A Fond Adieu to Sweet, Sweet Lou

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Despite all of the rancor, the calls for his head, the snarky comments that he should have been managing this season from the dugout while wearing a smoking jacket and drinking a martini…yes, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella will be missed. [Read more…]

Cubs Manager Lou Piniella Retiring when Season Concludes

Under my “Lou Piniella, ella ella, eh, eh” is a song we will no longer hear. The hilarious, but very poorly sung parody of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” about the Cubs’ 2007 division title season, must now be retired.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella today gave the following statement to announce he has made the decision to retire following the 2010 season.

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Lou Loses it before BP Crosstown Cup

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Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella should be happy that today is the same day as the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup parade. And that there’s reported in-fighting between White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and GM Kenny Williams. Otherwise, we’d have a slow news day on our hands, and his latest rant, right before the BP Crosstown Cup, would be ubiquitous right now. I can’t find the video yet, but it will be all over YouTube soon I assure you.

By Paul M. Banks

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Lohse! Wells! It’s Cubs-Cards, on WGN!

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By Paul Schmidt and Jake McCormick

Nothing fires me up like a series revival between true rivals.  While Cubs-Sox always dominates Chicago headlines, true Cubs fans know that their real arch rival is, in fact, an Arch rival. Get it?  See what I did there?  The rival is the St. Louis Cardinals, and they have an Arch there!  It’s funny!  Laugh, dammit, laugh!!!

Ahem…anyway, without further ado, let’s get a Cubs-Cards exchange going with our guru of all things Redbird (and Fredbird), Jake McCormick.

(Paul Schmidt) Two weeks ago, it didn’t look as though this Cubs-Cardinals series was going to be very important, but here we are!  The Cardinals simply treaded water for two weeks and the Cubs got…well, lukewarm, and suddenly the NL Central is the picture of mediocrity. There’s a ton of reasons to be excited about this series this weekend, Jake, but tell me, why are you looking forward to four games in three days at The Friendly Confines?
(Jake McCormick) I’m not really sure how friendly those confines are going to be, but I’m looking forward to both teams facing each other four times because any excuses for losing on the grounds that “you didn’t get to face our best pitcher” can be thrown out the window. As consistently inconsistent as the NL Central has been, the Cubs and Cardinals both have quality pitching and one bat that can carry victories like Atlas and his globe (Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee).

This series is the biggest between the two so far this season, which means the pressure goes up and it should test the cohesiveness of both teams. The one downside to this weekend is that we won’t get to see an awkward reception for Mark DeRosa, a situation similar to Brett Favre returning to Lambeau in purple, because he’s going to be out until after the All-Star Break. That’s probably a good thing for Milton Bradley, who really doesn’t need DeRosa reminding him why he’s becoming an aviary expert standing in right field all day.

(PS) This weekend would have been interesting, because DeRo already had his hero’s welcome back to Wrigley when the Indians came to town. I’d have been a little surprised if the reaction to him in Cardinal red was the same.
As a Cub fan, I hate to even bring it up, but I don’t have the answer, so here goes: Why is it so hard to hate Albert Pujols?  I don’t want to like him.  I spent years, as a Bears fan, despising Brett Favre, so I have no problem hating talented superstars. So what’s different about Albert?
(JM) This is a pretty easy answer: Albert Pujols is sober, consistent year in and year out, and still doesn’t take credit

How many times will we see this celebration this weekend?

How many times will we see this celebration this weekend?

for being the best hitter in the world. I call him the Terminator because he goes about his business pummeling baseballs with barely an expression on his face. I swear I’ve seen Pujols get more emotional when his teammates perform well, which is definitely a quality you want in a superstar and leader. Much like John Connor’s protector, Pujols has almost no weaknesses in his game, which makes it a lot harder to dislike him. I have similar positive feelings about Derrek Lee, because even when he’s on fire he’s very humbled and was never in the middle of some of the best Cub dugout fights of the past few years.

(PS) My thought is that it is that Albert is an actual good human being. The same can be said for Derrek Lee, so I do think that you are on to something there. But I am pretty sure that Albert’s charity work off the field is one of the best parts of his character; of course, prior to last weekend, a very similar sentence could have been said about Steve McNair, and look how that ended up.
What scares you most about this Cubs team?  What leaves you confident that the Cardinals will be on top of the NL Central by the end of the season?  For the record – I don’t think I need to answer what scares Cubs fans the most about St. Louis, right?

