Monday, February 28, 2011

Who will be the Cubs' backup infielder and catcher in 2011?

Darwin Barney's name alone makes him a great candidate for the Cubs' bench.

With a spring training game officially in the books, it's high time we take a look at some of the position battles that will ensue over the next month. Today we'll take a look at the infield and catcher positions. Who will spell Geovany Soto? Will Darwin Barney make the team? Will Augie Ojeda be mistaken for a bat boy at spring training? So many questions.

Starting infield: Carlos Pena, Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker, Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez

Bench: Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker

Spots available: 1

Possible IF bench players: Darwin Barney, Bobby Scales, Augie Ojeda, Scott Moore, Marquez Smith

Early prediction: Darwin Barney. A 25-year-old 2007 draft pick, he played 30 games with the big club at the end of last year, batting .241 with a .294 OBP. He had a respectable .976 combined fielding percentage at second, third and short. He was solid at AAA last year, batting .299 with a .333 OBP, and he had 14 errors, mostly at short. If he can put the bat on the ball and play solid defense, his versatility in the field could make him a nice addition off the bench.

I was tempted to go with Marquez Smith, a 26-year-old who was also drafted in 2007. He batted .314 with a .384 OBP in 91 games at Iowa last year, but he's mostly limited to third base where he struggled to the tune of a .938 fielding percentage last year.

As far as the second base platoon, Blake DeWitt got the lion's share of the playing time after coming to the Cubs in the Ted Lilly trade. He struggled, but probably has a higher ceiling than Baker. Expect Baker to play against lefties, though, given his .350 average last season against southpaws. My guess is that Quade will be open to one of the two "winning" the job in spring training, but my money would be on a pretty strict platoon come the regular season.

Starting catcher: Geovany Soto

Possible back-up catchers: Koyie Hill, Wellington Castillo

Early prediction: Koyie Fucking Hill. Who has a .211 career average as a Cub. I hate him like Alfonso Soriano hates outfield walls. I say start Soto 150 games and throw Zambrano behind the plate for the other 12 just to keep him on his toes.

Castillo, who's just 23, had six hits in 21 at-bats (.300) after being called up last September.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Cardinal goes down, a former Cub bows out

First they fail to extend Albert Pujols, now their #2 starter is out for the year. It has not been a good month for the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright, who finished second in Cy Young voting this past season, is slated for Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season. This doesn't devastate the Cardinals--they still have Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, and Jake Westbrook--but it's a significant blow. Instead of one of the most potent 1-2 punches in baseball, they now have one ace and several average-to-above average pitchers.

I must admit, I'm intrigued to see what kind of magical spell Dave Duncan will be able to cast on whatever castoff or minor leaguer replaces Wainwright. Some free agent options include Kevin Millwood (4-16 last year with Baltimore) and Jeremy Bonderman (5.53 ERA last year with Detroit), though they may simply hope for one of their prospects to step up this spring. Surely whomever they choose will set a major league record for wins because Dave Duncan is a witch.

In other baseball news, former Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek has decided to retire. Grudzielanek, who is now 40, batted .314 for the 2003 Cubs team that fell one win shy of the World Series. In fact, it was Grudzielanek who would have taken the flip from Alex Gonzalez, thrown it to first for a double play and ended the infamous 8th inning that cost the Cubs Game 6 of the NLCS. Instead, terrible, unspeakable things happened and part of me died inside forever.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's conference tournament weekend! (In Division III)

The women's team registered one of their most dominant wins of the season on Senior Night this past Saturday.

The IWU women's basketball team will once again host the conference tournament this Friday and Saturday after becoming the first CCIW team ever to win four straight regular season titles. The Titans, who are ranked 7th in the latest poll, slipped up just once in the conference season with a home loss to Carthage, posting an impressive 13-1 record.

But as fate would have it, Carthage finished the season as the four seed meaning the Titans will have a chance to avenge that loss tomorrow. If they win, they'll face the winner of the Wheaton-Millikin match-up on Saturday. While the Titans handled Millikin easily in their two match-ups, they escaped with a narrow two-point victory in their home contest against Wheaton.

