The four Major League free agents the Cubs have signed thus far in 2015 all have one thing in common: Each signed a contract for less guaranteed money than was offered elsewhere. Why would guys pass up literally tens of millions of dollars to play on the North Side? The reasons are numerous, but it comes down to the fact that the Cubs have lost a lot -- a lot.
Everyone is familiar with the numbers. No World Series appearances since 1945. No World Series victories since 1908. But when you tell guys like Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey stats like that, their eyes light up. Why? Because of the chance to be on the field when that final out is made and Pat Hughes screams with pure happiness. They all have more money than they'll likely be able to spend in their lifetimes -- winning a title as a Chicago Cubs player makes you a legend almost beyond comprehension.
Look at how this city has propped up the 1985 Bears. Richard Dent can walk into a room today and own the place. Walter Payton jerseys outnumber all others when you go to Soldier Field. Mike Ditka is still as beloved as he was on January 26, 1986. A World Series trophy at Wrigley Field might burn the city down.
Maybe the best thing about the 2015 Cubs was their versatility. Nearly every non-catcher position player on the team played multiple positions at one point or another. It made for weird lineups and some raised eyebrows at times, but it was a fantastic way to keep the rookies on their toes.
That same versatility allows the Cubs to go in whatever direction presents itself going forward. If someone makes a play at Jorge Soler, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know they have options. Kris Bryant could play right field, or even Chris Coghlan could do it for a year while Billy McKinney continues his development. If a Starlin Castro deal presents itself, Javier Baez can play second immediately and be at least league average simply from his defense.
All options are available, but expectations need to be maintained. The Cubs already have roughly $110 million earmarked for the players signed for 2016. That includes realistic raises for all arbitration and pre-arbitration players. It's unlikely the team goes out and dumps $40 million in first year salaries to free agents. The boatloads of money for spending are still years away when the Cubs start their own TV network.
The feelings come at different times when your favorite team loses in the postseason. Some people spot the signs early and prepare themselves for what's to come. Others don't see it until the last possible moment, and they move quickly through five universally known stages of grief.
Everyone is entitled to feel the way they want. Your way isn't wrong. Neither is mine, and we certainly don't have to agree on it. In the end, we'll all end up in the same place: flipping on the television on April 5 when the Cubs open up the 2016 season against the LA Angels.
Kyle Schwarber will continue to play in the outfield (and also at catcher). Jorge Soler too. Kris Bryant will be at third, Anthony Rizzo at first, and Joe Maddon will have his hands on the controls in the dugout. Nothing is wrong with these guys. They ran into a buzzsaw of a pitching staff, filled with guys who throw 95-plus with movement and precision. If they weren't hitting the corners, the series would've probably been different.
Joe Maddon's sole focus is to put the Cubs in the best position to win every single game. He's had that mindset since the April 5th season opener against the Cardinals, and hasn't strayed from it since. For the most part, he builds what he considers the strongest offensive lineup against the opponent's starting pitcher. The goal is simple: get a lead in the first six innings, and gradually maneuver into a lineup that is more defensive oriented to give the bullpen the best chance at holding the lead.
This also means that nobody's spot in the lineup is safe. Though Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are going to be on the field everyday, they have no idea until the lineup card is posted in the clubhouse where they'll be hitting. And for Bryant, he has no idea where he'll play positionally. The only person who knows where they're fielding and batting every day is Dexter Fowler, who has started all but three of his 149 games as the leadoff hitter playing in center.
The biggest question going into every game recently has been who's flanking the steady Fowler in the outfield. Is Kyle Schwarber in left field, or is it right field tonight because Pittsburgh is a notoriously hard place for a hitting-focused left fielder? Is Chris Coghlan in the lineup, or is Maddon going to buck the lefty hitter/righty pitcher matchup to get Jorge Soler's powerful bat in the order?
In his short time since becoming manager, Joe Maddon has made quite the impression with the Chicago Cubs fanbase and the city of Chicago. The team has defied expectations and is in contention for the playoffs, way ahead of schedule. And if the recent pajamas day after Jake Arrieta's no-hitter is any indication, the team is having a whole lot of fun along the way.
But Maddon's reach has extended beyond the clubhouse, as he likes to give back to the community with various charity events. One of those events will be occurring Thursday, Sept. 3 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs manager and his wife Jaye will be hosting a "Spoxing for Charity" event from 10am to 4pm inside Gate F at the Friendly Confines. This unique sport has become that latest trend in the fitness world.
The oblique injury Soler suffered on a throw during Sunday's series finale against Atlanta will lay him up for at least a month, and possibly for the season depending on the severity. Tommy La Stella suffered the same injury in April, and he's now just returning to the majors after a major setback during rehab.
Kris Bryant is an average third baseman. Starlin Castro is below average at shortstop. Kyle Schwarber is pretty bad at catching. Jorge Soler is brutal in right field. All these guys have, can, or will hit at the Major League level, but defense is more or less a skill that stays relatively consistent throughout a player's trip through the minors and into the majors.
As a hitter, a tweak in stance, swing, or approach can catapult a player into a superstar (see: Bautista, José) in the matter of months. As a fielder, it takes reps. Thousands upon thousands of ground balls or fly balls off a fungo bat and in live game action is the only way to improve on top of natural ability. Even then, one might only become incrementally better defensively.
The only way to advance a sport is to tinker. Baseball isn't perfect. Neither is football, basketball, or soccer. To improve, new ideas need to be tested. In 1879, it took nine balls for a hitter to get walked. By 1887, the leaders of the sport had regulated it down to just five.
Strike zones have changed over time too. If an idea flops, you can always revert back to the old ways. The NBA moved in the three-point line for three seasons in the mid-90s before moving it back to its original 23 feet, nine inches. Trial and error leads to progress. The rules of these sports are not sacred. The DH will come to the National League in the next 25 years, and so will an automated system for the calling of balls and strikes. Don't fight it; resistance is futile.
For the first time in the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer tenure, the Cubs are in position to buy at the deadline. But just because they're currently sitting in a playoff spot, doesn't mean they'll sell off their deep stable of prospects to make a run in 2015.
The Cubs have been rumored to be in the market for the holy trinity: starters, relievers, and hitters. Every team could use a guy from each of those groups, right? But if we know anything about the Cubs front office, the move will be calculated. They know the young hitters that make up the majority of their lineup aren't close to peak yet, and pulling out the stops for 13 starts from a pitcher that's going to be a free agent in November doesn't make much sense when looking at the big picture. And before we get started, nobody is giving up a stud player for Albert Almora. Sure, he was the Cubs' top prospect once upon a time, but he's struggled as he's moved up through the minors because of real difficulties with plate discipline and consistent power. Teams aren't interested in struggling prospects unless they're getting them at a discount.
The Cubs needed a leadoff hitter. They needed someone to get on base, maybe run a little bit here and there, and most importantly, man the outfield with a history of playing some center. And if they were getting greedy, said player would be on a short contract as to not hold up prospects they like. Dexter Fowler checked every possible box.
The cost: Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. Straily was the "third" player in the deal that sent Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland for Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. Straily pitched a bit at Wrigley last season, but struggled in his seven National League contests, and was among the Cubs glut of back-end starters that might not be good enough to pitch every fifth day. You could trust him for two weeks if a starter got hurt, but you didn't want to lean on him for more than that. On a great team, he's a seventh or eighth starter, and the Cubs were fine sending him out with Edwin Jackson, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Eric Jokisch all still around to fight for the final rotation and long-man spots.
It took much longer than most people thought it would, but after the Cubs and WGN came to an agreement last week on the remaining 45 games where the Cubs lacked a television partner, the near-term future of watching the team was put to rest. That is, if you live in Chicago.
When I was growing up in rural Shannon, Illinois -- a couple hours west of our fair city -- I became a Cubs fan because of their hats: blue with a red C, matching up perfectly with my favorite colors and the first letter of my name (lay off me -- I was 5). But the only reason I got the opportunity to see them was because of their unique television contract with WGN the superstation. It's how countless people in every corner of the country came to love a team that really wasn't very good.
Fast forward to now, in a day and age where almost every major league team carries a high majority of their games on regional cable networks to guarantee their team's games can be seen by a wide audience, the Cubs are going in the opposite direction because they lack negotiating power.
The plan has been clear since the very first day. The franchise and the ballpark had to be broken down, and rebuilt from the ground up. The last 48 hours are the manifestation of more than three years of blood, sweat, and patience. On opening night in 2015, a videoboard will show replays to the paying customers, Jon Lester will be on the mound, and Miguel Montero will be behind the plate as his battery-mate. It's time to get excited.
Though it seemed like it took forever, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez all developed quickly with even more reinforcements waiting in the wings. Shrewd trades brought the Cubs three hard-throwing relievers who can be counted on every day, a possible ace in Jake Arrieta, and a strike-zone nipping control artist in Kyle Hendricks. Their closer came via a $50,000 gamble in the Rule 5 draft. Drafting, international talent, sign-and-flip free agents and a vast number of trades put the Cubs in position to open up their wallets in a big, yet responsible way.
Professional athletes aren't naive. They can look at a roster just as easily as you can, and make a pretty good guess at how well the team is going to fare. They're probably going to be more accurate in their assessment too. When Jason Hammel agreed to a one-year deal with the Cubs for the 2014 season, he knew precisely what he was getting into.
The best case scenario for him came to fruition: a stellar start to the season made him a key cog in the Cubs acquisition of consensus top three prospect Addison Russell. Chicago offered Hammel a rotation spot and an opportunity to show what he can do when healthy, and in return, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were able to sell high and add a highly valuable prospect. They parted ways on amicable terms, with Hammel even telling the media he wouldn't be opposed to returning.
Joe Maddon being the manager of the Cubs would've been a laughable storyline a month ago. He was still in Tampa Bay under contract, and the Cubs were happy with the job Rick Renteria did in his first year managing. An opt-out, a phone call, and beers outside an RV in Pensacola, Florida, and everything changed. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have talked extensively about this offseason being one where the organization will dip into free agency with a stack of cash at the ready. Maddon was the first, albeit unexpected, example to back up their statements.
Now it's time for the players. The core talent is ready to take the next step, and possibly turn the corner. Expecting a playoff berth in 2015 is much too aggressive as the way the team is currently constituted, and probably still is even if they land big names at positions of need. The young talent on the team is going to struggle next season -- prepare yourself for that, and be ecstatic if they exceed that expectation. Adding free agents isn't just about 2015. It's about 2016, 2017, and 2018 too -- all years in which the Cubs hope to challenge for a spot in the playoffs.
Signing all the top free agents and jumping the payroll to $150 million isn't a smart route to go either. Once you do that, there's no going back. The Yankees are bogged down by massive contracts to old players they feel compelled to play because of their contract, and might sit out that top-tiered free agent this year because of it. Even though it may seem like good business now, spending crazy amounts of money doesn't guarantee wins and can absolutely obliterate the team's ability to maneuver down the road.
Rick Renteria is an affable guy. He always seems to have a smile on his face unless Edwin Jackson has loaded the bases in the second inning while already down 3-0, though anyone would have smug look it that was happening for the third time in a month.
The Cubs got fantastic performances out of the guys they cared about most in 2014. Anthony Rizzo was arguably the best first basemen in the National League because he figured out how to hit left-handed pitching, and Starlin Castro found his hitting stroke by posting his best weighted on-base average, and surprisingly, the best walk rate of his career. Jake Arrieta turned himself into a potential ace with quite possible the nastiest slider in all of baseball, Kyle Hendricks proved that he could easily function as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater, and the three youngest guys in bullpen that threw more than 30 innings combined for 2.9 wins above replacement.
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Cubs losing games right now is actually good for their future plans. Yeah, yeah, you've read and heard the same thing for a few years now. Lose games now, better draft picks, more prospects, blah, blah, blah. Well if there's one thing the front office has proven, it's that they can spot good young talent and develop those players all the way to the majors.
The Cubs losing five in a row after winning 12 of their previous 18 and sweeping the Brewers is really the best thing for not only a better draft pick, but for their free agency plans. Why does a team's season record matter for free agency? Because MLB's rules are a bit idiotic, but that discussion is for another day.
Jorge Soler was going to need September at-bats anywhere he could get them because of hamstring injuries that sidelined him earlier in the summer. And with Iowa all but eliminated from the playoffs after a rough stretch of baseball the last two weeks, there was only once place to go: Chicago. Soler was already on the 40-man roster -- requiring no extra hoops to jump through or roster implications delaying his promotion to the majors (as we're seeing with Kris Bryant to some degree).
He's a physical specimen, listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, but the one thing that has put him on the fast track is his plate discipline. Sure, he's hit for a high average with great power, but the front office is interested in complete hitters. Soler qualifies, drawing 33 walks against just 48 strikeouts in his 62-game season thus far in 2014. In his two-and-a-half seasons in the minor leagues, he's finally reached the 600 at-bat total, which is comparable to a full, healthy season at the major league level. His triple slash line: .307/.383/.551 with 28 homers and strikeout-to-walk ratio well below 2.0.
In all, 12 trades were executed on the day of the MLB trade deadline. A ton of big names are changing jerseys, including David Price (Tigers), Jon Lester (A's), Yoenis Cespedes (Red Sox), John Lackey (Cardinals), and Allen Craig (Red Sox).
The Cubs had already made their big pre-deadline move, sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland in exchange for a fringe starting pitcher and the A's top two prospects (Addison Russell and Billy McKinney -- who are both dominating with their new teams), and they look smart for moving early too. Though they traded their top two starters away, they easily got the best haul of prospects in return, especially compared to what the Rays got back for the Cy Young award winning Price. Hammel struggled so mightily in his first four starts in Oakland that Billy Beane got on the phone and traded his cleanup hitter for an ace starting pitcher, a move that basically pushes Hammel out of their playoff rotation, barring injury.
Below you'll find a list of which Cubs players are most likely to see their chances at winning a title this season drastically increase with a new address. One guy you won't see on there is Starlin Castro -- despite the rumors that teams (the Mets being the most interested) are interested in acquiring the shortstop enjoying a bounce-back season. Every player has a price in the front office's mind, but the chances of any other team meeting the cost of a 24-year-old shortstop that is fourth in the majors in weighted on base average at his position is so miniscule that it's not worth wasting column space (and your time) discussing the possibility.
And as much as you want to see him go, Edwin Jackson won't be selling his home in Chicago anytime soon. The Cubs would have to pay a significant portion of the remaining $22 million Jackson is owed in 2015 and 2016, and I don't see the team doing that for a minimal return. He's not going anywhere.
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein got offered one of the top hitting prospects in the minor leagues, and they didn't hesitate to make their move. For the third consecutive year, the Cubs have traded 40 percent of their starting rotation to add prospects -- this time, doing it all in one deal.
The Cubs tried on a few occasions to extend Jeff Samardzija past 2015, even offering him a reported $85 million over five years in their latest overture a few weeks ago. Samardzija declined, in search of Homer Bailey money, and it became an utter guarantee that he was going to be traded. Jason Hammel, a $6 million reclamation grab in free agency last winter, was always thought to be a tradeable piece, as the Cubs have done with Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman in 2012 and 2013.
When the Cubs traded Scott Feldman to the Orioles for Arrieta and Pedro Strop last July, the team was taking chances on a pair of cost-controlled pitchers who showed flashes of brilliance, but were never able to harness anything close to consistency. They had worn out their welcome for a Baltimore team looking to follow up their 2012 trip to the playoffs with a deeper run in 2013, and the Orioles needed a starting pitcher they could trust. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer struck at the opportunity.
Season ending arm injuries haven't just been limited to professional pitchers this season. In a draft that lacks a superstar-caliber player (for now), the calling card for the 2014 MLB Draft (known officially as the Rule 4 Draft) has been its depth at the top -- especially when it comes to pitching.
That was three months ago. Since then, East Carolina RHP Jeff Hoffman, once thought as a lock in the top five, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Pre-season top 15 pick Erick Fedde from UNLV is in the same boat. TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan missed starts in April with shoulder soreness, and that's worrisome because he's short (5'11"), has a funky pitching motion (think Chris Sale, but not as pronounced), and attended a school with a history overusing arms. All told, injuries and injury scares have robbed the top end of the quality pitching the class was becoming known for.
When WGN radio opted out of the final years of their contract with the Cubs in the hopes of renegotiating a more fiscally responsible deal, the writing on the wall was pretty clear: The Cubs were going to be broadcast somewhere else in the future.
Reports from acrosstheChicagomediaspectrum say that WBBM-AM 780 will be announced tomorrow as the new radio home of the Cubs. The deal is for seven years, and will likely come in at around $10-$12 million per season in revenue for the team -- at or slightly above the same rate as the WGN deal was.
After a 2012 season that saw Scott Feldman's ERA spike over 5.00, the Cubs took a shot on him for a one-year deal worth $6 million in 2013. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer looked at his tape and stat sheet and thought he was a bit unlucky. Despite the high ERA, they saw a guy in Feldman who had a career high strikeout rate per nine innings, and a career low rate in walks per nine as well.
Their gamble paid off in spades. Feldman kept that strikeout-to-walk rate close to his career high from the season before, and he rebounded with a 3.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in the 91 innings he threw before being dealt to Baltimore for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Feldman pitched almost exactly the same amount of innings (91 vs 90.2), with nearly identical hits allowed (79 vs 80), strikeouts (67 vs 65) and walks (25 vs 31), and his ERA in Baltimore ended up nearly a full point higher at 4.27. The Cubs took advantage of Feldman's good fortunes, and turned him into a pair of pitchers that could make a difference for the organization in the years to come.
One worry floating around about Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's plan is that they haven't been able to secure a front-of-the-rotation starter up to this point through drafts, trading, or the international market. Sure, C.J. Edwards (the highest ranked pitcher in the Cubs system) is thought of by some to have ace potential, but he'd need to add about 40 pounds before anyone starts taking him that seriously.
Knowing this weakness, the focus during the last two winters has been finding a young starting pitcher on the free agent market who has the potential to be around (and still successful) when the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Albert Almora are all ready for the big stage. But they've come up short in the bidding on both Anibal Sanchez and Masahiro Tanaka.
The Matt Garza trade from last July looks better every day the Cubs show up to their shiny new facility in Mesa, Arizona.
At the time, the prize of the deal was thought to be C.J. Edwards, the skinny starting pitcher from South Carolina that was basically an afterthought as a 48th round pick in the 2011 draft, only to blow away minor league hitters to the tune of a 1.72 ERA and a jaw dropping 240 strikeouts in 183 innings thus far. He crackedeverytop 100 list with his breakout performance split between low and high-A in 2013, and will make the difficult jump to double-A in less than a month.
Over two years into Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's reign running the Cubs organization, with 'The Plan' made known to the public from day one, there is still a large group of fans that are furious. They call sports talk stations, post on message boards, and whine through Facebook statuses that the team isn't pursuing and signing free agents to massive contracts. Or they write about it for a major Chicago newspaper.
The implication in the first place just isn't true. Almost every major news outlet in Chicago confirmed last month that the Cubs offered Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka a deal worth $120 million (he signed with the Yankees for $155 million). He's likely the only player in the last few years to receive a bid that high from the Cubs, but there are specific reasons for that. He would've filled a major need (starting pitching) for the team going forward, and would also be playing out the contract during the peak years of the MLB aging curve -- while syncing up perfectly with the projected arrival times of the team's top prospects.
It's difficult for many fans to get excited about the start of spring training when most probability models have the Cubs sitting somewhere around the 70-win mark for 2014. It's obvious that the organization hasn't built the major league club to compete for anything besides a spot at the top of the draft, but that strategy has put the Cubs in an enviable position of rebuilding teams.
Most websites that grade prospect talent in baseball have four Cubs in the Top 50, and as many as eight in the Top 100. The system is loaded with both high-upside and high-floor talent for the first time in years, and most of that talent is in AA and AAA. Why is the remembering that important? Consider where the Cubs were three years ago.
"Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs," said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. "We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly."
Masahiro Tanaka wasn't entirely about the money. Sure, he did sign with the Yankees, who were offering him the most cash, but from all accounts, he wanted to win now and be the best pitcher on the team doing the winning. All the stars pointed to New York, who desperately needed a top-30 pitcher to give them a chance at reaching the playoffs with a dangerously old team that won't start a single player under 30 years old on opening day.
Seven years and $155 million is a lot of coin for a guy, who despite having great stuff to go along with an ace's mindset, has never thrown a pitch on American soil. He's also been worked to the bone, which isn't unusual for Japanese starters who only throw every sixth day (compared to every fifth in the U.S.), but is a bit alarming when you learn that he started pitching professionally and throwing a staggering amount of innings when he was 18 and 19 years old. Just last year, he threw 160 pitches in a Game 6 loss during the Japan Series, only to go out and throw 15 more the following night to close the game and win the series. That kind of effort will instantly make you part of MLB lore, but it's also dangerous to the arm.
The question about Greg Maddux's bid for the Hall of Fame was never "will he get in?" but rather, Hhow close will it be to unanimous?" The answer is 16 because of weird beliefs about nobody deserving to be a first ballot Hall of Famer because Babe Ruth wasn't, or a has-been writer seeking attention by only voting for Jack Morris on his 15th and final year on the ballot.
His numbers were stunning in both old age stats and progressive era sabermetrics. 355 wins, a 3.16 ERA, and a mind-blowing complete game every seventh time he toed the rubber on average. He was worth 106.8 wins above a replacement level pitcher for his career, and walked only 999 batters (and just 822 unintentionally) in his 5,008 innings pitched. Sure, he also struck out more than 3,300 hitters, but he'd much rather bait you into a pop-up or a bouncer back to the mound than waste time and energy trying to throw it past you.
He was the definition of reliability, taking the ball every fifth day like clockwork. The stat to back it up might be my personal favorite: 21 consecutive years (from age 22 to 42), he threw 194 innings or more. And the number would undoubtedly be 200 or more had managers not found it necessary to pinch hit for him late in games.
The only sad part of the story, from a Chicago perspective, is that he couldn't win all four of his Cy Young's and 18 Gold Gloves as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
It's unusual for an offseason day to be filled with non-free agent news, but the Cubs sure did it up right yesterday. Three major stories involving the organization made headlines yesterday afternoon, and each deserves column space.
Rick Renteria Hired as Manager
Ladies and gentlemen, the next manager of your Chicago Cubs: RICK RENTERIA! No? Nothing? Let me try that again. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE NEXT MANAGER OF YOUR CHICAGO CUBS: RICK RENTERIA!!!!! Still nothing, huh? Well then.
Being a Cubs fan at this particular point in time requires epic amounts of patience. In the months of August and September, you start to convince yourself that the pain will never end, and you might end up as just another Cubs lover who will never see their favorite team win a title.
Then comes October. Playoff teams battle it out, bad teams fire their managers, and the talk of 'next year' starts to flood the airwaves and internet columns. It's also marks the beginning of the Arizona Fall League, where top prospects from around the majors gather for five weeks of stiff competition to either extend a shortened season (Kris Bryant), prove they're recovered from an injury (Jorge Soler and Albert Almora) or try and confirm a solid season wasn't a mirage (Wes Darvill).
For Cubs fans that are sold on a system loaded with prospects, it's baseball they can watch and actually be excited about. Except that the games aren't televised.
It didn't matter if it was this year or next. Few people, if any, believed that Dale Sveum was going to be the manager of the Cubs following the expiration of his contract in 2014. Whomever Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer selected as their manager before the 2012 season was the guy to bridge the gap. The man that was going to take lumps with substandard Major League talent. That guy was Sveum, and he wasn't terribly bad at doing it.
It wasn't about wins and losses. Epstein said it himself. They were purposely not investing money in the free agent market -- instead choosing to gorge on international talent, prospect laden trades and high draft picks to re-stock the feeble farm system that stood in front of him when he arrived at the friendly confines a few years ago.
The plan, for the most part, has worked. The Cubs will enter the 2014 season with a farm system that is consensus top three, along with as many as five prospects in the top 40 in all of Major League Baseball. Some of whom -- namely, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant -- will have a chance at cracking the Chicago lineup at some point during the season. With that in mind, Epstein decided it was Sveum's time to go.
As the long hot summer afternoons fade gently into the short crisp autumnal dusk, so goes the iconic ivy in Wrigley Field on Clark and Addison. What starts naked and vulnerable upon the red brick in the outfield, where the likes of Moreland, Pafko and Sosa once chased flies, slowly begins to turn to an effervescent green through the dog days, until finally a yellowish-red-brown combination, unfortunately not witnessed very often by the players or fans within the Friendly Confines.
This circle of life breeds optimism amongst the Cubbie faithful, lo these decades, with the metaphoric: there always will be baseball, just as the ivy will be reborn, grow and then die off with the season itself, only to return once again.
The same generations who shared the highs and lows of this merry-go-round also have done so with buying scorecards and Cracker Jacks for their sons and daughters, while enjoying an ice-cold beer and basking in the suns' rays. As the sweat begins to bead on your forehead, so forms the condensation on the outside of that 16-ounce cup and drips to the peanut shell-covered concrete.
Having too many high-quality prospects is never a bad thing. A good chunk of them won't amount to much in the major leagues, so hoarding a large amount of them just betters the organization's chance at hitting big on a few.
Four of the Cubs hitters are almost guaranteed to be consensus Top 20 ranked in baseball when the lists come out (from MLB, ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America) in the winter. And depending how things break after the Arizona Fall League, the number of Cubs prospects in the Top 100 could be as many as nine(!!!).
The only problem with all that talent is finding a place for them all to play. You'd think with four, full-time minor league clubs on top of their summer league team in Boise and instructional league squads in Arizona, that wouldn't be an issue. But it is.
Events dubbed All-Star games that include former pros have a tendency to underwhelm when it comes to the talent booked to participate. That isn't so with this weekend's inaugural Larry A. Pogofsky Chicago All-Star Softball Challenge.
White Sox superstars Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez and Ron Kittle along with embattled manager Ozzie Guillen will square off against former Cubs Derrek Lee, Gary Matthews Jr., and Jamie Moyer at the Schaumburg Boomers Stadium. The game begins at 4pm, with a Kid's Clinic taking place prior to the contest at 2:30. General admission and VIP tickets to the game or the clinic can be purchased here.
Proceeds for the event will benefit Chicago Cubs and White Sox charities, the Special Kids Network, and the Larry A Pogofsky Trust. An online auction is also being held with a number a very cool prizes, including roster spots in the game, coaching spots in the Kid's Clinic, and positions as honorary bat boy/girl for each squad.
If you haven't read Mike Chamernik's post about replaying baseball history with the pre-playoff rules -- where team's with the best record from each league met for the World Series -- I encourage you to do so. To quickly refresh you what he did, he created a document [PDF] showing the actual World Series matchups had the playoffs not been expanded in 1969, and played out the White Sox World Series scenarios in 1983, 2000, and 2005 using a fantastic website that allows you to do such things: WhatIfSports.com.
Whether you believe it was Oscar Wilde speaking of writers, Picasso talking about artists, or T.S. Eliot describing poets, the thought process is the same: Good writers borrow, great writers steal. So I took Mike's idea (with his permission), and ran simulations for the potential Cubs World Series trips (let's all spare ourselves the usual stupidity about the Cubs reaching the Series, shall we?) in 1984, 1989 and 2008. The results were pretty fantastic.
Like Mike (who I wanna be like), I plugged in the teams' common late sesson/postseason lineups and pitching rotation (based on what actually happened in the playoffs), and conducted simulations for each game, complete with play-by-play and box score.
Everyone has probably seen the lines of blue bikes somewhere around the city. It didn't take long for them to make their way to Wrigley Field.
The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will celebrate the opening of a new Divvy bike share station at the corner of Clark St. and Waveland Ave. at the northwest corner of Wrigley, along with a new "People Spot" on the corner of Southport Ave. and Addison St.
To commemorate the two, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, and Lakeview Chamber of Commerce executive director Heather Way will ride Divvy bikes from the new share station to the People Spot location at 11:30 this morning.
The Chicago sports landscape is a vast space, reaching as far as the Quad Cities to Nashville, with legions of fans who stick with their teams through thick and thin. And much like that landscape in the middle of February, it is often dark and cold for what seems like an eternity, with no hope in sight. But once every so often, a beam of light shines through, melting away the ice and once again restoring hope for athletics in the Second City.
With so much drama and so many teams in the country's third-largest market, it became necessary for news outlets to canvas the city's north, south and west sides with sports writers, just as they crammed the courts and morgues with beat writers as early as they dawn of the newspaper.
In the winter of 2006, former general manger Jim Hendry set out to fill what he, along with many in the industry, considered to be the missing piece for the Cubs to reach the playoffs and beyond. His goal: sign a leadoff hitter -- regardless of price. On November 21st, he inked the most expensive contract for a top of the order bat in the history of baseball. Soon to be 31-year-old Alfonso Soriano was coming to the Cubs for a cool $136 million over eight years.
Soriano had just completed his best season as a major leaguer, becoming just the fourth player in the history of baseball to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same year (ironically, he'll be teaming up with another in Alex Rodriguez -- a player he was also traded for in his career). In his six full seasons, he had never played less than 145 games. The expectations that came along with the $136 million were astronomical. And that's where the problems started.
The mid-2000s was a time of transition in Major League Baseball. Getting on base and drawing walks, especially at the top of the lineup, was quickly becoming a talking point for anyone familiar with Michael Lewis's bestseller "Moneyball". Soriano didn't draw many walks and the organization had to continuously beat back the idea of moving him down in the order. Hendry paid for his stolen bases too, not just his homers. It wasn't until July 4th of 2009 that Soriano was freed from the leadoff spot.
Judging trades that involve a number of prospects is incredibly hard to do the day it happens. The hope is that the return is a healthy combination of quantity and quality when you're dealing what many consider the top player that is readily available on the market.
Here's what we do know, however. Whichever team traded for Garza was receiving a two month rental, and no more. Unless an extension is negotiated as part of the deal, then two months and roughly 12 starts is all you can count on. If you need proof of that, look no further than Dempster and Texas just last season. If all goes as planned, maybe a few extra starts in postseason play can be expected as well. So that's what the Cubs traded. A starter they weren't going to sign to a long-term extension because they didn't want to commit enough years/cash for a pitcher that's widely considered a number two or three starter to go along with an injury history that makes general managers wake up in pools of sweat if he's signed long term.
After well over five hours of hearings, backroom negotiations, along with an emotional note from Alderman Tom Tunney, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the signage portion of the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field renovation plan. The deal calls for smaller signs than the ones outlined in the April agreement, but Wrigley will be getting the controversial Jumbotron in left center (5,700-square-foot total) along with a much reduced see-through sign in right field coming in at 650 square feet if the plan is approved by the city council.
Despite the sizes being smaller than what the Cubs' ownership was hoping for, it was a major score for Tom Ricketts in an effort to monetize portions of the ballpark to offset some of the cost of the $500 million renovation and restoration project. It should also improve the game-day experience for anyone in attendance. Not sure who's coming up to bat next inning? The board will answer. Did Angel Hernandez blow that call at first base? I want the truth!
If you thought watching Cubs baseball this year couldn't get any worse, just wait until the club gets finished dealing away their tradable assets. But alas, the swaps of players and cash are all in the name of the future. With the Cubs in fourth place in a stacked National League Central along with sporting the fifth worst record in baseball, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wasted no time in pulling the trigger yesterday afternoon.
In the span of 30 minutes, three trades were announced that not only reshaped the current team, but gave the Cubs more cash to spend on the international market. Without making the system sound complicated, each organization is given a budget based on the reverse order of how they finished in 2012. The budgets are broken into four different slots for each team at decreasing values, and are available to be traded. Teams can use the money they have or trade for however they'd like to sign as many eligible foreigners to play for them as they choose.
Instead of breaking down the trades individually, here's a look at the incoming and outgoing assets for the Cubs yesterday afternoon:
The good days were so few and far between that it seemed like months since Carlos Marmol was able to pitch a clean inning without allowing a base runner. The truth is, he threw one as recently as June 14th nary a hit or a walk -- it just took him 20 pitches to do so. All of the bad started blurring together, and it led to the Cubs designating the former star for assignment.
The process was never easy with Marmol. Even when he was a dominant reliever from 2007-2010, he issued a ton of free passes to the tune of 15 percent of the batters he faced for his career, and never getting below 10 percent in any given season. He got away with the wildness by having one of the most devastating sliders in the history of the game, combined with a fastball that moved just far enough with barely enough velocity to make the slider something players feared. If opponents hit it, the contact was weak...if they hit it.
Though Marmol pitched incredibly well in the second half of 2012, he couldn't even warm up during a game in Chicago without hearing the boo-birds this season. They had a good reason for it too. With a 5.86 ERA and allowing nearly a walk an inning to go along with six home runs allowed, he's lucky he didn't start getting a standing ovation every time he came into a game on the road.
When you're paid like an offensive star on a team that lacks them, prolonged slumps can drag down the entire lineup, making losing weeks seem like months. The Cubs were able to rattle off a five-game winning streak to close out the month of May, but have sandwiched it with a pair of 2-8 records in the ten games before and after the streak.
Hitting and scoring runs have been the crux of the problem for the North Siders all year, and Starlin Castro's lack of production has been front and center. He ranks in the bottom-10 in the league in Wins Above Replacement (actually coming in as a -0.5 - below a normal triple-A replacement player) and it mostly has to do with his bat, posting a triple slash line of .201/.257/.269 over the last 33 games. He's striking out at a career high clip, walking at a career low, and hitting more pop ups when he does happen to make contact. It's been a miserable year for him in the batter's box.
The MLB Draft doesn't get the kind of notoriety that its NFL and NBA counterparts do. It mostly comes down to college and high school baseball not being as ridiculously popular as college football and basketball are, but it also stems from the fact that most players taken are years away from having an impact. Examples: just one player from the top three rounds of the 2012 draft has appeared in the majors, and only eight from the 2011 draft have debuted, with none of them possessing higher than a 0.7 WAR (wins above replacement).
It's even worse when there isn't a superstar prospect like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, or Ken Griffey Jr. to hang your hat on for some easy publicity. In fact, the 2013 draft is being considered one of the weakest in years. But despite the lack of abundant talent, the Cubs are sitting in a great spot to land a top prospect with the No. 2 overall pick.
With the Cubs low-A affiliate now located in Kane County (Fifth Third Bank ballpark in Geneva), it's incredibly easy and cheap to get out and see the future of the ballclub for yourself instead of having to read about it from dozens of sources. If you haven't had a chance to go yet, I recommend doing so. Parking is $5, and the seats that my girlfriend and I snagged were the most expensive non-suite tickets in the stadium: $15 on game day just a few rows off the field. You can go even cheaper than that and still have great seats.
The game we saw on Saturday night was a 15-2 demolition put on by Cedar Rapids without their best player, Byron Buxton. Despite the outcome, I was able to get a look at four out of the five Cougar players who appear on MLB.com's Top 20 prospects for the Cubs (Pierce Johnson started earlier in the week, and has been solid all year for Kane County).
It had been 10 months to the day since Matt Garza stepped onto the mound in a major league game. After being plagued with multiple injuries during that time, his return had been long awaited by not only the Cubs organization and its fans, but other teams around the league in need of an impact arm for a playoff race.