(JM) I’m assuming you mean shortstop Brendan Ryan’s sniper rifle of an arm and the amazing rookie third base platoon of Brian Bardon and Joe Thurston. With the way people talk about the Cubs, you could assume they are Team cancer, huggable or board game? You decide!hanging out with the Pirates in Davy Jones’ Locker. That’s the scariest part of the team to me; the fact that the Cubs already seem written off even though it’s virtually the same team as last year and we’re only halfway through the marathon season. The talent is there and all the Cubs need is a single game spark to start clicking together.

This year does seem a bit different than ones in the past because the pressure is still there, but the Cubs have as many internal problems as a cast of the Real World. Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano, and Lou Piniella all can be very volatile and the possibility for conflict makes me confident that the Cardinals will ultimately wrap up the division.. Plus, Tony La Russa has played a lot of rookies this year, and the team continues to win with the same quiet attitude as always. Once DeRosa comes back, and with Kyle Lohse returning to start one of the Sunday games, the Cardinals have to be the favorite to win the division. That is, provided the Brewers and Cubs don’t make any trades, of course.

 

(PS)  The Cubs, certainly, won’t be making trades.  And I keep waiting for this team to gel, but I’m starting to fear that it’s just not going to happen, which could mean the Cards do run away with the division.
The unsung strength of this Cardinal team is its pitching staff. The rotation is filled with unspectacular names that continue to just get the job done.  Credit is obviously due to TLR and Dave Duncan, but what is it that these guys do that allow them to take any old pitcher off the scrap heap and turn them into effective starting pitchers and relievers?

(JM) If you look at the Cardinals pitching staffs of the past few years, you’ll notice the only big strikeout pitchers are Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The one common trait guys like Joel Piniero, Braden Looper, and Jeff Weaver share is they are all control pitchers that induce a lot of ground balls by keeping the ball down and trusting the defense behind them. The Cardinals are always a consistently good defensive team, which is essential if there isn’t an overpowering pitcher on the mound. The Cardinals also have changed pitchers into quality hitters (see: Rick Ankiel), which is very similar to a Hindu converting to Judaism because it rarely happens. Ankiel and the Born Agains are a credit to the organization from top to bottom.

(PS) I love the Ankiel story, I really do. It’s a fantastic story.  It’s even a little better that he was on HGH as well. And I’d argue that the trait that Piniero and Looper have in common is that they aren’t very good pitchers, and TLR and Duncan are magicians, but to each his own on that point.

One last question for you – I took my first visit to the New Busch this year, and was extremely unimpressed.  It was very new, and the memorabilia shop in the outfield concourse was great, but other than that the park left me somewhere in between overwhelmed and underwhelmed.  Whelmed, I suppose, is what I was.  I feel as though I might have been biased, though, so what are some of the things that make New Busch great – if you believe it is?

(JM) I loved the atmosphere of the old Busch Stadium, but doughnuts are so before I was born. The only thing that stadium had going for it was the nostalgia of housing the most successful team in the history of the National League. Coincidentally, retro looks are in as long as it’s not a dome and has some sort of brick inlay. I think the best thing about New Busch is the outfield view of the St. Louis skyline and the Arch, which gives the stadium a sense of inclusion in the city’s architecture.

I won’t say it’s the most unique stadium in the world because I can see parts of Camden Yards mixed with PNC Park in the design, but overall I think it’s a good stadium experience. If I may also inject a little bias into this objective discussion, St. Louis is the best baseball city in America. The team could be playing on a high school diamond (or Wrigley Field) and they would still sellout for the season, so the actual look of the stadium matters much less to those who will watch the Cardinals regardless of the venue. Sorry about the Wrigley dig by the way. That’s my bias talking again.

(PS) It is really interesting, because I always hear about how good of a baseball town St. Louis is, and I just don’t see it. The game I went to was a Sunday afternoon game the day before Memorial Day against the Royals, and the park wasn’t sold out. The crowd was dead the whole game (and I’ve seen that happen more often than not on TV as well). It just seems odd that they keep getting classified as that, when I’m not sure that it’s true anymore.

New, or...

New, or old, that is the question

50% of 162 is…uhh…Where’s my Calculator?

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By Paul Schmidt

The halfway point of the baseball season has been reached for the Chicago Cubs.  Suffice it to say, things didn’t quite go as planned.  What has happened?  What will happen?  Let’s take a brief, brief look back (mainly because that’s all I can stomach) and then a glance at the future as we try to figure out where this team is going to take us in this wild and wooly 2009 season.

Offense
The bats, as we all know and has been well documented, have been silent. Everything that Jim Hendry did in this offseason backfired, much as I and many others feared it might. Hendry overcompensated for a lineup that didn’t feature enough left-handers and dealt away one of the teams’ biggest strengths last season – defense (which we will get to).

