Chicago Cubs WIN! And Rod Blagojevich is hoping to as well!

Good morning and happy Friday. I hope each and every one of you out there among the Cubs Faithful is having a wonderful start to the day. Or middle of the day. Or in two days, basically whenever you read this.

I have spent my fair share of time, as well as many others’ fair share of time, inside Wrigley Field, and there were only one or two times the weather made the experience more miserable than it did on Tuesday and Wednesday night. It was horrible. Call it committed or just plain stupid, either way, it was COLD.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start throwing out some random and obvious thoughts and see what sticks against the wall. So, here we go …

• Hey, I can’t see to well … was that just series victory? Really, the Cubs won a series?

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Chicago Cubs: Total Implosion Commencing?

Back in the ‘80’s, Old Milwaukee Beer used to have a tag line that said, “Boys, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Well, “Cubs fans, it just doesn’t get any worse than this.”

And the sad thing is that it can get worse, but that just doesn’t seem possible at this moment.  The two games in the Queen City versus the Cincinnati Reds were gut wrenching, vomit-inducing atrocities.   Wednesday night’s game provided a brief respite.

I am an optimist, but this team is taking it out of me.  So, with that said, let’s go rambling.

By Brian McCabe

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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.

What’s Brewing in ’09: Opening Week Woes, Cold Soup & Hot Hitting

By: Melissa Wollering


It wouldn’t be rivalry if there weren’t highlights and lowlights to the Brewers Opening home stand against the Cubs this past week.

 

 

     
Personal highlights include the first christening of my new handmade cornhole game with my little brother, having a Brewers fan tell me ‘that’s an impressive amount of liquor you brought for two people,’ a picture on the Warren Spahn plate near the outfield entrance in honor of the late Walter Wollering, and of course Rickie Weeks safe at the plate last Friday.


Plus, at 10:33 a.m. Opening Day, sitting in traffic backed up before the off-ramp to Miller Park Way, Bill Schroeder decided to get out of the vehicle dropping him off and walk the rest of the way to the press entrance.  First he came by our car, peeked in and asked, “What’s everybody waiting for?”
Personal lowlights include Suppan’s pitching, Vanillawafer’s pitching and the four male Cubs fans next to me calling me blondie and exiting from the middle of the row a combined 42 times in 9 innings while I’m trying to score the game in my new geekster Uecker-carbon-copied scorebook (made it myself).


Let’s go good, bad, ugly. Good is Mike Cameron snapping out of his – I need to speak with a psychologist after I fractured Joe Martinez’ scull three times – hitting slump.   Cameron returned to glory Wednesday with two solo home runs to help the Brewers actually win a game. He was freakin’ after leaving San Fran and probably needed to rid himself of nightmares before being able to smack the ball again.


Braden Looper may be the only Brewers starting pitcher who knows walking multiple batters is generally unfavorable in the game of baseball. Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice were the only men who impressed me from the pen.  Maybe now that David Riske’s been put on the DL, lefty reliever R.J. Swindle can also contribute.  He was just brought up from AAA.  God knows we need Hoffman and fast. Hells Bells need to ring throughout Miller Park more than ever.

 
First however, Brewers bench coach and former Mets manager Willie Randolph will get a chance to seek revenge on the team that gave him a raw deal. Maybe the Brewers can beat up on the Mets in their new house to help Willie out with that.

 
I have also received a few apologies from Wickie-haters this week. For most of his four years with the organization, Wickie Reeks has earned his nickname by being called the biggest underachiever on the team. On Opening Day, quotes unlike anything anyone has ever heard before came spewing from his proud teammates and coaches.

 
“He pretty much won the game for us,” says Ken Macha. “I just know it’s going to come together for him. It might be happening right now.”

 
“You can’t ask for anything more than Rickie gives,” Seth McClung said.  “He gets here early and works so hard. Nobody deserves it more.


Weeks tied the home opener with his bat and won it with a slide to the plate as the Brewers rallied in the bottom of the ninth.  The swarm of B’s at the plate said more about Rickie’s overdue break than the team though.  The team then went on to SUCK IT UP by losing the next 4 in a row.

Which brings us to the bad.  Or in this case, sad.  Merle Harmon, the original radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers passed away this week.  Harmon partnered with Bob Uecker from ’71 to ’79 and he’s as legendary as they come. With the recent loss of so many baseball greats these last few weeks, the only consolation I can provide is that these amazing men are probably playing a game of countless innings up in the heavens together.

 
Yovani Gallardo isn’t pitching like Yovani Gallardo either.  In his loss to the Reds this week, he went 5 innings giving up 7 runs on 3 hits and 4 BB’s. Also sad, at one point this week, Ryan Braun had hit like 2 for his last 18 or something awful like that. But the bigger picture reveals worse: the Brewers have left a total of 27 on base throughout the last few games. Vomit in my mouth. 

Jeff Suppan not only got a-talkin-to by Macha, not only will he sit out his next start but he should also consider retiring next year out of guilt and forfeit his salary back to the organization so they can pay SOMEONE WHO DESERVES IT. I’m torn because what is more alarming: 3 HBP? 10 BB in < 9 innings? 2 HR’s AND ONLY 2 K’s? 

 
It begs the question: can two terrible starts combined with an ugly performance down the stretch last season be enough to give a veteran pitcher an Essen Haus boot to the drawers? Among Brewers who pitched at least 300 innings for the organization, Jeff Suppan has the fourth worst ERA.  Here are your top five: Glendon Rusch, Jimmy Haynes, Gene Brabender, Jeff Suppan and Steve Woodard. You want league-adjusted?  Fine, when you use ERA+, then Soup drops to eighth. He’s also second worst in quality start percentage, behind Brabender again.

 
It used to be funny when Madison 1070 AM guys pulled the Conan O’Brien wonder-dog “for me to SUUPPP—AANNN” quote out, but now it’s just reality. In this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we study Jeff’s movement on pitches. Compare the difference between these four starts.


He threw a great deal of strikes in Sept. 07 and most of his misses were just shy of the zone, too. A year later, his pitches weren’t painting the corners; they were decent pitches to hit. Even so, Suppan managed to cash in a 3.00 ERA based on a joke-of-a .214 batting average on balls in play. Then by the end of last season, Suppan had just crumbled and combined his unimpressive throws with zero command and complete inaccuracy when it came to the zone. Commanding the strike zone is his only hope for saving himself. Painting corners and changing speeds will also need to be part of the equation. Note his falling velocity is also working against him.


In “Around the NL,” Cecil Cooper could be the first manager fired.  What?  He said the Astros were going to win 120 games?  Not if your entire team hates you. Tony La Russa says Chris Carpenter’s going to be out “for a while.”  Heh.  Meanwhile, the Pirates actually won some games and acquired Delwyn Young.  But Young hasn’t been a healthy OF.


This deserves a call-out but it also fits in this column – YOU DO NOT HANG A DEAD GOAT AROUND THE HARRY CARAY STATUE. No way.  No how. No matter who you are, you do not do that.  I’m not even going to expound on that.


But finally in, “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” I was pleased to see Cubs fans boo Jason Marquis only to have watch him beat his former team and cash in for 2 RBI’s at the same time. Rich Harden only lasted 3 innings, too.  Giggle.

 

 
Plus, in a rewind to Sunday, Prince rightfully tipped his hat to Reed Johnson after Reed robbed Prince of a grand salami.  See, when Milton Bradley left with an injury, it was the luckiest thing that could’ve happened to the Cubs. Milton would NEVER have made that play at the wall, but Reed Johnson is just ridonkulous. Game-changing catch on a moon shot.  Classy describes what I think of Prince’s gesture, too.