The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Monday, May 31, 2004
Memorial DayFirst off, a big thank you to all the members of our armed forces, past and present. At a time when the world was ruled by kings, despots, and worse, the Founding Fathers gave the world a Constitution that guaranteed freedom and individual rights. Without the sacrifices made by millions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen over the last 229 years, that document would be nothing more than a piece of paper. To all who have served, and to all those who have paid the ultimate price, thank you.
If you know a vet or run across one during your day tomorrow, I hope you'll take a minute to thank them for what they've done. Another thing you can do is follow the "calling cards" link down under my name on the left side. There you can order a calling card or two from the people that run the military shopping system and have them send it on to a soldier who would like to call home. Try it, you'll be glad you did.
In other news, the Cubs managed to salve the wounds of this weekend in Pittsburgh with a nice 3-1 win over the Astros and Roy Oswalt. Greg Maddux closed out a bounceback May with 6.2 solid innings, marred only by an off the end of the bat homer out onto the street. How someone does that with that swing and a wood bat I'll never know. Joe was shaky once again, but wriggled off the hook on a deep line drive from the would-be winning run to end it. It was an especially nice win for me because I watched it at the Memorial Day cookout of my friend Kacey from Houston. He did provide chicken, burgers, dogs, ribs, and of course some vegetables to balance things out (egg salad and mac&cheese), so I tried to be gracious.
Finally, congratulations to Pittsburgh Rob and his wife Tara on their new son Ryan. Rob tells me that he is named after Tara's brother Ryan, and the fact that he shares a name with Rob's lifelong favorite baseball player Nolan Ryan is a complete coincidence. Got it. In the comments section on this site after Friday's doubleheader fiasco, Rob took issue with a reader referring to his Pirates as a AAA team and asked for me to back him up. I will therefore, as my gift to the new child, write a special Northside Lounge column on the eve of next weekend's series with the Bucs entitled "Do the Pirates suck?" It will be chock-full of interesting statistics on this year's Pirates as well as the occasional reference to great moments in Cub/Buc history. Stay tuned!
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Shooting the bullpenThe first two trackbacks in the history of the Northside Lounge, and they are both on a seven-sentence post completely devoid of any meaningful content. I suppose watching two different "ace" relievers cough up two different ninth inning leads in the space of three or four hours will do that.
You may be able to guess I am definitely in the "there's nothing magical about a closer" camp with folks like Derek and Christian. I am sympathetic with the argument made over at Rooftop Report, namely that Joe has converted 22 of his last 23 saves. I love Joe Borowski. If I had to pick my favorite moment from last year's amazing run, it was either Joe striking out Broadway Jim Edmonds or Joe striking out Andruw Jones. I think making him the closer was one of the best, most enlightened moves the current administration has made. That said, we need our best reliever pitching our highest leverage innings, be they save situations or not and be he a Closer or not.
The two obvious candidates for "ace reliever" are Joe and LaTroy. Just for argument's sake, I am going to throw in Dr. Tightpants as well. He's obviously got great stuff, and has produced good results at least on occasion in the past. Let's take a look at the numbers on these three guys, and try to decide who who should be getting the call when the game is on the line.
If we keep relying on Joe in the immediate future, I suspect it will come back to hurt us. I appreciate what Dusty has done, in trying to give Joe every chance to succeed without taking his job away. However, the time for being nice has passed. We now need to be using LaTroy Hawkins in key situations. If he is unavailable do to being used earlier in the game or for several consecutive days, then Kyle Farnsworth is my next choice. I would like to see Joe continue to get chances, particularly in low-mid leverage situations. It might also be nice to give him a shot next time we have a three-run lead in the ninth- it would give him a very easy opportunity to convert a save and perhaps build some confidence. I think its time to sum things up with a catchy slogan.
Friday, May 28, 2004
BullplosionBorowski or Hawkins? And does it even matter?
My rational side is trying to tell me that Hawkins at least has been very good all year and despite tonight remains a reliable choice. Unfortunately, the much louder emotional side of me is screaming that he hasn't seen a worse closing performance since I walked five straight batters to blow the softball game Tuesday. If we are going to play .500 ball and weather the storm while half the team is on the DL, we simply must take care of business in games we should win. So far, not good at all.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
OwSwept by the Astros. But hey, at least we've got our health. Except for Sosa, Prior, Wood, Mercker, Grudz, Gonzalez, Wellemeyer, and Goodwin that is.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
ChokingWhen I played recreational soccer growing up, I played for some really bad teams and some really good teams. One of the really good ones was the Slammers. Each season with the Slammers, we would win the county championship and go on to the state tournament. Each year we would get matched up with the champions of the next county over (where the rich kids lived), and each year that would be the Peachtree City Warriors. Its the kind of city where everyone drives golf carts every where they go. Seriously..
