The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Friday, April 30, 2004

Series Preview: Cubs (13-9) at Cards (11-11)

Well, its that time again. Oddly, when I was younger I didn't really get into the Cubs/Cardinals thing. I really saw the Mets as the enemy. I knew they were the rivals down the stretch as I watched in '84, and I had read about '69. The Cardinals just never resonated with me.

Then somewhere along the line things changed. I think it might have started when they hired The Genius. Never in the course of human history has someone been given so much credit for doing so many things to accomplish so little. What's more, he actually seems to believe the hype. I can just see him leaning over a slot machine, studying the arm, checking the wind, punching some numbers into a calculator, waiting for the right moment, and... PULL! Hey, I won fifty cents! I am the smartest man on the planet!

Anyway, suffice to say I'm firmly ensconced on the Cardinal-hating bandwagon now. Its funny, because if you had asked me on that Wednesday afternoon last September in the Wrigley Field bleachers, I would have said that watching Joe Borowski blow that fraud Jim Edmonds away to end the greatest comeback I've ever seen would have set me for life. Now its seven months later, and I am ready for more Cardinal blood. Let's tear them apart.

The Cardinals
CatcherMike Matheny is a veteran catcher with a cannon arm and a great defensive reputation. If he could hit he'd be a legit All-Star, but instead he carries a .631 lifetime OPS. Cody McKay, he of eight minor league seasons and eleven major league games, is the backup.

First BaseAlbert Pujols steps in for Tino Martinez this year, making for the biggest upgrade since Burger King replcaed Pepsi with Coke. Throwing out Bonds, Albert Pujols is hands-down the best offensive player in baseball. If he played a high-value defensive position, he'd be more valuable than ARod. Fortunately the Genius moved him to first base, where he's just a perennial MVP candidate instead of a perrenial MVP. His splits reveal no weaknesses. The only winning strategy is to pitch to him with the bases empty and a multi-run lead.

Second Base Maybe the best sign for the Cubs heading into this series is that Tony Womack will try to return for Friday's game. He missed the last week with a strained triceps (suffered while lifting LaRussa's ego), during which Marlon Anderson got most of the PT. Anderson is nothing special, but he's a step up on Womack whose OPSs the last four years were .691, .652, .678, and .558. Did I mention the Genius likes to lead him off?

Third Base For my money, Scott Rolen is the best third baseman in the game. He's good for a solid .900 OPS and low error totals with fantastic range, year in and year out. He had back problems in Philly and some injury issues last year, but he plays through them and is off to another hot start this year.

ShortstopLike Rolen, Renteria is another strong hitter in his prime years with a great glove at a key position. To some extent you can neutralize his bat with good right handed pitchers.

Left Field Ray Lankford is the starter in left field for the Cards. He got off to a white-hot start but has cooled since a strained hammy against Houston (5-24 with one homer since his return). Its hard to believe he can keep up this pace at 36 years old and three years removed from his last good season. He's got a career OPS nearly 200 points higher against righties.

Center Field Jim Edmonds, easily the Cardinal I detest the most, is the center-fielder. His defense is average, although his Web Gem belly flops garner loads of attention on Baseball Tonight. Offensively, he draws walks, hits for power, and hits for average. Its tough to find fault with his numbers, but at least we've got his perpetual whining to fall back on. Oh, and he hit a walkoff homer in the thirteenth to beat the Phillies earlier today. Putz.

Right Field Its an even-numbered year, so Reggie Sanders should be awful, his .321 with seven homer start notwithstanding. His speed has waned with age, but a .912 OPS with the Bucs last year proves he isn't quite done.

The Pen
Jason Isringhausen anchors the pen for St. Louis. He is strong year in and year out, combining good control and K's with an uncanny ability to prevent the home run. Counting one he allowed to Jeff Bagwell a couple weeks ago, he has given up just five longballs the last four seasons combined. Mike Lincoln and our old friend Julian Tavarez provide innings from the right side, while Steve Kline and Ray King are the Genius LOOGY specials.
Game One: Kerry Wood (3-1, 2.60) vs Woody Williams (0-2, 6.53)
Williams, who suffered some elbow tendinitis in spring training, has yet to pitch a strong game this year. Righties are lighting him up to the tune of a .925 OPS, and he has struck out just 13 in 20.2 innings. His last start was his best however, as he held the Brewers to two runs in six innings.
Game Two: Matt Clement (3-1, 2.22) vs Jeff Suppan (2-2, 3.65)
Suppan has been a reliable innings eater for years now, but when Boston acquired him at the deadline last year they were expecting him to continue the 3.57 ERA he had put up with the Pirates. Instead, he posted a 5.57 for them to pull his season ERA back toward his career norms. There's no track record of great pitching here and he's got a slight reverse platoon split for his career so he should be hittable for the Cubs on paper.
Game Three: Carlos Zambrano (2-1, 3.55) vs Matt Morris (3-2, 4.50)
This is our first shot at Matt Morris after his inflamatory comments from last September. You can understand some of his talk as sour grapes, but implying he would lie down for the Astros to try to help them win (and then allowing them six runs in five innings) was a bit much for me, thanks. Anyway, he's been an effective pitcher throughout his career, but last year saw his never sterling strikeout numbers fall some more as his homers allowed climbed. He compensated some with improved control, but you can't like the trend if you are a Cardinals fan. Winning is the best revenge, so as much as part of me would enjoy seeing a fastball bounce of his helmet, I'd rather just beat him 10-0 and call it a day.
Game Four: Sergio Mitre (1-1, 4.43) vs Jason Marquis (1-1, 3.73)
The Cards traded J. D. Drew to the Braves this winter, and part of the bounty was Atlanta youngster Jason Marquis. He's got a very good fastball but not great stuff so his strikeout numbers have lagged. He's pitched pretty well in the minors, but as of yet has not been able to convert that into major league success.
There's nothing better than beating the Cardinals. They've got to have the Great September Beatdown on their minds, so I certainly expect them to be fired up. With this much offensive talent, you've got to figure they'll be contending at some point this year, so every win here is worth double (win for us, loss for them). I think sweeping them would be nice.

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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Win! Win! Win?

ITEM: It was poker night at the Lange residence, the next to last one before I move to the house (barring any unexpected disasters). It was a strange night, in that very little strange happened. There were no huge hands, no bad beats, no miracle boats on the flop, nothing. Just slow, steady winning, to the point where I was the only one who ended the night in the black. And you know what I found? Winning boring is just as good as winning exciting, and loads better than breaking even exciting!

ITEM: I won at poker despite being heavily distracted by USA/Mexico on TV for the better part of the evening. The US played a domestic-based lineup and played what was the A squad for the most part for the Mexicans. We took it right to them from about midway through the first half on, and created chance after chance after chance. Shots were flying off crossbars or into the goalies chest from point blank range. Landon Donovan in particular looked amazing- the best I have ever seen him, and I think very highly of him. I think he was sending a message to Freddy that he is still the top dog in US Soccer, at least till Freddy get's his driver's license.

So anyway, we are just shredding them all night long, but we can't get a goal so it looks to be wrapping up at 0-0. This is bad, partly because I want to beat our #1 rival, but also because a poker player has been ragging soccer all night long. Typical meatheaded anti-soccer garbage, you know the drill. We are into extra time, and Landon explodes down the sideline and draws a yellow card and a free kick from the corner. He fakes the cross, Bobby Convey came in from the other side and crossed, Taylor Twellman found the space, put the header on target, the goalie gave up the rebound and Eddie Pope put it away. That may have been a run-on sentence, but you will have to forgive it because there's no time for syntax when we are whipping up on Mexico!

ITEM: And then there is the Cubs. When I started this post, we led 3-2, but now ESPNEWS tells me Steve Finley has hit his third homer and its 3-3. What? Huh? How's that again? Yeah, Steve Finley. Baseball's a strange game sometimes. Sadly, and have both stopped updating at 3-2 still, and I am not going to sit around and hope they get their act together. When I wake up tomorrow, I fully expect a Cubs win. If it doesn't happen, you can blame Dennis and his stupid commenting system.

UPDATE:Gameday started working, Alex recaptured the 9th inning magic, JoBo nailed it down and its Win! Win! Win! Wednesday at the Northside Lounge!

Also, Hee Sop hit his seventh home run.

I'm sorry, but we've got to have at least a little cynicism or whats the point of posting?

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Wood, Baker suspended

The aftermath of the Bucknor weekend in Cincy has been handed down from on high by King Bud. He Who Must Be Obeyed says its one game for Dusty and five for Kerry. It seems reasonable, as one game managing from the clubhouse and one start pushed back a day won't be too big a burden. Its just too bad there is no code of conduct (or better yet, a code of competence) for umpires just to even the score a bit.

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Dog days of April

At least we scored this time. It was a matchup of two groundball specialists, and theirs had a G/F ratio of 14/2 while ours was 2/4. End result, a second consecutive rout. About the only bright spot was Todd Hollandsworth, who drew two walks and homered in the ninth. Naturally, it was off one my roto pitchers.

The Cubs are in danger of giving back all the ground they earned in the six game winning streak. Tonight we will see Greg Maddux face a minor leaguer who has been lit up this year and never had an ERA under four in the a full minor league season. Its time to make a stand.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Streak ends with a whimper

I went to bed at nine tonight because I was feeling really tired. I woke up at twelve because I was feeling really sick. After emerging from the restroom, I checked the score and felt sick again. Ok, ok, I realize its only April and its only one game and its only one loss in the last seven, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Its probably best to just forget this game ever happened and move on to tomorrow, but I can only do that if you guys promise me Jose Macias won't ever lead off for us again. He presumably got the start since Randy Johnson is so legendarily tough on lefties, but switch-hitting Jose has a career .281 OBP against southpaws. I can go up and hit right-handed against Randy Johnson, but that doesn't mean A) I'll do better than a good hitter who is left-handed would or B) that if you were going to start me against him that I should lead off.

