Sunday, April 30, 2006

April around the NL Central

With the month of April in the books, the Cubs find themselves looking up at the usual suspects St. Louis and Houston, and a surprise team the Cincinnati Reds. Somehow the Reds are off to a quick start. At 17-8 the Redlegs are off to one of the better starts in all of baseball.

The early standings this season tell us that the NL Central has taken a jump up from where the division was at this time a year ago. Last year only two teams in the division were above .500. This year 5 teams find themselves above .500. Here's a look at the end of April standings from 2005.

2005 (as of 4/30/05)
STL 15-7 - .682
CUBS 12-11 3.5 .522
CIN 10-13 5.5 .435
MIL 10-13 5.5 .435
HOU 9-13 6.0 .409
PIT 8-14 7.0 .364

Here is where we stand at the end of NL Central play today:
2006 (as of 4/30/06)
CIN 17-8 - .680
STL 17-8 - .680
HOU 16-8 .5 .667
CUBS 13-10 3.0 .565
MIL 14-11 3.0 .560
PIT 7-19 10.5 .269

Here is a snapshot of the what the Cubs competitors in the NL Central did in the month of April:

Before Sunday's loss the Cincinnati Reds(17-8) had won 9 of 10. Before the loss Sunday they were actualy off to the best start in baseball. It seems to me the Reds have gotten off to decent starts a few times recently. I checked out and found that they played well early in both 2002 and 2004. The Reds were actually 30-21 at the end of May in 2004 under Dave Miley before the wheels came off in June and July. In 2002 they were 16-9 in April. So, every other year the Reds get off to a fast start and you know the rest of the story.

This Cincy team has started hot despite a pitching staff that ranks 13 in the NL in ERA(4.92) and 11th in WHIP(1.44). In April the Reds have gotten good starting pitching from Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. Arroyo (4-0, 2.34) has been solid in 4 of his 5 starts. He's eating up innings (nearly 7 a start) and giving the Reds a go to pitcher a (0.92 WHIP) at the top of their rotation(for now). Harang (4-1, 4.35) got off to a horrible start to the season. The Cubs bombed him on Opening Day and the Bucs got him for 5 ER in 6.2 IP in his second start. In his last 4 starts he's pitched well 3-0 and a 2.60 ERA. The Reds rotation is expecting a boost when Eric Milton and Paul Wilson return from injuries.

As usual the Reds have relied on their offense. Offensively the Reds have scored the most runs in the NL (147). We all know about Dunn, Kearns, Griffey, Freel, Aurilia, and Lopez. Two surprises have led the Reds offense. Second sacker Brandon Phillips has started hot hitting .355 with 22 RBi. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has been almost as surprising hitting .303 with 24 RBi and 17 runs.

New ballpark, same results. Just like clockwork, the hated St. Louis Cardinals(17-8) are off to another quick start. This season Albert Pujols looks to be unstoppable. On Saturday, Pujols set the MLB mark for homeruns in the month of April (14). Pujols OPS is a mind-boggling 1.420. In addition to Pujols, Hector Luna, John Rodriguez, David Eckstein and Scott Rolen are all hitting above .300. The Cardinals have to be happy with their good start. They still can expect a little more. Edmonds average is down around the Mendoza line, it's just a matter of time until he gets going.

The Cardinal rotation looks to be strong again this season. In April NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter(3-1, 1.80) ate up 40 innings in 6 starts. Mark Mulder(2-0, 3.53) ate up 35.2 in 5 starts. Jason Marquis (3-2, 5.04) has pithced 30.1 innings in 5 starts. Ponson(3-0, 3.13) looks like he could be a steal at the back end of the Redbird rotation.

What gives the Cubs and the rest of the NL Central hope is the Cardinal bullpen. Isringhausen has an ERA of 6.00. Veteran relief pitchers Braden Looper and Randy Flores are pitching above their career averages. Youngsters Brad Thompson and Adam Wainright are bound to wake up one of these days.

The Houston Astros(16-8) are not digging the hole for themselves that they did last season. The defending NL Champs are off to a good start without Roger Clemens. They have taken full advantage of 16 home games in the month going 12-4 at Minute Maid Park. Even with the retirement of Jeff Bagwell, the Houstons offense is off to a quick start. The Astros are 4th in the NL in runs scored and OPS. Morgan Ensberg, Chris Burke and Lance Berkman are carrying the offensive load all three finished the month with OPS's over 1.000.

Despite 16 games at hitter friendly Minute Maid Park and a slow start by Andy Pettite(1-4, 5.25) the Astros rank 4th in team ERA. Roy Oswalt(4-1, 2.76) continues to be one of the NL's best starting pitchers. The 28 year old Oswalt's career numbers are now 87-40 with a 3.05 ERA. Impressive to say the least. The Astros surprise starter in April was left hander Wandy Rodriguez (4-0, 2.53). Brad Lidge(0-1, 6.94) started the year 7 for 7 in saves. This past week he blew saves in back to back nights to the Dodgers. Some suggest there is a hangover to the 2005 playoffs. I won't go there yet, but he's an interesting closer to keep our eyes on as the year goes on.

The young Milwaukee Brewers(14-11) have their fans excited this season. Cub fans saw over the weekend why their fans are excited. The Breweres looked like the '27 Yankees on Saturday and Sunday vs. the Cubs.

The Brewers started out April 5-0. Yeah they cooled off and they might be a year or two from contending, but I expect Ned Yost and his young players will have a say in who represents the NL Central in the tournament this fall. Offensively the Brewers are third in the NL in runs scored and OPS. Carlos Lee, NL ROY candidate Prince Fielder, Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall and J.J. Hardy are off to good starts. Fieldr started slow. Over the last three weeks he has showed why he had so much hoopla in the minor leagues.

Mike Maddux continues to get the Brewers pitching staff to overachieve. They rank 7th in the NL in ERA and 4th in WHIP. Derrick Turnbow is becoming a rock start in Milwaukee. The Brewer closer is 8 of 8 in save opportunities this April. The starting staff has been anchored again by left hander Chris Capuano(4-2, 2.36). Ace Ben Sheets didn't start the season with the team. He is coming back from injury. When he get's right, him and Capuano make a good 1-2 for the young Brew Crew.

There is nothing good to say about the Pittsburgh Pirates(7-19). The Buccos are testing new manager Jim Tracy's patience. When a team turns to Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz for offensive help you are probably in trouble. The Pirates rank 13th in team average, 14th in runs, 15th in OPS and last in walks.

Their pitching is much of the same. The Pirates team ERA and team WHIP rank last in the NL. The Pirate starting rotation of Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Odalis Perez and Victor Santos has 5 wins combined. Just so nobody feels left out, each starter has one win.

The good news for Tracy and the Bucs is it can't get much worse than April.

Note-All of the team and individual stats(except Capuano's) are through Saturdays games.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

problem spot roundup

on an off day like today, there's usually not too much to talk about. the only relevant piece of cubs news this writer can find is through cubosphere denizen grota, which notes that espn is reporting the cubs to be hot after former first-rounder carlos pena in the aftermath of derrek lee's injury. massive power offset by high strikeouts/low obp -- sounds like he'd fit right into dusty's master plan and would certainly do something to address this page's concerns. you can follow along with his travails with the columbus clippers. he's reputedly got a clause in his contract with demands his release if he hasn't been called up by may 1 -- of course, the yanks very well may do so with current backup 1b andy phillips hitting 150/227/150 in 20 ab. there's also this bit floating around about tony clark -- maybe there's hope for him too.

anyway, today might be a good day to take a look back at the litany of the concerns evinced hereabouts regarding this cub team and see how they're coming along.

one of the most discussed of these has been ronny cedeno, whose ability to hit, field and throw have by turns been disparaged here. many would have found the analyses that led to such conclusions easy to laugh off not long ago, with cedeno starting hot -- his batting average on april 9 climbing to .556 -- and subsequently even managing a couple walks.

however, even as dusty baker has seen fit to move cedeno up to second in the order as a consequence of the injury to lee and todd walker's move to the third slot, the kid has struggled to hit. since april 9, cedeno is now 10 for his last 47, posting a 213/275/298 line with four walks and seven strikeouts. he's dragged the bottom in pitches per plate appearance all season, and it might be starting to tell. perhaps ominously, cedeno struck out four times in ten at-bats over the just-concluded florida series, going without a hit and drawing two walks. florida seemed to approach cedeno with a new plan -- use his impatience to allow him to get himself out -- and cedeno has obliged by frequently chasing pitches out of the zone. perhaps it's too early to tell, and with his recent struggles masked somewhat by his start -- cedeno's season line still stands at 308/348/462 -- it may be some time before the hue and cry arise, but this page sees the possible onset of some very difficult sailing for the youngster as he attempts to keep his major league job. with neifi perez on the cub bench, his play in the field -- thusfar unspectacular with a 4.22 range factor despite some melodramatic diving about and .950 fielding percentage -- and performance with the bat over the next two weeks will be critical for him.

