The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Friday, October 31, 2003
California FireOur colleague Christian at the Cub Reporter has lost his home to the California fires. I can't imagine losing so many posessions with value both monetary and sentimental. Check in at his site and say something nice if you haven't already. We're thinking of you, Christian.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Tick, tick, tick...
Last night's episode of 24 was aired commercial free thanks to the Ford and the new generation F-150. Of course got to air a 6 minute movie like advertisement that was split between the opening and closing of the show. Ford must have pay a pretty penny to the producers of the show because everyone from the terrorists to the heroes to the people they pass in traffic were driving Ford products. I was surprised the President did not claim to have survived an assassination attempt because he was built Ford tough.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Fear not loyal Lounge readers, I will be back this season with weekly updates and thoughts on 24. The new season begins this evening on Fox. I am sure after seeing all the advertisements during the playoff games most of the free world knows tonight is the premiere. I have not posted about pop culture in awhile because well, the Cubs went on one heck of a streak. The purpose of having pop culture references in the first place was to have something to write about in the middle of September in case the Cubs faltered. Thankfully this did not happen, so the TV stuff got pushed aside.
OK, that is all I can think of for now. Make sure to watch the premiere and come here tomorrow for my random thoughts on the opener.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Sucking my will to liveWell, not to live, but to post anyway. What could it be that is making it so tough on me? Well, its a number of things. First of all, there's the World Series. I couldn't bring myself to watch much of it. It was by all accounts a great series, but with only the evil Yankees and the evil Lorias playing I had nobody to root for. I did settle in and watch some last night, only to see the guy who threw at Sammy and talked all that trash about us emerge the hero. Great.
Then there's the big layoff scheduled for Tuesday at my employer. Rumor is 55 of 183 or so in my group are going to be out the door. I think I can pick out maybe 30% who are sure to stay, so that cuts my odds to 50/50 at best. I wonder what it says about me that getting laid off on my birthday would be the second worst thing that happened to me this month.
Next, there's the refrigirator issue. Namely, each time I open mine, I see this bottle of champagne staring back at me. It doesn't seem right to throw it away. I don't feel right drinking it without possesing the NL pennant it was purchased to celebrate. Heck, drinking a $4 bottle of champagne probably wouldn't be that enjoyable anyway. I read where one Cub fan is sitting on a bottle from 1984 for just this reason. I guess I'll sit on it for now.
Perhaps Jim Hendry will announce the acquisition of Vlad and ARod tomorrow and get me going again. If not, I guess I'll just have to summon some strength and get back in the flow of things by myself.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Tin Cup and the CubsOK, last night it finally hit me. The Cubs are not in the World Series and they really should be. It sort of reminded me of the final scenes of Tin Cup. Kevin's Costner's character seemingly has the US Open wrapped up, but he decided to try and be a hero and go for the green on a par 5 in two shots. He hits his shot in the water and proceeds to do so about 4 more times. Down to his last ball, he must get the ball over and he winds up holing out for a 12. We walks off the course in glory to the cheering of fans. About 5 minutes off the green, he stops and makes a simple painful statement, "I just the blew the US Open."
The Cubs were on their way to the Series before Dusty, much like Roy McAvoy, decided to stay with what got him to that point instead of opting for the safe, smart play (get Prior out of the game for Borowski...is there any doubt Torre would have gotten his best reliever in the game with 5 outs to go). Now, they lost their chance and although they were a great team to watch all spring, summer and fall and left many Cub fans cheering, I cannot help but think, they blew their chance at the World Series.
The good news is that with a good GM, a great motivational manager, and a staff of young arms this should not be the last taste of October baseball for another 5 seasons. Knowing that they will reload rather than rebuild helps to take the sting out of the final series a bit. Also, knowing that they were not supposed to contend for another year helps as well. Bottom line is that they got beat by a good, hot team because they had some horses run out of gas pitching in their first postseason. Right now, if you tell me that we will send Prior and Wood to the mound next season with a chance to clinch the pennant, I will take it no questions asked.
If your team is losing in the bottom of the ninth, the goal is to get the tying run to the plate just to give a puncher's chance of extending the game. After that, let the chips fall where they may. Well, the Cubs did that and more in the LCS, they had a chance to make it and just fell short. No shame in that.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
The Sosa questionAs Bill James observed long ago, a disproportionate share of credit or blame usually falls on a team's biggest star. I was reminded of that yet again when Mike Issacs pointed out this gem from the Daily Herald's Barry Rozner on a Cubs mailing list. Rozner has been making a living attacking Sosa for years now, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised to read an anonymously sourced story on Sosa that implies the rest of the team backs what Rozner's been saying all along without providing any actual evidence that that is the case. Still, something about that article compels me to provide this quick piece of investigative journalism:
And there you go. Assuming Rozner has a wife and a frying pan, we have an utterly unimpeachable hatchet job with all the credibility of his original piece. Enjoy, Barry.
Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, let's take a look at Sosa's season. I want to look over some or maybe all the Cubs players from this past season, and there's no better place to start than Sosa.
