“Everybody wants to win. But the fans know one team is going to win and one team’s going to lose even before they get to the ballpark. But to come with the spirit of having fun... of laughing, of joking, of making trickery, of booing an umpire, or cheering a star, all the emotions are there. And whoever designed the phrase ‘the agony of defeat’ and ‘the ecstasy of victory’ certainly covered it all. But, it’s a game. Enjoy it.” - Harry Caray, 4th Inning

Monday, May 08, 2006

Breaking News...

I can't and won't talk about this weekend. Until I turn into a babbling old man, I can't bring myself to say the same things over and over again. I said 'em once, and I don't need to repeat myself.

So, here's something: The Cubs recalled 2B Ryan Theriot from AAA Iowa. Theriot was one of the last guys cut from the club in Mesa, and given the lack of hype surrounding him, he'll likely be a mainstay in the Cubs lineup for years to come.

I'm semi-joking, but if there's a curse out there worse than being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it has to be the curse of Cubs Hype. Just ask Kevin Orie, Pat Cline, Hee Seop Choi, and so on. In fact, please send me your favorite failed, over-hyped Cubs prospects from the past. We'll do a week-long retrospective. Maybe we can even have Jayson Stark's readers figure out how they're astrologically aligned by their birthdates and draft positions.... or not. (And, see Carlos Zambrano, Dontrelle Willis, Ronny Cedeno, Sean Marshall for the corollary. Don't kill me for putting these guys in the hall of fame already, but thus far: no hype = big league results).

Anyway, Ryan "The Riot" Theriot will likely sit on the bench while Neifi, Hairston and Walker continue the merry-go-round of misery. I have no idea who they sent down, but it was probably Michael "The Answer" Restovich; I'm sure he really enjoyed his stay on the pine. Speaking of minor leaguers, thanks to an email from Cubs.com, I saw that West Tenn. AA farmhand 1B Micah Hoffpauir is having a heck of a start to the season leading the Diamond Jaxx with seven homers and 22 RBIs in his first 28 games. I guess I can understand the hesitation in calling him up since Baker requires all his regulars to be AARP eligible. Recalling him would make too much sense.

And finally, (we've gotten the grisly stuff out of the way, here's some fluff to end the post on a high note), Kerry Wood returned to the mound with an actual baseball in hand. Yup, looks like he left the towel in the clubhouse and mowed down those Class A hitters with authority. He hit '97' on the radar gun, and fanned 12 with no walks. THAT is a great sign, in all seriousness. I realize there is a better than incredible chance that these hitters were swinging at everything, and Wood couldn't have walked anyone if he tried, but that is legitimately encouraging.

As for Prior, I believe he was sighted at a motel in Omaha with Elvis Presley.

-Fletch

Friday, May 05, 2006

Gee, is it getting toasty in here?

Last night, I was disappointed and relieved to see that DIRECTV was not carrying the Cubs game in any capacity. It was one of those nights when both teams were being televised on their local broadcast partners, of which, usually, DIRECTV has no part of: in most cases this is Arizona, Philadelphia and San Diego. In any event, I'd say the Cubs picked a good night to hit up their friends at WCIU.

I was hoping for a Marshall-esque performance from Rich Hill, but I wouldn't have bet too much on it. So from now on, I think we should start issuing fines to people who compare him to Barry Zito. I'm really glad they have the same curveball, but I don't think he knows what to do with it. Hill sure does know how to make excuses; I saw a few 'bites in the paper about how he went back to AAA and fixed his presence on the mound, and really got things together. That's good, I know there's nothing more that frightens hitters than a solid presence when you're leaving 88mph fastballs up in the zone. It actually reminded me of a priceless article someone wrote for the Sun-Times in the Spring of '99 about how Matt Karchner got back to basics and went back to the slide-step and it was a "revelation." Did I mention how much I still hate Matt Karchner?