another topic recently covered was the travails of carlos zambrano and the related workload issues of the bullpen. first zambrano: in his subsequent start at wrigley, his fastball reached into the low 90s on a night during which david aardsma lit the gun for 98. that's about right for aardsma, so it seems that the gun at dodger stadium was perhaps reading zambrano a bit slow. zambrano's exploding movement took advantage of the impatient double-a florida club to force 12 strikeouts over seven innings -- zambrano's longest outing of the year -- but three walks and just 69 strikes in 114 pitches still give this page pause. call this one unresolved; this page will continue to monitor zambrano's starts closely.

the cub bullpen has been bolstered in recent days by a few seven-inning starts, pulling it down the list of the most worked bullpens in the nl to 8th as measured by innings per game. this is good news -- but the pen is still on pace to pitch 529 innings this season, a far higher number than most recent seasons in which the cub bullpen was one of the most lightly thrown. while early season workloads can generally be expected to subside following april, this will remain an issue to watch with the cub rotation being comprised mainly of short starters, at least for the first half.

it was further contended here that the cub pen was not sufficiently improved from last season to merit the praise that was coming in for it following the acquisitions of bob howry and scott eyre. as recently as a week ago, however, this writer noted that the bullpen had been nothing short of spectacular to date.

the core of the relief corps, despite being roughly worked by a starting staff managing just 5.6 innings per game -- particularly closer ryan dempster, who has now appeared in 9 of the team's 14 games, including five non-save situations -- has simply sparkled, with dempster, bob howry, scott williamson and scott eyre all placing in the top 50 in obpa.

the shine has come off a bit in the last week, as the cub bullpen has allowed 11 runs on 18 hits and 10 walks in its last 20 innings. this is notably as a result of walk-prone scott williamson's rough outings, but also includes contributions from roberto novoa, david aardsma and ryan dempster -- whose cub-record successful save streak is still intact despite being touched up in saint louis. with the best arms in the pen having seen so much work early, and now with so few off days like these to come, pitchers like aardsma and novoa are going to see more work with short starts -- exposing the back of the bullpen to major league hitters. time will tell what effect that will have as the cubs try to improve upon last year's mediocre performance in relief.

matt murton had converted this page from nervous hope to open praise even before the season started -- and he hasn't looked back. despite some acceptable inconsistency, his 294/377/456 line is a joyful thing to see for cub fans. it's becoming clear that murton will probably not hit 30 homers -- just two in 68 ab so far -- but he is a capable doubles hitter who has come to rank second on the club in rbi with 15 despite hitting seventh most of the time. if this production continues as would be hoped, a move up in the order would certainly be warranted.

conversely, this page at once saw the signing of jacque jones as a white flag over 2006 run up the pole by jim hendry and andy macfail. he has since done precious little to dissuade. jones has hit .188 in 48 at-bats early this year, but the full scale of the debacle can't really be captured by that statistic. his defense has been erratic at best -- his dive yesterday for a flyball fully five feet beyond his reach played a double into a triple, and he later participated in some miscommunication with juan pierre that let a can of corn drop between them -- and his throws back into the infield have had the air of a riverboat gambler, much as this page suspected they would. and jones further took his one big positive contribution thusfar as a stage to stupidly rip the chicago fans, who will surely be kinder to him now that he's questioned their loyalty. jones has been such a disaster so far that he's become one of dusty's favored double-switch candidates, a move which led to john mabry -- a "defensive substitution", ostensibly -- to help to lose yesterday's game with an eighth inning gaffe. it surely can't stay this bad for long, but jacque's rough start has served to highlight what a burden his unreasonable $16mm/three-year contract will be.

lastly, the decision to install sean marshall in the rotation came in for criticism here as a symptom of an irrational euphoria of spring. while the kid's talent wasn't (and isn't) questioned, his readiness for the bright lights was -- and is. the cubs have gamely won all four of his starts, but not always with marshall's help. his 2-0 record brightens an unspectacular 4.42 era and hides three of four starts in which he failed to pitch into the sixth.

there are good things to say, though -- his latest outing, his best, assisted by that accomodating florida lineup and a howling wind that kept at least two home runs in the park, was downright fun to watch. he's allowed just 21 baserunners in 21.1 innings. he's gotten plenty of groundball outs. on the whole, marshall's been a pretty servicable back-of-the-rotation starter. how long that may last is anyone's guess -- it pays to remember that rich hill and sergio mitre (twice) managed to look about as good for about as long -- and so this is still rather touch-and-go. but the marshall experiment at least has not been in fact the immediate implosion that was risked.

so there's the lengthy roundup as this cub club sits as 12-8 and, almost paradoxically, fourth place behind hot starters houston, cincinnati and saint louis, leading fifth-place milwaukee by only a game. much of it boils down to waiting for more data, but you can be assured, dear reader, that this page will continue to monitor the progress of its prognostications.

SeriesPreview: Brewers @ Cubs April 28-30

The Bruins(12-8) close out the month of April with a 3 game series against the Brewers(12-10). Last season the Cubs were 7-9 against Milwaukee. They took 4 of 6 from the Brewers in Chicago but struggled up at Miller Park going 3-7.

The Brewers come to Chicago after sweeping the Atlanta Braves in three up at Miller Park. After finishing last season at .500 the Brewers are expecting big things in 2006 and beyond. The exciting core of young players assembled by GM Doug Melvin has raised the expectations in Milwaukee. Offensively the Brewers are led by young first baseman Prince Fielder, who is hitting .361 with a .929 OPS, and former White Sox Carlos Lee, who is off to a good start with 8 homeruns and 18 knocked in.

The pitching matchups for the series seem to favor the Cubs. They luck out in missing Ben Sheets this series. Saturday's matchup of leftys Glendon Rusch and Doug Davis could get ugly. Both have ERA's over 6 and a combined record of 1-5. It won't be Koufax vs. Spahn (or this one), that's for sure.

Pitching Matchups and broadcast info:

Friday 1:20 ct
Greg Maddux(4-0, 0.99) vs. Dave Bush(2-1, 3.54)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-185

Saturday 1:20 ct
Glendon Rusch(1-3, 6.41) vs. Doug Davis(0-2, 7.66)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-185

Sunday 1:20 ct
Carlos Zambrano(0-1, 3.94) vs. Chris Capuano(3-2, 3.00)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-185

Kerry Wood Update (why?)
This from today's Tribune:
Kerry Wood threw 39 pitches in a three-inning simulated game against rookie-leaguers on Wednesday, allowing one hit with one walk and five strikeouts. Wood said he felt fine afterward, the Cubs reported.

Yawn, shrug. I'm not really sure what this was worth.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Media Creature: Game of Shadows

aka-The Bonds/Balco Book

As Barry Bonds inches closer and closer to Babe Ruth's 714, I thought now would be as good a time as any to give you my take on the book Game of Shadows written by two San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. As most of you around here know I am no fan of Bonds. (not really because of the steroids, I actually still like Sammy who was a juicer, I just cannot stand Bonds' attitude.)

As a baseball fan I know that steroids has left a scar on the game. Game of Shadows, like Eliot Asinof's Eight Men Out and The Dowd Report, detail the facts surrounding a very ugly episode in baseball's history. One has to keep in mind that Balco is only one episode in a very ugly steroid scandal that is still taking place in baseball and all of sports. The book is really put together well. The evidence, as you would expect, is overwhelming.

I picked up the book late last week while out of town on business. A couple of 2+ hour plane rides and I was finished. I am a slow reader, so this book is a fast read by my standards. Although we know the outcome of the book, the book details how Victor Conte, a nutritionist/modern day snake-oil salesman, set out to engineer the perfect athlete. Along the way Conte works with several athletes from track and field. Conte also supplies NFL star Bill Romanowski with performance enhancing drugs. He gets involved with Greg Anderson a childhood friend of Bonds who introduces Barry and several other MLB players to the "good shit" as Bonds calls it.

Along the way most of Conte's athletes in track and field are caught and suspended by the USADA for using performance enhancing drugs. The evidence against Bonds and the other MLB players is just as good. But Bud Selig and his cronies do nothing. Very interesting.

What I took away from the book was how easy Conte and his co-conspiritors could find new forms of steroids that could get around the "tough" olympic testing. We are always told that the olympic testing and the NFL testing are so good. That didn't stop Conte. How many companies are there right now that are making "good shit" that can't be detected by any of the current drug tests. As most of us already knew, this is a problem that's not going away any time soon.

One of the major problems with Game of Shadows is the writers might have written the book to early. As the Balco probe continues and investigations looks into whether Barry Bonds committed perjury when he testified to the grand jury in 2003. With Anderson being summoned to testify again before the Grand Jury, it still might be some time before the final chapter in this story is written.

As a baseball fan and a sports fan I would suggest that you pickup Game of Shadows. It's a fast read about a subject that is playing a massive role in sports today and I suspect will for years to come.

