Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Differential Diagnosis

It takes me an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.With the Cubs spiraling ever faster into oblivion, Michael Barrett finally figures out what's wrong with the Cubs:

"I feel like, starting with me, I need to play smarter," said Barrett, who had difficulty on the bases and behind the plate over the weekend in Los Angeles. "It's one thing to play harder. But it's no excuse to play dumber. The all-out rule of thumb for me now is that we’ve got to play smarter baseball."

Yup. It didn't take Hugh Laurie to figure this one out. The Cubs are a stupid baseball team.

Actually, if you look at the team the past five or six years, they've been loaded with stupid players. Sure, many are talented, but they manage to overcome that talent with stupid play.

Michael Barrett is, perhaps, the most fundamentally unsound starting catcher I've ever seen. His instincts for the game, defensively and offensively, are attrocious. As Andy Dolan perceptively noticed yesterday:
The most annoying of (Barrett's habits) is when he wants a pitch to be low he smacks his mitt on the ground to emphasize it. You see other catchers do it from time to time, though they are nearly always careful to not actually reach the ground with the glove, to avoid making it obvious to the hitter. Not Michael, he not only does it frequently, he might as well announce it to the hitter. "Hey, listen up, I'm going to smack the ground, so that sound you hear is me... smacking the ground." But more damaging than that is that when he wants a pitch up, he signals it by raising his glove above his head just before the pitch. That move pretty much guarantees that the next pitch will be called a ball. And why not, you basically just told the umpire "This one's going to be high and out of the strike zone. So call it there." Even when the pitch is lower than Barrett's exaggerated target, it's going to be a ball. Again, while some catchers do it occasionally (say in 0-2 counts), Michael does it constantly.

The position on a baseball field that most requires a feel for the game is catcher. Michael has all the touch of a horse doing needlepoint.

Alfonso Soriano is another talented, but stupid baseball player. You watch how he runs after balls in the outfield and how he approaches an at bat and all you can think is, "What the hell is he thinking?"

Matt Murton, who gets a lot of love around here for off the field reasons, at least has a clue at the plate. On the basepaths and in the field, notsomuch.

Jacque Jones is easily the worst Cub since Corey Patterson. Ceasar Izturis - bad.

It's almost as if this team was put together by a guy who only scouted their stats.

At some point, Jim Hendry's going to start to take the blame for all this. Unfortunately, it won't be until after this season ends and new ownership comes in. And there goes two seasons where 88 wins would earn you a playoff spot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

He Shall From Time To Time....

After an inspring first two games against the White Sox, the Cubs laid back-to-back stinkers against the Sox and the Padres. That led Lou Piniella to give everyone an update on where the team is going.

Note that this comes after he essentially called out Jim Hendry last week for giving Piniella an ineffective roster.

"We need for a few of our hitters to get going."

Ya' think? This club is so poor offensively it's painful to watch. Seven hits last night plus three walks from your leadoff hitter. One run.

"From the left side, we need Eyre to kick it in a little bit. Where do I see it? I see us getting better."

Notice that he didn't say, "I see him (meaning Eyre) getting better." Eyre's on a very short leash with Piniella. It's too bad someone didn't tell Dusty Baker to underuse Eyre and Howry last year.

"(Rich Hill is) not the same pitcher that left spring training."

This feels more like reversion to what Rich Hill is: An old prospect that had a nice run of success in AAA and a good few months in the majors. One needs to view aged prospects (over 25 years old) and their minor league stats with a much more wary eye that prospects that post similar stats at a younger age.

Rich Hill is a player that needs just such skepticism.

"That's where (Alfonso Soriano)'s done his best work. The only reason we moved him to the 3-hole was that Derrek Lee was hurt. If that hadn't been the case, he’d have stayed in the No. 1 hole. You look at his lifetime numbers, and his lifetime numbers tell you he belongs in the No. 1 hole."

Sounds like Soriano has a mental block to batting at a place in the order that would help the team and help his personal stats. Sports Psychologist Lou has some work to do.

The real state of the team remains where it was when the season started. While the team is marginally better without Wade Miller, the offense is still too poor for any hope of a winning season.

The hope is that Jim Hendry gets off his duff and makes a bullpen addition as well as upgrades for right field and middle infield. Given that he only has until the sale of the team is completed to audition for his next job, he should get a move on and not wait until it's too late. Like he has nearly every year.

Friday, May 18, 2007

And Now For Something Rather Familiar...

The Dead Cubbies Sketch

The cast:


The sketch:

A customer enters a pet shop.

Mr. Shlabotnik: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(Broadcaster Ron does not respond.)

Mr. Shlabotnik: 'Ello, Miss?

Broadcaster Ron: What do you mean "miss"?

Mr. Shlabotnik: I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Broadcaster Ron: We're closin' for lunch.

Mr. Shlabotnik: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this baseball team what I watched not half an hour ago from this very stadium.

Broadcaster Ron: Oh yes, the, uh, the Cubbie Blue...What's, uh...What's wrong with it?

Mr. Shlabotnik: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'Ere dead, that's what's wrong with it!