So anyway, one year we fell behind 2-0 at halftime of this huge game. My father, our coach, gave a rousing halftime speech, and I'll be darned if we didn't find a way to tie it up 2-2. We played two scoreless overtimes, and it was on to penalty kicks. We score, they miss. We score, they miss. We score. We now need one kick of the next five to go our way for the win. It doesn't happen. They score, we miss, they score, we miss, they score. Sudden death shootout. We miss, they miss. We score, they score. Its 4-4 after seven rounds. Its my turn. I approach the ball, stub my foot into the ground, and roll the ball gently into the keepers hands. Their guy misses, our guy misses, their guy scores, and its Mardi Gras in Peachtree City.
Tonight we had nine people show up for our softball game. Despite being short a fielder, we hang in there and go to the last inning down only five. Everyone else on the team reaches base safely- eight straight- and I come up to bat. I pop out foul to the first baseman on the first pitch. We make two more outs, and go to the bottom half with a two run lead.
The first guy singles off my glove. The next guy walks- the first three-ball count I've allowed all game. The next guy walks. The next guy walks for a run. The next guy walks to tie it. The next guy walks, and its Mardi Gras for Rhor Engineering.
As a card-carrying sabermatrician, I tend not to buy into the whole concept of "clutch" players. Indeed, countless studies have tried and failed to find a clutch/choke effect at the major league level. Maybe the studies are wrong. Or, maybe their aren't clutch/choke players at the major league level. I am pretty certain though, that their are choke players at whatever level I am at and I am pretty certain that I am one of them.
It builds on itself of course. Its fifteen years later and I still think about that soccer game on a regular basis. Every time the other guy draws a two-outer on the river to beat me, I think "I can't believe it happened to me again." Somehow, I suspect there are people who have the confidence to not doubt themselves in those situations.
Its very frustrating. I wasn't exceptionally nervous tonight. Even after walking three or four guys, I still took my time, followed my routine and let the ball go. For whatever reason, they just weren't strikes. Just like everyone else, I sure would like to come through in the clutch. I just don't seem to do it.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, the Cubs are getting shut out by rival Houston. Must be nice to just get whipped instead of giving it away.
Monday, May 24, 2004
Greatest TV Shows EverI was reading some posts over at the new Baseball Primer today when I came across a thread where people were naming their favorite TV shows. I was inspired, so here goes:
Was there a budding math geek in the eighties who didn't love this show? It came on during kids programming on PBS stations, usually buried behind the more popular Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Electric Company. The first half was taken up with little skits- parodies of game shows, music videos, and comedy sketches, all revolving around mathematics. A personal favorite was the recurring "Mathman" animation, in which a Pacman-like character would go through a Pacman-like maze deciding whether to eat the numbers based on whether or not they fit the theme of the day (primes, multiples of 7, etc) while trying to avoid a tornado-looking monster.
The second half of the show was the live-action serialized math drama "Mathnet." Two Mathnet (motto: "To cogitate and solve") detectives, George Frankly and Kate Monday (later replaced by the wildly inferior Pat Tuesday) would investigate math-related cases. Along the way they would offer up some marvelous sight gags and puns, along with oodles of juicy math content. For a time, they even had none other than James Earl Jones as a boss. Truely great stuff.
In addition to the wit and charm Square One had, perhaps the best part was the math. There was material for youngsters- arithmetic and fractions for instance- as well as high school and college level concepts like topology. There was a Mathnet case that was cracked when the detectives realized the numbers that had been left at the scene of the crime formed the Fibonacci sequence. You can imagine the shrieks of delight from this nerd when he saw that.
Of the shows in my top ten, this one achieved by far the highest level of mass market success. For a time, it was going head-to-head with the dreadfully prosaic Home Improvement and losing. Fortunately quality won out for once, although of course by the time it really hit it big the quality wasn't quite the same anymore. I could list dozens of favorite lines, but you've probably seen them all so I'll settle for one. "Is that a Titleist?"
Its my list so stop groaning. I'll admit the writing, acting, costuming, set design, and direction were all incredibly corny. You've got to look beyond that though. Somehow, someway, Saved by the Bell struck a chord with an awful lot of people in my generation. You know who you are. There are an awful lot of us who thought it was good enough that we can recite entire episodes from memory.
Oh, and I suppose I should acknowledge that every single female cast member was flat-out gorgeous. Yes, Kelly Kapowski, but Lisa Turtle, Jessie Spano, and Stacey from the Beach Club as well. I miss them all. Why couldn't any of them go to my school?
Somehow, the Shrek franchise has convinced people that its collection of obvious jokes and stale charicatures constitutes a breakthrough in kids animation that works for adults as well. Animaniacs did all that and then some, and did it with material that was actually inventive and funny. The Pinky and the Brain segments were genius of course, although they were quickly overdone when they got their own show. Lesser segments like Rita & Runt, Mindy & Buttons, and Chicken Boo had their moments too. Really, it was only the dreadful Hip Hippos that slowed things down. All in all, Animaniacs was a worthy successor to the manic wit and adult intelligence that Bugs Bunny first brought to animation back in the day.
I've tried and failed to use this blog to describe my love for this show in the past. It never fails to amaze me that they took a premise that honestly is no better than say Hercules or Xena, and delivered a witty, smart, emotionally moving television show. Its spinoff Angel (see above) might actually have been better on average over their lifespans, but for those first three seasons Buffy hit a homer just about every time out. Like in baseball, I'll take a Dale Murphy boom/bust career over a Tony Perez big long plateau every time though, so Buffy moves up the list.
