Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

That's the way to end a bad streak
All Star balloting is underway at Many of you will vote for Cubs. One of those Cubs deserves to start above anyone else in the National League. Sure, a case can be made for any of them. But there is one guy for whom that case is open and shut.

That guy is Geovany Soto.

With his two homers and six RBIs tonight on a game broadcast by ESPN, even the World Wide Leader in Ignoring Everyone West of the Hudson will have to start taking notice.

It's hard to remember this, but Soto's all but a rookie. His defense has been spectacular. His ability to handle the pitching staff has been tremendous, especially his ability to re-center an off-kilter Carlos Zambrano.

Soto's been everything a team could ask of a veteran, much less a rookie.

As good as he's been, who else does the NL offer up on the All Star Ballot? Let's look at the competition:

Brian McCann?
Yadier Molina?
Paul Bako?
Jason Kendall?
Russell Martin?
Bengie Molina?
Josh Bard?

Soto blows them all away. He leads that list in batting average by 36 points. His OPS is better than #2 on that list by over 170 points. He leads the NL catchers in homers, RBIs. He's fourth in throwing out runners, but he allowed the first three runners of the year to steal against him. Since then, he's tied for the best percentage of runners gunned down in the NL.

By every conceivable measure, Soto has been the best catcher in the league.

The Best Crybabies in Baseball will bitch and moan and try to get Yadier or one of his replicants voted in. Let's not allow that to happen. Cub fans will be at Wrigley 40,000 strong some 30 dates between now a the end of June.

Time to get this guy a start in Yankee Stadium on July 15th.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The 2008 Baby Bears

The 2008 NFL Draft has been complete for 36 hours. Let's get the names that the Bears picked logged for posterity:

Round  Pick (Overall)    Name             Position  School
1 14(14) Chris Williams OT VANDERBILT
2 13(44) Matt Forte RB TULANE
3 7(70) Earl Bennett WR VANDERBILT
3 27(90) Marcus Harrison DT ARKANSAS
4 21(120) Craig Steltz S LSU
5 7(142) Zack Bowman CB NEBRASKA
5 23(158) Kellen Davis TE MICHIGAN STATE
7 1(208) Ervin Baldwin DE MICHIGAN STATE
7 15(222) Chester Adams OG GEORGIA
7 36(243) Joey LaRocque OLB OREGON STATE
7 40(247) Kirk Barton OT OHIO STATE
7 41(248) Marcus Monk WR ARKANSAS

It's not a big surprise that the Bears didn't pass on a QB given they passed on one last year when the need was even higher. Three offensive linemen drafted tells you where Jerry Angelo thinks the Bears need the most work - and they'd be right.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thanks For The Memories

In case you missed it, WGN will rerun their "Cubs Forever" retrospective next Saturday night. It’s billed as a tribute to 60 years of WGN television broadcasts of Cubs baseball. It’s actually more of a tribute to just 60 years of Cubs baseball and has very little to do with WGN.

There are parts of it that are outstanding. The discussion of the no-hitters of Burt Hooton, Milt Pappas and Ken Holtzman are superb. In fact, some of the video shown may be the first time this video has been seen since the games were actually broadcast.

For example, there is the story from Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter where Hank Aaron launched a home run to break up the no-hitter. Legend has it that the ball was actually over the stands but was blown back into play by a howling wind and allowed Billy Williams to make the catch preserving the no-no.

Holtzman’s and Williams’ recollections are great. But, for the first time, you actually see the video. Aaron’s ball was smoked like a cheap Swisher Sweet. Williams stayed with the ball and seemed almost shocked when he realized the ball wasn’t going to be bouncing down Kenmore.

They also show Milt Pappas’ reaction to Bruce Froemming’s ball four call with two outs in the 9th when Pappas was a strike away from a perfcet game.

For video like this, the special is worth watching.

But very little of it has to do with WGN. Sure, they talk about Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse and Arne Harris. But they also talk about the scoreboard operations. What does that have to do with WGN? They talk about the Sandberg Game right down to Bob Costas’ call of the homer on NBC. Yes, NBC.

