The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
 

The Cubs get swept and I don't care

Do I have to tell you what this guys wallet says on it?Well, I do care, but to some extent its out of sight, out of mind for me. I'm spending the week in Nashville, Tennessee, where I attended last night's US/Morocco game. The US team's performance was beyond frustrating. They dominated posession through most of the game, turning up the pressure in the final minutes to create a series of golden opportunities. Sadly none of the US players showed an instinct for the final touch into the back of the net, and as the game reached ninety minutes Morocco counterattacked, the normally reliable Steve Cherundolo fell asleep, and suddenly defeat had been snatched from the jaws of a tie.

There was good news. I enjoyed taking a friend from college to his first soccer game. I enjoyed singing "Rock the Casbah" in the supporters section. I sort of enjoyed running into some friendly Moroccans drinking Heineken at Rippa's Barbeque on Broadway. I really enjoyed quieting their bragging with an innocent "Good luck in the World Cup!" (they didn't qualify.)

I also enjoyed running into the most badass soccer player in American history outside a Nashville bar at 1am. I was sitting on the porch with some friends, when I swear I saw Oguchi Onyewu walk down the street. One of the people with me shouted "Gooch!" and he seemed to react, but we weren't certain it was him. Thirty minutes later he walked by in the opposite direction, and this time responded to my friend's "Gooch!" with a wave. I think this may push Marcelo Balboa down to second on the list of "best soccer defenders I've seen in a social setting." Coolness.

Oh, and the Cubs got swept by the Marlins. Can we fire Dusty then find a loophole in Hendry's extension and fire him too please?


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Saturday, May 20, 2006
 

Trying to repress the hate

I don't want to be a one-note hater, but damn if this franchise doesn't spend every single day trying to come up with new ways to make me hate them. Last night I sat down to write about the Cubs signing of Tony Freaking Womack. I wanted to write something honest yet not a pure hatchet job, but the absurdity of this team signing that player was just too great. There's really no way to soft-sell management's defense latest move, and with the insipid balderdash angle already covered at Gonfalon, I decided to go to sleep and try to think happy thoughts...

... which were promptly replaced by crushing despair at the sight of yet another putrid offensive performance. The Cubs as a team managed a .071/.133/.0715 AVG/OBP/SLG Friday afternoon for a .204 OPS. They did it against their crosstown rivals, although how anyone can consider a AA-lineup like this a fit rival for the World Champs I can't tell you.

And so I have only two choices. I can post more hate. I can decry everything about everyone associated with the franchise. I can go to thesaurus.com in an effort to find adjectives colorful enough to express my feelings about Baker and Hendry while keeping the site family-friendly. Or I can obey the "if you can't say anything nice" maxim, and just go to bed. So... good night. May the Tribune company divest themselves of the Cubs by the time I wake up.


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Thursday, May 18, 2006
 

Subconsciously Facing the Truth


When the Indianapolis Colts played the New England Patriots this season the Pats head coach made some rather strange moves. He chose to go for it on 4th down early in the game when a punt was clearly in order. He tried a trick on-side kick at another point. Media speculation the next day was that a beat up and overmatched Patriots "knew" they could not hang with the Colts so they tried to get tricky and create opportunities.


What on earth does that have to do with the Cubs? Well, if a player decides his best move in the bottom of the 9th with the tying runs on base and two outs is to bunt in order to get the next guy up - well, lets just say this guy knows he cannot hit. Good news is that the Cubs decided to sign him for not one but two seasons at $2.5 M per.


Baker was his normal player defending self after the game. "What he's thinking is that the third baseman [Zimmerman] was way back. If he gets that ball down anywhere but to the pitcher, he beats it out and we have [John] Mabry up next. That's what he was thinking. It's not a bad play, especially because the third baseman was way deep. If he gets that ball anywhere close to the line, he beats that out and we've got a run and we've got runners at first and second. It didn't work." Notice how he basically repeats himself in this statement trying desperately to talk himself into believing it is a good play.