Sosa's 2003 in reviewDespite a pair of dramatic NLCS homeruns and a respectable .262/.436/.452 playoff line, Sammy Sosa's 2003 will most likely always be remembered for the corked bat he used in a game on June 3rd. From a performance standpoint though, the more important event was probably the impact of a Salomon Torres fastball hitting Sosa in the earflap of his batting helmet on April 20. Until the beanball, Sosa had been hitting the ball as well as ever and in fact sported a gaudy 1.201 OPS when he left the game that day. Afterwards, he immediately went into a severe slump that continued through a DL trip for a toe injury, through the cork incident, and did not end until he returned from the cork suspension on June 18th.
Sosa was white-hot again for about a month after his return, peaking with a week in mid July in which he hit six homers, had eleven RBIs, and went 15-29. From then on, it was a steady slide down to a dreadful final month six weeks during which Sosa's OBP was well under .300. He did recover some in October, drawing twelve walks in twelve postseason games and managing fifteen total bases and six RBIs in the seven game series with Florida.
Overall, Sosa's OBP and SLG were down this year while his BB rate and K rate both went in the wrong direction. The question is whether this represents the decline phase of a player who turns 35 in November or whether the beanball caused an aberration in his performance that we can expect to not be repeated next year. There's no way to look at the numbers and tell for sure, but experience tells me that we can't expect a guy Sosa's age to maintain his level of performance forever. I think Sosa will remain one of the league's better hitters for at least another couple of years, but I don't expect a return to the days of the 1.000+ OPSs.
Sosa is under contract for two more years for a total of $37.5M but he has the option to opt out and become a free agent. He is reportedly talking to management about an extension. Its an understandable move for someone who has said he wants to retire as a Cub, but the Cubs wisely seem to be ready to let Sosa play out the contract as-is. An extension would come at retail price, and Sosa is much more likely to get worse over the next two years than he is to get better. There is virtually no scenario in which a third or fourth year at $15M-$18M would be a bargain, and a much better chance it would be an anchor around our necks.
Sammy Sosa remains the best offensive player we've got. He's not worth a contract extension, but he is a huge key to our efforts to repeat as division champs and perhaps win an NL pennant.
Friday, October 17, 2003
Yankees vs FishThe Red Sox stayed with their ace starter in Game Seven even when it was clear he didn't have anything left, and the result was a blown lead and a World Series berth for the opposing team. Its sort of comforting that we aren't the only group of fans that have to suffer this year. Boston fans may actually have it worse- at least we didn't lose in gutwrenching fashion to the Cardinals.
Despite our season coming to an end, the fan interference story has charged ahead unabated. For me, the issue was over by the time Game Seven started. I still believe it was an idiotic and costly decision, and I still hope MLB prompts teams to start taking the issue seriously, but I have no interest in pursuing the guy any further. With luck, the media will come to the same conclusion within a month or two.
Hot Stove PhilosophyBoth the Trib and the Sun-Times touch on Jim Hendry's offseason to-do list this morning. We've got four months to break down every little roster nuance, but for now its comforting to see that both papers think Hendry will look to improve the team rather than sitting still as we have done after other successful years in my lifetime. The Sun-Times specifically says "... Hendry won't stand pat like former GM Ed Lynch, who kept the 1998 playoff team almost intact." Of course, its Mike Kiley, so take it for what its worth.
Of course, there is more to getting better than just making moves. Kiley claims Hendry will be looking for a starting first baseman to replace Choi, but since he also claims that Hendry "can't afford to experiment" with Choi its hard to tell if he is reporting Hendry's desire or his own myopia. I don't want to believe they would be so stupid as to throw away a talent like Choi's, but with they way they have mishandled him so far anything is possible.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
The day after"I let my teammates down. I let the organization down. I let the city down... You guys have got to understand. About 30 minutes ago, I choked. I choked, that's the bottom line. That's all I've got right now."
So said Kerry Wood, a man who gave every shred of effort someone could possibly give for our team this year. I get so emotional reading something like that. I feel proud of my guy for being such a stand up person. He doesn't alibi about throwing more pitches than anyone else in baseball. He just says he blew it, even though there are many other people to blame, few of whom did anywhere near as much to get us here. It makes me feel horrible too though. How can someone so noble and brave be left feeling the way he must feel? Where's the justice?
Like yesterday morning, the calls, e-mails, and cubicle visits have been frequent. Today people are a little kinder than yesterday. Maybe its because the season is over, or maybe its because there wasn't a crazy play like the foul ball Tuesday for them to laugh about. Maybe they just see the look on my face.
I had a realization during the Braves series. Its really difficult being a sports fan. I've played plenty of sports over the years, and experienced some truly gutwrenching defeats. At least then though, I knew that I had been able to give my best and it just wasn't enough. With the Cubs, I followed them every day of the year. I read the news reports, I poured over the matchups, I wore my lucky clothes and I ate my lucky meals. I traveled with the team when I could and followed them by TV, radio, and the internet when I couldn't. And then we lose. I knew that none of those things made a bit of difference when I was doing them, but I still felt like I should be trying to do my part. We lose, and I am faced with knowing that no matter what I did it was never going to help anything. Its bitter disappointment and its completely beyond my control to prevent.