Anyway, there really isn't much to say about last night. Our offense is anemic, and I really don't think a Jeff Conine or Kevin Millar is going to help matters any. As for the pitching: When you consider that Greg Maddux has to return to Earth at some point, our rotation is in tatters- I like Marshall, but he is still a rookie who has had his best starts against the NL's worst. I've all but given up on Zambrano, whose poor attitude and tendency to show up his teammates are worrisome habits becoming much more magnified under the scope of innefective pitching.

And this is all leading to the thesis of this blog-post: I think Baker's chair might be heating up. Look, I don't care who goes down- I know D-Lee is a big loss, but you know what, this team has GOT TO PLAY BETTER. Play with some fire! I've seen worse teams play with much more intensity. Obviously, Baker's Cubs have never heard of the Ewing Theory: When a team loses their biggest star, the other guys band together and play out of their mind to prove something. And ultimately, if a team is misfiring on all cylinders, you have to start at the top.

Call this the Trump "Apprentice" Theory: As team manager, you have to take responsibility for your workers.

Donald: "Dusty... do you know why you're in the board room? You are the "team manager" for a group that could not overcome any obsticles. You know, back when I was buying the most beautiful buildings in New York, and turning them into the most luxurious living spaces in the world, I had to overcome a lot. There were plenty of days when the people who worked for me acted like they didn't want to be there, and there were plenty of times when the people who I needed the most couldn't be there for me... But you know what? I found a way to make it work. And Dusty... you're not making it work. Every day your guys are phoning it in, which means you're phoning it in. Dusty... You're fired."

-Fletch

Thursday, May 04, 2006

You know what, you're right!

The subject line here refers to a quote by an alleged member of the Chicago Cubs baseball club:



"I'm just going to be one more guy in the rotation, trying to do my job," he
[Kerry Wood] said. "I'm not going to look at it by any means of being a savior.
It's almost ridiculous for people to think that."


You know what, Mr. Wood? That's right, it is absolutely ridiculous. Speaking on behalf of Cub Nation here, I think we're pretty worn out from counting on you all these years to be a savior. So thanks for being honest with us... Another sentence on how you fully expect to break down in a few months would have been great, but hey, you can't always get what you want.

My apologies for being out of the loop, but sometimes real life/work interferes with the world of CubsWatch. While I was away, it looks as though the ship known as the 2006 Chicago Cubs have sprung a few more leaks. Maybe it's time to inject a bit of reality into the situation: We're in a lot of trouble without D-Lee.

I know, I know: Duh.

A few thoughts:

a) I think Hendry did the right thing with Juan D'Vaughn Pierre (yes, actually his middle name) by holding off on an extension-- I know he brings value to the lineup, but am starting to believe, as others have said, he might be on the decline. I know I was expecting the 2003-2004 guy who hit in the mid .300s and had an OBP in the upper .300s; Both of those figures dropped in 2005, and in the 26 games played thus far, they have shrunk further. Let's see how he responds to the hot weather and middle months, but as of right now, it doesn't look like those numbers were an aberration. If we're in serious trouble at the deadline, he'll make fine tradebait. I know I'll miss watching the lil' guy at the plate with his lil' cap underneath the helmet... but, it might be the right move. (Jayson Stark, if you're out there, can you tell us if JP is the only MLB player EVER to mimick little leaguers with the hat under the helmet thing?)

b) Aramis. Get your bat going. Now.

c) Ronny. You're beautiful, kid. Don't go changing!

d) Murton. You too.

e) I read that Prior is way behind Wood and Miller, and actually suffered from food poisoning in Arizona just the other day. Obviously this sets him back even further. Quite honestly, I think Prior must have had Tommy John surgery and the Cubs are keeping him locked in their own Area 51, while they continue to put out these weird quasi-rehab rumors. This is seriously odd stuff. And Wade Miller's shoulder is tight. Great guys, really great.

I'm too aggravated by the lackadasical play and weak offense to really write more... but I'll leave you with this thought:

Is Glendon Rusch actually Edgar Stiles (24)?



-Fletch

Monday, May 01, 2006

The good, the bad and the ugly...

...or 'the good, the ugly, and the bad' if you're going in chronological order. To reset the weekend, we can start with Friday's game: Sharp starting pitching, great timely hitting, and a killer bullpen. Friday saw the 2006 Chicago Cubs playing to their potential, the way they are capable... with some great breaks. Let's face it, every team needs them. No need to dwell on Friday, it was very nice.

Saturday. Bloody Saturday.

I'm an emotional Cubs fan, and have broken things watching them play. I wish I could have kept a log of the things in my apartment that didn't survive Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. This Saturday, however, nothing was broken. Few curse words were uttered. My blood pressure didn't do anything crazy. Simply because I knew it was coming, and once the bleeding started, I was hoping for the worst kind of blood-bath, making it impossible for the Cubs to allow Rusch another start.

Certain pitchers become that guy... Estes in 2003, Trachsel in 1999 (and again in 2000), when despite their past achievements and record, it becomes blatantly obvious (to everyone except management) that they can't hack it.

Let's cut our losses. Eat the contract, get rid of Rusch. He obviously sat on the couch all winter and did not come to camp ready to play. Lefties are NOT helpful if they can't get anyone out. And warning track fly-balls are not my idea of "getting people out." Excuse me for thinking we learned that lesson with Felix Heredia. I know management loves the idea of having a lefty in the rotation, and we already have one, who despite never pitching above AA, is having a pretty decent rookie campaign. I'm not terribly wild about the idea of recalling Rich Hill (as the papers have indicated), who, despite a Zito-like curve seems to be one pitch shy of a complete arsenal. But, fine, I'll take him over Rusch. I'll take Hill's mother over Rusch. Open up the yellow pages and pick a name. I'm done with this guy.

More troubling, however, is Zambrano. Now I'm not sure if I was right about O'Brien and his comments... have the Cubs turned him into mush? When I read Dusty Baker begging for the old Zambrano back, I think I may have been wrong in my previous analysis. I can't speculate on what it is they did to him, or if they did anything! I'm still seeing him stomp around the mound and shatter bats! My fear is that there was a whole documentary made about this, like Metallica's Some Kind of Monster, where we watch Carlos go through intensive psychotherapy over this past winter. He has a few good cries, goes and hugs Barry Bonds... or, he pulls a Pedro Cerrano circa Major League 2 and becomes a total softy who meditates and hugs people he doesn't know.

Look, I don't know, and I've run out of bad movies and nightmarish scenarios. But they need to figure this out. Find a guy who deprograms people in cults and have him take Carlos into the woods for a week. Frankly, I think we've seen stranger trips to the DL.

Bottom line: The Brewers always play us tough, but this was bad. This was 1999-2000 bad, and I haven't even mentioned David Aardsma or Will Ohman (Isn't it funny how neither of the guys we got for Hawkins can pitch?!) If I were Hendry, I'd cut Rusch and call up Jae Kuk Ryu. The guy was battling Marshall for a spot in the rotation in spring, and probably is ready to pitch in the bigs. As for the rest... Well... IT AIN'T OVER YET!!

TODAY'S FORGOTTEN CUB OF THE PAST:

JULIO ZULETA
















-Fletch

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Solution?

Reading the Chicago Tribune this morning, I read something that seems to make so much sense, I can't believe it could actually happen:
The only way to get Pie in the lineup would be to move Matt Murton to first, a position he probably could learn quickly if his smooth ascension from Double A to the majors is any indication. That's not in the cards, however, so Pie is stuck at Iowa—at least for now.
Holy Cow! I love the idea because it allows you to add Pie and maintain the strength of the current lineup without subjecting Cub fans to daily appearances by Neifi or Jerry Hairston. Unlike most Cub fans, I have nothing against Neifi. In fact, I really like Neifi. Not only was he responsible for the Cubs '98 playoff appearance by hitting a homerun as a member of the Colorado Rockies (you had to have been there for this to make sense), but he's had some real hot hitting streaks for the Cubs and is a capable super-sub (I still wish we had Miguel Cairo, but that's another story). Hairston wants us to believe he's a better player than what we've seen and I generally feel much better with him out of the lineup. I value Neifi over Hairston because Neifi is better in his limited role than Hairston is in either role. Hairston is sub-par as an everyday player, and very sub-par as a bench player and quite honestly, has not made the most of his chances in the lineup. If there is a solution in the current roster, I think it's John Mabry. I do love his bat off the bench, but don't cut your nose off to spite your face. If we can't scratch together any offense, his bat off the bench is meaningless. I think he could ably perform as a temporary fill-in.

Back to the main point-- If you shift Murton to 1B, you can keep Walker at 2nd, and let Pie play everyday in LF. If Pie turns out to be as good as he's projected to be, everybody wins. But that's the 'x' factor: I refuse to believe the Cubs minor league hype machine anymore. Corey Patterson, Pat Cline, Kevin Orie... Remember them? Patterson is a bit of an oddity because I firmly believe that the Cubs ruined his career with impatience. They brought him up before he was ready, and despite his bull-headedness to take anyone's advice (or everyone's advice), he became the Cubs version of Kwame Brown. So that's the other question-- will the Cubs rush Pie before he's ready, or will they stifle him down in the minors well after he's ready? Maybe the only way to make sure Pie becomes a bonafide superstar is to trade him to the Marlins... seems to work with everyone else, right?

-Fletch

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Few Moments of Grace. Mark Grace.

Morgan's Spotty Effort

"This isn't something I did, but it's too funny not to be in here somewhere. We're in Florida, and it's ungodly hot. Mike Morgan is on the mound, and this guy's a profuse sweater to begin with. I mean, he could sweat in a blizzard. So we're in the fifth inning, and he's just dying. He's lost about 40 pounds in water weight, and we've got him a bunch of runs, so we're just trying to get him through the fifth to get him the win. Well, at one point we go to the mound, and he's really struggling. He says, 'I'm scuffling here, guys. I'm starting to see spots.' Then there's this silence for a second, and Buechele pipes up. He says, 'Well, then just hit your spots.' Might've been the funniest thing I've ever heard in a mound conference."

Rick Sutcliffe Lit Up

"One day when I was with the Cubs, we were in Cincy, where they'd set off fireworks after a home run, and Sut gives up back-to-back home runs. So there's fireworks going off all over the place, Sut's [ticked] off, and here comes our pitching coach, Billy Connors. Well, like I said, Sut's [ticked] already, so as soon as he sees Billy he says, "Get your fat [butt] back in the dugout. I know what I'm doing out here. And tell [manager Don] Zimmer to settle down, too." But Billy keeps coming, and when he gets there he says, very calmly, "I know you know what you're doing. I'm just giving the guy who sets the fireworks off time to reload."

(courtesy of mlb.com)

"Something funny, Ron?"

So, my theory about Cubs and good pitching didn't exactly hold up during yesterday's 7-5 loss at the confines. But as far as wins and losses go, this was a quasi-satisfying loss. The team really gutted it out, and though I was stuck at my desk sans TV tracking the game on my XM Radio and MLB.com's GameCast, it sounded like the ball was just impossible to see in the late innings. I don't take any solace in the mind-numbing amount of walks, and dropped fly balls, however.

As for the radio aspect, I used to loathe Pat and Ron... but now, there's something comforting about them. Maybe it's because I have zero attachment (or regard) for Len and Bob. Maybe it's because I like hearing Ronny swear in the background when the Cubs do something boneheaded or kill a rally. During yesterday's broadcast, sometime in the late innings, WGN-AM comes back from commercial, and Ron is just laughing uncontrollably for what seems like two solid minutes, while Pat tries to call the game. Occasionally Pat would try and pay some mind to Ronny by saying things like "Well, it sure seems like Ronny's having some fun." And Ron is just laughing and laughing. No idea. God bless 'em. And there's nothing like the "Attendance Game." For those of you who don't have the pleasure of hearing two broadcasters routinely guess the attendance of every game, at some point during the broadcast, I promise you are missing out.

