Category: Dailies

Déjà Vu: A Dodgers Grand Slam Spells the End for the Cubs

While watching the Cubs 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday night, I
had an eerie feeling of déjà vu.  While it was in a different city,
with a different player at the plate and a different player on the
hill, I felt I was watching the exact same scenario unfold.

And that'll do it...

And that’ll do it…

A grand slam by the Dodgers to all but end the Cubs’ chances of a deep playoff run.

In 2008, it came in Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field.  The Cubs
led 2-0 thanks to second inning Mark DeRosa home run when the Dodgers
came to bat in the fifth inning.  Ryan Dempster proceeded to walk the
bases loaded (his fifth, sixth and seventh walks of the game), before
giving up a granny to James Loney on a 1-2 pitch.

Just like that, the energy was sucked out of Wrigley Field, and even
though the Cubs were only trailing by two runs, you could read the same
expression on everyone’s faces: “Not again.”  The Cubs lost that game
7-2 as well, never led the rest of the series, and were swept out of
the playoffs for the second straight season.

Fast forward back to Thursday night.  The
Cubs, who just two weeks ago were tied for first place in the NL
Central, have taken a nose dive and fallen to six games out of first
place.  They enter a crucial four-game series with the Dodgers, who
their rival Cardinals have just beaten two of three times.

With the score tied at 2-2, the Cubs’ Angel Guzman allows base hits
to the first two batters, and after a sacrifice, James Loney is
intentionally walked to face Russell Martin.  One pitch, and déjà Grand
Slam.

Couple the Cubs loss with a Cardinals win in St. Louis and the Cubs
are now seven games back in the division with just 43 games left to
play.  Their once precious lead in the loss column is now a five game
deficit, and the Cubs and Cardinals only have three games remaining on
the slate, and that series is in St. Louis.  And don’t even think about
the Wild Card, as the Cubs trail the Rockies by six games with San
Francisco, Atlanta and Florida all in front of them too.

Despite the horrific play in Colorado, the destruction by
Philadelphia and even losing two of three to the lowly Padres,
including another Kevin Gregg masterpiece, I was still looking for ways
the Cubs could make a comeback.  After Thursday night, the parallels
are just too similar to last season, so I think it’s time to be
realistic rather than optimistic.

Don’t Group All Cubs Fans with One Drunken Idiot

An ugly incident occurred last night at Wrigley Field, when a full beverage was dropped on the head of Philadelphia Phillies’ centerfielder Shane Victorino as he made a catch in the fifth inning.

As a Cubs fan who was in attendance, but not in the bleachers, I
stood up and booed when this occurred, as did many people sitting
around me.  True Cubs fans know this is unacceptable, despicable, and
not the least bit funny.

Bleacher Bums, as they are called, have a reputation of being loud
and obnoxious, and rightfully so.  Anyone who would pay $50 (face
value) to sit on a bench with no back for a full game, plus the two
hours before the game to get good seats is a bit nutty.  Trust me, I’ve
done it multiple times.

But make no mistake, the fans who sit in the bleachers are great
Cubs fans, throwing visiting home run balls back, riding opposing
outfielders for a misplay, and most importantly, never leaving Carlos
Lee alone.

That’s why it’s upsetting as a Cubs fan when one guy, who likely had too much to drink, goes and ruins it for everyone.

So for those of you thinking or saying things like: “I hope
other fans get back at the Cubs” or “The Cubs should be penalized by MLB“,
need to just slow down for a minute.  It’s a natural and acceptable
reaction to be angry, but direct the anger towards the one stupid
moron, not an entire fan base and organization.

Even though they apparently ejected the wrong fan, Cubs Security was
over there in a flash to take care of the situation.  The Chicago PD is
apparently conducting a manhunt for the offender, and plans to
prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella apologized after the game, saying: “That shouldn’t happen, it’s not good sportsmanship. … We apologize to Victorino and the Phillies for that.”

And if you had interviewed the majority of fans like me, well, you’d have this article as my response.  So, to the rest of the MLB
teams and their fans, please don’t group true Blue Cubs fans like me
with the few select individuals who do dumb stuff like this.  We really
are better than that.