Of course, from that it follows that no matter how much I write here or how many of my emotions I try to understand, its not going to give us another game to play. As such, I should probably wrap it up. There's an ALCS game tonight, and it looks like a great game. I should try to watch some of it, but right now I am not really in the mood. Maybe I'll cheer up some by gametime.
I am still optimistic about this team. Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Clement, Patterson, Choi, Sosa, Farnsworth, Borowski... all these guys have good years in front of them. If we make smart decisions I think we'll be pouring champagne sooner rather than later. Hang in there, everyone. Go Cubs.
We'll be backWe came so close we could taste it, and had it slip through our fingers. I don't have it in me to write much about tonight's game. Suffice to say that, much like the rest of the year, this team never laid down. From Kerry's incredible home run to the spectacular at-bat Aramis had in the ninth, the whole team played their hearts out even when the odds were against them.
We have a lot of talent on this team and yet we have plenty of room for improvement. Jim Hendry will have some huge decisions to make in the coming months, and we'll be there to analyze them as best we can. One of us will probably post tomorrow when the disappointment of tonight is a little less intense.
I want to say thank you to all of you who came by this site this year. It meant a lot to me to be able to share my feelings about this team with you. I also want to thank Dennis for starting the blog and coaxing me into it over my lazy objections. Without him and all of you guys, I wouldn't have enjoyed the wonderful moments the Cubs gave us nearly as much. Just wait till next year.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Its time to get it on (almost)
Like a lot of other people today (judging from the number of visits to the site today and the traffic on webboards I frequent), I have been monitoring the mood of fans while trying to get ready for this evening. I am starting to see a slight shift in the demeanor of the web community.
The longest night leads to a long, long day
Last evening was one of the worst night's sleep I have had in a long time. I tossed, I turned, I left the bed and tried to sleep on the couch. Failing, I read some blogs and came back to bed for more tossing and turning. Fearing I would wake up my wife, I headed down to the couch to watch a little but of Conan O'Brien. It was one of the first times I have seen his show since my graduate school days when classes started at 3:00 in the afternoon. I finally fell asleep only to awake with a crick in my neck a few hours later. Feeling tired enough to finally go to bed, I headed upstairs and slept until my wife woke me up at 6:00.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Game SevenThe Cubs lost a difficult (call it a Level 4, 2, and hopefully not 8) game tonight, and will go to a game seven with Florida. The pitching matchup will be Mark Redman against Kerry Wood. Redman has been much better against lefties this year (.582 OPS allowed versus .679), and he will face only one lefty in the Cub lineup. Kerry of course is coming off a dominant eight-inning performance in a decisive game five in Atlanta. I think we are going to win the series.
Thom and Steve annoyed me to no end tonight. I guess with Lyons you expect stupidity, but Thom's comment that if you are a Cub fan you must be wondering if you are cursed was impressively idiotic in its own right. I have to think that here in 2003 there might be at least a few Cub fans in teh world who don't believe in voodoo curses. I wish there was an announcer-free audio feed available on the SAP button.
Also, I was touched by Fox's decision to show Fox's own Bernie Mac sing the stretch tonight. I probably shouldn't be surprised that shamelessly promoting their own show matters while doing a good job covering the game by showing the stretch the rest of the time doesn't. I wonder if they influenced and/or dictated the decision to choose Bernie Mac for the task. Dennis suggested they get Santo on the phone to sing tomorrow night. Its a brilliant idea, but even if they did it we would get a commercial for 24 instead.
Mark Prior was up to the task for seven innings tonight, but our defense had some breakdowns. There was another ball rolling past the catcher, an easy pickup at first that got by Simon, and Alex's miscue in the eighth. We need to not make those mistakes tomorrow. Same goes for the bullpen. We have the advantage of Urbina having thrown two innings today, although we didn't really make him work much. We did have a few good at-bats during the game, notably from Sammy.
The playI would like to say a word about the play that opened the floodgates in the eighth. The AP story states that he did not reach over the rail, although that's not the way I saw it. It appeared to me both live, in the replays, and in the picture at right that he contacted the ball just to the field side of the rail. Either way, he clearly took the ball away from Alou. I certainly don't advocate any sort of violence. It was after all a mistake, and not one that risked harming anyone else. Furthermore, this gentleman is no more of an idiot than the guy who robbed Bako of a foul pop last week. Nonetheless, when you sit in the first few rows you may find yourself involved in a play, and when that happens you have a couple responsibilities.
First, you have a legal responsibility not to interfere in play. Baseball teams don't take this seriously, and announcers routinely make it out as a big joke when fans lean out of the stands and get involved in play. What they should do is charge each person who reaches onto the field of play with trespassing. Security should come down, perp walk the person up the aisle, and book them on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. If they had been doing that all along, people would know better than to interfere in play.
Secondly, you have a responsibility to your team. The gentleman pictured at right is wearing a Cubs hat. He no doubt is listening to WGN on his little walkman. He has got to put the Cubs winning the pennant ahead of adding an item to his living room mantle on his priority list. Instead, in the heat of the moment he showed his true colors and lunged out after a ball. You ought to be focused on your team's well-being at all times, and all the more so at such a pivotal, potentially historical moment.
