT, live on Galavision.) All the disclaimers still stand (way too early), but there simply aren't words to describe how good the future looks for both Adu and his teammates.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2003
 

Alou, pen bail out Estes; Cubs close to 1.5

The Cubs managed a 3-2 lead through four, but when Shawn Estes three men including one with the bases loaded and one out things looked a bit grim. Dusty finally went to the pen though, and Mark Guthrie managed to stop the bleeding setting the stage for Moises to tuck a go-ahead three-run homer around the left field foul pole. Four more shutout innings from the pen and the Cubs had narrowed the gap once again.

Tomorrow Matt Clement faces Jared Fernandez with a chance to tie Houston in the loss column. Fernandez is a 31 year-old righty called up a couple weeks ago. He had only 51 strikeouts in 156 innings for New Orleans in the PCL, but he got by with good control (just 37 walks in that time). As for Clement, he has a career 6.54 ERA against the Astros and has been lit up by not only Bagwell and Berkman but also guys like Ausmus and Vizcaino. I've got faith in him though, so I'll take my chances with Matt tomorrow.

Its anybody's race
Baseball Prospectus debuts a new feature today, one that is well worth your time to check out. Basically, they project the rest of the season based on your hitters' raw stats, your pitchers' raw stats, and your schedule difficulty. A simple statistical distribution later, they've got the percentage chance that each team has of making the playoffs. Coming in to today's game we had a 34.2% chance of overtaking the Cardinals and Astros for the division, as well as a 2.6% chance of sneaking into the Wild Card (I capitalize its name due to my awe of its brilliance). They say they'll be updating it daily, so perhaps we can keep an eye on our fluctuating chances as we move ahead.
Adu-mania!
The US U-17 World Cup team takes the field for their first game tomorrow afternoon in Finland against South Korea. They will of course be lead by uber-phenom Freddy Adu, who has been warming up with games like last week's 24 minute hat trick against Blackburn's U-17s. You can get to know some of the players if you check out the hysterical web diary of Jules Valentin. I don't know why some kid gets top-notch writing ability and world class soccer talent to boot, but he's got it. This tournament was the start of international acclaim for players like Figo and Alessandro Del Piero, and just maybe one Fredua Koranteng Adu.

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Zambrano destroys Astros to even series


Carlos Zambrano pitched the game of his life last evening just as the Cubs needed it most. Alex Gonzalez hit a 2 run homer in the first to provide all the protection Carlos would need in a 3-0 whitewashing of the Astros. Zambrano scattered 5 hits over all nine innnings and more importantly walked only 2 men. The most dominating thing about the performance from my perspective is that a lot of his strikeouts were on good old fashioned hard ball. He would set the hitters up and then paint the black with the gas to seal the deal.


As mentioned above Alex Gonzalez hit a homer last night. He really needs to get some hits for this team, and his psyche. He has struggled recently as anyone who constantly hears Chip Caray update his struggles knows. Nothing like seeing him strike out and have the announcer state "Alex is in a 1 for 30 slump". Hee Seop alos got a start last evening and went 0 for 3 with a walk, but hit the ball hard at times. I love his approach at the plate.


Shawn Estes takes the mound this afternoon in a another huge game in this series. Win it and we are looking at being .5 games out after a win tomorrow. Lose it and the best we can hope for is a split which is not good since 4 games will come off he schedule. Add to the equation that the Cardinals are beating up on an inferior Pirate team and this is a big game. Personally, I think Estes will have a good game this afternoon. Nothing like the power of positive thinking.

Great, he's in the news again


As I am sure all have heard by now, Baseball Prospectus broke a story yesterday saying that Pete Rose and MLB have agreed to a deal where Rose could be employed by a team as early as 2004 and return to managing by 2005 without admitting guilt on baseball. This would also pave the way for a Pete Rose HOF induction.


