The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Cubs knock on Wood; Wood knocks in Cubs
This will be a short post for a couple of reasons: 1.) It is nearly midnight in the east and I have to work tomorrow, 2.) I can hardly breathe and 3.) Scott was at the game and should have a nice recap tomorrow morning.
The Eve of BattleHere we are, just nine hours to gametime. Between some utterly incomprehensible strain gauge data at my job and the impending clash at Turner Field, I am a nervous wreck. You can look around and find oodles of playoff predictions, but in such a short series I don't think it is possible to predict the outcome with a high degree of accuracy. Like everyone, I do have a gut feeling about it though, so that's what I'll share with you.
We were 19-1 when allowing one run, 22-6 when allowing two, and 13-10 when allowing three this year. With the starters we have lined up, I think we are very likely to get three and probably four pitching performances in the zero to two runs allowed range. The key is to convert those into wins. That requires the bullpen (hopefully Farnsworth, Remlinger, and Borowski only) to perform, and it requires the offense to put at least a few runs on the board. If we give away a game where we get an 8 IP, 1 R start, I think we'll lose the series. Otherwise, we have a great shot.
Tailgate Party UpdateI still don't have much of an idea how many people to expect, but it looks like we'll have at least five or six and building to 15 or so by time to head into the stadium. Dress a bit warm if you come, because we are getting our first cold snap of the year (in the 50's tonight). I am looking forward to it. Go Cubs!
Monday, September 29, 2003
Perfect weekend in PA
Well, I got back from my PA vacation to read all about the Cubs clinching their first division champiosnhip in 14 years. I must say I was one excited scoreboard watcher as it unfolded. I left for the wedding with Milwaukee leading the Astros 2-1 and the Cubs trailing the Pirates 1-0. On the way to the reception I caught a radio update that mentioned the Cubs could clinch with a victory in the second game of the double dip.
Sunday, September 28, 2003
NLDS Roster PredictionCan someone explain to me where they get the acronym NLDS? I mean, NLCS stands for National League Championship Series, which makes sense since it is a series to determine the champion of the National League. By analogy, you might think the NLDSs determines the champion of the National Leauge, um, divisions. Of course, that's not the case at all. The NLDSs determine the champions of nothing and in fact are nothing more than glorified play-in tournaments for the NLCS.
You know, from the stupidly named NLDS to that hairpiece, I think I may hate every single thing Bud Selig has brought to this earth. Oh well, on with the predictions:
Division ChampsIts the morning after, and I have finally begun to catch my breath. Heading into yesterday, we seemed likely to limp into the playoffs if we made it all. Much like '98, we would have headed to Atlanta with a tired pitching staff and likely would have been easy pickings for the Braves. Instead, thanks to the heroics of Clement, Prior, and our man Wes Obermueller, we will be going with Kerry Wood in game one and everyone will have two full days of rest. The Braves have a good pitching staff and a deadly offense, but with a lineup of Wood, Zambrano, Prior, Clement, and Wood again I think we have a good shot at every game in the series.
Either Dennis or I will be back tomorrow with some analysis on the series with the Braves. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to hit all the other Cub blogs out there if you haven't already. I find it compounds my joy to read everyone else expressing theirs.
Tailgate Party Tueday in AtlantaThe mlb.com playoff schedule says we will play Tuesday at 8, Wednesday at 7, and Sunday if necessary at a time TBD. Right now I intend to tailgate before all three games, but I will definitely be out there Tuesday no later than five. I would love to meet as many Cub fans as possible, so if you will be in Atlanta, look for me. I will be in a green pickup truck and wearing a road Hee Sop Choi jersey. Chris Yarbrough of the Yarbage Cub Review is bringing a bunch of folks from Tuscalossa, and I hope that some of the rest of you can join us as well. I haven't ever tailgated at Turner Field, but I am told that the best place is next to a walkway that runs NW/SE in the parking lot just north of the stadium. If you look at this photograph, its the light brown walkway running diagonally NW/SE between Turner Field to the south and the painted footprint of the former Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to the north. If I can find anything more specific about where tailgating is allowed, I'll post it here. If you e-mail me, I will give you my cell phone number if you want to try to find me that way. Tickets are available, so ditch your job for a day or two and come on down! I may have a couple extra tickets with our group in the upper deck, so if you want to sit with us let me know about that too.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
I am writing this early so if we do clinch tonight I can post it and then run around in front of my apartment screaming my head off. Just a fabulous day to be alive.
I am buying a group of tickets tonight for all three games in Atlanta. I'll be hosting a tailgate party before Game One and possibly before the others although I can't promise anything there yet. If you can make it to Atlanta (tix are available), let me know you are coming and I will buy more food, Cokes, and beer for you. I'll post more when I calm down enough to sit in front of the computer.
Rain halts Cubs, Sexson halts AstrosMother Nature did the Cubs no favors Friday but Richie Sexson made sure to pick up the slack. Sexson, long-time scourge of Cubs pitching, turned his wrath on the Astros bullpen today launching two homers in a 12-5 win. He was aided in his quest by a series of lousy pitchers and fielding miscues from Houston. The loss gives the Cubs a half game edge heading into tomorrow's DH and gives them a chance to clinch the division with a DH sweep and another Houston loss.
According to the Trib, Mark Prior will face Josh Fogg in the first game tomorrow, to be immediately followed by Clement (13-12, 4.22) and Vogelsong (2-1, 4.79) in game two. In Texas, Wes Obermueller (1-5, 5.46) will meet Ron Villone (6-5, 3.92). By 7pm tomorrow, we could be anywhere from needing help to make it to a one-game playoff to being division champs. Here's to the latter.