Breaking Down the NL Central…It’s a Two Horse Race

Since the beginning of the season, the NL Central has been the
tightest overall division race in all of baseball.  Currently, four
teams are within five games of first place, and as recently as June 28th, all six teams were within that same striking distance of the division title.

With approximately two months two go in the regular season, we are
not much closer now to determining the division winner than we were
back in April.   As a Cubs fan, I want to know whether I should be
setting myself up for a September or October disappointment this
season, so I decided took a closer look at the past performance and
remaining schedules of each team in the NL Central to try and predict a
winner.

Below is a quick snapshot of each team in order of current standings:

Chicago Cubs (57-49)

56 Games Remaining (29 Home, 27 Road)

.485 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The first advantage the Cubs have is the lead in the loss column. 
With the most games remaining of anyone in the division (thanks to
rainouts), the Cubs’ destiny is in their own hands.

The Cubs will play more than half of their remaining games against
teams under the .500 mark, with 30 games coming against teams currently
with losing records.  Half of those games are against divisional
opponents, as the Cubs face Houston and Cincinnati for one more series
apiece, and three more series against last place Pittsburgh.  These are
the games the Cubs must win to have a chance.

Divisional games will play an important part in the Cubs’ quest to
win the Central, as they play 16 of their 25 remaining divisional games
in a row from September 7th to September 23rd, including six straight road games against St. Louis and Milwaukee to close out the stretch.

Based on their current home and road winning percentages, the Cubs
are predicted to finish the year at 87-75.  In order to reach this
number or improve on it, the Cubs will need to win some series on the
road, as they are just 24-30 away from Wrigley Field this year.  Road
matchups against Colorado, LA Dodgers, NY Mets, and San Francisco will
be crucial in the Cubs’ quest for the crown.

St. Louis Cardinals (59-51)

52 Games Remaining (27 Home, 25 Road)

.472 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

While the Cubs may have more games remaining, the Cardinals have a
more favorable schedule down the stretch.  The Cards have 30 of their
final 52 games against divisional opponents, with six games each
against Houston, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Combine these with seven
games against San Diego and three against bottom of the barrel
Washington, that makes for a division-low .472 opponent winning
percentage.

The Cardinals’ additions in June and July of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo
and Matt Holliday have made their offense a formidable foe to go along
with their strong starting pitching.  The Cards have a run differential
of +31 so far this year, which should only improve as a result of their
additions.  Look for this to come into play against strong pitching
teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Braves, Rockies and Marlins.

The final factor that could propel the Cards above their current
pace of 87-75 is their .500 record on the road.  St. Louis is the only
team in the NL Central with a .500 or better record away from home this
season, and they will need to maintain this in the final weeks of the
season as they embark on a nine-game trip to Houston, Colorado and
Cincinnati.

Milwaukee Brewers (54-54) – 4.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (28 Home, 26 Road)

.488 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The Brewers likely had higher expectations than .500 at this point
in the season, but there is still plenty of time to make a run at the
postseason.  The Brewers can be in control of their own destiny as a
result of their remaining schedule against the division.

The Brewers face NL Central opponents 34 more times, but more
importantly 16 of those games are against the first-place Cubs and
Cardinals (7 and 9 remaining respectively).  These 16 games come in the
Brewers’ final 32 of the season in September and October, culminating
with a 3-game series in St. Louis over the final weekend of the season

In order for these games to matter, however, the Brewers need to
improve upon their current position of four games back during the month
of August.  The Brew Crew have 22 straight games against Sub-.500 teams
between now and August 30th, including 12 of those at Miller Park.

While all these schedule advantages are helpful to Milwaukee, none
of it will matter if they don’t get their pitching in order.  The
Brewers lead the Central with 536 runs allowed, and are second to last
in the NL with a 4.82 team ERA.  Without an improvement in their
pitching staff, the Brewers might be sitting at home in October.