Other sites can express their opinions more eloquently about this topic and it is one that has been beaten into the ground, but here is my take. The HOF is an independent organization that can do whatever it wants. Just recently has the rule been changed that people on the permanently ineligible list could not be inducted. I have no problem with them changing this rule and putting him in the Hall. On the other hand, I have major problems with him working in baseball again if he did bet on the game, which it appears he did given the evidence.


As fall and the football season approach, baseball will start to take a back seat on the national brain. I am just sad that when baseball is mentioned it will be this story rather than what is happening on the field.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2003
 

Round 1 to Astros


Last night's 3-1 loss against the Astros was pretty much a microcosm for the Cubs season - a great pitching perfromance wasted. As the NOTD states, Kerry Wood made one mistake. He left a first pitch curve ball up in the strike zone to Jeff Kent in the 5th. He knocked it against the vines to give the Astros a lead they would never relinquish.


The Cubs would only muster one run against Houston starter Wade Miller and only hit two balls hard all night. Luckily they were in the same inning and it produced the run.


All over the blog world, this site included, the army has been calling for Hee Seop to start against right handers. It is especially more important to do this against Houston. Why? Because they have a lefty closer. How nice would it have been to bring up Karros in the ninth as the tying run instead of O'Leary and Gonzalez? As it stood, O'Leary stood five feet off the plate with a little stream of urine tracing down his leg as Wagner blazed strike threel over the outside corner. Gonzalez didn't do much better swinging at only one of the strikes.


Not only does it make no sense to leave Choi on the bench I get worried that it will alter his approach. Last evening when he pinch hit against Dotel, he swung at the first pitch. He does not do that very often. Maybe he thinks he has to be more aggressive to get starts. I certainly hope not.


Carlos looks to square up the series this evening against Redding for the Astros. Hopefully the bats will wake up and we can take the next 3 games.


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Monday, August 11, 2003
 

Showdown time


Mark Prior was his dominant self and Sammy Sosa provided all of the Cubs offense in a 3-1 series salvaging victory over the Dodgers yesterday Coupled with Houston's win, the Cubs stand 2.5 games out of first place heading into the opener of a 4 game series this evening. A 3-1 series win puts the Cubs .5 games out of first while a sweep would give them the top spot.


The bad part about Prior pitching yesterday is that Houston will miss him altogether. Wood gets the ball this evening against Wade Miller. Miller handled all Cubs hitters this side of Carlos Zambrano in his last outing against them. Hopefully the Cubs will get to him a little earlier in this one.


Here is the tale of the tape between these NL Central contenders in a few categories:


  • Houston ranks 2nd in bullpen ERA, Cubs 7th
  • Cubs are 4th in starter's ERA, Houston 9th
  • Houston is 5th in total ERA, Cubs 6th
  • Houston is 4th in runs scored, Cubs are 12th

No real shocks in this list. The Cubs have a good pitching and defense although are weak with the hitting. Of course, Sosa is starting to heat up so this difference might shrink. On paper, it looks like a romp for the Astros, but games are played on grass (or turf or that funky hybrid easter egg stuff in Tampa Bay and Philly). The difference between the starters could very well make up for the difference between the offenses.

Weird Day Around the Majors


I am home watching Sportscenter this morning due to being between jobs and saw some highlights of some strange/historic plays. First in Atlanta Furcal turned an unassisted triple play. The genius Tony LaRussa decided to send his runners with no outs and the pitcher batting (albeit a good hitting pitched in Woody Williams). He lined out to Furcal who touched the bag and tagged the runner coming from first to complete the play.


In Toronto, a batter hit the ball off the pitcher and it bounced directly to the third basemen without touching the ground. The runner on first was caught half way, but the third basemen's throw to double him off went into the stands for a two base penalty. Only problem was the runner never went back and tagged up before taking his two bases. The Rangers got him called out on the subsequent appeal.