Where’s the stuff on how WGN made the Cubs special via the innovations WGN brought to the game? Why don’t they explain that Harris was the first to use the center field camera? Where’s Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreux? Where’s Dewayne Staats? Where’s Milo Hamilton? OK, he’s an assbag, but the rest of them were instrumental in determining the brand that is the Cubs and how WGN transmitted that to us.

What the show starts to feel like, especially when you get to the last segment, is that this is a farewell letter from WGN. Given the flux of Tribune Company’s ownership of the Cubs and even WGN and given the increasing number of games on cable, it’s pretty obvious that WGN and the Cubs will have a very different relationship in a short period of time. This came off as an early farewell.

It’s well done and worth watching, but the title of the show doesn’t match what we see. And it doesn’t give WGN enough credit for the way they are responsible for the superb broadcast we see today for all baseball telecasts. They should have spent some time on that more than talking to the guy that owns the Eamus Catuli building.

But, if you’ve never seen Lee Weyer’s signature “lampshade” strike call on Joe Orsulak on a pitch from Rick Sutcliffe in September 1984, this is appointment television.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Virtue

From Jason Stark's latest:

Sori You're Gone Dept.: In the Cubs' first eight games without Alfonso Soriano they averaged 8.4 runs a game. They looked so good, in fact, that some scouts say they like this lineup better without Soriano than with him.

"Soriano is a first-pitch hacker, and that goes against everything Lou [Piniella] has been preaching to that club about patience," said one scout. "They're the most patient team in the big leagues right now. What they've been doing is grinding down starters and getting into those secondary relievers. But Soriano doesn't let them do that because he's hacking early in the count. To me, Soriano's a valuable guy when he's stealing 40-50 bases. And I'm not sure he's going to do that anymore."

While the comments about A Sor's diminished value find agreement here, it's the point about plate patience that is spot on. In last night's game, something very, very odd happened.

Through the first four innings, no Cub player swung at the first pitch thrown by Franklin Morales. Now, this wasn’t one of those situations where 10 guys batted. The Cubs went through the order twice before someone swung at the first pitch. Who broke the string? Rich Hill.

It wasn't until inning 5 when Aramis Ramirez fouled off a fastball that a Cub swung at Morales' first offering. And A Ram did so with Derrek Lee on third and two outs. Hard to fault A Ram for trying to drive in a run at that point.

Five innings and nearly 2 times through the lineup without swinging at pitch #1? That's how I used to play High Heat 2005! That's not a trait we've seen from a Cub team ever!

This level of patience is something intelligent fans have been begging to see for years. All it took was a year of Lou Piniella’s leadership and Kosuke Fukudome’s example to get everyone else on board.

What needs to be seen next is if Mr. Soriano gets this. Clearly the Cubs have learned a new trick. A Sor needs to be on board with this when he gets off the DL or beaten with a fungo until he does.

Off On A Rant

While the Chicago Tribune continues to try to figure out how blogs can be part of their enterprise solution, Adam Caldarelli has a good post today on classic sports rants.

Worth reviewing the Hal McRae video, alone.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Now That's A Win

Korey who?
It was becoming a Cubbie Occurrence. Load the bases, nobody out. A team named the New York Mets just begging to be put away for the night.

Then, Mark DeRosa does his Alfonso Soriano swing-at-all-costs-as-hard-as-you-can impression.

Strike out.

Geovany Soto, who has been just short of perfect since the first week of the season pops into an infield fly.

Two outs.

Up comes Ronny Cedeno, a guy that generally makes you cringe when you see him at the plate due to his lack of patience at the plate. Here comes three quick whiffs, right?

He takes strike one. He takes ball one. That's surprising. He never takes two pitches at home.

He whiffs on strike two. Yeah, here comes the third strike. We've seen this before. A lot.

Single up the middle, 2 runs scored. What?!?! What just happened?

Then Pie takes two balls away from him before smacking a game ending three run dinger. What again?!?!

It's amazing what can happen in a year. And it's all due to Lou Piniella. Earlier today, Bad Kermit over at Hire Jim Essian noted that, "This team is leaps and bounds better than the 2007 version."

Not really. They are not leaps and bounds better than last year. They are leaps, bounds, parsecs, alternate universes better than they were last April when this team was littered with schmucks like Michael Barrett, Ceasar Isturis, and Jacque Jones.