Houston Astros (53-55) – 5.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (25 Home, 29 Road)

.500 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The Astros, despite a rash of recent injuries to their club, are
just five games out of first place and two games under .500. 
Unfortunately for Houston fans, their remaining schedule doesn’t do
them many favors.

The ‘Stros will play just one-third (18) of their remaining 54 games
against sub-.500 teams, half of those being Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. 
In addition, of their 27 remaining divisional games, only nine come
against first-place Chicago and St. Louis combined, meaning Houston
will need some help to gain ground in the Central.

The other obstacle the Astros face is having more road games left
than home games, something none of the top three teams in the division
need to deal with.  The Astros are just 24-28 away from Minute Maid
Park, and spend their final seven games of the season on the road in
Philadelphia and New York.

While the Astros have been a notorious second-half team this decade,
it doesn’t seem like they will be able to make another impressive run
to the postseason in 2009.

Cincinnati Reds (46-61) – 11.5 GB

55 Games Remaining (27 Home, 28 Road)

.490 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

This is where we reach the teams without much of a playoff chance. 
The Reds looked like they might be for real this year, as they were
just 1.5 games out of first place as late as June 10th.  Then injuries struck, the most brutal to starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, who will miss 12 months with Tommy John surgery.

The Reds would need a very favorable schedule to have a chance at
the postseason, and it just isn’t there.  Only 23 of their remaining 55
games are against sub-.500 teams, and more than half of their remaining
games are on the road.  Cincy will have a chance to play spoiler, as
they have at least one series left with each of the top four teams in
the division.

Pittsburgh Pirates (45-63) – 13.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (29 Home, 25 Road)

.508 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

Another season, another losing record for the Pirates.  The Bucs
appear to be rebuilding yet again after gutting their team at the trade
deadline.  With 30 of their remaining 54 games against teams above
.500, it would appear that a 13 game deficit is too much for the
Pirates to overcome.

The Pirates too can play spoiler in the final two months, with a
******** 37 games remaining against NL Central opponents.  The Pirates
face the Cubs nine times, Cardinals and Brewers six times apiece, and
the Astros twice.  Those 13 games remaining versus Cincinnati will be
unlikely to draw large crowds.

So when it comes down to it, in this writer’s opinion the NL Central
is a two-horse race, with the Cubs and the Cardinals battling it out
neck and neck down the stretch.  Milwaukee and Houston are both solid
teams, but the Brewers’ lack of pitching and the Astros’ difficult
schedule will likely be too much to overcome.

The Cardinals have given themselves a big boost with the addition of
Matt Holliday to protect slugger Albert Pujols, and solidified their
lineup with Julio Lugo and Mark DeRosa.  The Cubs added much needed
lefty bullpen help with John Grabow and may have picked up a steal with
Tom Gorzelanny if he can continue to pitch like he did in Cincinnati on
Tuesday.

The two teams have very similar schedules down the stretch, so the
division might come down to a three-game series in St. Louis from
September 18th-20th.  Whichever team comes through that enormous arch in first place will have the upper hand and likely take the division crown.

For now, I’m going to give my biased edge to the Cubs, as there is a
good chance they could sweep their final six home games against
Pittsburgh and Arizona, while the Cards are on the road in Cincinnati
and then host Milwaukee on the final weekend of the season.

Call Me Crazy…but the Cubs Should Consider Trading Jake Fox

The 2009 season for the Chicago Cubs has not gone exactly as
planned. Injuries, power outages, suspensions, “lack of fire”, you name
it, it’s gone wrong for the Cubs so far this year.

One bright spot for the team this season has been midseason call-up
Jake Fox. In 23 games over his two stints with the big league club this
season, Fox has hit .317 with 3 HR and 12 RBI. Prior to his callup, he
was lighting up AAA Iowa, with obscene stats of .409 BA, 17 HR and 53
RBI in just 45 games.  The only knock on Fox is his defense. He has
performed decently well playing 3B, LF and RF this year, but he is best
suited as a designated hitter.

With Aramis Ramirez scheduled to return from the disabled list on
Monday, and the Cubs paying Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley far too
much for them to sit on the bench (despite their play), Fox appears to
be headed to the bench, or potentially even back to AAA.

