VOTE NOW! Anti-Bracket Rachel Nichols Regional

Rachel Nichols

We have a first in The Sports Bank’s Anti-Bracket (formerly known as Douchebracket) history as a team was forced to forfeit their opening round game.  In the end, the bracket almost played out as expected with only one seed crashing the party in the Rachel Nichols Regional.  Now we need your help to cast your cote to see who will represent this regional in the Final Four that also features the Ty Cobb Regional, Kardashian Regional, and Milton Bradley Regional.

By: David Kay
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Cubs must equal Holliday trade with internal improvements

Aramis Ramirez

By Anthony Zilis

The acquisition of Matt Holliday seems to make the St. Louis Cardinals the popular favorites in the National League Central.

But after an extremely disappointing first half, where seemingly everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Cubs, they find themselves in first place today, half a game ahead of St. Louis.

And while it seems that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is tied up by the pending sale of the team as the trading deadline approaches, the Cubs have managed to improve without any major trades.

Aramis Ramirez is showing resemblance to his pre-injury form, (the third baseman is 9-for-16 in his last four games after struggling since coming back from a shoulder injury) which is equal to adding a frontline player like Holliday. Alfonso Soriano could have easily been replaced by an outfielder from the Tennessee Smokies in May and June without a dip in production, but he’s now swinging a hot bat. The left fielder raised his average 28 points in the last 15 games.

The Cubs also hope Rich Harden’s post All-Star break resurgence isn’t a mirage, as he’s allowed only two runs in his last three starts. His Sunday win over the Reds was his first at home since May 12 and his first during the day since April 21.

Couple these major additions with the solid pitching from rookies Randy Wells and Kevin Hart, who has had two solid starts filling in for Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly, and the Cubs have managed to scrape themselves back to the top of the division.

But this resurgence isn’t merely a coup for the Cubs – it’s a must. In a year that should be labeled “World Series or bust,” the time is right for a long-awaited championship. Hendry has immobilized, if not handcuffed, this franchise for a few years by throwing around huge amounts of money to players like Soriano, Milton Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, and Carlos Zambrano.

So while it would be nice to trade for a Jake Peavy or a Roy Halladay, the Cubs are going to have to win with what they have. Their improvements have had to come internally and that looks like the case.

Cubs Bradley Baseball

Look next for a comeback by Milton Bradley, who has struggled mightily from the left side of the plate. If you remember, one reason Hendry insisted on signing the switch-hitting right fielder was to make his lineup more left-handed. Piniella has personally worked with Bradley over the last several days, so look for him to return to his 2008 form, when he was third in the American League in batting average.

If everything comes together for the Cubs like it has the last few weeks, look for all of the criticism from what was looking like a possible lost season to be washed away.

A fan base that has long been frustrated has tasted success over the last few years, and a World Series victory is expected.

If they can’t win a championship, look for heads to roll as new ownership comes in.

Think the Cardinals acquisition of Holliday puts them above the Cubs? Do the Cubs have what it takes to win in the playoffs if they get there? Does Jim Hendry have a job with the Cubs if they don’t win the World Series?

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

cubslogo1

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.

The Father, The Son, Aramis Ramirez, Amen.

cubslogo

By Paul Schmidt

The moment that the Cubs and their fans have waited for is finally here. The second coming of Jesus Christ himself, Aramis Ramirez, has returned to the Cubs lineup. Now they will start hitting!
He’ll fix the budget crisis too!  And heal all the election tension in Iran!  I also heard he knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding and is, on his next off day, leading a team of Special Forces soldiers to bring him to justice!

I love Aramis, and I think that he is probably the most underrated superstar in the National League – At least, outside the city of Chicago.  For those on the North Side, at least during his injury, you would think that he is Babe Ruth, Ichiro and Brooks Robinson all rolled into one.

rami

They won their first game back with Rami, but he went 0-for-4.  His mere presence in the lineup must have frightened my favorite Dutch pitcher, Jair Jurrjens, right?

I can’t stand idly by and listen any longer about how, with Ramirez back in the lineup, suddenly the Cubs will hit again.

For the first time since early 2007, the Cubs posting a losing record for a calendar month of the season by going 12-16.  They managed to do this while posting the best ERA for starting pitching in all of baseball.  Think about that for a moment.

Their starters, in June, were the best in all of baseball.  And yet, they lost 4 more games than they won.

Obviously, the offense is a big problem.

Injuries, however, were not the biggest issue.

We have two main cogs in the lineup – Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano – who are apparently statistically punting the 2009 season.  We have a second baseman in Mike Fontenot who should either be a platoon player or a sub off the bench – and is playing like it by only hitting .220.  We have a right fielder in Milton Bradley who has been on a pretty big offensive tear as of late – to bring his average all the way into the .240s.

Setting aside Fontenot (who, honestly has no business starting), if Soto, Soriano and Bradley were all putting up the seasons they had last year, prorated, as of right now, you’d be looking at a first place ball club.  And yes, I mean that, even with Aramis Ramirez, he who stands in the white robes and blesses us all, on the disabled list.

For anyone who thinks you can’t lose your best player and still win games, well, all you need to do is look at the team that eliminated us in the playoffs last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They’ve been missing some Manny guy for the last 50 games.  While he was suspended, the Dodgers went 29-21, good for a .580 winning percentage.  Now, granted, that was far less than the nearly .700 clip they were winning at prior to his suspension, but it does prove that a team doesn’t need to fold up shop when their best player disappears from the lineup card.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

Which is, essentially, what happened with the Cubs. They just let the snowball start rolling down the hill, gathering speed and momentum, and once it had they couldn’t stop the slump – or the excuses.

Now, with Rami the Great and Benevolent back, the excuses have all run out.

It’s time to prove to your fans and the city what you’re made of, gentlemen. Because if you aren’t good enough, come this winter, we’ll be looking for real answers.

And, just so we’re clear, ‘Aramis Ramirez was hurt’ won’t be good enough.

Cubs and Twins exchange: Whoever Sucks Less Wins!

 

carlos-zambrano-meltdown-chicago-cubs
As the Twins head to Wrigley Field for an interleague series against the Cubs this weekend, TSB.net’s David K. and Peter Christian are feeling very pessimistic about their team’s outlook, even though David’s Cubs are just 2.5 games out of first in the NL Central and Peter’s Twins only 4.5 back in the AL Central.  That “glass half-empty” approach comes to light as the two talk about the up-coming series.