See how much better you can make yourself feel after a loss by ripping Dusty for something, even if there is an outside chance that the something in question might not have made the difference in the game? You should try it; its very cathartic.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

New Commenting System

I finally got sick of the old commenting system I had on this page. I suppose it never working will do that to a man. Anyway, sorry if you have posted something witty over the last couple of days in the comments for it is gone forever. Hopefully this new system will work out.

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Cubs (12-6) at Arizona (7-11)

The Cubs head west for three in Phoenix leading up to a four game weekend set with the hated Cardinals. Our team is hot- winners of nine of eleven and looking for our first seven-game win streak since May of 2001. The opposition has struggled overall, but have managed to win three of four. Let's get to it.
Snakes in the Field
Catcher Robby Hammock, a second-year guy out of the Cesspool of the South, returned to the starting lineup this weekend after missing the first few weeks of the season with a knee injury. He had a pretty good rookie season, but his .820 OPS was higher than anything he had posted since low-A ball in 1999 so he's unlikely to maintain that level. Of course, when the alternative is a 36-year old Brent Mayne, he'll probably hold the job almost no matter what.

First Base Arizona picked up Richie Sexson at the Selig Family Yard Sale this winter. He always seems to be pounding Cubs pitching, but looking at the record he's got a .951 OPS against us- good, but not out of line with his career .875. He's hitting just .209 so far, but the power and walks are there so he'll probably come around.

Second Base Ben Sheets hit Roberto Alomar and broke a bone in Alomar's right hand last Tuesday. With Alomar on the shelf, Matt Kata is starting and hitting .404. Kata is a run of the mill switch-hitting utility infielder- kind of like a Genius utility special, except with a bit more talent.

Third Base There's been a bit of controversy at third for the D-Backs this weekend, as rookie Chad Tracy has supplanted Shea Hillenbrand as the team's primary third baseman. Hillenbrand will still get some starts against lefties, but Tracy should be getting the call against all three right-handed Cub starters. Tracy is no Hank Blalock, but he is a young batter who hits for some power, draws some walks, and is said to have a good glove. He has put up large platoon splits in the minors, so look for Dusty to go to Mercker and Arizona respond with Shea at least once this series.

Shortstop Alex Cintron's nifty .848 OPS at short last year earned him the starting job coming into 2004. He's a switch-hitter, and while last year he hit much better against righties, this year he has just two singles and a walk in seventeen plate appearances against them. He is said to have a pretty fair glove, but none of the statistical measured like him.

Left Field The desert continues to agree with Luis Gonzalez. He's slugging over .600 so far, and while age has to catch up with him eventually it doesn't seem to be slowing him down yet. He's tatooed righties to a 1.061 OPS the last three years.

Center Field 39 year-old Steve Finley might be another story though. He's hitting .197 with one homer and five RBI in seventeen games this year, and ranked at the bottom of all the metrics last year. He is a weakness to be taken advantage of.

Right Field Danny Bautista has started the season strong, posting a 1.082 OPS including a 5 for 8 with two homers in a fifteen inning game with the Brewers last week. He's really only an average player even when he is on, so I wouldn't be too worried.

The Bullpen
Ugly. Stephen Randolph has the only sub-4 ERA in the pen, and he is sporting a 2.06 WHIP. Matt Mantei was supposed to be the closer, but he's 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA. Oscar Villarael, Jose Valverde, and Mike Koplove were all nasty out of the pen last year, but they have ERAs of 6.75, 4.00, and 6.75 respectively. Arizona is desperate to find someone to step up and stop the bleeding.
Game One: Carlos Zambrano (2-0, 1.29) vs Randy Johnson (1-2, 4.08)
Its Big Z versus the Big Unit in what looks like a fantastic pitching matchup. Johnson threw a complete-game shutout last week against the Padres, but in his other three starts he has been decidedly mortal. He is still striking out more than a man an inning, but his control and homers allowed numbers have been less spectacular. There's nobody scarier when he is on.

Sergio Mitre (1-0, 2.89) vs Brandon Webb (1-1, 2.74)
Brandon Webb is coming off a scintillating rookie campaign in which he used a great sinker to post an amazing 3.44 groundball/flyball ratio. He's got a good ERA so far this year, but DIPS says he has been getting a bit lucky (he has a 2.74 ERA despite walking fifteen in 23 innings.) Sergio has been doing his very best Brandon Webb impression lately, getting groundballs and sporting a great ERA, so this looks like another interesting matchup.

Game Three: Greg Maddux (1-2, 6.35) vs Casey Daigle (0-1, 11.08)
Daigle edged out knuckleballer Steve Sparks for the fifth slot in the rotation this spring, but its hard to see why so far. He was bombed by the Cardinals in his first start, and the Rockies in Coors in his second. He recovered a bit in his third start, holding San Diego to two runs in 6.1 IP. Hopefully Maddux can show that his improvement in his last start was for real and the Cubs can help Casey learn that his was not.
This is another team a contender should beat up on, but this time the Cubs have the misfortune of running into their two best pitchers in a three-game series. Hopefully we can keep things rolling into our weekend set with the Cards.

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Anything you can do I can do better

The Cubs starting staff is starting to have some nice internal battles over who can have the best outing. The one-up-manship continues this afternoon as Matt Clement struck out a career high 13 Mets leading the Cubs to a 4-1 series sweep completing win. Clement had his nasty slider going in the first inning and continued it throughout the game. He a no-hitter into the seventh before giving up one blast and one bloop (thankfully in that order). Joe Borowski pitched a perfect ninth inning to get the save. It was the best he has looked in the young season.

The Cubs have won six games in a row and the pitcher of decision in all six have been the starters. If the Reds/Pirates game continues on in the manner it is now (Reds are down 4-0), then the boys in blue will have first place all to themselves when they hit Arizona soil. Carlos Zambrano will take the ball tomorrow against the Big Unit. Scott will probably have more details on that game and the entire series when he publishes his award winning series preview later.

I actually had the chance to watch a good portion of the ballgames this weekend and noticed something new about Patterson. He has a new timing mechanism to his swing. I am not sure if he changed it something during this season or if he changed in the spring, but it is more compact. He sort of his front ankle off the ground before the pitch comes and before his actual stride. The end result is a more compact stride and quieter hands. In the past he had a little loop with his hands which made it difficult for him to catch up to high fastballs. This mechanism keeps his hands in place and he is hitting better. I think the new swing looks nice and hopefully good results will follow.

My last thought about the series is just how terrible Piazza looks. I am not even talking about performance either because all players will slump. He just looks emotionless on the field. Taking pitches down the middle, lazy past balls, and just the outward appearance of not caring were the staple of the series for him. I guess things are bad for the Mets this season, but jeez, make it look like you are trying. He mailed in this series and looks like he is just playing for a paycheck.

It was nice to see Ernie at the ballpark this afternoon. He is such a great ambassador for the Cubs and always says something positive. Given his performance on the field when he was a player and his gracious attitude now, he might be one of the few people in the world it is impossible not to like. How can someone not like Ernie? I can't see how.

Edit: For the second time in a week, Scott and I posted within 10 minutes of one another. That means lucky readers get two accounts of the game. A six game winning streak and two posts in 10 minutes. Oh happy day for blog readers.

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Clement dominates for sixth straight Cub win

It seems like only a couple weeks ago I was questioning Matt Clement based on a lousy spring and some iffy performances in his first couple starts. Now all of the sudden he's rolling, today striking out a career-high thirteen en route to a third straight win. He has now allowed just fourteen hits in 24.1 innings and has a league-leading .159 batting average against.

This may seem petty, but I am going to say it anyway. Clement took a no-hitter into the seventh today, and I must have heard Chip and Steve refer to that fact about eight thousand times. Now I am no mystic. I don't actually believe that mentioning a no-hitter is in progress is going to affect anything, but that doesn't mean I enjoy hearing it. It spoils the participatory fun of doing whatever ritual you are doing to try to help the pitcher to the finish line. There are plenty of ways to indicate to the viewer what is going on without actually saying it and I just wish they would choose one of those.

Put another way, I am still mad at my first girlfriend who ruined Jim Bullinger's no-hit bid back in tenth grade.

Her: Hey, he's got a no-hitter going!


Me: $%&@#$@*%!!!

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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Wood strong

Kerry calmed some of our fears after the 131 last week by throwing seven shutout innings and striking out nine Mets today. Granted, it was the Mets, but you've still got to like those numbers. Interestingly, Dusty went to LaTroy Hawkins with two out in the eighth and stayed with him the rest of the way. Joe pitched last night, but he's pitched back-to-back days in the past without incident. At any rate, I am a proponent of using the best man for the job and right now Hawkins is the better pitcher, so kudos to Dusty on this one.

Sammy homered, but the other seven position players combined for just five hits and one walk, so the offense has definitely cooled off. Fortunately, the rotation is starting to hit their groove and the end result is a fifth straight win.

On a sidenote, I saw legendary Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher speak at today's Atlanta chapter SABR meeting. He shared lots of great stories, but the only one really Cub related was the regret he voiced that Ron Santo has not been selected for the Hall yet. We also got to hear from the man who served as Ty Cobb's batboy in Cobb's last three seasons. Good stuff.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Oh right, that Greg Maddux

Well, Greg Maddux finally pitched a game where you could say he was better than Shawn Estes circa 2003. He struck out eight and the Cubs won 3-1. The Cubs scored their three runs on only four hits, courtesy of homers from Alou and Walker.

I am certainly glad to see Maddux pitch better, but I'm not convinced we've seen the last of Evil Greg. Remember these Mets are a team scoring very few runs so far this year. Remember too that he pitched out of a bases-loaded, none out jam in the third, but only after loading the bases by walking Karim Garcia after having him down 0-2. It was Garcia's 70th walk in a ten-year career. The Greg Maddux I know wouldn't walk Karim Garcia if you spotted Garcia 3-0 much less spotting Maddux 0-2.

Anyway, its a win so I'll take it. Whatsmore, if you hurry and look right now before tonight's games end, it puts us all alone in first place. Magic number is 147!

