Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What does the Bears' schedule have in store?

We're less than two weeks away from the start of 17 weeks of football awesomeness. With the Cubs having a miserable season, me having a couple of Mirage betting tickets in my wallet (Bears to cover -7 against the Lions and Bears to win eight or more games this year), and with my fantasy football draft recently completed, my Football Excitement Meter is off the charts this year. For today's lesson, let's take a look at some of the highlights of the 2010 schedule for Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Bears.

Just get to October. Like last season, which began with the Packers and Steelers, the schedule-makers have given the Bears a couple challenging games right out of the gate. Game 1 is a bit of a gift with a home game against the Lions, but then they travel to Dallas followed by their first matchup with the Packers in Week 3. October begins with a game against the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium, but the rest of the month's games are winnable: at Carolina (though have the Bears ever won in Carolina?) and then back home for games against Seattle and Washington, the only back-to-back home games on the schedule. It was the supposedly winnable portion of their schedule that did them in last year--they lost to Cincinnati, Arizona and San Francisco in a four-week span. My $20 bet hopes for better results this season.

Prime time times four. I'm always surprised by the NFL's desire to put the recently mediocre Bears in the spotlight, but they've done it again in 2010:

Week 3: Monday night vs. Packers
Week 4: Sunday night at Giants
Week 11: Thursday night at Dolphins
Week 15: Monday night at Vikings

I probably don't need to remind you that the Bears were
1-4 in night games last season. Please, please don't do that again, Bears.

Takin' this thing international. Coming off their bye week, the Bears will head to Toronto to play the Bills at the Rogers Centre in Week 9. These games in Canada and London still seem weird to me, but whatever.

Enjoy December 5. Just cuz, you know, December 5 sounds like a nice day. Oh, but also, the Bears will play their second game against the Lions that day. For Bears fans with weak stomachs, don't read about the remainder of their schedule. Scroll down, because here it comes: Patriots, at Vikings, Jets, at Packers. Wow. You go to hell, schedule-makers.

The schedule seems really difficult, but it's actually just the 14th-most difficult in the NFL based on last year's records. The Bears' 2010 opponents went 129-127 in 2009 (.504), which matches the winning percentage of the Vikings' opponents (the only disparity lies in the Vikes' games against the Saints and Cardinals whereas the Bears play the Panthers and Seahawks). The Packers' opponents had a .488 winning percentage last season.

Well, there you have it. While the Bears get things going next Sunday, remember that the Saints and Vikings will kick off the NFL season next Thursday night. Yay for football.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Week 21 awards: Mike Quade for Manager of the Year!

Right? Am I right? The new guy comes in and all of a sudden the Cubs pull off their first sweep since early July? And a winning road trip? Just give the guy a three-year deal right now.

I'm kidding, of course. I'm not sure if he'll actually get a real shot at the job next year, but he's not anywhere near the top of my list at the moment. If the Cubs were to play out of their minds for the final month, I suppose it's possible that could change.

It was a solid first week for the former third base coach, though. The Cubs got strong pitching for the most part and some timely hitting, gave the first-place Reds a run for their money but still managed to allow them to gain ground on the struggling Cardinals, which I'm totally okay with. Good stuff.

Ryno of the Week: We've actually got a few to choose from this week. Casey Coleman earned his first major league victory on Monday; Ryan Dempster had a phenomenal start against the Nationals; Xavier Nady hit his first home run since early June and had nine hits over the course of the week; and Andrew Cashner had four scoreless appearances. But even though he started just four of the six games, Kosuke Fukudome wins the award after hitting a game-winning home run and a game-tying home run in back-to-back games. He drove in five runs overall and batted .461. I had to check the calendar make sure it wasn't April.

Goat of the Week: Justin Berg would certainly argue that he had the worst week given that he now resides in Iowa. But fresh off the DL, Geovany Soto looked stale, going 4-for-16 with four strikeouts.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

Al Davis says this very well could be his last century as Raiders owner

Umpire can't wait to call crazy-ass strike zone tonight

Kurt Warner considers coming out of retirement but suddenly remembers he's not a douchebag like Brett Favre

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The defense, unfortunately, rests

It's an underrated facet of baseball, something that's often overlooked when analyzing a team. But when it comes to the 2010 Cubs, it can't be ignored. As the title suggests, I'm talking about defense.

