Friday, July 27, 2007

Freel robs Jacque twice

This isn't a game that we lost. It's a game that Ryan Freel and the Reds took from us. Bronson Arroyo threw the ball well and Cincinnati made all of the right plays.

Both errors made by the Reds' defense were converted into runs for us. When we got chances against David Weathers, we came through. Hill didn't throw the ball all that horribly. We did everything we (reasonably) could.

You hear the expression, "sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opponent." Often times, when that expression is uttered, you're not sure how much of it is true and how much of it was because of your own team's mistakes. I'm sure about today's game though.

Casey Stengel said it best: "Most ballgames are lost, not won." While his statement may be true in general, this ballgame was won by the Reds.

I'm not blaming Mike Quade for sending Jones in the ninth inning. I'm not blaming Jones for failing to score in the ninth inning. It was a seeing eye single through the infield! Jacque should've scored and the only reason why he didn't was because Freel charged the ball hard and made an extraordinary throw to the plate. Ryan Freel took the fifth run away from us. And it wasn't his first web gem of the day either.

I had the feeling that Ryan Freel's diving catch in the second inning would be huge. I had tonight's blog title entry already thought up in my head: "What the Reds' defense giveth, the Reds' defense taketh away." Those two plays by the scrappy Reds outfielder was the reason for the outcome of this game. You can't control when certain teams just flat out win ballgames against their opponents. It's just disappointing that this game had to come against us and now.

Not all of the Cubs are completely off the hook though. Bob Howry has thrown the ball real well lately with the lead. However, it seems as though he can't handle pitching in tie games for whatever reason. Of Howry's six losses this year, only two came in games where he blew a save.

On April 9 at home against Houston, June 21 at Texas, July 21 at home against Arizona, and today, Howry entered the game late with the score tied but ended up suffering the loss.

I understand why Howry pitched the bottom of the ninth. It was the right move to do, by the book, especially considering that Marmol was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning. I just didn't have a good gut feeling about it.

With the lead, Howry's automatic. In a tie game, Howry scares the shit out of me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lilly's streak now seven

Jeez. Ted Lilly is now 11-4.

Ted Lilly turned in another strong outing, winning his seventh consecutive decision. Since June 10, Lilly has gone 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA. Since July 2, he's 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA.

With the Padres and Brewers losing today, the Cubs find themselves right in the thick of things. They trail the Padres by just 1/2 game for the final playoff spot in the National League, while they have only one more loss than the Brewers.

The remaining schedule for the Cubs and Brewers is really interesting. We all know that the two teams have identical schedules until August 28 when the two teams will match up head-to-head for the final time this season. But, what about after that crucial head-to-head serieses?

The schedule looks very favorable for the Cubs.

Even though 16 of the final 22 games for the Cubs are on the road, all are against teams currently under .500. Besides, the Cubs are 26-22 on the road so far this year. Meanwhile, the Brewers have 8 of their final 11 games against either Atlanta or San Diego.

The schedule looks favorable against Wild Card opponents too.

The Braves have serieses against the Mets, Brewers, and Phillies in the final three weeks, while Padres have seven games against the Dodgers and Brewers in the final three weeks.

We've still got a long way to go before September even begins. If the Cubs keep winning like they have been, it may not matter what the schedule looks like in the season's final month.

Z first to thirteen

Another excellent start for the Cubs' ace.

We all know that Zambrano has been really good since June 6. We all know that Zambrano's been really, really good since June 6. He would've had to have been really, really good to be the league's first pitcher to thirteen wins. But even I was shocked when I saw exactly how good he's been.

In his last 10 starts, Zambrano has gone 8-2 with a 1.56 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. He's allowed just 35 hits, while striking out 71 batters in 69.1 innings and he's 9/10 in quality starts. Which one wasn't the quality start? It was the game he was pulled after five innings because his team was up 9-0. In those five innings, Zambrano had allowed two hits.

What's even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Ted Lilly has been equal to task. Since Zambrano started his hot streak, the left-hander is 6-0 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. The combined numbers of the Cubs' 1-2 punch since June 6?

14-2 with a 2.13 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP.

For comparison, since that day, Peavy & Young have combined for 5-4, a 2.03 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP. Penny & Lowe have combined for 7-4, a 3.01 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.

In fact, Zambrano & Lilly have more wins than Peavy, Young, Penny, and Lowe all combined since June 6!

Lilly will try to make it 15-2 since June 6, when he takes on the Redbirds later today.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Snakes take two of three

This seemed like a very Cub-like thing to do. Not only did we struggle against unfamiliar pitchers, but the manner in which the homestand ended had to be disappointing.

The season is a long 162-game race. I know that. Probability says that during this long race, you will have some good times and some bad times. That's inevitable. But, it seems like the Cubs are notorious for taking stretches that have the potential to be great and settling for good.

If after the all-star break you would've told me that the Cubs won win 7 out of the next 10, I would've been happy. If you would've told me that the Cubs would've taken 3 of 5 without Derrek Lee, I would've been happy. But what upsets me is how it happened.

Time and time again, it seems like the Cubs have the potential to do something great, but then walk away coming up just short. Looking at the big picture, you still say to yourself "you can't be disappointed with...", but it would be nice for us to do something great.

In the Cubs' 7-game road trip right before the break, the team started 3-1. However, after dropping two out of three to Pittsburgh, the team ended that stretch with a 4-3 road trip. A winning road trip is never bad, but it could've been better. Then, the 10-game home stand that was just finished started with the Cubs taking 7 of the first 8. A split in the last two games and an 8-2 record would've been great. Instead, we end up having to console ourselves: "7 out of 10 isn't bad".

It's different if you're in first place. "Good, not great" could be enough if you have a lead to work with. But when you're 3 1/2 games behind the division leaders and the division leaders are "good", you need to start playing some "great" baseball.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All is well at Wrigleyville

Friday was a perfect day really.

The Cubs managed to squeeze out a victory against the Diamondbacks, despite an unfavorable pitching matchup. The defending NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, who was 4-0 with a 2.52 ERA lifetime against the Cubs, started for the Diamondbacks, while struggling Jason Marquis, who was 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA in his last 12 starts, was the Cubs' pitcher.

The Brewers lost, bringing us within 2 1/2 games of the division lead. The Padres and Dodgers lost, bringing us within 2 games of the Wild Card lead. The Braves, who are also in the hunt for the National League Wild Card, lost and the Cubs were able to push the Diamondbacks further out.

The bad news is that the Cubs have two more unfavorable matchups ahead of them in the weekend series.

Saturday's game features Micah Owings and Rich Hill. While, Hill's consistency has always been a problem, one thing that has remained constant throughout the year is our inability to get to unfamiliar pitchers. In Sunday's finale, another unfamiliar pitcher, Yusmeiro Petit, will toe the rubber against left hander Sean Marshall.