Broadcaster Ron: No, no, 'Ere uh,...ere resting.

Mr. Shlabotnik: Look, matey, I know a dead team when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Broadcaster Ron: No no ere not dead, ere, ere restin'! Remarkable team, the Cubbie Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

Mr. Shlabotnik: The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead.

Broadcaster Ron: Nononono, no, no! 'Ere resting!

Mr. Shlabotnik: All right then, if ere's restin', I'll wake him up! (shouting at the batting cage) 'Ello, Mister Jacque! I've got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for you if you show...

(Broadcaster Ron hits the cage)

Broadcaster Ron: There, he moved!

Mr. Shlabotnik: No, he didn't, that was you hitting the cage!

Broadcaster Ron: I never!!

Mr. Shlabotnik: Yes, you did!

Broadcaster Ron: I never, never did anything...

Mr. Shlabotnik: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) 'ELLO HENDRY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o'clock alarm call!

(Takes team out of the cage and thumps it on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Mr. Shlabotnik: Now that's what I call a dead team.

Broadcaster Ron: No, no.....No, ere stunned!

Mr. Shlabotnik: STUNNED?!?

Broadcaster Ron: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Cubbie Blues stun easily, major.

Mr. Shlabotnik: look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That team is definitely deceased, and when I watched it not 'alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein' tired and shagged out following a prolonged at bat.

Broadcaster Ron: Well, he's...he's, ah...probably pining for the fjords.

Mr. Shlabotnik: PININ' for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did they fall flat on their back the moment I got 'em home?

Broadcaster Ron: The Cubbie Blue prefers keepin' on it's back! Remarkable team, id'nit, squire? Lovely plumage!

Mr. Shlabotnik: Look, I took the liberty of examining that team when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in First Place was that it had been NAILED there.


Broadcaster Ron: Well, o'course it was nailed there! If I hadn't nailed that team down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its bat, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Mr. Shlabotnik: "VOOM"?!? Mate, this team wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through it! 'Ere bleedin' demised!

Broadcaster Ron: No no! 'Ere pining!

Mr. Shlabotnik: Ere not pinin'! Ere passed on! This team is no more! He has ceased to be! Ere expired and gone to meet 'is maker! Ere's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'Ere rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'em to the perch 'ere'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! Ere off the twig! Ere kicked the bucket, Ere shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-TEAM!!


Broadcaster Ron: Well, I'd better replace it, then. (He takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I've had a look 'round the back of the shop, and uh, we're right out of teams.

Mr. Shlabotnik: I see. I see, I get the picture.

Broadcaster Ron: I got a Cardinal.


Mr. Shlabotnik: Pray, does it play right field?

Broadcaster Ron: Nnnnot really.


Broadcaster Ron: N-no, I guess not. (gets ashamed, looks at his feet)

Mr. Shlabotnik: Well.


Broadcaster Ron: (quietly) D'you.... d'you want to come back to my place?

Mr. Shlabotnik: (looks around) Yeah, all right, sure.
Thanks to Monty Python, John Cleese and Michael Palin for the source material and to the 2007 Chicago Cubs for dying early, yet again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Adjusting on the Fly

Some interesting notes via Bruce Miles and the Daily Herald:

•First baseman Derrek Lee remained in Chicago because neck spasms haven’t let up enough for him to fly. He may not rejoin the team until Friday’s home game against the White Sox.

•The Cubs optioned reliever Rocky Cherry to Class AAA Iowa and purchased the contract of infielder Michael Fontenot from Iowa.

•Infielder Mark DeRosa underwent X-rays and an exam of his right ring finger, which was injured Monday night during a basepath collision as DeRosa played first base. Tests revealed no break, but DeRosa said he “strained a tendon or ligament” and is day to day.

•In another bit of mystery, manager Lou Piniella refused to say Alfonso Soriano would go back to the leadoff spot once Lee returns. All Piniella would say was that Lee would go back to the third spot.

Soriano, who began the season as the Cubs’ leadoff man, has batted third in Lee’s absence. It’s possible the Cubs could put him second once Lee gets back. That would make Ryan Theriot (.384 on-base percentage) the leadoff man.

"All I said was D-Lee was going to hit third," Piniella said. "I didn't say anything else."

So what happens to Soriano, the guy the Cubs were going to leave in one position and bat leadoff all year? So far, they’ve moved him from center field to left field.

"We're going to find out," Piniella said.

The Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa stuff is frustrating. Not because they are hurt. Injuries happen. The frustration comes from the nebulous diagnoses and the team playing two players short while these guys recuperate. This has all the smell of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood injuries from years past. "He's fine, he's just having dialysis and we're seeking marrow donors. But, he's fine," is the standard tripe from the Jim Hendry era.

But the key here is the move of Soriano out of the leadoff spot. Having a guy with 40 homer potential hit behind the pitcher is silly. Having him hit behind a .384 OBP guy makes much more sense.

Theriot would see more fast balls. And, with Theriot on base, so would Soriano.

Lou seems to be willing to make adjustments as he goes. What a novel approach. Such flexibility will lead to more wins.