Something else I noticed


I have no clue why I mention these things on the site. Most of the time they just go to show how slow I am to pick up on things, but did you ever notice that there is a different voice over for those Boys and Girls Club commercials that run during baseball telecasts. I am sure most have seen these spots with Zito, Thome, Pettitte, Sweeney, Anderson and Young. If the commercial comes on during a Fox telecast, Joe Buck is doing the talking. During ESPN you hear the voice of Harold Reynolds. Does it mean anything, no, but I thought it was interesting.

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Sunday, August 10, 2003
 

Prior asked to save Cubs from sweep


I wasn't going to bring this up when we were on a winning streak, but now that the worm has turned perhaps bringing it up will get things moving in the right direction again. A week or so ago the Cubs were in the midst of a historic run of following wins with losses and losses with wins. They couldn't put even a two-game streak together for anything. As soon as I wrote that though, they naturally ran off a four-game win streak followed by back-to-back losses to the Dodgers. The only logical conclusion is the Cubs are conspiring to undercut anything I write.

Anyway, a pair of missed opportunities the last two days have left us 2.5 games back. Friday night Shawn Estes allowed just three runs over seven innings despite putting twelve men on and allowing a homer to Adrian Beltre. Sadly, the Cubs offense was unable to take advantage, scoring only one run against the Estesesque Andy Ashby and being set down in order for four innings by the dominant Dodger bullpen.

Yesterday, the Dodgers tallied four in the first off Matt Clement and the Cubs never threatened to get back in it. The lone Cub run was provided on a too-little too-late solo homer in the eighth by Damian Miller.

Back-to-back one run games for our batters highlights the fact that despite the trade for two substantial offensive upgrades, the Cubs offense hasn't gotten any better in the seventeen days since. In the 99 games before the trade the Cubs scored 453 runs for a 4.58 average. In the 16 games since, the Cubs have managed just 58 runs for a 3.625 average. That has something to do with Lofton's pedestrian.734 Cub OPS and Ramirez's dreadful .593. The trade can't really be blamed- partly because the people they replaced were even worse and partly because the Sample Size Police would ticket me if I didn't acknowledge that its only been two weeks- but it would be nice if they would start hitting and lead our offense up around a 5.0 runs per game mark.

Today we ask Mark Prior to face down comeback kid Kevin Brown and salvage a game in the series. Prior has never faced the Dodgers, but as weak as their offense is you'd have to imagine he is set up for a strong performance. Brown has been equally lights-out against lefties and righties, so Mark may need to shut L.A. out to give us a shot.


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Friday, August 08, 2003
 

Cubs win ninth out of their last twelve


What do you get when you cross Prior, Wood, and Zambrano with the worst team in the National League? A three-game sweep and a Houston lead in the Central trimmed to a game and a half, naturally. Carlos allowed just one run on seven singles and three walks while striking out eight. He was less efficient than in recent starts- he ran up 119 pitches in his six innings of work- but at least Dusty didn't quite as brutally as he might have. The Cubs pretty well dominated the series, but Padre third baseman Sean Burroughs has to be particularly glad to see the Cubs leave town. He was 0-10 against Cub pitching with strikeouts in five of his last six at-bats.

The Cubs head up the coast tonight to visit the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers offense is a distant last in the league, scoring less than 3.5 runs per game. Meanwhile, their pitching is far better than anyone else's, allowing just 3.3 runs per game. The Cubs of course are kind of a Dodgers-Lite, with good but not great pitching and mediocre but not horrendous offense. Mix them up and throw them in the best pitcher's park in baseball, and you get what looks on paper like a series out of 1968. If there is to be an exception, you would expect it to be tonight as Shawn Estes (7-8, 5.70) tangles with Andy Ashby (2-9, 5.49).