The Diamondbacks don't hit lefties well; the .225 batting average by Arizona and the .647 OPS are 30 and 89 points below their performance against right handers. Nonetheless, they are 13-12 in games started by left handed pitchers.

Why? Well, when lefties are starting against the Diamondbacks, it seems like their pitchers bear down. In the 25 games against a left-handed starter, the Arizona pitching staff has given up only 108 runs (4.32 runs / game), but more importantly, has given up 4 or fewer runs in 16 of the 25 games. That's more reason to believe that we'll struggle against Owings and Petit.

If the statistics and trends aren't enough, the Cubs are without Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd, and Daryle Ward. While Lee's bat in the lineup will always be missed, the absenses of Floyd and Ward are really felt against right-handed pitching. It seems like everything is in order for the Cubs to struggling offensively.

One slight thing, though. We're rolling. Good teams find a way to win and good teams usually win the tough ballgames. The last two games of the Diamondbacks series will be really interesting.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That was weird

Ted Lilly is very quietly now 10-4.

The Cubs hung on in a wild and wacky game to take three of four from the San Francisco Giants and stay within three and a half games of the division lead. But, exactly how wild was the game, you ask?

Jacque Jones collected four hits on the day, but that doesn't even make the top five. Starting from the top of the first inning, there were signs that this game was going to be strange.

Hell, even before the game, we traded Cesar Izturis to Pittsburgh for a player to be named later.

Ted Lilly took 21 pitches to complete a 1-2-3 first inning, including 12 foul balls hit by San Francisco's first three batters. Then, in the bottom of the first inning, Alfonso Soriano doubled on a two-hopper that got passed third baseman Pedro Feliz but stopped before reaching Bonds in the outfield. A sacrifice bunt by Ryan Theriot was going to put Soriano at third, but a throwing error by Giants' pitcher Matt Morris brought home the first run of the game.

A few batters later, Ramirez's single to right field scored Theriot and a wild throw home by Frandsen allowed Ramirez to get into scoring position. Despite Ramirez coasting into second, Molina unraveled a wild throw (the third Giants' error that inning) allowing Ramirez to advance to third and Ward to score.

In the top of the second inning, the game didn't get any less weirder. A popup about 30 feet away from home plate dropped untouched while Ward injured himself trying to catch it. It was ruled a hit.

In the bottom of the third inning, Floyd got injured on a collision with the pitcher at first base and had to leave the game, but not before scoring all the way from second base on a passed ball. It was a weird passed ball, too. The pitch went through Molina's glove and hit his mask before it bounded away. Molina couldn't find it, so Morris actually ended up fielding it near his on-deck circle.

The injuries forced DeRosa into the game at first base and Pagan in right field. With Lee serving his suspension, this meant that the Cubs were down to two position players left on the bench before the fourth inning even began. That was the reason why Lilly hit for himself in the fifth inning.

After the game, Piniella told Lilly that he was going to be lifted before the sixth inning, but got an at-bat in the bottom of the fifth inning anyway. With the bases empty and two outs, Lilly singled up the middle, stole second, and scored what ended up being the difference-making run.

Also, Ryan Theriot had a check swing groundout that advanced Soriano from first to second that everyone thought was a bunt. And, the Cubs also turned a 5-6-3 groundout.

For the Giants, Barry Bonds hit two homeruns and drove in six, despite a 20mph wind blowing straight in. Bengie Molina also pierced the wind with a homerun of his own. Fortunately, that wasn't enough.

In what the weirdest game of the season, though, Cubs' relievers Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry remained consistent. Tossing the last 2 1/3 innings without giving up a run, the two sealed the series and game victory. The bullpen really has turned things around; that's a good sign.

The events of the weird game open the door to speculation for a lot of roster moves. Derrek Lee is in the middle of his suspension, so the Cubs are already down a player. With Daryle Ward day-to-day and Floyd's status uncertain, the Cubs are essentially playing the game with 22 players. After using 5 relievers on Thursday, going down to 11 pitchers doesn't seem like an option.

Ryan Dempster is expected to return from the disabled list before Friday's game. He's not exactly a fresh arm either; Dempster threw an inning of relief with the Iowa Cubs in a rehab game. The Cubs do have versitility; DeRosa, Theriot, and Fox can play multiple positions, so that should make life easier for Lou Piniella. I would expect the lineup tomorrow to be similar to the lineup the Cubs had in the fourth inning.

I could speculate about the roster moves, but the last two times I've tried to guess the roster move, I was wrong. The obvious decision would be to option both Petrick and Gallagher for Dempster and another versitile position player, but I'd like to see something done with Scott Eyre.

One thing is certain though. This is a completely new ballclub. In the first two months of the season, this club would've found some way to lose this game.

In late May, I made a post jokingly putting out the "winning formula," but the roster right now isn't that far off. Youngsters like Theriot, Fontenot, and Koyie Hill are right in the middle of things bringing conributions to this team. They're trying and they're winning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Zambrano, Hill lead Cubs to victory

It's nice to have a breather every now and again.

After the Cubs gave Zambrano a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning, Lou Piniella decided that was going to be enough for the Cubs' ace. Sure, Zambrano was at 80 pitches, but it was a good move on the part of Piniella.

Having pitched the final game of the first half and the first game of the second half, Zambrano didn't have a break during the All-Star game; he pitched on regular rest. Zambrano, essentially, was pitching every fifth (occasionally, sixth) day from April until now and will most likely continue that trend until September and hopefully into October.

Zambrano had averaged 118 pitches per start since he turned his season around on June 6. Of those 8 starts, seven were made on regular rest and he had had only one start since April 13 where he threw less than 103 pitches. A little rest for Zambrano doesn't hurt.

Piniella was able to stretch out righty Sean Gallagher, a starter in the minor leagues, to pitch four innings of relief and finish the game. Gallagher ended up earning his first career save in the Majors before his first career win. I wonder how many more saves he'll have in his career.

Offensively, Koyie Hill was the story. Somehow managing to remain with the big league club after the additions of Billy Petrick and Jason Kendall to the 25-man roster, Hill showed the Cubs that they had made the right move. After blasting a solo homerun on Monday, Hill ripped two doubles and knocked in five runs today. Who said that Cubs' catchers couldn't hit?

It's going to be interesting to see who gets the start behind the plate tomorrow and in the near future. Starting Jason Kendall last night was obvious; Piniella always likes to get new guys into the game right away. Starting Koyie Hill today was equally obvious. Not only was it a day game after a night game, but Zambrano has always faired well when Hill was recieving him.

Piniella does like to ride the hot hand, but Jason Kendall was brought to the team to be the every day catcher. Besides, Lou may have already painted himself into a corner. After Tuesday's loss, the Cubs' manager said of Kendall, "We'll give him a day off [Wednesday] and get him in there on Thursday."