A Personal NoteIf you haven't heard, Mark Grace announced his retirement today. Mark has been my favorite player since I bought his rookie card at a yard sale for 25 cents before he had ever played a big league game. The position had opened up the previous year when Jody Davis stiffed me for an autograph, and the "Rated Rookie" played my position and that was good enough for me. I think it was a good choice. He not only gave me great moments to remember for a lifetime, but just about every time I heard him speak he gave me a new reason to root him on.
Anyway, you've been there for over half my life Mark, and in all that time you never let me down. Thanks.
Friday, September 26, 2003
Off to PA
Short post this morning because I am heading to a wedding in PA. The Cubs have three of the most important games they have played since I have been alive and I will miss all of them unless I can catch a FoxSports PA telecast or Pirates radio. We are tied with three to go and have our top three on the mound. I still like our chances.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Bitter pillWell, if it was too easy it wouldn't be any fun, right? The Cubs suffered a 9-7 defeat and unless the Astros blow a late lead will fall into a tie for first with three games to play. Carlos Zambrano had his second consecutive sub-par start, walking five batters and allowing five runs in just five innings. He wasn't helped by Guthrie or Veres, each of whom just added fuel to the Reds fire. The lone bright spot was Sammy Sosa, who finally broke out with two homers but it sadly wasn't enough.
Carlos went nine innings and threw 129 pitches (his high pitch count of the year) on September 14th. Five days later, he allowed 9 runs in 4.2 IP. Today, another ugly start. Has Dusty's predeliction for high pitch counts caught up with the youngest member of the team? Honestly, there is no way to know. Maybe its just chance that Carlos has had two of his worst starts of the year since the 129 pitch outing. Maybe it was a result of nagging injuries not related to pitch counts. I suppose we will never know. The one sure way to know would have been to keep him out of that situation in the first place.
Tomorrow afternoon its Josh Fogg (10-8, 5.23) and Mark Prior (17-6, 2.42). When that one ends, its the lousy Wayne Franklin (10-13, 5.34) against the lousy Jeriome Robertson (15-8, 5.00). On paper, its our best chance to pick up a game between now and the end of the season.
Dennis will be back in the morning with the post mortem on a tough loss. I don't know how you feel right now, but I'm doing my best to keep my head up. We are tied with three games to play. We've got every opportunity to win this thing, and if I didn't quit when we were 5.5 back a couple months ago I am not throwing in the towel now. Go get us a win, Mark. We need it.
Giving credit where credit is due
Shawn Estes was absolutely brilliant last evening. Albeit against a poor Cincinnati Reds lineup, Estes had good control, a good sinker and pitched a complete game shutout to help the Cubs maintain their 1 game lead in the NL Central. Fans all season have wondered how to get Estes going and Baker finally found the answer. He is 1-0 after starting on 20 days rest (I know, I know, he did have one brief relief appearance a few days ago, but this does not count in my eyes). Having Estes throw a shutout in September with the Cubs in first place in an upset on the order of the Temptation Island combatants stopping for a Bible study.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Estes for Cy Young!Two very resistable offenses met two very moveable starting pitchers in Cincinnati tonight. Fortunately for all of our mental states, it was the Cubs who won the battle on both sides. Shawn Estes was right at home facing the AAA Reds lineup, allowing just four hits and two walks in a complete game shutout. The offense took advantage of two Cincinnati errors and scored four unearned runs off starter and loser Josh Hall. Sammy cracked his 37th homer and drew his second walk in the last fourteen days.
The 8-0 rout came in response to Houston's nailbiting win over San Fran, 2-1 earlier today. Despite starting the scrub lineup, the Giants nearly gave us a huge gift as Sidney Ponson took a 1-0 lead into the seventh before that darned Jose Vizcaino drove in two for the win. Net result for the day is no change in the standings and one less game to play, and on a day when Estes starts that sounds plenty good to me.
Carlos Zambrano (13-10, 2.97) will go for the sweep against none other than Todd Van Poppel (2-1, 5.53) tomorrow night. Van Poppel pitched brilliantly against the contending Phillies last week, so he may not be the pushover Hall was tonight. Doug Davis (7-7, 4.01) will face Tim Redding (9-14, 3.74) in Houston. Davis has actually been quite good since coming over from Toronto, posting a 2.33 ERA over seven starts.
Dennis will return in the morning with another report from Cincinnati's Wrigley South. Just four more games...
Wood teases history, dominates for win
For the second straight start at the Average American Ballpark with a Great name, Kerry Wood teased me into thinking I would see my first no-hitter in person. In a June 18th ballgame he retired the first 17 batters before yielding a clean single to Reggie Taylor. Last evening he got 1 out into the seventh before surrendering a Baltimore Chop to Willy Mo Pena. Over those last two games Wood's combined pitching line is 16 IP, 4 H, 1R, 4 BB and 21 K. That is just sickening.
Well, the Cubs are 1 up with 5 to play. Although the race is not decided, I really like our chances. With out remaining schedule and the fact that we have one full turn through the rotation left, 3-2 is not out of the question. To tie us the Astros would then need to go 4-1. They might be able to eke out one against the Giants this afternoon, but then they would need to take 3 of 4 from the Brewers while only starting one of their guns (who got torched last evening). All of this with a depleted bullpen due to the 13 inning game last week against the Cards and last night's Miller performance. I don't care who is playing who, it is hard to take 3 of 4 from a team. I like our chances.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Cubs alone in firstKerry Wood. What can you say about a guy like Kerry Wood? True, he lost the no-hitter in the seventh, but other than that he did all right tonight. He ran his scoreless inning streak to 17 over three starts, and dropped his ERA since August 27th to 1.04. Meanwhile, our friends from the Left Coast unleashed a ten-run second inning to smack Wade Miller and the Astros back to the stone age 10-3. That's three straight days on the calendar where every Astro and Cub game has broken the right way for us, propelling the Cubs from 1.5 back to one up with five to play.