The play wasn't the only reason we lost the game, but its darn sure one of them. That said, what matters is that our players put it behind them and play smart tomorrow. We have every opportunity to pull this out. Go Cubs.
Monday, October 13, 2003
HomeI just flew in from Miami, and boy are my arms tired! Also my legs, back, eyes, and brain. Let's just say that spending the night in a chair in the Miami International Airport isn't the most refreshing thing you can do between midnight and sunup on a Sunday night.
Obviously the outcome wasn't what we were looking for yesterday, but its tough to be upset about taking two of three in Miami and coming home with our two aces on full rest. Actually, Mark Prior will be on five days rest tomorrow or slightly more than full rest. I read somewhere over the weekend that Dusty feels Prior benefits from the extra rest more than others, and since chugging some numbers helps calm my nerves I figured I'd check it out. Prior has had one start on 24 days rest (after the concussion) this year for a 0.00 ERA. He has had one start on six days rest for a 2.25 ERA. He had nineteen starts on regular four days rest and had an ERA of 2.69. Finally, he had eleven starts on five days rest and posted a 2.18 ERA. Its not much of a difference or much of a sample size, but I certainly don't see a reson to challenge Dusty's conclusions. There, see how relaxing some nice stats can be?
Anyway, I am confident we will end it tomorrow. It would be far better to not go to game seven, both to allow Dusty to set the rotation for the World Series and because a two-game losing streak would bring up all sorts of memories of the past. McKeon has bailed on Brad Penny and will instead be going with Carl Pavano as Dennis discussed earlier today. You may remember Carl Pavano from such performances as the 5-1 loss to the Cubs on July 9, the 6-4 loss to the Cubs on April 10 of last year, and the 5-4 loss to the Cubs on July 12 of last year. I look forward to adding October 14, 2003 to that storied resume.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Cubs tip their caps and head home to win pennant
Not much to say about this afternoon's 4-0 victory by the Marlins in game 5 of the NLCS. Josh Beckett was dominant striking out 11 men, walking only one and only allowing two balls to be hit hard: one foul by Ramirez and one a base hit to center field by Alou. Carlos Zambrano did not pitch badly but then again he was not his normal self. He walked a bunch of batters but managed to only be touched up for two runs on a Mike Lowell homer. Dingers by IRod and Conine off of Veres and Remlinger were the only other tallies.
After looking at all of these facts, if one is still more swayed by Billy Goat curses than good play, I leave you with only one more thought. Have you ever seen Mark Prior pitch? Cubs in 6.
On the brinkI had a good feeling going into the game last night. Ever since the Cubs slayed my personal demons (the Braves), my nerves have dropped from "DefCon 8, prepared to upchuck at a moment's noice" to "Terror Warning Raw Umber, a bit queasy but generally optimistic." OIf course, I wasn't the most optimistic person in the group. That honor woul have to go to Chris's friend John. We picked him up from the Ft. Lauderdae Airport and as we headed from their to the game he announced that his pick to click was Aramis Ramirez. I think he was the winner for the night.
Before the game we got to watch Pedro hammer Zim to the ground on a TV in the back of someone's SUV. I have a bit of a bias I suppose, but I thought Zim was the guilty party there. Suspensions all around would be fine though, since we may hgave to face them in a few days. We met up with Al, who was fruitlessly trying to make his money back on a few extra tickets he had. I also played washer toss with some Cub fanswho hgad driven in fronm Illinois. I don't want to brag, but I may be the greaetst washer toss player in washer toss history.,
I won't go into too may gam details since I am sure you probably saw it. We sat in the bleachers just to the fair side of the right field foul pole. Unfortunately, that put us exacty one row in front of Pudge's Posse, probably the rowdiest Marlins fans in the building. They had whistles that they blew at ear-pircing volumes throughout most of the game. They did show a bit of mercy at least- they agreed to warn Chris before blowing when he made that request late in the game. On the brigh side, I have to take issue with reports that ter are't many Cub fans here. Perhaps its just where we are stting, butthe outfield seemed to me to be at least 25% Cub fans and simillary loud as in Atlanta. If the is a difference, it is taht the Florida fans are putting up a bit more resistance than the wee little indians did.
We just realised checkout time is now, so I need to go. Not even any time to clean up the hotel-tv-internet induced typos. We are one gam away from our first NL pennant in more than two of my lifetimes. Bring it home, Cubbies!
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Clement shows true trade value
Imagine being Matt Clement for a moment. You scoff at all Mach 3 commercials and pitch for the Chicago Cubs. You put up a career high totals in wins this season and go greatly unnoticed for three reasons: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Dontrelle Willis. Everyone with a pulse who listened to the FOX pregame show knows that Clement was traded for Willis before last season. Pundits were quick to point out how bad of a deal this was for the Cubs bringing up Brock for Broglio all the time. Clement had the chance to face the man he was traded for in game four of the NLCS this evening and prove his worth. He did just that.
We're in a car, driving down the Florida Turnpike somewhere between Gainsville and Orlando. The atmosphere has grown desperate as the Cubs have let a lead slip away late in thegame. We have a printedlist of every radio affiliate for MLB on ESPN, the Marlins, andthe Cubs (did you know there is one in Valley, AL?), and we are methodically moving between them as atmospheric conditions dictate.
