Thursday, April 30, 2009

#10


The title of this post does not refer to the fact that the Cubs are 10-10. Rather, it refers to one of the greatest baseball players ever to wear that jersey number: Ron Santo.

Ron Santo should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are currently 10 third basemen in the Hall (plus three from the Negro Leagues), and Santo's numbers compare solidly with those of the players who are already enshrined in Cooperstown. Here's how his numbers compare with Brooks Robinson, for example:

Santo hit 342 career home runs; Robinson hit 268.

Santo had 1,331 runs batted in, only 26 fewer than Robinson's 1,357.

Santo had a higher career batting average (.277-.267), on-base percentage (.362-.322), and slugging percentage (.464-.401). His OPS was .103 points higher than Robinson's (.826-.723).

Robinson won 10 Gold Gloves compared to Santo's five.

Expert sabermatrician Bill James has stated the Santo is the best player not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and believes his election is long overdue.

Santo also played with diabetes, a disease that was poorly understood at the time. He is up for induction via a Veterans Committee vote every two years, but the Veterans Committee is terribly constructed, made up solely of living Hall of Famers who feel that it would diminish their accomplishment if more players were allowed into the Hall.

The Cub Reporter did a nice three-part series on the case for Santo to be inducted:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

WGN Radio personality Garry Meier has launched a campaign to get Santo a statue outside Wrigley Field. The Cubs have two statues (Harry Caray and Ernie Banks), have retired four numbers (Santo, Sandberg, Banks and Billy Williams), and will retire the #31 worn by both Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins this Sunday.

Santo has done so much for the Cubs on the field and in the broadcast booth, and he's a Cubs legend and a face of the organization. When he had his number retired (a game I was fortunate enough to attend--the sun poked through the clouds just as the flag with his number was raised), he declared: "This is my Hall of Fame."

Hopefully one day Santo will have an actual Hall of Fame induction to call his Hall of Fame, but in the meantime, a statue outside Wrigley Field would no doubt mean a great deal to him. Santo was not just a great player--he's a great person and a great ambassador for the game of baseball. If you'd like to help Get Ron Bronzed, visit Meier's petition here.

(hat tip: Sherry Christol)

Cubs notes
-Ryan Dempster last April: 4-0, 3.16 ERA, two home runs.
Ryan Dempster this April: 1-1, 5.40 ERA, four home runs.

Wednesday marked Dempster's first April loss since returning to the starter role. Dempster has gone exactly six innings in all five starts, which is not terrible but not great either.


-Derrek Lee was back in the lineup Wednesday, but Aramis Ramirez may be headed to the DL. Too bad Jake Fox can't play third base (or anywhere, apparently).

-The Cubs offense has been really hit-or-miss this year (literally): they've scored 10 runs or more three times, and scored two or fewer seven times. They have only scored four, five or six runs (typically the most common totals) three times all year. The Cubs' offensive consistency last year was largely a function of being selective at the plate, drawing walks and driving up their on-base percentage. Going into Wednesday's game, the Cubs were ninth in the NL in walks and 15th of 16 in OBP.

-Maybe Derrek Lee is just missing, maybe he only has warning track power nowadays. The latter seems more likely to me. Lee hit another fly ball to the warning track Wednesday, and has been doing so a lot this year. Lee has managed to knock the ball over the fence once, but it seems like his bat only has about 370 feet of juice in it, or a little less if he hits it down the line.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Boston OT party

The Bulls found a way to force another overtime against the Celtics, but ended up down just two points and one tooth. Brad Miller needed two free throws to tie it with two seconds left in OT, but missed the first, possibly because he had lost several ounces of blood after getting a tooth knocked out.

Though Ben Gordon had a team-high 26 points, Kirk Hinrich was probably their best player. Gordon played through a strained hamstring, but continually forced up bad shots--he was just 6-for-21 from the floor. Hinrich scored 19 points on just 12 shots from off the bench, and it was the Bulls' 24-5 point advantage off the bench that kept them in the game.

Derrick Rose was tentative as he was in Game 2, settling for jump shots instead of driving the lane. Look, no one expected the Bulls to battle in this series, and Rose set the bar unreasonably high for himself with his stellar Game 1 performance, so while I don't want to be overly critical, Rose needs to be more aggressive and create more opportunities for himself and his teammates for the Bulls to have a chance. He has shown the ability to penetrate and be a leader, but has failed to do so in Games 2, 3 and 5. To his credit, he grabbed eight rebounds and had six assists to go along with his 14 points on Tuesday.

How about Joakim Noah? He had another double-double in Game 5, and is averaging a double-double for the series. Noah had just two double-doubles in the last 18 games of the regular season.

And what a series it's been overall. Four overtimes total, and the first playoff series in NBA history to have three different games go into overtime. There have been nearly 50 tie scores throughout the first five games, and over 80 lead changes.

-------------------------------

If you have not seen "Extras," you are not a good person

In honor of all the extra periods in the Bulls-Celtics series, I want to take this opportunity to share a clip from the HBO series "Extras," starring Ricky Gervais. It's a great show that you should check out if you haven't already:



Cubs notes
-Milton Bradley was back in the lineup Tuesday, and he had two hits, a walk and a run. Though Bradley never went on the DL, he ended up on the shelf (except for a few pinch-hit appearances and one start) for 16 days, one more than the minimum DL stint. Had the Cubs known he'd be limited to rare pinch-hit appearances for that long, they could have called up Jake Fox.

Fox is absolutely tearing it up in Iowa. He's batting .443 with a .506 on-base percentage, and he's already whacked 11 home runs, seven doubles and a triple. Word is he can't play a lick of defense, but neither could Bradley for the last two weeks!

-Every Cubs starter had at least one hit in the 11-3 victory, including Carlos Zambrano who had three. Zambrano also scored three runs, meaning he came across the plate as many times as he allowed the Diamondbacks to do so.

-The Cubs starting lineup had seven consecutive lefties (including switch-hitters batting lefty). Anyone know the record for most left-handed hitters in the same lineup? Considering D'Backs starter Yusmeiro Petit allows lefties to hit 25 points higher than righties, he was probably not real thrilled when he saw Piniella's lineup.

With Lee and Ramirez still expected out on Wednesday, the Cubs could have a difficult matchup against lefty Doug Davis, who you may recall beat them in the playoffs back in '07.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Snakebitten

I know the Cubs have been struggling to score runs lately, but I don't think Monday's loss was another example of a faltering offense--I think the Cubs just caught a good pitcher on one of his good days. Dan Haren was absolutely lights out in the 7-2 Diamondbacks victory, and I'm not sure a lineup of nine Ted Williamses would have done much against him.

But you also don't deserve to win if you allow five stolen bases and commit three errors. Lilly allowed three of the stolen bases (and a fourth that was incorrectly called an out)--he's even worse than Greg Maddux at holding runners on base. I wish he would at least make a token effort to keep the opposition from running wild on the basepaths.

Cubs notes
-Fukudome's not only hitting, he's throwing, too. He nailed Mark Reynolds at the plate with an absolute laser beam early in Monday's game. He had six assists last year, and that was his second this year.

-Geovany Soto needs to get it going a little bit. With Bradley, Lee and Ramirez out on Monday, Soriano and Soto were the real power threats in the lineup, but Soto hasn't been a threat of any kind to this point--he's batting .128 with nary a home run and just two RBI.

-Speaking of players out with injury, Bradley is expected to start Tuesday, and Ramirez, Lee and Marmol could all be back very soon.

Did you know ...
-The Phillies hit two grand slams Monday, and some guy named Omir Santos hit one for the Mets. That's 26 grand slams across baseball in just 22 days, a pace which would shatter the current record for grand slams in a season.

-Three pitchers in baseball have four wins: Roy Halladay, Joel Piniero and Zach Greinke (Royals).

