Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ozzie's Right: We Are Stupid

Seriously. Ozzie is on to something.
When the White Sox first made Ozzie Guillen their manager, my instant response was one word: Genius. I didn't think he was a genius, I just thought the move was genius. If any person in my lifetime has embodied what it means to be a part of the White Sox . . . thing, it was Ozzie. Perfect guy for the job. Perfect face of the organization. Perfect person for Sox fans to love and Cub fans to hate.

But something happened in the years that followed: Ozzie grew on me.

To be perfectly honest, I have come to acknowledge that Ozzie Guillen really is a managerial genius. I'm not talking about his X's and O's (whatever that term really means in baseball). I mean, Ozzie is the quintessential baseball evil genius.

Ozzie works the Chicago media (and, at times, the national media) like marionettes in his diabolical hands. He takes pressure off his players when they need that. He puts pressure on his players when they need a kick in the butt. He enters into the psyche of opposing teams and fans. And when he's really backed into a corner, he can just ramble on unintelligibly for five minutes—and like an R.E.M. song or a Tarantino film, people just kind of get it, even though they don't know why.

After the Cubs/Sox series, Ozzie responded to a Lou Piniella comment about the Sox and their inability to draw fans for anyone but the Cubs. His words: "Our fans aren't stupid like Cubs fans. Our fans know we're [expletive]. Cub fans will watch any game, because "Wrigley Field is just a bar."

A lot of outrage exploded throughout Cubdom, but I've got news for you, Cub fans, and it really shouldn't be news: Ozzie is right. We are stupid, and this team is [expletive] right now. Heck, not even right now. Have you glanced at the sports section in the last century? Cub baseball is not where it's at. We're idiots. We're dumb. We're mindless. We're dreamers.

And proud of it.

Look, only an idiot would have anticipated that Rudy would see on-field action for the fighting Irish. Only a moron would have placed his money on Milan to win the 1954 Indiana high school state basketball championship. The dummies picked David over Goliath. Cheering for the Cubs is not smart.

But we do it because we long for that feeling of overcoming the odds (which were actually pretty good heading into the season). We cheer for the underdog (even though the Cubs have paid enough, but haven't won enough, to shed that tag). We show up to watch an expletive team and put ourselves through expletive for the chance at seeing history, affixing ourselves to it, and proclaiming to the world, "Holy expletive! The Cubs won the Series!"

It is stupid. It is far-fetched. It is a terrible commentary on our intellect. But it is our hope, and it's all we got. Well, that and a mighty fine bar in which to drown our sorrows.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Am Lou Piniella

The Cubs lineup for tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and their lefty Zach Duke has been released (thanks to cst_cubs for the Tweet update). Here's what Lou decided upon:

Soriano LF
Theriot SS
Lee 1b
Fox 3b
Soto C
Bradley RF
Freel CF
Blanco 2b
Harden P

Most notable among the changes (well, okay, let's face it, there's only one change) is that Uncle Milty is hitting 6th. Thank goodness he's dropped out of the third spot, where *gasp* he's actually hitting .299 this year, with a .378 OBP and slugging .414. So . . . should we really be thanking goodness?

There are still a lot of changes that could/should be made to this lineup, and if I were Lou, it would go a little something like this:

vs. lefties
1. Theriot, SS. Normally, I don't mind Fonzy in the leadoff spot, but at this point, he needs to be moved. Could his insecurities really make him play any worse than what we've seen for the last month?
2. Bradley, RF. Yeah, he's hitting .315 vs. the lefties, but his slugging pct. is still not what it should be. He belongs in the 2 spot facing south paws, and he hasn't hit there a single time all year.
3. Lee, 1b. Against lefties, Derrek has a good average (.310) a great OBP (.455) and just okay SLG (.429). He has spent most of the year in the cleanup spot, but I far prefer him in the 3-hole.
4. Fox, 3b. This order so far is really destroying the R-L-R-L pattern. This is me caring. Fox is a natural cleanup hitter. Let's face reality, shall we?
5. Soriano, LF. Welcome to where you belong right now, Sori.
6. Soto, C. I don't like putting any more pressure on Soto than is necessary, and I really like him in the 6-slot, especially in a spot where he can protect Soriano.
7. Fukudome, CF. When Ryan Freel is platooning with your mega-million import, you have problems. That argument aside, I think Fukudome needs to play every day, resting him only when a slump starts to appear. He's a better center fielder, a better hitter vs. lefties (.200 vs. .133 . . . ouch!), and gives the team a better chance to win.
8. Blanco, 2b. Sorry, Fontenot, but Blanco's glove is indispensable at this point.
9. Pitcher. Didn't have to think terribly hard on this one.