Not even Mike Tyson could mishandle a sentence this badly
William Ligue, who attacked Kansas City first-base coach Tom Gamboa last year, was sentenced to thirty months of probation by Cook County judge Leo Holt yesterday. In his sentencing order, Holt said that Ligue should not spend a day in jail because there is violence in baseball. Holt also refused to bar Ligue from Major League ballparks during his probation. "I want to thank Judge Leo Holt for being compassionate toward my case," said Ligue after the sentence was handed down. "I don't think another judge in courthouse would have given probation."

Holt preemptively responded to those who would challenge his decision, saying that "a sentence of probation should not be viewed as a pass or a slap on the wrist. The defendant is a convicted felon. He will bear that stigma for the balance of his life."

Setting aside the fact that Cook County prosecutors have had to file complaints about Holt in the past for his absurdly light sentencing, this decision sickens me. Arguing that there should be no jail time for Ligue because there has been violence in baseball is in essence arguing that Gamboa's participation in a sport that has some violence means he at least partially deserved to be attacked. It's "I could tell by the fact he was playing baseball that he was asking for it." I would love to see what violence Holt would find appropriate to commit against a hockey coach, or maybe a football referee.

Tom Gamboa has a permanent hearing problem from Ligue's attack. But at least Ligue will have to bear the stigma of being a convicted felon as he sits in the first-base stands at tonight's Royals game if he so chooses. Poor guy.


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Thursday, August 07, 2003
 

Welcome win streak moves Cubs into second place


Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa hooked up to lead the Cubs past the Padres, guaranteeing the fourth consecutive series win for Baker's boys. Wood struck out ten in 7 1/3 innings, but stayed in one inning too long as he gave up a solo homer to leadoff the eighth. I've got to do a study at some point and find out whether it is just my imagination that Dusty's starting pitchers get bloodied in their last inning at an extremely high rate. Anyway, Guthrie and Dr. Tightpants got out of the eighth and JoBo came back from a rough weekend to throw a seven-pitch perfect ninth.

Dusty stuck with Choi after the prior day's 0-3 with two errors, and was rewarded with a single and a walk in four times at the plate. Showing patience towards or faith in Choi is something new for Dusty. Here's hoping it continues against every right-handed opposing starter the rest of the way. Tonight's game pits Kevin Jarvis against Carlos Zambrano. Jarvis is a righty but one with no appreciable platoon split, so perhaps our heavily right-handed lineup can have some success with him. A win would mean the team's first sweep since we took four in Milwaukee in mid-May.

L Series?
I am not in Chicago, but I presume the fact that the Cubs and White Sox are both hovering within a couple of game of first place in their respective divisions is drawing some attention from the locals. Obviously we are still a long way from saying a Cubs/Sox World Series is likely, but the possibility is tantalizing. When I was growing up, my dad would always listen to the American League scores in hopes that the White Sox would win for the express purpose of giving the Cubs a chance to stick it to them in the Series. A big benefit to winning such a series would be is that there isn't much chance of the White Sox returning the favor any time soon. After all, we've been trying to live down the '06 World Series loss to them for 97 years now. No matter what happened in future years, we could always end any argument by saying "2003." I can also vouch for the fact that this technique works well on any Mexicans who want to talk soccer. They can say whatever they want, and you can always just come back with "2-0".

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Wednesday, August 06, 2003
 

Cubs return to Prior dominance


The Cubs won a heart stopping ballgame last evening 3-0 behind the return of Mark Prior, the emergence of Aramis Ramirez, and despite the fielding of Hee Seop Choi and the aforementioned Ramirez. Just a fun game to watch all around. I know this because I was dumb enought to watch the whole thing from San Diego which means a tired morning in the east.


The story of the night was definitely Prior. Limited to only about 80 pitches, he completed six innings of shutout baseball allowing only 3 baserunners and striking out six. The funny thing is that he probably pitched 80% fastballs and San Diego still could not touch him. Sir Tightpants made the game interesting as he loaded the bases in the 7th before giving way to Mark Guthrie. Guthrie got out of the inning by striking out a guy on 3-1 and 3-2 curveballs which were both out of the zone and inducing a high chopper to Ramirez who grabbed it and won a sprint to 3rd base to get a force play. I made this play sound easier than it was. In actuality it was a heck of a play.