NBA note
Remember all those great playoff games I was talking about? Well that does not apply to Denver's 121-63 slaughter New Orleans on Monday. By quarter, the Nuggets outscored the Hornets by 21, 1, 16 and 20. New Orleans shot 32% from the field and had 26 turnovers. The 58-point margin of victory matches the largest in NBA playoff history.


From the "You can keep screaming in the background and waving your arms around like that, but it's not going to work" category



It was an under-reported story, but Raptors guard Jose Calderon set an NBA record by shooting 98.05% from the free throw line this season. He was an amazing 151-154 from the charity stripe, breaking Calvin Murphy's record of 95.8% during the 1980-81 season.

And we mustn't ignore the fact that Calderon made 87 consecutive free throws at one point, the second longest streak of all-time behind Micheal Williams. (This brings to mind that the second longest streak in NCAA Division III history is held by Illinois Wesleyan University's own Korey Coon, who hit 70 in a row in 1999. Coon shot 96.3% from the line in the 1999-2000 season, an all-time record for Division III.)

Eighty-seven in a row! 151-154! I'm ecstatic when I go 8-10.

Still, Calderon could learn a thing or two from this guy.

(hat tip: Chris Kawakita)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Having a Ball

Is it just me, or are the NBA playoffs about 180 degrees (okay, maybe 150 degrees) different from the regular season? It's the selfishness, the lackadaisical play, the lack of teamwork that limits my interest in the sport from October through March. But the first round of the playoffs--highlighted by the Bulls-Celtics series--has nearly lived up to the not-so-great slogan, Where Amazing Happens.

The 76ers came back from an 18-point deficit in Game 1 to beat Orlando, then hit a game-winning shot with two seconds left in Game 3, and had a chance to tie Game 4 at the buzzer.

Three of the four Rockets-Blazers games have been decided by four points or less.

Deron Williams hit a game-winning shot with under five seconds left in Game 3 to keep the Jazz in their series with the Lakers.

But the best of them all has been the Bulls and Celtics. Game 4 managed to top the Game 1 thriller, as Ben Gordon grabbed the ball (pun intended) and drilled a game-tying three-pointer to send the game into double overtime. Ben Gordon must never need an ice bath after games because he's got ice-cold blood running through his veins. He's also got something in his shorts he'd like you to see:



After playing Game 3 as if they thought it was a best-of-two series, the Balls--I mean Bulls showed up in a big way Sunday, going back and forth with the defending champs and giving the United Center faithful a game to remember. Young guards Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose engaged in battle, and with one more Rose assist, they both would have finished with triple-doubles.

All seven Bulls who saw action scored in double figures, and all five Celtics starters did the same. The win guaranteed that the United Center will see more NBA playoff action, and while it's anyone's guess as to which Bulls team will take the court that day, here's hoping for some more excitement the likes of which we haven't seen since last June. Hopefully Ben Gordon will be at full strength for Game 5--he strained his left hamstring during Game 4.

Cubs salvage one
The Cubs are quickly turning into an Abbott and Costello routine. Ramirez and Marmol were unavailable Sunday, and after Lee left the game early with neck spasms, it appeared for a second after Soriano was hit in the helmet by a pitch that Lou Piniella would have to add himself to the 40-man roster and play left field (remember, Bradley's out as well). For most of Sunday's 10-3 victory, the Cubs had an atrocious defensive infield comprised of Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Aaron Miles and Micah Hoffpauir.

Luckily, they don't expect Lee to go on the DL, and Ramirez and Marmol could be ready as early as today. Bradley's status remains more mysterious than that polar bear on Lost.

Despite all the injuries, the Cubs offense finally exploded, scoring 10 runs behind Fukudome's five RBI (on his 32nd birthday), Micah Hoffpauir's second homer of the season, and a solid six innings from Rich Harden. Fukudome is now fourth in the league in batting and tied for eighth in RBI. Kosuke started strong last year as well, so I'm not quite ready to assume he'll do this all year. But he sure looks a lot more confident at the plate than he did post-All-Star Break last year. And it's worth pointing out that through April last year, Fukudome had one home run and 10 RBI; so far this year he has four home runs and 15 RBI.

The Cubs now head to the desert to face a struggling 7-11 Diamondbacks team with no Stephen Drew. Lilly, Zambrano and Dempster will face Dan Haren, Yusmeiro Petit and lefty Doug Davis.

Did you know ...
-Fukudome's home run Sunday was the 14th of his career, but his first off a left-hander.

-The Rays have struggled and find themselves in last place, 6.5 games out of first.

Houston Rockets keep getting injured in order to spend time with "super hot" trainer

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

HOUSTON--It was discovered Sunday that the Houston Rockets have an athletic trainer who has been described as "super hot," "a definite 10," and "practically a super model," which helps explain the many injuries to Rockets players this season.

Tracy McGrady went down for the season in February, and Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Yao Ming, Luther Head and others have all missed time due to injuries as well. While fans thought it was simply a rash of bad luck, it turns out Houston players will do almost anything to miss a game, as it provides them the opportunity to spend time with the team's beautiful trainer, Nicole Mangiardi.

"You caught us," said a smiling McGrady as Mangiardi assisted him with his rehabilitation from knee surgery. "But can you blame us?"

Seven Rockets players were lined up behind McGrady in the trainer's room, and two Portland Trailblazers had earlier been turned away and told to go to their own trainer's room.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cubs get slammed

Holy cow.

Back in the '90s, that phrase was uttered (get it? cuz cows have utters) by Harry Caray on the heels of something positive, with an exclamation point after it. But I use it today to express my dejection over yet another lackluster performance by the Cubs.

Where to begin? The Cubs lost 8-2 Saturday, with one of their runs resulting from an error on an easy grounder.

The three "power guys" in the lineup--Soriano, Lee and Soto--were a combined 0-10 with four strikeouts. The Cubs have not hit a home run since Tuesday.

Seldom used David Patton showed why he's seldom used, coming on in a 3-1 game and proceeding to give up a single, a walk, and another walk to load the bases for Albert Pujols. He then threw a giant meatball right over the plate on the first pitch, and Pujols launched a grand slam out to left to put the game out of reach. The cameras didn't show it, but I assume Patton took a tape recorder out of his back pocket and said, "Note to self: Don't walk the bases loaded to get to Albert Pujols." The grand slam gave Pujols over 1,000 RBI in his career.

I'm not out on the ledge or anything, but it's worth noting that this four-game losing streak has pushed the Cubs four games back of the Cardinals and into fourth place in the Central.

With Ramirez, Bradley and Marmol sidelined, Lou Piniella is essentially operating with a 22-man roster. Even when Bradley does step into pinch-hit (as he did Friday), he has to be replaced with a pinch-runner when he reaches base (as was the case Friday). Why on Earth did we not DL Bradley earlier? He has started once since incurring his injury April 12, and there seems to be no timetable whatsoever for his return.

Joey Gathright, who seems to have one role on this team--pinch-hit rarely and pinch-run slightly less rarely--got picked off Saturday. While it's still early, Gathright seems to be a completely pointless offseason addition.

There's no question that the Cubs' recent struggles can be partly blamed on injuries. But it's also clear that this roster has some serious question marks. Bradley seems destined to spend significant time out with injury, and that leaves us with the apparently useless Gathright and Micah Hoffpauir--who may as well not bring his glove with him to the outfield--as backups. When Ramirez gets hurt, we're forced to use either Miles or Fontenot at third, and while they're serviceable at that position, the infield defense becomes highly suspect in that scenario.

Al Yellon over at Bleed Cubbie Blue made a very interesting suggestion today: release Gathright and pick up Jim Edmonds. Despite his 19 HR and 45 RBI in 85 games with the Cubs last year, Edmonds was not picked up by anyone in the offseason. Granted, Edmonds will turn 39 this year, but if Gathright is really going to be limited (due to Piniella's preference of Gathright's own ineptitude) to such trivial duty with the Cubs, picking up Edmonds couldn't hurt.