Twins Devil Rays Gardenhire Baseball


DK: Peter, we just got swept at home by the Rockies… oh wait… no… that was the Brewers… my bad… (Hey, I have to take a jab whenever possible even though the Cubs just blew two games in Houston.)  But seriously, I haven’t felt this emotionally unattached to something since I last had a girlfriend.  When the Cubs lose, I don’t blink an eye or even consider being remotely angry for a tenth of a second.  I simply shrug it off like the Cubs are an ex nagging about something less meaningful than Adam Morrison’s role on the Lakers.  It’s not like the Cubs are a bad team, but they just continue to be unimpressive as they hang around mediocrity in the National League.  I want to quit them Peter for the 301,927th time ever.  You picking up what I’m putting down?

PC: I’m definitely scooping that vibe. I’m definitely not as detached as you are but I find myself caring a little bit less with each disappointing loss (especially the road losses, which have come to be expected). A little over a week ago I noticed that no team had played more home games than the Twins, they were a game or two under .500 and had the second worst road record in all of baseball just as they were set to start play in June (during which 18 of their 27 games were on the road). The fact that they are 3-4 on the road thus far this month and won back to back games on the road means nothing since they were playing the Mariners and A’s. Add in the fact that the Twins are the 2nd worst day game team in all of baseball and a 3 day game set on the road against the Cubs does not bode well for a team that is 3-13 away from home under the sunlight. Do you think the Twins have vampire blood in them?

twilight1


DK:  Is that a Twilight reference?  Because after the MTV Movie Awards, any thought or mention of Twilight makes me want to violently throw up.

The Twins are the anti-Cubs.  They hit for average and actually score runs via the ever popular phrase, “small ball.”  The north-siders are 25th in the majors in hits and 28th in runs.  Our “crucial” off-season acquisition, Milton Bradley is hitting .215 with just 14 RBI.  And this was supposed to be the guy who was going to fill the void of a left-handed bat in the middle of the line-up?  He pulls more muscles than an entire team in a 40-year old-plus bar softball league.  Reigning NL rookie of the year Geovany Soto has slightly better numbers (.215 BA, 15 RBI) and apparently hasn’t got the memo that it’s okay to hit the ball to the opposite field.  Aramis Ramirez might be done for the year.  Alfonso Soriano has six more strike-outs than base hits, but does have 14 home runs.  Isn’t the point of a lead-off hitter to actually get on base?  Maybe the Cubs need to borrow some of the Twins vampire blood and rub it on their bats to wake them up.

SPORTS BBN-CARDS-CUBS 4 TB

PC: Maybe that could help, but I feel like I’m giving you bad news when I say that the Twins might be just what the Cubs need to get going. Both the Yankees and Red Sox used the Twins as a door mat as they continued their early season win streaks when the Twins paid them a visit, maybe the Cubs can use the Twins as a spring board more effectively than Shawn Johnson into a winning streak of their own (wow, a possible Twilight reference and now a Shawn Johnson plug? Are we sure I haven’t been kidnapped by a 13 year old girl? Maybe its time to take the remote out of my wife and daughter’s hands). One other thing to remember is that the Twins offense is something of a Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde. When the offense is rolling, everyone hits. As evidenced in the 20-1 drubbing of the White Sox late last month the Twins seem to bunch their hitting prowess together while also matching up their Oh-fer nights. Then you’ve got the bullpen. The Twins relief pitchers are seemingly incapable of putting together any streaks of dominance whatsoever. With the exception of Joe Nathan and surprisingly Matt Guerrier, every Twins reliever averages at least one base runner per inning pitched. Unless the goal of the bullpen is to make Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson and every Twins fan’s blood pressure go through the roof, that has to stop. Letting runners on just opens the door for the opponents to get back in the game, take the lead or expand the lead. The other half of that problem is the Twins starters inability to pitch into the later innings of games. Each and every starter this season has had a game in which they were in control of early get out of hand because they couldn’t get out of the 6th or 7th inning. I know that some fans get frustrated because they don’t know which version of their favorite team is going to take the field each night. With the Twins, we don’t know which version of the team is going to take the field each INNING.

DK: Have you ever seen the youtube video where some dumb punk frat boy wants Shawn Johnson olympic teammate Alicia Sacrimone (no relation to Johnny Sack from The Sopranos… then again…?) to punch him in the face?  She does and drops the kid with one blow.  It’s quite brilliant actually.

You don’t know which Twins team is going to show up?  Seriously.  Have you seen the Cubs play recently?  In their last 12 games, they have scored three runs or less eight times.  Thankfully, their pitching has worn the pants in the relationship, carrying the team to a 6-6 record during this offensive hiatus.  Look at poor Randy Wells. He was called up when Big Z was hurt and has been stellar, posting a 1.86 ERA and almost 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio in six starts.  But his record is 0-2 because when he takes the mound, the offense has been as productive as a college stoner stumbling across Half Baked on cable.  Is it possible that it’s only mid-June and we might be overreacting a little bit to how much we dislike our teams?

Brewers Twins Baseball

 

PC: I hadn’t seen that video, but yes, it is completely possible we are overreacting to the Twins/Cubs lackluster start to the season but I need to ask: Are we sure we aren’t talking about the same team? The Twins have averaged just under 4 runs per game on their current road trip, but don’t let that fool you. If you take out the 10 run outburst against Oakland on Tuesday night and the 6 run game on Wednesday night, the Twins are averaging just better than 2 runs per game. Outside of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer the rest of the Twins lineup is so inconsistent and strikeout prone it makes me want to swallow razorblades and then throw them up just to feel the pain twice. I hope I’m just setting the expectation bar low so that I will be satisfied when they get back to the .500 mark, but I don’t know. I had high expectations for this Twins team because they went and filled the offensive hole they were missing and had a solid roster everywhere else, but thus far I’ve just been let down. I hope the Twins can win two in Chicago (because they play National League baseball better than most NL teams) but I would be Peter’s complete lack of surprise if they got swept (you like that Fight Club reference?)

fight_club

DK: Better than the aforementioned Shawn Johnson and Twilght references… that’s for sure. Go Cubs!

 

 

 

Cubs, Woo! Vegas, Woo!

