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Offday League Inspection

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Cubs had the day off yesterday, but the front office didn't take a rest, as Jim Hendry swapped minor league southpaws with the Tigers. Felix Sanchez was sent to Detroit for another minor leager, Jon Connolly, and a player to be named later. (Sanchez has a 7.11 ERA, and Connolly had a 3.68 ERA last year.) Initially, I thought the Cubs got the better end of the deal, but today the news got better. Apparently, by trading Sanchez who was on the forty man roster, the Cubs cleared a spot to bring up Glendon Rusch, a lefty with a fair amount of major league experience. I am pretty happy with the move, because it looks like Rusch will replace Mitre in the starting rotation until Prior returns. I'll take adding a mediocre lefthanded starter over a mediocre righty any day.

I was looking at standings around the majors today. The important news is that the Cubs are in first place by one game over both Cincinnatti and Houston. However, some interesting notes. The NL Central appears to be the strongest division early on.

Divisional Comparisons

Games above (+) or below (-) .500
Overall
vs. East
vs. Central
vs. West
NL East
-10
-
-8
-2
NL Central
+11
+8
-
+3
NL West
-1
+2
-3
-

Games above (+) or below (-) .500
Overall
vs. East
vs. Central
vs. West
AL East
-1
-
-5
+4
AL Central
+3
+5
-
-2
AL West
-2
-4
+2
-

Strongest Division: NL Central. This division could realistically have two 100 win teams. The Astros and the Cubs look very good early on, and the rest of the division is pretty solid.

Weakest Division: NL East. A poor start in Philadelphia combined with an injured Mets team and a horrible Expos squad has the NL East 10 collective games below .500. This division will probably be won with 88 wins. This is good news for the Braves who might make it thirteen straight division titles. My money though is still on the Phillies.

Best Team Record: Boston Red Sox (15-6) - on track to win 116 games. All of their games have been played intra-division so far, which will probably be a huge factor as the Yankees pick up steam and start trying to chase down the BoSox.

Worst Team Record: Montreal Expos (5-18) - on track to lose 127 games. They are 5-14 against the NL East, and 0-4 against the NL West.

Not as good as their record: The Florida Marlins. They have a gaudy 15 - 7 record to begin the year, but that is buoyed by a 5-1 record against the Expos. The Marlins started off 8-1, but are just 7-6 since. They haven't played any games against NL Central opponents, or teams with great pitching staffs. For anti-Marlins fans, the problem is that this team has talent, but needs to maintain their confidence to win. With Jack McKeon, miracle worker, and a fast start, that confidence hasn't taken the hit it should have after losing Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Encarnacion, Derrek Lee, and Mark Redman this offseason. However, I doubt Hee Seop Choi is going to keep on hitting as well as he has. Choi had a fantastic April last year too, earning the NL Rookie of the month award, but soon cooled off. I frankly expect the same thing this year from Choi too. He still has gaping holes in his swing that pitchers will start finding again.

Time Team G AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG
April '03 CHC 20 58 16 14 5 14 18 22 0 0 .436 .552 .241
Post April '03 CHC 60 144 17 30 3 14 19 49 1 1 .316 .368 .208
April '04 FLA 20 59 12 17 8 15 10 17 1 0 .400 .695 .288

If the season ended today: Red Sox, Twins, Angels or Rangers, and the White Sox make the playoffs from the American League. In the NL, the Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres would be post-season contenders.

Overrated?: The Dodgers are off to a hot start, 13-8, 1st place in the NL West. I was under the impression that this might be because their pitching was still strong and their offense improved. Well, only part of that statement is true. Last year, the Dodgers pitchers/defense allowed 556 runs, while their offense scored 574 runs (or 3.43 runs allowed/game vs. 3.54 runs scored/game.) This year, the Dodgers are again in similar territory, only their offense has improved while their pitching has declined. Through 21 games in 2004, the Dodgers have scored 96 runs and allowed 95. They are up two games over their projected pythagorean standings.