vs. righties
1. Fukudome, CF. What can I say? I like Fuk in the leadoff spot with an approach specifically geared toward getting on base, which we know he can do.
2. Theriot, SS. I'm tempted to move him down, but I like the energy he brings.
3. Lee, 1b. I'd also like Lee in the 2-spot, and would test that if this arrangement didn't work out.
4. Fox, 3b. Yeah.
5. Hoffpauir, RF. We wanted a power-hitting left-handed bat. Hoff slugs .500 against RHP's. I'll take it.
6. Soriano, LF. Against righties, Sori has to prove that he belongs higher than this.
7. Soto, C.
8. Fontenot, 2b. Hate to bench Blanco, and wouldn't every time, but Font has to get some ABs to stay fresh . . . and he brings more power than Blanco ever will.
9. Pitcher

So . . . what do you think? What would you do if you were Lou?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Which Chicago Cub Are You? (It's Scarily Accurate)

I hate those Facebook quizzes that make you answer five questions about something as arbitrary as your affinity for or aversion to cured meats and then proceed to tell you which Saved by the Bell character you are. First of all, the questions are always multiple choices, and all of the choices usually stink. Second of all, I am so not Kelly Kapowski.

But I think there's potential in a "Which Chicago Cub Are You?" quiz, because this team is loaded with personalities I recognize from high school, former workplaces, and maybe a family reunion or two. I've probably seen flashes of Milton Bradley in my own mirror . . . partly because I can be moody, too, or perhaps because he's stalking me for making fun of him. Either way, here are some of the possible results. See if any of these people sound familiar outside of Cubdom:

You are Carlos Zambrano. You have loads of potential and unlimited passion for everything you do. You're the life of the party and you love to have fun. But sometimes your passion and intensity get the best of you, causing you to lose focus, lose control, and even lose a few friends. Your friends love you, your enemies fear you, but you have everyone's attention.

You are Milton Bradley. You want nothing more to succeed, and some day that might happen. But you are easily hurt both emotionally and physically. Some people perform better when they're angry; you are not some people. Those close to you regard you as the ultimate team player who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Those not close to you have good reason. Still, you have plenty of skill just waiting to emerge, and if you're surrounded by people who believe in you, you will be a shining star.

You are Ted Lilly. You generally let your actions speak louder than your words, which is good—saying, "I'm better than you, and you like it," out loud can be rather unbecoming. What you lack in talent you more than make up for with fierce determination and skin as thick as rhino armor. Outside of a Cub uniform or a bar fight, most people wouldn't recognize you in public. You also have a bit of a temper, but you can usually focus that productively. In those moments when you can't, people know better than to get in your way.

You are Derrek Lee. You're a gentle giant, smart, debonair, quick as a fox, and strong as an ox. Not easily ruffled, you measure your words, your responses, and your emotions. You lead not with speeches but by example. You keep things at an even keel, except when you're exploding on a fastball over the plate or pouncing on a screaming line drive headed for the right field corner. Some people wish you'd be more outspoken and demonstrative, but you're big and strong enough not to have to care what some people wish for.

