Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More Food For Thought

With the 2007 season approaching August, Cub fans by now have undoubtedly developed their own opinions on the multitude of free agents signed by Jim Hendry in the offseason. One signing that I loved from Day 1 was the Mark DeRosa deal, although I was probably in the minority on that one. Now, I’m not trying to say that I knew something no one else did-- frankly, I think the deal has worked out better than anyone, including me, could have expected. At the time, there were plenty of people who felt like the Cubs were overpaying for DeRosa based off of one season that looked somewhat fluky. Given the discrepancy in his ‘06 and pre-’06 numbers, it was understandable where those people were coming from. But at this point, it seems like DeRosa can simply be chalked up as a late-bloomer. At 32 years old and in his first year with the Cubs he has been every bit as good as he was last year for Texas, if not better. His SLG% is down a little, which is to be expected considering he left behind one of the best hitters’ environments back in Arlington. But more importantly, he has shown an excellent approach at the plate this season; he’s on pace to set a career high in BB, walking in over 12% of his ABs. But in my opinion, what has made DeRosa so worthwhile has been his unselfish attitude and willingness to play almost anywhere on the diamond. No question, his versatility is an asset any team in the league could use. Personally, I love seeing DeRosa at third. Obviously whenever Aramis is healthy and ready to play, I’d rather have him there. But considering how often he seems to need a few days off, having DeRosa around is pretty nice. I feel like when I watch him play third, I’m watching a guy who’s been doing it his whole life. It’s really impossible to know for sure considering he only plays there occasionally, but I’d venture to say that DeRosa is the best defensive third baseman in the Cubs organization.

It’s been talked about so much at this page that further discussion of the Michael Barrett trade would just feel like beating a dead horse. However, with that said, the performance of the minor league outfielder acquired from San Diego in the Barrett trade is worth mentioning. Kyler Burke has put up some decent numbers since being assigned to the Short-Season Northwest League, while earning some good scouting reports. Normally I don’t get too worked up about the Short Season league, but it’s nice to see the Cubs score some potential talent in an otherwise fruitless deal. It’s worth mentioning that Burke was a first round pick just about a year ago, so as bad as he was struggling in the Padres’ system, there’s no doubting scouts saw something in him. Again, he’s 19 and it would be a waste of time getting worked up about him now, but the thought of the Cubs scoring first-round talent on the cheap is pretty nice. A few other guys playing pretty well for the Boise Hawks are catcher Josh Donaldson and outfielder Ty Wright—the Cubs’ 2nd and 7th round picks from the ’07 draft.

Alfonso Soriano fantasy owners, myself included, were probably pretty upset this past Sunday when a would- be two-run homer of his was ruled a double as a result of fan interference. When a Reds fan made contact with the ball that looked like it had cleared the yellow line, it bounced back onto the field of play, prompting crew chief Joe West to award Soriano only two bases. Naturally, this got me thinking about instant replay. Personally, I think it’s time that baseball integrates instant replay into the game. I don’t want to sound like I came to this belief based on one call that went against the Cubs—trust me I’ve felt this way for some time. I think if this kind of technology was used only on home run calls (fair/foul, over/under the yellow line, and fan interference arguments) that baseball would benefit greatly. This kind of usage just seems simple enough, and it would guarantee that the correct call is made, which is obviously what is most important.

Monday, July 30, 2007

fifty hot games

on june 2 of this year, very few people in this world would have pictured what has happened to the chicago cubs in the last fifty games -- and for some really good reasons. we can go back and sift the archives of many cub blogs from early june -- acb, bcb and many others were as appropriately dour as i was two months ago as the cubs continued to fade away following an ominously early violation of the five back rule.

what has changed since? the team binged on a patch of four-leaf clovers and as a result became constipated by a golden horseshoe.

GmDateTeamOpp RSRAYTDlast 50
154   2003CHC@PITL610837121.53218
161   2003CHCPITW7288731-2.03119
149   2004CHC@FLAL258366215.03119

contrary to virtually all expectation of two months ago, the cubs have run off one of the hottest 50-game streaks of baseball in their last ten years. it has been stunning to watch as it has elevated them from down 8.5 games at the lowest point to just half a game back of the division-leading milwaukee brewers.

virtually everywhere one reads around the blogosphere that surrounds the cubs, there has since been a terrifying flurry of rationalization and revisionist history. one would hardly know, to read most cub blogs or indeed the mainstream media, that this club was almost universally left for dead nine weeks ago. forgotten is every sensible preseason forecast of win totals in the low-80s and the intelligent articulation of flaws that they were based on. opinion pages are now brimming with optimism and (to a lesser extent) replete with self-congratulation at the foresight of the sunny, be they sensible or no. in many respects, watching the society around the team has been more perplexing and entertaining than has watching the team itself.

the real question is, though, what does fifty hot games mean?

is it signal to this team's inevitable strength finally showing through? it isn't hard to find that argument, being broadcast by bullhorn as it has been by some in recent weeks. indeed, every other club on the list above -- 2001, 2003, 2004 -- found itself with a win total near 88 or 89 and in the playoff hunt to the very last week. (the 1998 club narrowly avoided this list, having won at most 30 of 50 for some stretches of that year.) it is presumed, of course, that as such this must be a demonstration of similar intrinsic playoff-worthiness.

i'm not so delerious as all that. there's of course no doubt now that, whatever the mechanism, the cubs have played their way back into an even fight with the brewers and stand a decent chance of playing into october. (thank the gods for that!) that such a run was inevitable, or even likely, or that it represents a display of intrinsic team quality, or represents the sustainable output level of this team... there's where my skepticism starts.

i called it as i saw it in april and in june, and i really can't say that i've seen the convincing evidence that changes my mind, that makes this club really intrinsically good on the merit of its talent alone. in spite of their record, they've just been so bizarrely fortunate! i'll certainly ride the wave of chance all the way to the world series without the slightest guilt -- better lucky than good, after all -- but i can't say i'd even begin to change the basis of the forecasts i made then, except perhaps to embolden the caveats around them regarding the role of chance.

such arguments aren't going to be well received at a time when most are just trying to enjoy it -- and that's fine. i've never really understood those who find realism annoying, whose fantasies are so fragile that they find skepticism threatening, but then i don't have to. for me, a natural skepticism has covered the last two months in a sort of awe of nature and her capricious power -- what we're witnessing, even if it isn't the product of skill so much as fortune, is a tremendous and humbling demonstration of vicissitude. if that isn't enough to get your gears turning even as you scramble to check the scores in anticipation, you're a very different person from me.

even so, even as i've enjoyed this run as much as anyone i know, there is a certain foreboding. i have an eye on the clock, as it were. streaks like this don't last forever, and when the bell tolls midnight for this pumpkin-carriage it may very well be back to .500 for the remainder of the way -- and that barring a spate of truly bad luck.

it seems a lot to ask under the circumstances, but if the cubs have another couple weeks of this in them, if they could get a lead of a few games to buffer them from what may come the rest of the way... this could be the start of a really brilliant autumn.

in the meantime, if ever there was a point in following this club that i'd advocate just living in the moment -- this is it. revel. savor. god knows what's next.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

DLee finds power stroke

Throughout the first half, just like many Cub fans, I worried about Derrek Lee's lack of power. Coming off an injury that included 2 broken bones in his wrist, Lee was on the shelf the majority of 2006. There were legit reasons to fear that Lee might be turning into a taller, right handed version of Mark Grace. There has even been talk of the Cubs looking to add some right handed pop, despite having a lineup that had Lee, Fonzie and Aramis Ramirez.