The Cubs offense was not great, but with Prior pitching they don't need to be. Kim got another baserunner killed at home plate or the final difference might have been more.


After watching San Diego starter Brian Lawrence pitch I am not surprised he is having a tough season. I have never seen a right hand pitcher throw more inside sliders to right handers. Most hurlers start this pitch in the middle of the plate letting it break out of the zone looking for fishermen. He starts his inside and has it break over the plate. I am not sure I would ever want to intentionally have a ball break towards the sweet spot of the bat.


Good news abound yesterday for Cubs' fans as Houston and St. Louis both fell. That leaves the Cubs 2.5 games out of first and .5 games out of second. This is shaping up to be a good road trip. They have Wood and Zambrano left against the Padres and then the red hot pitcher of the week Clement, Estes, and Prior against the offensively challenged Dodgers. If Estes has to pitch, it might as well be against the Dodgers at their stadium. Things are looking up, lets see the Cubs grab this bull by the horns and play Houston next week to distance themselves instead of catching up.

Career Path


Well, the car shopping journey is finally over. I can now spend less time at cars.com and more time reading about baseball. I found a nice 2000 truck off lease with low miles for a fair price, so I am happy. I drove my father's truck all through high school and college and missed it.


If this statisitician thing does not work out I want to be the mystery guy at car dealerships who the salesmen have to ask about every price. I make an offer and the salesmen disappears for 10 minutes and then comes back with a counter. I need to be the guy they see. My wife said it reminds her of the guy behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz .


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Tuesday, August 05, 2003
 

Around the Cubs


The Cubs and most of the rest of baseball had the day off, so there is nothing really new to write about. That means I get to make a list of random stats, thoughts and tidbits about mainly the Cubs and some about baseball in general. All of the stats come from ESPN's web site.

  • Sammy Sosa posted an above 1.000 OPS in July. It was mainly due to slugging though. He batted over .300, but his OBP was a very un-Sammy like .342. He only drew 6 walks during the whole month.
  • Before he got hurt, Goodwin was on absolute fire. I have poked fun at him on this site, and I am sure it was a fluke, but .381/.422/.452 is a glorious fluke.
  • Moises Alou also slugged the heck out of the ball last month. He managed to post a .604 slugging percentage to go with hie .360+ OBP.
  • Kerry Wood and Shawn Estes have the same 5.4 ERA in the second half. I don't look for that trend to continue.
  • Collectively, batters are hitting to a .919 OPS clip against the Cubs when the bases are loaded.
  • As of today, 4 of the 6 divisions have races within 4 games. I am sure Selig will come up with a way to take credit for the wonderful parity in baseball.

That is about all the semi-interesting stuff I could find while poking through the numbers.

Mental breakthrough


I was taking Wrigley for a walk yesterday and I made a wonderful discovery. Sometimes it is very hard to judge the age of neighbors. My wife and I pay close attention to this because there are very few younger couples in the neighborhood that we have met. We are always on the lookout.


I figured out a tell-tale sign to figure out if someone is under 30. Look at what clothes they wear while mowing the lawn. If it is sports shorts and a T-shirt then they are young. Jeans and a work type shirt, you can be guess they are older. At what age do people decide they would rather be hot than comfortable when doing lawn work?

The greatest idea ever


I am at the age where I go to many, many, many, many weddings. I bet my wife and I have attended 15-20 over the last three years (including my own which is probably the one I remember the least, thank goodness for video). All weddings have one major problem, the unity candle. The candle itself takes about 20 seconds to light. There is usually a song playing which lasts about 3-4 minutes. The bride and groom have to stand up there and do nothing during this extra time. That brings me to a new invention...the unity sandwich.