Its becoming clear to me that the top three spots on this list are too wonderful for me to put into words. Basically, Homicide was a cop show. More than that, for three great seasons it was realer, with less pretensions, than anything else on TV before or since. It never pandered and it never dumbed anything down. Just brilliant, real, drama.
Honorable mention: I'll Fly Away, The Simpsons, Friends, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Super Chicken, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Futurama, The Andy Griffith Show, Fraiser, and I Love Lucy.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
Cubs hold on for rubber game winWith the Cubs holding a slim 4-3 lead, Joe Borowski came in and set down Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen in order to nail down our third consecutive series win over the Cardinals. I watched it all, and thanks to the new Tivo I was able to squeeze in a Simpsons episode and a Malcolm in the Middle episode during the commercials. My life is so much more fulfilling this way.
Dennis' crush keyed a four-run first with a three-run homer, but Morris settled down and held the Cubs offense down the rest of the night. St. Louis got two homers off Clement, but after the first he allowed just one walk and no hits other than the homers so all the Cardinals could get out of them were the lone runs. Now I realize that sentence was a complete mess, but editing it would mean giving in and I am not going to do that. Editing means the sloppy grammar wins!
While trying to spread out my food and dishes enough to make it look like I am getting use out of all the cabinets in my kitchen this afternoon, I had the radio on the Braves game. After the game and the post-game wrapup, they had a post-game talk show with the topic "who are the Braves' rivals?" I was blown away by two things. First, the hosts repeatedly failed to correctly identify the number of NLCS matchups occurred between the Braves and Pirates. They kept saying "several", "all those", and "three or four." You would figure people whose profession is discussing sports in Atlanta might remember two of the most dramatic series in playoff history.
Second, they were discussing their feeling that it was hard to hate the Mets since Art Howe replaced Bobby Valentine. They said that Valentine, like Tommy Lasorda back in the eighties, was easy to work up emotion towards. So far, so good. But then they started listing other managers who are just too nice to dislike. Howe. McKeon. LaRussa.
Excuse me? Tony The Genius LaRussa? Obviously these clowns aren't reading the Northside Lounge. LaRussa is an arrogant pinhead whose legacy in baseball is built on talking George Will into writing a quarter of a book on how friggin brilliant he is. This is of course the same man who yanked Kiko Calero (1.80 ERA) tonight after one batter to bring on Ray King. He then yanked King after one batter to bring on Cal Eldred (5.87 ERA). Three pitching changes and fifteen minutes of our lives in order to get two outs and get a lousy pitcher in the game. Eldred was greeted with a double, whereupon The Genius intentionally walked Michael Barrett (career .264 hitter against righties) to get to Ramon Martinez (career .260 hitter against righties). If there was any justice, Ramon's comebacker would have been just a tiny bit harder and past Eldred's glove, but since we won I suppose just getting to see the Genius in action is reward enough.
Come to think of it, there is one thing better than watching The Genius outthink himself- watching Broadway Jim Edmonds showboat his way to a Ramon Martinez double in the sixth. Someone should collect all his wanna-be Willie Mays drops, his basket catch drops, and his one-handed stab drops on a tape and let the Gold Glove voters see it. Maybe then they'd look past the circus catches and find someone who is more concerned with doing his job than trying to look good.
Edited to add: One last thing I forgot to mention- a minute or two after a Cards homer made it 4-3, ESPN showed a closeup of one of those new lightboards that they put in this year. Al Yellon has been pointing out the generally sub-par the operators have been doing with those boards, and this was no exception as the score optimistically still said 4-2. I guess the new media doesn't scare people into getting their act together just yet. Give us time...
Cubs/CardsI got my Direct TV set up on Friday, and in the first ten minutes of watching its programming I saw the Cards score four runs on us. Great. Despite losing a very winnable game Friday, we bounced back behind a strong performance from Glendon Rusch and have a chance to take the series today. We desperately need to at least hold our own until Sosa, Wood, and Prior are able to return, and a win today would be a big step in the right direction.
Professional halfwit Matt Morris will face Matt Clement tonight on ESPN. He's been very average overall this year, with good control offset by homers flying out at the rate of 2.0 per nine innings and a strikeout rate of just 4.12 per nine innings. Of course, his one strong start of the year was the nine shutout innings he threw at us on May 2. Pujols may not start tonight due to a strained hip flexor. Of course, he's got a career .308 OPS against Matt Clement, so perhaps he's not that great after all.
Oh, and the Yellow Jackets beat Maryland 18-6 to clinch the ACC regular season title and close out the year on a 17 game win streak. Congrats to Tech on a phenomenal comeback after a dreadful start to the year. The ACC Tourney kicks off Friday as the Jackets face the winner of Wake Forest vs Maryland.