Twinty-four hours later, the talk about his performance, which was dynamite, has been overshadowed by the terrible bullpen backing him up, along with a lack of communication that is infuriating to see in a professional organization.
The line: 5IP, 1H, 3BB, 5K in just 82 pitches was exactly what everyone was hoping to see. He was sharp with all four of his pitches and stayed out of any potential trouble early knowing he was on a short pitch count. He even drove in a pair of runs of his own en route to leaving with a 3-0 lead.
It's as if Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has been waiting years to give Anthony Rizzo a huge sum of money. Hoyer drafted him in Boston, traded for him in San Diego, and dealt for him a second time after rejoining Theo Epstein in Chicago. Where Hoyer goes, Rizzo goes.
Late last night, Rizzo and the Cubs agreed to a seven-year, $41 million extension that runs through 2019 (the extension will supercede his contract this season), and also includes a pair of team option years valued at $14.5 million each in 2020 and 2021. It buys out his four arbitration years, along with up to three years of free agency if all goes well. Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Rizzo.
Luis Valbuena, a no-namer to most baseball fans, fits right in when looking at the history of third basemen for the Cubs. It was a black hole position after Ron Santo retired following the 1973 season. The Cubs used 97 different starters at the hot corner, including 18 different guys to play there on opening day in the 30 years following. Thankfully, Aramis Ramirez came along to end the streak of laughingstock players that manned the position between he and Santo.
Following Ramirez's departure after the 2011 season, Josh Vitters was seen as the in-house favorite to take over the reins for the next decade. The number three pick from the 2007 draft possessed what many considered one of the prettiest right handed swings in all of baseball. The problem was he never learned how to hold back that sweet looking swing on pitches that didn't deserve it, not to mention the fact that he struggled to field the ball cleanly. His time in the majors was disastrous, and the organization isn't pinning much hope on a resurgence in the future.
The most annoying of those have been the mental lapses in the field, particularly the ones being made by the 'futures of the franchise.' Starlin Castro has never been known for his defensive prowess, but Anthony Rizzo has been widely regarded as a potential Gold Glove candidate at first base at some point in the future. Unless, of course, he gets sent back down to Iowa.
"If people keep playing like that, you have to find options," Dale Sveum said before Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Brewers. "Give people playing time at Triple A to figure this stuff out."
Editors Note: Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the tragedy at yesterdays Boston Marathon. The Tribune Sports section nailed it. We are one with our friends in Boston.
Sunday night brought news that an agreement had been reached between the Ricketts family and the city on a $500 million renovation deal for Wrigley Field and the surrounding areas owned by the organization. The next step is public vetting before being voted on for approval. The process will more than likely be drawn out over the next few months, but there's little question of it's passing now that a framework is in place that includes mayor Rahm Emanuel and alderman Tom Tunney.
Despite having to bend in a few areas to make things work, the Cubs mostly got what they wanted. That fact isn't a big surprise considering the team is flipping the bill for the entire project, which is quite rare in this era of ballpark renovation.
The organization was right in letting Marmol open the season as the team's closer. A bad spring training shouldn't affect the role of a proven veteran that was absolutely electric as recently as the second half of 2012. But if part of the reasoning in keeping him there was to enhance his potential trade value, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made a tactical error.
Regardless of the words used to describe it, the trend is crystal clear: Premium free agents aren't hitting the market very frequently anymore. It also affirms the strategy that Theo Epstein and company are employing as the only way to succeed in the future.
Just because the Cubs likely won't outscore their opponents often enough to make the playoffs this year, doesn't mean 2013 is meaningless in the grand scheme of building a franchise. The one Cubs star who has had the spotlight pointed directly on him for a few years now is Starlin Castro. His growth is important to the future of the organization, and should be quite exciting to watch this calendar year.
He just turned 23, which is often a time that top prospects begin to crack into the Major Leagues. Instead, Castro begins his fourth season in Chicago. It's time to see what they really will get for the $60 million contract extension that kicks in on opening day.
Castro's home run production has risen each year he's been in the majors, topping out at 14 last year. His goal this year is probably the magic number of 20. It's lofty for someone that hasn't approached it before, but Castro makes hard enough contact that if he can increase his fly ball rate, he'll reach that goal with relative ease.
The concept of contention is laughable amongst the Cubs fan base these days. Everyone has been brainwashed (myself included) to willingly accept the high probability of losing in hopes there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But a last place finish in an Astros-less National League Central isn't a guarantee. It's just a probability.
For 16 months, the Cubs front office has done a masterful job convincing the fan base that bottoming out for a few seasons was the best way to transform the team into contenders year after year. Money that would typically be spent tweaking the team via free agency was going to be poured into the draft and player development.
The obvious ramification of that strategy is the team is going to be bad. Fine -- whatever will bring a championship to a fan base starving for one --most people are on board with it. But the unintended consequence of having bad players is that fans will get disinterested until the team is competitive again. During that time, ticket prices are going to fall quite extensively. It got to a point last year where you could snag a one dollar ticket to a game via StubHub (which ended up being around four of five bucks after fees).
TV contracts in Major League Baseball have exploded in dollars, and therefore importance when it comes to a franchise's finances. To make a bid at even a segment of games for a particular franchise, you better have a quarter billion George Washingtons to prevent being laughed out of the room.
With teams like the Rangers, Angels, and Dodgers setting record after record for money they'll earn for the right to broadcast their baseball games, the status quo has quickly become horribly outdated for a team like the Cubs.
In 2014, the team's contract with WGN-TV will expire. It's hard to imagine the Cubs not playing on channel nine (or whatever goofy number your cable carrier has assigned the station to), but those days will more than likely come to an end once the deal has run its course. It's all about the Benjamins now.
The trading of Tony Campana marks the end of the latest iteration of a Cubs player that some fans develop a foolish love for. Don't believe me? Check the comments about the trade on the Bleacher Nation Facebook page (BN is a site that every Cubs fan should be aware of and visit frequently if you want to get a pulse of the fanbase).
Mixed into the chatter about the great haul the Cubs received (two 17-year-old Venezuelan pitchers -- which is great return for a bench guy) along with the mocking of the people I'm talking about, you see the opinions that are infuriating. "SMH," mumbled one fan. "Worst trade of the year," complained another. It may take years, but a quest to rid these people of their shortsightedness is basically the job of the Cubs PR department (re: Theo Epstein).
Campana belongs in the big leagues, there's no question about it. He's quite possibly the best base stealer currently in the majors (Billy Hamilton is the best on the planet), and that skill has immense value in certain situations. But the teams that can maximize his unique abilities, while also dealing with his massive deficiencies, aren't the ones praying for 65 wins like the Cubs.
There are three things every professional sports team should be doing. They should be actively involved in events and organizations that benefit the community, treat their fans to a wonderful experience when attending games, and most of all, "Just win, baby!"
The Cubs are passing the first portion with flying colors, but when it comes to fan experience and winning, they're failing miserably.
Theo Epstein was hired over 15 months ago to take care of the baseball problem. And for a team that lacked any impact talent in the minor league system when he arrived, he's done an incredible job at flooding the farm with potentially great hitters in the coming years.
After 15 months of negotiating with the city on ways to upgrade the facilities at Wrigley Field, it seems Tom Ricketts is finally getting somewhere too. The proposed project would pour $300 million over five years into making Wrigley a better place for fans, staff, and players. The best part is not a single dollar of the cost will come from the taxpayers.
Lowering ticket prices makes for great press. It's even better after a losing season. Especially one of the 100-loss variety. It shows that you respect the fans, almost functioning as an apology to everyone who showed up to watch (or didn't watch).
But if you think the Cubs are sacrificing money for the sake of the fan base, you're being quite naive. Sure, the average season ticket price will be dropping from $50.06 to $48.96, but the numbers are a bit more complex.
The Cubs have a horribly confusing pricing structure that ranks every game into a five-tiered system based on opponent, day of the week, and time of the year. The rates for a Wednesday afternoon game against the Pirates in April are going to be far more affordable than a Saturday afternoon game against the Cardinals in July. It makes sense, but that doesn't even get into the price deviations for different sections of the ballpark.
The Chicago Cubs will lower tickets prices by 2 percent for the upcoming 2013 season. A team spokesman said that ticket prices will drop for 30 percent of the seats at Wrigley Field. The biggest reduction will be in the bleachers, where for a second season in a row the cost will drop by 10 percent.
According the dynamic ticket-pricing system, the most inexpensive bleacher seat for minimum-demand games will be $19, going up to $69 for high-demand games against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox. The upper deck reserved and upper deck box seats will also be reduced. Season-ticket holders will be charged $1 to $2 less than individual-ticket holders in the same seating area.
Attendance for the Chicago Cubs was 2.88 million for this season, 135,000 less than the 2011 season.
The moment that Adam Greenberg has dreamed about the past seven years probably ended far differently in his imagination than it did last night. Thirty-six seconds is all it took for Cy Young award candidate R.A. Dickey to blow three knuckleballs by the one-time Cubs prospect. His career is now over for a second time.
July 9, 2005. Greenberg was a promising prospect for the Cubs making his Major League debut. He was never going to hit 20 homers or steal 30 bases, but he possessed a skill that was quickly becoming coveted by every team at the time: the ability to draw a walk.
His first plate appearance came in the same city as Tuesday's did: Miami. It didn't last nearly as long. The first pitch turned out to be one he never saw; he was drilled in the back of the head by a 92mph fastball from journeyman lefty Valerio de los Santos.
It's been quite some time since the Cubs had a potential ace in their minor league system. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Mark Prior was the last supremely hyped hurler on the North Side. That one turned out like lighting a puddle of gasoline with a blowtorch, didn't it?
Since Mark Prior, the team's only first round pick to throw for the Cubs is Andrew Cashner - and he's already been shipped out in favor of another Cubs building block named Anthony Rizzo. The reason he was sent packing? Theo Epstein and Co. felt Cashner would never stay healthy enough to be a starting pitcher, and a power hitting first baseman with plus defense is well worth a reliever in a trade.
Arodys Vizcaino, the centerpiece in the late July trade that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to the Braves is basically the new Andrew Cashner. He has a three pitch arsenal (fastball, curveball, changeup) to go along with plus control. He instantly becomes the most electric arm in the Cubs system, and his ceiling is staff ace according to Keith Law of ESPN (among others). The only thing holding him back: health.
The allure of a baseball prospect comes down to one word: potential. Without a single Major League appearance, even a flailing newcomer still has hope for success long-term because any of the problems down on the farm don't count against your professional stat line.
Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters all experienced this in one form or another in 2012. Rizzo's failings in San Diego last year were forgotten with a hot start at Iowa, and Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters were still unknown commodities, despite the fairly obvious holes in their game. Nothing really mattered until we saw whether they struggled or succeeded in Chicago (and goodness, have both of them suckedsomething else).
Jorge Soler is the next player on that list. With the majority of the Cubs' prospects that were in the high minors promoted to the big leagues already, the great hope falls onto the shoulders of the 20-year-old Cuban defector with five-tool potential.
Being a first base prospect nowadays is impossibly hard. With pitching and defense being so prominent at the major league level, guys that profile for the position are judged almost solely by the amount of times they can clear the fence. If you play elite defense, scouts might cut you a slight break. And by slight, I mean they'll rate you as a high value prospect so long as you can still hit 30-plus home runs.
The reason is simple -- being the easiest and lowest valued defensive position on the field, teams would allow guys to play it with an oven mitt and a blind fold if it meant 40 homers. Anthony Rizzo lacks that elite-type of power, but does just about everything he can to make up for it with his glove.
Having a stud first basemen that can hit for average, power, and play above average defense is rare these days. Albert Pujols and Joey Votto are still the poster boys for the position, and Adrian Gonzalez still has to be considered despite power outage this season, but other than that, the position is desolate for an automatic All-Star starter. Anthony Rizzo may be that guy.
With wins and losses being utterly meaningless for the remainder of the season, it's high time to look at the pieces the Cubs have for the future. What players are Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer counting on to lead the team to the playoffs in the future? Our series begins with the new $60 million man, Starlin Castro.
Everyone has a strong belief about Castro. He's too lazy running the bases, too aggressive hitting, too distracted while fielding. Whatever you may think of him, he's now an incredibly rich young man. The Cubs agreed to a seven year contract extension that could stretch into 2020 with a team option tacked on the end. It's a big commitment to a player lacking a consensus opinion, but in an age of quarter billion dollar contracts, the Cubs may have scored themselves a steal.
The positives are clear. Castro, still just a 22-year-old kid, is locked up through what should be the most productive years of his career at what seems to be a reasonable price (when comparing it to numbers and ages of free agents en route to becoming billionaires). He's been a very capable hitter since the day he was called up, and has made great strides to improve defensively in his 400+ games.
If the rumors floating around Chicago and Peoria are true, the North Siders may have a new Low-A affiliate in 2013. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the Cubs are working toward a player development contract with the Kane County Cougars in a move that would bring their most local affiliate even closer to the Chicagoland area.
If the deal ends up happening (nothing can be signed or announced until after the minor league seasons end in September), the change in affiliates would be a major benefit to the Major League club by simply being closer geographically. The distance would allow Cubs executives a chance to see recent draftees more often, and even bring prospects to Wrigley Field on off days for workouts, along with familiarizing them with the city. It's also handy for rehabbing players being just a stone's throw away.
For the Cougars, the deal is too good to be true. They play in a great facility at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva (I was there earlier this year for the Midwest League All-Star Game, and couldn't speak more highly of it), and should see a major influx of fans (though they've had great attendance already) by housing the stars of tomorrow for the Cubs. Kane County is currently the Low-A affiliate for the Kansas City Royals.
Eight losses in a row doesn't matter. Being outscored by 86 runs on the season is irrelevant. Having the third worst record in baseball makes no difference. (You thought I was going to say 'priceless,' didn't you?)
To the Cubs front office, it's all part of the plan. Bottoming out is the only true way to rebuild. It's painful - and the only way to get through it is to convince yourself that it's all for the greater good.
Chicago has turned into Iowa East. Only 13 current players began the season on the Cubs active roster. Trades have gutted the team to a level this city hasn't seen since MJ left town for good in the summer of 1998.
Everyone knows about Starlin Castro (he's still just 22, folks), Anthony Rizzo, and the two-headed catching monster of Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, but a couple more highly touted prospects will be put under the microscope by Cubs brass during the final 53 games.
Hugs were abound in the Cubs dugout as Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto, and Paul Maholm said their final goodbyes to teammates as they were traded mid-game and pulled to avoid injury.
Maholm's brilliance over his last six starts, in which he's given up one run or less in each of them, has drastically increased his value to teams in need of a cheap starter, and the Atlanta Braves were finally able to pull off a deal with the North Siders (after a failed attempt at acquiring Ryan Dempster last week). Johnson will also be heading to the Braves to add right-handed bench depth the team has been searching for.
In exchange, the Cubs will receive a pair of minor league pitchers from the Braves, with Arodys Vizcaino being the main prize for Epstein and Hoyer, along with Jaye Chapman. A former Yankees prospect who was traded with Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez, Vizcaino entered the season as a Top 3 prospect in Atlanta's system (and Top 75 in baseball). Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, with a return date of early 2013 being likely.
The Cubs are 17-10 dating back to June 26th. And the only reason a random Tuesday in a season filled with awfulness to that point is because it was the beginning to what has been a fantastic first month of Anthony Rizzo's career.
Game winning hits are one thing, but nothing compares to the joyous celebration of a walk-off shot, especially against the arch rival Cardinals. It was Rizzo's first...ever. He had never hit a walk off jack in little league, high school, or the minor leagues, which is surprising for someone as talented as he is.
Rizzo has been nothing short of a revelation thus far. He's a core reason the Cubs have played so well the past month. Sure, the they've had dominant starting pitching coupled with a rock solid bullpen to the tune of only 3.98 runs per game allowed during that stretch, but something can be said for having a steady, powerful bat in the middle of the order.
Since his recall from Iowa (where he lit the world on fire with a .342/.405/.696 triple-slash line), Rizzo has abused National League pitching with the same dose of high batting average and power that has become exceedingly rare in the game. If Rizzo would've spent the entire season with the Cubs, there's little doubt he'd rank in the Top 25 in homers. But only eight of those players are hitting over .300 like he is.
What happened yesterday afternoon would not have occurred ten years ago. Sure, you can say that about a lot in the internet age, but in the sports world, the shenanigans on Twitter are the perfect start to a story your father might tell you. "Back in my day, things like this didn't happen..."
According to the sources of many trusted baseball writers (Ken Rosenthal, Mark Bowman, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, even MLB.com), the Cubs had traded Ryan Dempster (and presumably cash) to the Atlanta Braves for 22-year-old rookie starter Randall Delgado. A great haul for a player that could end up being a two-month rental for the Braves.
Delgado was ranked as a Top-50 prospect by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, and was ranked 98th overall by ESPN's Keith Law. He wasn't the best pitcher in the Braves system (with that award going to injured minor leaguer Julio Teheran), but as a projected mid-rotation starter, the talent being returned to the Cubs was surely present.
Then the train fell off the tracks. Dempster tweeted that he had not been traded, and he had no idea where the rumors were coming from. Writers that had previously mentioned the deal being done began backtracking. The swap went from finished, to just needing Dempster's approval (he has no-trade rights), to 50/50, to nobody knows anything in the matter of 30 minutes.
If you would've told me the Cubs would go 14-5 over any stretch this season, I would've found you a nearby stay in a comfy padded room. For a team destined to finish far below .500, a record like that (which is best in the league since June 25th), even over a small sample size, is something to be excited about.
The big thanks goes unquestionably to the starting staff, who have given up three or more runs in just five games during the successful run. And the timing couldn't be more perfect in terms of trade value. The hot performances not only help the current Cubs (if, for nothing else, to please the fans in attendance), but the future teams in the form of prospects.
Ryan Dempster's return from the DL was a continuation of his early season dominance. He's currently rolling with a 33-inning scoreless streak, and decided to celebrate his possible last days at Wrigley Field with a pizza party on the mound with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.
Rumors are already floating around that Dempster may not make his scheduled start in St. Louis tomorrow because a trade may be in the works. The Cubs are taking extra precautions by trading for Boston's Justin Germano, and scratching Casey Coleman from his start in Iowa last night so he's ready to go on Friday if needed.
Merriam-Webster is loaded with synonyms that could readily describe the first half performance of the Chicago Cubs. Though the team is sending a pair of players to the All-Star Game in Bryan LaHair and Starlin Castro, neither guy was an automatic selection and benefited from the National League lacking elite offensive talent.
Castro didn't make the All Star team because of his bat, the tool he's most known for. Instead, his selection was largely based on his drastic uptick defensively. He's currently fourth among shortstops who qualify in UZR 150 (a defensive metric created by Baseball Info Solutions), and though it's recommended to look at those numbers over a three-year span, it's been clear to anyone watching closely that Castro has really improved his consistency throwing and turning double plays. Plus, he may be the best middle infielder in the league at chasing down fly balls.
Six months ago, Cubs fans hadn't a clue who Anthony Rizzo was. And why should they have? He wasn't even a part of the organization at that point.
In the first major move of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime, the Cubs traded Andrew Cashner to the Padres for a player that Hoyer knew well. He drafted Rizzo in the 6th round in 2007 as Epstein's assistant in Boston, traded slugger Adrian Gonzalez for him while the GM in San Diego, and acquired his services for a third time this winter after reuniting with Theo in Chicago.
And now, the time has come for that unyielding commitment to be repaid. Rizzo, the team's top prospect, will make his Cubs debut on Tuesday at Wrigley Field against the Mets.
As a baseball fan, I pay attention to what happens around the league on a daily basis. But speaking as a Cubs fan only, I could absolutely care less about the White Sox outside of the six games a year the teams play one another. And I don't think they're more important than the rest of the season.
I don't celebrate the South Siders' failures. I don't get distraught when they succeed. One crappy baseball team is more than enough to worry about. It's clear however, that I'm in the minority when it comes to the "Crosstown Classic."
The Facebook status Mike wrote about Wednesday is right in line with what I see on my news feed as well, and is quite common amongst Cubs/Sox fans. I simply can't figure out why.
The Kane County Cougars hosted the Midwest League (Single-A) All-Star Game last night with four minor leaguers for the Cubs invited, while only three played because of an injury to catcher Rafael Lopez. I was lucky enough to attend the festivities, and was able to get a small look at each guy.
Before getting to the scouting reports - it's important to note that an All-Star game, while fun to attend because of the bulk of prospects on hand, is a difficult environment to judge a player because it's not a real game, pitchers are only throwing an inning at most, and hitters are trying to muster some good cuts in an at-bat or two.
The three Peoria Chiefs players (the Cubs Single-A affiliate) aren't among the top twenty prospects in the organization, but that doesn't mean they won't see the majors at some point in the future. A mechanical change here, a positional change there, and these guys come out of nowhere all the time.
After months of speculation where the questions seemed more focused on when Cuban defector Jorge Soler would sign rather than with whom, the Cubs landed the 20-year-old for $30 million over nine years.
The dollar amount might seem crazy when noting that many scouts (I'd link a couple articles - but they're behind paywalls) said Soler would probably be a top five pick in last week's MLB Draft. If he would've been eligible (only residents of the U.S., Canada, or a U.S. territory qualify), the offer he'd receive would be somewhere in the vicinity of 20 percent of that $30 million.
Why so much then? The answer is simple - a free market. Players taken in the MLB Draft have very little negotiating leverage because they can only talk with the team that drafts them. A high school player can threaten to go to college (I'm looking at you Albert Almora), but that forces him to wait three years for a payday that may not exist if there's an injury or lack of production (Almora will sign, don't worry). College juniors can threaten to return for their senior seasons, but they also risk losing money, and have even less negotiating power after graduation.
When Tom Ricketts b(r)ought Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox, the eternal goal was to bring a yearly contender to Wrigley Field by building the farm system through the draft and international market, followed by signing key free agents to bring it all together. But that target has moved a great deal since he arrived.
Two major rule changes made in the MLB collective bargaining agreement followed by a one unilateral change by the league have forced Epstein and Co. into attempting to corner the market in a new way. What is different, exactly? Let's take a look.
Additional Playoff Team in Each League
This change adopted by MLB just a month before the season is the one amendment that may help the Cubs (and any team in full selling mode). By adding a fifth team to each league's playoffs, more organizations will theoretically be in the hunt for a coveted playoff spot. That should, in turn, widen the market for potential trade chips the Cubs possess.
After erroneous conclusions were drawn from sources who were probably a couple of Wrigley Field janitors, rumors started flying late last week about any Cubs' player not named Jeff Samardzija being available via trade. Specifically, that Starlin Castro could be had for two impact prospects.
The article and discussion about Castro specifically became serious enough that Theo Epstein begrudgingly commented on the story (since he'd rather be focusing on draft preparation), saying that "Starlin Castro is the type of player we're looking to build around. There has been no trade consideration with him, whatsoever."
It was enough to call off the dogs for now, but lest we forget that just a few days before, Epstein said there was no such thing as an untouchable player if an otherworldly deal was presented to him. The moral of the story: Every man has his price.
That losing streak was painful. You knew the team would be bad this season considering the roster is littered with names that elicit far more raised eyebrows than it does smiles and nods, but you wish it wouldn't go to this extreme.
As a player, 12 games seems like an eternity. Hitters are pressing in every at-bat with runners in scoring position (see Friday's 0-for-12 performance in those situations), pitchers are fearful giving up a single run because the offense isn't scoring, and the bullpen seemingly blows every lead they're given. It got bad enough that general manager Jed Hoyer commented on it by saying it was "torture for all of us."
The White Sox went to Wrigley and swept the Cubs fairly easily this weekend, outscoring their North Side counterparts 16-6 while smashing eight home runs. The season's first interleague series was exactly what the Sox needed as they improved to .500 before a six game homestretch against Minnesota and Cleveland.
Too caught up in the NATO protests to watch baseball? Here were some of the highlights and lowlights of the three game set.
Players rarely retire at the right time. Some leave early and starve us of the opportunity to witness their continued greatness (Barry Sanders), while some players continue playing long past their effectiveness (Brett Favre) or return after an iconic moment (Michael Jordan).
Kerry Wood nailed it perfectly.
Prior to Friday's game, Wood announced he'd be retiring after his next appearance, which was expected to be on Friday or Saturday. With one out and a man on in the eighth inning, starter Jeff Samardzija was lifted for a reliever. Wood shook the hand of bullpen coach Lester Strode, and made his way to the mound at Wrigley one final time.
Just in time for the start of the Crosstown Classic, Craig Robinson and Nick Offerman return in New Era's "Chicago vs. Chicago" commercial series. This round, Robinson asks Offerman how far he'd go to see the Cubs win the World Series. As you'd expect, it's pretty far.
Apparently the first full week in May is the time to start throwing out random trade ideas if you're a Chicago sports writer (Or just Phil Rogers). Being in last place does tend to accelerate the timeline, but the Cubs have actually been playing good baseball. Who's going where? Let's lay an eyeball on the rumors and throw some crap against the wall like everyone else to see what sticks.
While most of Rogers' love-fest has involved the White Sox trading for him (won't happen), he also mentioned the Cubs possibly having interest in a deal involving Dempster (Matt Garza too, but we'll get to him later). His argument for the deal is that, "He's the perfect guy to show a rebuilding lineup how to work a count and would bring a welcome intensity to Wrigley Field."
We like to think the athletes we dole out hundreds of dollars to see are superhuman. They're far from it. Despite the amazing things they can do with a ball, a flu bug can take them down just as hard as it does us peasants. So much so that it cost another player his job.
With Matt Garza too sick to make his scheduled start on Sunday (after being pushed back a day already), the Cubs were in a bind. A trip to the disabled list was out of the question, so the Cubs designated infielder Blake DeWitt for assignment for the second time this season - making room for Travis Wood (acquired in the Sean Marshall trade) to make his regular season debut in a Cubs uniform.
It was far from what the Cubs wanted to do, but a virus that had overtaken four other players left the team with no other choice. DeWitt was hitting just .138 with no homers in backup duty at second and third base, but the Cubs are hoping he clears waivers and re-signs with the team. It's unknown if he'd immediately be brought back to the majors if he does re-sign.
Back-to-back walks, followed by an error from third baseman Ian Steward, single by Jay Bruce and a walk to Ryan Ludwick left the bases loaded with two runs already across and nobody out. Dale Sveum had seen enough of Carlos Marmol. Rafael Dolis was able to induce a game tying double play and a strikeout to get out of the inning, but gave up a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 10th in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss.
If the Cubs fall behind by more than three or more runs at any point during a game, you get the feeling it's all over at that point. With a team that's currently constructed around starting pitching, any multi-run outburst by the opposition seems nearly insurmountable. Saturday and Monday's games were prime examples of that.
After mowing through the first three innings on Saturday at Philadelphia, fill-in starter Randy Wells couldn't get out of the fourth after issuing three walks and three hits while surrendering four runs to put the Cubs in a 4-1 hole, and an eventual 5-2 loss. With a team built to score one run at a time (mostly from the top of the lineup), recovering from a three-run deficit is just not feasible on a consistent basis.
Monday night was more of the same. Chris Volstad allowed Philly four runs in the first inning, and despite pitching extremely well over the next five innings and getting a game-tying homer in the eighth, the bullpen couldn't keep the Phillies off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning en route to a 6-4 loss.
If you're having a good day, don't look at the Cubs' season statistics. Sure, you'll see numbers for the standouts like Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair that will make you smile, but on the whole it's not a pretty picture.
To sanely make it through a 162-game schedule in which your favorite team is a bottom feeder, you need to celebrate the small successes that come along sparingly (and enjoy alliteration at its finest!). Prime example: the three-game set vs. the hated St. Louis Cardinals earlier this week. The Cubs were able to sneak away with apair of come-from-behind victories, but failed to record the sweep after another dominating pitching performance against what looks to be a new thorn in the division.
LaHair was certainly the star of the series. Despite people clamoring for top prospect Anthony Rizzo to get the call after his hot start (hint: it's not coming soon), LaHair has been doing some major damage himself with his plate discipline and the lumber.
The question wasn't if Marlon Byrd would be traded this season, it was a matter of when. Saturday's timing, however, was a bit of a surprise.
After starting in 3-for-43 slump that included 10 strikeouts and countless plate appearances where Byrd looked utterly lost, it was a bit of a shock that the Cubs were able to deal the veteran outfielder to the Boston Red Sox. Chicago received 25-year-old Winfield, IL native Michael Bowden in return, while also paying off nearly all of the remaining money left on Byrd's $6.5 million contract.
Bowden was designated for assignment by the Red Sox on April 15th (meaning they had ten days to trade, waive, or release him) to make room for OF Jason Repko, who was added to the roster after the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to a shoulder injury. Boston's need for Marlon Byrd arose after Repko was forced out of Friday's game with the Yankees with a slightly separated shoulder, making the swap a matter of perfect timing.
A shaky closer has the potential of affecting everybody on the team. A starter might try to pitch to contact in an attempt to last longer. A hitter might feel pressured to hit a home run with two guys on in a tie game. The list goes on.
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol has morphed into 'that guy.'
50-ish walks a season has always been a part of his game, but when you're punching out nearly two guys an inning (like he did in 2010) or have a K/BB ratio of 2.5/1 (2010, 2008, 2007) you can give a hitter a pass here in there. But without control of a second pitch (fastball), hitters are allowed to sit on his world-renowned slider. They play it like a knuckleball: If it's high let it fly, if it's low let it go.
Eleven games into the season, and the Cubs are in last place. Surprising? Not really. They've avoided the NL Central cellar the past two years not because of winning consistently, but by being better than a pair of 100+ loss teams (Pittsburgh in 2010 and Houston in 2011).
It's doubtful they'll finish last this year either, mainly due to the absurdly bad roster Houston is rolling out these days (seriously, look at it -- it has seven players on it who I've never even heard of) but it's not totally out of the question.
The bullpen is a mess (I'll get to that later this week), but the major issue this season has been, and will continue to be, the lack of run production. By not picking up the 2012 option on Aramis Ramirez, and letting Carlos Pena return to Tampa Bay via free agency, the Cubs are trying to replace 50+ homers in a lineup that was sore for power in the first place.
I'm sure I'm not the only one to think that the (now second) best wide receiver in Chicago had been wasting his talents by pitching for the Cubs for quite some time. But an inspiring stint in Mesa followed by a brilliant 8 2/3 innings on Sunday have people like me rethinking Jeff Samardzija's worth as a baseball player.
His misfortunes to this point in his career hadn't been totally his fault either. The Cubs convinced him to choose baseball after college by offering him $10 million over five years along with an immediate spot on the 40-man roster - a major mistake by the team. It eventually led to unearned promotions, rushed development, and a frequent ride back and forth to Iowa.
This year's spring training was potentially his last with the Cubs since any demotion would force the team to put him on waivers - something he'd never get through without another team grabbing him. That option was never even considered after he showed great command in nearly every outing in Arizona.
It's the only word that can fully describe Thursday's 2-1 opening loss to the Washington Nationals. Even when plays went the Cubs' way (see Starlin Castro's pop fly single that could've easily been bunted farther), seasoned fans sensed a one-run lead wasn't going to last.
After 7 2/3 innings of near-brilliance from Ryan Dempster, manager Dale Sveum walked to the mound and seemingly asked the wind-whipped starter if he had another hitter left in him. But after 108 pitches, the safe play on the first day of a long season is to let the bullpen mop up. Three walks, a run, and a Carlos Marmol ninth inning later, you can drive home safely without a rendition of "Go Cubs Go."
The game did, however, give us a glimpse at the changes Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Sveum were aiming to make for this year and the long term. A team built on the back of starting pitching, heads-up base running, and hitting with a plan.
Despite the Cubs lineup being void of anything more than mediocre talent, good baseball can be seen at Wrigley Field via the variety of opponents that come to town. The organization has even acknowledged that fact as recently as last year by promoting opposing players on billboards around the city.
In homage to that marketing effort, I've made it a habit to wait on getting tickets to Cubs games until a few days before the game in an attempt to snipe starting pitchers that are intriguing in some way. But depending on the person, the word intriguing can have a wide variety of definitions.
To help you decide which opposing hurler is best for you to go see, I've compiled a list of TV shows and compared them to a starting pitcher the Cubs might face on the North Side this year (along with the dates the opponent is in town).
The Cubs have done their part, and the time has come for the fans to do theirs. The statement is simple, but following through with it is a whole different ballgame.
Years of clamoring for new ownership (or maybe it was a bankrupt Tribune Company) resulted in the Ricketts family taking over the franchise. Rage over the mismanagement by the front office culminated in the coup of the century - bringing two-time World Series general manager Theo Epstein on as the president of baseball operations.
Cubs fans rejoiced the headline shaking moves the team has made in the past couple years. Talk radio in Chicago has been flooded with praise from the die-hards sick of the annual "wait 'til next year" motto. At this point, they would settle for a consistent playoff contender, let alone a juggernaut team.
Earlier this week, Cubs manager Dale Sveum told reporters, "I've probably lost more sleep over our batting order than anything as far as camp's gone."
If he's lost more than 18 seconds of slumber over it, then he really needs to see a doctor about a serious case of insomnia.
For a team that's struggling to put major-league caliber players at many positions on the field, a batting order shouldn't be a primary worry for Sveum. And if it is, what's going to happen when the team is talented enough to amass expectations of a playoff berth or a division title?
David DeJesus has already been penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs, and Alfonso Soriano will likely man the three, four, or five hole in the lineup. Other than that, Sveum claims, "Nothing's etched in stone."
To save him the $10 co-pay for a visit to the doctor, here's the order the Cubs should roll with on Opening Day (with notes).
No player likes to begin the season in the minors, but it's part of the game. Sometimes a player is overmatched and needs another year or two watching professional breaking balls, or in other cases it's a specific defensive skill that needs to be honed before they get the call.
When the Cubs met with Brett Jackson last week, the message was probably was as simple as, "Keep working hard and have your cell phone close."
It's unusual for a player like Jackson, a guy the team views as the future of the franchise, to get sent to the minors on a team that could maybe win 80 games if everything broke right. But those are the cards that former GM Jim Hendry dealt the team.
Jackson can handle any of the outfield positions defensively (including his natural centerfield), and while showing a patient eye in the box, his strikeout rate (138 K's in 512 plate appearances) leaves something to be desired. Those however, aren't skills that normally hold a player back from getting an everyday spot in the big leagues.
Instead, Jackson received the red tag in his locker because Hendry made a couple of players unnecessarily rich.
While most of the mediaattention is focused on the final two spots in the Cubs starting rotation, another question remains: Will Ryan Dempster make a repeat appearance as the Opening Day starter?
Prior to him receiving the honor from former manager Mike Quade last year, it was a question asked only for a confirmation quote. If someone dared to challenge Carlos Zambrano's reign, they risked a fate similar to that of a certain Gatorade jug.
It would've been a legitimate inquiry before last season, though, considering Zambrano struggled miserably during his six years in the role with a 1-2 record and 6.98 ERA to go along with a wild 26/20 K/BB ratio.
With Zambrano completely (and thankfully) out of the picture, Dempster has the inside track at claiming the job again this year, especially after surrendering just two runs in his six innings of work on Tuesday while lowering his spring ERA to a solid 3.68.