The path to the conference tournament was slightly more stressful for the men's team. Injuries and inconsistent play had them at 8-5 in the CCIW and set up a win-or-go-home game against 3rd-ranked Augustana on Tuesday. With the score tied, Doug Sexauer hit a short jumper with one second left to give the Titans a two-point lead. Augustana managed a decent shot at the buzzer, but it banged off the rim, sending IWU to North Central on Friday to begin a conference tournament they likely need to win if they want to advance to the national tourney.

IWU needed overtime in both of their games against North Central this season, winning at home and losing in Naperville. If they win Friday, they'll face the winner of the Augustana-Wheaton game.

Best of luck to both teams this weekend!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From D to Z: Dempster gets Opening Day nod, followed by Zambrano

*I actually wrote this before Quade named Dempster the Opening Day starter, I swear. But I've edited it to reflect Quade's rather early decision.

The question scarcely had to be asked the last few years since Carlos Zambrano has been on the mound the last six Opening Days. But after a season in which Zambrano went all Zambrano and was banished to the bullpen for over a month, and with a new manager at the helm, we knew that streak was in jeopardy in 2011. Given that Z has just one win in those six tries and that the memory of the Braves bashing him around last year has not quite faded (it was kind of him to throw Jason Heyward that coming out party, though), I think it's time to give someone else a chance. On Monday, we found out that Quade agrees.

The obvious choice was indeed Ryan Dempster. In the three seasons since he became a starter again, he has won more games than Z each year and had a lower ERA in two of the three years. He's eclipsed the 200-inning mark all three seasons (Z hasn't done so since 2007) and has been consistently solid in his seven years as a Cub.

In terms of ERA and WHIP, a case could have been made for the newly acquired Matt Garza. But in my opinion, while getting the nod for Opening Day is mostly about recognition of talent, I think it's also an honor. And given that the next time Garza plays in a Cubs uniform will also be the first, I think Dempster is much more deserving of the distinction.

Of course we might also ask: Does it really matter who starts? Not really. It's just one game, just one start; each pitcher will get about 30 more over the course of the season. But Zambrano's lack of success on the season's first day is noteworthy and makes Mike Quade's decision perhaps more meaningful than the corresponding decision that, say, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will have to make. Zambrano tends to operate at about 100 mph, sort of like someone who's high on coke. Yeah, someone who's high on coke and has Tourette's. But it seems like on Opening Days he's more jacked up than Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night. The role simply doesn't fit him. It's like asking Gary Busey to be your Jenga partner--you're going to lose and it's probably not going to end well.

So way to change it up, Quade. Let's see what a little calmness on the mound looks like on the season's first day. It's an honor Dempster deserves, and it gives the Cubs the Opening Day opportunity they deserve.

But what do you think? Is Dempster the right guy? Who should be on the mound April 1?

Monday, February 21, 2011

As predicted, we predicted terribly

You might recall that Trevor Sierra, Andrew Kapral and I made our annual Cubs predictions last March. We predicted seven categories total; in five of them, all three predictions turned out to be higher than the actual result. So either the Cubs had a pathetic season in which they underperformed to an extreme degree, or all three of us are blindly optimistic fools with zero talent for predicting what will occur in a Cubs season. Or both. You know what, I think it's both.

Last year, Trevor and Andrew tied with three apiece while I had two.

*Actual result in parentheses

Cubs wins (75)
Trevor 88
Andrew 87
Brandon 86

Um ... yay? I don't feel good about benefiting from the Cubs' debacle of a season.

Had the Cubs won 86 games, the lowest of our three predictions, they would have lost the division by just three games and finished ahead of the Cardinals by two. Instead, they finished with the eighth-worst record in the majors. They were worse than teams such as the Astros, Brewers, Marlins and A's. They were even worse than the Mets. Not a great year.