Tomorrow Houston sends Roy Oswalt (9-5, 3.09) to stop the bleeding, but the Giants counter with late season acquisition Sidney Ponson (17-11, 3.79). In Cincinnati, Shawn Estes (7-11, you don't want to know) will face Josh Hall (0-1, 6.14). Hall has been hammered in every single major league appearance he has ever made unless you count the seven shutout innings he threw at us last week. We all feel the same way about Estes, but he has had ten quality starts this year. If he has one more left somewhere in that arm, there's no time like the present to bust it out.
Dennis, who was in attendance at New Riverfront tonight, will be posting in the morning to relate what its like watching the Cubs surrounded by Cubs fans in a visiting park. For now, I am off to bed with visions of first place dancing in my head.
Monday, September 22, 2003
All square!I was settling in for a long night with the Astros and Giants tied 3-3 in the ninth and one of baseball's most dominant pitchers in for Houston, but a funny thing happened on the way to extra innings- namely, Pedro Feliz. The minor league veteran took Billy Wagner out the opposite way, and Ray Durham added another one three pitches later. Tim Worrell closed it out and the Cubs found themselves in first place with just six games to play.
Tomorrow its a battle of aces in Houston as Jason Schmidt (16-5, 2.33) faces Wade Miller (14-12, 3.97). Schmidt pitches in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball, but he's been nearly as good on the road (2.24 to 2.43 ERA) so I see no reason to worry. Also tomorrow, Scott Randall (2-3, 6.75) will be making his first career start against Kerry Wood (13-11, 3.31) tomorrow. Randall faces the Cubs in relief on 9/12 and 9/13, and gave up four hits, three walks, and three runs while recording just three outs. Hopefully that bodes well...
Week of September 15 in review
Cubs 5-2, (31 runs for, 31 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Mark Prior, 3 R and 27 K in 16.1 IP
Hitter of the Week: Aramis Ramirez, .429 OBP and .917 SLG
The Week Ahead: at Cincinnati for 3, vs Pittsburgh for 3
Astros 3-3 (39 runs for, 21 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Roy Oswalt, 7 IP, 1 R
Hitter of the Week: Richard Hidalgo, .467 OBP and .885 SLG
The Week Ahead: vs San Francisco for 3, vs Milwaukee for 4
Cardinals 5-2 (46 runs for, 28 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Woody Williams, 7 IP and 0 R
Hitter of the Week: Albert Pujols, .613 OBP and .792 SLG
The Week Ahead: Does it matter?
Sunday, September 21, 2003
Sunday = FundayTwice the closer put two on with one out in the ninth, twice he got the ground ball twin killing, and twice Cubs fans celebrated. In Pittsburgh it was Joe Borowski coaxing a 6-4-3 to finish a 4-1 win over the Pirates. An hour later in St. Louis it was Jason Isringhausen getting Jeff Kent to hit into the 5-4-3 to wrap up a 6-4 win. The end result, Houston's lead is once again down to a half game and hope is once again on the rise on the Northside.
I paid $150 or so for the Extra Innings package on digital cable this year. (Sattelite isn't an option due to lack of a southwesterly view.) Today, with eight days left in the season, there were four meaningful games in the National League, and EI provided me with coverage of none of them. It made for a nervewracking afternoon of getting text play-by-play from Cubs fans on the internet. I had the good fortune of being in a chat room with a guy named Dan who had the Cardinals game on local TV, as well as with Dennis who was giving updates from the Reds broadcast on The Big One, WLW 700 in Cincinnati. I'd be more upset if we hadn't gotten ideal outcomes from all four games, but goodness I don't want to have to go through that again.
It seems like half our wins this year have followed the script of "great pitching from the starter and great hitting from one position player," and that's what we had again today. Mark Prior was dominant, striking out 14 and not allowing a run until he ran out of gas in the eighth. Dusty ran him up to 131 pitches, and if he God forbid comes out with nothing in the tank later this week it will be awfully hard to stick to my no pitch-count-whining pledge. Aramis Ramirez was the man with the bat, hitting two homers as well as driving in Grudzie with an infield single.
Tomorrow the stress meter drops a bit as the Cubs and Phillies have the day off leaving just two games for us to follow from our cubicles. Here in Atlanta, Mike Hampton (14-7, 3.64) will face Florida's Mark Redman (13-9, 3.70). In Houston, its rookie Jerome Williams (7-4, 3.30) against Ron Villone (6-5, 3.99). Another perfect day like today would put us a single game out of the wildcard and all square with the Astros.
One last note to the Cardinals: You did what I asked. Thanks. Now I hope jet engines crush each of you in your respective beds tonight. (See, that is a Donnie Darko reference.)
Missed opportunitiesAlbert Pujols hit a very un-Morris like 13th inning home run to open the door for the Cubs, but Matt Clement went wild in the fourth and the Cubs offense could never close the gap. The net result leaves the Cubs right where they were going into the day but with one fewer game remaining to play.
The primary reason we lost the game was Clement's loss of control, but the fact remains that more often than not you need to score more than two runs to win. Sammy's woeful September continued with four strikeouts in four appearances. We also gave away two runners on the base paths as we have been prone to do all year. I don't really expect any better out of Wendell, but we have to have Sammy hot and right now it isn't happening. Ah well, at least Hee Sop got an AB. Its too bad it was his only his fourth of the month and first in ten days.
Today is a game you figure you can't afford to lose, as Mark Prior goes for the next-to-last time this regular season. His opponent will be Oliver Perez (4-9, 5.40), the southpaw acquired from San Diego in the Brian Giles trade. Perez has been hit hard by lefties and righties alike. We aren't going to have a more favorable pitching matchup the rest of the way, so let's please not let this one get away. Sterling Hitchcock (4-4, 4.77) hosts Jeriome Robertson (15-7, 4.85) in St. Louis.