The prototypical leadoff hitter for a Major League team has a pretty standard definition. He gets on-base at a reasonable clip, takes plenty of pitches, and steals a few bases while receiving a modest salary. Yet somehow, the Cubs have been in search of such a player for nearly as long as the Bears searched for a quarterback before Jay Cutler.
Henry Burris is to Neifi Perez as Craig Krenzel is to Corey Patterson. Ugh. Let's not go there.
In the past ten years, the Cubs have had exactly one guy reach 600 plate appearances in a single season while batting leadoff (Juan Pierre in 2006). Other than Pierre, who was averse to taking a pitch and was brutal defensively, the first name written on the lineup card during that period was either a plodder (Mark Bellhorn and Todd Walker), a hacker (Patterson and Perez), or grossly overpaid (Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano).
With manager Dale Sveum announcing offseason acquisition David DeJesus will take the reins at leadoff, one can only hope the newcomer can outperform the recent array of table-setters.
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed as spring training gets underway. (Part of a series.)
Goodbye: Mike Quade
Hello: Dale Sveum
The Cubs fired manager Mike Quade soon after Theo Epstein was named president of the team. Quade finished 95-104 in parts of two seasons on the North Side, including 71-91 last year, after replacing Lou Piniella.
Then, the Cubs hired former Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum as their new skipper. The Cubs appear to have gotten their guy from the start, a man who is universally thought of as being a good fit for the team.
How Will the Cubs Miss Quade?
Not to sound too harsh, but they probably won't miss Quade. It's very unlikely that anyone associated with the Cubs -- players, management, fans -- will be pining for the non-glory days of 2011. Managers get fired all the time, especially after sub-par seasons (whether the manager was to blame or not).
Theo Epstein's move to Chicago was as much about leaving the Red Sox as it was about the Cubs stealing him away, but his new team still wound up having to compensate his former team for its loss.
After nearly four months of negotiations, the clubs announced Tuesday they have decided which player not named Matt Garza is heading to Boston. The lucky man is right-hander Chris Carpenter, along with a swap of players to be named later (most likely non-prospects).
The 26-year old Carpenter is a two-pitch flamethrower who is regarded by many as being just outside the Cubs' top 10 prospects, primarily because of his age, injury history, and lack of a reliable third pitch. In a relief role, the kid can bring it with a high-90s heater and mid-80s slider. But with that titanic fastball comes Titanic-like rudder control (I'm allowed a centennial anniversary joke when talking about the Cubs, right?) to the tune of a 5.7 BB/9 rate in the minors last season.
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)
Goodbye: Tyler Colvin
Last season: .150 BA, 6 HR, 20 RBI, .509 OPS (.204 OBP, .306 SLG) in 80 games
Hello: David DeJesus
Last season: .240 BA, 10 HR, 46 RBI, .698 OPS (.323 OBP, .376 SLG)
Tyler Colvin took over in right field last season after the Cubs traded Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians at the deadline, but he was himself traded in December by the new regime, going to Colorado with DJ LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.
A short time earlier, the Cubs inked David DeJesus to a pretty fair deal - $4.25 million for 2012 and 2013, and a $6.5 million team option for 2014 with a $1.5 million buyout. The team has early plans to play him in right field, and GM Jed Hoyer said of the signing "We're very excited to sign David. He's a player who does a lot of things very well, including running the bases and getting on base. And he doesn't strike out very much. These are all areas we wanted to improve on going into next year."
You can take that quote as saying either "David fits our system really well and we need a guy like him," or "As stop-gap solutions go, David will do for now."
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)
Hello: Ian Stewart
Last season: .156 BA, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .464 OPS (.243 OBP, .221 SLG)
Triple-A last season: .275 BA, 14 HR, 42 RBI, .950 OPS (.359 OBP, .591 SLG)
After nine seasons on the North Side, Aramis Ramirez's contract was up. Ramirez was seeking a multi-year deal, and the Cubs seemingly didn't want to offer more years than that. Ramirez turned down arbitration and signed with Milwaukee. The 33-year old third baseman landed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brewers, including a mutual option for the fourth year. Aramis' departure gave Chicago a compensation draft pick between the first and second round of the 2012 draft.
To replace Ramirez, the Cubs traded Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for relief prospect Casey Weathers and third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart figures to have the inside track of starting the season at third.
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)
Goodbye: Carlos Pena
Last season: .225 BA, 28 HR, 80 RBI, .819 OPS (.357 OBP, .462 SLG)
Hello: Anthony Rizzo
Last season: .141 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .523 OPS (.281 OBP, .242 SLG) in 153 PA
Triple-A last season: .331 BA, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 1.056 OPS
Carlos Pena signed a one year, $10 million deal with the Cubs for last season. After the season ended, the Cubs offered Pena arbitration but Pena rejected it. The lefty slugger hung around free agency for a while, finally rejoining the Tampa Bay Rays two weeks ago on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million.
Meanwhile, Chicago traded pitcher Andrew Cashner to San Diego for first baseman Anthony Rizzo in early January. Rizzo became available when the Padres acquired another first base prospect, Yonder Alonso, from the Reds. Just a year ago, Rizzo was a centerpiece of the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston.
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (First in a series.)
Goodbye Carlos Zambrano: 9-7, 4.82 ERA (81 ERA+), 101 K, 1.442 WHIP in 145.2 IP last year
Hello (above, clockwise from top left) Paul Maholm: 6-14, 3.66 ERA (105 ERA+), 97 K, 1.294 WHIP in 162.1 IP last year Andy Sonnanstine: 0-2, 5.55 ERA (68 ERA+), 12 K, 1.458 WHIP in 35.2 IP last year Travis Wood: 6-6, 4.84 ERA (81 ERA+), 76 K, 1.491 WHIP in 106 IP last year Chris Volstad: 5-13, 4.89 ERA (80 ERA+), 117 K, 1.425 WHIP in 165.2 IP last year
The Carlos Zambrano Era is over in Chicago. With his act getting old over the last three years, the Cubs shipped him to Miami for starter Chris Volstad. This was an obvious instance of addition by subtraction; although the 25-year old righthander has a little bit of upside, Volstad's impact will be that he is not the volatile, fiery Zambrano. It will no doubt be a more peaceful and serene year in the Cubs clubhouse. When the trade was announced, the dugout's Gatorade jug sighed in relief.
The wise and powerful Octophant, Phineas X. Jones, has seen fit to bestow upon us a series of gorgeous designs for every corner of the Chicago sports world. Feast your eyes on our new icons for the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox, Fire and derby demons.
I've grown accustomed to a wave of low-grade nausea whenever Tom Ricketts and his cronies talk about milking Cubs fans for more money, but this weekend's announcement made me throw up all over the dog:
The Cubs announced the addition of a patio in the right-field bleacher section at Wrigley Field, which will be ready for the 2012 season and create a rooftop-like atmosphere.
The Budweiser Patio will include a 75-foot LED sign installed above the right-field wall with the capability to display game information, such as pitch count, photos of players and statistics. It will not have video replay because of the size.
The new right-field configuration can handle a group of 150 people, or three groups of 50 each, or may be sold on an individual basis.
I don't much care if the Cubs want to violate their ballpark with corporate advertising, but I absolutely can't believe team president Crane Kenney can say stuff like this with a straight face:
"What we're finding both for our suites as well as other parts of the ballpark is that people want to be able to circulate -- you see it on the rooftops. ... [It will be] a place where you can bring clients, move around in the space and not just be fixed. If I'm in seat [No. 1] and my clients are in seats two through eight, I don't get to talk to the person in seat [No. 8]. It's a chance to circulate."
Yes, truly, because money, not egregious personnel decisions, has been the Cubs' problem. Please, let's adjust the ballpark to make sure everyone has a chance to "circulate" with all their clients.
The Cubs are responsible for many things -- the sorrow of millions of fans, the livelihood of a couple dozen bars, the existence of "Harry Caray glasses."
The Cubs are also responsible for the relationship status of one woman (well, at least one). A brick paver outside Wrigley Field is inscribed:
Because of You
The brick has no doubt caught the eye of many people, in no small part due to its ambiguity. Is it a message about Amy, or from her? Who could so distraught over jilted love that he or she would memorialize it in front of Wrigley Field? Actor Jason Segel spotted it on his recent visit to Chicago, apparently not for the first time. He tweeted a photo of it, saying that it's "something I've wondered about for years. It reminds me of Sarah Marshall. I'd LOVE any info if you got it."
The Twitterverse obliged, and soon @amybergseth was divulging the brick's true story. The Lincoln Square resident and lifelong Cubs fan was apparently so devoted to her team that in 2007 her father bought the personalized paver for her as a present. Not the tale of failed romance one might imagine, but still a testament to the power the Cubs have over some folks' lives.
SBNation's Jon Bois pulled together his selections of the 50 greatest animated sports GIFs of 2011 last week. By statistical probability alone, Chicago teams were sure to be included, and they were -- though not always in the way you'd expect. So rather than force you to flip through the 11 pages of Bois' post, here are the Chicago highlights. I've preserved the original titles, but arranged them according to their Chicago-related awesomeness (Bois' original ranking is in parentheses, with a link to the original post page.) Some of these gifs are massive, so forgive the slow load times.
Even famous people do weird things in the stands at Bulls games, apparently. Bois guessed that the sound Bird was making was sort of a croak. I think it looks like a ...actually, I don't know what it looks like. A stifled yawn? Considering the Pacers were in the lead, could Bird have been that bored?
Also, what's that guy in the pink shirt describing that came out of his mouth and grew as big as his head?
Well, he's not Terry Francona. And he's not Mike Maddux. Or Sandy Alomar Jr.
Regardless, Dale Sveum is the new Cubs manager.
Sveum, 48, coached in a couple different roles in Milwaukee. He was an interim manager for a brief time in the 2008 season -- after Ned Yost was fired in September, Sveum led the team into the postseason.
This is Sveum's first managerial job. Just who is this guy?
• He's the second straight bald manager for the Cubs
• He was the third base coach for the Red Sox in 2004 and 2005, and was the bench coach, third base coach and hitting coach for the Brewers from 2006 to 2011.
• He played from 1986 to 1999 for the Brewers, Phillies, White Sox, Athletics, Mariners, Pirates and Yankees, playing a lot of shortstop, third base and first base.
• He finished his career with 69 home runs and a .236 batting average.
• His finest season was 1987 for Milwaukee, where he hit .252 with 25 home runs and 95 RBIs, while playing 153 games at short and second.
• He won two World Series rings, with the Yankees as a player in 1998 and with the Red Sox as a coach in 2004.
• He is the 52nd manager in Cubs history.
Since Sveum has very little experience managing, we have no statistical precedence to make a prediction on. But plenty of folks have weighed in with their early opinions.
One could argue that Aramis Ramirez has been one of the most underrated players in baseball since he became a Cub in 2003. He's been a talented hitter, perhaps the best offensive third baseman in the National League over the past decade.
That doesn't mean the Cubs should re-sign him.
Yes, Ramirez has surpassed 25 home runs every season in Chicago, except during his injury-plagued 2009. Sure, he's hit over .300 five times. And no, you can't forget that he has garnered MVP votes in four different seasons, and made two all-star teams.
But as Theo Epstein said in his introductory press conference, the idea is to "pay for future performance, not past performance." This is the first test of that mantra.
Ramirez is already in his early 30s, had a down year in 2010, and seems in the decline phase of his career. Was his performance this season (26 home runs, 93 RBIs, .306 average) an aberration? A textbook case of a contract year?
The axe has fallen, and the Quade Era in Chicago ends after a little more than one year. He finished 95-104, and in his one complete season, the Cubs finished a disappointing 71-91.
Although this change was inevitable, one has to feel a little bad for Quade. He seemed like a likeable guy, known for his high energy, tough demeanor and workmanlike attitude. He even took the Red Line to work early in the season.
And it's not as if Quade made the roster moves to construct this fifth-place team.
Yet it was still the right move for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to cut ties with him. Fans should expect sweeping changes across the organization, and this is one of them.
The firing went about as smoothly as any firing could be. Epstein had nice things to say about Quade; Quade had nice things to say about Epstein, Hoyer, and the Cubs. Of course, the now ex-manager wasn't happy about the situation ("You're disappointed, you're bitter, you're mad -- a million things," Quade said), but each side handled things professionally.
Reports say the Cubs are looking for a manager with big league experience, who could help the team long-term (again, "sustained success"). Chicago wants a clean slate. That's why Ryne Sandberg was ruled out.
Now the question is, who will the Cubs get to replace Quade? Names include Brewers bench coach Dale Sveum, Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., and not surprisingly, recently relieved Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
With the changes made, Theo in place, a big market and a worthy curse-reversing challenge ahead, the Cubs will probably get whoever they want for manager. Things are looking up for the North Siders.
As for Quade? He's knows baseball, and he's a hard worker who has a chip on his shoulder now. (Cubs.com said Quade laughed and said he would do whatever he could to beat the Cubs). He should be able to latch onto a team and contribute to the coaching staff, if he's not signed as a manager.
Either way, ever since Epstein offered a non-answer on the manager spot at the podium the day of his opening press conference, the Quade firing was a given. Now begins yet another search for a franchise building block.
Of course, nothing too groundbreaking was said. Epstein thanked everyone who needed to be thanked (upper management with the Cubs, key figures with the Red Sox), promised "sustained success" in Chicago, vowed to build a strong farm system and to do things "the Cubs way." The organization will use both statistical and scouting evaluation methods.
Epstein stressed a complete team effort, that no one person will win games. He also said the Cubs would "grind it out" to be the best, and that the Cubs will need to be more prepared than their opponents.
The hour-long show didn't reveal much about what the Cubs will look like in the immediate future. Mike Quade's job is still in limbo -- Epstein said he would meet with the incumbent manager in the next week to discuss philosophies and determine his status. Also, Epstein wouldn't comment on the player payroll for next year, although he did say the franchise has "more than enough resources here to win."
But from listening to Epstein speak, Cubs fans can expect long-haul, structural roster changes, rather than quick fixes. Epstein repeatedly stressed that the Cubs are planning for "sustained success," meaning transactions that will make the team competitive for several years, rather than desperate grabs for immediate gratification.
What does that mean for this offseason? The Cubs have holes, well, everywhere.
Will they splurge? If Tuesday is any indication, maybe not. Sure, they might make a signing or two if the opportunity arises, but don't expect a Yankees-like (or in recent years, Red Sox-like) spree. If, or when, the Cubs win the World Series under Epstein, expect most of the core to be homegrown players acquired through the draft or international scouting.
When a team hasn't won a World Series in 103 years, any upper management change is a good change.
And after such a directionless and disappointing 2011 season, the Cubs really do have nowhere to go but up.
The pursuit and signing of Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, with an official announcement expected as early as Friday's World Series off day, was a great move in and of itself. Epstein is a great judge of talent and a proven winner, leading the Red Sox to two World Series championships in the past seven years. Certainly, he will be better than his predecessor, Jim Hendry.
What Moves Will He Make?
Perhaps Epstein's Boston past can provide an insight into his Chicago future. He molded the Red Sox with an array of transactions, and his biggest move was signing David Ortiz in 2003 after the Twins famously cut him loose. Not much significance was given to the signing; after all, Ortiz had only played more than 100 games only twice in his six years in Minnesota, never hitting more than 20 home runs in season.
We all know what a central role Ortiz played in Boston's 2004 and 2007 titles, hitting a peak as high as nearly any slugger in baseball history - and he wasn't Epstein's only big acquisition.
Others included Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell, Orlando Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Coco Crisp, Dave Roberts and Adrian Gonzalez, who this season was one of the most productive hitters in baseball. Epstein's tenure also saw the drafting and development of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Daniel Bard.
With an eye like that, he could make similar moves in Chicago.
The comedy minds at Schadenfreude have developed one of their sketches, the drunk and stumbling Cubs fan Colleen Henneman and her white-hatted boyfriend Todd Voorhies, into a full web series. "The New Bleacher Bums" follows their escapades in and around Wrigleyville.
Here Justin Kaufmann introduces the mockumentary in the style and tradition of "This American Life's" Ira Glass.
The list of potential candidates for the Cubs GM vacancy is a long one. Since the announcement of Jim Hendry's departure last month, the rumor mill has been running rampant. Local and national baseball writers speculate who Tom Ricketts should and might choose.
To list everyone that has been discussed as candidate for the position would be incredibly time-consuming and could take longer than the search itself. So rather than mention those who have no shot whatsoever, let's look at one man I consider the most intriguing option: Theo Epstein.
As the Cubs continue to play out the stretch they wrap another losing road trip. Although they went 2-4 they did continue to play spoiler. Unfortunately it started a little too late. After being swept in Milwaukee over the weekend by the division leading Brewers they ventured on to San Francisco to play the defending world champion Giants.
An 0-6 road trip was a definite possibility. However, as this bizarre Cubs season drudges on they continue to prove that they are the Cubs and anything is possible, good or bad.
The firing of Jim Hendry became a matter of not if, but when. Friday morning Hendry informed the local media that he had been relieved of his position. Whether it is baseball or any other line of work, producing positive results is the nature of the business. Hendry was one of the most successful GMs in Cubs history. However, he ultimately failed to achieve the final goal of ending the Cubs' World Series drought.
While he'll be judged mainly on wins and losses, his tenure on the North Side produced a mixed bag of results. As GM he maintained a winning record of 749-748. He is the only Cubs GM to win three division championships (2003, 2007 and 2008). (He also had the benefit of running the team during the wild card era, with six divisions to win.)
On the flip side of things no one is perfect and Hendry has a number of blemishes on his record. Citing a need to get more left-handed after being swept from the playoffs in 2008 for the second year in a row, Hendry brought in Milton Bradley to shake up the team. For all the good Hendry has done in his tenure signing Bradley was the absolute worst idea he had ever conceived. It was clearly a more-harm-than-good situation from the get-go.
Many Cubs fans have been clamoring for someone to take the fall for the past few lackluster seasons and Hendry became the fall guy. Some of the blame belongs to players as they are the ones playing the game, not Hendry. By the same token the blame goes back to Hendry as he assembled the team.
Everybody seems to like Jim Hendry, and I have no reason to question that characterization. But as teams throughout Major League Baseball get smarter every year, it had become clear that Hendry was doing a comparatively poor job as Cubs general manager.
Thus today's announcement of Hendry's firing was far overdue -- directly, because apparently Tom Ricketts actually fired him a month ago, and more generally, because the Cubs were rarely an especially good team. It doesn't take a super-team to win in the National League -- some of Hendry's own playoff teams were proof of that -- but the last few years have seen a parade of overpaid veterans and never-panned-out rookies come through Wrigley Field.
But good on the Cubs for spending big on amateur prospects this month, and kudos to Hendry for staying on to shepherd that process. The only part I can't figure is why the Cubs not only went through deadline trading season with a (secretly) lame-duck GM, but one who had specifically decided he wasn't going to make any trades, instead leaving his successor to make roster decisions.
So why, aside from the amateur signings, did the Cubs keep Hendry around for the extra month? Trading free-agent-to-be Carlos Pena wouldn't have changed anything for the new GM.
If nothing else, it gives the Chicago sports media something to squawk about in the dog days besides Adam Dunn and Bears third-stringers. Thank you, Mr. Ricketts, for that.
UPDATE: Though you'd like to think, with a month's notice, that the Cubs could have proofread the spelling on the email announcement they sent to fans today.
In yet another chapter of the Carlos Zambrano Chronicles, Big Z all but wrote his own ending Friday night in Atlanta. One that neither he nor Cubs fans saw coming. Zambrano had another hissy fit and this time it might have cost him his job with the Cubs. By now most of you know what went down, so rather than rehash old news, let's look forward to where the franchise and Zambrano go from here.
Zambrano spoke publicly Monday for the first time since his Friday meltdown, telling David Kaplan he wants to return to the team and finish his career on the North Side.
But after this latest incident there can't be any way that he pitches for the Chicago Cubs again.
The Cubs have now won three consecutive series for the first time all year. A feat that seemed almost impossible a few weeks ago as it took 100 games before they won three in a row. They beat the Nationals 4-3 in a makeup game Thursday for their ninth win in 11 games. Ryan Dempster has turned around his season after starting off the year 1-3 with an ERA of 9.58.
The Cubs offense continued its power surge as the two-headed monster of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena hit back-to-back home runs to secure the Cubs victory. It'll be interesting to see if these two factor into the Cubs' plans next season. It'd be foolish not to at least consider them as options.
Santo was the very heart and soul of this franchise for 13 seasons on the field as well as 20 years in the broadcast booth doing Cubs radio. If there was ever a former Cub deserving of a statue, it was Santo. He loved the Cubs and was without a doubt the biggest Cubs fan.
The bizarro Cubs continued their winning streak in Pittsburgh Thursday night with a 7-6 victory. At the end of this series it has me asking the question, "who are these guys and what have they done with the Cubs?" If you were living under a rock for the first four months and only saw these four games you would've gotten the impression that the Cubs were an above average club.
When in reality they are 18 games under .500 and 15 games out of first place. This four game series in a nutshell is how the Cubs should've played all year long. The "what if" question has been done to death, but when the Cubs play as well as they did in this four game series it makes you wonder. Granted it is the Pirates, but they're no slouch. At least they haven't been this season.
But it's those scamps at SB Nation who have the best take on the Cubs' bizarre refusal to deal more than one of their overpaid, going-nowhere veterans. Otherwise known as every player on the roster except Starlin Castro.
After playing some of the worst baseball I've ever seen in St. Louis, the Cubs took care of business in Pittsburgh on Monday night. They beat the surprising Pirates 5-3.
The Cubs resembled a winning ball club with everything going their way. They took advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position, played solid defense and had good pitching from start to end. It almost makes you wonder where they would be if they had played like this all year.
Honestly if you didn't watch a single game all year and watched this game you would get the impression that the Cubs are good, when in reality it couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, they show moments of brilliance, but in actuality the Cubs are who they thought they were. Where is Dennis Green when you need him?
They are a bad defensive team with an offense that may or may not be suffering from a personality disorder. Nothing really gets me scratching my head when I read that Jim Hendry thinks that this team is a few good moves away from being a contender next year.
Has Hendry not watched a single game this year? This team is laced with problems and a "few moves" isn't going to fix this team overnight.
I hate to say, but this team is a few years away from being good again and at the rate Cubs management is going it maybe even longer than that. For Cubs fans the end of the season can come fast enough. It'll be back to the drawing board as they complete 103 years without a championship. If the drought is ever going to end, drastic moves need to be made by the Ricketts family or else it may be another century of futility.
As this abysmal Cubs season drudges on, Kosuke Fukudome became the first casualty. It seemed almost inevitable as the Cubs continue to slide further into the cellar. Fukudome never really lived up to the hype that surrounded him upon his arrival to the Northside in 2008. Thursday the Cubs dealt him to the Cleveland Indians for pair of prospects.
This appears to be the first of what should be several moves by the Cubs as they begin to cut big money contracts from their payroll. There is speculation that Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez will be dealt at some point. If and when it happens we'll discuss, but for the mean time lets take a look at what the Cubs gave up and got in return for Fukudome.
There is little doubt that as the trade deadline approaches the Cubs will be sellers. There are a number of questions surrounding this club as they move forward. A number of big money contracts will be coming off the books this offseason, led by Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.
Freeing up money will be a huge plus for this team moving forward as they are hampered by a handful of contracts. The only question remaining is who will be here after the trade deadline and who won't?
Interest in Cubs players have grown over the past weeks as the Cubs have sunk deeper under .500. Here are a few names I think it is safe to say will be here after the trade deadline.
If the Cubs are consistently good at anything, it's being bad.
They continued that trend Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley with a 9-1 loss to the Phillies. The game was virtually over in the first inning after Starlin Castro lost a ball in the sun which resulted in a 2-0 Phillies lead. That would be all they needed.
Philadelphia rookie starter Vance Worley did his best Cy Young impersonation against a beleaguered Cubs offense. Worley went eight strong, allowing one run on four hits with seven strikeouts to send the second-worst team in baseball to its fifth loss in seven games since the all-star break.
As the second half begins in earnest, let's take stock of the Cubs. At 38-58, they're 20 games under .500 and fifth in the NL Central, 13 games behind first-place Milwaukee. The only major-league team with a worse record is the Houston Astros.
To be fair, the Cubs have been plagued by injuries since the season began. However, that is no excuse by any means because other teams have survived injuries as well. Case in point, the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright in spring training, but they've taken care of business anyway, which has them neck-and-neck with the Brewers and the surprising Pirates.
This is where the sympathy for the Cubs stops and the criticism begins.
The White Sox offense showed signs of life in Detroit this weekend, getting a huge effort from Edwin Jackson and posting 13 runs in wins Friday and Saturday before the Tigers salvaged Sunday's rubber game.
A sweep of the AL Central co-leaders would have been huge, but the Sox did at least stay in the Tigers' and Indians' rearview mirrors. They're four games back, and the mathematicians at Baseball Prospectus give them a 21 percent chance of winning what will almost certainly be the division's only playoff berth.
That's not great, but it could be worse. For all the talk of the great second-half races we're supposed to have, six of the eight playoff berths appear all but settled, thanks largely to the wild card, which renders irrelevant the competitions between the Red Sox & Yankees and Phillies & Braves.
The Cubs, of course, are not anywhere close to playoff position, and the trend continued with three losses in four games against the visiting, semi-hapless Marlins over the weekend. But few teams do hapless like the Cubs. They're among seven teams with zero chance of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus.
The Cubs and White Sox are back at it Thursday after a quiet All-Star Game in which their primary contributions were Paul Konerko's 13-pitch walk and Starlin Castro's two steals as a pinch runner.
But unless things change in a quick hurry, most likely on the South Side, we're looking at another year without playoff baseball.
One huge reason is two inconsistent offenses loaded with hitters who will swing at just about anything. Watch Alfonso Soriano or Gordon Beckham for a weekend and you'll know what I mean, but the proof is in the numbers.
Cubs hitters walk in only 6.4 percent of plate appearances, worst in baseball. The Sox are fourth-worst at 7.5 percent.
Plate discipline is important, as evidenced by the patient, potent Red Sox, Yankees, Reds and Cardinals. All are in the top five in runs per game and the top eight in walk rate.
But here's a bubble graph of the Cubs this season, plotting walk rate vs. percentage of pitches outside the strike zone taken. Basically, the top right corner is where you want to be, and the larger the circle, the more plate appearances (i.e., more impact) a player has had. The red circle represents the 2010 major-league average.
It's no secret the Chicago Cubs have been flat out awful in 2011. Odds are they won't make the playoffs, though nothing is officially settled yet. But Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times is talking as if they are already eliminated. Upon reading this I became perplexed.
Did I sleep until September? Perhaps Wittenmyer meant to save this for September when the Cubs are really out of it, but somehow it got published ahead of schedule.
Kidding aside, the Cubs' chances are very remote at this point. They're 36-53 even after squeezing past Washington in the ninth inning Thursday (to avoid a four-game sweep), and no team in baseball history has ever made the playoffs after falling more than 16 games under .500.
At 21, Starlin Castro has not only captured the attention of Cubs fans, but also Bruce Bochy, the manager of the 2011 National League All-Stars. Castro nabbed his first all-star honor, becoming the youngest in franchise history. His .312 batting average, along with a .341 on-base percentage and 110 hits earned him the first of what could be many all-star appearances.
If the Cubs were in contention this year the argument could've been made that Castro might have been elected to start, but the Mets' Jose Reyes has been in MVP form this season. However, that's not saying that in the future he won't be a starter in the All-Star Game at some point in his career. He's too good not to be one eventually. If he can clean up his defense and hit for a little bit more power he'd be a shoo-in for the starting spot at some point down the road.
Of course, not everyone can go to the All-Star Game on July 12, which begs the question who else on the Cubs may have been worthy of a reserve spot. To be completely honest, no one really. Sure a few guys have come on strong in the last few weeks, but no one on this Cubs team other than Castro has had an all-star year.
Aramis Ramirez has been on fire since the weather has heated up. In his past 11 games he is hitting .400 with seven home runs and 11 RBIs. However, his lack of offensive production in April and May really squashed any chances of him becoming an all-star again.
But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the back half of our crosstown baseball rivalry, as the White Sox won the six-game season series by taking two of three games at Wrigley Field this weekend. They won 6-4 on Friday and 1-0 on Saturday before the Cubs recovered to take Sunday's finale, 3-1.
If you missed it:
-- Yay, the White Sox are at .500! OK, not anymore, not after Sunday's loss, but it was a glorious moment there, wasn't it? That 42-43 record looks a lot better next to the Cubs' 35-50 mark. Thank heaven for the continuing mediocrity of the AL Central.
-- Juan Pierre, hitting .355 (11-for-31) with seven RBIs in his past seven games, drove in the winning runs in both Sox victories, so it was a great time for Ozzie Guillen to face the full complement of local media. I mean, heck, if his "I told you so" routine holds out, if Pierre comes up big in the second half, Ozzie will look like a genius for sticking with the aging slap hitter. But it's hard to see that happening.
-- Last time the White Sox saw Aramis Ramirez, he was hitting .277 with a .727 OPS. Since then, he's hitting .400 (16-for-40) with seven homers and 11 RBIs. It's 11 games, but get him while he's hot.
-- It didn't look like a banner weekend for starting pitching: Edwin Jackson, Phil Humber and Gavin Floyd vs. Randy Wells, Matt Garza and Rodrigo Lopez. But that was before you remembered neither of these offenses can really hit. Garza, Humber and the immortal Lopez combined to allow one run on 11 hits in 23 innings.
And of course, there were only 11 walks the entire weekend. Because hardly anyone in this town knows how to draw a walk. It's a problem. More on that later in the week.
It seemed like one of those days for the Cubs when Carlos Zambrano left in the second inning with lower back pain. This meant it would be up to the bullpen to keep the Cubs in this game. They passed the test with flying colors.
It started with Marco Mateo coming in to throw five shutout innings which gave way to everyone with a pulse in the Cubs bullpen except Chris Carpenter. The bullpen threw 9 2/3 no-hit innings, which would lead to a 5-2 Cubs win.
In the final at-bat the Cubs came to life. They got it off Giants closer Brian Wilson -- that's major-league saves leader Brian Wilson. Aramis Ramirez launched his 10th home run into the left field bleachers to send the game into extra innings.
The Cubs bullpen continued their brilliance until the 13th when the Giants retook the lead when Pablo Sandoval blasted a solo homer to give the Giants a 2-1 lead. The Cubs offense stormed right back. Twice down to their final strike, Jeff Baker struck a double into deep left-center field and Darwin Barney singled to drive him in.
Thankfully Giants left fielder Cody Ross' errant throw sailed passed the catcher allowing Baker to score. A good throw would've ended the game, but it wasn't in the cards.
They intentionally walked Starlin Castro to get to Geovany Soto, but Soto blasted a three-run homer to left to give the Cubs their second walk-off win in as many days.
But let's talk about one of the bright spots: Fourth outfielder Reed Johnson has been stellar since returning to the North Side after a year with the Dodgers.
Starting 20 of Chicago's 80 games this season, the nine-year veteran has a .337 average with a .382 on-base percentage, four home runs and 22 RBIs.
It would be interesting to see if Johnson was able to keep up this pace if he was playing every day. (He has 110 plate appearances; the team's healthiest regulars have 300 or more.) The opportunity for more playing time presented itself after Marlon Byrd got hit in the face with a pitch five weeks ago, but Johnson also has been banged up this season.
Johnson's per-game production, combined with his hard-nosed defense, might be all-star worthy if he played every day, but it's his attitude and work ethic that really stand out. Numbers aside, he plays the game the right way and gives it 100 percent every time out there.
This was one of those games Cubs fans will point to when they bemoan their team's lack of clutchness, clutchosity and clutchitude.
In the sixth, the Cubs scored twice to get within one run of the White Sox but left the bases loaded.
In the eighth, they got pinch runner Tony Campana into scoring position with no outs, but Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton held the dike, inducing a ground out and two strikeouts.
That set the stage again for Sergio Santos, who dazzled the North Side visitors for the second night in a row. He threw 11 pitches, nine of them strikes, to retire the side in order for a 4-3 win and his 14th save, befuddling Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.
If you missed it:
-- Jake Peavy got the win in his return from the disabled list, pitching 5 1/3 decent innings before stumbling in the sixth as the Cubs scored their second and third runs. He didn't have much -- will he ever again? -- but he's a pro.
-- Another home run for Pena, his fifth in seven games, and this one showed a bit of opposite-field power, going out to left-center. A very good sign for the Cubs.
-- Another successful squeeze bunt by the Sox, this time with Brent Lillibridge scoring A.J. Pierzynski, who had tripled(!) in a pair of runs, to push the lead to 3-0 after four.
-- Let it not be said the Cubs are incapable of getting a hit when they need it: In the top of the fifth, Castro followed Kosuke Fukudome's two-out double with an RBI single to center field.
-- Briefly, on that subject: The Cubs have less of a problem getting Big Hits in Clutch Situations than they do simply getting hits in any situation. Most great lineups aren't magically "clutch" but generally just create so many scoring chances that enough of them pay off.
A rain delay of 1 hour, 44 minutes washed out a good portion of the crowd last night at U.S. Cellular Field, but those who stayed late on a school night saw the White Sox push past the Cubs for a 3-2 win.
If you missed it:
-- Paul Konerko and Carlos Pena traded home runs again, continuing Pena's power surge (four homers in his past six games) and Konerko's even hotter streak. The Sox captain has 11 homers in his past 18 games, along with a .446 batting average, .512 on-base percentage and .986 slugging percentage.
-- The Sox bullpen was called into action in the sixth inning after the rain delay knocked out Mark Buehrle, and it delivered, protecting first a 2-2 tie and then a 3-2 lead after Brent Morel's seventh-inning sacrifice fly. Jesse Crain was very good, Matt Thornton got two outs and Sergio Santos was at his filthy best, earning his 13th save.
Santos retired all four hitters he faced. He struck out three of them, including Aramis Ramirez with two on and two out in the eighth. He threw 15 pitches. Fourteen were strikes. Thirteen were sliders. He's developing into a pretty great closer.
-- Starlin Castro showed why Cubs observers are so high on his defensive potential, making two great plays on slow rollers that required a barehanded scoop and sidearm throw in one motion.
-- Juan Pierre did something useful for once, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead in the third with an RBI squeeze bunt with no outs. Alex Rios scored easily from third and Morel moved over to second.
Here's how our partisan critics saw it:
Brian Livingston on the Cubs:
The rain delay helped the Cubs by getting rid of Buehrle, but it also might have broken the momentum they were building during that sixth inning threat. Also, don't pitch to Konerko anymore. He's torched them twice now. It appears they didn't learn anything from pitching to Albert Pujols and getting burned.
Jenny Zelle on the Sox:
Offense + lights out bullpen performance = What we should have been seeing from the White Sox all year. Buehrle did his job, as always, but Crain and Santos were just plain nasty with all-star-worthy performances. The Sox offense still under-performed, based on what they could and should be doing, but they were lively enough to get the W. Hopefully, this one serves as a confidence-builder going into Wednesday's finale.