UPDATE: Al at BCB posted a review of the book on his site today. Take a look. He gives you some good details on what you'll find inside. I'd like to echo something that Al said at the end of his post:
This is an important book, and the story told within is not over. All of you should read it.
As a baseball fan, I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No Hitter Boxscore

Lefty Sean Marshall's(2-0, 4.22) impressive outing on Tuesday night (2 hits over 7 innings) brought up the memory of another Cub lefty. 37 summers ago in 1969 Ken Holtzman tossed the first of two no-hitters in his career. This one came on a day where Holtzman took full advantage of a favorable Wrigley Field wind.(Many claim the ball that Henry Aaron hit in the seventh that Billy Williams caught in the well was actually out over Waveland Avenue and blown back into the ballpark by the "pitchers wind".) Here's Ken Holtzman's no-hitter from August 19, 1969:

Chicago Cubs 3, Atlanta Braves 0

DayGame Played on
Tuesday, August 19, 1969 (D) at Wrigley Field
ATL N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 0 0
CHI N 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 x - 3 5 0

Atlanta Braves AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Alou cf 4 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Millan 2b 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
H. Aaron rf 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Carty lf 2 0 0 0 1 0 2 0
Cepeda 1b 3 0 0 0 0 0 9 1
Boyer 3b 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Didier c 2 0 0 0 1 0 6 0
Garrido ss 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 3
Niekro p 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
T. Aaron ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Neibauer p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 27 0 0 0 3 0 24 10

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Kessinger ss 4 1 2 0 0 0 2 3
Beckert 2b 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 7
Williams lf 4 0 0 0 0 1 3 0
Santo 3b 4 1 1 3 0 1 1 2
Banks 1b 3 0 0 0 0 2 12 0
Hickman rf 3 0 0 0 0 0 6 0
Heath c 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
G. Oliver c 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Young cf 2 0 1 0 1 0 3 0
Holtzman p 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 29 3 5 3 2 4 27 12

HR: Santo (25,1st inning off Niekro 2 on 1 out).
Team LOB: 4.

Atlanta Braves IP H R ER BB SO HR
Niekro L(16-11) 7 5 3 3 2 4 1
Neibauer 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 8 5 3 3 2 4 1

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Holtzman W(14-7) 9 0 0 0 3 0 0

Umpires: Dick Stello, Augie Donatelli, Mel Steiner, Bob Engel
Time of Game: 2:00 Attendance: 37514

NOTE: Holtzman's second no-hitter would come against the Reds on June 3, 1971 at Riverfront Stadium.

Thanks to for this and all boxscores used on 1060west.

smoke and mirrors

now four games into the post-derrek lee 2006 season, the cubs have managed to acquit themselves to a 2-2 record while scoring 4.25 runs per game. this is a slight decline on the year on the whole, where this team has managed to plate 5.16 a game -- a considerable early improvement on the 2005 offensive return of 4.34 and good for 5th in the national league.

given the benevolent outcomes of the cubs offense thusfar, there has been some sentiment expressed in cubdom that the team is well-prepared to score sufficiently to win even in the absence of lee, and that no extraordinary effort need be made to acquire an offensive replacement to bridge the next three months.

it must be said, however, that how such production has been arrived at bodes ill for its durability. the cubs for the season are mired in 12th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging. they have been a merely median hitting club, but have drawn a league-low figure in walks.

it seems mystifying that a club with such peripherals could be managing over five runs a game. but the source of the scoring is to be found in the cubs' performance with runners in scoring position (abbreviated risp), where the team leads the league by a wide margin in opportunities capitalized upon.

this writer figured the number of runners on base managed by each nl team per game thusfar -- that is, hits, walks and hit batsmen less home runs -- to find that the cubs rank 13th in the league at 10.71. however, the cubs rank first -- at 38.9% -- in scoring those runners.

this is in large part due to the large differential between their overall team batting average and on-base percentage and their similar figures with runners in scoring position. the cubs are currently hitting 39 points higher with risp (.264 vs .303 w/risp), the largest such difference in the league. similarly, the cubs are leading the league in obp differential (54 points, .317 vs .373 w/risp) and slugging differential (a whopping 121 points, .417 vs .538 w/risp, vastly greater than the runner-up atlanta at 83 points).

how that is ominous for the cubs may not be immediately evident. one of the great statistical truths of baseball works against one of its great myths, which is hitting in the clutch. though many attach great romance to the idea of ballplayers rising to the occasion, it is a wearily tried concept in baseball statistics that can find little empirical grounding. though in short runs a player or team can randomly exceed or underperform their more general batting average under some special circumstance or another, over the long haul the average of a team with runners in scoring position approaches its batting average -- that is to say, clutch hitting and its converse, choking, are myths of small sample sizes.

relevantly to the cubs this year, this means that, as the number of games and at-bats increase, the cubs performance with runners on is likely to decline to approach the team's overall averages -- which are clearly considerably less amenable to scoring runs. and it must be said that this is a far more likely path of reconciliation than its opposite -- that is, having the broader averages rise to the level of those with risp -- as the broader averages are already based on a sample that is over four times as large (605 ab vs 145) and therefore four times as significant.

the cubs have so far lived in defiance of these odds. last night's game -- in which the cubs were limited to four hits and ten baserunners by a pitching staff that consists almost uniquely of talent that would, in most organizations, be in the high minors -- is an excellent example of how the cubs have performed poorly in general but have capitalized on more opportunities than they have any right to expect to, plating six of those men.

when these underlying factors begin to express themselves more forcefully in the fullness of time, such efficient offensive outbursts are likely to become far more rare and the rate of scoring for the club significantly decrease.

this eventuality is something that, should the cubs management believe themselves contenders still in this young 2006 season, they are obligated to rectify in the best manner possible. this page had very little hope for 2006 even before the injuries to lee and prior, and has even less now. a good case can already be made, it seems here, to concentrate on lining up the organizational ducks for 2007 and beyond. but it is still very early in the year, and baseball can be an odd game -- there is still plenty of room for hope, even if one should recognize the unlikelihood of it being realized. and if the organization still holds out that hope, it all but must seek an offensive replacement for lee. substituting jerry hairston, john mabry or neifi perez into the lineup in lee's absence is an offensive death sentence for a club that was going to be mediocre in the run scoring department with a healthy lee. with the return of ailing pitching seeming to be ever further distant, moves have to be made to improve.

the alternative, it seems, is for the cub organization to admit the probabilities that this page has noted and start preparing for next year -- with only three weeks gone into this one. and this writer wonders if they are yet prepared to do that.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Les big homer

Nothing like 8th inning heroics on the world wide leader. 2 weeks ago it was Michael Barrett with a dramatic homerun off Isringhausen to give the Cubs a sweep over the Cardinals on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Tonite it was Jacques Jones, of all people, who had the honors in front of a national audience. The new Cub hit a 3-run bomb to the leftfield seats just seconds after Matt Murton had tied the game with a single. The Northsiders would win 6-3 on Jones homerun.

What's with the walks?
The Cubs only had 4 hits on the nite. They did collect 6 base on balls from the Marlins pitching. 2 of those would be huge. Cedeno and Walker collecting walks prior to the heroics by Murton and Jones.

SeriesPreview: Marlins @ Cubs April 24-26

The Northsiders(10-7) return from what I would term a very repectable 9 game roadtrip that saw them go 5-4, despite a heartbreking injury to their best position player. Now they start an 8 game homespan against teams with a combined record of 19-36. If you've followed the Cubs for just a short amount of time, you know that these series always have to potential to be very frustrating. Over the past few years the Cubs have seemed to play to the level of their opponents. Let's hope that's not the case this homestand.

The Cubs open the homestand tonite with Joe Girardi's Florida Marlins (5-11). The Fish are a glorified triple A team. Once you get past Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis you are looking at a bunch of youngsters, including several former Cub prospects. The Cubs will show their kiddie corps in games 2 and 3 with rookie starting pitchers Sean Marshall and Angel Guzman, who makes his big league debut.

Tonight is Zambrano's turn to get it done. The righthander has a matchup that he should dominate, in front of a national television audience. He looks for his first victory of the 2006.

Pitching Matchups and broadcast info:

Monday 6:05 ct
Carlos Zambrano(0-1, 3.97) vs. Jason Vargas(1-1, 7.20)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-185

Tuesday 7:05 ct
Sean Marshall(1-0, 6.28) vs. Dontrelle Willis(1-0, 2.92)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-185

Wednesday 1:20 ct
Angel Guzman(0-0, -.--) vs. Scott Olsen(1-1, 1.50)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-185

Sunday, April 23, 2006

dl triplets update

in the aftermath of derrek lee's stunning injury, many cub fans are trying to work out how the team might arbitrage the gap between lee's absence and the return of mark prior, kerry wood and wade miller -- its disabled list triplets. with glendon rusch, jerome williams and rookie sean marshall all struggling mightily with eras over 6, what little hope might be yet gleaned for this season -- just three weeks underway! -- seems to rest on the rapid return of all three.

this page has said before that shoulder injuries are a very serious matter -- much more so than elbow injuries -- something to which wood is attesting.