Prognostications:

  • The Cubs will win 100 games, but they may not win the NL Central Division Title. The Astros are one game back, and two games below their projected pythagorean standings. The 'good' news for Cubs fans is that despite having Mark Prior, Mike Remlinger, Jose Macias and Mark Grudzielanek on the disabled list for most of the season so far, the Cubs are still 13-8. The bench is performing well, and the return of Macias adds even more depth. Todd Hollandsworth has really had a good start too. He has five hits so far, and four of them are home runs, at least three of which came off the bench.
  • Montreal will lose 120+ games. This team is horrible. It has no depth and has a schedule from the devil. Too little talent and too much travel will land this team in the history books. Moreover, MLB owners aren't about to pony up the cash to help a team which is competing with their own teams. League ownership of the Expos is going to ruin this team, and is an obvious conflict of interest. Until baseball finds a new owner for the Expos, this franchise will be in a state of decay.
  • The Phillies will win the NL East. Despite a sub .500 record 15% of the way through the season, the Phillies are too good of a team to continue losing. Larry Bowa may be fired, but I am not going to "call it" just yet. The Phillies are currently on the upswing. After a 1-6 start, the Phillies have turned it around and are playing 8-5 ball since.
Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Unit blanks Cubs

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I saw about eight innings of Monday's (April 26th) game, and then turned off the TV. It was especially bad. The Cubs got slaughtered 9-0 as Randy Johnson shut down the offense and Carlos Zambrano had "a bad day." I didn't get to see Tuesday's game, but it was apparently more of the same. The Cubs lost 10-1 on a Sergio Mitre start, and it would have been 10-0, save Todd Hollandsworth's second shut-out averting ninth inning home run of the season (the first was April 7th against the Reds). I haven't bothered to go back and watch even the highlights of either game, but suffice it to say we got the hurtin put on us.

Anyhow, I watched highlights of today's game and am frankly happy that we won. If the BOB (Bank One Ballpark) fences were moved in ten feet, we would have lost by about 5 runs. The Diamondbacks had a number of very long fly ball outs to the rightfield warning track tonight. As it is, I guess that is called pitching to the park. Anyhow, the Cubs looked good from what I saw. In the first inning, Corey Patterson hit a nice RBI double scoring Todd Walker from first. C-Pat eventually scored on a Ramirez double. Patterson also had a nice at bat the second time up when he hit a grounder to the right side moving Walker from second to third. Because of Patterson moving him over, Walker was able to score on Sosa's flyball. This gave the Cubs three runs. The Cubs won this game because they were able to play smallball effectively.

Maddux pitched well, despite putting way too many runners on base. Furthermore, on a follow up to an earlier post, Maddux got a sacrifice bunt down today that worked. It looked a little strong to me, but it got the job done. I'll keep you all posted as I'm sure you're all waiting with baited breat for more Maddux bunting updates.

Steve Finley had a great night tonight. The reason the Cubs won was because Finley came up to bat four times with nobody on base. He cranked three dingers off of Cubs pitching tonight (two off Maddux, one of Hawkins). Fortunately for the Cubs, they were all solo.

Alex Gonzalez finished off the game with another ninth inning, game winning home run. (Also, the other day I was re-watching game 5 of the NLDS. It was Gonzalez' two dingers that got the Cubs to the NLCS, so I will refrain from criticizing him for an error in game 6 of the NLCS... can't wait til he is gone though.)

Derek Lee is really struggling lately at bat, although he made two more really nice plays at first tonight. While at bat though, Lee is popping everything up. I think he might be dropping his back elbow and adding some uppercut. All his flyballs are about 50 feet shy of the wall, and he isn't hitting any line drives.

I wrote a bit ago that the Cubs offense was on fire. Well, its on ice now. Last 6 games: 3, 3, 4, 0, 1, and 3 runs. Thats not gonna do it folks. I will point out though that the Cubs are 4-2 over that stretch... which ain't too bad considering the poor offensive showings. The reason the offense has cooled down so much is due to Sosa, Alou, Ramirez, and Lee who simply aren't hitting much. The heart of the Cubs Order is hitting a combined 17 for 81 in the previous 6 games (.210 avg.) which has lead to an average of 2.33 runs per game. In contrast, in the eight games prior to that (when the Cubs averaged 8.75 runs per game) the big four hit .382 (50 for 131). I don't know that this isn't true for every team, but it has been an obvious cause of our offense struggles of late.

Anyhow, tommorrow is an offday for the Cubs. I am awfully glad for the team. I think the club is probably fairly tired. It has been fifteen days since their last scheduled day off, although the game in Pittsburgh was rained out last Thursday. This weekend is going to be our first major intra-division test as we go to St. Louis to take on the mighty Redbirds. We haven't had the best of fortunes lately in Busch, so I am hoping that they reverse that.