Mr. Comiskey would not approve / Gapers Block file photo
Our own Jenny Zelle was in her usual seat at U.S. Cellular Field last night, rooting on the White Sox as they hosted the first of three games against the Cubs. Last year she attended about 50 Sox games, and she's been to 20 already this season.
But what she saw at the park last night was different: a highly unusual level of drunken "madness" in many fans that was at best embarrassing and at worst dangerous for fans just trying to watch a baseball game in peace.
She emailed us this story:
We entered the park right after the gates opened and things were pretty mellow until the game started, when all the already immensely drunk people poured in.
Our section (along the 1st base line, right field) does not have a lot of [season-ticket holders], so we often get out-of-town fans -- we had a lot, and they were all either wasted when they came in, or were hammered by the 7th.
There was exactly one sober Cubs fan in our section and he was horrified at the behavior of his fellow fans. Of course, he was in from Pittsburgh and had brought two friends with him, they were all stunned at the level of intoxication from the start of the game. [My husband] Jeff and I spent a lot of time assuring them the park was never like it was tonight.
There was a large group of Cubs fans sitting across the aisle from us that were dangerously drunk when they came in. A number of beer vendors refused to serve them, but they kept getting beers.
Three of the guys were running up and down the stairs, chasing women and vendors. At least 10 people (that I saw or spoke with) texted or went to security to report them, including a couple of Cubs fans, but they weren't tossed until late in the game as they kept changing seats.
I went to have a cigarette and saw a group of male Cubs fans repeatedly surround women and "woof" and make sexual noises at them as they tried to make their way up the ramp. I ran and got security, I'm not sure what happened to them, I didn't stick around to see it.
I also saw security toss two Cubs fans out of the bullpen bar. I asked them how it was going and they said "It's been like this all night."
Two sets of parents in our section removed themselves and their children by the 7th as the atmosphere felt "unsafe" and "uncomfortable" to them.
There were a lot of Sox fans that were annoying (getting up with the ball in play, grrr), but not one, not a single Sox fan responded to any of the Cubs fans taunts. I was pretty proud of them, everyone kept their cool in a carnival-gone-wrong atmosphere. Sox security was also pretty calm, as were the guest services people.
I think the park handled it well, but I don't know the extent of what went on. In Ozzie's press conference, he said it felt like another game to him but that he'd heard about a bunch of fights and that security probably would not agree with him.
Just icky. Hoping Wednesday is better, the park felt wrong last night.
I followed up today with a few questions:
Q: This vaguely predatory drunkenness you describe does not sound fun. Did it seem outright sinister or was it just playfully dumb antics?
Jenny: That scared the shit out of me. I ran for security. I am tiny, so to me, it seemed menacing, but I wasn't being surrounded. I have *never* seen anything like that before. I just couldn't believe I was seeing that at Comiskey. I don't personally know any Cubs fans even remotely that vile. The guys chasing vendors sucked too.
Q: Were they young men in their 20s and 30s?
Jenny: Mid- to late-20s. And by the way, a friend in Section 534 just told me some drunken Cubs fans got hauled out of the upper deck too. ... There was tons of stuff being thrown off the upper deck, which we normally don't see. ... This really was the roughest crosstown crowd I have seen yet. Maybe Cubs fans know nothing is happening this season and took out their frustration? Sox staff clearly worked hard to keep things under control. It was just soooo drunk. I was so embarrassed by what I saw.
Nice win for the Cubs last night at U.S. Cellular Field, as they stiffened after the White Sox scored three in the first inning and rallied for a 6-3 win in the first of six games between the crosstown rivals over the next two weeks.
If you missed it:
-- Three of the first four Sox hitters scored, but Carlos Zambrano recovered after allowing a two-run homer by Paul Konerko and shut them down the rest of the way, going eight strong innings. Great news for a Chicago media corps that had already pre-written their sidebars and columns looking back at his tirade during last year's series.
-- Big nights for Starlin Castro, who tied the game with a two-run, two-out single in the third and a solo homer to lead off the sixth; and Carlos Pena, who put the Cubs in front with a three-run homer that capped a four-run sixth and chased fading Sox starter Gavin Floyd.
-- Ozzie got himself thrown out screaming and hollering about a call the umpire actually got right. Alexei Ramirez hit a ball nearly straight down, a few inches in front of the plate, and Geovany Soto picked it up before it rolled foul, then tagged Ramirez out. Ozzie took this as a personal affront, bursting from the home dugout in righteous fury, and umpire James Hoye quickly gave him the heave. Ah, the joys of Ozzie's mood swings when he's managing a losing team ...
Here's how our partisan critics saw it:
Brian Livingston on the Cubs:
It was a quality outing from Zambrano. He really settled in nicely after giving up that home run to Konerko. On a night when the bullpen could use a day of rest, Z took care of business and his offense battled and got the job done.
Jenny Zelle on the Sox:
This was their game to lose, and the Sox did. It felt like the offense made an effort, but again, they left too many runners in scoring position, runners that would have made a difference.
That being said, I have to look at Ozzie for this loss. Floyd's self-admitted biggest problem is losing his focus, and he was clearly losing it this time. He had a rough start, which really showed in the fourth, but he managed to fight back and make it through the fifth.
Ozzie's mistake in the game was leaving Floyd in after the home run from Castro to start the sixth. Floyd was nearing 100 pitches at that point and clearly was no longer effective, but Ozzie left him in and minutes later, he gave up a single, then walked a batter before giving up a three-run bomb to Pena.
Editor's note: With the crosstown rivalry resuming tonight at U.S. Cellular Field, we asked Cubs fan Brian Livingston and Sox fan Jenny Zelle to account for their passions. Here's what Jenny had to say:
I was raised a White Sox fan in hostile territory among Cubs and Cardinals fans, so I'm what you might call "devoted," bordering on "obsessed." Historically, Sox fans have been born into it, but I'm seeing more and more Cubs fans crossing over to "Sox Town."
Why would they do it? Well, there's a lot to love about the Sox.
1. I like to watch baseball games. Yes, at U.S. Cellular Field. I pay attention to what is happening on the field. That is my primary objective when I head to a game and at a Sox game, I am typically surrounded by like-minded people. The game is the reason for being there, not the party.
Some fans say U.S. Cellular Field is "soulless," but the White Sox have spent a lot of money improving the fan experience since it first opened and it's a terrific place to watch a game. This year alone, there's a new restaurant across from the park, an expanded food selection (check out the Flautas stand at Sec. 122) and a hugely improved choice of beers. Personally, I like having clean and plentiful bathrooms to use and the fact that the Sox don't have a rat infestation in their dugouts, but maybe that's just me?
2. I like winning. Sure, the White Sox had a long dry spell, but they typically intend to win and make an earnest effort to do so, with the Sox spending about $126 million this year to try and make it happen.
I realize it's a business and all, but the White Sox care about winning and they care about the fans. Jerry Reinsdorf responds to letters from fans, as I learned this off-season when I sent him a note. I received a very gracious response and it let me know that my thoughts meant something.
Editor's note: With the crosstown rivalry resuming tonight at U.S. Cellular Field, we asked Cubs fan Brian Livingston and Sox fan Jenny Zelle to account for their passions. Here's what Brian had to say:
For me, the Cubs represent family. My grandfather was a Cubs fan, which made my mom a Cubs fan, which eventually made me a Cubs fan. There is little doubt in my mind when I have kids they will be Cubs fans too.
I love the Cubs because of the history and tradition that surrounds them. Guys like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Andre Dawson and Kerry Wood are why I love the Cubs. They are what Cubs baseball is all about.
Sometimes it is hard loving something that doesn't always love you back, but regardless, I will never stop being a Cubs fan. I've been a fan since day one and I will continue to be a fan of this team, win or lose, until my time is up.
I might as well be a junkie because I'm addicted to the Cubs. Simply put, they are my bliss.
On the other side of town ... well, I don't really hate the White Sox. They play each other six times in a 162-game schedule and aren't even in the same division. If anything I'd say I hate the St. Louis Cardinals most, followed by the Marlins, Padres, Mets and Yankees. The Sox aren't even in my top five.
But that doesn't mean there aren't some Sox things that aggravate me, starting with their fans.
I'm sure Sox fans feel the same way about the Cubs, but what I can't stand are the ones who go out of their way to hate on my team. I can understand if we were playing each other all the time, but most fans seem to care more about hating the Cubs than loving the Sox. I like to call it Little Brother Syndrome. Sad, really, considering they won a World Series six years ago but their focus remains on the Cubs.
Alfonso Soriano and Reed Johnson search for A-Rod's ninth-inning double / Tribune photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo
Before we plunge headlong into the first of three Cubs-Sox games this week, let's not let last night's events at Wrigley Field go without comment.
While the White Sox were righting the ship with a second straight win in Arizona -- this after a Friday loss that stripped bare all the drawbacks of stewardship by a 75-year-old owner who consistently trades two marshmallows tomorrow for one marshmallow today -- the Cubs were busy falling apart on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
Oh, of course, the Cubs officially committed zero errors. It was the kind of performance that drives home the singular uselessness of that subjective statistic. But what the standard box score obscured was nakedly visible to anyone who watched the game, including ESPN's sterling broadcast trio of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine: This is an awful defense.
More precisely, that was an awful defense last night. We'll cut the Cubs an inch of slack because they had a few backups in there, what with Mike Quade panicking at the sight of Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia and benching all of his left-handed hitters.
But most of the problems came from the regular starters. They are the reason the Cubs have the fifth-worst defense in baseball, according to the Ultimate Zone Rating calculations at Fangraphs.com.
They, primarily, are the reason we saw the following cavalcade of mistakes last night:
As the College World Series begins this weekend in Omaha, the eight teams still alive include six players picked by the White Sox and Cubs in last week's First-Year Player Draft.
The White Sox drafted a trio of Cal stars -- pitcher Erik Johnson, shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Chadd Krist -- as well as Texas A&M pitcher Brandon Parrent and Virginia pitcher Cody Winiarski. The Cubs will have only one draftee in the College World Series: Texas pitcher Andrew McKirahan.
RHP Erik Johnson, Cal Bio - Stats - Drafted in the 2nd round by the Sox
Cal's pitching has been the team's biggest strength and Johnson (7-4) is the poster child. He has a 2.91 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 54 walks in 102 innings this season. He made notable contributions in his last appearance in the Super Regionals, pitching six solid innings and allowing two runs on three hits. Look for his power pitching and consistency in Sunday's opener against a tough Virginia offense.
SS Marcus Semien, Cal Bio - Stats - Drafted in the 6th round by the Sox
Semien had a slow start this season, though the Pac-10's pitching talent could have contributed to his struggle. He is known more for his defensive capabilities but has his average at .277 heading into the weekend after hitting .328 last year. He helped win Game 1 of the Super Regionals last weekend with a three-run home run.
It must be that time of year, because everyone is piling on Wrigley Field.
Surprisingly it didn't start with Ozzie Guillen or any member of the 25-man White Sox roster. This time it was MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons, during an appearance last week on WSCR-AM 670:
"The problem that [owner Tom Ricketts] has, and the Ricketts family has a serious issue, is they're going to have to understand it's not only rebuilding personnel. They got to make that ballpark livable. It's a dump, Wrigley Field. They're going to have to spend $200-and-something million on re-renovating Wrigley Field, do what the Boston owners did with Fenway Park. And the investment is far greater than, I think, maybe they realize. The amount of work that Wrigley Field needs ... there's a ton of money that has to go into rebuilding that place."
I respect Gammons as a writer, but he's off touch on this issue.
I think what people forget is that Wrigley isn't meant to be flashy, with all the bells and whistles that all the modern parks have. Wrigley is an antique. That's what makes Wrigley Wrigley.
After losing nine of their past 11 games, including a 2-8 road swing through St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, the Cubs are back at Wrigley this week to host the red-hot, first-place Brewers and the 27-time world champion Yankees.
But they got the homestand off on the right foot Monday night, riding Ryan Dempster to a 1-0 win.
Dempster, who was brilliant last time out against Cincinnati, picked up where he left off with seven shutout innings, striking out seven and surrendering four hits.
But Milwaukee's Randy Wolf matched him pitch for pitch, and it was up to the bullpens after seven.
Finally, the Cubs got on the board in the bottom of the eighth when Darwin Barney scored from third on Aramis Ramirez's grounder to second. Mike Quade sent Barney on contact with one out, and the rookie slid headfirst past the tag of Jonathan Lucroy.
(Recent videos from MLB.com are not embeddable, but you can view the play at their site.)
The Cubs salvaged the last of three games in Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon, winning 4-1. If ever they needed a quality outing from Ryan Dempster, it was now. And it almost didn't happen because the right-hander was experiencing hip pain during his warmups.
Dempster gutted it out and pitched his tail off. He went six strong innings with one earned run and struck out eight. Things were dicey in the first inning when the Reds loaded the bases, but he came out of it unscathed.
As usual, it then fell to the offense to back up their starter. Carlos Pena got the Cubs on the board with a two-run homer in the fourth after a crucial Reds error allowed the inning to continue. Aramis Ramirez followed that with a solo homer to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead. They would later add another run in the seventh after Reds reliever Jose Arredondo balked with runners on first and third.
The bleeding has been stopped, but there are still many problems that surround this team. Sure, the win was nice and it shifts the focus for at least 24 hours, but the road trip now heads to Philadelphia for four games before the Brewers and Yankees come to Wrigley next week. At 24-36, the Cubs' issues aren't going to be solved overnight.
The Cubs started off their road trip on a sour note by being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend. This prompted Carlos Zambrano to go off on his teammates Sunday after Carlos Marmol blew the save en route to a second straight extra-inning loss.
"We should know better than this. We play like a Triple-A team," Zambrano told reporters in the clubhouse. "This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed -- that's the word for this team."
Zambrano specifically blamed Marmol for throwing Ryan Theriot a fastball slider the former Cub turned into a game-tying double: "We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter."
The Cubs opened this nine-game homestand by winning two of three against the struggling New York Mets. They scored 24 runs in those games. In the six games since, they have scored 16 runs. Aside from lack of run production, the injury bug has begun taking its toll on the Cubs.
They currently have six of their starters on the disabled list. Alfonso Soriano is the latest victim. He strained his quad running out a grounder to first on Monday afternoon.
The Cubs started off Wednesday's game favorably against Houston's Brett Myers, who for all intents and purposes should be on the all-time Cubs killers list. Kosuke Fukudome hit a solo home run to give his team the 1-0 advantage.
It would be short-lived as the Astros would answer back in the top of the second with a solo home run by Jason Michaels. Houston scored two more in the seventh to take a 3-1 lead and secure a sweep of the Northsiders.
The conditions suggested it would be a pitchers' duel, but it was anything but that. Just as in Tuesday's 11-1 win, the Cubs put on their hitting shoes. Carlos Pena put them in front for good in the fourth with a two-run homer, and Alfonso Soriano added to the lead with a two-run double in the fifth.
Carlos Zambrano earned his fifth win of the season with six strong innings, only allowing one earned run on six hits. Z has been the most consistent starter on this Cubs staff. Perhaps he has finally turned the corner.
The Cubs (22-26) have shown signs of breaking out of their hitting woes and these two wins -- sandwiched around a 7-4 loss Wednesday -- are prime examples of how good they can be when they hit.
Also, facing a sub.-500 Mets team riddled with injuries doesn't hurt. If they are going to turn this thing around, winning a homestand against the Mets, Pirates and Astros is imperative -- mainly because after that, they head out on the road to face the powerful Cardinals, Reds and Phillies.
The view from our seats in the right field bleachers / Photo: Brian Livingston
BOSTON -- It took 93 years for the Cubs to return to Fenway Park. Unfortunately for those of us Cubs fans who made the pilgrimage to Boston, the results this weekend were similar to the 1918 World Series.
Even worse for me, I missed Saturday's win and attended the twogames the Cubs lost. My track record for watching them in American League venues is now 1-9, with the lone victory coming eight years ago on the South Side.
But results aside, it was a great trip.
Like Wrigley, Fenway is one of the most iconic ballparks in baseball. Having never been to Fenway prior to this trip, the excitement had been building before Friday night's game. When I arrived on Lansdowne Street I was overtaken by the atmosphere, the tradition and the history that entrench the park.
Upon entering the park, the ticket taker jokingly said, "Welcome to Wrigley." I sat in the right field bleachers for Friday night's contest. When I emerged from the concourse and took in Fenway Park for the first time it was as if I were a child on Christmas morning. My eyes opened real wide. Goosebumps covered my arms. Unless you were behind a pole -- of which Fenway has many -- there isn't a bad seat in the house.
Aside from the two losses, the overall experience at Fenway was awesome, other than a few drunken idiots who heckled me with chants of "1918." (Shouldn't it have been "1908," since that was the last time the Cubs won a World Series?) This baffled me because up until 2004, the Red Sox and their fans were in the exact same boat.
Otherwise, there was no real animosity between the two fan bases. I found Red Sox fans to be very friendly and welcoming. Salt of the earth, if you will. As I told the fans I spoke with during this weekend, if I weren't a Cubs fan I'd be a Red Sox fan. Banter between fans was friendly and rarely were there any heated arguments.
I, like many others, dream of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. The weather this weekend felt like October and while the outcome wasn't what Cubs Nation had hoped for, the experience is something I won't soon forget.
BOSTON -- After 93 years the Chicago Cubs make their return to historic Fenway Park to take on the Boston Red Sox this weekend.
To say it has been a while would be an understatement. The last time the Cubs were in town was the 1918 World Series, which they lost in six games. Before 2004, of course, that was the last time the Red Sox had won a championship.
These two teams have always had a similar line. Both allegedly "cursed," one by a goat the other by Babe Ruth. Their fan bases share a similar level of passion and loyalty.
I'm in Boston for the weekend, and if the plane ride here was any indication the Cubs will be well represented this weekend in Beantown.
This meeting will be their second since interleague play started. The Red Sox came to Wrigley in 2005, with the Cubs taking two out of three.
I don't doubt Fenway will be rocking all weekend long. The calendar says May, but it is going to feel like October for the next three days.
Puttering along through what looks like another unremarkable season, the Cubs at least have more wins than the White Sox. But Sun-Times columnist Joe Cowley hasn't abandoned his vision of a Chicago united under the Sox banner.
All was not right in Cubdom last night. After blowing a 4-0 lead Monday and losing 7-4 to the first-place Reds, the Cubs self-destructed again Tuesday, taking a 7-5 loss.
Monday's loss prompted a closed-door meeting, but that didn't immediately fix the problems last night in Cincinnati. Things started out promising for the visitors as Carlos Pena blasted his fifth home run of the year to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead, but if we've learned anything this season, it is that no lead is safe.
Poor fundamentals and once again a lack of timely hitting are to blame in this one. It all began to unravel in the bottom of the fourth. With two on and two out, the Cubs opted to walk catcher Ramon Hernandez to face pitcher Edison Volquez -- a smart decision considering Volquez doesn't have a hit this season.
But Volquez hit a ball to Pena at first that took an eccentric hop and got past him. Smartly backing up the play was second baseman Darwin Barney, but his throw to Matt Garza covering the bag was late. Garza then threw wildly toward the plate, trying to prevent the runner on second from scoring, and the ball went into the dugout, bringing Hernandez all the way around from first.
This thing the Cubs are doing -- it's not easy to do.
It's not easy to have the National League's third-best on-base percentage and fourth-best slugging percentage and still rank 11th in the league in runs per game.
OK, yes. Right. We didn't say this thing they're doing is a good thing to do.
But as we've touched on before, the Cubs (17-21) are beginning to develop something of a reputation as they approach the quarter pole:
They don't hit for power (28 home runs, 13th in the NL) and they don't draw walks (6.8% walk rate, last). But they hit line drives (20.6% line-drive rate, second) and they don't strike out (19.5% strikeout rate, third).
They put the ball in play, and so far the results are working out ... to a point. Their .327 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is the best in the league. But that statistic includes a huge dose of luck. It's not likely all those singles will keep falling in.
Where do I begin? This has gotten real old, real fast.
If I've said it once, I've said half a dozen times: If you don't hit with runners in scoring position you aren't going to win very many ball games. The Cubs dropped Thursday's rubber match against St. Louis, 9-1. If they continue this way, it is going to be a very long season on the North Side.
The most puzzling thing about it is this team is better than last year's. What's worse is the conditions Thursday favored the hitters too. It never ceases to amaze me how the visiting team seems to take advantage of said conditions and the Cubs don't. Of course some credit has to be given to Cardinals starting pitcher Jamie Garcia.
This homestand could help sort out whether or not the Cubs (14-16) have a chance. The Reds, last year's NL Central champions, are scuffling along at 16-15, but they are expected to contend again for the division title. Sooner or later they're going to get it rolling; let's hope for the Cubs' sake it's not this weekend. The Cubs didn't fair well against the Red Legs last season, going 4-12 against them. If they expect to contend that number will undoubtedly have to change.
Geovany Soto came through in the ninth inning last night, but for the most part, clutch hits have been hard to come by for the Cubs this season. A month into the season, they are hitting a putrid .216 with a .616 OPS with runners in scoring position, well below their overall averages of .270 (fifth-best in baseball) and .723.
Hitting hasn't been the problem as much as hitting when it matters most.
The middle of the order has been the main problem. With runners in scoring position, Marlon Byrd is 5-for-32 (.156), Aramis Ramirez is 6-for-28 (.214) and Carlos Pena is 3-for-22 (.136). They have two combined home runs, though it was definitely nice to see Pena finally get his first as a Cub last night in Los Angeles.
Alfonso Soriano leads the majors with 11 home runs, but nine of those homers have been of the solo variety. And his 5-for-29 (.172) effort with runners in scoring position hasn't been great either.
If the Nos. 3, 4, and 5 hitters can get going this team should be able to turn it around.
But if the big guys can get going, the Cubs (13-16) could start to turn things around in the tightly packed NL Central. Soriano, Starlin Castro, Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney and Kosuke Fukudome are hitting, but rarely with runners on base.
This team is much better than last year's and while it is still early in some respects they need to get going before it is too late. The division very much up for grabs and if they can get any kind clutch hitting they will be right there at the end.
Eighteen games into this young baseball season the Cubs are 9-9 and a half-game out of first place. Despite suffering a major blow to their starting rotation the Cubs have made the best of their situation by treading at or around .500. One of the biggest reasons they've managed to hold their heads above water is the play of shortstop Starlin Castro.
Less than a month past his 21st birthday, he's currently sporting a . 375 average with a .398 on-base percentage and is tied for the league lead in hits with 30. He already has six three-hit games this season.
It's early, but I am thoroughly convinced Castro is a superstar in the making.
In the previous two seasons, Zambrano pitched as many as eight innings just three times. But there he was against the Padres, striking out the side in the seventh and cruising through the top of the eighth. He worked fast, threw strikes and even though he wasn't overpowering he struck out 10. In that seventh inning, he didn't dial up a fastball more than 90 mph until the final two pitches against Ryan Ludwick, instead relying on good movement, a nice front-door slider to catch Nick Hundley looking and a couple of 70-something curveballs. It was one of the best starts of his career -- just the ninth time he's recorded a Game Score of 85 or better.
Is Big Z back? I wouldn't say that. The hitters were hacking away in the cold (the 10-inning game lasted just 2:26, proving major leaguers can play quickly if they want to), so I wouldn't read too much into the effort, especially after three mediocre starts to begin the season. But for one night it was nice to see something resembling the old Z racking up the strikeouts.
Chicago-based blogger Christina Kahrl examined the White Sox closer situation last week, advancing a headline-grabbing solution for a bullpen that has gotten an 8.84 ERA and five blown saves from Matt Thornton, Chris Sale and new addition Will Ohman:
The answer has to come from outside the organization, and it'll be [Kenny] Williams' crew who can find him. If it's a matter of taking a chance on a pitcher struggling with staying healthy, here again, the Sox can afford a bit of risk where other teams might shrink from it, because they have the benefit of Herm Schneider's matchless training staff.
The question is whether Williams can acquire someone this early in the season, when salary dumps generally aren't the order of the day, so it's likely to cost talent -- something Chicago's system isn't rich in. Making the call this early comes across as desperate, because it is. Even so, perhaps the best fit will involve the Sox living up to their season motto -- "All In" -- and making a deal for a short-time veteran who could use the change of scenery.
So the time is now for Williams to call Sandy Alderson, start talking about Francisco Rodriguez, and see how much money the Sox can get the Mets to eat while making it happen. K-Rod may not appear to be the same pitcher he was in his Angels' heyday, but his strikeout rate last season (28.4 percent) was his best since 2007. As much as "closer mystique" is overrated, the Sox probably can't afford to keep experimenting on into May.
On a cold, blustery Monday night at Wrigley Field, Carlos Zambrano dominated the San Diego Padres. On a night when offense was hard to come by, Zambrano did his best to limit the Padres hitters. Z pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 10. But would the Cubs get any runs?
In regulation, no; Zambrano settled for a no-decision. The Cubs offense went nine innings without an extra-base hit until Tyler Colvin gave Chicago a 1-0 win with an RBI double in the 10th.
As the Cubs and White Sox struggle to advance much past the .500 mark -- that Sox collapse Wednesday afternoon was a bullpen horror show -- I finally got the chance to cozy up with ESPN The Magazine's baseball preview issue.
Few surprises on the prediction front: Sox in first, Cubs in fourth, Adam Dunn should be a beast. But the hidden treasure was the players' responses when ESPN asked them about road trips in their divisions.
Chicago got mentioned twice by rival players. Indians middle infielder Orlando Cabrera, a 15-year veteran who spent a brief, generally unimpressive year with the Sox in 2008, said we have the most aggressive autograph hounds in the AL Central. "They're outside the hotel, and when they want it, man, they want it! I've had guys follow me three blocks down Michigan Avenue."
Journeyman pitcher Nelson Figueroa, now with the Astros, said Chicago is the city where he is recognized least often. Apparently drunk Cubs fans can't see straight. "When you leave Wrigley, fans have already been drinking for hours and they're well on their way to having a good time."
To be fair, Nelson, not even your home fans have any idea who you are.
ESPN also talked with two Chicago pitchers. Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs said the best team hotel in the NL Central is in St. Louis. "We stay in a casino, and I don't mind the tables so much."
Matt Thornton of the Sox picked Detroit as the trip with the worst commute to the park. "We stay in Birmingham: Great city, great hotel, but it's 35 to 40 minutes to the stadium. More with traffic. It's a hike."
It's still early in the season, but the Cubs really needed Monday's 5-4 win in Houston after losing Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee. The offense got rolling early against nemesis Nelson Figueroa. With Kosuke Fukudome nursing a tight hamstring, Starlin Castro took over the leadoff duties. He filled in admirably, going 3-for-5 with hits in his first three at-bats. He scored all three times on-base. Between him and the No. 2 hitter Darwin Barney they were a combined 5-for-5 with five runs. Barney had an RBI triple.
They had Figueroa on the ropes in the first and almost came away empty-handed, but Alfonso Soriano stepped up with a two-run double to give them the early lead. They scored again in the second and fourth. Not only did the offense need to redeem itself, but Cubs starter Ryan Dempster need to right the ship after dropping his first two decisions.
The Cubs missed out on a chance to take two out of three in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon. Leaving nine runners on base, some in consecutive innings, isn't going to win you many ball games.
The game started off favorably for the Cubbies as they took an early 2-0 lead on an Aramis Ramirez two-run double. The game went back and forth all afternoon. The Cubs would take the lead and then the Brewers would tie it.
With Randy Wells on the disabled list with a right forearm strain, the Cubs called on Casey Coleman to fill in. Coleman went five innings giving up nine hits, which resulted in four earned runs. For the most part he kept his team in the ball game and gave them a chance to win; however, the offense failed to come through several times.
They took the lead late on a bases-loaded fielder's choice by Tyler Colvin. That lead would be short-lived as the Cubs bullpen gave it away in the bottom of the eighth. Kerry Wood served up a go-ahead two-run homer to ex-Cub Casey McGehee, resulting in a 6-5 loss.
In my Inbox this morning was a Tribune Co. press release trumpeting the TV ratings this weekend on WGN: Ratings for Opening Day on Friday "were 40% higher in Households than the first telecast of the 2010 season" and Sunday's game "generated a 7.7 Household rating; the highest since April 7, 2009."
That's all well and good, even if I know just enough about the television ratings system to be suspicious of selectively chosen figures. But on my TV screen and in my Twitter feed yesterday was plenty of evidence that Cubs fans greeted the first Monday afternoon game of the season with historical apathy.
After seeing sell-out crowds at Wrigley year after year, it was quite the shock to behold the sea of empty seats yesterday. The official attendance report was 26,292, making yesterday's crowd the smallest to see a game at Wrigley since 2002. But even that figure elicited snorts of amusement from those at the game. Witnesses put the crowd somewhere around 10,000 fans at the high end.
If you've witnessed the breakneck speed at which Wrigley games have sold out since 2003, yesterday's attendance is a staggering surprise, but perhaps one that we should have seen coming. The 2011 Cubs Convention failed to sell out, while in the past tickets have been snapped up in less than 15 minutes. Then rumor had it that only six, SIX, Cubs games sold out this year (Opening Day, three Yankees Games, one White Sox Game , and one Cardinals game). Yesterday, ChicagoNow pointed out that tickets to dozens of Cubs games were available online for less than $1.00.
It appears that the proverbial chickens (seagulls?) have finally come home to roost.
Is Julie right that Cubs fans "pay the highest ticket prices to watch the worst baseball"? Is resident contrarian Joe Cowley right that Chicago is becoming a White Sox town? We'll wait for more than four games to reach a verdict, but the latest evidence isn't looking good.
Starlin Castro scores in the first inning / Tribune photo: William DeShazer
Nothing spoils the festive mood of Opening Day like losing. The Cubs did just that as they lost to the Pirates, 6-3. The game started off favorably for the Cubs. They jumped out to a 2-0 advantage thanks to a couple of miscues by the Pirates defense. That lead became short-lived.
It was almost eerily similar to Game One of the 2008 NLDS as starter Ryan Dempster walked the bases loaded in the fifth inning and then served up a grand slam to Neil Walker. Dempster went 6 2/3 innings. He gave up six hits, six earned runs and struck out seven.
Opening Day. Two of the most beautiful words in the English language to a baseball fan. For Cubs fans it's the beginning of a new season. Hope springs eternal. I consider Opening Day at Wrigley to be a religious holiday. Which is exactly what I told my employer when I requested the day off. Today is the reason I put up with the cold and snow during the winter.
The optimism couldn't be any higher than it is today. Everything is wiped clean from last year and everyone is starting out in first. We can dream of the World Series and the party that will surely follow. On Opening Day all things are possible, even if my team hasn't won a championship in over 100 years. Cubs fans can dream and dream we shall because next year is here.
It's spring in Cleveland, but it doesn't quite feel like it. While U.S. Cellular Field is ready to go, Progressive Field groundskeepers have spent the past 24 hours clearing 3-4 inches of snow.
Could this be the baseball gods' way of frowning on the Indians' winter Snow Days events? Something tells me that The Sodfather wouldn't give over his verdant domain to ice skating and snow tubing.
So, technically it's spring, but when the White Sox are making snow angels and having snowball fights on the field the afternoon before Opening Day, it feels a bit surreal. So much so that even Ozzie chimed in on the subject, in his usual inimitable way. Who knows, maybe this is just the sort of thing the White Sox need to get over their traditional slow April starts.
So let it snow. Paulie, A.J., Ozzie and the White Sox are ready and so are their fans. Let's face it, there's a lot to be excited about today as Mark Buehrle makes his ninth consecutive Opening Day start; the incredible Omar Vizquel begins his 22nd season; and Adam Dunn makes his official Sox debut. Who says they aren't a cold weather team?
Disappointing move by the White Sox, who've made a major downgrade to their road jersey's sleeve patch. On the plus side, team execs have said the road grays will be worn more often this season, instead of the black alternate that increasingly [has] become the club's standard road look. Meanwhile, the "Sox" logo has also been added to the team's stirrups, although Juan Pierre and manager Ozzie Guillen may be the only ones wearing them.
Cubs outfielder Fernando Perezwrites poetry and has been published in Poetry and the Southern Review, tweets and maintains a blog, but he's having trouble maintaining his batting average. He's currently hitting .161 in the preseason, well below his career .234, and may not make it to the big game if things don't improve. At least he has a backup plan:
Starlin Castro made his major-league debut last May against the Cincinnati Reds. The past few years Cubs fans had been hearing about this kid shortstop and were wondering just what all the fuss was about. Well, Castro showed everyone what the Cubs brass already knew. In his first at-bat he hit a three-run homer and he added a three-run triple a few innings later. Not too shabby for a 19-year-old.
So where does he go from here?
Like many rookies coming off stellar first years, Castro is looking to avoid the proverbial sophomore slump, but what about next year and the year after that? As someone who watches this team on a daily basis, I think it is hard to envision the young Dominican's stock going anywhere but up.
Marlon Byrd was fantastic last season after coming over from the Texas Rangers and he has picked up where he left off. In 11 games this spring, he is hitting 15-for-30 with four doubles, a home run and four RBIs.
The former Phillies and Nationals outfielder fared well in his return to the senior circuit last season, batting .293 with 12 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .775 OPS. The numbers aren't eye-popping, but they are right in line with his career numbers. His first-half numbers were good enough to earn him his first trip to the All-Star Game, where he played a huge role in securing the National League's first win since 1996.
Rob Neyer had some good things to say about the Cubs when he previewed them two weeks ago for his new site, SBNation.com, but the longtime ESPN.com columnist went a step further when he stopped by Jonah Keri's podcast recently, picking them as his biggest surprise of 2011.
Now, that doesn't mean Neyer is ready to go out on a limb and predict the Northsiders will surge past the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers in the NL Central, but "if you're looking for a real surprise team," he said, "you could probably do a lot worse than the Cubs."
I think that the Cubs have a chance to be a lot better than people expect. ... On paper, they're still the fourth-best team in the NL Central. I get that, and that's right. But I think that if you're looking for a real surprise team, you could probably do a lot worse than the Cubs. ...
I think they have five or six positions where they could be much better this year than they were last year -- and that doesn't include the pitching, which probably should be at least as good. I would say they're going to be better at first base, third base, marginally left field, probably second base -- I'm forgetting one of them -- oh, shortstop, probably. [Starlin] Castro will go up maybe a notch. There's just a lot of room for improvement on that team. I can see them going 85-77 rather than 75-87, which is what they did last year.
Cubs' spring training has been underway for more than a few weeks and a few noteworthy tidbits have come up. The most important news of it all was that manager Mike Quade named his Opening Day starter. After starting the past six Opening Days, Carlos Zambrano will not be starting at Wrigley on April 1. Ryan Dempster will be taking the mound instead.
Zambrano is his own worst enemy, especially on Opening Day. He gets too amped up for his own good and ultimately ends up putting the team in position to lose more often than not. He'll start the second game of the season when all the hoopla of the first game of the year has subsided. Newly acquired Cub Matt Garza will start the third game of the year.
Dempster starting is the right choice. He's earned it. Since becoming a starter again in 2008 he's won 43 games. While he's not the same type of pitcher as Zambrano, he has definitely earned this honor by the way he carries himself on the field and in the clubhouse.
