The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Damaged GoodsThe Cubs swapped LaTroy Hawkins for David Aardsma and Jerome Williams on Saturday. I've written extensively about Hawkins before. He was an excellent reliever last year who happened to have some hits drop between fielders at inopportune times. His peripherals slipped some this year, particularly in the last couple weeks (i.e. after the abuse from the fans really ratcheted up, not that I can show their behavior was responsible.) He leaves with a 2.76 ERA as a Cub (3.32 this year.)
Even if I'm right and short-sighted management and fans did push Hawkins out the door early, all is not necessarily lost. Jim Hendry managed to pick up two young arms while getting Hawkins' salary off the books. Let's take a look at their numbers and try to see if we might have gotten a nice baby or two in return for the one that went out with the bathwater.
Aardsma was a college closer. Historically top major league releivers have generally come from a background of starting, but in recent years there have been more examples of releivers developing as relievers and still finding success. Aardsma's control left him last year, as he posted abnormally high BB rates both with the Giants and in AAA. He seems to have reigned that in while working in the rotation in AA this year, but reports are that his mechanics and velocity have taken a turn for the worse.
Jerome Williams was a first round pick and pitched well at every level of the minor leagues. He had a strong rookie year at age 21, but after a solid first two months of his sophmore season things took a turn for the worse. All his peripherals went south in June leading up to an elbow scope in July. He returned to make one good start in a key pennant-race game in September, and kicked things off this year with a strong start against the Padres. Felipe Alou used an off day to skip Williams' next start, used him in one shaky relief outing, and returned him to the rotation where he was shelled in two starts. The Giants elected to send him down, a move he wasn't happy with. After a few poor outings, Williams picked things up showing improved mechanics and velocity before the trade.
So we have three pitchers. Each has shown good reason to think they can be above average major league pitchers. Each has also shown reason at least to some to think they may be ready to flame out and disappear. I think Hawkins is the most likely of the three to be a major league contributor, but he comes with a larger price tag and as a reliever his upside is limited compared to Williams'. On paper I think this deal is at least a draw, with the Cubs receiving more talent and winning the deal if Williams proves to be healthy. Considering the corner Hendry was backed into concerning Hawkins status with management and the fans, I am surprised he was able to get this much in return. Its a shame the fans forced Hawkins out the door, but if he had to go its nice to get this much in return. Considering the Sosa deal, getting value for players the fans have buried seems to be a skill of Hendry's. With the way the Mariotti's and sports talk callers like to bury Cubs players, its a skill that Cubs GMs seem to need.
And now I am going to concentrate on listening to Ronnie drool over former Who's the Boss star "Alyssa Romano". Good times.
Monday, May 30, 2005
Chicago RoundupLike a latter-day Ferris Bueller, I ditched work and took my native-Chicagoan father to Wrigley and points beyond this weekend. Here are the highlights, sans subjects to save you time and because the predicate-only approach gives that you-are-there grittiness. You know you love it.
ThursdayAwoke at 4:30 a.m. to catch the first AirTran flight of the day to Chicago. Landed, picked up the rental car, and motored over to River Forest where we visited the apartment Dad lived in from birth to age 14, had an ice cream cone at his old neighborhood hangout, saw Ernest Hemingway's birth home and about a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright houses, walked through his old elementary school and junior high, and finally had lunch at Russell's BBQ. (I see the absurdity in leaving Georgia and heading to Illinois to have barbeque, but this was a trip for Dad so I didn't say anything.)
Drove towards Wrigleyville, passed my grandfather's high school, and parked almost a mile from the park because I didn't realize we could've gotten closer. Walked down Addison to the stadium, arriving just in time to get our tickets from Al Yellon through the gate and make it to our seats for the national anthem. Sat through an entirely mediocre performance from our Cubs against one of the weakest teams in baseball. Cast two all-star ballots for Neifi in honor of the two good things he did during the game. Did get my fifth in-person meeting with a Cubs blogger, as Byron of The Cubdom happened to be visiting Al's corner of the bleacher's as well.