Nonetheless, for the second time this month, the Cubs were able to bounce back from an awful team performance and do all the things right again. After Ohman surrended the winning run on a bases-loaded walk and defensive miscues by Kendall and Lee, it looked like the Cubs may have been returning to the Cubs we had seen in the first two months of the season. Not so.

A troubling trend for the Cubs has been the fact that they would always seem to get plenty of hits but never enough runs. Today, the tables were turned. Drawing a season-high and mind-boggling 10 walks, the Cubs managed to score 12 runs on just 10 hits. They did strand 7 baserunners, but for the first time in a long time, it was less than the opposition.

The two errors may be a cause for concern, but both were pretty tough errors. The defense has been stellar of late and I don't anticipate that trend changing any time soon.

Look out National League, the Cubs are playing smart baseball!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kendall makes impact in first game

Jason Kendall made an impact in his first game with the Cubs. But not the way the team wanted.

Besides going 0-for-3 at the plate, Jason Kendall's defense was less than stellar.

In the fourth inning, the Giants were able to score the tying run when Kendall was unable to haul a throw made by Alfonso Soriano. While the ball beat Vizquel by a good margin, the newest addition to the Cubs couldn't handle the hop. Not only that, Kendall allowed two wild pitches and muffed a foul popup that opened the door to a two-run eighth inning for the Giants.

While Kendall was not statistically held accountable for any of his defensive miscues, it's clear that the reason why the Cubs are 13-5 when Koyie Hill starts is his ability to play defense well. Or at least effectively. Or at least not like Michael Barrett. Barrett cost us at least three games defensively and Kendall has already cost us one.

But you can't blame Kendall completely for this loss. After dealing with the bullpen masterfully of late, Piniella messed this one up. Badly.

I agree with the decision to lift Marshall after six innings. He was at 88 pitches and the plan was to bring Marmol in for two innings and Howry for the ninth. However, Piniella shouldn't have pressed the issue when Marmol needed 22 pitches to get out of the 7th. Instead, Piniella let Marmol start the 8th and had to be lifted when Bochy brought Bonds to the plate. Lou brought in Ohman, that was good. But he left Ohman in too long.

In any event, all four losses in July have come against lefties (Chico, Maholm, Youman, and Zito) and so something needs to be done. We talk about how we would want a left handed power hitter, but it seems like we're struggling with southpaw pitchers enough to consider adding another bat from the right side.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cubs win fourth straight, add Kendall

Down 2-1 in the eighth inning, I doubted the Cubs again. They proved me wrong again. Call it being a Cubs fan, I guess, but I've been taught to expect the worst from this team.

That's not the case now, though. The Cubs have won four in a row, including sixteen of the last twenty and have been the hottest team in baseball since June 3.

Meanwhile, Jim Hendry announced to Cubs fans that a deal has been struck to acquire three-time all-star Jason Kendall from the Athletics.

#18 Jason Kendall - Catcher
Bats: R, Throws: R
Born: June 26, 1974 (age 33)

2003 PIT: 150 G, 587 AB; .325 AVG / 6 HR / 58 RBI / .399 OBP / .416 SLG
2004 PIT: 147 G, 574 AB; .319 AVG / 3 HR / 51 RBI / .399 OBP / .390 SLG
2005 OAK: 150 G, 601 AB; .271 AVG / 0 HR / 53 RBI / .345 OBP / .321 SLG
2006 OAK: 143 G, 552 AB; .295 AVG / 1 HR / 50 RBI / .367 OBP / .342 SLG
2007 OAK: 80 G, 292 AB; .226 AVG / 2 HR / 22 RBI / .261 OBP / .281 SLG

12-year career totals:
1625 games, 6051 at bats; .298 AVG / 70 HR / 596 RBI / .375 OBP / .395 SLG

There had been some confusion about who Oakland recieved in return, with initial reports including young left-hander Sean Marshall. Dealing Marshall for someone like Kendall would've been a huge mistake and Hendry evidently agreed. More recent reports say catcher Rob Bowen and minor league left hander Jerry Blevins were the Oakland acquisitions. Blevins looked like he had good numbers in A and AA ball, but Kendall should help the Major League club now.

Since the trade of Michael Barrett, the team was struggling for offense at the catcher's position. Before Monday's game, when I heard that Rob Bowen was designated for assignment, I thought it was a mistake. Why lose Bowen when you could option Koyie Hill and keep both guys with the club? Well, Hendry evidently had something planned with Billy Beane already.

With Kendall joining the team, I now fully expect Koyie Hill to be sent down to Iowa. Kendall should be the every day catcher now with Geovany Soto as the backup until Henry Blanco is able to return.

I like the Kendall deal. Yes, he's hitting just .226 this year, but when you look at it, that's actually better than Bowen and Hill. Besides, Kendall has a .298 lifetime average, a .375 on base percentage, and he's been around the Athletics' pennant races in the last two years. Though past his prime, Kendall has put up numbers that have been serviceable for Oakland before this year and a change of scenary certainly can't hurt. He'll bring key intangibles and it's not a stretch of the imagination to think that Kendall could hit .270 or so with the Cubs.

People away from the organization really don't know how badly Cubs' catchers have struggled offensively. So, here are the numbers:

Koyie Hill: .156/.222/.281
Rob Bowen (with Cubs): .065/.167/.097
Geovany Soto: .143/.250/.143

Kendall will help the club, but Hendry better not be done. I still want a relief pitcher and a potent left-handed stick.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Piniella's changes lead Cubs to sweep

The main difference between Piniella and Baker? Lou shakes things up when things aren't working. Coming into Sunday's game with an 8-14 record against lefties and having lost the last three games to left handed pitching, Piniella decided to make a change.

The lineup saw Alfonso Soriano in the fifth slot for the first time in the year, with youngsters Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot at the top. Was that the difference? We'll never know, but we do know that it certainly didn't hurt. Battling back from a 5-0 decifit, the Cubs scored 7 runs in the second, third, and fourth innings chasing lefty Wandy Rodriguez from the game early.

The Astros did get a sixth run off of Marquis, but five shutout innings from the bullpen gave the Cubs a win and the sweep.

That wasn't the first time that Piniella has tried to shake things up. In May, when neither Lee nor Ramirez were hitting, Piniella decided to put Floyd in the clean-up spot to break apart the righties. When Ryan Theriot's been hot, he's gotten playing time. When Mike Fontenot's been hot, he's gotten playing time. Lou Piniella has even put guys like Cesar Izturis and Jacque Jones in situations recently that helped them contribute to the club.

These are all moves that Dusty Baker wouldn't have made. Whether or not these changes are smart, Piniella has realized when things aren't working and realized that trying new things probably won't hurt the club anymore than it's already hurting.

