The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Great seats, bad outcome

As opposed to an ugly win the Cubs decided to try and play a little catch up this afternoon and wound up 2 runs short. The offense, which was touted for turning the small ball corner on Monday, scored 6 runs on three 2-run homers today. The first was by Ramy (or Rammy depending on which newspaper you see) in the first. It was a towering, majestic bomb to stake the Cubs to an early lead.

The other two homers happened after the Cubs were down 5 runs. Lee and Mabry's homers got the boys to within one run, but a run in the 8th by the Reds and solid relief pitching down the stretch held the Cubs to their 6 runs.

As mentioned in the headline, I had great seats for this one. I was in the first row right in front of the camera well to the right of the Cubs dugout. Coupled with the wonderful weather it made for a great day at the park - minus the outcome. I was basically 10 feet from Baker the entire game. One would think people would relish the chance to sit here, but don't tell that to the guy reading War and Peace two seats down. The stadium today was about 25-30% blue. I imagine that distribution will near 50/50 when they come back in June.

The story of this game was the inability of starter Rusch to find the plate coupled with the inability of his first replacement Williams to find the plate. Rusch does not really have an out pitch as evidenced by the two strike hits to Freel and Aurilla in the first. Lacking this, his control has to be spotless for him to compete. After giving up a bomb on an 2 strike pitch to Red hurler Arroyo in the third he never found the plate again constantly going to 2-0 and 3-1 on most hitters.

Williams - minus the shells around his neck - had a chance to really come in and show Dusty he deserved a spot in the rotation. He "responded" by going only one inning while walking three and serving up Griffey's 537th career HR. I suppose fans are starting to realize why a pitcher who never got to AAA last year made the rotation out of spring training. I think Walter Johnson could have made the team.

After Williams had his horrible inning the score was 7-2 Reds and the Cubs started looking like the Cubs circa 2005. They were swinging at first pitches and trying to hit 5 run homers. I have checked the rules and this is hard to accomplish. For the game they drew a grand total of 0 walks. Yesterday was supposed to be the new Cubs and today was back to the same. I hope the truth lies close to the team that will frequently work the count.

One of the stranger things happened when Walker was double-switched out of the game in the 8th. He left the field only after stopping and talking to Aramis for a moment and gesturing to the scoreboard in a "why the hell are I leaving" pose. He then had a long conversation with the Reds third base coach while shrugging his shoulders numerous times. He finally left the field shooting occasional glances at Baker to see if he was watching him talk to the Reds. Now, this might all have been about candlesticks and live chickens, but the body language was not promising for only the second game of the season.

Before the game I was scared when I saw Aramis leave batting practice early. He walked off the field with the trainer. The trainer and him then talked to Baker together before the game and he ultimately played. I thought he looked a little gimpy on opening day after failing to beat out a play at first on a ball he lined off the pitcher. I have read nothing about him being sore or stiff so hopefully this is just normal stuff possibly lingering from the cold weather on Monday.

Finally, I will relate a funny moment from the game today. The first fly ball to Dunn in left field was easily caught. After he caught it Griffey shoved both hands into the air in a victory pose and the crowd gave mock applause. Dunn played right along throwing the ball into the infield and waving to the crowd. Doesn't look like his butcher performance on opening day has gone to his head.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ugly wins are better than pretty losses

Last season it seemed the mantra of the Cubs was "I have to tip my hat to the guy". They would put forward a good effort or maybe a spunky comeback and lose by one in the end. They would congratulate themselves on the effort and move on. I don't imagine anyone is 100% happy with the game yesterday, but would take the result 90 more times.

It was an incredibly ugly game where hardly any pitcher could find the strikezone. Errors and bad plays popped up all over the place. The Cubs had to use 6 pitchers in a 9 run victory including one who now has an undefined ERA. Their starter was staked to a 5-0 lead and not only did he blow it, he did not even pitch long enough to get the win.

But, all that said, I am always pleased to see a victory in the end especially one where the Cubs pitching did not show up until the end. I thought the game was going to follow '05 mode where the offense gets some early runs and packs it in for the remainder of the game. A seven run 6th inning ended that thought in a hurry.

That 6th inning was a real head scratcher as well. Barrett walked to lead off the inning and was moved to second when Dusty played hit and run with Murton who placed one off a Red defender's glove. Cedano finally got a bunt down with 2 strikes and beat out the surprised defense's throw to load the bases. If you are keeping count that is bases loaded without a ball out of the infield.

Pagan had a good AB and lifted a fly ball to left that Dunn charged but could not reach due to the piano on his back. Pierre smacked one off the pitcher's glove and was too fast to make a play on to knock in another run (still not a hard bit ball out of the infield). Walker finally hit a clean single getting in two more. Lee followed with a wind and Dunn aided double to get in two more. Ramirez was walked to set up the DP with the Reds down 5 (this is the beginning of a theme). Super Neifi followed with a single meaning the first nine batters reached. The Cubs would get one more and all told they scored 7 runs and maybe had two clean hits - not too shabby.

Off course Williamson could not find the strike zone with a flashlight and a GPS so he quickly loaded the bases in the bottom half making it the most uncomfortable 7 run lead in the history of baseball. Eyre did a good job of getting out of the jam although Griffey came within 2 feet of hitting a slam. The rest of the game was pretty ho-hum and the Cubs would up winning 16-7 getting the extra two point conversion meaning Carson needed two scores for the comeback.