Left the park and zipped over to our ritzy downtown hotel, the Palmer House (thank you, Priceline!) All I could think was that I was staying in a hotel named after the president. Changed clothes, hit the Art Institute for a couple hours, then proceeded onto Symphony Center for Bruckner's 9th from seats behind the orchestra. (Dad's a bit of a musician himself and has a special affinity for the CSO.) Capped off a full day with dinner at an outside table in a cafe on Michigan Avenue, marred by two different bums entering the cafe area to interrupt people's dinner's with requests for money as well as listening to the guy at the next table berate his girlfriend on the cell phone. Other than the loss and the dinner, a great day.
FridayWoke at 6:30 and drove to New Trier High School. I've spent my whole life trying to supress the urge to vomit each of the countless times I've heard Dad brag about his wonderful high school, but its his trip so I had set up a tour with their alumni office. (Yes, the high school has an alumni office with a full-time staff.) Saw the famous meeting clock, the home room where Dad through paper airplanes out the window at the girls' home room across the courtyard, and the room where the AP newswire teletype told Dad's class Kennedy had been shot. Left the car at the north end of the El (Linden Station) and took the train down to Wrigley.
Did some shopping at the best Cubs merchandise store I know (and sponsor of the CBA Prediction Contest), had lunch at a Wrigleyville bar/restaurant, and proceeded to meet Al and the gang in the bleachers. Saw good Cubs pitching, superb Cubs hitting, solid Cubs defense, and a thoroughly entertaining Cubs win, all except for the part where Mark Prior broke his arm. Sigh.
Took the El back to the car and drove on to the school at which my parents met. Walked around campus and saw Dad's dorm, Mom's dorm, various classroom and administration buildings, places where Dad aided, abetted, or participated in various misdemeanors, and the school's share of the Lake Michigan beach. Ate dinner at the campus pub, interrupted by running outside to see the sharpest, brightest, largest, most colorful rainbow I had ever seen. (The picture doesn't do it justice. For one thing it was a double, for another the picture gives no sense of the scale as it spanned the sky, and finally you don't get the atmosphere of people leaving their dinner tables to run out in the street and gawk.) Drove back to the hotel, stopping at a Home Depot to pick up a plant as a gift for the next morning. Blogged briefly, checked the soccer weather for Saturday, and went to sleep.
SaturdayWoke at 7, packed, and drove out to Wilmette to meet my dad's mother for the first time. It was a bit strange, but she was friendly and bought us a very tasty breakfast which always helps break the ice. (I had some sort of apple pancake topped with ice cream. I like just about anyone who buys me something topped with ice cream.) Saw her neighborhood and house, bid our adieus, and headed back in town.
Parked the car in a tiny garage a mile from Soldier Field and walked to the stadium. Made it with ten minutes to spare before game time. Took spots in the middle of the Sam's Army section before spotting people I knew and moving down to the front with them. Saw us commit a stupid foul and saw England bury the free kick to put us down 1-0 almost immediately. Saw us give up another goal to a glaringly open English striker right before the half to go down 2-0. Saw Landon Donovan beat the keeper but hit the post with a gorgeous free kick, and then miss an empty 70% of the net when he got 1 on 1 with said keeper later. Saw us get one back on a second-half scramble at the other end, and seem to create the majority of the chances the rest of the way while failing to put enough shots on goal to get the equalizer. Left the game, endured condescending comments from England fans on the street, made it back to the airport, endured condescending comments from English fans in the airport, vowed to root for Argentina next time, boarded the plane and flew home.
If you allow for the fact that the three games I saw were a loss, the breaking of Mark Prior's arm, and another loss, it was one fantastic trip. My career undefeated record at Wrigley Field has now dropped to 5-1, but as one of Al's pals pointed out that's still better than any of their records. It irked me losing to those patronizing English snobs, but I am convinced we can beat them, and next time we play them in a game that matters I think we will. Its funny- we lost in Mexico, to a country with far more reason to want to beat the US and with far more soccer pride having been lost at our hands in recent memory, and everyone I talked to afterwards was cordial and (within reason) elected not to rub it in. Lose a friendly (exhibition) to England and you're hearing about it in the most condescending manner imaginable from every one of their portly middle-aged wannabe hooligans. Ah well, still a great trip.