The Cubs lead the majors with 103 errors; they had 105 all of last season. They've turned 102 double plays after turning 144 last year because most of their double play chances are ruined by a bobble or a throw that sails into the outfield. The Cubs have exhibited a scary combination of lack of focus and just plain bad glovework, resulting in more unearned runs allowed than any other team, by far. It's strange that Zambrano chose to lash out at Derrek Lee after a play he probably couldn't have made anyways, given that he's probably had a lot of more legitimate opportunities to complain about one of his defenders' handiwork.

Nearly 20 percent of the team's errors have been committed by Starlin Castro (20)--only Ian Desmond (28) has more errors among shortstops. Aramis Ramirez is only four off the major league-worst pace at third base despite having played fewer than 100 games. Ryan Theriot had six before being shipped to LA, and Blake DeWitt has 11 between the Dodgers and Cubs. Even Derrek Lee has six errors this season, more than 13 other first basemen.

Soriano has five--just one away from the major league-worst in left--while Byrd and Fukudome have actually played well. Colvin has four errors in right field, none in left.

It should go without saying, but the next Cubs manager and his army of coaches will have to do a better job preparing the team defensively. The lazy throws, the missed cutoff men, the slow-to-develop double play attempts ... these are not qualities commonly seen in playoff teams.

Errors are going to happen, quite obviously, but not 103 of them. Earlier this week Blake Dewitt managed to bobble a grounder and walk lazily towards it, unaware that the runner got a slow start out of the box. The bobble's going to happen sometimes, though the Cubs have exceeded their fair share this season. The second part should never happen, but it seems like just about every Cub has done something similar this season: Castro didn't hustle over the weekend and allowed a runner to score from third; Bob Brenly just criticized Ramirez the other day for not getting in front of a grounder down the line; Soriano exerts effort like Drew Barrymore makes good movies--I don't think it's ever happened.

Most of the position players will return in 2011, which means the gloves themselves may not improve much. In fact, the Cubs' best defender--Derrek Lee--is gone. But hopefully the mental mistakes and lapses can be reduced, and clearly Castro has more potential defensively than he has exhibited in his rookie season. Defense can be one of those things you don't think about until you don't have it. Unfortunately, it's been a glaring problem with this year's team. I just hope that whomever's in charge next season realizes that defense must not be left off the list of things that need to be improved upon in 2011.

P.S. I have to commend Marlon Byrd for his superb defense this season. He's in the top ten in assists for center fielders, has just two errors on the season, and has made countless highlight reel catches. The Cubs have a number of players who have been defensive liabilities this season, but Byrd has been nothing but a strength. As Len and Bob have pointed out, he absolutely deserves Gold Glove consideration.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lou bids adieu

Sunday marked the end of an era not only with regard to the Chicago Cubs, but also Major League Baseball. Lou Piniella managed for 23 years and played the game for 18. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1969, an All-Star in 1972, and a three-time manager of the year. He won two World Series as a player and one as a manager.

Piniella's amazing career came to a sudden end on Sunday when he announced that he would retire after that day's game in order to spend more time with his family and help care for his ailing mother. No doubt the Cubs' brutal record played a significant role in his decision, but while his managerial career ended on a sour note, Sweet Lou hit a lot of high notes during his baseball career and in his four years in Chicago.

Lou took the helm in 2007 on the heels of a 66-win season on the North Side, and after a bumpy start he led the Cubs to their first NL Central title since 2003. He followed that up with a 97-win season before a mediocre 2009. It was the first time the club had exceeded .500 for three straight seasons since they did so from 1967-72. Piniella was 316-293 over the last four years, becoming the first Cubs manager to finish his tenure over .500 since Don Zimmer (1988-1991).