Let's find a silver lining in this mess:

Fukudome had two more hits and is batting .345.

Sean Marshall pitched a real solid game. He had one bad inning in which he gave up three runs, but he had a quality start with six innings pitched, three runs, one walk and five strikeouts.

The Cajun Connection reconnected with a combined 4-8, and both Cubs runs were driven in by Theriot.

So, we move forward. Harden will take the ball Sunday against former Cub Todd Wellemeyer, who has had one good start sandwiched between two bad ones this season. The Cubs need a win to avoid falling under .500 for the first time.

MLB notes
We can all agree that sometimes the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is overhyped and that their games are overly ubiquitous on national broadcasts. However, you have to admit that the matchups live up to the hype more often than not.

Friday, the Yankees took a two-run lead into the bottom of the 9th at Fenway, but Mariano Rivera blew yet another save against the Sox when Jason Bay hit a two-out home run over the Monster to tie it. Kevin Youkilis later won it for Bahstin with a solo shot in the 11th.

Saturday's game featured A.J. Burnett against Josh Beckett, but you wouldn't know it by the 16-11 final score in favor of the Red Sox. Stay with me here: the Yankees went up 6-0 early, but the Sox put up five in the 4th to climb to within one. The Sox added three more in the next inning to go up 8-6, but the Yankees responded by tying it up in the 6th. Boston promptly took the lead in the bottom of the inning, but the Yankees took the lead right back in the 7th, going up 10-9. But the Sox would have none of it--Mike Lowell hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to make it 12-10. Robinson Cano hit a home run in the 8th, but the Sox tacked on four more in the 8th to win it 16-11.

In case you weren't counting, that's five total lead changes. The game, which took 4 hr 21 min to complete, featured six home runs and 28 total hits. At least one run was scored in nine of the final eleven half innings. Already this season, the Yankees have allowed run totals of 10, 15, 16 and 22.

Did you know ...
The Red Sox have won nine straight.

The Cardinals and Dodgers are tied for the best record in baseball (13-5).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Puh-lease, lineup

Lou Piniella was not kidding when he said he was going to tweak his lineup for the Cardinals series. Five of the spots were different from what we've typically seen so far.

Old lineup

Soriano
Fukudome
Lee
Hoffpauir
Ramirez
Fontenot
Soto
Theriot

New lineup (* indicates change)

Theriot*
Fukudome
Soriano*
Ramirez*
Lee*
Fontenot
Soto
Johnson*

Theriot batting leadoff (yay!)? Lee dropped to five (yay!)? Soriano batting third?

That is some serious change. For the most part, I like it. But in the end, it's not as much about where players are hitting as it's a matter of how well they're hitting. And right now, no one on the Cubs is doing much of anything at the plate. Ramirez has been carrying much of the load, and he left Friday's game with a strained left calf. He's out for Saturday, leaving the Cubs with no back-up infielders.

After a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, the Cubs have now scored four runs in their last three games. The futility has gone on long enough that you have to figure when the Cubs finally do break out of it, they're going to do it in a big way. Saturday would be a good time for it, as they'll be facing Mitchell Boggs, who has six career starts to his name and a career 7.25 ERA.

Cubs notes
-I gotta admit, I'm already getting real sick of Milton Bradley. He's way less fun than his family-friendly name would suggest. He has started just one game since April 12, has exactly one hit on the season, boycotted the media for approximately one week, has been ejected from one game, and has been suspended by the league once. But perhaps what's most upsetting is that he's living up to his reputation of being a distraction. He's got this whole paranoia thing goin' on, like everyone in the world is after him for no apparent reason.

And why oh why will he not just serve his two-game suspension while he's too hurt to play anyways? Granted, that may be his status the entire season, so I suppose we shouldn't worry about that too much.

-Aaron Heilman has been a real bright spot out of the 'pen. He has appeared in 10 games, has gotten in the win column twice, and his ERA is 0.93. Heilman's success will be even more vital the next few days, given that Marmol left Friday's game with a sore knee and will miss at least 4-5 days.

-The Cajun Connection is really struggling to connect right now. Fontenot is 3-30 dating back to April 11, while Theriot is one for his last 13.

-The Cubs have turned 12 double plays, and are on pace for 129 this season.

Did you know ...
-The Phillies have allowed at least one home run in all 15 of their games this season, an MLB record to begin a season.

-The Pirates lead the National League in ERA.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stunning of the Bulls

Let's play a game called Which Statistic From Game 3 Most Offends You as a Bulls Fan?

A) The Bulls lost by 21, and trailed by as many as 34
B) The Bulls shot just 37% from the field
C) The Bulls turned it over 22 times
D) The Celtics had 16 steals, including six by man-beast "Big Baby" Davis
E) The Celtics were 12-21 from the three-point line
F) all of the above

The Bulls were dominated from the start in Thursday's 107-86 pounding by the Celtics. If you only had one word to describe their performance? Sloppy. They looked unfocused and unprepared, a very different team than the one we saw in Boston. The Celtics wrested home court advantage back with the victory, and Game 4 is now a must-win for the Bulls.

What a dump
Rarely has there been a purer example of a salary dump than the Cubs' trade of Jason Marquis to the Rockies this past offseason.

The return on that trade--reliever Luis Vizcaino--was officially DFA'd (designated for assignment) Thursday after Hendry was unable to trade him. If Vizcaino signs elsewhere for the league minimum salary, the Cubs will eat $3.6 million. Add in the $875K they sent to Colorado as part of the trade, and the Cubs will have essentially paid $4.475 million instead of Marquis' $9.875 million salary.

So the final math looks like this: $5 million in the coffers, one less starting pitcher. That, my friends, is a salary dump.

Cubs notes
-Just what any sane person would have predicted on the heels of a three-game winning streak: the Cubs scored a total of one run in two games against the Reds, and consequently lost their first series of the year.

-The red hot Cardinals (10-3 in their last 13) swept the Mets, upping their record to 11-5. The matchups for this weekend's series in St. Louis will be:

Dempster vs. Wainwright
Marshall vs. Walters
Harden vs. Wellemeyer

Hopefully, facing the "W"s of the Cardinals will result in some "W"s for the Cubs.

-Soriano has a 10-game hitting streak.

-Milton Bradley will sit until he's completely healthy (is that an oxymoron?), and will bat sixth when he returns. I'm not sure if that means Fontenot will move up to five, or if the lineup will look more like Thursday's, with Theriot moving up to two, followed by Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez and then Bradley. I prefer the latter--Theriot's a good fit in the two spot. It's unfortunate that injuries and struggles at the plate have quickly eroded the lefty-righty balance Piniella was seeking when we traded for Bradley.

Did you know ...
-Carlos Quentin leads the majors with seven home runs.

-Oakland has hit just four home runs; Texas leads the league with 27.

-This is completely inconsequential, but I can't help myself: I saw on the interweb today that a no-hitter was thrown on this date in 1946. The pitcher who threw it was named Ed Head. Ed Head. I just thought you should be aware of the fact that there was once a person with the name Ed Head.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Of Cubs and cats

Did you see that cat get on the field during Tuesday's Cubs game? It wasn't a black cat, so it's OK, but where the heck did it come from? Did someone sneak a cat into the stadium? If so, why?

But my favorite part of the whole thing is that the groundskeeper who was forced to get rid of it practically took one of its nine lives in the process. This guy has clearly never had a pet of any kind. First he loses control of it and then catches it a la Barnum and Bailey, then he drops it and opts to pick it up by its tail. Don't get me wrong--this had to have been the last thing he expected to have to do at work that day, and I certainly wouldn't want the responsibility of ridding Wrigley Field of a cat on national television. But nonetheless, this is funny stuff.