You are Alfonso Soriano. When it comes to performance, you're a human roller coaster, although you never wear your emotions on your sleeve. When you find you're groove, there are none better, but when you get stuck in a rut . . . well, there are few worse. Your preferences and quirks have earned you a reputation as a prima donna, mostly undeserved. It's not your fault if you get preferential treatment, you earned it? Your flair for the dramatic can, unfortunately, fizzle out on occasion. And your easy going style sometimes comes off as lackadaisical. But if you just keep walking softly and carrying a big stick, eventually, people will appreciate your even bigger upside.

You are Ryan Theriot. People don't expect much from you at first, but you thrive on sneaking up on them with your scrappy, fiery approach. You work hard, play hard, laugh hard, and die hard. You try to be blue collar, you really do, but you just can't seem to shed the image of the consensus clubhouse leader. Your biggest weakness just may be a propensity to forget how hard you have to work. Success will never come naturally for you; but when you chase it, it will never outrun you, either.

You are Ryan Dempster. You're a complete goofball, and a scream at parties. But when you're at work, you're all business. Maybe people underestimate you because of your antics, but your professionalism will make short work of any doubters. You thrive on positive vibes and encouragement in a friendly environment, and conversely sometimes falter under intense pressure or adverse conditions. Focus is your best friend; lose it and you will wilt, but maintain it and you will dominate.

You are Lou Piniella. You know perfectly well who you are, and if I try to tell you, you'll shoot a glare at me that says in no uncertain (yet silent) terms, "Shut up or I'll bludgeon you with Santo's prosthetic." Next.

You are Ron Santo. You are 100% emotion. You rise and fall with the performance of those you hold most dear. People thrive on your emotion and sometimes laugh at the pure theater of your reactions. You deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but this world sucks sometimes.

You are Carlos Marmol. You are equal parts wild, untouchable, breathtaking, and heartstopping. No one can control you . . . even you can't control you. But can you grasp the wind and put it in your pocket? Can you put sunshine in a bottle? Can you tie a rainbow into a knot and tell it, "Stop being colorful"? No. Such is Marmol.

Okay, you get it. I'm not going to go through the entire 40-man roster, front office, and broadcasting booth. Maybe you could help me fill in the blanks. Go ahead, channel your inner Carrie Muskat.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Can't Stop Making Geo Jokes

Not that there's a good time to be caught smoking pot, Geovany Soto picked the best news day in the history of mass media to break the news about his positive drug test. The only downside of the timing in the news cycle is that it's really too soon to be making Michael Jackson jokes; so people (i.e. me) are bludgeoning Geo with their funny bones.

So, to continue that trend, here are some Cub-related lyrics to a drug-related song (by the end of it, you might be wondering if this whole season is up in smoke):

I went and hit a three run jack, because I got high.
Lou and Milton Bradley talked a little smack, because they got high.
We almost let the Sox come back, and I know why, yeah,
Because we got high, because we got high, because we got high.

We made Kevin Gregg our closer because we got high.
Then they leaked the news about Sammy Sosa because he got high.
Jim Hendry traded Mark DeRosa, and I know why, yeah,
Because he got high, because he got high, because he got high.

For the most part Lou's been mellow because he gets high.
Milton is a ten-million-dollar fellow 'cuz Hendry got high.
And Moises' hands looked yellow*, and I know why, yeah,
Because he got high, because he got high, because he got high.

Carlos Marmol just walked someone else, because he got high.
We'll be lucky if this team ever sells, (the economy ain't high).
We just blew another W for Wells, and I know why, yeah,
The bullpen got high, the bullpen got high, the bullpen got high.

Soriano dropped a routine fly, because he got high.
He offered at a ball that was a foot outside, yep, he's still high.
He'll be hitting leadoff 'til the day I die, and I know why, yeah,
Because Lou got high, because Lou got high, because Lou got high.

We got runners at first and third, but then we got high.
If we don't score, that would be absurd, unless we get high.
Hey, I could really go for dessert, and I know why, yeah,
Because we got high, because we got high, because we got high.

This team used to always choke, but then they got high.
In the playoffs they were a joke, but then they got high.
They're tryin' to be the champions of smoke, and I know why, yeah-hey,
So they can get high, so they can get high, so they can get high.