Of course, regular season wins don't tell the whole story. Lou's teams failed to win any of their six postseason games, meaning he won as many playoff games as, say, Jim Lefebvre. Piniella was brought in near the end of his career with the goal of winning the World Series, and he failed to do so. While that's undoubtedly the bottom line, certainly it doesn't all fall on his shoulders. Besides, there are a lot of other lines on the history of Piniella's managerial tenure in Chicago, and it can't be ignored that at least for a couple of seasons, he instilled a sense of confidence and a will to win that has not often been seen at Wrigley (at least for the home team).

It's hard to say for sure if Piniella was the right choice back in 2007. Joe Girardi went on to win a World Series with the Yankees, but would he have done so with the Cubs? Jim Hendry might still get his shot at Girardi next season, though I doubt he'd leave a stacked Yankees team for a rebuilding Cubs squad. We'll never know for sure what a different manager would have accomplished over the last four seasons, but what we do know is this:

1) Piniella failed in that he didn't win a World Series, or even one playoff game.
2) The second half of 2007 and all of 2008 provided some of the most enjoyable baseball Cubs fans have seen in a long time. The team's 97 wins in 2008 were the most since 1945.
3) Piniella succeeded in that he built on what Dusty Baker started, elevating the expectations of a fan base that once did little but adore their "lovable losers."

They're not always so lovable any more, which in a strange way is a compliment to Lou and something he could add to his long and impressive resumé. Of course, he no longer needs a resumé because, after 41 years on the field and in the dugout, Lou Piniella has said goodbye to the game of baseball. Though he may be remembered best for his legendary rants on the diamond, it's what he did as a player and then later in the dugout and the clubhouse that makes him one of the game's legends and a potential Hall of Famer. But those rants do speak to Lou's primary characteristic during his many years in baseball: a true passion for the game. There's no doubt he'll miss the sport now that he's away from it, and the sport will certainly miss Lou.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Week 20 awards: Cubs find new ways to lose games ... and a manager

A 1-0 loss to former Cubs' prospect Jon Garland. A blown save courtesy of three walks by Carlos Marmol. A rare implosion by Sean Marshall. A 16-5 loss to the Braves that mirrored their Opening Day defeat.

Nope, no form of losing is off-limits for the Cubs these days. Thank God for the God-awful Pirates, for that giant piece of baseball feces out in Steel City is the only thing keeping the Cubs from crashing to the bottom of the NL Central. It's becoming as difficult to keep track of the revolving door of a roster as it is the mounting loss total--a 100-loss season remains unlikely but within the realm of possibility.

And the Cubs managed to lose their skipper as well. Lou Piniella's mother is ailing, but he is only able to skip town to care for her because his team's season has been dead for months. Surprisingly, Mike Quade will take over beginning tonight against Washington. I can't fathom that he would have any chance of keeping the post into 2011, but hopefully some new blood can at least inject some life into this flailing franchise.

Ryno of the Week: Though it's sad to say, Aramis Ramirez's .244 batting average marks his high point for the season. He also now leads the team in home runs with 20 after an 11-for-28 week with two home runs and seven RBI. He had at least two RBI in each game of the series against the Braves.

Honorable mention: Kosuke Fukudome

Goat of the Week: When hard-throwing Andrew Cashner was called up in late May, I surmised that he probably wasn't ready to be a successful major league pitcher. Unfortunately, it looks like I was right. In four appearances this week, Cashner allowed six earned runs in just 3.1 innings. He ERA sits at 6.69. He's got decent stuff and certainly I hope he can contribute in 2011, but he's a little too raw to get the job done in the 7th or 8th inning at the age of 23.

Dishonorable mention: Koyie Hill

Friday, August 20, 2010

Favre pulls a Favre; surprises, like, maybe one really gullible guy in Wyoming

"What, Brett Favre flew to Minnesota? You mean, you mean he might come back to the Vikings? Ohmygodohmygod! This is unbelievable! This is the story of the year! Which is crazy, because it was also the story of the year in 2009! And also in 2008! I can't believe he might actually come back! I never in a million years thought that $20 million and a chance to go to the Super Bowl could lure him back with that bum ankle of his!"

--The one random dude in America who didn't think Favre would return


In all seriousness, I got a little excited when SportsCenter reported one morning that Favre had informed the Vikings' brass that he wouldn't be returning. As a Bears fan, I was thrilled that this development would have opened the NFC North wide open.