Saturday, September 20, 2003
Cubs split, Astros rollIt was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. The Cubs somehow won a bizzare 10-9 game in the opener today. Jason Bay struck for ten total bases and eight RBIs in his 21st major league game and the Cubs had only two players with two hits and none with more than two, but somehow they found a way.
By the time the second game had begun, Matt Morris had done what he could to achieve what he earlier in the week said he wanted to see by giving Houston a big early lead before walking to the showers. Sadly, as much as I wanted to see Juan Cruz in place of Shawn Estes, he looked kind of like Estes today as he gave up six runs and didn't retire a batter in the fifth. By the end of the evening, Houston had won and the Cubs had lost and the deficit was back to a game and a half.
There is nothing we can do about Houston, so our guys have just got to focus on what they can control. Tomorrow walking wounded Matt Clement will face youngster Ryan Vogelsong making just his sixth career start. I've got nothing to say other than we need to win the game. Oh, and I hope the feds find Matt Morris' kiddie porn collection tonight.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
An Open Letter to the St. Louis National League Baseball Club
As I write, you find yourselves five and a half games out of first place in the NL Central. Not so long ago you were the favorites to win this division, but losing 11 of 17 in September has sent you spiraling right out of the race.
So, having self-destructed in the clutch, you may be thinking its time to mail it in. You could be considering putting the old Clydesdales in cruise control, coasting through these last eight games, and heading off to a long winter vacation. You could, but I am going to ask you not to. You see, this weekend you will play host to the Houston Astros, a team that currently leads the Cubs in the Central by a single game. The Cubs need your help, and you have an obligation- nay, a sacred duty to help us out.
"But wait," you might say, "we've already proven we can't beat anybody when the pressure is on. We had eight games against the Cubs and Astros this month and we lost seven of them!" Its true, you have pulled a massive choke job, but I am here to give you some words of encouragement.
First, look at your manager. Tony LaRussa might be the most courageous man in baseball. Who else has the guts to sport a worse looking mullet than Randy Johnson and do it for twenty some-odd years? And how about deciding to build his bullpen AND his starting rotation around Jeff Fassero? With moves like that, I can't believe George Will is still the only one to have any respect for the guy.
Then there's your fabled offense. Of course, the leader is Albert Pujols since he has the most seniority. A close second when it comes to veteran leadership is Tino Martinez. Sure he doesn't hit anymore, but $7.5M for a Yankee reject is a bargain in anybody's book. Scott Rolen is pretty good, and back problems are hardly ever chronic so you should be set at third base for years to come. And lest I forget, there's the great Jim Edmonds. I need you to ignore what's right in front of your face and take Jim's word for this- that is eye black, not eye shadow. I don't care what it looks like.
Finally, if all else fails you can fall back on your great young pitching staff. Look at Matt Morris- if that hairball under his lip doesn't say cool then I don't know what does. As soon as he hits puberty he might be able to give Matt Clement a run for his money. As for the rest, I'll admit I haven't followed the Cardinals that closely, but if Rick Ankiel is anything like he was last time I saw him, you guys are in great shape.
Looking back over this, I realize it may not have been quite as inspiring as I had hoped. In fact, it may have just reminded you of some of the things that lead you to your embarrassing tank job of the last three weeks. All right then, new plan: Forget you are managed by Tony LaRussa, forget that you've choked the division away, forget everything I said up to now. Just remember this- somehow, someway, you've got to beat the Astros. A sweep would be great, but you absolutely must find a way to take two out of three. That's all I ask.
Your Loyal Fan,
Rockies go for jugular behind savvy managerial move
After the Cubs win I, like most Cub fans, turned my attention to Colorado where the Rockies played the division leading Astros. The Rockies wound up pulling out a 7-5 victory to help pull the Cubs to 1/2 game of the division lead. There was one play in the game that struck me as borderline genius that is worth sharing.
Pennant race updateViva La Rockies! Finally somebody found a way to stop the Astros, as Todd Helton and Charles Johnson each homered and Darren Oliver threw 5.2 innings in Coors without allowing an earned run. I nearly had a heart attack in the ninth when Johnson juggled and dropped a foul tip that would have ended the game, but Orlando Merced eventually struck out and the lead was officially just a half game.
In other news, old friend Brooks Kieschnick highlighted a three-run ninth inning comeback with a two-run homer off Jason Isringhausen to pace the Brewers to a 7-6 win over St. Louis tonight. Come to think of it though, Cardinals news doesn't really qualify as a pennant race news so let's just move on.
We are off tomorrow, but Colorado's Jose Jimenez (2-8, 5.22) will have a chance to drop the Astros into a dead heat if he can beat Wade Miller (13-12, 4.12). Miller coughed up five earnies in 3.1 innings in his previous start against Colorado this year, so here's to more of the same. Pour it on Rockies!
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Kerry slashes Houston lead to a single gameKerry Wood has come alive just in time. Today was a complete game shutout as he struck out eleven from an overmatched Met lineup. Doug Glanville (seriously) and Aramis supplied the solo homers for the 2-0 margin of victory. Since his August 27th start at Busch Stadium, Kerry has a 1.00 ERA with 46 Ks in 36 innnings. I am so happy with the result today that I am going to keep my pitch count fears to myself.
Let's go Rockies!