By Paul Schmidt

Watching the Cubs’ struggles over the last few weeks has led me to try and come up with a comparison, something that mirrors the feelings that I’ve had over the eight game losing streak they just posted, and their continual struggle to score runs.

After days of thought, the realization washed over me – The current Cubs slide completely mirrors every trip I have ever taken to Las Vegas.

Now, maybe you don’t understand that comparison – maybe you’ve never been to Las Vegas, or maybe you’re always successful gambling, flirting, and drinking while you are there (and if so, well, quite frankly, I hate you).  But that’s why I’m here, to explain an analogy that, on the surface, might not make much sense.

The Rise in Action

Every trip starts with a run.  A good run.  It’s how Vegas sucks you in.  If, as soon as you landed at McCarren International Airport, you started hemorrhaging money like Clint Malarchuk getting slashed by a skate, you’d tighten up the purse strings, spend some time by the pool and walking around seeing the sites.  Maybe even plan a trip to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam (well, maybe not ).

So the Vegas gambling gods really want to reel  you in.  You can only be over-confident after you’ve won a little of the house’s money.  Sometimes, even a lot of the house’s money.

The Cubs, came into May reeling a little, but won 11 of 14 games heading into May 16th.  That was the rise in the action.  Reminds me of the time, when in Vegas for a friend’s 30th birthday, I sat down on the first full day of the trip, plunked 200 dollars down at a 25-dollar-minimum blackjack table, and 2 hours later stood up with 2,200 dollars.  Did you know, the 1,000 dollar chips are colored orange at Planet Hollywood?  They are.

That’s what the rise was for the Cubs.  After the May 16th 5-4 win against the Astros, that was the season’s high water point at 21-14.  Fans were just starting to get confident, with three huge games on the road against St. Louis, and then three easier games out in San Diego looming in the coming week.

The Incident

Now not just a name of a Lost season finale!  It’s, quite obviously, an occurrence, something that happens that changes the course of action.

Every Vegas trip probably has several Incidents, but what we’re looking at here is the incident that starts the losing.  To quote Tony Soprano, “Everything I touch turns to (excrement)!”  That type of losing streak.

The incident for the Cubs was the first loss in their streak, what originally looked like a harmless 6-5 loss to the Astros in their series finale.  Brian Moehler stoned the Cubs lineup, Ivan Rodriguez hit his 300th homer, and the Cubs looked fairly disinterested offensively until the ninth inning.  Just like most other incidents, little did we all know how indicative that would be of the future.

The incident that this reminds me of was a gambling debacle that most people in Vegas won money on:  The Michigan State-George Mason first round NCAA Tournament game a few years back.  Me and friends were up big after a huge morning of backdoor covers and were flush with cash, at one point prompting this exchange between myself and a buddy:

“How much money do you actually have on this Michigan State game?”
“More than I’m really comfortable having.”
“Ok…I’m the same. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone.”

I mean, we knew we were in a little trouble here if Michigan State somehow lost to George Mason (a team that EVERYONE in the sports book had bet on, with the line moving from MSU -5 to the Spartans just laying 2.5 at game time, despite the fact Mason would be missing their best player, Tony Skinn, who had punched a player in the nards in the CAA championship game a week prior), but in the end, we would just be giving back the gains we’d made in the morning and early afternoon. But they were missing their best player!  How good could the rest of the roster be?

Well, what happened is for the history books, as Mason came through with the outright win, and continued to roll on to the Final Four.  The worst part?  Listening to the entire sports book exploding in celebration with every basket.


The place where Michigan State and Kansas killed me

The Wheels Have Fallen Off the Wagon

Now we’re getting into the heart (or heartbreak, as it were) of the Cubs’ issues. They went 27 innings in St. Louis, scoring only one earned run.  With Joel Pinero heavily involved in nine of those innings.  With a fresh-off-the-DL Chris Carpenter throwing five more.  ONE FREAKING EARNED RUN!!!! NONE SCORED BEFORE THE NINTH!!!!

Words can’t describe, except to say that our wagon was wheel-less, and perhaps even sinking into the mud a little.

In Vegas, this is when you start giving up your own money.  In large quantities.  I followed up the Michigan State loss by running to the betting window and trying to win all that cash back by betting on Kansas.  It was a ridiculously talented Kansas squad, and they’d be looking to make a good showing after choking in the first round one year before in losing to Bucknell. Plus, their opponent was from the Missouri Valley Conference.  And it wasn’t Southern Illinois or Creighton, it was Bradley!  Bradley.  I mean, come on.  There was no way that Bradley was beating the KANSAS JAYHAWKS, coached by former Illini guru Bill Self!

As some Bradley Brave torque-wad banked in a three-pointer from half court at the halftime buzzer to go ahead by double digits (I’ve drank away the memory of most of this game), I screamed in frustration to the ceiling of the Paris Hotel and Casino, then was going to stalk off to get back to my room to shower for the night’s festivities.  Before I could, I got grabbed by a little Asian guy, who told me, “Hey, it could be worse,” and pulled back his jacket to reveal a Kansas Jayhawk Alumni t-shirt.

Touché, little Asian guy, touché.

Disaster

I have a friend who pronounces the word with the emphasis on the AS of disaster, and it indicates something worse than a normal disaster, something that involves, quite frankly, a Katrina-like meltdown.

It should be obvious where this is going with the  Cubs.  Even though we had just been swept in St. Louis despite pretty good pitching, we were headed to San Diego.  And even though the Padres had won 5 straight, they still weren’t very good.  And even though the Cubs offense hadn’t been producing, come on, they had to turn it around there, right?

Well, no dice.  At this point, we all know the stories of what happened. The Cubs offense only managed three runs in Petco Park in getting swept by the Padres. They came back home to entertain the Pirates, and scored more runs in the first four innings than they had their entire road trip, but still lost by giving up 10 runs. Ted Lilly got ejected for arguing balls and strikes in a game he didn’t even pitch in.  Milton Bradley exposed a massive umpire experience against him and all board games.


And they hate Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, too…

Most importantly, the Cubs fell under .500 for the first time since April and for only the second time this season.