Thankfully in his last 9 games (wrapped around his 5 game suspension) we have started to see Lee take the ball out of the ballpark. Lee has taken the ball out to all fields. He has also started to hit homeruns on the road. Earlier this week in St. Louis he hit his first homerun of the year away from Wrigley Field. Two more homeruns followed this weekend in Cincinnati. Both of the dingers in Cincy were big. The one on Saturday gave the Cubs a first inning lead. Sunday's homerun in the top of the seventh gave Carlos Zambrano valuable insurance as he won his major league leading 14th ballgame.

As the Cubs pursue the 2007 NL Pennant, it is no secret they could use a little more power. Currently the team ranks 12th in homeruns in the NL and 8th in slugging percentage. Deadline deals in baseball have gotten tougher and tougher with the addition of the wildcard. Lee couldn't have found a better time to start hitting the ball out of the ballpark. If DLee has found his power stroke it will only help the Cubs chances through August, September and hopefully deep into October.

Being the hunter

Saturday was another great day to be a Cubs fan. As I am sure most of you know, the Cubs picked up a game-and-a-half on the front running Brewers. Thanks to their win in Cincy and a St. Louis doubleheader sweep of the Milwaukee. This morning the Cubs wake to find themselves the closest they have been to the top spot in the division since April 10th (when they were one game back). Here are the NL Central Standings this morning:

Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 57 48 .543 -
CUBS 54 48 .529 1.5
St. Louis 48 53 .475 7.0
Houston 46 58 .442 10.5
Cincinnati 45 60 .429 12.0
Pittsburgh 42 60 .412 13.5

In case you were wondering the Cubs season low water point as far as games back was 8.5. The Cubs trailed the Brewers by that amount on June 21, 22, and 23. That was following their three game set in Texas and the first two game of the Sox series on the Southside. When you look at the standings and understand that the Cubs have made up 7 games in just over a month you really have to understand what an accomplishment this is. Things like this don't happen everyday in baseball, yet alone on the Northside of Chicago. If you look at this from the perspective of Milwaukee. Well it's just not pretty...

As a Cub fan it is very interesting to see the perspective that is coming from Brew City. The Brewers who at one point earlier in the year had pocketed the NL Central are now looking in their rear view mirror. In that mirror they see the big blue express barrelling down on them. The funny thing is the Brewers are already beginning to sound like a club that knows what's coming. John Donovan's article in SI this week paints a grim picture north of the cheddar curtain.

Everyone in Milwaukee with a pulse and a layman's knowledge of baseball is aware of the Cubs these days. It's hard not to be. Chicago's lovable but usually laughable Cubs are 31-15 since early June, when they were a decidedly laughable 22-31. Since late June, when they were still seven games below .500, they are 21-7. They are 9-3 since the All-Star break.

The Brewers' one-time cushy lead in the National League Central, 8 1/2 games barely a month ago, on June 23, has dwindled to a mere two games, which is as close as anyone's been to them since April 22.

Are the Brewers, who haven't managed to make it into a postseason since 1982 -- that's before their first baseman, their second baseman, their third baseman and their shortstop were born -- a little concerned?

Well, yeah. Wouldn't you be?

"We've been watching. We're in a pennant race," admits Bill Hall, the team's 27-year-old extraordinary jack of all fields, a shortstop last year and a center fielder this one. And then, in nearly the next breath, Hall says, "But we also know we have to go out and do our job whether they win or lose. We can't start watching what other teams are doing yet. It might cause a little bit of panic."

Nobody in Milwaukee will admit to full-fledged, flop-sweat panic just yet. The Brewers are still pulling in good and vocal crowds (more than 34,000 fans a game this season, up nearly 6,000 per game from last year). They're still the talk of the town. It's not quite Packers season. Not yet.

But the puffed-up confidence that the fans and the team showed earlier in the year clearly has been deflated. Questions about the team's makeup, which first surfaced during a late May slide in which the Brewers lost 13 of 17 games, are growing more urgent. When the Brewers went 2-6 in July, just before the All-Star break, people wondered more. A 7-6 run since the break hasn't calmed the fears.

LMAO. Never in my life did I suspect the Cubs would find themselves in this position. The folks in Milwaukee are afraid of our nine. What? The young vaunted Milwaukee team is fearing the Cubs as if they were the 64 Cardinals, 69 Mets, or the 78 Yankees. What a turn of events we have seen in the last month.

One of the things that I really find amusing is the notion from Milwaukee fans that the Cubs are some sort of baseball super power. Now we have to remember that the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin usually spend their sports entertainment hours debating all things Packers--from nickelback coverage to anything Brett Favre. Baseball is really just a filler 'til football season. So Brewer fans look south and they see the large market Cubs and all of their playoff appearances--all 4 of them-- and they think the Cubs are some sort of baseball juggernaut. Well, okay I guess. To be fair it has been so grim in Milwaukee baseball-wise for years, that this has to be expected. Brewers fans expect the worst out of their teams because that is what they have gotten since the early 90's.

Somebody should wake the Brewer fans and mention to them that this is the Cubs, not the Yankees. Ehhhh, on second thought they all seem to be spooked in Milwaukee, here's hoping it stays that way.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Food For Thought

With the trade deadline coming this Tuesday, rumors involving the Cubs have been floating all over the internet. Names like Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, and Ty Wiggington have all been linked to Chicago. Just speculation here, but as far as I’m concerned, the Cubs most likely to be involved in trades this July would have to be Eric Patterson and Sean Gallagher. These are two solid prospects that appear to be on the cusp of major league-dom who might be considered expendable by the Cubs. With Mike Fontenot having a great deal of success since being called up earlier this season, the Cubs’ brass could see him as a long term solution at the keystone along with Mark DeRosa. This would be a major mistake in my estimation. After a blistering June that saw Fontenot put up a line of .397/.422/.679 (BABIP of .431!), he has predictably slipped in July to the tune of .217/.284/.217, making Fontenot critics (me) look smart. I think if he can hit enough for the rest of the year to have his final line even resemble his current one, that trading him in the offseason while his value is still relatively high would be a good idea. The way I see it, Patterson should be the Cubs starting second baseman starting in 2008 (I wonder how Cub fans would take to having another Patterson on our team), but it would be interesting to see what we could get in return for him. As far as Gallagher goes; I would only include him in a trade for Ken Griffey Jr., who I really don’t think will be moved. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think I would consider dealing for any of the aforementioned players other than Griffey. As much as I like Dunn, I just don’t see where the Cubs could possibly play him. Alfonso Soriano is fully entrenched in left field, and I seriously doubt he could handle right field at Wrigley.