Friday, May 21, 2004
Ready or not, here comes the Central
The Cubs and their ever growing list of disabled players embark on a tour of National Central ballclubs over the next three weeks beginning this afternoon at Wrigley. The next 19 games are against division rivals. Things do not get too much easier after that as they will travel to Anaheim to play three games before playing Houston again. Rivals have to feel a mixed bag of frustration and relief to be playing the Cubs right now. Relief because they miss two of the league's best pitchers plus a future HOF right fielder yet frustration because no one can pull away from them.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
MoThe part of Alex Gonzalez 2003 is being played by Moises Alou 2004. Moises hit his second walkoff homer of the year to give the Cubs the 4-3 win. We are at DTV -2 days, so I didn't see it, so my commentary is destined to be even less insightful than usual. I will say that Jose Macias leading off in right field is not something I care to see again. I realize the bench is a little thin right now, but there's just got to be a better answer than that. For instance, I would start Hollandsworth over Macias in a heartbeat. Also, kudos to Corey for homering and drawing a seventh-inning walk to get us to extra innings. I don't know if any of the pitches were close, but no matter how bad Rueter's four pitches were the fact remains Corey took them.
Tomorrow is Greg Maddux against Dustin Hermanson. With Bonds out of the lineup and Maddux looking pretty good lately, its a very winnable game. It would be awfully nice to pick up a win heading into the Cardinals series.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
I love baseballI got in the truck after our softball game tonight feeling kind of down after a 22-7 loss. I turned the radio on and the first thing I hear is "Johnson looks down to the ground and into his glove... the slider SWUNG ON AND MISSED! -crowd roar-." From the crowd, the fact that I knew it was in Atlanta, and the fact that Johnson was still in the game, I guessed no-hitter. Little did I know it was the sixteenth perfect game in baseball history.
One of the many reasons I love baseball is nights like tonight. You go to a random NBA, NFL, or NHL game and you might see a great game. You might see a great individual performance. However, you are never going to see a night that will resonate through the ages like tonight. People will talk about this game one hundred years from now. And to think, our softball team's left fielder gave up tenth row behind home plate tickets to play softball tonight. Oops.
Oh yeah, the CubsPrior, Sosa, and Wood are all out and the Cubs are getting one-hit by San Fran in the eighth. I never said I loved everything about baseball.
The Return of CrzyTrukr!One morning about two years ago my cell phone rang. The caller ID showed a 423 number, an area code I recognized as Tennessee. I answered, and proceeded to have the following conversation with a man with a southern accent:
Finally one day I was at my grandmother's house on Long Island, having just woken up and in line to use the shower, when he called yet again. This was probably the tenth or twelfth time he had called. I decided to get to the bottom of it. I explained to him that I wasn't calling him and asked exactly what happened on his end so as to try to diagnose what was going on.
He told me his name was Charlie, and that he was a truck driver. He bought a reconditioned cell phone at a flea market in Marietta (a suburb of Atlanta), and every now and then it would ring and when he answered I would be on the other end. I told him that I lived in Atlanta, so perhaps the previous owner of the phone had programmed my number in and there was somehow an alarm set to call me in the morning or something. He looked for something like that in the menu, couldn't find it, and eventually we agreed to try to figure out the problem on our own.
This sounds like a simple conversation, but words cannot convey how hysterical it was. It took twenty minutes because he was very uncomfortable with discussing the cell phone technology (I expected to hear the term "new-fangled" come out of his mouth at any moment.) The whole time he was this hysterical mix of very apologetic for bothering me and yet very frustrated and suspicious that I was somehow engineering the entire thing. Put it all in an Appalachian mountain-man grandfather accent, and I could barely breathe from laughing so hard when it was over.
Anyway, after that day I programmed the number into my phone under the name "CrzyTrukr" and gave him his own ring tone (some kind of crazy carnival music). I thus knew who was calling when it would ring, and I just ignored the calls. Eventually they tapered off and it was probably 8-12 months since I last got one.
Flash forward to a couple weeks ago. My employer gave me a work cell phone, and being the cost-conscious person I am I had my personal cell number transferred to the work phone. This has the advantage of being free and the disadvantage of being lousy service. Incidentally, I also had to reprogram all my contacts as they called for the first time. So this morning, the phone rings with a 423 area code. I assume its my Tennessee friend Tony, since I am used to CrzyTrukr calling with his CrzyTrukr name and ring tone. I answer, and the following conversation ensues:
Steal of the Century
Last season center fielder Corey Patterson was struck down by a knee injury and all looked lost in Cubs land. GM Jim Hendry had to make a move, so he talked to the Pirates about Kenny Lofton. Then the amazing thing happened, he landed not only Lofton, but the Pirates 25 year old slugging third basemen in the process. Believe it or not the Pirates gave up on a 25 year old player who just two seasons before hit 34 homers and knocked in 100 runs.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
Gonna sweep those Padres right out of my hairThe Cubs picked up a nice 4-2 win at PetCo this afternoon to extend the win streak to four. Meanwhile, the Mets were down to their final out in Houston before Mike Piazza hit a two-run homer to deny Clemens his eighth straight win. Four innings later Jason Phillips homered and the 3-2 Mets win moved the Cubs into a tie for first in the Central. I realize its too early to be scoreboard watching, but first place is always nice.