Okay, I think I just killed hordes of brain cells just composing that song. I apologize to any of yours I've done in.

*Yeah, I know, Moises Alou hasn't been on the team for 5 years. Sue me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not That It Helps, But . . . We Got 1

I kept hearing Pat Hughes last night saying the Cubs had failed to get a hit with RISP on this road trip. I rarely have cause to dispute Mr. Hughes's baseball knowledge, but he blew that stat. Blasphemy, I tell you, blasphemy!

Kosuke got a hit with runners on 1st and 2nd after failing to get the bunt down in the 6th.

So the Cubs are actually 1 for 250,000 with RISP this road trip. Much less depressing, no?

Cubs RISP Woes Duplicate Playoff Psyche

The Cubs currently bare no resemblance to the 2008 Cub team that won the division and garnered the best record in the NL. They do, however, look a lot like the team that showed up in the 2008 (and 2007) playoffs. And I propose that it's a good thing.

Yesterday's game was frustrating, but there was plenty of bad luck raining down on the Cubbies (most notably, the strike that ended it all). The last three games have really been a world of their own, because the Cubs have looked like a team that usually scores runs but by some fluke got held down. For most of the year, they have had a couple of innings each game in which they stage rallies that go nowhere. But in these last few games, the Cubs have had runners on in decent scoring opportunities almost every single inning.

Now you can react to that in many different ways. Obviously you can get even more frustrated because their failure with RISP is even more pronounced and prolific. I'll give you that.

But I choose to look at it another way. Prior to this stretch, I thought it was useless to complain about their efforts with RISP because their efforts without RISP were pretty much equally abysmal. But now you can isolate and evaluate the problem. There is definitely a mental shift in the Cubs' approach with RISP. They're trying too hard.

If you'll remember, that was exactly their problem in the playoffs. Guys were trying to win the series with one swing, one pitch, one fielding play. They need to trust in their abilities and their teammates and just take what the pitchers/defenses are giving them and hit the ball. Not to the moon, just hard somewhere.

At the season's start, the Cubs just looked plain impotent on offense. They seem to have overcome the complete funk and have now entered into an acute, RISP-only phase of suckiness, and I think that's an easier problem to fix. I'm telling you, if the Cubs get over this mental block, I truly believe it will be a lesson they can take far into the postseason.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cubs Stat of the Week: Rich Harden is K-licious

As we're waiting for Harden to take the mound against the Indians, I thought you might be interested in a little Rich Harden trivia. So let's talk about Rich, the king of the K.

It would be nice to see Rich Harden stay healthy. It would be nice to see Rich Harden pitching in 8th or 9th inning of a game. It would be nice to see Rich Harden throw a 10-pitch inning. But given the stat of the week, you can understand why none of those things seem to happen very often.

As a Cub, Rich Harden averages 11.26 strikeouts per 9 innings.

If you're wondering, he leads NL starters with at least 20 starts in that stretch. Also, if you're wondering, in what amounts to almost a full season in Cubbie blue Harden has started just 21 games, averaging about 5 2/3 innings a start.

If only he were a bit more hittable, maybe Harden could go deeper into games. Chicks dig the strikeout, but I'm pretty sure Lou prefers healthy starters who last into the 7th.

Throw Out the Stats: Wood, DeRosa Brought Fun

Forget about any links to baseball-reference. Statistics really don't help understand the loss we as fans have felt since Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood were sent packing unceremoniously, Wood via free agency, DeRosa via a trade, but both to the Cleveland Indians.

I have argued against the statistical impact of both players (DeRosa is an average hitter who, for all his versatility, can play only one position at a time; Kerry is a constant injury risk whose ERA can soar faster than you can say "persisting blister problem"). But the difference both players made struck me in the 8th inning of yesterday's come-from-behind win over the Sox (right about the time Soto was blasting a spheroid into orbit over Scotty Pods and company).

Both guys were fun.