If anybody is wondering, since their return to Iowa, Felix Pie and Geovany Soto have continued to hit. This July, Pie has hit .355/.375/.694 with 6 homers—Soto .426/.509/.745 with 4 homers, including a 3-run homer last night. Felix is currently day-to-day with a minor injury. Soto on the other hand is healthy and raking. Give credit to Kendall for knocking in the tying run in the ninth last night, but I still think that Soto is our best option behind the plate right now. Unfortunately, barring an injury, Soto figures to waste his services at AAA for the rest of the year.

Color me pleased to see both Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton back with the big club. I know there are a lot of Murton doubters who read this page, but as far as I’m concerned anyone is better than Cliff Floyd at this point. I really believe that if we just let Murton play every day he would provide a .300 AVG with a .360-.375 OBP. Baseball Prospectus had him pegged for .304/.365/.476 this season. In his only AB last night he reached on a throwing error, scoring later in the inning. Cedeno has 2 hits in his first 5 ABs, including a clutch RBI single that tied the game in St. Louis. I’d like to see Lou get Ronny in the mix more. Theriot has looked better at short than I expected, but if Cedeno really has figured it out he could provide a big upgrade offensively.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how unhappy I am to see Rocky Cherry (…seriously? Rocky Cherry?) back on the big club. Lou really seems to have a man crush on this guy. Nevermind he had a 5.55 ERA at AAA prior to his promotion. Simply put, I don’t trust a pitcher who doesn’t trust his fastball—and Cherry certainly does not. Other than the Cubs, the victim of this call-up is Billy Petrick who was sent to Iowa following the loss to St. Louis on Friday in which he was knocked around. Maybe Petrick wasn’t quite ready, but I’m still a big believer in him. He just turned 23, and has put up some impressive numbers in the minors across 3 levels. I think he’ll be a solid reliever for the Cubs in the near future.

As unlikely as it seems, it would be really nice to see the Reds deal one or both of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn while we’re in town. I sure as hell wouldn’t miss those guys for the rest of the weekend. With that said, we are booked to see the Reds 16 more times after this series, so even if it isn’t while we’re in town, I’d love to see those guys moved to a team not fighting for a playoff spot with the Cubs.

Food For Thought

Just a few thoughts…

  • Jason Marquis had a tough start on Thursday (5 IP, 5 H, 6ER, 4BB, 1 K, 2HR), taking his 6th loss of the season. He looked good early on connecting for strikes on 20 of his first 28 pitches, but really lost his command after that. In the 5th and final inning for Marquis, he walked the pitcher who was trying to bunt Aaron Miles over to second base. Three batters later, he beaned Albert Pujols with the bases loaded before giving up a grand slam to Chris Duncan. For the past few weeks, this page has been discussing BABIP seemingly nonstop. Those who have read the past few posts from GM have probably learned a thing or two about this statistic. Judging from recent comments however, there are plenty of people here who don’t get BABIP- many of whom seemingly choose not to get it. At any rate, for those who understand and value this statistic, pay close attention to Marquis from here on out. No doubt GM has mentioned this in the past, but of all of the Cubs’ lucky pitchers, Marquis has probably been the most fortunate. With a remarkably low BABIP mark of .252, Marquis- he of the 5.02 K/9 rate- is due for a major correction.
  • Coming into this season one of the major concerns of this team was the outfield defense. However, the outfield as it stands now is a pretty solid group. In just his second season on the job, Alfonso Soriano has developed into a pretty good leftfielder. We’ve all witnessed Soriano’s strong throwing arm- he had 22 assists last year and has 11 so far this season- but on top of that, Baseball Prospectus gives Soriano a Rate of 115. Over in center, Jacque Jones has seen the majority of playing time since the demotion of Felix Pie. Much to my surprise, Jones has looked pretty good out there. He hasn’t made any highlight reel catches, but that’s really just because he has made everything look easy. He currently is at a Rate of 113. His arm is still a liability- it was just yesterday that David Eckstein advanced to third after tagging up on a routine flyball to center. It would have been interesting to see what kind of path Jones’ career would have taken if he had been a centerfielder the whole time. Were it not for Tori Hunter being in Minnesota at the same time as Jones, he might have been a much more valuable player throughout the course of his career.
  • There are probably a lot of Cub fans out there who are clamoring for Jim Hendry to swing a deal for Ken Griffey Jr. Word of advice: Don’t count on it. With Griffey only 12 homers away from 600, Cincinnati undoubtedly wants Griffey to be wearing a Reds uniform when he reaches the milestone. Given how terrible the Reds have been this season, ownership probably is counting on the Griffey buzz to keep people coming out to The Great American Ballpark. However, word has it the Cubs could be in on Tampa Bay’s Ty Wiggington. Not sure what the appeal there is. He seems like another super-utility player that the Cubs already have in Mark DeRosa. Then again, I’d throw anybody out in right field who could top Cliff Floyd and his Bondsian .396 SLG%. Could a certain Matt Murton be the answer?
  • A few thoughts on the Brewers. Two guys who could possibly be due for some regression are Ryan Braun and Francisco Cordero. Braun is currently sporting a BABIP of .393, and could follow in J.J. Hardy’s footsteps. Consider this quote from Mike Harmon over at foxsports.com “The wheels have officially come off of the hot start for Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy. Thoughts of 40-45 home runs were bandied about in late-May, but he's stalled out in late July. He's batting .185 in July (12-for-65) with no home runs and seven RBI. Since June 1, he's produced a weak .204 batting average with three home runs and 12 RBI.” Now, I’m not saying Braun will drop off that dramatically- there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a legitimate slugger- but it’s safe to say he’s a little over his head right now. As for Francisco Cordero, the batted-ball data isn’t what’s worrisome- his BABIP is at .311- but rather his strikeout and walk rates. Right now, Cordero is besting his career rates in these departments by a curiously hefty margin. At 32 years old, it’s highly unlikely that Cordero suddenly has the ability to strike out 12.21 batters per nine innings (previous career high: 10.30) all while walking only 3.00 batters per nine (career rate: 4.22). With Cordero blowing a save and taking the loss yesterday, he might be beginning to regress.
  • It’s scary to think just how good the Brewers' infield would be if Rickie Weeks could ever figure it out. There was a time when he was considered the best prospect in a loaded Brewers’ system that included Fielder and Hardy; the next Gary Sheffield they called him. At .215/.333/.371 this year, you have to wonder if he ever really recovered from his wrist injury a year ago.