I wish there were only a couple examples of this from my Vegas history, but that’s just not true.  There’s the awful double-deck blackjack night at the 4 Queens after finding out I knew one of the strippers at the Glitter Gulch from college; there’s the stretch of NCAA tournament games in 2008 where I lost 11 straight bets; there’s the blackjack tables (yes that’s plural) that I lost hands on for 30 mintues straight – no wins; and there’s the time the stripper stole money from me and fell asleep on me at Sapphire.

And now I’m even sadder…


A casino.  Really.  I swear.

Denouement

The Cubs and Vegas have one very specific thing in common: They know how to suck you back in.

With the Cubs, just when you’ve given up on them they turn things around.  This time, it was in the form of two nice wins against the Pirates to get back above .500 (even if, in the end, it may cost them Carlos Zambrano for a couple of weeks because of a ridiculous – if not justified – temper-tantrum).

With Vegas, the gambling gods can’t let you leave on a down note – you’d never come back.  So you always get a little victory to put a hop in your step as head to the airport.

I’ve got a few of these little victories, but my most recent sticks in my mind.  I had a great run on a craps table at the Imperial Palace of all places, playing for a half hour and rolling for a solid 20 minutes of that time, winning back over 200 dollars, and with me actually getting a round of applause from the table when I told them I absolutely had to leave.  The gods had to leave me with a smile on my face, and make me start counting the days until I’d get to go back again.

Vegas, baby, Vegas.

And don’t forget, Go, Cubs Go.

Catching Up with the Cubs

by: David K.

Anytime I have written anything about Carlos Zambrano, I always half-jokingly mention his craziness and habit of taking out his anger out on helpless Gatorade jugs.  Now you know why.

Big Z lost it Wednesday afternoon, throwing an impressive tantrum by bumping the home plate umpire then throwing HIM out of the game, whipping the ball into the outfield, slamming his glove on the ground, and then taking a bat to the new Gatorade dispenser in the Cubs dug-out like it was the copier in Office Space after disagreeing with a close play at the plate.  Cue up the Geto Boys, “Die Mother F@!&ers, Die Mother F@!&ers, Still!”

The thing that really irks me about another Los blow-up is that it came in the seventh inning of a tied game when the Cubs needed him to finish out his solid performance.  Way to have the team’s best interest in mind, Z.  You make Milton Bradley and Lindsey Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson look sane.  Now, you will likely see a hefty fine and multi-game suspension.  Just what the Cubs need.

A friend recently pointed out to me that since his power out-burst of hitting three home runs during a four-game span, Ryan Theriot, who only hit one longball in 2008, hit two more jacks, but just five singles in his next 17 games and saw his average dip fifty-points.  That is what happens when a 5-11, 175 pound shortstop who makes his living using the opposite field and getting on base for the big bats behind him suddenly hits a couple bombs and thinks he is a home run threat.  Thankfully, The Riot has gone back to his old ways in the Pirates’ series in which he was 7-11 with three doubles and ZERO home runs.

Now I know how Brewers’ fans felt last season whenever Eric Gagne toed the rubber in the ninth inning to try and close out a game.  I trust Kevin Gregg as much as I would trust Michael Jackson with my first born child.  Gregg is not quite in Brad Lidge territory (8.85 ERA, 2.07 WHIP), but he certainly doesn’t put Cubs fans at ease in the ninth inning, as he has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of his save opportunities.  What is it going to take for Carlos Marmol to get the closer job?  Maybe Gregg needs shoulder stiffness and a short stint on the DL.

By the way, this rule needs to change.  On May 16th against the Astros, Gregg came in to close things out in the ninth with the Cubs leading 4-0.  He proceeded to give up back-to-back solo home runs, two singles, and then a hit batsman.  Aaron Heilman then relieved Gregg with the bases loaded and gave-up a two-run single to tie the game at four.  So Gregg allowed four earned runs without recording a single out, but did not get credited with the blown save.  Heilman did.  That’s just not fair.

The Cubs are hurting worse than the Cavs NBA Title hopes.  Los comes off the disabled list just as Rich Harden is sidelined with a back strain.  (At least it’s not his shoulder this time.)  Aramis Ramirez has been on the DL since May 10th with a shoulder injury and still is not close to partaking in baseball activities.  Aaron Miles was just put on the shelf with a sore shoulder.  Ryan Freel left Wednesday’s game with a lingering hamstring injury and will likely be placed on the DL as well.  Bobby Scales was recently suffering from flu-like symptoms and sent down to Triple-A because the Cubs need healthy bodies on their roster, but could be called back up if Freel is indeed placed on the DL.  Derrek Lee has been banged up as well, most recently missing a few games due to the flu.  No wonder the Cubs are four games back in the Central and recently went on an eight-game skid.

Thankfully, they won their last two so I can un-quit them for the 298, 714th time in my Cub fandom.

What’s Brewing in ’09: Strong Coffey, Boring Bench & Trenni Talk

 
By: Melissa Wollering

 
When half your team is playing really well and the other half can’t stop itself from imploding, the losses are disgusting, the wins are both shocking and satisfying and the word consistency is foreign.

 

 
In this week’s “Good, Bad & Ugly,” Coffey is my favorite beverage, Looper my favorite pitcher and Bush my Most Improved.  In his last outing, Bush gave up 4 hits, 3 BB and 3 runs in the 1st inning alone. However, on Thursday, Bush had a no-hitter against Philly going into the 8th. Former Brewer Matt Stairs eventually ended that with a homer that hit the right field foul pole.


Looper continued his winning streak Wednesday pitching six scoreless innings. Word is he may move ahead of Manny Parra in the rotation. Coffey did give up his first run as a Brewer on Wednesday, but should be thanked for a gutsy two-and-two-thirds-inning save earlier in the week.  In that game, Coffey forced a double play with the bases loaded in the 7th, got out of a jam in the 8th AND plopped down a perfect sac bunt in the 9th to move Kendall to second.  That transformed into an insurance run. Sicko good.


Coffey is also drawing comparisons to Brewers 2003-2004 closer Dan Kolb. Kolb hadn’t made many waves before the Brewers picked him up in his late 20’s.  Same for Coffey. Both showcase mid-90’s sinking fastballs.

Also in this category: Mike Cameron.  At time of print, Cameron led the team with a .316 batting average and 4 homers. More impressive is his .422 on-base percentage, which is tops among Milwaukee regulars.