At the moment the Cubs tied the game against the Sox, I realized that I could live with a loss because I had my fun. Losing is one thing. Losing a heartbreaker is worse. But losing without scoring more than a run or two, day after day—that's just brutal. I've arrived at the point at which, with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, I cheer for a double play, just to see a Cub cross home plate.

But DeRosa and Wood, win or lose, provided lots of fun. The stats might not be overwhelming, but the memories of DeRosa's clutch hits are myriad and precious. And Kerry Wood's style, when he was on, is something I'll tell my grandkids about. He could get lefthanders to swing at sliders that wound up hitting them in the knees. And I was among the 15,000+ who saw him K 2o Astros ($6 for a seat in the bleachers . . . don't get me started).

Baseball games run about 3 hours. To make it through, you need to get excited a few times. I've yet to see a stat that can track the WOW factor, but DeRosa and Wood were among the Cub leaders in WOW. I'm glad they're coming back to Wrigley this weekend. I just hope they leave a little bit of fun behind when they go.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cubs Sox a Love Hate Relationship

I feel about the Cubs-Sox series pretty much the way I feel about roller coasters. They're exciting. They're nerve wracking. They're rarely boring. But by the end, I kind of want to throw up. It's essentially the same feeling I get when the Cubs play the Cardinals, except there is so much less at stake . . . and so much more.

With the Cards, each game is worth 2 in the standings (if the Cubs and Cardinals were to play today, a loss would send the Cubs 3 games behind St. Louis, a win would pull them within 1), so they all carry a ton of weight. But with the Sox, the competition is chiefly a battle for bragging rights, and there are a lot more Sox fans than Cards fans in my territory, so the bragging that goes on is real, prevalent, and annoying.

So here are a few of the pluses and minuses about enduring the Windy City matchups when I'm neither out of the country nor in a coma:

Love it
The intensity among the fans and the adrenaline in the players creates a playoff atmosphere.

Hate it
Have you watched the Cubs in the playoffs lately?

Love it
Ozzie and Lou are hilarious to watch and listen to, and uniting them in one building for three days makes for great TV and soundbites.

Hate it
Listening to people overreact to both of them, on the other hand, sucks rocks.

Love it
No matter how the season is going, this rivalry gives importance to at least 6 games at a time when either team might be irrelevant.

Hate it
Right now, these are two irrelevant teams.

Love it
The emotional high of seeing, say, an Aramis Ramirez walk-off homer is absolutely exquisite.

Hate it
My emotional high is on the DL.

Love it
After the World Series win in '05, Sox fans turned into a bunch of placated softies. I attended the infamous A.J./Barrett game the next year, and the crowd at the Cell was as laid back as can be.

Hate it
After the World Series win in '05, Cub fans effectively lost all bragging rights.

Love it
The series has been even, split down the middle, half Cub wins, half Cub losses.

Hate it
Those 33 losses really stunk. And I'll never forget the 2001 Sox sweep at Wrigley in '99 that effectively ended what had been a promising season. The Cubs never recovered . . . not sure I have either.

Love it
It's one of those events that get people talking about baseball again, bringing national attention to both teams, and arousing interest in people who don't usually care a lick about sports.

Hate it
At this point in my life, I just want a nice relaxing day at the park or in front of the TV or just driving easy breezy with the radio tuned to 720. Cubs + White Sox almost never = relaxing.

I'm not one of those who hates the Sox with a passion. I like quite a few Sox fans. The Cell is a nice place to go see a game. If we're honest, both teams historically stink. I'm glad for the chance to watch some meaningful baseball, but will someone please wake me when things are meaningless again?

In the meantime, let me know what you think. Do you love or hate the Cubs/White Sox series?

UPDATE: With the recent disclosure from the NY Times about Sosa's alleged 2003 positive steroid test (I'm not even going to honor that rag by linking to it), I have to say the pendulum has swung over to the Hate it side. These big moments provide the perfect occasions for pseudo-journalists to release bombshell stories with zero attribution of fact.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day-Off Reflections: MJ rocks the Crosstown Classic

Ah, yes, the good ol' days; back when Cubs vs. Sox was nothing but an exhibition of inane proportions.