Neifi had this to say "If I get that ball where I should've gotten the ball, I get a base hit, because the third baseman was way back. I didn't get the job done. I'd do it again. That's my game. I'm not a power hitter. That's part of my game right there." Well glad to see all involved are in agreement that if the ball had only been down the line it would have been a good play. Also I love how Neifi says this is "part of his game" yet I cannot off the top of my head remember him bunting for a base hit during his Cubs tenure. I don't even consider him all that fast. Also, if hitting is not a part of his game, why is he on the roster.


Ramirez was hurt today so Neifi had to play which is bad enough, but Baker decided that his best spot in the lineup was 6th. Basically we are rooting for a team who places a man in the 6 hole with a .378 SLG and who feels the need to bunt with the game on the line. How in the world is this a good decision?


I usually take the Cubs in stride, but this one has me on the edge. The string of events that has to happen to put the Cubs in a position to lose this game in this way are staggering. First, a reasonable GM has to look at Neifi's career .300 OBP and decide he deserves a spot on the roster for the next two seasons. Then a manager has to decide this man should play on a given day. The manager then decides that he should hit 6th in front of two better hitters. Then to top it all off the player has to rationally think that bunting is a good move throwing up the white flag and admitting to the world he knows he cannot hit (which any person with a basic understanding or the number line can tell when comparing his stats to other people).


Maybe the Cubs will get out of this funk, maybe this will be a blip when recounting a glorious season, but in the end I think it is what it is. Basically the end result of a glorious amount of bad decisions. I firmly believe that a good big decision is the culmination of a sequence of good smaller decisions. Well, the Cubs make bad decisions early and often and the end result is one big, bad result - the '06 season to date.


Instead of equipping the team with sub standard parts and setting up the team for failure while trying to squeeze out a win using the element of surprise. Why not try to surprise a desperate and wanting fan base by making good decisions and fielding a good team with major league worthy players. Only then will the sixth place hitter be in position to drive in runs - if that is part of his game.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2006
 

That's not the point...


As most of Cubs Nation calls for Dusty's head on a plate the offday produced a slew of stories in the Chicago papers about Dusty's future and about the Cubs struggles in general. The Tribune had an interview with Jim Hendry in which he addressed trading for another player while Lee is out.


We've tried to [trade]. You can't force things. We're always trying to be aggressive in the trade market. At the same time, it's awful hard to pry good players away from other clubs.


It's easy to say we should go out and get somebody. But you're not going to get a better hitter to play first base than Todd Walker while Derrek Lee is out.


I think he is missing the point. While it is true that we might not get a better hitter than Walker to play first. There is surely a better hitter than the Cubs motley crew of current second basemen to get and then have Walker play second again himself.


The primary replacements at second have been Hairston (267/313/317) and Perez (203/235/266). Heck even Bynum and his wonderful stat line of 188/212/313 has played at second base. Obtaining a Pena, Clark, Millar or Conine would let Walker shift back to second and strengthen the overall lineup since they would not make outs in nearly 75% of plate appearances. I realize the company line is that it is hard to make deals early in the season and it might be true, but the above logic is just outright absurd. I weep for the future of this franchise if this is anything but rhetoric to a commonly asked question.


Baseball Blunders


ESPN columnist Rob Neyer has a new book on baseball blunders which talks about some of the worst decisions in the history of baseball. This book does not cover things like Buckner's misplays which he call "bloopers" but rather premeditated decisions like the Sox selling Ruth. I was looking through the table on contents and one of the chapters in on the Cubs hiring Baker. Glad to see my pain captured in book form. I have not read the chapter yet, but will give a report once I have.


Speaking of Neyer, I used to read his column all the time until it became an ESPN insider feature. Nearly all of ESPN content is only for insiders now. I was thinking about giving into temptation and signing up. Much to my surprise while looking for more information I found out it was free to ESPN the magazine subscribers. I have subscribed for nearly 2 years and never knew. Chalk it up to me being an idiot. Oh well, I get to read Neyer, Stark, Gammons, and Olney again. It will be nice to read about good baseball rather than the brand that the Cubs prefer.