The mother of the bride comes up and puts peanut butter on one slice of bread, the groom's mother puts jelly on another. Then the happy couple combines the sandwich, cuts it in half and chows down. Symbolically you have the joining of families, and logistically you have something to fill the time for the entire song. Plus, the bride and groom are usually so nervous before the wedding, they probably have empty stomachs. Bingo!! Now, they get a tide me over before the reception. It is up to you Northside Lounge readers to make this idea become a reality.

Update

Northside Lounge reader Marc Velazquez alerted me to a Freudian misspelling earlier. I said Selig would take credit for baseball's parody when I in fact meant parity. Of course Selig is a parody of a real commissoner so maybe it was fitting.


It is weird how you always have mental crutches in your life. Parody/parity has always been one for me. I will make this mistake about 5 times a year in print or on message boards. Another one is plaque/plague. When I was moving I marked a box full of "plagues and other stuff". People were scared to open that one...wonder why.


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Monday, August 04, 2003
 

Clement, Sosa combine to take rubber game

Sammy Sosa hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win. Matt Clement allowed just three hits in eight innings for his eighth consecutive quality start. Hee Sop Choi chipped in a single, a double, and a walk in four plate appearances. Now if only he would get his stroke back maybe he could help us.

The Cubs haven't made up ground in the Central because all three contenders seem to be heating up at the same time. That's a bit disappointing, but if we hadn't gotten hot lately we could easily have been seven or eight games out and ready to pack it in. The team travels to San Diego today before kicking off a three game set with the Padres tomorrow night. Mark Prior is scheduled to make his return from the DL to face Brian Lawrence. The Padres were horrendous early in the year, but have played much better of late winning nine of their last 17 and 18 of their last 32.

Soccer news- but don't tune out, there's baseball in it too
The U-17 (that's for players less than seventeen years old) World Cup kicks off in Finland in two weeks. In 1999 the event produced star turns for Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, who were named tournament MVP and runner-up respectively en route to their spectacular success in the World Cup in 2002. This time, American attention is focused on Freddy Adu, the fourteen year-old kid with the million dollar Nike deal. I was already excited to see Freddy play for the first time (although there are some sick highlights on the web), but this weekend's news just added to it. The team is training in England, and as part of their preparation they played Blackburn Rovers' U-17 team. Freddy came on as a substitute in the second half and scored not one- not two- but three goals in twenty-four minutes to lead the US to a 4-2 win. Remember, this kid is playing with guys two and three years older than him. In my head I know I shouldn't be this excited about a kid so young, but it's hard not to like what he has done so far.

I promised some baseball in the soccer section, so here it is. Sabremetrics has gone mainstream in the last year or two, with Moneyball hitting the best-seller lists and sabre-friendly GM's running three different major league teams. Although all sports keep statistics of some sort, most have been slower to follow the Jamesian philosophy of looking deeper inside the numbers for some hidden objective truths. There is a fascinating thread on the discussion site Big Soccer in which people are discussing applying sabremetric ideas to soccer. Its an interesting read if you are into sabremetrics or soccer, and a must-read if you follow both.

Power surge
Finally, I have an update on my personal quest to hit a home run for the company softball team. I went out to take some BP with a friend of mine, and we ran into about a dozen high school baseball players who had come out to hit the ball too. Next thing we knew, we were in an actual pickup baseball game, the first one I have played in since high school. In my third at-bat, I managed to get a hold of one and hit it over the fence in left-center. I was so surprised I didn't even think to do the Sosa hop! After a couple hours, we got bumped to a bigger field by some old folks who had reserved the field we were on. We played a few more innings, then wrapped up the day with a home run derby. As I took my turn, nearly everyone else had already gone and nobody had managed to hit one out (even though there had been seven or eight in-game homers hit and at least one on the big field). Down to my last out, I skied one to dead center and began to walk back to the dugout. Much to my surprise, it carried about three feet over the center field fence giving me the home run derby crown with one homer. If you are like me and haven't hit a homer in a long, long time, let me say I highly recommend it. Now I just have to transfer my newfound power stroke into a game that counts.