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Walker's defense, Maddux' bunting

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I watched the Cubs game (almost in full), and am really excited! Matt Clement threw an eight inning two-hit gem today, and the Cubs won 4-1. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, which he lost when he gave up a home run to Karim Garcia. (I was at the grocery store for half an inning and just missed it... shouldn't have left the couch.) Anyhow, he looked a bit flustered and gave up another hit to the next batter. Then, he got a pop-up and threw another perfect inning. He looked great the whole game, struck out 13, and when he walked a guy in the second, I thought to myself... darn he coulda had a perfect game. Anyhow, nothing terribly remarkable in the stat box, but a great game from Clement, who has put some spring-training struggles behind himself. A few other things of note: I am now a big Aramis Ramirez fan! I hope the Cubs ink him to a long-term deal. I could see him playing at Wrigley for the next 10-15 years.

Although our win streak is now at six, and our error-free streak at eight, I saw some troubling things today. (First a note, Ramon Martinez dropped a ball on the transfer from glove to throwing hand today, which could have been an error if errors were allowed for failing to turn a double play.) Ok, troubling things: The Cubs are having a terrible time getting down sacrifice bunts. I have been noticing this for a while now, and was rather peturbed when Greg Maddux failed to get down a bunt April 18th against the Reds. In the 4th inning, with Paul Bako on first, Maddux <error> at second. Todd Walker followed with a double getting Maddux to third, where he was stranded. If Maddux would have gotten the sacrifice down, Bako would have scored from second and the Cubs would have won. Instead, the Cubs ended up losing the game in extra innings. In his next start, April 23rd, Maddux again failed to advance the runner in a sacrifice attempt in the seventh inning. Although the Cubs won that game, the failure to accomplish the "little things" in a game, will eventually cost this team some more games. The reason that this is making it into today's space is that in the third inning today, Clement popped up a sacrifice bunt that nearly cost the Cubs a run. (After a would-be sacrifice fly from Ramon Martinez, Corey Patterson got a two-out single to score Michael Barrett from second.)

The other thing that is bothering me is Todd Walker's propensity for lazy underhand flip's/tosses from the second base position. So far, nothing horrible has happened yet, but everytime he weakly flips a ball to first makes me cringe. So far, in the early season, I am much more concerned about Todd Walker's defense than Aramis Ramirez' (who by the way showed off his rifle of an arm today...). If you can, I definitely recommend watching this game again.

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Defensive

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Reading Paul Sullivan's article on the Cubs and I saw this: "The Cubs have played seven straight error free games." Holy Cow! The Cubs are in the midst of a five game winning streak, as of right now, and I would say the defense has been good. I am really getting excited about this team because of how well it is playing.

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

A Cub again

Friday, April 23, 2004

Today, Greg Maddux won his first game as a Cub in 12 years or whatever it is now. I was particularly impressed by how easy it seemed. The Cubs offense managed only 3 runs with the wind blowing in, but the pitching was fantastic and it seemed like an easy win. After the game, I couldn't stop thinking... "You know, these are the games that championship ball clubs win."

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Offensive!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

I wrote my little brother who is in Argentina today, and included this sentence in the email: "In the last eight games they have scored 8, 10, 11, 2, 10, 8, 9, and 12 runs! Some of those games had the wind blowing out at Wrigley pretty hard, but they sure have been exciting to watch/listen to." Thats right folks... the Cubs offense is clicking!

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

Baseball Ownership Depreciation Perks

Monday, April 19, 2004

I'm back from a bit of a break... had a ton of exams lately. Saw an article on ESPN.com about the diminished value to baseball owners of player depreciation when they buy a franchise. Since I read John Helyar's "Lords of the Realm" I have always been really interested in this perk of ownership. Anyhow, I thought you all should read this.

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

The Insatiable Damian Jackson II

Saturday, April 3, 2004

You'll never guess who the Cubs signed to a minor league deal today, — thats right Damian Jackson... see March 28th.

BREAKDOWN G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
CAREER 621 1788 270 440 104 16 22 162 199 421 117 34 .246 .325 .359 .684

Stats courtesy of ESPN: Damian Jackson Page.

Posted by Byron at 12:00 AM | Bookmark and Share | | BallHype: hype it up!

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