So refreshing to see manager who gets it. First time since Don Zimmer that it has been so.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunk Costs

Once this page was been accused of knowing nothing about baseball due to a preference to see Felix Pie permanently in the Cub lineup and Jacque Jones permanently removed, Jacque has only served to buttress that concept.

Jones snapped an 0-16 slump to show how wrong this page is about Jones being lousy. Let's ignore the error he had as part of a 6 run inning to blow a game. Let's ignore getting tagged out at home and the strikeout he had to close the game.

In fact, let's ignore all the bad ball play in Jacque's 181 game history as a Cub and focus on those few good things Jacque as really done. When you think of one, let us know. OK, I'll give him the homer to sweep the Cardinals last April. That was great considering how that messed up the Cardinals' 2006 and propelled the Cubs to tremendous heights.

Jacque is under contract with the Cubs until the end of the 2008 season. Ivy Chat will be sad to see him go. In fact, we's started the Jacque Jones Remaining Salary Countdown so that we know exactly how much money is owed to Jacque before the Cubs are forced to say "Good Bye" to him. Remember, this is guaranteed money (thank God!), so Jacque banks this cash if he plays or not. Hell, he could be released and sit at his home in San Diego and still get the money.

And we fans would be forced to be bored by the likes of Pie.

Just over $8,000,000 to go. How sad it will be when this gets to zero.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Right And Wrong

Let's see if this makes sense. The Cubs' brain trust has finally realized that Jacque Jones cannot be relied upon as a major league player anymore. Yesterday, they demoted him to eighth in the lineup. Today, after an extraordinarily brutal night at the plate, Jones was benched for a rookie center fielder.

"Great!" you say. Felix Pie is finally going to get his shot. That's what you'd think. See, if you are going to bat Jones eighth, you might as well bat Pie eighth. The drop off in offense is minimal. You still have a lefty in the lineup. And you upgrade dramatically defensively.

Well, it's not Pie getting the shot:

The Cubs Thursday recalled switch-hitting outfielder Angel Pagan from Triple-A Iowa, and sent outfielder Felix Pie to Iowa.

This makes less than no sense.

Play the kid, guys. Yes, his plate discipline has shown a lot to be desired. But so did Jacque's. And, perhaps, with the certainty of not being benched, Pie would grow comfortable and loosen up.

Just another stupid decision by the Chicago Cubs.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Lou Effect

Over at Desipio, Andy Dolan did a player-by-player and a coach-by-coach run down of the current Cubs (what happened to Alan Trammel?). One of the things Andy was dead on about was what has happened to Aramis Ramirez.

Some people have suggested that the new, always hustling, playing smart Ramirez is a sign that A-Ram's bad hamstrings were really bad last year. That's doubtful. Under Dusty Baker, a guy with hammys as bad as all that would have asked for, and received, a few weeks off.

No, clearly Lou and his "take no shit" attitude had an effect on A-Ram. And it's all been for the good.

That's been one of the refreshing things about watching the Cubs this year. There's finally a guy in the dugout who isn't willing to just enjoy a day in the sunshine and shrug off a loss as a "tough day, dude."

Cub players were put on notice. The country club is closed. You are here to work. A-Ram has clearly gotten the message. On the flip side, Scott "we don't have to run" Eyre is clearly upset.

Now, it's up to the fans to get the message, too. Management is no longer satisfied with poor performance or results. Neither should any fan of this team settle.

This team may mot win anything this year, but Lou's attitude keeps you watching. And it's kept the dead parrot away in the second week of May for the first time since 2004.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stunning News

That fatal accident involving Josh Hancock last week? Not so tragic:

"Mr. Hancock was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident," (Police Chief Joe) Mokwa said.

St. Louis medical examiner Michael Graham said Hancock's blood-alcohol level was 0.157, nearly twice Missouri's legal limit of 0.08.

Mokwa said 8.55 grams of marijuana and a glass pipe used to smoke marijuana were found in the rented Ford Explorer. Toxicology tests to determine if drugs were in his system had not been completed.

An accident reconstruction team determined Hancock was traveling 68 mph in a 55 mph zone when his SUV struck the back of a flatbed tow truck stopped in a driving lane. Mokwa said there was no evidence Hancock tried to stop. He did swerve, but too late to avoid the collision.

Graham said the pitcher died instantly of head injuries. The pitcher was not wearing a seat belt, but Graham said the belt would not have prevented his death.

Mokwa said cell phone records showed Hancock was speaking with a female acquaintance at about the time of the accident. Mokwa said the conversation ended abruptly, presumably when the accident occurred.

So, drunk, yapping on a phone, drugs in the car with a high probability they were in Hancock's system, and no seat belt.

If there is any good news it's that he only hurt himself.

Let no one ever call this a tragedy ever again. This was reckless self-endangerment. There's nothing tragic about recklessness.

He got was he was risking. Case closed.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Blast Off

Looking forward to another rendezvous.
Waly Schirra

Of the original seven Mercury astronauts, only John Glenn and Scott Carpenter are left with us. The age of real heroes is passing.


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