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Sunday, August 03, 2003
 

The Cubs taketh and then giveth away


I was on the road yesterday (not a surprising turn of events for a weekend), so I did not see any of the Cubs game yesterday, but I was able to catch a significant portion on the radio in Indianapolis and finally part of the ninth off an ESPN or FoxSports radio broadcast as I got back to Cincinnati. Sorry to say I caught the bad part of the ninth.


Dave Campbell was the color man and boy was he colorful aboiut Borowski. As he was warming up Campbell said something to the effect of "he is a nice story and all, but he only has two pitches and is not the type to lead a team to the playoffs". He also added that he was big on heart and short on talent. Yikes! Joe has actually done pretty decent this season, but I guess he does not have the flashy dominant closer title.


Joe did wind up blowing the game though as we all now. The homerun is one thing, but the consecutive hits after the fact pretty much shows he was gassed. Reminds of an earlier game where he gave up a three run homer in the ninth to blow a Prior victory. Closers will have days like that and thankfully for the Cubs his have been few and far between.


It would have been great to have gotten on a little win streak, but these are the Cubs. The one up one down fashion continnues on. If all follows suit this afternoon, they will win and take the series.


In bad news for the Cubs, Grudz got Bagwelled yesterday and will miss four weeks. Bobby Hill is on the DL, so he cannot be called up (of course he has light skin and less than 5 years playing experience so he would join Choi on the bench after a 5 AB tryout). That leaves the Cubs with Ramon Martinez. Usually thought of as a good fielder, Jason Steffens talks about how the numbers do not bear this out. From my observation at a game in Cincinnati, I thought his reactions were slow. His first steps looks like they were taken with concrete shoes. Of course, speed is more important than quickness at second base compared to third.


Notice how I used a proper name as a verb in the last paragraph (Bagwelled). That got me to thinking about other baseball players who names I could use as verbs. Fell free to add some in the comments section.


  • Bagwelled - To be hit on the hand by a pitched ball
  • Sosaed - To hop out of pure excitement
  • Grudzielaneked - To throw up after too much drinking
  • Aloued - To check swing
  • Piazzaed - Better ask the posters at Baseball Primer about this one
  • Farnsworthed - To tackle, destroy and emasculate
  • Alfonsecaed - To give 120% percent
  • Alomared - To spit in the direction of another person
  • Schillinged - To give your opinion when no one asked
  • Glavined - To be regretful of taking more money
  • Clemensed - To confuse wooden objects for baseballs
  • Biggioed - To have an unnatural fascination with pine par
  • Pujoised - To remain youthful looking and acting at 28
  • Booned - To flip objects with excitement

OK, that is enough. Feel free to add others. Enjoy the game this afternoon.

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Saturday, August 02, 2003
 

I will remember you

Lenny Harris
2003-2003

I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

Remember the good times that we had?
I let them slip away from us when things got bad
How clearly I first saw you smilin' in the sun
Wanna feel your warmth upon me, I wanna be the one

I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

I'm so tired but I can't sleep
Standin' on the edge of something much too deep
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard

But I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

I'm so afraid to love you, but more afraid to loose
Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
Weep not for the memories


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Win Streak!


The Chicago Cubs survived a wild fourteen-inning game tonight and came out with a most improbable win. Curt Schilling and Juan Cruz matched zeros on the scoreboard through five until Arizona took a 1-0 lead on a bloop Luis Gonzalez single. With the rain coming down harder, the Cubs needed a run to tie the game and stave off the rainout loss. Realizing the importance of the situation, Dusty called on pinch-hitting specialist Lenny Harris who responded by poking a single to left. A sac bunt, an infield single, and a sac fly later the game was tied. Then the rains came...