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Monday, May 15, 2006
 

Its just awful

Those were the words of my Chicago grandmother on the phone tonight when I asked her if she'd been watching the Cubs. The Cubs were National League champions when she was born, but the intervening years have not been as kind. I'm not going to claim the last two weeks have set a new low, but even our Cubs haven't been this dismal too often. Today was the twelth loss in thirteen games. If they can't beat Livan Hernandez tomorrow, they'll match the worst fourteen game stretch in franchise history.

Sunday's offensive output might have been worse than the production in any other game in this putrid streak. Clay Hensley held the Cubs to two hits, a walk (thanks Neifi!), and no runs in a ninety-one pitch complete game shutout. It was only the second shutout in the majors this year in which the pitcher threw less than 100 pitches. The other was by Chris Capuano (wait for it) two weeks ago against the Chicago Cubs.

Despite my grandmother's optimisim ("Kerry is coming back soon, maybe things will get better"), the season is effectively over with 125 games left to play. We're left with hoping Dusty gets fired, hoping Prior and/or Wood can come back and show their careers aren't over, hoping Murton or Cedeno or Pie can break out, and hoping we don't find ourselves eighty-eight years old and still waiting on Cubs management to stop making the same mistakes they've been making for the last century.


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Saturday, May 13, 2006
 

HA HA HA HA HA

I just read this story from the San Fran Chron. Apparently, Dusty is "mildly annoyed" that the Cubs haven't extended him. In fairness, Dusty denied saying it, and actually volunteered that he shouldnt be getting an extension now anyway:
"At this point, when you're losing, you can't be annoyed about nothing but losing. How do you expect to be offered a contract when the team just lost eight in a row? Honestly. I'm being as honest as I can be.''
At least someone has some perspective. Nonetheless, the Sun-Times still says Baker is expected to get that extension before the year is out. My question is how far above .500 (or how close to .500) would the Cubs have to get before management would stick their neck out and resign him? Surely the anger that would follow extending Baker today at five games under would be too much for Hendry to brave, wouldn't it? Are we safe then, at five games under? What about at .500? Would they extend Baker if he was at .500? Don't forget, they can always blame injuries and say everything would be going according to plan if only Lee and Prior and Wood had been healthy.

I'm going to guess that as long as we're under .500, we're safe. If we ever get our heads up above water though, watch out. Here's hoping for sub-.500 the rest of the way (or the most miraculous resurrection-cum-playoff run in baseball history of course.)


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Thursday, May 11, 2006
 

The Damage is Done

For the first time since April, the Cubs looked like a major league baseball team last night. Carlos Zambrano was dominant, the offense pounded out eight runs on eight hits, we held Bonds at 713 and won the game 8-1. Too little, too late.

Here's a list of things that happened during the worst stretch of hitting in franchise history:

  • The Cubs went 1-10.
  • The Cubs scored thirteen runs, a franchise-low for an eleven game stretch.
  • The Cubs fell from 13-8 two behind Cinicinnati, to 14-18 6.5 back.
  • The Cubs fell from .619 (sixth best winning percentage in baseball) to .455 (20th best).
  • The Cubs BP playoff odds fell from 29.3% to 1.8%.
  • The season, effectively, drew to a close.

But hey, at least we've got Jim Hendry locked up for years to come. Just wait till next year!

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006
 

Things I am sick of seeing


The '06 version of the Cubs has been marred by injury, bad play, poor managing and well everything that marred the '05 Cubs. Right now they are in a true tail spin. They have lost 8 in a row, 9 of the last 10 and 18 of the last 32 (OK, the last one is just silly, but if you are going to frame "streaks" around imaginary boundaries why not use the beginning of the season).


While things are at there lowest I thought I would take some time to list some of the things that make me nauseous about this team. Enjoy!!