Cherry & Murton return

According to the Trib's Paul Sullivan, Matt Murton and Rocky Cherry have been recalled from Iowa. There is no word as to who the Cubs will send down.

I'll speculate though. After being lit up last night Billy Petrick will be on his way back to Des Moines and young Jake Fox will probably join him. It's great that Lou has gotten all of these youngsters time at the big league level, but you have to wonder if Fox could contribute much at this point in his career. As the Cubs approach the dog days they are gonna need contribution from every player on the roster.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

the high price of a clean sport

with barry bonds closing in on henry aaron's immortal home run record under both a dark cloud of doping suspicion and the obsequious image-management of espn, many observers around baseball have openly lamented the damage to the game. many finds bonds' pursuit shameful for its tainted aspects, just as they openly despise the single-season home run chase of 1998, when presumed dopers mark mcgwire and sammy sosa drilled long ball after long ball, day after day. i myself remember with mixed feelings watching mcgwire take batting practice in old county stadium in milwaukee, as he hit shot after cartoonish shot out of the stadium, traversing the back of the bleachers at an altitude even with the lights, as though launched from an inhuman cannon.

few, however, seem to further recall how a sport devastated by middle-1990s labor strife revived (it is said) largely on the basis of that exciting chase, as well as the also-rather-dubious ironman run of cal ripken jr. few can remember the atmosphere surrounding baseball then, when many who loved the game questioned its very appeal in the era of speed and attention-deficit-disorder. the game has since surged in popularity, coming off the mat as it has so many times before. but it is too much to say that its revival in these last ten years is itself built on a foundation of doping?

the opinions surrounding the game are as varied as the people who love it, and i don't think anyone can speak for "the fans" as though there were a consensus on doping. but to judge from the very vocal moral outrage of many, there does certainly exist a faction of fans who wish dearly to see the sport cleansed of such "unnatural" performance-enhancing elements. i wonder if they have considered very much the possible cost of manifesting such ideas.

the world of professional cycling seems very far from baseball, but it is pregnant with potential lessons with regards to doping controls. in the late 1990s, many in that sport felt its credibility mortally challenged by doping, and the international governing bodies began a crusade to cleanse the sport. cycling has since become the most rigorously tested and controlled sport on earth, with athletes required to report their whereabouts to governing agencies every day of the year, the better to be able to surprise them with random drug tests. millions have been invested in developing drug tests for doping agents and the substances used to mask them. even natural substances like testosterone must fall within strict limits of concentration in the blood samples of riders to avoid sanction and suspension. cycling has made the most aggressive and comprehensive effort of any sport to discourage its riders from using performance-enhancing drugs.

the result has been singularly devastating. coming on the heels of 2006 tour de france winner floyd landis' positive test for synthetic testosterone and subsequent year-long trial to have him stripped of his title and barred from the sport, an international anti-doping law enforcement effort known as operation puerto ensnared several of the sport's greatest stars, including titans ivan basso, jan ullrich, oscar sevilla, francisco mancebo, santiago botero, jose enrique gutierrez and marco pantani. these names mean little to most american baseball fans, but they read as a litany of all-stars to cycling fans worldwide. confidence in cycling has been shaken to its very foundations, and the environment around the game has reduced its fans to questioning the moral standing of every single rider who succeeds. all outstanding achievements of any recent cyclist -- particularly those of the iconic lance armstrong, who has long been tenuously linked to doping though never concretely -- are viewed today through a lens of deep skepticism and reservation.

this year's ongoing tour de france -- the planet's greatest cycling event -- has done utterly nothing to quell that presumption of guilt, the race having turned into a complete disaster. alexander vinokourov, probably the most powerful and popular cyclist in the sport, recovered almost miraculously from a stage 5 crash to win the stage 13 time trial in grand fashion, and then subsequently defeated the field again in stage 15. but it has since been revealed that vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion -- showing a fraction of another person's cells in his post-race blood sample -- which is a means of illegally increasing the oxygen transfer capacity of the blood. vinokourov was removed from the race, and his entire team (which had been implicated in operation puerto) accepted an invitation to drop out. the following day christian moreni failed a testosterone test, and his entire team subsequently withdrew.

today, the most dramatic blow -- race leader michael rasmussen was sent home by his team on evidence that he had lied about his whereabouts in the weeks leading up to the race, a time during which he missed two drug tests. suspicion had circulated around him even before the start of the tour, and many questioned if he should have been allowed to begin the race at all as he had been dropped by the danish national team over these same suspicions. even as he was winning the most dramatic and penultimate mountain stage of the race to seemingly end the chances of his rivals, his team finally claimed to have substantiated the rumors and was withdrawing him from competition.

as the pinnacle event of the sport implodes spectacularly, the sporting press is replete with proclamations of the death of cycling. sponsors had already begun to leave under the persistent accusations and subsequent provings of cheating in the sport, and that initial swell is now expected to become a full-scale flight from a tainted vehicle for advertising. national television coverage of the race has been halted even in cycling-mad countries such as germany. the sport is on the brink of being cut from the summer olympics. important voices are calling for the tour de france to be stopped, even for the entire racing schedule to be suspended while the sport tries to repair itself.

no one who follows professional baseball should be under any illusions about its nature. ambition, fame and greed drive baseball players just as they drive cyclists -- you can be sure that, if baseball ever attempted to implement a genuine doping control system of the kind enacted by cycling, scores of the game's stars would be unceremoniously tossed from the game and their careers effectively ended. what effect that might have on fans and the advertisers that fuel the entire professional construct perhaps cannot be forecast, but given the moralizing of many baseball fans one can expect that the sport would be gravely injured in having its dirty laundry finally aired.

contrary to what one might derive from my tone of examination, this is not purely an argument to leave things as they are. whatever resuscitation and attraction doping may be responsible for, it also has cost the game in other ways. in any case, my moral assessment of doping is by no means universal or even relevant. my only point is to note what the price really could be and probably would be of making a concerted, honest and meaningful effort to clean up a sport whose very foundation in professionalism is, after all, synonymous with cheating. king kelly was cutting second base and eddie cicotte throwing games long before anyone knew what a steroid was -- and it probably can be no other way when huge sums and the unconsidered adoration of millions are at stake. there has never been a day of honest professional baseball, and drug testing would not change that any more than it has in cycling.

many fans of baseball love the game specifically for and for little else but its ability to mimic an avenue to their lost innocence, to offer an illusion that seems an irresistably simple and linear respite from a frequently chaotic, complex and disillusioning life. those poor folks would find the price of a clean sport very, very high indeed as honesty and integrity would destroy much of the illusion that has been so meticulously reconstructed since the intrusion of anarchic reality that was 1994. would the game once again get up off the mat in the aftermath of such an event? i think it's something worth considering.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The comment

I have been waiting all season for this comment. This morning in the Chicago Tribune, Jim Hendry provided the goods:

"If we could get 'Woody' back, that certainly would be better than any trade we make," general manager Jim Hendry said.