"A shoulder is a tricky thing," he said after throwing a 35-pitch bullpen session at Dodger Stadium. "There's a lot of little muscles and little things up in there you've got to stay on top of. An elbow is pretty cut-and-dried. You know what you're dealing with. For me, it's been tougher than the elbow, much tougher than I thought it'd be."

hopes for a fast return were dealt three separate blows in reports eminating from cubs camp this weekend. on friday, wade miller was moved to the 60-day disabled list as a means of clearing roster room for michael restovich, who was recalled to replace lee on the active 25-man roster. miller now does not count against the 40-man roster, while lee -- on the 15-day dl -- still does. the consequence of miller's retroactive redesignation is that he will be ineligible to return before june.

reports also circulated friday that wood was unable to start his scheduled simulated game due to tightness under his throwing shoudler. while the cubs are sanguine publicly about this turn of events, it does represent a setback of about a week in a rehabilitation that was aggressively scheduled to conclude early in may. at this late date, with wood still missing simulations, with a minor league assignment still to be completed after that, this page has little hope that wood will be available any time before mid-may, even if all goes well from here -- which is far from a certain thing.

lastly, in reporting on wood's delay, the tribune also noted the status of mark prior.

Mark Prior, who is third in line behind Wood and Miller in the pitching rehab lane, threw 25 pitches of batting practice Friday. The Cubs have not mapped out a plan for Prior's return, but it's unlikely to be before the start of June.

when initially reported, it was thought by some that prior's injury was a minor one and that he would return relatively early on in may. the cubs, however, have been reticent to issue much information as hopes of prior's imminent return have slowly faded. at this point, it is hard to know even if an early june return is a reasonable expectation. as was noted here, this injury cost jose contreras half of 2003, whereupon it said:

taken in this context, and knowing that the cubs are reflexively putting the best possible face on the diagnosis and prognosis, it would be reasonable to expect that this team will be without prior until june is within a stone's throw, if that soon. if he resumes throwing in early april, expect setbacks.

even that prognosis has now proven too optimistic.

so it seems that rusch, williams, marshall or some replacement for one or two of them -- rich hill and angel guzman remain possibilities as they throw for the iowa cubs -- will be with the team for another six weeks at least. how the cubs fare over that stretch will determine in large part the outcome of their season; winning teams must inevitably be able to win in the face of adversity, not only when all is well.

greg maddux goes today in an effort to avoid a quid pro quo sweep at the hands of the redbirds. there's no time like the present to demonstrate how this team can, if it can, win when the chips are down.

UPDATE: williams was sent down to iowa today, replaced by recall angel guzman, who will shortly see his first major league action.

Friday, April 21, 2006

SeriesPreview: Cubs @ Cardinals April 21-23

Despite the awful news that DLee will be out for 3 months, the Cubs(9-5) are gonna have to play games the next three months. The games will count. The "Lee-less" period begins tonite in St. Louis against Albie Junior and the hated Redbirds(9-6). In case you've missed it, Pujols is on a roll to start the season. The "26 year old" already has 10 homers and 20 knocked in while hitting .354 in the first 15 games. Even more incredible is Albie's eye at the plate. He's taken 17 walks while only striking out 5 times. Pujols has taken a free pass in all but three of the games they've played.

The Cubs couldn't have been happier about the destruction of the now Old Busch Stadium (Busch Stadium II). That place was a house of horrors for the Cubs through the years. The Cubs were 141-190 alltime at that dump (Did the Cubs play good at any of those cookie cutter parks?). The Cubs have had some success in some of the newer parks (see PNC Park). Hopefull the same will hold true along the banks of the mighty river.

Pitching Matchups and broadcast info:

Friday 7:10 ct
Jerome Williams(0-1, 2.45) vs. Mark Mulder(1-0, 4.05)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-187

Saturday 1:15 ct
Glendon Rusch(1-2, 6.60) vs. Sidney Ponson(1-0, 3.97)
TV-CSN Chicago
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-187

Sunday 1:15 ct
Greg Maddux(3-0, 1.33) vs. Jason Marquis(3-0, 2.79)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-187

Yeah, the pitching matchups look to give the Redbirds the edge. As do the 40,000 self annointed "best fans in baseball" wearing their Sunday best Cardinal t-shirts. Still, you can throw all the records out when these two meet (not really, I just wanted to throw out that cliche). They'll play the games. I hope the Cubs can steal one of the first two and give Maddux a shot at a rubber game on Sunday.

It's early, but here are the NL Central Standings heading into Friday:

Houston 10-5 .667 -
CUBS 9-5 .643 .5
Cincinnati 10-6 .625 .5
St. Louis 9-6 .600 1.0
Milwaukee 8-8 .500 2.5
Pittsburgh 5-12 .294 6.0

the fault, dear brutus

the heart-rending poetic irony of the loss of derrek lee at the hands of rafael furcal was missed by very few as the news of lee's injury spread throughout cubdom. the one that got away making a mince of the one that didn't and the cubs' young season to boot -- all upon the very day on which the previous year took a similarly disastrous turn... of such improbable twists of the knife of fate are epics written, and it takes a rationalist indeed not to see malevolent stars crossing this franchise yet again.

in the aftermath of the revolting news, as many fans try to come to grips with this new certainty, the tribune is already crafting a galaxy of such excuses in which to hide from the failures of this and every year.

(general manager jim) Hendry has seen his best-laid plans get waylaid in stunning fashion for three years in a row.

Lee's injury came only eight days after he signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension. Coincidentally, Kerry Wood suffered a triceps injury at Dodger Stadium on May 11, 2004, after signing a three-year, $32 million extension in spring training. Wood missed the next two months of the '04 season and has made only 36 starts since that day in Los Angeles nearly two years ago.

... With Wood and Mark Prior already rehabbing from shoulder injuries, the Cubs are having recurring nightmares of '05, when Wood, Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra all went down with serious injuries, damaging their chances of contending from the outset of the season.

however, what is surely just as true is that the cubs have long suffered for a lack of quality in construction which makes injury a ready excuse for collapse. good teams can and do work through this kind of thing -- does anyone remember the cardinals losing scott rolen, reggie sanders and larry walker all for more than half of last year? and winning 100 games anyway? does it seem so much to ask the cubs to be a team that could win 85 in spite of lee's loss?

but this team is now in a gravely serious bind because -- though its bench is improved -- its starting lineup was never strong enough to begin with.

losing the likes of lee and prior wouldn't be so devastating if brian giles or milton bradley were in right -- and/or rafael furcal, miguel tejada or julio lugo were at short -- and/or kevin millwood were in the rotation. losing rolen, walker and sanders didn't stab the cardinals fatally because they also had albert pujols and jim edmonds, and ended by scoring 805 runs anyway.

walt jocketty had also stocked their bench with reasonably high-quality backups like so taguchi and hector luna. this is where john mabry and jerry hairston come in -- the cub bench is better this year than last. give credit to hendry this year for replacing useless parts like macias with modestly useful parts like mabry.

it is important to say -- all is not lost. there is of course the chance of something improbable yet, something unexpected, and to watch this wounded team now make its way over the next month or two will be an exercize in strangely invested hope.

but when gadflys like this page were harping on and on about how the cubs needed to do more, to get stronger last offseason -- this is what they were talking about. teams rarely survive a year intact; one has to plan on winning without your best players. the cubs just aren't in that position, and this writer hopes that some who looked askance of calls for more depth of quality rather than quietly pocketing the excess now at least understand why those calls were being made -- and what a failure of general management those unheeded calls now represent.

shakespeare put into the mouth of cassius those words which best dispel the sorry notions of maliced fate, unkind astrology and goat-borne curses that delude us from our mortal reality of self-determination.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

and so it is again with these cubs under the tutelage of andy macfail, that they should peep about like mice while others bestride the narrow world.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

the worst case scenario

the tribune is reporting that derrek lee has been diagnosed with broken bones -- distal radial and distal ulna -- in his wrist. expectations are for a cast and an 8-12 week recovery.

feel free to start discussing 2007... now.

the smile of dame fortune

with the chicago cubs' record now run out to a heady 9-5 -- the best start for the club since 1995 -- dame fortune's smile has seemed to shine unremittingly upon the team's ventures. they lead the national league in batting with runners in scoring position, making the most of an offense that is otherwise mired in 14th in total bases. they've been the beneficiary of an amazing 17 opposition errors. a pitching staff beset with spot starters and rookies, nervously awaiting medical remediation, has managed nonetheless to place 4th in starting era over the early going. and the core of the relief corps, despite being roughly worked by a starting staff managing just 5.6 innings per game -- particularly closer ryan dempster, who has now appeared in 9 of the team's 14 games, including five non-save situations -- has simply sparkled, with dempster, bob howry, scott williamson and scott eyre all placing in the top 50 in obpa.

even the unknown quantities have largely broken the cubs way. ronny cedeno, despite often displaying critical shortcomings, has managed to slap his way to a .396 obp through these first fourteen games. matt murton, while looking a far more solid player both at the plate and in the field, has simmered to a 280/345/480 line, knocking in nine mostly from the seventh spot in the lineup. and rookie starter sean marshall, while being one of the team's least effective starters, has seen the team nonetheless win all three of his appearances.

and yet, last night illustrated in many ways the lurking problems of this club of which chance has thusfar held the cubs unaccountable. marshall very nearly left in the second inning, having allowed three walks and two hits and two runs through 1.2 ip, watching furcal lead off first following a walk which concluded with marshall's 42nd pitch. that marshall survived the second to compose himself for another three innings is testament to his toughness, but he remains nonetheless -- much like his mates glendon rusch and jerome williams -- inconsistent at best and barely capable of pitching into the sixth, much less out of it. cedeno, despite some very positive offensive contributions, managed once again to try to throw the game away late. the bullpen which has heretofore all but levitated through late innings finally cracked just a bit, with callup david aardsma, eyre, williamson, howry and dempster combining to allow nine batters to reach base over four innings, luckily escaping with just two runs allowed -- in part thanks to what will likely be jacque jones' best throw of the season, nailing the ageless sandy alomar jr. at the plate to kill the dodger sixth.