Alfonso Soriano has been an unbelievable disappointment at the plate.  Geovany Soto’s not been much better – but seems to be coming on ever so slightly after his positive marijuana test has come out. Mike Fontenot is proving why he isn’t an every-day player in the majors. Milton Bradley’s not hitting for power or average (but, in all sincerity, he is getting on base with an OBP of near .380 – exceedingly high for someone only hitting .245). Fukudome is coming back to earth after a torrid start again this spring, but at least is still drawing walks.

Derrek Lee has been absolutely raking, and is deserving of an All Star berth mainly because he’s had to carry this whole mess on his shoulders for the last six weeks.  Ryan Theriot also has been a nice sparkplug at the plate, and, thank goodness, has stopped running the bases with the reckless abandon of past seasons.

Pitching
The starters have been the anchor of the team.  Ted Lilly has been an unsung hero this season – and worthy of an All-Star bid. Randy Wells probably should be getting mentions as a Rookie of the Year candidate, as hard as that might be to believe. Carlos Zambrano has been his usual up and down self, and Ryan Dempster has had to deal with a lot of personal tragedy in his life this season, yet continues to take the ball every five days (until landing on the DL today

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

with a mysterious broken toe).  Only Rich Harden has been completely inconsistent, as no one seems to know which pitcher is going to hit the mound on any given day.

The bullpen has spent much of the season looking sketchy, but might have turned a corner. Kevin Gregg – Known to Chicago Comcast On-Demand subscribers as the Pout-Pout Fish – has thrown very well over the past couple of weeks.  Carlos Marmol seems to – THANK GOD – have turned a corner and should again be considered as a possible closer. With Angel Guzman headed back into the mix as the 7th or 8th inning guy, the bullpen, once thought to be a weakness, could become a big strength.

Defense
Or lack thereof. With Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano on the corners, the outfield struggles to be adequate. Ryan Theriot is generally viewed, in MLB circles, as a picture-perfect example of how NOT to play shortstop. The bench is devoid of anyone who can come in and be a marked improvement defensively, save for Andres Blanco, who unfortunately can’t hit or bunt. One thing saving both Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir in this area is that when the starting OF is as bad defensively as it is, really, there’s no reason to criticize their defense.

To put things in perspective, in the second three-game series against the White Sox, Alfonso Soriano lost a pop fly in the sun and played an out into a hit on three consecutive days…and this received virtually no mention because Milton Bradley’s unfortunate “counting” incident was so very bad. That’s an awful defensive outfield.

The Second Half
Here’s five big subplots to the rest of the season for Cubs fans to be watching:
1)  Off days. The Cubs, as mentioned earlier, just hit the midway point of the season at 81 games, and were the last team in all of baseball to hit that barrier. They have four games played less than the division-leading Cardinals, and obviously that gap has to be made up prior to the end of the year, which means the Cubs will have four less off days due to, mostly, inclement weather at the beginning of the year. How Lou Piniella manages the roster and gets everyone enough rest as the season goes along will be a big part of how far the Cubs can go this season

2) Injuries. The boys in blue received a big boost Monday in getting Aramis Ramirez, Angel Guzman and Reed Johnson back from injury, but then lost Ryan Dempster to the DL with a broken toe on Tuesday, with no immediate timetable for his return. If injuries continue to mount, with so few off days, the Cubs will be in real trouble trying to field an adequate roster.

3) The rotation. This goes hand-in-hand with the last item, with Dempster headed to the DL. From an immediate standpoint, Carlos Zambrano moves up one day to make the start on Tuesday, and then Kevin Hart, only sent to the

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

minors yesterday, will make his first major league start on Wednesday. Hart, barring a miracle, can’t be a permanent solution in that role, and Sean Marshall has to stay in the bullpen as the only lefty out there, so it leaves questions of who fills that spot in the rotation should Dempster miss any length of time – which, if the toe broken is his big toe on his plant foot, could actually happen. Watch Hart’s Wednesday start closely, and possibly pray a little that he looks like Cy Young.

4) The ownership. Just as soon as it looked like things might get resolved on Monday, things got way less clear on Tuesday. It looked as though Tom Ricketts’ bid was going forward on Monday, but Tuesday it became public that though the Ricketts deal seemed to be agreed to in principal, the Tribune continued to negotiate with the group led by equity investor Marc Utay and reached an agreement for more money overall – but less cash up front. While the particulars of how and why are relevant to the sale of the team, only one thing is important to the fans at this point – it doesn’t look like the sale will be completed in time before the trade deadline, as had been previously speculated upon. With that being the case, it goes from being extremely difficult for Jim Hendry to get a trade together to being near impossible for him.