LMAO. Have I just been watching baseball for too long or has it all just become too predictable. What a statement. What GM would trade for an injury plagued right hander with a history of arm issues and tell you it was good? Still, you knew the minute he got close Hendry was going to say what he did. It's just comical to me. I could go on about it, but I just spent yesterday trying to compliment Cruller Jim. Anyways, all the best to Kerry and it'll be great watching his three relief appearances followed by his shutdown and end to his season. Yeah, that sounds like one helluva trade.


Don't look now but the Cubs have made their way into the NL Wildcard race and they have really closed the gap:

San Diego 54 45 .545 -
Atlanta 54 47 .535 1.0
Chicago 52 46 .531 1.5
Arizona 54 48 .529 1.5
Philadelphia 51 48 .515
Colorado 50 50 .500 4.5

Monday, July 23, 2007

To Cruller Jim: I apologie (well sort of)

Too often on the interweb it's easy to take shots at a guy when he is down and not give credit when it is due. This crappy/unpopular page has spent the last 2-1/2 seasons ripping Cub General Manager Jim Hendry to shreds. We have ripped Hendry for his support of Dusty Baker, for not being quick on the trigger, for his lack of quality trades, for not having the guts to blow the whole thing up, for a poor minor league system and on most occasions for his perceived lack of a simple plan. I think at one point I may have blamed the guy for all of the troubles in the middle east. So with fair play in mind, and the team now in the midst of both a divisional race and wild card race it is time to give some kudos to Cruller Jim and his cellphone.

To be perfectly clear, Jim Hendry did not inherit the mess that was the 2005 or 2006 version of this club. He created the mess. Over the past few seasons I have asked for Hendry to be held accountable for the team and the organization. Several times I have called for his firing. Thanks to a poorly timed contract extension in April 2006 and the impending sale of the club, Jim Hendry survived last October when his partners in crime Andy MacPhail and Dusty Baker were sent packing. Cubs interim-President John McDonough put Hendry on notice when he took the reigns with this statement:

"My goal is singular. The purpose of what I've been asked to do is for the Cubs to win the World Series. Not win the wild card or win the division or win the pennant. It's time to win, it's time to win the World Series. It's time to reward these tens of millions of fans who have waited for a long time."

McDonough stated this as he took control of a 96 loss ballclub. Well old Jimmy boy could have easily done like other Cub General Managers. He could have milked the shot clock on his major league general manager position before heading to Scottsdale to be a Special Assistant to the Cubs next GM (ala Sinkerball Pitcher Ed Lynch). Hendry decided to try and go for the legendary one-year turnaround. The plan called for hiring an experienced winning manager and signing free agents to heavily backloaded contracts. We can argue about what this will all mean in the future, and my opinion is pretty grim. But in the meantime new manager Lou Piniella and Hendry's acquisitions have brought an excitement back to this franchise not seen on the Northside of Chicago since 2004.

Many of us have tried not to acknowledge any of Hendry's good moves. To be perfectly clear, I have ripped Hendry at almost every opportunity the past few seasons and most of this one. I still feel that many times it was deserved. But with a new manager in place, the Cubs have mixed and matched all season long. Bringing up kids from the minors and putting them into positions to contribute. Many credit Piniella, but to be fair you have to hand it to Hendry. He has shuttled players between the farm and the bigs looking for the right mix for his new skipper. If the Cubs pull off postseason--with a lame duck ownership group, coming off a 96 loss season, and a remade team--Hendry has to considered for Andrew "Rube" Foster Award handed out to Executive of the Year in the NL.

Now as we approach the trade deadline all Cub fans wonder if JH will have an ace up his sleeve that will help the Cubs overtake Milwaukee and play deep into the month of October. To be fair to Hendry, at this point much of that decision making may take place in the Tribune Tower and not at Clark and Addison. Still with the Cubs playing so well over the past month and the team in contention, Jim Hendry deserves credit for his moves that resulted in the extreme team makeover from the 2006 version of the Cubs to your 2007 Chicago Cubs.

in praise of luck

the cubs dropped two of three to the arizona diamondbacks this weekend, including the saturday game i attended, coming away three and a half games back of the division-leading milwaukee brewers and just two back and tied for second in the nl wildcard standings. because of the higher number of competitors in the wildcard race, even at a closer distance the wildcard remains probabilistically more remote in any odds generator you're likely to see, including baseball prospectus'.

it seems to me that a lot of what can be said about this club has been. i've characterized this season as best i know how -- on the balance of evidence as i see it, this is a club highly reliant on its good fortune on balls in play for the lion's share of its success. that's unfortunate to some degree as babip is a notoriously vacillatory characteristic, particularly on the pitching side -- it's been shown that the figure in any half has about a 50% chance of lying between .285 and .300, and three in four of falling between .280 and .305. the first half saw the cubs fall outside that middle range to their good fortune on both sides of the ball, and july has so far been another such event --- .312 on offense, an astounding .261 on defense -- to help the cubs to a 12-6 record in the 18 games.

how important is this babip stuff? to be sure, it's only one aspect of the game, even speaking just statistically -- there are strikeout and walk rates, flyball and groundball rates, home run and other power rates that factor into how a team performs. and these things are of course variable as well, particularly in short runs.

but it is the co-story of the year so far for this team -- firstly because it is important, secondly because the cubs are so deviant from what is to be expected.

why can we say babip and its variance is important?

these charts compare how run rates, both scored and allowed, vary respectively with babip (batting and pitching, respectively) over 12-game and 26-game runs. it does not take a math genius to see that output correlates pretty well with babip -- imperfectly of course as there are many other factors at work, but more than well enough to demonstrate that babip is important. it's particularly clear on the batting side, but no less true on the pitching side -- when balls in play fall for hits at higher rates, clubs score more runs.

the other half of the co-story of the year has been slugging -- particularly the cubs' lack of it. comparing babip variations and slugging variations over the same 12- and 26-game spans, we can see easily enough that slugging matters about as much as babip (and that slugging and babip are, of course, closely correlated themselves as slugging is mostly dependent on base hits, not home runs).

often, in fact, where runs scored/allowed jumps and babip does not, it indicates a spate of home runs better reflected in slugging percentage. this is obviously part of what is meant by saying that there are other things in the world besides babip to look at.

what can these charts tell us about the recent cubs run? the runs scored charts show the team scoring at a near-season-peak pace -- and a deep power outage as well as an elevated babip, in fact the luckiest 26-game stretch of the season for the offense. it would seem that the recent run of scoring is almost entirely dependent on a fortunate babip. on the pitching side, we see the cubs allowing as few runs as at any point this season -- but less on virtue of babip than on slugging allowed, which is near a season low over the last 26.