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Cubs eke out another win but Houston keeps paceMark Prior struck out thirteen in 8.2 innings and won his 16th game of the year as the Cubs topped the Mets 3-2 at Wrigley tonight. Mark Grudzielanek was 3-3 with a double and Sammy Sosa homered to pace the Cubs offense. I flipped channels between pitches (nervous habit) in the ninth, and came back to see the ball sailing into the bleachers for three-run homer for the Mets. Cut to a shot of a shellshocked woman in the crowd, and I knew I had lost any reason to live. Then I realized it was a replay from Cedeno's homer earlier in the game. Just one of life's funny little jokes on my heart I guess.
Houston destroyed Colorado 13-2 (as I type) behind three (as I type) homers from Richard Hidalgo. Hidalgo, who was absolutely horrible as long as he was on my simulation league roster, now has an OPS up near a 1.000. Just another of life's funny jokes, I suppose. Gosh but life can be funny sometimes.
Tomorrow afternoon its Al Leiter (14-8, 4.26) against Kerry Wood (12-11, 3.46). Leiter has been very good in the second half (2.39 ERA after the all-star break) but did get hammered by the Expos last time out. In Denver Ron Villone (6-4, 3.69) will face Darren Oliver (11-11, 5.01). Oliver has been pretty respectable pitching in Coors all year, allowing just a 4.68 ERA at home. May the pitching gods smile on Kerry and Darren. Go Cubs!
Gritty, gutsy, Matt ClementKnowing a Shawn Estes start was the alternative, Matt Clement pitched through the pain and produced seven innings of three hit, two walk, no earned run baseball last night. Remlinger and JoBo combined to close it out and the Cubs had a 4-1 win and closed to 1.5 back of Houston. Moises Alou was 3-4 with a double, and Paul Bako added two extra base hits for the cause.
The only down note to speak of was the fact that Sammy remains cold, going 0-4 with a couple of strikeouts. I am not dumping on him, for there are minor streaks and slumps in anyone's season, but the fact is he's got to get hot for the team to win the division. Oh, and I suppose the Cardinals winning 11-2 over the Brewers is a down note, but only if you consider the Deadbirds to actually still be in contention.
Tonight Mark Prior (15-6, 2.48) will face New York's Jae Wong Seo (8-11, 4.05) while Houston's Jeriome Robertson (14-7, 4.95) meets Chin-hui Tsao (2-2, 6.40) in Coors Field. Seo was strong early in the year, weakened in July and August, but has come on for two strong starts so far in September. He is a righty with a fairly large reverse platoon split, allowing an .811 OPS to righties and only .672 to lefties. Colorado is 18 games over .500 at home, so a win by Prior could well put us just a half game back.
Week of September 8 in review
Cubs 3-3, (26 runs for, 27 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Carlos Zambrano, 3 R in 16 IP
Hitter of the Week: Moises Alou, .480 OBP and .636 SLG
The Week Ahead: vs NY Mets for 3, at Pittsburgh for 3
Astros 6-1 (41 runs for, 22 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Billy Wagner, 5 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 R
Hitter of the Week: Richard Hidalgo, .500 OBP and .792 SLG
The Week Ahead: at Colorado for 3, at St. Louis for 3
Quitters 1-5 (26 runs for, 39 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Brett Tomko, 9 IP and 2 ER
Hitter of the Week: Albert Pujols, .391 OBP and 0.773 SLG
The Week Ahead: vs Milwaukee for 3, vs Houston for 3
Monday, September 15, 2003
The pain of an out of town fan
Yesterday was supposed to be a good day. The wife and I came back late Saturday night from traveling for the sole purpose of sleeping in and watching sports all day long. NFL football and pennant fever baseball was on the plate for the day. That was until I realized I would be screwed by baseball's blackout rule.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Umpire finds a way to beat Zambrano, believe it or notHome plate umpire Steve Rippley left the game after the eighth inning today, delaying the game thirteen minutes and long enough to coax Carlos Zambrano to allow his first walk of the game and only his fourth wild pitch of the year. Together, it was enough to push the Reds to a 1-0 win and send the Cubs to two games back of first.
I hate to turn to blaming the umpire, but it was awfully difficult to see Rippley stay in the game for three innings but decide he just couldn't take it anymore when Z was ready to take the mound for the ninth. If I saw correctly, he even waited through the break after the eighth to leave, thus lengthening the delay by another 3-5 minutes.
Of course, there is a bit of blame to go around on the Cubs side too. For one, Dusty saw Carlos' sudden wildness after the delay and knew he had thrown 120 pitches. He could have gone to the pen, but elected not to. For another, the team failed to score a single run off a mediocre AA pitcher. For third, Dusty used Tony Womack (.249 OBP against righties) and Eric Karros .284 OBP against righties) as pinch-hitters against right-hander Chris Reitsma. Reitsma (who allows an OPS over 200 points higher to lefties) mowed down the both of them. I just don't have the words to describe what a horrible pair of moves that is. Its days like these when I find it hard to see how all the leadership and people skills in the universe can make up for utter tactical incompetence.
Another point of concern is Sammy's weak bat of late. This is a team with several poor hitters, a few marginal ones, and one very good one. As constructed, we rely extremely heavily on that one big hitter to get on base, drive people in, and make the offense go. Over the last two weeks he has hit .236/300/.436. That fits right in with the rest of our chump hitters, but we have to have more from him if we are going pull this division out.
We'll send an injured Matt Clement or a lousy Shawn Estes out to face the Mets tomorrow, while Houston has no opposition for the fourth consecutive day (the difference of course being they are actually scheduled to be off tomorrow). Dusty doesn't have a lot of good options for a starter tomorrow, but I fear we can count on him to find the worst available choice. Whoever goes will face New York rookie Jeremy Griffiths (1-2, 6.82). Like today's opposing starter, Griffiths was recently called up (7-6, 2.74 at AAA Norfolk), and like today's opposing starter he has to be considered likely to shut us out.
For crying out loud, let's get some runs!