But I must admit there's a small part of me that is excited for Public Enemy #1 to return to the field. I hate Favre, but that doesn't entirely mean I want him gone. Hate is part of sports (sports-hate, not real hate). Without players and teams to root against, sports would only be half as fun as they are.

So welcome back, you drama queen bastard. Julius Peppers will see you now.


But could Brett have been any douchier in how he handled his return?

"I don't think I can play, my ankle feels ouchy. But hey, who are these cute purply guys coming to talk to me? Whaaaa? You want me to play quarterback? You like me? And you just need this one little favor? Aw, shucks, I can't say no to you. But only if you reaaallly want me to ... You do? Okay, I'm in. But only cuz you asked nicely and because I'm such a nice person. I don't want to play at all, really I don't, but I'll do it for you."

I hope Tarvaris Jackson goes all Kathy Bates on his ankle while he's sleeping.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cubs bid farewell to Derrek Lee

As a member of the Florida Marlins, Derrek Lee helped ruin the Cubs' best chance to make it to the World Series in the last 26 years. A year later, he came to North side in a trade for Hee-Seop Choi and has manned first base for the last seven years, hitting 179 home runs (11th most in franchise history) and batting .298 in that time. He finished third in the MVP vote in 2005 and made two All-Star teams while in Chicago, and is one of the top 10 first basemen ever to don Cubbie blue. He also served as a team leader and a calm presence in a not-always serene clubhouse.

But with free agency looming and an OPS lower than Lee's seen in over a decade, Jim Hendry took advantage of the opportunity to move him to a contender. Needing offense after a season-ending injury to Chipper Jones, the Braves moved in on D Lee and shipped three prospects to the Cubs. Lee earlier nixed a potential trade to the Angels, perhaps because they were and are on the periphery of the playoff race, but accepted a trade out East to the division-leading Braves.

Though Lee has not looked the same this season and has battled the injury bug a bit, I will certainly look fondly on his time with the Cubs. He and Aramis Ramirez secured the corner infield positions as well as the three-four spots in the lineup for seven seasons, and he has been one of the most consistent and productive Cubs hitters of the last quarter-century. In addition, he won three Gold Gloves at the most important position in the field.

With that said, it was a no-brainer for Hendry as he turned what would have become nothing into a potential something. From MLB Trade Rumors:

Chicago gets right-hander Robinson Lopez, right-hander Tyrelle Harris and left-hander Jeffrey Lorick according to the Cubs, who will send the Braves money in the deal.

Baseball America ranked Lopez 16th among Braves prospects before the season and suggested that he "may be the biggest sleeper in the [Atlanta] system." He's still just 19, but his numbers in A ball haven't been as impressive as the ones he posted in his Rookie ball debut last year. Lopez has a 4.37 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 so far in 2010.

Harris, 23, has played at three levels this season and has now reached AA. Overall, the reliever has a 2.90 ERA with 10.9 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. Lorick, also a reliever, has yet to reach AA, but the 22-year-old has solid numbers so far in 2010: a 2.24 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.

As always, we'll have to wait and see how this trade ultimately pans out. But for now, kudos to Hendry for getting something done even after the trade deadline, and I bid a fond farewell to Derrek Lee. I wish him the best; I'd have no problem seeing him win his second World Series ring a couple months from now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MLB notes

Carlos Gonzalez is making a name for himself at a young age.
  • If the season ended today, we'd have the Twins vs. the Yankees, the Rays against the Rangers, the Reds would battle the Padres, and the Giants would face the Braves. Wow. By the way, not one of those NL teams made the postseason last year.
  • The Orioles roster includes four former Cubs: Jake Fox, Felix Pie, Corey Patterson and Cesar Izturis. Until they traded him recently, they also had Will Ohman. Looking at those names, it's obvious the Cubs have damning photographs of Orioles President and former Cubs President Andy MacPhail.
  • Have you seen what Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is doing? You may recall that he hit for the cycle, including a game-winning home run, against the Cubs recently. But that certainly wasn't his only great game this year: he's second in the NL in batting, sixth in home runs and fifth in RBI. And he's only 24 years old.
  • On that note, what's with the triple crown candidates this year? Joey Votto and Albert Pujols are both in the top five in all three categories, as is Miguel Cabrera in the AL. Josh Hamilton is just six RBI short of doing the same.
  • The Cubs have fallen behind in the strikeout race: they're fourth with 62 fewer than the Giants.
  • The Rays lead the majors with 140 stolen bases. No other team has more than 109. The Cubs have 42.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Week 19 awards: Helping the Reds' cause again

Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

I know, it's sad that this is now the lens through which I view the Cubs season, but what can I say--they're in fifth place in the division and reached a nadir of 20 games below .500 in the middle of this past week before taking the final two games from the Cardinals. There are still other reasons to watch: to witness the development of youngsters like Castro and Colvin; to see if Zambrano can get his act together in the final two months; and to continue to monitor the carousel of rookie relievers who are essentially auditioning for spots in the bullpen next season, among others. But when it comes to the actual wins and losses, it doesn't get much better than beating the Cardinals, and the Cubs have now taken two series from the redbirds in the last three weeks.

The aforementioned bullpen nearly ruined what should have been a comfortable victory yesterday, but Marmol eventually nudged the door shut against a ragtag lineup consisting of several Cardinals back-ups. Though the game was a blowout early on, the Cubs ultimately needed pretty much all of their nine runs to hold off their rivals.

The Cubs swung the bats well throughout the week, scoring 37 runs while going 3-4 against two potential playoff teams with three of the losses being of the one-run variety, giving them 29 of those frustrating defeats on the season. Twenty-nine! Even more frustrating, the Cubs held a lead in all four of their losses.

Ryno of the Week: It was an abbreviated week for Derrek Lee as he was tending to his ill grandfather for a few days, but he returned with a vengeance by launching four home runs over the weekend. His four dingers match the highest total he's had in any month so far this season. Overall this week he was 5-for-10 with three runs and 4 RBI.

Honorable mentions: Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: When you fantasize about finally getting your shot in the major leagues, you definitely don't think your career will start the way Thomas Diamond's has. The 27-year-old lasted just four innings against St. Louis on Friday which was one inning more than he pitched against the Reds in his previous start, and he struck out just three guys in his last two starts after chalking up 10 Ks in his major league debut. His struggles cost him his spot in the rotation, as his next scheduled start will go to Casey Coleman; Diamond will move to the bullpen.

Dishonorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano, Randy Wells

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A better Tiger, a worse Tiger

There's a new Tiger on the PGA Tour this summer. He's a calmer, more affable, more serene Tiger. This is a good thing. But when it comes to his golf game, at least recently, he's less ferocious than your local country club's pro. For those who enjoyed watching golf greatness over the last 14 years, this is definitely a bad thing.

The question is, does a Tiger with a new and improved personality and demeanor necessarily lead to a Tiger with an inconsistent driver and a faulty putter? Can he be gentle but still determined to destroy the field? If he is tame, can he keep his opponents from taming him on the course?

There are many potential explanations for his struggles in 2010. He didn't golf for four months. His life is falling apart. He sees his kids less and less. The media and the galleries who watch him no doubt view him differently than ever before. He's not old, but he is getting older at age 34.

But there's the other reason, the one we'd rather not assign blame to (after all, who wants the nice guy to finish last, or wants to believe that Tiger needs that nasty edge in order to compete?) but is staring us right in the face, even talking to us in post-round press conferences.

"Only thing I did good today is I kept my patience out there," Tiger meowed after shooting a 4-over 74 at Firestone, where he has won seven times. You can file that under "Things you never thought you'd see"--Tiger Woods doing only one thing well through 18 holes of golf, and that thing consisted of remaining calm and patient no matter how out of control his swing became, no matter how crazy his score was.

And he was right. He did keep his patience. After he rolled in a 7-foot birdie on the 17th, he turned to the gallery and gave a little bow. We've seen the smile, the sense of humor when he's lapping the field and making golf look easy. But when his golf game is as chaotic as his personal life? Calm during the storm? That's a new Tiger.

Even after shooting a 77 on Sunday to finish the Bridgestone Invitational with the worst 72-hole score of his professional career and a 78th place finish (out of 80), Woods joked that he would have time to get in a practice round for this week's PGA Championship before the Bridgestone leaders even teed off. In the past, it's Tiger himself who would have been t'd off after such a performance. Granted, he wasn't ecstatic--who would be?--but there didn't seem to be an eruption boiling below the surface, either.

We were told back in the spring that we would no longer see the angry Tiger, the guy who yells at photographers and lectures the media. It seems this was no joke--if the new Tiger walked up to his ball on the 18th green and found a fly on it, he might just pick it up gently, whisper a kind word in its ear and make a wish as it flew away.

But what does it all mean for the man pursuing Jack Nicklaus? Forget majors, he hasn't won any of the nine tournaments he's played this year. He appears to have found an inner peace, but he's lost his swing and certainly his mojo. Does one have to be sacrificed for the other?

Michael Jordan always had that look in his eye, as if every game was his last. Nolan Ryan didn't apologize to hitters after plunking them in the numbers. You can practically see the smoke coming out of Ray Lewis's ears before every play. There are exceptions--Albert Pujols and Brett Favre among them--but it seems that for some athletes, the passion they bring to the game and, perhaps more importantly, the fire that burns in their eyes during game time is precisely what fuels their success.

It's early, I know, but with much of the scandal behind him, Tiger Woods appears to be a better man. Unfortunately, he also seems to be a worse golfer. I'm not prepared to write him off, not yet, and I doubt many people are. But it's worth asking: Can the old Tiger and the new Tiger co-exist? Or, if you'll allow: if you take away his growl, can Tiger still prowl?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ted Lilly/Ryan Theriot update

Dodgers fans are no doubt happy about the team's deadline trade with the Cubs, at least for now. Overall, the Dodgers are just 4-4 since they acquired Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot--certainly they'll have to do much better if they hope to catch the Giants or Padres--but the two former Cubs have performed well.

Theriot went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his Dodgers debut, but is a respectable 8-for-27 (.296) in seven games since. He typically bats second in the lineup behind newly acquired Scott Podsednik.

Lilly has been even more impressive. In fact, he has nearly as many wins--two--with the Dodgers as he did with the Cubs--three. He went seven innings and allowed one run in a must-win game against the Padres, then pitched six innings and allowed three earned runs against the Nationals. He has yet to allow a walk and has struck out 11. Both of his starts have taken place at Dodger Stadium.

And just for the heck of it, Blake DeWitt's stats since joining the Cubs: 9-for-27 (.333), HR, 5 RBI, 4 runs, 2 BB

Monday, August 9, 2010

Week 18 awards: If you're going to lose, lose to the Reds. That's what I always say.

"Psst. Thomas. Hey Thomas. Stop letting them hit the ball so hard."
(José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune)

And, clearly, the Cubs are going to lose. A lot. They already have lost a lot, and they're going to keep losing a lot. But I really don't mind it as much when it helps the Reds keep pace with those dastardly Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cubs' 1-5 week means they're not even keeping pace with the Astros. Or the Nationals. They do have the same record as the Royals, though. You can't pull away from us, Royals! NEVER!

Yeah, it's sad. It's a sad, sad season, and the main thing that's made fans want to grab a Kleenex (or a fork to simply gouge the eyes right out) has been the bullpen. 28th in the league with a 4.91 relief ERA. That ain't right. But at least Zambrano's coming back tonight, and he can definitely go, what, five innings? So that's good.

Ryno of the Week: Despite going hitless Friday and Sunday, Starlin Castro went 9-for-25 this week with three doubles, a triple, four runs and an RBI. His OBP since July 1 is over .400. He did make some poor defensive plays and needs to work on his focus in the field, in my opinion, but the range is there and he obviously has an arm--he just needs to harness it.

Honorable mentions: Blake DeWitt, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: After hitting .250 in June and .253 in July, Tyler Colvin is just 2-for-22 in August (2-for-18 this week). He can smash a mistake fastball, but right now he can't hit much else.