there are myriad conclusions one can draw from these data, but one of the most important is poorly shown here -- and it is based on the observation that the 26-game cub pitching babip chart never rises over .291. given that over any half-season of baseball a team should expect its babip against to fall over the league mean of .295 about half the time, it is remarkable that the cub staff is so far 4-for-4-months in the luck department. it's hard, i think, to overestimate the positive impact that unusual bit of good fortune has had -- after all, one can look at the 12-day measures and see that, when the club allows a babip of over .300 they also can allow the opposition an average of 5 runs per game or more.

one of the other more interesting things that could be said deals less with the team than with the expectations of its fans. none of what i'm saying today is a state secret, but the vast majority of even knowledgeable cub fans have given it short shrift anyway in their eagerness to both enjoy winning and project it into the future. coming off a homestand on which the cubs finished 7-3, acb seems to think finishing out the season at at least a .570 clip is likely, in spite of the fact that the cubs are today a .526 ballclub; cub town is talking about the swagger and effort that the manager has brought to chicago, apparently from tampa bay; at least some at goatriders are convinced that the club is just plain good. none of this is to single anyone out -- the new york times is on the bandwagon, for god's sake. and the sentiment isn't universally uncritical, as the cub reporter shows even as they draw tenuous lines between the cubs and past world series champions.

but it is amazing to realize that the lowest low of the year -- the game 53 "turning point" which included lou piniella's now-legendary rant the day after the zambrano-barrett dustup -- represented the approximate midpoint of the single stretch in this season during which the cubs had played at anything like luckless, fortune neither particularly favoring nor disfavoring them with respect to balls in play, offensive (.298 babip, 4.29 rs/g) and defensive (.287 babip, 4.48 ra/g). the club went 19-23 in that stretch.

it's a sobering thought for me -- even as i love the hell out of this winning run, even as i take my family to the park to yell them on, even as i line up september tickets just in case -- that this ballclub's luck should by all rights have run out long ago. there's no swagger here, no managerial prowess, no turning point, no issue of effort, and certainly (short of dementia) no reason to expect much in the way of continuation. there's simply a club that started to get really lucky at a really good time, in fact has been pretty damned lucky all year.

thank god for luck -- no team can win without some. i'm left to ponder that the cubs are drawing very heavily on their account with dame fortune -- but isn't this club, of all clubs, entitled to?

Friday, July 20, 2007

trend spotting update

from the outset of the year to the cyclical high on game 31, the club went 16-15; from the high to the game 53 low, the club went 6-16; from the low to the high in game 65, they went 8-4; since the high, they have gone a stunning 20-9.

one could reinterpret the game 79 macd low of (-1.15) as a low point; that would revise the breakdown to 9-5 from the high to the game 79 low, and 11-4 since.

in terms of crossover points, the cubs went 16-18 to the negative convergence at game 34; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 55, they went 8-13; from there to the negative convergence in game 70, 6-7; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 80, they went 8-2; since then, 10-4.

all the desperation of the early season to the first crossover -- when the cubs were outscxoring the opposition and losing games anyway -- was reversed between games 65 and 80, where the club went six over .500 in spite of scoring 69 and allowing 69. that bout of good luck, offsetting earlier misfortune, has done as much as can be done to revive hopes in 2007. most winning clubs are build on a considerable foundation of good luck, so thank god some has come to this team! and pray it lasts.

since game 80 (july 1), the cubs have scored 75 (5.36 rs/g) and allowed 50 (3.57 ra/s), winning 10 of 14 to get within 3.5 of milwaukee. a quick exam of their july team batting split shows a .326 babip; team pitching split a diminimous .263 babip against. again, don't look a gift horse in the mouth and pray to your deity of choice for continuation.

from the outset to the cyclical high at game 36, the brewers went 25-11; from the high to the low in game 48, 3-9; and from the low to the game 78 high, 18-12; from the high to the low in game 92, 6-8; since, 2-1.

with reference to crossover points, the brewers went 25-14 to the negative convergence at game 39; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 60, they went 8-13; from that convergence to the negative crossover in game 86, they went 16-10; since then, 5-4.

milwaukee's run differential trend would, on first reading, seem to have bottomed out this week. their july batting split shows a .263 babip, averaging out that torrid june -- but on that same ground they shouldn't be expected to continue just 4.13 rs/g. what july success they have experienced has been more on the back of a pitching staff that's allowed just 4.27 ra/g -- but that too is on the back of a .264 babip against and should revert northwards. this club, like the cubs, should allow about 4.4-4.6 ra/g in normal conditions.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Recapping the Giants Series

After sweeping the Astros in the first series following the All-Star Break, the San Francisco Giants came into town for a 4 game set. Before the first pitch was thrown, you knew that this was a series where the Cubs had to take 3 of 4. The Giants' record speaks for itself, and you never want to settle for a split at home against a team this bad. I was lucky enough to be at 2 of the games (my first games in almost 2 years), so I figured I would have to post something. Here are my thoughts from the series.

I was there for Rich Hill v. Tim Lincecum, (who ironically bears a striking resemblance to Henry Rowengardner from Rookie of the Year. Think about it. Short stature? Check. 12 year old looking face? Check. Blazing fastball? Check.), which was a great game to pick considering it had been, like I said, almost 2 years since I'd been to Wrigley (night game, ESPN, Bonds in town). Speaking of Bonds, we had found out on the train on the way to the game that he would not play. Some people were upset, which really confused me. Bonds is obviously their best hitter, and with him out of the lineup, there really is no one in that Giants lineup that can beat you. Frankly, I couldn't have cared less whether or not Bonds played or hit a home run while he was in town. I told everyone that if I had it my way, I wish Bonds would sit out the whole series. Anyways, I had awesome seats right behind the plate, and other than some early drizzling, the weather was perfect.

It was nice to see Dick pitch as well as he did. Granted, it came against a Bonds-less Giants lineup, which is like a Kobe-less Lakers team. Still he looked good. Even better though was Lincecum, who outside of a Koyie Hill homer, was totally dominant. I think he's got a shot to be a really good pitcher, and its looking like the idea to keep him out of the bullpen is paying off for the Giants.

Needless to say, Ramirez came up huge, as he continues to show that he is the guy Cub fans should want up with the game on the line. With the Giants down one in the bottom of the ninth, I was surprised we didn't see Bonds pinch hit. Cubs win 3-2. I capped off a good night by picking up a Ryan Theriot shirt. Solid investment.