 
As for bad, we move Suppan up one category from ugly this week. The Mets seemed to hit quite a few hardballs off Supp in his last outing, but he held them off going 6 innings and giving up just two runs.  It’s progress. Now build on it like a kid with 4 hours in Legoland at Mall of America.


Brew Crew Haiku provides us with this thoughtful analysis of his last outing:
Suppan Effective
But story of this game is
Strong Coffey brewing

 
Hopefully the bullpen won’t be as bad once Trevor Hoffman returns.  He’s expected to return on Sunday.  Cue Hells Bells once we get back to Miller Park.

 
If you want a bad stomachache, buy any large Pizza Hut pizza until May 2 and get a free Brewers ticket. Or just buy a real ticket and opt for Palermo’s in your frozen section.

 
As for what’s ugly for the Brewers, avid reader Justin Z. and I both salute Rickie Weeks’ ass.  Have you ever seen the Family Guy episode where Peter’s midsection and backside actually have an orbit around them?  Brian the dog throws objects into the gravitational pull to demonstrate.


If you’ve ever mistaken Rickie’s face for his ass, then perhaps you’ve identified the reason for his tough month of April. Rickie collided with JJ Hardy’s shoulder and was removed from Tuesday’s game for dizziness.  A game or two prior, his face got nailed by a pitch. If it didn’t already, NOW his face looks like his… Fine, I’m done. But I was having so much fun!

What else is ugly?  The bench. I spent a great deal of time discussing Chris Duffy, Brad Nelson and Casey McGehee during Spring Training.  I also explained that one of Dale Sveum’s campaigns in Maryvale was to make the bench so solid that each member could step for the starters without anyone taking notice.  He wanted pinch hitters to be winning factors in games….uh…yeah. You should pinch yourself at this point.  Are you dreaming, Dale?


Since Opening Day, we’ve hardly seen the bench.  When we do, they suck. Duffy, Nelson and McGehee combined have stepped up to the plate less than 20 times in the first 14 games. To put this in context, Counsell alone has batted 15 times in the same number of games.


My final ugly thought is Jorge Julio.  I so badly wanted to chant, “Rufio, Rufio, Ru-fi-ohhhhhhhhhh” all season.  Now I would like to catch a glimpse of the crack addict who drew his strike zone and see if he knows that he paints the corners like Jackson Pollack.  Wow.  If you got my art reference, I will give you a shout out in the next What’s Brewing.

 
In “Just a Bit Outside,” Bob Uecker does not think highly of the Mets’ new CitiField ballpark. He gave a long rant about the design of the visitor’s booth. He says there are half-a-dozen seats in front of them.  When someone stands, they loose all visibility – batter, catcher AND home plate.

As for other problem areas with that park; you can’t see the playing field from the visitor’s bullpen. Here’s Coffey’s reaction: “It’s horrible. It’s awful. It’s the worst bullpen I’ve ever been in…It’s a bad design.”

 
Nice.  In “Friendly Fire with the Cubs,” your favorite board-game creator and mine, Milton Bradley, was ejected from last Thursday’s game after a K in a pinch-hit appearance. Apparently he made contact with the ump. He was suspended two games. If you’re groin still hurts and you’re on the bench though, why even bother, Milton? Of course, he’s appealing it on principle (says Lou).  Andy Paschen has bequeathed Milton with the nickname of “The Meth Bear.” Children, if an angry bear is chasing you with a syringe full of meth coursing through his veins, make sure you can run faster than your slowest friend.

 
In “Where Are They Now?” former Brewer Geoff Jenkins wants to play. I think he could find a spot on a bench somewhere in National League. He can pinch hit and always adds to the defensive depth in the outfield wherever he goes.

 

 “Around the NL,” Lance Berkman is reportedly in an “uncharacteristic slump.”  Time out.  So the slump he was in for the majority of 2007 makes this one uncharacteristic how?

 

Pirates may resort to kidnapping although these wouldn’t do it off coast of Africa.  The Pittsburgh Pirates are about to start kidnapping fans. Not only did the team sell just 8,700 tickets the other day, but they only counted 4,500 actually enter the turnstiles.  I smell the first MLB team bailout…

And finally, your friend and mine, Trenni Kusnierick is getting a little traction for her MLB Network makeover.  She’s been very open about it, saying they wanted to ‘girl her up’ for the NY market crowd.  She’s done some interviews this week on 1250 AM in Milwaukee and written into Right Field Bleachers about it. What do you think?  I think they gave her a Jenny McCarthy look.  Not bad…

Cubs 2009 projections and thoughts

By Paul Schmidt

It’s a pretty remarkable thing that, as of the writing of these thoughts and musings leading into the 2009 season, less than 48 hours before the first pitch of the March to the World Series ™, and the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff STILL isn’t set.
It must be by 2 PM on Sunday, so we will revisit the pitchers and my thoughts on the staff and their prospective performances this season in a little bit.

The offense, with my ultimately pessimistic thoughts, are as follows.

C – Geovany Soto  .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 87 runs batted in, .905 OPS (on base + slugging percentage)
This is a little bit higher than I’m seeing from most projection services, but based on the numbers I’ve seen from Geo in 2007 at AAA Iowa, and then in his rookie season last year, there’s certainly no reason to think that he would take a step back or even plateau at his numbers from last season.  After all, he’s only 26, and these numbers would put him at or near the top of pile of catchers.

1B – Derrek Lee .280 BA, 15 HR, 80 RBI, .825 OPS

These probably look a little low to a lot of people, but Lee’s 33, his stats have been slipping, and he’s become more and more of an injury risk since injuring his wrist.  IT should be noted that I’m only thinking in the range of 450 at bats for Lee, as well, with Micha Hoffpauir taking away some at bats and they try to keep Lee as fresh as possible. I do think that this will cause his OBP to spike over .400 for the season.

2B – Mike Fontenot .260 BA 10 HR, 65 RBI .750 OPS
The places we’ll miss Mark DeRosa, part one…I just am not confident in the every day capabilities of Little Babe Ruth.  Mike’s certainly a great clubhouse guy, and he’s an above average defender, and a double play combo that has played together as long as Fontenot and Theriot have just has to be great on defense.  However, he’s never played every day at the ML level, and there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period. On the plus side, it isn’t like Aaron Miles is a better option…..