(and let me take a moment to note how clearly sending a 40-year-old catcher in to score from second on a ball to shallow right indicates the league's level of respect for jacque's arm. alomar was out by ten feet -- but the dodgers were clearly betting that jones couldn't get the ball within ten feet of the plate. that's generally a good bet.)

given what seems to him the fragility of the cubs' success thusfar, this writer roused with a start in the dodger seventh at what appeared to be dame fortune calling in some of her chits. leadoff batter rafael furcal, bunting for a hit to open the inning, forced a diving play out of eyre, who flipped the ball out of his glove toward derrek lee as he covered the bag. the throw led lee straight into furcal's path, and the collision sent lee to his knees, clutching his right (throwing) wrist. both he and eyre left the game; eyre is day-to-day with a knee bruised on the landing. but lee's x-rays were ominously inconclusive, and he returns to chicago today for the most anticipated mri on the north side since mark prior's.

whether this bodes a turn of luck remains to be seen, but lee is sure to be spelled at first by todd walker and john mabry for the time being. the schedule finally skips a beat today, with the cardinals in saint louis lined up for friday -- but one almost wishes it didn't, in the hopes of rushing past the capricious glare of lady luck, eyes affixed to the pavement so as to ignore her face, be it a steady smile or the curling corners of a nascent frown.

ronny's big night

other stories may overshadow this sidelight of last night's win, but this page has devoted special attention to the travails of novice cub shortstop ronny cedeno and will continue to do so for the remainder of this season. for the most part, that attention has been negative -- in large part because there has been precious little positive to say. however, when positive things are there to be seen, this page will be seen to be the first to point them out.

cedeno did something positive last night that was so unexpected as to elicit a hearty laugh from this sleepy writer, and that was to take not one but two walks in four plate appearances, tacking on a seeing-eye game-winning-rbi single to right in the eighth for good measure.

perhaps it's true that cedeno, batting in front of the pitcher, should be in a position to take far more free passes than just two in 49 plate appearances. and perhaps it's also true that cedeno did his best to reverse his positive contributions by throwing yet another routine grounder past first base in the bottom of the eighth -- his fourth in just 13 games, making a annual pace for 46 -- putting jason repko on second to threaten the lead and put bob howry in a jam. and perhaps those things will yet in the end conspire to demote him to iowa.

but cedeno actually exhibited a smidgen of patience last night that this page thought all but categorically beyond him, and for that it gives him both credit and encouragement. finding more and better ways to get on base and doing something, anything about those godawful tosses over to first must be cedeno's two priorities in order to stick in the majors. last night, he did something about one of them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

is it time to worry about zambrano?

last night's agonizing loss in chavez ravine will, in most places, get hung on lefty reliever will ohman, whose early season struggles have left him with a 21.60 era after seven short outings. ohman has pitched better than this, clearly, but seemed very much to this writer to pay inordinately for a walk of the kind ryan dempster has left scattered behind him like breadcrumbs for the better part of a year. credit must go to j.d. drew, who hit like the professional he is and won the game for the dodgers more than ohman lost it for the cubs.

what this page found more disturbing about the game is the fourth start of this young year from carlos zambrano. while allowing just one run and certainly keeping his team in the game, zambrano again threw erratically at best -- frequently missing spots, his late movement rendering his pitches all but unhittable but also all but uncontrollable. in six long innings, he compiled 112 pitches including just 65 strikes.

this now fits a pattern for zambrano in 2006. over his four starts, zambrano has yet to pitch in the seventh inning despite exceeding 100 pitches in all four. just 58% of his pitches have gone for strikes, which can be compared to 65% for greg maddux. zambrano has walked 17 in just 20.1 innings, including five last night.

this kind of efficiency, had it emerged from a usual suspect like glendon rusch or jerome williams, would not be disconcerting. but from the ostensible ace of the cubs staff, it is both surprising and disquieting. zambrano has never been an efficient pitcher, and his grip-it-and-rip-it style will probably preclude him from imitating maddux anytime soon. but neither has he before had to work so hard to get through six innings.

the inability to work deep into games from the one pitcher in the rotation that could be expected to give the cub bullpen a regular break may have sour effects running into the second half of this season.

the cub bullpen is currently on pace to pitch 515 innings -- a total likely to vie for the league lead -- a and has thrown the second-most innings of any nl pullpen behind only the triple-a marlins. individual projections of this early workload of the core bullpen are even more concerning:

  • dempster -- 99 g, 99 ip

  • howry -- 75 g, 84 ip

  • williamson -- 75 g, 79 ip

  • eyre -- 62 g, 96 ip

  • ohman -- 87 g, 41 ip

  • as this page has said before, pitches like rusch, williams and rookie sean marshall cannot be expected to work deeply into games. eight-inning outings of the type turned in by greg maddux the day before last are sadly a rarity now that maddux virtually never exceeds 90 pitches. moreover, the likelihood of mark prior, kerry wood or wade miller working deep into games any time soon is remote at best -- none of these pitchers has been efficient in recent seasons, and have generally even when relatively healthy only worked late when compiling the eye-popping pitch counts that have likely contributed to their constant ailments. when recovering from injury, they are likely to be even more severely limited.

    all this boils down to a necessity to get zambrano deep into games on a regular basis in order to do what can be done with this pitching staff to preserve a bullpen that is in danger of running out of gas later this season. it also means getting marginal pitchers like roberto novoa, recently optioned michael wuertz and replacement callup david aardsma more innings to spread the workload around.

    but there is also now some small room for concern regarding zambrano's health. it is no secret that he's been one of the hardest worked pitchers in the majors over the last two seasons. last year saw the emergence of onset injuries -- complaints of elbow pain notoriously covered up by the cubs as "internet elbow" and summarily dismissed.

    in watching zambrano last night, this writer was also struck by a lack of velocity from zambrano. his fastball, normally thrown in the mid-90s, regularly registered 90 and 91 mph on the dodger stadium radar gun.

    needless to say to attentive fans, these symptoms are very much in line with what was observed last year from mark prior as he continually labored to manage just five and six innings with extraordinary effort. his velocity too had diminished, and his once-fine control evaporated in a spate of walks and three-ball counts.

    is zambrano now feeling the effects of being one of the hardest-ridden young pitchers of recent years, a possibility here anticipated with much chagrin? it is impossible to say, of course, and a few outings showcasing the zambrano of old would do much to quash such considerations. but this page would argue that there is room for concern here, and that zambrano's next outing should be eagerly anticipated with both hope of a reversal of fortune and dread of worst fears confirmed.

    UPDATE: in z's next start, he threw with velocity in the low-90s. david aardsma touched 98 mph, so the gun certainly wasn't slow.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    early returns: cedeno and murton

    one of the several possible trouble spots for this cub club is the question mark presented by two inexperienced players who were deemed to be regulars in the lineup coming out of camp. matt murton and ronny cedeno have manned left field and shortstop, respectively, for only two weeks now in 2006. but, taken in conjunction with their limited performances in 2005, interested cub fans can, with some judicious evaluation, perhaps start to get a feel for the kind of players they are even at this early stage.

    cedeno is charged with the key defensive position in the field, and his performance there is critical to the cubs' chances for success going forward. this writer has evinced much skepticism regarding cedeno -- here and here and here and here -- and won't bother to repeat all of it here. but some of what one might have feared about cedeno is being proven out as real problems in his game.

    the easiest flaw to see has been cedeno's defense, particularly the wildness of his strong throwing arm. between spring ball and the early weeks of 2006, cedeno has been charged with five errors in just 136 chances -- a .963 fielding percentage that is well below the national league average shortstop of 2005 (.976). the truth is that the tally would be significantly higher if he were not throwing at derrek lee, one of the best fielding first basemen in the game, whose talents have been tested by cedeno repeatedly. accuracy in throwing has been a problem for cedeno for some time, accounting for his propensity for errors in iowa last year and in the venezuelan league this last offseason. public promises to fix the problem serve to feed this page's tendency toward skepticism -- it the problem was easy to fix, it would have been fixed long ago.

    however, this page would further note that, in observing cedeno closely over these last several games, there is more amiss than throwing accuracy. much has been made by some cub apologists of cedeno's wide range in the field, but this writer sees little evidence of it. to be sure, one can think of shortstops who do worse simply getting to balls. but cedeno is a notably inferior shortstop to neifi perez when it comes to getting to balls in the hole and up the middle. he has shown a need to dive at or an inability to get to balls even on his side of the second base bag; neifi, whatever his shortcomings, allows very little to get past in that area while keeping his feet and has often enough speared balls in todd walker's uncovered zone. an evaluation of cedeno's range factor confirms as much in numbers -- at just 4.46 thusfar in 2005 and 4.13 over his entire 260 innings of major league time, cedeno has been treated harshly by the measure of putouts and assists. but it can be compared to neifi's 4.74 over the last year to quanitfy who the superior shortstop is. (for reference, the average of all nl shortstops in 2005 was 4.51.)