Game 2 saw Marshall go against fellow lefty Barry Zito, with Bonds out of the lineup for the second consecutive day. Both lefties threw well, and for Barry Zito it couldn't have come at a better time. Leading up to this, Zito had really struggled, making that mega deal he scored in the off season look worse with each passing start. Quite frankly, I think that contract will go down as one of the all-time worst ever. Switching to the the NL was a good move for Zito, and San Franciso's park (whatever it's called these days) suits him and his flyball tendencies well. But as long as Bonds, Roberts, and Winn are patrolling that massive outfield, I think he will really struggle. It amazes me that San Francisco's GM Brian Sabean would commit that kind of money to an obviously declining pitcher when his organization is on the cusp of rebuilding. Zito and his contract figure to be a major albatross for the Giants for next 7 years to come.

The game was disappointing when the Cubs lost as a result of Carlos Marmol and Will Ohman really struggling to find the strike zone. I'm not too worried about Marmol though. I think he has just been overworked lately.

I was at the laugher that was Game 3. Before the game in the 7-11 across the street, I saw a group of Giants fans wearing matching shirts that said "CUBS= Completely Useless By September." I found that interesting considering the Giants are already completely useless and it isn't even August.

The Giants really handed us this one. While they didn't get charged with one error, that was mostly the result of home field score keeping. They really kicked the ball around all day, particularly Klesko and Feliz. If you want the definition of a tough luck starter, then look no further than Matt Cain, who started Game 3 for the Giants. He was one pitch away from getting out of that 5th inning with no harm done, but Klesko booted a chopper to his right off the bat of Jacque Jones. After this game he moved to 3-11 despite a pretty solid ERA.

I've been pretty critical of Koyie Hill since his callup, but no question he was the MVP of the day, as he doubled twice driving in 5 runs. Sometimes you just gotta give credit where credit is due. Do I think that we can expect more of this from Koyie? No. But let's just say it doesn't hurt getting a little lucky sometimes.

I really liked how Lou lifted Big Z after just 5 innings and 90 or so pitches. If anyone could use the rest, it's Carlos. Sean Gallagher came in and earned the 4 inning save, but I wasn't overly impressed. He didn't strikeout a single batter, while his control really came and went over the course of his outing. I still think Gallagher has a bright future as a solid back end of the rotation guy, but right now he just doesn't serve a purpose in our 'pen, and is probably best served in the minors working as a starter.

Game 4 was pretty wild. With Bonds in the lineup for the first time in the series, The Giants picked up right where they left off the day before kicking the ball all over the diamond. It was 1-0 Cubs after two pitches after the Giants' starter Matt Morris threw the ball away after Theriot tried to bunt Soriano over to third. Ted Lilly battled through 5 innings, but clearly didn't have his best stuff. When the dust cleared, Jacque Jones had 4 htis (!) Cliff Floyd and Darryl Ward were hurt, and Barry Bonds had homered twice, and the Cubs squeaked out a 9-8 victory, successfully taking 3 of 4 from the pathetic Giants.

Bring on the D'Backs.

izturis dealt to pittsburgh

for a ptbnl, with the cubs sending some cash along too. erstwhile double-a catcher jake fox will take his place on the 40-man.

the cubs are now carrying five catchers on the 40-man -- jason kendall, koyie hill, geovany soto, henry blanco and fox -- and will apparently have seven different players (including rob bowen and michael barrett) take a turn behind the plate this year, provided fox catches. don't see that every day.

tribune sale jeopardized

i'm not going to pretend to be able to wade through every nuance of what may be happening here. but in general terms, this is what is happening.

the ongoing disaster in the mortgage market (if you're trying to sell your house, you know what i mean) is having some really important wider consequences. as banks and other major capital investors are now beginning to realize, many of the mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations with large holdings of mortgage debt they purchased in the last two years are perhaps not nearly as secure or valuable as they had once presumed. high default rates and widespread fraud have become serious issues. the recent event that seems to have driven this home is the failure of two hedge funds managed by investment bank bear stearns.

in the aftermath of the bear stearns disaster, many investment banks are re-evaluating their capital condition and finding that they want or need to raise lending standards. in part, they're doing this because investors further down the chain are demanding safer and/or more rewarding securities; in part, because they themselves have to manage their quality of capital investment. the result of this is that corporate interest rate spreads are rising all around the spectrum -- in short, problems in the mortgage market are apparently spreading into other areas of finance. this particularly includes leveraged buyouts.

when sam zell bought the trib, he did so with a small amount of equity and pile of debt -- a "leveraged buyout". investment banks offered something called a "bridge loan" to zell so he could make the purchase, with the debt later to be collateralized into bonds which are sold down the chain (at a profit) to investors that zell and tribune then have to pay back.

it's very important to note that these deals are conditional on the object being purchased having enough free cash flow to pay the interest and principal on that mountain of debt back to investors. the entire purchase is predicated on the stability of revenues and cash flow.

however, the newspaper business isn't going very well, and tribune's cash flow is rumored to be dropping like a stone.

in an environment where investment banks are becoming wary of bridge loans (for fear that they won't be able to sell the debt on at a profit because investors will demand more interest) and in several cases demanding repricing or killing deals, this is bad news for zell's deal. a nervous market has turned against it, with tribune's initial debt offering already trading underwater.

i won't pretend to know what will happen. it's possible the investment banks involved will try to kill the deal. it's possible zell will try to kill the deal. it's possible that the deal will be repriced and move forward. it's even possible that things will calm down and the deal go through as is. but, if you're interested in this kind of thing, just know that in this environment the deal is far from over.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

all good things

every reasonable cubs fan had to expect that, sooner or later, carlos marmol was going to hand one back. some things are just too good to last. so last night can't come as much surprise.

but is it cause for concern? perhaps, particularly if you've been one who has clamored for marmol to be installed in the closer's role in the expectation of more of the same.

marmol is clearly going to be tough to hit and a valuable reliever because of it; he's one of the batch of young cub pitchers i've been talking highly of for a couple years now as a source of potential grounded optimism for the future of this club.

but the majority of his success in 2007 has been on the back of issuing just 8 walks in his first 25.1 innings (2.8 bb/9). that's a huge change from the pitcher who in 2007 passed 59 in 77 innings (6.9 bb/9) and even the guy who has issued 4.0 bb/9 in his minor league career. with that context and with an eye toward unsustainable behavior, watching him walk 6 in his last 6.2 innings is enough to inject some significant doubt as to the wisdom of such a move into what has been (always tenuously) ryan dempster's role. after all, a successful 2006 debut for marmol was undone in the second half on this very same problem.

lou piniella has wisely handled marmol pretty carefully, working him into the game in the 6th and 7th much of the time, allowing bob howry to take most of the pressure. marmol's average leverage index (pLI) remains well below those of dempster, howry and leading loogy will ohman. that's frankly a practice i'd continue with until the cubs have had a chance to see marmol struggle in relief and how he handles struggling. if he cannot consistently throw strikes in order to keep men off base in the late innings, he'll be of little more use in closing than dempster has been. howry has been the pitcher in the cub bullpen who has shown the best capacity to limit walks in the late innings, and his elevated whip this season has been due mostly to a .324 babip. he should remain the low-risk option, at least for now, in a bullpen without a true closer.