Lots of guys deserve gold stars today. Jose Macias continued to prove that we could hit Lenny Harris leadoff and he'd probably break the Mendoza line. He was 3-5 with a solo homer that put us ahead for good, and Cub leadoff hitters are now OPSing .893 to our opponent's leadoff .616. We got 4.1 scoreless, hitless innings of relief today (the Mets got 7.1 scoreless from theirs, cooincidentally). Francis Beltran picked up his first major league win, and I may have written the epitaph on Joe Bo's closer role a bit prematurely as he mowed down three hitters for his seventh save. Actually, Hawkins, the good Doctor, and Joe combined to retire nine straight hitters on twenty-nine pitches (twenty-two strikes). Not bad at all.
Sammy Sosa took the day off due to back spasms from sneezing. Let's hope we remember that quirky reason fondly years from now and that the phrase "back pain" never comes up in relation to Sammy again. We take tomorrow off and meet the Giants Tuesday.
Back in the grooveThe Cubs just wrapped up a 7-5 win in San Diego. Sergio pitched well enough and four Cub homers helped it stand up. Kudos to Dusty for going to our new closer and getting our best pitcher in the game with a key out left to get in the eighth.
Sorry for the brief absence. Cleaning the old apartment and moving the last stuff to the house has been brutal. Further, I am still six days from televised Cubs baseball in my home, and its harder to get inspiration from Gameday than from actually seeing the team play. I've got a couple analysis ideas though, so hopefully I'll get something substantive up soon.
In closing: I watched Antonio Alfonseca hit for himself in the third inning of a two-run game tonight. Wild.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Told you soWilson Alvarez was unhittable, at least by our hitters. Matt was good but not good enough to win with zero runs, and the result was a discouraging 4-0 loss in LA. West Coast venue and no TV means I went to bed early, so go read a box score because I don't know any more than it says there.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Settling inI've spent the last several nights here, I've moved most of my things in, the appliances have arrived, but the new house didn't really feel like home till my internet connection was up and running. The Direct TV installer won't be here for another week and a half though, so I'll be doing without till then. Its a very strange feeling being without television. I'm following the Cubs exclusively through press accounts and boxscores, and right now I am listening to the Braves on the Radio. Skip called Matt Morris "Jack Morris" earlier. Matt wishes.
You have heard that Kerry left last night's game with a stiff tricep. Tests today indicated no tears, but he will miss his next start. We've done a decent job of surviving without Prior. If Wood is out an extended period of time but Prior is back full-strength, we can continue to survive. With a big trade or some unexpected brilliance from a player or two, I think we can still win the division. If Wood and Prior are both out though... let's just hope it doesn't happen.
Last year Wilson Alvarez was 6-2, 2.68 as a starter. For whatever reason, he had to wait on an injury to get a chance at starting again this year. In his first start of the year, he allowed an infield single off Jose Hernandez' glove- and nothing else. No walks, no hits, no nothing. Matt is pitching as well as anyone, but its one heck of a tough matchup. Let's go Cubs.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Keep on movingA sudden typhoon dashed my attempt to move furniture last night, so the moving saga is continuing. I'd really like to get that over with, and also get blinds purchased (the last big item I really need to buy right away). Each morning is an Austin Powersesque scene as I tiptoe around holding a towel in front of me to protect my modesty from the neighbors as I try to get from bed to the shower. Not a pretty sight.
Baseball's hottest teams hail from LA and Orange County respectively, and we'll be tangling with the 20-10 National League version for the next three days. We get Jeff Weaver (1-4, 5.40), Kaz Ishii (5-1, 3.76), and Hideo Nomo (3-3, 6.00). Its bizzare to see the Dodgers prospering with pitching lines like that, but amazingly the offense has indeed been picking up the slack. Shawn Green has bounced back from a wretched '03 with an .875 OPS while Paul LoDuca and Milton Bradley are contributing as well.
Perhaps the most interesting case in the Dodger lineup is Adrian Beltre. The long-time uber prospect is finally tearing the cover off the ball, only about two years after most folks gave up on him. He's hitting .385 with nine homers for a 1.066 OPS. Bizzarely, he's doing it by not being patient. He has walked just twice all year long, and has an OBP just nine points higher than his AVG. (Previous career low difference was 45 points and his career average difference is 56 points). He is seeing 3.5 pitcher per PA, 159th out of 192 qualified hitters. That's not Corey Patterson low (3.2, 187th), but it is a radical departure from last year's 3.8, 72nd out of 165. It will be very interesting to see if he can maintain his gaudy offensive numbers while showing so little patience. It would be nice if the Cubs would stay out of the strike zone with him all series and see how he responds.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Cubs take series with win in 13thThis three game series with the mediocre Rockies left me with the feeling that we underperformed and really blew an opportunity, but its hard to complain about two out of three even against a bad team. Go .667 against the bad teams and .500 against the good ones and you are going to end up in great shape. Of course, if the Rockies had taken advantage of just one more of the oodles of opportunities they had, we would have lost two of three and been three games out and miserable.