Back to the game... Guzman was spotty in places and strong in other places. As far as a Cub debut goes, it was unremarkable. I used to have a tendency to justify every single pitch, or performance, from hyped (or semi-hyped) Cubs prospects in their first go-rounds (I was a card-carrying member of the Micah Bowie and Scott Downs fan club). However, this was what it was. Not great, not awful. I know the kid had some nerves, and I'll be eager to see how he fares the next time out; I'm just concerned that he may not have the dazzling stuff that he used to.

The reason this loss was quasi-satisfying is because they battled, and the Cubs don't usually battle. But if we want to stand a chance in this division, our bats have to get going. I think Juan Pierre is on the verge of breaking out, and I hope Aramis Ramirez is as well. I was surprised that Baker didn't go to Barrett in a pinch, so his finger must be jammed pretty bad (We really didn't need that injury, by the way). 'Till the bats heat up, it's up to our nasty bullpen, and what we can get from our starting pitching... and speaking of:

Next up: The Brewers...

Maddux (4-0, 0.99) vs Bush (2-1, 3.54)
Rusch (1-3, 6.41) vs Davis (0-2, 7.66)
Zambrano (0-1, 4.86) vs Capuano (3-2, 3.00)

(I hate the Brewers.)

-Fletch

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Your bad?

"My bad?! Lemme tell you something about that phrase. That is one of my least favorite phrases of all. My bad?! Of course it's your bad, and don't think that just because you're saying it, it makes your mistake ALRIGHT." - Bobby Knight, Knight School

That quote, paraphrased of course, popped into my head on my way to work this morning. For better or worse, playing the Marlins always reminds me of the 2003 NLCS. I don't know if any Cub fan is different, or if I'm just purposefully (yet, subconsciously) pouring salt in the wounds. But of all the things that never will sit right with me about that series, there's one that sticks with me more than the others: Alex Gonzalez. Yup, Alex f*****g Gonzalez.

In my more rational moments after the series, I couldn't figure out why Cub Nation cast their grief on Steve Bartman. Bartman wasn't on the field. Didn't have a glove. Didn't play an inning.

Alex Gonzalez had sure-thing double-play ball hit right to him, and he botched it. And no one cares about this? No one mentions his name with scorn. He's not the one that had police watching over his house and family. Now, I don't really wish that on anyone; Bartman nor Gonzalez. I'm sure Gonzalez felt pretty awful about that play too... but... I just don't get it. Can we do some due diligence to make sure we heap some of this blame on A-Gon? He's just getting off too damn easy... ask Leon Durham. Maybe some well-timed letters to ESPN and FOX... the next time they feel the need to roll-out their oh-so predictable packages about that game, and the banter that ensues afterwards... JUST MENTION GONZALEZ! OKAY?!!

Whew, sorry to dredge up old memories. I don't know why I needed to do that after a pretty great win over the Fish last night! Two great wins in a row! There's nothing I love more than watching great, young pitching, and when the Cubbies let Marshall open the year with them, I was pumped. Watching him throw in spring training, he showed that he had that Major League makeup. He was poised, went right after hitters, and had the stuff to get them out. Three starts in, with his best effort yet, and it looks like the Cubs finally have a lefty worth hanging on to (Sorry Glendon).

And you have to love all the shots of him and the Professor in the dugout together-- although, I've read so many hilarious stories about Mad Dog lately, I wonder if they're mostly picking out drunk people in the crowd, or talking about the apocalpyse.

And speaking of young pitching, today marks the long-anticipated debut of Angel Guzman. I remember watching this guy pitching in the Spring of '03, and he made my jaw drop. His stuff was insane. I was, of course, not surprised at all by the series of injuries, from '03-'05 that kept him from the big league club... after all, he is a Cub (and was on the way to becoming the second coming of Jeremi Gonzalez). Watching him this spring, his stuff wasn't as eye-popping as it had been, but I'm glad he's finally healthy and ready to take the mound at Wrigley.

On the other side, Scott Olsen (1-1, 1.50 ERA). If my theory about the Cubs and their knack for beating up pitchers with good ERA holds true, it could be a fun day at the Confines.

-Fletch