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Deja vu as Cubs blow lead before coming back to winThe Cubs once again blew a large early lead before rallying to plate the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Juan Cruz had his first poor start since escaping pergatory, although it seemed to my biased eye that he was done in by a lot of dinks, dunks, and bloops. Alfonseca got the win for the second consecutive day, but at least this time he got it without giving up two runs in his only inning.
I promised to go over the impact of the Pittsburgh Boyz on our Cubs, so here goes:
The first thing to notice is the sample sizes. Lofton and Ramirez have each gotten around 200 which is probably enough to start making some judgements, but for Simon and Womack we can mostly only say how they have done and not what it really means for their performance the rest of the way.
The subject of the controversial NOTD was Aramis Ramirez, and apparently all the attention prompted him to at least get that OBP up over .300. His walk rate is nearly identical to what it was with Pittsburgh, but he has about 40 points less batting average and about 40 points more isolated slugging. In essence, we're getting about what Pittsburgh got, but no return to the 2001 form we might have hoped for.
Lofton's walk rate and ISO are pretty much unchanged, but Kenny's batting average is actually up about 40 points from what it was with the Pirates.
Randall Simon has been the best surprise of the quartet so far. His walk rate is also the same, but his batting average is up 30 points and his ISO is up about 100. As the only left-handed bat (other than Bako) Dusty will trust enough to start, we are relying heavily on Simon to keep his hot bat going.
Finally we have Tony Womack who I throw in with the Steel Town Mafia since he played there not so long ago. Although he has been mediocre, he has at least stepped up his game from the horrendous level it was at earlier in the year. I don't care for him as a starter, but he hasn't really hurt us so far and that's a welcome surprise to me.
So all in all, we have gotten a bit better performance from these four guys than we might otherwise have expected. That really means we should be prepared for them to come back toward the norm a bit, but there is always room for Destiny to step in and nudge them to a big final few weeks of the season.
As I write, Houston is leading St. Louis 1-0 in the fifth. Assuming it holds up we will remain a game back as we go for the sweep tomorrow. We'll send Carlos Zambrano (13-9, 2.86) to the mound to face Cincinnati rookie Josh Hall (0-0, 9.00) who will be appearing in only his fourth major league game. Hall is a young righty with nothing remarkable contained in the splits from his brief career to date. He hasn't pitched horribly but has been victimized by a lot of hits falling in in his two starts and one relief appearance to date. He was 8-10 with a 3.47 ERA for AA Chattanooga this year.
Cubs escape with win, Houston answers at EnronTom Goodwin waited out a rain delay and then pinch-hit more than a few Cub fans off the proverbial (or literal?) ledge this afternoon. Kerry Wood allowed just a single run in six innings, but had a high pitch count, was all over the place, and was by all accounts visibly tiring so Dusty wisely went to the bullpen. Well, I thought it was wise, but Guthrie and Alfonseca hooked up to allow five runs in the seventh, and by the time the rain clouds interceeded a dazed Cub team found itself trailing 6-5. An hour later play resumed, and Tom "Dennis" Goodwin singled home Simon (who reached on a two-out walk to start the rally) and Ramirez for the win.
Our friends in Texas obliterated the Deadbirds with nineteen hits and fourteen runs. As much as I hate them, it would be nice if St. Louis would at least put up a fight and take a game or two in this series. Tomorrow the two teams will arguably both throw their aces as Matt Morris (10-6, 3.58) faces Roy Oswalt (7-5, 3.42). At Wrigley it will be John Bale (1-2, 4.24) against either Cruz or Estes. Yahoo lists Estes, but ESPN lists Cruz and every rumor I have heard indicates Cruz, but I won't feel safe until he actually takes the mound.
Dennis got an email about the NOTD yesterday (noting Aramis' sub-.300 OBP and comparing him to one LFH) which rightly argued that comparing Aramis to Lenny isn't exactly fair since Aramis has ten homers with the Cubs and that's ten times as many as Lenny had. Dennis was mad at me for getting him in trouble (this NOTD like most was my doing), so let me explain myself. The purpose of the NOTD is just to throw some tidbit out there that you may not have been aware of, and since I was surprised to see how low Aramis' OBP is I thought it might be informative for some of you too. I certainly agree that Ramirez is a huge improvement over Harris, but the NOTD just isn't the place for a substantive analysis. Perhaps I can do a bit better breakdown over the weekend...
Thursday, September 11, 2003
NL Central contenders have too many white playersDespite facing a troika of at-or-below-.500 teams, the Cubs, Astros, and Cardinals all wilted in the afternoon sun today. Our loss was particularly frustrating since we were starting (arguably) the best pitcher in the league, not to mention that we were down just two with the bases loaded and none out in the ninth knowing St. Louis and Houston had already fallen but couldn't pull it out. Prior struck out eight in 5.2 IP and kept the ball in the park, but three walks and ten hits were enough to put three on the board and win the game for Los Expos.
This weekend begins a run of sixteen games against the Pirates (13 games under .500), Reds (20 under), and Mets (21 under) . On paper these are some awfully favorable matchups, but its up to the Cubs to go out and win those games the only place they count, in reality. Tomorrow we kick things off with Kerry Wood (12-11, 3.52) against Cincinnati's Seth Etherton (2-3, 5.67). In his five starts this year, Etherton's been pretty decent against righties (.759 OPS allowed), but has been absolutely torched by lefties (1.079 OPS allowed). This isn't much of a sample size, but his previous major league work back in 2000 reflected more of the same (.825 and .940 respectively). Its too bad we don't have any other real left-handed options, but Dusty needs to at least make sure to start a lefty at first tomorrow. (Yes, I know that means Simon, but I can dream can't I?)
Oh, and I apologize for the Dusty joke in the headline. Sometimes I can't help myself.
MLB's handling of Expos ridiculous
I have been hearing and reading a lot lately about the wild success of the Expos split home field venues this season from baseball commissioner Bud Selig. One article is listed on MLB's website, and he has been featured in the booth of the Cubs first game of the series. In the linked article Selig is quoted as saying:
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Cubs give one awayWell, that was a lot of fun. Alex Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton, and Moises Alou allowed a harmless pop-up to become a game breaking double tonight and the Cub win streak ended at six. The game was a cacophony of mental collapses by the Cubs. From the five consecutive walks from Clement and Guthrie to the belly flop tag attempt by Randall Simon in the eighth, the Cubs didn't do much to show they deserved to win. Kudos to Dave Veres for pitching out of bases-loaded nobody out allowing only a run, and to Farnsworth for overcoming one braindead play by a teammate only to succumb to the second.
You know, we won the wildcard back when Brant Brown gave a game away, so I don't see any reason we can't just forget this game ever happened and get right back to work tomorrow. The rubber game will feature Mark Prior (15-5, 2.41) and Tomo Ohka (8-12, 4.71). Ohka has had a tough time in San Juan, surrendering seven homers in just 24.2 innings pitched (that's one every 3.5 innings as opposed to one every 9.6 innings elsewhere). He's got a pretty typical L/R split this year although in the past he's shown a bit of a reverse split.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Cubs, Astros keep pace while Cardinal fade continuesWith every day that goes by it increasingly looks like a two-horse race in the NL Central. The Cubs got yet another quality start from Carlos Zambrano en route to a 4-3 win in San Juan tonight. Moises returned the lineup and singled home the game-winning runs in the seventh. Sammy took a pitch off the helmet in the fourth, but after a brief delay stayed in the game and did not appear to be troubled by it the rest of the way. Matt Clement will face Dusty favorite Livan Hernandez tomorrow.
Milwaukee held leads on Houston in the third and the sixth but couldn't hold them, as Houston rallied to tie it in the 8th and win it in the ninth to keep pace with the Cubs. Ex-Cub Jose Vizcaino was the villain, popping a three-run pinch-hit homer over the fence in the right field corner. Luis Martinez will make his second major league start tomorrow for the Brewers, with Jeriome Robertson scheduled to go for the 'Stros.
The Cardinals collapse continues unabated as they were bombed by the Rockies 8-1 at Busch tonight. Hopefully they will continue to slide until they hit 0.0 on the prediction graph and we can just forget about that red line the rest of the way.
I wish I had been able to get some more posts up this weekend, but Manhattan was just a little too tempting. I love my hometown, but New York City has got an energy and prestige I just haven't seen anywhere else. Besides, by being at Shea last night I got to see the third-baseman they claimed off waivers... "Harris" I think his name was. He pinch-hit with the bases loaded in a tie game and grounded into a DP on the first pitch, but still I think he is on the verge of putting it all together. At any rate, we should be back to a regular posting schedule the rest of the way.
Week of September 1 in review
Cubs 7-1 (48 runs for, 25 runs against)
Pitcher of the Week: Joe Borowski, 4.1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 R
Hitter of the Week: Moises Alou, .550 OBP and .708 SLG
The Week Ahead: at San Juan for 3, vs Cincinnati for 3
Astros 4-2 (36 runs for, 22 runs against)
Cardinals 3-5 (41 runs for, 36 runs against)
Monday, September 08, 2003
First place!So we regain first place just when I am too disconnected to post. Hmm. On second thought, I choose to interpret it as "we begin our charge back into first place just when I show up at Wrigley." Anyway, I am naturally psyched to be in first but I have a train into Manhattan to catch so I can't write anything much about it. I'll be back in Atlanta tomorow night and I'll have a belated "Week in Review" segment (the chart looks pretty good this time) as well as some tidbits from my vacation I didn't get to share yet. Make sure to check out And Another Thing! this week since I am pretty sure Al is the only Cubs Blog Army member reporting from the front in San Juan.
Friday, September 05, 2003
Calling all Cincinnati area Cub fans
Well, I suppose technically you could live anywhere but will need to be able to get to Cincinnati. I purchased two tickets for the Wednesday September 24th Cubs game against the Reds at the GAB, Recently, someone gave me another pair of tickets, so I officially have an extra pair. I tried to give them to a couple of out of town friends who could not make it, so I am putting them on the market. The seats are in section 134- Row E (5). I will sell them face value or $50 for the pair or a reasonable offer from a Cub fan. I just want to make sure that the person who buys them uses them and does not try to make a quick buck. I am on vacation the rest of this week so out of towners could stay with the wife and I only if they are not allergic to dogs.
Domination of Cardinals complete
The Cubs came from behind twice to take the final game of a five game series against the Redbirds 7-6. They are now a 1/2 game behind the Astros and a 1/2 game ahead of the Cardinals. Not too shabby of a result considering the Cards had a 2.5 game edge when they came to town. This series is one that will not guarantee a central division victory, but had it been disastrous, it could have eliminated all realistic hopes.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
Broadcasting from high above Lake MichiganNo, wait, that was the best Cubs win I have ever been to.
I was never really in to today's game, at least not the way I was into the marathon yesterday. With the Cards jumping on Clement early and our offense not showing any signs of life despite the wind blowing straight out, my emotional involvement just wasn't there. It just didn't feel like a real game. It was just a warmup and the real game would start shortly and then the Cubs would be playing like the meant it.