We wrote a bunch of Cubs and White Sox preview pieces. You might have read them. Or maybe not. How do I know? Either way, here they are again, neatly compiled in one handsome, leather-bound edition. Because what else are you going to do for five more weeks of spring training?
When Derrek Lee was traded to Atlanta in the middle of the season it was clear that replacing him wasn't going to be easy. Lee had been a staple at first base ever since Cubs GM Jim Hendry acquired him after the 2003 season, a month after he and the Marlins dashed Chicago's World Series hopes.
Replacing Lee's bat and his Gold Glove defense was imperative, but Hendry was limited by how much he could spend in free agency. He had to get creative and he did just that. Enter Carlos Pena for one year, $10 million. Normally a guy of Pena's caliber would command a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment, but his sub-par 2010 severely limited his ability to cash in.
With that in mind, the question here is can Carlos Pena return his batting average to a respectable level or will he be the 21st century Dave Kingman? Pena batted just .196 in Tampa Bay last season, but to his credit he played through plantar fasciitis during the season. The injury can limit mobility and certainly make it difficult to play at a high level.
It looks for all the world that Dave Duerson, the former Bears safety who killed himself Thursday, might have been among the growing number of American football players bludgeoned into brain damage. At the very least, he worried he might be, telling his family to donate his brain to ongoing research about football players and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Joakim Noah will be back in the lineup when the Bulls return from the all-star break Wednesday at Toronto, coach Tom Thibodeau said today. If you had any doubt how important that is, ESPN.com had a great piece over the weekend about Chicago's team defense, as explained by Taj Gibson:
But the Cubbie faithful hope that has changed with the arrival of the 2008 ALCS MVP. Matt Garza pitched in the toughest division in baseball, the AL East, for three seasons as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. His electric stuff should translate very favorably to the National League, which annually features less potent lineups than the American League.
I find myself checking out the CubWorld webcam often this winter to see snow piled high on the corner of Clark and Addison. Sometimes people walk by; sometimes there's a bus. Other times, it's a quiet corner where I find myself gazing longing at the iconic marquee. Waiting for some glimpse of the season's start.
I'm ready for baseball.
I've spent the off-season an anxious mess, watching the trades and the hot stove rumors. I've tweeted, I've blogged, I've bored non-baseball fans to tears over the fates of my favorite players. I've had conversations with strangers on trains just because they were wearing ball caps. (Note: Some strangers are not as friendly as they appear.)
The other day I got incredibly excited to see Wrigley Field -- which rarely happens. Living in Chicago, I've been desensitized to the great ballpark in my backyard. Perhaps it's the binge-drinking college crowd the neighborhood attracts. Maybe it's lack of the designated hitter or the panic that sets in when I realize my commute home will be twice as long on game day.
It wasn't always this way. I know Wrigley Field is a spectacle of unique and timeless baseball history.
Spring training hasn't even started yet and Joe Cowley is already stirring up trouble in the Cubs-Sox rivalry. His Sun-Times column today advances the idea that Chicago is now "a Sox town." It begins:
It was a nice little run for the North Side.
There was drama, Sammy Sosa's hop and then flop, a sold-out ballpark/museum on a daily basis, a fall guy named Bartman and even a few wins and division titles thrown in along the way.
But it's over.
It's a Cubs town no more.
Beginning next week and playing out all summer long, the only relevant baseball team in New Gotham is at 35th and Shields. Yes, for the first time in decades, this town belongs to the White Sox.
Cowley is known for making waves. In 2006, he bucked convention by voting Derek Jeter sixth in an AL MVP race where Jeter finished second. Last year, he compared Toronto to a third-world country and urged MLB to relocate the Blue Jays. And he mocks players, teams and other media members on Twitter all the time.
So there's no surprise he'd be the one to rile up Chicago baseball fans.
That said, there is some validity to his column. Cowley's measurement for the Sox taking over the city is predicated on their success this season, which is warranted and likely accurate.
Good Z or Bad Z? Which one will show up this year? Will it be the one who went 8-0 with 1.58 ERA after returning from last year's mid-summer suspension or will be the one who snaps at the first sign of trouble? This remains the biggest question for the Cubs heading into the 2011 season.
There is no doubt he has the ability to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League if not both leagues. He showed a glimpse of just how dominating he can be after coming back from his suspension last July 31.
Due to the high winds, a portion of a structural panel above the press box at Wrigley Field "broke away" tonight, scattering debris outside the ball park, officials said. Chicago police cordoned off streets and sidewalks around the park, while Cubs officials worked with the city to monitor the situation and ensure there weren't any public safety issues, Cubs spokesman Peter Chase said.
The new deal, which includes a $10 million team option for Year Five, wasn't strictly necessary. The 29-year-old Ramirez was entering the final season of the cheap four-year deal he signed as a Cuban free agent three years ago, but the Sox could have kept him around for a few more years through arbitration. Instead, they decided to give him a little more money on the front end in exchange for a few years of cost-effective security on the back end. And it won't cost anything this season.
Jim Margalus of South Side Sox likes the move: "I'd call this contract fair, with an overtone of fun. Ramirez is often a blast to watch, and he's not going anywhere. That's good."
Good news for the Bulls too, as Joakim Noah had the cast on his right hand removed Monday after practice. The fourth-year center, one of the league's premier rebounders and post defenders, will participate in non-contact drills with the team on their current road trip and could be ready for game action after the all-star break in three weeks.
When Mike Quade replaced Lou Piniella as Cubs manager last summer, he ended a 25-year minor-league quest by becoming a big league manager. Before shedding his interim tag and officially becoming the 57th manager in franchise history, he had to prove himself. He did just that by winning 24 of the team's final 37 games.
That might not seem like much, but it helped the Cubs brass choose him over Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg. Some fans wanted Sandberg, some wanted Quade. The only thing that absolutely matters at this point is winning. And the question in this discussion: Is Quade good enough?
Call me Sage. For with the following lines, I defeat the third of humanity's three main anxieties: fear of death, terror of the dark and perpetual worry about the Cubbies' World Series prospects. Consider yourself one of the fortunate who have access to this esoteric, unerring information. If you are feeling vigorous and competent, commence your path to enlightenment. From A to Z, all the content herein is absolute fact about the Chicago Cubs 2011 season.
April 1, 2011. The Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano starts his swing at a slider outside and in the dirt.
Before the first month of the season ends, the Cubs closer Carlos Mármol injures himself, throwing his right elbow into the left field bleachers. The elbow caroms off the Toyota sign, landing in an unmindful fan's libation. Lacking his arm's hinge, Mármol's odd yet impressive career ends. The severed joint's casket is paraded throughout Wrigleyville for Cubs Nation to view before its final interment at North Avenue Beach. A MySpace page and Twitter account for the elbow are suspiciously maintained by a fan with first initial S. and surname Bartman. Without delay, Lou Piniella is informed via certified mail that the cast-off appendage is not edible.
While we look ahead to spring training with multi-part previews on the Cubs and White Sox, ESPN.com analyst Keith Law is looking way ahead with a package of stories on the top prospects and top farm systems in baseball.
After the 2006 season Cubs general manager Jim Hendry went on a spending spree the likes of which Cubs fans have never seen before. Contracts were handed out like candy on Halloween, thus putting a financial choke hold on any future acquisitions. The good news is that a good majority of those bad contracts will be off the book at the end of the 2011 season. Until then the Cubs have to make the best of it.
When the Cubs acquired Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates in 2003 he stopped what had been a revolving door at third base since Ron Santo crossed town in 1974. When Cubs offense is clicking on all cylinders Ramirez is somewhere in the middle of it. When he's cold or injured the Cubs offense suffers accordingly.
Never was that more evident than when Ramirez missed two months because of a shoulder injury in 2009. When healthy, he hit well: a .317 average with a .389 on-base percentage and a .905 OPS.
Then last year, Ramirez played through nagging injuries and had perhaps the worst season of his career. Though he managed to hit 25 home runs in 124 games, he batted .241 with a hideous .294 on-base percentage.
That's why he is one of the biggest questions for the Cubs in 2011.
The calendar says January, but for Cubs fans at the Chicago Hilton on Friday night, thoughts of spring and summer filled the air. A sea of blue filled the grand ballroom as Cubs radio broadcaster Pat Hughes emceed the opening ceremonies for the 2011 Cubs Convention. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts addressed the crowd with a sense of optimism for 2011.
"Unfortunately 2010 wasn't so great on the field," Ricketts said. "Last year we saw the emergence of several very talented young players and by the end of last season we were playing baseball as well as anyone in the league.
"As we look forward to 2011 we look forward to bringing that momentum from the end of last season into next season," he said. "In addition to that we've added key players that are going to play significant roles on our team next year."
Three years ago it was Brian Roberts. Two years ago, Jake Peavy. The Cubs under Jim Hendry have made the near-trade an offseason specialty. But it looks like the rumors are true this time: Multipleoutletsarereporting the Cubs have agreed with the Tampa Bay Rays on a deal that would send 27-year-old right-hander Matt Garza and a prospect to Chicago for five prospects, including two standouts in shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and pitcher Chris Archer.
Garza, who was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 204.2 innings last season, gives the Cubs another front-of-the-rotation starter to go with Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. He helped the Rays win the American League in 2008 and the AL East last season, when he also threw the first no-hitter in franchise history.
Adding Garza doesn't make the Cubs instant pennant contenders, but it puts them in a good position.
Christmas has come early for Cubs fans. Two weeks after the death of franchise icon Ron Santo, they welcome back another beloved figure in Kerry Wood. (And in fact, Santo's passing had more than a little to do with Wood rediscovering his North Side roots.)
After two seasons in Cleveland and a brief stint with the Yankees, Kid K signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal, leaving potentially more lucrative deals on the table to return to the organization that drafted him in 1995. Wood will work with Sean Marshall setting up closer Carlos Marmol.
If you were on the fence about seeing "A Christmas Carol" this year at the Goodman Theatre, delay no longer! Tuesday's 7:30 show will feature a one-night cameo by Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull, probably just milling around the background in period costume and joining in the big "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" finale.
A small role, but a nice gesture in partnership with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He'll meet-and-greet in the lobby after the show -- and of course, sell a few copies of his new book.
Christmas tidings aside, check out the above (1970s?) clip of Hull and Bobby Orr ... chatting poolside in Jamaica ... in swim trunks.
It has been an interesting past few days in the Cubs rumor department. A handful of reports put the Cubs in a trade with the Texas Rangers for first baseman Chris Davis and relief pitcher Darren O'Day and other reports suggested the Cubs were interested in Adam LaRoche. After all the rumors were sorted out, a truth emerged: Jim Hendry signed power-hitting first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10-million deal. Pena, a 32-year-old who is coming off a down season, will fill a huge hole left by last year's trade of Derrek Lee.
Santo made his love for the Chicago Cubs well known through his broadcasting. He was without question the biggest Cubs fan. He embodied every fan through the highs and the lows. He was a nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glover in 14 seasons for the Chicago Cubs.
It has been slow these last few weeks news wise as it usually is this time of year, but with the winter meetings taking place a week from today expect things to pick up. There are several positions that the Cubs need to address before Opening Day 2011. Let's take a look at a key spot on the diamond, first base.
The Cubs poor season forced them to trade their long time first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves. The move created a huge hole not only defensively, but offensively as well. Replacing Lee's ability to save would-be throwing errors from his fellow infielders is going to be difficult. There are several first basemen available this offseason.
In somewhat shocking news Chicago Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild has left the team to become the pitching coach for the New York Yankees. Cubs GM Jim Hendry made the announcement this afternoon. Rothschild has stated the move was for "personal and family-based reasons". In addition to looking for a first baseman, starting and relief pitcher this off season a new pitching coach will be added to the list.
Rothschild seemed to draw a lot of criticism from Cubs fans over the years. Most notably his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Take this into consideration Rothschild had been with the Cubs since 2002 and managed to survive three managerial changes. He must've been doing something right in the minds of the Cubs brass if they kept him around as long as they did.
It never ceases to amaze me how many times I've heard non-Cubs fans say Wrigley Field needs to go. Of course to outsiders something that is 96-years-old is too old and needs to go. My natural response is, "Let's see how you look when you're that age." As a baseball enthusiast, I've had the good fortune of visiting several stadiums across the country. From San Diego to Milwaukee, all brand new and modern. While they are nice, these modern facilities all lack several things. Charm being one of them, history being another. Now, most Cubs fans would like to erase some of the history that has occurred at Clark and Addison over the years, but that is what makes Wrigley, Wrigley.
None of these modern stadiums had that at home feel to them like Wrigley does. It is easy to get swept up in the mystique and allure of modern technology, but truth be told I'd take the allure of Wrigley over any modern convenience. Bricks, ivy and sunshine suit me just fine. Say what you like, but for my money it doesn't get any better than that.
Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts announced a proposal to the Illinois Sports Facility Association that would help aid in the renovation of Wrigley Field. The proposed deal would provide up to $300 million in bonds from amusement taxes, which are taken from ticket sales. If this deal is approved it would aid in the much needed upgrade of the 96-year-old ballpark.
The idea on paper looks good, but what looks good on paper doesn't always translate into success. See 2004 Chicago Cubs. While improving Wrigley Field would be in the best interest of the State of Illinois seeing as how it is Illinois' third largest attraction. It would only make sense on the part of the state that the Cubs continue to stay where they are at and that would mean keeping Wrigley Field in top shape for years to come.
Other candidates for the job included current Yankees skipper and Chicago native Joe Girardi as well as Hall of Famer and former Cub great Ryne Sandberg. A press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field. The press conference be seen on Comcast Sportsnet and heard on WGN Radio 720 AM.
Happy Anniversary, Steve Bartman. It was seven years ago today you brought more scorn upon yourself then Ozzie Guillen or A.J. Pierzynski could ever hope to. You weren't the only one who went after that ball. That fellow in the gray sweatshirt to your right and the guy behind you wanted that foul ball just as badly, you were just the only one who got in the way. The people to your left wisely backed off. Everyone in that section made the mistake of being a Cubs fan. Oh, the woe...
Ryan Dempster took the mound looking for his 16th victory of the year. The Astros would have other plans on Sunday afternoon. Dempster worked six innings allowing three earned runs and striking out seven. Not one of his better outings of the year and his defense didnt do him any favors. He gave up a pair of second inning runs, including one on a topper in front of the plate that Koyie Hill bobbled and hit the runner in the back with the ball.
The Cubs have been stuck in the same old "wait 'til next year" meme that they've been using for over a century now. Trite? No doubt. Still, when one company wants to have a little bit of fun (see pic above) at the North Siders losing ways, BAM!, the Cubs upper management springs into action. Behold, the new and improved Miller ad that replaced the old one after one whole day of gentle ribbing.
This one got off to an auspicious start. Almost similar to yesterdays game as the Cardinals jumped out to an early 3-0 lead until the Cubs struck back in the bottom of the third. They would score four runs in the inning one coming off a botched run down by the Cardinals catcher Brian Anderson. Cubs center fielder Sam Fuld would put them ahead for good with a two-run single.
Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano threw six innings of shut out baseball, but had zero offensive support to back him up. His command was solid as he struck out eight and only walked five. However, a high pitch count would cut short his night. Zambrano would not suffer the loss in this one.
The Cubs continued to play out the stretch this afternoon against a familiar foe in the New York Mets. Today's 5-3 victory earned them their second series win in a row and gives them an opportunity to go for the sweep tomorrow. They improve Interim Manager Mike Quade's record to 8-3 since taking over for Lou Piniella almost two weeks ago.
Carlos Zambrano continued his string of successful outings this afternoon.Zambrano pitched seven strong innings which included four hits, two earned runs and eight strikeouts. Since returning to the rotation Aug. 9, he is 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA (eight earned runs, 36 1/3 innings) in his past six starts. This may increase his trade value if they are looking to move him during the offseason.
After previously announcing that 2010 would be his final year as a Major League baseball manager, and subsequently his last year on the Cubs, Lou Piniella decided to take a well deserved early exit from the crumbling confines of Wrigley Field to take care of his mother. It was not a surprising move, nor was it a decision that had much consequence on the 2010 Chicago Cubs. Their season ended in the visitor's bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field on June 11th when Carlos Zambrano smashed his way through his team and some Gatorade coolers because Derrek Lee gave up that home run. The look on Lou's face during that incident said it all: "Please god, I am but an old, tired but accomplished man. Please get me the hell away from this train-wreck. I'll even go back to Tampa. What? They're good now? Well, sh*t!"
And so the Cubs' Piniella era came to an end. He was the first manager to bring the Northsiders to two consecutive playoff appearances since 1908, the last time they did that other thing. He brought the promise of intensity in a post-Dusty town. He was the Lovable Losers' lovable old codger. After a Cubs win, he was snappy and affable, drawing laughs from the media. After a Cubs loss, he was surly and quick to anger. He was the most memorable manager the Cubs had in ages and he is now gone, off to the Florida sunset so he can take care of his family and meander around his house in his old Reds jersey.
With the Cubs mired in fourth-place (only 18.5 games back of wild-card leader, Philly) the team has certainly seen a drop-off in terms of attendance and with Sweet Lou's departure already come and gone, the team has little left to do but play out the season. Still, those suffering from peanut allergies can (literally!) breathe easy this evening at Wrigley, as the North Siders are hosting a peanut-free game suite for sufferers of the startlingly dangerous and not-funny allergy.
For chronic sufferers of "Need A World Series Appearance and/or Title," Tailgate still suggests you become a fan of any other team in MLB...
Sosa who, since the Cubs' 2004 regular season finale, has been cast out with baseball's lepers in Chicago (and the Sports World in general), in the interview is somewhat reflective of his time in Chicago and definitely bitter at the North Siders, claiming that, "[The Cubs] threw me into the fire," he says. "They made [people] believe I'm a monster." While some might claim that Sosa wore out his welcome with the corked bat incident and, you know, the whole "testing positive for illegal and banned performance-enhancing substances in 2003", Tritsch's article portrays Sosa as an interesting case-study in hero worship cum hero tearing down. A great read.
After an emotional Lou Piniella stepped after yesterdays game against the Braves a new era was set to unfold in our Nation's Capital Monday night. Cubs third base coach Mike Quade took over as interim-manager for the remaining 37 games of what has been a disappointing 2010 season. The Cubs took on a lowly Nationals team, who like the Cubs, have been out of contention for quite some time. They were opposed by an old nemesis in the form of Livan Hernandez. The same Hernandez who mystified the Cubs in Game three of National League Division Series in 2007.
The Cubs offense began their scoring in the third inning. Blake DeWitt lead-off the inning with a solo-homer. Alfonso Soriano would hit a bloop triple that would score two. A triple that for all intents and purposes should've been an inside the park home run. The triple came to be after Nationals right fielder Willie Harris dove for the ball and proceeded to lay on the ground as the ball scooted down the right field line.
Lou Piniella managed his last game with the Cubs yesterday. Due to his mother's flagging health, Sweet Lou stepped away from the game he's loved and known for the past 50 years. In a season of letdowns at Wrigley, the North Siders conjured up new disappointment by surrendering 16 runs to the Atlanta Braves and closed the Piniella-era with another loss.
The Cubs broke out the big lumber this afternoon as they avoided a potential sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. Four home runs powered the Cubs to a 15-3 victory over the Brew Crew. They were down 3-1 as late as the bottom of the sixth before the offense awoke from its slumber. With two outs and 0-2 count newcomer Blake DeWitt drove in the tying run and Jeff Baker knocked in the go-ahead run.
However, it would be Aramis Ramirez's three-run pinch hit home run that broke it wide open. The Cubs weren't done there. Geovany Soto would hit a three-run homer in the seventh to make it a 10-3 lead. DeWitt would also hit a three-run homer of his own in the bottom of the eighth.
The aforementioned Castro had a big day at the plate. He went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer, his first at Wrigley and was a triple away from cycle. The Cubs were also helped out by more sloppy defense from St. Louis. Cardinals starter Blake Hawksworth uncorked a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth that allowed Castro to score from third.
One notable evening was during one of their last home games during this stretch, Friday, July 9th to be exact. Everything that could have gone right did. Aside from Mark Buehrle getting smacked on the hand by a line drive from former Sox lead-off man, the turbo charged Scott Podsednek, it was a perfect evening. Buehrle soon recovered from the incident and refused to allow anyone to cross the plate for six strong innings. A.J. Pierzynski went out of his way to prove why he is still a fan favorite and clobbered two home runs. The Friday night post game fireworks show supplemented A.J.'s dingers as Sox fans throughout The Cell relaxed and reflected on what a great ride our team was taking us on. It was a perfect evening and an exceptional game. Nobody there could have possibly asked for more.
Ramirez began his offensive onslaught in the fourth inning with a solo homer off Astros starter Wesley Wright. He would hit a three-run homer in the fifth and he wasn't done there. That brought the Cubs with one run of the lead. Geovany Soto would hit a solo home run to tie it seven all.
The Cubs scoring began with a bases loaded walk to Ted Lilly in the bottom of the fifth. The Phillies would retake the lead in the sixth, but the Cubs would come right back in their half of the sixth after none other than Aramis Ramirez delivered a two-out double. All-Star hero Marlon would smack a two-run homer on the first pitch to tie the game at 3-3.
With the 81st All-Star game in the bag it is time to grade the Cubs performance for the first half. The 2009 Cubs were disastrous and the 2010 Cubs were supposed to rebound after last years abysmal season. The 2009 version has seemingly spread to the 2010 version. Minus Milton Bradley the Cubs were supposed to compete, however they've done everything except that. Carlos Zambrano has taken the place of Bradley with just as much drama and not a lot to show for in the production department.
Lets start with the offense or lack of offense. The Cubs are 12th in league with runners in scoring position, 14th in runs scored, and they are 13th with RISP with two outs. Those numbers aren't going to cut. Its amazing how much this team has fallen from 2008. They were first in the league that year with RISP, eighth with two outs and RISP and they also lead the league in scoring with bases loaded.
The dreaded West Coast road trip is currently upon the Cubs. This trip has been known to make or break any given Cubs team in years past. After sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, something no Cubs team has ever done before, they moved onto Los Angeles to taken on a familiar foe in the Dodgers. The all-time series between these two clubs is pretty close L.A. leads it 1,020-1,018. After losing the first two of this four games series the Cubs rebounded Saturday afternoon to not only guarantee themselves a winning road trip, but a possible split with the Dodgers.
The offense has come to life on this trip scoring 39 runs in their last six games combined. The run scoring has been due in large part to Geovany Soto and Aramis Ramirez, both would have contributions in todays game. The scoring began in the second inning after rookie Starlin Castro got things going with an RBI single.
The Cubs have entered the month of July still trying to turn it around after June was another disappointing month. They currently find themselves tied for third place with a 37-47 record. You begin to wonder if they will be buyers or sellers as the trade deadline rapidly approaches. If they continue play the way they have they will most certainly be sellers.
They haven't shown any signs of turning it around. Sure, they will win a couple here and there, but by then they will turn around and lose four or five. This team has been so hard to watch this season. You want to root for these guys, but they sure do make it hard on themselves sometimes.
With the Chicago Cubs out of town the Peoria Chiefs took up residency at Wrigley Field Wednesday night for the third annual Road to Wrigley game. The Chiefs took on the Kane County Cougars. The Cougars took an early lead in the third on an RBI single by Tyreace House. The Chiefs would answer right back in their half of third with an RBI single from Mario Mercedes.
Peoria would break the 1-1 tie on a Jae-Hoon Ha three-run homer (3) in the fourth. Kane County would score in the sixth on an RBI double by Mike Gilmartin. The Chiefs would add one more on an RBI single by DJ Fitzgerald in the eighth and that would be all they needed to secure a victory. Their win tonight ended a four-game losing streak which made for a happy manager afterwards.
Kosuke Fukudome launched his seventh homer of the season to deep center field. This appeared to loosen up the rest of the lineup as others got in on the act as well. Rookie Starlin Castro hit a two-run triple and would later score on a Geovany Soto double in the same inning.
After being beaten like the proverbial drum yesterday the Cubs tried something new for a change Saturday afternoon, winning. Despite leaving 17 men on base in this one they managed to put three runs up in support of Cubs starter Randy Wells. Wells has been in a slump since April, but his offense manage to support his stellar pitching performance.
Wells took a no-hitter in the seventh inning, he gave up five hits, one run and struck out five. Today was the first win for Wells since April 30. He pitched one of his better games of the year today. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild tweaked Wells' delivery and it seemed to make a difference.
Like their first meeting, the Cubs had to win the final game to avoid the embarrassment of being swept. This weekend was no different. Down as early as the first inning, the Cubs diligently fought back. Tyler Colvin got things rolling with a three-run homer in the third inning. They wouldn't look back after taking the lead early in this one. They continued to tack on runs as the game rolled along.
Derrek Lee drove in a pair with a double in the fifth making it 5-2 Cubs; Geovany Soto would add to that with an RBI double in the sixth. Alfonso Soriano put the cap on things in the eighth with a solo home run. The runs were more than enough for Ryan Dempster who pitched seven innings. Giving up three runs and struck out eight and only walked one.
The Cubs lost yet again Friday afternoon to their intercity rivals. Jake Peavy made the Cubs look lost at the plate as the Sox rolled on to their 10th consecutive victory. However, the bigger story coming from this game was not the action on the field, but off it.
Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano surrendered four runs in the bottom of the first. After recording the third out the inning Zambrano stormed into the Cubs dugout and became irate, screaming and making a scene. It would eventually lead to a shouting match between him and Derrek Lee.
With the Cubs on their way to the Pacific Northwest its the perfect time to talk some Cubs baseball. As good as the Cubs looked yesterday they looked as equally bad the two previous days before that. In the first two games against the Angels they committed five errors. In the first game three of those errors resulted in the opposition scoring runs. Had they not made those errors they would've been looking at a walk-off win on Friday.
In the first two games of that series the Angels just flat out embarrassed the Cubs. They did everything right. They fielded the ball, moved runners into scoring position when it was necessary, all the little things that the Cubs should be doing, but are not. I don't understand how a team can be that bad fundamentally.
Less then 24 hours after being shellacked by the Angels 12-0, the Cubs return the favor with a beat-down of their own. Just trying to avoid being swept by the league best Angels the Cubs offense finally came to life. The last time the Cubs had won with 10 runs or more you have to go back to May 7, when Starlin Castro and company beat the Cincinnati Reds 14-7. To say they were due for a blowout victory is an understatement.
They started scoring right off the bat in the bottom of the first. An errant throw by Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick resulted in an infield single by Alfonso Soriano. Two scored as result of the defensive miscue. The Cubs continued to pour it on scoring again in the second and third innings respectively.
With Wells pitching well all he would need is some offense. It came early in today's game in the form of Jeff Baker. He launched a solo home run of A's starter Dallas Braden. They have an opportunity to break the game wide open in their half of the first, but failed to score more then one despite having the bases loaded with only one out.
The Cubs were on the verge of being swept by their neighbors to the South for the first time since 1999. Ted Lilly had other ideas in mind Sunday night as he took on the Sox. Lilly has been victimized by lack of run support this season sporting a 1-5 record before coming into tonight's game. He has pitched better then his record may indicate and tonight was the prime example of that.
Inning after inning, Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd matched each other pitch for pitch and out for out. Neither had given up a hit, and neither seemed inclined to falter any time soon. With the Stanley Cup in the house, the Cubs and White Sox were validating the national spotlight of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.
Big game at Wrigley on Saturday afternoon, with Mark Buehrle and Carlos Silva treating a national (or at least regional) FOX audience to a sharp pitchers' duel that ended with Bobby Jenks and the White Sox hanging on for a 2-1 win.
Addled by patriotism/nationalism/jingoism and memories of one of the ugliest goals in World Cup history, I'm hard pressed to fashion anything more coherent than a hail of bullets. And heck, there's just too much to dissect as the Sox celebrate a season-best four-game win streak and the Cubs absorb three straight losses.
Friday was busy sports day in Chicago, with a certain hockey team celebrating its first Stanley Cup title in 49 years and soccer fans celebrating the start of the world's biggest quadrennial sporting event. But the matinee at Wrigley, the first meeting of the summer between the Cubs and White Sox, deserved a little attention as well.
Tomorrow begins the annual Crosstown Classic. While many of you have had your attention focused on Chi-town's newest Champions and rightfully so the Cubs and Sox have been playing less than stellar ball up to this point, however, that doesn't mean the hype won't be there.
For those of you who don't know where my loyalties I will tell you. I am a Cubs fan. Always have been, always will be. That doesn't mean I hate the White Sox. If there is any hatred for any given baseball team its the St. Louis Cardinals. I have nothing against the White Sox as a team,however,I do have a problem with some of their fans. I will be the first to admit that there are Cub fans that can be just as ignorant as Sox fans. Both teams have ignorant fans. Unfortunately this series tends to bring out the worst in the fans.
When the Cubs acquired Carlos Silva from the Seattle Mariners many hoped he would do just enough to anchor the back end of the rotation. To say Silva has met those expectations is the biggest understatement of the season. Silva came into Monday's make-up game with the Pirates with a chance to go 8-0. A feat not seen since Cubs rookie Kenny Holtzman started 8-0 in 1967.
If ever the Cubs needed a win against Pittsburgh Silva was the man to do it. He pitched seven strong innings limiting the Buc's to one run over four hits. The offense,which has been sluggish this entire season got the job done.
This weekend, the Cubs and White Sox will begin their annual showdown. Despite the fact that either team has yet to display anything resembling professional baseball in 2010, fans in this city will still treat this with the importance of the World Series times the Super Bowl times the second coming of Babe Ruth. No matter how bad the Cubs and Sox are performing, you can always count on interleague play being over-inflated with importance due to both sides of town having equally crippling Second City Complexes. Will the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this week? It doesn't matter June 11th through 13th (and again June 25th through 27th), as baseball fans from both sides of the city come together to drink, yell and fight in the contest over whether the American League or the National League Central Division has the slightly better under-performing major market team.
This year also marks the inaugural Crosstown Cup series. In addition to giving their fans a weekend distraction from how poorly they're doing in the standings, the Sox and Cubs will now be battling for a cheap piece of PR from the company that just took a two month crap all over the Gulf of Mexico and the proprietors of suburbia's favorite feedbag, British Petroleum. The series is still sadly being sponsored by the oil conglomerate, though it is now "scaled back," which hopefully means less AM/PM commercials. Having the crosstown classic sponsored by a company responsible for such an immense disaster showcases just how sad the rivalry in this town really is. If either Cubs or Sox had anything to be proud of this season, fighting over a trophy might actually mean something. Both teams are sub .500 and in third place, and both are lucky to be there. Both the Cubs and the Sox played the worst teams in their divisions this last weekend and both dropped two out of three games. Top off this mediocrity with a trophy presented by the company responsible for murdering countless wildlife and deluging nearly 20,000 gallons of crude oil a day for the last 50 days, and you have what stands to be the most depressing contest in the history of baseball.
Let's take a look at how each team has been doing so far.
Father's Day is right around the corner. I hope to use this holiest of days to back my father a little bit since I broke his heart by rooting for his sworn enemies. It has been over two months since I have declared myself a Sox fan, and the poor man, clearly deserving of a better son, is still having a hard time dealing with it. The best way to get back in his good graces, of course, is to show him I still hope the Cubs make him happy somehow, some way. I would like to buy him a gift, or a few gifts, that would demonstrate my appreciation for the fact that he is still a Cubs fan.
There is however quite a lot of sports memorabilia out there. While I have found some nice gift possibilities, there is a great deal of useless crap to sort through. Obviously, the more popular the team, the more ostentatious and outlandish the wares will be. So given that the Cubs not only have a massive, nationwide fan base, but also a patently naive one, the amount of Cubs swap meet material no human should ever purchase under any circumstances is pretty staggering. But sort through them I did. Here is a list of items so terrible, I imagine they would only make my father hate me even more.
It took until the bottom of eighth for the Cubs to get their only run of the game. It came after Mike Fontenot lead off the inning with a triple. Tyler Colvin would later drive Fontenot in after doubling down the right field line. The lack off offense was no problem for Cubs starter Ted Lilly.
Chicago is fortunate in that we have not only two baseball teams, but also that each team has a manager that does a great job embodying the spirit of their respective teams. This is important to Chicagoans. We like to identify with our teams. The Cubs have Lou Piniella: the sleepy old codger, with not quite enough pep to make it to the finish line these days. The White Sox have Ozzie Guillen: the feisty ball of anger, full of scorn for the media, his players and the North Side. Despite all the trouble both teams are currently having, we should at least take solace in that fact. As someone who spent a few decades on the Cubs managerial merry-go-round, with its Trebelborns and its Rigglemans, I can appreciate the Piniella's and Guillen's of the world.
I was excited when the Cubs hired Lou. Like all Cubs fans on the smarter side of Addison, I really wanted Joe Girardi to replace Dusty Baker when the Cubs finally wised up and showed the toothpick-noshing whiskey lover the door (I am well aware he is having a good year, get off my back), but the Cubs got Lou and Girardi fell into obscurity. Lou was a good second prize for the Cubs at the time. He had won a World Series; but more importantly, he had intensity. Sports fans, like the American public when electing a new president, tend to want a leader who is the opposite of the guy who failed last. The bookish, hyper-educated, smooth talking Barack Obama was an easy pick to contrast the seemingly dimwitted, speech and grammar pillaging George W. Bush. Similarly, the brash, base-throwing, ump-hating Lou was easily embraced by the Cubs fans tired of the sleepy dog, rotation-mismanaging, mediocrity-begetting Dusty Baker. With Lou came the promise of fire and brimstone for all that stood in the Cubs way. No longer would the talent on the Cubs slack off and let the team slide into third place behind the Cardinals and Astros. Lou was going to set things right.
By now just about everyone is aware of the proposed demolition/renovation on the east side of Clark between Addison and Cornelia. The plan to replace a series of bars and restaurants, as well as the iconic iO Theater (formerly Improv Olympic), with a new, modern and almost suburban looking structure has met a significant amount of public outcry over the last week and a half. This is largely due to the possible elimination of a few important Wrigleyville locales like the iO Theater and the Salt and Pepper diner, with its distinctive "EAT" sign. The plan to replace the strip with a hotel and condo structure that would, based on initial designs [PDF], be more suited for urban sprawl in the far northwest suburbs than the bustling corridor that is home to Wrigley Field. For fans of the neighborhood, the issue is further aggravated by news that the big box store Best Buy, the grocery chain Dominick's and CVS are already potential retailers slated for leases in the new building.
Improv Olympic co-founder Charna Halpern has been particularly outspoken about the ordeal given that she has a lot to lose should this project come into fruition. A staple of the neighborhood for almost 30 years, Improv Olympic has had comedic heroes like Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Andy Richter honor its stage. As well as providing cutting edge entertainment for years, it has contributed greatly to the culture and history of the neighborhood as Wrigleyville grew and changed into the entertainment district everyone knows today.
After trading Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva this offseason many thought Silva didn't stand a chance of lasting in the rotation based on his lackluster seasons in Seattle. However, you wouldn't know it by the way he has pitched this season. Silva was 4-0 going into Tuesday nights game against the Rockies.