Back tomorrow with my thoughts on the recent hot streak and the LaTroy Hawkins trade.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
I killed Mark PriorAnd we lost to the Rockies, and I lost my validated parking pass the hotel already charged me $25 for so I now have to buy a $30 version tomorrow, and I can't figure out how to upload the pic I took of Byron, Al, and myself in the bleachers, and I have no idea how I am going to get from the hotel to my grandmother's to Soldier Field to the airport all in ten hours tomorrow. Other than that, its been a great trip! Back with more as soon as I get home.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Six in a row
What does the headline represent? It is not the number of Cub wins in a row - although playing the Astros and the Rockies could easily get the Cubs to that mark. It is not the number of days I have hit the treadmill - that number is more like zero. It is not even the consecutive ABs in which Patterson has swung at a ball over his head. Six in a row represents the number of batters Dempster has retired thus far in the Astros series.
The end of 24
24 concluded its 4th season Monday night. I would have to say it was the best season thus far. The story was tight, the action was good and the suspense was off the charts. There were a few odd things as always (like why did Tony and Jack have a locker room meeting at the end of the episode when they were both at CTU on a provisional basis. Did they just keep their lockers from previous seasons?), but overall it was a very good season. I thought the ending was good (I will not spoil) although I was surprised they ended the terrorist plot so soon in the last episode. The world was spared destruction with 30 minutes left in the season. I was wondering if the last half hour would be Jack in the bathroom - after all he had not been in 24 hours.
Presented without comment
I'm glad she's taking all his moneyI don't follow NASCAR, but I knew when I saw him doing Pepsi commercials he couldn't be trusted. He told an interviewer Sunday that he was worried about singing Tuesday because he didn't know the words. Well he had 48 hours! And there aren't that many words!
Oh, and we won our third in a row on a night when we sent out Sergio Mitre, Clemens started and dominated, and we trailed by two in the eighth. Color me surprised, in a good way. I'd write more, but I stayed up to watch my Spurs roll through the Most Valuable No-Defense Player and his Phoenix teammates so I need to get to bed. Greg Maddux goes for the sweep against Brandon Backe tomorrow, and I pack for my Chicago jaunt. If Maddux can win, my automatic two wins Thursday and Friday will put us on a six-game win streak. Lets do it.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
A Grave MistakeSometimes I have to really scratch my head to come up with a headline, but sometimes the mediocre pun just leaps out at me. Reds reliever Danny Graves was designated for assignment yesterday, meaning the Reds have ten days to trade him or allow him to become a free agent. Graves' 7.36 ERA is presumably the underlying reason for the DFA, but the last straw was when he flipped off a fan while leaving the field after giving up five in the ninth Sunday. With the Cubs' bullpen struggles well documented, its not surprising that both the Trib and Sun-Times have the Cubs showing interest. Is Danny Graves a part of the solution to the our relief woes?
I've chosen to look at HR, BB, and K as a percentage of total batters faced, as well as groundball/flyball ratio, ERA, and DERA. I normally wouldn't bother looking seven years into the past for ideas about how a pitcher is likely to perform this year, but I think here its worthwhile to see what sort of pitcher Graves was before and after his one-year stint as a starter in 2003. Through 2002, Graves had settled into a groove as a decent albeit unspectacular releiver. His strikeout rates were always low, but he compensated by keeping the ball in the park. In 2002 the Red Sox asked Derek Lowe to start, and when the Reds saw Lowe's sucess they followed suit with Graves in 2003.
As a starter, things went south for Graves in a hurry. His G/F ratio went from a steady 2.0 to the low 1's. With everything being hit in the air, his homer rate doubled. What's worse, his already low strikeout rate cratered to 8.2% (a dreadful 3.2 K/9 IP). His ERA shot up to 5.33, the experiment was deemed a failure, and Graves returned to the bullpen where he lived happily ever after.
Or not. In 2004 Graves strikeout rate recovered and his control actually improved a bit, but his G/F and homer rate remained at their new ugly levels. His ERA was a decent 3.95, but a DERA of 4.77 indicates that the improvement was largely superficial.
So far this year, things have only gotten worse. Graves' K-rate has fallen back to the low of 2003. His walk rate is up, and his homer rate and G/F have stayed high. ERA and DERA agree, this is a bad pitcher. The Cincy newspaper says Graves' velocity has fallen from 93 to 87 since entering the starting rotation with no recovery since returning to the pen. A loss of velocity could indicate a nagging injury, but considering the evidence of Graves' performance the last three years its enough to say he is no longer a good pitcher without needing to speculate as to the cause.