About three hours later, the game started back up with the weak fans cleared out of the ballpark. Both pens held up till the eleventh, when Steve Finley leadoff with a single and Raul Mondesi followed with a bloop to put runners at first and third. Another bloop single from Rod Barajas plated both men and the Cubs trailed 3-1. Sosa and Alou went quietly in the bottom half, and all seemed lost. Then some guy turned to his girlfriend (who was wearing a Mark Grace jersey by the way) and proposed...

Base hit Karros, base hit Aramis Ramirez, pinch-hit double Troy O'Leary, WFK sends Ramirez who somehow beats the tag on a heart-stopping play, and its time for more free baseball! Vegas wouldn't have touched the odds on that particular series of events transpiring, and yet the evening's improbabilities weren't nearly over.

Antonio Alfonseca entered the game, and promptly loaded the bases in the twelfth but managed to escape unscathed. He gained steam in the 13th allowing only a walk, and flat-out dominated in a perfect 14th. That's right, three scoreless innings from the Lenny Harris of the pen.

After all that, it was well past time for the Cubs to put Arizona out of their misery. Sammy singled with one out, Alou followed with a single of his own, and Eric Karros (to his credit) drew a walk to load them up. Aramis showed great patience, taking three pitches outside the zone to run it to 2-1 (ask the ump how that adds up), then fouling off two pitches before hammering one the opposite way over Raul Mondesi's head for the win.

Just a wild, crazy, unbelievable, draining game. Kudos to the few hundred fans who had the guts to stick it out, and to the Cubs players for fighting all the way. If its not too much to ask, could we please try to build on this momentum tomorrow instead of just turning around and heading back toward .500? I know I am asking a lot, seeing as how Shawn Estes is scheduled to face Miguel Batista, but it would mean a lot to me...


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Friday, August 01, 2003
 

Sisyphean Cubs start climb again

I know how Dennis loves this shot. This time, Moises is stoic.
Carlos Zambrano won his third straight start as the Cubs again closed the gap to 3.5 games. Sammy Sosa delivered the offense with an RBI double and a three-run homer, and JoBo threw an eight-pitch perfect ninth to close it out. Zambrano's line would have been better, but Dusty left him in one inning too long (where have you heard that before?)

Carlos drew some criticism from Barry Bonds after Bonds saw his soft bases-loaded liner land in Zambrano's glove in the fifth. I certainly don't have a problem with a little fist pumping as long as Carlos keeps mowing down hitters. Although he still isn't getting much respect from people who don't follow the Cubs, Zambrano continues to be among the most valuable Cubs. He has actually passed Mark Prior and is closing in on Kerry Wood in SNWL (not updated for yesterday's game as I write). I guess we should be glad there isn't an inferior veteran option at hand or Carlos might find himself on the Greyhound to Iowa.

Which brings me to Hee Sop Choi. Reports are that the Cubs were prepared to trade a "top pitching prospect" to Texas to reaquire Rafael Palmeiro. It is mind boggling how little faith Dusty and Hendry have in Hee Sop Choi. As Steffens sagely points out, even if you ignore the long-term benefits of playing Choi, and even if you disregard the fact that Eric Karros has some regressing to the mean to do, Hee Sop Choi is still out-hitting Karros against righties. He is out-hitting Palmeiro against righties. He is a better hitter against righties than any other option we have, but the people in charge of this team refuse to see, and thus we give away chances to win. I guess with Lenny Harris finally pushed to the side, Jim and Dusty need another focus for their collective moments of idiocy.

The Cubs welcome the best starting rotation in the National League to Wrigley for three afternoon games this weekend. We'll miss Randy Johnson, but we do get Curt Schilling (2.91 ERA) today, Miguel Batista (2.72) tomorrow, and Brandon Webb (2.48) Sunday. We answer with Juan Cruz, Shawn Estes, and Matt Clement. I think its fair to say we have our work cut out for us. The good news is the Arizona offense has actually been a little less potent than ours, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.


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