I was busy moving and shopping for home stuff today (do you have any idea how much it costs for something to hang over a window?) so I didn't get to watch, but its just as well given all the crazy ups and downs. From reading the game log, the biggest up had to be the homer Aramis hit with two-out in the tenth to keep the game alive. Chacon said he had decided to go right after Aramis. Aramis doesn't strike me as the kind of guy you should challenge by just humming it in there, but what do I know? Anyway. I am imagining a low line drive pulled down the line and into about the third row of the bleachers. Whatever it looked like, it got the job done.
Got to mix the bad with the good, so I'll pick on Joe again. We need him to be better than this- not necessarily to close since LaTroy could certainly handle that, but because without him we're down to Hawkins as a money releiver. I still think Dr. Tightpants will be in that category again by the end of the year, but right this minute its LaTroy or a panic attack for me.
I'll be short and possibly sporadic for another few days here till I get everything into the house and get my DSL moved over. The good news is I'll have Direct Tv up and running soon, and then its the sweet nectar of the Extra Innings package beamed into my home once again. Ahhhhh...
Wasted opportunityWe score only three runs and we lose on a game-winning homer given up to the opposing pitcher. Great. So good Friday, so ugly Saturday.
Friday, May 07, 2004
Cubs deliver acceptable performanceWhen you call up a guy like the Cubs called up Damian Jackson yesterday, it would be nice if he wouldn't go 0-1 in his first game. Other than that, I can't really find much fault in the Cubs 11-0 beatdown of the Rockies. Carlos Zambrano was marvelous, hurling a two-hit shutout and needing only 97 pitches to do it. He put up a gamescore of 88, third highest for any major league starter this year. With Shawn Estes posting a three (you get fifty points for starting the game), I'm willing to bet the 85 difference tops the charts for 2004.
Fun at the law officeIn personal news, I now own a house- on Gracewood Avenue, no less. Nobody who knows me is likely to believe it, but I swear I didn't buy the house for the street name.
I had a rough experience dealing with the contractual and financial issues involved in buying a house over the last month, and it culminated in a bizarre experience at the closing today. About halfway through the paperwork, the closing attorney (selected by the seller) handed me a form that said I could get out of PMI when the balance of the loan was less than 80% of the "original value" of the house, projected to be April of 2010 if I made the regular payments. I questioned this, since I expected to be able to get out of PMI with a favorable appraisal in a year or two. (Bear with me, the story gets better).
The attorney and my buyer's agent- the only two people in the room with me- both told me that the form said I could get out with a future appraisal. I repeated that it said original value and I didn't see how that could mean future appraisal. They continued to insist that it said I could get out with a future appraisal. They began raising their voices, saying things like "I've been doing this for thirty years I know how it works" and "Just sign it!". Finally they were both yelling at me until the attorney stalked out of the room and the agent- my agent- put her hand in my face and shouted "Don't argue, Scott!"
Through all this, I remained quite calm. I fully expected to get screwed in this process, so their behavior didn't surprise or freak me out in the least. Anyway, five or six minutes went by with my agent and I sitting in silence until the attorney returned. He announced that the form in question was referring to when you automatically get out of PMI which is based on the original value, and that you have to apply to get out of PMI, a process which is covered elsewhere in the legal morass. In other words, I was completely right, and these two professionals didn't have a clue what the paper they were screaming at me to sign even said.
I can't figure which part of the whole thing was the most mind-blowing. Was it that a 30-year real estate attorney didn't know what one of his standard forms said? Or that said attorney and a real estate agent were incapable of reading a relatively straightforward sentence in a contract and understanding what it meant, even after a real-estate novice explained it to them? Or perhaps it was the spectacle of my real estate agent, hired by me, representing me, getting paid six thousand dollars thanks to me, shouting at me for calmly and correctly asking why a form didn't say what she claimed it said? Ok, its certainly the last one, but all three are pretty disappointing. I am starting to suspect agents and lawyers are all just incompetent leeches who attach themselves to the productive members of society and endeavor to suck them dry. All except for Steffens & Associates anyway.
Things are happeningI have like ten things I want to write about. I think I'll just get started and see how far I get before I pass out.
Lee busts out, keys 11-3 winLike everyone else, I've watched the exploits of a certain Asian slugger and wondered exactly when our payoff for that deal was going to arrive. I'll take today as a downpayment (theme warning!). Derrek Lee singled in a run in the first, singled in the fourth, hit a three-run jack in the fifth, singled in another one in the sixth, and tossed in a final single in the eighth for good measure. Today alone his OPS jumped from .793 to .884.
Matt Clement wasn't quite as dominant as he had been his last few times out, but he managed seven innings and a quality start. Its amazing how much better three runs in seven innings looks when you put some runs on the board. Todd Wellemeyer got in the game which I like, but I don't really see a great reason to use LaTroy Hawkins as a ROOGY to get Carlos Baerga and then have a seat. Ah well, a win is a win.
Alex Gonzalez on the shelfEither a pitch from Mike Koplove broke Alex's wrist yesterday, or he is going to extreme lengths to prove to umpire Charlie Reliford that he should've been awarded first base. Losing your starting shortstop for six to eight weeks isn't a great thing, but it could be worse. When Alex is hitting well, he's about average- when he isn't, he's a black hole. Scouts and stats agree he plays very good defense, but losing his glove is somewhat mitigated by the fact that our pitching staff allows less balls in play than any other in baseball history.