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Tillman killed in Afghanistan

Pat Tillman, a safety for the Arizona Cardinals, walked away from a multi-million dollar NFL contract to become an Army Ranger. He died yesterday in Afghanistan. Pat Tillman gave his life so that I could play softball, watch the Cubs, and buy a house. He gave his life so some girl in Afghanistan might grow up to be a doctor, engineer, or musician instead. He gave his life because he enjoyed making the world a better place.

Thank you, Pat, and every other man and woman who have risked their life for the freedom of others. You won't be forgotten.

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived. -- General George S. Patton
Pat Tillman
R. I. P.
6 Nov 1976- 22 April 2004

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Series Preview: Mets at Cubs

I think last night's rainout was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed us to miss Pittsburgh's only good pitcher in Kip Wells while giving Kerry extra rest after his famous 131 pitch outing last weekend. It also allows the team to get home and get a good night's sleep before heading out to Wrigley for this afternoon's game with the Mets. Plus, it just wouldn't have been nice to obliterate the Pirates a third straight game. Something about kicking people when they are down and how that behavior should be saved for the Cardinals...
The Mets
The Met offense is struggling. They are hitting .243/.324/.385 and scoring just 4.0 runs per game. Throw out a big opening series with the Braves and its just 3.0 runs per game. Here's how they line it up:

Catcher- The Mike Piazza you remember is back. He's hitting .328/.381/.569 and even caught one of the six guys who have attempted to run on him. They are trying to sequeu Piazza towards first base, but until he hits two more homers to pass Carlton Fisk for the career catcher homers record, he'll spend most of his time behind the plate. When he isn't catching, Jason Phillips or Vance Wilson will get the nod.

First Base- Phillips, Pizza, and Zeile have all gotten starts at first for the Mets. Zeile is doing all right (.286/.364/.393) but Phillips has been doing his best LFH impression (.149/.286/.234). Good thing he has drawn those nine walks or that line would be really bad.

Second Base- This was supposed to be uber-tyke Jose Reyes' spot, but a hamstring injury has kept him on the DL since spring training. Ex-Cub Ricky Guttierez has filled in, hitting a robust .152/.235/.196. If Guttierez is asked to play third (see below), Joe McEwing is another possibility for second. Perhaps you are starting to see where the Mets' offensive struggles are coming from.

Third Base- Ty Wigginton has struggled at third, but he has been disabled and hospitalized after a bout of dizziness and weakness. Look for Zeile and Guttierez to fill in against the Cubs.

Shortstop- Japanese import Kaz Matsui has been a relative bright spot, drawing thirteen walks in the leadoff slot en route to a .392 OBP. The speed he showed in Japan has not translated, as he was thrown out in his only attempt to run on the year.

Left Field- Cliff Floyd started hot but (guess) hit the DL last week leaving Shane Spencer to likely face the Cubs this weekend. Spencer has been relatively hot for a Met (.310/.370/.429), but nearly cost the Mets their game last night with a Brant Brown moment.

Center Field- Mike Cameron is a terminally underappreciated player who has had the misfortune of spending a lot of time in some fairly extreme pitchers' parks. I bet on the difference between Safeco and Shea when I drafted him for my roto team, with mixed results. His batting average is low as always (.236) but he draws walks, hits for a little power, runs, and plays great defense. He may never get the credit he deserves.

Right Field- Pedro wants to know: Who is Karim Garcia? Well, he's another Yankee-castoff Met-corner outfielder. He's got some good power and he's a lefty, so Cubs starters will need to watch out for him.

The Bullpen- Braden Looper has been very strong as the closer (0.00 ERA, 4 saves), but that's about as far as this pen goes. Other than Looper, the four top innings guys have been Mike Stanton, David Weathers, John Franco, and Orber Moreno. The lowest ERA in the bunch is Weathers' at 5.40.

Jae Weong Seo (0-2, 8.00) vs Greg Maddux (0-2, 8.62)
If Greg is going to get things under control, a start against a lousy lineup and a rotten opposing starter would seem like a great time to do it. Seo will be making his second fill-in start while Scott Erickson is disabled. In his first fill-in start, he gave up seven runs on ten hits and got chased in the fifth inning. By the Pirates (sorry Rob). He was actually pretty good last year (3.82 ERA). He is right-handed but had a rather extreme reverse platoon split last year (.797 OPS against righties vs .648 against lefties) and this year (1.140/.686).
Tyler Yates (1-1, 3.86) vs Kerry Wood (2-1, 3.48)
Apparently a 4.00 ERA is considered good when you are a Met, because it was enough to get unheralded prospect Tyler Yates named best spring pitcher and inserted in the starting rotation. He's pitched well in two starts against the dreadful Expo offense and got hammered in his one start against someone else. Righties are hitting .409 off him, albeit in just those three major league games.

Al Leiter (1-0, 0.52) vs Matt Clement (2-1, 2.76)Good Matt has been slowly trying to emerge, and we could really use him against Very Good Al. Leiter has allowed just one run in three starts, but thanks to the Met offense he has just one win and two no-decisions to show for it. I am looking for good news about Leiter, but all I can come up with is at least we aren't facing their other rejuvenated ace, Tom Glavine (2-1, 1.00).

Certainly the first two games are very winnable. Sunday looks tough, but Leiter isn't Dutch Leonard so his ERA has to come back up over 1.00 at some point. Let's stay hot and pick up three more wins.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004


I've seen at least four fellow CBA soldiers write words to the effect of "I sure would like a blowout or two" or "I asked for an easy game and here it is" or... well, you get the idea. I am tempted to step outside and ask for a million dollars. Tonight Pirate starter Josh Fogg lasted six batters (all six of whom would come around) and 0.0 innings before the mercy hook came. Are we looking like the '27 Yanks or what? This team has some offensive problems I have whined about at great length, but darned if I could point to one right this minute.

Lost in the excitement of another offensive explosion were a couple of important pitching performances. First off, Sergio dropped his ERA to 2.89 with his second top-notch outing in three starts on the year. He struck out seven and allowed just four hits in six innings of work. If he can keep producing quality starts two out of every three times out, missing Mark Prior might not be the end of our hopes after all. On the downside, Joe Borowski gave up three hits and a run while striking out nobody in the ninth. Kudos to Dusty for the way he is handling the situation, but sooner or later Joe will need to find his groove or Hawkins will need to be given the ace reliever job.

Two non-Cub notes. First, I am closing in on the new house. Part of the moving adventure will be making decisions on television (cable or sattelite), internet (cable or bell dsl), and phone service (cable landline, work cell, personal cell, bell landline, or some combination thereof). I was saying to a friend at our poker game tonight that my decision would be simplified if I didn't have to worry about losing my email my email address if I changed ISPs. I also said to him that it is a shame Google's new Gmail is months away from going live, because I would switch to them for my main email addy in a heartbeat. I'll be darned if I didn't log onto Blogger (owned by Google) to post a few minutes ago, and get a Gmail beta testing offer! I am now! If you are so inclined, take a minute to drop me a line there and help me test it out. Thanks!

The other thing is that I am watching Bonds go for eight in a row in San Francisco tonight. That wuss Jake Peavey got two very fortunate calls to strikeout Bonds in the second and now seems determined to walk him on four pitches every time the rest of the night to make sure he doesn't get the record. With an 8-0 lead, grooving fastballs is a better strategy than walking him, so we can deduce that Jake Peavy is more interested in stopping Bonds from getting the record than he is in winning the game. Congratulations Jake, your courage is a shining example to us all.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Good guys roll

On a temperate spring evening, we jumped on the home team for a big first inning and rode strong pitching and defense to a big win. I speak of course of the SCS Engineering softball team's 16-9 opening day win over last year's Engineering division champs, Haines & Gipson. We seamlessly folded a couple of newcomers into the lineup and were nearly flawless in the field (at least by our standards.) I was happy with my performance- 3-3 with four RBIs, and I caught a guy in a rundown to end the game. With a man on second and one out, the batter grounded back to the pitcher who threw to me at first. I made the putout, and came off the bag toward the runner who for some reason was edging off second in a seven run game. I ran right at him, just like they tell you, and closed ground until he committed to third base. I threw, the third baseman made the tag, and it was a textbook one-throw rundown. It may not seem like a big deal, but for a player of limited talent like myself I was darn proud.

So anyway, the Cubs won too. I know, its anti-climatic after the big softball news, but bear with me. Big Z had another fine game, allowing just one run on seven hits and two walks. He struck out only four but kept the ball in the yard and rarely was in trouble. The bats remained hot, rocking Ryan Vogelsong for the second time in a week. Patterson, Walker, Barrett, and even Alex Gonzalez homered for the Cubs.

If I had some mental discipline, I would be complaining about Carlos pitching the eighth in an eight-run ballgame, but if I complained about outings in the one-teens Dusty would have me writing about him and nothing else. Sergio goes tomorrow. Let's get him some runs and not waste another good start.

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Monday, April 19, 2004

Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates

You saw the Bucs last week, so this will be short and sweet. Let's get to it.
Game One: Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 1.38) vs Ryan Vogelsong (1-1, 7.20)
The official favorite Cub of Let's Play Two has been the best Cub pitcher on the year. He had his way with this Pirate lineup last Thursday, and on paper he certainly seems likely to do it again.

By contrast, the Cubs mauled Vogelsong on Wednesday. He allowed homers to Alou and Ramirez, and a total of ten hits and seven runs in three innings of work. He actually pitched very well in his first start of the year against the Phillies, so don't expect another pushover performance.

Game Two: Sergio Mitre (0-0, 4.26) vs Josh Fogg (0-2, 12.00)
That's one brilliant start and one shaky one for Mitre so far. His job is to give the Cubs a chance to win, and so far he is more or less doing just that. He hasn't been striking anyone out, but he has compensated with a lovely 3.38 groundball/flyball ratio. Give the opposing starter's woes, a quality start should mean a win.

Speaking of opposing starter's woes, you read right: Josh Fogg has a worse ERA than Maddux. He's managed nine innings in two starts, and allowed twelve earned runs on six walks, fourteen hits, and six big flys. That is not good pitching. It should be a contrast in styles, as Fogg's G/F ratio is 0.75 (career 1.24).