Too much offense is a good problem for the Cubs to have, but it
won’t fix the issues with the bullpen. The Cubs called up Jeff
Samardzija from AAA, sending down right-hander Jose Ascanio.  While
Samardzija shows promise, his 8.10 ERA during his first stint in the
majors this year is part of the reason the Cubs are near the bottom of
the league when it comes to the ‘pen.

The Cubs bullpen ERA is currently 18th in the league at 4.07. In
addition, their K/BB ratio is 1.48, good for 27th in the league, and
their WHIP is an ugly 1.50, tying them for 25th in the majors.  In
addition, the pen is suffering from a bit of overuse. Closer Kevin
Gregg has worked on consecutive days nine times, and primary setup man
Carlos Marmol has done it 15 times already this year.

The final issue with the Cubs bullpen is imbalance. After spending
the majority of the offseason trying to put a lefty-righty balance into
the lineup, GM Jim Hendry has a bullpen with just one left-hander,
former starter Sean Marshall.  The Cubs are in sore need of a lefty
specialist who can work for one batter or one inning, so manager Lou
Piniella is not forced to use Marshall in matchup situations. This
problem has cost the Cubs a few games, including last Saturday against
the rival White Sox.

In this writer’s humble opinion, the Cubs have a surplus of hitters,
including one without a position, and a need for a left-handed bullpen
arm. Jake Fox has been great so far for the Cubs this year, but at the
same time, his trade value might never be higher this season than it is
right now.

The Cubs should obviously wait to make sure that Aramis Ramirez is
fully recovered and able to play everyday before even thinking of
making a trade like this. However, it might not be such a bad idea for
Jim Hendry to start working the phones to see if there are any lefties
available. American league teams should certainly have an interest in
Jake Fox.

Should the Cubs Move Alfonso Soriano Back to Second Base?

When Alfonso Soriano was
acquired by the Washington Nationals prior to the 2006 season, the club
wanted to convert him from a second baseman to an outfielder. The Nats
already had a second baseman in Jose Vidro, but Soriano wanted no part
of the switch and sat out a few spring training games as a protest.  Eventually, Soriano gave in to the wishes of his manager (so as not
to forfeit any salary) and made the All-Star Game as a left-fielder.

Fast forward to May 2009, and the Chicago Cubs find themselves in
the opposite situation of the 2006 Nationals. The Cubs traded away Mark
DeRosa in the offseason, and have recently lost replacements Aaron
Miles and Ryan Freel to injury. 

The Cubs’ normal second baseman, Mike Fontenot, has been forced to
switch to third base due to another injury to Aramis Ramirez, leaving
manager Lou Piniella short on options at two of the infield positions.  If Freel goes on the DL, as expected, the Cubs will likely
recall Bobby Scales from Triple-A Iowa as his replacement, but the
infield depth will still be thin.

soriano-afraid-running-wall.jpg

In the outfield, however, the Cubs have plenty of options. Soriano,
Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Milton Bradley, and Micah Hoffpauir are
all in the mix, with recent call-up Jake Fox looking for at-bats as well.

Until the most recent series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the
Cubs had been in an offensive slump. On a recent six-game road trip
against St. Louis and San Diego, the Cubs managed just five runs,
losing all six of the games. The team has attempted to solve this
problem by calling up Fox, but it means nothing if there is no way to
get his bat in the starting lineup.

One solution, albeit a crazy one, is to move Soriano back to second
base. Not having played there much over the last three-plus seasons
will make him a defensive liability, but no more so than inserting Fox
at third base.  Soriano does have a great arm in the outfield, but he
is not the best fielder out there either.  Moving Soriano to second opens up an outfield slot for Reed Johnson,
Micah Hoffpauir, or Jake Fox, and also gives Piniella more flexibility
with double switches later in games. 

This is definitely not a permanent solution, and once Aramis Ramirez
returns there will be no need for it. But Ramirez is anywhere from four
to six weeks away from returning, and the Cubs could fall too far back
in the division during that time for it to matter. 