    as was said in this space, if cedeno is going to hold off neifi for the starting job at short, it is going to be on the strength of his bat. this page is grimly satisfied to note that, despite an early flurry of hits, cedeno is proving himself to be very much the hitter it expected. through 45 plate appearances, cedeno is hitting a surprising .364, it is true -- but the vicissitude of small samples is already catching up to cedeno, as he has gone 6 for his last 26 (.230) and managing just one extra base hit in that time. removing the outlier of a single 4-for-4 game, cedeno has managed only a .300 obp in the other 11 games. this is in part because cedeno has yet to draw a walk -- in fact, has managed to get to a 3-ball count only twice this year, being only rarely ahead in the count. over his entire major league sample, cedeno has now drawn a meager five walks in 124 at-bats. he has averaged just 3.06 pitches per plate appearance, marking him the least patient hitter on the team.

    the upshot is that, unless cedeno hits .330 or better the rest of the way -- an unlikelihood, to say the least -- his on-base percentage will render him an inferior offensive player. with cedeno's glove proving to be average at best, this page is approaching the uncomfortable position of calling for neifi perez to see more time at short, if not take the position over outright for the good of the team and in the interest of winning games. if cedeno can't be an offensive advantage, there's little point in living with his defensive disadvantage -- if it need be highlighted, his poor throw helped waste jerome williams' good start over the weekend. it is a pathetic consequence of jim hendry's failure to land rafael furcal that the team has no better options that these, but these are the options that the cubs have. while more time is needed to solidify this view, which still rests on too little data for complete comfort, it is the verdict based on what evidence is available.

    murton too has shown some weaknesses -- but also some strengths that make his case quite a bit brighter than cedeno's. this page was at one point concerned that murton would have trouble holding down a starting position in front of the likes of marquis grissom. but murton has followed through on his stellar spring, which did much to quell any fears on this page, and looks set to hold down left field for the forseeable future, despite what rough patches may come.

    while murton's range in the field is not good -- he is, in fact, quite slow afoot -- the nature of his position is such that this weakness is minimized to the extent that it can be. still he has done reasonably well, making a notable catch in the season opener on what would have been an austin kearns home run and exhibiting an accurate if not particularly strong throwing arm.

    but it is at the plate that murton has been most promising. his reasonable patience (3.8 pitches per plate appearance) and excellent eye have consistently put him ahead in the count, which he has used to his advantage -- murton has chalked five multihit games already and five walks to balance his six strikeouts. his on-base percentage has hovered between .350-.400 in the early going (currently resting at .367), a pace that looks thoroughly sustainable on the back of his 2005 performance (.386 obp in 160 pa). though great power may be beyond his consistent ability at this point and is certainly limited by an approach that has seen him ground out 20 times while flying out just four, his two long home runs this year have shown that the capacity for development exists. murton has managed a heady .522 slugging percentage in his nascent career with a home run every 20.4 at-bats.

    in summary, then, while cedeno may be in the gradual process of giving way to neifi without significant and unprecedented changes in his game, murton gives this page reason to hope that at least half of the 2006 cubs experiment in novelty in the regular lineup will come to full flower this summer.

    better than advertised

    when greg maddux was signed to this club before the 2004 season, it was supposed to be as the fifth starter behind one of the best young starting pitching staffs in the game. kerry wood, mark prior, carlos zambrano and matt clement were widely expected to carry the northside nine to a playoff appearance that year as they had the year before. maddux was seen as one of the few needed minor additions to a well-rounded club.

    how perceptions have changed. in the minds of many cub fans, clement went from one of the hallowed young guns to an inconsistent "head-case" as he was let to leave in free agency. wood and prior, having borne the brunt of dusty baker's mistrust of the 2003 club's bullpen in the stretch drive, fell to pieces beginning in spring camp and neither have been healthy since. zambrano continued his matriculation if not his maturation in the majors, growing in dominance in each succeeding year much as most cub fans would have thought certain as 2003 expired -- but never quite shedding his youthful vicissitude and capacity for self-inflicted damage. and the cubs, of course, went from dreams of certain pennants to the reality of third- and fourth place mediocrity which the club was fortunate to avoid in 2003 by the virtue of a stunning september.

    of that lot in early 2004 of which so much was promised and so little realized, only maddux has withstood to exceed every expectation. when signed, many talked of him as though the cubs had signed a sort of player-coach, expecting little enough from the game's venerable craftsman. a price tag of $9mm was thought exorbitant, perhaps, but the price of rectifying the sins of 1993.

    maddux has sinced opened many eyes in chicago as to how well spent $9mm can be. in his first start of his fifth decade, maddux last night tossed eight magical innings of three-hit baseball as only a master can. working both corners, featuring an exceptionally sharp breaking pitch to accompany his darting fastball and change, maddux turned spacious dodger stadium to his advantage by confronting batters early and often. when the underrated olmedo saenz flied out to the warning track in center in the second on what would turn out to be the best swing of the evening for the dodgers, this writer smiled -- and kept smiling.

    watching maddux pitch was occasion for this writer last night to put his little girl to bed at half past seven, spend some some talking with his lovely wife and tuck her in as well at nine -- and then venture to the fridge for a beer and a bag of chips to settle in front of the telly. it is one of the great rewards of being a cub fan to watch this estimable virtuoso expound upon his trade in the service of this team's victories, an event unto itself that makes baseball worth watching.

    this page sincerely hopes that as much is noted by the cubs front office following this year, as well as the statistical measure of his worth: a team-leading 71 starts without missing a turn, a team-leading 459 innings pitched, 301 strikeouts, just 73 walks, 4.00 era, team-leading 1.18 whip and team-leading 32 victories against 26 losses (.551) for a team that has gone 176-160 (.523) in that span. while maddux is certainly past his prime, he is still the most reliably good pitcher this chicago club has on staff and retains the capacity to be spectacular -- and that, on a team as star-crossed as the cubs, is worth something.

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    shopping the cubs

    real hope for the chicago national league ballclub is emerging this season as the tribune company, with profits plummeting and stock price savaged, is finally being compelled to shop the club. michael sneed in the sun-times yesterday confirms that the eventuality is now materializing.

    Sneed hears whispers Chicago Cubs management, whose paychecks are signed by Tribune Co., are shopping the team to consortiums interested in buying the North Side club. Hey! Hey! Holy cow! Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks!

    Is the formidable Tower of Truth, a k a the cost-cutting Tribune Co., responding to a suggestion in a recent Wall Street Journal article?

    this follows on more comments in crain's and the tribune itself that have been assiduously reported by chuck over at ivy chat.

    the sale is coming, for a lot of very valid reasons that this page has articulated. it's right to say that wishing does not make it so -- but, as evidence of pressure for an impending sale mounts, the wishing increasingly seems to be coming from the quarters of cubdom that fear the devil that they don't know more than the devil that they do.

    some canards are frequently repeated by those who somehow believe a sale impossible, and this page would like to take a moment to address some of them now and begin a dialogue about them.

  • It would be retarded to sell such a cash cow.

  • this may seem counterintuitive to some, but the cubs are low-growth high-cash-flow asset. that is exactly what the tribune does not want. tribco needs to grow, and freeing value from assets like the cubs so that it can be invested more productively is exactly what people like john rogers jr. are talking about. this page is aware that most folks have little idea about how businesses are really run -- but, especially in media, it isn't on cash flow. it's on growth. the cubs are a wonderful sale candidate.

  • The sale of assets refers to albatrosses like the LA Times.

  • it is certainly true that a large part of tribco's troubles stem from the ill-fated purchase of the los angeles times. the trib could sell the la times in an effort to turn things around -- and maybe they will be forced to in the end. but what would they get for it? nearly nothing -- such a fiasco as that paper is at the moment would mean that they would have to dump it at a tremendous loss -- and, politically speaking, that would mean fitzsimons' head. he knows it, and he'll never do it. far better for the tribune to concentrate on what it knows best, spend the time and effort to turn the la times around and sell it later when the getting is much better.

    the cubs, on the other hand, are as valuable as they can be -- you'd get top dollar for them right now. tribco would be selling high, and that's what keeps executives employed.

  • Selling the Cubs would make no difference to the Tribune.

  • while it is certainly true that the cubs are a very small part of tribco, that does not mean their sale will not occur. this page would agree that selling the cubs by itself would not fix the tribune's problems. but their sale may well be a part of a larger divestiture or non-core assets that would represent a material move toward unlocking value for the company.

  • Selling the Cubs would so damage the Tribune, particularly WGN, that they wouldn't dare.