Tuesday's game also featured a foul ball eerily close to that place where someone once reached for a ball during a playoff game vs. the Marlins, though in this case Soriano wasn't going for the ball as he didn't get there in time to leap for it.

But most importantly, the game featured two firsts in MLB history:

1) a Micah vs. Micah batter-vs.-pitcher matchup
2) a home run by a Micah off a Micah

This all occurred when Micah Hoffpauir hit his third career home run off Micah Owings in the second inning.

Micah Owings, by the way, is essentially the second coming of Rick Ankiel, except that he hasn't yet given up his dream of being a pitcher. Since last May, Owings is 0-9 with an ERA hovering around 8.00. In his career, he's 14-19 with a 4.99 ERA.

On the other hand, he's a career .317 hitter with five HR and 23 RBI in just 121 AB. If we projected his stats into 413 AB, which is the number Ankiel had last year, here's how they compare.

Ankiel (2008): .264 25 71
Owings (proj.): .317 17 78

Not too shabby. As Trevor Sierra said, he just needs to throw a few to the backstop and he'll be on his way to a multi-million dollar contract as a slugger.

-On a separate note, MLB All-Star ballots came out on Wednesday. Are they serious? It's 18 days into the season! The Cubs have played 13 games, which is eight percent of the season schedule. That's like voting for NBA All-Stars after six games, or NFL Pro Bowlers after just one football game. How can the votes possibly be based on this season's results when the ballots are out this early?

Rookie of the Year
It's official: Derrick Rose is the NBA's Rookie of the Year. Rose led rookies in assists (6.3) and minutes played (37.0) and finished second to Memphis' O.J. Mayo in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. Mayo averaged 18.5.

Rose is the third Bull to win the award, following Michael Jordan and Elton Brand. Rose is the first #1 overall draft pick to win the award since LeBron James in 2004.

Cubs notes
-The Cubs drew seven walks Tuesday, and have drawn the third most in the league and have the fourth highest on-base percentage. Not only did the Cubs see ball four a lot, but they had a lot of long at-bats in general. They forced the Reds to throw 178 pitches in eight innings, compared to 146 by Cubs pitchers in nine innings. Owings, the starter, threw 94 pitches in just 4.2 innings.

-Alfonso Soriano is tied for the league lead with five HR, and he leads the league with 15 runs scored.

Samardzija watch
Well, this may be the final installment of "Samardzija watch" for the year, because Jeff is being called up today and will reportedly replace Luis Vizcaino, who is expected to be traded or designated for assignment (i.e. let go). This will give the Cubs two legitimate 7th inning guys--Samardzija and Heilman--before Marmol and Gregg. Cotts will stay with the big club, and Marshall will stay in the rotation for the time being.

MLB notes
The Giants' Edgar Renteria hit a grand slam Tuesday, the 19th in the majors this season in just 17 days of action. By comparison, there were 124 slams in 2008 in approximately 180 days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ESPN analyst completely misunderstands job description, mocks draft on live TV

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BRISTOL, CT--ESPN issued an apology Wednesday in light of Tuesday's awkward "Live NFL Draft Preview Special," on which newly hired Dale Harris continuously mocked the NFL Draft rather than presenting a mock draft.

"Oh, I can't wait to find out who's going to get picked first," said Harris, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'm sure whoever it is will make the Lions a great team. They're just one player away from the Super Bowl."

Later, Harris added: "And what is the deal with this thing taking two days? Does NFL Draft stand for Needlessly Freakin' Long Draft? I mean, cooome oooon. You gotta be a real loser to sit and watch hours of Roger Goodell announcing players' names every 10 minutes."

The live special, which was scheduled to run two hours, ended after just 25 minutes when Harris and a seething Mel Kiper, Jr. began shoving each other. Kiper, Jr. eventually gained the upper hand, shoving Harris into his famed "big board." The names of highly touted potential draft picks went flying into the air and became scattered around the studio, effectively ruining everything the show had managed to accomplish to that point. Luckily for Harris, he was wearing an oversized Bengals helmet when the fight began--he apparently felt it was an appropriate prop to augment his rant mocking recent Bengals draft picks, a rant that ended abruptly when Kiper, Jr. suddenly stormed in from off-camera and engaged in the aforementioned fisticuffs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bulls are in it to win it

In Game 1, the Bulls were nine point underdogs. After shocking Boston with a 105-103 victory, the Bulls were ... 8.5 point underdogs in Game 2. Well, the Bulls couldn't quite pull off another upset, but they once again played with Boston the entire game and lost on a Ray Allen 3-pointer with just two seconds remaining. No one--including yours truly--gave the Bulls a real shot to win this series, but they have thus far scored at will and been unfazed by the defending NBA champions. Now the Bulls will try to do what the Blackhawks just did--win two playoff games at the United Center.

Ben Gordon kept the Bulls in Game 2 with 42 points, including six threes. But the Bulls were killed on the boards, allowing the Celtics to claim 21 offensive rebounds and take 96 shots compared to 80 for the Bulls. One would hope that the energy in the United Center Thursday will help the Bulls clean up the glass more effectively.

The young Bulls were once again composed, remaining calm despite going down by 12 in the first quarter. Vinny del Negro didn't always have his guys focused this season, but they've been locked in during the playoffs. It's also becoming more and more clear that the midseason trades made by the Bulls were good ones, as trade acquisitions Brad Miller and John Salmons combined for 33 points Monday.

Bulls notes
-The Bulls set a franchise playoff record with 14 blocks, including six by human pogo stick Tyrus Thomas.

-The Bulls shot 50% and scored 115 points on the heels of their 105 in Game 1--this despite the fact that Boston allowed just 93.4 ppg during the regular season, good for third in the NBA.

Samardzija watch
Jeff started for the second time Saturday, going six innings and allowing two ER on just one hit. He walked one and struck out five. The outing dropped Samardzija's ERA to 3.75.

-In other minor (league) matters, OF Jake Fox is absolutely tearing it up with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. He's batting .478 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in just 11 games. Fox was the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week last week, and leads the Minors in homers, RBI and hits.

In spring training with the Cubs this year, Fox played in 22 games, batting .350 with four home runs and 16 RBI. Fox is 26 years old.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?


Yeah, me neither. But the 2009 NFL schedule was released Tuesday, and the winner of the Easiest Schedule Award goes to ... the Bears! (The Bears opponents were actually already known, but Tuesday's release included dates and times for all NFL games.)

The Bears' 2009 (and 2010, technically) opponents had a combined .414 winning percentage last year. They'll face the NFC West and AFC North, plus the Eagles and Falcons, and of course the rest of the NFC North twice each. It's pretty ridiculous to preview the games at this point, since the NFL Draft hasn't even occurred yet--but what the heck, let's do it anyways.

The Bears open on the road on a Sunday night--sound familiar? That's because the Bears opened in Indy last year on Sunday night, a game they of course won, significantly raising expectations for the 2008 season. This year's first game is in Green Bay, and should certainly start the year off with a bang.

The Bears then open the Soldier Field portion of their schedule against the Super Bowl champion Steelers. Having already known they were going to play the Steelers at some point, I think it's a positive development to learn that it will be their first home game with a crowd jacked up to see Jay Cutler for the first time.

Next, the Bears will embark on what should be the easiest stretch of their schedule: at Seattle (who has to find a new identity after losing Coach Mike Holmgren), vs. Detroit (no analysis necessary), bye week, at Atlanta (to avenge last year's last-second loss), at Cincinnati and home vs. the Browns. The AFC North is like the two Caddyshack movies--half great, half terrible. Playing the terrible half in back-to-back weeks could give the Bears some momentum heading into the final two months of the season.

The Bears then continue the NFC West portion of their schedule with a home game against Kurt Warner's Cardinals and a visit to San Francisco to face former Bear and record holder for Most Times Taking off one's Pants at Inappropriate Times Mike Singletary. The entire NFC West, frankly, is beatable. The only team in that division with a winning record last year was the Cardinals, who were 9-7.