3B – Aramis Ramirez .310 BA, 32 HR, 120 RBI, .880 OPS

The heart of the Cubs lineup, and the cleanup guy, and the most consistent hitter in the Cubs lineup the last 5 full seasons.   There’s no reason for change this season.

SS – Ryan Theriot .285 BA 2 HR 33 RBI .745 OPS
At this point, we know what Ryan Theriot is.  He’s draws some walks, steals some bases (but probably runs too often), and shows next to no power.  He’s got no upside that we don’t already know, and most likely trends downward this season, as his batting average on balls in play last season was nearly .340.  That is an abnormally high payoff on balls put in play, and surely means that his overall BA will drop this season, as a pretty high amount (read: lucky) return.



LF – Alfonso Soriano .297 BA 32 HR 103 RBI .810 OPS

It seems as though Alfonso, a player who had been largely durable for many seasons of his career appears to finally be healthy again this season, and I expect his numbers to return to something of the norm for him.  I’ve also got him penciled in for at least 30 steals this season, as I expect that he’ll be able to return to his normal patterns on the base paths.  Something that I think bears mentioning is that Soriano was so consistent in his number of games played and so durable for many years, and then these little nagging injuries started showing up. Groin pulls, and even more notably oblique strains are all characteristics of someone who…you guessed it…used steroids.  Now, perhaps Soriano is just getting older and a little more fragile. It certainly wouldn’t be unheard of.  It is odd that his is one name you just don’t hear thrown around in the steroids debate.

CF – Kosuke Fukudome .295 BA 14 HR 75 RBI .840 OPS
I’m of the opinion that Kosuke rebounds this season, and quite well – and it’s of the utmost importance to the Cubs season that he do it.  They need a great defender in the outfield, with Soriano in left and Milton “The DH” Bradley in RF.  They need a high OBP guy at the top of the lineup – and the one thing that Kosuke did do well last year was draw walks. AT any rate, maybe this is a pipe dream, but it takes into account how hard it is to adjust coming to America from Japan. The culture shock alone for the soft-spoken Fukudome would have made the whole process extremely difficult, not to mention being away from your family for so long.  Perhaps, in his second season here in the States, we’ll see him adjust better.

RF – Milton Bradley  .290 BA 12 HR 55 RBI .800 OPS (90 games played)
The place that the Cubs will miss Mark DeRosa, part 2.  Players who typically get injured don’t come to Chicago and get healthier.  They just don’t. There’s no way Bradley stays healthy long enough to make the contributions that the Cubs need him to.  He also is such a huge defensive liability that he won’t be out in the field very often late in games (at least, he really, really shouldn’t be). And from the standpoint of his injury history and his, ahem, temperamental nature is all the more reason that this signing was a huge, huge mistake.  I hope I’m wrong.  God, do I hope I’m wrong.

NL Central Predictions

By: David K.

17 of the 21 “experts” on ESPN.com predicted the Cubs to take home the NL Central for a third straight year.  The other four “experts” think the Cardinals will dethrone the Lovable Losers.  I say “experts” because one writer actually picked the Reds to represent the National League in the World Series.  Really, Enrique Rojas?  Anyway, here are my “expert” predictions on how the NL Central will play out this year.

1. Chicago Cubs
I am not convinced the Cubs are going to run away with this division like everyone seems to think.  Chicago led the National League in runs last season and the much needed addition of Milton Bradley’s left handed bat in the middle of the line-up should help them maintain their offensive output   What concerns me is the starting pitching.  Most talking heads are predicting a down year from Carlos Zambrano.  Can Rich Harden stay healthy?  Will Ryan Dempster be able to re-create his career year from last season?  Is Sean Marshall truly the answer as the number five starter?  Maybe it is just the cynical Cub fan coming out of me, but there are concerns with this team.  And let’s be honest; after being swept out of the Playoffs in the first round the past two post-seasons, just winning the Central will not be enough this year.

2. St. Louis Cardinals
Injuries really plagued the Cards last season, especially on the mound.  If their rotation can stay healthy and rookie closer Jason Motte can successfully fill that role, St. Louis should keep the division close.  The Redbirds will start the year with a pair of rookies in their line-up, LF Colby Rasmus and 3B David Freese (until Troy Glaus returns from the DL), but the rest of the order knows how to produce.  It is very unlikely that the NL Wild Card team will come out of the Central, so winning the division will be essential for any team wanting to see October.

3. Houston Astros
The ‘Stros have pop in the middle of their order with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Miguel Tejada returning.  The continued growth of young outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn should only add to the line-up.  Ivan Rodriguez, who signed a one-year deal with Houston, could be the x-factor.  If Pudge can be productive at the bottom of the order, this team may surprise some people.  Pitching will likely be the downfall in Houston.  You know Roy Oswalt will be solid and Wandy Rodriguez should continue to develop, but the health of Mike Hampton and production of veterans Brian Moehler and Russ Ortiz are certainly question marks.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers waited 25 years to make the post-season; one year later, they are trotting out Jeff Suppan as their opening day starter.  Can any team really feel good about their starting rotation when Sup’ is taking the bump on Opening Day?  With CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets both gone, Yovani Gallardo will likely be the true ace of this staff, but he only has 24 career starts.  40-year old Trevor Hoffman was brought in during the off-season to solidify the bullpen, but he starts the ’09 campaign on the 15-day disabled list, leaving a major hole to be filled early in the year.  Offensively, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun will put up major power numbers, but the Crew need Bill Hall, Mike Cameron, and Rickie Weeks to get on base (which was not a strength last season as they all hit below .245.)  Sorry Brewer backers, do not expect to re-live the magic of 2008.

5. Cincinnati Reds
Dusty Baker’s team is certainly an up-and-coming group, but is probably a year or two away from competing for the top spot in the division.  Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez are young, live arms in the rotation and should build off solid 2008 seasons.  A lot of people are excited about youngsters Jay Bruce and Joey Votto in the middle of the order, and deservingly so.  But outside of Bruce, Votto, Brandon Phillips, and maybe Edwin Encarnacion, there really is not a lot of pop in the line-up.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Before I looked up the Pirates roster, I could only name three guys.  Seriously, try it.  It should be another typical season of cellar dwelling for the Bucs.  Their starting rotation is pretty much a mess and the position players are a bunch of over-achievers.  I hear their new stadium is really nice though…

What’s Brewing in ’09: the Roster, Rickie’s Revival & Peeved Over Peavy

By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
Doug Melvin hates you. Doug Melvin hates you if you disrupt his club’s pre-season prep time with silly banter about Jake Peavy.