Another difference between Piniella and Baker? Lou knows how to light a fire under his team and he knows what to do to give his guys a chance to win. The Cubs are 25-12 after June 2, the game in which Piniella got ejected. That's not a coincidence.

If you remember, June 1 was when the Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett got into the dugout brawl and it was also the date of the fifth straight lost. On the verge of their sixth straight loss and hitting a new low the next day, Piniella had to do something different.

I'm not saying Piniella's tirade was the reason for the 25 wins since then. I'm not even saying that any single one of the wins can be directly attributed to the incident. What I am saying, though, is that Piniella's act (yes, it was an act) took the story line away from the Cubs' poor play and the dugout brawl. It would've been very easy for the team to completely unravel after the Zambrano incident, especially if that was the media's focus on the team. But Piniella stole the negative attention, thereby increasing the likelihood of winning the next game. With more wins came more confidence. With more confidence came better baseball.

Now, the Cubs have made up 4 games in just over a month and are within 3 1/2 games of the division lead!

Speaking of better baseball, the Cubs have looked like a completely new ballclub. They're playing defense now! Down 5-0, Ryan Theriot's defensive stop to end the top of the second inning kept the Cubs in the ballgame and allowed the comeback to happen.

Another diving stop by Aramis Ramirez in the fourth inning kept the Astros from breaking the door down again, while Mark DeRosa's over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh prevented another run from scoring. Catcher Geovany Soto even got in on the act, blocking several balls in the dirt with the bases loaded to preserve the tight 7-6 lead.

After the game, reliever Michael Wuertz had good things to say about Soto. Things that he probably wouldn't have been able to say about Michael Barrett. "He's great back there," said Wuertz. "All of our catchers are great blocking balls. It's fun knowing you can bury a slider and he'll be able to catch it."

Fun. Yup, that's the right word. It's fun watching the Cubs play. And they're playing with confidence.

"The amazing thing about this team right now is that we were down 5-0 and no one in that dugout doubted that we could put five runs up on the board," said Mark DeRosa.

I was doubting that they could get even three off of Rodriguez, let alone five. Looks like DeRosa proved me wrong...and I'm glad.

What a relief: Lou Piniella used the bullpen masterfully in the final game of the weekend series against Houston. You had a feeling that with Wandy Rodriguez out of the game, scoring runs would be harder. You had a feeling that preventing the Astros from scoring the tying- and go-ahead runs in the fifth inning was important. So did Lou. With runners on base and two outs, Lou Piniella used his ace reliever Carlos Marmol to hold the lead. With runners on base and two outs again in the seventh, Piniella went to Michael Wuertz just in the knick of time.

The taxed bullpen does mean one thing though. Because you're never sure whether or not Rich Hill can go deep into a ballgame, the Cubs made a roster move, recalling right-hander Billy Petrick. The corresponding roster move, designating Rob Bowen for assignment, kind of surprised me.

This makes me think that the Michael Barrett trade really was an attempt at addition by subtraction. We don't know what kind of a player Kyler Burke will turn out to be, but that's precisely my point. Bowen was the only Major Leaguer we got in the deal, and now he's exposed to the waiver wire. Koyie Hill could've been optioned back to Iowa and he would've been back by September 1, at the latest. That would've allowed the Cubs to keep both Hill and Bowen, instead Bowen must clear waivers before we send him down to Iowa.

With Bowen making just over the league minimum, there is no reason why 29 teams would pass on a defensive catcher like Bowen. If that is the case, Bowen will join the likes of Matt Lawton among the leaderboard for shortest stints with the Cubs.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Cubs hot, FOX announcers not

While the Chicago Cubs were on their game, beating Houston, their division rivals, by a 9-3 final, FOX announcers Dick Stockton and Joe Girardi definitely were not.

Ted Lilly scattered four hits through eight innings while allowing just a run, and the Cubs jumped all over Astros' ace Roy Oswalt. Despite not reaching first base until the fourth inning, the Cubs were able to tack nine runs on the Houston right hander.

Aramis Ramirez collected 3 hits and knocked in 4 runs, while Alfonso Soriano's three-run shot in the sixth ended a two-week homerless drought. The eight earned runs that Oswalt allowed was the most in his career, which the FOX analysts accurately pointed out. However, here are 14 inaccurate statement made by the announcers during the national telecast.

You can see every half-inning of FOX's wonderful coverage by clicking here and then clicking on the inning-by-inning score:

1. Top 1st: Claimed Hunter Pence is well on his way to win NL Rookie of the Year. (Pence may still win, but Braun’s .353/.397/.695 certainly prevents Pence from being a lock.)

2. Top 1st: Detailed Cubs’ outfield woes, saying Jones and Floyd had trouble communicating. (Most of the recent Cubs’ communication issues, however, involved Soriano.)

3. Bottom 1st: Mistakenly said that Cubs are 7-3 in the current ten-game homerless streak.(We’re 6-4.)

4. Bottom 1st: Mispronounced Ryan Theriot’s name. (It’s French, the “h” is silent. At least, he didn’t try to pronounce the “t” at the end.)

5. Bottom 1st: Insisted that Floyd had injured his knee. (We didn’t know what the injury was at the moment, but the first speculation should not have been the knee. How can you hurt your knee on a slide like that? It was later diagnosed to be a shoulder injury.)

6. Top 2nd: Mispronounced sponsor’s name. (“Sharp Aquos” is not French, therefore the “s” is not silent.)

7. Top 2nd: Claimed Lilly retired the first two hitters in the inning on two pitches. (It was three pitches.)

8. Top 3rd: Pence, once again, named “front runner” in the NL Rookie of the Year race. (See mistake #1.)

9. Bottom 4th: Claimed Izturis stayed alive in his at-bat because of a foul tip…twice. (A foul tip is when the catcher catches the ball. In all cases of a foul tip, it is ruled a strike -- Izturis would’ve struck out -- and the ball remains live. If the batter fouls it off and the catcher fails to catch the ball, it is a foul ball. See OBR, Rule 2.00. On a related note, when Bruntlett struck out in the next inning, they said he “swung and missed”, when in actuality, he was out on a foul tip.)

10. Top 5th: Said Oswalt is “always in the top five” in sacrifices. (Oswalt was in the top five only once, 2006, and in fact was in the top ten only one other time, 2004.)

11. Bottom 5th: Called Ramirez’s game-winner on June 29 a grand slam. (Ramirez’s homerun was a walk-off homerun, but it only scored two runs.)

12. Bottom 5th: Said Cubs gave Zambrano a 6-0 lead in Friday’s game. (Though the final was 6-0, the Cubs didn’t score their final two runs until the bottom of the eighth, well after Zambrano departed. )

13. Top 8th: Said the Astros’ bullpen has had a better year this year than last. (They haven’t been able to find a consistent closer and have a 4.92 bullpen ERA, which is worst in the league. Just how bad was it last year?)