Trading anything of value to the Reds for the right to pay Danny Graves' salary would be a mistake. There is no reason to think bringing Graves on board would do anything but exacerbate our bullpen's flamability. I wouldn't be opposed to giving him a shot at Iowa to see if he could get it back, but I suspect he'll catch on somewhere in the majors so AAA won't be an option. Its just as well, because Graves wasn't that good at his peak and is far worse now.
Or, as Dennis succinctly put it in the comments, "vomit."
Sunday, May 22, 2005
So what's up with Scott?Today I am posting a bunch of random stuff that's been on my mind and/or going on with me lately. Wait, wait, don't leave! I don't have a choice! I mean, this wouldn't a blog if I didn't write self-indulgent garbage that's irrelevant to anyone but me. So here's what I'll do to keep it interesting- somewhere in the post I'm going to talk about the Cubs... but I won't tell you when! You'll just have to read through every excruciating detail of my mind to get there. Its Being Scott Lange and it starts now:
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Wuertz for closer!Sorry, I know that's not funny. I just don't know what else to say after the pen not only failed to close the door, but made sure the door was shut again behind the White Sox after they walked through it. The Cubs comeback thus fell short, and its another day, another loss, another game further behind St. Louis.
Tomorrow is another day, and it will see Mark Prior face Orlando Hernandez. The El Duque Experience finally hit a bump in the road his last start. Until Monday night against the Rangers, Hernandez had been walking a ton and not striking out many at all, but keeping the ball in the park and getting key outs. Then Texas visited the Cell and by the time he was lifted in the third, Hernandez had seen his ERA jump a full point to 3.91.
As lousy as things have gone so far, and as little faith as I have in Baker's (and increasingly Hendry's) ability to find some solutions, its still too early to throw in the towel. BP's estimator says we are around 11% to make the playoffs, so teams have certainly dug themselves out from bigger, darker, uglier holes than this. No better time to start the comeback than tomorrow.
But hey, if we do lose it should bring down the market price for my tickets Thursday and Friday.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Sox 5, Cubs 1The opening round goes to the Southside. I got home in time to catch the last three innings, which featured a few faint stabs at a rally but when you call on Enrique Wilson as your top bat off the bench, you pretty much deserve what you get. Greg Maddux had his usual "keep us in the game" performance, allowing a walk and a solo homer but striking out only one Southsider. His strikeout rate has slipped some this year, and losing K's leads to hits which leads to runs. He's still serviceable, but we're going to have to get him some runs most times out.
Tomorrow a hopefully healthy Carlos Zambrano faces the senior Senor, Jose Contreras. I heard straight from Ronnie's mouth that he likes our chances, so take it to Vegas: Cubs win tomorrow.
Back from the deadThe Cubs have sprung to life with two ninth-inning wins over the Pirates this week, and my Northside Lounge career is likewise springing back to life. I've decided to leave The Cub Reporter in the capable hands of Christian and his posse and resume full-time blathering here at the good old Northside Lounge. They run the best ship in the fleet, but it was hard for me to motivate myself working for someone else's baby so I'm coming home. Please, send cash rather than boxed gifts. Unwrapping is so much hassle.
So what have I missed? The dawning of the Enrique Wilson era, for one. I'm going to assume its Dusty calling this particular shot, largely because I don't want to think Hendry feels like he needs a guy whose OPS this millenium has ranged from a high of .639 to a low of .519. I also missed the opportunity to talk about Big Z's injury the other day. I don't believe you can be certain about drawing causation between his 136 pitch outing and the injury in his next start, but I'm at the point where I'll take any evidence I can get that helps draw the Dusty era to a close.
On deck for the Cubs, a visit from the Pale Hose. I often find Frank Deford overblown, but he had a point the other day. Nice nickname notwithstanding, they are still the obnoxious faux proletariat whiners from the other side of town and it would be awfully nice to knock them off their pedestal. This series marked the beginning of the end for the Cubs hopes a few years back and it would be lovely to return the favor. The Old Man with the C on his cap goes for the home team and its Freddy Garcia for the Sox.
There are about a million odds and ends I want to talk about, but I'm going to save them for a bullet point post over the weekend. One piece of personal news: I'm taking my father to Chicago next weekend as a combo Father's Day/birthday present. He grew up in Chicago but has only rarely gotten to go back and we've never ben together, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the sites. Plus, I've never gotten to make fun of his wildly overrated alma mater while actually standing in front of it, so that's something. We'll be at the Cubs/Rockies games Thursday and Friday and then the US/UK friendly at Solider Field on Saturday. Hopefully the Cubs roll will continue through the White Sox and right on into our visit.