Ramon Martinez got the start tonight, and he's certainly the most likely choice for the immediate future. Offensively he's actually a slight upgrade- he lacks Gonzalez's power but has posted consistently higher OBP's (career .334 vs Alex's .303). Damian Jackson has been called up, and can provide a little speed and positional flexibility off the bench. All in all, I think we can handle the temporary loss of Gonzalez without a need to mortgage (theme warning!) our future in a trade.
Cubs release ChristensenThe much-maligned Ben Christensen has been released. You read lots of self-righteous people condemning Christensen out there. There's no excusing what he did, but the cacophony of hatred pointed his way has always seemed a bit simplistic to me. All most of us know about this kid is that he threw a baseball at someone one day. We don't know any of the circumstances, we don't know what his intent was, and we don't know any of the good things he might have done in twenty-plus years of life that weren't that day. If the worst thing you ever did had happened to randomly go as badly as it could possibly go, is it possible that it might have been as bad as what happened to Anthony Molina? I think most folks would probably have to say yes. Anyway, we know Christensen did something bad, and we know he'll be paying for it for the rest of his life. And that's a theme warning.
A win for the peopleI have to take my hat off to my blogging colleague for single-handedly galvanizing the internet and spearheading the move to repeal on-base advertising. As you know, Bud Selig tried to paint ads all over the bases, but Dennis caught him and put a stop to it and the rest is history. The Lounge hasn't done this much good for mankind since the Cubs came to Atlanta and I talked them into firing Baylor. I've got no theme tie-in here, so lets move on.
Friends finaleOh quit complaining, you know you watched it. My freshman year of college was the year Friends came on the air, and each Thursday night a group of us would get together to watch. In the second half of its life the writing got kind of lazy- its tough to relate to absurdly dumb Joey or absurdly neurotic Ross for example- but for a few years I think a lot of folks my age felt a real emotional connection to these characters. It didn't hit me like it might have back in the day, but its nice to have Ross and Rachel together I suppose. At least it was no Winnie Cooper married someone else and Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home mess. And speaking of home!
Safe at home?Yeah, yeah, the theme is that in twelve hours I will have a house if nothing goes wrong in the meantime. Now, I am a Cubs fan, so I'd say there is at least a 75% chance something will go wrong and I'll probably A) not get the house and B) somehow still be on the hook for a loan nearly equal to all the money I've ever earned in my entire life put together. Wish me luck, maybe I'll pull off the upset.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
Spiderman ads to be placed on the diamond
I am sure many have heard about MLB's decision to place a 4-by-4 ad for the upcoming Spiderman sequel on the bases later in the summer. This is another one of Selig's brilliant moves to try and promote the game. "This was a unique chance to combine what is a sort of a universally popular character and our broad fan base, including the youth market we're trying to reach out to," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "It doesn't impact the play or performance of the game."
Personally I could come up with about 10 ways without much thought on how to promote the game to the youth of America sans advertisements for popular movies. Owners could not publicly bash their product, not start World Series games at 8:30 in the east, not add extra minutes to those playoff games making them end after midnight, not have opening day start at 5:00 AM in a foreign country, not let owners exploit citizens for ballparks under the fake guise of moving, not have MLB control interest in a team handcuffing their ability to make moves, make the players actually play the games briskly without stepping out of the box for 30 seconds between each pitch, and many more. OK, I can come up with 7 quickly, but I am sure readers could come up with many more.
The most interesting thing about this announcemenr has been the backlash from the political world. Congressmen George networked penned this letter to Commissioner Bud about the plan. Included is one paragraph that should scare MLB: "The U.S. government recognizes the special contribution of baseball to our nation by granting MLB special anti-trust exemptions. This over-the-top commercialization of baseball undermines its value to our nation and potentially questions the need for MLB's special monopoly status." Granted, this is a bluff that has been made before by Congress, but it still is a powerful threat. I believe MLB is the only sport that has this exemption.
In the end this is another hit to the public perception of Bud who is desperately trying to make his legacy. He tried to play the Pete Rose card this winter since the majority of the public wanted him back in the game. It did not work when Rose showed as much honest contrition as the Mansion Family. Years ago, the Cubs and Mets opened up in Japan to little positive or negative reaction, but this season fans went nuts when the Yankees opened overseas. Nothing he has tried has worked. Add to it the fiasco of the All Star tie game years ago and his public perception of a used car salesman - check that he is a used car salesman, and Bud will leave perceived as the worst commissioner ever.
Signs of LifeClearly, I refer to my computer and not the Cub offense. We've scored 32 runs in the last twelve games for an average of 2.67 runs per game, and I can't honestly say I am surprised. It remains a lineup with several players who are simply below average hitters. Those kind of lineups don't score lots of runs without Mr. Bonds in the mix.
We turn to Matt Clement to stop the bleeding. He's held Steve F. Finley to a .661 OPS in 27 career PAs, so maybe he'll be the man to get the job done. Then in two days I can set up a (hopefully) functioning computer in a house I (hopefully) own and post about our (hopefully) on-going win streak.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Stupid Computer, Day TwoLong story. Don't ask.