14. Top 9th: Thought Bruntlett's double was the Astros' sixth hit of the game. (While they did accurately point out that it was the third hit of the inning, Lilly allowed four hits in the first eight innings. That makes Bruntlett's double the seventh Houston hit.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

TLR leaves Pujols on bench

Immediately following the All-Star Game, I made a post where I thought that LaRussa should've used Pujols as a pinch-hitter. For those of you that read the post, I was wrong. LaRussa did his homework before the game. I've always told people that there are only three active managers in baseball that could do a better job than me. This is why LaRussa is one of the three.

After careful consideration, I noticed that leaving Pujols on the bench was the right thing to do.

Soriano homered to bring the National League within a run in the ninth inning with two outs. Then, Hardy, Lee, and Sanchez walked before Rowand flew out to end the game as Albert Pujols sat on the bench.

After Miguel Cabrera was unable to play defense, Freddy Sanchez was forced to serve as David Wright's backup. This meant that LaRussa needed to find another player that would be held back in case of an injury. LaRussa had four first basemen on the team and the most versitile of the four was Albert Pujols. That was an obvious choice.

With the winning run on base, many questioned why LaRussa didn't use Pujols to hit for Sanchez or Rowand. Pujols was the last player left on the N.L. bench, meaning that pinch hitting would've created a defensive mess. In case of an injury, LaRussa would've most likely put Pujols at third base and used Sanchez to fill the vacated position. For that reason, taking Sanchez out of the game would've been suicide. Sure, Pujols plays third base, but what happens if an injury occurs? Sanchez needed to remain in the game, because he could've played all seven positions.

How about hitting for Rowand? Sanchez can play center and Pujols move to third, you say. While the team would've been okay in the tenth inning, there's no telling what LaRussa would've had to do if an injury were to have occured. First of all, a pitcher would have to take the field defensively and that defensive position would probably be first base. This would either force Derrek Lee into the vacated position or into the outfield to allow Sanchez to take over for the injured player.

The latter choice opens up a whole can of worms: Lee can't play center. Can Soriano?

The fact of the matter is that burning Pujols forces LaRussa into an uncomfortable position. An injury gives him no option but to put someone else's All-Star pitcher on the field and three or four more All-Star players in unfamiliar positions. It's an injury risk that he wouldn't want to take with his own players -- let alone someone else's.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Doing the impossible...

"It can't be done," I was told. Others just thought I was crazy. I was even told stories of people who have died while attempting this, but that didn't stop me from doing it. And to prove that I had successfully complete the task, I decided to post my accomplishment here.

Yes, that's right. I scored the All-Star game. And I did it without any internet help.

Top 1st:
Jake Peavy starting.
Ichiro singles to right.
Jeter grounds into double play, shortstop to second base to first base. Ichiro out at second.
Ortiz safe at first on error by first baseman.
A. Rodriguez reaches on fielder's choice. Ortiz out at second, third base to second base.

Bottom 1st:
Dan Haren starting.
Reyes singles to center.
With Bonds batting, Reyes steals second base.
Bonds pops out to short right.
Beltran strikes out on a foul tip.
Wright reaches on fielder's choice. Griffey out at second, shortstop to second base to first base.

Top 2nd:
Brad Penny relieves Peavy, hitting ninth.
Guerrero grounds out to third base.
Ordonez lines out to right.
I. Rodriguez grounds out to shortstop.

Bottom 2nd:
Fielder walks.
Martin lines out to third base.
Utley flies out to center.
Miguel Cabrera pinch hits for Penny.
Cabrera strikes out swinging.

Top 3rd:
Ben Sheets relieves Penny, hitting ninth.
Polanco grounds out to shortstop.
Manny Ramirez pinch hits for Haren.
Ramirez flies out to right.
Ichiro singles on a soft fly ball to left.
Jeter singles to center, Ichiro to second.
Ortiz lines out to right.

Bottom 3rd:
Josh Beckett relieves Haren, hitting ninth.
Brian Roberts plays second base for Polanco, hitting eighth.
Reyes doubles to third base.
Bonds flies out to deep left.
Beltran grounds out to second base, Reyes to third.
Griffey strikes out swinging.

Top 4th:
Cole Hamels relieves Sheets, hitting second.
Alfonso Soriano plays left field for Bonds, hitting ninth.
A. Rodriguez singles to left.
With Guerrero batting, A. Rodriguez steals second base.
Guerrero grounds out to shortstop.
Ordonez grounds out to shortstop.
I. Rodriguez singles to right. A. Rodriguez out at home, right field to catcher.

Bottom 4th:
Justin Morneau plays first base for Ortiz, hitting third.
Wright grounds out to second base.
Fielder lines out to center.
Martin strikes out on a foul tip.

Top 5th:
Chris Young relieves Hamels, hitting sixth.
Derrek Lee plays first base for Fielder, hitting second.
Roberts walks.
Jorge Posada pinch hits for Beckett.
Posada flies out to center.
Jeter lines out to right.

Bottom 5th:
Jorge Posada remains in the game to catch for I. Rodriguez.
C. C. Sabathia relieves Beckett, hitting second.
Carlos Guillen plays shortstop for Jeter, hitting seventh.
Carl Crawford plays left for Ordonez, hitting sixth.
Torii Hunter plays center for Ichiro, hitting first.
Utley grounds out to second base.
Soriano lines out to left.
Reyes singles to center.
D. Lee grounds out to pitcher.

Top 6th:
Francisco Cordero relieves Young, hitting sixth.
A. Rodriguez flies out to center.
Guerrero flies out to right.
Guillen grounds out to second.

Bottom 6th:
Justin Verlander relieves Sabathia, hitting fourth.
Mike Lowell plays third base for A. Rodriguez, hitting second.
Beltran triples to deep right.
Wright singles to center.
Matt Holliday pinch hits for Cordero.
Holliday grounds out to first, Wright to second.
Martin pops out to second.

Top 7th:
Takashi Saito relieves Cordero, hitting eighth.
Orlando Hudson plays second base for Utley, hitting third.
Aaron Rowand plays center for Beltran, hitting fourth.
Freddy Sanchez plays third base for Wright, hitting fifth.
Brian McCann plays catcher for Martin, hitting seventh.
Matt Holliday remains in the game and plays right.
Roberts grounds out to second base.
Posada lines out to first base.
Hunter pops out to left.

Bottom 7th:
Johan Santana relieves Verlander, hitting fifth.
Grady Sizemore plays right for Guerrero, hitting fourth.
Carlos Lee pinch hits for Saito.
C. Lee strikes out swinging.
Soriano called out on strikes.
Reyes grounds out to second base.