Game Three: Kerry Wood (2-1, 3.48) vs Kip Wells (2-1, 1.89)
This is Kerry's first outing since the 131 pitch fiasco over the weekend. Kerry has been down a couple of MPH from last year so far, but with acceptable control and good stuff, his performance has been pretty good. The Big Red C had some research that showed Kerry's performance was down in the start after a high-pitch count outing last year. I actually did similar research early last year and found no such effect. Regardless, all signs will certainly be on Kerry to see if he can bounce back from the big 131.

Even a blind organization finds a decent pitching performance now and then, and the Pirates' man has been opening day starter Kip Wells. He's had three quality starts in three outings, and he's got 20 strikeouts in nineteen innings. What's more, his manager hasn't put him through any 131 pitch death marches lately. Ok, I'll stop now.

Each of these pitching matchups looks favorable, and it would sure be nice to get hot here. I'll give you a good shortcut for determining how the series is going. Check the comments at the end of the most recent post here at the Lounge. If Pittsburgh Rob has posted, like he did last Tuesday, it means we lost. If he has vanished like he did each of the next two days, Cubs win, Cubs win!

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Let's go, batter up, we're taking the afternoon off

What's better than a water main break in your office building sending everyone home for the day? When all that happens on a day the Cubs are on TV in the afternoon! Within an hour of the announcement, a poker game had broken out in my living room (two blocks from work). A couple hours later I was raking in the chips as I watched Derrek Lee cap a five-run seventh with a grand slam. Matt Clement looked good, Ramirez homered again, and Todd Walker drew three walks in the leadoff slot. Pretty much the only negative was the Cubs' seventh-inning explosion came at the expense of my roto reliever, Ryan Wagner. Small price to pay, I say.

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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Things that annoy me

First and foremost losses to the Reds annoy the heck out of me. I guess because I live in Cincinnati and am surrounded by Pete Rose apologists who love to twist the knife after every Cubs loss regardless of the team. It is doubly worse when the Reds actually get do the beating. Look, the Reds are not going to make the post-season and they probably will finish about 10 games out of first, but for some reason they play well against the Cubs. Looking at the April schedule before the season it appeared it was a good one. Teams likes Pittsburgh, New York and Cincinnati appear on it. I would have liked to see the Cubs play about .600 baseball, but they cannot beat the Reds. Frustration all around.

OK, more things that annoy me.

  • Patterson flailing at the first pitch, popping it up and fliging the bat away in frustration. He has done that about 10 times already this season. This easily replaced Moises' check swing dribbler from last season as the most annoying Cub trait.
  • People who dog on me for nothing more than being a Cub fan. Look, I know the history, I know they have not been good, I know I am an obsessive fan, but I surely don't need to be everyone's punching bag just so they can feel better about themselves. My brother, a Reds' fan but otherwise decent, called me right after the game and said only, "Hey, who won the game!" Click....dial tone was my reply. He has tried to call back about 5 times and I have not answered. That should snap him back into place. Immature...maybe, silly...definitely, but hey, if you cannot be immature around family, who can you be?
  • Wasted offensive days annoy me. The Cubs should crusise to victory when they score 9 runs. This team is built on pitching and will not get 9 runs enough times to waste them.
  • Again with the Reds, Sean Casey annoys me. He seems to be in the center of all bad things against the Cubs. He is not all that good, but man, he comes up big against the baby bears.

OK, I will end my ranting. After letting Wood throw 131 pitches yesterday bloggers were ready to hang Dusty out to dry - me being one of them. But to be fair, he did something today that I really liked. He put Borowksi in the game in the 10th inning. In extra innings the home team will never have a save situation and most managers will not put in their closer in. The Cubs had 2-3-4 up in the 10th, so using the closer meant that if your best reliever (which your closer should be by definition although this is not always the case) can hold the opposition, you have a great chance to get the win. It just did not work out this time, but I like the thinking.

Tomorrow sometime I might have a 24 update on the web and a recap of the final game of the wrap around series against the Reds. Hopefully the Cubs can salvage the split and head off to beat up the Mets.

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Maddux, Borowski hit hard again in loss

After Friday's big win, I had the first glimmer of real optimism I've had this season. Two days and two gut-wrenching losses later, that went out the door in a hurry. Our big free agent acquisition saw his ERA jump from 7.45 to 8.62, worse than even my relatively pessimistic projection. Our closer continues to struggle- today walking two and allowing two runs as his ERA jumped from 6.75 to 9.00.

The bats remained hot, although that's probably partly attributable to a stiff outbound breeze. Sammy had two more homers, and six other Cubs had multi-hit days as well. Also, Dr. Tightpants had a good outing for once.

I guess I am trying to talk myself into thinking everything is going to be OK. I don't really think its working. Its a team built on five aces. One is pitching pretty well. A second is struggling. The third hasn't pitched this badly since he was a wild rookie for the Cubs (who else?) back in 1987. No, come to think of it, he is worse now. Three and a half runs of ERA worse. So anyway, the fourth has a manager who is vowing to take him to the next level." What on earth does that mean? The next level on the team's health insurance deductible? Oh, and lest I forget, the fifth is indefinitely disabled. No wait, wait! THIS JUST IN! MARK PRIOR HAS CONDUCTED A TOWEL DRILL! HE WAS NEAR BUT NOT ON A PITCHER'S MOUND. REPEAT, NEAR BUT NOT ON A PITCHER'S MOUND.

On top of all that, I can't go all-in without the schmo who calls me beating me on the river. I admit that's not exactly on topic, but it still fits with my overall feeling that it would be really nice if some luck would flow the right way for once. Is that too much to ask?

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Saturday, April 17, 2004


Let's deal with the umpiring thing first. Umpires who bait players and/or show up players are a pet peeve of mine. If a player yells at an ump, the ump should turn the other cheek. If the player continues to yell or says something seriously personal and/or offensive, the player should be tossed. And that's it. Those are the only actions an umpire should take. No umpire should ever bait a player, and certainly no umpire should ever stalk out toward a player like Eric Cooper did to Kerry Wood today. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, the amateur job done by the umpiring crew this weekend just isn't that important. You know what is? 131 pitches.

One hundred and thirty-one pitches.

That's how many pitches Kerry Wood threw today. In a mid-April game. When the team's other star pitcher has some mystery condition and isn't going to pitch any time in the forseeable future. When you've got a bullpen full of guys, at least two or three of whom could have come in to pitch. When Kerry had allowed a homer in the seventh, a walk and wild pitch in the eighth, and a single and a walk to lead off the ninth.

Nobody knows for sure that these particular 131 pitches are going to cause an injury or loss of effectiveness. What I do know is that this manager and this organization are acting with reckless disregard for that possibility. If Kerry Wood does go down or lose velocity or lose his control, we'll deserve what we get. I have found the enemy, and it is us.

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Life is good

I've tried like four different intros and I am coming up with nothing. I just have no idea how to write about a game like that. Do I focus on baseball's worst umpire, a man whose strike zone varied so wildly that Argyles got to listen to both WLW and WGN shred his effort (not to mention tossing both managers for situations for which he was to blame)? Or do I talk about the never-say-die Cubs, who came back from 2-0, 4-1, 9-4, and 10-7 scores today? Or do I skip to the finish, when Sammy Sosa tied Ernie Banks with his 512th Cub homer followed two pitches later by a walk-off blast from Moises? What about Ryan Freel, catching a pop-foul bunt from Corey Patterson with a head-long dive into the fence down the third baseline, only to have Todd Walker tag up and sprint into second anyway? And then I would need to mention how just one batter later, when there is a long-fly ball to center and Wendell waves Walker from second base... to home plate (he was out by 30 feet). Hold on, maybe I should lead with our pinch-hit hero, Todd Hollandsworth, who has three hits for twelve total bases on the year.

You get the idea. It was a game that would not have been at all out of place in last year's September series with the Cardinals, and that's about the highest praise I can give a game. It was loads of fun, but I wouldn't mind at all if we could have some nice relaxing wins the rest of the weekend, at least till we can get our blood pressure back down.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Are you kidding me?

Despite the best efforts of the worst umpire in baseball, the Cubs triumphed in one of the wildest games you will ever see. Sammy and Moises back-to-back. I am on my way out to see a movie, so I'll have to post more later. This is our year!!

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Series Preview: Reds at Cubs

These guys again? The Cubs will face the Reds for a second time in the young season. I'm a little bit too lazy to rewrite the whole preview, so just look here for the lineup breakdown. So far on the year, Adam Dunn has four homers and a 1.359 OPS to lead the way for the Red offense. Brandon Larsson is rehabbing in Louisville and Barry Larkin has a stiff forearm, so the Cubs may be seeing more of Ryan Freel and Juan Castro on the left side of the infield.
Game One: Aaron Harang (1-0, 1.50) vs Sergio Mitre (0-0, 2.35)
Harang is a hittable pitcher, even if you wouldn't know it from his first start against the Pirates. He allowed 1.3 HR/9 IP last year, and he doesn't have the stuff to strike many people out. His major asset is good control, although the joke is on him- we never get to a fourth pitch in a plate appearance anwyay! Sergio is coming off a great outing in Atlanta so here's to more of the same.
Game Two: Cory Lidle (1-1, 4.50) vs Kerry Wood (2-0, 3.75)
Lidle lived down to my harsh evaluation in the last series preview, as the Cubs jumped on him for five earned in five innings. He did bounce back against the Pirates, picking up a 3-1 win as he allowed just six hits and no walks in seven strong innings. I'd bet on the Opening Day Lidle being the real one.
Game Three: Paul Wilson (2-0, 0.63) vs Greg Maddux (0-2, 7.45)
Thanks to a rainout Wednesday in Philly, Cincy has decided to keep Wilson on regular rest and give Haynes two extra days. With the way Wilson has looked so far, you can't blame them for trying to maximize his time on the mound. I am not too impressed with Wilson's numbers- he's struckout just eight men in his 14.1 innings- so I am not too worried that we are running into Bob Gibson here. Of course, we are countering with a guy who hasn't looked much like a Hall-of-Famer himself, so it may be a war. With luck, both these guys will pitch around their career norms and we'll win going away.
Game Four: Jimmy Haynes (0-1, 8.31) vs Matt Clement(1-1, 3.60)
He's had a lousy strikeout rate for years and he sports a career ERA of 5.33. Still, supposedly free of back problems that have plagued in the past, Jimmy Haynes was touted by some as a sleeper coming into this season. Through one start though, he pretty much looks like the same old Jimmy Haynes. The Pirates chased him with one out in the fifth after he allowed eight hits, two walks, and a homer while striking out just two. I want to see Matt build on his decent outing yesterday and pick up a win here.