The Bears will then host the Eagles, whom they defeated on a goalline stand last year, followed by a trip to Minnesota, where they will hopefully not allow Adrian Peterson to run for 400 yards.

The home stretch features three out of five games at Soldier Field, starting with the lowly Rams and rival Packers. A trip to cold, cold Baltimore and a Monday night game against the Vikings lead up to the final game of the regular season, a gift from the football gods in the form of a trip to Detroit.

Somewhat surprisingly, the NFL slated the Bears for five prime time games--three Sunday nights (GB, ATL, PHI), a Thursday night game on NFL Network (SF), and the Monday night game vs. the Vikings.

At first glance, this strikes me as a relatively favorable schedule. With that in mind, it's been a good April for the Bears, though of all the good months a football team would like to have, April is not anywhere near the top of the list. Hopefully they can make the month even better with a solid draft (April 25-26).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Every Rose has its horns

All year, Derrick Rose has been a superstar waiting to happen. Well, the wait is over.

In his first ever playoff game, the 20-year-old rookie went on the road against Rajon Rondo and the defending champion Celtics, and all he did was drop a game-high 36 points, adding 11 assists and four rebounds for good measure. The 36 points are the most he has scored all season, and are tied for the most points ever by a player making his playoff debut. He played 48 minutes (out of 53) and was 12-12 from the free throw line.

On the back of Rose's amazing performance, the Bulls stole Game 1 from Boston 105-103 in overtime, and no doubt came to believe they can win the series in the process. In a season in which the Bulls have at times lacked intensity and been consistently inconsistent, they showed some serious guts as they maintained their composure during a second half Celtics comeback, forcing overtime and ultimately getting in the playoff win column for the first time since 2007.

Sans Kevin Garnett, the Celtics looked awfully pedestrian, allowing 97 points in regulation, shooting just 39% from the field, and letting all five Bulls starters score in double figures. Boston was 35-6 at the Garden this season, but did not intimidate the young Bulls on Saturday. So the Bulls strike first, and have the advantage of knowing that if they hold serve at home, they'll be moving on to the second round.

Cubs notes
-Milton Bradley was suspended for two games, meaning it took him less than two weeks to get injured and suspended. Some things never change.

I don't mind the passion he showed after striking out with the bases loaded on what appeared to be a ball inside. But unfortunately, he made slight contact with the ump's hat, and however slight it may have been, that's a big no-no.

Bradley's appealing the suspension, but remained out of Saturday's lineup due to injury (though he did pinch hit). If he's not going to play anyways, couldn't he just serve the suspension while he's hurt? Maybe MLB rules somehow prevent this clever maneuver, but I'd rather he serve it now instead of in a few weeks when he's healthy enough to play.

-How good would Dempster be if he didn't tend to have one inning each start in which he walks several guys, can't find the plate, and consequently sees his pitch count skyrocket? It was Dempster's debacle of an inning that led to a loss in Game 1 of last year's NLDS.

-I've been saying this for a while now, but the Cubs are going to have to improve their bullpen if they want to a) win the division, and b) do anything in the playoffs. Specifically, they have to add another lefty. Cotts's ERA should be much higher, except other pitchers keep bailing him out after he walks and/or hits multiple batters.

-Is every Cubs/Cardinals game going to be like this? The rivalry seems to be in full force this year. I'll be at Wrigley Sunday with Trevor Sierra and Tony Fuggiti, and while another nail-biter would be exciting, a blowout wouldn't be so bad either.

MLB notes

-Oh, those poor Nationals. Friday, they took a 2-1 lead into the 9th against the red-hot Marlins, only to lose 3-2 in 10 innings. Saturday, they took a 5-0 lead in the first and navigated their way to a 6-3 lead in the 9th. But an RBI single and a two-run homer later, they had blown another late lead and a great chance to win their second game of the season. After 10 games, the Nationals are 8.5 games out of first.

-Chien-Ming Wang won 19 games in '06 and '07, and was 8-2 last year before suffering a season-ending injury. In three starts this year, Wang has pitched a grand total of six total innings and has allowed 22 ER, good for a 33.00 ERA. I wouldn't be shocked if the Yankees DL'ed him, if for no other reason than to give him some time off mentally.

Wang was knocked out of the game Saturday as part of a 14-run 2nd inning for the Indians--17 batters stepped to the plate in the frame. It was the second time in the series that the Indians had put up at least nine runs in an inning. Through 10 games, the Yankees' team ERA is 6.84, good for 27th in the Majors.

-After 47 consecutive saves, Brad Lidge finally blew a save with the Phillies--the Padres scored four runs in the 9th to win it 8-5. Lidge's streak was the 3rd longest in MLB history.

UPDATE:
The Nationals took another lead into the 9th inning Sunday, but gave up four runs and lost 7-4 to the Marlins. It was the first time in MLB history that a team had come back from three consecutive 9th inning defitics to sweep a series.

Also, the Yankees have placed Wang on the DL.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ace in a hole

Whew! I had to take a couple of deep breaths after Friday's thrilling renewal of the classic Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. In a game the Cubs should have walked away with (Carlos Zambrano vs. P.J. Walters, who was making his Major League debut), a 3-0 Cubs lead turned into a 5-3 deficit turned into a 5-5 tie turned into a 7-5 deficit turned into a dramatic 8-7 victory when Soriano drove a low slider from Chris Perez out to left center. It was the first truly nice day at Wrigley this season, and the fans on hand surely enjoyed the action on the field just as much as the weather.

Lots of good and a little bad in this game:

Good:
-Soriano's home run was his 5th of the season, which ties him for the league lead and more than doubles his combined HR total from the last two Aprils (two last year, zero in '07). He also has nine RBI, more than the combined six he had the last two Aprils. You could argue that every home run Sori has hit has been clutch--three of them have been in the 8th inning or later, and every one has either tied the game or given the Cubs the lead.

-Heilman got his second win of the year, pitching a scoreless 8th.

-Marmol threw five bad pitches to begin the 9th, resulting in a walk and a hit batsman, and just when I said he was going to have to rely solely on his slider, he blew three fastballs by Ryan Ludwick and then induced a double play ball from Khalil Greene to tally his second save. Marmol has yet to allow an earned run this season.

-The heart of the Cubs lineup (Lee-Hoffpauir-Ramirez) was 7-13 with three runs and four RBI.

-Soto's been struggling in his comeback from injury, but he drove in a run with a single to right, and later walked.

-Zambrano was the only starter without a hit.

Bad:
-Big Z went seven innings, but allowed seven runs on nine hits, including three home runs. The outing raised Zambrano's ERA to 5.21.

-While they scored two runs in the opening frame, the Cubs had 1st and 3rd with one out, but didn't get any more. In the second, they had the bases loaded with nobody out, but only pushed one run across. Thus far, the Cubs are batting just .220 with runners in scoring position, 14th in the NL (I know, it's early, but the Cubs need to start getting some of those big hits).

-Heilman, Guzman and Cotts are all tied for the league lead in appearances by a reliever, with six. It was good to get seven innings out of Carlos today--we need more of that in the future.

I think we were all hoping from a little more consistency out of Zambrano this year. He's had two bad starts out of three, and has one win in those three starts. But, a win's a win and the Cubs stand at 6-4 after their first 10.

While there's no such thing as a must-win in April, the Cubs were on the verge of falling back to .500, losing three straight at Wrigley and falling into a 2-0 hole in the series. Instead, the series is even with Dempster and Lilly taking the hill this weekend.

Other notes
-News Friday was that Chris Carpenter is expected to miss 4-8 weeks, so the Cardinals may be relying on P.J. Walters and Co. for quite a while.

-Milton Bradley might face a suspension for making contact with home plate umpire Larry Vanover when he was ejected for arguing a called third strike Thursday. Can we time the suspension to coincide with one of his non-DL injuries, like the one suffered this week?