can marmol throw strikes consistently? i think his history shows that it will likely be a persistent problem. but a reliever's role will minimize the damage that trait can cause, and if it can simply be a manageable flaw (as it was in his recent minor league performances -- and wasn't last year in the majors) marmol will be a valuable piece of the cub bullpen for years to come.

in any case, events further up the tristate knocked the cubs back a game to 4.5 out -- but the more intriguing development was a bizarre injury to milwaukee cornerstone ben sheets. because of the development of superprospect yovani gallardo, this isn't the blow to the brewers it could've been -- with carlos villanueva also available, rotation depth is just not a problem for that club. dave bush has overcome some early babip-related struggles to find his groove, but chris capuano's continuing struggles have put that in the shade. on the whole, milwaukee looks to continue to be (much like the cubs) a fairly average pitching club with (unlike the cubs) a powerful offense. they're still looking to be a tough get.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Whatta night

More drama tonight at the Friendly Confines. The drama came both on the field and earlier in the day and game with Jim Hendry and the Cubs front office.

Before the ballgame Billy Petrick was recalled from Iowa and Rob Bowen was DFA'd by the Cubs. So it looked like Jim Hendry had basically wound up with nothing in the Michael Barett deal.

So we move onto the ballgame. In the third inning Koyie Hill, the catcher who had survived, clobbered a Tim Lincecum pitch into the right field stands to give the Cubs the lead 1-0. The lead didn't last long, in the top of the fifth Pedro Feliz tied the game hitting a high Rich Hill fastball into the left field stands. So with the game tied at 1-1, the game took a back seat in the sixth to a major announcement.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jim Hendry joined Len and Bob in the WCIU booth. Hendry announced to all of us sitting at home that he had done something with Rob Bowen. Hendry had used Bowen in a deal with Billy Beane to acquire a starting catcher. Jason Kendall, who was a Cub killer with the Bucs, will join the Cubs tomorrow night. Here's Carrie Muskat's report:

CHICAGO -- The Cubs shuffled catchers Monday, acquiring catcher Jason Kendall from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for catcher Rob Bowen and Minor League pitcher Jerry Blevins.

Before Monday's game, the Cubs designated Bowen for assignment. With the addition of Kendall, they will be back at three catchers on the 25-man roster.

Kendall, 33, was batting .226 with two homers in 80 games with the Athletics. He'll be back in the National League, where he starred for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1996-2004.

So the Cubs have turned Michael Barrett and Jerry Blevins into Jason Kendall. Yeah, Kendall has struggled so far this season and he might not be the player he was in Pittsburgh. Still he comes to this team as a solid defensive catcher, at the plate he has a career OBP of .375. He's only a year removed from a season that saw him hit .295 with a .367 OBP. There is no doubt that Kendall is a defensive catcher these days. There is also little doubt that many will not like this deal. Still with Blanco still on the shelf and the Cubs in the race they were going to add a veteran. If Kendall can come in and give the Cubs a good second half that's all that will matter.

So back to the ballgame. In the top of the eigth the Giants scratched out a run off of Rich Hill. In the bottom of the inning the Cubs first two hitters made out. Ryan Theriot singled up the middle. With Theriot running DLee singled past the second sacker who was going to cover second. Theriot went to third and the Cubs had action. Then the Cubs most clutch hitter this year Aramis Ramirez clubbed a double to LF. Lee and Theriot scored. The Cubs had a 3-2 lead. Wrigley Field was up for grabs! Bobby Howry came in and it was game over.

At the end of the night the Cubs had added a solid veteran catcher and had won another dramatic come-from-behind win. Whatta night.

Go D-backs!

strange luck

i'm as surprised as anyone could be, i think, to see the cubs come out of the weekend having won 13 of 17 and closed the gap between themselves and the division-leading milwaukee brewers by 5 full games in just 17 played. i've found myself laughing in disbelief more than once since that june 23 launching point. the cubs have since been one of the hottest clubs in baseball. the day before it began, i found reason for further pessimism looking forward. subsequently i further said:

should the starting pitching finally suffer for that eventual mean reversion while the offense -- now without barrett for the duration and playing the likes of rob bowen and koyie hill, as well as mike fontenot, ryan theriot, felix pie, angel pagan and jacque jones more days than not -- continues to struggle, the cubs may yet have harder days in front of them than any we've so far seen.

well, the pitching in this run has posted a team .310 babip over these 17 games -- and managed to hold the opposition to 4.24 runs/game anyway. the offense has moreover, for all the dead weight it may carry, posted 5.35 runs/game in the same time. goes to show you what i know about the future.

going 13-4, though, usually isn't enough to close five games on anyone unless they're not playing particularly well. and the brewers actually haven't played poorly at all -- since june 23, they've scored 87 and allowed 76. that hasn't prevented them from winning just 8 of 17, though, to the cubs' good fortune. all thoughts of selling into the trade deadline are likely now reversed.

ccd's advice is nonetheless well taken, because it still really is hard to make up five games. that's a point that probably convokes laughter in some quarters right now because it's altogether too easy to believe that what has just happened somehow had to, or that it was somehow a common enough occurrence that no one should be surprised when it happens.

a look at some data helps dispel the notion. over the last ten seasons (from the beginning of 1998), for just 31 of 1379 sample periods have the cubs made up as many as 5 games on the division leader or the next-best team in the division. that's 2.2% of the time. these constitute six separate runs against the leader, broken down as follows.

GmDateOpp RSRAYTDRankGBagainst the leader over last 17last 17

this is clearly not a common event. as an aside, winning 13 of 17 is rarer still -- it's been true of just 24 of the 1379 sample periods.

it's certainly fair to note that -- with six discrete events in ten seasons -- at some point the cubs are likely to do such a thing in most years, and one can sit in wait of a charge of this kind when the club's hovering within single digits of the lead. but that ignores the probability of the opposite dynamic -- it's actually been more than four times as likely that the club finds a way to drop five or more against the lead in the same time. by my count (and it's a bit subjective, but my arbitrary view is that any stretch without a five-game break constitutes a continuing streak) there have been 26 such episodes, including one earlier this season. and it's not a phenomena of abject losers alone -- 13 of the 26 involved clubs that were placed third or higher in the division at some point in the run (usually at the start).

this is something it might pay to note if you're currently suffused in the headiness of winning baseball. by all means, enjoy it -- i certainly am -- but consider the history before you bet your friend from milwaukee a hard-earned c-note straight up that the cubs will take the division this year. get yourself some odds on that one -- you deserve at least 3:1 and probably more. not only is there a non-negligible chance that a five-game retracement lies somewhere in the future of this very same cubs club; but you'd effectively be betting that the lightning we've witnessed in the last three weeks is going to strike twice this year after hitting just five times in the previous nine seasons.