  • rather the inverse of the above argument, this page would argue as above that the cubs really are a rather small part of tribco. the "synergy" of a broadcast media owning its own programming once seemed a capital idea, paving the way for time warner, newscorp and disney to jump into the professional sports fray.

    in practice, this has turned out to be wrongheaded. teams turned out to be poor investments relative to new media ventures, the hype surrounding synergy turned out to be just that, and most of those media entrants into sports have since recognized the mistake and exited.

    the truth is that what the cubs provide tribco is programming for some few hundred hours annually on a few of its several dozen television stations -- programming that the company could very easily replace with offerings from its other sources. if the company for some reason felt the cubs broadcasting rights to be a necessary asset, they could negotiate them as part of the terms of sale to a new owner, guaranteeing the cubs to be on wgn for years to come.

    even if they didn't, it seems that many have forgotten that for decades prior to 1981 wgn purchased the broadcast rights to the cubs against other bidders. it didn't destroy the station, and wouldn't now.

  • What if the Cubs were sold to a Peter Angelos type?

  • this page is often accused of pessimism for attempting to recognize the flaws of the chicago cubs in the hopes of resolving them in public discussion. but it rarely assumes the worst of the situation to be the only possible outcome.

    to see an angelos as the only possible outcome is a truly pessimistic view. there is certainly a chance that a bill wirtz buys the cubs -- it can happen, and no one should deny it. but it would be just as foolish to refuse to recognize the promising probability involved -- something an inveterate optimist would be all over, some would think. there is a very significant probability that the cubs will get great, committed management as a result of the sale that will run this team something like the boston red sox are run. winning can be seen as a priority equal to profitability, and not always its ugly stepsister. such an ownership is no certainty -- but what is certain is that the trib will never manage the cubs in that fashion and will never build a consistent winner because of it (even if they get lightning in a bottle once). tribco has almost never spent what it takes to win, and there's a quarter century of evidence all around us.

    this is almost certainly a case where the devil you don't know is vastly better than the devil you do. even if the cubs are in the event sold to an unfortunate new ownership, this page fails to see how that is a loss from decades of abject futility that the tribune has done nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to mitigate. taking a chance on getting good ownership is more than merited by the immense gulf between the possible rewards and the certain gloom of the status quo.

    SeriesPreview: Cubs @ Dodgers April 17-19

    Ready for some late night Cubs baseball? The Cubs(7-4) make a short trip to the left coast for three with Grady Little's Los Angeles Dodgers(6-7).

    Pitching Matchups and broadcast info:

    Monday 9:10 ct
    Greg Maddux(2-0, 1.46) vs. Brett Tomko(1-0, 6.55)
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-189

    Tuesday 9:10 ct
    Carlos Zambrano(0-1, 4.86) vs. Derek Lowe(1-1, 5.82)
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-189

    Wednesday 9:10 ct
    Sean Marshall(1-0, 7.71) vs. Brad Penny(2-0, 1.50)
    TV-CSN Chicago
    Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-189

    There is something really cool about the Cubs playing out west. I love to stay up late and watch the ball games. It takes me back to my youth when I'd listen to Vinny and Lou call the games on the radio when I was supposed to be in bed. Anyways, I like the pitching matchups the first two nights I'm a little sketchy about Wednesday.

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    7-4, alright!

    If it wasn't for a great pitching performance by Zach Duke on Saturday night, the Cubs would be off to an 8-3 start. WOW! Change the mood ring! Still, if you would have told me this team would be 7-4 after 11 ballgames, I would have taken it. I am very happy to see this start considering the shape of the Cubs starting pitching staff.

    Over the weekend the Cubs got good solid starting performances from Jerome Williams and Glendon Rusch. Williams made the most impressive start of the weekend (and maybe the season), but he had the misfortune of being matched up with Zach Duke. That's baseball right. The Pirate lefty was nasty Saturday night. Williams matched Duke, but a Ronny Cedeno error ended up costing him. Rusch, who had many of us screaming for the callup of Angel Guzman will make sure he gets another couple of starts with his performance on Sunday. The veteran lefty went 6 innings allowing 5 hits, 1 bb, 3 runs (all earned), while striking out 5 en route to his first win of the season.

    So 11 games into the seaon what do we know?

    The kids are holding their own. Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno are doing a good job at the bottom of the Cubs lineup. (as dc60123 reminds us, we should all "heart orange guy.") Over the weekend Murton played a big role in the Cubs Friday night win with a bases loaded triple and he had the lone RBi in the Saturday loss. So far for the year Murton's hitting .310 with 9 RBi. He has gotten a bunch of clutch hits for this club. Ronny Cedeno has been frustrating in the field. He's making the tough plays, but like so many young players he's struggling with the routine play. Still he's hitting better(.341) than any of us could have predicted. Young Sean Marshall is surviving in the Cub rotation. Yeah, it has been a baptism by fire for the 23 year old southpaw (1-0, 7.71 ERA). But the Cub offense has supported the youngster in his two starts (including 11 runs on Friday night, his first big league win).

    The offense is carrying the load. So far this year the offense has carried the load. Even with injuries to Jones, Ramirez, Mabry and Pagan the offense has been able to put up enough runs to win. Michael Barrett, DLee, Todd Walker and the two kids have all done their part. Slow starts by Ramirez and Pierre aside, the Cub offense has done the job.

    Where would this team be without #31? 40 year old Greg Maddux has given the Cubs two quality starts. Winning both. With Z struggling and Mark Prior and Kerry Wood making simulated starts, the future hall of famer has been the ace of the Cub pitching staff. It really is scary to imagine where the northsiders would be without him.

    The bullpen is much improved. Jim Hendry's acquisitions of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre are looking big early. With the Cub starting rotation struggling early the bullpen has been called upon early and often. Scott Eyre has already went 2 innings three times this season (he did it once all of 2005).

    Team looks more focused. This is easy to say when a team is winning. Still the Cubs have had more talent on the field in previous years and not played this well. Since Dusty became manager in 2003 this team has been surrounded by distractions. They still are -the injuries to two starting pitchers- but they are not making excuses. The team is going out and not beating itself. That's a welcome change.

    I know, it's only 11 games. Now the Cubs whacky road trip takes them to LA.

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    15 Years Ago, Where the Rivers Meet

    Oh, these early season series in Pittsburgh always give me a flashback to my unwise youth. How I believed in the Cubs with such fervor just 15 years ago.

    It was April of 1991, and the Cubs along with their fandom were really excited for the upcoming year. The acquisitions of former Cy Young winner Danny Jackson, top reliever Dave Smith, and former AL MVP George Bell had many Cub fans thinking that a World Championship was within grasp. After taking the first game of a set in Pittsburgh, Cubdom had little reason to think otherwise. The Cubs were sitting pretty at 7-3.

    The wakeup call would come from the defending NL East Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, who had amazing youth with stars Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds.

    The Cubs' relief problems of 1991 began with this series.

    To this day, and to many Cub fans, this was the worst relief pitching crew to have ever stepped on a mound. Our apologies to the 99 and 04 squads.

    Needless to say, the Pirates went on to easily win the 91 NL East title, and the Cubs were relegated to three players who made little or no difference. Danny would continue having arm problems. Dave would have to give way, and pave the way for Randall Kirk coming to Chicago. And George would leave to the Sox in the famous Sammy trade.

    The 91 season ended as quickly as it began on this rainy Pennsylvania weekend.

    Game Played on Friday, April 19, 1991 (N) at Three Rivers Stadium

    CHI N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 - 4 3 1
    PIT N 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 2 - 5 8 0
    Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Dascenzo cf 3 0 0 0 1 1 5 0
    Sandberg 2b 3 1 0 0 1 0 2 4
    Grace 1b 3 1 1 0 1 0 8 0
    Bell lf 4 0 1 0 0 1 5 0
    Dwight Smith rf 3 1 0 0 0 2 2 0
    Berryhill c 3 0 0 0 0 2 1 1
    McElroy p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Dawson ph 1 1 1 4 0 0 0 0
    Dave Smith p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
    Dunston ss 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Scott 3b 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
    Jackson p 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
    Bielecki p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Walton ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Lancaster p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Pappas c 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0
    Totals 30 4 3 4 3 9 26 7
    E: Dunston (3).
    PB: Berryhill (3).
    2B: Grace (3,off Belinda).
    HR: Dawson (2,9th inning off Belinda 3 on, 2 out).
    HBP: Dwight Smith (1,by Belinda).
    Team LOB: 3.
    Pittsburgh Pirates AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Redus 1b 3 1 1 0 2 0 5 0
    Bell ss 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 3
    Van Slyke cf 3 1 1 3 1 0 3 0
    Bonilla rf 4 0 0 0 1 1 3 0
    Bonds lf 4 0 0 0 1 0 5 0
    King 3b 5 0 2 1 0 1 1 0
    Slaught c 4 0 2 0 0 0 9 0
    Lind 2b 3 0 0 0 1 1 1 1
    Palacios p 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Patterson p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Belinda p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Wilkerson ph 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
    Totals 30 5 8 4 7 3 27 4
    3B: Bell (1,off Bielecki).
    HR: Van Slyke (2,3rd inning off Bielecki 1 on, 0 out).
    SH: Palacios 2 (2,off Jackson,off Bielecki); Bell 2 (6,off Lancaster,off Dave
    SF: Van Slyke (3,off Bielecki).
    IBB: Bonilla (1,by Dave Smith); Bonds (1,by Dave Smith).
    Team LOB: 11.
    SB: Redus (2,3rd base off McElroy/Pappas); Van Slyke (2,2nd base off McElroy/Pappas).
    Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Jackson 2 1 1 1 3 0 0
    Bielecki 3 3 2 2 0 1 1
    Lancaster 1.1 1 0 0 1 0 0
    McElroy 1.2 0 0 0 1 2 0
    Dave Smith L(0-1) 0.2 3 2 2 2 0 0
    Totals 8.2 8 5 5 7 3 1
    Pittsburgh Pirates IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Palacios 6.2 1 0 0 2 5 0
    Patterson 0.1 0 0 0 0 1 0
    Belinda W(1-1) 2 2 4 4 1 3 1
    Totals 9 3 4 4 3 9 1
    WP: Dave Smith (1), Palacios (1).
    HBP: Belinda (1,Dwight Smith).
    IBB: Dave Smith 2 (2,Bonilla,Bonds).
    Umpires: Charlie Reliford, Jerry Layne, Mike Winters, Paul Runge
    Time of Game: 2:40 Attendance: 13157