-Is Marmol the closer now? Kevin Gregg hadn't pitched since Monday, but Marmol was out there in the 9th on Friday. To be fair, Marmol was warming up in the 8th when the Cubs were trailing by one, but still. It certainly has not helped Gregg's cause that he's walked five guys in four innings. It seems to me that Piniella may just ride the hot hand without having an official closer.

MLB note
What is going on with these cycles? 13 days into the season, we've seen three cycles. The Twins' Jason Kubel accomplished the feat Friday, capping it off with a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning. He's just the seventh player in MLB history to hit a grand slam as part of a cycle.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thinking green


Woo hoo! The Bulls made the playoffs!

If you sense a little sarcasm there, that's because the Bulls finished the season exactly .500, 41-41, and there's a pretty good chance the Celtics are about the put the "bull" in bulldoze as they show Chicago what a real playoff team looks like. Doc Rivers vs. Vinny del Negro? That just ain't fair.

The Bulls had a great chance to lock up the #6 seed in the East, but they had a rare slip-up at home in the final game of the regular season, losing to a bad Raptors team with nothing to play for. So instead of playing the struggling, 3-pointer dependent Magic, the Bulls will take on the defending champion Celtics.

Now despite what I said above, there is at least a bit of intrigue in this matchup. It sounds like Kevin Garnett is going to be out for the whole series, if not the entire playoffs. Also, the Bulls are 9-3 in their last 12 and 14-2 in their last 16 home games, including a victory over Boston. Winning one in Bahstin will be a challenge, but the Bulls may be able to make some noise at the United Center. But for anyone holding out hope for a miraculous NBA championship? The highest seed ever to win it all was a #6 seed--the #6 seed the Bulls threw away against Toronto.

One good thing is that even if the Bulls get trounced, Derrick Rose will get playoff experience in his rookie season. The Bulls hope D Rose can be the one to lead them back to the promised land, and spending some time on the big stage is a solid way to begin his career.

Series prediction: Celtics, 4-2

From green uniforms to a green jacket


What a great Masters.

First, Tiger and Phil were paired together for the final round, and lived up to expectations with a combined score of -9.

But they couldn't quite catch the leaders, who ended up in a three-way playoff when Kenny Perry posted back-t0-back bogeys on 17 and 18. It ultimately took 20 holes to crown Angel Cabrera the winner, and I must say that I'm getting used to these Major tournament playoffs. Did Tiger institute a new PGA rule? Did he demand that any Major he plays in must end in a playoff? Bravo, Tiger.

Though Tiger didn't win it, it was good to see him back on his game--he finished eight under par and tied for 6th. But we all know who's way happier than me about Tiger's comeback--the PGA. After a solid 12-year marriage, TV ratings slapped the PGA around a bit and then abruptly left, but now they've come crawling back with their (Tiger) tail between their legs. Tiger was just one back through 16, and finished in the top 10. Add it all up, and you get:

Golf is back.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pistons' Richard Hamilton stunned when nephew informs him Pistons made playoffs

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

DETROIT--Detoit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton was incredulous Thursday when his nephew informed him at an annual family cookout that his team had qualified for the NBA playoffs. It took 10-year-old Stephen nearly 15 minutes to convince Hamilton the Pistons were moving on to the postseason.

"That's cute," Hamilton said at first, as he playfully tousled Stephen's hair. "But we weren't even .500 this year, buddy. Bad teams don't get to go to the playoffs."

An awkward conversation ensued, with Stephen getting frustrated by Hamilton's ignorance while Hamilton grew increasingly annoyed at having to educate his young nephew regarding his team's ineptitude. Stephen eventually brought Hamilton inside to his family's computer, utilizing the Internet to prove his point.

Hamilton was excited, but only for a moment. After realizing the Pistons would be facing the Cavaliers, he began sulking, bringing the mood of the whole event way down. He didn't even finish his grandmother's potato salad, despite having earlier declared it his "favorite thing in the whole world."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not Yankin' yer chain

-CC Sabathia: 7 years, $161 million
AJ Burnett: 5 years, $82.5 million
Mariano Rivera: 3 years, $45 million
Nick Swisher: wait, Nick Swisher??

Despite the bajillions of dollars the Yankees have spent on pitching the last few years, Manager Joe Girardi had to use 1B/OF Nick Swisher--just like they do in Little League--during the Rays' 15-5 drubbing of the Bronx Bombers Monday. Swisher pitched a scoreless inning, meaning his ERA is significantly lower than Yankees pitchers such as: Chien-Ming Wang (28.93), Phil Coke (9.82), Brian Bruney (5.40), and CC Sabathia (4.50). No doubt Swisher will get a five-year, $90 million contract extension in the near future. You can never have too much pitching!

-Derrek Lee looks like 2008 Derrek Lee to me, and that is NOT a compliment. He no longer seems to have the ability to hit the ball out to right, and you can generally get him out 99.9% of the time if you throw the ball on the outer half. I know I should be giving him more time to prove himself, but I feel like I've already given him since last July.

Since last year's All-Star break, Lee is batting .248 with five home runs and 38 RBI. By comparison, Fukudome is batting .238 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 69 fewer at-bats. Should Lee be benched? No. But moved down in the order? I think so.

-Current division leaders, just as one would expect:

AL East: Orioles
AL Central: Royals
AL West: Mariners

NL East: Marlins
NL Central: Cubs
NL East: Padres

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opening Day victory, part deux

Remember all that stuff yesterday about pitchers not giving up hits? Well, Ted Lilly clearly read my blog and became jealous, because he took a no-hitter into the 7th inning Monday against the Rockies. He ultimately went 6.2 innings, allowing one hit and no runs en route to a Cubs Opening Day (for Wrigley, anyways) shutout.

It was probably a good thing the Cubs didn't need many runs to win the game, as they were without Ramirez (back), Bradley (groin) and Soto (elbow). Ramirez and Soto should be back Wednesday; the Cubs are targeting a weekend return for Bradley.

MLB notes
-Evan Longoria? Probably not a fluke: He's batting .467 with 12 RBI and an ML-leading 5 HR, putting him in the top four in all three Triple Crown categories (yes, I know--it's way too early for talk of postseason awards, but I find it enjoyable). He was named last week's AL Player of the Week. Could he possibly follow in Ryan Howard's footsteps by winning the MVP on the heels of winning Rookie of the Year (there I go again--I can't help myself)?

-Joe Morgan is an absolutely atrocious, godawful, dreadful announcer. I mean he's great, except for his one fatal flaw: he is the worst communicator in the world. Every time he talks, I feel like I'm listening to a four-year-old with a stutter try to explain the theory of relativity while eating a caramel and blowing a bubble. What kind of dirt does this guy have on ESPN's director of personnel?

-We've already had both a cycle (Orlando Hudson, Monday) and a triple play (Pirates, Sunday) in the 2009 season.

-Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko went back-to-back Monday, and it was the 300th career home run for each of them.

-Piniella declared that Fukudome will no longer be pulled for defensive purposes in the late innings, as he is batting .417 to start the year.

-Through six games, no Cubs starter has recorded a loss, and five of the seven starts have been quality starts.

Samardzija watch
Jeff has pitched in two games for the Iowa Cubs, including a start on Monday. In his first appearance, he allowed two home runs and three earned runs, but his start was better: 4 IP, 2 hits, no runs. His ERA sits at 4.50.

"Zero" watch
The Nationals came really close this time--really, they did! But their comeback fell short, and they lost 9-8 to the Phillies. 0-7.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Life's a pitch

Some phenomenal pitching performances Sunday, including:

-Aaron Harang, a (very) early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. After a 16-6 season in 2007, Harang completely fell apart last year, putting up another "6," but in the wrong column--he was 6-17 with a 4.78 ERA, his highest ERA since 2004. Sunday's line for Harang vs. the Pirates: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. He's now 1-1 with a .64 ERA.

-Kyle Lohse, that dirty bastard. I was confident that Lohse was only good last year because he was playing for a contract. After signing a 4-year, $41 million contract in September, I figured the real Kyle Lohse would once again stand up. In 2005-2007, he won 9, 5 and 9 games, respectively. Last year, after being picked up off the scrapheap by Dave Duncan and the Cardinals, he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA.

Well, Lohse absolutely mowed down the Astros Sunday, retiring 24 in a row at one point and finishing with a 3-hit shutout. He's now 2-0 with a .56 ERA. Perhaps Todd Wellemeyer will be the one to fall off the table this season?

-Erik Bedard couldn't quite post a complete game, but that's partly due to the fact that his team tallied just three hits and one run. But Bedard was still able to eke out a 1-0 win with 8.1 innings of 3-hit, shutout baseball over the A's.

-Randy Wolf beat the D'Backs with a strong 7-inning outing, allowing just two hits and one run.

-Oh, and if that's not enough for you: Johan Santana gave up no earned runs over seven innings (three hits, 13 K) but lost on account of Josh Johnson's complete game five-hitter (one run).

If we combine these six outings, here's what it looks like: 49.1 IP, 19 hits, 2 ER.

One more time: that's 49.1 IP, 2 ER. That's an ERA of .36. Good day to be on a mound.

Cubs notes
  • Soriano's four home runs are more than he had in the month of April combined in 2007 and 2008.
  • Game six of the season, Bradley leaves with injury. We'll wait before we panic, but groin pain never sounds good.
  • The Brewers became the second team this season to walk in four runs in one inning (Atlanta did the same favor for the Phillies earlier this week).
  • Did you see Prince Fielder tip his hat to Reed Johnson after he robbed him of a grand slam? That's good sportsmanship and just plain good fun.
  • The last two games of the Cubs/Brewers series ended with Prince Fielder striking out with a chance to tie it or take the lead.
  • The Cubs drew 10 walks on Sunday.

"Zero" watch
-The Nationals continued their love of futility, losing 8-5 to the Braves. The 0-6 start is their worst since 1998, when they lost their first seven contests.
-The Indians, on the other hand, finally found the win column with an 8-4 victory over Toronto.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Phat Albert

Earlier, I implied that Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter had pitched so well it was almost Christlike. But I forgot that the Cardinals already have a savior on their roster--Albert Freakin' Pujols.

On Saturday, the Cardinals' miracle worker launched a grand slam and a 3-run homer against the Astros, giving him three home runs and a league-leading nine RBI in the season's first six games. As with Jesus, you absolutely cannot stop this man (yes, Jesus was killed, but he came back, didn't he?). If you took his worst season statistics across his career, they would look like this: .314 avg., 32 HR, 103 RBI, .394 OBP. He is the only player in baseball history to start his career with eight consecutive seasons with a .300+ batting average, 30+ HRs, and 100+ RBIs. Pujols may turn out to be the greatest steal in draft history--he was the 402nd overall pick in 1999.

My boss Tony Bankston boldly predicted before the season began that Pujols would bat .400 this year--he's off to a very early .429 start. While he may not become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to accomplish that feat, it's a pretty safe bet that Pujols will have another monster season. I'm obviously not rooting for Pujols, but I have to admit that his hitting ability is nothing short of holy.

Cubs notes
  • What a great win for the Cubs! That's Soriano's second clutch home run of the season. Props to my friends Brandon James and Tony Fuggiti--they made the trek up to Miller Park and were repaid with the opportunity to taunt Brewers fans in the wake of a Cubs victory.
  • Five games into the season, the Cubs have hit at least one home run in every game.
  • Koyie Hill should never be asked to bunt again.
  • Ryan Theriot was leading the league in batting average (.600) going into Saturday's game.
  • Neal Cotts's last two games: 2 appearances, 0 IP, one hit batsman, one walk.
  • How about Soriano hitting a game-winning moonshot on a breaking ball? Sweet.
  • I have no idea how Marmol struck out both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to put away the game. He was completely limited to his slider, which he was generally hanging in the middle of the plate. Braun still couldn't catch up to it, and Fielder watched one go right past him to end it. I'll take it, but Marmol will need to start throwing his fastball for strikes at some point.
"Zero" watch
-The Indians are 0-5. Cliff Lee is now 0-2. But hey--he lowered his ERA to 9.90!
-The Nationals are 0-5, though they have at least been within two runs each of the last two games. So ... that's something.
-With the Marlins' loss to the Mets, there are no longer any undefeated teams.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me on the MLB, and the MLB on TV

Sidney Ponson lost against his former team on Friday, but that doesn't tell you much (it was the Yankees). Ponson has played for seven teams, including two of them twice. How is he only 32 years old?! With all the teams he's played for (seven in the last six years) and runs he's allowed, I would have thought he was at least 78 years old. He had some decent years early in his career (17-12 with the Giants in '03), but he's been awful of late--since 2004, his ERA is 5.65, and he hasn't won more than eight games in a season. But surely things will turn around for him now that he's on the Royals.

------

From the "Uh-oh, my prediction is not looking so hot" category, Cole Hamels got lit up in his pushed-back season debut Friday. He went just 3.2 innings, allowing 11 hits and seven runs. He also got pounded for six extra-base hits in one inning. I wouldn't have though too much of it, but then Buster Olney enlightened me as only Buster Olney can: the staff aces of the last five World Champions have struggled in the season following their championship. Schilling was injury-riddled and bad in '05; Buehrle struggled in '06; Carpenter missed nearly all of '07; and Beckett wasn't himself last year.

Hamels, in leading the Phillies to Philadelphia's first major sports title in 25 years, pitched a ridiculous 262 innings in 2008. Elbow soreness delayed his first start of the season, and suckiness made that start a short one. I'm not going to bail on my NL East prediction just yet, but Hamels better buck this World Series champion ace trend right quick.

Throwing one away
What the f*** was Ryan Theriot thinking? Why did he throw home on the last play of Friday's game instead of trying to turn the double play?

This play, unfortunately, brought to light one of the Cubs' weaknesses--their defense in the middle infield. Mike Fontenot is just okay at second base, and Ryan Theriot is a defensive liability at short. His range factor was the lowest of any NL shortstop last season, and his arm is not strong enough to throw runners out from the hole. I can't really recall any "great plays" from Theriot last year.

This is certainly not to suggest that Theriot shouldn't be in the lineup; it's simply a statement of the fact that he is a weakness in the field. He's got two errors in the first four games (one of which led to a Brewers run in the first inning Friday), and he may have cost the Cubs a chance at a victory Friday with his inexplicable decision to throw the ball home instead of attempting to turn the double play.

On a separate note, Rich Harden looked very good against the Brewers. Some were saying that his fastball was clocking in at the mid to high 80s in spring training, but the gun was revealing lots of numbers starting with "9" on Friday. Harden joined Josh Beckett as just the second pitcher to strike out 10 batters in a game this season, and if he continues to pitch like that as our #4 starter, our rotation is going to be downright filthy.

Infomercial

For anyone out there who has the ability to purchase MLB Network--DO IT! For baseball fans, this new channel is like a life raft on the Titanic, or the "A" key on your keyboard--you need it!

You know how sometimes Baseball Tonight is on ESPN, and you get to catch some highlights just after they've happened, and the hosts provide information and analysis about baseball? Well, MLB Network airs their version of Baseball Tonight every Monday-Friday from 6 pm CST until the last game of the night is over. Sometimes they're even able to show live action of big at-bats or end-of-game situations. Admittedly, the analysis isn't as solid or polished as ESPN's, but the quantity overrides the quality, and I'm sure it will improve as time goes on.

Additionally, MLB Network will carry 26 Thursday night games throughout the season, plus the same number of Saturday night games. Saturday's Dodgers/Diamondbacks game is on, and next Thursday will feature two games, including the Indians vs. the Yankees.