When it was all said and done he would be 5-0. Silva pitched six innings and only allowing two runs on six hits. The two runs came on a home run by Todd Helton. The offense would back up their starter to the tune of six runs. The Cubs Ryan Theriot and Starlin Castro combined for four RBI.
That wouldn't be all from him this evening though. Koyie Hill drove in the second run in the fourth with an RBI single to left. Cubs starter Randy Wells pitched six and two-thirds innings giving up one run on seven hits and only one walk. Wells pitched well enough to win this game, but was a victim of a shaky bullpen. Cubs reliever John Grabow issued a pair of walks in the eighth inning which resulted in the game being tied.
It became apparent after being swept the hapless Pirates that the Cubs offense needed a spark. That spark came in the form of 20-year-old rookie shortstop Starlin Castro and he didn't waste any time making his presence felt. In his first major league at-bat Castro hit a three-run homer. His home run appeared awaken the slumbering offense. Castro would also have a three-run triple in his third at-bat. He set an RBI record with 6 total runs batted in, which is now the most by any one in their first major league game.
Marlon Byrd contributed with a two-run homer and Mike Fontenot would put the game out of reach in the eighth with a pinch-hit grand slam. Carlos Silva did his best to keep the Reds off the board. He was hit hard, however, of those 10 hits only four produced runs. He lasted only five innings, but it was good enough for a win.
What has been an unsettling trend for the 2010 Cubs continued Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. A lack of clutch hitting or any kind of offense for that matter has continued to plague this team. While the left a minimal amount of runners on base, four to be exact. That can happen to any team, however, it is the fact that couldn't get anything going against Pirates starter Charlie Morton.
Morton came into Wednesday nights game 0-5 with an ERA of 12 plus. That is the worst part about this loss. The entire Pirates pitching staff's combined ERA is above six. The Cubs should've been all over Morton instead they managed to score two runs. They had Morton on the ropes in the fourth, but failed to deliver that one big blow.
After an 11-5 beat down of the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday the Cubs played spoilers again this afternoon at Wrigley. With the wind blowing out as it has been since the start of this series on Thursday it appeared to be another high-scoring, slugfest. Usually when the television and radio announcers predict these kinds of games it turns out to be a low-scoring snooze-fest, however, that would not be the case.
Down 5-3 as late as the seventh inning Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano played heroes in this one. Many words have been used to describe Soriano since he came to the Cubs in 2007. Some good and some bad. However, when Soriano is right he can carry a team for days even weeks in some instances. His hot September was the reason the Cubs reached the playoffs in '07. In the last two days he has been hitting like a mad man.
Speaking of the Cubs, the Sox, loyalties and rivalries, I've got some downtime today but there's no Sox game to watch. The Nationals are playing the Cubs though. So I've decided that I'll be rooting for the team that represents a city that I've spent a lot of time in, a city where I've cultivated my resume, a city whose baseball team is looking good this year, a city where a great deal of my friends are: Washington!
And I don't think I'm the only Sox fan who would pick the Nationals in this situation.
The White Sox and Cubs held a press conference this morning to announce the "BP Crosstown Cup," which will be awarded to the winner of the inter-league series, annually. In the case of a tie, the trophy goes to the winner of game 6.
The crosstown trophy concept has been done elsewhere, but I personally don't see this adding much to the rivalry. Fans in this town are already pretty passionate about their respective teams, and tend to be pretty vicious towards one another when they are visited by their respective crosstown rival. I think our Second City Complexes will overshadow any trophy a petroleum company presents, especially since the White Sox already won the one trophy that matters. But who knows, maybe this will add fuel to the fire.
During the summer of 1969, that fateful summer the Chicago Cubs had arguably the best team in their history yet still failed to make it to or succeed in the World Series, my father was 12 years old. He was fortunate enough to attend many of the Cubs home games that season. Back then, Wrigley had not yet established itself as the overcrowded den of inequity in high demand it is today. A neighborhood kid, such as my father, could get into Cubs games easily -- go to a game, help sweep the aisles afterwards and get free tickets to the next one. In doing this, he was not only able to obtain a first hand account of a monumental season in the history of his favorite ball club, but also establish himself, in my mind, as one of the greatest sports fans any team could be lucky enough to have. He has always been a true fan, honest and dedicated, regardless of how poorly his team performed or how difficult it was to root for them. He has always been there, as much a part of their history as they were his. More then anyone else, he deserves to see them win.
Growing up with this man as my example of what a Wrigleyvillian embodied, it was a long time before I could ever fathom the idea of someone not liking Cubs fans. All the man wanted in exchange for his fanaticism was to see his team win. He isn't a bleacher bum and he isn't frat boy, he is just a great guy rooting for the wrong team. Based on the wrongful assumption that all who attend Cubs games are a lot like him, it only made sense that A) people who don't like Cubs fans are in small number and B) those who do not are dismissible crazies. Well, it might come as a surprise to some of you, but a lot of peoplejustdon'tlikeCubsfans.
Tyler Colvin got the Cubs on the board in the first inning with a two-run double. Fukudome, who hits well in Miller Park, hit his second home run of the series in the second. A two-run shot. The Cubs would also get home runs from Derrek Lee, Tyler Colvin and Geovany Soto. Both Colvin and Fukudome were a triple shy of the cycle. The offense would end the day with eighteen hits,a season-high.
Starting pitching for the Cubs first 16 games of the year has been above par. Ryan Dempster has made four quality starts this season. If he had some more offensive support and a bullpen capable of holding leads late he could be 4-0, instead he is 2-0. Which isn't terrible, but he has pitched well enough to earn a four wins. Last night Dempster pitched seven and two-thirds, surrendering seven hits and only allowing one run.
So far the acquisition of Carlos Silva has been paying dividends. In just his third start of the year Silva has a 2-0 record with an ERA under one at 0.95. As he did in his first two outings Silva has kept his team in the game and put them in position to win. Tonight was no different. Silva pitched six innings allowing only one run which came on a home run off the bat of Mets catcher Rod Barajas. While he was doing his job a certain $136 million outfielder was a double short in hitting for the cycle.
Sports, like politics, religion and pop culture, attracts fanaticism of a very vicious nature. When there are rivalries involved, the typical sports fan can regress from jovial enthusiast to belligerent maniac. Anyone who has been a Gapers Block reader long enough to remember the comments from Ramsin Canon's "Hate, Hate, Hate the White Sox" column (comments now rendered even more hilarious since the Sox did eventually go on to win it all) will note that not even the classy denizens of this website can abstain from ad hominem attacks and personal insults regarding the other side's sexuality, socio-economic status and level of education when defending their team. Even though Chicago is easily the greatest city in the world and stuffed to the condos with admirable people, we tend to turn pretty barbaric when the Packers come to Soldier Field, the Red Wings visit the United Center and, most of all, when the Cubs and White Sox are compared in any capacity what-so-ever.
So it is with that in mind, that I leave you with the following warnings: if you are a Northsider with a perpetual dislike of Sox fans, you will come to loathe me. If the thought of someone scribing preference of the White Sox and The Cell over that of the Cubs and Wrigley Field is a notion that angers your blood, then you will most likely curse my name to your grandchildren. None of this is my intention of course, I am not picking a fight. I am merely examining the facts of this city and my own life. For you see, I used to be one of you, but my taste in baseball has since matured. I used to be a Cubs fan but I now root for the White Sox. I am a turncoat.
The Cubs opened the week at home on Monday against the Brewers. They won their home opener 9-5. Game two would belong to them as they beat the Brew Crew 7-6. The victory would be their first series win of the season. They would miss the chance to sweep their rivals to the North as the Brewers salvaged game three 8-6.
Friday the Cubs took on the last place Houston Astros who came in with a record of 1-8. The Cubbies took game one 7-2. They trailed 2-1 early, but a six run seventh inning put the Cubs in the win column. Derrek Lee's three-run homer would put the game out of reach. Cubs starter Carlos Silva pitched seven strong innings.
The Cubs returned home Monday to the Wrigley faithful after a woeful 2-4 road trip. Ryan Dempster had the honor of pitching the first game in front of the home crowd. While he wasn't as sharp as he was last Wednesday in Atlanta he did have one thing working for him in the home opener. Run support and plenty of it.
Dempster pitched six and a third innings and gave up seven hits, five earned runs and he struck out five. He threw a season high 114 pitches. Unlike his first start in Atlanta Dempster was a victim of lack of run support. That wouldn't be the case in his second outing. The Cubs offense came to life against Brewers starter and Cub-nemesis, Doug Davis.
When the Ricketts family purchased the Chicago Cubs for a cool $900 million back in early 2009, Tom Ricketts made it very clear that the necessary improvements and changes would be made to make the Cubs a perpetually competitive outfit on the field and that Wrigley Field would be a leader in fan experience. While the verdict is still out for the Cubs on-field performance, the renovations and enhancements of Wrigley itself are apparent and impressive. As the Cubs head into Chicago for their home opener against Milwaukee on Monday afternoon; Tailgate, along with other media members, was invited to check out the new enhancements this past Friday.
After Carlos Zambrano's atrocious start on Opening Day against the Atlanta Braves it left many fans with a sinking feeling of, 'oh no, here we go again'. Flash forward to Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati Zambrano was looking to bounce back. While it looked like it would be a repeat of Monday after Big Z spotted the Reds three runs early, however, he would finish strong and his offense would come to the rescue.
El Toro pitched seven strong innings, gave up six hits, three runs, two walks and struck out nine. Almost like night and day for Z. The offense was home run happy Saturday afternoon. Of course being at the Great American Ballpark didn't hurt either. Kosuke Fukudome got the Cubs on the board with a two-run homer, his first of the season.
His efforts would be supported by rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin who launched his first major league home run in the second inning off Braves starter Tommy Hanson. The Cubs would add to that lead in the fourth when center fielder Marlon Byrd hit his second home run of the season. That would be all the offense the Cubs would put forth on Thursday night.
The Cubs offense was non-existent Wednesday evening as they only managed to scrap out two runs against Braves starter Jair Jurrjens. One of the two runs came as a result of botched inning-ending double play by Braves first baseman Troy Glaus. Their second run came on a Ryan Theriot sac fly.
Things didn't start off on such a bad note, however, as the Cubs offense showed some patience at the plate against Braves starter Derek Lowe. New comer Marlon Byrd got the Cubs going in the top of the first with a three-run homer. Unfortunately it wouldn't be enough as Big Z would serve up six runs in the bottom of the first.
After a lackluster 2009 campaign the Chicago Cubs are looking to rebound in 2010. Despite being the favorites to win the National League Central last season the Cubs finished 83-78. That earned them a second place finish behind the St. Louis Cardinals. This year the Cubs come in as not the clear cut favorites to win the NL Central.
There weren't too many wholesale changes to this ball club from last season. The pieces are there and this team should be right there in September if they can remain healthy. That was biggest downfall of this club last year. After the end of the 2009 season the goal became getting rid of the clubhouse cancer known as Milton Bradley.
Editor's Note: This article was submitted by freelance sportswriter John Niederkorn.
There are two seasons in Chicago: winter and baseball season -- and baseball season is right around the corner... No, really, it is! And when those pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just a few days it will mark the symbolic end of winter.
Although it may be impossible to visualize a three-run-homer racing towards a sea of shirtless, sunburned Bleacher Bums, while over a foot of leftover blizzard snow still sits on the ground... Soon the snow will be replaced with gleaming white chalk lines, emerald green grass and childlike dreams of championships.
If You List Them, They Will Watch...
February in Chicago can prove to be a little difficult as far as the weather is concerned. In order to survive the rest of the winter and get excited about the upcoming baseball season I have complied a list of quintessential baseball movies below that everyone should watch (or watch again) to chase your winter blues away and boost your morale for opening day.
This compilation represents all film genres, ranging form cornball comedies to dramatic thrillers. The versatility of baseball, as a film trope, and the power behind its storytelling capabilities is evident in each movie.
The movies are listed in order of overall relevancy, represented by each film's aesthetic presentation of the game and how baseball influences American culture. The spirit and passion found in the game is present in each of these films, making it clear why baseball will always remain this country's "national pastime."
9 (Mostly) Non-Baseball Movies Filmed at Wrigley Field:
• Ferris Bueller's Day Off
• The Blues Brothers
• The Babe
• Mr. 3000
• Kissing a Fool
• Damn Yankees!
• The Express
• Sleepless in Seattle
• The Break-Up
If there is a film you think should be on either list, or if you have any comments or questions, please address them below.
Millar, 38, is no spring chicken by any stretch of the imagination, however he will be quality clubhouse presences if he makes the club. Millar is best known for his ability to keep things loose in the locker room.
This will end any chance of Reed Johnson being resigned. He will be most remembered for his spectacular diving catch against the Nationals in 2008. Nady played in only seven games last season with the Yankees before going on the disabled list. His season would end after he would under go the second Tommy John surgery of his career.
When Mark McGwire made his quasi-confession to using steroids, it seemed as if that admission would open the door for another home-run slugging former baseball star to take a load off his chest and 'fess up as well that his prodigious HR totals came with a little help from his friends.
A lot of people, including Tailgate, thought Sosa should use the opportunity of McGwire's statements and admit to juicing (not that we know it for a fact that he did, but...c'mon). Heck, McGwire might even have greased the skids, making forgiveness of Sosa's indiscretion a bit easier to extend.
So add Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks to that chorus of voices asking Sammy to come clean. Banks thinks Sosa would do himself a world of good by admitting to...something. "I'm not saying he did no steroids," Banks said. "I don't know about any of that. All I know is I like him and he's a wonderful player....Come out and be honest with it."
Banks even thinks Sosa might win back Cubs fans who feel betrayed, envisioning him throwing out the first pitch and maybe singing during the seventh-inning stretch. Not sure about all of that. Let's just stick with the confession for now.
There was speculation as to whether or not the Cubs would remain in Mesa after officials from Naples Florida came calling with an offer that Mesa wasn't offering at the time. However, in the end the Cubs will remain right where they have been for more than 50 years.
Greg Maddux is back with the Chicago Cubs...no he didn't come out of retirement he has been named the assistant General Manager to Jim Hendry. He will assist the coaching staffs at the major and minor league levels.
This is a brilliant move by the Ricketts family. Bringing in Maddux is going to do wonders for this organization. He is a great baseball mind and his ability to break down the game with ultimately help this team in the long run. That has been one thing this organization has always lacked is someone who knows the game of baseball inside and out. There is no better person to hire than Greg Maddux.
The ninth time was the charm for former Cub Andre Dawson Wednesday when he was elected to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Dawson received 77.9 percent of the vote, which was well over the necessary 75 percent. He was the lone candidate this year. Bert Blyleven fell four votes short and Roberto Alomar was eight votes short.
During his 20-year career, Dawson batted .279, hit 438 home runs, was Rookie of the Year in 1976, won eight gold glove awards, was an eight-time All-Star, and was the 1987 National League MVP on a last place Cubs team. He began his professional career in 1976 with the now disbanded Montreal Expos. Dawson would come to the Cubs as a free agent after the 1986 season.
The Cubs have signed Marlon Byrd to play center field for the 2010 season. The deal is estimated at three-years, $15 million according to Bruce Levine of ESPN-Chicago. Byrd was with the Texas Rangers last season and will be reunited with his hitting coach from last season, Rudy Jaramillo.
The Cubs missed out on Curtis Granderson while trying to deal away clubhouse cancer Milton Bradley. General Manager Jim Hendry was also looking at Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel and a few others as well to fill the center field vacancy.
The numbers haven't been announced as far as how much of Bradley's contract the Cubs will have to eat, but it now frees up money for Jim Hendry to finish his off season shopping. The Cubs are still in the market for a center fielder. There have been reports of them going after free agent center fielder Marlon Byrd, formally of the Texas Rangers.
The Cubs have traded utility infielder Aaron Miles, first baseman Jake Fox and cash considerations to the Oakland Athletics for relief pitchers Jeff Gray and Ronny Morla and infielder Matt Spencer.
Miles was acquired via free agency last winter to replace Mark DeRosa who had been traded to the Cleveland Indians. Miles had an absolutely god-awful season batting just .185. He was coming off his second best season in 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals where he batted .317. He was in the second year of his two year contract. To his credit though Miles spent more time on the disabled list than the field.
...and Kevin Gregg and Rich Hardin and Octavio Dotel and possibly Scott Podsednik as the White Sox and Cubs declined to offer arbitration to a total of seven free agents. In addition to Jermaine Dye, Dotel and Podsednik of the Sox, the team gave a pass to catcher Henry Blanco. Besides Gregg and Hardin, the Cubs said "meh" to Reed Johnson.
There have been more than enough rumors involving the Cubs dealing irrascible outfielder Milton Bradley to someone...anyone, so why not throw one more long on the fire.
A Tribune "breaking news" report has the Cubs sending Bradley to Texas in a three-team deal that would also see Rangers pitcher Kevin Milwood going to the New York Mets and the Mets' second baseman Castillo here.
The Cubs have agreed in principle a two-year deal with lefty reliever John Grabow. Grabow was acquired from the Pirates on July 30 along with Evergreen Park native Tom Gorzelanny. The deal is expected to be $7.5 million over two years.
We all know that "Cubs" and "omens" go together like "Wrigleyville" and "drunken frat boy", but is there something oddly fortuitous about the family name of the new Cubs owners? The blog Bleed Cubbie Blue takes a look...
Ted Lilly under went arthroscopic shoulder surgery this afternoon. Depending on how the rehab goes for him he may or may not miss the start of the season next April.
Another Cubs pitcher with a surgically repaired shoulder. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Hopefully for the Cubs sake this won't be a season long issue. They can't afford to lose a pitcher of Lilly's caliber.
The Little Friends of Printmaking have created a great new Cubs t-shirt -- but not one many Cubs fans are likely to be find very flattering. And since the Little Friends are based in Milwaukee, I have a feeling I know why.
So with baseball season in Chicago officially over (OK, OK, ALMOST over, Mr. Sticker), the question now turns to who'll be standing on the field when the Cubs and White Sox start play in 2010. Free agency, arbitration, trades...you name it. Bottom line, there'll be some faces missing from the team picture on both sides of town next year.
Today we got word that White Sox reliever Bobby Jenks is shutting it down for the rest of the year due to an injured right calf muscle, which has given rise to talk of whether we've seen the last of the portly closer on the mound for the Sox for good. He's up for arbitration next year and the Sox aren't known for fighting hard to keep guys in that situation, so it could be the end of his career with the team.
Ever wanted to see butt-kickin' roller babes (plus one movie star playing a roller babe) sing at Wrigley Field? Here's your chance: It's been announced that Drew Barrymore, one of the stars of the upcoming roller derby movie Whip It, will be singing the seventh-inning stretch at the Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers game on Tuesday, Sept. 15. Accompanying her will be two players from Chicago's own Windy City Rollers, Athena DeCrime and Val Capone (who also works as a vendor at Wrigley).
Back in the 1980s when the Cubs REALLY were stinking up the joint (as opposed to their current performance of dropped fly balls and lackadasical managers), the team did whatever it could to get fans into the ballpark on a consistent basis. It was the era when they sold fans on the idea of the bleachers-as-bar (Thank you, Harry Caray). And it was the era of Marla Collins.
If the name doesn't immediately conjure up an image in your mind, you probably weren't a hetrosexual male during that time. Collins was the Cubs "ballgirl", a term created during that less label-conscious time. But she wasn't merely a female version of a ballboy, dressed up in an ill-fitting full uniform. Collins had curves and the Cubs weren't afraid to use them. In her case, she was given Daisy Dukeish shorts and a tighter-than-it-probably-had-to-be jersey, all done up in Cubs pinstripes. Her hair was Farah Fawcett-perfect and guys would stand up when she sprinted to pick up foul balls or deliver a new set of baseballs to the umpire. Since the Cubs weren't really hitting them out of the park during that time, there were people wishing they would at least foul one to the backstop just to see her in, um, action. Here profile was furthen enhanced when Harry started waxing poetic about her from up in the booth, and when WGN producer Arne Harris began giving orders to his camera men to follow her motion every now and then instead of Ryne Sandberg's.
But the Collins era came to an end when she posed for Playboy and offended the Cubs' "family friendly" sensibilities (which were apparently fine when they dressed her in the shortest shorts and tightest top and positioned her nearly in the middle of the field).
The Daily News Journal of Kankakee catches up with Collins and talks about her two daughters (!) and her, let's say social interaction with some of the top ballplayers of that era. She may not have done much to help the Cubs get closer to a World Series, but she made the waiting a little less painful.
At any other point in the season, a Cubs/White Sox game would be a hype-lover's dream. But with the two teams at 10 1/2 and 7 games out, respectively, any fan claiming bragging rights after tomorrow's game would seem to be grabbing at straws. Yeah, sure, Ozzie Guillen is sounding like Bluto Blutarsky these days telling everyone that nothing is over until HE says it's over, ever after the team dumped two relative stars in Jim Thome and Jose Contreras And the Cubs fans, ever the optimists, will probably be encouraged to hear that the team has decided to fight it out until the end (as if they could simply walk away). But, truth be told, if there is any real venom swapped by the fans of the two teams tomorrow, as there has been in the past, it'll only be done by the clueless. Look, if you have tickets to the game, by all means go. Have a beer. Cheer for your team and congratulate the winner. But if you're expecting it to mean anything more than that, you're just as out of it as the White Sox and Cubs.
The Cubs' Milton Bradley is not happy. So what else is new? Besides, he's now the Ricketts family's problem.
The White Sox have lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Bleacher Reporter ask if they're heading in the wrong direction. Hmmm...let me think about that one.
Don't let Jay Cutler's cool demeanor fool you. According to ESPN he's a little jittery about returning to Denver as a member of the Bears this Sunday. Elsewhere on the Bear beat, Matt Forte is looking for balance and Dusty Dvoracek is looking at a doctor this Friday.
As if running a triathlon (like the Chicago Triathlon this weekend) wasn't difficult, try throwing cold, rainy weather into the mix. Here at some tips for coping with that.
While the state debates video poker, the real thing is going on in a tournament in Arlington Heights tonight. Wanna play? Ante up here.
The Chicago Sky host a benefit this Friday to promote breast cancer awareness.
Chicago Public Radio's Justin Kaufmann talks with legendary Steve Stone about his Wikipedia entry, and gets lots of stories about Stone's time with both the Cubs and Sox -- and his 1983 Playgirl spread.
Playgirl?! Oh yes. The pictorial is online here if you're interested. I wouldn't call it safe for work, but there's no "Little Stoney" visible if that's what you're worried about. You can let Stone know what you think -- or blot it from your mind and just ask him about baseball -- on Twitter at @BaseballStone.
Yeah, we know there's still plenty of time left in the baseball season, but it's getting late, they're eight games out of first and, well... it appears that even the logo on Derrick Lee's helmet is calling it quits (via Deadspin). If that's not depressing enough, Yahoo! Sports paints a pretty dismal picture of the way the rest of their season is unfolding.
It is being reported that the long awaited sale of the Cubs is finally complete. The Ricketts family, who have been front runners since negotiations began, are spending $845 Million for the team and related assets. They will have a 95% control of the team (the other 5% will be retained by the Tribune Compnay), ownership of Wrigley Field and a 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
If you are wondering what this, and other Cubs stories, would sound like in a haiku, visit The Cubs in Haiku on Twitter.
On a night where runs were hard to come by, in a park notorious for keeping balls inside the park, Kevin Gregg made offense look easy. Prior to the eight inning of Monday night's game in San Diego, the Cubs and the Padres had complied a scant four hits and zero runs each. Ted Lilly made his return from the DL and pitched six strong innings - allowing four hits, no runs and keeping his pitch count to 70. The Cubs made Padres' starter Kevin Correia work a little harder to finish his six innings but ultimately scored no runs either. After seven scoreless innings, it looked like the Cubs grabbed the reigns and put themselves in position to squeak out a low scoring victory in the top of the eight inning. Derrek Lee led off the inning with a triple and Aramis Ramirez's single in the next at bat drove in Lee to score the game's first run. John Grabow and Carlos Marmol combined for a perfect second half of the eight and set the table for the closer, Gregg, to end the game.
It might be safely said that when it comes to the gameday activities that surround Wrigley Field, most of the denizens of Wrigleyville fall into two categories: those who love living close to the buzz, the excitement, the commotion and those who would rather have hot knitting needles jammed into a body orifice than have to deal with mass of humanity that descend on the area when the Cubs are in town.
For the latter, have we got a website for you.
"Is There A Cubs Game Today?" might sound like a must-stop destination on the information superhighway for fans seeing details on that day's contest, but it's anything but a plethora of information and helpful tips. Well, scratch that second part. It IS full of helpful tips, if by "helpful tips" you mean ways to avoid the area completely.
After back-to-back 11-5 losses, the Cubs return home to Wrigley Field on Tuesday following a 4-6 road trip. The trip started with initially high hopes: the Cubs had come out strong after the All Star break and had won eight of their last seven games going into Florida. But the road trip, particularly the Colorado series, has left a bad taste in the mouth of any one who watched what took place on the field over the weekend.
The one good thing about the four game series against the Rockies over the weekend is that they managed not to get swept. Beyond the one win, it was one of the ugliest series of the year for the Cubs. It started on the wrong foot before the first pitch was even thrown as Carlos Zambrano was sent to the 15 Day DL prior to his scheduled start on Friday. Sean Marshall learned shortly before the game started that he would be the replacement starting pitcher and did not fare well on the short notice, only lasting two innings. Saturday gave the Cubs their only win of the series but even it brought bad news as Aramis Ramirez re-injured the left shoulder that kept him out of the majority of the first half of the season.
The last two games of the series were a disastrous combination of poor starting pitching, bad relief pitching and shaky defense. Tom Gorzelanny's second start with the Cubs could not have looked more different from his first. With six runs allowed in 1.1 innings pitched, the start nearly doubled Gorzelanny's ERA. Meanwhile, while the Cubs were struggling to keep the Rockies inside of Coors, the Cardinals have been playing hot and are now three games up on the Cubs. If the Cubs want to redeem themselves from this weekend, winning some games at home with Philadelphia in town would help. Since the All Star break, the Cubs are 3-7 against teams that currently have a winning record and 12-2 against losing teams. Beating the teams their supposed to beat is nice but if they want to make the playoffs they have to be able to beat other contenders as well.
In many ways, the Cubs' 2009 could be considered far from lucky. From injuries, to the bats falling asleep for nearly two months, to a shaky bullpen, it has not necessarily been a dream season. But the Cubs can consider themselves extremely lucky as far as substitute starting pitching has gone. Sean Marshall originally started the year as the fifth starter, but when Carlos Zambrano went to the DL early in the season, Randy Wells proved to be more than a suitable fill in and too good to send back to the minors once Zambrano returned. The move even worked well for Marshall, who has gone on to post the lowest ERA of any left handed reliever in the National League since being moved out of the starting rotation to make room for Wells.
While Kevin Hart was on the mound Thursday pitching, a deal trading him to the Pittsburgh Pirates was being finalized somewhere in the Cubs' front office. According to ESPN, Hart, along with relief pitcher Jose Ascanio and minor league player Josh Harrison are part of a deal to recieve left handed pitching from Pittsburgh. The Pirates, who have been in full fire sale mode for most of the year, will send John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs. It is a move that will add much needed left handed pitchers to the Cubs bullpen. Ever since Neal Cotts was optioned to Triple A Iowa , Sean Marshall has been the only lefty available for the Cubs in relief. Marshall has been so good as a relief pitcher, sporting a 1.31 ERA, that to use him only as a left handed specialist would be a waste at this point. Grabow and Gorzlanny are now options to go to when the Cubs need a big out against a left handed batter. With Hart gone, there is no word yet who will fill the last spot in the rotation while Ted Lilly is injured.
Outside of his few starts this season, Hart is probably best remembered by Cubs fans for his work as a call up reliever during the end of the 2007 season. In the midst of a tight divisional race with Milwaukee, Hart posted a 0.82 ERA over the last few weeks of the season to help The Cubs reach the playoffs. His last start with the Cubs was a win, 12-3 over the Houston Astros as the Cubs took three out of the four games in the series. The Cubs will start a 10 game road trip Fridayversus the Florida Marlins. Rich Harden will start while the Marlins starter is Chris Volstad.
The Chicago Huddle, a weekly Bears preview and recap show, is looking for a spokesperson to open each program. Looking at the photo on the front of the video, I can't for the life of me figure out what they're looking for.
The Chicago Women In Baseball League and the Chicago Gems baseball club will take their skills to a bigger audience when they conduct and exhibition prior to the start of a Schaumburg Flyers game during Women In Baseball Day
Sunday was a good day for the Cubs. An afternoon 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds completed the three game series sweep while losses by the Cardinals, Astros and Brewers helped the Cubs sneak into a half game lead in the NL Central, the first on top the division since April 21st. Rich Harden pitched another strong outing, allowing one hit and one run in six innings while striking out eight. After posting a 5.47 ERA in fourteen starts before the All Star break, Harden has a 0.95 ERA in the three games since and is showing the dominant fastball/change up combination that the Cubs expected to see after trading for him mid season last year.
Harden has not been the only Cub showing signs of improvement recently. Since he was moved to the front of the line up, a formerly struggling Kosuke Fukudome is batting .333 with a .404 OBP in the lead off spot. Alfonso Soriano is hitting .429 since the Break, having a hit in all nine games he has played in. Even Milton Bradley is showing signs of improvement. He is still hitting for a lower than expected average but his .448 OBP in July is nothing to scoff at. Any player who gets on base as often as Bradley has recently is worth value. Not coincidentally, the Cubs have won 10 of their last 13, the first impressive streak in months.
In order to stay in first place, the Cubs will need more improvement and steady play from the offense. They also need to do a better job staying healthy. With the Cardinals acquiring Matt Holliday last week, making the post season became an even more difficult goal to reach. Not many rumors are surrounding the Cubs during the last week before the trade deadline. They may try to pick up a lefty reliever, and possibly an extra bat, but no big names are expected as of now. On Monday, the Cubs start a four game series in Chicago with the Astros, who are currently two games behind them in the standings.
Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly have become the latest Cubs to be sidelined with injuries during an injury plagued 2009 campaign. Soriano, who had never been put on the disabled list before joining the Cubs, is starting to expect that all his injuries as a Cub may be more than just coincidence. Lilly is out sore knee and can be considered day to day for now. He had started 34 games in his two previous years with the Cubs and could be considered the workhorse of the staff. Frankly, it's a little scary that injuries have gotten so bad for the Cubs that even Lilly, a player known for his extreme durability through out his career, is now missing starts. Randy Wells will fill in Lilly's place for Saturday's game against the Nationals.
The Smithsonian Institution, Baseball Hall of Fame and the Chicago History Museum apparently each have one of the signs in their archives. Hopefully the Hall of Fame gets around to adding Dunston himself one of these years.
On a beautiful Sunday in Chicago, the type of day baseball was made for, the Cubs hosted a double header with the St. Louis Cardinals and completed the four game series heading into the All-Star break. Carlos Zambrano got his first win in six starts during the day game, allowing three runs over six innings. Zambrano helped his own cause by hitting his third home run of the season. Micah Hoffpauir also hit a three run home run in the first inning off Cardinals' starter Kyle Lohse. The Cubs managed to drive in three more runs in the seventh inning off a series of errors by the Cardinals defense, culminating in a 7-3 Cubs win.
For only the second time during the 2009 season, the Cubs were able to start their original projected lineup. That's right, with Aramis Ramirez's return on July 7, the Cubs were able to to start Geovany Soto, Derrick Lee, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley together for only the second time this year. The only other time this season the Cubs were able to start all nine players together? Opening Day, making it a 78-game stretch in which they could not field their original lineup. Certainly this team has struggled on the field at times during those 78 games, as we have struggled to watch the, at times, painful performances of a should-be talented team. But if you need reason to hope, think of of it this way: with yesterday's 4-2 win, the Cubs are undefeated with their full lineup. Two games over .500 is not very good but only two games out of first in the division is not very bad either. They've won six out their last eight games, Aramis is back, Soriano is finally out of the leadoff spot and it looks like the sale of the team may finally go through so they may be able to make some mid-season moves. Who knows, maybe in a week they will be back to struggling on offense and consistently losing games 3-1 all over again, but maybe things are coming together. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, they've put together a streak of good fortune.
Two. That is the grand total of All-Stars representing Chi Town in Major League Baseball's 80th Midsummer Classic. Mark Buehrle will make his fourth All-Star team after starting the year off 6-0 for the Southsiders. He is 8-2 with a 3.09 ERA. He was the starter for American League in the 2005 All-Star game in Detroit. He would be the winning pitcher in that one as well.
One could make the argument that Scott Podsednik is deserving of a trip to St. Louis. Since rejoining the Southsiders on April 14 he has hit .312, .368, and .407. Not too shabby considering most of the experts in baseball believed his better days were behind him. This is no doubt a snub of Podsednik especially since he is not one of five candidates vying for the final American League roster spot.
Fresh on the heels of the mildly interesting revelation that Geovany Soto tested positive for marijuana while playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball classic this season, comes this mind-blowing follow-up: Lou Piniella admits he partook of the weed once himself.
Really? Grandpa Lou? Old Grumpy Pants? Yup, that was Brother Louie admitting that just before the start of today's White Sox/Cubs game at U.S. Cellular. He said he only did it once and it didn't do a thing for him. Why isn't that hard to believe?
Maybe it's time for the rest of the Cubs to come clean on whether reefer madness is running rampant in the clubhouse. Because, seriously, Milton Bradley has got to be on SOMETHING. I mean, forgetting how many outs there are in an inning? Classic pothead move.
Michael Phelps, you can breath easier (well, as easy as you can while inhaling and holding it). Another athlete has been busted by the pot police. This time, it's Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, who tested positive for marijuana while playing for Puerto Rico in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. There reportedly won't be any penalty imposed on Soto, who called it an "isolated incident", by MLB or the Cubs. At the very least, the news might provide a possible reason for the drop-off from his Rookie-of-the-Year numbers last season for Cubs fans.
There may have been fireworks going off during the late innings of Wednesday's night game in Detroit but there would be no late game dramatics for the Cubs. With the tying run on first base and a full count, Kosuke Fukudome struck out looking at a borderline pitch to end the game 5-3. The final inning of offense was thematic of the Cubs' play at the plate during the whole game: the first two batters reached base safely but no one could drive them in. In total, the Cubs had 18 base runners during the game but could only score three runs. In six of the innings they had the leadoff man reach a base and only brought two of them around to home. Here is a break down of their struggles with RISP:
2nd inning: 2 on, no outs - 0 runs scored
3rd inning: lead of double - 0 runs scored
4th inning - 2 on, no outs - 0 runs scored
5th inning - bases loaded, two outs - 0 runs scored
6th inning - bases loaded, no outs - 1 run scored
7th inning: 2 on, no out; bases loaded, 1 out - 1 run scored
9th inning: 2 on, no out - 0 runs scored
The opportunities were there for the Cubs to win, they just could not get the hits when it mattered. Despite the three game losing streak they are currently in, the offense has been more effective than it had been. They are finally getting more hits and men on base; the new struggle has been to drive in runs during RBI situations. The defense and relief pitching can still use improvements, too. Geovany Soto's error in the fifth inning ended up helping the Tigers score a crucial go ahead run while Jose Ascanio and Carlos Marmol struggles in relief appearances during the eight gave the Tigers an insurance run to their lead. With the loss, the Cubs are back at .500 with a 34-34 record - 3.5 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central.