I guess the promotional series (the official Crosstown Classic ran from '85 to '95) also gave Sox fans some consolation in their team's lowly status in Chicagoland and perpetual 2nd-place finishes in the AL West.

The Cubs went 0-10-2 in the life of the series, but the lowlight for them may have been a game that ended in a tie.

April 7, 1994. Michael Jordan donned a real Sox jersey in what would prove to be the apex of his baseball career, as he racked up 2 hits, 2 RBI, and a game-tying, late-inning RBI double that prevented the Cubs from posting their first W in the Classic.

Thankfully, interleague baseball in the Windy City has been a completely different story since the games began counting. The series is tied 33-33, which is just fine by me. Seriously, I just want these games to be over without ruining the Cubs' season or killing anybody. Just as long as the Cubs aren't undone by any tongue-waggling Hall-of-Fame shooting guards, I'll be fine.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Cubs Giveth & The Cubs Taketh Away

Getting shutout by a rookie pitcher isn't good enough for a team supposedly blessed with potent bats, and it isn't good enough for their hitting coach, either. So it makes enough sense for Gerald Perry to get the message-sending heave ho after the Cubs were blanked 2-0 by Anthony Swarzak and the Twins.

But apparently, blanking the Cubs isn't good enough for Swarzak to keep his job. The Twins handed him the game ball and a demotion to AAA after his shutout performance on Saturday. So that's what it's come to? Shutting out the Cubs just isn't that impressive?

The sad thing is, the rookie will almost certainly give up more runs in his next minor league start than he did against the Cubbies. Anthony, if you're reading this, look up Jake Fox in AAA. Maybe he and his 5-6 pinch-hitting performance can console you on the pain of being demoted for succeeding.

So the Cubs' futility on offense couldn't keep Swarzak in the big leagues and brought new hitting coach Von Joshua out of the minors. What impact will any of it have on the Cubs offensive woes? Unless Mr. Joshua has a doctorate in psychology, I'm not too sure he'll have the answer to the Cubs troubles.

I also hope I'm wrong, as do all the future rookie pitchers waiting to try their hand against this Cub lineup.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cub Fans and Music Lovers: Try This, Genius

If you aren't familiar with the man behind the music played after every Cub win, you really ought to cozy up to the music of the late Steve Goodman. Before it became fashionable to be a talented singer/songwriter/Cub fan, Goodman was the original. He wrote songs for Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and more aspiring Chicago musicians than you can shake Soriano at. His most popular songs, though, are probably his Cub-related tunes, "Go Cubs Go," and the above video, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."

The truly sad thing is that he really was a Dying Cub Fan. Goodman fought leukemia for essentially his entire career and finally passed away on September 20, 1984 at the age of 36. If your math skills and sense of Cub history are sharp, you already realize just how sad a life he had as a tortured musician and Cub fan . . .

The Cubs didn't play a single postseason game during Steve Goodman's lifetime.

So if you're looking for music to accompany your sorrows for Steve Goodman and the seemingly endless plight of the Cubs, I suggest this little experiment: play "Go Cubs Go" on your iPod or iTunes and click that fun little "Genius" button. Here are a few selections from the playlist of ironic torment and musical consolation my system delivered:

1. "Go Cubs Go," Steve Goodman (Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today.)

2. "The Blower's Daughter," Damien Rice (And so it is, the shorter story, no love, no glory . . . the link plays "Cannonball," but whatever)

3. "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (Heaven knows how much I cry)

4. "The Long Ride Home," Patty Griffin (Pretty sure this describes the journey back to Chicago yesterday)

5. "Ain't No Reason," Brett Dennen (There ain't no reason things are this way, that's how they always been and they intend to stay.)

6. "At My Window, Sad and Lonely," Billy Bragg & Wilco (But remember, I will love you 'til I die)

7. "How Come," Ray LaMontagne (Everybody on a shoestring, everybody in a hole)

8. "I Don't Know," Lisa Hannigan (I don't know what you smoke.)