Randy Wells wins (8)
Trevor 13
Brandon 11
Andrew 10

After winning 12 in his rookie season, Wells started five more games in 2010 but won only eight. His ERA went up by more than a point even though he actually gave up fewer hits/9 in 2010 compared to 2009. He was much less consistent this season--he had three starts of four innings or fewer.

Soto slugging percentage (.497)
Brandon .475
Andrew .445
Trevor .430

Here's the only category where we were all too pessimistic. Soto had a great bounce back season. While playing in only 105 games hurt his power numbers, his slash line was back to the level of his Rookie of the Year campaign. (Slash line is average/on-base/slugging.)

2008: .285/.364/.504
2010: .280/.393/.497

He also had a higher HR/AB ratio this season than in 2008. My win here puts me up 2-1 on Andrew.

Zambrano wins (11)
Trevor 20
Brandon 14
Andrew 14

Good guess, Trevor. No, really, I mean he averaged 11.5 wins over the previous two seasons and he's never won 20 in his life. As it turned out, Zambrano only started 20 games due to his time spent in the bullpen. 3-2 me over Andrew. (Trevor? You there?)

Derrek Lee HR (19)
Brandon 33
Trevor 33
Andrew 27

Ouch. If you don't count 2006 when he missed most of the season or 1999 when he only played 70 games, this was his lowest home run total since 1998. He also had his lowest average (.260) since 1998. His punishment? Being banished to the Orioles, where Cubs go to die.

By going low, Andrew's tied it at 3. This is dramatic ...

Carlos Marmol walks per 9 innings (6.0)
Brandon 6.4
Andrew 5.8
Trevor 5.1

This category was meant to be indicative of Marmol's season overall. As in: lots of walks per nine innings? He must be blowing lots of saves. Not many walks per nine innings? Wow, he must be doing well as the closer. Since I thought he was going to be a disaster as closer, I went high on this one. Turns out I lost to Andrew by just 0.2, yet Marmol had a great season. He was 38-for-43 in saves, had a 2.55 ERA and led the majors with a ridiculous 16 strikeouts per nine innings. He was in fact one of the few pieces of glitter on the turd that was the Cubs' season. And yet ... lots of walks. Oh well. You win this round, Andrew.

Theriot OBP (.321)
Andrew .380
Brandon .370
Trevor .365

And Trevor takes his first category despite being pretty far off on this one. A few players who had a higher OBP than Theriot in 2010:

Alfonso Soriano
Drew Stubbs
Ryan Ludwick
Yovani Gallardo
Dan Haren
Angel Pagan

Albert Pujols was walked intentionally 38 times in 2010. Theriot walked 41 times total. So anyways, Theriot is not good at getting on base. None of us realized that, but Trevor's guess sucked the least.

Final tally:

Andrew 4
Brandon 3
Trevor 1

Congratulations, Andrew! A tie for first last year and an outright victory this year. You are forcing me to slightly doubt my hypothesis that living in Texas for an extended period of time inevitably turns you into a babbling buffoon who wears spurs and eats your own poop. But only slightly.

Actual NL Central Standings




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cubs name Keith Moreland as Pat Hughes's new radio partner

Moreland, 57, played six solid if unspectacular years with the Cubs from 1982-1987. Perhaps his broadcasting will be described similarly.

Moreland has filled in for Bob Brenly in the past, but I'll be honest and say that I don't remember much about my reaction to his broadcasts. I don't think it's worth opining too much about this decision--no one will ever truly replace Ron Santo, so that's irrelevant, and I believe Moreland deserves some time at the mic before we judge his abilities in the booth.

Says Moreland (via Carrie Muskat): "I hate to be sitting in this seat because nobody can replace Ron Santo ... I can't do anything but try to be myself."