They are certainly better now than they were last September, at least on offense. But the leaps and bounds appearance now is because we are comparing it to one year ago, before the Lou Piniella enema he gave the team's roster last June.

If this team can get reasonable contributions from Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno, this team is going to be a lot more than simply fun to watch.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Most Dangerous Game

Mia!Remember the time once in the third week of April when the Cubs lost a high-salaried player to a leg injury? A player who was off to a bad start but was counted on to be a key offensive force in a season with high expectations for post season success?

No, not Alfonso Soriano. This refers to Nomar Garciaparra. When Nomar shredded his groin, the Cubs season fell apart. True, it was this injury that led to Derrek Lee ultimately moving to the 3rd spot in the order and stepping up his game.

But, back in 2005, the team was not deep enough to sustain such a deep blow to the offense. Nomar's injury led to extra playing time for Neifi Perez, Jose Macias and Ronny Cedeno. Jim Hendry could have gotten off his duff and made an early season trade, but that would have meant giving up on players with bright futures at the major league level. Guys like Brownlie and Guzman.

Now, Soriano won't be out as long as Nomar was. But it's also very likely, given this year and last year, that Soriano's leg problems are going to be chronic and not simply going to stop with this lated DL stint.

Jim Hendry really needs to step up and make a trade now. If it means giving up a Veal or a Samardzija to get Brian Roberts, you do it. You do something.

Simply counting on Soriano to be a reliable offensive force will get you as far as General Zaroff got against Sanger Rainsford.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Gee, you go out of town for a few days and Alfonso Soriano blows his leg doing his asinine hop? What are the odds...

The last three days were spent in Las Vegas supporting a client that was exhibiting at a trade show. As this trip was all work and had no distractions at all associated with it, only now does the time become available to comment on A Sor’s devolution into the next Chris Gedney.

Let's stipulate that A Sor’s hop didn’t cause his leg injury. Watching the replay, it's clear he didn’t miss-step or twist anything. If his leg was that fragile before the hop, it would have blown at some point very soon thereafter. Furthermore, if his legs are this balky now, the outlook for him over the next 6 years of his contract is not much better than that for the non-income verified mortgage market.

But let's take a look at the hop itself because it does expose something about A Sor, the player. And it exposes why he should be the least liked player on this team.

The hop is one of two things. It could be a showboat move designed to give him a signature akin to the Sammy Sosa hop or the Aramis Ramirez "stand and watch the homer" pose. I can’t stand any showboat move. A week ago, over at the Hire Jim Essian shout box, A Ram hit a dinger. I said, "Run Dummy!" Bad Kermit got angry at me for saying something negative about a player after he made a good play.

Screw that.

You hit the ball, you run, jog, whatever. But get going and don’t pose. Maybe I'm just turning into an old fart, but I miss Walter Payton and Barry Sanders and their "act like you’ve been there" attitudes. Did Sanders ever do anything after a touchdown other than flip the ball to the ref?

If the hop is showboating, then A Sor deserved to get hurt on that move. Maybe he can learn something from it, but that’s doubtful.

The reason it’s doubtful is the second possible reason for the hop. See, when Soriano started doing the hop in Washington last year, he said it was because he kept dropping fly balls. He decided to not wait for the ball to get to him but he would jump to go get it.

We knew he was impatient at the plate, but in the field, too? How stupid can a guy get? The same result applies. If this guy is so impatient and stupid that he refuses to let the game come to him, then why should any of the fans have the patience to put up with his slow start on the field?

Maybe. Just maybe, some of these events will cause Soriano to open his mind just a crack to let someone coach him. If he does, he might just become a reasonable facsimile of what Jim Hendry hoped to have when he signed him.

If not, it’s six more years of bad baseball we’re going to be stuck watching from Soriano. Bad, aging, declining baseball.

One supposes it could be less than 6. Jim Hendry’s eventual replacement could one day eat two thirds of the contract and dump Soriano to the AL and the DH position that his legs make him more and more suited for each day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cheers Second Most Famous Song

Staying with a theme...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Taking a Long Look

Let's take a walk through Rich Hill's third and final inning of work tonight, shall we?