Top 8th:
Billy Wagner relieves Saito, hitting eighth.
Lowell singles to center.
Morneau fouls out to third base.
Sizemore strikes out swinging.
Victor Martinez pinch hits for Santana.
Crawford grounds out to short.

Bottom 8th:
Jonathan Papelbon relieves Santana, hitting fifth.
D. Lee singles on a soft fly ball to center.
Hudson strikes out swinging.
D. Lee steals second base.
With Rowand batting, D. Lee advances to third on a passed ball.
Rowand strikes out swinging.
Sanchez pops out third base.

Top 9th:
Trevor Hoffman relieves Wagner, hitting eighth.
J. J. Hardy plays shortstop for Reyes, hitting first.
Guillen grounds out to second base.
Roberts grounds out, first baseman to pitcher.
Posada doubles to deep center.
Hunter grounds out to third base.

Bottom 9th:
J. J. Putz relieves Papelbon, hitting fifth.
Holliday strikes out swinging.
McCann pops out to shortstop.
Dmitri Young pinch hits for Hoffman.
D. Young singles to second base.
Hardy walks.
Francisco Rodriguez relieves Putz, hitting fifth.
Alex Rios plays center field for Hunter, hitting first.
Sizemore moves to center, Rios moves to right.
D. Lee walks, Hardy to second.
Hudson walks, Hardy to third, D. Lee to second.
Rowand flies out to right.

American League Hitters
player pos ab r h bi
ichiro cf 3 1 3 2
* hunter cf 2 0 0 0
* f rodriguez p 0 0 0 0
jeter ss 3 0 1 0
* sabathia p 0 0 0 0
* lowell 3b 1 1 1 0
ortiz 1b 2 0 0 0
* morneau 1b 2 0 0 0
a rodriguez 3b 3 0 1 0
* verlander p 0 0 0 0
* sizemore rf-cf 1 0 0 0
guerrero rf 3 0 0 0
* santana p 0 0 0 0
* martinez ph 1 1 1 2
* papelbon p 0 0 0 0
* putz p 0 0 0 0
* rios rf 0 0 0 0
ordonez lf 2 0 0 0
* crawford lf 2 1 1 1
i rodriguez c 2 0 1 0
* guillen ss 2 0 0 0
polanco 2b 1 0 0 0
* roberts 2b 2 1 0 0
haren p 0 0 0 0
* ramirez ph 1 0 0 0
* beckett p 0 0 0 0
* posada ph-c 3 0 1 0

National League Hitters
player pos ab r h bi
reyes ss 4 1 3 0
* hardy ss 0 0 0 0
bonds lf 2 0 0 0
* hamels p 0 0 0 0
* d lee 1b 2 0 1 0
beltran cf 3 1 1 0
* hudson 2b 1 0 0 0
griffey rf 2 0 1 2
* roward cf 2 0 0 0
wright 3b 3 0 1 0
* sanchez 3b 1 0 0 0
fielder 1b 1 0 0 0
* young p 0 0 0 0
* cordero p 0 0 0 0
* holliday ph-rf 2 0 0 0
martin c 3 0 0 0
* mccann c 1 0 0 0
utley 2b 2 0 0 0
* saito p 0 0 0 0
* c lee ph 1 0 0 0
* wagner p 0 0 0 0
* hoffman p 0 0 0 0
* young ph 1 1 1 0
peavy p 0 0 0 0
* penny p 0 0 0 0
* cabrera ph 1 0 0 0
* sheets p 0 0 0 0
* soriano lf 3 1 1 2

American League Pitchers
pitcher ip h r er bb so
haren 2 2 1 1 1 2
beckett (w) 2 1 0 0 0 2
sabathia (h) 1 1 0 0 0 0
verlander (h) 1 2 1 1 0 0
santana (h) 1 0 0 0 0 2
papelbon (h) 1 1 0 0 0 2
putz (h) 0.2 2 2 2 1 1
rodriguez (s) 0.1 0 0 0 2 0

National League Pitchers
pitcher ip h r er bb so
peavy 1 1 0 0 0 0
penny (h) 1 0 0 0 0 0
sheets (h) 1 2 0 0 0 0
hamels (h) 1 2 0 0 0 0
young (bs, l) 1 1 2 2 1 0
cordero 1 1 1 1 0 0
saito 1 0 0 0 0 0
wagner 1 2 2 2 0 1
hoffman 1 1 0 0 0 0

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Over the first-half of the 2007 season, the Chicago Cubs bullpen blew 12 saves, one more than the league average of 11. Scott Eyre and Bob Howry have blown four saves each, while Dempster has blown two. Cherry and Guzman each have a blown save as well.

The good news, though, is that the Cubs' opponents have blown 15 saves. To celebrate the times in which the opposing bullpen blew a lead, here are the blown saves.

April 9: Chad Qualls (Astros)
In the Cubs' home opener, Lilly allowed three runs in six innings, but departed trailing by 3-0. The Cubs got 2 runs off of Astros' starter Woody Williams in the bottom of the sixth before Qualls served up an RBI single to Jacque Jones in the bottom of the seventh, to momentarily tie the game at 3. The Astros went on to win that game 5-3 and Qualls got the win.

April 18: Oscar Villareal (Braves)
Villareal was the victim in a wild game played at Turner Field. In a two-run seventh inning, Derrek Lee doubled home a run to tie the game at 5-5 before scoring on a wild pitch. Villareal, however, would go on to win the game, as Scott Eyre would blow a save of his own in the bottom of the 7th.

April 22: Jason Isringhausen (Cardinals)
After the Cardinals hit Bob Howry for two runs in the top of the 9th to take a two-run lead, Mark DeRosa answered with a bloop hit down the right field line that plated both Barrett and Izturis. Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer off of Dempster in the top of the 10th however, continuing a disturbing theme: another win for the opposing pitcher that blew the save.

May 1: Jonah Bayliss (Pirates)
As the rains were approaching, the Cubs were in jeopardy of falling to 11-15 when the Cubs’ bats came through just in time. After the first two batters in the seventh were quickly retired, the Pirates looked like they were on their way to a rain-shortened 5-2 victory. Instead, six consecutive Cubs reached base to score four runs and re-take the lead before the storm hit. The Cubs finished off the victory the next day.

May 6: Chad Cordero (Nationals)
The Nationals looked like they were going to avoid the sweep at Wrigley when Chad Cordero entered the game in the 9th inning with a 3-2 lead. Ryan Theriot, however, came through with a clutch RBI single, scoring pinch-runner Jason Marquis, allowing Daryle Ward to be the hero in extra innings.