Dishonorable mentions: Brian Schlitter, Casey Coleman, Randy Wells

Friday, August 6, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

Tim Tebow can't wait to get on the field and see if God loves the Broncos as much as the Gators

"I'll just go ahead and beat the crap out of myself," says Bears fan to friends after taking Brett Favre in fantasy football draft

Recently traded Lance Berkman refuses to stop wearing his "lucky" Astros jersey

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Youth movement leads to a fun day at Wrigley

The Cubs have hit 24 home runs since the All-Star break, tied for most in the NL.
(Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

I can't resist the temptation to write about the Cubs after a rare win, and a blowout one at that. The Cubs dished out a tiny bit of revenge yesterday, scoring 14 runs in a three-inning span and slamming three three-run homers en route to a 15-3 win that gave the Brewers a small taste of their own medicine after their 18-1 shellacking of the Cubs on Monday. The Cubs still, you know, suck, and they remain in fifth place in the division, but nevertheless: Take that, Brewers!

Though both Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro remain just shy of the necessary number of plate appearances to qualify for things such as the race for the batting title, here are some interesting stats put up by the Cubs' youngsters:
  • Colvin leads all rookies with 17 home runs.
  • Among rookies with at least 200 at-bats, Castro has the second-highest average (.318), behind only Buster Posey.
  • Castro's average would rank him third in the NL if he qualified.
  • Castro's OPS (.823) is third-highest among rookies.
  • Castro has five triples, the most for a Cub since Juan Pierre had 13 in 2006.
You can never really assume anything in sports; just because Colvin and Castro have displayed impressive potential does not mean they're guaranteed to improve every year and serve as the team's offensive backbone for years to come. But isn't it nice to see a couple of rookies actually showing their stuff rather than being forced to rely on scouts in order to have hope for the future?

There was another youngster who continued to impress yesterday as well: Geovany Soto. His poor 2009 season was an example of that last point--even being the Rookie of the Year doesn't guarantee consistent success. But here in 2010, Soto is proving that 2008 wasn't an illusion: among NL catchers, he is first in home runs, slugging and OPS, second in OBP and third in RBI. Not too shabby.

The average age of Soto, Castro and Colvin? Twenty-four.

Oh, Blake DeWitt hit a home run yesterday as well--he too is 24.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Analyzing the Cubs/Dodgers trade

Jim Hendry had to trade Ted Lilly, and he did. That Ryan Theriot was included in the deal with the Dodgers was a bit of a surprise, but not an altogether bad one. But was the move good or bad overall? How'd Hendry do?

First of all, no one will know the answer to that question for sure until several years from now. Analyzing trades at the time they happen, especially when prospects are involved, is always a guessing game. Ricky Nolasco was something of a throw-in in the trade for Juan Pierre, but he has 12 wins this year. On the other hand, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a key piece of the Mark Teixeira trade three years ago, yet he was still stuck in the Rangers' minor league system until he was traded to the Red Sox on Saturday (not because of struggles at the plate, but rather a mental block preventing him from consistently throwing the ball back to the pitcher accurately). So, you know, who knows?

But on the surface I'd say the trade was solid from Jim Hendry's standpoint. Let's break it into two parts:

1) Lilly for Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit

Once again, Lilly simply had to go. The Cubs would have gotten nothing for him had he left as a free agent at the end of the season, so it made sense to shop him around. While the Cubs had to pay a portion of his remaining salary, the trade netted two minor league pitchers. From Bleed Cubbie Blue:

While neither one is a Top Ten Prospect with either the Dodgers or us, both of them are potentially very useful players.

The bigger prospect of the two is Brett Wallach, the son of former major leaguer and current Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach. Wallach was a third-round pick last season for the Dodgers who throws a hard, 89-91 mph sinker. He's also got an above-average fastball, a good changeup and promising breaking ball. His biggest issue is that he hasn't been able to get the breaking pitches over the plate for strikes. He didn't concentrate on pitching until after he turned pro, so he's still raw. But like Chris Archer before him, the Cubs think that they can fix his control problems. His upside is probably a mid-rotation starter. I've also been told that the Cubs have had their eye on Wallach for some time now. I'm not saying he was the key to the deal or anything, but they do like him a lot.