As we move through a particularly underinhabited secton of Florida, we are not finding any local stations and are relying on WGN to carry Pat Huges voice to us from some thousand-odd miles away. We enter a wooded section of highway as Randall Simon steps to the plate, and the trees turn our faint signal into pure staic, leaving us with no discernable signal for thefirst time in the ball game. Seconds pass... ten... twenty... we run through the Florida stations with no luck, and its back to 720. Stll static. Then, through the trees, through the clouds, somehow on word bounces of the aether and finds its way through thestratosphere to the anetenna of our 1996 Nissan Maxima.
"GONE!? DID HE SAY GONE?" "I thought I heard 'gone'." "What did he say?" "I don't know!"
Incoming Nextel chirp
An hour or two later I was sprinting around a rest stop parking lot (the only reststop in Florida with WGN coming in loud and strong), leaping in the air and firing my hat to the sky. It was an ecstatic end to an exhilirating yet incredibly stressful game.
We will be at the erstwhile Joe Robbie tonight. I apologize for the typos, but this hotel web interface is a nightmare. Yarbage will not be updated today because he has witnessed my travails with it and doesn't want to go through it himself. Anyway, time for us to go. Go Clement, and go Cubs!
Cubs win an unbelievable game
The Cubs, now 2 games away from exercising that darn goat curse, had to also exercise the spirit of Mickey Owen in pulling out a 5-4 11 inning game. I will give some of my thoughts in list form (can you tell that the vaunted unnumbered list is one of the few HTML tricks I have "mastered").
Like I mentioned earlier, the Cubs just got a huge win this evening. It is nice to see the Cubs boot one but have the other team choke on the basepaths. I don't think I can explain just how important this game was. If the Cubs lose, they might be faced with bringing back Prior on short rest in game 5. These pitchers have terrible records and then you might have to bring back Wood on short rest as well and have no clear game 7 starter. Now, you can send out Clement and Zambrano and hope to steal another game with no fear of the series coming back to Chicago. Personally, I think one (if not both) of Clement or Zambrano will get a win in this series. It might as well be tomorrow when Scott is in attendance.
Friday, October 10, 2003
Planes, Trains, Autombiles, and BusesI live in an apartment about two miles from the home venue of our first round victim, the Atlanta Braves. As such, it was very easy for me to make it to see the games in person. When Chris suggested I get in on their Miami getaway plan, I hesitate only a moment before signing on. I knew I had a meeting for work in Panama City, Florida, Friday, so that would just make it easier right?
After several hours of phone calls and internet searches, I now have an itinerary. Let us just say it is slightly more complex than I had expected.
Five days, four modes of transportation (five if you count MARTAing to the airport), roughly 1800 miles, and certainly worth every minute. Or, it will be if we win anyway. Dennis will have the post-game on this one, and I am sure you can expect something good at Al Yellon's site as he will be at tonight's game.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
As I nervously await another must win game for the Cubs this evening, I thought I would grace the loyal Northside Lounge readers with some random thoughts from my exhausted mind.
I suppose that is all I will leave you with at the moment. Enjoy the game this evening and hope that Prior has his A game. Of course the Cubs will win even if he has his C game.
Sosa's Heroics Not EnoughThe Cubs came as close as you can possibly come to stealing a win in Game One and having a chance to go up 3-0 behind Wood and Prior, but in the end it wasn't to be. After being staked to a four run lead, Carlos was cruising right along until the third when he gave up three homers and the lead in what seemed like seconds. Alex Gonzalez hit another big homer late to tie it, but Joe gave up his first runs of the postseason on three weakly hit ground balls and one legitimate single. Sosa tied it with two down in the ninth, but Mark Guthrie gave up the game-winner to Mike Lowell and that's all she wrote.
Dennis argued that Baker blundered by going to Guthrie in the 11th. He contended that going to a righty would have brought Lenny Harris out instead. He's got a point, especially when you look at Lowell's large platoon split (although that is somewhat mitigated by Guthrie's reverse split). Of course, its all kind of moot, since Baker's intent in bringing in Guthrie in the first place was to avoid facing Lenny Harris! Seriously. I kid you not. Click the link if you don't believe me. ""Yeah, I anticipated they'd bring in Lowell," Baker said. "But in that situation, I was down to three pitchers [actually four: Guthrie, Veres, Juan Cruz, Antonio Alfonseca]. And if I brought in a righty, they had Harris over there... so I took my shot with Lowell."
Is there a manager in the history of baseball with a greater ratio of people smarts to tactical smarts? I think the answer is no.
As nice as it would have been to steal this game, it still wasn't one we could have reasonably expected to win going in. We now have Prior and Wood, in games that are very nearly must-win on paper. Tonight's opponent is Brad Penny, a good right-handed pitcher with no appreciable platoon split. There's no pitcher in baseball I would rather have on the mound than Mark Prior. Let's go Cubs!
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
National League Championship SeriesNow see, that's not a stupid name at all.