(Click the post title for Paul Sullivan's story from the Tribune.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Humor Vault Headlines

Turns out Bruce Pearl has just the one orange sportcoat, smells terrible

Favre announces retirement, winks, has 2011 training camp dates in iPhone calendar

Joakim Noah confident wrist is finally healthy enough for him to jump around, make ass of himself

Monday, February 14, 2011

Arbitration be damned: Cubs expected to sign Marmol to three-year deal

About a year ago, I may or may not have used the word "disaster" (I did) when predicting Carlos Marmol's level of success as closer in 2010. And now he has enough money to buy, like, his own island. Or five million Big Macs. Or something.

But that's what happens when you set a franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever and lead all major league relievers in K/9 innings and Wins Above Replacement (3.1).

Gordon Wittenmyer expects the Cubs and Marmol to agree today to a three-year deal worth around $23 million. The contract would buy out his final two years of arbitration and what would have been his first year of free agency.

Now if the Cubs can just give Marmol a few more save opportunities than they did last season ...

**UPDATE**Ken Rosenthal says the deal is done, and that it's in the $20 million range.

**UPDATE ON THE UPDATE**Marmol will earn$3.2 in 2011, $7 in 2012 and $9.8 in 2013.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Notable Cubs' spring training dates

Sunday, February 13: Pitchers and catchers report. That's right: just two days from now, a number of Cubs players will be in Arizona getting ready for the season before the season. It's almost here ...

Tuesday, February 15: The Cubs and Carlos Marmol will head to arbitration on this day if the two sides haven't agreed on a deal. The two were rumored to be close to a long-term deal--likely three years-- but so far nothing has materialized.

Friday, February 18: Position players report.

Sunday, February 27: Baseball. Mmmmm, delicious baseball. A spring training game against Oakland, sure, but baseball nonetheless.

Sunday, March 6: The first televised game, against the Dodgers.

Wednesday, March 16: First off day.

Thursday, March 24: First game carried by an ESPN network. (Honestly, I'm just making shit up at this point to make this post longer.)

Friday, April 1: OPENING DAY. It's April Fools' Day, but this is no joke: the Cubs will begin the regular season on a Friday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The name game, vol 11.2

Momo Jones, Arizona
His name's actually Lamont, but he goes by Momo cuz, you know, mo' baskets mo' problems.

Dundrecous Nelson, Mississippi

Deremy Geiger, Idaho
How often does he have phone conversations in which his half goes like this?


"No, Deremy."


Hugh Mingo, Louisiana-Monroe
Sounds like a creepy color commentator. Plus, it sounds like "humongo."

Hector Harold, Pepperdine
Middle name Henry.

The same name game

Josh Johnson, East Tennessee State (also a Florida Marlins pitcher)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aaron Rodgers is good at football, and other fun facts

As much as it pains me to say it, Rodgers was very good all year. On Sunday, he proved he's Super good.

In five playoff games, Aaron Rodgers has seventeen touchdowns and just four interceptions, a QB rating well over 100, and four rushing touchdowns to boot. And of course, a Super Bowl ring. Yup, Aaron Rodgers has made Green Bay forget all about the 40 Year Old Vermin. And this, I must say, is bullshit. How can the Packers have Brett Favre, Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame turdball, for 17 years, and then magically have another stud QB waiting in the wings when Favre finally douched his way out of town? This offends me. Seriously. I'm not just angry or jealous about the Packers' amazing luck, I'm literally offended. Fuck you, Packers. You don't deserve that kind of luck. Why, you ask? Because you're from Wisconsin and you're bastards, that's why.


  • While the Steelers nearly overcame an 18-point deficit on Sunday, their loss means that the largest deficit overcome in a Super Bowl victory remains 10 points. I find this incredibly disappointing. We've had some pretty good Super Bowls for sure, but we need a big-time comeback one of these years. It just seems wrong that it's never happened.
  • While I am in no way happy that the Packers won, it's at least nice to see the NFC gaining some steam again. The NFC dominated in the 80s and 90s, winning 13 straight Super Bowls from 1985-1997. But then, with the help of the Patriots, the tide turned and the AFC won eight of the next ten. Now, though, the NFC has won three of the last four.
  • Here's a weird stat: this was the first-ever Super Bowl decided by six points. Not that interesting, really, but there it is.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Augie Ojeda is back, bitches

So tiny!