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Big Z rocked the Pirates to sleep allowing the Cubs to take a 10-5 win in the rubber game this afternoon at Wrigley. Carlos struck out six in six innings and allowed just one run before leaving with a big lead. Pittsburgh scored two off Wuertz and hit two homers off Beltran, but LaTroy Hawkins came on and got the final out. Thankfully, Beltran was getting his feet wet in a game that was a rout, and not a 2-1 nailbiter in the eighth at Turner Field. Theoretically. If you know what I mean. Anyway, Alou, Barrett, and Ramirez all homered for the second consecutive day. Barrett homered a second time for his first career multi-homer game. The Pirates aren't the '27 Yanks, but they all count the same in the standings. The Reds come to town tomorrow, and I'll have a series preview up shortly.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Cubs bounce back

The Cubs batted around in the third to knock out Pirate starter Ryan Vogelsong en route to an 8-3 win this afternoon at Wrigley. Aramis Ramirez blasted his first two homers of the year and Todd Walker had three RBIs. Not a bad performance, except for the fact that I had be at work. I swear if they didn't pay me there is no way I would keep going there every day.

Since I didn't get to see it, I'll try to compensate by going inside the box score a bit. First off, there's my #1 worry among players on the active roster, Matt Clement. Matt's line today looked pretty good: zero runs on two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. On the other hand, if you add in a HBP on Bobby Hill, that's four free passes in six innings with just 56 strikes in 103 pitches. I suppose its a step forward, but I'm not really going to feel safe until he's got a few more quality starts under his belt.

Worry #2 is my boy from the 770, Corey Patterson. In the first inning, he struck out on three pitches. In the second, he flew out to center on the first pitch. In the third, he struck out on five pitches. In the fifth it was a six-pitch K, and in the eighth it was five pitches for the Golden Sombrero. Its a good thing I am skeptical of small sample sizes, or that would be a really depressing day. It makes for a 9/1 K/BB ratio so far, and that after finishing 261st out of 264 in the majors among players with as many or more PA in that category last year.

One last personal note: I've got another shocking Final Four basketball team to tell you about. That's right, the #5 seed SCS Engineering hoopsters shocked the world by defeating the #4 seed Moore Hoops tonight to advance to the Final Four. I've got no t-shirts or other merchandise in stock right now, so please hold your emails. I'll let you know if we get some in.

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The hits just keep on comin'

Add Grudz to the list of walking wounded baby bears as he will officially go on the DL with a partial tear of his Achilles' tendon (free req required). He joins Prior and Remlinger on the shelf while players like Patterson only have tweaks that will hopefully mend quickly. Couple this with the 3-4 start against not so good teams and the outlook seems about as bleak as the opening day weather.

I still don't think it is time to worry. A 3-4 stretch during any other time of the season would just be a blip. The magnitude is over emphasized since we are in April. Bottom line is that Prior and others will be back eventually and lead the Cubs to the promised land. Remember, Oakland has had some rough starts in recent memory but their pitching had carried them down the stretch and into the playoffs.

I would like to give a 24 report today but the show got upended for the Presidental last evening. I would have rather watched the exploits of Jack Bauer than listen to Bush most everyday. Oh well, the show will run Sunday night at 9:00 in the east making it a fun night of television with 24 following an hour of the Simpsons. I will probably give an update on Monday if I remember. Heck, even if I remember, I will have to be able to follow the plot. Given they took five weeks off for American Idol and then got bumped yesterday, I have struggled to follow the curves in the road this season.

Since I did not have 24 or Cubs baseball last night I found myself channel surfing and came across Comedy Central's countdown of the top 100 stand up comedians of all time. They are showing one new episode a night at 9:00. Tonight they will get from 60 to 41. I am generally a sucker for countdown series like this one and the endless ones they roll out on E! or VH1. This one is no exception. I am anxious to see who #1 is.

Finally today a somber note. Thoughts go out to my mother in law who lost her father last evening (not to mention my wife's grandfather). My wife and I will be heading out of town once arrangements are made. Unfortunately, I only met him while his body was failing and he did not leave his home much over the last 6 years. His mind remained extremely sharp though and he constantly said things that made me laugh. I wish I would have met him 10 years earlier, but I am thankful for the time I did know him. Pop, you will be missed.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004


The Cubs haven't lost to a talent-poor in-division foe in over 24 hours. Woo-hoo!

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Monday, April 12, 2004


Well, that was about as bad as a team can look, but there is no reason to crawl out on the ledge. Greg Maddux isn't winning the Cy Young this year, but you knew that when we signed him. This offense is capable of laying the occasional egg, but you knew that too. Its certainly not a good sign, but neither does it mean any more bad things than yesterday's mauling of the Braves meant good things. Come back inside. Everything is going to be ok.

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Series Preview: Cubs vs Pirates

There were some ups and downs and one very long night this week, but its all evened out and the Cubs find themselves 3-3, one game behind the first-place Reds. We head to Wrigley to open the home schedule against the Pirates this Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon.
The Pirates
Catcher-Jason Kendall has survived countless trade rumors to remain Pittsburgh's starting catcher. After suffering a horrible right tib/fib fracture in the midst of his best season in 1999, he returned to post an OPS of .882 in 2000. He struggled the next two seasons (.693 and .706) to the point that the Pirates entertained the idea of moving him to left field. I can't explain how putting a struggling hitter at a position that calls for more offense is supposed to help, so forward any e-mails on that subject to Craig Biggio. Anyway, Kendall bounced back for a solid .815 OPS last year with an OBP of .399. Kendall's speed is nearly gone and he had his worst year throwing out basestealers last year at only 26.7%.

First Base- Craig Wilson and the late great Randall Simon are platooning at first for the Bucs this year. You likely remember what you get with Simon- good contact hitter with moderate power who has less value than he should because he never, ever draws a walk. Wilson swings a ferocious stick against lefties- he's got a 1.123 OPS against southpaws over his three seasons in the bigs but a mediocre .736 against righties.

Second Base- The Bucs are going with an interesting platoon at second, sharing time between right-handed rookie Jose Castillo and switch-hitting Cubs castoff Bobby Hill. Lloyd McClendon has said he is going to dole out starts to each of them depending on matchups with the opposing pitcher on any given night. I really like this approach, as it will give both guys a chance for some PT against all types of pitchers as well as creating opportunities to maximize matchups beyond the traditional L/R. Neither man has much power and neither hits for a great average. Hill draws a few more walks while Castillo is faster.

Third Base- Chris Stynes is getting the majority of time at the hot corner while being occasionally spelled by lefty Rob Mackowiak. Stynes is a utility man who has a shown a decent stick at times and a good enough glove to get by. Pittsburgh is his seventh stop in ten big league seasons though, and at 31 he is on the downside of his career.

Shortstop- Jack Wilson remains the starting SS in Pittsburgh, a fact central to the strategies of countless Hacking Mass teams. He is good but not great with the glove, and unless he finally gets his OBP up over .300 this year that's not enough to make him worth having in the lineup.

Left Field- This is where Raul Mondesi lands when the good teams don't want him anymore and a bad team thinks signing him will show they are doing something. Not that he is a bad player- he still retains some speed and some defensive value and he posted an .827 OPS last year. The fact that the Pirates' money might have been better spent elsewhere doesn't mean the Cubs pitchers can afford to take him lightly.

Center Field- Tike Redman has the job. He's a good defensive outfielder who likes to run and rarely strikes out. This is Redman's first full-time job, but he's already 27 so his upside is limited. His 42 steals in 51 attempts for AAA Nashville last year mean the Cubs will have to pay close attention if he gets on.

Right Field- J. J. Davis gets starts against lefties, but Craig Wilson will see most of the playing time in Chicago. A converted pitcher, Davis is coming off a strong .342/.554 OBP/SLG at Nashville last year.

Game One: Kris Benson (0-0, 5.40) vs Greg Maddux (0-1, 4.50)
All the attention will be on Maddux as he returns to Wrigley Field wearing a Cubs uniform. The Pirates counter with Benson, who hasn't been the same since losing the 2001 season to Tommy John surgery. He started 2003 strong, but his ERA edged up throughout the spring until shoulder pain in July caused Pittsburgh to shut him down for the year. He was mediocre in spring and in his first regular season start.
Game Two: Ryan Vogelsong (1-0, 1.29) vs Matt Clement (0-1, 9.00)
Clement is coming off a lousy spring and a lousier first start in Cincinnati. The Cubs may need to put crooked numbers on the board to win this one. Vogelsong is a righty with a fastball in the mid to high 90's. He has been a prospect for San Francisco and Pittsburgh for some time, but has not yet broken through. This year has been a different story so far though, as he put up 29 Ks and a 2.05 ERA in 26 spring innings, and blew away the Phillies in his first start last week.
Game Three: Josh Fogg (0-1, 5.40) vs Carlos Zambrano (0-0, 1.29)
Carlos was the star of the first turn through the vaunted Cub rotation, allowing a solo homer to Andruw Jones and little else in seven strong innings. Fogg brings only so-so stuff to the table, with a fastball that rarely reaches 90. He struck out just 71 hitters in 142 innings last year, a sign that he is very hittable. He is more effective against righties, holding them to a .737 OPS, 130 points lower than he allows lefties.
Not even Chairman Mao attempted this many five-year plans with this little success. There are no stars here, and precious few guys who seem likely to be even above-average. This is another team the Cubs are going to see a lot in the Central, and another team they should really be beating up on.