The Florida Marlins will visit Wrigley Field tonight under clear skies with temperatures in the 60s. I am of the opinion that winning the Central division was a great accomplishment, and knocking off the league's best team in the first round was a marvelous feat as well, but I must admit that the folks who point out that we were this close as recently as 1989 do have a point. It would take a pennant for the Cubs do accomplish something that they haven't done before in my lifetime.
For the Atlanta series, I shied away from making an actual prediction but did say that I thought we would get at least three top notch starts and if we could score a few runs and win those games we would take the series. The fact that I was exactly right about that proves the old blind squirrel theory once and for all. I might as well push my luck though, so here's what I think of the NLCS.
The Marlins pitching staff scares me more than the Braves did. Josh Beckett was very good all year long and has peaked in September and October (2.26 ERA since mid-August and averaging over seven innings per start). Brad Penny hasn't been as consistent, but over the last half of the year he was still very good (3.42 ERA since July 1). He was hit hard in Game Two of the NLDS, but came back with 1.2 innings of scoreless relief in Game Four. Phlorida Phenom (and former Boise Hawk) Dontrelle Willis had a lousy August but ranged from very good to dominant the rest of the year. Unlike the Braves, I think one or more of these guys has the stuff to put up a shutout against someone, particularly someone with our offense.
Here's my gut feeling. We get Prior and Wood for four starts. It is possible to sweep those four starts, but more likely the bullpen, the offense, or a control spasm lets one get away. If we can take three of four though, we'll have three chances with Zambrano and Clement and need just one win. I think that is the most likely formula for victory.
There are a lot of series previews around, but the most detailed I have seen is Christian's so you may want to give that a try too.
I know of three Cubs Blog Army members going to Miami so far- Yarbage and myself for Games 4 and 5 and Al Yellon for Games 3 and 4. I expect the Marlins to be very tough, but I can't say the idea of a sweep and getting to see the Cubs take a pennant in person hasn't occurred to me. Considering the opponent I can't say its likely, but you never know.
One final note- Derek of Let's Play Two seems to have received a doubling in readership ever since people started googling for the phrase "Kerry Wood's wife." You see, Derek typed the words "Kerry Wood's wife is hot" in reference to Fox's nonstop camera coverage of her the other day, and ever since horny teenage baseball fans have been flooding his site with traffic. You may think I am only bringing this up for an excuse to get the phrase "Kerry Wood's wife is hot" posted to draw traffic for this blog, but you couldn't be more wrong. If that was my plan, I would be typing things like "Kerry Wood's wife naked" or "Don Zimmer nudes." Um, maybe not that last one actually...
Monday, October 06, 2003
Let's talk about the game. First of all, Kerry Wood. Every one of you who were slagging him two months ago can write out your apologies in long hand and mail them to Kid K c/o The Cubs (that's a little alliteration for you kids at home.) For the first five innings, the Braves simply couldn't touch him. In the sixth and seventh, the Braves had a few glimmers of hope but each time Kerry bore down to get the big inning ending outs. Heck, in the sixth the umpires actually gave the Braves a pity run and Kerry shrugged and finished the inning like nothing had happened. In the eighth, he was rolling again, pitching around Furcal's bunt single and escaping with no damage done. Just a fantastic pitching performance in one of the biggest games in over a hundred years of Cubs history. I guess he was feeling charitable so he didn't bother shredding Hampton with his bat as well.
Next up, how about the homer from Alex Gonzalez? Just when you think he will never get another hit, he hammers one out to dead center in the biggest game of the year so far. Credit goes to Cub Blog Army Soldier Chris Yarbrough who made Alex his pick to click before the game. He knew before we got to the park that there would be an unlikely hero, but he waited until shortly before entering to identify Alex as the man.
Lighting round time:
I could go on all night, but I have to work tomorrow so this strikes me as a good time to wrap it up. Everyone who made it down here deserves a lot of credit. Tonight's crowd couldn't quite measure up to Game One's in terms of Cub fan intensity, but any team should be proud to have even tonight's level of support at a road playoff game. It truely was Wrigley Field South. Kudos also to a number of Braves fans who behaved with class such that Robert Fick could never comprehend. Right before Aramis' homer, a drunk who was harassing my father and I was escorted out thanks to a tip from the Braves fans sitting behind us. Also, a number of other Braves fans shook our hands and wished us luck on the way out. I don't know if I would be as gracious in defeat, so I must tip my cap.
Thanks to a little cajoling from Chris, I bought tickets for games 4 and 5 of the NLCS today so I'll be roadtripping to Miami next weekend. I think everyone should get to experience something like this at least once, and if once is good then twice must be better. Eight more wins. Bring on the Fish.
Edited to addOne additional note: I retired the Mark Grace jersey earlier this year. He's been gone for a few years now, and I figured it was time to let go a bit. The Hee Sop Choi jersey stepped in admirably, leading us to the 15 inning win over St. Louis, the six run comeback over St. Louis, and Kerry Wood in Game One over the Braves. Last night though, I decided the occasion called for something special. The Grace jersey came roaring off the hanger and into Turner Field, and when all was said and done we were headed to the NLCS. Thanks one more time, Mark!