Below are some more thoughts on the opener:

  • Whatever weather person said it would be low 50s was full of it. It was cold yesterday and I mean cold. I have no clue why only Howry and Dempster wore sleeves on the mound. At least the rain never came.
  • If you ever come to the GABP in April or September try to sit on the third base side. The structure is so the wind whips around you when you are on the first base side and makes it feel 20 degrees colder - think of how it is sitting under the grandstand at Wrigley. Once the fans started leaving I moved to the other side of the stadium for the remainder of the game.
  • Whether one agrees with the man politics it was pretty cool to be there with the President throwing out the first pitch. The extra security outside the ballpark was not even that much of a hassle. I do love having the opportunity to see opening day and all the pageantry - including the Reds manager getting the traditional fruit basket. I have no idea why this happens, but hey who can't get behind fruit.
  • Murton had an absolutely great AB in the first before smacking his three run homer. I generally think Tim McCarver is a blow hard, but he does constantly say one thing that I think makes sense. When a pitcher will constantly step off the rubber or throw to first base deep in an AB he will claim the pitcher is somehow worried - subconsciously or not - about the batter and "scared" to make a pitch. Well Harang was really slowing down when he could not put Murton away and finally gave up the long fly.
  • Murton followed up the great hitting performance with a wall climbing catch of Kearns in the bottom of the first. Off the bat, I was certain this ball was a game tying grand slam, but the wind was almost a cross wind straight out to the right center field gap and maybe it slowed it down just enough. The Cubs OF flashed some leather later as Pierre made a nice catch in the second.
  • The Reds have a nice way to check the wind in the stadium. Instead of the boring traditional way of looking at the flags just check out the hair of the new dance team. Why a major league team needs a dance team I have no clue, but they seemed to be having fun in short shorts, 40 degree weather and a 20 mph wind.
  • The Reds have new ownership this season and have publicly claimed they will build a winner. After game 1 I think the revenue raising scheme is too cut stadium maintenance staff. There was trash all over the place and not picked up during the game. In addition, the trash cans in the restrooms were not emptied during the game leading to a corner of paper towels and beer bottles. Of the 7 stalls along the wall, three were overflowed leading to a nice mess of liquid on the floor. I am scared my dog will feel the need to cover the scent in my closet.
  • What I am sure is a point of emphasis after last season's playoffs, I saw the umpire give very clearly the point for you swung and then an enthusiastic safe sign when Carlos whiffed on a ball that touched the ground. He was only called out after tagged.
  • For those who care, Griffey is number 3 this season in honor of his three kids.
  • The top of the ninth just seemed odd to me. Cubs led by 5 and got a lead off single. Pierre bunted (possibly for a hit) and reached base. Hairston came up looking to sacrifice with the five run lead and also reached base. I guess the Cubs were serious about playing small ball. After a Lee sacrifice fly the Reds walked Aramis to load the bases and set up a double play. They have to make sure the lead does not go beyond 6.
  • In the ninth after Dempster gave up a two out single a Cubs fan yelled "Hey Dusty, better get the left hander up so you can double switch". By the way if you took the over at five innings for the first double switch of the season, you lose. He pulled it off at 4 2/3 innings.

By the end of the game the stadium full of "passionate" and "great" baseball fans was only 10% full and half of the ones left were wearing blue. All of us were standing as Neifi flipped the ball to Hairston to wrap up win number 1 of the season. Remember, you cannot win them all if you don't win the first one. We will see what happens on Wednesday. I will be right behind the Cubs dugout and will post a full report.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

On deck: 2006 season

Well, I suppose for better or worse a new season of Cubs baseball is due to begin tomorrow. Included in the dignitaries in attendance for this event will be me and the leader of the free world. I will be 15 rows from the field and he will throw out the first pitch - I like my spot better. Actually, I am wondering if the game will even be played tomorrow. Rain is supposed to come into the Cincinnati area this evening and hang around with a 50% chance of rain at 2PM Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday look good though, so both games should get in before they head to Wrigley.

A slew of projections and predictions have been written about the season with most of them landing the Cubs about plus or minus 4 games from .500. One of the more comprehensive reviews was written by our very own Scott Lange over at the Primer website . I highly recommend it.

I can not decide where this team will land. My overly optimistic Cub side thinks the team can really surprise. They will have a very strong offensive infield, an improved bullpen and (hopefully) good starting pitching from the middle of April on. Of course, our big off season acquisition and new leadoff hitter struggled this spring after having a down season in '05 and our pitchers are made of paper mache. I guess my head using recent history as a guide thinks that this is probably a .500 team unless they catch some breaks and most projections are right. Lets hope we all are wrong.

Cincinnati newspapers had a pull out section today on opening day featuring articles about their players, managers, etc. Pretty standard stuff, but one of the sections caught my attention. They interviewed manager Jerry Narron for his thoughts on some of the common baseball strategies including lineup selection. This guy is a convert to sabermetrics! He mentioned OBP's importance for the first two hitters, his dislike of bunting since teams only have 27 outs, and, get this, he said that stealing and the hit and run along with batting average were the most overrated things in baseball. To back up this claim, he even cited that stealers have to be successful 72% of the time to have a positive impact on the bottom line. I was shocked and amazed by a "baseball guy" spewing some of the more modern thinking. I wonder if he feels African Americans play better in the sun.

I will be back tomorrow night or Tuesday morning with a report from opening day. With the Cubs being a popular opener for Cincinnati in recent memory, this is the 3rd time in 5 years I will see game one. They are 1-1 in the previous 2. Again, if any readers are coming into the city and would like to meet up prior to the game, drop me an email.

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