This series was important because on Saturday they would play the first ever regular season Civil Rights game. The Sox won a barn burner 10-8. Mark Buehrle pitched on Sunday and earned his first victory since May 19. He improves to 7-2 on the year. They were 5-3 on the trip and they return home to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Just under a week ago, the Chicago Cubs had hit one of their lowest points of the season, losing to the Chicago White Sox 4-1, the loss put the Cubs at 9-17 of their last 26 games. However, since then, the Cubs have won four straight games, their longest of the season, including a sweep of the AL Cleveland Indians.
Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto returned to familiar form both hitting over two home runs in the 4-game win stretch.
The Cubs face Atlanta to make up a rain out from their May series tomorrow, followed by a three-game series against the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers, a re-match of the 1945 World Series.
The Cubs completed a three game sweep of the Cleveland Indians with a 6-2 win on Sunday, marking their fourth win in a row. Randy Wells pitched 6.2 innings and gave up two runs, improving his record to 1-3. Despite Wells' 2.57 ERA in his eight starts this season, it was not until Sunday that he notched his first career victory. Unlike the previous three Cubs wins, this game had no need for late game dramatics. Geovany Soto hit a solo home run in the second inning and the Cubs held the lead for the rest of the game. Derrek Lee was able to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and Milton Bradley had two hits to put his streak at 10 games.
Starting with a make up game tomorrow in Atlanta, the Cubs will spend the next ten days on the road as they continue the five week stretch before the All Star break in which they only have one day off. If their offense continues to play like it has over the last four games, this tiring stretch of games will most definitely be easier to endue. Over the last week, Ryan Theriot is hitting .304, Bradley .333, Soto .357, and Lee has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball during June. Is this a lucky stretch or should we actually expect some improvement coming from the offense? Certainly this ten game road trip will be a test.
Now that Part I of Cubs vs. White Sox, 2009 is in the books, Chicago baseball fans get a brief respite before the madness kicks back into gear again when the two teams meet at The Cell for the rematch next weekend. Brian Livingston takes a look at the abbrebviated series and offers an intriguing way to make up for that washed-out game that was supposed to start the series.
The series seemed to lose some intensity after the rain out on Tuesday, but don't tell that to White Sox fans who were smiling from ear to ear after their team beat their North Side counterparts 4-1. This series took place during the middle of the week, which seemed to take away the atmosphere that normally surrounds this series which usually takes place on the weekend. It is unfortunate that Tuesday night's game got rained out, because it would've been nice to see a night game during the week being played between these two at Wrigley Field.
This match up is meant for the weekend because it generally makes for a better atmosphere before, during and after the games. A thought crossed my mind as to how to schedule the rained-out game. Originally it occurred to me that they could do what they did in New York. A game between the Mets and Yankees was rained out at Shea Stadium last season. They re-scheduled the game for the following weekend when they were playing the Yankees at their place. They played an afternoon game at Shea and then a night game at Yankee Stadium.
The Cubs and Sox play next weekend at U.S. Cellular; why not play an afternoon game at Wrigley then take the Red Line down to U.S. Cellular? How cool would that be to have the players ride an express train down to 35th Street after playing an afternoon game at Wrigley? It would really give new meaning to the "Subway Series". Of course both clubs would have to agree to it, and more than likely it isn't going to happen. There is an off-day in September that the two teams share, and the game will most likely be played on September 3.
It appeared that both games were going to go to the White Sox. The Sox were 4-1 winners in game one, but the Cubs would play spoiler in game two. Just like the overall series itself, the numbers between these two they were pretty evenly matched during the two game set. On the downside they'll have to wait for September to conclude this series. The all-time series is once again tied 34-34 and the Sox season record stands at 31-35, four games out of first place. The Sox head out to Cincinnati to take on the Reds this weekend, featuring the Civil Rights game on Saturday.
For the Cubs, this years' Cross Town Classic comes at an odd set of crossroads. Statistically speaking, the six games that make up the Cubs/White Sox rivalry each year are actually the most meaningless six games of the season. Games against NL Central opponents carry a larger weight in deciding which team will win the division. Inter-division games have more significance when it comes to deciding which team will win the wild card. Inter-league play has almost no meaning outside of pure wins and losses. Despite the hype and perceived significance of these games, losing in them is only a single blade sword. When a team loses within in their respected division or league, it not only gives them the loss but also gives a win to a team in their direct competition; it creates a one game swing in the standings. In the six games of the Cross Town Classic, each game is only half as important. Neither a win nor loss carry much clout, each only represents a half game swing in the standings.
For the second straight game, Geoff Blum delivered the game winning hit for the Houston Astros against the Cubs. With two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning, Blum hit a sharp ball down the first base line, driving in Hunter Pence from second. Also, for the second straight game, the Chicago Cubs had only one solo home run to their offensive credit. Despite the Cubs' starters giving up only two runs in the 21.2 innings they pitched in the three game series, the Cubs will leave Houston with only one more win than they came in with.
Ryan Dempster delivered another strong effort by Cubs pitching, allowing one run over seven innings. In his last three starts, Dempster has pitched 20 innings and allowed only earned run, a sac fly in the first inning of today's game. His ERA has fallen by a full point during the three game span and it looks like he may be returning to last year's form.
But as enjoyable as it has been to watch the Cubs' pitching post a team ERA of 1.55 during the month of June - the best in all of baseball - it has been just as painful to watch the rest of the team hit. To put it in perspective just how bad the Cubs' offense is compared to their pitching, think about this: If the Cubs scored exactly four runs in every one of their previous 27 games, their record over that period would be 19-4 - plus four games being inconclusive as they would have resulted in a 4-4 tie. Let's say, for fun, that they split those four extra inning games and went 21-6 since May 9th. Their new record would be 37-20; good enough for the second best record in baseball and first place in the NL Central by at least four games. Instead, they have gone 13-14 during that period.
If four runs a game seems like an unreasonable number to expect, remember that they averaged 5.3 runs a game last year. We know that eventuality the pitching will cool down, no team can maintain a 1.55 ERA for too long, but will the bats ever start heating up? So far Derrek Lee seems to be the only one up to the task but it will be a long season if no one else follows suit.
Finally, meet the man who motivated Michael Jordan to greatness (by beating him out for the last spot on their high school basketball team): Leroy Smith. (If he looks a little like Charlie Murphy, that's purely coincidental, we're sure.)
It seems as if every Carlos Zambrano start has become some sort of sight to see. Will he blow up? Will he get injured? Will he go on a seven minute tirade that climaxes with beating a Gatorade machine to death and a six game suspension? 2009 has been anything but low key for Zambrano. Friday night, the story line was already in place as Zambrano went for his 100th career win - a somewhat significant milestone in a pitcher's career. In the history of baseball, well over 500 pitchers have recorded 100 or more wins. So while it is a noteworthy achievement, it doesn't put a pitcher in any sort of elite group. But no moment is mundane with Zambrano on the mound and he won his 100th game with a flair that few pitchers have achieved before him.
So when Tony Dungy said signing Jay Cutler was risky for the Bears, did he stop to consider who the previous three or four Bears quarterbacks were?
Author Sarah Paretsky takes time off from documenting the exploits to private investigator V.I. Warshawski to discuss another dark subject: the Cubs. She compared Cubs fans to "tired women living with alcoholic men." Ouch.
Ryan Dempster may have been the first to come with blows but it was Carlos Zambrano who put the fatal wounds on the Cubs' new Gatorade dispenser, according to the Chicago Tribune. Zambrano, during his outburst of crazy on May 27th, brushed aside pitching coach Larry Rothschild in the dug out and unleashed his full rage on the dispenser over a disputed call at home plate that later replays showed was correct. Ever since, the Gatorade machine has been dying a slow death of leaks and a broken shell casing. When the Cubs return to Wrigley from their current road trip, they will be greeted by an old fashioned bucket and tap style dispenser, ones that have shown over time their durability to be resistant against the onslaught of angry pitchers. In some ways, this may be a good omen for a Cubs team that is struggling to stay afloat. If, someday, the Cubs ever win it all, what could they do with a Gatorade dispenser? The customary act of dumping the Gatorade bucket over the coach's or manager's head would become impossible. They would have to drag Lou Piniella to the machine, stick his head under the fountains and press the soda tabs to give him his proper Gatorade bath; that's just no good. In order to be a champion, you must be prepared for it and now another small piece of the puzzle is in place. The Gatorade dispenser was two months old.
Continuing the Cubs recent streak of strong pitching performances, Ryan Dempster went seven innings against the Dodgers, allowing no runs and only three hits. The offense lent their support to their starter, scoring in five of the eight innings they took to the plate for a clean 7-0 win. It is the fifth game in a row for the Cubs in which they have held the opposing team to two runs or less. The strong outing was Dempsters best performance so far this year and came on the heels of his worst, a four inning, six run stint against the Pirates on Monday. Since that lost to the Pirates, the Cubs have allowed only five runs in five games; the Gatorade dispenser couldn't be happier. On Friday, the pitching allowed the Cubs to perform a feat that has eluded them all season: win with less than four runs scored. Prior to Fridays game, the Cubs had scored three or less runs in nineteen games and had lost every one of them. Thanks to yesterday's game, they are now a much more impressive 1-19 with less than four runs scored.
Tomorrow, Sean Marshall (3-3) will go for the series win against Eric Milton (1-0) on ESPN as their featured Sunday Night baseball game. Marshall started this stretch of strong pitching when the rain gods interrupted his last outing for a rare five inning victory.
Wipe your tears, Hawks fans. According to USA Today, the young team's gotta wear shades ('80s music reference).
Not only are Derrick Rose's academic endeavors at Memphis under scrutiny, but it looks like the grade hanky-panky extends back to high school.
So does this SAT probe mean anything for the next batch of NBA hopefuls, many of whom will be here in Chicago for the annual pre-draft camp?
Answering the cries of many Cubs fans, GM Jim Hendry says the trading of Mark De Rosa isn't the problem. Meanwhile, The Bleacher Reports thinks moving Alfonso Soriano to second is one of the answers. And if the sale of the team to the Ricketts family doesn't go through, Sam Zell says "don't worry".
So who's the most important Bear on the team right now? If you think the answer is obvious, think again.
Even with deep dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches all over the place, Chicago is pretty average when it comes to fitness. We're 25th out of 50.
And the beat(ing) goes on... With their 10-8 loss to the Pirates yesterday, the Cubs losing streak hit eight, matching their longest losing streak in the last SEVEN seasons. "It certainly can't get any worse," said catcher Geovany Soto, who apparently never heard of the numbers nine, ten or eleven, etc. Although their hitting has been taking a downward slide lately (they're batting .244 as a team, third worst in the majors), the bats woke up yesterday and pounded out 10 hits. But pitching is still a hit-or-miss proposition (no pun intended). Yesterday, starter Ryan Dempster lasted only four innings and gave up six runs, two on back-to-back bases-loaded walks. The bullpen, of course, wasn't much better with Neal Cotts dishing up a two-run homer to let Pittsburgh take the lead.
So what's the solution? Well, a lot of people, including Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, thinks the team needs an eruption from Mount St. Lou (Pinella) to fire up the troops. At least Milton Bradley and Ted Lilly seem to think raised voices are the answer as both have had verbal run-ins with the umps lately, with Lilly being tossed from the bench during Monday's game. But if you need a dirt-kicking tantrum from Pinella to beat someone like today's Pirate starter Ian Snell (1-5, 4.88 ERA), then they've got bigger problems than anyone ever thought.
Despite winning their first series this month the White Sox fall back on bad times losing to the Twins 20-1. Bartolo Colon was god awful lasting only two innings but only surrendering one earned run. It was his defense that failed him. Wilson Betemit who was replacing Josh Fields, the newest member of Ozzie Guillen's doghouse, committed an error that opened the flood gates in the second.
A throwing error allowed the inning to continue which allowed the Twins to have a seven run inning. The game became out of reach at this point and it only got worse from there. The bullpen didn't do any better either. The Twins scored in all but three innings. Sox relievers gave up a six spot in the sixth and a four spot in the seventh.
By the time this week's three game series with the Cardinals is over, the Cubs will be just about a quarter done with the 2009 season. And while I cannot predict what will happen during the next three games, it's safe to say that the first 40 games of the year have not gone to script. If you had talked with a Cubs fan before the season started and informed them that after six weeks of play Aaron Miles, Micah Hoffpauir and Bobby Scales will become everyday players; the team's number one starting pitcher and biggest RBI producer will both go on the DL; Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot will be fighting to stay above the Mendoza line and the bullpen will post the second worst ERA in all of the NL, you probably would have been greeted with predictions of a season full of doom and gloom. But somehow, this Cubs team has not fallen into the dark; they have found a way to win games and stay competitive in a surprisingly strong NL Central division. Despite the injuries, the slow starts and unreliability in the bullpen, the 2009 Cubs have managed to post the same record through 36 games as the 2008 team did a year ago.
On Tuesday, the team starts a short, six game road trip in St. Louis. For the Cardinals, these games have higher stakes involved than the average mid-May series. Losers of 9 out of their last 13 games, St. Louis will once again put their frequently injured, Cy Young winning pitcher Chris Carpenter on the mound for the first time since he went to the DL on April 14th. If he can pitch to form, the Cubs' hitters will have their hands full with Carpenter on Wednesday and Adam Wainwright pitching on Thursday. It may be the boost the Cardinals need to break out of their current slump. While the Cardinals are looking for a strong return from their number one starter, the Cubs are hoping to pull out a few more wins while waiting for the return of their staff ace. Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to start in San Diego on Friday after a rehab outing over the weekend. Despite a rocky 3.2 innings pitched at High-A Daytona, Zambrano says he feels ready to go and only needs to work on correcting his release point before Friday's game.
Meanwhile, Chicago's other pro soccer team, the Red Stars have a budding star with the free-spirited midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Elsewhere, ESPN shows the Red Stars some by singing out goaltender Caroline Jonsson as one of the standouts in the Women's Professional Soccer League's inaugural season.
Vancouver is still trying to hold its collective heads up high after being bounced by the Blackhawks. But at least they don't welch on a bet.
If you had a brand-new boat (and really, in this economy, who doesn't?), the Chicago Park District has given you two new harbors.
Yahoo! Sports has the Bears finishing 11-5 this season. Hmmm...what changed?
As long as the Arena Football League is gathering mothballs, former Rush coach Mike Hohensee figures he's better earn a buck somewhere else.
Tired of movie dates, candlelit dinners and walks along the beach? Try antigravity yoga (among other alternative and physical date ideas).
New video game upstart retail outlet Play N Trade opens a new store in the Chicago area.
Seeking to assert their masculine superiority, the baseball-playing Schaumburg Flyers will take on the Chicago Bandits, the 2008 National Pro Fastpitch champions, in a fastpitch softball game. Why am I temped to bet the house on the Bandits?
The Cubs have been on a roller coaster ride so far this season. Here are some of the most recent ups and downs.
First the good news. Apart from the continued good play of guys like Fukudome, Soriano and Hoffpauir, there isn't much in particular to be happy about. The team went on a small winning streak between the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully that puts some wind in the sails. The new young pitcher Randy Wells had a good first major league outing. He could continue to contribute for some time. In the promising news category the Cubs acquired Ryan Freel, who has all the tools to be an Edmonds-like addition.
Team health has been bad. It just got worse. With Zambrano already down and Lee missing more and more games due to neck soreness, Ramirez dislocated his shoulder and may miss two to three months. Even with Freel we're really going to miss a .364 hitter averaging almost an RBI per game. On top of all that, Chad Fox, who was tearing it up at AAA, but is no stranger to injury, threw to only two batters Saturday before being pulled with pain in his problem elbow. Unfortunately for him that could mean an end to his career.
Speaking of the bullpen if your looking for ugly, look no further. Marmol and Greg have been strong but that's about where the consistency ends. Playing a division rival and contender in the Brewers this weekend the Cubs were relying on the whole team to step it up. The line scores tell the tale. Milwaukee's wins in the first two games were both due to late inning runs. Guzman held the line in the third game but it took Marmol and Gregg to close out the win. We're 31 games in. These guys have had their chance. It's time to start making moves.
If we spoke a week ago, I would've told you to start counting to 102 years. The Cubs had slipped to a 3-7 slump, including a four game slide to Cincinnati and St. Louis. However since April shifted to May, the Cubs are starting to catch fire, and currently sit three games behind St. Louis.
A major contributor to the Cubs 6-1 streak, filling in for the injured Aramis Ramirez, third basemen Mike Fontonot sits 2nd on the Cubs with the most home runs (5) behind slugger Alfonso Soriano (7). However, shortstop Ryan Theriot has strutted his stuff hitting .305 with 3 home runs, all three of them within the past two weeks.
Although the Cubs aren't putting up the monster numbers they did this time last year, they're sitting quite pretty in the early part of the season heading into the early summer.
The (semi) satirical sports website Deadspin takes a look at the incident from yesterday's Cubs-Cincinnati Reds game at Wrigley Field, namely the feline that scurried onto the field and the curse-related implications of the intrusion (i.e., not making the World Series AGAIN). Nevermind the cat; isn't having Dusty Baker back in the ballpark a harbinger of bad tidings in itself?
In case you've forgotten that in between the Bulls and Blackhawks playoff runs, there's still baseball in Chicago, and Aramis Ramirez reminded us just how exciting baseball can be.
Tied 5-5 in the 11th inning on Saturday, A-Ram spanked a huge two-run shot to win the game for the big blue train, pushing the Cubs to a 7-5 record, and an NL Central Division lead cushion of a game. This was Aramis' third homer of the season, but first in the late innings (6th inning or later), A-Ram hit six go-ahead runs in the late innings last season.
The Cubs open a series today with the Reds that lasts until Thursday evening, they are then embarking on a road trip which takes them through St. Louis and Arizona before looping back to Wrigley to play the Marlins.
On paper the Cubs are off to a decent start this season with a 7-4 record; but the devil is definitely in the details with this team. The baseball world has made it clear that the Cubs are the team to beat in the NL Central and as a fan that is still smarting from last year's playoff sweep I'm viewing everything with an eye on the post-season.
They say pitching and timely hitting wins in the playoffs. The Cubs starters have been a bright point in the young season. Ted Lilly even flirted with a no-hitter his last time out. The problem is in the bullpen. Marmol has been dependable but that's about where it ends. Yesterday's 7-5 win over the red birds not withstanding, the relief corps has been shaky at best. As far as timely hitting goes, you'll have to read below the fold to see why I'm worried. Today's headlines are dominated by Rami's walk-off 2-run homer but look closer and you'll see he was trying to avoid an 0 for 6 day. Soriano was the hero last week with a late go ahead homer, but he struck out badly in his first three at bats. That's certainly clutch hitting, but the lack of consistency is what puts me right back in last October wringing my hands and wondering where my 8 All-Star team went.
In any case, judging by the first 3 in the series, tonight's game against the Cardinals should be an all out battle. There is a lot of good Chicago sports happening right now and April baseball might just be background noise. I for one want to be doing in October what Hawks and Bulls fans are right now. It would be nice to see these holes addressed before they come back to bite us later. Maybe that's why they've been trotting Micah Hoffpauir out there every day lately. I'd like to see him become the star he's destined to be in Cubby blue, but if it means a chance to put some better arms in our pen this year, it's best to get his name on the radar.
With the dawn of a new season comes new hopes, new dreams, and new goals. For the Chicago Cubs one of the goals include winning their first World Series in 100 years. In what will likely pan out to be one of the rockiest Cubs seasons in recent memory, the Chicago Cubs will be World Series Champions in 2009.
April 6: In the Cubs opener against the Astros, Carlos Zambrano throws six shutout innings before giving up a three run homer, costing the Cubs the game as they lose their 3rd straight opening day 4-3.
April 13: After going 3-3 to start the season, Ted Lilly pitches a solid 1-run game sending the Cubs to 4-3 after defeating the Rockies to open the season in Wrigley Field.
April 23: Milton Bradley sees first stint on the disabled list as he strains his quadricep diving for an outfield ball with two outs, landing himself on the 15-day disabled list. The Cubs would win the game against Cincinnati upgrading to a 10-5 record.
April 30: After batting .203 over the first month, Kosuke Fukudome losing the center field job to Micah Hoffpauir, who goes 3 for 4 with a HR against the Marlins in his MLB debut.
May 8: Bradley returns to the Cubs lineup, goes 2 for 4 with a game-winning hit to defeat the Brewers 9-8, putting the Cubs up 3 games in the division.
Much to the shock of Cub-dome, Kevin Gregg has been named the Cubs closer, not Carlos Marmol, says ESPN.com. Marmol, the heavy favorite going into Spring Training may have lost the job due to his dismantling in the World Baseball Classic as he gave up a game winning home run in the Dominican Republic's elimination game.
Gregg, the former Marlins set-up man went 7-8 last season with a 3.41 ERA before being traded to the Cubs. Gregg had an astounding Spring Training by not allowing a single run all month.
Marmol, meanwhile, will share the set-up job with Jeff Samardzija, a place Marmol is very familiar with, as it was his job last season.
In perhaps the largest Spring Training victory in Cubs history, the North Siders demolished the helpless Oakland A's 20-5 on Monday to win their fifth straight game against western teams.
Some of the games notable hero's were Micah Hoffpauir, Derrek Lee who slugged his first spring training homer, and Ryan Dempster who saw his first action since he squirmed out of a one run lead in the late innings earlier in the week against Seattle.
Check in next time for the Spring Training Wrap-Up!
There may not be a casino in Chicago (yet), but there is definitely some gambling going on. The city is now on the hook for $500 million to host the Olympics, part of the state's $750 million guarantee.
The Cubs want a new spring training facility in Mesa, or else they're walking. And Cubs fans want to end 100 years of misery or...they'll be back next year.
They may have been so-so as a team last season, but as humanitarians, the Bears might belong in the Super Bowl.
Two coaches from the Chicago Force are probably glad the temperatures are going to be a bit warmer this weekend. They're getting their heads shaved for charity tomorrow. Meanwhile, the women'd pro full contact football team released their 2009 schedule.
The Windy City Rollers' home teams throw elbows in their next match this Saturday night at the UIC Pavillion.
Meanwhile, if you're up for a road trip, Chicago's other roller derby queens, The Outfit, have a bout-on-wheels near Grand Rapid, MIchigan.
Carlos Zambrano will throw the first pitch at Wrigley Field for the 2009 season, according to the AP. In his previous four opening day starts, Zambrano has gone 0-1 with three no decisions. The Cubs, however are 2-2 on Opening Day when Big Z is on the mound.
In Spring Training news, the Cubbies are 2-4 in their past six games, including a 3-2 loss to defending World Baseball Classic Champions Japan on Thursday. Chicago sends out a split ball club to play the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners in today's double header.
I've heard of June woes, and October heartbreak, but I've never heard of spring training angst. The Cubs dropped their fifth straight game after losing to Milwaukee 2-0 on Saturday. Carlos Zambrano saw his second start in Spring Training, but allowed both Brewers' scores. Despite Zambrano striking out five of the Brew Crew's hitters, the Cubs lineup couldn't get anything going.
The big blue train plays Texas and Kansas City at home before embarking on a road trip that includes a visit to Seattle's camp, the Dodgers, and even an exhibition game against a World Baseball Classic team.
Speaking of Bears quarterbacks, a Sporting News blog says that Rex Grossman's eminent departure is bad news for Chicago. And while he is visiting Cincinnati, Dallas seems more than eager to welcome him there.
Sure Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski was as fan favorite, but Daily Herald sports blogger Tim Sassone says give his replacement, Sami Pahlsson, a chance.
You would think a team that easily won their division last year would be charging full steam ahead with their fans right behind them. Then again baseball is that unique team sport that relies heavily on individual performance. The Cubs have a great looking team but will that turn into a great season?
Cubs fans have a lot of specific questions as Spring training gets underway. Namely will Derrek Lee return to form? Can Milton Bradley stay healthy and positive? With Harden's health always a question how deep is our rotation really? Peavy rubbed our faces in it this weekend. Is there still a possibility he'll wear Cubby blue? And so it goes. We'll just have to wait and see. For now I'm happy to know that it feels like Spring somewhere and the boys of summer are getting warmed up.
The Cubs defeated cross-town rivals White Sox 13-0 on Saturday afternoon, pushing their Spring Training record to 4-0 -- their best start in a decade. After spending several seasons in Double A and bouncing around the majors, Brad Snyder got the call to play outfield today -- and provided a huge boost to the Cubs' offense when he slugged a grand slam in the game.
For those of you keeping track at home, the Cubs are now 1-0 in the 2009 series against our cross-town foes, and hopefully the win percentage stays that way.
As Cubs spring training opened up on Tuesday, manager Lou Piniella told Cubs.com that he's "unsure who'll be leading off come opening day." Alfonso Soriano says he's willing to give up his lead-off position in exchange for a nice middle-of-the-order position. Last season Piniella experimented with the lineup quite a bit throughout the season, but all in all, the North Siders went 69-36 with Soriano as the lead-off man.
If championships are won in October, then someone forgot to tell the Cubs. Despite being one of the National League's top tier regular season teams in 2007 and 2008, they were swept each year in the first round of the playoffs. But in 2009, the Cubs will attempt something they've never done: win three straight NL Central Division Titles.
Recognizing the enormous task ahead, the Cubs went out and had one of the most active off-seasons in recent memory. After releasing relief pitcher Kerry Wood, center fielder Jim Edmonds, and trading away second baseman Mark DeRosa for three minor league pitchers, the off-season looked gloomy. But as January faded into February, things began to pick up.
First, there was Barack Obama in the White House. Now there's Pat Quinn in the State House. Politically speaking, White Sox Nation just keeps getting bigger.
Speaking of the Sox, as SoxFest kicks off this weekend, Ozzie Guillen says the team will try "small ball"... again. And will Joe Crede join former Sox teammate Juan Uribe in Frisco? His potential replacement, Josh Fields, is wasting no time just in case he does.
But don't forget to show some love to the city's other roller derby queens, The Outfit, as they host a benefit party tonight.
You'd think getting punched in the face and crotch, sometimes at the same time, would be high on the pain scale for a UFC star. But for one Hammond, Ind., there's something more painful: being a Cubs fan.
Before the 2007 season the Chicago Cubs reached an agreement with Under Armour for the sporting apparel company to place their logo on the gates of the outfield wall in Wrigley's heretofore advertising free and virgin insides. Now after two seasons of the campaign it seems that Under Armour wants out of the deal and that the Cubs want them to stick around, so badly, in fact, that the Cubs, or, excuse me, the "Chicago National Ball League Club, Inc.," as the US District Court Case refers to the franchise, are suing. Understandably, with the worldwide economic downturn, Under Armour maybe wants to save up that yearly 2 million a year for something slightly more practical than two logos within the Friendly Confines. And really is it such a bad thing for the fans and baseball purists to have Wrigley resort back to its pure and clean ivy walls?
Short of maybe their pursuit of Jake Peavy (has that happened YET?), nothing has been more drawn out for the cubs than their proposed sale to new ownership. But while the process started back in a completely different presidential administration, it might be drawing to a close in the next day or so. According to reports, Tribune owner Sam Zell is contemplating offers from three bidders, Chicago real estate investor Hersch Klaff; the Ricketts family, who founded the online brokerage firm TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.; and a group led by New York investor Marc Utay, who reportedly grew up in Chicago.
But from a fan standpoint, there is one name that is glaringly omitted from that list: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the brash "fan's owner" who threatened to bring the Cubs into the world of personality-driven Big League Sports and not the same old stodgy corporate bottom-line-watching style of ownership. Even more than a few Cubs players had to have visions of private jets dancing in their heads (as Cuban has done for his NBA Mavericks). Hell, even his name spoke "Cubs". Not since Bill Veeck had a (potential) owner connected with fans on their level, even going so far as to join them in the bleachers, as both Veeck and Cuban had done. Has Crane Kenney EVER sat in the bleachers?
The Sporting News' reaction to the Wrigley Field hockey spectacular: meh.
Meanwhile, the Hawks' Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are first and sixth, respectively, among forwards in NHL All-Star Western Conference balloting. Brian "Soup" Campbell is third in balloting for defensemen.
So by now you've heard how Governor Gimmie, aka Rod Blagojevich tried to hold the Cubs hostage in his attempts to shakedown the Tribune Company, specifically to get them to fire several members of their editorial board in exchange for his not screwing with their attempts to sell the team and the ballpark.
That Blagojevich would attempt to put the squeeze on the Trib is (now) not surprising, given the newly-emerging scope of his pay-for-play ways and the allegations that he basically tried to sell the newly-vacated Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
No, what's surprising is that he would hold his beloved Cubs hostage to do it.
And the Cubs post-season post-mortem examination continues, with Lou Pinella blaming that old standby, the media, while Ryan Dempster says the team flatout wasn't ready. Hey guys, sorry, no do-overs.
Meanwhile, the White Sox, who seems to have come to grips with their playoff loss, work on keeping Bobby Jenks around. But did Nick Swisher phone it in for much of the season?
Four area college soccer teams have made it to the NCAA tournament.
It was bound to happen after that embarrassing loss to the Packers: The "Fire Lovie" talks are heating up. Here is one blogs' 10 reasons why he deserves the ax. Meanwhile, Fanhouse questions Lovie's assessment that the Bears receivers are "pretty good".
The Bulls' Derrick Rose sits atop most Sports Illustrated NBA writers' list of early top rookies. Naturally.
It's not the major draw it used to be, but prep football is still a big deal in Chicago. The Catholic League is gearing up for its title game, pitting Loyola Academy against De La Salle.
A disabled cyclist bikes 1,064 miles from Jacksonville, Fla. to Chicago. His final destination? Where else: Oprah.
The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation gets a new name.
The Chicago Outfit wants YOU... well, that is, if you're a female and don't mind getting knocked around a little. There's a recruitment Q&A tonight at 9:30
The Beyond the Vines memorial wall is 35 feet long and 14 feet tall, located in Bohemian National Cemetery, at Foster and Pulaski. It's designed to look like Wrigley Field's center field wall, complete with ivy, and topped by a 7'x4' stained glass replica of the scoreboard. When complete it will contain 280 "eternal luxury sky boxes" for your or your loved one's remains.
Slots are filling up (must resist "dying to get in" joke); if you're interested, call 773-463-4696 for pricing and more information.
Consider this a little consolation for not making it to the Fall Classic: Cubs catcher Geovany Soto was the near unanimous choice for National League Rookie of the Year today, winning 31 of 32 first-place votes. He beat out Cincinnati's Joey Votto, who got the other first place vote. Soto is the fifth Cub to win the award and the first since Kerry Wood in 1998.
Oh, and he also caught a no-hitter this season too off Carlos Zambrano, which he talks about here:
The Minnesota Vikings' Bernard Berrianexpects boos when he returns to this old stomping grounds at Soldier Field this Sunday. C'mon Bears fans, don't let him down.
If his contract doesn't discourage the White Sox from resigning him, Ken Griffey Jr.'s recent knee surgery might.
Evanston remembers one of his favorite sons, former MLB pitcher Kevin Foster.
Speaking of favorite sons, new Wolves head coach Don Granato is happy to be back home as he prepared for the team's home opener Saturday night.
Remember the Cubs' "fan" who tried to auction off his loyalty on eBay? He may have found a buyer and a kindred spirit in the Boston Red Sox.
In the battle of sports radio on Chicago (well, it's actually just a two-horse race), WSCR-AM has taken the lead.
De La Salle's Mike Shaw is being touted by ESPN as the "next big thing" in Chicago high school basketball.
Even if you're not entered in this weekend Urbanathlon, you can still go down and enjoy the party.
The Windy City Rollers are holding tryouts. If you think you have what it takes (and can come up with a clever alias like "Val Capone" or "Lucy Furr"), come to a scrimmage preview on Monday. Incidentially, the WCR All-Stars made it to the national finals in Portland, Oregon.
It doesn't help that the economy is currently in or headed directly for the proverbial crapper, but the price of tickets to sporting events show no sign of coming down to meet the slightly thinner pockets of the buying public, according to an article on "Medill Reports".
Currently, the average ticket to a Cubs' game rose to $42.49 in 2008, according to the report, a 42 percent increase from 2004. And that two-parents-two-kids-at-the-game measuring stick they're always using in the yearly reports on how much a day at the ballgame will cost (officially known as the Fan Cost Index)? This season it was $251.96 for a Cubs game. And it doesn't appear likely to come down even with the "occurances" of this past season.
The Bears were the most expensive ticket in town at an average price of $88.33. The White Sox were a better baseball bargain with an average ticket price of $30.28 and an FCI of $214.61. The Blackhawks were the city's best professional sports value at $34.88, although that could change next year if the team makes the progress everyone expects.
As if Cubs fans didn't have enough problems, what with their team getting the bum's rush from the NL Playoffs, a certain extremely popular fake news program jumps on the pile. Wait for it... it hits at about the 1:36 mark.
Well there you have it. The Cubs have dropped game one of the NLDS. Since 1995, the winner of game one has gone 23-3 and in 10 tries the Cubs have never won a playoff series after losing the first game. What does this all mean? Nothing! Obviously. This is baseball, where a team (with their own curse) came back from a 0-3 deficit against their arch-enemies to win the pennant. These Cubs have won 97 games and played extremely well over a long season. They've come back in dozens of games, once from 8 runs down. They are a good team but lost a game; simple as that. This is 2008 and the season started in April, not in 1909. We come back and beat them tomorrow.
One side note, I heard something I found very troubling. On the radio post-game show Dave Kaplan railed against the fans in the park for not being supportive. By his account those at the game were far from the die hard fans that hung on every strike during the season. I wasn't there but if it's true that would be a real shame. As if its not bad enough that MLB has let prices spiral out of control, in part by getting in bed with StubHub, those that got to go might not have done their duty as fans. Let's hope it's better tomorrow.
This time, no talk of curses, OK? No dusky felines or horned farm animals or bespectacled young men sitting several rows back or haunted magazine covers. No hoodoo or voodoo or hexes or incantations or spells involving animal bodyparts and plants mashed into a poultice.
Oh, the media will try to goad you into talking about those things as if they were actual factors. They'll stick cameras in your face and a tape recorder under your nose and will get you to try to say that every Cubs' pitcher's ball four and every Derek Lee strikeout is part of some cosmic plan to keep the Cubs from winning the World Series. They'll do these things because people expect them and it saves them from doing any real work ("OK, people, story ideas for the Cubs series." "The curse?" "Great, good job, let's break for lunch."). They'll write books about and get famous celebrity Cub fans to talk about it. There'll be bad songs written about it by hack songwriters trying to capitalize on it. People will burn things or bury things or wear things or bless things. Nuns will be employed at some point, I believe.
These might be tickets to a game that will never happen, but for most Cubs fans, they're still dream tickets. If you're not a season ticket holder, your only chance to hold one of these puppies may by sucking up to your alderman.