Sunday, October 05, 2003
Cubs eliminate the Fickin' Braves
Wow! That is about all I can say. Kerry Wood pitched another brilliant game "allowing" only 1 run on a blown call by the umpire striking out 7 and walking only 2. People have been wondering when Wood would step up and become an ace pitcher. Well, this series pretty much answers that question.
Saturday, October 04, 2003
Braves escapeSammy Sosa came a few feet from tying Game Four in the bottom of the ninth, but instead the team whose style is exemplified by Robert Fick's cowardly cheap shot at Eric Karros lived to play a game five. I will be there, and I have twelve tickets. I plan to sell them at face value to Cubs fans who come by the tailgate, but if you can come email me and I'll hold one for you.
I am not in the mood to write more, but the party is on tomorrow afternoon in the Turner Field parking lot. Be there and see the least deserving fans in baseball go home with broken tomahawks and broken hearts. Email me if you want a ticket.
Edited to add:Here is the AP story on Mr. Fick: Karros also took a beating. In the eighth inning, he caught a throw to first and still had his arm raised when pinch-hitter Fick came barreling at him and threw a forearm that was worthy of all-star wrestling.
The blow knocked the ball and glove free, nearly injuring Karros.
"It was an interesting running technique, that's a polite way to put it," Karros said. "He's pretty close to clotheslining me, too."
Karros grimaced in pain as plate umpire Larry Young came up the line to call Fick out.
"It's an elimination game and you've got to do what you've got to do," Fick said in a profanity-laced explanation. "I'm not saying I did it on purpose. But it's ... baseball."
All class, Rob, all class.
Friday, October 03, 2003
The King is Dead, Long Live the King!Greg Maddux was a great pitcher in his day, but Mark Prior served notice that there is a new best pitcher to have ever worn a Cubs uniform with a masterful 3-1 two-hitter at Wrigley tonight. The Cubs took advantage of a shaky Braves defense that was shaky all night long. Robert Fick opened the door by botching a Grudzialanek bunt in the first, and a wild pitch and a Randall Simon single plated all the runs Mark Prior would need.
We now have two chances to close it out. Bobby Cox looks to be going with his twenty-game winner on short rest in tomorrow's potential elimination game. I think its the right move since the alternative is feeding a lefty to our right-hadned lineup, but if he was going to use Ramirez at any point it strikes me as a panic move to bail on him now. As fun as seeing a game five win in person would be, I would much rather see Clement not take any chances and close it out here. Ortiz didnt have great control this year, and he was all over the place Tuesday so let's take some pitches and jump all over him early.
One game to go...
Updated to add:Russ Ortiz will go on short rest today. He has done so once before on his career, on April 7 of this year. He pitched well, allowing just three hits and no runs in seven innings, but he did show signs of vulnerability. He walked three batters and was behind hitters all day, throwing just 49 strikes in 90 pitches. Its obviously way too small a sample size to mean much, but its food for thought. Not to be overlooked is the fact that moving Ortiz up also requires moving Mike Hampton to three days rest if a Game Five proves necessary.
The Big OneGreg Maddux. Mark Prior. The one that got away. The one that hasn't. The recent history and immediate future of this franchise are summed up in a Game Three which shapes up as the biggest of the year so far. My impression is that most Cubs fans don't hold much hatred in their hearts for Maddux. He is no Matt Morris at any rate. Still, there is no better way to put the thought of a Hall of Famer slipping through our fingers behind us than having Mark Prior put a stamp on him and send him off.
Maddux's numbers look pretty average on the surface- 16-11, 3.96 ERA, and 5.1 K/IP. However, there is reason to believe he may be a good bit better than those figures would indicate. He was lousy in March and April (5.13 ERA), marginal in May and June (4.68), and since July 1 he has been pretty darn good (3.00). Furthermore, his peripherals are better than you might expect from the ERA. He was eighth in the league in WHIP and tops on the Atlanta staff in SNWL. If he has a weakness, it may be endurance as he made it into the eighth just three times this year.
Tailgate party picsBetween my lack of photography skill and laziness in taking pictures when I should have been, I didn't get many good pictures taken Tuesday and Wednesday. Heck, I didn't get any pictures of Chris Yarbrough and his Bama posse. The best one I did get is below and shows readers Tom and John shortly after they won an arguement with a drunken sherrif who attempted to coerce them into removing their Kerry K signs. If the Brave somehow manage to steal one of the next two, the party will be on again at Turner Field and I'll make sure to do a better job with the camera.
Prior to the mound for game 3 this evening
Not much to say about the Cubs today. Everyone out there knows the situation - the Cubs after gaining a split in Atlanta head home to play a pivotal game 3 this evening with their version of Cy Young on the mound. This game could either set up the Cubs for a series victory or put their backs squarely against the wall. Here is hoping for the former.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
Missed opportunityIf I had to choose a word to describe tonight's game, that word would be "less fun." The tailgate was another big success, as I actually arrived in the Tuner Field Blue Lot to find a space reserved for me by several of the guys from yesterday's party. Apparently hungry Cub fans make for loyal friends. With the grilling down to a science, we had brats and burgers dished up in no time.