In a move that shook the very foundation of the baseball world, the Cubs signed infielder Augie Ojeda to a minor league deal. Ojeda, who stands 3 feet 7 inches tall*, was also with the Cubs from 2000 to 2003. He batted over .200 in two of those four seasons.

*After further research, it has been determined that Ojeda is actually 5 foot 9. Strange, I was so sure he was under four feet tall.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl Preview

Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

-The Steelers have won two of the last five Super Bowls, while the Packers last won it in 1997. Green Bay also lost the 1998 Super Bowl against the Broncos.

-The Packers, who have been around for, like, a long time, won the first two Super Bowls, giving them three total. Their supposedly "proud" history contains some bullshit about how they play on "frozen tundra" and are owned by random fat Wisconsinites.

-The Steelers won four titles in the 70s, giving them six total. They've been owned by the same family ever since Art Rooney founded the franchise in 1933. You just don't see that any more. How refreshing. We should all laud the Steelers for being a model of consistency, and should show our support by rooting for them on Sunday.

-While the Steelers, Patriots and Colts have combined for eight Super Bowl appearances in the last ten years, the NFC has incredibly had 10 teams make it over the last decade. The six who haven't played in February:

Lions: Bad.
Vikings: Even Favre couldn't save them.
Redskins: Because owner Daniel Snyder is a douche.
Cowboys: Haha.
Falcons: There's nothing worse than being the only team in the NFC South not to have made the Super Bowl in the last 10 years.
49ers: Check that. Being the only team in the NFC West not to have made it is WAY worse.

What to watch for: Blitzkrieg. And by that I mean, "a krieg's worth of blitzes." These two teams ranked 1 and 2 in total points allowed this season (with Pittsburgh being #1), and also in sacks (with Pittsburgh #1 there, too). Both defensive coordinators will surely cook up some exotic blitzes, and this game could come down to which "D" is able to pressure the opposing QB and get him out of his rhythm.

X factor: Rashard Mendenhall. I don't think Packers' rookie James Starks will be able to do much against a stout Steeler defense. But if Mendenhall can give the Steelers a running game and put Big Ben in short third down situations, it would give Pittsburgh a huge edge in what will likely be a close-fought game.

Prediction: Steelers 21, Packers 17. This is in no way an objective prediction. I would like nothing more than to see the Packers metaphorically sodomized with a traffic cone covered in pine needles. Again, metaphorically. I hate their organization, I hate their asshole fans, and I hate their stupid quarterback. He is awesome, though, which makes me hate him even more. So get out your Terrible Towel, put on your Troy Polamalu wig, and destroy all the cheese in your house. Or, put another way: Go Steelers!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

ESPN's new futuristic BottomLine tells viewers what's going to happen

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BRISTOL, Conn.--This week, ESPN launched its revolutionary new BottomLine that, rather than simply providing live scores or upcoming game information, informs viewers about what is going to happen. Sports and media analysts are touting the network's newest innovation as one of the most groundbreaking in recent memory.

"Here at ESPN, we are always looking for new ways to improve the viewer's experience," said Chief Technology Officer Charles Pagano. "This is the 21st century. Sports fans don't just want to know who's playing tonight, they want to know who's going to win. Now all they'll have to do is tune into one of ESPN's 47 networks and glance at the BottomLine to know."

Spokesmen for several Las Vegas sportsbooks said they expect a huge increase in betting and are nervous about setting lines with future results available to bettors. "This is bullshit," commented one oddsmaker. Added a random bettor, "Fuck. Yeah."

Pagano said that there is one kink they have yet to iron out: ESPN is currently unable to show future results for any game being aired on an ESPN affiliate. "The big college basketball game on ESPN this Saturday? You'll have to watch to find out what happens there," Pagano said. "But there's not much point in watching the Super Bowl on Fox this Sunday (27-24 Steelers, according to the BottomLine), which means you can watch the big bowling tournament on ESPN! Everyone wins."