The other pitcher is Kyle Smit, who was a fifth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2006. Smit struggled as a starting pitcher in their system for four seasons. This year they made him a reliever and he's thrived in that role. He's got a 5-3 record with a 2.49 ERA and six saves for Inland Empire in the Cal League, and if you know anything about the Cal League you know how tough it is to pitch there. He's got a 91-93 mph fastball and a hard curve. He's also been working on a splitter. Unlike Wallach, Smit throws strikes already: he's walked only ten batters in 53.2 innings this year. He was promoted to AA just before the trade, so I'd expect to see him start in Tennessee. His upside is probably middle-reliever, but potentially a good one.

Nothing fantastic, but two solid prospects. Given that the Diamondbacks didn't get any sure things for Dan Haren, it's understandable that Hendry couldn't get any studs in return for a (hard-luck) pitcher with just three wins. Given the Cubs' bullpen woes this season, they could use a couple more prospects in the system.

2) Theriot for Blake DeWitt

A swap of second basemen, though DeWitt has played third about as much as second in his career. DeWitt is definitely not a huge upgrade over Theriot, but the upsides are his age and his contract status.

Whereas Theriot is 30 and probably won't get much better than his career .287/.350/.362, DeWitt is just 24 and at least has the potential to improve upon his very similar-looking .277/.357/.381 slash line. DeWitt also hit double-digit home runs all five years he was in the minors. He probably won't ever hit for much power, but his OPS is over 70 points higher than Theriot's this season. From MLB Trade Rumors:

Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein calls his the "prettiest swing you'll see never turned into results," calling DeWitt a "constant source of disappointment" for the Dodgers.

Well that's not great, but again, the potential seems to be there.

DeWitt's defensive Zone Rating (don't ask) is also significantly higher than Theriot's (3.8 compared to 2.9).

And while Theriot is already in his first year of arbitration and is only locked up through 2012, DeWitt is under team control through 2014, meaning the Cubs have found a cheap, long-term solution at second base and won't have to scour the free agent market this offseason. Given that DeWitt is a lefty, there may be a chance that Fontenot will get dealt after the season.

This trade certainly didn't blow anyone away, but it's nice to have a couple more arms in the minors and I have to appreciate Hendry's creativity as he found a way to not simply make the obvious trade, but to fill a future need (second base) in the process.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Week 17 awards: Back to the future

For the first time since 2006, the Cubs are focused on the future rather than the present. Though we've known it for months, Saturday's trade made it official: this year is over, and Cubs fans must once again wait 'til next year.

I'm just happy it's next week after a 1-5 week that pushed the Cubs' record to a season-low 13 games under .500. They lost two of three to the Astros for the fourth time this season and then gave up 31 runs in three games while getting swept by the Rockies (though 12 of those runs came in one inning--I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse).

In addition to truly losing Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot, the Cubs may have lost Carlos Silva for awhile after he left yesterday's game with an abnormal heart rate. Hopefully he'll be all right even though his team has been anything but all right here in 2010.

Ryno of the Week: While Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin combined to go 13-for-41 with a home run, eight runs scored and three RBI, I'm going with the sentimental choice: Ted Lilly. Knowing he was likely making his final start as a Cub, Lilly threw 5.2 scoreless innings in Houston but suffered yet again from a lack of run support in a 6-1 loss.

As a Cub for the last 3 1/2 seasons, Lilly made Jim Hendry's decision to sign him four years ago look like a very good one (in an offseason with many bad signings; see: Zito, Barry and Suppan, Jeff), winning 44 games in his first three years in Chicago. He has been one of the best and most consistent Cubs since 2007, and I wholeheartedly wish him well in L.A.

Goat of the Week: I have zero choice but to go with the entire bullpen. Holy crap. Cubs relievers were forced to throw 22 innings last week, and boy was that unfortunate. They allowed 31 runs in those innings, which works out to a ... carry the three ... add the six ... 12.68 ERA! When even Sean Marshall can't get anybody out, you know it's going to be a bad week for the bullpen.