So anyway, the Cubs lost 6-3. I am deliberately posting before visiting the rest of the CBA this morning, because I suspect I am going to see everyone else talking about the quote I am about to post. I can't plagarize if I haven't seen everyone else's work, right?
"I'm not an exclusive knuckleball pitcher," Sparks said. "They were swinging early and often, and I just stayed with it. ... I probably threw maybe four fastballs and two sliders. I don't know how many pitches I threw (99), but the rest were knuckleballs."Chicago hitters swing like Chicago voters vote: early and often. I would like to see patience from hitters in just about every situation, but if there was ever a time to wait for your pitch its against a knuckleballer. Sadly, Dusty's crew just doesn't see it that way, choosing instead to hack away at everything under the sun. Assuming this never changes (and I see no reason to think it will with the current administration), the Cubs wil never play to their potential. What a waste.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Stupid ComputerI'm having ongoing computer issues at home. As you know, these things tend to snowball, so I went from a computer that crashed intermittentaly to a computer that doesnt do much of anything. Until I get everything squared away (hopefully in a day or two), I am reduced to the occasional mini-post from work. As such, here goes:
Cubs win! That's good. We really, really coulda woulda shoulda swept that series, but a split is a tolerable outcome.
Who on earth selects Jim Rome to conduct a memorial service? I was planning to watch at least part of the Pat Tillman memorial on TV, but when his smary face was staring back at me I just couldn't take it. Its like having Krusty the Clown give your eulogy.
And that's all the time we've got.
Monday, May 03, 2004
April, the month that was
After having the bullpen blow two of the first three games against the hated Cardinals, I decided this would be a good time to glance back at happier times in the Cub Kingdom - all of three days ago. Scott is doing a fine job this season of previewing upcoming series, so I decided I would take a different approach. I am going to recap the month that was for April.
Overall, I would say it was a good month. 4 games over a month equates to about 24 over at the end of the season. I would certainly take that result. The big picture is a bit hazy because the Cubs played some pretty bad teams, but they also played without their best pitcher. If I were the other teams in the Central I would be worried that the Cubs can tread water this successfully because help is most certainly on its way. Plus, with the extra rest, Mr. Prior should have no fatigue issues down the stretch when they will need him most.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
CBA Prediction UpdateHere are the current standings on the prediction contest. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but somehow Dennis is sitting in first place. I am sure its just a sample size fluke. Right now, he is pulling down max points on the Derek Lee OPS question (he said .870) and he is getting 16 points for predicting the Cubs best offensive outburst of the year would come against the Reds. Jason Steffens and Tim Cramm are the closest contenders, but there is obviously a long way to go so its stil anybody's game.
Cards 1, Cubs 0Yep, that's just about as unpleasant as Friday.
I am not going to say much about Farnsworth's tenth inning. Right now its pretty obvious we have lost a top-notch relief pitcher. Let's hope we get him back.
Obviously a great game for Zambrano as the starting pitching continues to look very good. I hate taking the bat out of Lee's hands in the top of the tenth. Aramis leads off with a single, and you've got one of your two best hitters up. You ask him to bunt. He takes for 1-0, and you ask him to bunt again. A star hitter with zero career sac bunts, ahead in the count, and you ask him to give himself up. He takes for 2-0, then fouls one off for 2-1. Another great hitters count, and you have him give himself up once again. He gets it down and puts Aramis at second.
The net result of all that? Alex Gonzalez and Michael Barrett hit with Aramis on second. You take the bat out of the hands of a good hitter with a hitters count and ask two mediocre hitters to drive in the run instead. It just makes no sense.
The loss puts the pressure on for tomorrow, as I am sure nobody wants to leave St. Louis losers of three of four.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Clement shuts down CardinalsMatt Clement threw eight strong innings to lead the Cubs to a 4-2 win in St. Louis tonight. I didn't get the game on TV tonight, but looking at the boxscore I have no trouble imagining Clement cruising through the Cardinal lineup. Thanks to three double-plays, he faced just four over the minimum in his eight innings and threw just 103 pitches. Remember, most of us saw this guy as a fifth starter coming into this year. Right now, his ERA is under 2 and he is the stopper. JoeBo provided a bit of a contrast, allowing a walk, two hits, a run, and needing 27 pitches to get out of the ninth. He remains a question mark, but for tonight all's well that ends well.
The Cubs got all the runs they would need in the fourth off the bat of Aramis Ramirez. After Sosa drew a one-out walk, Moises Alou hit a first pitch single and Aramis hit a first pitch homer. I'm still prefer to see us working counts, but there's a place for jumping on an early good pitch too.
I hate to pick on anybody in a nice win like this, but Michael Barrett got picked off second and thrown out stealing third. Again, I didn't see it, so maybe there's a good explanation. Also, I am not at all happy seeing Jose Macias as our #1 pinch-hitter. He's Lenny Harris 2.0, so I guess that means I should just shut up and be grateful he hasn't pushed Aramis to the bench.
Z vs Morris tomorrow. I think we all probably want that game more than any other in this series.