PS- If my friend Robert in Pittsburgh is reading this, never mind what I said. The Pirates are great and I think this really may be the year.

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Two out of three ain't bad

A dozen Easter observations from Turner Field
  • I got off to a slow start this morning, so I was running around the concourse to my section as the Braves took the field. I made it up the portal in time to see Ross Ortiz's first pitch and to my seat in time for his lineout. I did not however get my scorebook out in time to see Corey launch one to about the same spot Holly hit his Friday. Not that I am complaining, although somewhere Joe Morgan probably is.
  • I hated to see Derrek Lee out of the lineup today. He is one of only two truly dangerous hitters in our lineup. With an off-day coming Tuesday and assuming there was no extenuating circumstance I am unaware of, I don't see why this was necessary.
  • It was fortunate that it didn't come back to haunt us, but at the time I was awfully upset with Moises' baserunning gaffe. I looked back to the runners after the ball was caught, only to see him heading back to second to retouch it. Unless he passed the bag (which he may have as I was watching the flight of the ball) there was no need to retouch, but either way he has got to leave himself time to get back to the base.
  • Coming off the double play, Kerry almost immediately found himself with runners on second and third and nobody out. It looked like the pendulum was swinging toward the Braves, but then all of the sudden Kerry reared back and mowed down the heart of the Braves order- Jones, Drew, and Jones, all swinging. Marvelous performance in a big spot.
  • Entering the stadium today, I got a promotional giveaway of a Kerry Wood baseball card. I made a mental note to rant about how pathetic it was that the Braves had a giveaway featuring the Cubs starting pitcher. Right around the time Kerry was striking out the side in the third, I noticed that the guy in front of me had three cards and none of them were Kerry. I pulled my giveaway out and found that I actually had a pack (Wood, Torii Hunter, and Reggie Sanders) and that it was pure luck that I had gotten Wood at all, much less as the top card in the pack. Whatsmore, the first K of the third inning was Chipper Jones, the man identified on the back of the Wood card as his "toughest batter to face." That had to be a sign, right? Four more consecutive swinging strikeouts later, I had my answer.
  • That wacky J. D. Drew was trying to bunt again today. I don't think its a bad strategy exactly- if you do it in moderation maybe you keep the third baseman honest and/or get a cheap base hit every now and then. Drew seems to be using it as his preferred approach at the plate though, and that just makes no sense when you've got good power (and for that matter show no signs of being able to get any of those bunts down.)
  • Between the sixth and the seventh innings, the Braves now apparently do an eating contest between two fans. Today's contestants were dressed as the Easter bunny and a chicken respectively. The bunny took a smashing victory when he shoved the entire carton of Peeps into his mouth in the first ten seconds, then rammed a foot-long hot dog with bun into his mouth on top of it. The chicken never knew what hit him.
  • It was nice to see some guys who have been struggling a bit get on track thanks to the eminently hittable Will Cunnane. He very nearly gave up five consecutive homers in the eighth, with Gonzalez and Alou homering, Hollandsworth pulling a long fly ball just outside the foul pole, and Aramis and Barrett each flying out to the top of the wall.
  • This game featured two more foul sac flies for the Cubs. Each one today brought heckles from Braves fans, but at least one and probably both of today's were situations were I think you have to take the out. Drew's catch Friday was the only one I thought was a flat-out bad decision, and that was the only one I didn't hear people complaining about. (Although that could have been because all the Braves fans were home in bed for Friday's.)
  • Let's give Dusty some credit for bringing the timely hook for his starting pitchers this series. Today he had a chance to pinch-hit for Kerry after 105 pitches and he actually took it! Would it be too much to hope this is a new way of doing business for the Cubs?
  • I am not too big on taunting the other team's fans, but the tomahawk chop is practically begging for it. As such, it was nice to see the mock chop return to the Ted for the first time since the late innings of Game Five last year.
  • Finally, I'm happy to bring two wins in three tries here in my hometown. If only Dennis were holding up his side of the deal, we'd be in first place right now. But I digress... We'll be back in the morning with a series preview for the home opening series against the Bucs.

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Does Dusty see why drawing walks is good yet?

15 somewhat less enjoyable observations from Turner Field
  • Plenty of people including myself have used the phrase "Wrigley Field South", but I think some guys I tailgated near today take the cake. Under their "Wrigley Field South banner, they had a four-piece brick wall, draped with ivy, with a ten-foot replica left field foul pole complete with "Hey Hey" and 353. Nice work, gentlemen.
  • Your 2004 Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket men's basketball team was honored to a loud ovation before the game. After they gathered for a picture at the mound, they called Sammy Sosa over and asked him to be in a picture with them. No Braves, just Sammy. Pretty cool.
  • It was nice to see Greg Maddux so effective in his return to Atlanta. What? That was Sergio Mitre coaxing ten groundouts hit to himself and Derek Lee combined? Wow.
  • The first inning of Mitre's start reminded me a lot of his first inning in his first major league start here last year. Last year, a Goodwin error led to a Braves run. This time, it was a wretched jump by Goodwin on an easy liner to center leading to a Braves run. Perhaps the year in between gave Mitre the maturity to not come unravelled this time.
  • J. D. Drew shows or tries to bunt for a hit more than any other cleanup hitter I have ever seen. He did it at least twice last night and twice more tonight, and thats'... well, four more times than any other cleanup hitter I have ever seen.
  • The Braves have a dance team now. I thought it was entirely un-baseballlike when I saw it at Joe Robbie last October, but at least it kind of fits the motif in Miami. In Atlanta its just odd.
  • At Georgia Tech sports events, the band plays the Budweiser song and the fans do the Budweiser dance. Don't ask, its just a thing. The Braves play the Budweiser song too, but for a sponsorship deal. I wouldn't normally, but with Coach Hewitt and the team in the house I had to do the dance. Forgive me.
  • Pop Quiz: Which of these pitchers could the '04 Cubs make look like Walter Friggin' Johnson: A) Paul Wilson B) Horacio Ramirez C) Jaret Wright D) Antonio Alfonseca
  • I realize Dusty wanted to give some of the guys who played fifteen innings a break, and I think it was a good move to give them some rest and get some lefties in the lineup against Wright. What I don't like is clustering the lefties at the top and bottom of the order. This allowed Bobby Cox to go to C. J. Nitkowski who got to retire four batters without facing a right-handed position player before calling out the crane to lower Alfonseca into place to face Sosa.
  • Among Braves fans, you see mostly street clothes with the occasional Chipper or Andruw jersey. That's it. Today I saw Cubs jerseys of Sosa, Wood, Prior, Patterson, Maddux, Choi, Grace, Sandberg, Santo, Banks, and Tuffy Rhodes. Seriously.
  • We held a 2-1 lead in the eighth when a woman came and sat in the chair next to me that had been empty and began changing her baby's diaper. Its not like she was solely responsible, but let's just say it wasn't an encouraging smell.
  • Two out and one on and Dusty lifts the starting pitcher. A shockingly early hook by Dusty's standards, but Mitre's taken us as far as we needed. Time to turn it over to one of our several ace relievers. You can practically pick randomly and come up with a top-notch guy out of that pen. And the call is going to be for...
  • Andy Pratt. Sigh. I still can't believe we gave away Juan Cruz for him, but let's go beyond that. Why go with a wild pitcher in a key situation at the end of a game just because he's got the platoon advantage? There isn't one pitcher in the Cubs bullpen I less wanted to see, and yet he gets to throw eight balls in nine pitches and give the game away. Does anyone really think Pratt/Chipper is a better matchup than Farnsworth/Chipper or Hawkins/Chipper?
  • Farnsworth doesn't get totally off the hook, but its hard to blame him when you walk the bases loaded before bringing him in. And you have to give Franco credit on his at-bat- Farns gave him 13 pitches and just couldnt finish him. Tip your cap.
  • Pop quiz answer: E) All of the above as well as my 89 year old grandmother Kathy. There are still too many black holes in this lineup.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004

Todd Holly sittin' dead RED

I don't have the right mix of energy and writing talent to come up with a coherent game story, so I'm doing bullet points! Woo-hoo!
17 Observations from Turner Field
  • 4:32? That was unquestionably the fastest fifteen inning, twelve pitching change game I have ever been to.
  • I sat in the bleachers for BP. The Braves showed "classic Bravesvision" on the Diamondvision, a Maddux versus Smoltz matchup from July 10, 1992. Oddly, they chose the 4-0 Braves win and not the 8-0 Maddux win over Smoltz from July 5 of the same year. Anyway, a few innings into it, Clement, Wood, and Maddux were in centerfield and noticed the game. Maddux was riveted, and spent a couple innings watching the game and talking to Clement and Wood about it. I would have loved to hear that conversation.
  • Kent Mercker earned unanimous boos from the BP crowd (65% Cubs fans) when he threw his glove in the air and knocked down a ball that was headed for the fifth row of the bleachers. He picked the ball up, but got booed again when he threw it back toward the infield instead of into the stands. Harsh.
  • The Braves have a bit between innings where a fan tries to answer the Cingular trivia question on a Cingular cell phone. Today's contestant gave an answer, but nobody could make out what he said. After a long silence from the PA guy, the fan shouted, "Can you hear me!?" to much laughter. That's a poorly spent advertising budget if you ask me.
  • Z was a bit shaky early on, but after Andruw's homer eeked over the left field wall, he turned it up a notch. Its good to see at least one starting pitcher on his game.
  • My dad pointed out that second base ump Laz Diaz positioned himself about halfway between second base and Corey Patterson with nobody on base. He was a good fifty feet deeper than I ever recall seeing a second base ump.
  • Speaking of umpires, Cubs batters walked away shaking their head after a number of called third strikes from John Hirschbeck. I had a horrible angle to judge the corners, but where there's smoke there is fire, no?
  • Hollandsworth's bomb wouldn't have mattered without the job the Cubs did in the bottom of the eighth. Dr. Tightpants struck out Mark DeRosa before allowing a soft groundball up the middle and a bloop double down the left field line to put men on second and third with just one out. Jesse Garcia hit a soft liner to right that looked like trouble, but Sammy sprinted in and made the shoestring catch before unleashing a bullet to Barrett, chest-high to hold the runner. Farnsie then blew away Marcus Giles to end the inning. Great work, all around.
  • Heading to the bottom of the ninth, at least half the Braves fans were already gone and hundreds more walked out as Smoltz walked in. The plantive voice of one five year-old following his parents down the aisle said it all- "But Daddy, they're still playing." Stupid parents.
  • And what a shot that kid missed. Smoltz was clearly hurting badly at the end of last season and he's been struggling so far this year, but when he got two weak comebackers for the first two outs he was looking darn near invincible. Then Todd Hollandsworth vinced him.
  • People call long homers "no doubt about it," but they're not easy to judge in person, at least for me. I almost always have to track the outfielders to see where its going to go, even on a long one. This was the exception though. From the crack of the bat there was truly no doubt at all. He just mauled it.
  • Andy Pratt: wild at times, low ceiling, two outs and two walks tonight before having to be yanked mid-inning. Juan Cruz: wild at times, high ceiling, five strikeouts in three scoreless innings tonight. I am just saying.
  • I love Joe Borowski, I really do, but his velocity is way down. Unless he gets it back, I think we may be seeing LaTroy Hawkins in as closer out of necessity.
  • We pulled it out in the end, but between a lack of clutch hits and an excess of out-wasting bunts we sure blew some chances between innings 9 and 15. At one point in the eleventh, we had first and second with nobody out, Ramon Martinez ahead in the count 3-1, and the Braves infielders all out of position trying to play the bunt. Nearly any groundball anywhere is a go-ahead single, but we force a bunt into the ground and then hit into the DP on 3-2. Would it be so bad to let someone swing the bat every now and then?
  • Wendell held Aramis at third with nobody out in the fifteenth. There is no telling what would have happened if he had been sent, but with nobody out I think it was the right move. I was surprised and pleased to see Wendell's hands up.
  • What was J. D. Drew doing catching the foul ball in the fifteenth inning? Don't you have to let that drop and try to keep the game tied? Is the out worth a run there? I don't know what he was thinking, but I'll take it.
  • And that's all I've got. It was lot's of fun, and so much easier on the nerves than the similarly tight playoff games I was watching last October. We're tailgating before the game tomorrow, so stop by and look for the tall guy in the Choi jersey if you are in town. (FWIW, I did order a Patterson jersey to wear this year but they had an inventory snafu and it didn't come.)

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Welcome to Atlanta

Despite the losses in Cincinnati, let me set your fears to rest: this wasn't me. That's right, the season isn't over yet, and I aim to go down to the Ted and see the Cubs get things in gear this weekend in Atlanta. On a sidenote, Dusty is apparently even more ready than I am- he had the Cubs team bus stop at Turner Field on the way from Hartsfield to the hotel so he and Chip could get off and attend Hank Aaron night. I am not a huge fan of Aaron's, but I certainly think it's cool of Dusty to make it to the game. He sat in with Skip and Joe, and Skip blew right past the whole "what was it like to be on-deck thirty years ago tonight when Aaron hit #715" and instead got right to the important stuff: When will Prior be back? Dusty said he is throwing with no discomfort, but wouldn't give anything on a return date. Sigh.
The Braves
Mark Twain famously said that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, but even he kicked the bucket sooner or later. This edition of the Braves still has some quality players, but more prognosticators than ever see the run of division titles coming to an end. The first change is behind the plate where rookie Johnny Estrada steps in for longtime Brave Javier Lopez. Estrada had a good season in AAA last year, but I don't see him matching Javy's single-season record 42 homers by a catcher. The next new face in the Braves lineup is Adam LaRoche, a rookie first-baseman who was born during his platoon partner's second professional season. The Braves might have the best tandem up the middle of anyone in Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal, and both have solid gloves as well. Utility man Mark DeRosa is set to get most of the time at third base.

The Jones boys return in left and center, but Gary Sheffield is in pinstripes leaving ex-Cardinal J. D. Drew in his stead. Drew has All-Star talent if he can stay healthy enough to be in the lineup. Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz always manage to cobble together a cheap and effective bullpen *cough*. This year's edition is comprised of John Smoltz and a bunch of other teams' castoffs including C. J. Nitkowski, Chris Reitsma, and familiar faces Juan Cruz, Will Cunnane, and Antonio Alfonseca. Don't laugh, Alf will probably throw five scoreless innings against us this weekend.

Game One: Carlos Zambrano (0-0, 0.00) vs Horacio Ramirez (0-0, 0.00)
Ramirez is a groundball lefty who pitched respectably as a rookie last year despite iffy minor league numbers. He spent part of his offseason serving as the ace of the American team that failed to qualify for the Olympics. He was held in reserve for a single-elimination semifinal game that never happened when the American team lost 2-1 to Mexico in the quarterfinal. I don't know whose idea a single-elimination baseball tournament was, but there's not much to be done about that now.

Last year Ramirez stepped in out of nowhere as yet another Leo Mazzone surprise. His peripherals weren't anything to write home about, but with some gutty pitching and help from his defense he managed to cobble together a 12-4 record with a 4.00 ERA. He had a huge platoon split last year (.809 OPS vs righties, .585 vs lefties) which would seem to play into the Cubs hands.

Game Two: Kerry Wood (1-0, 7.20) vs Jaret Wright (0-0, 0.00)
Dusty is taking advantage of the off-day to delay Sergio's start as long as possible, a move I can't really argue with. Kerry got hit pretty hard in the opener but got enough support for the win. Jaret Wright seems like he has been around for ever but it was only 1997 when he burst on the scene with three wins in five postseason starts. Since then he struggled year in and year out including an 8.37 ERA in 47 innings in San Diego last season. He was acquired by the Braves, and naturally turned into a beautiful swan immediately as he posted a 2.00 ERA albeit in just eleven relief appearances.

Despite great velocity, its hard to see any room for optimism in Wright's numbers. His control has been poor at every stop along the road, he gives up homers, and he doesn't even strike out as many guys as you would figure with that heater. His spring was unremarkable- 4.57 ERA in 21 innings with six walks, three homers, and seventeen strikeouts. Mazzone is a miracle-worker, but you've got to think this guy is hittable.

Game Three: Sergio Mitre (0-0, 0.00) vs Russ Ortiz (0-1, 11.57)
Atlanta's twenty-game winner from last year got bombed in the spring (6.26 ERA) and in his first start he allowed six runs and was yanked in the third inning. Ortiz has never been a great strikeout or control guy, but he generally keeps the ball in the yard and gives his team a chance to win. The Mets homered twice off him in the opener, it would be nice to see the Cubs continue that trend.

Sergio will be making his third major league start. I fondly remember the first because I watched it with his family behind home plate at Turner Field, and the second because it was Ron Santo day and the Cubs were newly crowned division champs. Sergio is by all accounts a good, hard-working guy and an organizational favorite, but hasn't shown many signs of big-league talent. We could desperately use a big month from him to tide us over till Prior gets back, but it doesn't seem all that likely on paper.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Cubs drop first two home games of the season

OK, fine, they were not really home games, but despite the red color of the seats and the white jerseys on the other guys, it felt like home games for the Cubs. Opening day was probably about 10% Cub fan, 40% Red fan and 50% client entertaining/people in it for the spectacle of it all. The last two games were easily 50/50 in terms of fan support. In fact the sounds made by the fans was heavily skewed in the Cubs favor including some chanting fans in left field.

I am sure all have seen the boxscores from the last two defeats and to be honest I don't feel like doing much recapping because today's game left me in a sour mood. We brought the tying run up in the 7th, 8th and 9th only to be done in by flailing first pitch swinging. As Scott mentioned this team did not draw a walk this afternoon. I find that troubling but even more troubling is the fact that I see this as the norm rather than the exception this season. Sure, there will be days where all the hits fall and they rack of the runs like a playstation game. But there will often have games like this afternoon where the big hit never comes no matter how hard they force it.

Clement obviously did not have his A game - or his B or C game to be honest. The scores from the last two ballgames show that the Cubs lost by the same margin, but this game felt more like a blowout. Maddux basically made two bad pitches which both left the ballpark. Clement on the other hand could not find homeplate and when he did the ball came shooting back very hard. On the plus side, the bullpen pitched very well over the entire series minus Mercker's mild hiccup this afternoon and Sammy found some hits in his bat even driving the ball to right field a few times.

Here are a few remaining random thoughts from the last two games at Wrigley south.

  • I had some creepy old man turn around and yell at me today. In the first inning Barry Larkin hit a foul squibber to which I mumbled to my wife, "Man he crushed that one". On the next pitch Barry singled and the man stood up, turned around and yelled, "CRUSHED IT" at me.
  • There was a father with his two sons sitting two rows in front of us. One of the boys was an heir and one was apparently an error as one was at least 21 and the other about 6. The dad bought and had the younger one pass an alcoholic beverage to the older one. The six year old took a strong 10 second whiff of it that made everyone laugh. The father egged on by the laughing let the boy take a nice swig from the beverage. I saw at least two more during the game for the youngster. You certainly cannot beat fun at the ol' ballpark.
  • The Reds have a bunch of scoreboard games they play between innings where prizes are giving away. One is sponsored by some eye product and the participant has to read four terms on the scoreboard which get progressively smaller. Pretty easy stuff although I would feel bad if they ever randomly picked a kid or adult who could not read. Today after the eye challenge the PA blasted a Stevie Wonder song. Am I the only one who sees why this could be a bad idea?
  • The stupid sound system also played a Brady Bunch song before the game today. I should have known it would be a long one.
  • Some kid brought a sign to the park yesterday which read "Owned". I have no idea why.
  • The Reds also have those spirit people who fire T-shirts into the crowd. A Cub fan caught one Wednesday night and threw it back.