Well unless you live in a sensory deprivation chamber you know the Cubs have clinched their division and are busy setting up the team they will take into the playoffs. Players like Micah Hoffpauir and Kevin Hart are still fighting for spots but successfully battling two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana was enough for Sean Marshall to earn a spot in the October bullpen.
With two more games against the Mets and the last three at Milwaukee, the Boys in Blue still have a lot to say about what happens in the NL. Carlos Zambrano goes tonight. Hopefully, for all of us looking toward the post-season, we'll get the no-hitter Z, and not the inning-and-two-thirds Z that showed up last start.
As previously mentioned in Merge, bars in Wrigleyville and US Cellularburg (US Cellstonia?) are being asked to voluntarily stop serving alcohol after the 7th inning of home playoff games wherein the Cubs or Sox could clinch a series. This is some hilarious quasi-fast pitch (pun intended) being called by Hizzoner and what should bars really do? Games get out at what? 11pm, CST? So, yeah, stop serving three hours early for the sake of what, families? children? Excuse me, but last time I checked, former frat boys, duuuuuuudes, and vapid women lived in Wrigleyville. Meanwhile, on the Southside, I'm pretty sure they have vastly more important things to worry about than curbing the amount of consumption and need to be vastly more aware of the clientele and actually exacting some sort of responsibility on the employees and customers of said speakeasy.
Back to the lecture at hand, what Daley is proposing is ludicrous and would amount to a much less safe and far less controlled environment wherein people would be, indeed, "gettin' their drank on!" The only comparable notion I can I think of is the current straits that many universities find themselves flummoxed by when confronted with the problem with under-agers drinking far too much in uncontrolled circumstances at off-campus house parties.
However, instead of realizing that people like to get drunk, down, fete, dirty, krunked, what-have-you, Daley, is of the belief that people are having too much in bars -- which, in many cases, I am sure they are. Yet, attempting to curb drinking through a 7th inning cut-off would merely exacerbate the drunken throngs by tempting them to raid their own pre-purchased stockades of liquor and beer that they (the drunken crowds) already are fantasizing about while drinking until the end of the games, bar time, whatever. Within the realms of a bar at least there exists the implied notion of control, versus the unchecked beer-swilling of a person in their own (or a friend's) home.
Now here's a truly useful thing to have handy while you shop for Cubs playoff tickets: a list of seats with obstructed views. It even notes whether you can easily see one of the TV monitors from the seat.
It was an ironic move that wasn't lost on White Sox fans.
When ESPN made the necessary switch from the White Sox/Detroit Tigers waterlogged game Sunday (Game 2 of a doubleheader) to the dramatic conclusion of the Cubs/Houston Astros neutral-site game in Milwaukee, it was a microcosm of the 2008 baseball season in Chicago.
There were the White Sox, sloshing and slogging their way through a hastily arranged doubleheader on a dreary, grey, overcast slit-your-wrists kind of evening. Still, despite that depressing scenario and in front of a crowd only slightly larger than most high school graduating classes, the Sox had managed to stake a 7-0 lead, giving a national audience at least a glimpse of the kind of run-scoring ability they possess (Good thing they weren't around for their catnap against the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the week). And when the lead was cut slightly to 7-2, there was some concern but nothing to cause one to throw their giant White Sox foam finger at the television in anger.
The Cubs should play all their games in Milwaukee. Congratulations to Carlos Zambrano for pitching the Cubs first no hitter since Milt Pappas just missed a perfect game in 1972. Milt told ESPN after the game he had mixed feelings but was ultimately happy for Carlos. The game was already destined for the books since it was being played on "neutral" ground due to Hurricane Ike making baseball in Houston impossible. Still, Big Z stole the show by coming back from injury with his most dominating performance of the year. The win put the Cubbies 7.5 games over the Brewers with only 14 to play; cautious optimism is starting to turn into giddiness.
This weekend ESPN will begin airing an Outside the Lines detailing the Cubs history and woes. The website we linked to on the GB homepage has a good preview. I imagine they began planning the show when the Cubbies were winning series like nobody's business. The last thing I want to hear about while the team is tanking is the last 100 years of misery. Still they did eek out two close games to take the series in St Louis. Yesterday's win came despite Wood's insistence on putting a couple guys on in the ninth just to make things exciting and shoot Ron Santo's blood pressure through the roof. With the next two days of Cubs baseball being canceled on account of hurricane, you can get your fix with some of the other features OTL put together. I like the 102 facts about Chicago baseball and the board they set up to let fans air their grievances. I love it when Chicago baseball fans get together so Cubs fans can talk about the game and history and Sox fans can talk about Cubs fans.
No, we didn't expect the Bears to beat the Colts last Sunday night either. But if they're going to build on that, there are three things they must do to beat the Carolina Panthers this Sunday.
Even if they don't win the game, the Bears are still scoring touchdowns at the bank.
Arguing over who gets the last drumstick is one thing. But a Cubs-White Sox World Series could drive one family nuts.
REALLY old school White Sox fans will mourn the death of former manager Don Gutteridge.
Current White Sox star Carlos Quentin hopes to be healthy by the playoffs. Question is: will he be playing or watching?
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes, the Blackhawks' Teen Titans (OK, they're not really teens but it's not far off) get some more (inter)national publicity.
From Kansas City to Chicago on a bike: Are gas prices THAT high?
The marathon gold-medalist from this year's Olympics, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania has joined the field (pdf) of runners for the 2008 Chicago marathon. Hopefully, we'll have better weather this year.
The Sky take on the New York Liberty in their next-to-last game of their WNBA regular season.
Chicago teams finished third, fourth and fifth in the 2008 North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association Gay Softball World Series.
You're in Lisle. You're riding your bike. You have a hankering to see a play. What are you going to do?
Amidst the heart-pounding stories of untimely injuries (like that of Carlos Quintin), panic-inducing losing streaks (five and counting for the Cubs?) and too-close-for-comfort pennant races, there is a bigger question that looms for Chicago baseball fans: whom to vote for.
No, we're not talking about next year's All-Star game. That's a little too "wait'll next year" even for baseball fans. We're talking about THE election, the big one, the biggest "sporting event" in the country. The race for president.
Surprised that hardcore baseball fans in Chicago, who are engaged in nail-biting division races on both sides of town, would have time to contemplate things like budget deficits and tax gains? Well, if a presidential candidate can find time to discuss baseball, then it's only fair that a die-hard White Sox fan places the race for the White House in baseball terms.
Sure they say don't panic, but when a team's history results in even the most rational fans being able to name two or three curses off the top of their heads it's going to take more than words. Yes the Cubs have lost five in a row at home and possibly their ace in Big Z; a big blow even though his last few outings haven't really been ace-worthy. Usually we would start looking for black cats and green turtlenecks but in this writer's humble opinion this year is different. This is a good team, a great team even, and in many ways they're not even playing to their full potential. Derrek Lee's average may be around .295 but his clutch hitting has been at sub-DLee levels. The book on Fukudome was doing just what it was supposed to do; find holes, but with time to adjust I think he can be just as good in the MLB as he was in Japan. Maybe adversity is just the ticket to get the guys really playing the way they can. The truth is if we're panicking it's our own faults. Before the Phils came to town the Cubbies won more series in a row than any year since 1907. The underlying message in that feat should have told us all something: don't get used to this. What we can count on is a manager and several players that have battled through September and October, as well as a couple of aces in Dempster and Harden. So seriously, don't panic. If that doesn't cheer you up, how about knowing that the last time the boys delivered a championship, the Cardinals where 46 games out of first place!
Thanks to all of the ups and downs, as well as the unpredictable twists of the current Chicago baseball season, well, it's enough to drive one to drink. A popular vodka company apparently knows that and will unveil new billboards to at least give fans an idea of WHAT to drink.
Effen Vodka is set to unveil new billboards on the south and north sides of the city to capitalize on the continuing (fingers crossed) good fortune of both the Cubs and White Sox. The Cubs-themed billboard will make reference to the supposed team curse, while the one located near U.S. Cellular field will simply bolster the South Side pride.
But when it comes to aligning themselves with a local sports team, the Bears would seem to be a natural fit for the Holland-based vodka company. After all, I can't count how many times I've heard someone yell, "Effen Rex Grossman" in the last couple of years.
Stories That Will Not Die 1: Mariotti says he's not going to Boston, which leaves only five bazillion other cities for him to tell us where he's not going. Also, the Sun-Times takes a parting shot at their one-time star columnist.
Stories That Will Not Die 2: The Wall Street Journal says Barack Obama isn't the only one down on the Wrigley Field Experience. And Sports Illustrated jumps on the pile, too. But another website turns the other cheek and tries to link White Sox-lovin' Obama with the Cubs.
Stories That Will Not Die 3: Another week, another standing: Now, Chicago is supposedly the front runner for the 2016 Olympics.
The City of Chicago has a plan to make use the most bike-friendly place in the world.
Professional squash fever: Catch it! An international pro squash tournament is headed here.
A lesson in how not to write a press release, this one involving the Bears. My favorite sentence: "The Chicago Bears tickets have many sources of power that let the team to be so."
Among upcoming events at Soldier Field: the Chicago High School Kick Off Classic this weekend.
No matter what happens today the Cubs will have won their ninth series in a row. Here's a little perspective for you: they haven't done that since 1907. That year the team won ten in a row. Remember though we are still cautiously optimistic. Having had the best record in baseball for a good part of the year, a fan asked Carrie Muskrat (scroll down a bit) how teams with the highest win percentage did in the playoffs. In short, only OK. They made the fall classic a shade better than half the time but have a losing record in the big series. Then again the conventional wisdom is it's all about pitching in October and at least one analyst thinks the Cubs have the best playoff rotation. We'll just have to wait and see. Stupid linear time!
Cub fans are as worrisome as they come. The same guy that says he isn't superstitious might yell at the TV when Len or Bob even mentions the postseason. That guy may or may not be me. Then again, you look at power rankings, their record and these last couple road trips and even the biggest bleacher bum has to admit it might just be time for cautious optimism. About the only thing I can harp on is their inability to consistently lay down a sac bunt. It's a minor gripe but still odd. I'll let someone who gets paid to analyze these things figure that one out. The rest of the story is peachy. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the boys in blue don't make it to October, 1969 notwithstanding. That swagger Lou was looking for last year is seemingly here; better late than never. The road doesn't look so scary anymore. Even Florida can't continue its hex. There is no clear NL MVP candidate on the Cubs (I know what Gammons heard and it's touching but most likely a dream) but apparently even that is a good thing since one of their greatest strengths is versatility. Now I know you Sox fans/general Cubs-haters are dying to remind me of every failure in the last hundred years but until you find me, I'll be sitting back and enjoying the view.
It may not make it to the side of a milk carton, but the Chicago Fire fan club Section 8 is missing their banner.
Some people might have an opinion about who they are, but a new book of photos entitled "We Are Cubs Fans" seeks to define the loyalists visually. The obligatory Ronnie Woo Woo photo is included.
Speaking of the Cubs, Sports Illustrated joins the rest of the country in being amazed that they AND the White Sox are both in first place and may make the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1906.
And speaking of the Sox, Fox Sports calls the acquisition of Carlos Quinten the steal of the century. OK, they call it the steal of the season. It just LOOKS like the steal of the century.
Tickets for the National Pro Fastpitch softball championships go on sale this Saturday at Judson Sports Complex in Elgin, home of the Chicago Bandits. The Bandits are one of the four teams who will be participating.
Now that the Blackhawks are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, new fans might want to read about one of the team's legends featured in a story from the Sports Illustrated vaults.
Probably no other series brings out the baseball tradition of Wrigley Field like a Cubs-St. Louis weekend clash (one of which was just concluded Sunday with a 6-2 Cubs victory). The sea of Cubby blue competing with the tsunami of Cardinal red. Cheers of support for both teams that wash over in equal waves. And Budweiser everywhere (it may be St. Louis' beer, but Harry Carey made it Wrigley's own). It's enough to make one forget the deteriorating condition of much of the ballpark.
Well, almost everyone. A student writer for the UCLA Bruin gives his thoughts on Wrigley Field and Cubs baseball. But don't let the first sentence fool you. He liked the place, he really likes it.
It's another weekend of crucial baseball in Chicago (but then aren't they all these days?), and it's one that might cause at least a little worry for the teams' respective fans.
The Cubs' cushy six-game lead over St. Louis (and their five-game lead over Milwaukee) could take a hit if they do the seemingly impossible and tank their three-game series against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. (Update: The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 3-2 in 11 innings Friday) We say "seemingly impossible" because the Cubs are a ridiculous 43-16 at home and the Cardinals are a very human 31-25 on the road. No need to do the math because it's right there. It's the Cardinals' first visit to Wrigley this season. The Brewers, meanwhile, will be taking on the Washington Nationals, who are currently stinking up the joint in the National League East
The White Sox, meanwhile, are teasing their fans more than Gypsy Rose Lee with their tenuous hold on first place (now they're in, now they're out) and a four-game series with Boston isn't helping matters any. Their half-game AL Central lead over Minnesota could crumble like a churro if the Red Sox repeat last season's dominance over the White Sox, when they outscored the South Siders 46-7 in a four-game series. Yeah, there's no Manny Ramirez to face this year, so that might figure in the White Sox favor. It's one of the few breaks they'll receive this weekend, thanks to Minnesota having to contend with lowly Kansas City.
Well the Cubs (and Cubs fans) have had a crazy time the last week or so. Frustration, elation, angry princes and rogue lightning are just a few of the things we've witnessed recently. First of all, congrats to the team for sweeping their division rivals the Brewers. If you watch any sports TV at all you don't need me to tell you that the series was trumped up as October in July. We'll see. In any case, it was immensely satisfying after being so frustrated by the bullpen and lack of timely hitting since the All-Star break. I swear I'm trying not to smile when I see Prince Fielder annihilate his bat after a pop up and get tossed for yelling horse[poop] over and over, Gagne not being able to bean Edmonds in four tries and then hearing that the Brew Crew is brawling in their dugout. The bottom line is they are a good team, the Cubbies had a good series, but there is a lot of baseball still to go.
That point became painfully obvious as the team dropped the first game of each series to the Pirates and Astros. At some point the Cubs are going to have to figure out how to hit young call-ups. They did come on to win the last two games, clinching the rubber match thanks to what Reed Johnson described as his favorite moment on a baseball field. The Astros series remains to be decided, but already it's given us one of the best highlight videos of the season. Watch as Derrek Lee, um...exclaims and the guys laugh in the dugout as Lance Berkman tosses his metal chain and scurries off the field.
A few tidbits: if you haven't done so yet, check out the new West Side Rooters. You can't go wrong with Ronny Woo Woo as your Sergeant at Arms...OOF WAH!... Woody could be back tonight; maybe Mark O'Neal found the neosporin. Lastly, on a sad note, Skip Caray, son of Harry, father of Chip, passed away over the weekend. He was 69, and although he limited himself to home games, was still broadcasting this season.
First it was two alleged Cubs fans pummeling an alleged White Sox fan over his chosen team affiliation to the point of his losing an eye. Now comes word of more alleged Cubs fans being involved in another physical altercation, this time reportedly pouncing on a Milwaukee Brewers fan following Tuesday night's game at Miller Park.
The Cubs currently hold a three game lead over the Brewers in the National League Central. If this is the price of success, perhaps we should keep an ambulence handy at 1060 W. Addison.
As Chicago's two baseball teams continue their improbable dual climb to the top of the baseball food chain, they both meet the two biggest challenges to their dreams in the next four days.
The Cubs and White Sox, atop the NL Central and AL Central respectively, confront the two biggest threats to their first-place status when the Cubs facing the surging Milwaukee Brewers in Bratsville while the Sox travel to Minnesota to face the pesky Twins in the Hump Dome. Both series are four games each with the Cubs and Brewers kicking it off tonight at 7:05 p.m., while the Sox and Twins kick off their series five minutes later.
The White Sox hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the Twins while the Cubs have a narrow one game lead over the Brew Crew. A stumble by one or both teams in these very important series could push them into second place where there's a good chance they could stay there for the remainder of the series. Even if you loath the team on the other side of town, the chance to see them sink in the standings makes both games must-see TV.
Start exercising your remote control fingers. There stands to be a lot of channel surfing in the next few days.
The Cubs' Peoria farm team, the Chiefs, got in a brawl with the Dayton Dragons Thursday evening — in the first inning! Both managers and 15 players were ejected from the game, and a spectator was taken to the hospital after getting hit by a baseball thrown at the Dragons' dugout by pitcher Julio Castillo (as Chicagoist said, guess we know why Castillo's still in the minors.) It was Castillo who instigated the fight, in fact, by retaliating for a hit batter by hitting not one but two batters, and threatening a third. That brought Dragons manager Donnie Scott down to talk with the umps, Chiefs manager Carmelo Martinez down to defend — and the rest is history. Here's some video:
The ejections were reversed by the league commissioner to avoid forcing the teams to use their bullpens to fill in the outfield.
You'll be able to catch the Chiefs in action -- well, playing baseball, at least -- next Tuesday when they play the Kane County Cougars at Wrigley. Tickets are still available.
Cook County Commissioner Mike Quinn got a lot of Detroit Red Wings fans ticked off when he managed to skewer the team in his resolution celebrating the outdoor game against the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field...
...But here’s guessing he’ll have an easier time getting tickets to the game than you do.
A half-game lead (as of Thursday afternoon)? Are the Cubs done for? One writer seems to think so (though he admits he’s a Sox fan but insists that has nothing to do with it… right.)...
...But never fear Cubs fans, there are enough pro-Cubby blogs to ease the pain. In fact, there’s a whole army.
If the prospect of getting swept by the Arizona Diamond backs and losing their grip on first place in the NL Central weren't enough, the Cubs are now a half a mil lighter in the wallet thanks to a fine by Major League Baseball regarding their actions following the June draft. According to Sports Illustrated, the Cubs failed to report a signing to MLB offices and put a player on the field without MLB approval, earning them the $500,000 fine.
The Chicago Bandits have a chance to move into first place in the NPF when they continued their four-game series against the league-leading Philadelphia Force tonight. The Bandits beat the Force 3-1 in the series opener on Wednesday.
The 2008 Aberdeen Street Dodgeball Ninjas will host their summer tournament this Saturday at Sheridan Park. If nothing else, it should provide some interesting photos.
The Chicago Cycling Club hosts a "Baseball Nostalgia Tour", which includes stops at 10 present and former ballparks and lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern.
And speaking of baseball, an all-Cubs channel? I thought we already had that...and referred to it as the local news (said the White Sox fan with the inferiority complex).
Not to dismiss the first half of the 2008 baseball season, but for me, my battle cry has always been, “Talk to me AFTER the All-Star break.”
Countless frantic fans on both sides of town, giddy with early-season promise have, through the years, approached me with manic glee in their eyes, fully convinced that this was The Year due to the fact that either the Cubs or White Sox are in first place at the break, a sign that supersedes anything a billy goat or Shoeless Joe could conjure up.
I’ve seen it so many times I’ve lost count. Take this season, for instance, which finds the White Sox AND the Cubs in first place in their respective divisions. Or rather take 1977, the year to which this year has most often been compared. For it was 1977 which marked the last time both teams were in first place at the same time.
Well you could spend the rest of the day reading about what Rich Harden might or might not do for the Cubs. All the locals have write-ups; here are Mariotti, Sullivan and Morrisey's. ESPN's Jayson Stark weighed in as well. No one, however, is better prepared to deal with Harden's injury history and possible upside than Cubs fans who labored through the Prior/Wood years. Who is better at being encouraging, hopeful and stoic while pretending not to hear the guy two rows back detailing what we're bound to get in return?
In any case it's been a pretty fun summer so far. With the Cubbies in the hunt, all sorts of interesting articles are popping up, and not just about the team, but things that really only die hard fans could care about. My favorites so far are the uniform breakdown, the "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" article and guest singer contest. Ah one, ah two, ah three...!
Steve Stone joining Hawk Harrelson in the White Sox TV booth? According to the Tribune, it could happen, though the dominos have to fall in just the right way.
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson says the Bulls’ drafting of former Simeon High School star Derrick Rose evokes the memory another Simeon hoopster tabbed for greatness, Ben Wilson, whose murder 24 years ago stunned the city.
Deposed WSCR morning man Mike North says he has four deals on the table. No word on whether any of them involve dishing out extra relish.
A new online marketplace offers fans the chance to put in a bid for playoff and World Series tickets for the Cubs (provided they make it) from season ticket owners looking to dump them. Presumably the website will offer the same deal for (ahem) the White Sox.
The Chicago Rush take on the Grand Rapids Rampage (don’t you love those Arena Footbal League names?) in an AFL Divisional Round playoff game this Sunday, 2 p.m., at Allstate Arena. In other Rush news, wide receiver Donovan Morgan was named AFL Rookie of the Year
The Sky’s Sylvia Fowles is getting a bit antsy since being sidelined with a knee injury, as she reports on her WNBA blog.
White Sox catcher A.J. Piersynzki needs your help in selecting his at-bat music. Though the website lists suggestions (“Panama” by Van Halen?) , I’m sure there are more appropriate songs...right?
Also, the White Sox host the first Double Duty Classic, featuring the top high school baseball players from across the Midwest, on Monday, July 7, 2:30 p.m. The game will honor the legacy of the Negro Leagues and is named for legend Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.
If you're a fan of Chicago baseball, you might take special pride in seeing your Boys of Summer represented in the Midseason Classic, set for July 15 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. If so, get cracking: All-Star voting ends tonight at midnight.
As it stands, one Chicago team should be well represented in the game while the other will be woefully absent, despite having both teams in first place in their divisions. As of Wednesday, the Cubs have a strong possibility of having three starters in the game. Geovany Soto leads all catchers in voting, while Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome (yes, Fukudome, he of the .292 batting average and six HRs) are Nos. 1 and 3 in balloting for the starting outfield. Derek Lee is third among first basemen, Mark DeRosa is second among second basemen in votes and Ryan Theriot is third among shortstops.
He may not have had the national attention and accolades of the current Cubs, who have argueably usurped the title "America's Team" from the Dallas Cowboys, but for "Sweet Swinging" Billy Williams, his connection with the team has been no less exciting.
If you don't know many of the details of Williams' life as a Cub (and if you're a die-hard Cubs fan, you should), you can brush up on All Things Billy by picking up a copy of his book and having Williams autograph it for you at a special signing for his new biography, Billy Williams: My Sweet-Swinging Lifetime with the Cubs, July 8, 4:30-6pm at Harry Carey's Tavern, 3551 N. Sheffield, just a long foul ball from Wrigley Field. The book was written with longtime Tribune sportswriter Fred Mitchell.
Williams, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, suffered the same unfortunate fate of his longtime teammate Ernie Banks, which is to have never made it to a World Series despite an exemplary career. But that apparently hasn't diminished his love for the game in general and his love for the Cubs in particular. Williams is still connected to the team as an executive advisor.
The book tells of Williams' early childhood, growing up in the same home state as Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Satchel Paige (what the heck were they putting in the water?), his days in the Negro League and his five decades in the big league. It's a must-read for any true Cubs fans. Or even a White Sox fan.
So the first half of the Great Chicago Baseball Orgy is over and the Cubs have emerged not only with early bragging rights but a firmer grip on National League Central, thanks to their three-game sweep of the White Sox. The Sox, meanwhile, saw their lead in the AL Central get cut to 1 1/2 games over the always-bothersome Minnesota Twins.
So what have we learned from this, other than Ozzie Guillen and a few other guys on the White Sox should probably zip it until after the series is over? Well, we learned that:
The Cubs will never lose another game in Wrigley Field.
The Cubs can get by just fine without Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, but the White Sox are pretty lost without a healthy Paul Konerko and an effective Jim Thome.
There are two Jose Contreras: Good Jose and Bad Jose. Bad Jose was in the ballpark on Saturday.
Carlos Marmol is not the best closer-who's-not-a-closer as some would have you believe.
He may be the better rapper, but Guillen might not be the better manager in town.
Big rats and the smell of urine are far less scarier than Aramis Ramirez' bat.
Sox fans get a chance to exact some revenge against their pain-in-the-neck Cub fan cousins next weekend when the White Sox host the Cubs at U.S. Cellular (which USA Today says will take place on the "less pristine South Side"). Nothing less than a sweep will do for the White Sox in the three-game series and while the team does have a few home series sweeps under their belt this year, the Cubs' current play is on another planet. You've been forewarned, Sox fans: it might be another long weekend.
I suppose it makes sense that the actual participants in the annual local baseball orgy known (among other names) as the Crosstown Classic are a little blasé about the whole thing. Listen to sports talk radio or read the papers and you get the idea that baseball Armageddon is on the horizon and nothing less than the fate of the free world hangs in the balance.
But read the quotes from the likes of players like Paul Konerko, Derek Lee, Joe Crede or even Kerry Wood and you get the idea that they’re as excited by the contests as someone having a hangnail removed.
Their opinions usually run along the lines of “: “It’s just another game.” “It means more to the fans than us.” “It’ll be a lot of fun, but…” The Cubs’ Mark De Rosa said as much last week when in an interview he stated, “(I)t has to be viewed as [just] another series. I know it's not. I know it will be hyped up, and rightfully so. It's fun, it's a hot topic to talk about, and they're playing well and we're playing well. But I think it ends there. Six games hopefully won't affect the outcome of either team's division standing.”
A Major League Baseball story on the Cubs' days as a WEST Side ballclub includes some interesting bits of information, including the time in 1908 when a woman gave birth in the bleachers. Contrast that with today when...nah, too easy.
Belmont Harbor will be the launching site of a major international boating event when 84 boats from around the world compete in the 2008 Etchells World Championships. The weeklong event kicks off this Friday.
Another bout has been added to the boxing card at the Aragon Ballroom this Friday, which we told you about yesterday.
After a surprising and promising 2008 season for the Blackhawks, this weekend's NHL draft will be as important for the Hawks as the NBA draft will be for the Bulls. A hockey prospects resource site gives the lowdown.
He may not be in the Hall of Fame, but South Carolina residents are not forgetting their native son, White Sox legend Shoeless Joe Jackson and are building a museum in his honor. The organizers are hoping that the tribute helps the HOF committee forget about Jackson's role (or non-role) in the whole Black Sox scandal.
On any other team it would seem like the end of the world, or at least the end of a season.
Your marquee player, the one who leads the team in home runs and is fourth in RBI goes down with a broken hand for at least six weeks, a span in which your team faces an AL Division leading team, two of the hottest teams in baseball who are both in the thick of their own division race, and two feisty opponents from your own division, both poised to cut into your slim division lead.
But the way the Cubs have been playing lately, this may be nothing more than a blip on the radar.
When outfielder Alfonso Soriano was plunked on the hand by Atlanta pitcher Jeff Bennett at Wrigley Field Wednesday night, breaking a bone (a minimally displaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal, for the doctors in the crowd), you could hear the groans and cries of “Here we go again” all the way to Irving Park. The team has been cruising along with a 7-3 record in their last 10 games, a 28-8 record at home and a 2 ½ game lead in the NL Central. So something had to go wrong…. Right?
With the Cubs’ Kosuke Fukudome the latest Japanese baseball star to try to show his stuff in the West, the status of Japan’s own professional league is in shaky condition, according to a Bloomberg report. No less than former MLB manager Bobby Valentine says, “MLB is trying to kill the sport.”
The Sporting News reports on the “surprising” White Sox (surprising to them, right?) and says one of the main reasons for the unexpected surge is – who else? – Carlos Quentin.
The website Black Athlete Sports Network shows another side of Cap Anson, the legendary baseball figure who was captain-manager of the Chicago White Stockings (who later became the Cubs). Generally regarded as less-than-enlightened when it came to race, Anson was reportedly one of the first major leaguers to compete against an all-black team that was led by future Negro League founder Rube Foster.
The Cubs AND White Sox both in first place? OK, that's GOTTA be one of the Modern Signs of the Apocalypse, right after Howard Cosell rising from the grave. But that's where we find ourselves this morning after the Cubs wrapped up an 8-2 homestand with a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates and the White Sox completed a sweep of the San Francisco Giants with a 13-8 victory for their fifth straight win.
Their frenzied weekends left the Sox 1 1/2 games up in the AL Central while the Cubs hold a two-game lead over St. Louis.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Chicago. Bartender, bragging rights for everyone...
According to reports Wednesday, the Cubs have, for all intents and purposes, signed veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds and if you hear a collective yawn of indifference it's to be expected.
Edmonds, a minor star with the St. Louis Cardinals but a virtual nobody with his current team the San Diego Padres, is expected to arrive in Chicago sometime today for a physical and could be in uniform as soon as tomorrow... to face his old team the Padres at Wrigley Fieid.
Signing Jim Edmonds for about $280,000 is a puzzler. He's currently batting .178 with 24 strikeouts through 26 games with the Padres this season, so his bat, such as it is, adds nothing to the lineup. And while he won eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder with the Cards, it's generally accepted that he's lost a step or two.
So why is he here? Who knows? The Cubs are desperate for a lefty hitting centerfielder now that Felix Pie has washed out and is expected to be sent to Iowa AAA. But Pie is hitting .222, so putting Edmonds in his place? ...well, as the kids say, what's up with that?
Maybe they're banking on a change of scenery sparking Edmonds to some semblance of his former self. Don't count on it.
Tomorrow night Chicago Fire playmaker and Mexican national hero Cuahtemoc Blanco will throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game. Since he probably doesn’t know the words, he won’t be singing during the seventh inning stretch though. That duty will fall to the striking partnership of Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe. Just a guess, but I’ll bet it’s going to sound pretty terrible. Also betting Blanco can throw a pretty mean fast ball.
After the racist t-shirt controversy early in the season, show your support with a truly respectful shirt. According to Son & Heir Apparel, the Japanese characters translates to "Go Cubs" and "It's Gonna Happen." (If you read kanji and can vouch for this, let us know.)
By now, the attention being paid to former Cubs manager Lee Elia’s now infamous post-game explosion in 1983 is starting to seem a little like overkill. Yes, it was an interesting blip on a then-boring Chicago sports landscape. Yes, even in 1983, a profanity-top-heavy post-game analysis was a bit out of the ordinary. But to many in the media today, that mere 4 ½ minutes of frustration has earned the right to be commemorated as an “anniversary”.
On the radio today, WSCR-AM has constantly mentioned Elia’s rant it in its hourly newscasts as if it were a recent event. The Tribune, meanwhile has mentioned the incident in no less than 10 stories since April 23, including five articles fully dedicated to the occasion. (The Tribune, incidentally, is the organization that owned the Cubs and fired Elia after the outburst.) The Sun-Times has managed to hold its Eliapalooza to six articles, including only two fully dedicated (thought they did have a link to the censored recording on their website). However the Sun-Times may win The Most Overwrought Headline Award regarding the Elia saga, after labeling his outburst as being part of “baseball infamy”, a category I personally was reserving for the steroid scandal or Roger Clemens’ possible hanky panky with a 15-year-old country singer.
Deny it as we might, Chicagoans do have a little chip on their shoulder about playing second fiddle to New York City in just about everything, a fact that a New Yorker will waste no time in telling you. “Sure, you have the Sears Tower, but the Empire State Building is the quintessential skyscraper. Sure you have a thriving theater scene, but everyone knows a play isn’t REALLY a hit until it makes it on Broadway. And sure your entire city burned to the ground about 137 years ago, but you’re trying to compare it to OUR great tragedy of only seven years ago?...”
Which is why the baseball events of the next few days are our rare opportunity to exact a modicum of revenge in a short amount of time. In a quirky bit of scheduling, both Chicago baseball teams will take on both New York City baseball teams in their respective leagues. The Cubs (12-6) open a short two-game series today against the Mets (10-7) while the White Sox (11-7) square off against the Yankees (10-10) in a three-game series beginning Tuesday night. Speaking of Tuesday, it will offer the rare chance for a Chicago-New York unofficial split doubleheader as the Cubs and Mets battle at 1:20 at Wrigley Field, while the White Sox and Yankees clash at 7:11 at U.S. Cellular Field.
It'd be a shame if instead of honoring Kosuke Fukudome's fast start in the major leagues (.317 /.442 / .460), the friendly confines were filled with ignoramuses wearing racist t-shirts that demean his ethnicity.
I generally reject talk of billy goats, black cats or Walkman-wearing fans in left field when discussing the alleged otherworldly reasons for the (mis)fortunes of the Cubs. Unless it was a billy goat that drafted Mike Harkey or a black cat that let a ball go between his legs in the eighth inning of the 2003 National League Championship Series.
Still, when you sit back and ponder the collection of freakish incidents that have befallen the team over the years, you might concede that while the gods must be crazy, they are also NOT Cubs fans.
Tuesday’s injury to left fielder Alfonso Soriano might be another page in that weird book. Soriano, to the dismay of baseball fundamentalists, routinely performs this strange little hop while catching a routine fly ball. It’s not baseball blasphemy, but it’s enough to make a Little League coach instruct his team to change the channel whenever a ball arcs its way toward left.
Against the Cincinnati Reds yesterday he performed his usual fly ball shtick, only this time with different results. He landed and immediately lifted his right leg in pain. The end result: a calf injury that could land Soriano on the 15-day DL. (Right now would be a good time to cue to a video shot of Lou Pinella sitting in the dugout rubbing his face and head in frustration.)
Update: Soriano was placed on the 15-day DL late Wednesday afternoon.
The next few games will be a test for both teams, as the Sox face the A's, a perennial rival, and the Cubs take on Dusty Baker's Reds. A middling Cincinnati team shouldn't be much of a challenge, but facing their former skipper may turn a few Cubbies toward point-proving, which rarely goes well. We'll see.
To some, it’s probably akin to spray-painting your name on The Vatican. That’s the high regard that some baseball purists, and even casual fans, have regarding Wrigley Field. Words like “shrine” and “temple” are often bandied about when talk about Wrigley in the context of ballpark esthetics comes up. Even when Cubs teams throughout the years stank up the joint something fierce, there was always those appealing bricks and ivy to make stench palatable. Even quite a few White Sox fans have had to admit that in the era of whiz-bang, high-tech, Corporate-Name-Of-The-Month ballparks, Wrigley is a gem. Well, except for Ozzie.
So it’s not without a little bit of consternation that Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin questions the latest addition to the ballpark: the letters “CBOE” painted on in bright yellow letters on a new section of ground-level seats that the Chicago Board Options Exchange is sponsoring this year.
The lettering, located on the wall between the Cubs’ dugout and the left field bullpen, raises the question of whether this bit of advertising violates City of Chicago landmark ordinance.
A surprise ruling by Major League Baseball today has ended the longest championship drought in American pro sports. The Commissioner's office today declared the Chicago Cubs champions of the 1945 World Series—erasing the team's 100-year title drought.
The Chicago Cubs lost the 1945 World Series 4 games to 3, to the Detroit Tigers. But Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig today announced the Tigers used an illegible player in that series—and he's stripped Detroit of the championship.
Well, OK, maybe not, but this 100 Year Curse™ crap really needs to stop. The last thing the Cubs need is the extra weight of overwhelming expectations loaded upon them. We all remember the last time they got close, how they cracked under the pressure with a little help from a certain guy wearing headphones? Don't tell me you really think it was all his fault. The boys in blue get flustered easily, especially under pressure.