Batter #1 - Jason Bay
Number of pitches thrown: 6
Number of pitches swung on: 1 (pitch 6)
Result of at bat: ground out (scored 6-3)

Batter #2 - Adam LaRoche
Number of pitches thrown: 4
Number of pitches swung on: 4 (pitch 4)
Result of at bat: ground out (scored 3)

Batter #3 - Xavier Nady
Number of pitches thrown: 4
Number of pitches swung on: 0
Result of at bat: base on balls

Batter #4 - Ronny Paulino
Number of pitches thrown: 7
Number of pitches swung on: 1 (pitch 6)
Result of at bat: base on balls

Batter #5 - Jose Bautista
Number of pitches thrown: 6
Number of pitches swung on: 2 (pitch 4 and 6)
Result of at bat: strike out (swinging)

Someone in the Pirates dugout told everyone to leave their bats on the shoulders when facing this guy.

There's got to be a reason that Rich Hill is all but untouchable in AAA and consistently inconsistent in the majors. It could be that his curve ball is good enough to fool minor leaguers into swinging at it while major leaguers lay off. It could be that Rich knows that his stuff isn't top flight major league caliber and nibbles leading to nights when his walk totals rise dramatically. It actually doesn't matter.

What really matters is if other teams see what the Pirates did tonight and if and how Rich adjusts. He needs to or John Lieber's going to take his spot in the rotation.

Seeing Lieber pitch, and pitch well, is really a great story. Lieber was a favorite of this writer during his first stint as a Cub and seeing him return to the majors after arm surgery was a nice moment.

Lieber saved the Cubs ass and kept the bullpen from having to go more innings on a day when it didn't have that many innings to give. Performances like these are needed if a team is going to contend.

Oh, and a quick shout out to Mr. Soto. Geovany? You are gaining fans. Rapidly.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And Now, Tonight's Sports...

One Week In

This page has been accused, often rightly so, of dwelling on the negative side of Cub baseball too often. After seven games there have been a few negatives to point out. But the reason this team is over .500 so far is really due to contributions from a few players that have far exceeded expectations.

Kerry Wood

I hope he's not saying ''Ow!''Since 1998, this guy has been a fan favorite, yet mostly a tease on the field. Kerry was a big reason the Cubs made the playoffs in 1998 and 2003. His win in Atlanta gave the Cubs a post season series win for the first time since... well... you know when. Wood's problem is that he's had more injuries than Evil Knieval. And, because of that, the willingness to trust Kerry Wood as being a necessary component to a winning team is something not easily granted.

But excluding one inning, Wood's been flat lights out. Since game #1, Wood's thrown 42 pitches, 29 of them for strikes. He's given up one hit, no walks and struck out 3 of the ten batters he's faced.

While worries linger that the Kerry Wood we see today will be gone by June, so what? He's here now and as dominant as any closer in the game so far. Give him the ball until he either closes a divisional championship game or asks for Dr. Frank Jobe's phone number.

Derrek Lee

Another ne? Forgotten what that felt like...When Lee came to the Cubs in 2004, everyone guessed he'd step up to a higher level freed from the cavern of a stadium the Marlins call home. He did, but not until 2005.

In 2007, coming back from the Furcalectomy he suffered the season before, there were times when Lee looked totally lost at the plate. He'd swing at pitches he had no business swing at. He'd take pitches right down the middle. Whatever the reason, the 2005 Derrek Lee was not around. And, given that he'd only really had 2005 as his one huge season, expecting another 2005 was not a high probability.

This past week, Derrek Lee has looked like 2005 was a warm up. He's looked like a legit #3 hitter, something the Cubs didn't appear to have going into the season. If Lee can contribute offense on the pace he's showing now, like have Good Rex leading the Bears, a radical revision for the expectations of this team are in order.

Kosuke Fukudome

You, too, can play like this if you pay attentionThe only bad thing about Fukudome is how badly he's embarrassing the players around him. Kosuke is a genuine pleasure to watch if you are a fan of playing baseball the right way. And by "right way" the Bob Brenly "don't bunt to break up a no-hitter" rule is not what is meant.

You watch how Kosuke approaches at bats and all you want to do is take the film and show it to every kid in little league. Then you show it to the entire Cubs' minor league system. And then a few of their major leaguers. The bunt single he had against the Astros was a thing of beauty.