Unfortunately, the Cubs can’t play the Pirates every game, and with
the Dodgers in town this weekend and interleague play on the horizon,
the Cubs need to do something to wake up their bats in a hurry.

Even Injuries Go Right For the Cubs in Win Over Brew Crew

The Chicago Cubs beat the
Brewers 8-5 on Sunday night in a game where everything went their way.
The Cubs scored eight runs on just five hits, thanks to the bat of
Alfonso Soriano and an inning of wildness by the Brewers’ pitching
staff.

Soriano hit the first pitch of the game from Jeff Suppan off the
scoreboard in center field to give the Cubs an early lead.  After the
Brewers tied the game 1-1, the Cubs loaded the bases in the fourth
inning when Milton Bradley was hit by a pitch, Mike Fontenot walked,
and Ryan Theriot singled up the middle. 

On the Theriot single, Milton Bradley came up lame when he took off
for second, and was forced to leave the game with apparent groin
tightness.  Who had Game Six in the “When Does Milton Bradley Get
Injured Pool?”  Reed Johnson replaced him, which turned out to be a
great decision by manager Lou Piniella.

Then it got interesting.  Jeff Suppan proceeded to walk Koyie
Hill, Alfonso Soriano, and Kosuke Fukudome with the bases loaded,
forcing in three runs.  Jorge Julio came on in relief and walked Derrek
Lee, allowing the Cubs to score four runs on just one hit in the inning.

Then, in the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs leading 6-2, starter
Ryan Dempster tried to give up the lead by loading the bases with no
outs.  Prince Fielder then crushed a ball into right field which
appeared to tie the game.  Not so fast.  Bradley’s replacement Reed
Johnson made this catch to keep the ball in the park and hold Fielder to a sac fly.

Would Bradley have made that catch?  No one can say for sure, but my
best guess  would be absolutely no way.  Brewers manager Ken Macha had
this to say:  “I don’t know. Milton is a pretty good defender, how am I
going to figure that one out?”

Either way, despite another shaky outing from Kevin Gregg in the
ninth, the Cubs left Milwaukee with an 8-5 win and a 4-2 road trip to
start the season.  Lou Piniella said it best:

“A 4-2 road trip, I think everybody would’ve been pleased when we
started the season this past Monday to take two out of three in your
division’s home ballparks — you have to be pleased with it,” Piniella
said. “Now we’re home and we’ll see what happens.”

(All quotes taken from cubs.com)

Milton Bradley Hurts Himself in Cubs Debut: Fans Not Surprised

In January, the Cubs signed outfielder Milton Bradley to a
three-year, $30 million deal to be the new right fielder. The Cubs knew
of his injury history, but Bradley’s impressive stats were enough to
take the risk that he would be able to avoid injury. 

It lasted one spring at bat.

Bradley took himself out of Thursday’s game after he drew a walk in the first inning because of mild tightness in his left quad.

“I didn’t do too much in the game, I felt it before when warming up,
so I let them know it felt tighter than it should have been,” Bradley
said. “Since we have a quarter of a season worth of games in spring
training, I felt the best course of action was to let them know right
now. If it’s April 6, I play.”

So it appears the injury is nothing serious, but Bradley is
just being overly cautious and trying to avoid further injury. He
expects to return to the lineup this weekend against the White Sox.

However, this does bring up one important question for Cubs fans:
Bradley said that if today was opening day, he would have played
through the pain. So does this mean Bradley will be playing hurt for
most of the year? 

Is he not going to tell the training staff about certain bumps and bruises? 

Will this affect his defense?

If you’re a true Cubs fan, this news doesn’t faze you, since it was
always a matter of when Bradley would get hurt, not if. However, if
you’re like me, you probably expected it to be on a chilly April day in
the Friendly Confines, not in sunny Mesa, Arizona. 

Adam Dunn might strike out a lot, but he’s never played less than
152 games in a full season. Oh, and he’s hit 40-plus homers for six
straight years. 

Here’s to praying Bradley plays more than half the games this season.