    CUBS 9TH: Dascenzo was called out on strikes; Sandberg walked;
    Grace doubled to left [Sandberg to third]; Bell struck out;
    Dwight Smith was hit by a pitch; DAWSON BATTED FOR MCELROY;
    Dawson homered [Sandberg scored, Grace scored, Dwight Smith
    scored]; Dunston grounded out (shortstop to first); 4 R, 2 H, 0
    E, 0 LOB. Cubs 4, Pirates 3.

    BATTED FOR BELINDA; Wilkerson singled to shortstop; Redus
    singled to right [Wilkerson to third]; Dave Smith threw a wild
    pitch [Wilkerson scored, Redus to second]; Bell out on a
    sacrifice bunt (pitcher to second) [Redus to third]; Van Slyke
    grounded out (second to first); Bonilla was walked
    intentionally; Bonds was walked intentionally [Bonilla to
    second]; King singled to shortstop [Redus scored, Bonilla to
    third, Bonds to second]; 2 R, 3 H, 0 E, 3 LOB. Cubs 4, Pirates

    SUNDAY SHOWDOWN after losing Saturday, 9-3

    Game Played on Sunday, April 21, 1991 (D) at Three Rivers Stadium

    CHI N 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 4 0 0 5 - 12 13 0
    PIT N 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 4 1 0 6 - 13 13 1
    Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Walton cf 5 2 1 0 1 1 1 0
    Sandberg 2b 6 2 3 1 0 0 2 1
    Grace 1b 2 1 0 1 0 0 5 1
    Salazar ph,1b 2 1 0 0 0 1 2 0
    Bell lf 4 0 1 1 0 1 1 0
    Dascenzo pr,lf 2 2 1 1 0 0 1 0
    Dawson rf 6 1 3 5 0 0 3 0
    Dwight Smith rf 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Dunston ss 4 1 0 0 2 1 1 3
    Scott 3b 5 1 0 0 0 1 1 2
    McElroy p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Slocumb p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Bielecki p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Pappas c 4 0 1 1 1 0 14 0
    Harkey p 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 1
    Assenmacher p 2 0 1 0 0 1 0 2
    Dave Smith p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Vizcaino 3b 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
    Totals 44 12 13 10 5 6 31 11
    2B: Sandberg (3,off Tomlin); Bell (3,off Huismann).
    HR: Dawson (3,11th inning off Patterson 3 on, 2 out).
    SF: Grace (1,off Tomlin).
    HBP: Grace (2,by Heaton).
    IBB: Dunston (1,by Huismann).
    Team LOB: 6.
    SB: Dunston (4,2nd base off Tomlin/LaValliere).
    CS: Dawson (1,2nd base by Tomlin/LaValliere).
    Pittsburgh Pirates AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Merced 1b 4 2 2 2 2 1 9 2
    Bell ss 6 1 1 2 0 2 3 5
    Van Slyke cf 5 0 0 1 0 2 2 0
    Bonilla rf 4 3 2 2 2 1 2 0
    Bonds lf 6 2 2 1 0 4 7 0
    King 3b 4 1 1 0 1 1 0 1
    Patterson p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Redus ph 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
    LaValliere c 2 0 1 1 0 0 2 0
    Slaught ph,c 3 0 1 2 0 1 5 0
    Lind 2b 3 2 1 1 1 0 2 2
    Tomlin p 2 0 0 0 0 2 0 2
    Heaton p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Huismann p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    McClendon ph 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0
    Landrum p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Varsho ph 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
    Kipper p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Wilkerson 3b 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 1
    Totals 41 13 13 13 8 14 33 13
    DP: 1.
    E: Bell (2).
    2B: LaValliere (1,off Harkey); Varsho (3,off Dave Smith); Bonilla (3,off McElroy);
    Bell (3,off Bielecki); Slaught (3,off Bielecki).
    3B: Merced (1,off Assenmacher).
    HR: Bonilla (2,8th inning off Assenmacher 1 on, 2 out).
    SH: Slaught (1,off Dave Smith).
    SF: Lind (1,off Harkey); Van Slyke (4,off Bielecki).
    IBB: Merced (1,by Dave Smith); King (2,by McElroy).
    Team LOB: 8.
    CS: Merced (1,2nd base by Assenmacher/Pappas).
    Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Harkey 5.1 2 2 2 2 7 0
    Assenmacher 2.2 3 4 4 1 5 1
    Dave Smith 1 2 1 1 1 0 0
    McElroy 0.2 1 0 0 1 2 0
    Slocumb 0.1 2 3 3 1 0 0
    Bielecki L(2-1) 0.1 3 3 3 2 0 0
    Totals 10.1 13 13 13 8 14 1
    Pittsburgh Pirates IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Tomlin 6 7 3 3 1 2 0
    Heaton 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
    Huismann 1 2 3 1 1 2 0
    Landrum 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
    Kipper 1 0 2 2 2 1 0
    Patterson W(1-0) 1 3 3 3 0 0 1
    Totals 11 13 12 10 5 6 1
    WP: Assenmacher (1), Slocumb (1).
    HBP: Heaton (1,Grace).
    IBB: Dave Smith (3,Merced); McElroy (1,King); Huismann (1,Dunston).
    Umpires: Mike Winters, Paul Runge, Charlie Reliford, Jerry Layne
    Time of Game: 4:10 Attendance: 10860

    to second; MCCLENDON BATTED FOR HUISMANN; McClendon walked [Lind
    to second]; Merced tripled [Lind scored, McClendon scored]; Bell
    struck out; Van Slyke grounded out (pitcher to first); Bonilla
    homered [Merced scored]; Bonds was called out on strikes; 4 R, 3
    H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Cubs 7, Pirates 6.

    grounded out (second to first); SALAZAR BATTED FOR GRACE;
    Salazar struck out; Dascenzo grounded out (first unassisted); 0
    R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Cubs 7, Pirates 6.

    STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING 1B); King singled to left; Slaught out
    on a sacrifice bunt (third to second) [King to second]; Lind
    flied to left; VARSHO BATTED FOR LANDRUM; Varsho doubled to
    right [King scored]; Merced was walked intentionally; Bell
    grounded out (shortstop to first); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Cubs
    7, Pirates 7.

    left; Dunston grounded out (first unassisted); Scott struck out;
    0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Cubs 7, Pirates 7.

    REPLACED DAVE SMITH (PLAYING 3B); Van Slyke was called out on
    strikes; Bonilla doubled; Bonds was called out on strikes; King
    was walked intentionally; SLOCUMB REPLACED MCELROY (PITCHING);
    Slocumb threw a wild pitch [Bonilla to third, King to second];
    Slaught grounded out (third to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 2 LOB.
    Cubs 7, Pirates 7.

    CUBS 11TH: Pappas walked; Vizcaino walked [Pappas to second];
    (PLAYING 3B); On a bunt Walton forced Pappas (first to third)
    [Vizcaino to second, Walton to first]; Sandberg singled to left
    [Vizcaino to third, Walton to second]; Salazar forced Vizcaino
    (third to catcher) [Walton to third, Sandberg to second, Salazar
    to first]; Dascenzo singled [Walton scored, Sandberg to third,
    Salazar to second]; Dawson homered [Sandberg scored, Salazar
    scored, Dascenzo scored]; Dunston flied to center; 5 R, 3 H, 0
    E, 0 LOB. Cubs 12, Pirates 7.

    walked; Wilkerson singled to right [Lind to second]; Merced
    singled to left [Lind to third, Wilkerson to second]; BIELECKI
    REPLACED SLOCUMB (PITCHING); Bell doubled to third [Lind scored,
    Wilkerson scored, Merced to third]; Van Slyke out on a sacrifice
    fly to center [Merced scored (RBI), Bell to third]; Bonilla
    walked; Bonds singled [Bell scored, Bonilla to third]; REDUS
    BATTED FOR PATTERSON; Redus walked [Bonds to second]; Slaught
    doubled to center [Bonilla scored, Bonds scored, Redus to
    third]; 6 R, 5 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Cubs 12, Pirates 13.

    records courtesy of