 
Enter Peter Gammons.  Peter’s Sunday notebook cited Bill Hall as a source, claiming the Brewers are like white-on-rice over Jake should he go on the market. Then the San Diego Tribune leap-frogged over Peter, publishing the Brewers “are interested.” Tu’ es loca en la cabesa. You city is no longer known as Saint Diego en Espanol. Melvin was so angry he called SD’s GM Kevin Towers to assure him the baseless rumors weren’t coming from him.


Melvin hasn’t talked to the Padres. Peavy’s no-trade clause blocks a deal to Milwaukee. And what are we going to sacrifice?  J.J. Hardy?  Alcides Escobar? Mat Gamel? Top pitching prospect Jeremy Jeffress? A combination of the four?

 
Many of you have called me or written me about the likelihood of this over the past week, due to last season’s midseason CC Sabathia trade. Let me make this clear.  It is not very likely.
Jack at Right Field Bleachers has the numbers to prove Peavy’s not worth sacrificing J.J. Five years of financial obligation with declining numbers doesn’t match a blazing shortstop with top NL hitting lines in his prime. I’m just saying. Cousin Nic Kulinski gets a shout out this week for suggesting I date J.J.  Thanks cuz, that’s flattering.  But that’s not why I think the Brewers should hold onto him.


What do Brett Favre and Ryan Braun have in common?  Braun had the whole Brewers world in cardiac arrest because he thought he broke his thumb Tuesday. He lost a line drive in the lights against the Padres, but alas, x-rays show it’s just bruised and swollen.

Hold your breath for another reason…here’s the ’09 roster barring anymore unforeseen injuries. I hate injuries like I hate waiting for American Idol results after the break.

Starters
RHP Jeff Suppan – predicted by Jason Craig.
RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Manny Parra
RHP Braden Looper
RHP Dave Bush

Relievers
RHP Carlos Villanueva – the temporary closer in place of Trevor Hoffman.
RHP Seth McClung
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Todd Coffey
RHP David Riske
RHP Jorge Julio
RHP Mark DiFelice
DL – Trevor Hoffman

Locked
C Jason Kendall
C Mike Rivera
1B Prince Fielder
2B Rickie Weeks
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Bill Hall
LF Ryan Braun – strained intercostal has subsided but scaring us with his thumb now.
CF Mike Cameron
RF Corey Hart
INF Craig Counsell – has torn cartilage in his right knee but says he’ll play without surgery.

Limbo
INF Casey McGehee would be the best based on performance to replace Counsell if need be unless Macha wants to send him down to AAA because he still has a minor league option that other guys don’t. He’s been hitting .370 on the spring with 6 homers and 15 RBI’s. However, Lamb is being placed on release waivers, so he gone. Betcha the Yanks pick him up for help while Arod’s out.

OF Brad Nelson appears to have locked the spot at this point and has no minor league options left.

OF Chris Duffy or OF Tony Gwynn Jr.  Only one of these guys can get the spot and Lil TG is out of options. Duffy could see AAA action only to maintain OF depth. OF Trot Nixon, he gone.  No hopes for another Gape Kapler.

In terms of lineup, Ken Macha is trying Corey Hart in the two-hole and J.J. fifth behind Prince. Reasons: Hardy’s excellent spring (.439, 4 HR, 15 RBI, .500 OBP) could convince teams pitching around Fielder equals disaster. Plus, Hart’s speed following Weeks could keep him out of the trap of double plays, something Hardy has been susceptible to in the past.

In “Ace’s Corner,” Ken Rosenthal is the second major sports writer to jump on the Yovani Gallardo-Cy Young bandwagon.  Yo is also coming in 20th on the Sports Guys’ rankings of MLB’s top pitchers.

Meanwhile, in SI’s ’09 MLB Preview Issue, Joe Sheehan suggests trading Fielder for a front-line pitcher to make the Brewers more competitive with the Cubs. He thinks we should move Mat Gamel to majors and off 3B to have him play 1B. Read for another minute and you’ll see why this idea is as great as another new Osbourne family TV show.

Meantime, Chris Capuano has returned to minor league camp after that second Tommy John surgery. He hopes to start pitching some games there soon and judge his comeback timeframe. C’mon Cappy, we need you!

Dave Bush could pitch relief in San Francisco on opening day because Macha wants him to get his work in and stay on schedule. Bush is missing work in Maryvale because his turn in the rotation falls on April 6th, the travel day prior to the opener.

In “Just a Bit Outside,” the Detroit Tigers are going to hell for pissing off Catholics across the country. They are the only MLB team to schedule their game time during the holy hours of Good Friday.  Everyone else, including the Brewers made it 3:05 p.m.  You know me.  Come Good Friday, I’ll be drinkin’ for Jesus. Miller Park is my cathedral. Baseball is my religion. Just don’t say Bud Selig is the Pope. That’s blasphemy.

In “Where Are They Now?” former Brewer Lance Nix may make the Reds 25-man roster while Zach Jackson (traded to Cleveland in the Sabathia exchange) has indeed made the Indians 25-man roster.  Bob Uecker says, “This guy threw at his own kid in a father/son game.” No, that was a movie, April fool’s.

In the last “Spring Training” update, here’s who’s playing hotter than a habanero pepper.  Corey Hart is leading all NL players with a .885 slugging percentage.  On his coattails is J.J. Hardy at .873. As you read, they are both flipping between the two and five holes in the lineup, so we’ll see which it is come opening day.

Prince Fielder hit a two-run homer so far last week that Tom Hardricourt says it nearly burned upon re-entry. It traveled approximately 475 feet, over the berm, over the sidewalk and just short of the white fence at Maryvale. He’s hit at least five HR’s this spring. Go ahead Prince.  Eat a hamburger. You deserve it.

Meantime, Wickie does not Reek this month. Weeks is consistently going hitting just below .350 and has only committed one error throughout all of spring training. He’s the subject of my chart magnificence below, eat it haters.

Call it favoritism thanks to m’boy Mattie Vasgersian and Trenni Kusnierek, but the MLB Network will make the its first regular-season broadcast the Brewers/Giants game in San Fran on April 9th. I watched the Brewers and Rangers last week and realized I have MLB in HD now. It truly is the most religious season of the year, ain’t it? I prayed and it happened.

