“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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It ain't over!!

Only a Cub fan would feel the need to declare that "it ain't over!" before May was upon us. Though, in most seasons past, it certainly WAS over before those wonderful May showers. But first, an introduction: My name is Irwin F. Fletcher, a die-hard Cub fan since the beginning of time (err.. 1981). Raised in LA on WGN, I developed Cub fever and it has only gotten worse with age. Hopefully, I can write every day, or close to every day, and recap, vent, prognosticate, look for hidden signs, talk about the weather... whathaveyou. So, thanks for stopping by, here's my look at Day 1 (A.D.)-

I don't know what it is about the goddamn Florida Marlins; it doesn't matter who is on that team, but it seems like whenever they show up, the Cubs get spooked. The Cubs also have this strange tendency to react in an inverse proportion to a pitchers' ERA; Vargas comes to town with an ERA in the 7s, and any Cub fan worth their salt knows this means he'll give the Cubs fits... and he did. Seriously, give me a guy with an ERA in the 2s or 3s anytime... The Cubs have a knack for playing down to others teams (see: Cincinnati Reds).

As for our guy, Big Z. I got a bit spooked before the season when Zambrano proclaimed that he was going to win the Cy Young award. For some reason, I just didn't think hoisting that lofty goal on himself was going to produce good results; psychologically, he was fine thriving in the shadows of Wood and Prior. With those two guys perma-shelved (until they start awarding fantasy points for "towel-games"), everyone kind of woke up and realized Z was our ace, and in typical Cub fashion, he's not having the best of time with lofty expectations.

Watching the game on ESPN last night was an exercise in anger management; I loved listening to Eric Karros and Rick Sutcliffe wax poetic about how much they loved being Cubs. EK, especially. Few guys have passed through life as a Cub as quickly, and as memorably as Karros. Not only did he hit one of the biggest home runs in 2003 (Yanks/Cubs at the Confines during the Clemens/Wood matchup), but I could swear he would stop strangers on the streets of Chicago to tell them how much he loved being there. Forgetting them for a second, play-by-play man Dave O'Brien, on a broken record, kept talking about how Zambrano has been encouraged by the Cubs to reign it in, and keep his cool, and he appears to be more like a "puppy dog" and "could that be affecting his pitching?" He must have been talking about Victor Zambrano, because CARLOS Zambrano went out and broke a bat over his freakin' knee after a strikeout!

Now, as for Jacque Jones... Look, I think we just ought to stop getting guys from the Twins. We should add them to the list of teams from whom we should not accept players. (The Braves currently hold the top spot with standouts like Jeff Blauser, Micah Bowie, Mike Remlinger). In recent time, the Twins have given us Rick Aguilera, LaTroy Hawkins, and now this guy! (Ron Coomer gets a free pass here, he was the man). I've got nothing against Jacque as a person, but I knew it was a foolish idea at the time, and he's not making any friends by stealing the ol' "Rip the Fans for Booing Me" play from Hawkins. Though, I am intrigued to see how long he can keep this streak alive of only hitting home-runs in seemingly improbable situations.

And Finally... did we actually reverse the curse last night? A night game at Wrigley. Cubs and Marlins. One team carries a 3-0 lead into the 8th inning when all of a sudden, the other team explodes for a lot of runs and goes on to win the game. Game 6 of 2003 NLCS or last night? Your thoughts...

-Fletch

Editor's note:

Thanks to the keen memory of FergieJ31 over at Northsidebaseball.com, I was informed that both rallies (Game 6 and last night) were keyed by a Juan Pierre double. Eerie.