  • Any Freddie Bynum plate appearance - OK, he cannot hit, he cannot field and if he were waved he would not be picked up by any other team. Is there any group of people that get more chances in baseball than fast guys. Pitchers who wipe with their left hand might have them barely beat.
  • Pierre's two hop grounder to second - the big offseason acquisition is getting on base less than 30% of the time. Granted he does not strike out often but he doesn't get on base that often either. He is probably on pace to shatter the record for 4-3 outs in a season. Maybe he should try not to yank everything.
  • Jones swinging over a slider - Every since the first Cardinals season each team has started sliders at the middle of the plate and he swings right as they dart out of the zone. One would think an adjustment would come, but no. Every time he gets two strikes I just wait for the slider to eat him up.
  • Walks, walks, walks - The Cubs have allowed the second most walks in the league. I have no clue if the catchers are calling for calling for bad pitches, if the coaches want them to nibble or if they are just that bad. The bottom line is that one solid hit can lead to multiple runs since there are free runners on base. To top it off they have drawn the fewest (tied for last) by a wide margin. Do the coaches ever talk about this stuff?
  • Scrappy players not getting down bunts - For the most part bunts are a losing proposition. They waste an out which us the most precious resource a team has. But, if you are on the team because you have speed and are "scrappy" you had better be able to get it down. Seeing Hairston and Bynum give up outs and get nothing out it is sickening.
  • Baker looking disgusted when the Cubs fail to score runs - I just wonder what he expected. Whenever your lineup contains Bynum, Perez, Hairston and a pitcher in it you should be happy with 1 run.

I am sure there are more but that is all I could think of at the moment. Lets have a nice purging of emotion to this team back on track. What do the '06 Cubs do that makes you guys sick?

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New lows

I just updated the world's saddest post at Gonfalon. If you haven't looked, it basically says that this years Cubs have set or tied the franchise record for fewest runs scored over a five-game span, a six-game span, 7, 8, 9, 10, and now an eleven-game span. For a while '06 was running neck and neck with a particularly ugly June of 1963, but the cream is really rising to the top now as 2006 has grabbed sole posession of record after record as this dismal stretch has worn on.

Tonight the run total was one (the loneliest number, since shutouts seem much more common.) What does it say about the team when the highlight of their week- heck, their whole season- is a home-run saving catch in a 6-1 loss continuing an eight-game losing streak? And why wasn't Juan Pierre in the outfield last time a roid-monkey tried to make home run history against us? And do I have to fly to Vegas and put $200 on the Cubs to win for us to ever win another game?


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006
 

Counting my reasons to live

1- The chance that a meteor made of solid gold might fall from the sky and land in my backyard
2- Greg Maddux's 2006 performance
3- ???

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Sunday, May 07, 2006
 

Absent

Me, yes, and the Cubs offense as well. I just posted some numbers putting the recent futility in context over at Gonfalon, but I have a confession that I need to make here.

Its my fault.

Last Thursday I flew from Atlanta to Vegas. In the first 24 hours, I did nothing but eat, sleep, and play poker, and won a grand total of zero hands. Zero. As in, none. In 24 hours. I was the anti-Bauer.

The next twenty-four hours were little better, and as the third day of my trip dawned I was down some $300 without a winning session or lasting more than 30 minutes in any of the four tournaments I had played. My three travelling companions and I entered yet another tournament, and fifteen minutes later I was ousted again. I wandered to the sports book. I'm not brazen enough to think I have a +EV edge in the sports book, but I couldn't bear the thought of putting any more money into poker and a coin-toss sports bet seemed like a comforting alternative. I looked over the board, and somewhere in the back of my head a little voice started talking. It said something like "when everything else has turned its back on you, what's the one thing you can count on?"

I knew what the answer was. "The Cubs failing." But I shoved the voice away and headed back to the poker room. There I found my three friends- guys I have thrashed in our home game week in and week out for years- sitting side by side by side at the final table. It was time to bet against the Cubs.

I returned to the sports book, and with a final check of Chris Capauano's ERA I dropped $200 on the Milwaukee Brewers +120. I then returned to my hotel room for a quick nap. Two hours later I opened one eye and checked the ticker on the deuce- Cubs 0, Brewers 7. Milwaukee tacked on two more before it was over, and I went on to finish ahead in every ring session the rest of the trip and go deep in to two tourneys as well.

Of course, what you know now and I didn't know then was I had personally sent the Cubs into a historic offensive tailspin they show no signs of getting out of. I feel bad about it- really I do- but its mitigated by the knowledge that Dusty's managing and Hendry's roster would have probably done it if I hadn't. Stupid Cubs.


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