Then the comeback started. Naturally I was happy to see the runs going on the board, but it still didn't feel right. I remained (relatively) subdued right up until Moises put us on top. Suddenly the Cubs were winning, all was right with the world, and all the bottled up emotion came spewing out everywhere. I was a screaming ball of nerves. I stood and rocked from side to side throughout the ninth, and boy howdy did JoeBo blow them away. When the showboatingest outfielder in the game waved at strike three, I was highfiving the drunks behind us, hugging strangers, and eventually proclaiming how I had never lost faith in my perfect record at Wrigley to anyone who would listen. Just a tremendous feeling.
Then, having three hours to make it from Wrigley to the hotel to Midway to catch my flight, I ran down the ramp and out onto Sheffield toward the El station. Like yesterday, I hollered and screamed as I went down the street, until eventually it dawned on me that unlike yesterday when I had stayed in the park for a while before spilling out on the streets, this time I was surrounded by 95% devastated Cardinal fans. Magnanimous in victory, I restricted myself to high-fiving the few wearing Cubs paraphanelia and grinning a lot. Oh, and I did make it to the hotel and carry my umbrella, laptop, backpack, and two suitcases all to Midway with a half hour to spare.
From the "Dusty is the Worst Tactical Manager I've Ever Seen" file, what on earth was he thinking when he pinch-hit Doug Glanville for Ramon Martinez today? He had Martinez against Fassero, and he chose to go to Glanville versus Springer instead. He manged to A) replace Martinez with an inferior hitter, B) lose the platoon advantage, and C) burn two players at once since Womack had to come in and play second base. Personally, I would have stayed with Martinez. If the Genius decided to stay with Fassero, you've got a tired, lousy pitcher who has been getting hit hard up against a hitter who is as good as anyone on your bench and who has the platoon advantage. If he goes to Springer, you can use the left-handed PH of your choice, or stay with Martinez if you prefer. Normally when Dusty does something crazy I can at least see where he is coming from even when I don't agree. This just boggled the mind though. It will be past midnight when I try to dial in from my grandmother's house on Long Island so I probably won't bother to investigate, but if anyone can explain that one I would love to hear it.
But you know, its probably bad form to complain after the last three days. A glorious shutout win from Prior Monday, a 15th inning walkoff blast from Sosa Tuesday, and the comeback of the year today, along with a Sox game last night that spared me having to see that minor league ump making a bush league call. Then, to top it all off, for the first time in my life someone said I had a southern accent! I've lived in Georgia all my life, but with Dad being from Chicago and Mom from New York my accent is generally pretty middle of the road. In line to board the plane though, a gentleman I was talking about the game with spontaneously asked "are you from Georgia?" Out of the clear blue sky! I am proud of my hometown and home state, and its good to know I at least have a smidge of home in my voice, at least when I am dead tired and drained from three glorious wins in three days.
Its on to Manhattan now for me, so I really won't be posting tomorrow. I am sure Dennis will have some thoughts after we move into first place tomorrow, so check back for that. A huge thank you to Al, Jeff, and the rest of Al's crew in the right field bleachers for making my trip to Chicago so memorable. Seeing those wins would have been great regardless, but seeing them with such wonderful baseball fans and interesting people made it truely special. Signing off from high above some other Lake or possibly just a very undeveloped part of New York State, this is your Exhausted, Exhilirated, Ecstatic Undefeated Wrigley Field Cubs Blogger. Cubs Win!
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Cubs shoot dagger through heart of Cardinals
Unbelievable. That is the first thing that comes to mind after the Cubs 8-7 come from behind victory this afternoon at Wrigley. Spotted to a 6-0 lead the Cards were cruising to a series tying victory before the Cubs reeled off 3 runs in the sixth and seventh inning before pushing across two more in the eighth. Borowski got the win recording the last out of the 8th and a spotless ninth.
This was a huge win. If the Cubs drop this ballgame, then they face the rubber and deciding game of a five game series with Estes on the mound (although this has not been formally announced yet). As it stands now, they have already won the series and have a chance to overtake the Redbirds tomorrow before ending the season with an easy schedule.
Broadcasting from high atop the Magnificent MileMixed results on my second day in Chicago. There's no need to go into any more details on the first game since I am sure you are all aware of what went down, and since I don't even know much of what happened in the second game I can't really comment on that either. I did get back to the hotel and catch some highlights on Sportscenter, so I will say we were robbed on the Alou call, but you probably already knew that.
I spent the game itself with Al Yellon's crew in the back row of the right field bleachers. As I type, Al has a slight edge in me in terms of games attended at Wrigley Field (1600 even for Al, three for me.) Anyway, I'll write more about Al and the bleacher folks tomorrow when I both have more time and will have thought to take some pictures of them. You would think in fifteen innings it would have crossed my mind.
I'll be flying out after the game tomorrow, and I'll do my best to post tomorrow night from Grandma's house on Long Island in New York. Its sure nice of the Cubs to schedule such exciting games for my visit. Hopefully tomorrow's will be nice and easy. Remember, I am 3-0 lifetime at Wrigley.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
WalkoffWell, that was the best Cubs win I've ever been to. I am headed to Comiskey for the evening (since I've never been there), but I wanted to pop in and share some of the excitement, or at least whatever's left after I hollered my lungs out at every person I passed on the way home. Just a fantastic game, albeit one we should have ended a couple of times earlier. A magnificent performance from the pen, and a great way to finally end it.
I'll be back with a bit more detail this evening, including my account of getting to meet Ken of the Waveland Chronicles and Al from And Another Thing. Also, my friend tells me I need to try an Italian Beef at the White Sox game, so I'll let you know if that turns out to be a good idea or not. I'll have my eyes on the out-of-town (although I guess it isn't really) scoreboard; here's hoping we force them to their pen and Kerry let's us stay away from ours.
Exclusive in-person scouting report on Prior: He's goodI've been up for 40 of the last 42 hours, so let's be sloppy and give a few fun bullet points before passing out in the hotel.