In a call-out that complements Pete’s fabulous column, Brad at Chuckie Hacks took a hack at the Brewers for putting up a banner for winning the ’08 NL Wild Card. I might be with Brad on this one. Championship banners should be reserved for division titles, league titles and World Series titles. What do you think?

In “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” three of your players are writing this column for me. Milton Bradley was recently told the Cubs are favored to win the NL Central to which he replied, “they should…I’m here.” He went on to credit himself with turning no less than three clubs into winning teams. Go throw another 3-gallon Gatorade cooler further than any man on the planet, Milton. Bradley also entertained all of Scottsdale last week by doing this.

Everyone knows the spring training atmosphere lends itself to families who want a chance to meet the players in a way they can’t during regular season.  So when someone’s kid patiently waits several times before approaching Carlos Zambrano for an autograph on his Big Z All-Star Jersey, you damn well better sign it you Jag.  And you didn’t. You didn’t even turn your head and acknowledge the kid.

Third, Carlos Marmol lost out on his closer duties to Kevin Gregg this week, Marmol cried like a baby. He made it sound as though it was his all along. I’m really laughing because Lou Pinella is mildly firing back, telling Marmol to get over it. Nice.

Finally, in “Chart Magnificence,” we bring you a graph that compares Rickie to the top 40 2B in the league by plate appearances. The thick lines are league averages, the dotted are Rickie’s stats. I know it doesn’t address his defensive skills, but Beyond the Box score assures you he’s improving (-9.1 UZR in 2006, -4.7 in 2008).  Hey Rickie you’re so fine, you can stop riding the pine! Hey Rickie! Hey Rickie!

Cubs Spring Training Exchange

By Paul Schmidt and David K.

(PS) I know that it’s a little bit of a cliché, but I always love the beginning of Spring Training. It excites me.  Makes me giddy.  Puts a little hop in my step.

The funny thing is, for me, I swore it was going to take me a while to get over last season’s playoff defeat.  I swore that I wouldn’t recover until at LEAST the end of spring training, that I wouldn’t try to get tickets, etc.

As it was, I went to get my bracelet for tickets, I got up and called all morning and got on the internet all morning last Friday for tickets, and I’m getting that insane feeling that always occurs leading up to the season.

I guess my question is….is this normal?

(DK)  Absolutely.  It’s a rite of passage for any baseball fan to get jacked up for the start of Spring Training, even though I have always felt the whole excitement of pitchers and catchers reporting has been massively overrated.  Right now, my interest in the start of the baseball season is at an all-time low.

It is partially because I am so obsessed with college basketball that I don’t have the time or energy to start thinking about the start of the baseball season.  The other part is I am still suffering the hangover of the Cubs being swept out of the first round of the post-season for a second straight year.

(PS)  It’s that hangover that you speak of that I thought I wouldn’t be able to shake.  And I guess in some ways I haven’t – I won’t be watching any spring training this year, and I usually check some out. I am excited for BASEBALL –and I think that’s the distinction – but not quite as excited about the Cubs, necessarily.  Good to know, however, that I’m normal.  I can’t wait to tell my wife!

I thought this might be a fun exercise – give me the rotation and the lineup as you see it.


(DK) I enjoy fun exercises.

Rotation: Los, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marshall

Marshall is believed to have a leg up in the race for the 5th spot, ahead of Jeff Samardzija.  Hopefully Marshall ends up back in the bullpen when the Cubs acquire, oh, I don’t know… Jake Peavy?    Lilly gets the number three spot over Harden so that the Cubs don’t start lefties in back-to-back games.  Expect another short leash on Harden to keep him healthy throughout the season and rested for potential-October baseball.  I would not be surprised to see Samardzija replace Marshall at some point during the season, or for him to get a few spot starts when Lou wants to give Harden a rest.

Line-up:

SS Theriot

LF Soriano

1B D-Lee

3B Ramirez

RF Bradley

C Soto

CF Fukudome/ Reed Johnson

2B Miles/Fontenot

I would really love to see The Riot in the lead-off spot instead of Soriano.  The Riot hits for average, uses all fields, and does not swing out of his shoes every other pitch.  Plus, he actually takes pitches and doesn’t whiff on every sweeping curve ball low and away when he is down in the count.  Lou has made comments this Spring Training that he is contemplating moving Fonsie down in the line-up, but I guess we will have to wait and see if he pulls the trigger.

The other question I have is- do you put Bradley in the clean-up spot and move A-Ram to the five hole so you break up the four right-handed hitters you have at the top of the order?  It will also be interesting to see how Fukudome bounces back after an abysmal end to last season and if he will end up in a true platoon with Reed Johnson based on lefty/righty match-ups.

(PS) I actually would throw Milton into the cleanup spot, I like the idea of splitting up our big righty bats a little bit. I’d love to find a way to get Soto higher in the lineup too, but I can’t figure out exactly how we’ll do it.  I think that you pretty much nailed everything, but I’m predicting a bigger rebound from Fukudome this season, after a year of adjusting to American life, and the possibility of him leading off is pretty good.  I hope.

I also do agree with the rotation, but I hope that one point is wrong – For now, I want to see Szmardjizjaijajiazjia in the bullpen.  He still only has two pitches, and I know that that can be a detriment to any starter (you really have to have at least a third pitch to be effective).  Plus, the bullpen is already depleted and there’s a ton of question marks there.  Jeff S. is a little bit more of a sure thing as an end of game option.  And I do like that option.

Do we have any options in the minor leagues that you like for that spot, or for bullpen spots (a la Kevin Hart)?

I figure that now is NOT the time for regular season predictions, too much can happen in Spring Training.  And since so much can happen….how about five predictions for Spring Training?

(DK) 1. Micah Hoffpauir KILLS the ball.

2. We constantly hear about how great of a teammate Milton Bradley is, as he puts on his “good guy” persona to get people behind him..

3. Carlos Marmol wins the closer job as your boy Kevin Gregg struggles to find his groove.

4. 41 year old Mike Stanton makes the roster as a situational lefty out of the bullpen.

5. I don’t watch a single Spring Training game.

(PS) And we’ll definitely agree on 5….