9. "Out Loud," Mindy Smith (It's no wonder that we're sinking down.)

10. "Wrecking Ball," Gillian Welch (Too much trouble for me to shake. Oh, the weather and the blinded ache)

So that's it. Put "Go Cubs Go" into your iPod Genius machine and listen to the steady stream of sorrow pour into your soul. Obviously it helps if you have some related music, but I'd love to hear what bleeds from your iTunes when you do the same.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Improbable Ray of Sunshine (from MB)

I was plenty bummed about last night's Cubbie bout of déjà lose. Great pitching performance. Lousy offensive showing. Broken record (and not the steroid-induced kind). The most words I could come up with to describe it was a solitary tweet (feel free to follow me, Adambuckled, on Twitter, by the way).

But now I'm feeling up to a few more than 140 characters thanks to the memory of one ultimately insignificant play (a non-play, really) from last night's game and a bit of hopeful news heading into today's mid-day dust-up with the 'Stros.

Late in Wednesday night's game, Milton Bradley went sliding awkwardly into the right-field wall in foul territory at Minute Maid. It looked like a potential season-ender the way Bradley's luck goes. But he was alright. Most tweets I saw reflected my initial reaction, too: can you try just a little harder not to get hurt, you overpaid lummox?

After a good night's sleep, though, I think I was wrong. Bradley's defense has looked pretty good these past couple of games. He's made a couple of diving catches despite his sore ego knee quad shoulder hamstring -ness. More than that, Bradley's reckless slide into the wall showed me one thing I can no longer question:

The dude's trying.

Milton Bradley is trying really hard to get better. Probably too hard. That kind of effort and desire deserves to be applauded. And apparently Lou has more than just a pat on the fanny in store for his surliness. The Cubs Web site is reporting that Lou spotted something in Bradley's swing that just may right the ship.

So Bradley's trying. Lou's helping. Let's hope it all works and that the Cubs can make Steve Goodman a prophet once again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cubs Stat of the Week: Ryan Theriot on 3-0

Ryan Theriot has never made an out on a 3-0 pitch.


When I started looking up an intriguing Cubs stat for this week, I was hoping to find a revelation in Theriot's average with two strikes. His career average in that situation isn't bad (.233) but it's not great this year (.171). And then I stumbled upon something I had never even considered:

You don't want to go to 3-0 on anybody, especially not The Riot. 

In his relatively short career, Theriot has faced a 3-0 count 89 times. And in those 89 career 3-0 counts, Theriot has never made an out on a 3-0 pitch. Actually, he's never even put such a pitch in play. 

That's right. Ryan Theriot has exactly Zero point Zero Zero official at-bats on 3-0 counts. He has had 34 plate appearances decided by a 3-0 pitch, and all 34 have been walks (three of them intentional). I can't exactly say the stat gets better (how can you improve on a 1.000 OBP?) but Theriot's career performance after a 3-0 pitch continues to impress.

In his 89 career plate appearances that began with three straight balls, Theriot has drawn 60 walks. Of the 29 remaining at bats, Theriot has 11 hits, five of them doubles (.379 BA, .552 SLG). But the overwhelming majority of the time (roughly 2/3), when Theriot reaches a 3-0 count, he draws a walk on his way to a .798 OBP after 3-0 counts. 

When Theriot works a 3-ball count of any kind, good things happen. He has a .323 BA, a .631 OBP, and a 1.088 OPS. So how does Theriot compare to the rest of baseball?

In 2009, Major League hitters put almost 5% of 3-0 pitches in play (compared to Theriot's career 0% rate). Here's the general breakdown of Theriot vs. the ML average:

After a 3-0 Count
MLB: .267 BA, .759 OBP, 1.220 OPS
Theriot: .379 BA, .798 OBP, 1.349 OPS

With Three Balls, Any Number of Strikes
MLB: .259 BA, .593 OBP, 1.029 OPS
Theriot:  .323 BA, .631 OBP, 1.088 OPS

This definitely reinforces my opinion that Theriot uses the count to his advantage as well as just about anybody in the game. He just has an impeccable sense of modifying his approach as his at-bats go along. That's why I love watching Theriot at the plate, because he is a textbook example of how to approach each pitch.

Long story short: throw strikes to The Riot, or he'll make you pay.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What does it mean to be a Cubs fan?

On yesterday's episode, Lou and Sheps over at Cubscast had an interesting discussion about one listener's criticism of a disgusted, tirade-filled cast that spilled out into the podcast world earlier in the week.

The fan's criticism in a nutshell was this: I'm tired of listening to you guys whine and rant about the Cubs. That's behavior befitting of Yankee and Red Sox fans. Not Cub fans; we love our team no matter what.

Sheps' response, in essence, was as follows: It's stupid to love a team no matter what. If the Cubs stink, it's your duty to complain, not lead cheers while the players and front office stink up the place.

If you've ever peeked at my Cubs bio, you probably know how I feel about this one. I believe love for the Cubs or any team should be pretty much unconditional. If you stop being a fan when your team stinks, you're a fair-weather fan. I've heard countless people argue against that statement, but they all amount to the same steaming pile of Cardinal. Liking a team only when they're good is the very definition of fair-weather fan.

Plain and simple, I have no respect for fair-weather fans.

That being said, there's a difference between staying true to (or loving, if you want to call it that, Cub lovers) a team and not criticizing a team. There's a middle ground between unconditional fandom and happy-go-lucky idiocy.

When the Cub defense and bullpen conspired to blow Randy Wells' stellar performance and potential 1st career win yet again, I was real angry. We're talking cartoon fumes pouring out the sides of my bright-red face. 

But I'm still loyal, even when I'm not happy with the Cubs. I try to keep a short leash on my complaints about the Cubs because I have nothing else to cheer for. I have no control over who plays, who they trade, how they play, or anything. When the team functions well, I'm happy. When they don't, I'm out of luck. 

Call me an idiot for my blind allegiance, but complaining and booing, for the most part, is the stuff of idiots.

The guy who complains at length usually believes his complaints will have some effect on the decisions Lou and Jim Hendry make. The booing fan seems to think she can alter the performance or somehow erase the existence of the player she's deriding. The person who jumps ship to cheer for another team? Good riddance.

All these people are deluded. Maybe I am too, but at least I'm loyal.

So complain away, boo away, or just go away. But don't kid yourself into thinking that anyone's really listening. I know I'm not.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Day-Off Reflections: 1985

From a health perspective, 2009 is all-too reminiscint of 1985, the ill-fated season when the Cubs saw four of their starting pitchers wailing in DL agony at the same time. It was the year of the Shawon-O-Meter. It was also the year that I, a young Cub fan, came to grips with the reality that had been brewing for the better part of 8 decades: 

In 1985, I understood what the Curse was all about.

The 1985 Cubs became, for me, the prototype for all other Cub failures. '84 was magical (give or take a groundball through Leon Durham's legs and a Steve Garvey child-support homer). The acute heartbreak of playoff loss would come but once or twice a decade. But the undulating suffering of a losing season punctuated with small swells of hope and victory . . . that chronic, unyielding ache began in '85 and has surged mercilessly forward ever since.

But '85 might turn out to be the mirror image of '09. In '85 it was the pitching staff that broke under the weight of injury. They had 13 pitchers start games for them that year, which is just brutal. This year the injuries are more offensive in nature (not completely) as the Cubs have already seen 6 All Stars (Milton Bradley, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol) miss games due to injury . . . anyone else surprised not to see Soriano on that list?

While the '85 team was second from the bottom in the NL for team ERA, this year's pitchers are at the middle of the pack. The '85 bats were solid, leading the league in slugging and OPS. This year? The Cubbies are in the bottom half in almost every significant offensive category.

But this year's story isn't written. And I'm left to ponder which is better: the stabbing pain of a postseason Cub-cardiac arrest, or the throbbing ache of a slow, regular season death?

Stab me, Cubbies. Stab me good.