The only complaint about Fukudome is two-fold. First, he's batting too low in the order. He should be hitting second. By batting him 5th, Lou Piniella is probably costing Fukudome about 50 at bats per year. Certainly he deserves the additional at bats and there are other people in the lineup deserving fewer.

The only other complaint is that some people seem to want to call him "Dough-may." Stop yourselves. The crowd at Wrigley had the chant right the other day.


If Wood, Lee and Fukudome can continue contributing better than what was expected, it will be a very good year at 1060 West Addison.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Big Start

Rich Hill's first start of the season is a big one for him and his team's hopes. Rich had a weak spring and his last start didn't go so well from the first pitch. This is a guy who, at 27, should be in the prime of his career. Instead, he still has the word "promise" attached to him.

If this team has any hopes of advancing any farther in the post-season than they did last year (and winning one game would be a marginal improvement), they are going to need a 15 win season from Rich Hill. They are going to need a guy who was 5th in the NL strikeouts, 8th in WHIP, and 7th in batting-average-against to be all all that all the time.


One of the things about having a blog that's been searchable by Google for a few years is that a lot of companies send you e-mails asking you to plug things for them. In the Ivy Chat inbox this AM was a request to plug a new widget from Auqafina. Here it is:

I hope Lou got good money for this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Perhaps Converted

In about 100 minutes, Alfonso Soriano and his Blutarsky batting average will move out of the second spot in the Cubs' batting order and into the leadoff spot. One guesses that two days were enough for Lou Piniella to see that A Sor, for whatever reason, is significantly less effective when hitting anywhere but leadoff.

Now, everyone knows that Soriano's skills are ill-suited for the leadoff spot. He doesn't get on base a lot, his power goes often unused due to few men on base, and he can't run anymore.

But, if you are locked into playing a guy, and $14 million this year followed by $18 million for the next 5 years is as much of a lock as a Rod Blagojevitch indictment, then you better put him somewhere where he can be mildly productive.

And leadoff may be the only place to do that.

Yeah, A Sor is an irregular polygon being forced into a round hole, but it's that or a huge gap in a lineup.

Lou's stuck playing him and we're stuck watching him. At least, at leadoff, there may be a reason to watch.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More of the Same

The Cubs started a season and got no offensive help from their leadoff hitter and got no pitching help from their closer.

Isn't this the same movie that Jim Hendry has presented year after year after year?

Other that for 6 weeks in 2003 when Kenny Lofton was here, Jim Hendry has never capably filled the leadoff slot for the Cubs. Yes, he did somewhat for a year with Juan Pierre, but Pierre wasn't good enough. Then Hendry, after dealing a boatload of prospects to get him, let Pierre walk leaving the Cubs with nothing.

Alfonso Soriano is destined to hit fifth in this lineup and Kosuke Fukdome (how do you write FYC in kanji?) will eventually hit second leaving the 8th place hitter, Ryan Theriot to hit first and the seventh place hitter, Felix Pie, to bat 8th.

And what of Kerry Wood? He's not as big of a problem as leadoff as It's doubtful he will be this bad all year (unless he's hurt already). But counting on him is silly as his history shows he deserves no such trust. Carlos Marmol may get a promotion sooner than later.

But the bigger issue is that, beyond Bobby Howry, this team does not have a guy who has ever been a closer. And is Bobby Howry ready to return to that role now? Doubts abound.

One of the great hopes for 2008 was that the Cubs would be sold and Jim Hendry would be gone by now. Well, Jim has usually been a better in-season GM than an off-season GM. That trend needs to hold.

Some Disconnect

If you hate those commercials staring John Caponera doing a bad Harry Caray, you aren't alone. Dutchie Caray hates them, too:

"I was gone the whole month of March and I didn't come back until a couple of days ago. ... It made me so sick and disgusted. ... What they did [was] so unprofessional, so jerky. ... I might make an AT&T commercial, wrap myself in telephone wire, ughl-ughl-ughl and act like an idiot dope."

What's surprising about the whole thing is that you would guess that Dutchie has legal control over Harry's likeness. With such rights, any commercial enterprise would have to seek her approval (and pay her) to use Harry's likeness. True, companies are allowed fair use of images (see Larry Flynt vs. Jerry Falwell and Bad Kermit vs. Internet T-Shirts). But this would seem to be a case where AT&T could take more bad press than Caponera's impression is worth.

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