OK, that is enough random thoughts. I would probably think of some more if I weren't mad about the game. Oh well, even the best teams love 65 games a season. This weekend I turn it over to Scott and other blog army members for live game reports as the Cubs head to Atlanta. The last time they were there they left on a flight home to start the NLCS.

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Reds take series

Sammy Sosa had the big offensive day but it was the Reds who jumped out to the 4-0 lead and held on for a 5-3 win this afternoon. Matt Clement allowed three walks and four runs in four innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth. The Cubs pen combined for four innings allowing just one more run, but despite seven extra-base hits the comeback effort amounted to just three runs. I would suggest that drawing zero walks had something to do with that, but I would hate for Dusty to accuse me of not being agressive enough and trade me to another team's Blog Army.

Dennis was there for the sad sight. If he can stomach it he'll write about the experience, and either way I'll be back with a series preview on the Braves in the morning.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Maddux debut fizzles

The Cubs lost 3-1 in Cincy today. Maddux had a pedestrian six innings, allowing two homers and two walks while striking out only three. Rookies Mike Wuertz and Andy Pratt were each effective out of the pen. The real story was our offense being overwhelmed by Paul Wilson, who threw seven innings allowing just five baserunners and no runs. It was our Achilles heel last year and while we are certainly improved on paper, today's performance sure isn't going to scare any pitchers. I am not sure if Dennis was able to make today's game, but if he did then he'll be in with a report. Tomorrow is Clement versus Acevedo. I would feel a lot better about things if we could get six strong innings out of Matt.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Name Game

I am watching the free trial of Extra Innings (not going to pay for it until/unless I get into the new house) telecast of the Giants/Astros game from Houston. San Francisco just brought in rookie reliever David Aardsma for his major league debut, and the announcers pointed out that with his first pitch he displaced Hank Aaron from the top of the list of major league ballplayers in alphabetical order. I generally love seeing a guy make his major league debut, but its a real shame that we have lost the symmetry of having the all-time home run king being first alphabetically as well.

Aardsma just got a double play to complete a scoreless first inning. Good luck, David. Do the Aas proud.

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Cubs Blog Army Prediction Contest

During spring training I wrote up a little prediction contest and fouteen CBA soldiers joined Dennis and myself in entering it. I am putting up an '83 Fleer Ryne Sandberg rookie card from my collection as the prize for the person with the highest score. I'll spare you from all the rules and details, but I'll post the questions now and I'll occasionally update the projected standings, mostly as a way to tease whoever isn't doing well. For instance, on the first question, Jason Steffens predicted the Cubs would win 85 games. The Cubs are currently on pace to win 162 games, so Jason is off by 80 games, worst of any predictor in the contest. What was he thinking?! On the other hand, he was uncannily accurate when he predicted that the Cubs largest single-game run output would come against the Reds, so you have to give him that.

Anyway, here are the current projected standings through one Cubs game. Feel free to laugh at the laggards.

1Derek SmartThe Big Red C- 201
2James L. CrockettJust North of Wrigley Field- 182
3Jason SteffensClark & Addison Chronicle- 172.5
4Chris YarboroughYarbage Cub Review- 168.5
5Brian HippCubs Now!- 166.5
6Dennis GoodmanThe Northside Lounge- 164.5
7Tim CrammEamus Catulli- 161.5
8DeShawn JacksonBad Century- 158
9Christian RuzichThe Cub Reporter- 155.5
10Scott LangeThe Northside Lounge- 154.5
11Al Yellonand another thing!- 153
12Alex CiepleyThe Cub Reporter- 133.5
13Derek BergerLet's Play Two- 131.5
14Bill KellyRooftop Report- 129.5
15ChuckIvy Chat- 127.5
16Rob LetterlyThe Uncouth Sloth- 120.5

And the questions...

1- How many games will the Cubs win?
2- What will the Cubs attendance be?

3- What will Mark Prior's ERA be?
4- How many batters will Kerry Wood strike out?
5- How many games will Greg Maddux win?
6- How many games will Joe Borowski save?
7- How many games will LaTroy Hawkins save?
8- On what date will Greg Maddux win his 300th game?
9- What rookie will pitch the most innings for the Cubs and how many will he throw?

10- How many home runs will Sammy Sosa hit?
11- What will Derrek Lee's OPS be?
12- Who will have the most plate appearances, Todd Walker or Mark Grudzialanek, and by how many?
13- How many bases will Corey Patterson steal?
14- How many plate appearances will Moises Alou have?
15- Who will hit the longest Cub home run and how far will it fly?
16- What rookie will have the most plate appearances for the Cubs and how many will he have?

17- How many double plays will Alex Gonzalez turn?
18- How many errors will Cubs third basemen make?
19- At what rate will the Cubs throw out opposing base stealers?
20- Who will lead the Cubs in outfield assists, and with how many?

1- What player currently in another organization will the Cubs trade for during the season?
2- What team will the Cubs have their highest single-game run total against?
3- Who will be the last Cub ejected from a game this year?
4- What Cub will place highest in the NL MVP balloting?
5- Who will throw the final Cub no-hitter of the year?

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Opening Day: Up Close and Personal

For the second time in my life and in the last three seasons, I attended opening day. Two years ago it was the final opening day in the history of Cinergy Field and the Cubs lost on a sacrifice fly. This season the Cubs were able to pull out a 7-4 victory leaving the Reds 0-2 in openers at the GAB and the Cubs magic number over the Astros and Cardinals at 161. OK, I will not talk about the magic number anymore until it gets down to about 20.

I am sure all of you have poured over the boxscore, web, and paper accounts of the game, so the rest of this post will be just a collection of random observations from the game and about the atmosphere around opening day.

  • The gates were open extremely early for the ballgame. Dad and I got up there about 2.5 hours before the game and walked right in. I was pleased to see the Cubs taking batting practice. Patterson was killing the ball in BP and it carried over to his first AB of the season when he hit an absolute no doubter.
  • As we were getting to our seats we heard the screams of "heads up". So I tilted my head up to see a ball coming right down at me. It landed in the row behind us and since most people were still at the parade, my dad casually reached over and grabbed it. We looked into the cage and saw that it came off of Sosa's bat. It was my second ball total at ball games and my first BP ball.
  • They had metal detectors to pass through to get to the seats. I guess this was because the VP was there. The funny part was that once you got far enough down the line, you did not have to go through them. I guess they figured that only people who could afford more expensive tickets would take a shot.
  • I have to give Cincinnati credit for a doing a nice job with all the opening day festivities. It had a good feeling to it and I have no problems with them getting to play at home every opening day. After all, the first professional team was from this city. I wish that MLB would go back to making Cincinnati have the very first game of the season and do away with all the foreign non-sense.
  • After saying what I did in the previous point, there still were some odd things. The opening day manager for the Reds received a complimentary fruit basket. I would be underwhelmed if I were him. I guess it is better than receiving a vat of the meat "stuff" they call chili in this town.
  • Nick Lachey sang the National Anthem yesterday. Only the final result was less of a surprise.
  • Jason LaRue caught the first pitch from the VP. This is somewhat out of character for the Reds. By the middle of the season most teams will have the bullpen catcher of the latest minor league call-up to catch the ceremonial first pitch. Last season, the Reds managed to be worse than that. They would have a ceremonial battery making sure no players had to actually appear. Of course by the end of last season, the catcher might have been a player that no one recognized given their fire sale.
  • I was upset that the entire Cubs bench was not announce because I wanted to cheer Maddux.
  • Both Ken Griffey Jr. - a late scratch from the starting lineup - and owner Carl Lindner was booed during introductions.
  • Wood can out and did not wear sleeves and it was pretty brisk. He did not pitch overly well, but did get the win. In all honesty though, Casey's double was the only ball hit really hard off of him. The two runs in the 3rd scored on a K-WP, BB, blooper and RBI ground out.
  • Speaking of Sean Casey. That guy only gets 5 important hits a season and 3 of them will be against the Cubs. I hate guys like that.
  • The scoreboard for the Reds displayed spring training stats for the players. They could have shown the results of their last 20 rock, paper scissors matches and it would have been more predictive of real performance.
  • Chalk me up on the side of not liking the new grey jackets. I realize they match the jersey, but the jacket almost makes everything look a little too monochromatic.
  • I was sitting down the first base line, so I could not see in the corner. Therefore, I did not realize that Barrett's ball had gotten past Kearns. After he hit it, I started watching Kim to try and determine whether it would be a triple. I would have been better served to watch about anything else. He did not make one motion. Not a stay, not a come faster, nothing. How in the world can the third base coach not make any sign on a triple? Aren't players taught to pick up the coach? Everyone knows he lost the Cubs more runners at home last season than any other team. Maybe this is early nit-picking but it really surprised me.
  • The Reds put the wrong words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the scoreboard during the 7th inning stretch. The correct (and all) words are here. It is really , "I don't care if I never get back".
  • I was sitting near some Cub fans and instead of calling Farnsworth Dr. Tightpants like we like to do around here, they called him the speed skater. Pretty funny.
  • The Reds used 6 pitchers on opening day. Yikes. Of course they had to bring out a lefty to face the powerful and dangerous Tom Goodwin.
  • Ryan Wagner made Ramirez look absolutely silly on an off speed pitch. I have a feeling he will be a closer before the end of the season.
  • In typical Cub fashion, they made it interesting in the ninth, but thankfully hometown hero Barry Larkin was there to bail the Cubs out with his paper mache groin and near 40 year old bat.
  • Reds talk radio was great after the game. They spent 10 minutes on three points: Sosa was hitless, Wood struggled and opening day is about the experience and not about winning. Yeah right, I would have been real happy had the Cubs lost. I think it is going to be a long, long season in Cincinnati.

All in all a great day at the ballpark with a great result. It is always nice to get the first win out of the way early. They take the day off before playing tomorrow night. That will be the regular season return of Greg Maddux. Spells like 2-0 to me.

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Monday, April 05, 2004


I am tired of coming close.

I am tired of having to ask why.

I am tired of loking for reasons and making excuses.

I am tired of saying "if" and "should" and "almost."

I am tired of losing.

The Cubs have a good team this year. Let's not come close. Let's win.

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