May 12: Geoff Geary (Phillies)
Eerily similar to Bayliss’ blown save on May 1, the Cubs scored in the top of the seventh to avoid another rain-shortened loss. Murton’s pinch-hit homerun brought the Cubs within a run and started a six-run rally. Ramirez’s RBI single later in the inning would tie the game. However, the Phillies put up a six-spot of their own in the bottom of the seventh to win 11-7.

May 18: Mike MacDougal (White Sox)
The Cubs were able to get to a then-good White Sox bullpen in the 7th inning. Down 3-1, Pagan’s two-out two-run triple gave the Cubs new life. The Cubs eventually scored again in the inning and twice more in the next inning to take the series opener against the crosstown White Sox.

May 19: David Aardsma (White Sox)
Former Cub David Aardsma was the victim on the very next day. With the Sox leading 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth, Soriano singled home Theriot to tie the game ahead of the dramatic pinch-hit grand slam by Derrek Lee. The Cubs won the series outright, taking the second game by an 11-6 final.

May 25: Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers)
Dodgers’ reliever Jonathan Broxton was on the mound when the Cubs rallied all the way from 5-0 to tie the game at 5. Back-to-back-to-back doubles by Soriano, DeRosa and Lee evened the score, but the Dodgers put together a late surge of their own to squeak by the Cubs by a run.

June 2: Tyler Yates (Braves)
Down 3-0, the Cubs stormed back. Single runs in the 5th and 6th innings allowed Ryan Theriot to score the tying run in the 7th on an error by Martin Prado. The Cubs bullpen, however, was unable to keep the club from dropping their sixth consecutive game, a 5-3 loss to the Braves.

June 12: Sean Green (Mariners)
Derrek Lee doubled to lead-off the eighth inning and scored the tying run on Barrett’s single before the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs. A fielder’s choice and a pair of strikeouts to Pie and Fontenot kept the Cubs tied at 3 before the Mariners pushed across two runs in the top of the 13th.

June 14: Brandon Morrow (Mariners)
Leadoff walks to Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot in the 8th inning came back to hurt Morrow, as Cesar Izturis plated both on a bloop double into left field, leading the Cubs to a 5-4 victory. This took Jason Marquis, who had allowed four runs on just two hits, off the hook for the loss.

June 21: Willie Eyre (Rangers)
The Cubs erased a 5-0 deficit by scoring four times in 5th inning and a Derrek Lee RBI single in the 6th inning to tie the game. A botched run-down play in the bottom of the 9th inning, however, helped the Rangers take the game and the series.

June 25: Brian Fuentes (Rockies)
After Eyre and Howry failed to hold a five-run lead in the top of the ninth, the game looked over. The Rockies had taken a 9-8 lead on Tulowitzki’s three-run homer, but given new life, the Cubs responded. Kazuo Matsui bobbled a groundball that would’ve ended the game, opening the door to Soriano’s dramatic 2-run walk-off single.

June 29: Francisco Cordero (Brewers)
A five-run first inning by the Brewers put Milwaukee in control of the game, but the Cubs just kept chipping away. The Cubs scored twice in the 4th and once in the 7th, paving the way for a three-run rally in the final inning. Derrek Lee flew out while representing the winning run, but Aramis Ramirez’s two-out blast sealed the victory.

Cubs finish first-half over .500

With Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs guaranteed that they will finish over .500 for the first time since 2004. Though the first half is not yet over, the Cubs are 44-42 with one game remaining, meaning that the Cubs will be 44-43 at the worst.

Last year, the Cubs were 34-54 at the break trailing the division lead by 14 ½ games, but managed to lose only 3 games in the standings during the second half with a 32-42 record. In 2005, the Cubs the first half one game below .500 at 43-44, but a mediocre second half forced the Cubs to a 79-83 final record, finishing 21 games off the pace.

In 2004, the Cubs looked poised to take the Wild Card after going an impressive seven-games over .500 in the team’s first 87 games (47-40) and an outstanding 42-33 after the break. The club fell three games shy, however, because they lost 7 of the last 9 and Houston won the last 7.

There’s good news and bad news, though.

The 2003 season seems very similar to this year’s season.

Four years ago, the Cubs finished the first-half with a 47-47 record, three games behind. This year, the record will be better and the Cubs could pull within 3 ½ games of the division lead with a Cub victory and a Brewer loss on Sunday.

In 2003, the Cubs stormed the National League in the second-half posting a 41-27 finish to a division crown.

So what’s the bad news?

In 2003, the team was able to bring in players near the trade deadline. Key additions like Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, and Randall Simon really gave the Cubs team a kick start necessary for a red-hot second half. This year, with the ownership status the way it is, I wouldn’t expect the club to make many moves, if any. If the Cubs are to make the playoffs this year, the players that will lead them there are already within the organization.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Cubs' baserunning continues to struggle

After four weeks of playing good baseball, the Cubs made two outs on the bases while trying to advance to a base that was completely meaningless. It's one thing to make a poor judgment decision and get thrown out, but it's a completely different thing to try to take a base that doesn't improve your chances of winning the game, whatsoever.

In the second inning of what was then a 0-0 game, Angel Pagan was caught stealing third base with two outs in the inning. While the risk would've made sense had the trail runner, Ryan Theriot, tried to advance from first and second, the steal attempt was Pagan's own decision. Breaking too soon for third base, Pagan was picked off by pitcher Paul Maholm.

Ballplayers need to understand the full risk of their actions. They ought to consider why they are attempting a play, instead of just doing so because they think they can make it. So long as Ryan Theriot remains on first base, there was absolutely no difference in the Cubs' scoring chances whether Pagan was standing on second or third base with two outs. He's going to score on a hit anyway and he's not going to score on an out.

Then, another one of pet peeves jumped out at me in the ninth inning. When will ballplayers know that running the bases in the ninth inning is completely different? Down by four runs, Ryan Theriot was doubled off of second base. I don't care how much it looked as if the ball was into left field, Theriot shouldn't have been off of the bag until the ball touched the ground.

He's not the tying run. If the Cubs were going to tie the game, Theriot would've eventually scored anyway, so why risk giving up an out? Theriot did the right thing by taking second base on the fielder's choice: it removes the double play (well, the ground ball type) and the force out at second base. However, Theriot should not have even taken a lead off of second base that was greater than three inches and Theriot should not even think about scoring on a gapper, let alone a clean single.

The Theriot mistake didn't cost us the game. There's no way to tell how the game would've changed had Pagan remained on second base. Does Bowen make an out to end the inning? Do the Cubs score to change the entire complexion of the game? Who knows?

But the risks that the Cubs took on the bases were risks that involved zero rewards.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Cubs we know and love...

These are the Cubs we know and love. Or at least, the Cubs we know.

After winning 20 of their last 29 ballgames, the Chicago Cubs looked like a big league ballclub. They looked to try to take the third straight game against the Washington Nationals, when the Cubs from April and May showed up.