Lets go Cubs!
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Cubs get back on track
It is hard to describe May games as must win, but with the Cardinals not losing much and the Cubs far under .500 games are becoming important quickly. With that in mind Greg Maddux came out and pitched one of his best games since returning to the Cubs. He struck out 10 batters and combined with the bullpen to shut down the Mets. The offense sparked to life with the long ball and posted the victory 7-0. They go for the series win this afternoon (and homstand split) with Mr. Prior on the mound against the Mets version of Zambrano. He is the one with more hair and less pitching ability.
The Amazing Race Finale
The Amazing Race concluded its seventh season last evening. Amber and Rob of Survivor fame looked like they were going to win easily before the eventual winners Uchenna and Joyce were let onto a plane with them and beat them down the stretch. I enjoyed this season a lot more than the others because of Rob and Amber. No one wanted the famous couple to win, but they schemed and played their way to the top. Just some great moments along the way. I am a fan of both Survivor and The Amazing Race, but this season proved why Race is a better show (in my opinion).
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Oh the humanity
Another comeback effort, another tying homer, another soul crushing - bullpen depleating defeat yesterday to the Mets. Barrett tried his best to play the hero last evening smacking a three run homer to tie the game only to have LaTroy serve up a LaDinger to former teammate Doug M(too lazy to look up how to spell his name). LaTroy has taken the L in his last three performances. The Cubs have now dropped 8 of their last 9.
Friday, May 06, 2005
Thursday, May 05, 2005
I will share a little secret with the readers, or reader (Hi Dad), of The Northside Lounge. I am not really enjoying this season or this team at this moment. If I had to describe them in one word it would be vanilla. They just don't seem to care about much. Due to injuries and management decisions, they are playing 2-3 people per night who would be better served to come off the bench, the bullpen is awful and only one or two players a night try to hit.
Reasonably, the Cubs should have 5-6 more wins. Of course they do not have those wins. I am worried this will become sort of a season long epidemic. I am also worried that they will miss the playoffs by two games leaving fans with another winter of nothing but sad thoughts of another lost season.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Roids: All the RageAt first, it was just the youngsters fooling around with them. Then they got Alex Sanchez, but he was just a Devil Ray. Now they've nailed Juan Rincon, an actual major league baseball player.
I'm going to make a prediction: this isn't going to end without one or more Cubs being caught up in it. Trading the guy who hit all the homers doesn't mean we get a free pass, whether or not Rick Reilly's gutless implications were close to the mark. One of these days I'm going to fire up my web browser and read that Michael Barrett, or Derrek Lee, or Mike Remlinger, or some other Cub has tested positive and been suspended.
And then what? Will I still cheer for the Cubs? Sure. Will I still root for the player(s) in question? Probably. I suppose I'll be angry and feel a bit betrayed, but chances are I'll be willing to forgive and forget. I think its best that I think about this now though, rather than waiting until I am taken by surprise some afternoon down the road. I'd like to start the healing process by building up a thicker skin now.
You know you want toClick here to find out how and why. Just do it. It will feel so good...
Sunday, May 01, 2005
CBA Prediction Contest UpdateI've got the standings through the end of April for you. Ken Kocanda of Die-Hard Cubs Fun leads the contest with a whopping 108 points, despite not picking Derrek Lee to lead anything. He's getting his points from accurate predictions on wins and pitching categories. Jeff Biddle leads all readers with 105 points, getting a lot of points from wins and runs allowed.
I also have prize announcements. First, the good folks at Wrigleyville Sports have agreed to sponsor the 2005 Contest! You may have been inside their store at 959 W. Addison, right across the street from Wrigley Field. I've purchased three jerseys from their website over the years and always gotten top-notch service. Now I am not claiming that the money I spent on my Hee Seop Choi jersey in 2003 was a wise investment, but I can't blame that on Wrigleyville Sports. At any rate, here are the two prize packages:
The Wrigleyville Sports Package$100 in gift cards for Wrigleyville Sports
The Ron Santo Package
The highest score among all bloggers will win one package and the highest score among readers will win the other. The highest overall score will get to choose which package they receive. Without further ado, the standings: