Monday, April 30, 2007

Cubs limp out of April

The first month of the season ended Monday night with a familiar site: the Cub bullpen losing another ballgame. The Cubs who headed into Pittsburgh with a three game winning streak had several chances to extend that streak to four. But as has become par for the course, the Cubs coudn't find a way to win a close game. At the end of the month the Cubs find themselves looking up 5-1/2 games at the front running Milwaukee Brewers. Here are the current standings in the NL Central:

Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 16 9 .640 -
Pittsburgh 12 12 .500 3.5
Cincinnati 12 13 .480 4.0
Chicago 10 14 .417 5.5
Houston 10 14 .417 5.5
St. Louis 10 14 .417 5.5

I think many of us expected these standings to be reversed. While I don't think it's early anymore, there are still 5 months to play. The Cubs are in real need of a win streak, and a pretty big one. Lou Piniella did not sign onto this team for a 77 win "rebuilding season". The reality is, that is what the season is starting to look like.

One of the most alarming things about the first month of the season has to be the Cubs rotten play at home. In 2005 the Cubs were 38-43 at Wrigley Fd. In 2006 their home record was 36-45. They know that they have to reverse this trend if they want to be in contention come September. So their home record this April...4-9. More alarming has been the different ways they have found to lose games. There was this collapse on April 13th when the so-called ace Carlos Zambrano couldn't hold a 5 run lead. Last Monday the Cubs gave the first place Brewers a game for their end of year highlight film.

With five months left in Tribune ownership, many fans, myself included, can't wait for the page to turn. As the clock heads heads toward 0:00 it is only fitting that the Cubs finish their years under the Tribsters with another dud. Why did any us expect more? Stupidity I guess.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tragedy strikes Cardinals

Less than 5 years after the death of Darryl Kile in a hotel room in downtown Chicago, the St. Louis Cardinals were struck with another tragedy early this morning. 29 year old relief pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car accident early this morning in St. Louis.

Obviously the 7:05 game tonite between the Cubs and Cards has been postponed.

A.E. Housman wrote these words many years ago that sadly fit today:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Rest in peace Josh Hancock.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

marquis takes the opener

one of the least imaginable things to transpire in this young year for the 9-13 cubs has actually been a positive -- the quality of the starting pitching. this club, without a healthy mark prior, figured and figures to have a pretty unspectacular rotation. carlos zambrano is what he is and rich hill has promised to shine for some time, but getting the kinds of performances out of ted lilly and -- particularly -- jason marquis that the club has gotten to date was totally unexpected.

marquis flashed that ephemeral quality again yesterday, holding down an underachieving cardinal lineup in the opening game of a critical three-game set at new busch stadium to the tune of 6.2 innings, 5 hits, three walks, and just three runs on 98 pitches -- all despite fanning no one. homers by club engine aramis ramirez and new-kid felix pie -- raising his line to 243/263/459 in his first 37 major league at-bats -- provided the winning difference, despite some frightening moments in the eighth as the redbirds loaded the bases.

of course, such quality is terribly unlikely to last -- these are, after all, not very good pitchers -- one supposes that goes without saying, but this page has said it anyway.

but of course it cannot last. mean reversion may have begun today for the cubs pitching staff. in one day, the cubs team figure for runs allowed moved from 3.53 per game to a round 4.00. but will not be felt in full effect until lilly and marquis come back into their time-proven form -- and rich hill comes back into the solar system, if not to earth itself. he's good, folks, but not this good.

but it should be noted that this lot has been good -- very good -- and as long as they can stay good this club has a chance to make up the ground it frittered away earlier in the year that has left it at this morning writing tied with houston in the cellar, still five games back of division-leader milwaukee. updating the previous team pitching table:


but if that somehow doesn't provide sufficient context for just how blessed has been the fortune of this club, perhaps this will. there are currently 65 pitchers in the national league with over 20 innings pitched. this is how they sort by babip.

1Matt CainSFN29.01.550.833.
2Rich HillCHN28.71.570.844.
3Mark HendricksonLAN10.71.660.694.
4John MaineNYN26.31.711.
5Orlando HernandezNYN32.02.811.
6Braden LooperSLN33.01.911.
7Jason BergmannWAS22.03.681.
8Jason MarquisCHN30.72.641.
9Ted LillyCHN33.02.450.795.
10Tim HudsonATL37.01.220.976.
37Carlos ZambranoCHN27.36.911.799.

that is to say, the cubs have three of the nine luckiest starters in the league at this moment, with zambrano trailing in the middle of the pack (his troubles stemming not from luck but from walks).

however, as they say, it works until it doesn't -- and the cubs have to hope that lucky pitching continues to support a charge at least back to break even before this year gets much older.

this writer has characterized an early violation of the five back rule as a death knell -- and it is.

however -- though nothing would be more surprising to this writer than to see this mediocre club with its mediocre offense (an estimate thus far essentially verified, as it plates 4.63 runs/game with a .313 babip) spontaneously revive -- once in a while folks wake up and pop out of the coffin.

the trick, of course, is to wake up before you're buried. this series is to be followed by a run of nine games -- six against pittsburgh, three against washington -- that must be the smelling salts for this club if it is to regain much hope. chances are, if it isn't the salts, it's probably the myrrh.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

fuck you, dusty baker

this page isn't one that wishes to dwell inordinately on the past except insofaras it can serve as a guide to the future. but this writer is going to make an exception, and put a coda on his postings about mark prior.

will carroll:

I spent most of Wednesday waiting and wondering, like most baseball fans. It was the day we'd all finally have some closure on Mark Prior. Was he pitching through a damaged shoulder? Was the damage related to mechanics (a SLAP lesion or torn cuff) or was it more related to overuse? Did Dr. Andrews put his scope in and see more pitches left in the once-magic shoulder of Mark Prior? I spent a lot of time on the phone and pouring through medical books and journals to make sure I had a grasp on all the possibilities. I find this outcome unsatisfying and can only imagine how Prior feels about now. By the time you read this, Prior will already have begun his rehab, a long road that's aimed at taking the mound again, hopefully without the pain that's plagued him since 2003. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly.) Prior is an object lesson in the shoulder's fragility, in the fact that the sure thing isn't, not unless we do more.

Mark Prior's surgery went about as was expected. Dr. James Andrews got his scope inside, looked around, and saw a lot of damage. My initial impressions were pretty much dead on with what sources have told me. It's telling that he'll start his rehab in Birmingham, as it appears that he's headed out of Chicago. Will a change of scenery and a new medical staff help Prior? That is as unclear as everything else in Prior's universe. At 27, he remains relatively young, and if he comes out of this surgery pain-free, he has a chance to do what Chris Carpenter did at age 28 after a similar surgical repair. That Prior had significant damage inside the shoulder tells us that the last couple seasons could have been different, years that were essentially lost to Prior and to the Cubs. Going forward, putting Prior with a pitching coach like Dave Duncan or Jim Hickey would make for an interesting mix.

Most of the damage indicates a slow wearing rather than any significant trauma, which puts the blame more on Dusty Baker than anyone else, especially Marcus Giles. I've seen some blindly suggesting that the Bankart lesion was the result of that 2003 collision but if that had been the case, the amount of damage occurring to the ligaments would be sufficiently significant to cause instability that would prevent return to activity for an extended period of time—extended here meaning far more than the three starts he missed. The reported outcome after the collision was a Grade II acromioclavicular sprain. Since the AC sprain involved the acromioclavicular ligament (which basically ties the clavicle and scapula together), there would be very little likelihood that this injury could have involved his labrum. With Prior, there does not appear to be any history of significant injury to the glenohumeral joint itself, therefore making this a wear & tear injury that could have been exacerbated by the fact that the may have been genetically bilaterally lax as compared to the "norm". We also have to remember that the shoulder laxity found during 2006 was said to be muscular, not structural. The once-vaunted mechanics fell apart when pain pulled down on his arm slot, leaving him "throwing pies" as one pitching coach described it.

carroll here verifies almost to the letter what this page has suspected for many, many months now. dusty baker's abuse of a 22-year-old prior in 2003 left his shoulder in tatters, and prior has worked hard, through pain but ultimately futilely to recover ever since. this page noted since 2005 that prior could well be pitching with a damaged arm, and would have noted it sooner still had it existed. when finally the truth emerged it was no surprise. when he was diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, it was pointed out that such an injury is a consequence of overuse and would cost him significant time. when he had difficulty rehabbing and the cubs called it "food poisoning", when his velocity failed to return, the cubs trotted him out to the mound anyway despite what is now obvious -- that he was in considerable pain. the team let him be destroyed on the mound, setting in motion the final chain of events that led him to this.

and for that, he has dusty baker and jim hendry to thank. if he demonstrated disdain for these belligerent morons and the duplicitous fawning boobs of a team-owned scandal sheet such as paul sullivan as they questioned his character in print, leading droves of fools and sycophants to repeat their accusations verbatim and make prior a hated man, who could blame him? would not you, dear reader? kevin goldstein:

Basically, for the last two years or so, sports radio and print here in Chicago has been filled with inferences that Mark Prior was, for lack of a better term, a wuss. While doctors struggled to find an answer for Prior’s velocity issues, accusations (both direct and indirect) were flying left and right. It’s all in his head, he’s never dealt with adversity, his confidence is shot, he’s overcompensating for the normal soreness that every other pitcher deals with, nothing is really wrong with him, etc.

Meanwhile, while spending just as much time off the field as Prior, Kerry Wood got a free pass. See, this Wood guy, he’s a man’s man. He’s from Texas and he talks like one would expect the Marlboro man to and he curses and spits and gets arrested for public urination. He’s a tough guy, see? But no, not Prior. Prior was downright erudite, following in his father’s footsteps by attending Vanderbilt before transferring closer to home at Southern California. Prior actually finished his class work after being drafted and got a degree, a rarity among ballplayers. In interviews, he was calm, collected and thoughtful, if not downright boring. He didn’t have spiked hair or a goatee, he almost looked more fitting in a suit than a baseball uniform. He wasn’t what we expected a baseball player to be as a personality, he wasn’t the kind of guy who would punch you in the shoulder when he greeted you, and therefore he was a wimp.

Well guess what, folks? Mark Prior has been trying to pitch for what looks like two-plus years with the kind of damage in his shoulder that would have you or I thinking about worker’s compensation even though our jobs probably require little more than sitting in from of a computer much of the day. You owe him an apology, and if he comes back in the way Dr. Andrews believes he can, many Cubs fans don’t deserve to reap the benefits.

we have speculated here on the effect of management on a team, which is generally thought by many to be minimal. this page suspects otherwise. as the damage uncovered by dr. andrews demonstrates so sadly, the way in which prior and kerry wood were abused that year effectively ended their careers, and the decisions baker made that fateful autumn have had radical, awful, destructive effects on 2004, 2005 and 2006 -- and they will continue to echo for years to come.

let it be said here -- the way in which baker acted that year, and the way in which hendry allowed him to act, crippled this franchise deeply and durably. that much is now a matter not of speculation but of medical fact. where would this club be today with a prior and wood who had not been so horribly disfigured by baker in 2003? what would be their state today had the manager of the club seen fit to relieve them in blowouts, to limit their pitch counts, to have used them responsibly rather than recklessly? we will never know. but this writer is willing to estiamte that it would be a better state than this.

so a final, hearty and well-earned salutation to that toothpick-suckling bastard in bristol, who is apparently trying to announce games with a shoe crammed in his mouth and a lobotomized frontal lobe that makes joe morgan's seem adequate. for what you've done to this team, these fans and this town, god help you. this page for one certainly hopes never to have to endure the plague of your kind again.

theriot promoted to shortstop

the first inking came with yesterday's starting lineups, but after the game lou piniella confirmed that the cubs had indeed taken a positive remedial step in demoting cesar izturis and ronny cedeno, who had previosuly been splitting time at shortstop, in favor of ryan theriot.

"We need a lift," Piniella said. "We need somebody who can get us going a little bit. Been trying to figure out where to play [Theriot]. He has been getting work at shortstop, so we're going to put him out there and let him play."

Piniella wouldn't say how much time he would give Theriot at short, but as long as he continues to hit, the job is his.

"The kid can swing the bat, and he has some energy," Piniella said. "I like the way he plays the game. The problem is, where do you put him?"

Theriot, 27, played shortstop at Triple-A Iowa last year and was given a few games there in spring training before Piniella pulled the plug and decided "he's better on the right side of the infield." That means he thinks Theriot's arm and range are lacking.

But with Izturis hitting .184 and the Cubs scuffling for runs, Piniella changed his mind. Theriot has been working out at the position for the last three days before games.

"It's something I'm comfortable with and excited about," Theriot said. "I look at is as an opportunity to impact the game in a positive way."

two of the cubs most destructive three position players to date in terms of value over replacement have been cedeno (-3.5) and izturis (-2.5), joining jacque jones (-2.7); the two shortstops are also the loss leaders by vorp rate. as alternatively measured by looking at win expectancy added (wpa), cedeno has again been the loss leader in the field at (-0.97), with izturis placing fifth (-0.43) sandwiching jones (-0.75), cliff floyd (-0.68) and matt murton (-0.50).

for context in terms of wpa, derrek lee, in going 393/474/560 over 97 at-bats in this young year, has accumulated a team-leading wpa of +1.00 -- which is to say, cedeno in just 30 at-bats has virtually cancelled the effect of lee's 97 at-bats in terms of winning games.

that is some seriously deficient individual production, though it is nothing new to anyone who watched cedeno compile one of the worst seasons in the majors in 2006 under the stubborn tutelage of dusty baker and jim hendry.

it is often said that managers have little or no effect on the outcome of games, but this writer has long secretly suspected that to be an error of omission. in terms of lineup construction and other mundane features of the game, it is certainly true that the difference between good and bad management offer small returns; moreover, it is not at all certain that what makes good management good in any one season is a repeatable mechanism that is harbored in the talent of an individual so much as in the good fortune of circumstance.

but these evaluations are taken on that which can be measured -- and it is all but impossible to measure that which has not happened. the most valuable (and damaging) decisions a manager makes are often those of passed opportunity, of the road not taken, of the allocation foregone. and for this reason one suspects that management remains a quantity unquantifiable in the strictest sense, even if we can be sure that luck plays a larger role than virtue.

regardless of the nature of management, it is hard to see how replacing cedeno and izturis with theriot cannot provide some small benefit to this club, though it may be marginal. theriot is, after all, currently carrying a 339/362/375 line on a babip of .388 -- an aberrant number that will surely come back to earth with increased playing time. and though that good fortune has helped him compile a value over replacement of +3.0, theriot is nonetheless on the negative side of the ledger in wpa at (-0.39) -- indeed, the cubs have but four positive offensive contributors in lee, aramis ramirez, michael barrett and mark derosa. his fielding at short will be suspect -- theriot was a second baseman for good reasons -- though it can hardly be vastly worse than that seen to date.

but the very act of removing from regular action two of the worst players on the roster -- including the unquestionably awful cedeno, who should never be allowed to play another game in the majors and whose promotion and use from necessity is perhaps the blackest of many blots on hendry's abysmal record -- will very probably have positive effect for the club even if theriot comes back to earth. he at least will likely play the position without finding ways to actively sabotage the club in critical situations with unnerving frequency, owing mostly to a penchant for reaching base.

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeAlfonso Soriano
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaFelix Pie*
3Jason MarquisMichael WuertzNeal Cotts*Geovany SotoRyan TheriotJacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Rocky CherryClay Rapada* Aramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerAngel Guzman  Cesar Izturis**Matt Murton
6Mark PriorRoberto Novoa  Ronny CedenoDaryle Ward*
7Juan MateoKerry Wood  Scott Moore*Angel Pagan**
8Sean Marshall*   Brian DopirakBuck Coats*
9Carlos Marmol     
10Jeff Samardzija     

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

prior has labrum repaired

mark prior's 2007 season came to a decisive end when exploratory surgery revealed a need to repair the rotator cuff and labrum in his ailing throwing shoulder.

Prior underwent right shoulder arthroscopy by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews cleaned up Prior's right rotator cuff, tightened shoulder capsules and repaired the pitcher's right labrum.

"Obviously he's had some things wrong physically, and he's getting them corrected," manager Lou Piniella said. "So this is a step in the right direction."

this page considered prior to be one of the two probable keys to any hope of success in 2007, along with rich hill. the team has since foundered, but any small hope of a resurgence will be linked with getting the kind of starting pitching that prior might once have provided from someone other than carlos zambrano and hill.

while it certainly is necessary for prior to have undergone this procedure in order to have any hope of a future in baseball, this page would reiterate that labrum repair is the graveyard of starting pitching. the mark prior we see emerge from rehabilitation (if he in fact does) will probably be a faint shadow of the pitcher we saw in 2003.

UPDATE: baseball prospectus' injury specialist will carroll on prior:

So what does this mean? First, it means that Prior had been pitching with significant damage for the past two years. Do NOT take this to mean that he was misdiagnosed. MRIs are imperfect instruments but it does show that this surgery was necessary. The cuff debridement is the most significant injury, but indicates that the tears in the muscles of the cuff were not significant enough to make them structurally unstable. Instead, Andrews would have scraped away scar, loose fragments of tendons, and bursae, as well as any other associated debris from the area.

Second, the capsule repair probably involved a capsular shift. In this the surgeon will make a small incision in the front of the shoulder, then folds an overlap to shrink the capsules circumference. It’s like folding over one of those funny pictures on the back of Mad Magazine.

Finally, the Bankart repair involves stapling, sewing or anchoring the capsular ligaments and glenoid labrum into anchors drilled into the scapula. Despite all this, it can be done completely arthroscopically. It’s as significant as it sounds, but since 2000, there’s been some success with this type of procedure, with several pitchers including Chris Carpenter able to come back to varying levels of success.

All in all, this is a very negative result for Prior, but gives him the knowledge that he was pitching with significant damage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the fat lady sings

this boat is sunk, kids. put it in the books. april 24.

let it be recorded that -- as your writer attended the funeral of the father of two dear friends -- a positively sprightly brewers club administered last rites to the northsiders on a pleasant tuesday evening on their way to what looks to be a very interesting season for their fans.

for us lot, on the other hand, confirmation has arrived that the cubs are simply not a very good ballclub -- yet again -- and that their remaining string will perhaps be intriguing from time to time but very probably never interesting in the way that milwaukee's will be.

it was only yesterday that the cubs managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

if disappointment had a graph, this is what it would look like

with that triumphant loss, the cubs managed simultaneously to fall five games back of the brewers in the national league central and five back of atlanta in the wildcard.

the followup to that loss was merely to roll over and die on a chilly wednesday night, putting club ace rich hill behind the 8-ball for the sin of being merely mortal. having pitched as a minor god in his first three starts -- which, as it happens, appears to be the only way to go 3-0 in three starts for this club -- hill was overdue for a bout of normality. for this team's starters, more often than not that means shouldering a loss.

there are going to be five long months to dissect in detail what went wrong with this ballclub -- including why they were so overrated by so many, including yours truly, who projected upon them the vision of 82 glorious wins. indeed, they may yet hit that mark and save this writer from some small measure of humiliation -- but for now the probabilities are what they are, and they are nothing to inspire optimism.

in the final outs of going six back of both the division leader and the wildcard at this writing, the cubs have more than violated the five back rule at the infernally early opportunity of 19 games. as past history has shown, this places the cubs in a bin from which we might expect a year-ending winning percentage of somewhere around .450 -- a 73-win pace. this serves as a woeful second to an earlier analysis of the club's slow start which found them likely crippled in pursuit of not only a playoff appearance but a break-even record.

but beyond the probabilities, the anecdotal signals are absolutely screaming that this is a failure of a ballclub. the team has now assured that it will take but one of its first eight series. it has lost 6 of its last 8, and 11 of its last 15. and in doing so it has gotten some of the best, luckiest pitching in baseball out of a decidedly average pitching staff -- an event which ought to have been, in the estimation of this page, enough to make this club formidable.

instead -- by compiling a litany of timely bullpen collapses, howlingly bad baserunning, poor fielding and simply daring to be a merely average power club (placing 7th in the nl in slugging coming into the day) -- the cubs have managed to turn what was probably one of their best possible 20-game stretches in terms of runs allowed into a terrible losing skid. the offense has made pitchers like kyle lohse, braden looper and jeff suppan in their turn look the ghost of walter johnson himself. and they have further suffered singularly at the hand of dame fortune, who has capricously crushed them under an 0-8 record in games decided by two runs or less.

there are plenty of excuses, one can be sure, and hopes for reversal both sane and insane. but none undoes a 7-13 start -- and calling an end to this year's festivities is less about the projections of the preseason than overcoming both the burden of history and the damage already wrought. the former we have addressed. as for the latter, to find a handle on a 13-7 brewer ballclub -- one that is now, with a fast start behind them, a fair candidate for 90 wins -- the cubs are going to be greatly pressed. should even milwaukee falter and play just .500 baseball from here, they would win 84; for the cubs even just to tie that low target, they would need now to play 77-65 (.542) -- a record they have shown zero inclination to reach over even a relatively short stretch, much less more than five months. furthermore -- at least as damning as that -- the cubs not only need to significantly outplay milwaukee but houston, cincinnati, saint louis and pittsburgh.

what else is there to say, dear reader? if you were duped by the spending spree that wasn't, you have a lot of company -- and this page is certainly saddened but hopes you find instruction in its criticism. and there will almost certainly be some better days to enjoy in this year than these, so if your object remains a mere construction of escape from your bleak reality there is still reason to watch. indeed, some small possibility must still be allowed for a reversal of fortune -- more amazing things have, of course, happened.

but on the evidence there can be little doubt -- reasonable expectation of a winning season, much less a playoff year, is already gone even where hope may remain. teams that sink so far so soon almost always simply continue to struggle for the same reasons that they got into this position in the first place. the cubs join the kansas city royals, the washington nationals, the philadelphia phillies and the colorado rockies as those wandering tribes who -- for this season, at least -- remain, barring a miracle, on the outside looking in.

Cubs can't win another close game

You have to hand it to the Cubs. When they collapse in these ballgames it's a team effort. It would be plain easy to point fingers at one part of the team or one player. The truth is every aspect has been poor. Another example of that came on Monday night when Prince Fielder hit two late game homeruns into the wind. The first homer tied the game off of Scott Eyre. The next one would be the game winner off of Rocky Cherry into the basket in the 12th. Welcome to the big leagues Rocky.

It would be easy to blame the bullpen for the loss. But the Cubs offense couldn't come up with the big hit all night. They never added onto their early 4-0 lead. They had chances all night to add to that lead. Yet they didn't score a single run after the third inning. Cub hitters left 11 runners on base. (After leaving 10 on base Sunday).

Next we can look at the misadventures of the Cubs "so-called ace". The self proclaimed 2007 Cy Young winner once again was eratic. He only pitched 5.1 innings for a team that had a depleted bullpen coming off of a 10 inning loss on Sunday (in a game where Wade Miller only went 4.2 innings). The issue with Z continues to be his control. He walked 3 and threw 103 pitches in his outing. Something's starting to tell me the Cubs were lucky not to extend this guy.

So what does it all mean? Yes it is early. But the Cubs had better put together some sort of a streak and they had better do it quickly. Otherwise when they finally awake from their slumber they are going to find themselves playing out the season. Here are the standings as of this morning:

Central W-L Pct GB
Milwaukee 12-7 .632 --
Houston 9-9 .500 2.5
Cincinnati 9-10 .474
St. Louis 8-10 .444
Pittsburgh 7-10 .412
CUBS 7-12 .368 5.0

Ned Yost and his young Milwaukee Brewers have already opened up a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central. The largest lead in the big leagues. Everyone said that this was a weak division. It looks that way early, it also looks like the young Brewers may be poised to take the next step people have been predicting the last few seasons. If they do that, they just might run away and hide in this division.

As for the Cubs. They are now 5 games under .500 and 5 games behind the front running Brewers. 1060west's very own gaius marius has told us what 5.0 games back means (I can't wait for the refresher course). In the meantime this team is gonna have to find their way to .500, if they want to get back in this thing.

I hope the manager quits managing this thing like it's legion ball. Playing the RF in LF, the 2B in RF, or the 2B at 3B, what about using every position player everyday. Find a lineup, get your guys into positions and let them play. If the manager is waiting for help from the general manager he should get on the phone with the ex-manager working these days in Bristol, CT. Lou, you're stuck with the team you have.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

loose ends

as the cubs failed to make good on the rubber match today against the hated cardinals, yours truly thought he might try to bind up some loose ends that might not individually qualify for a post but together could be a source of interest.

-- though probably few frequent readers may have been holding out much hope for it, it seems time to put away the notion that the 2005 derrek lee is coming back. lee had notched 64 at-bats coming into today, and was yet to hit a single home run.


the defining difference for lee in 2005, as can be seen in a glance at his career stats, was twofold. foremost was a radical surge in hits -- his batting average jumping nearly 50 points over career norm (.335 vs .278) -- which corresponded to a deviation in babip of 30 points over career (.349 vs .322). second in importance to that was a boost in the home run rate per hit, which jumped 28% over his career norm as well (23.1% of hits being home runs in 2005 vs 18.0%).

such differences were always, in spite of the most hopeful beliefs of many a loyal cub fan, of highly questionable sustainability. when in 2006 lee reverted to a babip and home run rate much closer to career norms, many blamed his recovery from the wrist he broke to truncate his 2006 -- and indeed that surely had some effect, as lee's home run rate dipped to a quite low 16%.

now, however, in light of a long power drought this april in spite of an unsustainably high babip of .460, there seems little reason to believe that 2005's power output was anything more or less than an anomaly that will very probably go unrepeated. lee will now have to average seven home runs a month to touch 35 in this year, a rate that lee (as an examination of his prior years splits show) has managed only very rarely outside of 2005.

-- ronny cedeno took yet another start at shortstop this afternoon -- his seventh in 18 games -- a day after managing his second and third hits of the year to lift his on-base percentage to .160 -- and two days after committing one of the most ghastly gaffes of this young year.

it was not long ago that this page noted the lack of appearances for cesar izturis in mesa and sought explanation for cedeno's making the roster in the ill recovery of izturis from last year's troublesome hamstrings.

through the first 17 games, it seems that this page has found some validation. though no word is forthcoming on izturis' health, he has but 44 ab to cedeno's 23. that projects to 419 ab for izturis, 219 for cedeno -- and this proportion grew in cedeno's favor as the day progressed.

izturis is more clearly now than ever not going to be an everyday shortstop in the sense that one is accustomed -- indeed, izturis and cedeno are splitting time at short. given the abysmal quality of cedeno's work and the emergence of felix pie -- with alfonso soriano now slated to return in left field and not center, his path is clear if jim hendry wishes it to be -- efforts must be redoubled to move the discontented and ineffective jacque jones for a competent major-league shortstop who can play the position frequently and effectively -- cedeno and izturis are jointly leading the charge in negative vorp for the cubs this season.

-- this evening, with 18 in the books, over 11% of the season has already been completed -- and the cubs find themselves again in the central cellar, at 7-11 beneath even pittsburgh, having won but a single series in seven tries. much hopeful attention has been devoted to the positive run differential of the cubs through these games, at +14 coming into the day the best in the division -- 74 scored (4.35 rs/g), 60 allowed (3.53 ra/g) -- and that is indeed a more positive omen than not. however, in view of the volatility of run differential over shorter timeframes, this page would continue to hesitate to call it conclusive or even perhaps indicative.

indeed, perhaps a different analysis is more insightful. as can be seen in an overview of the national league to date, the cubs rank 9th in home runs with 13 through 17 games. even the most dour skeptic an be certain that this club will hit for some power -- in the neighborhood of 1.2 hr/g, it could be expected. had the cubs done so thusfar, what could the difference be? perhaps as much as another 10 runs scored, it would seem. an elevated babip has normalized in the course of the last few games, leaving the cubs as a team at .302 and no remarkable advantage in luck. such an estimation of normalized power and scoring would leave the team near 4.9 rs/g.

however, as 1060west guru corncoddress noted just yesterday, when the cubs power kicks in, so likely will the other guy's. cub pitching entering sunday's game was ripe for mean reversion. consider:


cubs pitching through april 21 had been the second-luckiest in the national league, allowing a meager .257 babip and 0.76 hr/9 -- as few as the cubs themselves had hit. opposing offenses had been held to an aggregate 214/299/341 line -- easily the lowest staff opsa in the national league.

this is a pitching staff that has had wildly positive performances from three starters -- ted lilly (26 ip, 15 h, 5 bb, 30 k, 2.42 era), jason marquis (24 ip, 18 h, 10 bb, 14 k, 1.88 era) and most of all rich hill (22 ip, 8 h, 7 bb, 18 k, 0.41 era). these three starters have allowed just two home runs in 72 innings. much angst has been focused on the travails of carlos zambrano and wade miller, but the average cub fan ought be jumping for joy at the abject good fortune of the pitching staff to date.

but of course it cannot last. mean reversion may have begun today for the cubs pitching staff. in one day, the cubs team figure for runs allowed moved from 3.53 per game to a round 4.00. but will not be felt in full effect until lilly and marquis come back into their time-proven form -- and rich hill comes back into the solar system, if not to earth itself. he's good, folks, but not this good.

when they do, this cub team figures to see its pace of runs allowed quickly balloon to sop up the increased production of the offense and more -- indeed, probably most or all of the excess that has created positive run differentials to date.

and this brings us to the most disappointing part of what has so far transpired. on the back of magical pitching, the cubs have outscored their opposition by nearly half a run per game -- and are four games under .500 anyway. this club is not good enough to overcome transient periods of above average performance that yield net negative results. the teams that will be competing in october are those who manage to take such periods and drive the dagger home -- such as the atlanta braves have done to date, marking a 12-6 record on a narrow +7 differential, staying a half game ahead of a +47 mets club -- and those who take periods of poor performance and find some way to win.

the cubs have failed at the former. the outcome of their season may well hinge on their ability to scavenge and sift to survive the latter.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Cedeno: "must be new rules"

Somewhere Johnny Evers smiled. Not because of the result of this friday afternoon ballgame, but because a modern day ballplayer actually knows the rule book. The unfortunate part is that ballplayer was Cardinal shortstop David Eckstein. Meanwhile the Cub shortstop who was guilty of the blunder gives us this quote to ponder:

"Next time, I'll look to home plate," Cedeno said. "I've got to run. I was asking the first-base umpire [Angel Hernandez] because he speaks Spanish, and I said, 'What did I do?' He said, 'You passed the base.' I said, 'So what? It's ball four.' I never had that happen before -- must be new rules."
"must be new rules." WTF? You have got to be kidding me. This from a middle infielder after he has had time to think about what he did.

I think Uncle Lou described what happened best:
"You can't overslide the bag," Piniella said. "What else can I tell you?"

One can see why the Cardinals make the playoffs every season with ballplayers like Eckstein. And the Cubs, well they're the Cubs.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


A must win in April?

With the Cubs on a skid where they have lost 7 of 9, I posed this question in the comments earlier today: "Is it too early for a "must-win" game?"

1060west's very own gaius marius responded: "nope. today is a pretty big one, imo."

So as we head toward this evenings game the Cubs can take a look at the scoreboard and see the fact that the Brewers took care of the Bucs at Miller Park 7-5. (Could it be shades of 1982 or could it be 1987) This Brew Crew win combined with a Cub loss would put the Cubs 4.0 games back on April 19, 2007. Yeah it's a weak division and all, but the Cubs are quickly playing their way to being 5.0 games back and 10 games under. Two low level marks that any team would like to avoid.

Michigan Man
The Cubs will call upon the Michigan Man Rich Hill (seen below in his Junior year at Ann Arbor) to stop the bleeding and turn this thing around. The 6'5" southpaw has been brilliant in his two starts so far this season. Hill enters the game 2-0 with a microscopic 0.64 ERA. His WHIP has been just as tiny 0.57 and opponents are hitting .163 off of Hill. With Carlos Zambrano struggling, Hill and fellow southpaw Ted Lilly have really pitched well.

Now it's asking alot to ask Hill to keep this up. Common sense tells you he can't. There is some good news though. Of the Braves 4 losses, 3 have come when they faced a LHSP. This is what it has come to, as another Cub season quickly drifts away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cubs have lost 7 of 9

The Chicago Cubs found another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory tonite. Despite another poor outing from the Cubs so-called ace Carlos Zambrano (5 more walks--1 intentional), the Cubs offense rallied to take the lead 6-5 in the top of the seventh.

With 9 outs to go Lou Piniella had the game in the hands of his bullpen. With two outs in the seventh Scott Eyre looked to be cruising on the mound. He just missed getting a called strikeout on Scott Thorman. Next Matt Diaz hits a ball to Cesar Izturis who takes his jolly time getting the ball to first and Diaz beats the play. At that point the walls again fell in for the Cubs. Chris Woodward walks to load the bases and Kelly Johnson hits a two run single off of Eyre. I'm still not sure why Piniella left him in the game.

In the bottom of the eighth the Cubs had chances. The Cubs had first and third with nobody out. Jones grounds out to Chipper. With Ward pinch hitting Pete Moylan threw one to the backstop. I'm not sure what happened but Matt Murton didn't score. You know the rest. Ward walks and Theriot grounds into a twin killing (a great turn by the Braves combo of Renteria and Johnson).

The last week has been especially frustrating. After a monumental collapse last Friday, the Cubs were shutout by a poor starting pitcher Sunday, they lost yesterday in a 14 inning game where they didn't hit worth a damn and tonite. If they could have just taken two of these games they'd be at .500. Instead their record now stands at 5-9 dead last in the NL Central.

What Lou Piniella has to be realizing is he has taken over a team that is just not very good. Although we were repeatedly told the Cubs would be better at the fundamentals, not much has really changed. The Cubs outfield defense has been amateur and the base running blunders have been routine. While there is a long way to go, the early season signs are not good.

slow starts and run differential

the internet is one of the greatest tools for community research yet invented, dear reader, and when it works it can work very well.

as part of a dialogue at another cubs blog, this writer revisited some earlier commentary made here.

and then there is the situation of wins and losses itself. as was noted by contributor john dooley in the comments, no cub club has started 4-7 or worse and reached the playoffs -- and since 1972, a sample of eight teams, no cub club has started 4-7 or worse and broken .500. as jd looked further, now at the entirety of the major leagues since the advent of postseason play, only 27 of 326 playoff teams have started 4-7 or worse -- and since 1995, a period in which 25% of clubs get to the postseason, only 9 of 96 playoff clubs (9%) started 4-7 or worse.

subsequently i added:

i looked back at both leagues on april 15 for the last seven seasons (2000-2006). these teams were playing .400 baseball or worse: ...

58 teams, 9 playoff appearances (including two world champions).

there are 210 club-seasons and 56 playoff-seasons in this seven year sample.

that means those who were over .400 as of april 15 (152 teams) took the other 47 playoff slots.

to reiterate:

under .400 - 9/58 - 15.5%
over .400 — 47/152 - 30.1%

i’d say that the cubs’ chances of appearing in the postseason have been cut in about half. a lot of things *can* happen, of course, but that’s the probability.

also, 38 of the 58 (66%) did not break .500 — meaning that the cubs are in a pool that sees two out of three fail to break 81 wins.

it was rightly noted there that the cubs have thusfar this season scored more runs than they have allowed, and that this rarity (for a 4-7 ballclub, now 5-8) may offer some reprieve from that harsh judgment of probability.

the results of further examination find some difference, but unfortunately not very much.

just four of the 58 had positive run differentials — but only one of those four broke .500, none making the playoffs. four isn’t anything like a significant sample, however, so this writer also looked back to 1973 for sub-.400 clubs through the first eleven games with at least as many runs scored as allowed, arriving at the following list.

yearteamwins lossesrsra
1999ari 100625048
1988mil 87754641
1984mil 67945349
1982mil 95675352
24 80.181.7  

as we can see, of the 24 clubs that qualify for the sample since 1973, only nine (highlighted in yellow) finished over .500 -- or 37.5%. the average win total for the sample was 80.1.

in the earlier 58-team sample, 20 clubs managed .500 clubs (34.5%) with the average win total at just 74.8.

clearly, in taking the narrower qualifier that applies to the 2007 cubs, we have improved our view of their chances -- but probably not by large enough a margin to see them as a playoff club. and that should make some sense, for at this early stage runs scored and allowed is a measure of future performance with more noise than signal.

this plot is of the 2006 cubs 13-day cumulative run differential -- that is, it plots the difference between runs scored and runs allowed over every 13-game stretch of last year (which is also how many games they've played in 2007 thusfar). as one can see, though the 2006 cubs were a bad team that finished the year with a 118-run deficit and the average 13-game differential was a crushing (-12), what they had done in any 13-game stretch varied between (-54) and +19, with a standard deviation of 16 runs -- that is to say, the 2006 cubs in any 13-game stretch had a run differential of (-12) +/- 16 -- which means they were between +4 and (-28) about 70% of the time. that kind of very wide spread is characteristic of any 13-game measure of run differential, for any club of any record or quality.

so, when we look at today's +8 for the 2007 cubs, how should we interpret it? it implies a .567 pythagorean winning percentage, but does it lie toward the top of the variance? the bottom? the middle? one can suppose many things, but there is really no way of knowing at this point -- there is not enough data, and so we may safely presume to learn very little from run differential so early in the year. because any 13 games of run differential should not be, therefore, closely correlated with future performance, sorting for it in our sample of sub-.400 clubs makes only a slight difference in the outcome.

in truth, dear reader, runs scored and allowed simply doesn't have much to say this early in the year -- the randomness of scoring overwhelms the underlying signal.

we might also note, however, that the standard deviation of wins in our narrowed 24-team sample is also 10.6 from the average of 80.1 -- meaning that, based only upon what we know about slow-starting ballclubs with positive run differentials, there is significant room for the strangeness and uniqueness of the 2007 cubs to take hold, and that some 15% or so of ballclubs should manage to win 90 games from even this lowly start.

a tale of two prospects

it is hard to know how to frame a game such as yesterday's, dear reader. the cubs lost and they deserved to lose. cub pitching was mired in trouble all day -- san diego stranded 17, notching 14 hits a ghastly 8 walks, with men getting into scoring position in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th and ultimately 14th. meanwhile, just 11 cubs reached -- maddux was very good through five, and the padre bullpen allowed just two hits in nine innings of relief.

by rights, the cubs should have lost by at least three runs, and a couple of times at that. and when the end at long last came in the fourteenth at the hands of geoff blum and trevor hoffman, it was just. as such, it was an unremarkable game.

but what a remarkable game it was! it is rare to get such a dramatic day, with the home club constantly imperiled and yet again and again cheating the end. a brilliant assist from greenhorn felix pie saved the game in the ninth, striking down russell branyan at the plate. another scintillating catch by just-inserted mark derosa saved the game again in the twelfth. one waited endlessly for the law of averages to bite the padres for their refusal to put the game away, for some random lance to strike for the cubs and end the thing. but it just never came.

this game may be remembered for some time, for pie's pressure-packed saving strike to michael barrett to keep the game alive, if nothing else. pie's debut from the farm has been as anticipated as any for the cubs since korey patterson (to whom he has sometimes been compared) and gratification was instant. pie also showed some poise, taking a few pitches and striking out just once -- and some guts, knocking a run-scoring double in the fifth off legend greg maddux. going 1-for-6 has rarely been so interesting, and though pie can be expected to struggle adjusting to the majors this has to be booked as a success.

such an auspicious debut falls in stark contrast to the painful wretching of the last touted cub position prospect, both in this game and early this year. there was plenty of blame to go around, but ronny cedeno did as much as anyone to sink the cubs in this one. he took an ugly 0-for-5 with two fans and a walk, but that really cannot tell the whole story. there was first cedeno canceling his full-count one-out walk in the ninth -- with cliff floyd pinch-hitting and driving a rocket to khalil greene at short, he inexplicably charged off to second without ensuring that the ball went through, allowing greene to snare the liner and easily double him off. cedeno has a long history of mental mistakes that isn't getting much better, it would seem. then there was cedeno, pitifully charged with the last at-bat of the game against all-time-saves-leader hoffman, going away meeking on three pitches, the last a called third strike.

the play of cedeno has come in for plenty of criticism here -- since well before he arrived, indeed -- and it is perplexing to consider how he continues to be placed in a position to fail by cub management. this page takes no joy from running cedeno down; it could not be happier than to see cedeno removed from this extremely uncomfortable situation in which it seems he simply cannot help but fail, and never to utter another word about him. there are good prospects and bad prospects -- and the arrival of pie reminds us of that fact through the sharp relief he presents when placed against cedeno.

jacque jones requested to be traded from this club months ago, and yet remains in the cub outfield where his early performance has marked him as the second-most-destructive player on the club thusfar in terms of win percentage added (next to, of course, cedeno). there may not be a great deal out there to be had for jacque, but jim hendry could do this club a significant service by moving him for a competent major-league middle infielder. not only would the acquisition expunge any need for cedeno, but room would be created in the outfield for both pie's defense and soriano's bat.

as has been said here, the cubs don't have time to fiddle about -- the margin of error for this flawed club is too small, and three games under .500 is a big deal even so early in the year precisely because it is more probably an indication of the reality of both things as they are and things to come than it is some sort of aberration from prior expectations which will soon yet be proved. it is time to a deal for jones and help this club to get better in a way that may not be beautiful but can be pragmatic.

and if hendry can further see his way clear to finally ending the clearly failing wade miller experiment -- whose hard-fought attempt to return from the graveyard of pitchers is simply not happening -- so much the better. miller has as little choice about failure as cedeno, with his once-powerful arm now crippled and his fastball and control simply not sufficient. he has managed only 9 innings in two starts, allowing 21 baserunners and almost blundering into a pitiful three strikeouts. as one who can too easily recall how this club stuck with glendon rusch for far too long, this writer considers that a good step would be recalling impressive yet demoted righthander angel guzman, who made way for pie yesterday -- guzman may not be a great pitcher, but it would not take a great pitcher to be a significant improvement on miller.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

soriano strains hamstring; pie called up

the trib reports:

Piniella said the hamstring strain was about 3-4 inches. Soriano will have an MRI taken Tuesday but said he doesn't think the injury is too severe and hopes to be back in 5-7 days.

"I don't like to be hurt," he said. "It's sad for me. I like to play every day."

Soriano injured himself in the fifth while trying to get up and make a throw after a failed attempt to make a sliding catch of Clay Hensley's RBI single. Umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled Soriano trapped the ball, and trainer Mark O'Neal rushed out to the field when he saw Soriano grab the back of his leg.

"He strained it when he tried to throw the ball," Piniella said. "Outside of that, it was a really nice night for us."

perfect opportunity to call up 22-year-old centerfielder-of-the-future felix pie, right? well....

Center fielder Felix Pie is hitting .444 at Triple-A Iowa, but general manager Jim Hendry was hesitant to call him up.

"I've never been a believer that you start making decisions after 10-11 games," Hendry said before Soriano was injured. "You play a little while. He's going to be a good player for a long time, and when it's the right time to bring him up, we're certainly going to act on it."

hey hey hey!... let's be careful out therenews flash, cruller jim: it's time to start making decisions regardless of what you believe.

this club has already been showing signs that it may not be good enough, both statistical and anecdotal. it may not yet be time to panic, but pie is probably the best defensive outfielder anywhere in the cub system -- and this outfield sorely needs some defensive help. many have speculated that the cubs would be a better team if it simply benched one of its starting corner outfielders in favor of pie. with soriano down, that decision borders on being no decision at all.

there is a possibility that soriano will be placed on the 15-day following his mri, and such a move may very well help pie to the majors in spite of hendry's recalcitrance. the cubs also have angel pagan and buck coats to consider, but it may very well be time to see what pie can do. at 22, he is no spring chicken anymore. this club may have benefitted from his help anyway. if soriano goes to the disabled list, it may not be well suited to do without it.

UPDATE: in a move that would seem to presage soriano's move to the 15-day, the cubs this morning called up felix pie. wscr is reporting that he will start in center tonight.

UPDATE: the trib reports:

"They said it was a minor strain," manager Lou Piniella said. "That's encouraging."

"Thank God it's not a big deal," Soriano said. "It's just a little problem. Maybe one week, or 10 days."

Instead of putting Soriano on the disabled list, the Cubs optioned reliever Angel Guzman to Iowa, leaving them with an 11-man staff for the time being.

wade miller apparently lives to fight through another couple turns. the chart will mark soriano in red because, although he isn't, he probably should be on the disabled list. one wonders in fact what weight was given to public relations in such a decision.

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeCliff Floyd*
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaFelix Pie*
3Jason MarquisMichael WuertzNeal Cotts*Geovany SotoCesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Angel GuzmanClay Rapada* Aramis RamirezMatt Murton
5Wade MillerRocky Cherry  Ryan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Mark PriorRoberto Novoa  Ronny CedenoAlfonso Soriano
7Juan MateoKerry Wood  Scott Moore*Angel Pagan**
8Sean Marshall*   Brian DopirakBuck Coats*
9Carlos Marmol     
10Jeff Samardzija     

Monday, April 16, 2007

is this it?

over the last few months, dear reader, the mantra of "$300 million" was repeated so often around cubdom that it became the accompaniment of some dreams for addled cub fans desperate for a winner. never mind that it didn't happen -- never mind that the team payroll is little changed from the last few years -- the phrase came to embody the deep need of the followers of this franchise for hope regardless of legitimacy, and fantastic forecasts of 90-win teams and stunning turnarounds were scattered about so liberally that one could walk from south bend to elgin without ever touching the ground.

but playing the games has a funny way to bringing reality to bear on the hubris of springtime as efficiently as a master swordsman delivers the point of his rapier, and something of the truth of this ballclub is just now hitting the wires around cubdom.

afer eleven games, the cubs are last in the national league central at 4 wins and 7 losees, trailing early leader cincinnati by two and a half games. the team has played four series, losing three and winning just one (against milwaukee). the club has scored just 43 runs (3.91 rs/g), good for 10th in the league -- and as widely lamented as the offense has been, the pitching has been equally problematic in allowing 42 runs (3.82 ra/g) and placing 9th in the nl in era. this last feature has gone mostly unnoticed even as the most widely distributed excuse for the performance of the offense -- cold weather -- should obviously unduly benefit the pitching staff just as much as it unduly hinders the offense. low absolute totals of runs allowed have not raised flags, but the relative performance should as the entire league deals with the inclement weather of april.

moreover, beyond the statistics, qualitative aspects of the club are frighteningly familiar. anyone who has not been reminded of jacque jones' travails in april of last season has not been watching, as new-boy alfonso soriano has looked less a $136mm free agent than ryan theriot has. his early line -- 234/280/362 with no home runs and one rbi, 2 bb and 11 k in 47 ab -- has been ghastly, but the misplays in center field and the remarkable baserunning gaffes (he has been picked off three times so far, against just one stolen base) have put an air of incompetency around soriano that jacque found so oppressive that he soon requested a trade. one doubts soriano -- a former new york yankee -- will feel the sting of the boos already now cascading down from the grandstands at wrigley so sincerey as jacque did, and he certainly (unlike jacque) is possessed of the tools that can rectify the situation. but the performance has had the glow of an omen, and nothing is revered in cubdom as an omen.

is it really as bad as all that? this page finds it difficult to assemble reasons for panic. soriano looks utterly lost on the basepaths, in the field and at the plate -- but this writer would suggest that his qualities, though some perhaps have overestimated them while suppressing the consideration of his manifold drawbacks, will in the end shine through. it is a bit perplexing that soriano's babip sits at .314 -- bad luck hasn't been a factor so much as an inability to make contact -- but soriano has never shown the sort of seasonal underperformance in the cold that one has grown used to with aramis ramirez, so one can expect a breakout to be independent of weather. the pressure of the situation does appear to have him stretching his strike zone.

it should be noted that, other than soriano, the offensive components of this club are working more or less as advertised with a single widespread exception. ramirez and derrek lee have been crushing, and theriot has sparkled in considerable playing time. the elephant in the room has been the lack of power -- many doubles, very few home runs. as the weather warms, this figures to change.

but so too will it change for the pitching staff. carlos zambrano has been absolutely awful in three starts, but ted lilly has benefitted immensely from both some favorable umpiring in his starts (helping him to an 8:1 k:bb ratio) and a .256 babip. jason marquis has also been fortunate with a .222 babip in 11 innings, and rich hill has been lucker still in posting an .091 babip in 14 innings. these last three have allowed just one home run in seven starts. that, dear reader, will not last just as surely as the offense's power drought will not.

what of it all, on balance? the cubs are indeed 4-7 -- but they have scored one more than they've allowed in doing so, and that is the metric of the .500 ballclub that this writer has expected them to be.

but there is cause for concern here. warmer weather will increase totals of runs scored and allowed both -- but indeed, if anything, the balance of the change would appear to favor an increase in runs allowed, as the team batting line (260/318/371) and babip (.316, from 377 ab, 98 h, 78 k and 5 hr) are not nearly so depressed as the team pitching line (206/286/337) and babip (.249, from 350 ab, 72 h, 88 k and 9 hr) are obviously inflated.

and then there is the situation of wins and losses itself. as was noted by contributor john dooley in the comments, no cub club has started 4-7 or worse and reached the playoffs -- and since 1972, a sample of eight teams, no cub club has started 4-7 or worse and broken .500. as jd looked further, now at the entirety of the major leagues since the advent of postseason play, only 27 of 326 playoff teams have started 4-7 or worse -- and since 1995, a period in which 25% of clubs get to the postseason, only 9 of 96 playoff clubs (9%) started 4-7 or worse.

it is of course very early in the season, dear reader -- and one can with near certainly say that this cub ballclub will not continue to play .363 baseball barring a disastrous string of injuries.

but -- though nothing can be decided so early in the sample -- the odds of certain outcomes can change significantly in just eleven games. it would appear to this writer that the cubs have so far demonstrated not only that they are probably a .500 baseball club but that a even record may even represent something like their likely upside -- once again forcing this writer to consider that his 82-win prediction for 2007 was as systemically optimistic as his previous three. indeed, to make 82 wins, the cubs must now play 78-73 the rest of the way. that's .517 baseball, and quite possibly beyond the long-term capacity of this ballclub.