Earlier in the day, Tom (who drove down from Illinois with his brother John to tailgate with us and see the Cubs) had the brilliant idea to make a ton of Ron Santo signs. All together we maybe made twenty or thirty Santo signs and gave them to Cub fans who happened by. We instructed everyone to save them till the top of seventh ("our" seventh inning stretch) and then display them all at once. We had hopes that Pat might spot them and mention them so Ron could hear they were there back in Chicago. I've got no idea if it worked but it was fun trying.
And then there was the game. We had our chances to steal one, and we really should have finished Hampton off early. I didn't care for the IBB to Furcal at the time, and not just because it turned out badly. Pitching to Furcal, you've got two open bases and two batters you can fool around with before you get to the nightmare Sheffield/loaded situation. By putting Furcal on, you put yourself just one walk from that situation and basically force Veres to throw good pitches to DeRosa. The only way that makes sense is if DeRosa is a much worse hitter than Furcal. Furcal's got him by 100 points of OPS this year, but that isn't nearly enough to sacrifice the runner and the wiggle room.
And yet, we head back to Chicago with a split in Atlanta and home field advantage. We are throwing Prior, Clement, and Wood, and Atlanta has to beat two of the three to knock us out. Anything could happen, but I think we are in great shape.
Thanks to everyone who came to Atlanta to represent Cubdom, and a special thanks to those who made it to our tailgate parties. It was a lot of fun meeting some very cool people. As I told a few of you tonight, I expect my hospitality to be returned when I come up for the World Series in a few weeks.
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Cubs fall in game 2, take split home to Wrigley
In the last game played this season at Turner Field (hopefully!), the Cubs had a chance to bury the Braves early loading the bases with no outs in the first innings after plating a couple of runs. Atlanta pitcher Mike Hampton settled down to strike out the side and leave the scoring at two. The Cubs starter allowed the Braves a run in the first to make it 2-1. The Cubs would not score again until the 8th pulling even at 3. In the bottom half, the Braves scores twice on Mark DeRosa's double to provide the winning margin.
Two-way Kid KI was nervous today. All through work, and all through our tailgate party, I worried. I worried about our offense, I worried about the Braves offense, and I worried about Kerry Wood. Around eight o'clock, we finished packing up the food and I began walking toward a surprisingly loud stadium with my father. As we got closer, I was able to make out the words...
Let's Go Cubs! Let's Go Cubs!
As I rode up the escalator towards our seats, the chants rang in my ears and the nerves were suddenly gone. They were replaced with an excited energy. I was in a stadium full of Cub fans and we had come to win.
Early on, both pitchers seemed to be behind every hitter but both were dodging bullets. In the fourth, Alou, Ramirez, and Karros loaded the bases but Gonzalez, Bako, and Wood failed to plate even a single run. In the sixth, Alou and Ramirez reached again. Chris Yarborough declared that if Karros could reach, he wanted to see Randall Simon come out and pinch-hit for Alex Gonzalez. It was a very simillar call to the one Dennis praised Clint Hurdle for a couple weeks ago, and I thought it was a brilliant idea when I heard it. Imagine my shock when Dusty actually did it! Of course, Ortiz managed to get Simon swinging, but I still think it was a great move.
Paul Bako was up next and grounded out but the play allowed the tying run to score and brought Kerry Wood to the plate with two out and two in scoring position. The situation called for some more prognostication, and my dad was up to the challenge. I didn't hear it, but other witnesses swear that he announced Kerry's game-breaking double before he even stepped into the box. Not half bad, Dad.
When JoBo struck out the side to end it, we crossed over a section to walk out with a couple readers who made it to the tailgate party. I've got a picture of the K's they were hanging up, but I seem to have misplaced the transfer cable for my camera so the pictures will have to wait till tomorrow. Anyway, as we worked our way out of the stadium, we were engulfed in raucous Cub fans. People were beating on trashcans to give the crowd a rythym for a "Let's Go Cubbies!" chant. Strangers were high-fiving, hugging, you name it. At one point, a tall gentleman in a Prior jersey turned around and said "this one's for Ronnie Santo!" The whole crowd roared back, "RON-NIE! RON-NIE! RON-NIE!" The goosebumps were promptly out in force.
I know Al Yellon has had some great days at the ballpark lately, but I'll stack my night up with any of his, even the clincher last Saturday. There is just something about a mad celebration in the other team's park with a bunch of crazies half of whom drove 12 hours to be there. You would think with that kind of crowd, we would have gotten some love from the umpires. From where I was sitting (20th row, upper deck), the umpire was squeezing Kerry and they just killed us with the missed DP call at first. Thank goodness our guys are so tough they can do it even with fishy umpiring.
Tomorrow is Carlos Zambrano Day. It looks like a must-win for the Braves, but if Z's back is healthy they may not get it. Kerry had his way with the vaunted Atlanta offense, and I am certainly willing to watch Carlos treat them the same way. Gametime is 7pm, tailgate is at 4. See you there. Cubs win! Cubs WIN!
P.S. I see that Chris has already posted. He drove back to Tuscaloosa after the game, and already posted?? Hide the women and children, the Yarbage-mobile is going 120 down I-85!