5) The team to beat. Who is that team, to be more specific.  Is it the Cardinals, with their solid rotation and best player on earth, Albert Pujols?  Is it the Brewers with their other-worldly offense and a pitching staff that ranges from Yovani Gallardo (awesome) to…Seth freaking McClung (to quote the Hebrew Hammer, oy vais). Could it be the up-and-coming (and getting healthier themselves) Reds?

Perhaps any of those teams could pull the division off…but I imagine that it will be the Cubs themselves as the team to beat.  I mean that in one of two ways, though – Maybe they will distance themselves from the pack and become the team to beat.

Or perhaps they will be the team that beats themselves.

With 81 down and 81 to go, we’re closer, rather than further, from the answer.

Cubbies are Consistently Inconsistent

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By Paul Schmidt

Nothing like an easy week or so of baseball to just get you relaxed.

The Cubs have always given their fans something of a workout, pumping them waaaayyyy up, then bringing them waaaayyyy down.  I feel as though, personally, that they may actually make my head explode.

Somehow, in their last 10 games, the Cubs are 6-4.  It seems ridiculous to see this in print, given how I feel about the end of their long home stand against the Dodgers and the beginning of their nine game road trip against the Braves, Reds and Astros.  In fact, I had to look that record up.  I assumed it would be somewhere around 3-7 or 2-8.

My own personal experience certainly shows in that, having been at Wrigley for both of the losses in the Dodgers’ series.  On Thursday night I saw an absolutely lackluster performance from the offense until the ninth inning, which ended with consecutive (awful looking) strikeouts by career minor leaguers Bobby Scales and Jake Fox.  Then on Sunday, on Illini Day, after schmoozing with Bruce Weber, Wayne McClain, and some short blonde guy apparently associated with the University, the Dodgers scored five runs off Cubs starter Sean Marshall before we could get to our seats in the nosebleed section.

4 of the last 6 have now gone to extras for the Cubs, which means if you’re reading this and you have some juice left in your arm, you might actually get a call from Jim Hendry to see if you want to throw in the bullpen this week.  Especially if you’re a lefty.

Another career minor leaguer, Randy Wells, continued to throw well during that stretch, throwing seven innings of two run ball in the Thursday night Dodgers loss, and then throwing almost seven innings of no-hit baseball against

Your 2009 NL Rookie of the Year?  Without winning a single game?

Your 2009 NL Rookie of the Year? Without winning a single game?

the Braves the following Tuesday.  He ended up giving up just one run, and handing the ball over to the bullpen with a 5-1 lead.  And then not factoring into the decision.

In fact, that game will forever be the game that I refer to as, “The game that caused me to consult a cardiac specialist the next day.”  I can’t, on advice of said doctor, go into what happened at the end of regulation innings and then in the bottom of the 12th (the mere mention of that inning makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up), but suffice it to say it involved Aaron Heilman pitching to Larry Jones, also known as Chipper…in extras, with the winning run in scoring position…with first base open…when ol’ Larry has hit 6-of-12 in his career against Heilman, including three doubles and two home runs.

If you can’t figure out what happened in that game, well, then you really mustn’t be a Cubs fan…

At any rate, that was the game that also caused me to realize how remarkably consistent the Cubs have been this season.  Usually this would be a good thing, but then, is anything ever really that good with the Cubs?

The fact is, they’ve been consistently inconsistent. From a game to game basis, I, personally, have no idea what to expect from this team.  I can’t believe that I’m the only one in that respect – I currently think that Lou Piniella throws darts at photos on the wall to determine who is going to play where on a daily basis.  If he’s not, it couldn’t honestly be any worse or yield any more unpredictable results than whatever method he is using.

Here’s the thing though: A Major League Baseball team can’t survive playing the way they are. You have to have consistency in some way, even if it’s just in the lineup that gets thrown out there every day.  In 2007 and 2008, that wasn’t a problem.  Injuries, for the most part, stayed away or were minor, so they could put their best foot forward most days.

The defense was solid on a daily basis.

There was always someone that was hot on offense, a bat that carried the team while others struggled.

Now re-read those previous three paragraphs. Do any of those three things sound like this years’ edition of the Chicago Cubs?

They really don’t.  Injuries are mounting, on offense and on the pitching staff (though it seems like the rotation is finally getting healthy with Rich Harden set to throw this coming weekend). The defense has been shoddy at best (with the Cubs posting a record that is something like 2-5,302 when they commit an error this season), and the offense has disappeared for long stretches of games, with only Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot showing consistent signs of life.

It’s been maddening, and difficult to watch.  And yet, every time I say I’m going to take a break for a few games, I sit down and turn it to WGN or Comcast Sports Net come game time.

The face of a waffler.

The face of a waffler.

I’m as consistently inconsistent with my convictions as the Cubs have been playing baseball this year.

Funnily enough, those might be the only two things you can count on.