MLB Network also airs great games from the past, classic World Series highlights, and other specials including in-depth tours of the stadiums and countdown shows of the best home runs, rookie seasons, etc. Most importantly, it's all in HD.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Central Intelligence

It's been four days since baseball season began. So, four thoughts, all related to AL and NL Central teams (for no apparent reason):
  • Chris Carpenter threw like Christ Carpenter (hey, and Christ was a carpenter ... weird) Thursday, rising from the ashes of last year's injury to put together a near-perfect start--he took a no-hitter into the 7th (strangely enough, the Pirates were still winning 1-0, despite being hitless). Carpenter ultimately went seven innings for the win, allowing no earned runs and striking out seven. Redbird Nation had to be quite pleased to see this comeback performance from their ace.
  • But oh, that closer situation. LaRussa threw gas on the fire by using a new closer in the team's second save situation of the season. While Jason Motte was anointed the closer going into the season, his blown save on Opening Day might mean he's lost the job to newly acquired Dennys Reyes. This could be the beginning of a season filled with drama when it comes to the Cards bullpen.
  • The White Sox scored a grand total of five runs in three games against the Royals. Yeah, those Royals. And three of those don't count because they came on one swing off of home run machine Kyle Farnsworth.
  • On the other side of the offensive spectrum, the Rangers put up 29 runs in a three-game sweep of the Indians. Cliff Lee? Lit up. Fausto Carmona? Not good. How 'bout Carl Pavano? Uh, not so much. 1 IP, 9 ER. The Tribe had a worse run differential (-15) in their series than did the Nationals, who were drubbed by the Marlins.
Self-correction
The Cubs payroll is actually $135 million, and ranks third in the ML behind the Yankees ($201) and Mets ($135.7). I stated earlier this week that the Cubs payroll was $118, but the new figures came out Thursday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Offense on display

What is every Major League team's goal? To win series. And that's just what the Cubs did Wednesday, taking two of three against Houston to win their first season-opening series since 2003. The Cubs tried to put it away early, scoring four runs in each of the first two innings, but Houston stayed alive by belting five home runs in the game. The Cubs ultimately held off the charge, winning 11-6.

Had Lilly pitched Monday or Tuesday when the offense was more dormant, we'd probably be mad at him right now and talking about how the WBC affected his preparation (which it probably did), as he went just five innings and allowed five runs, but he got the win because he was staked to such a large lead. Why, though, did Piniella take him down after just 73 pitches? Is it indeed because the WBC messed with his prep? I know Lilly didn't have his good stuff, but I'd rather see him back out for the sixth.

One more complaint--why were both Gregg AND Guzman warming up in the top of the ninth? Gregg pitched in the first two games, and why get him stretched out again when Guzman was going to pitch in the bottom of the ninth anyways? Sure, if Guzman gets into trouble, you get Gregg up, but why you would warm him up prematurely is beyond me.

Cubs notes
  • The best thing about Wednesday's offensive explosion? That's easy--Kosuke Fukudome drank some sort of magical hitting potion prior to the game and went 4-5 with a home run and four runs scored. He also--gasp--walked! Fukudome's last four-hit game was May 1 of last year. It's obviously just one game, but we haven't seen that type of pop off Fukudome's bat since, well, May 1 of last year. 'Dome also stole a base as part of a double steal.
  • If you're a starting pitcher, is there anything better than coming up to bat before you've thrown a pitch? Yeah--how about batting again in the second inning? That's what Ted Lilly did Wednesday, as the Cubs batted around in each of the first two frames.
  • David Patton began his Major League career by promptly serving up a home run to Hunter Pence. He settled down, though, getting through two innings with no more baserunners while striking out two.
  • How freakin' good is the Cajun Connection? One reason I hate the Cardinals is because of all the little scrappy bastards they always seem to have who refuse to make an out despite apparently being members of the Lollipop Guild as a second job (think: David Eckstein, Fernando Vina), but now we have our own pint-sized studs in Fontenot (5' 8) and Theriot (5' 11). In the first series, they both batted over .385 and accounted for a combined four runs and six RBI.
  • I have to give Milton Bradley props. Yes, he's still hitless, but his OBP is .357 and he's second in the majors in pitches seen per plate appearance. He's not in a groove right now, and yet he's still exhibiting patience at the plate and getting on base at a pretty good clip.
MLB notes
  • Who says chivalry is dead? The Braves walked in four runs in one inning against the Phillies Wednesday, kindly enabling them to come back from a 10-3 deficit. This could end up being one of the bigger comebacks all year.
  • How often do the Padres wear those awful camouflage uniforms? I thought it was just for every Sunday home game (which is still way too often), but they were also wearing them Wednesday night, which is surely the reason they lost 5-2 to the Dodgers. Man, are those ever hideous.

Angels pitcher killed in car crash

Very sad story from the world of baseball.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Root, root, root for Len and Bob

Have you seen this commercial? They're really putting themselves out there with this one, but I'm sure they enjoyed the opportunity as both Len and Bob are huge music enthusiasts. I'd rather have Len sing the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley over most of the random "celebrities" who do it throughout the year.

Rumor mongering

From Buster Olney's blog:

"It felt like Jake Peavy was taking on the Dodgers all by himself in the Padres' season opener, and when he didn't dominate, they didn't win. And it feels like it's only a matter of time before he winds up in a Cubs uniform. The possibility of a future trade hovered over the Padres' ace, as Tim Sullivan writes."

I realize many people are sick of the Peavy rumors, but I found this tidbit interesting because I agree with Olney--I think there's a darn good possibility Peavy will be pitching at Wrigley later this season (as a Cub, not a Padre). The Cubs are in a win-now mode, will have a new owner soon, have room to add payroll, and with Peavy eating up 15% of the Padres' payroll (only to increase in the next three years), it just makes sense that the trade talks would be revisited.

I almost went so far as to lower my prediction for Sean Marshall's wins based on the assumption that he would be moved to the bullpen when the Cubs acquire Peavy. But who knows? A lot can change in a few months, but it sure is fun to fantasize about a rotation of Zambrano, Peavy, Dempster, Lilly and Harden.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Can't win 'em all

The Cubs guaranteed they will not go 162-0 Tuesday with a 3-2 extra-inning loss to the Astros. Derrek Lee made me happy by driving a ball to right center (something he was loathe to do last year) to drive in a run, and Soriano first-degree murdered a pitch from LaTroy Hawkins to tie it up in the eighth. But other than that, the Cubs just never got much going against Wandy Rodriguez and five relievers, as they tallied just six hits total.

Hopefully the Cubs can show a little more juice at Minute Maid tonight against Brian Moehler, the beginning of the very average part of Houston's rotation. Moehler was 1-2 with a 3.68 ERA against the Cubs last year. Ted Lilly will get his first start for the Cubs--he owned the Astros in 2008, going 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

It was nice to see Theriot batting second against the lefty Rodriguez (and he went 2-3 with a run scored), and also nice to see Reed Johnson get a start (1-3 with a walk). Ryan Dempster looked pretty strong, giving up two runs over six innings, and Neal Cotts got tagged with the loss though he didn't pitch that poorly.

Soto left the game with shoulder soreness, and will be out tonight but hopefully back Friday. Koyie Hill did throw out Kaz Matsui trying to steal in Tuesday's game.

Notes
  • Koyie Hill, Aaron Miles and Reed Johnson all played at some point last night, meaning the only players on the 25-man roster yet to see action are relievers David Patton and Luis Vizcaino.
  • Milton Bradley is still trying to find that first hit--he's 0-7 with a walk.
  • Angel Guzman pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
  • Alfonso Soriano hit home runs in back-to-back games for the first time since last Aug. 5-6, also against Houston at Minute Maid Park.
Centsports plug
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