Over the past three or four weeks, the Cubs have managed not to beat themselves and to play sound baseball, and it looks like, for at least one day, that had gone away. The Cubs went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and Rich Hill had decent stuff, but allowed six runs over six innings because he kept giving up two-strike hit after two-strike hit.

It's just one game, I know. There's no need to overreact. Until we know otherwise, we should just tip our cap to Matt Chico. But, the Cubs reminded us how they played before Piniella's ejection. (By the way, the Cubs are 20-10 after his June 2 ejection, including the 6-0 loss to Washington.)

The Brewers lost for the second straight day today, so of course the Cubs were gonna lose! Why do I say that? Because had we won, we would've been within 4 1/2 games of Milwaukee. Since April 30, when we first fell behind by more than 5 games, we haven't been able to cut the deficit below 5 games, despite being within 5 or 5 1/2 games on 19 different occasions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The perfect game of baseball

When I actually stop and think about the game of baseball, a lot of the things that we take for granted are actually things that we should not only pay attention to, but things that amaze me. How perfect and smooth the game is is often ignored, but it's amazing how perfect baseball is.

What am I talking about? Take the 90' bases for example. Why are the bases 90' apart? Is it just an arbitrary number? Possibly, but think about the things that the 90' bases gives us.

1. The difference between a hit and an out.

Any ball that passes through the infielders is a hit regardless of how hard it is hit and how slow the runner is. Even the slowest runner would have no problem reaching first base on a hard hit ball into the outfield. Any ball that hit at an infielder results (almost always) in an out, regardless of how fast the runner is. Then, the beautiful grey area of balls hit in the holes give us the exciting infield hit plays.

Okay, if the bases were 100' apart, batter runners would still have no problem reaching first base on balls into the outfield.

However, if the bases were 80' apart, we would such a large number of infield hits, that the game of baseball would become a mockery. What was previously out by three steps is now a bang-bang play.

2. The stolen base

Most stolen base plays are bang-bang. Base coaches often time the pitchers' delivery to the plate to see if it is favorable for their runners to run. The difference between being a good decision to run and being a bad decision to run is so close that it's actually not visible to the human eye; instead, we need a stop watch to tell us.

The bases are spread out just far enough so that the slow runners won't even think about running. (But, they still need to be held on by a fielder.) However, they are just close enough that a fast runner needs to pick his spots and get a good jump in order to be successful. We all know that a 70% stolen base rate is not good and an 80% stolen base rate is well above average, but what most of us don't know is how successful a runner would need to be for the stolen base attempt to be worth the risk.

Sabermetricians mathematically figured that number to be nearly 75%, right in the middle of what we considered to be good and bad. If a baserunner is successful less than 75% of the time, he's hurting his team by running into too many outs. If a baserunner is successful more than 75% of the time, he's helping his team by picking up an extra base every so often.

What amazes me, however, is the way that the 75% number was reached. It had nothing to do with the actual stolen base percentages in the league, but had everything to do with the natural rate of occurences of hits and outs in the game of baseball. It just so happened that the bases were 90' apart, just at the right distance for the best runners to have to work real hard to gain the advantage for his team.

Less than 90' and anyone and everyone should run. More than 90' and no one should run.

3. The execution of the sacrifice bunt

When attempting a sacrifice bunt, so many things need to be executed properly by the offense. The runner needs to get a good secondary lead and the batter needs to lay down a good bunt. Picture the perfectly executed sacrifice bunt though: the defense would have no chance at the lead runner, but an easy chance to retire the batter runner. In a poor bunt attempt, the defense has a chance to retire the lead runner. The 90' distance between the bases is just far enough so that the offense has to execute everything, but the 90' distance is just close enough for the offense to be assured that the runner will advance if it executes properly.

4. The reason for the sacrifice bunt

The third point, execution of the bunt, would be completely moot if the sacrifice bunt were not necessary. Again, going back to the natural rates of occurences of hits and outs, the decision to attempt to the sacrifice bunt falls within the grey area. If the average batter reached base more than the average right now, there would be no reason to give up the out for the base. If the average batter reached base less than the average right now, the offense should have no problem with trading the base for the out.

Instead, the natural rate of the occurences of hits and outs is just so that the decision to call for a sacrifice bunt is a well thought-out move.

5. Bunting for a hit

Similar to the stolen base, the 90' distance between the bases is far enough away for even the thought of the bunt hit is out of the minds of the slowest ballplayers. However, 90 feet is just close enough for the fast runners and good bunters to have to pick their spots and execute perfectly to be able to reach base more often than the natural rate of the occurence of a hit, so that bunting is advantageous.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Cubs answer improbable call

Frustrated with the series loss in Arlington, I looked at my schedule and told a friend that if the Cubs were to go anything less than 8-1 in the next nine games, I would stop watching. Was I serious? Probably not, but I was pretty upset with being 8 1/2 games out of first place. I was also upset about the way the series finale against Texas had ended.

Down 5-0, the Cubs battled back to tie the game at 5-5, only to have the Rangers score the winning run in the ninth after Bobby Howry botched a run-down. Since then, however, the Cubs have played much better baseball and looked like a Major League team, getting clutch hits when necessary, battling back from tough situations, and executing the fundamentals of the game.

The nine games that were coming up on the schedule when I made the statement were three at the White Sox and a six-game homestand with the Rockies and Brewers. Though I wished for a sweep of the Brewers, the Cubs won the first seven games of that stretch and split the last two against Milwaukee to get that improbable 8-1. After taking the rubber game of the series against the Brewers, two Cubs found out that they would be heading to San Francisco next week for the All-Star Game.

Alfonso Soriano, who had led Barry Bonds by a slim margin at the last vote count, fell to fourth place in the N.L. outfield position but was voted in on the player's ballot as a reserve. The players also voted in two reserves at first base, including Derrek Lee. Initially, I had believed that Lee would not make the team, because LaRussa wouldn't want to take three first basemen, but the decision was made before it got to LaRussa.

Carlos Zambrano is on the ballot for the final roster spot.

The Brewers, unfortunately, played real well during the Cubs' 8-1 stretch by posting a 6-3 record and only losing two games off of the lead, which is at a still-comfortable for 6 1/2 games. I don't expect that the Cubs play .889 ball the rest of the season, but I do expect us to consistently keep winning serieses and beating the teams that we need to beat, which include the next seven games: at Washington and at Pittsburgh.

I'd like for us to be able to close the gap a bit more before the All-Star break. Even though we have seven games against the Nationals and Pirates, it would be hard to pick up too much ground on the first-place Brewers because they too, have seven games against the Pirates and Nationals.

With the record now at 40-40, I'd also like for this to be the last time this year that the Cubs are at or below .500. Instead of measuring the record against the .500 mark, it's time we start shooting for "5 games over .500" and "10 games over .500".